Jesse Hassenger

Too dry for teenagers, and not sophisticated enough for anyone who has ever seen an espionage movie better than Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.


Director: Xavier Gens
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper
Distributor: Fox
MPAA rating: N/A
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2008-03-11

Reviewing a movie like Hitman feels like the wrong way to evaluate it; a focus group of 13-year-olds would probably do the trick. I suspect, though, that at least some of the unofficial target audience (as the movie was rated "R" in theaters and comes to DVD "unrated") for this film version of a popular videogame would find it dull, too. Without the brand-name, this would be a movie without an audience: too dry for teenagers, not sophisticated enough for anyone who has ever seen an espionage movie better than Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.

With the brand, though, Hitman is elevated to the status of cash-in. Apparently lovable videogame character Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) is an assassin for a top-secret organization which, as many other critics have already remarked, is not so secret that it doesn't employ at least 47 men with identically shaved and tattooed heads to blow things up as noisily as possible. If 47 is indeed the "ghostly" presence described by his pursuers, his actual killings are like those chains dragged around by Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.

We see, often in slow-motion, that Agent 47 is a ruthlessly efficient worker, so like most top-drawer assassins, he is eventually betrayed by his own employers and forced to go rogue. I'm not positive that, throughout the history of stealth assassins, the double-cross-your-best-guy technique has ever worked, but top-secret organizations refuse to waver. Maybe Hitman intends this as a commentary on US foreign policy, although it seems more doubtful when 47 rarely leaves Europe.

None of the silliness would matter if Hitman could deliver on its meager terms; instead, it finds surprising ways to disappoint. The lead casting of the excellent Olyphant, for example, turns out to be a miscalculation -- or, more accurately, incapable of balancing the miscalculation that is Agent 47's pale non-character. If the movie could've harnessed the energy and danger Olyphant showed in the far less literally explosive Go or The Girl Next Door, it might've been a lot of fun; instead, he plays it flat and dour, true to the dimensions of the character's origin (the energized version of Olyphant would actually be perfect for the lead in a film version of the DC comic book Hitman -- no relation to the game).

Hitman is the type of movie you see in the hands of blind-buying dudes at Best Buy on a Tuesday, but it's actually a lousy movie to watch at home, regardless of your sweet tech specs. Though not bad-looking, the dry patches between the action sequences (themselves no great shakes) settle onto a TV set with narcotizing comfiness; without the unrated carnage, Hitman could be a TV movie from 1996 as easily as a flashy theatrical release from 2007.

Even confirmed fans may not be particularly enticed once they get the DVD open. It includes a bundle of deleted and alternate scenes -- mostly short and often indistinguishable from the versions that made it into the movie, save for an alternate ending notable less for its nigh-nonsensical bleakness than its unfinished state, allowing for a neat glimpse into what elements of the movie were green-screened, CGI'd, and otherwise computer-polished.

For more detailed making-of information, the disc offers several featurettes examining various aspects of the production, as well as "In the Crosshairs", a half-hour overview of the filmmaking process. The filmmakers in "Crosshairs" are almost perverse in their insistence that the screenplay, by Skip Woods, provides a strong and compelling story. In fact, it confuses plot with story, bodies with characters, and the inexplicable presence of samurai swords with awesomeness. That focus group of teenagers probably couldn't do much worse.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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Mike Stern: Trip

Photo: Sandrine Lee (Concord Music Group)

Mike Stern has fallen. Trip shows that he can get back up just fine.

Mike Stern


Label: Heads Up
US Release Date: 2017-09-08
UK Release Date: 2017-09-08
Label website
Artist website

Guitarist Mike Stern suffered from a big owie last year. It seems that, while trying to cross a street in Manhattan, he tripped and fell, breaking both of his shoulders in the process. He underwent surgery and reports that "I still have to use glue so I can hold a guitar pick." While you're busy trying to figure out just how a jazz-fusion guitarist needs glue to hold a pick, keep in mind Stern is an embodiment of a working musician, and his chosen genre of expertise is famous for its pay-to-play, sink-or-swim business model. Such a setback can really eat into one's career. Gigs need to be canceled, which sometimes leads to venues blacklisting you in the future. And in a world where most people listen to their music via streaming services, gigging may be your only reliable source of income. Thankfully, Mike Stern, who was 63 at the time of his injury, has made a full recovery and is back to work with an impressive array of professional help. His new album is ironically named Trip. Apart from the title,

Trip makes it sound like nothing ever happened to Stern. At all. In the same way that John McLaughlin and his current Fourth Dimension band sound like a bunch of barnstormers who haven't hit 40 yet, the powerful performance of Stern and his colleagues coupled with the high quality of the material belie both age and medical condition. Now I'm aware that our very own Steven Spoerl did not care for the writing on Mike Stern's 2012 All Over the Place, but there's no way I can sling the same criticism at Trip. The opening title track alone is enough to nullify that. Stern plays the melody in unison with saxophonist Bob Franceschini, and it's all over the place. The song slinks into a B section where the chords shift from a minor vi to a major IV, and again, Stern and Franceschini drive an even meaner melody down the scale with plenty of sharply punctuated intervals. This guy fell, broke his shoulders, and now needs glue to hold a pick? Are we all sure he wasn't just replaced with Steve Austin?

Another number that, to me, offsets any concerns about the able-bodiness or strength of the material is a spunky one named "Watchacallit". This time, the B section brims with even more tension with Franceschini flying high and bassist Tom Kennedy doing little divebombs at the start of each bar. When it's all put together, it's truly a moment for you to crank your listening device of choice (in the past, we would say "stereo" right about here). But that's just two songs. There's a total of 11, spanning an hour and six minutes. Stern doesn't use every bar of every number to punch us in the gut. He still goes for the smooth bop ("Emelia"), the funky intersection of Miles Davis and Funkadelic ("Screws"), and the soothing ballad ("I Believe in You" and "Gone").

No review of Trip would be complete without mentioning the musical pedigree of Mike Stern's friends. When it comes to drummers, he managed to net Dennis Chambers, Lenny White, and Will Calhoun (yes, that Will Calhoun). Those names alone give you a money-back guarantee that the rhythm section will never, ever falter. But just to be sure, Stern summons Victor Wooten to play bass. Top shelf names like Randy Brecker and Bill Evans, in addition to Franceschini, provide Trip with soulful wind. Pianist Jim Beard pulls double duty as the session pianist. Normally, I'd wrap this up by saying that Mike Stern is under the process of pulling himself up by his bootstraps and dusting himself off after a major boo-boo. But after listening to

Trip over and over again, I'm convinced that he's beyond that. The straps are up, and the dust has cleared. He's back, playing and composing just as well as he ever did. Better than he did before the accident, perhaps? You can be the judge of that meaningless hairsplitting exercise because Trip is worth the journey no matter where your expectations may lie.


Dan Deacon: Rat Film

Photo: Theo Anthony (Domino Records)

For an artist like Dan Deacon so intensely involved with constant maximalism at the expense of almost all other endeavors, this is a left turn.

Dan Deacon's music sounds like scrolling through hundreds of emoji's while your phone updates and time is going 2x, and you are on a train that Steven Seagal just hijacked, and you are high and its a cartoon. On “Rat Film", for the first time, Deacon sounds like he is breathing. Pulsing, unrelenting bass drums have been replaced by patient movements. It's alarming as a fan to hear something so different, and the Rat Film Original Soundtrack has little to offer fans of Dan Deacon or fans or soundtracks. Separated from the film it is unable to generate interest.

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