G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review


Positives

  • An MASSIVE improvement over the first film. They got rid of all the dumb laughs, crappy special effects, silly over the top weapons, and stupid relationship back stories.
  • Strong special effects by ILM.
  • The Rock steals the show. Classical actor Jonathan Pryce clearly had a lot of fun playing the president.
  • Decent relationship between Duke (Tatum) and Roadblock (Johnson).
  • Cobra Commander resembles the cartoon. Cobra in general is akin to the cartoon (i.e. massive ideology and threat to the world). Firefly stood out as a serious threat and looked the part.
  • Ninjas EVERYWHERE! Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes are fantastic.
  • The fighting and action is intense and visceral. The fight sequence at the mountain monastery is incredibly well choreographed.
  • The Rock gets his ass kicked by Ray Stevenson. Glad they didn’t make Dwayne Johnson an immovable obelisk of a man.

Negatives

  • Jinx and Flint were next to useless. Terrible casting. I’m sure they could have picked better characters from the G.I. Joe roster.
  • Who thought RZA was a good idea for blind ninja sensei? They should have gone with Wesley Snipes or Michael Jai White.
  • Not enough Bruce Willis.
  • Cobra destroyed cities in the first movie, but no one questions the president on why his security are all wearing Cobra badges??!?!
  • Why didn’t they bring back Destro? He was right there next to the Cobra Commander.
  • Music was all over the place. Dramatic action music one second, electro – hard rock the next.
  • Sometimes the action looked very convoluted. Camera was too close and too much was happening on screen.
  • Hollow attempts at creating character depth (e.g. Lady Jaye).
  • I liked the Commander, but I wanted him to sound more like a snake.

Final verdict: 3/5

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25 Years for Stealing A Pair of Socks


I came across this piece in Rolling Stone from the always au courant Matt Taibbi. It’s a well written and prodigiously researched piece that speaks volumes about the inequality and absurdity of the American law and prison systems.

It is a shameful practice of maltreatment when you receive 25 years for stealing a pair of socks, but you face no reprimand for cheating millions of people and depriving them of their well being on Wall Street.

I’ve included a few excerpts below. I invite you to open your eyes and read the full piece here: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/cruel-and-unusual-punishment-the-shame-of-three-strikes-laws-20130327

Extract 1:

“Despite the passage in late 2012 of a new state ballot initiative that prevents California from ever again giving out life sentences to anyone whose “third strike” is not a serious crime, thousands of people – the overwhelming majority of them poor and nonwhite – remain imprisoned for a variety of offenses so absurd that any list of the unluckiest offenders reads like a macabre joke, a surrealistic comedy routine.

Have you heard the one about the guy who got life for stealing a slice of pizza? Or the guy who went away forever for lifting a pair of baby shoes? Or the one who got 50 to life for helping himself to five children’s videotapes from Kmart? How about the guy who got life for possessing 0.14 grams of meth? That last offender was a criminal mastermind by Three Strikes standards, as many others have been sentenced to life for holding even smaller amounts of drugs, including one poor sap who got the max for 0.09 grams of black-tar heroin.”

Extract 2:

Where some saw Three Strikes as a moral outrage, others seized on the financial burdens. Conceived as a way to keep child molesters in jail for life, Three Strikes more often became the world’s most expensive and pointlessly repressive homeless-care program. It costs the state about $50,000 per year to care for every prisoner, even more when the inmate is physically or mentally disabled – and some 40 percent of three-strikers are either mentally retarded or mentally ill. “Homeless guys on drugs, that was your typical third-striker,” says Romano. “And not that the money is the issue, but you could send hundreds of deserving people to college for the amount of money we were spending.”

The typical third-striker wasn’t just likely to be homeless and/or mentally ill – he was also very likely to be black. In California, blacks make up seven percent of the population, 28 percent of the prison population and 45 percent of the three-strikers.”

Extract 3:

“Why did all of this happen? Some of this has its roots in a complex political calculation, in which the Democratic Party in the Clinton years made a Faustian bargain, deciding to abandon its old role as a defender of unions and the underprivileged, embrace more Wall Street-friendly deregulatory policies, and compete for the political center by pushing for more street cops, tougher sentences and the end of welfare – the same thing the Republicans were already doing. By the mid-Nineties, neither party was really representing, for lack of a better term, the fucked, struggling poor.

The end result of this political shift was an unprecedented explosion of the American prison population, from just more than a million people behind bars in the early Nineties to 2.2 million today. Less than five percent of the world’s people live in the United States, but we are home to about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, a shocking number.

Another result was that instead of dealing with problems like poverty, drug abuse and mental illness, we increasingly just removed them all from view by putting them in jail. It’s not an accident that so many of the most ridiculous Three Strikes cases are semicoherent homeless people or people with drug problems who came from broken homes. It wasn’t a cost-efficient way of dealing with these issues – in fact, in California at least, it was an insanely, almost criminally expensive burden on taxpayers – but it was effective enough as a way of keeping the uglier schisms of our society hidden from view.”

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/cruel-and-unusual-punishment-the-shame-of-three-strikes-laws-20130327#ixzz2Ox8i7s7t

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In Defence of Equality


 

This girl lost the argument the moment she brought God into this. There is no God in this debate. This is a debate about people seeking equality and the right to honor the love they hold for their partners on an equal footing with the rest of society. I’m sure that no God is against that.

This girl’s viewpoint comes from a sheltered upbringing. What does she know about religion, family values, science, socio-economic talking points at that age? Only that which her parents have instilled in her. Her values are dictated and not enlightened.

She still has an opinion and I respect her for standing up and presenting it. Unfortunately, it is wrong, shortsighted and unfounded. I expect the children of today to foster ideas that seek to undo the bigotry and prejudices of today. I hope that this girl will learn this as she gets older and new experiences and relationships open her eyes to bigger, better and brighter ideas.

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A fish with a see-through head


Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Why Evolution Is True

Here’s one weird fish: the Pacific barreleye (Macropinna microstoma), a deep-sea fish (600-800m) recently filmed by National Geographic in its natural habitat.  It’s been described for a while, but its transparent head shattered when it was dragged up to the surface, so biologists didn’t really know whether it could move its eyes when alive.  The answer is yes.

Note that the “eyelike” structures at the front of the head aren’t eyes, but olfactory organs. The eyes are those big green jobs inside the head.

Why is the head transparent? Well, the eyes are inside the head, presumably for protection, and so its head has to be transparent. Of course not all deep-sea fish use that design, but not all deep-sea fish steal food from stinging siphonophores—one speculation of how this thing makes a living. It just wouldn’t do to have your eyes stung.

The link in the…

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Sevendust – Black Out The Sun Review


Sevendust return with a mixed bag of tunes for their ninth album. As a fan of the band, I was looking forward to this album since I burned my copy of Cold Day Memory to a cinder from repeated playbacks. The Atlanta bred quintet are clearly on point with Black Out The Sun, but the new cuts still leaves a little something to be desired.

I’ve been a fan of the band since I saw them at Woodstock as a young’un.  More importantly, I’ve seen this band go through hell and back to emerge victorious on the other side (Clint leaving, money troubles, lawsuits, labels…). In fact, other than Chapter VII (yuck!) I’ve always enjoyed the patented Sevendust “heavy groove + screams+ melody+soulful” vocals formula. I respect the band tremendously and think they don’t get the credit they deserve. Hell, how many bands from the nineties are still kicking it like the old days? Maybe that’s a good thing because it keep them “real”, which is what fans such as myself admire about them. They remain true to themselves and their craft.  Personally, I considered Cold Day Memory as a comeback album which promised a revitalized Sevendust. Having said that, I would rank this as one of their weaker efforts.

First Half

The album attacks from the front with the double punch of Faithless and Till Death. At this point it feels like the darker sequel to Cold Day Memory. I suspect Till Death will become a moshing favorite with Clint, Morgan and Lajon trading vocals all over the place, while the rest of the band keeps things tight with frenetic instrument work. It has a very old school Home vibe to it. In particular, pay attention to the drumming on this song because Morgan pulls out all the stops like he grew an extra set of  arms to play some of the parts.

Suddenly, the album shifts into a very groovy, bass-heavy and cocky tune infused with a little southern hospitality. I dig it. Mountain is the band’s declaration to the world that they are alive and kicking while many others have fallen. I would push it to be the second single off the album. Cold As War turned out to be the first weak tune of the album. It isn’t very exciting and sounds like a rehashed ballad off Chapter VII. There is some very good guitar work, but it doesn’t elevate the tune and feels forced.

The title track is Sevendust at the top of their ‘effin game! This is the formula I spoke of earlier. This is an inspired song with passionate lyrics. As Lajon raises his voice to new heights, the rest of the band is busy drowning you in the emotive musicianship that is Sevendust’s trademark. An outstanding song on every level.

Second Half

Nobody Wants It is an average song and propels the album into the second half. It has a catchy chorus with a driving beat that percolates throughout the song. Unfortunately, everything surrounding that isn’t very inspiring. Dead Roses is an interesting fast paced song. Initially I thought it was more filler, but it grew on me. The solo late in the song is well devised and the song really benefits from it. It’s a different approach for the band and it works well enough to be one of the standout tracks on the album.

Most people have probably heard Decay by now. It’s the heaviest and darkest song on the album and it borrows influences from Animosity and Home. I would call it one of their better singles, but it isn’t totally representative of the album as a whole. This is very noticeable on Dark AM and Picture Perfect. By far, these are the most underwhelming tracks on the album. The former has infectious verses but falters in the chorus. The latter has a beautifully orchestrated chorus accompanied by weak verses. They aren’t terrible by any stretch, but they didn’t impact me like the songs in the first half.

Got A Feeling rescues the album and brings the band back to revisit their acoustic skills. It’s an incredibly memorable song with hair-raising melody as it ebbs and flows through different emotions. The manner in which it shifts gears has a classic rock vibe to it and catches Sevendust at their introspective best.   The final track is Murder Bar and I don’t understand why they chose to put this as the closer. Ending the album with Got A Feeling would have been a better idea. Still, Murder Bar is a solid song with a very interesting stop-go and almost staccato rhythm. I felt it would have made a superb opening song because it feels odd to hear it follow the fantiastic Got A Feeling.

Final Verdict

Overall, the album is a mix of everything Sevendust has accomplished up to this point in their career. The band has a formula and doesn’t stray too far from it. That’s completely fine because Sevendust has nothing to prove. They’ve been around a long-ass time and I would place them among the elite of their genre. Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed with this album because that same formula led to a few stale tunes on this album. Of course, that might not be true for everyone because there is a lot to like across the album. The first-half is truly stellar and the entire album is brimming with excellent musicianship and standout moments. In closing, buy the album and catch the band on tour this year. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 3.5/5

Buy on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/black-out-the-sun/id596121821

Buy on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Out-The-Sun-Sevendust/dp/B00B1I1BE4

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Olympus Has Fallen Review


What Did I Like?

I watched this movie over the weekend and I was totally blown away. The trailers make it seem like a generic action flick. In actuality , it has a lot going for it.  There are strong performances from all the main actors, and the action remains dramatic, tense and taught to the very end. In particular  the villain, played by Rick Yune, is one dedicated and remorseless enemy. He steals the show with his menacing take no prisoners attitude.

The concept is over the top, but somehow it works. It’s also pretty brutal with scenes of women being beaten and bad guys getting knives thrust through their skulls like they were watermelons. Gerard Butler kicks some serious ass and you feel the weight of each punch, bullet and explosion. At times, it harkens back to old-school action films where one man beats all the elements to emerge victorious. I would probably sum it up as the child of Die Hard, 24 and Under Siege.

Antoine Fuqua’s direction also keeps things moving at a good pace. I never felt lost or confused by the action or the camera work, even though I was stuck sitting up in the front row. It’s also a good length and doesn’t feel rushed or too cliched in its execution.

What Did I Not Like?

Action movies can be a mixed bag. Some are smarter than others. Olympus Has Fallen is not an exception and a few things fall flat. For the most part, the script ties everything together and answers most of the question you might have. Start thinking too far outside the box and you’re only punishing yourself. I would have liked to have seen more character development, but that’s like asking an elephant to be a tiger. The film sets up a big character background for Gerard Butler, but it doesn’t really develop into anything meaningful. The same goes for the villain. There is a backstory, but it’s never presented to the audience in a substantial way. Aaron Eckhart is also passable as the president. Some of the one liners work, while others not so much. Finally, during the movie one of the characters asks a HUGE question to people around him. It’s the elephant in the room, but the movie COMPLETELY glosses over it. Heck, pointing it out added an extra dimension tot he drama and mystery, but it goes unresolved.

Final Verdict

Overall, I enjoyed the movie and I was hooked all the way through. Try not to overthink it and forgive it for its small amount of negligence to the script, audience and the characters. It’s certainly a step above other mindless action movies with a robust cast, direction and drama. After a dull winter and Oscar season, Olympus Has Fallen lights the fire and paves the way (strewn with dead bodies and explosions) for a strong Spring and Summer movie season.

Score: 4 out of 5

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