28 December 2007

Best of 2007: Film

Revisions since original publication date in bold.

American Gangster (dir. Ridley Scott)
With towering performances from both Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, the true crime story never feels straightforward. And thanks to Scott's lean direction, two and a half hours will fly by.

Grindhouse (dirs. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino)
What a pity no one went to go see the best movie-going experience of the year. And what a shame Dimension made two separate DVD releases. The three-plus hour, trailer-infused perverted masterpiece is the only way to see it.

Hot Fuzz (dir. Edgar Wright)
Sorry, Judd Apatow, the funniest movie of the year belonged to these Brits, skewering cop movies with a sense of reverence and a keen eye for gags.

Juno (dir. Jason Reitman)
While the film could have easily fallen into a series of pop-culture references and snide comments, the script from newbie Diablo Cody and a sparkling performance by Ellen Page, gives the year's best pregnancy comedy real emotional depth.

The Kingdom (dir. Peter Berg)
Infusing the action picture with plenty of talking points and great performances, Peter Berg's best film takes a look at our current relationship with Saudi Arabia, and how it may hurt us in the long run.

No Country for Old Men (dirs. Joel & Ethan Coen)
Maybe not the year's best movie, but it's pretty much flawless. Major points go to the Coens for having both a ruthless killer (a chilling, Oscar-worthy Javier Bardem)as well as a hero who's not a complete moron (Josh Brolin, good in so many things this year). Tommy Lee Jones is also great as the world-weary sheriff.

Once (dir. John Carney)
With the beauty and heartbreak of a great song, this ultra-tiny indie from Ireland may have been the year's best love story. Non-actors (and now real-life couple) Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are completely natural onscreen and are the best duet partners since Johnny Cash and June Carter.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (dir. Tim Burton)
Chalk up another masterpiece for Tim Burton (how is it the man has never been nominated for an Oscar?) and Johnny Depp. The ultra-dark, ultra-gory musical is the perfect material for the team to adapt, but the real revelation here is Helena Bonham Carter, returning to the glorious acting days of Room with a View.

Waitress (dir. Adrienne Shelly)
Finally, one can use the term Capra-esque as a praise, not an insult. The late Adrienne Shelly's script bubbles with life, thanks to glowing performances from Keri Russell and Andy Griffith. But really, all the actors here shine and make you hanker for a piece of pie.

Zodiac (dir. David Fincher)
The oldest movie on the list but possibly the best, a somewhat restrained David Fincher's procedural of the still unsolved string of murders that haunted the Bay Area in the late '60s and early '70s keeps you riveted for all two and a half hours. Look for the extended director's cut DVD in January.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Across the Universe, Away from Her, The Bourne Ultimatum, Charlie Wilson's War, Hairspray, Knocked Up, Ratatouille, Rescue Dawn, The Simpsons Movie, Superbad

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men
Simply the most frightening villain since Hannibal Lecter. Even his coin tosses keep you on the edge of your seat.

Christian Bale as Lt. Dieter Dengler in Rescue Dawn
Bale dropped 55 pounds (right before he had to bulk up for the Batman sequel The Dark Knight) to play the German-born, American-bred fighter pilot shot down over Laos who stages a daring escape from a POW camp. The greatness of Bale's performance is not so much in his words, but in the determination and desperation across his face.

Julie Christie as Fiona Anderson in Away from Her
What could have devolved into people-with-disease clichés is overcome by Christie's astounding performance as a woman with Alzheimer's. You feel the heartbreak in every word, and every time you see her husband's (Gordon Pinsent) face. What a knockout.

Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Again magnificent, this time as the crazed barber, desperate for revenge.

Andy Griffith as Old Joe in Waitress
Appearing onscreen for the first time in years, Ange's return is delightful, playing an old curmudgeon who might not be as terrible as he seems.

Glen Hansard as the Guy and Markéta Irglová as the Girl in Once
Now a real-life couple, the Irishman and the Czech immigrant have real chemistry, beyond their otherworldly songs.

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakatos in Charlie Wilson's War
Sure Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts do their movie-star thing, but it's Hoffman's portrayal of the bitter CIA agent that grounds the movie.

Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff in Juno
The only thing bigger than her mouth is her heart, which she covers up in snide comments and pop culture references. What a delightful ingenue.

Will Smith as Dr. Robert Neville in I Am Legend
Just eeking out John Cusack's one man show in 1408, Smith again proves why he's the most bankable star in Hollywood, as the last man on Earth determined to stop the virus that overtook the planet in the first place.

Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas and Russell Crowe as Richie Roberts in American Gangster
Sure, Denzel is fantastic as the ruler of Harlem in the '70s, but without Crowe's hard-working detective, he's merely grandstanding. The way the two play off each other (even when not onscreen) is palpable and makes for a truly compelling cat-and-mouse game.

Leonitas (Gerard Butler): "Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty... For tonight, we dine in hell!"

Charlie Wilson's War
Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts): "Why is Congress sayin' one thing and doin' nothin'?"
Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks): "Well, tradition mostly."

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page): "No, I mean, like, for real. 'Cause you're, like, the coolest person I've ever met, and you don't even have to try, you know..."
Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera): "I try really hard, actually."

The Kingdom

FBI Director James Grace (Richard Jenkins): "It only matters how you want to go out: on your feet or on your knees."

Knocked Up
Pete (Paul Rudd): "Marriage is like a tense, unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond, only it doesn't last 22 minutes. It lasts forever."

No Country for Old Men

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem): "Call it...friend-o."

Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole): "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more."

Officer Michaels (Seth Rogen): "That's women...even after you're dead, they still want to rip your heart out."

There Will Be Blood
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis): "I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!"

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly): "This is a dark f***ing period!"

Blade Runner (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition)
They could have added the word "definitive" and been absolutely right as well. Five discs features every possible version of Ridley Scott's groundbreaking sci-fi tale (theatrical, director's, international, producer's, and the recently released Final Cut) as well as the essential feature-length making-of doc Dangerous Days.

Heroes: Season 1
Catch up with Hiro, Claire, and the Petrellis in the inventive superhero tale. Not like it will help you make sense of the second season.

Hot Fuzz
Chock full of extras, it's surprising a 3-disc limited edition is available.

It's 99.99% likely you didn't see this brilliant film during its very limited theatrical run. That's ok. Now you can discover Mike Judge's dystopian follow-up to Office Space. It's razor-sharp satire in the guise of a stupid comedy.

The Jason Bourne Collection
If you didn't get the primo Bourne Files with a free ticket to Ultimatum (not valid at AMC Theaters though. A-holes.), get all 3 films of the greatest spy series of all time (you heard me, James Bond) in a nifty package.

The Jungle Book (40th Anniversary Platinum Edition)
Disney always does top notch work with these releases, and it's about time their greatest feature film got the deluxe treatment. Not just the "bare necessities," this collection is filled with bonus features and a spiffy new transfer.

Pan's Labyrinth (New Line 2-Disc Platinum Series)
Learn all the tricks of the glorious Spanish language film, one of the best of last year. From the gorgeous production design, to the startling make-up, it's all here.

Seinfeld: The Complete Series
TV Guide called it the greatest show of all-time, and while that's not true (it's still The Simpsons...always) you can't help but fall in love all over again with the horrible foursome and their hilarious misadventures.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: The Complete Series
One of the best shows of the decade never got the respect or audience it deserved (it was too smart for the average Joe, too preachy for the critics), but may finally get its chance to shine on DVD. Get it pronto.

Superbad (Unrated Widescreen Edition)

You don't even need the Two-Disc Special Edition. The standard disc already contains a bevy of special features including a table read, bloopers, and, what everyone was really asking for--animated menus featuring Seth's sketches.

Best Trailer: The Hills Have Eyes 2

Best Song Not from Once: "PoP! Goes My Heart" from Music & Lyrics

Best Poster: Michael Clayton

27 December 2007

Best of 2007: Music

Revisions since original publication date in bold.

NOTE: In compiling my list of the year's best albums and songs, I couldn't make a top 10. There was simply too much great music. So here is what I could pare it down to: a baker's dozen of the best discs and tracks of 2007.

Arcade Fire - NEON BIBLE (Merge)
Their debut was heralded as one of the best albums of the decade. How do you follow that up? With an album's worth of religious experiences.

Explosions in the Sky - ALL OF A SUDDEN I MISS EVERYONE (Temporary Residence Limited)
The Austin band never has to say a word to express the lost feeling emoted in every one of their songs.

Feist - THE REMINDER (Cherrytree)/St. Vincent - MARRY ME (Beggars Banquet)
Leslie Feist has the voice, and Annie Clark has the tenacity, but both have equally lovely breakthrough albums here, and they'll both put you in a dreamlike state, where even if things aren't going so great, their presence will carry you away to a better place.

Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová - ONCE (Canvasback)
It was a year full of great soundtracks (including ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and HAIRSPRAY), but none could touch the utter beauty of this Irish musical. Any track could be nominated and win Best Original Song at the Oscars.

Kings of Leon - BECAUSE OF THE TIMES (Hand Me Down)
A band that continues to get better. On AHA SHAKE HEARTBREAK they reinvented Southern rock, now they've kissed it goodbye completely, creating haunting hard rock that will stay with you long after it's over.

No album was as joyous or melodic or flat-out delightful as the Lebanese pop star's debut. Relax, take it e-zay, and just enjoy.

Nearly unlistenable before this, the band became the biggest indie band around (WWDBTSES debuted at #1) thanks to a new weapon: Johnny Marr. The former Smiths guitarists improved the production, songwriting, and let Isaac Brock finally start singing instead of droning.

Rilo Kiley - UNDER THE BLACKLIGHT (Warner Bros.)
After nearly breaking up, the L.A. band took a trip to the underbelly of their hometown and created some beautiful songs about beautiful people doing ugly things. And there you have it: this is new Fleetwood Mac.

Genius, epic, dark. These are the things My Chemical Romance's BLACK PARADE did, but Max Bemis and co. have done it better. Over two discs, the boys attack at all angles, creating some of the year's best song titles along the way ("The Truth Is [You Should Lie with Me]," "Died a Jew")

The lyrics are cryptic, sometimes downright incomprehensible. But the melodies are almost Beatles-like, and the Albuquerque band has made the British rock album of the year.

Stars - IN OUR BEDROOM AFTER THE WAR (Arts & Crafts)
Not as good as SET YOURSELF ON FIRE, but no one makes such truly lovely songs about such difficult things.

Kanye West - GRADUATION (Roc-a-Fella)
The best artist in mainstream hip-hop finally got his due, thoroughly pummeled the former King of Hip-Hop 50 Cent in sales, and he had the great music to show for it.

SPECIAL AWARD: BEST EP: 116 Clique - AMPED (Reach)
Most people roll their eyes when they hear the phrase "Christian hip-hop," but this group from Dallas prove they can be just compelling rapping about the mission field as other rappers are about hustling.

Arcade Fire - "No Cars Go"
From the album NEON BIBLE
There wasn't a single song as glorious as the World's Greatest Band demanding, "Let's go." But they don't need to beg, we're already following them.

The Killers - "Read My Mind"
From the album SAM'S TOWN
Take a closer look (or listen in this case): underneath all those synths, there's real heartbreak in Brandon Flower's voice, as he pleads with his lover to stay.

LCD Soundsystem - "All My Friends"
From the album SOUND OF SILVER
Ditching the histrionics and getting right to the music, James Murphy hides layers of regret and disappointment under his highly danceable tracks, and this is the best of the bunch.

MIKA - "Grace Kelly"
If you're not on your feet by the chorus, you're probably comatose.

Modest Mouse featuring James Mercer - "Missed the Boat"
You'll laugh all the way to Hell too alongside three tremendous talents (the reinvigorated Modest Mouse, the peerless Johnny Marr, and a guest appearance from the Shins' James Mercer).

Orba Squara - "Perfect Timing (This Morning)"
From the album SUNSHYNESS
You're probably wondering "Who dat?" but this track (by an unsigned artist, no less) is none other than the gloriously mellow song playing in the background of those ubiquitous iPhone commercials.

Damien Rice - "Rootless Tree"
From the album 9
Rice's lyrics cut like a knife, but there's something refreshingly angry when he ditches his poetic barbs for a simple refrain of "F*** you, f*** you, f*** you and all your friends."

Say Anything - "Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too"
Never has a song about a night of debauchery and its aftermath been so darn catchy.

Spoon - "The Underdog"
From the album GA GA GA GA GA
The Austin band started making good music (finally), and let their musical freak flags fly, complete with castanets and trumpets!

Robin Thicke - "Lost Without U"
It's not just that he's the first white dude to top the R&B chart since George Michael. Truly, the artist formerly known as Thicke and ne-yo are as close as we'll get to a pre-crazy Michael Jackson, which is kinda sad when you think about it, but it's easy to overlook when the music's this good.

Kanye West featuring T-Pain - "The Good Life"
From the album GRADUATION
Riding a killer MJ sample that must have cost a fortune, the only track that finds T-Pain not annoying you will make you feel like a million bucks as well.

Amy Winehouse - "Rehab"
From the album BACK TO BLACK
Her album wasn't quite as deserving of the praise it got, but this song basically summed up the plight of many a troubled female celeb. Ladies, it's time to go to rehab. I say "Go, go, go."

Animal Collective - "Peacebone"
Directed by Timothy Saccenti

Fresh from the WTF School of Film, comes the weirdest video of the year. The Knife passes on the crown from last year.

Feist - "1 2 3 4"
Directed by Patrick Daughters

Just makes you giddy, which is such an overlooked quality.

Foo Fighters - "Long Road to Ruin"
Directed by Jessie Peretz
In a quasi-follow up to the brilliant humor of the "Learn to Fly" video, the Foos play a fictitious, soap opera version of themselves, and bring the laughter, which had previously been hidden under the raw rage of "The Pretender," back to the forefront.

Justice - "D.A.N.C.E."
Directed by Jonas & François

The video of the year. Original, catchy, and mind-blowing.

Maroon 5 - "Wake Up Call"
Directed by Jonas Akerlund

Russ Meyer does film noir. A sleazy masterpiece.

Rilo Kiley - "Silver Lining"
Directed by Autumn de Wilde

This wedding ain't no happy day. "There Goes the Bride" would be an equally appropriate title.

Seether - "Fake It"
Directed by Tony Petrossian
Taking on the myths perpetuated by music videos, the South African band puts big-budget maestros like Hype Williams in their place. But the real miracle is that the song is halfway decent.

Snow Patrol - "Signal Fire"
Directed by Paul McGuigan

The upcoming Julie Taymor-helmed stage version of SPIDER-MAN won't be anything like this, but cut the kids some slack.

Kanye West - "Can't Tell Me Nothing"
Directed by Zach Galifianakis

This alternate version of Ye's first single, redone by funnyman Galifianakis, is about as brilliant as music videos get. Dance, white boy, dance!

The White Stripes - "Conquest"
Directed by Diane Martel

Jack White = great as the King in WALK HARD, terrible as a matador.

Arcade Fire - "Windowsill"
MTV, what have you done to me?

Bright Eyes - "Hot Knives"
Yeah, I've been f***ed/So what

Lupe Fiasco - "Dumb it Down"
You've been shedding too much light Lu (Dumb it down)
You make'em wanna do right Lu (Dumb it down)
They're getting self-esteem Lu (Dumb it down)
These girls are trying to be queens Lu (Dumb it down)
They're trying to graduate from school Lu (Dumb it down)
They're starting to think that smart is cool Lu (Dumb it down)
They're trying to get up out the hood Lu (Dumb it down)
I'll tell you what you should do (Dumb it down)

Glen Hansard - "Say it to Me Now"
'Cause this is what you've waited for/Your chance to even up the score...So if you have somethin' to say/Say it to me now

LCD Soundsystem - "All My Friends"
Where are your friends tonight?

Rilo Kiley - "Silver Lining"
I never felt so wicked/As when I willed our love to die

Say Anything - "Died a Jew"
My people were slaves before yours invented hip-hop

The Shins - "Australia"
Been alone since you were 21/You haven't laughed since January/You try and make like this is so much fun/But we know it to be quite contrary

Kanye West featuring T-Pain - "The Good Life"
Have you ever popped champagne on a plane/While gettin' some brain/Whipped it out she said she never seen Snakes on a Plane

The White Stripes - "Icky Thump"
Why don't you kick yourself out?/You're an immigrant too

25 December 2007

Best of 2007: Television

Revisions since original publication date in bold.

The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
From the "Wristrong" saga to his unsuccessful bid for president, the leader of the Colbert nation continued his reign of cable news, and that's the truthiness.

Flight of the Conchords
Like a Christopher Guest mockumentary every week, this brilliantly deadpan series gets it all right. This is what The Office started out as before it got too self-absorbed.

Despite a somewhat anti-climactic season ender, the ever-present twists kept you on the edge of your seat and blew all the other big-screen comic book adaptations out of the water.

King of the Hill
I may have been the only one who was excited about the return of Hank and the boys, but the season opener, in which Hank inadvertently screws the Longhorns over, was as brilliant as any in the show's spectacular run.

My Boys (TBS)
Going beyond simple sitcom silliness, basic cable's best sitcom cut right to the heart of real-life issues, examining the mistakes we all make in relationships under a comedic microscope.

My Name is Earl (NBC)
The "Earl does a good deed" plot could have gotten dull, but moving him to prison was inspired, and gave the show another life and entire season's worth of new humor.

Robot Chicken (Cartoon Network) AND Family Guy (Fox): the Star Wars specials
In two respectful but hilarious send-ups, Seths Green and McFarlane took down plenty of sacred cows for their fanbases, and made two of the funniest episodes of any comedy in recent years.

Scrubs (NBC)
Despite getting a bit maudlin during Elizabeth Banks's pregnancy story arc, it rebounded with a musical and more laughs that ring surprisingly true.

The Simpsons
Any naysayers about the show's quality were swiftly rescinded after the one-two punch of the season finale (a spot-on 24 parody) and the 400th episode (tackling censorship).

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC)
Viewers just weren't ready for this ultra-sharp comedy from the great Aaron Sorkin, which added an extra layer of drama with a hostage crisis and pregnancy complications. Go buy the series on DVD immediately.

Elizabeth Banks as Dr. Kim Briggs on Scrubs
The show grew a little sappy in her story arc, but Banks went beyond the standard girlfriend role, showing the mind of a character who breaks the hearts of those she loves in order to save them.

Michael Bunin, Jim Gaffigan, Jamie Kaler, Kyle Howard, and Reid Scott as "The Boys" on My Boys
A fantastic ensemble cast that are always at home, whether doling out advice, playing baseball, joking around the poker table, or having a "douchebag intervention."

Frank Caliendo as himself on Frank TV
His show is terribly hit-or-miss, but there's no denying the Mad TV alum's impersonation chops. From Pacino to de Niro to John Madden, Caliendo's impressions are always spot-on.

Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie as Flight of the Conchords on Flight of the Conchords
OK, so they're playing themselves, but in doing so created a comic duo worthy of comparisons to Abbott and Costello.

Nate Corddry as Tom Jeter on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
While older brother Rob left for his own sitcom (bad move, Rob), Nate proved himself the better actor, showing real emotion while his character's brother was at the mercy of terrorists.

Craig Ferguson as himself on The Late Late Show
No other host is as ludicrous, consistently hilarious, or out-of-control as this Scotsman, proving there is some spontaneity left on late-night TV.

Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Always a powerhouse, Hargitay returned from maternity leave to school every actress on TV, especially in her story arc as an undercover FBI agent.

Zachary Levi as Chuck Bartowski on Chuck
More than just a master of sarcasm, Levi shows us a truly lonely individual, desperate to be part of something beyond his job at the electronics superstore.

Craig T. Nelson as Warden on My Name is Earl
Really, any of the regular cast could be on this list, but his guest turn as a bumbling prison warden is a piece of comic genius.

Zachary Quinto as Sylar on Heroes
A villain for the ages, his Sylar was absolutely terrifying and menacing. This is what made the show so gripping.

CNN Republican Debate in New Hampshire
Mike Huckabee: "I'm Mike Huckabee. For ten and a half years I was governor of Arkansas. I'm from the small town of Hope. You may have heard of it. All I ask is: Give us one more chance."

The Colbert Report
Stephen Colbert: "I don't see color...People tell me I'm white and I believe them, because police officers call me Sir."

Flight of the Conchords

Murray (Rhys Darby): "You get a love triangle, you know, a Fleetwood Mac situation. Although there was four of them, so more of a love square. But you know, no one gets on."
Jemaine (Jemaine Clement): "OK, I see."
Murray: "Mind you, they did make some of their best music back then."
Bret (Bret McKenzie): "Rumours?"
Murray: "No, it's all true."

King of the Hill

Hank Hill (Mike Judge): "We [the Longhorns] could still get a spot at the Gator Bowl or the Peach Bowl or, may God forbid, the PacificLife Holiday Bowl."

Miss Teen USA
Caitlin Upton: "I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, for our [children]."

My Name is Earl
Earl (Jason Lee): "Doctor always said you were borderline artistic."

J.D. (Zach Braff): "You're the only man who's ever been inside of me!"
Turk (Donald Faison): "Whoa, whoa! I just took out his appendix!"

The Simpsons
Editor (J.K. Simmons): "This has got page one written all over it! What the hell'd ya do that for?"
Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta): "I wanted to remember what page I was on in my book."

The World Series of Pop Culture

Pat Kiernan: "Tanya got a big ol' butt/Theresa got a big ol' butt/Irene got a big ol' butt/Melissa got a big ol' butt now/And Sonya got a big ol' butt/And Shirley got a big ol' butt/Ol' Tammy got a bubble butt"
Contestant: "Could you repeat the question?"


Unfortunately, through work and other circumstances, I've been unable to post my definitive year-end best of lists. But fret not, for they'll all be coming by year's end. Look for the best TV of 2007 coming soon!

13 December 2007

Starting this weekend!

The best of 2007:

This weekend: Television and one bonus miscellaneous list! What will it be? Find out soon!

And here's one show that's sure to be on the list:

04 December 2007

Since I Been Gone

It's been awhile since I last posted, but you know how crazy college can get. But coming soon:

-THE 10 BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR (including the 10 best performances)
-THE 10 BEST SONGS OF THE YEAR (including the 10 best music videos)
-and other miscellaneous lists!


I vow in 2008, to review every new movie I see here.

So lots more to look forward to.

For now, I leave you with this:

Good night, and good luck.

07 October 2007

Mooney at the Movies: Transformers

"See, this is why I'm more ridiculous." (Paramount)

Transformers (B-)

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese, Anthony Anderson, Bernie Mac, with the voices of Peter Cullen and Hugo Weaving
Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Directed by Michael Bay

Alright, so I know I'm a little late to the game in seeing this, but better late than never I suppose.

So first of all, basing a movie on a series of toys is as ridiculous as basing it on a theme park ride, but in a post-Pirates world, I suppose you could base a movie on anything. But beyond the ludicrousness, is an undeniable sense of fun. Michael Bay has always followed the motto, "Blow stuff up first, let the audience think later (if at all)," and while it still follows that mantra, it's still a vast improvement over pretty much anything Bay has done.

The (alleged) story, as explained in the narration by Peter Cullen (voice of the original Optimus Prime), involves the Autobots (the good guys) and Decepticons (the baddies) searching all over Earth for a power source called "the Cube," a maguffin of the worst kind. Once the aliens arrive on our planet, they take the form of various GM vehicles (taking product placement to a whole new level). They're both searching for Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), whose great-grandfather discovered the location of "the Cube." The main reason Transformers works is mainly due to Shia LaBeouf (a deserved young star) as the lead. LaBeouf is a gifted comedian, present even from his days slumming on the Disney Channel. His charisma carries the movie through its slower, non-action-packed sequences. The action is quite exhilarating, but it's nearly drug-like; when stuff isn't blowing up, the movie drags and drags until you're bombarded with more explosions.

But even the action is problematic. It's one thing to have weak characters in a Michael Bay movie (in this case, Trailer Trash Barbie a/k/a Megan Fox, goofy-looking secret agent John Turturro, and even goofier-looking Jon Voight as the Secretary of Defense), but this is even a little much by his standards. The action's difficulties lie in it just being too much, as is the problem with most blockbusters nowadays. It's no longer enough to be exciting; we now have to have bad guys the size of skyscrapers, throwing tanks around. Did special effects guys learn nothing from Hulk? Some scenes leave you on the edge of your seat, such as the opening attack on the military base. But the climax, featuring the big showdown between Prime and Megatron is the epitome of anti-climactic. Perhaps, if that scene had come about 45 minutes earlier, it wouldn't have seemed like such a letdown. But in the grand tradition of average but fun movies like Twister and Eraser, this is the kind of think-free sugar-rush you sometimes need. But in this day and age, when you're not forced to accept brainless action anymore (thanks to the Bourne series and Casino Royale), should you have to settle for it?

19 September 2007

Complete ACL '07 Wrap-Up

This year's festival was even better than last year, probably due to the fact that my dad and I were better prepared. But as always, there was plenty of great music to be found. Here's a day-by-day recap. (If I only saw one or two songs, a general recommendation is given. If I saw at least half of a group's set, they are given a letter grade):

Amy Lavere | BMI
Funky country-pop with some sweet bass action. Recommended

Pete Yorn | AT&T
Unfortunately, the fire at the Budweiser tent caused many delays during check-in, so I missed the first half. But overall, he's one of the better singer-songwriters around. His covers of Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" and Peter Bjorn & John's "Young Folks" were stellar. B+

Peter Bjorn & John | Dell
To me, these guys had the most to prove. Like last year's Gnarls Barkley, they had to get beyond their ubiquitous single. And much like Gnarls Barkley, they passed with flying colors. B+

Joss Stone | AT&T
This was the one I was dragged to. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. She had a band nearly as tight as Bob Dylan's, and boasted some of the best back-up singers of all-time. And, frankly, she looked amazing. And for once, her performance was as excellent as her voice. A-

M.I.A. | Dell
Yup, she's still overrated. Great beats, but that shrill voice is beyond annoying. Not Recommended

JJ Grey & Mofro | Austin Ventures
Bluesy-rock with and edge. Their entire set probably boasted an incredible energy. Recommended

LCD Soundsystem | AT&T Blue Room
Another band that tends to have amazing beats but no voice to carry it anywhere. Luckily, the songwriting has stepped up quite a bit with the release of Sound of Silver. Now they truly have created the thinking person's dance music. Recommended

Queens of the Stone Age | AMD
No banter with the audience. Just an hour of pure rockin'. And that was just fine with me. B+

Kaiser Chiefs | AT&T Blue Room
Na-na-na-na-na! What a rollickin' good time. Honing their best stuff, I wouldn't be surprise if they were better than Arctic Monkeys. B+

The Killers | AMD
I can't believe it's taken me this long to see them. Boy, do Brandon Flowers and co. know how to put on a show. Their stage presence is unrivaled by American bands. From opening withSam's Town's first three songs ("Sam's Town," "Enterlude," and "When You Were Young") to closing with "All These Things That I've Done," there was never a dull moment. Coming from Vegas, it's not surprising these guys are supreme entertainers. A

Paolo Nutini | AMD
Scottish songwriter Paolo Nutini violated a cardinal rule of performance: Never let a cover outshine your original tunes. And Mr. Nutini did it not once, but twice with his reggae-infused version of Moby's "Natural Blues" and freewheeling, party-like take on "I Wanna be Like You" from Disney's The Jungle Book. His originals, however, fell flat and tended to sound repetitive. B-

Cold War Kids | AT&T Blue Room
Adam was right, these guys ain't so good live. Not Recommended

Farmer Jason | Austin Kiddie Limits
If it's good enough for the kiddos, it's good enough for me. Recommended

St. Vincent | Austin Ventures
Never underestimate the power of a woman and her guitar. And looping effects. Though sparse with members, Annie Clark's lo-fi set was beyond impressive. And you have to dig anyone who rips off their guitar strings in frustration. A

Butch Walker & The Lets-Go-Out-Tonites | Austin Ventures
Talk about your good vibes. In a festival-stealing show (they pretty much blew everyone out of the water), the former Marvelous 3 frontman taught a masterclass in keeping the energy up and getting the crowd involved. His ridiculously catchy and clever power-pop was just the right fit for the onstage antics (including a hot pants-clad guy running out wearing a shirt stating he'd "Go Gay for Butch"). Mr. Walker even, shockingly, came out INTO the audience and posed for pictures with many a clamoring female. No one had more fun all weekend then those in that circle. A

Andrew Bird | AT&T Blue Room
Just when you think there are too many male singer-songwriters, Andrew Bird comes along to prove there's room for one more. Recommended

Zap Mama | Dell
Imagine the offspring of Lenny Kravitz and Sister Sledge. One head-banging, hip-swaying time. Recommended

Damien Rice | AT&T
Though he didn't have quite the energy on "Rootless Tree" that I hoped for, he certainly wasn't what I was afraid of: boring. The best of the singer-songwriters at the fest. B+

The Arcade Fire | AMD
There comes a moment in every music fan's life when a show comes along and changes your life. It's only happened once before when I saw the Flaming Lips in '03. Sometimes, though, it can happen again, and it certainly happened Saturday night. With actual neon bibles across the stage, it became evident this Montreal band had a gospel to preach, and it was one not everyone was used to hearing. But from the multi-instrumentalists and stage diving, and the neon lights and odd choices (hurdy-gurdy), it was also clear that this is a band that is staking its claim as the Best in the World, if it's not there already. A+

Ben Kweller | AT&T
Certainly more fun than other singer-songwriters, but also suffered from redundancy. But most acts would kill to close with the one-two punch of "Sundress" and "Penny on the Train Track." Plus, no bloody noses keeping him from performing!B+

Common | Dell
Easily one of the best rappers around, Common again proved he can upstage those who outsell him on a regular basis. His hip-hop medley (including "Paul Revere" and "Straight Outta Compton") was a show-stopper. B+

Midlake | Austin Ventures
I knew Denton was Dullsville, but I didn't know the music from there followed those same rules. Not Recommended

Bloc Party | AT&T
Other than the allergy attack that prevented me from enjoying the set fully, the British lads rocked it out. Few bands have such amazing riffs. A-

Rose Hill Drive | Austin Ventures
Proved that a modern band can still be classic rockers. Recommended

Regina Spektor | AT&T Blue Room
Not as utterly wonderful as when she opened for Keane, but still knows how to draw the audience with her simple ditties. She'll break your hea-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-art. Recommended

Amos Lee | Dell
The black Ray Lamontagne, but with stage presence. Recommended

My Morning Jacket | AT&T
I now HAVE to buy Okonokos after seeing this incredible set. I even dug the Hawaiian luau theme. So many great songs in an hour. Wow. A

The Decemberists | Dell
Colin Meloy and co. were occasionally boring but for the most part enjoyable. Gotta love the whole "Crane Wife" cycle. B+

Bob Dylan and His Band | AT&T
His band was tight and rivaled even Van Morrison's last year. Unfortunately, at 71 years old, his voice is complete gone, like he's been gargling gravel. This set was the musical equivalent of a wormy apple: the band was the rich outside, but Dylan's voice was rotten center. At least now I can say that I've seen a legend. But really, he needs to hang it up now. C

12 September 2007

The Most Heinous Crime Committed in My Lifetime


Truly, I can't think of anything more vile, inhumane, or flat-out evil that anyone has done. I can't believe this happened in 2007. I can't believe it happened, period. We should all be furious. I think they should all get the death penalty, or at the very least life in prison without the possibility of parole. No human, animal, or any other living thing should have gone through this. This is the worst thing to happen in America in my lifetime. I feel sorry for all humanity.

11 September 2007

Sound Waves: Kanye West's 'Graduation'

ARTIST: Kanye West
ALBUM: Graduation
LABEL: Roc-a-Fella

So by now, you know of the biggest rap beef in ages. 50 Cent has stated that he'll retire from music forever if Kanye West's Graduation outsells his Curtis in the first week. As a music fan, it's imperative you buy Kanye's album for 2 reasons:

1) It'll force 50 Cent, the figurehead of all that's wrong with hip-hop music, out of the industry, leaving a hole for someone more creative to fill.
2) It's the best hip-hop record of the year.

Truly, the most talented rapper this decade could not be on more of a roll. His debut was the stuff of legend, and his follow-up is easily a finalist for Best Hip-Hop Album of All Time (at least in my book). Now, Mr. West is back, with album to leave all of his peers in the dust. While it's not quite the instant classic that Late Registration was, and there's no track that will leave you utterly stunned like "Through the Wire," it's still far more creative than just about any musician in any genre on this side of the Atlantic is making. And for all his brash cockiness ("I'm Dwayne Wayne meets Dwayne Wade/I'm Gnarls Barkley meets Charles Barkley), Kanye's got real MUSIC to back it all up. And no one in the hip-hop community is as bold as Kanye. Honestly, who else would have indie film composer produce his last album, and follow it up with samples from Daft Punk ("Stronger") and have Chris Martin of Coldplay guest on your album closer ("Homecoming")? Kanye's also eliminated skits entirely, further proof he's a forward-thinking artist. Overall, this is far and away the best hip-hop album of 2007, and a definite contender for the best album this year. Period.

The 5 Best Singles Out Right Now (as of 9/11/07)

1) Spoon
"The Underdog"
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)

2) Kanye West
Graduation (Roc-A-Fella)

3) Gym Class Heroes featuring Patrick Stump
"Clothes Off"
As Cruel As School Children (Fueled by Ramen)

4) KT Tunstall
"Hold On"
Drastic Fantastic (Virgin)

5) A Fine Frenzy
"Almost Lover"
One Cell in the Sea (Virgin)

04 September 2007

Top 10 Massive, Unnecessary DVD Box Sets (Past & Present)

That's a lot of dough for a package that uses the term "essential" rather loosely.

5 minutes of this show is painful enough, why put it all together in a closet-like box? Oh, that's right. Girls like it.

What good is this? The shag carpeting prevents you from using it as a blunt object.

You'll want to be like the title after lugging this pretentious set around.

Head for the hills! It's the worst show ever coming to you direct from San Francisco! It's the Tanners in 3-D! It's horrifying!

At least you don't have to put it together yourself.

Cheesy in all the wrong ways, and in cheap tin shaped like a robot's head. Abort mission!

Not even the biggest British telly devotee could handle this. Blimey!

Keep looking, the truth ain't in here.

OK, so it's probably the greatest cop series ever, but putting it in a filing cabinet (seriously) is the equivalent of getting hassled by Internal Affairs.

02 September 2007

The Lookout: 30 Movies to Get Excited about This Fall

1. 3:10 TO YUMA (Sept. 7)
Christian Bale and Russell Crowe go toe-to-toe in this Western remake.
Journalists Richard Gere and Terrence Howard become targets in a Bosnian conflict while following a story.
3. SHOOT 'EM UP (Sept. 7)
Paul Giamatti and Clive Owen. And lots of guns. 'Nuff said.
Visual master Julie Taymor brings her mind-blowing touch to this musical made entirely of Beatles songs.
5. THE BRAVE ONE (Sept. 14)
Jodie Foster goes deep into ass-kicking revenge mode after her lover is murdered.
David Cronenberg's ultra-violent take on the Russian mob.
Tommy Lee Jones searches for his son, a missing-in-action soldier, in this year's Best Picture front-runner.
8. THE KINGDOM (Sept. 28)
Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, and Chris Cooper investigate a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia. This is without a doubt the year's best film.
9. LAKE OF FIRE (Oct. 3)
No stranger to controversy himself, AMERICAN HISTORY X's Tony Kaye directs this documentary on the abortion issue.
10. GRACE IS GONE (Oct. 5)
The vastly underrated John Cusack goes for Oscar gold as a dad who can't bring himself to let his daughters know that their mother has been killed in Iraq.
George Clooney is also a Best Actor front-runner as a scheming lawyer whose life unravels.
12. CONTROL (Oct. 10)
Music video director Anton Corbijn makes his feature debut with a biopic on Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.
The most pedigreed movie of the year (odd for a sequel) sees Cate Blanchett, the greatest actress on the planet, reprising her role as the great Queen.
14. FAT GIRLS (Oct. 19)
Rowlett High School graduate Ash Christian directs this coming-of-age tale about a gay teen and his portly best friend.
15. GONE BABY GONE (Oct. 19)
Ben Affleck steps behind the camera to adapt MYSTIC RIVER author Dennis Lahane's novel about an abduction investigation gone awry.
The aftermath of a car accident connects Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jennifer Connelly.
17. RUN, FATBOY, RUN (Oct. 26)
Simon Pegg tries to woo Thandie Newton by entering a marathon. We'll see how that goes.
Russell Crowe is hot on the trail of mob boss Denzel Washington in Ridley Scott's return to form. You know you're SO there.
Acclaimed doc follows one of punk rock's godfathers.
20. LIONS FOR LAMBS (Nov. 9)
Robert Redford directs and stars in this anti-war drama. If he can let the powerful acting override the Important with a Capital I message, he might just have something.
The Coens go dark for the first time in years, adapting Cormac McCarthy's novel about a chilling killer (Javier Bardem) who terrorizes a small Texas town.
Richard Kelly's oft-delayed follow-up to DONNIE DARKO is bound to be misunderstood, and probably brilliant. The Rock, Seann William Scott, and Sarah Michelle Gellar star as people whose lives intersect in L.A. on the eve of apocalypse.
23. I'M NOT THERE (Nov. 21)
Todd Haynes, known for visual stylishness but not subtlety, directs this quasi-biopic about Bob Dylan.
Stephen King's two best adaptations have come from Frank Darabont (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE). We'll see if the third time's the charm as supermarket customers hide from an incoming fog.
25. I AM LEGEND (Dec. 14)
Will Smith is the last person on earth (or is he?) in this remake of THE OMEGA MAN.
26. SWEENEY TODD (Dec. 21)
Tim Burton directs his muses Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in the first big screen adaptation of the classic musical.
27. WALK HARD (Dec. 21)
Musical biopics get the send-up they deserve thanks to Judd Apatow and John C. Reilly.
28. CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR (Christmas Day)
Aaron Sorkin writes this partially true of a Texas oilman (Tom Hanks) who gets mixed up in a Middle Eastern invasion plot.
P.T. Anderson gets a little serious for a minute to adapt Upton Sinclair's novel about greed and oil.
Wes Anderson is back in this road picture starring brothers Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, and Owen Wilson. At this point, you either love or hate Andersonian whimsy. But who can resist that cast?

26 August 2007

Mooney at the Movies: The Invasion

Kidman keeps an eye out. (Warner Bros.)

The Invasion (B+)

Starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jeffrey Wright
Written by Dave Kajganich, The Wachowski Brothers (uncredited)
Directed by Oliver Hirscheibel, James McTiegue (uncredited)

Okay, you can stop rolling your eyes. Yes, this is the third remake of the original classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And you could call it unnecessary, but to do that would have you miss out on one of the year’s most entertaining movies.

For those new to this story, an alien virus is gradually infecting the human race, turning once functional human beings into "pod people," automatons who look just like your spouse or neighbor, but show no emotion and speak far too plainly to be the people you know and loved. Nicole Kidman plays Dr. Carol Burnell, already suspicious of her jerk of an ex-husband (Jeremy Northam), who out of the blue wants to see their son (a precocious but compelling Jackson Bond). As more and more higher-up officials (including her ex) become infected and spread their virus, eventually unveiling an all-but-mandatory vaccine against "the deadliest flu in 30 years."

Now, each generation seems to get their version of this movie with its invasion representing a current issue (in the '50s, it was Communism or possibly the privacy-invading fight against Communism; in the '70s, it was the lack of trust of well, anyone; and in the '90s, it was possibly the AIDS crisis). This version could very well represent fearmongering, but to me there was also touches of the Bible, with false prophets offering "peace when there is no peace." And that's part of what makes this story so timeless, the invasion can represent any number of issues to any viewer. And although the recent poor box office performance may prevent future remakes of this story, this is a tale that can continue to be updated for years to come. It seems the only credentials may be to keep it thrilling, and The Invasion certainly fits the bill.

20 August 2007

First post

OK, so I'm gonna try this out since blogging on MySpace isn't supported on Mac, which is very idiotic. Anyways, check here often for posts. See you in the blogosphere.