The Library: “Rumour Has It/Someone Like You” from the Cast of Glee

In The Library, I recommend songs that I think would be a great addition to anyone’s music collection. This time, we’re talking about one of the most skilled mash-ups I’ve ever heard.

Glee gets a lot of flack for its music arrangements. I was beating that drum all throughout the first season for various sites (ghostwriting, though an occasional feature would pop up). It’s not that the arrangements are bad. They just, early on, had a bad habit of taking the edge out of some great songs–theater and music industry alike–to essentially push as pop factory hits.

Season 3 has seen a lot more depth, grit, and narrative purpose to the song choices. This is a huge step in the right direction for the show. I’ve actually been trying to convince people who would tell me I was stupid for skipping weeks of the show in the first season to give the show a try again. It’s actually functioning as musical TV like the pilot at this point.

On the mash-up week, new glee club The Troubletones did a phenomenal mash-up of Adele songs. It is as good as Adele’s remix album (from DJ Mick Boogie, who turned strong blues/pop into club-ready dance anthems), which is just another testament to the strength of her songwriting. Current hit single “Someone Like You” is blended seamlessly with “Rumour Has It”–a song that’s getting club and airplay without officially being an official single.

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Film Review: Exorcismus (2010)

Emma is a home-schooled teenager. She believes her parents are being unfair when they don’t let her spend more time with her older cousins. The latest conflict is caused by a rock concert she’s not allowed to go to in London. Suddenly, Emma begins to exhibit strange health symptoms. She has seizures in the presence of her family and blacks out while performing acts of violence against herself and others. She is convinced by her uncle, a disgraced exorcist, that she is possessed. Her parents agree to let her uncle perform an exorcism, hoping the psychological impact of the procedure will cure what they believe to be her mentally ill daughter.

If this sounds like every other exorcism film to come out in recent years, you’ve been paying attention to the sub-genre. Exorcismus offers nothing new to a horror fan with any knowledge of exorcism on film. It’s a low-budget exercise in a genre that fans will watch even as it cannibalizes itself over and over again.

The one good thing I can say about the film is the quality of the effects. For a low-budget film, the injuries and seizures look quite good. Sure, director Manuel Carballo’s team went with the Troma standby of a bromide tablet in the mouth during the seizure, but it works. Those early moments in the film benefit from a naturalistic approach that does stand out in a very crowded field.

Unfortunately, as soon as the priest is called in, nothing unexpected happens. Her parents are tortured by the sounds they hear during the ritual. The girl contorts, screams, and speaks in strange ways as the priest sprinkles her with holy water and reads scriptures. The priest has a crisis of faith and isn’t sure he can take care of this problem or not. It’s dull and unstylish.

Even a predictable exorcism film can be elevated by great performances and a tight presentation. The Last Exorcism, found footage style aside, did nothing that hadn’t been explored countless times before with the subject. What it had going for it was a strong cast and near-flawless execution.

Exorcismus has neither. Once Emma is strapped down in a chair for the first time, the film falls apart. What kind of exorcism film with nothing else going for it starts the rituals thirty minutes into the running time? A poorly scripted one. The natural approach that made the first twenty or so minutes so appealing is thrown out the window for all the cliches of the genre. It’s hard to even say the film had potential when it becomes quite clear that it exists solely to cash in on the brand of exorcism.

Sure, there are worse made horror films than Exorcismus. It’s rare to find a horror film, however, that can’t even generate one good tense moment out of well-worn and proven scare tactics. When you know everything that’s going to happen once it starts happening (and throw all your faith into a twist ending that does nothing to impact the film), you failed whatever reason you had in making the film at all.

Rating: 3/10

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Why Astro Should Win X-Factor US

The ratings for the inaugural US season of X-Factor took a nose dive last week. The results show, held on Tuesday night, didn’t even break 10million viewers. This is the lowest rated episode since the show pushed back the second half of the judges’ house episode to a Sunday night due to baseball. Schedule shifts are not friendly to reality TV shows and Simon Cowell’s latest program is no exception.

The show has done nothing to address concerns of poor lighting design and a myriad of other problems. The judges are still bickering over inconsequential things, making the show all about them at the expense of the contestants. The groups are all gone, making this just another solo singing competition with one exception.

That exception’s name is Astro and he’s a rapper. I don’t mean a singing rapper like Cher Lloyd on X-Factor in the UK last year. I mean a rapper. Astro does not sing. He does not dance. What he does do is provide a fresh edge to a very tired reality show format that should be praised for the audacity of the choice.

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Film Review: The Muppets (2011)

The Muppets are back. The newest film in the long-standing franchise, The Muppets, is a loving tribute and a logical evolution for the beloved characters. There’s a meta-awareness about the franchise that allows the film to address the shift in entertainment from scripted all-ages shows to questionable reality TV, as well as the ability to play with the visibility of The Muppets as a modern pop culture icon.

Gary, Mary, and new Muppet Walter travel from Smalltown, USA to Los Angeles for a vacation. When visiting The Muppets Studio, now an rundown dirt cheap tourist attraction, Walter discovers that an oil tycoon is going to destroy the studio in two weeks if the Muppets can’t raise ten million dollars to buy it back. Walter, Gary, Mary, and Kermit work together to bring the gang back together, put on a show, and raise the money to save their legacy.

Filled with clever songs, asides to the audience, and celebrity cameos that don’t just draw attention to themselves, The Muppets has everything you would expect from a new Muppet film in the Jim Henson vein. There is no fairy tale being retold, no distracting introduction of a new unlikable Muppet, and nobody is in space. It’s the Muppets acting like the Muppets, complete with recreations of some of the most iconic moments in their history. This is the kind of film that anyone can go to, young or old, and have a great time at without being bombarded by senseless violence or adult situations. It’s family entertainment in the best way possible.

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Film Review: Super 8 (2011)

I want to like Super 8 so much more than I do. It has its heart in the right place. As an homage to 1980s family-friendly science fiction films, it’s very good. As a film that stands on its own merits, it’s very shaky.

Middle school student Joe Lamb and his friends are making a zombie film. They convince an older girl, Alice Dainard (a phenomenal Elle Fanning), to drive them to the train station and take on a role in the film. While shooting an emotional scene, a real train starts to come by. The group of young friends witness and film a massive accident involving a military train. Moments later, military vehicles begin to swarm their town, dogs and people disappear, and power sources are stolen around the clock. The military wants to find the witnesses to the trainwreck at any cost.

The problem with Super 8 is that it delivers great sci-fi and cliched, stagnant childhood melodrama. The action sequences–such as the train derailment–are stunning. They’re executed to perfection and build a great sense of suspense. It’s strong visual storytelling. The story of these characters in this town, however, is not a stable enough platform to support all the excitement. Super 8 plays like a soap opera was chopped down to 90 minutes and padded with 20 minutes of sci-fi/action sequences.

Take, for instance, a fight scene between two of the friends later in the film. They spend a minute circling around “you know why I’m mad at you/No I don’t/You can’t be that stupid/Just tell me/You know why I’m mad at you” before every cliche about young romance is tossed at the screen. The issue brought up at that point has no impact on the story. It feels like director/writer J.J. Abrams felt bad that one character didn’t have enough screen time, so he just threw this in to balance it out. A whole lot of Super 8 feels like Abrams couldn’t restrain himself. It’s honestly a matter of editing the picture to create a stronger through-line rather than meander through side-plot after side-plot that doesn’t live up to the excitement of the real sci-fi going on.

Super 8‘s makeup and effects are spot on. Everything that happens in this film looks authentic. There is one scene with a massive head wound that actually repulsed me. I think it had something to do with the flies landing in the blood that looked too real to seem like CGI while watching the film. For a film with so much technical wizardy happening onscreen at the same time, the effects never feel gratuitous. This is the magic of Super 8.

The way I see it, the film would have avoided a whole lot of problems if it just stuck with the perspective of the children. Part of the disjointed narrative stems from jumping between Joe’s involvement in the zombie film/train accident, his father’s involvement in the police investigation surrounding the disappearances and accident, and the later cuts to the perspective of a major military official trying to cover up the accident at any costs. The bandages used to tie these characters together–hokey dialog and random displays of over the top emotion–actually work to tear the film apart.

Super 8 does have a sense of joy and life that makes me want to forgive the disjointed screenplay. There is an audience for this film. I could see 80s nostalgia fans loving it and soft sci-fi fans (versus hard, technically accurate sci-fi fans) getting their fix from it. Otherwise, it comes down to your tolerance for melodrama. It has all the crossover appeal of big summer blockbuster film if you can get past the random interactions.

Rating: 6/10

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Coming Soon: Matilda, A Musical

Remember how back in March everyone was raving about The Book of Mormon? It was called one of the best shows in ages. The performances, staging, costumes, sets, lighting, book, score, direction–everything–was praised. What seemed like hyperbole was thrown out on a daily basis. The important thing to realize was that the show was good enough to warrant that praise.

London doesn’t have its own production of The Book of Mormon yet. What they do have is another new show that received the same caliber of reviews as the Parker/Stone/Lopez show. The name is Matilda and it seems poised to take the international theater world by storm.

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Film Review: The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011)

Tom Six has a problem. The writer/director behind The Human Centipede series has set himself up for a career as a horror provocateur. He promises that each successive film will make the previous film look like a toy or children’s program. The problem is, to deliver that level of depravity, the level of structure and story in the film has to drop dramatically just to get in all the gore.

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is technically very well made. The black and white cinematography (only briefly punctuated with spots of color in the last few minutes) is clear and haunting. The use of light and sound to tell the story of a uncommunicative protagonist–the mentally unstable sexually depraved replacement for the first film’s world-renowned surgeon–is strong. Even the special effects are as gruesome and realistic as I’ve seen in a horror film in quite some time.

Therein lies the problem. For all the technical wizardry and clever editing, the film exists only as a vehicle of shock. The story–mentally unstable sexually depraved man kidnaps twelve people, locks them in a warehouse, and attaches them together with a staple gun and duct tape because he gets off on The Human Centipede (First Sequence)–has no nuance. There are impressive visuals to try and mask this fact, but this film is defined by a logline and gore, not a plot.

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Where’d That Come From: Creepy Bed Gif Edition

Sometimes, an artifact of pop culture becomes popular in an unexpected way. This could be a film being remembered for a single song used in a montage or a television show better known for one random gag than its actual plot.

With the explosion of social networking forms in recent years, the animated gif has begun to take center stage as a microcosm of this very phenomenon. You might not have seen the episode of The Tyra Show where she rants against the tabloids for daring to publish a photo of what she actually looks like. You very well may have seen any of the numerous animated gifs that came out of that bizarre episode.

Kiss my fat [butt], indeed, Tyra.

Whether its a composite of various anime characters responding to a modern pop culture event or an actual cutting of a reality show no one watched, animated gifs pop up as shorthand for any number of Internet occurrences. I recently encountered one for the first time that disturbed me. It’s embedded after the jump.

Messed up, no? I’ve seen it pop up on a few different sites–message boards, Tumblrs, personal blogs, etc.–and had to find out where it came from. Was it a misguided foreign commercial? A gag on a sitcom Halloween episode? Entirely staged to be a gif?

The answer comes from a short film released online by Drew Daywalt called Bedfellows. The short is finished in under two minutes and does a lot to build suspense very quickly.

This short film is a riff on an old urban legend that pops up a lot of Facebook. That story is your typical babysitter in peril scenario. A young woman watches a neighbor’s kids while they go out for dinner. The children are already asleep and not causing any trouble. She gets bored while the parents are eating and calls for permission to watch cable TV in their bedroom. They agree. She then asks for permission to cover the creepy clown statue in the corner of the bedroom. Silence on the phone. The mother instructs her to get the kids out of the house and call the police. They don’t own a clown statue.

Daywalt’s film spins it in a more adult direction. A woman is woken up in bed by a phonecall. She was sound asleep next to her boyfriend. Or at least she thinks she was. I’ve embedded the video below. Warning: it ends with a jump scare.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I believe the animated gif is more effective than the short film. The film didn’t need the big jump to be effective at the end. What we imagine will happen is far more terrifying than jumping up for a boo scare. That’s a simple matter of editing. The quality of the short, in spite of that choice, is top notch (especially the score and sound design).

And now you know where that creepy gif came from.