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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Slaughter 'stays for a while' with debut record

*Editor's Note: This story will appear in the September issue of ITZ Magazine. All opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

By Brandon K. Scott
brandons@itzmag.com

There is no need to introduce Huntsville to John Slaughter, or vice versa -- even if he's just releasing his debut solo record.

The 30-year-old musician/singer/songwriter has been in town since 1999 when he enrolled in Sam Houston State University to study agriculture.

Around that time, Slaughter was already in the background of the Texas country music scene. When he was 16, Slaughter's mom would drive him from Conroe to Houston to perform with area Top 40 bands.

After some regional success with Riverwest, the group he joined while at SHSU, John started performing with his cousin Jody Booth - who co-wrote three songs on the debut record "Stay for a While" including my favorite "Don't Drink My Whiskey While I'm Gone."

"We've got a system down definitely," Slaughter said. "We go in and have an idea, we'll write it and get it knocked out."

By 2003, John was performing 150-200 dates a year with Roger Creager. He even co-wrote Creager's #1 hit "I Love Being Lonesome."

Yet Slaughter's creds as an individual artist had hardly been measured by anything, until now with the release of this record.

"Stay For a While" is indicative of John Slaughter -- ordinary country lover boy who sings songs that make other people want to sing along. This record could honky-tonk its way into any bar in Huntsville, and it undoubtedly will.

Slaughter sings success, failure, perseverance, love and even infedelity (again with my favorite "Don't Drink My Whiskey While I'm Gone").

"I kind of write when I feel inspired," he said. "I don't want to write just to write a song. I practice but I try to write from experience. Over the years I feel like I've become in tuned to the human condition.

"Whether it's on a bathroom wall or what somebody says at a bar or what I see somebody doing or if somebody just shouts something out weird, I tend to find inspiration."

And John wants to tell stories to people in different places.

The "Stay for a While" single, released Aug. 16, was mostly written at Slaughter's home before him and Jody finished the track. The lyrics speak to a lady in a bar who obviously isn't one of the bar-regular.

But the artist, however, attempts to keep her in the bar with his smooth talkin' and country western charm.

John talks about swinging on the old front porch and a picnic by the lake. It's basically the song that says all the right things to get the girl to really stay for a while.

"Hasn't Everyone" is the self inspirational song that acknowledges making mistakes but not letting it be the end of the world.

"And I know you won't quit that easily," quotes Slaughter as what his mother would say to him.

"Single Rose Kind of Girl" is one of four tracks on the record co-written by another Huntsville artist some of you may know as Cody Johnson.

In the song, John says "she's jealousy in another man's eyes" and that she says they're "rich in love." Deep down, every man wants a single rose kind of girl. Normally I wouldn't speak for every man, but I feel safe with that one.

"Pray for Rain" could easily be the best song on the record. It's already a popular tune, co-written by Slaughter and Cody Johnson, which Johnson has performed numerous times before. I haven't heard Slaughter perform it yet, but he sounds great on this record.

If you're from east Texas and a lifetime country music fan, you'll appreciate "Timbertown" which looks at rural life before stop signs turned into stoplights. It's tasteful, just like the album in its entirety.

But "Don't Drink My Whiskey While I'm Gone" is my favorite because it takes the ethos of "Stay For a While" and gives it a completely different perspective. While the majority of the record proves Slaughter to be a kind, thoughtful country boy, this song does that with a little attitude.

While Slaughter is often singing about love and affection, he disregards any funny business with Don't Drink My Whiskey. John mentions the fact that he's a performer who travels a lot to make a living.

While his woman may be at home sleeping with the pool boy or the neighbor, all Slaughter wants is for his whiskey to be left alone. He's essentially saying, "make love to my woman, even have a sip of my vodka or beer. But if you touch my whiskey there's going to be some serious issues."

It's damning and I love it.

"That's a little bit of tongue and cheek," John said. "People don't always talk about women cheating."

Slaughter's band can be spotted performing all across the Lone Star State, stretching the borders from McAllen to Lubbock. They'll also do shows outside of Texas - Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and Kansas as well.

Still, Slaughter is just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary gift and "Stay for a While" is undoubtedly the wrapping.

Don't miss the Back to School Bash at The Jolly Fox on September 9, where John Slaughter performs and promises "to get it a little western" that night.

To keep up with tour dates visit johnslaughtermusic.com. "Like" his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @johntslaughter.





Photos by Melissa Webb




Friday, May 13, 2011

'Bridesmaids,' one of the best comedies in years




Bridesmaids, the newest release from comedy juggernaut Apatow Productions, has been alternately described and marketed as The Hangover with girls, a chick flick guys can enjoy and a long-awaited raunchy comedy for women. It might be all of these things, but the reason Bridesmaids is a great comedy isn’t its ties to comic conventions, but its confidence to be itself.

Annie (Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with fellow Groundling Annie Mumolo) is falling behind in life. Her dream cake business went under, she lives with a pair of annoying (but hilarious) roommates, she works in a jewelry store where she can’t seem to stop dropping reality bombs on happy couples, and she’s under a mountain of debt. When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, Annie sees it as an opportunity to celebrate something good in her life, but when she meets Lillian’s pushy, super-rich new friend Helen (Rose Byrne), planning the perfect bride experience for her best friend becomes a power struggle.

As Helen steadily gains influence over Lillian, Annie searches for a way to overcome, looking to fellow bridesmaids Megan (Melissa McCarthy), Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Becca (Ellie Kemper) for help, spending more time with her caricature painting mother (the late Jill Clayburgh) and befriending a good-natured Irish highway patrolman (Chris O’Dowd).

What starts as an unambiguous rivalry comedy pitting Annie against Helen evolves into a kind of soul search picture that feels neither pretentious nor posed. Annie becomes less concerned about overcoming her fellow bridesmaid and more concerned about what’s happening to her and how she can fix it. It’s a welcome dose of true heart to a genre of films often missing an emotional core.

It’s a challenge to present such a touch-feely concept in a comedy setting anyway, but Bridesmaids makes it work. Director Paul Feig (a veteran of TV shows like The Office and Freaks and Geeks, both of which walk a similar line) masterfully balances relentless, often raunchy jokes with moments of genuine humanity. This comedy could have been all about an over-produced wedding or a bachelorette party gone horribly wrong. The fact that it isn’t, but it still manages to be funnier and better than any movie of that kind made in the last decade, makes it all the more charming.

It seems to be a universal truth that Kristen Wiig is funny, but Bridesmaids proves she’s a star. She carries the film, both as actress and writer, and manages to maintain a glowingly beautiful sense of being both a real woman and a really funny woman throughout, even in her character’s moments of absolute despair. Her supporting cast is each equally wonderful in their way, and made even more wonderful by their diversity. The stand-out, though, is McCarthy, who steals every scene she’s in (which won’t surprise any viewers of Gilmore Girls, where she regularly upstaged Lauren Graham).

All these ingredients (well, these and a cameo by a certain 80s pop group that will go unnamed for fear or spoiling it for you) add up to a comedy that’s rare in a world of mass-produced raunch. Unlike so many of the comedy films that have rolled out of the Hollywood machine in the past decade (many of them quite good in their own right), Bridesmaids takes the high road. It manages to pack in a truckload of dirty jokes and various and sundry gags - all of them well-placed and most of them gut-bustingly funny - while still giving a sense that it’s populated with real people, real problems and real love. It manages to fit perfectly into the comedy scene while standing distinctly outside of it in a new, maybe better, category. Bridesmaids is a rare gem, a comedy that made all the right moves and kept its heart in the right place.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

'Thor,' an epic in two worlds

Hemsworth only wishes he were working on the railroad.

Thor, the herald to sound the coming of 2011’s summer movie season, is the kind of shamelessly overblown epic that you should have shameless fun watching. It’s a flick that walks a line between science fiction and fantasy, between hero’s journey and God’s burden, and manages to maintain the best of both worlds.

It’s a fitting way to tell the story, because Thor is also set in two worlds. The journey begins as the titular hero (Chris Hemsworth) is exiled from the realm of Asgard (where the Norse Gods reign) by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor foolishly and cockily dealt with the malicious Frost Giants, and his action led to war. He pays the price by being stripped of his godly powers, including his legendary hammer Mjolnir, and cast down into the desert of New Mexico, where his frustration grows as he begins the search for his hammer and way back to the realm of gods.

By chance, foxy stargazer Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her two assistant (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) happen to be looking up at the sky when Thor falls to Earth. As they get to know him, and his ambition to reclaim what’s his, Jane begins to feel that there might be something else to the universe.

What begins as a kind of comedy of manners as Thor adjust to life in the human world soon becomes a struggle to reclaim not only his powers, but his realm, as Thor begins to learn there’s much more to being a leader than strength. It sound like an overly big, overly corny concept for a blockbuster to tackle, and in a way it is, but Thor and its bombastic, superhero backdrop is the perfect venue to watch a hero rise.

Director Kenneth Branagh, known more for his work with Shakespeare than superheroes, erases almost any doubt that he’s a capable of a big action adventure flick. He has an over-reliance on crooked camera angles to keep things visually interesting, but other than that he keeps every sequence tight, brisk and brimming with visual wonder (but not the kind of visual wonder that merits extra money for 3D; remember that). He also knows exactly how to turn an arrogant, hammer wielding god into a hero among men, and even when the film’s blockbuster sense of humor might get in the way, Branagh (with the help of a story by Thor comics writer J. Michael Straczynski and a screenplay by Ashley Mill, Zack Stentz and Don Payne) never loses the epic threads that run through this story.

Even with Branagh’s measured direction, Thor could have been the kind of film the degenerated into farce were it not for a strong cast to hold it up. Portman and Hemsworth aren’t exactly electric in their chemistry, but they, along with Dennings and Skarsgard, manage to juggle the flick’s many and often rapid-fire jokes with a sense of the gravity of what’s going on around them. Adding to the excellence are Hopkins and English actor Tom Hiddleston, who is a wonderfully cool but still slippery version of Thor’s trickster brother Loki. Thor could be the kind of movie that’s nothing but wise cracks, or it could be the kind of movie that’s filled with melodramatic angst. Thankfully, it’s a movie that contains both wise cracks and melodramatic angst, and another cast might not have made it work.

Thor is not a masterpiece, or a deeply moving piece of fantasy cinema, or an acclaimed attempt to humanize a hero. It’s a big, bold, thrill ride with plenty of laughs, explosions and danger, and it’s all the more admirable because it never pretends to be anything else. It’s a welcome addition to the Marvel Comics cinematic canon, made all the more welcome by a carefully placed titled at the end of the credits: “Thor will return in The Avengers.”

Monday, April 18, 2011

'Game of Thrones' Episode 1: "Winter is Coming"

Sean Bean offers up a prayer to the God of Big-Ass Swords

Game of Thrones might be the most ambitious project HBO has ever undertaken. It’s a sprawling, detailed glimpse into a fantasy world where summers and winters can last for years, where dragons once roamed, and where ancient families still plot and scheme for crowns. Adapted from the bestselling epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin and featuring a huge cast, stunning visuals and loads of medieval brutality, Game of Thrones debuts this Sunday with the promise of becoming your new TV addiction.

“Winter is Coming,” the series’ debut episode, opens on a 700-foot-tall wall of ice that guards the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros’ northern border. Three men, members of an ancient order that mans the wall, are venturing out into the wilderness beyond to scout, but what they find is something far more sinister than they ever imagined.

Meanwhile, in the northern country of Winterfell, life goes on for the Stark family, the long-serving lords of the northern portions of Westeros. Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), the patriarch, is preparing for the arrival of his king, Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), who will offer him a job that he does not want to take, and set in motion a chain of events that will change the kingdoms forever.

Everyone in the world of  Game of Thrones, from the king’s wife Cersei (Lena Headey), to her brothers Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to Eddard’s bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harington), has their own agenda. And to make matters worse, across the sea the last remnants of an ancient Westeros dynasty, led by Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) and his sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) are plotting their vengeance on those that deposed their father years before.

It’s a complex tale, but in the hands of executive producers and writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss it’s told almost effortlessly. Everything is carefully and precisely revealed at the right time, and every character is given their own methods, their own obsessions and their own treacherous flaws. It’s an adaptation that manages to remain faithful to Martin’s novels while still creating something new, something just discovered and teeming with fresh energy.

The energy is carried over in the show’s visual style. Pilot director Tim Van Patten (a veteran of HBO shows like The Sopranos) sets the tone with a muted color palette and elegant camerawork that lets the show’s impressive sets and visual effects speak for themselves.

The cast, led by stellar performances by Bean and Dinklage, is what really keeps you coming back to the land of Westeros. Not everyone is famous, but what they lack in name recognition they make up for in genuine, gritty, truly stirring presence, from the lowliest man at arms to the king’s own Master of Spies.

The very idea that anyone was even able to adapt this material – a work in progress of more than 20 years and thousands of pages – to the small screen is a true achievement in itself, but completing something with this level of quality is more than an achievement; it’s a miracle. It may be a fantasy, but Game of Thrones is also one of the most brutally honest show on television, and one of the most brilliant.

Friday, March 18, 2011

'Paul,' the alien you can get high with

Simon Pegg and Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) on a bad trip.

There’s a constant danger that a film like Paul could end up one long inside joke, filled with obscure sci-fi references and nerd shout-outs with no real connection to anyone who isn’t a massive geek. It goes without saying that Paul is a flick by geeks, for geeks, but it also packs enough heart and energy to win over anyone with a taste for the odd, or even just a dirty sense of humor.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (the team that brought you Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) star as Graeme and Clive, a pair of English nerds who flew into America for the annual San Diego ComicCon and then opted for an RV tour of America’s most noteworthy UFO-related sites. After a pit-stop at the Little A’Le’Inn (a real place) in Nevada, the pair encounters a car crash on a lonely road. It’s there that they meet Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), a little grey alien on the run from a government facility.

After the initial shock of finally meeting an actual alien after years of nerdy speculation, Graeme and Clive chat with Paul, who reveals that his spaceship crashed in Wyoming in the 1940s and he’s been hanging around ever since, informing the government on alien life and even influencing more than a few aspects of American culture (Agent Mulder was his idea). But now he’s used up his intellectual and scientific currency, and the Powers That Be want to keep him quiet. So, with a cold Man in Black (Jason Bateman) and his two hapless subordinates (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) hot on their trail, the threesome set off on a cross-country adventure to get Paul back to his home in the sky. Along the way, they meet a Bible-thumping RV park manager (Kristen Wiig), her crazy father (John Carroll Lynch) and a host of other helpers and obstacles as an adventure full of cursing, car chases and cosmic fates unfolds.

It’s easy to dismiss what’s going on here as a foul-mouthed, grown up version of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. If you said that’s what Paul is, you wouldn’t be wrong, but you would be wrong to dismiss the film because of what it owes to classic alien visitor films. Wrapped up in “Paul” are E.T.Close Encounters of the Third KindAliensThe X-Files and all those fun old flying saucer cheeseball flicks from the 50s. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Pegg and Frost, celebrated nerds in their own right, celebrate even the most clichéd parts of the characters and story they’ve created, because after all, Paul is a love letter to all the “visitors from beyond” flicks of yore, and in that respect it works marvelously.

It also becomes very hard to fault Pegg and Frost for making a film based almost entirely on other films when you take into account how funny Paul is. The pair made their names as in over their heads zombie battlers in Shaun of the Dead, and they do just as well as in over their heads alien companions. It might be a formula, but it’s not worn out yet.

Pegg and Frost know how to do what they do better than anyone, but Paul is their first truly Americanized film, and it's set apart by a bevy of American comic actors joining the act. Bateman, one of the great straight men of modern comedy, delights in the villainy of his character. Hader and Truglio are brilliantly bumbling, and Wiig is her typically effortless self.

What it all comes down to is that there’s nothing to complain about here. Mixed reviews for this film are mystifying. There’s no doubt that a good portion of what’s in Paul is derivative, but it’s also well done, reverent and a flat-out blast to watch.

Matt’s Call: If you’re a sci-fi geek, you’ll love it. But even if you’re not, there’s plenty to enjoy here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Breaking Down the Madness of March

ITZ Sports Correspondent Brandon Scott offers his take as the NCAA Tournament kicks into high gear this week.



I wish everyone would stop telling me how badly the NCAA Tournament is going to suck. About how watered down the talent pool is and the lack of star-power hovering over the brackets.
You know why experts are down-playing the parity and glamour in this year’s tournament? It’s because somewhere along the way, they stopped paying attention.
Just so this piece doesn’t seem so agitated, I’m going to get the star-power discussion out of the way now.
DANCING WITH THE STARS
Melvin Johnson III
It started yesterday with UTSA’s Devin Gibson and Melvin Johnson III showing off in the play-in game against Alabama State. Of course it was Johnson who took over the first half with 25 points and cemented his own ESPN highlight. Most college basketball fans had no idea who this 165-pound sophomore was before this morning, because they more than likely paid the game no attention on TruTv. But I watched UTSA take down a more talent Sam Houston State squad in the Southland Conference Tournament and Melvin Johnson III was a dude I knew could play a while ago. Kudos to Alabama State for upping his star-power, though.

There’s a set of stars in every division of the bracket. Here we’ll name one from each and let the debate begin on why I named the wrong guy. This will prove my point of the widely overlooked talent that’s lurking.
East – Jared Sullinger Ohio St. Didn’t overlook Harrison Barnes of UNC or Isaih Thomas from Washington, but Sullinger is a 290 pound load who just turned 19 a week ago and is leading the number one overall team in the tournament. That’s star power if I’ve ever seen such.
Southwest – The Morris Bros. Kansas. And there’s two of them. Markieff Morris is the bigger one, while Marcus Morris is probably the better one. But Kansas goes as far as these twin juniors from the east coast take them. The Morris’ are just as entertaining as Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison in 2003 – just saying.
West – Kemba Walker UConn. In my March Madness piece printed in this month’s magazine, I mentioned Nolan Smith was my pick for Player of the Year. He’s been incredible, but I’m singing a different tune these days. With Kemba Walker’s performance in the Big East Tournament, leading the Huskies to a title victory with five wins in five days averaging better than 25 points per contest, he’s easily the biggest performer on this side of the bracket (possibly the biggest star in the tournament). But if Kyrie Irving is even a shell of himself in his anticipated return to the Duke backcourt, I could be singing yet another tune by the end of the week.
Southeast – Jacob Pullen Kansas St. He’s been sick and Pullen’s teammates say his mom is hanging around babying him. This baby has a mean beard and some serious game. While a nice chunk of his season was disappointing, no question that Pullen plays for the big moment. His magnetism reminds me a lot of Mateen Cleaves with Michigan St in 2000 and Kansas St, under Pullen’s leadership, has a good chance of having the same type of fortune this season.
THE UPSETS
I consider my bracket to be a safe one, but it’s not all chalk. In the East I have Syracuse taking down North Carolina in the Sweet 16. Others might pick North Carolina as a favorite to upset number one seed Ohio St in the Elite Eight. But that’s just if they get that far. 'Cuse won six straight Big East games before losing to UConn (my pick to win it all) in the conference tournament championship game. I think Syracuse better conditioned for big games, playing in college basketball’s strongest league.
I’ve got Louisville beating Kansas for no real good reason, other than my idea that if anyone’s going to beat them, it’ll be one of the Big East teams. That’s the pick I’m ok with being wrong about.
I don’t have any huge upsets in the West but experts like ESPN’s Pat Forde believe Oakland could really knock off Texas. I’ll beg to differ. After seeing the Longhorns run away with a money game against SHSU, I’ve been convinced on their potential ever since. That’s the popular spoiler pick, but I say Texas will beat Oakland by at least 15 points.
Then in the Southeast division I see #10 Michigan St upsetting #2 Florida in the second round, as well as #6 St. John’s over #3 BYU. These are matches up that are much closer than the seedings let on.
With everything mentioned here as well as everything not, there’s plenty of suspense to gravitate towards. So what are these experts talking about, really?
FINAL FOUR AND CHAMPIONSHIP PICKS
Ohio State
UConn
Notre Dame
St. John’s
AND THE WINNER IS...

*UConn takes down Notre Dame for the national championship in a shootout between two stars – Kemba Walker and Ben Hansborough. Enjoy!
Think you know better than Brandon? Comment with your picks!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New on DVD: 'The Fighter' goes all 10 rounds

"Marky Mark" Wahlberg and Christian "Ginger Jesus" Bale in "The Fighter."

Some films get under your skin before you even know it.

They sneak up on you, make you think that you’re not going to care and then hit you with the truth: you cared all along, it just took a few key developments to make you realize it.

The Fighter, the new film from I Heart Huckabees director David O. Russell, is one such film. Much of its runtime is devoted to explorations of poverty, drug abuse and general misery, but it all builds to soaring scenes of hope and triumph, and all those minutes of darkness were well worth the wait.

Based on the true story of a pair of boxer brothers in Massachusetts town in the early 90s, The Fighter of the title is Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling boxer trying to break his losing streak while working his day job as a road paver. His trainer, mentor and resident upstager is his brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a former boxer still trying to relive his glory days and disappearing for days at a time to hang out in a crack house.

As the film opens, a documentary film crew is following Dicky around, chronicling his boxing career and his efforts to make a comeback even as he tries to train his brother for the big time. What he doesn’t know, what no one in the family knows, is that the documentary being shot is about crack addiction, not boxing.

As Micky struggles to succeed even as his brother’s absence and bad decisions sabotage his career, he also must juggle his domineering mother (Melissa Leo) and his new girlfriend, bartender Charlene (Amy Adams), who is in a fight of her own to get Micky past his family’s hang-ups and into the realm of real boxing glory.
Much of the film, at least the first half, is often incredibly hard to watch. The filmmaking is top notch. Russell packs strong visuals and intense scenes together in a rapid fire cocktail of powerful cinema, but the fact that it is so powerful, so convincing, means a long ride of drug use, family tension, poverty, depression, pain and failure that’s real enough that it almost hurts to look at.

It’s almost a theatrical ordeal, and as a result it might seem unenjoyable. But where Russell and his cast and crew succeed is in portraying the turnaround, the high moments, the crescendos of bright glory. When the inspirational portion of this inspirational true story kicks in, it really kicks in, and the fact that the first two acts were so hard to watch makes it all the more satisfying.

The performances are almost all top notch. Wahlberg gives a solid performance as Micky, and Amy Adams, known for her sweetie romcom fare, shows off her chops in a grittier role. The real champion of the film, though, is Bale, who lost a good deal of weight for the part. It’s not just the fact that he’s skinny, though. It’s the look in his eyes, his nervous energy, his nonstop squirrelly shaking and yammering that make Dicky so convincing, and so tragic. It’s a daring, powerful performance, and he steals every scene.

The Fighter is a film that never lets up, that pummels you first with despair, then with unrelenting hope. It’s a film about struggles, about not just one fighter but a whole town of them. Some of it might be a cliché, and it’ll never be Raging Bull (the best boxing film EVER), but rarely has a film about a working class hero been done so well.

Matt’s Call: Definitely one of the best films of the year, made even better because it’s hard to make an original film about a boxer any more. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New CARS 2 trailer!

Hey kids, we've got some Disney/Pixar fun for you today. A new Cars 2 trailer was just released, and you can see it right here. Enjoy!


Cars 2 races into theatres nationwide June 24.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Highs and Lows of Oscar Night

One day we'll look back on this and...Yeah, we still won't laugh.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more muddled, flailing awards show than the one I saw Sunday night at the 83rd Oscars. Almost nothing worked. The youthful exuberance and hip charm that was promised us in the guise of hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway fell completely flat. The choices made by the production team were almost all confusing, from the spotty movie retrospectives to the slew of horribly written jokes. Still, there were bright spots, things we can remember alongside the travesties of the evening. Here’s what stood out, for better or worse.

Low: The Hosts
James Franco and Anne Hathaway are both fantastic actors. They’re young superstars poised to do great things for decades. But put them front and center on an awards show stage and everything you love about them turns into grating hate. Hathaway’s energy and overjoyed charm becomes shrill, overanxious cackling, while Franco’s laid back suave becomes pretentious apathy. To their credit, both hosts seemed to know they were failing almost immediately, and by the end both had a “get me off this damn stage” look about them. We were thinking the same thing.

High: ‘Inception’ takes four Oscars
Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” was my pick for best film of 2010. I knew it wouldn’t win the top prize, but it still managed to prove its worth by taking home four awards in the technical categories, for visual effects, cinematography, sound design and sound mixing. While it’s still a shame that the Academy ignored much of the rest of its merit, going so far as to snub Christopher Nolan in the Best Director category, at least its sensory glories were applauded.

Low: Auto-Tune the Oscars
In an effort to continue you the “Hey, we’re young and hip” campaign that began when Franco and Hathaway were hired, Oscars producers concocted a few bits of tech savvy shtick in a further attempt to hook in the kiddos. Among these was an unfortunate attempt to make songs out of bits of dialogue from films like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I” and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” through clever use of auto-tuning. The result was not only bad songs, but bad comedy.

High: Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin is a genius. The television community has known and acknowledge this for more than a decade now, and Sunday night the film community jumped on board by handing him a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “The Social Network.” He also gave one of the most eloquent speeches of the evening.

Low: The Honorary Awards are pushed to the back…again
For the second consecutive year the Academy opted to remove its honorary awards, including the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement, from the Oscars broadcast and instead present them at a special “Governor’s Awards” ceremony. What used to be an interlude in the broadcast to honor legends in the field was instead converted to a smile and nod moment, when Thalberg winner Francis Ford Coppola and honorary winners Eli Wallach and Kevin Brownlow stepped out onto the stage. These are giants among men. They deserve better.

High: The all too brief appearance of Billy Crystal
For much of the night the Oscars audience seemed ready to fall asleep in their chair, but everything changed when legendary Oscars host Billy Crystal took the stage for a few brief moments. His jokes, his poise and his style reminded us what we were missing, and because of that the rest of the evening might have actually seemed worse.

Low: The continued ego-stroking of the acting nominees
If you’re looking for a message among the way the Academy presents its awards, one is always obvious: we care more about movie stars than we do about anyone else. The Academy continued its tradition Sunday night of taking extra time to honor the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees. Last year’s winners, Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock, came out and delivered specialized speeches about how special each of the nominees were, and then the statue went to the most special of them all. Even if you eliminate the fact that none of the other categories, including those with other actors, get this treatments, it’s just plain obnoxious.

I could also devote some time to complaining that “The King’s Speech” took Best Picture honors over “The Social Network,” but we have to face that the Academy will always go with the polished, safe choice over the daring one. That doesn’t bother me all that much, but if you’re going to pick the polished films, you can at least polish up your presentation.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Vote for the Cody Johnson Band in the FINALS of the TRRMA Music Awards



The Cody Johnson Band, Huntsville's own Texas County artist, has advanced to the FINAL ROUND of voting for the Texas Regional Radio Music Association's annual Music Awards. Johnson is in the running for New Male Vocalist of the Year and for Single of the Year for his song "Pray for Rain."

Cody and the band need your help to earn their first TRRMA Awards! To vote, register at the TRRMA website:


Register for free as a Fan Base member and be sure to vote for The Cody Johnson Band!

Johnson is touring throughout Texas to promote his album "Six Strings and One Dream," and will be appearing at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo later this month, and at County Line BBQ in Conroe on March 4. For more tour dates and info on the band visit www.thecodyjohnsonband.com

Friday, February 18, 2011

Movie Review: 'Winter's Bone'

Check out Matt's review of Winter's Bone from today's edition of The Huntsville Item.



Winter’s Bone, the top winner at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival that recently garnered four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, is a startling, intoxicating blend of dark family drama, gritty crime thriller and coming of age tale dropped into the deeply impoverished Ozark Mountain region of Missouri. At first glance, it’s a combination of effects that seems to generate more despair than drama, more unease than entertainment, but if you have the stomach to keep watching, it will grab you and refuse to release.

Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is 17, and already dealing with the problems of a person twice her age. Her father is a meth cooker on the run from the law, her mother has withdrawn into a deep depression and doesn’t even speak, and she has two younger siblings to feed, clothe and educate with little food and almost no money. Things only get worse when the local sheriff arrives to announce that her father, Jessup, has skipped out on his bond and is likely to miss an upcoming court date. Because Jessup signed away his house as collateral for his bond, if he doesn’t make it to court, the house will be repossessed, leaving Ree and her family with nothing.

Determined to find her father, Ree trudges through a rural underworld of meth dealers and cookers, a kind of mountain mafia that includes her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) and the brutal Merab (Dale Dickey), gatekeeper for the area’s head honcho Thump Milton (Ron Hall), who may be the only person who knows where her father is.  With few resources, little hope and a gallery of shadowy figures who would rather beat her senseless than hand someone over to the law, Ree keeps fighting to run down the quasi-legendary spectre that is her father, and save her family in the process.

Though the undeniable symbolism of a girl searching for a father pervades the film, the thing that sets the tone, and holds it throughout, is the simple fact of ubiquitous poverty. Ree and her siblings shoot squirrels for dinner, feed questionable leftovers to their dogs and take any handouts from their family and neighbors they can get. Added to this is the simple desolation of the landscape. At times, as Ree walks through the hills from house to house in search of her father, it feels like she’s journeying through a wasteland, past burned mobile homes, rusted trucks and toppling barns. The beautiful photography of, director Debra Granik and cinematographer Michael McDonough only serves to raise that awareness that this girl lives in a kind of apocalypse, a place where the only escape for many is drugs, and the only redemption for her is to shoulder the burden of her family and carry them through the dark.

From beginning to end, the film is a battle for Ree, a battle against the simple-minded men who govern the region, against the drugs that cripple nearly everyone in one way or another, and against the unseen force of her father, who moves like a ghost through the landscape of the story. We never see Jessup, but everyone feels his influence, Ree most of all.

It’s this struggle, the struggle of a girl against every circumstance of her often pitiful life, that makes up the meat of the tale, but the tragedies of Winter’s Bone are highlighted and offset by the trappings of a classic film noir. There’s a man on the run through the darkness of a criminal underworld, but this time, instead of Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum on his tail, it’s a tough as nails teenage girl with no weapon but her own determination.

Without that determination, the film falls flat, and it’s because of Lawrence that Winter’s Bone soars. She has the strength and sensitivity of an actor far beyond her limited experience, and her quiet, intense, rock-solid interpretation of Ree is the thing that ties the movie together. Hawkes and Dickey add their own hauting, often terrifying performances to the mix, and the rest of the cast, largely a group of unknowns, make Winter's Bone one of the most naturally, effortlessly acted films of the year.

Despite its grim exterior, within Winter’s Bone is something exhilarating, something primal and energetic and even hopeful. It’s this unlikely mixture of sorrow and spirit that makes it a great film.

Matt’s Call: This film deserves every accolade it’s received. It’s under the radar, but it’s definitely worth seeking out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Vote for the Cody Johnson Band in the TRRMA Music Awards!

The Cody Johnson Band, Huntsville's own Texas County artist, has advanced to round 2 of voting for the Texas Regional Radio Music Association's annual Music Awards. Johnson is in the running for New Male Vocalist of the Year and for Single of the Year for his song "Pray for Rain."

Cody and the band need your help to make it the final round of nominees and possibly earn his first TRRMA Awards! To vote, register at the TRRMA website:

http://trrma.texasregionalradio.com/login.asp

Register for free as a Fan Base member and be sure to vote for The Cody Johnson Band!

Johnson is touring throughout Texas to promote his album "Six Strings and One Dream," and will be appearing at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo later this month, and at County Line BBQ in Conroe on March 4. For more tour dates and info on the band visit www.thecodyjohnsonband.com

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Aphrodite Cinefest International 2011


Gothic Films, Huntsville’s own independent film studio, will present Aphrodite Cinfest International, a two-day film festival dedicated to independent romance films, Friday and Saturday at the Smither Warehouse at 1405 University Avenue.

The festival will feature seven feature films, 14 short films, six music videos and three movie trailers by filmmakers from around the world, including Austin, Los Angeles, Toronto, Kansas City and Portugal
Screenings will be held from 3-10:30 p.m. Friday and from 12-10 p.m. on Saturday, with an awards ceremony following the final screening to honor films and filmmakers in more than 40 categories.

The festival marks a departure for Gothic Films, a company that has spent the past several years making a mark in the independent horror genre with films like Long Pig and Naked Horror. The festival is the second Gothic Films has hosted in less than a year, following up the City of Death International Film Festival in October, 2010. According to Gothic Films director and festival organizer Carlo Rodriguez, Aphrodite Cinefest grew out of a desire to bring a broader range of independent film to Huntsville

“We had met so many different filmmakers on the film festival circuit, and we had decided to try to host some micro-festivals, each one with a different genre, since so many independent filmmakers were hungry to have screenings, so we wanted to keep fostering those independent roots in Huntsville,” Rodriguez said.

The centerpiece of Aphrodite Cinefest is Snatch ‘N’ Grab, a romantic comedy by Austin filmmakers Twitchy Dolphin Flix that will have its world premiere at the festival at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s basically a female version of all those male-driven comedies like The Hangover and Superbad,” Rodriguez said. “It’s as if Sex and the City met The Hangover. It’s about four women who decide to play life by so-called ‘men’s rules,’ but the bottom line is they still end up falling in love. It’s sort of a gender bender in terms of romantic comedies.”

Rodriguez said he and Gothic Films founder and producer George Russell are planning a number of additional “micro-festivals” for the future if the events have continued success.

“We hope to do one that’s maybe fantasy/horror, one that’s sci-fi, one that’s action adventure and one that’s maybe inspirational documentary,” Rodriguez said. “Most of the festivals are weeklong huge events that span different genres, but we want to just capture the niche area. We meet so many people that think it’s a great idea so we try to accommodate.”

Admission to Aphrodite Cinefest is $6 for a day pass and $10 for a pass to the entire festival, including VIP areas and the closing awards ceremony. Some films include sexual content and may not be suitable for people under the age of 18. For a complete listing of films and events schedule, visit www.aphroditecinefest.com.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Harlem Globetrotters at Johnson Coliseum

Photo by DJ Shafer, ITZ Magazine.
After just 10 minutes of watching the Harlem Globetrotters do their thing on the court, you realize something: no matter how corny it sounds, they really are an American institution.

The Globetrotters performed a smooth, swagger-laden show for a crowd at Johnson Coliseum Monday night, and I'm happy to say I was among the crowd. The kind of entertainment these hoopsters bring to a venue is something unlike anything you're likely to see anywhere else. They're one of a kind, and that's why they've been touring for 85 years.

What I was most struck by, other than the simple coolness of having them here, was how funny the Globetrotters' show really is. Led by the team's designated showman, Special K Daley, known far and wide as the "Clown Prince of Basketball," the Globetrotters unleashed a performance that was part Michael Jordan, part Marx Brothers.

It might sound silly, a bunch of guys running around in shorts, pulling trick dunks and stopping every few minutes to crack wise with the audience, but the effect is really something quite astounding. It's a strange combination of supreme athletic prowess and surprisingly competent comedic skill, something LeBron James and Peyton Manning can't seem to pull off no matter how much money we pay them to do "funny" commercials for Nike and Gatorade.

The other thing that struck me was how few people were actually in Johnson Coliseum that night. There was a crowd, to be sure, but the place was far from full. At the risk of sounding like I'm chastising you, if you weren't watching the Harlem Globetrotters Monday night, you really should have been. It wasn't ridiculously expensive, and it wasn't hard to reach the venue. Or, at least, if you didn't want to come, you're now no longer allowed to complain when nothing cool comes to Huntsville. If and when the Globetrotters show up again, they deserve a warmer welcome, because they're a world class act.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

'RED,' one bloody cool flick




Not long ago, I listed RED as one of my five most anticipated films to close out 2010. I placed it among some pretty heavy company, the likes of The Social Network, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I and the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit. I did this because I am utterly enamored with the work of its co-creator, comic writer extraordinaire Warren Ellis (Read his sci-fi series Planetary and thank me later.), I am utterly enamored with just about every member of the ensemble cast, and I was utterly enamored with the idea: an action comedy about former CIA agents saddling up for a revenge mission.

Ellis’ original comic miniseries is almost shockingly short; three slim issues. It’s a dark, solitary tale of a single deadly retired agent named Frank Moses who, when an overanxious new CIA director sends a hit squad to eliminate it, turns his guns back on his former employers. That’s it. No frills, no friends, no laughs.

To make the whole thing long enough to film, director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s Wife) and writers Jon and Erich Hoeber (They wrote the atrocious Whiteout, but we’ll let that slide.) sought to expand the tale while keeping the dark cool that ran through Ellis’ original story. To do this, they gave Moses friends in similar predicaments and turned the villain into an apparently vast governmental conspiracy. Also, they made it funny. Does it work? Most of the time.

Frank Moses (Bruce “Bruno” Willis) is a retired CIA agent living a quiet life in a suburban neighborhood, decorating for Christmas and tearing up his pension checks just so he has an excuse to call his lovely benefits coordinator Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) and ask her how her day is going. When a wet team (Which any spy thriller fan knows is called “wet” because their work is bloody.) visits him in the dead of night to try to eliminate him, Frank proves he’s still got game, takes them all out and hightails it to Kansas City, where he promptly attempts to enlist the help of Sarah, who is so shocked by his arrival that he’s forced to kidnap her (it’s funnier than it sounds, believe me).

The next chunk of the flick is a road movie. Frank is on the run and visiting old friends like Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), who’s living out his days in a retirement home, and stuffed pig-bearing Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) a paranoid retired operative hiding out deep in the Florida swamps.

On Frank’s trail is William Cooper (Karl Urban), an ambitious CIA honcho ordered by his superiors to take care of the Frank problem. After learning that Frank has been tagged RED (Retired Extremely Dangerous), Cooper pulls out all the stops to make sure his targeted it history, but Frank, with his friends in toes, foils him at every turn. As the film progresses, details emerge about why exactly Frank has been targeted, and he must enlist the help of saucy former MI6 operative Victoria (Helen Mirren) and Russian agent Ivan (Brian Cox) to bring the wild ride to a close.

One of the things I love about RED is that it never bills itself as anymore than what it is: an action comedy about spies getting old. For me, it covered each of the bases well. The action was well-paced, fun to watch and even cheer worthy at times. The comedy had sharp timing, good delivery and a fair share of belly laughs, and the getting old thing was made amusing without becoming what the whole movie was about.

The problem with RED comes when you try to take too seriously that plot that the filmmakers threw together to make up for the fact that the source material was too short. It’s a thinly-stretched tale, to be sure; to mention awfully farfetched. But that shouldn’t change your enjoyment of the finer things. Come on, John Malkovich uses a grenade launcher like a baseball bat in this movie, and Helen Mirren fires a machine gun at a limousine. That's a pretty healthy dose of badass.

Speaking of the cast, they’re a masterful bunch, but you knew that already. Freeman and Mirren are two of the best actors in the world, and it shows. Malkovich is one of the great portrayers of crazy characters in the business, Parker is great at being in over her head, and Willis is an action icon. It’s a recipe for awesome.

RED is not perfect. It’s not a mind-blowing cinematic experience, or a profound one, or a though-provoking one. It is, however, a highly-polished, completely fun action flick, and one that’s definitely worth seeing.

Matt’s Call: I stand by my declaration that it’s among the five most worthy flicks at the cinema last fall. It’s not an Oscar-winner, but it was never trying to be. It’s a popcorn flick, and it’s among the best popcorn flicks I’ve seen in a while.






















































































































Friday, January 21, 2011

SHSU Basketball: A Critical Point

Bearkats Captain Josten Crow in game against Baylor. Image via GoBearkats.com

ITZ Sports Correspondent Brandon Scott blogs this week on the state of Bearkat Men's Basketball.


It was an ugly scene. The men’s basketball team recorded its first conference loss to the University of Texas-Arlington on Jan. 12. The Kats looked as if they hadn’t played 14 previous games. It was Mary-Hardin Baylor all over again, except this time it was a conference opponent.
UTA held the Kats to only 18-of-52 shooting, while reigning in 38.5 percent of its 3-point attempts against the SHSU defense.
“It really didn’t have anything to do with defense,” head coach Jason Hooten said. “We got plenty of stops, especially when we were down. It’s pretty much been the same story all year long, our lack of execution offensively.
“Just got to step up and make shots. We’ve got the best player in the league and they’re going to double and triple team him all night long and pound on him and beat on him. Somebody else has to come to the rescue.”
Brandon Scott
It’s important to note that senior and co-captain Lance Pevehouse missed the UTA game with an eye injury, but the Kats admittedly failed to step up that night.
However, they answered with an inspired group effort against Nicholls State Jan. 15., who came to Johnson Coliseum with a winless conference record, but possibly the league’s best scorer in Anatoly Bose.
Defensively, the Kats are usually solid and maintained that against Nicholls. SHSU shot 54 percent from the field, 50 percent from 3-point range, while holding Nicholls to 33.2 percent from the field.
One of the most daunting questions for the Bearkats is what happens when Gilberto Clavell struggles offensively, or when he’s held back by foul trouble because of his aggressiveness.
Clavell finished with a mild 12 points in limited time against Nicholls after picking up fouls in the first half. The Bearkats jumped out to an early 10-0 lead with three-pointers from Marcus Williams and Drae Murray, as well as offensive rebounding activity from Antuan Bootle. 

Hooten’s request for his team to spread it around is a critical one.
This isn’t last season, when SHSU was the clear-cut favorite after two conference games. There’s heightened parity in the league, and if they hope to adequately defend their title, they have a dogfight on their hands.
One thing they know they can’t do is expect Clavell to be the ticket to the second straight conference championship.  
“That’s a part of us getting in the gym and getting extra shots,” Drae Murray said. “I know I’ve missed a lot that I should have made. Then, every time we try to get the ball to G they got three people going down to him. You know, we live on G a lot so everybody else has to step up and make plays.”
Coach Hooten ripped into to his players after losing to a UTA team they should have beaten. We could hear him yelling in the locker room, all the way from the tunnel.
“I have never been this mad, EVER!”
Hooten was well within his rights. The Kats went out and stunk it up in what will prove to be the most critical point of the season. Last year, the players and coaches talked about gaining separation from opponents in the conference standings. They might not have such a luxury this season, but the ball is literally in their court.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

MOVIE NEWS: Sacha Baron Cohen's next role will be 'THE DICTATOR'


Paramount Pictures announced Thursday that Sacha Baron Cohen's next film, "the heroic story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed," is set for worldwide release on May 11, 2012.

The Dictator will be adapted (somehow) from Saddam Hussein's novel Zabibah and the King (and yes, that's a real thing). Baron Cohen will co-write the screenplay with Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm alums Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer and David Mandel. Scott Rudin joins Baron Cohen, Berg, Schaffer and Mandel to produce the flick. Larry Charles, who collaborated with Baron Cohen on Borat and Bruno, is attached to direct.

So...a dictator movie. It's ballsy, just like everything Baron Cohen attempts, but this time he's tramping in the footsteps of legends. Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator set the absolute standard for satire of this kind. I don't think Baron Cohen will ever be able to break away from that comparison (at least among people like me). But at least it'll be funny...right?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

'The Green Hornet' isn't super, but it's fun.

Jay Chou and Seth Rogen don't look at explosions.

The Green Hornet is yet another story of a billionaire playboy who decides to turn his life around and use his resources, his dark past and his trusty assistant to fight crime (a la Batman and Iron Man). Where it splits from previous films of its kind is in the kind of hero it portrays: a headstrong, largely good-intentioned buffoon who’s far more confident in his abilities than his fighting skills suggest he should be.

Ambitionless party boy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) has just inherited a successful Los Angeles newspaper after the death of his overbearing father (Tom Wilkinson). After a night of serious drinking and a morning of general apathy, he meets Kato, his father’s mechanic and resident barista. The two bond over a general dislike of Old Man Reid, as well as Kato’s supercool modifications (among them bulletproof glass and no-flat tires) to several of the vehicles in the Reid garage. 

During yet another of Britt's bad decisions, the two come across a gang of street toughs (yes, street toughs) attacking a couple in the street, and save the day. It’s then that Britt decides he and Kato should become a crime fighting team, but should masquerade as criminals to keep their good deeds hidden from the rest of the criminal underworld.

And so by day, Britt and Kato pose as big shot newspaper executives, assisted by the foxy and brainy Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), and by night don masks and do battle with the criminal element of Los Angeles and its leader, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz).

The Green Hornet has a long history in the costumed hero tradition. It predates Batman and Superman. It’s appeared in numerous incarnations over 75 years, including comic books, radio shows and a television series co-starring the legendary Bruce Lee. This version, written by Rogen and his partner Evan Goldberg (they wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express together) and directed by art-house icon Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), bears little resemblance to any of the previous Hornets. This masked hero is immature, selfish, cocky and definitely not the sharpest tool in the utility belt. Conversely, Rogen and Goldberg’s Kato has evolved version beyond the mere sidekick. He’s the backbone of the team, the facilitator, the guy who gets it done while his cohort is ducking below the bullets. Green Hornet and Kato have become an Odd Couple, and their crime fighting adventures are played for laughs.

Fortunately, the laughs are there in abundance. As in Superbad, Rogen and Goldberg once again prove their gift for pitting opposites against one another with rollicking results. Britt and Kato clash like contentious brothers over everything from women to the best gadgets to deploy, and it all works. 

The problem with this is that everything else doesn’t necessarily work around it. Skill in comedic dialogue doesn’t help Rogen and Goldberg pull off a convincing villain (even with a mega-actor like Waltz pulling his weight) or give any accurately sinister portrayal of the criminal underworld. This too is played for laughs, and the lack of contrast that presents is a stumbling block.

Still, the laughs are there, but they don’t work if you don’t like Seth Rogen. His Britt Reid/Green Hornet isn’t a character. It’s Seth Rogen in a domino mask. For some, seeing the dude from Knocked Up riding in a cool car and throwing punches is a good thing. For others, it isn’t. Fair warning. Chou’s performance is admirable if for no other reason than he manages to get bigger laughs than Rogen. Whether or not he has talent beyond that is tough to tell, since his co-star seems bent on talking as much as possible (which, again, may or may not be a bad thing, depending on how you feel about said co-star).

One thing that isn’t uneven or softened by ubiquitous comic touches is the action. Gondry proves he’s got the game to do a genre flick and do it well, interspersing trippy art-house touches (including a nifty device that could only be called "Kato-Vision) with classic blockbuster polish to great effect. Every action sequence ups the ante from the last, all building to one remarkably entertaining (if highly improbable) final showdown.

The Green Hornet is a deeply flawed film, but it’s a film that also packs plenty of entertainment into its two hour run-time. Don’t ask it to be something it’s not and it might prove a pleasant surprise.

Matt’s Call: If you’re burned out on Rogen, skip it. If you’re happy with a decent popcorn ride, this is your remedy. But don’t pay extra for a 3D seat. That technology is wasted on this flick.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New on DVD: "The Social Network," a bold and brilliant film.

Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake speak of Cameron Diaz, Jessica Biel and other things that men discuss.

 The Social Network hits DVD and Blu-Ray this week. Here's Matt's review.

The great peril of making a film like The Social Network, would be to make it, perhaps predictably, in the spirit of great entrepreneurialism, a film about a smart person who did a great thing and then had to defend himself as everyone tried to steal it. It would be easy to canonize Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and to tell his story in a “Kids, be all you can be” kind of way. He is a genius, after all, and the youngest billionaire in the world, and he created something that revolutionized the way we communicate the world over.

But we already know that.

Any film depicting the things we’ve already seen, heard and thought about Facebook would be doomed to fail. Facebook has permeated the social consciousness like few other things in, well…ever. Whether you’re a rabid user or you simply use it as an excuse to talk about how kids these days don’t know the value of face time, you’re perpetually aware of the impact. 

The Social Network, helmed by dual revolutionaries director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac) and writer Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing), avoids these pitfalls skillfully, and instead becomes a film about an obsessive, driven genius more interested in social revenge than social expansion.

In 2003 Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is a sophomore computer geek at Harvard obsessing over his ability (or inability) to get into exclusive campus clubs. When his girlfriend, fed up with his bad attitude, dumps him in a bar one night, he goes back to his dorm, writes an angry blog, then begins building a website where his fellow students can rank Harvard girls by hotness. The site is so frequently visited that it crashes the campus server in a matter of hours, and makes Zuckerberg infamous.

It isn’t long before a new idea develops, an idea for a social networking site unlike any other. Working day and night over a period of several weeks, with finance from his partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), Zuckerberg crafts a site he calls “The Facebook,” which rapidly gains a following and turns him into something of an Ivy League rock star.

The film leaps backwards and forwards in time, simultaneously chronicling the rise of Facebook from Harvard exclusivity to a worldwide social media empire and the subsequent fallout as Zuckerberg is simultaneously sued by Saverin and a pair of Harvard athletes who claim he stole their idea for the site.

The true genius of the film is that there are really no heroes or villains. Zuckerberg is never portrayed as a crusader or a martyr or a thief, but rather a somewhat pompous nerd on a mission to be better than everyone else. Saverin might be a victim, but he’s also often apathetic, distracted and combative with his cohorts. Everyone is too complex to be labeled, and this somehow makes everything all the more riveting than any good versus evil tale could be. 

As I mentioned earlier, beating the audience over the head with the “Facebook changed the world” theme was never going to work out. Fincher and Sorkin avoid this by making the movie personal. We see how Facebook changes Zuckerberg’s life, and Saverin’s, and their inner circle of friends, colleagues and enemies. We don’t see arbitrary news reports, media interviews with the characters or editorializing by pundits. Instead, something brilliant happens. Fincher, always the visual stylist, accomplishes nearly all of the global impact vibe through visual styling. As Zuckerberg sits in his dark dorm, crafting a revolution on his desktop, Harvard frat boys party. The audience realizes that the real socializing, the real status enhancement, is happening where no one at the time expected it to, and it’s this subtlety that makes the film so thematically dense.

Sorkin’s contribution, apart from his usual brilliance with dialogue, is unflinching, brutal characterization of everyone involved. When we first meet Zuckerberg, he’s socially awkward, superior, and trying to impress everyone. Later, after he’s a billionaire, he’s still socially awkward, superior and trying to impress everyone, even after he’s made everyone in the world friends with everyone else. It’s an unexpected, harsh revelation about geniuses. They’re often just it in for themselves. 

At the same time, the character is never concerned with making a lot of money (as the hoodies and flip-flops he sports in nearly every scene indicate), nor is he really concerned with making lots of friends. He’s concerned with superiority, with being the sharpest mind in every room, and this phenomenon manifests itself through snide remarks, intellectual boxing matches and no small amount of smugness. But at the same time, he’s constantly trying to prove that he’s not a bad guy, just misunderstood. It’s this complexity, this maddening struggle within a once-in-a-generation mind, that makes The Social Network so riveting.

But of course, this degree of character complexity couldn’t be done without an outstanding cast. Eisenberg, so often seen as the nice guy, shines as Zuckerberg, digging deep to find a savage brilliance that’s both exhilarating and at times terrifying. Garfield is almost as wonderful as Saverin, and Justin Timberlake (yeah, the singer) is flat-out surprising as Napster founder and Zuckerberg cohort Sean Parker.

Take all of this, throw in superb photography, a mind-blowing score by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and the relevance of the subject, and you’ve got a near perfect film that’ll make your brain hum like a computer processor. It’s a flick that’s neither a condemnation nor a vindication of Facebook. It’s simply a meditation on how something so big comes to be, and how costly it is for the people who lived it. 

Matt’s Call: It’s right up there with Inception in a bout for movie of the year. I don’t care if you use Facebook or not. You need to see this film, not because of its topical relevancy, but because it’s a shining example of truly great storytelling.