Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: The Girl With All The Gifts

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

The Girl With All The Gifts (Warner Bros. Pictures [UK] Saban Films [United States])

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Directed by Colm McCarthy

Written by M.R. Carey  Based on The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Starring Gemma ArtertonPaddy ConsidineGlenn Close & Sennia Nanua

This movie was annoying. The Girl With All The Gifts is one of those movies that I couldn’t help but yell at all the way through. It’s tense and it’s got some cool bits and some good performances and a clever twist on the zombie apocalypse. But as with all zombie stories there are big holes in logic. Especially when it comes to how to make zombie children. However, before you think I didn’t like the movie, I actually liked The Girl With All The Gifts in between the annoying parts, because it was cute and silly, even while it was being gross and scary. And that was a very clever combination.

Verdict: SPARED

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The Girl With All The Gifts is a zombie children’s story. A nightmare told from the point of view of a zombie little girl. The girl is awesome and she is sweet and she is scary. And yes, she is hungry. Zombies in the movie aren’t called Zombies. The Z word is never spoken. No one wants to use the word anymore. Because all the Zombie comedies from the last couple of decades have ruined the moniker for more serious films.

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The Girl With All The Gifts is a serious film. Sure, it’s entirely from the child’s POV (just like the wonderful film Room) but this is a child that was raised in an institution that fears her and treats her like she’s a cross between a monster and a lab rat. It’s awful how they treat her. But that didn’t change the fact that every time someone turns their back on her, I thought she was going to try to eat them. I kind of hoped she would eat them actually. Like holding a bloody steak in front of the cutest little rabid dog and hoping for the best.

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The children in the lab are the offspring of turned women. The babies turn en utero and eat their way out. This is the biggest plot hole of the bunch and again I liked the movie. I really liked the movie. So I’m not going to go into how this is monumentally stupid and an awful premise. I have only one word for you. And that word is teeth. But that’s not the only hole in this awful premise. The one about the rending of uncooked flesh from the inside by a fetus without canine incisors… you know what. I just said that I wasn’t going to get into that.

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Pay no attention to that plot hole behind the curtain. The Girl With All The Gifts is an enjoyable fairy-tale of a zombie nightmare with some excellent performances from the four lead actors. Glenn Close is outstanding as the scientist in charge of the experiments to find a cure using these Zombie-hybrid children. Gemma Atherton is sufficiently annoying as the school teacher who keeps forgetting that her charges are human eating machines (and by human eating machines I mean they eat humans). Paddy Considine is fantastic as the sergeant who gradually learns to trust the young monster with his life. And “the girl” (played by Sennia Nanua) is amazing and she carries the entire movie (she’s in every scene) with astonishingly broad shoulders for such a little frame.

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The Girl With All The Gifts is a great film idea and story with a few major glitches here and there along the way. More than a few yell at the screen moments of stupidity and some clever, if maddeningly sloppy, film-making. I don’t know if you can tell that I liked it from this review. But I liked it. Even though it annoyed me, I liked it a lot. Go watch it. (though you may hate it, so for god’s sake don’t buy it without watching it first… that would be recklessly putting too much faith in my opinion)

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The Girl With All The Gifts is the sweetest little horror of a nightmarish monster of a zombie movie fairy-tale that you really shouldn’t turn your back on.

Watch it with the lights out.

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: Kubo and the Two Strings

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Kubo and the Two Strings (Focus Features)

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Directed by Travis Knight

Written by Marc Haimes, Chris Butler and Shannon Tindle

Starring Charlize TheronArt ParkinsonRalph FiennesRooney MaraGeorge Takei & Matthew McConaughey

What a fantastic movie. Kubo and the Two Strings is the tale of a young guitar player & storyteller and his epic adventure to find the end of his own heroic story. I loved this movie so much. It is lyrical like an epic poem and melancholic like an ancient sonnet. And although sometimes its need for comedy can hamper the melody, it’s not enough to ruin the music. And this movie, good god, this movie has everything. A kid with a huge chip on his shoulder, who likes to tell stories and play his guitar for passing strangers, while dreaming of one day being a god. Throw in a mentally ill mom and a tall-tale about his father, and it makes me have to ask, Who the hell’s been reading my diary? But I’ll say it again, this is a fantastic movie.

Verdict: SPARED

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Kubo wears that guitar like a Katana across his back. Kubo is Japanese for bad-ass.

Kubo & the Two Strings is a tale about family & honor. It’s a fable about love & courage. It’s a story about memory & redemption. But at its core, it’s a meditation about loss and about vision. It is wonderful.

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Paper Samurai is gonna give you a nasty paper cut. You will respect.

Kubo is a young busker, blind in one eye but skilled at the art of story-telling. And blessed with an origami magic he inherited from his mentally disturbed mother. He collects coins he earns from playing his guitar and spinning his stories at the marketplace by day. While at night he hides in his mountain cave… from the moon.

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Kubo’s mom wailing out. (voiced by Charlize Theron)

This is just the beginning of what turns out to be an epic tale full of heroes and villains and love and adventure and sacrifice and discovery and I would surely throw the kid a few coins because this boy can tell a story. Kubo and the Two Strings is well-worth the price of admission.

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Villainous twin sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara)

The animation is a gorgeous combination of stop-motion and conventional artwork. The music is amazing. A beautiful, sparse, traditional Japanese music that creates a reverence for its morality tale. Even the end credits song, a Regina Spektor version of George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, is fucking incredible in its instrumentation and that same traditional Japanese lyrical beauty. The movie is gorgeous to watch and gorgeous to hear.

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Kubo, he’s a born showman. (voiced by Art Parkinson)

Kubo is perfect. The story. The voice acting. The music. The animation. An amazing movie from top to bottom. With a lovely moral center. Not too sweet. Not too childish. A work of fine art to be displayed in the museum of animation. Is there a museum of animation? If not, somebody please build one so we can put this damn movie in it.

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Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) has taken offense at something I said. Whatever it was, I take it back.

Kubo is definitely the best animated film I have seen from last year. But granted, I haven’t seen them all yet. However, Kubo and the Two Strings (…and oh my god, the title is so powerful. So perfect. So bad-ass.) Kubo and those mother fucking Two Strings will be a hard one to beat.

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: Nocturnal Animals (or the ANTI-La La Land)

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

And Amy…

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“I’ll be okay. I’m used to it by now. At least Mel still loves me.”

And Amy Adams gets robbed of a nomination by an Academy of numbskulls!!

Nocturnal Animals (Focus Features)

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Written & Directed by Tom Ford

Based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright

Starring Amy AdamsJake GyllenhaalMichael ShannonAaron Taylor-JohnsonIsla FisherArmie HammerLaura LinneyAndrea Riseborough & Michael Sheen

Nocturnal Animals feels like a 70’s thriller or some early 80’s Brian DePalma suspense shit, except without the suspense. The only thrills in the movie happen in the book. Not the book of the movie but the book inside the movie, which is way better than the real-life story. Amy Adams (winner for best actress on this blog) plays Susan Morrow, a gallery owner whose life is boring as hell. Her life is awful and so is this part of the movie. But she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband of his new novel. It’s good. It’s very good. It’s better than her life. The book is dramatized in the movie and those parts are better than the rest of the movie. They’re supposed to be. That’s the point.

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“I don’t know what the big deal is. I NEVER get nominated.”

But watching Nocturnal Animals so soon after seeing La La Land forced me to compare them because both films are about young artists in a romance. The one in this movie is told in flashbacks, adding a third running narrative to the film. And again it’s better than the main story. So even though I like Nocturnal Animals, this is one of those movies that I have to spoil to talk about it. But as an added bonus, I’m also going to spoil La La Land in the process. So this is a combination Spared/Spoiled/Film Comparison in one.

Verdict: SPOILED (for being too interesting): Nocturnal Animals

AND

Verdict: SPOILED (by association): La La Land

I’m spoiling everything tonight.

Nocturnal Animals Amy Adams

“Spoil them… Spoil them all… Spoil everything… Spoil them all to hell.”

SPOILER ALERT (for both Nocturnal Animals and La La Land)

SPOILER ALERT!!!

First of all, she absolutely becomes her mother. Just like everyone says she would (including her mother). And I also liked the ending. It was poetic. I think I was waiting for the suspense to bleed over from the novel into the real world. And it never did. But Amy Adams is excellent as always. Jake Gyllenhaal is at his regular efficient automatic perfection. Seriously that guy pisses me off with how precise he is. I bet you every take is exactly the same with him. He’s a freaking robot.

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“You shut your filthy mouth. The Academy is full of geniuses and saints. Saints, I tell ya!”

Armie Hammer plays the same character in every movie. So he plays that same character again here. The man just looks like a douche. Surprise!! He’s a douche. And Michael Shannon gives a fine performance. I would talk about his nomination but frankly those fools don’t know shit. So it’s not much of an honor. But I liked it. Nocturnal Animals grew on me as the back story got interesting and the fictional story got interesting and I waited for the present story to get interesting and it never did. And that was the point. And I got it. And I liked it. So as Amy Adams is waiting there in the restaurant hoping to rekindle something with the guy who is now successful and he doesn’t show up. And that brilliant awkward last scene drags on, I was digging it. It reminded me of some Neil LaBute revenge porn (that guy’s got serious problems).

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“Oh Academy. You’re breaking my heart. But then again you break everyone’s heart.”

And every review I (actually) read seems to think that the characters of the wife and daughter in the novel represent her. But I don’t think so. I think she reads that into the story to make her boring existence seem worth a few pages. If anything she’s the three criminals. But yeah he makes himself the lead, weak and powerless to defend his wife and child in the story and she sees him as weak in the back story, but by standing her up in the end, he proves that he isn’t the weak romantic writer that she can manipulate. And his book is better than her life even though everybody dies in it (seriously it’s like some Shakespearean shit. Everyone dies at the end). So I guess he wins… at life.

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“I win at life!!! I win at… oops.”

Then of course, I imagined the ending of La La Land with only one of them being successful and not the other. (much less of a fairy tale). Because at the end of La La Land both the lovers are wildly successful and exactly where they want to be in life (like the most rags-to-riches depression era musical bull-shit) and it’s mostly due to the push each gives the other. You can say they sacrifice their love and life together for the other’s career and it works well for both.

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“Mel Rook & the 7 Deadly… nope. Life’s too short. What’s on YouTube? PUPPIES!!!”

Nocturnal Animals isn’t as sweet as all that. While in La La Land they inspire each other with tough love and support, in Nocturnal Animals, she inspires him with betrayal and he inspires her with revenge. It is… a lot more realistic (and nobody sings).  Emma Stone ends up married with a successful career and no guilt about leaving her first real love (and an Oscar nomination). While Amy Adams ends up married to a cheater with a failing gallery and guilt over how she betrayed her first love (and no nomination for her work in Arrival). It’s not fair (but then again Trump is in power and fair is a fairy tale).

Ryan Gosling and Jake Gyllenhaal both get what they want so fuck ’em.

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“Trump is the what now? You shitting me? Woo hoo. We got ourselves a white male president.”

Nocturnal Animals is almost too atmospheric at times in the main story. There are a couple of good laughs from her silly artsy friends and co-workers. Especially when she blatantly insults the woman who had too much work done on her face. That was hysterical. Her artwork is awful. Her life is awful. Her husband is cheating. They are hemorrhaging money and her ex-husband writes this kick-ass book. That’s some potent revenge porn. Seriously, Neil LaBute must love this film.

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“Operator. I’d like the number for a Neil LaBute please. Misogynist? Yes I’ll hold.”

But if she hadn’t broken his heart would he have been able to write his great American novel? Nocturnal Animals is a good story. But at times I thought it left a little too much on the table. Too atmospheric. Too strange. Too stylish. With wooden performances. Even though that was the point to make the novel more vibrant and more real than life. But because of it, it’s easy to separate the two and think that Nocturnal Animals is a movie about a boring woman reading a book, in the bed, in the tub, looking sexy… but still just reading. And then think the book in the movie is a better movie than the movie. But Nocturnal Animals is good. And it’s definitely worth a look if you’re like me and dated an artist who broke your heart. Or dated someone who didn’t believe in you. Because Nocturnal Animals is usually what you get. La La Land is the fantasy.

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“I just read Mel’s blog… I must go to him.” Now THAT’S the fantasy.

In conclusion, Nocturnal Animals is the ANTI-La La Land and I’m glad, because after the Oscar nominations I needed a sober dose of anti-romanticism. And Amy Adams, my love, I’m so sorry, but you got stood up again.

– Mel

My Top Ten Favorite Bass Players (w/ Live Videos)

Here’s a music post.

The idea of listing my favorite bass players came about as the result of an almost conversation. You ever start a conversation and don’t get to finish it, so what you wanted to say rolls around in your head for a while? This happened to me a couple of weeks ago. And yes it was a conversation about bass players. I mentioned Charlie Mingus to a young bass player and then it occurred to me later that Charles Mingus isn’t even in my top five. So what’s a blogger to do? I made a list.

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These are my favorite bass players throughout popular music. Jazz, Rock, Funk, Pop… the style doesn’t matter. This is purely a list of bad-ass bassists. However, this list doesn’t represent the best bass players of all-time. These are just my personal favorites. So don’t cry to me about technical proficiency or what not.

My apologies go out to Jaco, Claypool, Sting, McCartney, Sheehan, Clark, Jones, Flea, Esperanza and Ron Carter. You guys just didn’t make the cut.

So who did make the list?

Let’s get to it. To the list…

MY TOP TEN FAVORITE BASS PLAYERS

Ladies first. Only one female made the list. Here is a list of some of the best women bass players. It’s a good compiling. But on this list there was only room for one.

10. Tina Weymouth (the genius of love)

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The only woman on the list, Tina Weymouth was a large part of what made Talking Heads such a fun group. She is the master of the fun bass-line. With Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club or Gorillaz. Tina is awesome. She makes me happy. Technical proficiency be damned. The girl makes me happy.

Then we get even more progressive…

9. Geddy Lee (the maestro of metal)

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Geddy Lee is the bassist and lead singer of the band Rush. I’m not the biggest Rush fan. My older brother was way too into Rush for me to take them seriously. He was a drummer, so like all drummers in the late 70’s, he worshiped at the altar of Neil Peart. But what Rush lacked creatively, Rush more than made up for with technical proficiency. So yeah Geddy Lee makes my list.

Rush starts this one off with a little Rolling Stones tease, but they mean well. I really wanted to post Subdivisions as an example of his work but he spends more time on keys than on bass in that song. (even though the bass part is fucking killer)

Next…

8. Tony Levin (doctor funky fingers)

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Tony Levin plays in Peter Gabriel’s band. He is a master of the Chapman stick bass and the funk fingers (he plays with sticks on his fucking fingers). And he makes this list because of all the times I’ve seen Peter in concert, Tony Levin has been the highlight. The man kicks that bass’s ass. And yeah he’s played with EVERYBODY on TONS of albums. But it’s his work with Peter that lands him here.

Next a Rock classic

7. Jack Bruce (the cream of the crop)

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This was a surprise to me but when I thought about the best bass players I had to consider Jack Bruce who has quietly played bass on some of the coolest records of his time. So some of these guys are up here purely for laying down some of the most classic bass-lines of all time.

Here’s Cream.

Now we get to Mingus…

6. Charles MIngus (the angry man of jazz)

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The professor of the Big Band Swing. Grand-master of the double bass. Played with the great Charlie Parker. Disciple of the amazing Duke Ellington. And did a little record called Blue Moods with Miles Davis. You can’t count bassists without Mingus.

Here he is putting his own spin on an Ellington classic.

Let’s keep the jazz flowing…

5. Paul Chambers (the anchor of the gods)

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Speaking of Miles Davis. The master had a couple of classic crews (Quintets, Sextets) but my favorites will always be his first great quintet/sextet including Paul Chambers on bass. Red Garland on piano. Philly Joe Jones on drums. John Coltrane on tenor saxophone. Cannonball Adderly on alto. And Miles on Trumpet.

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This crew made several of my favorite recordings of all-time.

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue taking the top spot.

Here’s a televised performance of So What from that album.

And now I explain why disco does not suck…

4. Bernard Edwards (the rhythm of the boogie to be)

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Speaking of some of the most iconic bass-lines of all time. Along with Nile Rodgers on guitar and Tony Thompson on drums, Bernard Edwards was a member of the 70’s disco band Chic. As well as dropping their own hits, they were the backing band on numerous late 70’s and early 80’s number one songs. And by the mid 80’s, Bernard Edwards bass-lines were sampled by some of the greatest rap groups and scratched by some of the earliest DJ pioneers. Okay… one in particular. But honestly it’s the most famous bass-line of all-time. Bernard Edwards died of pneumonia in 1996 much too young.

This is his final concert. They said he was too sick to play but he insisted. A professional to the end. It’s a little hard to watch. He doesn’t look well. Sounds great.

Back to the classic rock…

3. John Paul Jones (the hammer of the gods)

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Led Zeppelin is one of my favorite music groups (right after that Miles sextet I mentioned) And it’s because they were all so amazingly talented and masters at their individual crafts. People talk about Jimmy Page and John Bonham as two of the best in the business but it was John Paul Jones who held those two volcanic entities together.

This is The Song Remains The Same. Try to ignore their bare chests (if you can). Try to ignore the large bulge in Robert Plant’s jeans (if you can). These are four artists at the height of their (sexual) power and they’re having fun.

This is a 10 minute jam song from 1969 starting with one of the most iconic bass lines in history. These are 10 minutes well-spent. This is Dazed and Confused…

And next up… “Clyde on the drums… Bootsy on the bass goodtar.”

2. Bootsy Collins (star child, the funk behind the godfather)

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As a member of Parliament/Funkadelic, Bootsy helped redefine the funk genre into an inter-galactic jam session. The bass-line from Parliament’s Flashlight is the funkiest shit ever recorded. You know how people like to sing along with their favorite songs? When Flashlight is playing I sing along with the bass. I couldn’t find a good live version that featured Bootsy Collins. They had a bunch of different line-ups.

But honestly the stuff he did with James Brown in the late 60’s, early 70’s is why he makes this list. Funky and tight and did I mention funky as all hell..

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Here’s some of that. Not the best video but as James says, “Watch my shoes.”

And here’s a 30 minute version of Flashlight (the funkiest bass-line in music history) with Rodney Curtis on bass. (the man is no Bootsy but he’s also no slouch)

And at number one…

1. Israel “Cachao” Lopez (the father of the mambo)

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There’s not a lot I can say except the man is amazing. Creator of the mambo. The jam master. I don’t know if you noticed from this list but I love a good jam session. Cachao is the master of the Cuban jam session. Hell he created that shit.

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Here he is with Tito Puente (a personality I find grating). Tito introduces the man (eventually) and then the two jam out for a bit before doing Oye Como Va (with the band) while Tito mugs for the audience. Honestly this clip would be brilliant if Tito would just play the drums and not be all… Tito.

And here is Cachao doing more of what he does best, improvising and jamming out. He’s a little older in this clip but as you can see the man can still jam.

And that’s my list…

I’d like to thank YouTube for making it nearly impossible to find good clips. And I’d also like to thank the devious musicians who hijack search terms just to get you to listen to their crap. Whatever works for you but… you’re not making any friends.

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COMING SOON TO THE BLOG

More Music.

More Movie Reviews.

Winter TV Shows.

An updated Bisexual TV Characters for 2017.

The long-awaited return of Photos From Around The Block.

And much more.

Stay tuned.

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: La La Land

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

La La Land (Summit Entertainment)

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Written & Directed by Damien Chazelle

Music by Justin Hurwitz

Choreography by Mandy Moore

Starring Ryan GoslingEmma StoneJohn Legend & Rosemarie DeWitt

La La Land is a straight-forward musical romance that is not as good as people are making it out to be, but much better than it actually should be. It is excruciatingly cute and cuddly and smile-inducing. I nearly hurt my face smiling so much. The choreography is whimsical and the songs are passable. But the ending… the ending is sensational. Go see La La Land before the bloom is off the rose.

Verdict: SPARED

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I really liked La La Land. I think I smiled all the way through from the 2nd musical number until I started crying at the end. It is your very basic boy meets girl yada yada yada story. And because there is not much to it, besides your basic romance formula, it made me wonder what people were seeing in it. Seriously, why so much hype?

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But I’ll tell you what I think they were seeing… Emma Stone’s amazingly graceful dancing. Ryan Gosling’s surprisingly good singing. And two incredible performances. But mostly the second film in a row that Damien Chazelle has knocked it out the bloody park. Whiplash was fabulous. And La La Land continues the string.

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Ryan Gosling is surprisingly good in La La Land. I have never been a fan of his. Here he plays a Jazz Pianist who refuses to sell out his art for the money (or success for that matter). His character is a frustrating look at the artistic purist.

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And Emma Stone… She gets better with every role she takes. Here her dancing is the primary element. Her movements are sublime. I hope she dances in everything. She’s always had this commanding stage presence but who knew she could move like an angel. And glide like a… totally different angel. She plays an aspiring actress and writer who gets no respect at auditions and in her day job on the Warner Brothers lot.

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These two, young artists, start an on-screen romance. And there’s not much else in terms of plot. La La Land is pretty straight forward. Romance, relationship, conflict, resolution. But the ending is magical. I cried. I won’t tell you what kind of tears for those of you who haven’t seen it. But they were very salty.

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La La Land brings to mind Woody Allen at his early 80’s romantic best. Billy Wilder in his 1950’s funniest. And Old Hollywood at its late 20’s musical finest. And I would be surprised if it isn’t on Broadway in about 10 years. Even though the music isn’t the best part, La La Land would still make a good Broadway show. Because of the dancing. The choreography is outstanding. And like I said before, Emma Stone glides across the screen making us fall in love with each angelic step.

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La La Land doesn’t completely live up to the hype. I still don’t see the big deal. It’s a rehash of the depression era musical. A great escape from these degenerate times. But I loved it. It’s fun and magical and romantic. And I enjoyed it profusely.

– Mel