23 May 2008

Sound Waves: Death Cab for Cutie

ARTIST: Death Cab for Cutie
ALBUM: Narrow Stairs
LABEL: Atlantic

All right. Discussion's over.

No longer will the question of Who is the Greatest American Band Working Today? go unanswered. Death Cab for Cutie have officially filled the slot that was penciled in for them with Plans, which proved that Transatlanticism was no fluke.

It was just a few years ago that Death Cab released a DVD of fan-made videos called Directions, but this album could easily have taken that title. With richer textures behind Gibbard's trademark melancholy lyrics, this album feels as if it goes deeper than albums past. Take for instance the lead single, "I Will Possess Your Heart." The full version lasts a full eight and a half minutes, blowing previous 5+ minute jams "Transatlanticism" and "What Sarah Said" out of the water. No one could have really expected this from the Seattle group, not even the band themselves. "[I]t's totally a curve ball," guitarist Chris Walla said in Billboard.

And from track to track, you really won't know what to expect. Narrow Stairs is far more varied than its predecessors, and that's truly impressive. I know I would have been just fine with another album of great ballads, but it shows that the band still cares about maturing and growing as a band, and their music hasn't suffered one bit.

Gibbard's lyrics are as pointed as ever, and boy do they cut like a knife: "Sometimes I think of leaving/But it's something I'll never do/'Cuz you can do better than me/But I can't do better than you" he sings in "You Can Do Better Than Me." Ouch. But his heart isn't the only one that's breaking. He sings of an unnamed lady, who has ditched her queen for a "New Twin-Sized Bed" with "a single pillow under your single head." The words haven't just gone over to the dark side, they're completely immersed in it.

But no matter how bleak the music gets, Narrow Stairs is further proof that Death Cab are in the top tier of bands worldwide. It's only taken them 10 years to get here. Who knows what might happen in the next 10? No one really knows for sure, but I'll be following them into the dark.

06 May 2008

Countdown: The Best Actors Working Today

5) Will Smith

Nominated for Best Actor, Ali (2001)
Nominated for Best Actor, The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997), Enemy of the State (1998), Hitch (2005), I Am Legend (2007)

Hancock (July 2), Seven Pounds (December 12)

From his early days rapping in West Philly, to becoming one of the last few bankable stars, Smith hardly gets the respect he deserves for elevating his blockbusters to another level entirely. If Hancock does well (which is hard to see why it would fail), he'll be the only actor to have eight consecutive $100 million-plus films. I expect it to be a huge it, even if parents just don't understand the possible R-rating.

4) Matt Damon

Best Original Screenplay (with Ben Affleck), Good Will Hunting (1997)
Nominated for Best Actor, Good Will Hunting (1997)

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Ocean's Eleven (2001), The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Departed (2006), The Good Shepherd (2006)

Margaret (fall), Green Zone (2009)

This understated performer can do more with a gaze (or a blunt object) than most actors can do with a tailor-made script. Why he hasn't been nominated for an Oscar in 10 years is as mysterious as his past in the Bourne series, to which there's allegedly another sequel underway. He's pretty well-respected in Hollywood, but he hasn't had that flashy "give me an award" role, which is fine with us and seems to be fine with him.

3) Philip Seymour Hoffman

Best Actor, Capote (2005)
Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Charlie Wilson's War (2007)

Almost Famous (1999), Cold Mountain (2003), Mission: Impossible III (2006), The Savages (2007), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

Synecdoche, New York (fall), Doubt (December 5)

Pretty much plays flustered and sweaty better than anyone. Starting out with bit parts (the bumbling cop in Nobody's Fool, the cameraman who informed us of "the Suck Zone" in Twister), Hoffman moved up to one of the brightest stars on the indie scene with challenging roles (an obscene phone caller in Happiness, a widower in Love Liza, and a compulsive gambler in Owning Mahoney) before adding "sharted" to the lexicon in Along Came Polly (2004) and taking home the Oscar for playing Truman Capote. He followed that by playing one of the best villains of all-time in M:i:III. Then in 2007, he scored a trifecta of greatness, but only one Oscar nod surfaced. What's next? I say another Oscar within 5 years.

2) Edward Norton

Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Primal Fear (1996)
Nominated for Best Actor, American History X (1998)

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Fight Club (1999), 25th Hour (2002), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), The Illusionist (2006)

The Incredible Hulk (June 13), Pride & Glory (spring 2009)

Bursting on to the scene in '96 with two great roles (the altarboy accused of murder and Larry Flynt's attorney), Norton quickly established himself as a different breed of actor. Choosing to ignore his newfound celebrity status (even after public romances with Courtney Love and Salma Hayek--one of the biggest steps up ever, btw), Norton's almost the Tiger Woods of acting--always good, but choosing to constantly improve himself, even at the cost of big victories. And after powerful turns in his two Oscar-nominated roles, the man still has a knack for comedy (dark in Fight Club and light in Keeping the Faith, his directorial debut). This consistently great actor hasn't let us down yet, and I doubt he'll start anytime soon.

1) Christian Bale


American Psycho (2000), Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), Rescue Dawn (2007), 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

The Dark Knight (July 18), Terminator 4 (May 22, 2009), Public Enemies (July 1, 2009)

Not many kid actors make the transition to credible adult acting very well, or period, for that matter. But after impressing audiences and filmmakers alike in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, as well as Newsies and Little Women, Bale quickly became one of the most daring and chameleon-like actors working. His role as the misogynistic, narcissistic, homicidal executive in American Psycho is arguably his best work, but he continues to wow audiences today. Beginning in 2004, Bale began a dangerous series of roles, losing 60 pounds for The Machinist, then gaining over 100 to play Batman in Christopher Nolan's relaunch. He repeated the cycle to play POW Dieter Dengler in Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn and reprising his role as Batman in The Dark Knight. If Bale can stay healthy, look for a long overdue Oscar nod before the decade's out.

02 May 2008

FantasyMoguls.com: Mooney's Movies' Summer 2008 Slate

Check out my Fantasy Moguls movie slate!

Iron Man


Sex and the City

The Strangers

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl


Hellboy II: The Golden Army

The Dark Knight

Get in the game at fantasymoguls.com!

Mooney at the Movies: Iron Man

"Bob, you're an Oscar nominee. You don't have to take your clothes off for this part." (Paramount)

Iron Man (A)

Starring Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow
Written by Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway
Directed by Jon Favreau

There's really only one word that comes to mind after seeing Iron Man. That word of course is "wow."

And who'dve thunk it would have come from Jon Favreau? Don't get me wrong, he's a fine actor and writer, but until this point hadn't directed anything that would've revealed such extraordinary talent. This comic book adaptation, which belongs in the top tier alongside Spider-Man 2, Sin City, and A History of Violence, is the redefinition of what means to be a great summer blockbuster.

But Iron Man does more than just blow stuff up good. It's really a prime example of when a genre picture goes far beyond its requirements. For starters, there's that cast full of Oscar nominees. All of them are pitch-perfect in their roles, and Bridges really gets to chew the scenery, something he hasn't been able to do in some time. But the real marvel here is Downey Jr. He gives a great performance as the filthy rich lothario (geez, wonder why they picked him) who grows a conscience after escaping a kidnapping plot.

But ideals and ethics aren't highly-valued principles in the corporate world, and Tony's newly-found morals don't sit well with his partner (Bridges) or the rest of the company. However, instead of making Bridges just a greedy caricature, Iron Man explores the complexities of idealism versus capitalism.

It's been quite awhile since I've gone to a movie with only a single expectation, and been blown away when it meets expectations from other films. This is hands down the best and most revelatory comic book movie since Spider-Man 2. We'll see if The Dark Knight ends up stealing Iron Man's thunder but for now, get yourself to a movie theater. Pronto.

01 May 2008

In Defense of Miley

There's been much controversy as of late over this. But I have to say, it's not the least bit shocking. Herewith: 5 reasons why this isn't the end of the world some fans' parents are making it out to be.

1) I really don't think Ms. Cyrus set out to be a role model, only an entertainer. Just because she's not a total failure at life like her peers Britney, Lindsay, and Britney's sis Jamie Lynn, doesn't make her a role model. Just because someone finishes their first year of college without getting smashed or high, doesn't make them the gold standard; it just means that the bar is really, really low to begin with.

2) The photographer was the great Annie Leibowitz, not some sleazy Maxim photographer or her boyfriend (yep, that was a shot at you, Vanessa Hudgens). It's in an artistic, stylish setting, not a dingy basement. I highly doubt Ms. Leibowitz's intention was to create some suggestive, pornographic, or detrimental image.

3) Her parents were present on the set. It's not like she was "roped into this" or anything. Billy Ray Cyrus may not be talented, but he's neither a moron nor a bad father. I don't think he turned a blind eye to a photo shoot he thought was provocative.

4) No one's golden anymore, especially in Hollywood. No one's perfect, anywhere. So for parents to get all upset that their child's idol has done something BIG that they disapprove isn't her fault. The Jonas Brothers have stated they'll remain celibate until marriage, but would I be floored if one of them got his respective girlfriend present? Not in the least. Maybe the parents should, you know, get their kids to idolize someone, like, real. OMG. :X

5) What parents really should be upset about is that these photos are no more salacious than what THEIR tween/teen is posting on their MySpaces and Facebooks. Some of Miley's clothing choices have been questionable in the past. I don't know any good parent that would let their daughter dress in some of the ways she has, so this isn't the huge, unprecedented catastrophe it's being made out to be. Be aware, adults. Is that too much to ask?

So, Miley, continue to make your hundred of millions of dollars. Let the parents get irate. Let the controversy brew. This too will pass. Just don't play dumb, OK?