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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Finding Dory (Release Date: 6-17-2016)

       What does one make of a new Pixar movie in the year 2016? Perhaps the last American film studio whose name alone serves as a statement of both quality and intent, the Disney affiliate has officially been past its prime for the better part of a decade now. Following a miraculous three year run that featured the releases of Ratatouille, Wall-e, and Up, Pixar has only released three original films, their other four offerings serving as sequels to previous triumphs (this after Toy Story 2 represented the only sequel in their first 10 outings). But even their scaled-back ambition is often enough to mop the floor with rival film houses like DreamWorks and Illumination; Toy Story 3 was a Best Picture nominee, Inside Out reaches impossible heights of intellect and emotion, and I for one will go to bat for Monsters University any day of the week. They're still capable of blowing minds and raising the stock price for Kleenex, but what was once a near certitude is now more of a possibility, and we're all still in the process of adjusting expectations. My best advice: adjust them a little more before you see Finding Dory.

        Despite rival studios' inability to consistently get on Pixar's level, the mouse house production team uses a deceptively simple recipe to cook up nearly all of their cinematic dishes: displace our characters, send them on a journey home, and locate their emotional centers early and often. Their best work manages distract viewers from this omnipresent framework through engagement and finesse, but its getting harder and harder to disguise. Dory not only adheres to this rigid framework, it almost neglects to hang nearly anything upon it. As the title suggests, the flick follows the journey of everyone's favorite forgetful fish as she attempts to relocate her long lost family, and where the previous film featured a bevy of obstacles and memorable asides, the new film's plot is specifically engineered to engender the least possible push back. Gone are the sharks and whales and dentists who once terrorized our protagonists; Dory is so toothless that even its primary place of unwitting aquatic confinement is an Open Ocean exhibit at the seemingly nearby Marine Life Institute. They say that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but having seen this movie, I'd argue that it's a ride along the Crush the Sea Turtle express, which quickly does away with anything representing lasting conflict along their 'arduous' journey.

        In the film's opening passages, we enter Dory's (Ellen DeGeneres) dreams, and witness her flashbacks to a troubled childhood wherein her loving parents struggled with their daughter's socially crippling short term memory loss. Given that this studio has refused to shy away from miscarriages, abandonment, psychedelic hallucinations, and dystopian futures in the past, it should come as little surprise that they'd have the guts to place mental illness at the center of a story, but in doing so, they've altered the legacy of their previous classic. All those jokes about 'silly old Dory' that were played for laughs in Finding Nemo have now been cast in a completely different light, almost shaming you for finding humor in her problems in the first place. Worse yet, the script doesn't know how to handle this charged idea; they make a point of showing that the other people (see: fish) in her life are hampered by her problems, but offer no balm for the pain beyond constant nebulous statements along the lines of, 'she sure is one special fish.' Even when Dory is being brave, it's keeping all its cards as close to the chest as possible, and neutering all its boldest inclinations as it goes along.

        Rest assured, it's not exactly enjoyable to come off as such a curmudgeon about the sequel to one of the most beloved family films of the last 15 years. Finding Dory will undoubtably be adored by many a viewer who wanted nothing more than to dive back into the big blue ocean with the motley crew of the original film, regardless of the occasion. Children will watch and re-watch and then watch again until their parents are required to purchase a new blu-ray after the family's first has been ground to dust. This was always going to be a home run, and yet the film's creators elected to walk on eggshells despite the impossibly long leash they had at their disposal. The annals of sequel history will have nary a harsh word to speak about Finding Dory; there are no unforgivable side-plots, no over-reaching alterations to our beloved characters, and the movie works overtime to please and comfort and coddle. Five years from now, no one will be able to recall anything negative about the flick. As a matter of fact, they won't recall anything at all.

Grade: C-

Thursday, June 9, 2016

HypeCast: X-Men, Popstar, and Movies You Shouldn't Watch on Netflix

        Hello, and welcome back to the HypeCast, a film-centric podcast hosted by Collin Sherwood Elwyn and Tyler Mitchell. In today's episode, Tyler and Collin discuss a slew of movies available for viewing both in theaters and in the comfort of your own home. First up is our latest superhero bash X-Men: Apocalypse, a film that Mitchell genuinely enjoyed for its back-to-basics simplicity, and one that Elwyn can't wait to stop talking about. He perks back up to sing the praises of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, a film that he adored despite being one of only 17 people in America who saw it last weekend. Finally we move to Netflix, where Tyler watched something called The Iceman, and struggled through the first half of the latest Adam Sandler flick The Do-Over while Collin's copy of Birdman continued to sit idly right next to his television. Warning: occasional naughty words are contained within. Continue at your own risk. Here We Go!

Podcast Itinerary:
0:00-29:33---X-Men: Apocalypse
29:34-48:45---Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
48:46-1:00:04---The Iceman
1:00:05---The Do-Over and Birdman-related frustration

Monday, June 6, 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (6-3-2016)

        When it comes to comedy, there's an awfully thin line between clever and stupid. Many prefer to maintain a sort of binary between the two, slotting their Woody Allens in one file, and their Adam Sandlers in another, and while the two aforementioned examples would certainly support that level of genre organization, many of our best laugh-fests locate something of a sweet spot in between. Describing Dumb and Dumber as an intellectual feat would raise eyebrows in any room in which the claim was uttered, but there's a brilliance to the film's steadfast devotion to exploring the deepest depths of idiocy. Same goes for Anchorman, This is Spinal TapAirplane!, or any other movie so brazenly moronic that it simply must have been made by a genius. Flicks baring this lofty level of inspired lunacy are few and far between, so let's take a moment to observe the accomplishment of The Lonely Island (among our generation's most heady dunces), and their pitch-perfect film debut, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

        Comprised of SNL alums Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, the three-piece mock-rap outfit has been making side-splitting bangers since 2009, graduating from an NBC sideshow into semi-legitimate band with three albums to their name. Though their lyrics constantly vacillate between comic shrewdness and goading randomness, the group's production values have always remained strikingly on par with the popular music of the moment. Popstar pulls off a similar trick, relaying a story of relentless absurdity with the conventions and trappings of a legitimate Concert Documentary. Given the movie's easy classification as a Mockumentary (they still make those?), it's almost impossible not to compare it to the aforementioned Spinal Tap. That film found its humor in observing the death knell of the gloriously gaudy rock of the late 70's and early 80's; this one lambasts the cliches of modern stardom, and does so with an acute awareness of its many influencing factors, from social media to technological advances to our fascination with knowing the political stances of famous individuals whom we will never meet. Music movies, wether they be documentaries, narrative features, or concert films, have a tendency to look backwards, making the of-the-moment freshness of Popstar stand out from the pack, and affording it a whole new set of targets at which to take aim.

        Though we know them in real life as The Lonely Island, the new movie rebrands the trio as The Style Boyz, a Beastie Boys-type outfit who made their name on crass lyrics, and pop hits absurd enough to remind us that, as a collective society, allowed Who Let the Dogs Out? and The Macarena to become global phenomenons. The least overtly talented but somehow most charismatic member Conner (Samberg) ends up going solo under the moniker Conner4Real, and while his initial monetary success is measured in millions, Popstar prefers to observe his failures, and subsequent unraveling. He's joined on tour by a hoard of clingers-on, including a publicist (Sarah Silverman), a manager (Tim Meadows), and former bandmate-turned-DJ Owen (Taccone). What ever happened to the original band's third member, you ask? Well, he's taken up a reserved life as a farmer on a particularly isolated plot of land in Colorado, from where he just about steals the whole movie.

        He also directs it, along with Taccone, and their collective prowess behind the camera is not to be ignored. The movie at large plays like a series of 3-minute-long sketches, but the filmmaking tandem shows an unteachable understanding of when one joke is played out, and it's time to move on to the next. Clocking in at 86 minutes in total, I'm not sure Popstar could stand to be even five minutes longer, but entirely too much would be lost were it five minutes shorter. Despite the movie's utter madness, there's a heartening level of control on display in all levels of production, especially in the editing room. Today marks the fourth day of the film's existence on the big screen, and after its opening weekend struggled to make it past 4.5 million dollars, you'd be wise to anticipate its theatrical existence to only live on for another ten days are so. Given the financial history of this type of film, it's a fairly easy deduction that both music movies and Mockumentaries are not genres that prompt excitement in most people. I suppose I'm just a sucker for funny songs, and if this movie doesn't sound appealing to you on paper, I won't try to force my praise of it upon you. But I will say this; Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping accomplishes virtually everything it sets out to do, and if this premise is at all in your wheel house, I implore you to see it, and on the big screen, where the musical numbers manage to legitimately impress. That line between clever and stupid has never been so blurry, nor has the divide between sloppy mania and attentive perfectionism.

Grade: A-

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Comparing your favorite NBA players to Game of Thrones characters, Volume 2

        As book-readers and show-watchers alike well know, the world of Game of Thrones continuously expands, adding more places and people every time you blink your eyes, all while constantly developing its previously established characters. The NBA is the very same, and while the Comparing Your Favorite NBA Players to Game of Thrones Characters article from last year around this time was meant to be a one-off, so much has happened in both universes that we're back for round two. In honor of tonight's Game 1 of the NBA finals, here's the second chapter in perhaps the most wildly asinine article in the history of this blog... Don't rule out a third. A link to the first volume can be found below.

***Warning: this article contains more Game of Thrones spoilers than there are scales on Drogon's back. You've been warned***

Klay Thompson is Jorah Mormont
        These two badasses might be regularly out-shined by the messiah figure they spend most of their time with, but make no mistake, both would be running the show in any other situation. Mormont has been one of the realm's most feared swordsmen for decades now, and Thompson morphs into one of the best all-around players in the whole league whenever the moment arrises. What's more, both are loyal and committed to their leaders, Jorah because he loves Daenerys, and Klay because he loves winning.

Manu Ginobili is Littlefinger
        No one would argue that either Ginobili or Littlefinger don't know how to play the game, the latter coming up from modest means to become the acting Lord of the Vale, while Manu emerged from Argentina to win four titles and a olympic gold medal. But boy, are they both shifty! There's no telling when Littlefinger has conducted a deal behind your back that could lead to your demise, just like there's no telling when Ginobili will flail about wildly and earn three fraudulent foul shots with the clock winding down. You have to respect the hustle, but this might be that rarest of instances in which you're allowed to hate the player but love the game.

Isaiah Thomas is Bronn
        You need me to pour in 20 a night in Sacramento? Done. Same deal in Phoenix? I don't see why not. How about in Boston? Let's go get it! It's hard to imagine either Thomas or Bronn playing a particularly large role in the ultimate battle for all seven kingdoms/the NBA title, but if you need somebody to just get out there and make it happen, they're both ready anytime, anywhere... assuming you can pay handsomely enough. Though neither wields one, these two are guns for hire.

Kristaps Porzingis is Bran
        Much like the Anthony Davis is Melisandre claim that I made last time around, these two are bound together by their seemingly limitless potential. The Stark boy can inhabit the minds of other living creatures and has unspecified time-traveling abilities. The rail-thin Latvian can run the court, protect the rim, and drill a corner three. So why is it so hard to see either of them turning into a conquerer? Poor Bran is paralyzed from the waist down, and Porzingis is 7'2'', a height that virtually guarantees his whole body breaks down within the next few years. Powerful as they may be, those are some pretty concerning footnotes.

Draymond Green is The Hound
        Look at these two, mugging as always. Sturdily built men who are not to be trifled with, both Green and the Hound carry themselves with absolutely outrageous amounts of bravado and confidence, and actually have the skills and killer instincts to back them up. Both possess legendarily foul mouths, and there's little doubt in my mind that a chicken eating contest between the two would prove hard fought. They also have softer sides as well, devoting much of their time to caring for someone smaller, sweeter, and more important than themselves... but they'll still kick you in the crotch if you get in their way.

Jimmy Butler is Davos Seaworth
        The dictionary definition of a great guy to have in your corner, both Butler and Seaworth are hard-working, nose-to-the-grindstone pragmatists who value honor, valor, and stalwart devotion to their cause. They also both picked the wrong cause. Poor Davos put his faith in a man who cut off the tips of his fingers and burned people alive for sport, which is basically what Tom Thibodeau did to all the Bulls players over his multi-year reign of terror/success. Neither Stannis Baratheon nor Derrick Rose turned out to be the Prince Who Was Promised, and yet their right-hand men continue to soldier on. Here's hoping they both find a cause worth fighting for.

D'Angelo Russell is Shae
        Don't trust these two. Not now. Not ever.

Kyrie Irving is Loras Tyrell
        It doesn't get much sexier than Kyrie and Loras, two living, breathing embodiments of swagger. The way Irving slices through the lane to hit a teardrop over the fingertips of men literally a foot taller than him is not so dissimilar to Tyrell's out-jousting The Mountain, and even doling out roses before doing so. Another commonality? They both might be more style than substance, and good god, no defense is played by either party. How else do you explain the Knight of Flowers being imprisoned in a crappy dungeon by religious lunatics, or Kyrie getting his ankles broken by the lunatic Russell Westbrook? They've both got a good thing going, but a little more time spent honing their craft probably wouldn't hurt either party.

Steven Adams is Tormund Giantsbane
        The two toughest dudes you will ever lay eyes upon, both Adams and Giantsbane relish getting into the nitty-gritty of things, and are both capable of taking an L without completely losing their cool. Would you be as patient as Tormund was when Jon Snow's men killed half of his Wildling compatriots, and took him captive just for good measure? How about Adams' resolve when being kicked in the junk, and having guys intentionally land on the small of his back with the entirety of their body weight? I for one would take umbrage with such foul treatment, but not these warriors. Their goals are simple: fight on, grow absurd facial hair, and make eyes at the women they might someday love
Kyle Lowry is Grey Worm
         Seriously you two, don't talk the talk if you can't walk the walk. Despite their rigorous training and seemingly battle-ready mindsets, both Lowry and Grey Worm stay losing. Having the entire Unsullied behind you is not unlike having all of Canada support your cause, but when it comes to taking down the Sons of the LeBron, they never fail to come up short. Yes, they're tough, and yes, both are capable of emerging victoriously, but is there anyone in all the seven kingdoms and six divisions whom you'd more readily bet against in a pressure situation? That's what I thought.

Kevin Love is Olly
        How soon they forget. Did it just sort of slip Olly's mind that he would have been murdered and likely devoured by the Thenns were it not for Jon Snow? Kevin Love knows that LeBron is the only reason he's not still going 40-42 in Minnesota every year, right? Why are these two so petulant? Sure, the former Lord Commander might have formed a treaty with the savages that ate Olly's parents right in front of him, and King James' passive aggressiveness toward Love via social media can't feel too good either, but we're capable of compromise here, right? No? Ok, I guess just keep whining then (Side Note for Olly: you killed the woman Jon loved right in front of him! Can't we call this even?).

Blake Griffin is Jaqen H'ghar
        Are we sure these guys are cool anymore? They certainly were, H'ghar changing identities and slaying some unsuspecting sap at the same frequency with which Griffin posterized Pau Gasol and starred in decent Kia commercials. All that awesomeness feels like a long time ago at this point, and while both remain undeniably powerful, all of that Yoda-speak and mean mugging at the refs has grown a little stale. You never really know which Griffin will show up for a given game, a concept that Jaqen takes to the next level by swapping out faces like they're dirty laundry. Are you proud of me for holding out this long before making a joke about how they both like to hit unarmed people who are much smaller than them? Because I am.

The Atlanta Hawks are the Sand Snakes
        The Hawks are powerful. They finished last season with the best record in the Eastern Conference, and ran it back this year to the sound of a solid regular season, and an appearance in the second round. The Sand Snakes are equally formidable, having now employed their lethal abilities to overthrow the entire Dornish government (which consists of two or three people, depending on the day). I also never want to see either of them ever again. Seriously, there are White Walkers coming from the north and contenders coming from the west; why are we watching these teams merely annoy the Cavs and commit to the worst accents ever captured on film? We get it, you guys are good at what you do, but you're also boring and inconsequential. Can we just... you know... not?

Sam Henke is Craster
        Outside of Cleveland and occasionally Miami, true hoops fans have made a habit of largely ignoring the Eastern Conference. Same goes for the Westerosi and all territory located north of the wall, but Craster and Henke have managed to capture our attention none the less. The former was a shame to every living thing while the latter served as an affront to anyone who's ever cared entirely too much about team sports. We took our eyes off of them, and they each created an ungodly abomination while no one was looking. The only real difference is in Craster's determination to keep everything 'in house,' while Henke exports every valuable asset in his arsenal as soon as the asking price is right. They both met untimely ends, and I believe I speak for the masses when I say 'good riddance.'

Karl-Anthony Towns is Euron Greyjoy
        Well that was fast. Just when you thought Yara Greyjoy and Andrew Wiggins were set to lead their countrymen into the future, in stepped Towns and Euron, snatching the crown away as if it was their's to begin with. Karl-Anthony does seem a bit more civil, but if anyone had gotten in the way of his march to this year's Rookie of the Year trophy, you best believe he would have no problems throwing that chump off the nearest bridge. Perhaps these two were always meant to ascend to the throne, but who could have seen it happening this fast?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

HypeCast: Game of Thrones Midseason Report

        Hello, and welcome back to the HypeCast, a film-centric podcast hosted by Collin Sherwood Elwyn and Tyler Mitchell. In today's episode, we invite our first-ever guest to hop on the mic. The oft-referenced 'Collin's roommate' Max Teschner joins the guys to talk about the sixth season of HBO's fantasy epic Game of Thrones, a subject all three speakers have plenty to say on. Will we ever see Arya's Dire Wolf again? Is Daenerys actually a villain? Are there any limits to what Podrick can do in the bedroom? All of this and more is answered by our team of decidedly non-experts. Closing out the show, Tyler divulges his wildly incorrect feelings of the movie Swingers, and Collin and Max team up to defeat the evil nonsense that comes pouring from his mouth. Warning: occasional naughty words are contained within... like, more than most weeks. Continue at your own risk. Here We Go!

Podcast Itinerary:
0:00-52:12---Game of Thrones

Thursday, May 26, 2016

HypeCast: The Nice Guys, Neighbors 2, and Last Days in the Desert

        Hello, and welcome back to the HypeCast, a film-centric podcast hosted by Collin Sherwood Elwyn and Tyler Mitchell. In today's episode, Tyler and Collin both offer effusive praise to the same movie for the fourth time in this still-young calendar year (are they morphing into the same person?). Following in the footsteps of The Witch, Midnight Special and Green Room, The Nice Guys is yet another out-and-out winner from the year 2016. Say what you will about all the other movies coming out this summer, writer/director Shane Black's latest might be your only chance to see a father more offended by sloppy grammar than the time his pre-teen daughter spends around sex workers! Having not yet laughed quite enough, Tyler then ventured out and saw Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, the feminist comedy of our generation that still manages to make time for jokes about how slovenly Seth Rogen is. Finally, Collin checked out Last Days in the Desert, a film the depicts a portion of Jesus' 40-day trial in the desert wherein he is tempted by Satan, and yet is still most interestingly described as 'that movie directed by Gabriel García Márquez's son.' Warning: occasional naughty words are contained within. Continue at your own risk. Here We Go!

Podcast Itinerary:
The Nice Guys---0:00-32:48
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising---32:49-47:43
Last Days in the Desert---47:44-1:06:26

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Nice Guys (Release Date: 5-20-2016)

        Hi, I'm Collin Sherwood Elwyn, and I'm here to talk to you about a lofty social issue that you've undoubtably been pondering of late; what movies should I pay to actually see in theaters? With streaming services beaming so much media directly into our homes, it's becoming harder and harder for the average person to get up, drive to their local theater, and fork out $12 in order to watch a movie that will be right at their doorstep if they just wait a couple months. There is, however, a remaining sentiment that some movies, wether they star superheroes, dinosaurs, or Vin Diesel, must be seen on the big screen. Hollywood is well aware of this, and over the last decade or so has drastically reduced the production of 'middle ground' movies, aka anything with a budget under 150 million dollars, or without a chance at winning an Oscar. Many have complained about the supposed death of the 'adult movie,' but their disappearance has everything to do with people's growing desire to enjoy their films while parked on the couch. With every dollar we spend at the box office, we cast a vote for big wig executives to make more of that type of movie, which brings me to my plea. Please, if you have any interest at all, vote for The Nice Guys.

        Set in the scuzzy, neon-tinged underbelly of late 70's Los Angeles, the film follows two men who do just about everything in their power to negate the movie's title. We first meet Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), a particularly heavy heavy who, by his own description, beats people up for money. One such business transaction brings him to the home of Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a low-rent Private Eye who's decidedly more adept at cashing his checks than finding his marks. The meeting goes poorly (for Holland anyway), but a series of circumstances find the unlikely pair working together to find a missing porn star who may or may not already be dead. Cue the rapid-fire wise-cracks, gloriously tacky costumes, and rollicking retro soundtrack.

        Only three feature films into his directorial career, Shane Black's stamp of authorship is about as bold as anyone working in movies today. Having made a name for himself by penning the Lethal Weapon series, Black has doggedly remained in his own hyper-specific wheelhouse, even highjacking the Marvel machine for over two hours and morphing Iron Man 3 into yet another smart-alecky buddy cop flick. The one true modulation this one makes to the formula is in its historical setting, and since the 70's has become our generation's default era for the Noir genre, all of that grooviness fits Black like a glove. The zippy camera movements and exhilaratingly hard cuts that have always been featured in his work feel more at home than ever before, and pair seamlessly with the movie's impeccable costume and set design.

        He's also a great director of actors, and The Nice Guys extends his streak of wedging two terrific performances into one movie without ever clogging up the system. Crowe needed this role more than perhaps any active American actor, having squandered much of his good will over the last few years by only accepting the most serious parts imaginable. One wouldn't exactly call him light-hearted here either, but the vibe of the movie and the performances that surround him turn the Oscar winner into an ideal straight man. Gosling couldn't be more crooked if he tried, and while the movie affords him the lion's share of the funniest moments, what he does with the opportunity is astounding. The way he rattles through Black's dialogue is to be admired, but the bigger take away is just how gifted Gosling is as a physical comedian, his innumerable ticks and mannerisms worth the price of admission on their own. Many have already compared his Holland March to a Buster Keaton character, but I'll go less lofty with my comparison, and simply claim that this is the most laughter a hollywood superstar has coaxed with only their movements since Leonardo DiCaprio made that ill-fated crawl across the parking lot in The Wolf of Wall Street. Truth be told, I can't come up with anything negative to say about The Nice Guys; it's engaging, humorous, stylish, and, most importantly, is the most pure, undiluted fun I've had at the flicks in well over a year. This election year, I'll be voting for Shane Black.

Grade: A

Friday, May 20, 2016

HypeCast: Money Monster, Keanu, and More

        Hello, and welcome back to the HypeCast, a film-centric podcast hosted by Collin Sherwood Elwyn and Tyler Mitchell. In today's episode, Tyler and Collin are suffering from Big Summer Movie withdrawal in the wake of Captain America: Civil War. Scrambling around for both answers and meaning on this cold blue orb of ours, Mitchell decides to go see Money Monster, director Jodie Foster's follow-up to the modern masterpiece The Beaver. The film appears to feature George Clooney dancing awkwardly as you can see above, as well as a whole lot of preachiness, just for good measure. A traffic delay turned Collin's flick for the week from Eye in the Sky into Keanu, the Key & Peele 80's-tinted crime comedy about saving the world's most adorable kitten, no matter the cost (Perhaps more importantly, it also prompts a heartwarming story about the time Tyler saw Tim Allen's The Shaggy Dog three times). Then comes Creep, a new pseudo horror flick starring Mark Duplass that you probably won't end up seeing, and About Time, the 2013 romantic comedy starring newly-minted Not-Collin's-Least-Favorite-Actor Domhnall Gleeson. Warning: occasional naughty words are contained within. Continue at your own risk. Here We Go!

Podcast Itinerary:
0:00-25:25---Money Monster
50:43-1:14:13---About Time (?!?)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool (Release Date: 5-8-2016)

        When all the world has already been conquered, what is there truly left to do? Now entering their third decade of existence, Radiohead has the least to prove of any artist in music today, having dropped one mind-boggling classic after another, largely reinventing themselves with each new release. 2011's The King of Limbs seemed to mark the potential end of their cultural dynasty, but not in the way that certain bands simply loose their edge as they get older. Consisting of only eight tracks and arriving four years after their previous effort (In Rainbows), Limbs felt like a peace offering to fans who still couldn't get enough, but its relative modesty appeared to pump the breaks on years and years worth of likely-exhausting greatness. The five-piece has been absent ever since, but last Sunday, the longest stretch between albums in band's history finally came to an end. Asking wether A Moon Shaped Pool was worth the wait is almost unfair; at this point, we should probably just take whatever Radiohead has to give us and be grateful. That said, it's time to put on your headphones and count your blessings, because the album is tremendous.

        The Oxford extraterrestrials are older than the last time we saw them, with ages ranging from 44-48, and their latest gracefully embraces their ever-greying hair. Where previous Radiohead releases have jumped out of the blocks with sounds either stirringly direct or bracingly esoteric, Pool favors spacious arrangements that prefer to pull rather than push. The churning strings of opener/lead single Burn the Witch belie an album decidedly more fraught and tense than what we have on hand, a notion obliterated by song's space-case follow-up Daydreaming. There's no The National Anthem here, and no Bodysnatchers or Climbing Up the Walls for that matter; the band's latest is content to call the largely elegiac Decks Dark a rock song, precious few other tracks (Ful Stop, Identikit) even daring to bare their teeth. It's hardly a secret that guitarist Johnny Greenwood's apatite for orchestration has grown in the wake of his collaborations with film director Paul Thomas Anderson. On A Moon Shaped Pool said fascinations finally take center stage, and while it would be hard to argue that this is the best disc in the band's storied career, it's almost undoubtably their most immediately lovely.

        It's also their most human since 1995's The Bends. Despite being a single from 2007's In Rainbows, I could never quite come around to the House of Cards. The song opens with lead singer Thom Yorke imploring "I don't wanna be your friend/I just wanna be your lover." The line is a tad clumsy, but over-earnestness isn't the problem so much our elemental disconnect with the author of the sentiment. Yorke has spent years telling us to suck on lemon and warning us of paranoid androids, causing this level of overt openness and vulnerability to ring false in the mouth of such a messianic madman. He doubles down on the notion here, and while much has been made in the wake of the album's release of Yorke's separation from Rachel Owen, his partner of 23 years, chalking all this up to personal heartbreak seems a bit disingenuous. The songsmith has grown more tender with age, as have the sonics of the band he fronts. Don't expect the youthful immediacy of The Bends, the eerie discontent of Hail to the Thief, the reinvigorated bombast of In Rainbows, or the paradigm-altering insanity of Kid AA Moon Shaped Pool is an adult album by an adult band finally willing to let us behind their emotional curtain. They wear their age with acceptance, awareness, and an inspiring level of curiosity, and for those wondering what too them so long to let their guard down, long-gestating album closer reminds us, in utterly ravishing fashion, that True Love Waits.

Grade: A-

Thursday, May 12, 2016

HypeCast: Captain America - Civil War

        Hello, and welcome back to the HypeCast, a film-centric podcast hosted by Collin Sherwood Elwyn and Tyler Mitchell. In today's episode, we discuss the new Marvel Studios action adventure Captain America: Civil War. The boys are so excited about the first big flick of the summer that Tyler forgets to plug in his microphone, leading to an even more attention-hogging, egomaniacal contribution from Collin than you're already used to! The two somehow wring an hour-and-fifteen minute conversation of out a movie they both would most immediately describe as 'pretty good,' but after watching Batman v Superman fall on its face a few weeks ago, 'pretty good' might as well mean classic. All your favorite heros are back, this time with fewer CGI glowing rocks, but just as many quips and punches. SPIDER-MAN!!! And again, that faint whisper you hear in the background is proud podcast co-host Tyler Mitchell. Warning: occasional naughty words are contained within. Continue at your own risk. Here We Go!

Podcast Itinerary:
0:00-1:16:06---Captain America: Civil War

Monday, May 9, 2016

Captain America: Civil War (Release Date: 5-6-2016)

        Marvel Studios has always been fairly brilliant in a variety of ways, but 2016 will go down as the year they started gaining real self-awareness. Like the smart-ass A.I. featured in last summer's Avengers: Age of Ultron, figurehead Kevin Feige and his merry band of comic book adapters have assessed the reactions of movie goers to Marvel's not-at-all-pretentiously-titled Phase One and Phase Two, and apparently have no problem with a touch of late-game revisionism. It's an open secret that this film-making collective has a real problem creating compelling villains, and I'm hardly the first to whine about their insistence on including a glowing McGuffin for our heros to wage war over. There's also the unwieldy problem of the individualized movies, wherein singular heros are faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, and yet fail to remember to phone numbers of either Bruce Banner or the Stark residence. Captain America: Civil War is both specific and exacting in its refutation of these complaints, and yet still wears the Marvel mission statement proudly across its chest for all to see.

        It also has no problem stealing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice's lunch money, and then giving it a swirly for good measure. In a plot you might recognize from Zack Snyder's ill-fated battle royal that hit screens less than a month and a half ago, earth has grown anxious over the presence of her mightiest heros. After the series of catastrophic throw-downs we've witnessed in subsequent films, the United Nations have banded together, and landed on a solution: all superheros must register as such, and may only be deployed when the UN collectively sees fit. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) sees the logic immediately, having been haunted by the demons of his past for several movies now, and implores everyone to sign the paper work. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) could hardly be more opposed, citing an indestructible impulse to save people whenever danger becomes imminent. Their disagreement tears the Avengers apart, rendering the presence of a super-villain irrelevant. The true culprit here is bureaucracy.

        Which isn't to say that Marvel has lost their signature brand of light-hearted fun. Much of what makes Civil War such an out-and-out success is the way it balances heated political discussions with scenes where Scarlett Johansson throws motorcycles at people, and proceeds to do violent gymnastics with giddy exuberance and joyously unrealistic aplomb. As was the case with their Marvel debut Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joe Russo imbue the universe with a seriousness that other directors have strayed away from without ever losing track of what makes these flicks such fun, comforting watches. In many ways, the movie plays like a two-and-a-half hour mea culpa for the aforementioned Ultron, a film that promised to bring dire stakes to a universe that had no idea how to deal with them. Describing this as a Captain America movie is straight-up disingenuous: Civil War crams as many of your favorite crime fighters as will fit into its extended runtime, and somehow even the moments that feel utterly shoehorned manage to register.

        Those wondering how a single film could possibly wrangle all of our previously established characters into one narrative while managing to introduce even more are not wrong in their skepticism. On a purely factual level, there are too many players on hand to do all of them justice, and the studio's much-ballyhooed introduction of Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is a branding exercise of the purest sort. It's also really damn fun, forming a dichotomy that could easily be used to describe the film at large; not everything here is exactly cohesive, but it's all a blast to watch. The Avengers is certainly the more 'perfect' of the two films, largely because of its sure-minded decision to prioritize characters over anything resembling a juicy plot, but Civil War manages to spin a yarn about 7,349 different superheros that, more or less, makes sense and is consistently engaging. For the first time since The Winter Soldier, banter isn't the defining feature of a Marvel film. My favorite remains Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a roundabout way of saying I have no qualms with these movies' sense of humor. It's just striking and refreshing to see it moved lower down on the totem pole of priority.

        Much has been made of the 6-on-6 battle alluded to in the trailer, but the Russo's deserve credit for their action chops throughout the rest of the feature as well. Often playing out like Jason Bourne for 9-year-olds, the action is kinetic, sweaty, and captured with a jittery urgency. The spacial reasoning is occasionally lacking, but it's still a blast to see these demigods participate in combat that actually has some weight to it. Black Panther in particular, expertly played by series-newcomer Chadwick Boseman, is a blast to watch on the battle field, and is even afforded a proper character arc by the film's bloated runtime. The movie feels even longer than its stated two-and-a-half-hours, and while my engagement was consistent enough to forgive the excess, scenes where Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) teaches The Vision (Paul Bettany) how best to prepare food and speak with cinema's worst Russian accent are probably a bit overkill. But who's counting? Capatin America: Civil War is a near-perfect Marvel experience; almost all your friends are here, they all receive ample screen time, and there are finally actual stakes involved, even if they're mostly just emotional. The studio has crossed their t's, dotted their I's, and made one of their very best movies to date.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

HypeCast: Green Room and the State of Modern Thrillers

        Hello, and welcome back to the HypeCast, a film-centric podcast hosted by Collin Sherwood Elwyn and Tyler Mitchell. In today's episode, Tyler and Collin have only just calmed themselves down enough to talk about Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier's new heart-attack inducing thriller. Those looking for a measured, exacting analysis of the film's occasional faults ought to look elsewhere, because Mitchell and Elwyn are basically gaga over this Punk Kids vs Skinheads blood bath. Simply put, it's one of the best thrillers in years, which parleys into a discussion on the state of the modern thriller, harkening back to their scratchily-recorded first episode, wherein they chatted about recent trends in the action genre. The episode also includes out-dated references to Stanley Tucci eating soup, and Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio sticking a candle up his butt for the sake of art. Warning: occasional naughty words are contained within. Continue at your own risk. Here We Go!

Podcast Itinerary:
0:00-36:33---Green Room
36:34-1:13:24---The State of Modern Thrillers

Thursday, April 28, 2016

HypeCast: The Jungle Book, Midnight Special, and Game of Thrones

        Hello, and welcome back to the HypeCast, a film-centric podcast hosted by Collin Sherwood Elwyn and Tyler Mitchell. In today's episode, Tyler relays his experience seeing Jon Favreau's new live-action remake of Disney's 1967 animated classic The Jungle Book at a test screening nearly a whole year ago. Collin is very curious to hear about Mitchell's whole experience watching the unfinished product, which is decidedly more interest than he can drum up for the film itself. That's not to say that there's nothing exciting being discussed on today's episode, because the boys each catch up with Mike Jeff Nichols' excellent sci-fi thriller Midnight Special, and also chat about the last Sunday's season premiere of Game of Thrones. Elwyn also fails to make a convincing case for you to watch James Pondsoldt's first feature Smashed despite really enjoying the movie. Better luck next time, I suppose. Warning: occasional naughty words are contained within. Continue at your own risk. Here We Go!

Podcast Itinerary:
0:00-25:08---The Jungle Book
25:09-48:35---Midnight Special
57:20-1:17:29---Game of Thrones

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Leftovers: January-April 2016

Leftover Movies:
Green Room
        To say that I saw Jeremy Saulnier's new movie Green Room the other day would be the ultimate understatement; simply put, Green Room happened to me, and every muscle in my body is still sore from the experience. Shot in my beloved native Oregon and relishing in its nasty underbelly, the film tells the story of the Ain't Rights, a down-on-their-luck punk band who knowingly accepts a gig at an establishment jam-packed with skinheads, and finds themselves on the wrong end of their relentless wrath. Diving head-first into schlocky horror thrills, the film is bolstered at every turn by Saulnier's exquisite aesthetic eye, and unteachable knack for building unrelenting tension. It's genre-fair through and through, but apparently no one told the cast, highlighted by tremendous performances from Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, and Joe Cole, but also featuring a deep roster of urgent and immediately believable supporting work. For god's sake, do not take your more violence-weary friends to this flick. Green Room might literally might kill them. It almost ended me.

Midnight Special
        Ok, I'll admit it; I still haven't seen Deadpool and had 'the superhero genre flipped upside down' right in front of me, but I've still got a funny feeling that Midnight Special's take is even more subversive. Director Jeff Nichols has been a filmmaker to watch for so long now that one wonders why we all haven't started watching, and this Spielbergian sci-fi thriller might just be his best yet. Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton star as a pair responsible for the abduction of one Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy whose disappearance serves to distress the mysterious religious compound known simply as The Ranch. To tattle on where MS goes from here would cast one as an insufferable spoil-sport, but suffice to say we are in the hands of a deeply inventive filmmaker, one with his fingers firmly on the pulse of both spectacle and emotion. A clear throwback to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Midnight Special is that rare indie that's just as capable of appealing to mass audiences, though a surprisingly tender performance from post-Kylo Ren Adam Driver certainly doesn't hurt.

The VVitch: A New-England Folktale
        By no means have I seen every horror movie ever made. Even some genuine classics have slipped through the cracks of my viewership. And yet, perhaps foolishly, I feel emboldened to make the wily claim that The VVitch can go toe-to-toe with even the most storied fright-fests. In 1630's New-England, a deeply Christian family is pushed out of their modest town for reasons largely unspecified, and forced to live by a leering, seemingly endless woods residing right outside their door. What happens from there is the stuff of your darkest nightmares, presented in a fashion that is at once etherial and clear-eyed, and all the more troublesome for the balance. Featuring astounding performances from a handful of relative unknowns, The VVitch is an examination of faith under duress, and the unthinkable terror of watching everything you ever believed in fall apart at the seams. It's been months now, and I still can't get the debut feature of writer/director Robert Eggers out of my head.

Leftover Music:
Junk by M83
        Before Junk met the world almost a month ago now, all we had was this remarkably odd album cover, forcing fans of M83 to wonder if band leader Anthony Gonzalez was trolling us all. As it turns out, the outright goofiness of the image perfectly befits the aggressive cheesiness of the record, and while it's certainly an adjustment from the star-gazing enormity of the band's heralded Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, a bit of patience reveals an effort that impresses on its own terms. Built almost entirely of shimmering 80's gloss and towering synth drops, Junk plays like a bizarro talent show, including assists from the likes of Beck, Jordan Lawlor, and newly-minted band member Mai Lan. Sure, the soul-searching emotion of the band's previous release is largely absent, but the grandeur is here to stay, tracks like Go and Road Blaster almost begging to be played in front of a boisterous audience. Silliness aside, no one does big and kaleidoscopic quite like these guys.

Lemonade by Beyonce
        If I'm being honest, I've always found Beyonce easier to admire than genuinely enjoy. That all changed last night with the release of Lemonade, her second straight surprise album, 12 tracks and 45 minutes that traverse endless musical landscapes while somehow maintaining thematic unity. The glue between the tracks is largely subsistent of Ms. Knowles relentless rage, the entire first act of the disc consisting of fiery accusations directed toward her husband. Wether this is an exploration of personal history or expertly crafted baiting of a gossip-hungry audience is impossible to know, but sonically there's nothing here to doubt. Animal Collective samples, Jack White guitar solos, Father John Misty songwriting credits, and soulful James Blake piano ballads all exist in unthinkably perfect harmony, never fully distracting from the album's true star. Even the epic Freedom, despite featuring notorious scene stealer Kendrick Lamar, fully belongs to Queen B. Sharp enough to cut diamonds yet intimate enough to inspire introspection, Lemonade is a straight-up accomplishment.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

HypeCast: Summer Movie Preview

        Hello, and welcome back to the HypeCast, a film-centric podcast hosted by Collin Sherwood Elwyn and Tyler Mitchell. In today's episode, Collin and Tyler preview the ever-expanding slate of summer movies, a blockbuster season that has managed to encroach all the way into mid-April. That's right folks; it's time to talk about sequels, remakes, and wanton cash grabs (hey there, The Angry Birds Movie!). 'Highlights' include super heros being super, fish that are perpetually lost, Jared Leto chasing Heath Ledger's ghost, man children mistaking Ghostbusters for hallowed cinematic ground, Warcraft bringing Window's 98-level technology to the big screen, Kevin Spacey playing a cat, and all your friends lying to you about their allegedly genuine desire to see Sausage Party. However, there is hope amidst the city-leveling chaos; this summer features new flicks from Damien Chazelle, Shane Black, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Jeremy Saulnier, whose new Oregon-set thriller Green Room the boys somehow mistake for an Appalachian Mountains local. Warning: occasional naughty words are contained within. Continue at your own risk. Here We Go!

Podcast Itinerary:
0:00-11:18---April Releases
11:19-27:25---May Releases
27:26-41:14---June Releases
41:15-50:34---July Releases
50:35-1:02:02---August Releases

Thursday, April 14, 2016

HypeCast: Zootopia, Everybody Wants Some!! and More

        Hello, and welcome back to the HypeCast, a film-centric podcast hosted by Collin Sherwood Elwyn and Tyler Mitchell. In today's episode, Collin and Tyler finally catch up with a crowd-pleasing box office heavyweight Zootopia... and they're only a month late! Elwyn praises the movie's unpacking of racism, sexism, and classism in modern America, whereas Tyler is a little too old to let a damn bunny teach him how not to be a bigot, and would prefer a Charlie Kaufman movie about cute, fuzzy, prejudiced animals with a more abrupt and soul-crushing final scene. Collin then describes Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater's sex-n-booze fueled follow-up to Boyhood, and casually claims that all white people look the same. They round out this explosive podcast with a pair of films, Knight of Cups and The Night Before, that receive Mitchell's infamously common film review: 'meh.' Warning: occasional naughty words are contained within. Continue at your own risk. Here We Go!

Podcast Itinerary:
30:53-54:58---Everybody Wants Some!!
54:59-1:05:52---Knight of Cups
1:05:53-1:19:28---The Night Before

Monday, April 11, 2016

HypeCast: Pee-wee's Big Holiday and other Netflix Picks

        Hello, and welcome back to the HypeCast, a film-centric podcast hosted by Collin Sherwood Elwyn and Tyler Mitchell. In today's episode, Collin and Tyler celebrate the release of Netflix's third original feature, Pee-Wee's Big Holiday, by not only talking about the film itself, but also pointing out a few other gems currently available on the streaming giant. Tyler's childhood affinity for the work of Mr. Paul Reubens is rewarded by Pee-Wee's latest cross-country trek, which Mitchell is almost too busy laughing about to properly discuss. They then move on to less buzzy features presently available on instant watch, including a couple of genre classics, a still-running television program, a staunch disagreement over all things Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and Collin recommending literally the first five of so minutes of Rounders despite disavowing the rest. If today's list doesn't strike you as quite long enough, check out our previous podcast on the very same subject, What to Watch on Netflix. Warning: occasional naughty words are contained within. Continue at your own risk. Here We Go!

Podcast Itinerary:
0:00-21:06---Pee-Wee's Big Holiday
21:07-1:07:56---Netflix Instant Watch Picks

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Oscar Predictions 2016 (Round One)

        It’s been just over a month since the 87th annual Academy Awards, and you know what that means: It’s time for my obnoxious year-in-advance predictions for the 2017 ceremony! As always, the films are ranked based on the likelihood that they receive a Best Picture nomination, not who I expect to actually win the thing. I’m holding off on trying to guess the entrants in any other category because this exercise is ridiculous enough already without trying to tap the five Sound Design nominees before anything has even come out. Without further ado, here are my undoubtably accurate projections for next year’s Oscars!

1. Silence
        Sure, the hyper-serious subject matter (priests spreading catholicism in seventeenth century Japan) and the impressive cast list (Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield) are helpful and all, but this film sits on top for one reason and one reason only; Martin Scorsese movies released near the end of the year literally never miss out on a Best Picture nomination.

2. The Birth of a Nation
        Easily the most talked-about movie coming out of this year's Sundance film festival, the reportedly electric directorial feature debut of lead actor Nate Parker offers the Academy a chance to both shame the original Birth of a Nation, and make some headway against #oscarsowhite.

3. La La Land
         Slience and Nation feel almost assured already; the rest of this list is where the real fun starts. Damien Chazelle made waves a couple years ago with his debut feature Whiplash, and in a season that will undoubtably skew very, very serious, I like the odds of a romantic lark starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

4. War Machine
        A satire of America's war with Afghanistan, War Machine will be debuting on Netflix later this year, and there's little doubt that the streaming giant will crack into Hollywood's biggest night sometime soon. Having up-and-comer David Michôd behind the camera and Brad Pitt in front of it doesn't exactly hurt.

5. Warren Beatty's Untitled Howard Hughes Film
        This movie practically has Best Picture Nominee written across its forehead, but after years of waiting for its completion, I'm less than confident it will ever see the light of day. If it does, please kindly move it up to my #3 slot.

6. Manchester By the Sea
        Though the eternal stalling and ultimate commercial flame-out of Margaret has kept him from receiving any Oscar attention of late, Kenneth Lonergan is a beloved craftsman of small scale drama, and Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams feel like a perfect pair of actors for his brand of storytelling.

7. The Zookeeper's Wife
        Niki Caro's career never really took off like Whale Rider fans predicted, but if she's ever going to crack the line-up, it'll be this year. It doesn't get much more Oscar friendly than Jessica Chastain starring in a movie about the Holocaust.

8. Gold
        Outside of some TV work, Stephen Gaghan has been silent ever since winning an Oscar for his Traffic screenplay, and writing and directing its spiritual sequel Syriana. The guy's got talent, and this tale of the search for gold in the Indonesian jungle (starring Matthew McConaughey) might be his ticket back to the big kids' table.

9. Indignation
        This tale of repression set amidst the Korean War, Indignation lacks both the stars and directing resume that I tend to look for when compiling this list, but it has one huge feather in its cap; people have actually seen it already, and the reviews are fantastic.

10. Loving
        Having already released Midnight Special earlier this year to great critical acclaim, eternally-rising director Jeff Nichols will be back with Loving, a period drama that depicts the struggles of an interracial couple, and might just give Joel Edgerton his first shot at Oscar glory.

11. Robert Zemeckis Untitled WWII Romance
        Robert Zemeckis has yet to make the big Oscar comeback that I personally still see in the cards, and crafting a period drama starring Tom Hanks and Marion Cotillard strikes me as a good bet.

12. The Light Between Oceans
        Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, Place Beyond the Pines) concocts a specific brand of melodrama that seems right in Oscar's wheelhouse. A cast featuring Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz, and reigning Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander ensures it will get at least some attention.

13. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
        Ang Lee directing a film about the emotional tolls of the Iraq war should be one of the safest bets on this whole list, but is the Academy really going to embrace a movie starring Vin Diesel and Kristen Stewart? I have my doubts.

14. Free State of Jones
        He might not be a household name of anything, but director Gary Ross has already been nominated four times. A civil war drama starring Matthew McConaughey could lead to his fifth.

15. Story of Your Life
        I can't believe I have an alien invasion flick this high up in my Best Picture predictions, but director Denis Villeneuve is frankly too impressive for voters to keep ignoring, and I love the thought of this being Amy Adams' Oscar winning performance.

Also on the Radar:

16. Nocturnal Animals
17. Passengers
18. The Founder
19. Sully
20. Collateral Beauty
21. Arms and the Dudes
22. The Lost City of Z
23. Moonlight
24. The Girl on the Train
25. Una 
26. American Pastoral 
27. The Promise
28. Deepwater Horizon
29. 20th Century Women
30. A United Kingdom
31. Everybody Wants Some!!
32. True Crimes
33. Finding Dory
34. The Lobster
35. Money Monster
36. Certain Women
37. The Accountant
38. Snowden
39. LBJ
40. Hacksaw Ridge