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    Friday
    Nov192010

    Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

    After seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and walking out of the theater, there was one thought that I just couldn't shake:

    This is the kind of entertainment that you can only get with serialized content.

    Whether it's television or books or a series of movies or comics, there's just something about a story that can avoid all of the pitfalls of getting its audience up to speed, skip all of the character motivation set-up and get right to the good stuff. We know these characters, we know what they're after and we know where they're going. All that's left is getting there.

    Folks, Deathly Hallows gets there.

    After six movies, the Harry Potter film franchise has done a lot of growing, from its kid-flick beginnings under Chris Columbus to the dark action/thriller that's become under David Yates. After seeing this movie, however, you can't help but feel like all of that was just a prologue - a very long, very specific lead-in to the story we're being told now. These past films, while (mostly) pretty good in their own right, are completely and utterly obliterated by Deathly Hallows. Everything, from the story to the performances to the cinematography, feels like someone rolled up their sleeves, breathed in deeply and said, "Okay, let's get to work."

    So let's actually get into it, starting with the aforementioned story. At this point, Harry knows that he's got to destroy the Horcruxes (items that hold the shattered soul of You-Know-Who) if he's going to be rid of Voldemort once and for all, and the latter knows that he's got to take Potter out if he's got any hope of sustaining his reign over the wizarding world long-term. There's a great scene near the beginning of the film where Voldemort's got his cabal of Death Eaters all sitting down in this dining hall, and they're plotting on how to kill Harry. It's downright dastardly and you can practically cut the tension with a knife.

    Meanwhile, the Dark Lord's forces have also infiltrated the Ministry of Magic and eventually assert full control, launching a witch hunt (pardon the pun) on everyone they find to be "undesirable," including anyone of mixed or muggle blood. The Nazi overtones are a bit pronounced (with Ministry-backed "snatchers" playing the role of the Gestapo), but luckily, they never get too in-your-face about it. Dolores Umbridge resurfaces are a top official in this new regime and, yet again, I can't help but want to kick her right in the vagina every time I see her. She's just such a bitch.

    Harry's quest takes a turn when he's able to find a Horcrux but is unable to destroy it. Taking the form of a locket, it seems to have serious negative effects on whoever's wearing it for an extended period, usually resulting in them losing their temper or focusing on their inner demons. This leads to some great character interaction between Harry, Ron and Hermione, who've all struck out on their own at this point (aside from a short scene involving the train and a short mention on the radio, Hogwarts is all but ignored in this film).

    The plot thickens after the trio find out about the Deathly Hallows, three fabled items bestowed upon the wizarding world by Death himself, including a master wand, stronger than any other, a stone that can bring loved ones back from the dead and an all-too-familiar cloak of invisibility. It's revealed that Voldemort's after the wand, and it's up our heroes to shut him down. Throughout their journey, they pretty much run into the entire supporting cast up to this point, from Remus Lupin to Hagrid to Draco Malfoy to the all-too-adorable Dobby the (Now Free) House Elf.

    This film covers a lot of ground, but what makes it great is the pathos evoked by the cast's performances. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have all known each other for years at this point and it shows. Having built up that kind of rapport, their friendship comes off as genuine, and when there's infighting or fear or love within the group, you feel it too. These actors have literally grown up before our eyes, and there's a tremendous sense of catharsis in seeing them mature.

    On the other side of the table, the baddies don't stand out quite as much, but they're all still suitably great. Ralph Fiennes is frightening and imposing as Voldemort and Helena Bonham Carter plays the part of an evil witch as best as anyone could as Bellatrix Lestrange. I wish we could've seen more of Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, but I suppose that's being saved for Part 2. I would like to highlight Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy. He doesn't get a lot of room to show off, but he puts in a really great performance as the conflicted Junior Death Eater. He clearly doesn't agree with the kind of crap his sniveling father, Lucius is supporting, but he doesn't know how to break away from it. We saw a little of that in Half-Blood Prince, and I'm glad it's being revisited here.

    What kicks Deathly Hallows up into the upper echelon, though, is the flat-out amazing cinematography by Eduardo Serra. I was a bit worried going in, since Bruno Delbonnel wasn't returning from Half-Blood Prince (which also looked amazing) and the only film I know Serra from was M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, a movie whose look I was totally bored by. Within a few minutes, that fear evaporated - not only did Serra keep up with Delbonnel's look, he surpassed him. With David Yates at the helm, Deathly Hallows still fits, stylistically, with Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, but it also has a much rougher, handheld feel. There are still plenty of gorgeous establishing shots and the kind of tender hand we've become familiar with in regards to the series, but with its darker tones and feeling of helplessness, Serra's done quite a bit in lending weight and tension. When you combine that with Alexandre Desplat and Conrad Pope's take on themes by John Williams, you've got a movie that looks and sounds and feels like an epic.

    If I had any criticism for Deathly Hallows, it's that, while everything I saw was thoroughly entertaining and engrossing, it's still half of a movie. There's a tiny bit of resolution and reflection towards the end, but the larger conflict (which takes center stage in Deathly Hallows rather than being a looming threat in the previous entries) is marching on into Part 2. So while I walked out of the theater satisfied, I did feel a bit like I was yanked out just as things were getting good. It was like the end of Back to the Future II, only there wasn't an awesome montage of stuff to expect next time.

    At 146 minutes, Deathly Hallows is a tremendously stuffed movie, and with next to no time being devoted to bringing new people up to speed, this is truly a film made for people who've put the time in. Having put said time in, I was blown away, and I can't wait for Part 2.

    This is the kind of entertainment that you can only get with serialized content.

    If you want to hear more about Deathly Hallows, listen in next Friday when Jonny, Stan, Mike and I discuss it in greater detail on Box Office Poison.

    See you then, folks!

    Friday
    Nov192010

    TAWK Rewind: TAWK-112 Episode 9

    Crosstawk.com's taking Friday off this week, but that doesn't mean we're not going to leave you with something to listen to! It's been quite a while since our last break, so it seems as good a time as any to give you another taste of the show that started it all, TAWK-112.

    On this episode, Karl, Jon and Casper are joined by Tyler to talk about malleable matter, electric cars, weird simulation devices, and close things down with a discussion on our favorite websites.

    As always, you can get in touch with us via email (crosstawk@gmail.com), Twitter (@crosstawk) and via the comment section of the website (tell us your favorite sites!).

    Okie doke, folks. See you again on Tuesday for a brand new episode of Discover Music Project, and then again on Friday for Box Office Poison!

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    Wednesday
    Nov172010

    Check it Out: The Following Special Presentation (NEW)

    Our good buddy Stan Ferguson (Box Office Poison, Thoroughly Manly Musicals) put together a new video with the fine folks at AgonyBooth.com, continuing the TFSP series with a brand new iteration on The Horror at 37,000 Feet, starring none other than Bill Shatner. If you're a fan of Stan's offbeat sense of humor (and who isn't?), then you don't want to miss this!

    See it at AgonyBooth.com!

    Wednesday
    Nov172010

    Crosstawk Sports: Episode 2

    Crosstawk Sports returns with the latest and greatest in the world on the field! This week, Spencer and Ben are joined by an old voice from TAWK-112: Jesse Laier! After so long, it's positively awesome to see Jesse make his return to podcasting.

    This episode, the boys are talking about some recent happenings in the NBA, some good ol' football (both NCAA and NFL) and close things down with a quick MLB postmortem.

    As always send us your thoughts/concerns/whatever at crosstawk@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) and rate/review us on iTunes. And tell the guys what you want them to talk about next in the comments on-site.

    Having said all of that, see you on Friday, folks!

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    Thursday
    Nov112010

    Introducing: Hardcore Nerdography

    From the mind of Mike Sklens comes Crosstawk.com's latest series: Hardcore Nerdography! Every episode, Mike, along with his girlfriend Amanda and their pal Dante, will shoot the shit about whatever happens to float their boat. That might come off as intentionally vague, but that's only because it is.

    On the premiere episode, Mike, Amanda and Dante basically discuss everything under the sun, from parking tickets to Animal Crossing buffoonery to awkward pictures of children at Disneyworld. Truly, this podcast is the happiest place on Earth.

    When you're done listening, be sure to send in all of your thoughts, questions and concerns to crosstawk@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) and rate/review us on iTunes. Those of you who go through with that last bit will get an extra special prize: our undying affection. It might not be worth monies, but something something something!

    Come back on Tuesday for the return of Crosstawk Sports!

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    Tuesday
    Nov092010

    Discover Music Project: Episode 5

    For Episode 5, DMP returns with a brand new guest! This time, Jonny's joined by the NWR Newscast's own Andy Goergen, who teaches our venerable host a little what's-what about the music of Ben Folds. Though Andy believes his songwriting's taken a bit of a dive in recent years, there's still plenty of great stuff to be found in his back-catalogue, so you'd do well to give this a listen.

    For those interested, here's a complete set list:

    1. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces (3:52) - with BFF
    2. You to Thank (3:36) - Solo
    3. Narcolepsy (Studio) (5:15) - with BFF
    4. Missing the War (4:19) - with BFF
    5. Steven's Last Night In Town (3:28) - with BFF
    6. Emaline (Live) (3:49) - Solo
    7. From Above (4:04) - Solo
    8. Zak & Sara (3:11) - Solo
    9. Underground (4:11) - with BFF
    10. Boxing (4:45) - with BFF

    Encore:
    Fear of Pop - "In Love"
    (written by Ben Folds for a side project entitled "Fear of Pop, Vol 1.", performed by William Shatner)

    As always, once you're done listening, send all of your queries and concerns to crosstawk@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) and rate/review us on iTunes.

    Thanks for listening, guys, and come back on Friday for the premiere episode of Mike Sklens' new show: Hardcore Nerdography!

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    Friday
    Nov052010

    Crosstawk Comics: Episode 3

    Karl Teaches Kontinuity is dead! Long live Crosstawk Comics!

    After recording Episode 2, Gus seemed like a perfect fit to the permanent co-host, and if it's a two-man project, it wouldn't be fair to just have Karl's name in the title. So we thought it over, and decided that going forward, our adventures in continuity would be flown under the banner of Crosstawk Comics.

    Now, on to the actual subject at hand. We're going to be putting away the conversation on The Ages for the time being to explore the Life and Times of Jean Grey, the ever-dying (and re-appearing) X-Woman. This is the first part of a two-parter, but we do manage to track the major plot points up to the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga. Be sure to come back for Part 2 when we get into Madelyne Pryor, a mysterious coccoon and of course, XORN!

    As always, send all of your questions and concerns to crosstawk@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) and rate/review us on iTunes. And keep an eye on Crosstawk.com as we'll be adding some great new text features soon, not to mention a brand new Thoroughly Manly Musical.

    Having said that, come back next week for the debut of a brand new series from the mind of Mike Sklens: Hardcore Nerdography!

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    Tuesday
    Nov022010

    Crosstawk Presents: Crosstawk Sports

    Crosstawk Presents returns with a pilot for an upcoming Crosstawk.com series! From the minds of Spencer Darr and Ben Dunkel comes Crosstawk Sports, bringing you the latest and greatest in the world on the field. For their first episode, Spencer and Ben recap the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series (as well as some predictions as to how they'll do next year), and bring it home with an NBA Season Preview.

    After listening, please send in all of your feedback - we'll be incoroporating your ideas when the show returns as a regular series. You can email us at crosstawk@gmail.com, comment on the website or even tweet us (@crosstawk).

    When you're done with that, be sure to head over to iTunes and rate/review us. We'd sure appreciate it. Having said that, enjoy Crosstawk Sports!

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    Thursday
    Oct282010

    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Day 7 (The Last Airbender)

    Well, I suppose it had to end. That's right, guys - this is in fact Day 7 of Seven Days of Shyamalan. We've talked about a lot of movies, from Wide Awake to The Happening with a few mixed in between. And like I've been saying, the point was to take a look at one of the strangest downturns in the history of film by taking a look at the selected filmography of the one and only M. Night Shyamalan.

    Today, that look comes to an end with The Last Airbender, released earlier this very year.

    Like Wide Awake, I should note that The Last Airbender isn't really much of a Shyamalan movie - in fact, it probably has less in common with his other films than the former did. This isn't a mystery or thriller, there's no crisis of faith and there's no real sense of looming doom. Despite being written and directed by M. Night, it doesn't seem to have his finger prints on it. This may have to do with the fact that The Last Airbender is based off of Avatar: The Last Airbender, a cartoon on Nickelodeon. I didn't watch the television show, so that'll be the last time I mention it here.

    Having said that, let's get right on into it.

    The Last Airbender, surprisingly, tells the story of the last airbender.

    Unfortunately, there's more.

    You see, over a hundred years ago, the Avatar, a reincarnation of a great leader ran from his duties, and having done so, left the world to fend for itself without his guidance. Thus, the four nations of the world (Air, Water, Fire and Ice) fell into disarray. The Fire Nation decided that this was their chance to take over, and began warring with the other nations for their territory. Fearing that the Avatar could always return and gum up the works, they went after the only lead they had: that the Avatar would be an airbender. So they killed all of the Air Nation tribes and all of the airbenders.

    Or so they thought.

    In reality, the last airbender, and the only who really mattered, had indeed run away from his duties, but fell into freezing cold water and was preserved in a giant sphere of ice along with a large yak or sorts. He stayed there, dormant and in the frozen body of a child, until the events of the film. Which brings us to now.

    Katara and Sokka are two Water Nation kids who are bummed out, because the Fire Nation won't stop giving them shit and kidnapping their elders (to retain their supremacy, the Fire Nation arrests and imprisons anyone who might be powerful enough to bend the elements). So they're walking around the South Pole, hunting and such, until they find a shadowy figure underneath the ice. Sokka strikes at the crack with his boomerang-knife, and when he does, the giant ice sphere containing you-know-who rises from the depths of the ice. After striking the sphere once it got topside, it melted and revealed Aang the Avatar and his large, creepy-looking yak.

    When Aang finally comes to, he's in Katara and Sokka's hut. They notice his strange tattoos, signifying that he's an airbender, but the conversation is cut short when the Fire Nation shows up to be dicks again. The Fire Nation's Prince Zuko is leading the inquisition, and when he sees Aang's wicked tats, he decides to take him by threatening to burn the entire village down if Aang doesn't follow him to his ship.

    Once he's on-board, Zuko and his uncle test to see if Aang's really the Avatar by placing all four elements on a table and seeing if they react to Aang. They do. Zuko and his uncle are intrigued, and they decide to bring him back with them to the Fire kingdom. Aang doesn't like the idea and escapes on a glider he was hiding in a bo staff. Then he catches up with his giant yak (the giant yak flies), and meets up with Katara and Sokka.

    They travel to an Earth village and see that all of the earthbenders have been captured and imprisoned. Aang uses some of his airbending skills to galvanize them into rioting and driving the Fire Nation back. Katara, Aang and Sokka decide that their mission will be to free the Water and Earth Nations from the tyranny of the Fire Nation.

    While they're traveling, we learn a little more about Aang. He traveled with a band of Air Nation nomadic monks, and bonded greatly with one of the more senior benders. When Aang was proclaimed to be the next Avatar, his mentor and the rest of the nomads bowed to him. When Aang learned that, as the Avatar, he would never be allowed a family, however, he decided to scram. That's how he ended up in the ice, and that's how the Fire Nation got the balls to start this world domination plot.

    It's also what led to the extermination of the Air Nation, as I mentioned earlier. Aang doesn't believe it until he sees their rotted-out bones for himself, which throws him into a rage of meditation. That's right - he meditates so fucking hard that he starts talking to a dragon spirit and wrecking everything surrounding him with a giant cyclone. The dragon spirit, being on a totally different plane of existence, doesn't seem to mind, and promises to check in with sage advice periodically throughout the film. Which is handy.

    It's during this travel that Aang also reveals that he doesn't know how to bend anything but air, which is a big problem because, as Avatar, he's supposed to be the only one capable of bending all four elements. So he's got to learn how to bend the other forces of nature, starting with water. It turns out Katara is actually a fledgeling waterbender herself, so she takes Aang on as a student as they travel up north to one of the larger Water Nation tribes to learn from the royal kingdom.

    On the way over, Aang makes a quick stop at one of the old Air Nation temples alone. He finds an elderly Water Nation monk who pretends to have something to show him, but actually leads him to a Fire Nation trap. Bummer. Aang is captured by the Fire Nation's Commander Zhao, who's actually in a race with Prince Zuko to see who can retrieve the Avatar the fastest for the King of the Fire Nation. While Zuko must find the Avatar to be accepted back into his father's good graces (they had a falling out, and Zuko had his face half-burned off - just roll with it), Zhao's mostly just looking to fuck Zuko over.

    So Zhao brings Aang back to the Fire Nation and chains him up, starting to ask him questions about where he's been (and why he can only bend air), but he's called away before they get anywhere. Suddenly, a mysterious warrior wearing an oni masks breaks into the dungeon, busts Aang out of prison, and they fight their way to freedom. As they escape, the warrior's hit with an arrow and passes out. Aang removes his mask to reveal that it was actually Zuko. He was probably just there to let Aang out so that he could re-capture him for himself, but Aang thanks him anyway, leaves him somewhere safe, and makes it back to Katara and Sokka.

    When they finally reach this royal kingdom, they're greeted by Princess Yue, a young girl with white hair and blue eyes. She was actually born a brunette with brown eyes, but she was delivered stillborn. Her parents dipped her into a very special pond that houses the moon and ocean spirits, and they endowed her with some of their energy, bringing her back to life, but also giving her blue eyes and white hair. It's give and take, you see. Also, Sokka's in love with her pretty much instantly.

    Aang continues to train and grow more and more proficient with waterbending, but it's all cut short when the Fire Nation attacks the royal village. There are a lot of waterbenders there, and their castle stronghold is pretty elaborate, so they've actually got a fighting chance. A big battle erupts.

    During all of the craziness, Commander Zhao breaks into the secret mystical pond, grabs one of the fish (the fish is a moon spirit, FYI) and stabs in, proclaiming something to the effect of, "No God but Man!" Then the sky turns red and people start freaking out. The waterbenders can't bend water anymore.

    Before this, Aang had meditated a while and talked to the dragon spirit. He knows he needs to stop the Fire and Water Nations from fighting, but he doesn't know how. As he considers it, he's interrupted by Prince Zuko (again). They fight a while, and Zuko even manages to get the upper hand until Katara freezes him from head to toe in ice. Aang breaks the part covering his face so that he can breathe, but leaves him behind. "We could be friends, you know," he says. How sweet.

    What's more sweet is that Princess Yue knows she has to do something to help the moon spirit. She knows she's still got a little bit of his power in her, so she lays in the pond and returns that energy back, giving the moon spirit his mojo and return the sky to a blue color. The waterbenders are okay again. Unfortunately, this also means Yue dies. Sokka isn't happy. Sokka mad!

    Then Aang becomes a badass, air-and-waterbends the shit out of some Fire Nation people and makes his way to a vantage point. Then he creates a giant arc of water, and everybody basically shits their pants. They stop fighting and bow to Aang, who bows back. The Avatar has returns. This is the end of the first book (and movie).

    Still being so recent in the general subconscious, you probably already know that The Last Airbender was released to horrid reviews. Pretty much everybody pointed out that all of the child actors were awful, across the board, and the more seasoned actors like Dev Patel (who played Zuko) hammed it way up, and couldn't be taken seriously. I have to agree.

    And unfortunately, this isn't a situation like The Happening. Indeed, The Last Airbender's great crime is that it's just really mediocre, and not bad enough to be enjoyable on a different level. There's tons and tons of exposition (I left a whole lot out just to spare you), and even the CG action scenes (which are pretty sparse) aren't impressive enough to make them worth waiting for.

    I really wish I could've ended this series of recaps on The Happening. Say what you will about it, but at least it's fun. The Last Airbender feels like the work of a director who's just phoning it in. M. Night Shyamalan may be ridiculous, self-obsessed and in love with the idea of a cheap twist, but it never felt like he'd phoned it in before this film. And that's just sad.

    Is this really where it ends? Is this how we leave the Seven Days of Shyamalan - with a pile of mediocrity and half-hearted shrugs?

    Let's not.

    (TWIST)

    That may be Day 7 of the Seven Days of Shyamalan, but everything that has a beginning has an end. Everything that goes around must come around. And everything that has a Prologue just have an Epilogue. Come back tomorrow for...

    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Epilogue

    Thursday
    Oct282010

    Discover Music Project: Episode 4

    Discover Music Project returns, and this time it's Jonny's pick. Listen as our own Mr. Metts introduces Jon Rind to the music of the late, great Jeff Buckley. Though Buckley died shortly before recording his second album, there's a nice selection of live shows and B-sides to showcase, and there certainly wasn't a shortage of material for Jonny to peruse. And for your convenience, here's the set list:

    Last Goodbye (Grace) - 4:35
    Yeh Jo Halka Halka Saroor Hai (Sin-e) - 6:09
    Mama, You've Been On My Mind (Radio Bootleg) - 3:40
    Eternal Life / Kick Out the Jams (Sony Studios) - 9:10
    I Know It's Over (So Real) - 6:28
    Night Flight (Sin-e) - 6:42
    Everybody Here Wants You (Sketches) - 4:45

    TOTAL - 41:29

    Encore: Sahib Teri Bandi / Maki Madni (Derek Trucks Band, Songlines) - 9:55

    As always, you can send in your thoughts/concerns/suggestions to crosstawk@gmail.com or comment on the site article. You can also follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) to hear the latest in what's going on with Crosstawk.com. And if you're feeling charitable, you can rate/review us on iTunes - we'd sure appreciate it!

    Thanks for listening, folks! Come back next week when Karl Teaches Kontinuity returns under its new name: Crosstawk Comics!

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