Gulliver's Travels (2010 - DVD)
After seeing this movie, I was a little surprised by the 21% RottenTomatoes Score. It's not that it's a great movie and far from not having any flaws, but I wonder if some of those critics may have thought better of it if they had gone into it with the right expectations. This is not a literal translation of Jonathan Swift's classic story. It is more like a goofy Jack Black comedy that just so happens to take place on the island of Lilliput (it mostly only deals with the Lilliput, and only very briefly with the Giants, part of the novel).
Jack Black, as Lemuel Gulliver, works in the mailroom of a New York newspaper, and in trying to impress a female copy editor whom he has a crush on, accepts a writing assignment on the Bermuda Triangle, which he is not really qualified for. A cyclone in the middle of the Triangle whisks him away to the island of Lilliput, where he towers as a giant over its miniscule inhabitants. Hilarity ensues, sometimes of a more juvenile nature than I care for (which also accounts for some of the negative reviews at RT), although I've heard the "peeing to put out the fire" gag actually did come from the book.
However, the movie does have a certain level of entertainment value, due in part to Jack Black's usual charm and several interlocking subplots, such as Lilliput's feud with the neighboring kingdom of Blefuscia, and Gulliver's attempts to help Horatio (Jason Segel) win the heart of the Lilliputian Princess. Gulliver also imparts copious knowledge of pop culture (Star Wars, Avatar, Guitar Hero) from his world onto the Lilliputians, which at times makes it feel like Family Guy barfed all over the island, but has the added twist of Gulliver convincing everyone that he, personally, wrote and starred in all the stories. This has humorous results when main antagonist General Edward (whose actor could've stood to ham it up a little less) questions how he survived the ending of Titanic.
Ultimately, there's a subtext about how being a big person is not about size, and how the bigger the lies you tell, the harder the truth will come crashing down on you, and oh yeah, there's even a giant robot battle. (Don't ask me to explain that one, though.) So, if you want Gulliver's Travels, you'll have to read the book. Want a silly Jack Black comedy that involves a scene of him deflecting hundreds of cannonballs off his belly, you've come to the right spot.
This is the End (2013 - Theater)
I can't, for the life of me, think of any other movie in which almost every actor is literally playing themselves. At first, it's a little weird, but you get used to it. And then what you have is one of the most bizarre concepts for a comedy/thriller ever concocted, chock full of cameos and self-deprecating humor. In a nutshell, a huge, celebrity-laden party at James Franco's house is disrupted when the world comes to an end. Huge sinkholes open up in the ground, swallowing up the likes of Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari, and the survivors (amongst them, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson) become trapped in Franco's house with a dwindling food and water supply, and "loose cannon" Danny McBride, who seems to enjoy being an asshole just for the hell of it.
There are many hilarious lines of dialogue, but I do have to warn that this is a very adult comedy. Some especially vulgar, adult humor is involved, and monsters are depicted with fully-exposed genitalia. As one might expect, the movie doesn't spare any chance to make pop culture references, including nods to The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, and a surprisingly breathtaking monster chase sequence that looks like a modernized version of the part from Ghostbusters where Rick Moranis was chased by the Terror Dog. They even managed to figure out a way to have "talking head" scenes like those in The Office and Parks and Recreation, which some of these actors have been involved with. Not to mention that this is a rather opportune time to parody "The Rapture", considering all the 2012 Mayan Calendar hysteria and Harold Camping's wrongful predictions.
Strangely enough, I seemed to have almost the exact same experience with this movie that Qwipster did, in that I didn't laugh much at the Michael Cera stuff, but almost everyone else in the audience did.
This is about as good a place as any to bring up that I sometimes find it disturbing when main characters are killed in gruesome ways in goofy comedies (and I had that issue with Hangover III, too). I'm not talking about the initial "purge" or the random guy whose head got lopped off - this is an apocalyptic movie, so you know some people will get it. But when a main character is killed in a really violently gory way (and, no, I won't spoil it), it's hard to get my mind right back on the track with the silliness and comedy.
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Will Ferrell, Vol 2 (1995 - DVD)
Of all the SNL collections I've reviewed, this one was the weakest. Too many sketches on this collection are the same joke - Will Ferrell yelling and acting like a psycho. It also seemed like some sketches were chosen more because someone broke character and started laughing than because the sketches themselves were funny. Volume 1 of Will Ferrell had its high and low points, but this one had far more low than high, and some of the sketches were either repeated or too similar to those on Volume 1.
And while the idea of talk show hosts losing their shit when the teleprompter breaks is amusing, the funniest part of that was the random cut to the guy frantically trying to put way too many pots in a wall cabinet, only to have the whole thing come crashing down. I also may have been better off not knowing that the teleprompter thing, plus the sketch where Will Ferrell kills someone with a trident, is where those same ideas in Anchorman came from.
The Documentary (2005 - Digital Album)
Artist: The Game
I'm going to say right up front that I realize that I am likely not the target audience for this album, and The Game's 2005 debut is my first foray into gangsta rap, so I'm not exactly the most qualified person in the world to review it, but you've gotta start somewhere. I know that gangsta rap has caused a lot of controversy for glorifying the gangster lifestyle and having misogynist lyrics, but the impression I get is that this album is more of a lament than a glorification (as is implied by the title, it's a "documentary" of life in that world, not really asking anyone to take sides). As you might already know, The Game became a rapper after being shot five times and surviving, and he raps about that experience a lot on this album. Maybe it's like what Ebert always said about war movies - that there's no way to portray the lifestyle without making it seem appealing, but the alternative is to never talk about something that exists in our reality.
I also have to give him props for the final track, "Like Father, Like Son". While, yes, he does often use the dreaded "B" word when referring to women, when he's rapping about his (presumably) real-life girlfriend, he completely restrains from that. The song also describes, in explicit detail, the birth of his son. I confess that's something even I get uncomfortable hearing about, so it must've taken a lot of guts to release this track to the male target audience, which is probably even less comfortable with it than I am.
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004 - Digital Album)
While this album proves that U2 was still musically competent back when it was produced, something just seems to be missing from their earlier recordings that put them on the map. While I like "Vertigo", the album's biggest hit, a little more than their previous big hit, "Beautiful Day" (which I absolutely despise), it's not as timeless or iconic as almost any of their previous hits. I remember a time when I would listen to the radio and the DJ would say, "We'll have U2 coming up next", and I knew it was going to be either "Beautiful Day" or "Vertigo" and would be so pissed when it was, and pleasantly surprised when it was anything else.
Lyrically, the songs on this album have gotten far more straightforward about their political issues and less poetic. On The Joshua Tree we had lyrics like:
And in the world a heart of darkness, a fire zone
Where poets speak their heart then bleed for it
Jara sang, his song a weapon in the hands of love
You know his blood still cries from the ground
Now you have:
I don't know if I can make it
I'm not easy on my knees
Here's my heart I'll let you break it
I need some release, release, release
We need, love and peace, love and peace
Yeah. Definitely one of the better albums I've borrowed from the digital service, but weak for a U2 album.
Second Helping (1974 - CD)
Artist: Lynyrd Skynyrd
After all the lackluster albums I've been listening to lately, it's really tempting to give this 5 stars. I'm hard-pressed to think of a reason not to. Basically apply all the good stuff I said about Street Survivors last year, and consider that the album includes such heavyweight hits as "Sweet Home Alabama", "Don't Ask Me No Questions", "The Ballad of Curtis Loew", "The Needle and the Spoon", and "Call Me the Breeze", and pretty much the only way to dislike this album is if you just don't like Lynyrd Skynyrd at all. My version even includes a few bonus tracks that I've really come to enjoy. It's everything a great southern rock album should be and more.
Soulscraper (1996 - Digital Album)
Artist: Mega City Four
Soulscraper was the last album that English alternative rock group, Mega City Four, released before they broke up. While I'd heard of them before, I hadn't, to my knowledge, heard any of their songs before borrowing this, and while I could tell they had more musical experience than many of the obscure bands whose albums I've tested on this service, the biggest thing I noticed was how half the songs sounded nearly identical to songs I've heard from other artists. For example, one of them sounded so much like Black Sabbath's "War Pigs", I thought it was a cover until I looked at the track title. Their previous album seems to generally get better reviews, so maybe that one is more worth looking into.