26 June 2009

Long Live the King of Pop: Michael Jackson's 10 Best and 5 Worst Songs

The shocking and untimely death of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, sent shockwaves around the globe. Despite having released only one album in the last decade and surviving two separate trials, nothing could undo the success he built with greatness like Thriller, the best selling album of all-time. So, here in, is a warts-and-all tribute, counting down the 10 best and 5 worst songs of his career.

(Note: Be sure to hit "HQ" where available for the highest quality picture and sound.)

1. "Billie Jean" (1983, Thriller)
As if there could even be a debate. This is simply 5 minutes of pop perfection. It went to #1 in four countries, and Top 10 in six more. It introduced a generation to the iconic "Moonwalk" dance, and it broke down racial barriers as Michael became the first black artist to be played on MTV. And when Blender magazine picked the 500 best songs of the last 25 years in 2005? Yup, it was this song.

2. "Rock with You" (1979, Off the Wall)
I've always been partial to Michael's breakout album, the one that established him as an adult performer. It's one of the first albums I remember listening to and it's always stuck with me more than the hit-packed Thriller. In short, I think it's his best album. And here is the creme de la creme: a smooth jam for the ages, a disco track for people who hate disco, a song so incessantly happy you can't help but smile and "feel that beat."

3. "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" (1979, Off the Wall)
Released in the summer of '79, this is arguably the easiest of Michael's songs to dance to. Kicking off with a spoken word intro about an unstoppable force, once he gets to his signature "ooo," you'll already be up out of your seat and ready to groove.

From the turning point in his musical career, this is the secret weapon on his 1987 album. While the title track had the most enduring success and the epic 16-minute video directed by Martin Scorsese, this simple song will floor you every time it's played, and probably the only MJ song you could pull off singing to your love interest--and have it be 100% guaranteed to work.

5. "Beat It" (1983, Thriller)
With a rockin' guitar riff courtesy of Eddie Van Halen, this was the ultimate crossover hit, earning Michael an even wider audience and enduring legion of fans. Synonymous with songs about courage like Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," but so much better, someone is probably listening to it right now to get pumped up before a game.

6. "Thriller" (1984, Thriller)
Though most serious (read: cynical) critics deride this as a "silly diversion" from an otherwise perfect album, it's survived thanks to its iconic dance (seen at weddings and prisons the world over) and groundbreaking, widely-seen music video, and chilling laughter from the one and only Vincent Price, here to "terrorize y'alls neighborhood."

7. "Black or White" (1991, Dangerous)
Talk about your comebacks. After doggedly fighting rumors about everything under the sun in the late '80s, Michael burst back onto the scene with this ode to racial harmony, sticking it to the man, and of course, catching the attention of a lady. The monstrously expensive video featured a multi-cultural cast and (still) mind-blowing "morphing" technology. But then there's also the extended version where MJ crotch-grabs his way through an anti-racism rant, but what would he be without controversy?

8. "Say Say Say" with Paul McCartney (1983, Pipes of Peace)
Following the immensely popular but terrible (see below) duet "The Girl is Mine," the Beatle and the King of Pop collaborated again, and this is how you do it. Incredibly catchy (and definitely more Paul's style than Michael's), it's no wonder it went to #1 to close out the year.

9. "Smooth Criminal" (1988, Bad)
Any doubts as to whether or not Michael still "had it" were resoundingly shut out with this funk-infused track. The mind-blowing video certainly had something to do with its inclusion on this list (fast forward to 7:16 for the antigravity lean), but this is one of his best regardless. Smooth indeed.

10. "Remember the Time" (1991, Dangerous)
You'll definitely remember the first time you heard this, about as romantic (without veering into sappy territory) as Michael ever got. Recalling his first love, you can't help but feel nostalgic for simpler times, a track that sums up Michael quite well.

1. "Heal the World" (1992, Dangerous)
This spot could really be held by any of his maudlin hits, from 1984's charity single "We are the World" to HIStory's "Earth Song," this represents MJ at his sappiest and least effective. His desire to go straight for the heartstrings even threatened to ruin some of his biggest hits like "Man in the Mirror."

2. "2 Bad" (1995, HIStory)
Even the greatest artists recycle their past successful material, so you can't hold that against him. But a guest rap from Shaquille O'Neal (fast forward to 3:45)? That's unforgivable. And really, nearly any track from HIStory could hold this spot. It's easily his worst album.

3. "The Girl is Mine" with Paul McCartney (1982, Thriller)
The first collaboration between these guys was a monstrous hit, and also an atrocious back-and-forth about Paul and Michael's giggly fight over a girl ("I told you: I'm a lover, not a fighter"). It's about as lame as they get.

4. "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" with Siedah Garrett (1987, Bad)
Romantic? Nah. Just pathetic. A big swelling string arrangement covered in syrup. Gag.

5. "In the Closet" (1991, Dangerous)
A horribly misguided attempt to stave off rumors that he was gay (or something else), this slinky and downright gross jam (and its accompanying NSFW video) about "our love/woman to man" is just depressing.

08 June 2009

The Amazing Kiplin

It's time for a new segment on this blog:

The Amazing Kiplin, where I, guru of all movie knowledge will make random predictions (usually about movies) that are completely unfounded, just based on my observations and street smarts (the street being Hollywood Boulevard).

06 June 2009

Mooney at the Movies: The Hangover

Galifianakis: So manly it literally hurts.

The Hangover (A-)
Starring Ed Helms, Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis
Written by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Directed by Todd Phillips

Read my full review here.

Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures and Rotten Tomatoes

05 June 2009

Mooney at the Movies: Land of the Lost

"I think we lost him. The ghost of Jack Valenti won't find us in here."

Land of the Lost (B)
Starring Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone
Written by Chris Henchy & Dennis McNicholas
Directed by Brad Silberling

Adapting a television series can be awfully cumbersome. After all, it's the most tailor-made for our ADD generation (made even worse thanks to MTV) and getting the average person to sit through a 90-minute or two-hour movie after ordinarily sitting through 22 minutes plus commercials can be quite difficult.

Usually, the faithful efforts end up as the best, in both action (i.e. The Fugitive, Mission: Impossible) and comedy (The Naked Gun, The Simpsons). And occasionally directors score with an off-kilter adaptation or outright parody like The Brady Bunch Movie), but usually they end up as horrific mismatches of the two (Charlie's Angels, Wild Wild West).

So it's actually kind of refreshing that Land of the Lost doesn't even seem to have (or care to have) a plan.

The film opens with an appropriately crazed-looking Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell), plugging his new book on the Today show, angering host Matt Lauer (a great sport here) with his every word, claiming travel to parallel dimensions is possible through extensive research and trials of "tachyon accelerator." When Lauer attacks his credibility, Marshall storms off the set, only to come lunging back. Flash forward three years where Marshall's been reduced to a YouTube-fueled joke.

"Any requests? Stop? As in 'Stop in the Name of Love'? Oh, you just want me to stop."

He now gives "wonders of science" presentations to school groups visiting the La Brea Tar Pits, only the youngsters are more vicious than his peers or Matt Lauer. "How come I saw you crying in the bathroom before this presentation?" one girl asks. Drowning his sorrows in chips, ice cream, and late-night Arby's runs, Marshall is surprised to see lovely British grad student Holly at his office door, announcing herself as a disciple of his "quantum paleontology" research.

She convinces him to fix his "tachyon accelerator" and off they go into the desert to perform a field test. They ask lecherous Will (Danny McBride) to give them a tour of his amusement park, but first he tries to shill fireworks (with interesting, homemade labels like "The Mexican Vasectomy") and mammary-shaped coffee mugs. And on the water ride he warns his two passengers they "may get wet." Marshall demands to know if his equipment will get soaked, to which Will responds, "I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to Mary Poppins."

And at this point, let me remind audiences everywhere that the presence of Danny McBride is a sure-fire sign that you shouldn't bring kids into theater.

This is one of the film's fatal flaws. It's being marketed as family-friendly entertainment, and parents will probably take kids under age 12 (which is a bad idea for any PG-13 movie) here, expecting an action-comedy everyone can enjoy. Boy, are they in for a surprise. Between constant groping, drug use, and an F-bomb or two, it's enough to make parents want to stay home and rent Paul Blart: Mall Cop again. Heaven help us.

I don't think this is quite the shot in the arm you wanted for your film career, Jorma.

So for whom is this movie? Well, obviously Ferrell and McBride fans, who still imagine to be hilarious in neutered PG-13 form. But it's more for those who remember the series (either the original, trippy '74 incarnation or the terribly awesome '90s version) as a source of campy laughs or the Most Awesome Thing to Watch While High (the latter title applies to any Sid & Marty Krofft production).

When the movie adheres to this premise, throwing gag after gag at the screen, the movie works. But when it tries to focus on a plot (something about retrieving the "tachyon accelerator" for a lizard in a tunic and he'll get them back home, it loses all momentum.

It's almost like a rip in the time-space continuum: when the film's focus is nothing, this film roars.

(Photos courtesy Universal Pictures and Rotten Tomatoes)