Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review: Production Spoils Cold War Kid's 4th Album

Cold War Kids, "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts" (Downtown Records)
The four-piece indie band Cold War Kids released their debut EP, "Mulberry Street," in 2005 while they were still working out of one member's apartment in Fullerton, Calif. That record featured "Quiet, Please!" — a unique, drama-building, slow tempo tune that showcased lead vocalist Nathan Willett's somersaulting tenor.
After a few more EPs and albums, and relocating to Long Beach, the band is releasing its fourth full-length album, "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts." Willett's unique vocals are still their signature, but this 10-song collection is uneven. When the arrangements become crowded, instead of adding color or ornamentation, the songs get weighed down and are less interesting.

"Dear Miss Lonelyhearts" lacks the wonderful energy heard on the 2010 EP, "Behave Yourself," which included original songs like "Coffee Spoon" and "Audience." The guitars were simple and bright, and the drums an efficient motor. Willett's voice is theatrical and dominant, and best highlighted with sparser arrangements and even slower tempos.

The title track is the most effective song on the album for precisely these reasons. There's space for Willett's voice to soar, the guitars are pretty, chiming along a plodding tempo with restrained reverb. The drums rumble like ominous thunder. This talented singer needs some room and understated accompaniment. Unfortunately, this record affords him too few opportunities.
Read Full Entry

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Alexa Vega talks the Spy Kids films on Blu-ray

The original Spy Kids trilogy has come to Blu-ray packed with family fun, slick special effects and bonus features. The films’ effects have aged a tad over the years, but they are just as entertaining and a fun way to spend an evening with the kids.

Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez (The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, Sin City), the Spy Kids films feature star-studded casts that include Antonio Banderas (Desperado), Alexa Vega (Twister) and Carla Gugino (Sucker Punch) plus guest appearances by Teri Hatcher (TV's "Desperate Housewives"), Steve Buscemi (Big Fish), Sylvester Stallone (Rocky), Salma Hayek (Frida), Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy) and Cheech Marin (Cars).
Combined, these family-friendly films have grossed more than $300 million at the U.S. box office. Each Blu-ray is loaded with bonus materials that include numerous featurettes, audio commentaries, music videos, behind-the-scenes and more.

Spy Kids - Masters of disguise, innovators of invention, and superstars of sleuthing, Gregorio (Banderas) and Ingrid (Gugino) are the best secret agents on Earth. Working for rival nations, they are sent to kill each other but instead fall in love. Now proud parents, they are called back into duty nine years later when their former colleagues start vanishing one by one thanks to evil genius Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming). But when they too disappear, there are only two people in the world who can rescue them...their kids! This high-octane adventure from director Robert Rodriguez is a must-see for everyone in the family.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams -The pint-sized spy siblings are back in action! Having joined the family spy business, Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega) rise up to save the planet from a mad scientist (Buscemi) living on a remote island populated by all kinds of dangerous, crazy creatures. As this bizarre environment wreaks havoc on their gadgets, the Spy Kids must rely on their smarts - and each other - to save the day!

Spy Kids 3: Game Over -The Spy Kids have entered a new dimension that will test their abilities like never before! Under-age agents Juni (Sabara) and Carmen (Vega) embark on their most mind-blowing mission yet: the journey inside a virtual-reality video game world designed to disorient them. Relying on their bravery, cool gadgets, lightning-quick reflexes - and, most importantly, their family - the Spy Kids must battle through level after level of the game as they race against the clock to save the world yet again from a new megalomaniacal villain, the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone).

Monsters and Critics was lucky enough to get a quick few comments via e-mail from superspy Alexa Vega about her experiences making the first three Spy Kids films, what the films mean to her, and what fans can expect from the new Spy Kids film

When you were making the first Spy Kids films, did you have any idea that they would become a big franchise and be this big a part of your young acting life?

Vega: We all knew that Spy Kids was something really cool and special, but we went into filming this movie without any expectations. We were just little kids having a good time. And when the film took off and people responded to it the way they did... I think we were just proud to be a part of something so cool and special.

From day 1, it was such a truly innocent and genuine excitement to be playing those characters. And it only made it that much better when everyone enjoyed it as much as we did.

Is it still your most recognizable role and how do you feel about the way the films helped launch a genre of kid-spy action movies that followed?

Vega: Carmen is a character that gets a lot of young kids excited. But Carmen is a brunette and I am naturally a blonde! So when I have my blonde hair I can be somewhat incognito. But it is so fun to see little kids recognize me as Carmen. Their eyes light up and right away they want to know where Juni is!!!
We have created this world that (to them) is this really cool reality. I think in some ways these characters give kids a drive to go out and want to do something. We aren't adults saving the world and doing great things. Carmen and Juni were just normal kids. It's great when kids can look up to other kids.

What was working with Robert Rodriguez like and how did his directing style change as you made the sequels?

Vega: Robert is the coolest director out there. He is so low key and has such an eye for everything that he does. I don't think his directing style has changed. He has always been so creative and confident as a director. He has always given us a solid path to follow.

Did you have the opportunity to learn from some of the acting legends in the films – such as Cheech Marin, Ricardo Montalban, Antonio Banderas, and Carla Gugino?

Vega: We were so lucky to have worked with the caliber of actors that were in these films. But when you’re kids... You don't appreciate it the way you do when you are older. I look back on that experience and think "Wow, we worked with Steve Buscemi!!!" It is just so cool.

With acting at such a young age, did you have any difficulty working around the special effects? Even the most veteran actors can sometimes struggle with working against a green screen or acting to a tennis ball, how did you get around the acting with stuff that isn’t actually there?

Vega: I started acting when I was four... And when you start at that age you don't really think of anything as being "difficult". It’s just all fun and good learning experiences. So by the time Spy Kids rolled around and we were working with even more special effects than the other films... I think we were ready. All the stunts and special effects were so fun!

One of the best aspects of the Spy Kid films is the fact that the kids save the day. How important do you think it is to have smart kids full of confidence (and with the latest high tech gadgets) be the ones saving the world rather than the adult heroes doing it?

Vega: Robert did something so cool and so different by making a movie where kids save the day. Usually, the heroes of films are adults. Like Super Man or James Bond... But when kids have other kids to look up to I think it empowers them. It gives them a drive and hope that they can do something big.
Carmen and Juni started off as ordinary kids and by working together with their family they were able to do great things.

The original three films are making their Blu-ray debut and like most Robert Rodriguez films are coming loaded with special features. Do you have any behind the scenes memories of Rodriguez and co-stars on the set? How actively is he already thinking of what is going on the DVD/Blu-ray when filming a movie?

Vega: There are tons of great memories from this set. We never think "Oh this is going to be great for the DVD extras..." We just had a great time and were normal kids. We'd goof off and play around. What we did never felt like work... We felt like we were at the most extreme version of summer camp. :D

How important are bonus materials on a Blu-ray or DVD to you? And what kind of bonus material do you look for – gag reel, commentary, trailers?

Vega: I really do love all the bonus material. It shows people how much fun we had on set and for us our behind the scenes footage is like our home movie that everyone can be a part of. Plus the gag reels are always hilarious.

Robert Rodriguez also includes cool features like “ten minute film school” or my favorite his “ten minute cooking school”? How good of a cook is he?

Vega: Robert is such a good cook. I think when you grow up in a big family you get plenty of practice at a young age.

When Spy Kids 3 wrapped in 2003, did you think you would be stepping back into Robert Rodriguez’s high tech world of spies again in 2011?

Vega: I had no idea we would be coming back to do another film. It was such a surreal moment walking on to set again for the first time. So many great memories ran through my mind.

How have filming and your approach to the Carmen Cortez character changed since the last time you played her on the screen?

Vega: I talked to Robert to get a feel for what he wanted from Carmen this time around. It helps when you have a director who really knows what he wants from you and the film. He helped guide me through it.

What do you think is the success behind the Spy Kids franchise and its secret to long life?

Vega: These movies are so special and teach kids such wonderful valuable lessons. The importance of family and working together to be able to achieve great things. I think parents love that we empower kids and teach great values.

Is there a chance we will see Carmen Cortez suit up for another adventure for a Spy Kids 5?

Vega: I don't know if this will be the final chapter for Carmen Cortez. It really is up to RR.
Read Full Entry

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Horror-meister John Carpenter's mediocre comeback

Much of the coverage of John Carpenter's new film, "The Ward" -- or rather "John Carpenter's The Ward," as some of the P.R. material distressingly insists -- revolves around the idea that the legendary horror-meister gets to take a mulligan on this one. Hell, the guy made "Halloween" and "The Thing" (or so the argument seems to go), and we're grateful to have him back making features after a decade-long hiatus, even if the result is a mediocre mental-hospital shocker starring Amber Heard that feels an awful lot like a low-budget knockoff of Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch."

I'd be happy to go along with that argument, if it made any sense. Unfortunately, "The Ward" fits entirely too well in Carpenter's oeuvre, which is consistently inconsistent. There's no disputing Carpenter's place in the history of horror movies, or his status as a genuine pioneer of American independent filmmaking. When somebody challenged me, a year or so ago, to one of those Facebook exercises where you name the 10 directors most important to you, right off the top of your head without cogitating or Googling, Carpenter made the list. (Along with Wes Craven and Paul Verhoeven and Michael Haneke and David Cronenberg and Tarkovsky and ... let's not get sidetracked, but it's a cool little self-administered personality test.) And it's not like "The Ward" is unbelievably terrible or anything. Hell, go see it, or better yet watch it on pay-per-view: It's a competent horror flick with creepy wide-screen atmospherics, a decent cast and a thoroughly worn-out premise, better than 75 percent of the genre.

But let's not kid ourselves: Carpenter's made a lot of junk over the years, and you could describe his entire career as a competition between brilliant concepts and indifferent execution. I mean, step right up to defend "Ghosts of Mars" and "Vampires" and "Escape From L.A." and "Village of the Damned," which were his last four movies before this one. Anyone? Yes, I hear you mumbling in the back, and it was cool, or halfway cool, to see Carpenter get back together with Kurt Russell's one-eyed Snake Plissken for "Escape From L.A." More accurately, it started out cool and then it got really sloppy, and that's exactly what I'm talking about. Carpenter gets by at least half the time on nifty ideas and half-baked left-wing social philosophy and his total DIY aesthetic (in his glory years, he usually directed, produced, co-wrote the screenplay, composed an electronic score and cast himself in a bit part). He's ambitious without being pretentious, he gets things done (or used to) and he's thoroughly likable. The world could do with more people like that.
Read Full Entry

Monday, July 4, 2011

Cars 2

Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Joe Mantegna, Franco Nero, Jenifer Lewis, Sig Hansen, Vanessa Redgrave, Cheech Marin

Cars 2 is an independent film having no bearing on the prequel Cars. The action begins at sea amidst sinister oil rigs infiltrated by British spies Finn McMissile (an Aston Martin) and his aide Holley Shiftwell, who use all the weaponry at their disposal — wings, heavy arsenal, and underwater capability — to make a nocturnal escape with their dignity and paint jobs intact. In the American desert, the spiffy red Lightning McQueen is hot-rodding around with his tow-truck friend Mater when he’s persuaded to enter an upcoming series of races in which big shot Land Rover Sir Miles Axlerod hopes to prove the viability of his revolutionary clean fuel Allinol as a substitute for gasoline, which won’t deplete the planet’s shrinking oil reserves. Axelrod wants to prove it in a World Grand Prix to be run in England, Japan and Italy.

The plot highlight is that Lightning McQueen ends up in a championship duel with the Italian driver Francesco Bernoulli. At the same time, Lightning and Mater find themselves in the middle of a clandestine war between the forces of fossil and alternative fuels, involving the British secret agents Finn McMissile and Holley Shiftwell.

The John Lasseter and Brad Lewis- helmed Cars 2 features a wide range of cars and more action than films like say Fast Five; it is noticeably more rambunctious. The race events sparkle with crowd excitement — spectators of course being cars. No memory of the original is required to get one’s bearings, as this wonderfully designed and animated sequel stands on its own four tires. The voice talents — be it Michael Caine, Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Eddie Izzard in starring roles or Joe Mantegna, Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave in a brief sound byte — lend their classic touches to the characters they voice.
Read Full Entry

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kids movies: 10 films for $5

See 10 movies for just $5 during UltraStar Cinemas' 2011 Summer Kids' Movie Series. Movies, which are rated G or PG, will be shown at 9:30 a.m. Mondays-Fridays beginning May 23. A different film is featured each week.

Movies include “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Despicable Me.” Choose a day of the week you'd like to attend. Kids 2 and younger under are free.

Tickets are available at the two locations' box offices.

UltraLuxe Scottsdale, at the Pavilions at Talking Stick, 9090 E. Indian Bend Road, Salt River Reservation, Scottsdale, 480-302-6055; and UltraStar Surprise Pointe Cinemas, 13649 N. Litchfield Road, Surprise, 623-584-3884.
Read Full Entry

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rio tops North American box office

Animated family comedy Rio has topped the North American box office according to initial figures. The film about a birdnapped macaw, which features the voices of Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway, took $40m (£24.6m) in its first three days.

It was the best opening weekend takings so far this year, beating another animated comedy, Rango, by $2m (£1.2m). Horror sequel Scream 4 - the first film in the franchise for 11 years - entered the chart at two with $19.3m (£11.9m). The movie reunites original cast members Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette.

However box office receipts for the film came in lower than industry expectations, as its previous two movies both managed in excess of $30m (£18.4m) in their opening weekends. A spokesperson for the Weinstein Co said that the long period between films may have affected its takings as the typically young teenage horror fan would have been too young for the franchise the last time around.

Last week's number one film, animated comedy Hop featuring the voice of Russell Brand, fell to number three after two weeks at the top spot. Director Robert Redford's Lincoln-assassination drama The Conspirator was the only other new entry at nine.

It took $3.9m (£2.4m) after a limited release in 707 cinemas, compared to an average 2,900 cinemas for the rest of the top 10. The movie stars Robin Wright and James McAvoy in a courtroom tale of a woman accused of aiding Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth.
Read Full Entry