Monday, December 28, 2009



2009 . . . what a year. It was a year in which Arch Enemy did the unthinkable and butchered many of their timeless classics with pseudo-hardass Angela Gossow. The songs written for the next Fear Factory album ended up on an album with a lousy vocalist and new band!! Exodus wisely re-recorded their debut album for a new generation, and Rammstein's vid/porn took the world by storm.

Let's take a look at some of what 2009 had to offer us in the way of metal.

My Top 10 Metal Albums for 2009

#10 Scar Symmetry - Dark Matter Dimensions

Replacing a talented guy like Christian Alverstam must've been a hefty task. This new line-up includes two new vocalists, one to do the low growls and the other to do the clean singing. Musically, it's Scar Symmetry—sophisticated in nature and catchy by design—but I feel they could've taken more time to help the guitars sound less generic on some of the songs. Don't get me wrong, this is a good album, but some of the music tends to blend, and that is not a good thing for a band as good as this.

#9 Old Man's Child - Slaves of the World

This album is a little faster and bleaker than Vermin. While still using dark melodies and haunting keys, more attention is given to the guitars and drums this time around. Slightly more musical than Vermin, it is also harder and blacker. A style all their own. Another great release.

#8 Tenet - Sovereign

If you’re wondering what Exodus' next album may have sounded like if Steve "Zetro" Souza didn't leave the band, then this album is probably pretty close and the next best thing to an Exodus album. Thrashy but not fiery (like Exodus), they employ Zetro's signature vocals nicely. Apparently the vocals were finished in 3 days. Someone either got shit done quick or had one hell of a sore throat after all was said and done. This is good shit.

#7 Solstice - To Dust

A pleasant surprise! This opus is typical Solstice, but the vocals are improved. However crisp, clean guitar solos are employed. While they are not on every track, when used, they sound as if Joe Satriani himself had stopped by the studio and given some tips to their lead guitarist. The impact helps the overall sound of the album tremendously. Very good work.

#6 Temple Of Baal - Lightslaying Rituals

This little gem was handed to me by Spinal Villain with the "trust me, you'll love it" look in his eyes. He was right. Swaying more into the extreme side without leaving blisters, elements of black and death metal are ever-present. But it's not technical or progressive, just hot and harsh.

#5 Augury - Fragmentary Evidence

These Canadians take their time between albums, and it's a good thing. Smelting extreme metal with progressive, death, technical, and adding elements of black, they seem to do it all while not overwhelming. Their style is one that you can tap your foot to, bang your head, or just sit back and appreciate what they bring to the table. Fantastic song writing and clever use of their instruments. Astonishing.

#4 Hearse - Single Ticket to Paradise

Death N' Roll lives on. This album is fun. There is no other way to say it. These guys have a good time playing, and they put that vibe onto their records. Excellent album.

#3 Goatwhore - Carving Out the Eyes of God

Apparently these guys chose their band name after a "run-in" with a stripper. This must've been quite an experience. =) To me, one of the few things that has been missing in past efforts from these groovy southern black thrashers is the induction of a guitar solo now and again. In this album, Goatwhore finally add the missing ingredient. This is still a trademark Goatwhore album, but the songs finally have what they were missing. They nailed it. A great album.

#2 Nile - Those Whom the Gods Detest

These Egyptian-themed technical titans return to fine form! These guys just slay. No doubt. This album sees them writing a little more in the vein of traditional song structure (keep in mind I said a little) and the vocals are easier to follow this time around. Some of the typical Slower Nile-eque intros are still here, and so are the shredding solos. They decided to use some extra vocals (chanting) in the first song. Takes some getting used to. Even so, this album rips.

#1 Insomnium - Across the Dark

Insomnium is a band that many will probably like for the music, but because the vocals are a little too gruff, they will typically fall into the under-appreciated category. This album is filled with memorable songs which stay in my head long after I am done spinning the disc. It seems the solos are replaced with more melodies that go throughout the song. The bassist is given more room to accentuate on the songs this time around. While the music is less in your face than Above the Weeping World, it's still at times thrashy yet laced with emotion. Another vocalist is heard on three songs, and the effect is profound. Keyboards are added but not over-powering. An amazing accomplishment.

More 2009 Metal Albums Reviewed

The Agonist - Lullabies for the Dormant Mind

This is the second release from these extreme, melodic, metalcore monsters. Musically they are a pretty creative and solid group. Couple that with vocalist Alissa White-Gluz who switches up her clean and clear singing with a rough wail. While this is not for everyone, it's not half bad by any stretch. I think Alissa has more talent than most female singers/vocalists in the scene these days. Somewhere, Angela Gossow is crying.

Lost World OrderMarauders

Speedy and catchy German thrash. They keep an old school edge on their sound and formula. While this is nothing to die for or nothing new, it's a welcomed addition. Dual guitar solos, pounding drums, lyrics on war—it's all good.

Alice in Chains - Black Gives Way to Blue

I'll say it now: I'm disappointed. How long did we have to wait for this? There are fewer solos, less speed, less sing-along parts, and a Layne Staley clone. While a couple songs see the new singer to have some of his own identity, I feel that in most others, he sounds too close to Layne, and I don't like this. Whilst mature and mellow, the songs feel anti-climatic all the way to the anti-climatic final song. Oh well.

Kreator - Hordes of Chaos

I hate it when an album/sound/direction feels forced, and this feels very forced. Mille tries to be brutal, aggressive, and thrashy in his vocals and guitar playing, but the outcome is almost laughable. UGH.

Gorod - Process of a New Decline

The (formerly Gorgasm) guys from France have returned with yet another tech-death release that has a little emphasis on song structure this time around. While the vocalist could vary his style a little more often, it's still befitting of the music and style. This band is impressive.

Amoral - Show Your Colors

I've always thought these guys were a fun-sounding band—thrash, death and rock all mixed into one entity. While this album doesn't really see them breaking their mold, it's still a good one.

The Lucifer Principle - Welcome to Bloodshed

Death thrash with some excellent leads, the vocals are more wet roar, and it works for these guys. I think the drummer could add some extra identity to the songs and step up his game more. Despite this, it's a good second release.

Warbringer - Waking Into Nightmares

No other way to say it: and thrash for all. It's what these guys do best and they are sticking to it. If it works, then there’s nothing wrong with that. The production, the riffs, the bass, the vocals are a little tighter and have more room to breathe, making this album more decisive and fun.

Azarath - Praise the Beast

Extremity and blasphemy seem to go hand in hand. They certainly do with this band. While Praise the Beast seems a bit more mature musically, it's still Azarath. This is the last album with their original vocalist, and that's a shame. It's pretty good.

Behemoth - Evangelion

This should've been the album released after Demigod. The song writing is more complete, the music intense, and Nergal seems to give his voice a little more attention this time around. Some of the intro/fill-space in the beginning gets a little tedious.

Belphegor - Walpurgis Rites - Hexenwahn

If you think these blasphemous metallers can't push the extreme envelope any further, you haven't heard this album yet. These three don't give a damn, and it shows. I think I like Bondage Goat Zombie a little better, but this is a fine release.

Vader - Necropolis

This was basically a one-man recording. While the songs (aside from the silly incantation tracks) are typical Vader and don't really push the envelope, they are still decent. I guess I was expecting something more since the guitarist from Decapitated joined the band. As it turns out he was nothing more than a session solo player. Pity.

Skyfire - Esoteric

A fitting album title to be sure. The sound goes in several directions at once as if they want the listener to get lost in thought. I like that. Classical, progressive, atmospheric, and even black in parts, it just goes wherever it wants. While guitar whiz Johan Reinholdz isn't given a wide berth to do his magic, he does get a few moments to toss out a virtuoso solo now and then. Thinking man’s metal for you.

W.A.S.P. - Babylon

Musically this album follows Helldorado. Babylon is more on the Rocky side of things than most metal, but it's not a bad album. Delving into why one man shouldn't rule the world and other worries on the mind of Blackie Lawless, it's an OK album. But I was hoping they'd go back to the Kill Fuck Die go-for-the-jugular sound.

Immortal - All Shall Fall

To be honest, I really didn't think Immortal's previous Sons of Northern Darkness was all that great. This album, however, is a lot more mature, musically diverse, and shows progression, experimentation, and growth. What's not to like?

Cannibal Corpse - Evisceration Plague

Not sure why Zombies are the new "thing." These songs follow in the same savage and intense vein as Kill. Why there are so many 2-3 minute songs is beyond me. It seems once you get into it, it ends. Title track is the best song on the album, IMO. Nothing new, but hey, it's Cannibal Corpse.

Lion's Share - Dark Hours

I admit, power metal isn't my usual smelt of Metal. This album is the exception. I sometimes feel this is how Iron Maiden may have sounded if they were on steroids. The songs are speedy, short, and the solos are tight. Something different.

Devian - God to the Illfated

I dunno . . . I think these guys are ok, but this album feels mediocre. Legion and Co. have potential, and they should live up to it by taking more time to do things right. Suffice to say, I don't dislike this album, it's just not as good as I'd hoped it would be.

Teitanblood - Seven Chalices

With toned down (almost faded) production, these vile metallers do good work. At first I admit I wasn't sure I liked their style. This is dirty metal. It must've been a pain to record and put together in the studio. I look forward to a next release.

Mastadon - Crack the Skye

These progressive, psychedelic-stoner metallers have come up with yet another concept record. Their style takes a little getting used to, and I like this album more than "Blood Mountain" which felt rushed and lacked focus. The drumming is, as per usual, top-notch. The chemistry between the members makes the music tight and groovy. Some of the songs are a little long-winded, but it still works out fine.

Sacrifice - The Ones I Condemn

Straight up thrash. It's what Sacrifice does best. The vocals are brought up front this time. Intensity is given more room to grow on this record. The vibe is old school, and it feels good.

Goreaphobia - Mortal Repulsion

An old school death metal album with an old school sound but recorded in 2009. Old school fans rejoice. This is a pleasant surprise!

Candlemass - Death Magic Doom

Until this year, I had no idea Robert Lowe (from doom masters: Solitude Aeturnus) had joined this band. There are few, IMHO, who can match Lowe's pipes. Be it a tortured wail or a heartfelt plea, it matters not. This guy can sing. Candlemass seem to stick to a more traditional song writing approach, and Lowe's gifted voice fits right in. A fan of doom metal will be delighted for sure. While Candlemass write slightly better solos, I think overall, I prefer Solitude Aeturnus. But this album (and this band now that they acquired Lowe) is also a keeper.

Samael - Above

Stripped down music, less keyboard, and a blackened production almost makes this feel like it's not even a Samael record. Samael have written some groovy, catchy tunes in their day, but not on this album. The songs on Above are more raw and vicious, less sophisticated and de-evolved. I hope they go back to their experimental cyber-sounds on the next release.

Leaves' Eyes - Njord

Angelic entranchtress Liv-Christine is back with her hubby's band (and a new female bassist) to chant tales of the Nordic fame. More instruments and keys are used for effect. While slower at times than normal, its atmospheric feelings are often reminiscent of their first album Lovelorn. Mrs Sith loves this. =)

Altar Of Plagues - White Tomb

These guys must love Opeth. The songs are long with a black metal vibe tossed into their melodic death overtures. Unfortunately, they put in dead space and filler which is a shame. Still, a thoughtful release with many atmospheric moments.

Ex Deo - Romulus

Katakysm + a keyboardist and we get a new band with a new sound! Enter Ex Deo. An album based on Ancient Rome and history. This is good stuff but not ground-breaking. Marco does less of his screech and more roar but slows it down. Spoken dialect and an overall feeling like an entire Roman Legion is marching behind chanting, ALL HAIL CAESAR! Good times.

Artillery - When Death Comes

German thrash with plenty of hooks to catch you and pull you into the songs. I hear a small element of Death Angel in the vocal style, but it fits and its fun. Less thrashy than some of their previous endeavors but more mature.

Nightrage - Wearing a Martyr's Crown

The return to their melodic-death/Swedish sound . . . at last! The vocalist pays homage to Tomas Lindberg (formerly of Nightrage) but still does his own style. Most of the metalcore vibe is gone but not totally. The stellar guitar work is back. I'm ok with this^^.

General Surgery - Corps in Extremis: Analyzing Necrocriticism

For the most part, this is Death Metal with some Brutal chops put in. The vocals are usually discernable and the music has some sludge. They tend to alternate between fast-paced and sludgy on the songs. It works for me. Death metal fans should take note.

Paradise Lost - Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us

If you're hoping Paradise Lost returns to their Icon or Draconian Times sound, then this new album is ALMOST it. While some of the solos and melodic leads are back, they aren't quite as epic as the aforementioned masterpieces. The vocals are on par if slightly held back. This is a decent album and probably the best they've released since Draconian Times. This should've been the album they released instead of the abysmal One Second. Love the album title.

Epica - Design Your Own Universe

Symphonic metal. A lot of work went into this opus, and the result is, well, EPIC! While the male vocalist adds some duality to the album, the ears remain fixed on Simone Simons. The continuing orchestra arrangements tossed into the metal mix keep it feeling fresh. While I am not familiar with their past works, I plan on looking into this elegant band more.

Slayer - World Painted Blood

These guys need Rick Rubin to produce their sound. Maybe their second-rate production will cease to plague their future albums. Seriously, the sound on the record is trash. While the songs themselves are decent enough and lyrically it's typical Slayer, the overall sound just kills this record. Strike two, guys.

Divine Heresy - Bringer of Plagues

I have a hard time getting over Dino Cazares doing an extreme record after his break-up with Fear Factory. Never-the-less, it's not bad though a little bland. The drumming is exceptional though.

Supreme Pain - Nemesis Enforcer

For the most part old school death metal and gore. Tried and true, it's nothing new, but it's a good album. I enjoyed Cadaver Pleasures more though.

Saviours - Accelerated Living

Stoner-rock anyone? It has its place in metal. Bands like Alchemist, Alice in Chains, Only Living Witness, etc. have all left their taints. Saviors is more along the lines of Only Living Witness in terms of sound, vibe, and even the vocals. Mid-tempo, not quite thrashy or melodic, but definately musical. Something different.

Hypocrisy - A Taste of Extreme Divinity

I hate to say it, but this feels like a typical Swedish death metal album. Not a bad thing. The music is good, the vocals you can go along with, and there are plenty of catchy parts. But this album doesn't stand out. If you like Swedish death metal, then pick this one up.

Suffocation - Blood Oath

These guys actually toned it down on their new album, but it really doesn't show. Finely crafted songs with precision musicianship make for a great album.

Marduk - Wormwood

Unfortunately, Marduk needs to try and re-identify their sound. While they aren't afraid to stick in some slow intros and some subtle sounds into their style, it's just not enough. The meat of their songs tends to just drone on and have little substance. The need to focus more on song-writing next time.

Obituary - Darkest Days

Not straying from a formula long in the making, these old school death metallers know what to do. Slow riffs, crisp solos, and off-beat drumming are only some of the pleasurable experiences on this album. Even though these guys have one of the best-selling death metal records of all time, they just don't seem to get the credit or notoriety they deserve. A classic.

And the biggest shock of 2009 goes to . . .

Otep - Smash the Control Machine

We've become a nation of wolves ruled by sheep
owned by swine, overfed and put to sleep
and while the media elite decrees what to think
I am wide awake, on the edge and on the brink.
So when Atlas shrugs and the fountainhead bleeds
and when Wall Street Apostles preach a gospel of greed
I'll renounce the fame of this gluttonous age
and be a born-again American.

—Otep Shamaya

I'm not a fan. In fact, there are only four songs on this album I enjoyed. However, the title track alone merits a review. While the music is predominantly Nu-Metal (I hate the term), they occasionally go for melodies, thrashy grooves, and a subtle pop sound.

The title track (which was taken from a poem) takes a stab at American mentalities, bail-outs, people, reality TV, politics and our way of life (or lack thereof). Musically it's very catchy, and the lyrics are brilliant. Otep has a gift for writing (notice her anagram in the moniker?), and this song/album is proof of that. Clocking in at just over 3:40 minutes, it's quite a mouthful. It's a shame she doesn't let the musicians do more of the talking. The bassist is exceptional at times.

So that’s it for 2009. With releases from Overkill, Immolation, Arsis, Exodus. Dark Fortress, Fear Factory, (hopefully, but doubtful) Tool, Demonica to name a few, 2010 is shaping up to be a good year as well. I got a chance to sample one album slated for release in 2010, and I must say, I am pleasantly surprised. ‘Til then . . .


Monday, December 21, 2009



A funny thing happened as Leona Lewis started singing at the end of AVATAR. I set my 3-D glasses up on the brim of my hat, allowed my eyes to adjust, and took a deep breath after spending nearly three hours on the planet Pandora. I felt amazed, enthralled, and even a little moved. And then it dawned on me: most of what I was just feeling was in reaction to a cluster of CGI characters! This doesn't happen to me. I don't easily get emotionally invested in a being created on an iMac. Actually that's a lie. Jar Jar Binks did annoy and nauseate me, but I'm talking about positive emotional investment.

In that respect, I gotta hand it to James Cameron. He sure has created something unique if a bunch of blue cartoons can move an audience the way AVATAR does.

The year is 2154. Man is scouring the galaxy for a mineral called unobatium. The stuff is wicked-powerful and worth a fortune. The good news is that man has discovered the motherlode. The bad news is that it's in the hostile natural environment of a planet named Pandora. The worse news is that it's directly under the native settlement of the Na'vi, a humanoid species standing nine feet tall with big cat-like eyes and long tails. Oh yeah, and they're bright blue.

Our protagonist Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is dropped into the middle of this problem. Jake is an American Marine paralyzed from the waist down. His twin brother has done a lot of work on a project to infiltrate and observe the Na'vi using an Avatar program. The idea is to uplink Jake's brain and nervous system into a cloned Na'vi body. The project leader Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) is reluctant and unconvinced. According to her, it takes a lot more than just a matching set of DNA.

During an early assignment, Jake is separated from the other Avatars and stumbles his way towards the Na'vi settlement. It's here that he first encounters Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). After sparing his life, she comes face to face with Jake. She knows he is not part of her tribe but is unsure about where exactly he comes from. When he is presented to her tribe, it is decided that he will be trained in their culture. Thus an insider for the unobatium mission has been chosen.

As Jake learns the ways of the Na'vi, his superiors keep a close eye on him. Grace is excited and encouraging about his research. However, people like Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) are antsy. They are quick to remind Jake why he is there and seem ready to move in and get the payload they so desperately want with or without Jake's help.

Quite honestly, expressing my feelings about AVATAR seems to be a bit tricky. Let me start with the obvious: I loved it. There are few films made these days that must be seen in a theatre, and AVATAR is one of the few. I mean really, how much is it worth to watch a Michael Bay Pyrotechnic Extravaganza? It's said that AVATAR was in development for fifteen years. If that is true, then every day of that stretch was time well-spent.

Not only is the animation stunning, but the rendering of the whole film in 3-D seems like it takes the medium to a whole new level. The 3-D in this film is not used to achieve cheap stunts and trickery. Instead, it is used to give the run through the jungle of Pandora a density it wouldn't otherwise achieve.

What makes this movie work is how it submerges the audience into Pandora. From the sight of banshees filling the sky to the sounds of insects zipping past your head, every sensory moment of this film has been designed to draw you into the story and not let your mind wander. It's rare these days that a movie goes to such lengths to create a theatrical experience. However as we all know by now, visual style will only get you so far. It's all for naught if the story sucks.

While the story isn't perfect, it is indeed well mapped-out and engaging. I was surprised at just how moved I was during some of the film's most dramatic moments, especially since my heart was being moved by a bunch of blue CG beings in their lush CG environment. What James Cameron has done is create an entire alien race and culture and given them a mythology all their own without going overboard and losing the audience-at-large. Essentially he has done what George Lucas always wanted to do but never could on his best day with an entire team of monkeys on typewriters backing him up.

Building on the mysticism of Pandora and the Na'vi, Cameron uses a traditional story of forbidden love to draw us into his greater themes. The film has a strong undercurrent of environmentalism, especially in the way the Na'vi are at one with their surroundings. It also has a lot to say about the nature of imperialism and the drastic unforeseen dangers that every superpower looking to invade a sovereign region to take what they want faces. Gotta hand it to Cameron; that's some pretty good subtext to work into a flick about tall, dragon-riding, archery-lovin' smurfs!

While I am still blown away by this movie and giving it top marks, don't for a moment let me lead you to believe the film is flawless. A big aspect of the love story is deeply predictable; however it's not the film's worst offence. No, the film's worst offence is a particular showdown and the manner in which the villain in said showdown seems terminator-like for no apparent reason. Give him your best shot; he'll take it and just keep coming. It's an unfortunate plot point since it lessens the impact of a truly unique film. Slightly.

Essentially AVATAR feels like a James Cameron Greatest Hits compilation. Take the effects of THE ABYSS, the action of ALIENS, the gunfights of T2 and the forbidden love of TITANIC. Cameron has taken his best tracks from those efforts and compiled them into one imaginative playlist. It’s a carefully crafted playlist, however, and one with a song for everybody. And despite the defects, AVATAR is a rare film that employs every trick imaginable and a film that will stay with you long after those CGI characters have disappeared from the screen.






Friday, December 18, 2009


KERBEROS: The Kely McClung Interview. Part 2

1. From start to finish (assuming you are about to sign off), how long has the KERBEROS production been?

The writing went really quick once I wrote the first sentence: Wide on a nearly colorless cemetery. But for me it usually does—maybe three or four weeks start to finish. I don't write rough drafts or outlines. I play conversations in my head and/or start to see a few images very clearly, and the story grows from there. Sometimes that process goes on for a couple years before it hits paper. Usually it gets to the point where I have to put it down and write it. Good or bad, I have written twenty-three feature screenplays. It’s a lot of fun for me to write, almost like reading or watching a movie. Characters appear and do things that I had no idea about until it happens! The stories always seem to write themselves, and I have a blast discovering them. I knew KERBEROS was strong and much bigger than the resources I had at hand, so the next bit of time went to start planning on how to pull it off. I had a read-through with some actors I know—many are in the film—but it was several months after that I was able to pull the trigger and officially start. From the time I officially started preproduction until now, it has been twenty-one months. I am finally about ready to sign off, day-by-day checking off a list of fixes and details that always bothered me.

And then of course comes the little details like checking and double-checking the sound separations, credits, titles, websites, DVD menus, posters, trailers, behind the scenes, commentaries, and the joys of paperwork.

2. If you could channel one director's skills, who would it be and why?

I'm sure anyone who has seen my films is thinking Tony Scott who is a huge inspiration to me but more [for] his handling of story structure and some of the visual risks he takes than the actual movies [he directs]. I think SPY GAMES was genius though not his biggest critical or box office success. But the first name that comes to mind is Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Even there, I admit that it is his bigger, more commercial fare that I really like and am blown away by, both AMELIE and A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT. The rhythm and epic pacing, the mastery of each frame in terms of composition, color and light, his handling of special FX in ways that seems quite natural but that are anything but, the complexity of the stories, and the way he stages and finds so much beauty in the blood and mud of war, is really remarkable to me. I'm still at a stage because of my [limited] budget that I am forced to create my compositions from the natural world and available light. I also draw and paint and have since being very young, so I'd like to think that when I have the budget to construct and paint each scene, I could find a few frames that approach the painterly effect and quality of what I have seen in his films. I appreciate that same beauty and Gilliam-like quirkiness in Jeunet’s first films, DELICATESSEN and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, but the stories were not my favorite. I look forward to seeing his newest film MICMACS when I can.

It's probably hard to see the director's role in shaping actors’ performances when they are so consistently great like Daniel Day Lewis and Penelope Cruz with directors like Scorcesse and Almodovar, but I really strive for the ability to elicit great performances from the actors. So perhaps the (possibly) underrated ability of someone like Tarantino who, time after time, ends up with a movie that [features] actors’ best performances [is something I would like to emulate]. It's partly a matter of empathy and communication, the ability to relate to people as individuals in unique ways, which reaches and moves them. [It is] having the desire [to do this], taking the time, and pulling it off in split-second situations that makes up a production. I have a long way to go, but I am getting there.

3. Next up: BLACKHEART or ALTERED? Can you give any details on what you are thinking in regards to these? (These are two film ideas that Kely has mentioned to me in our discussions. Both sound rather badass, BTW).

At this minute I am still planning on doing both. They are incredibly different and [each] have very unique challenges for me. BLACKHEART concerns child sexual slavery and prostitution, yet my concept for a movie starts from a more conventional action film and develops into something that approaches horror. If I tackle it, the action will be even more brutal that what anyone has seen me do, and most likely because of the graphic quality I am drawn to, the horror will not only look real, but the emotional level and investment will be extremely high. Because of the subject matter, child slavery, and sex, think HOSTEL with children. I am sure there will be those lined up to crucify me as exploitative, which is exactly the point: to draw attention and horror to this situation that in many countries, including ours, is quietly shoved under the rug and in others, is quietly accepted. Because I am finding the ability to bring strong emotional qualities to my characters and thereby [impact] the audience, I think [such a film] will be both disturbing and heartbreaking.

I'll also have to be in better shape than I have ever been on film as I would hope to actually have stuntmen to choreograph and fight with on this one. This means I'll be wanting to put more of my “style” and theories of martial arts on film. There is much I haven't done in terms of realistic fights that really comes down to [not having] the budget [necessary] for great stunt fighters and kick-ass make-up. Can't have fights where I am breaking bones if I can't show it!

ALTERED has been my pet project since inception about 6 years ago. Think SE7EN as told by Tom Tykwer and interpreted by Terry Gilliam with the relentless horror of Fabrice du Welz! Hopefully, all together that creates a Kely McClung film! Interesting story structure, constructed sets, heavy art direction, special FX and make-up, a really off-the-wall take on things, probably a dance number or two, and of course, some brutal action! It [would] deal with a lot of universal truths and very simple ideas, but hopefully people would get through it and walk out scratching their heads and needing that piece of pie to put it in perspective.* And really, that's what it's all about, perspective: how it changes our world, and how it determines each person's actions and place.

I have a half-dozen other stories ready to go but am developing a new idea which wraps an action movie around something that feels a bit like SEVEN POUNDS. Maybe my mother will get to watch that one!

*This is a reference to something Kely has said to me in conversation: he wants all of his films to inspire a “pie and coffee” discussion afterward. He is referencing an exchange between Clarence and Alabama in Scott’s TRUE ROMANCE. In all honesty, who doesn’t want a movie that inspires a warm discussion afterward?

More to come...


Check out Kely's Blog Site

Check out the Official KERBEROS Site

Mediasaurs Front Page

Contact M-Rex Here

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


KERBEROS: The Kely McClung Interview. Part 1

This is the first in a series of installments of an interview I conducted with Kely McClung, director of the film KERBEROS.

A few months ago I was invited to a test screening of KERBEROS, an independent film written, directed by, and starring Kely McClung. My timing was perfect. KERBEROS was getting ready to rear all three of its mean heads, and I happened to be in a position to see it first hand. It was just a matter of a few emails and a phone call, and I found myself scrambling to get the hell out of Santa Cruz and down to Anaheim for the test screening at Indie Fest USA in Downtown Disney. I hustled and headed south. Upshot was that I was able to meet, hang out with, and interview Kely in Century City the afternoon prior to the screening.

Before meeting Kely I had only spoken to him on the phone. Now, my stereotype of a filmmaker is someone who has the scruffy physical presence of Peter Jackson or Guillermo del Toro. So when this clean-shaven bruiser stepped into my vehicle, I was taken aback. McClung is a squared off individual that looks like he could spring into action at any moment and beat your ass. Furthermore, there is no pretention about him. Kely is a personable guy who absolutely loves what he is doing and happens to have big ideas and an incredible amount of skill and drive to pull the best from his actors and his camerawork. As we walked around looking for a restaurant called THE SUGAR ROCK at some mall on the Avenue of the Stars, Kely started to tell the tale of his own hustle to get his movie off the ground.

Kely likes making movies, and he has also as the martial arts skills to flip you into a coma. As he spoke of his time in Hollywood and how he’d built a previous career using his martial arts skills, he mentioned the fact that he “taught and worked with dozens of police and military personal, studied and holds black belt rank in a half dozen karate systems with most [of his] training in Chinese systems [that] don't acknowledge rank, . . . was the International Full Contact Stick Fighting Champion of the World, and [ran martial arts] schools for many years throughout the Southeast as well as in Thailand and Malaysia.” He told me of his determination when he was training and the discipline that is now evident in his push to create and publicize KERBEROS.

He is relaxed, but his physical form shows these years of training. Kely also talked about his previous martial arts-heavy film, BLOOD TIES, and the short films that he’s made. But the interview was primarily focused on KERBEROS, a gritty crime thriller with dense layers of character development packed onto a thick plotline. KERBEROS is the Greek spelling of Cerberus, the three-headed guard-dog of Hades. The movie follows three different individuals, all of whom are vicious in their own ways, have criminal characteristics, and a day of reckoning coming.

The movie KERBEROS is almost completely ready for a film festival run. This interview series will cover more of the elements of the film and a lot more from the director himself.

-Mediasaurus Rex

Monday, December 14, 2009



It's difficult to believe that after twenty years, INVICTUS is the first Hollywood film about Nelson Mandela. I dare say it won't be the last as it doesn't spend too long focusing on the true determination of his story. The story doesn't get too far into his imprisonment. We know that he was a detainee, but we're never given a clear picture as to why. Likewise, we don't see too much of Mandela trying to govern his newly reunited nation. Instead the film focuses on his efforts to inspire the rugby team to greatness. This aspect of Mandela's presidency is a detail even the film rolls its eyes at, which is a rare bit of cinematic honesty.

Eastwood's direction seems to get complacent at times. There is at least one horrible music cue that completely jars you out of the film's journey. It feels like a smack to the head reminding us that what we're watching is important. In addition, this must have been Clint's first time using a crane camera. There's no other explanation for the vast number of sweeping aerial shots of the stadium and the crowd. Hey Clint, I'm invested in what's going on in the game, not in getting a great view of everyone at the game.

These missteps hold the film back from becoming something truly great. And they are somewhat compounded by the unlikely and cliché trajectory of the Springboks' World Cup run. However, one cannot fault the movie too much for such a David & Goliath narrative since events really did play out that way. While South Africa would continue struggling to heal, grow, and prosper after the 1995 World Cup run, it did nonetheless inspire the feeling of national jubilation and unity depicted onscreen.

Make no mistake: this is very much a rugby film, but the rugby plays a big part in the larger story at hand. Mandela inherited a mess, not the least messy part of which was a lingering race division. What Mandela understood quite early on and what INVICTUS wants to remind us of is that sports can unite. What INVICTUS does best is take Mandela's rugby obsession and show us how astute a move it actually was to use the 1995 rugby World Cup win as a symbol of national unity. The film illustrates how even if it's only for a short while, national sports can both take our attention away from the problem at hand and renew our inspiration to solve it.


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Thursday, December 10, 2009



When I was a child, my father told me that any movie with a title longer than seven syllables was destined to fail. THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS does not catch a pass in this department. The plot is adequate, but by and large, the biggest, most damning sin this film commits is in hiring Nicolas Cage to play the lead role.

Nicolas Cage has been careening through Hollywood like a cracked-out homeless person for his entire career. Cage was given work in Hollywood in the first place because of his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola. The only reason Cage continues to get work is that he won an Oscar for his performance in LEAVING LAS VEGAS. Here is the truth: Cage won because he didn’t have to act. He always looks like he is under the influence of a narcotic. Some might call his method quirky, but Cage comes across as so completely insecure in front of the camera that he makes his audience insecure. Nicolas Cage is a bundle of twitches and bizarre gesticulations. In this new BAD LIEUTENANT movie, Nic Cage’s Terrence McDonagh is completely drug-addled. It would seem that a freak like Nic Cage would be suited for the job, but he is in way over his head.

The original BAD LIEUTENANT was a mean-spirited piece of spiritual abuse from Abel Ferrera. It featured Harvey Keitel investigating the rape of a nun while doing incredible amounts of drugs and racking up a hefty gambling debt. In the end of the original, Keitel gets smoked. It is bittersweet because his soul is in such torment.

The parallels between the original BAD LIEUTENANT and BLPOCNO have to do with drug use, unfettered gambling, and securing strange sexual favors from women about to be arrested. But it all ends there. The original BAD LIEUTENANT was about the spiritual anguish of a man whose life was falling to pieces. There is nothing remotely that existential in BLPOCNO. BLPOCNO is tamer than the original film in all respects. The first film was the bully and BLPOCNO is a henchman at best. This is odd and unfortunate because Victor Argo was a writer on both productions. Perhaps his death in 2004 led to a toning down of this “sequel.” The truth of the matter is that the title of “BAD LIEUTENANT” should have died with Keitel’s character back in 1992.

So walking into BLPOCNO requires a level of forgiveness that I simply don’t have. There was no need for a new BAD LIEUTENANT movie. The Lieutenant is dead as per the first film.

I must also note that Abel Ferrera who directed the original BAD LIEUTENANT wished that all involved with this new production die in a streetcar. BLPOCNO director Werner Herzog has publically stated that he hasn’t seen the original movie and that the two shouldn’t be compared. Perhaps then he should have come up with a different title for the film. But obviously Herzog is using the notoriety of the original film. A lot of back-story doesn’t need to be explained because the title telegraphs to the audience that this film is going to be a morally-compromised sex and drug festival starring Nic Cage in the title role that Keitel originated.

Now Nic Cage is supposed to convince me that he has the acting chops that Keitel has? I should stop writing here because Nic Cage threatens no leading man in A-list modern cinema in regards to acting chops.

Nic Cage’s ghoulish performance as a police officer with back trouble so great that he relies on street drugs over his codeine prescription is really the problem with the film. Cage is a complete ghoul. His ghoulishness is accentuated with a strange limp, and his receding hairline is almost Hiteresque. Nic Cage is a depressing example of how detached the bigwigs in Hollywood are from the common people who watch these films. In a just world, Cage would be bounced to the C-list where he could hone his craft and move back up the ladder. Cage is limited in his range and uncomfortable with his delivery. There isn’t a moment in BLPOCNO where he doesn’t betray his knowledge that there is a camera on him. One could argue that this is a part of his shtick and that Cage has done a brilliant job of acting like a drugged and strung out debtor with a ridiculous amount of pressure on him. This might be the case, but he has been acting like this for his entire career.

The other actor who seems to be overwhelmed (like Cage) is Eva Mendez. Mendez is eye candy; she always has been. Mendez plays Frankie, McDonagh’s hooker love interest, as a dazed beauty. McDonagh does drugs with her and gets her out of sticky situations with her scummy johns. There is a creepy scene where McDonagh and Mendez make out for a few seconds, and if there is such a thing as negative chemistry between a leading man and woman, this scene has it. Mendez isn’t much of a thespian, but she can outact someone like Megan Fox while doing a handstand. Mendez should have known better than to sign on to work with Cage again. GHOST RIDER was horrific and similarly uncomfortable.

The rest of the cast, which is custom-built around Cage and Mendez, all bust their humps to deliver their best. These people are hustling. It is a treat to watch them take their roles seriously and churn out fantastic product. Vondie Curtis-Hall is convincing as McDonagh’s Captain. As McDonagh’s partner Stevie, Val Kilmer is fresh, slimmed down, and seemingly reinvigorated as an actor. Fairuza Balk, who hasn’t done anything noteworthy since THE WATERBOY, comes into this film strong and believable as Heidi, a Highway Patrol officer who fixes problems. Brad Dourif takes a break from sleepwalking as Chuckie’s voice to actually put it down as Ned the loan shark. An honorable mention should also go to Xzibit who plays the murderous gangster named Big Fate. There is a ridiculous amount of talent to process in this film from the co-stars alone.

Furthermore, they are being put through their paces by Herzog, the man who brought us AGUIRRE THE WRATH OF GOD back in 1972 and the beautiful yet long-winded 1979 version of NOSFERATU. In short, Herzog knows his camera work, and it shows throughout the film. When McDonagh is really tripping on whatever drugs are in his system, Herzog throws random iguanas shown through filters onscreen. Herzog also follows a crocodile from its perspective (crocovision) for more than a comfortable amount of time. This artistic detachment is favored several times through the film.

The plot is relatively simple. There has been a slaughter of five people, and McDonagh manages to secure a witness. McDonagh also manages to lose that witness and in the process, piss off a US Congressman, the Mafioso, and “one of the biggest developers in the gulf coast.” The plot is constantly derailed by McDonagh’s druggie side trips and insignificant subplots regarding his father’s newfound sobriety within AA. During a shootout, McDonagh orders that a body be shot again because “his soul is still dancing.” We see a body spinning and breakdancing and then McDonagh’s face with a look of incredibly disturbing peace on it. This is as close as the film gets to the spiritual subject matter of the original. There is also a moment where everything that is wrong in McDonagh’s life turns in his favor. This moment is so stilted and forced that you wonder again why this is a film sporting the name BAD LIEUTENANT.

Towards the end of the film, Frankie starts seriously considering sobriety. By this point, the film has stepped into that glossy Hollywood R-rating and completely away from the independent, gritty R-rating that Ferrera had secured. Unlike its superior predecessor, BLPOCNO then manages to end on a relatively positive note. And this is an offensive slap in the raw, uncompromising face of the original.

-Mediasaurus Rex




Wednesday, December 9, 2009



What's the value of human contact? Is it a part of our lives that we need indispensably? Or is it, in fact, something that can hold us back, tie us down, and inevitably kill us. Do we need to have people in our lives to help us through it? Or might we be better off if we only had to worry about ourselves and the task at hand? If George Clooney's character Ryan Bingham is to be believed, human relationships are overrated, and if you give him five minutes to talk to you, he'll prove it.

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) works for a firm that subcontracts him out to terminate corporate employees. He is sent from city to city to do just one thing—sit across the table from you, tell you you're fired, and hand you a folder. To say he has it down to a fine science is an understatement. At this point in his career, he's surgical.

He's quite happy being on the road 322 days a year. His friends are stewardesses. His home is a preferred passengers’ lounge. Unfortunately, his corporate nirvana is about to be upset. His firm has hired a crackerjack efficiency expert named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick). She stands up and trumpets the future—a business model where these professional termination experts don't fly from place to place handing out pink slips; they do it all by webcam. Ryan is unconvinced that she knows that of which she speaks. He convinces his boss of this just enough to provoke a training exercise. She'll go with him from town to town, business to business, seeing just what it's like to look at the person across the table and find an eloquent way to say, "You're fired."

Keener is a sudden, strong female presence that causes waves for this man who fancies his life is an island. And she isn't the only strong female presence. In a hotel bar, Ryan meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga). She is cut from the same cloth as Ryan. She has a taste for executive perks and just like Ryan, has the air of a shark that must keep moving or die. She and Ryan have an instant chemistry, sharing a flirtation and seduction unlike anything you've ever seen in the movies but just as hot.

Between his desire for Alex and his mentoring of Natalie, Ryan's life philosophy is about to be put to the test.

UP IN THE AIR comments on the state of the North American economy by focusing on the fact that people are being fired. This is actually quite an effective theme as in watching this film, you realize that there are entire businesses out there dedicated to ending people's careers. They succeed in the same unfortunate way that funeral parlors succeed. It sucks, but it's true.

What UP IN THE AIR does especially well is make us understand the difficult tact one has to take to fire an employee. Clooney is good at it. He doesn't even look employees he is firing in the eye when he says, "That's the truth," but they believe him anyway. The techniques of termination on display in this movie are surgical and yet human at the same time.

By comparison, where it gets inhumane and pretty damned cold is when Natalie's plan to terminate employees by webcam starts getting tested. It's right down there with getting dumped by text message.

Unfortunately, UP IN THE AIR tries to be a lot more than that and in so doing, tries to be too many things. The movie seems to lose its way when it finally makes Ryan cave and give in to the nagging voice in the back of his head that thinks personal relationships might not be so bad. This leads him not only to reach out to Alex (a device that works), but also to his sisters (a device that doesn't). The family plotline takes Ryan down a predictable path and one that seems a tad implausible. I liked this film, but I think that had this element not been added to the story, I would have loved it.

When Ryan tells us how much he enjoys the life he has made, I believe him. Hell, the guy could tell me the sky is yellow, and I'd probably believe him. The character has clearly gone to the Nick Naylor school of talking, and holds an honors degree. Hearing someone say they dislike being home might sound ludicrous until you see how barren and empty he actually keeps his home. Perhaps it’s this part of his life that causes me to trip over the choices Ryan makes in the film's final act. He grows and goes through a lot of introspection, but the choices he makes don't feel like choices he would make.

Hell, I don't even know if they are choices I would make!

Bumpy landing and all, UP IN THE AIR succeeds with what it wants to say about connections. It serves as a reminder that in an age of text messaging, twittering, and *ahem* blogging, there is no substitute for human contact. True, many of us may walk through the airports of our lives with far too much baggage for such a pedestrian trip. However what the movie understands best, is that it isn't the travelling that matters; it is indeed the travelers that travel with us.

-The Mad Hatter

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009



More than 10 years ago Ice Cube’s FRIDAY was making its rounds. People swore up and down that it was the funniest thing that they had ever seen. The movie was funny, but it was no CADDYSHACK. Since that time, Ice Cube’s career has been bottoming out. There have been some flickers of life such as THE BARBERSHOP, but overall, Cube has participated in some weak rap albums and even weaker movies. THE JANKY PROMOTERS might be Cube’s hard reset.

After the success of FRIDAY (and Chris Tucker temporarily moving on to the A-list), Cube got in close with Mike Epps. Mike Epps is a funny guy, but NEXT FRIDAY, THE FRIDAY AFTER NEXT, and ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS never hit that pacing that was created in the original FRIDAY.

PROMOTERS, however, is another rude, misogynist, stereotypical ghetto slice-of-life vehicle in the tone of FRIDAY.

PROMOTERS chronicles an 18 hour hustle by Russell Redds and Jellyroll (Cube and Epps), two low-down concert promoters in M-Do (Modesto) CA, to present a Young Jeezy concert. These two are janky alright. Russell, dressed in perpetual gangster red, drives while pulling on a bottle of Corvoisier. Jellyroll is a failed manipulator who is tempting fate by bedding a lunatic cop’s wife.

There are some funny bit parts and a Joey Greco cameo as the CHEATERS-type host of a show called SO BUSTED. Young Jeezy plays himself, and it seems that all women in this film are either hustling crack (Russell’s mother), second class citizens to dominant male predators, or skeezed-out, aggressive groupies. All of the ghetto clichés are flaunted.

The local project kingpin fronts big money to Jellyroll for a guarantee that Jeezy will show up at his “afterparty.” Russell raids his honeymoon cash in order to rent the concert hall. The rest of the film is a series of bait and switches and outright lies to keep the concert on schedule.

This film is low-budget to an extreme “no editor needed” level. PROMOTERS hiccups as it opens with a typo in its onscreen dictionary definition of the word “Janky.” There is no moral or even any point to the story. And the film seems to simply run out of juice. But Cube and Epps keep the thing somewhat alive by showboating smart-assed ineptitude all the way through. It is clear that these guys wanted to have fun making a movie, and they did. PROMOTERS is wide open for a sequel or a prequel that would explain Russell’s maxed-out credit card collection or bullet-holed Chrysler 300 on a spare tire.

While it isn’t groundbreaking in the sense that FRIDAY was, THE JANKY PROMOTERS fits right into that ghetto comedy niche that FRIDAY fine-tuned. Neither are great films, but they both have their moments. PROMOTERS is an empty-calorie, R-rated comedy that goes nowhere but is entertaining nonetheless.

It is unfortunate that in order to enjoy PROMOTERS, one has to take all of Ice Cube’s syllabus into account. Weighing this film against the other garbage that Cube has done, PROMOTERS knocks the ball out of the park. Weighing this film against any other recent comedy such as BLACK DYNAMITE or THE GOODS immediately exposes THE JANKY PROMOTERS as having a long way to go to be accepted as a seriously funny comedy.

-Mediasaurus Rex

Thursday, December 3, 2009



As soon as this movie starts rolling, it is easy to settle into its stock post-apocalyptic plot. A virus has wrecked civilization as we know it. Four people are driving in a stolen Mercedes with the words “Road Warrior” sprayed on its hood to a sketchy destination. The only really interesting thing going on in this opening scene is that Brian (Christopher Pine/Captain Jerk from the STAR TREK reboot) is being a jerk. The only reason people will want to see CARRIERS in the first place is because Christopher Pine is in it, and he still carries the STAR TREK afterglow. However, Chris Meloni (FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and LAW AND ORDER, SVU) is also in it, and he outacts Pine. But overall, viewers should abandon any hope of finding a hidden gem in this film immediately.

They are not quite as witty as those in ZOMBIELAND, but there are rules that this group of travelling youth follow. “You break the rules, you die; you follow them you live, maybe,” says the voiceover. The concept of a plague that is effortlessly passed from person to person is straight out of 28 DAYS LATER. In CARRIERS, all you have to do is breathe the air of the infected and you will catch it. The solution for Brian, his girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo), Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci), and Kate (Emily VanCamp) is to wear doodled-on surgical masks. Would this protect people from an airborne virus in real life? Not the way these clowns wear them. Many scenes are replete with the misfit masks hanging strangely off of the actor’s faces.

Danny and Brian are brothers. There is a lot of insincere backstory helping us to understand this, but it really could be grainy stock footage of any two little boys frolicking on any beach. Truthfully, Brian and Danny behave like two guys thrown together on a b-movie set. The chemistry that they should have as brothers simply isn’t there.

When this cluster of nondescript survivors rolls up on Frank (Chris Meloni) and his infected daughter Jodie (Kiernan Shipka), the clichéd plot gets about as interesting as it will for the entire film. There is a rumor of a cure just like there was a rumor of a cure to the world genocide plague in Albert Pyun’s CYBORG. Frank pushes for the whole group to go to “Farmington” where the cure is. Of course, there is no cure, and soon we get to see what kind of jerk Brian really is. By the time Brian’s girlfriend is infected with the disease, we are completely primed for his self-centered, heartless, implausible behavior. The brothers are soon pitted against one another, and the only way to go for this film is downhill.

Apparently, all the cool stuff has happened before the movie starts. Brian had a job burying the dead at a stadium for four hundred dollars a day. A flashback on this subject would have been nice. For a movie about disease and the end of mankind, this film plays it close. CARRIERS keeps its corpses and the general results of world devastation to a minimum. There is a strange paroxysm of unexplained violence midway through the film followed by a body strapped to a windmill with a sign around his neck that says “Chinks brought it.” But other than that and a few other nebulous happenings, the holocaust happens primarily between the four travelers. Such a thing could make for a powerful film if you were actually given any reason to care about this bland cast.

Another ripoff of 28 DAYS LATER is a undefined, blue-collar group that overpowers the group and demands to keep the women. In 28 DAYS LATER, at least Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleson) has a plan in regards to world population with his demand for a female. This armed, scuba masked group of millworkers in CARRIERS are just a disorganized bunch of jackass extras.

This movie is an unoriginal mess. If you have seen the trailer for it or looked at any of the production stills that are on the official CARRIERS website, you already have seen all of the money. The still of a German shepherd chewing on a corpse’s intestines was released by the production company, so the biggest shock of the film (which is a direct rip from the original HITCHER) is completely diffused. There are no surprises, and when Brian finally unhinges, it is obvious that he has to be killed. You have to wait around until the rest of the idiots on the doomed mission figure it out.

Perhaps we are supposed to consider how far off the beaten path humankind has come as a result of this plague. But if this is what director/writer team Alex and David Pastor wanted, they botched it. If you want to see an unshaven Captain Jerk wreck a golf cart on a deserted course in a supposed disease-ridden future, this is for you. However, any of the other films that I have mentioned in this article would be more worthy of your time.

-Mediasaurus Rex





Wednesday, December 2, 2009



There was a point in my viewing of GAMER when the film had become so completely badass that I thought, “it doesn’t get any better.” I said, “this is badass” aloud to myself. I wanted to reach for my phone, call a couple of choice heads, and tell them that the critics had been wrong. But almost immediately after that high point, the movie devolved into some sort of strange hyper-violent musical that should be destroyed and thrown out with the night’s trash. I went into this film hoping to find something worthwhile. It has some good stuff in it, but GAMER is drenched in such an elementary school bully level of stupidity that it pissed me off. This is the kind of film you leave in an abandoned lot tied to a stake to die alone, hungry, and hated.

There are many unoriginal angles to GAMER. Subtly, the theme music of the film is Marilyn Manson’s hopelessly inferior version of the Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams.” The notion presented in GAMER of being in a parallel, man-made, techno-savvy dimension isn’t new either. TRON was the original mainstream film that slapped that Lebowski dude into a video game. GAMER is basically the fantastically superior Paul W.S. Anderson’s DEATHRACE flipped, gutted, and served on the MATRIX tip. As a matter of fact, the mechanical heart of DEATHRACE has been callously torn out and installed into GAMER in such a blatant FRANKENSTEIN fashion that I feel the urge to “go villager” on this monstrosity and burn it to the ground.

GAMER is a film brought to us by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. These are the same irreverent upstarts that are responsible for CRANK 1 and 2. Their hyper-kinetic camera work totally fits for this film. Mayhem, fire-fights, and slo-mo, 180 degree, flipping SUV shots flow onscreen perfectly. What separates GAMER from the CRANK series is the former’s complete lack of humor. CRANK is grim, but a blackened vein of humor runs through it. GAMER has no humor buoying its cynical world-view. This movie is out to hurt you, and not in a cool way.

Set in the impossible near-future, GAMER stars Gerard Butler as Kable, a death row inmate who now fights for his freedom as a video game character on a real battlefield. A series of brain operations have made him (and the rest of his teammates) controllable via some nano-tech wireless Internet hookup. Murder and mayhem ensues as real death row inmates on two separate teams open fire on each other and try to survive in a sequestered industrial wasteland. The much more original and better DEATHRACE requires inmates to survive five races. GAMER ups the ante, and inmates are required to survive 30 rounds of in-game intensity. How did Kable find himself on Death Row? Well, in a “startling” similarity to DEATHRACE, he was framed by the powers that be.

Kable is motivated to get out of prison by his desire to be with his wife and daughter. This is where DEATHRACE and GAMER part ways slightly. In DEATHRACE Jason Staham’s Jenson Ames lost his wife and only has his daughter to fight for. Exploiting this difference between the two films, an abusive, slutty, gender-swapping subplot has been cooked up for Kable’s wife Angie (Amber Valleta). Angie works by being controlled in a highly-sexualized, SIMS-type of game by a morbidly obese pervert. Her employment hinders her custody of her daughter a-la BOOGIE NIGHTS.

The guy behind it all is an evil, southern wunderkind named Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall). Castle has also invested in a little nano-tech wireless Internet for his own brain. As the story unfolds, we find that Castle has the power to physically control people who have had his brain-altering operation. This is how the film is able to limp to its finish line.

In the process of this limping, we get to see a mentally imbalanced, pathetic John Leguizamo do his final sell-out role as a throw-away character named Freek. “Incidentally,” the character of Freek mirrors the character named Lists (Fredrick Koehler) from DEATHRACE.

Other bit part players include Ludacris playing Humanz Brother, an unrealized, stereotypical “lets watch this rapper act” role that should have been carried by someone much more Oscar-caliber like Ice-T. Uma Thurman’s stunt-double Zoe Bell plays Sandra, a cornrowed navigator of sorts who takes the dopest headshot ever committed to film. Mix all of these characters together, add bullets, explosions, and a lot of bouncing booty, and you have GAMER, an apocalyptic fallout zone of a film that expects the viewer to accept beyond ridiculous concepts.

There is only one good thing about GAMER’s focused attack on your intelligence. This good thing is obviously why Gerard Butler agreed to meat puppet his way through such an abysmal attempt at entertainment. In order to escape from prison, Kable secures a pint of vodka and chugs it like a champ. He stumbles onto the battlefield, drunk and sloppy. The badass maneuver he pulls is to vomit up the vodka into an abandoned truck’s gas tank and then piss in there to top it off. Using this vulgar concoction he is able to fire up this truck that looks like a weak extra from DEATHRACE and blast out of the gaming battlefield, back into civilian life.

There are a couple of twists that materialize (such as Castle becoming the caretaker of Kable and Angie’s daughter) but they aren’t worth much. Any energy you expend on this film, whether it is a keyboard click to rent it on NETFLIX or stumbling into a BLOCKBUSTER or hustling REDBOX would be tragic. Humanity has been discounted in mainstream film in the past, but GAMER’s nihilistic view kicks the bottom out. The underlying message is bleak, bleak, bleak. GAMER is a glossy, offensive waste of your time.

Gamer will be on video January 19th 2010.

-Mediasaurus Rex

Tuesday, December 1, 2009



A little more than a year ago, I read Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road for the first time. I loved it, but as I got through the last few pages, I felt a measure of relief. Specifically, I was happy about the fact that I'd chosen to read such a downer of a story in the summertime, since I had the warmth of the sun to turn to after leafing through such sadness.

Upon the arrival of the film, I must advise one thing. Much like I did with the book, try to see a matinee of this movie. That way, when you're done sitting through the sadness, you can leave the theatre and walk into the warmth of the sun.

An apocalyptical event has occurred. We aren't told anything specific, but it would seem a safe bet that it's a man-made disaster. In an effort to survive, a father (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) take to the road, heading for the west coast. We're not entirely sure what they hope to find there, but through flashbacks we understand that the idea came from the wife and mother (Charlize Theron) before she fell into despair. To say their “journey” is putting it lightly, since mankind has turned on itself quite viciously. Theft, rape, and murder are rampant. Sadly, so too is cannibalism, as food rations run frighteningly low. The relative warmth and possibility of safe haven on the west coast seems to be their only hope.

The two words that continually came to mind as I watched this movie were "bleak" and "grim." The world of THE ROAD has almost no happiness, and to emphasize that, the colour palate is mostly greys and browns, punctuated with the occasional appearance of blood red. The amazing thing about this movie is just how much unease the audience is made to feel at the appearance of other people. When humans have lost their humanity, the sound of footsteps is about as chilling as the cocking of a gun. It's a moment of true tension, and it doesn't get any easier with repetition.

Trying to zero in on what makes this amazing film so very unsettling, I have to point an arrow at the amount of times we're forced to consider suicide and mercy killings. The notion follows the characters as closely as their shadows, so much so that we are left wondering not if this father and son will take their own lives, but when? It pulls us into despair with them as we understand how hopeless mankind feels the world has become. When I say that this film is chilling, realize that I am talking about a story when mothers and fathers talk about killing their own children.

Much of the credit for how affecting THE ROAD is comes back to Viggo Mortensen's performance. Fighting through seven layers of clothing, and enough dirt and grime to make a mud hut, he plays the father as man who hasn't, and seemingly won't, give up on the world. He wears an expression that takes fear, sadness, and panic bravely disguised so that his son can always believe that everything will be alright. It isn't all doom and gloom for this father and son, and in the moments where they do happen upon an unexpected treasure like a can of Coke, Mortensen plays the scenes with a sad sense of pride. He knows that in times like these, he is giving his son something to believe in, and it takes everything he has not to break down and cry from relief.

THE ROAD is a truly moving piece of work by director John Hillcoat. While he paints the earth as one many of us wouldn't want to live in for long, he continually draws our attention to this family. The sense of love and wisdom he draws from Smit-McPhee, and the embodiment of determination he gets from Mortensen help us understand that even when things seem lost, we must do all we can to endure. We must do this for those we were put here to protect, for those who are protecting us, and for those who are gone in the name of our protection.

Truly, if there has been one difficulty in writing this review, it's been in trying to separate the film from the book. For any Cormac McCarthy fans out there, I'll cut to the chase. There are a few differences; however, I don't think that they cause the original story any disservice, in fact quite the opposite. They fill in a few blanks and take a necessary pit stop to juxtapose a momentary win with the long losing streak that life has become for these people. It does the legendary story as well as McCarthy's tones of grit and pain real justice before sending the audience out to recuperate in the sun.


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