Friday, December 31, 2010

Kevin's 10 Favorite Movies of 2010

It all comes down to this. Sort of. I have to admit, looking over this list that it seems sort of generic in that it probably looks like a bunch of other critics' lists floating around out there. Is it because 2010 was a weak year, somewhat but there was obviously a lot of good there. And maybe I haven't quite caught everything yet. One area where I fell particularly short was in seeing a lot of the documentaries that came out this year, there seems to be a lot of worthwhile ones that I didn't quite catch. At any rate, this is my list as it stands right now, subject to change as the inexorable march of time continues on:

10) The Social Network

In some ways this year saw directors stepping out of their comfort zones,  in a sense, and succeeding at trying something different. Personally I thought David Fincher stumbled with the fantasy of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But succeeded in making the recent history of a wunderkind starting a immensely popular website to be engaging, interesting, and exciting. Doing stuff on computers should be none of these things. Of course part of that goes to the cast and the writing, particularly Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, who holds the movie together. He keeps people at certain distance, even at the end of the movie he is somewhat of an enigma.

9) Shutter Island

I was recently wondering whether this would end up making my top ten list at the end of the year. We'll see if this survives the test of time, but right now this felt like Scorcese was stepping out of his comfort zone and delivering a movie that is parts old school haunted house horror movie, part psychological thriller, and part...well, part just plain coconuts. It looks great though, some of it even stunning.

8) Exit Through The Gift Shop

It was only later after seeing this when I realized that this whole "documentary" might just be another Banksy ruse. Its worth it to see it for yourself and decide. It seems too improbable but then again sometimes fact is just that. Fascinating.

7) Piranha 3D

Simply put: some of the most fun I have had in a movie theatre in 2010. Everyone was all excited for the Machete movie, which had its moments, but in the end had these long arid stretches that didn't need to be there. I am sure Robert Rodriguez would say that that was intentional. Piranha 3D knew exactly what it wanted to be, was fun, zippy, the actors were having a great time, couldn't get enough of the Jaws references...sure it was violent, but it had its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, and it did what it set out to do and nothing more.

6) Toy Story 3

Leave it to Pixar to come out with an animated movie that is as much about religion as it is about growing up and moving on. The scene at the end when the toys think they are going to get incinerated is just unbelievable.

5) Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky didn't so much step out of his comfort zone here, but delivered a sort of companion piece to The Wrestler set in the ballet world. In that it is also a movie about obsession and compulsion, but dressed more as a psychological horror movie. Seriously, there were scenes where people were just dancing that made me tense. 

4) The Fighter


So engrossing, yet humorous and light on its feet. Its really great. Christian Bale is so amazing here. Micky Ward's sisters should get a special group oscar.

3) True Grit


I just wrote about this the other day. Is it stepping out of your comfort zone if the Coens make something with a more conventional narrative? I'm not sure, but it succeeds magnificently.

2) Winter's Bone

Fascinating country noir that works as a great mystery, an examination of how the other half lives, and how family ties can both free you and hold you back.

1) Inception

I once wrote thirteen reasons why this movie is amazing. 




Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kevin's 20 Favorite Albums of 2010

Well, its that time of year again. Looking back on 2010 and trying to come up with my list, I realized that this was actually a pretty interesting year music-wise and so I found it hard to whittle down just twenty.  You'll notice my honorable mention section is sort of long, perhaps too long. I agree with Roger Ebert in that idea of objectively ordering works of art is sort of strange. Who knows? In time all these albums can be moved around and even dropped off the list, but this is where it stands now, the order might be, MIGHT be, a bit iffy. But, here we go, my top 20 favorite albums of 2010:

20) Ghostface Killah, Apollo Kids
This is a perfect example of what I was talking about above. This was just released last week so I felt like I couldn't in good conscience rate this higher. This could have been in my top ten it's really that good. Ghostface, with a bunch of tremendous guests, and some amazing production, returning to what he does best after stumbling a bit with his last album. The number doesn't really denote how great this album is.

19) Sleigh Bells, Treats

No disrespect to the White Stripes, who, with just two people, make sounds like Led Zeppelin. But this year two person bands seem to have been branching out and finding sounds way beyond just bluesy rock n'roll. Sleigh Bells definitely do,. Oddly, at the end of the year I find this band to be pretty divisive. I can see why, they aren't for everybody. Two people into hip hop and metal get together in a collision course and make beautiful noise together.

18) Pulled Apart By Horses, Pulled Apart By Horses

Leave it to England to bring angry punk to indie kids. I have to thank Tina for hepping me to this, this album hasn't been released in the U.S. They are like if the Blood Brothers and Future of the Left got together and had an angry, witty baby.

17) Wheels On Fire, Liar, Liar

Sons and daughters and ancestors of early Rolling Stones. They make you want to hop around the room.

16) Strong Arm Steady, In Search Of Stoney Jackson

This and the album below share a few similarities. One being they are both of Stones Throw Records and the second being they were both produced by Madlib. In some ways they are a part of the same whole. Madlib creates this incredibly rich tapestry on these albums based around soul and funk from the seventies (he didn't produce Ghostface's album, but similar samples are used to great effect there too)

15) Guilty Simpson, O.J. Simpson

This is the best Guilty has ever sounded with his over-the-top street rhetoric. Madlib supplies the icing on the cake by creating a whole world out of not just that seventies soul and funk, but samples from blaxploitation movies and soundtracks, as well as comedians. You can usually rely on good work from Madlib, but these two albums he, as well as the rappers, really hit their stride. Which is amazing considering how prolific Madlib is.

14) Harlem, Hippies


Garage rock, as genre, keeps getting older, but the kids playing it stay the same age. Sure, there's not quite any sort of edge here, but you can't argue really with such a joyous noise that you can shake your hips to.

13) Yeasayer, Odd Blood


Warped, dense, synthey, sort-of eighties. Whats even weirder about it is that listening to the songs closely, the songs are surprisingly positive despite how it might actually sounds if that makes sense.

12) Daughters, Daughters

I was sad to find out that these guys had broken up and this was a posthumous release because it would have been amazing to see this crazy, loud, wall of sound done live. Too bad. But at least we have this record.

11) Spoon, Transference

Spoon is sort of like Pixar. Follow me here: they consistently put out such good albums, that it makes you sort of forget how good they are. Or you just start to expect it to be good. My point being, Transference continues this trend.

10) The Body, All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood

Talk about a two man band coming up with some next level shit. I don't even know how to categorize this, although I hear the terms doom-metal thrown around quite a bit. But I'm not sure that even covers it. This is basically the soundtrack to the world ending, and its unbelievable that this is just two people. They put together an album with samples and even the Assembly of Light Choir which creates this loud, dense, dread-soaked atmosphere. Definitely not for everyone, but still so amazing. Seeing them live for their 10th anniversary show was mindblowing.

9) Tame Impala, Innerspeaker

These Aussie lads bring a lot to the table. A little bit of arena rock, some sixties psychedelia, riffs straight out of Motor City, and a bunch of British pop thrown in for good measure. Its really good, and I think they will get better. And their stage presence will also improve and be as loud as possible as they grow up.

8) Janelle Monae, The Archandroid


Talk about coming out of nowhere with a soul funk album that seems like it was beamed from the 4th dimension. I was lucky to see her live, opening for Of Montreal, and totally and completely blowing them away.

7) Titus Andronicus, The Monitor

These New Jersyites take the long away around in bringing a punk-ish sound and sensibility to the indie rock masses. There is no other band that can keep rocking and keep me interested in a 14 minute song. When I saw them they even closed their set with the Misfits' Where Eagles Dare. That ruled. 

6) The Roots, How I Got Over

In a weird comparison, The Roots have become sort of like Spoon in that since say Phrenology and The Tipping Point, they pretty generally have been putting out really good albums, and in some ways have improved from one album to the next. Special props for putting Joanna Newsom in a song and making it the most I have ever enjoyed Joanna Newsom.

5) Big Boi, Sir Luscious Leftfoot...The Son Of Chico Dusty

The only bad thing about this disc is that it makes me miss Outkast even more. Speaking of which, screw the industry people who made them leave the stuff he did do with Andre 3000 off the album. At any rate, I am not sure anyone expected this to be this good. I mean the seeds were planted with The Way You Move and what not, but then he brought it to the next level with banger after banger. Just amazing. I was also surprised at how good his lyrics were, I'm not sure why, but again I wasn't expecting that.

4) Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

True to form, Kanye puts out an album that has really divided people. My take is this: while it could use some editing (lose that Chris Rock bit that goes on for waaaaaaay too long), its mostly a crazily ambitious album using some of Kanye's most powerful beats to date. In some ways, its pretty much the album thats so nuts that one would expect from Kanye. And I really admire that its so crazy.

3) Wolf Parade, Expo 86

Wolf Parade has not put out a bad album yet, three in and thats a pretty good record. While not as ambitious as At Mount Zoomer, its still really solid.

2) The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

They seemed to be on pace with Wolf Parade, as far as number of albums go. For me, though, Neon Bible was only okay. But The Suburbs sees them being able to return to form. It's not the same album as Funeral at all, in some ways its more intimate, but still loud and emotional, like we've come to expect from The Arcade Fire.

1) Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks

Some of Scotland's finest add members and bring an album with a bigger, better sound. I really liked this album (obviously) and seeing them live this year might have pushed them even further up the list. Good, good stuff.

Honorable Mentions:
Ceremony, Rohnert Park
Deftones, Diamond Eyes
Trash Kit, Trash Kit
Jeff The Brotherhood, Heavy Days
Aloe Blacc, Good Things
The Hold Steady, Heaven Is Whenever















Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fighter (2010)


It's really been six years since the last time David O. Russell directed something? Or, more accurately, directed something that was finished and/or released? It's too bad, I really like his stuff. And The Fighter sees him stepping out of his comfort zone a bit and it ends up working out really well. Sure, it hits some of the same beats as a lot of sports movies, but its done so well, with some great performances especially from Melissa Leo s Micky Ward's mother. But the standout here is definitely Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund, Micky Ward's troubled brother. I have to admit that before this movie came out I didn't know a thing about Irish Micky Ward and his rise and comeback. Obviously he and his brother Dicky are big news around Lowell and the surrounding area. But watching the real Dicky Eklund and Micky Ward, its remarkable how close Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale get to capturing them. The real brothers even appear during the credits at the end of the film, and its really sort of eerie. Roger Ebert in his review claimed that Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward has no personality, but having seen the real Micky Ward I have to disagree, compared to Dicky, Micky really does seem to be that quiet and soft spoken in real life. At any rate, David O. Russell approaches the material from a fresh perspective. Its also like a weird companion piece to Winter's Bone in that besides the actual boxing one of the main struggles in the story is between Micky and his family, highlighting how family can be both a liberating force as well as a stifling one. And its nice to see a movie like this with a happy ending that seems earned.

A sidenote: in the last few months learning about Micky Ward, I learned of his three matched with Arturo Gatti that were named matches of the year for each time they fought (three times). They should make a Fighter 2 just to highlight these matches. From what I've seen they were like epic, real life Rocky bouts. Its interesting when you choose a piece of a person's life to highlight and some might argue that his greatest matches couldn't even be covered. Honestly, as far as how good the movie was its neither here nor there, but it is interesting. As Pat O'D said, and I am paraphrasing: it's sort of like having Rocky IV but not showing Rocky fight Ivan Drago at the end.

-K

True Grit (2010)


Seen on Christmas Eve. I got a chance to read Charles Portis' True Grit, on which both the movie versions were based before I saw the Coens' new version. After reading it, I couldn't help thinking that the Coen Brothers were really the perfect fit for a new adaptation. Turns out I was right. What is really interesting is how the Coens ended up making what feels like an old school western. It has a really straightforward narrative. It has the feel of a throwback, the Coens seem to dial back their signature style. That sounds like a criticism but its not, it fits perfectly for the story. I particularly like how they keep the similar language from the novel, it reminded me of their use of old style verbiage in Miller's Crossing. The cast is uniformly great: Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn is awesome, and Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are all good. I would be remiss in not mentioning what everyone else is mentioning: the newcomer Hailee Steinfeld playing Mattie Ross. She is the reason the action begins, and she is the glue of the movie, and, simply put, her performance here is a revelation.

-K

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Last night I found myself sitting down to an evening of television watching with my sister and brother-in-law. Normally, this involves a viewing of one of about three shows that I think we can all agree upon; “The Office”, “The Simpsons”, or “Seinfeld”. I’m pretty much OK with that since if there were any three shows for me to agree upon with someone, it’s hard for me to think of any other shows I’d rather watch. But fortuitously enough for me, the remote control settled on an episode of “The A-Team” which was a classic favorite as a kid, but sadly enough, it had been at least ten years since I had seen a full episode of this show. I immediately made the comment about how I thought it could quite possibly be the television version of “Red Dawn” (the subject of a previous blog), or more specifically, the best bad television show ever. I’m not quite sure if I actually believe that because I’ve never really thought about it and there may be some other television shows out there that would fit this bill better. But what I can certainly say that it is one of the best bad television shows ever.

Growing up as a kid, I idolized this show that told the story of four former military personnel who were somehow accused of a crime they didn’t commit. The opening credits inform us that they “promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade” (as if that just happens on a regular basis) and that they currently act as mercenaries for those who have a problem that the police and authorities cannot help with. Now whereas the stories and plotlines of the show can be argued over in regards to their greatness, what I don’t think can ever be argued with successfully is that the title sequence is in fact, the greatest ever:



Throughout the episode last night, the three of us made various comments that triggered many thoughts within me regarding the show I once held in such high regard. Firstly, I made the comment that regardless of the episode, you could pretty much guarantee that 45 minutes into the show, you could see one of our four heroes welding something. For those who do not know the framework of this show, it goes something like this: 1) the plotline is developed as a group of thugs kidnap someone, terrorize local businesses, take control of some aspect of power in a small community, or perform some other heinous act for which local law enforcement cannot help with. 2) One of the marginalized victims of this thuggish group somehow is not only aware that this “A-Team” exists, but also knows how to get in touch with them, as if their number is listed in the Yellow Pages. 3) The A-Team meets with this individual (usually this is done by the establishment of a meeting place where the group’s leader, Hannibal, approaches the victim in some disguise – the episode I saw last night had him perched upon a horse statue pretending to be part of the statue as he was dressed in clothes painted to make him blend in with the horse – which is done, I suppose, to help the group preserve its secrecy. They are, after all, still wanted by the government and cannot risk going out in public looking as they normally do, yet somehow, this is only important in the very beginning of the show. It’s perfectly fine for them to walk around amongst the population of L.A. at any other time). 4) The group makes the acquaintance of the bad guys and invariably ruffles their feathers by shooting up their hideouts or crashing a party and embarrassing them. 5) The bad guys step up their game causing a wrench to be thrown in the plans of our heroes, therefore prompting them to step up their game as well. 6) A final plan is established by the A-Team and the trap is set. Here is where the welding comes in. For while the trap is laid, the group has a limited time to build it which involves modifying a vehicle or building some contraption that will eventually be the demise of the bad guys and will ensure their capture and eventual incarceration. 7) All is set right with the world again and Hannibal utters his famous line “I love it when a plan comes together”.

Now, the aforementioned pattern is subject to change as I quickly found out, for in the episode I saw last night, there was no welding. I ate my words. It just so happens there didn’t need to be much of a trap set for the bad guys. But normally, you could see a montage of the group building the items necessary to put the bad guys away for good. And when you do see them putting the trap together, it’s pretty cool because you are never sure what they are doing exactly because they don’t explain the trap or the plan. They just somehow know what Hannibal is planning and go to work. The viewer never knows what they are doing until it is actually put in action. In this sense, it’s kind of a reverse dramatic irony going on, which I’ve always liked.

There are two other plotlines that although are not involved with every episode, they are used from time to time for consistency’s purpose. The first one is the fact that Murdock is batshit crazy and half the time the group has to break him out of a mental institution before they are able to begin their assignment. They find a number of ways to do this but usually return him there by the end of the episode. I never really understood why they did this. Maybe it’s to keep a low profile and so that the government doesn’t get a lead as to where they are or what they’re doing. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since they are some of the biggest fugitives in this world and it wouldn’t really matter if they just never returned Murdock to the institution or not. Or maybe it’s just a way for the writers to write in more crazy antics for this character. Who knows?

And speaking of the government, sometimes the group’s task at hand is merely a subplot as in some episodes, the generals and government officials charged with the task of apprehending the A-Team takes center stage and the group not only has to help their clients, but they also have to evade the military as they close in on their location. Usually, the group not only does their job and save the day for the victims who hired them, but they also just barely escape the generals and move on to their next assignment.

My sister wondered out loud what the role of all the characters was. That was an easy question for me to answer, until I got to the crazy and bizarre character of Murdock. Hannibal is the brains and leader of the group. Face is, well, the face. The one who goes undercover the most and who woos the lovely ladies he invariably encounters in their journey. And Mr. T’s B.A. Baracus is the muscle. The menacing and angry looking black man with a mohawk and ridiculous amount of gold chains draped around his neck who is the ultimate match for any thug in which he comes in contact. Yet for some reason, he has a terrible fear of flying and anytime the group needs to go on a plane, they need to hide that aspect of the plan from him and somehow find a way to drug him before boarding the plane. He falls for it every time. And then there is Murdock. It took me about 15 minutes to recall what his greatest asset was for he doesn’t appear to have any aside from comic relief. But finally a part came up in the show that reminded me of his true value. For Murdock is a pilot and is able to fly any helicopter or plane the group can manage to steal, or at least borrow for a few hours. For many of the episodes, this is a critical component to ensure the bad guys are put away.

Finally, my brother-in-law probably made the most important observation that nobody ever died in this show. With the amount of gunfights, explosions, and huge number of blown tires leading to the flipping of cars one would think that at least a few people would meet their demise, but not only does that never happen, nobody even appears to be hit by a bullet at all. It’s kind of like a mild form of the G.I. Joe syndrome, and I only say “mild” because G.I. Joe episodes had way more people shooting and explosions. No, in the world of the A-Team, the only thing they needed to do to render a villain incapacitated was to flip them over and throw them into a lake, into a table, into a bar shelf filled with alcohol, or hilariously enough, as evidenced by the episode I saw last night, into a bed of flowers. For while the writers of “The A-Team” were hesitant to promote violence in the form of shooting deaths, they felt OK with that because they knew darn well that an even better and more realistic way of dealing with a bad guy was to just throw him through the air. There is no way to come back from that.

And that’s just the structure, characters, and action sequences of the show. I did not touch on the plot holes held in ever episode which, if last night’s episode is any indicator, are many in number. But at some point you have to look past all that. This was a show created in the early/mid 80’s and I defy anyone to find a show of any critical relevance that came from that time period. Maybe I’m missing something, but I think it’s just inherent in any show that came from that time to be cheesy and just poorly done. Part of it is the technology but what is more unbelievable and unforgivable is the fact that the writing and acting were so bad. I have no explanation, but I will venture to say that it had something to do with cocaine.

At any rate, it was nice to watch this show again and remind myself of why I like it so much despite all the problems it has. It’s a campy show with a lot of great action scenes and the character dynamics are hysterical, particularly the relationship of B.A. and Murdock. For Murdock always gets B.A.’s goat and B.A.’s reaction, as predictable as it is, will always be the best moment of the show for me. Even while watching this episode last night after having not seen it for well over ten years, I totally predicted one of B.A.’s lines. Murdock, for some reason, decided to mimic a television reporter and proceeded to faux interview his friends and foes as the show went on. As he first did this to B.A. you could see B.A. fuming at the ridiculous antics he was watching. When Murdock finally asked his question I said right along with B.A. the line he was most famous for and the one that makes me laugh every time: “Shut up, Foo!” Classic.



-M

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Alternate Take On "Temple of Doom"

Kevin’s recent post regarding Temple of Doom inspired me to watch it again, for it is a film that I have been known to hate on when discussing the Indiana Jones films. My first memories of the film were negative and somewhat scary as I mainly remember hearing kids at school talk about the famous scene where the evil antagonist rips some poor sap’s heart from his chest with his bare hand. I was what one might call a sensitive movie watcher as a child and I hated the sight of blood and gore and found horror movies absolutely terrifying. Needless to say, the description of this scene was enough to keep me away for years. Finally, it aired on network television and I knew they edited those movies so I was fairly comfortable watching it as they edited that part to be less gruesome. At the end, I didn’t get why my friends seemed to like it so much. It just didn’t seem that good to me.

That feeling never really left me, even when I watched it again a number of years ago when my sister bought me the trilogy DVD pack. It just didn’t hold up as much as the other two did. I do remember getting into a friendly argument with Kevin and his buddy Lee about it at Kevin’s bachelor party in New York City and as soon as I mentioned that I thought it sucked, they jumped all over me. Clearly I had hit a nerve. I also felt bad as they seemed to be much more learned in the film than I did. So while they were dissecting its greatness, I was left with the intense, yet poorly defended lone sentiment that it ‘sucked’. I pretty much never thought of it again until reading Kevin’s blog defending it and it caused me to think more about why I disliked it so. In the end, I came up with two major reasons: a plotline surrounded by biblical references and archives, and Nazis.

I realized that my favorite scenes in these movies have to be in the first and third films when the plotlines are laid out. In Raiders some government agents visit Indy at his University and request that he find the Ark of the Covenant. In this scene, the myths and lore of the Ark are explored and explained and the look on Indy’s face at the realization of what such a find could mean is exciting, fascinating, and curiously eerie. It draws you in the movie right away and is a phenomenal plotline. In Crusade a similar approach is taken. (And I readily admit, the third film borrows heavily from the first, but for me it deviates enough for it to still be its own film, as opposed to many sequels that follow the exact plotline of the predecessor. I don’t know why but the films that stand out the most when this idea comes to mind are the first two Home Alone movies.) In this film the plot is laid out in a similar fashion as the story of the Holy Grail unfolds and it is determined that there are enough clues available to lead our hero to its location. Again, one feels excited, fascinated, and a little eerie with this scene, but it’s what I find so amazing about these films in the first place.

Temple’s plotline is much less interesting to me. Indy’s journey is more of an accident and the item he sets out to find happens to be a magic rock. If I understood Hinduism more, maybe I’d appreciate this film more, but I don’t. In fact, I’m not even sure if the story they tell in regards to this stone is actually taken from Hinduism or if it’s just loosely based on it. Either way, it is unfamiliar to me and thus, less interesting than the search for the Ark and the Holy Grail. This may highlight my ignorance of world religions, but what can I say? It’s just how I feel.
The bad guys are the other main difference I have noticed and I’ll take a good Nazi fight over a fight with the Thuggee cult who sacrifices humans to Kali. Again, this feeling mainly stems from my familiarity with the Nazis and lack of understanding of the Thuggee cult. Incidentally, it wasn’t until Kevin’s post caused me to look into it more that I realized that Kali, the Thuggee cult, are actually real aspects of Hinduism and not just made up by George Lucas. So that in and of itself makes me appreciate Temple more. However, I’d much rather see the Nazis as the bad guys in these films than anyone else.

One final thing worth noting is the role of the woman in each film. I like Miriam and Elsa from the first and third movies more than I do Willie in Temple. For those other two women are strong characters. They delve right into Indy’s adventures and do not appear to be afraid of anything. Willie is a showgirl in the wrong place at the wrong time and throughout the film she is complaining and screaming which gets slightly annoying. Simply put, she just doesn’t fit in like the other two women do.

Having said all this, I feel I have to defend Crusade for it is my favorite of the three. It’s the most entertaining, has the coolest plot, includes twists and deception more than the other two films, and includes a deeper look at Indy’s character as his father is brought into the scene. Normally, I could see how many would not like this exploration of our hero’s childhood and relationship with his father, but that role is played and handled so well by Sean Connery that they somehow make it work really well.

One thing I will say that Temple has above the other two is the inclusion of the best side kick in all of the films. Short Round is great. It provided a different feel to the films that was never really matched and it’s nearly impossible not to laugh at him when he’s driving the cab in the beginning, turns around to Indy and Willie and says: “Hey, Dr. Jones! No time for love!” Actually, just about everything he says makes me laugh.

Watching Temple the other night, I found myself liking it more than I ever remember. Maybe it’s because I started realizing why I liked the others better and then I could let go and try to appreciate it on it’s own for what it was. It’s not a bad movie. In fact, I can now say that I think it’s pretty good. It’s just that when I think of the Indiana Jones series, my heart will always drift towards the first and third films. But no matter which of the three films any Indy fan likes the most or likes the least, I think we can all agree that all three of them are light years beyond Crystal Skull. Now that was a bad movie.

-M

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Black Swan (2010)


Ah, nothing like spending a few hours in the fun-filled wonderland of Darren Aronofsky. Seriously though, this is really well done, and I remain a big Aronofsky fan. It explores Aronofsky's favorite themes, chief of which seems to be obsession. In this case, Natalie Portman's obsession with becoming and staying the lead in Swan Lake. It becomes an intense, psycho-sexual thriller based on this. It exists somewhere between a nightmare and a hallucination. Here is what I am still thinking about (and, a quick aside, we went to see this with 7 other people as part of the plans for Tina's birthday, and this has got to be the first movie in a long while where the group basically split into discussion groups to talk about what we just saw) So, here is what I was thinking about: one of the criticisms of the movie is that perhaps the movie is a bit too obvious in it's themes and characters (the "alternate", the horny director etc. Even the soundtrack seemed be too obvious to some) Aronofsky leaves it ambiguous as to who our rooting interest is supposed to be. But the movie is made like a ballet in that pretty much everything he is trying to represent has to be represented visually (duh) and audibley (I might have made up that word)(the Clint Mansell score). I mean he leaves it somehwhat ambiguous as to whose point of view we are looking at this from. I think it is coming from Natalie Portman's point of view, and that's why the movie follows the basic beats of Swan Lake itself, and why its imagery is somewhat, I guess you could, say obvious. Its by design. I am probably stating the obvious, somewhat, but I actually don't think its all that obvious. Or, at least it wasn't to me, at first. At any rate, its a pretty amazing take on obsession, and to an extent, body horror that follows it (seriously a few scenes reminded me of a David Cronenberg movie, one scene in particular reminded me of The Fly.) I also think this is Natalie Portman's best work in a long time. Really good, creepy, and unsettling stuff. (As another aside: Darren Aronofsky's next gig is doing the next Wolverine movie. I kind of can't wait to see what he does with that.)

-K

Sunday, December 5, 2010

An Appreciation of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom

Hmmmm, we need to get some spark back around here. We were on such a roll! But it being the holidays and all, you know how it can get. But hopefully we can so some holiday-relates and end of the year things, and get things back on track.

This will be quick because I have football and an Irish breakfast waiting for me actually out in the world. So, we are sitting here trying to figure out what to buy my parents for their Christmas present. We hit on something good a few years ago where we find a show in New York they might like and get them tickets. They seem to enjoy it and they seem to enjoy visiting the City. Some of their grandchildren are around there. I used to go to school in the City so they used to have more opportunities to go down there. Fascinating, no? At any rate, we were coming up snake eyes until we noticed that there was going to be a revival of Anything Goes opening in March, there you go!

So what does all this mean? Nothing really, its just the set-up. A peek (interesting, I am sure) into the way my mind connects different pop cultural points. And here it is the fact that I can't hear the song Anything Goes without thinking of Willie Scott (played by Kate Capshaw) opening up the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom singing a version of this in Cantonese. (Well, in Chinese I'm not sure of the regional dialect, of course)



And that, in turn, makes me think of how much I like Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom. In fact, I was having this conversation with my coworker, friend, and fellow blogger at work just this week. Temple Of Doom was definitely a grower it seems, it feels like it was and still is unfairly maligned. In some circles, people still see it as the worst Indiana Jones movie. Although after Crystal Skull came out, I am not sure how much that opinion has changed. There are definitely still people that somehow consider it the weakest of the real (thats right I said it) and original trilogy. Personally, I don't get it. I can see when it came out people being at least confused by it, because lets be honest as a mainstream tent pole it is nuts and as a follow up (really a prequel!) to Raiders Of The Lost Ark it must have seemed crazier. Here's a movie that starts out with this Busby Berkeley-style musical, to Indiana Jones in a white suit like James Bond movie, then it becomes some crazy dark, update of Gunga Din. I still think that opening at Club Obi Wan is one of the best openings to a movie ever, not just the musical part but the whole sequence with the poison, and the gangsters, and, well, everything....I feel like Spielberg and Lucas took a real chance to try something different with this movie, and while it seemed to have taken a long time to catch on, I feel like it really ends up working. I feel like Raiders is definitely the best, but I have to be honest and tell you that it goes back and forth between that and Temple Of Doom because, really, it's that good.

-K

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Night Catches Us (2010)


I watched this on our local On Demand, from what I understand its supposed to come out in theaters this Friday. I had never heard of the movie until I happened to click on a banner on the side of the page, I believe on the AV Club. In some ways this is an old story: a man, Marcus Washington, played by Anthony Mackie, comes back to Philadelphia in 1976 after a number of years. He returned for his father's funeral. He left because he was a part of the city's Black Panther movement, he was eventually arrested, and the people he left behind, believe him to be a snitch, whose snitching led to one of the local leaders of the Panthers to be killed by Federal agents . Basically he comes back and has to face people and events from his past, and the still open wounds from back then. Like I said, plotwise its nothing you haven't seen before. But it looks nice, and its well acted. This seems to be Tanya Hamilton's featur debut and it shows a lot of promise. Also nice to see are castmembers from The Wire: Wendell Pierce (bunk) as a detective (big stretch) and Jamie Hector (Marlo Stanfield) as a former panther turned sort-of local kingpin. The Roots do a great job with the score too. It being Philadelphia and all, of course they were called upon. But whats interesting is that, and I am not sure if this is done intentionally, but they cover old soul and r&b songs in instrumental, but they also choose songs that became samples for Wu Tang songs. From what I remember they did covers for songs that ended up sampled in "C.R.E.A.M.", "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" and Raekwon's, "Criminology" Sadly I only recognized them as the samples, and was too lazy to go and check out what the actual songs were. (Perhaps if Tina reads this she can enlighten us.)

-K

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Search of the Perfect Opening Second

I recently made an incredibly dope mix for my soon-to-be one-year-old niece for her birthday in December.  Some might think this is a cheap gift, but let’s be honest.  She’s going to be freaking one.  She is as entertained by extravagant toys as she is by a cardboard box, she mainly passes her time by chewing on things, and she doesn’t even really know who I am yet.  But if I can get a head start and implant some crazy good songs into her subconscious, I might have some influence over her yet.

As I do with all mixes I make, after the burn has completed I listen to it a few times in my car.  You know, just to get a feel for it and make sure it turns out alright.   And while listening to this particular mix, I had sort of an epiphany that led me down the path of a topic I never heard presented before.  For it just so happens that on this mix I included, what is in my opinion, two songs with the greatest opening second ever.

Oftentimes, friends and fellow music fanatics will discuss their favorite songs or albums, and they may even go into more specific categories of favorite summer songs, or favorite opening tracks (as was hilariously discussed in the brilliant film “High Fidelity”)


But I've been thinking about a topic I just never heard anyone talk about: the best opening second of a song. 

At the core of my music fandom, I am drawn to a catchy hook and a great melody.  So naturally, I’m a pop guy regardless of what genre it comes in.  And while compiling this mix for my niece, I selected all catchy songs with infectious hooks and in many cases, songs she can dance to (eventually).  But two of the tracks stood out for me and I never really thought about why until hearing them so close together.  The opening second is phenomenal.  And let me be clear, I’m not talking about the first ten or five or even two seconds.  I’m talking about one second.  That brief moment that appears and quickly flees as the digital clock on your stereo turns from :00 to :01.  It’s so quick that after I tell you what songs I’m referring to, I will not be able to expand upon it any further, for that second, although immaculate and perfect in so many ways, is nearly impossible to describe why it is such for me.  All I can say is it draws me in almost before the song even starts.  Maybe you know what I’m talking about and maybe you even have a few songs of your own that fit the criteria to which I’m describing.  Or maybe I have too much time on my hands and am just plain lame (especially when you see which songs I’m talking about).  So take it for what it’s worth.  But I have thought about this a lot and I can’t really think of any other songs that grab me in that first second like these do.  Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the rest of these songs are great as well and are some of the best pop songs I’ve ever heard.  And yes, you have my permission to mock me.  I'm OK with it.  For I am totally comfortable with my affinity for these songs and will defend them to the day I die.


-M

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Baseball, a Kid and a Grown Man Weeping in a Library



So I've been a little bit emotional lately. But not because graduate school is hard or a girl broke my heart or the politics of the day. 

Actually, it's because I watched a special on ESPN about a kid who has an incurable disease. Usually the sobby stuff doesn't get to me, but this one hit me like a runaway freight train without Denzel there to save the day. If you can, and I would HIGHLY suggest it, please check out the video on ESPN's website and read the article. It's really well done and really touching. I can honestly say nothing on TV has ever affected me so strongly. If you don't tear up watching this, I don't think you're human: 


Being the emo kid I am, I had to put into words the emotions I'm feeling. So let's begin at the beginning: 

It's not every day that I find myself sitting in the university library with my hat over my face trying to hide the fact that I am crying. There was snot, tears, everything. 

If you've known me for awhile, you'd know that I am not a big crier. In fact, this was the first real cry I've had since my dad died almost ten years ago (unless you count the time I was coming off the oxycontin after my first shoulder surgery and started bawling, but that's a different story).

So I'm settling in at the UPF biblioteca, writing some bullshit paper on the welfare state's impact on poverty. In the interest of killing time, I head on over to ESPN, as I do on occasion (every five minutes). Somehow I come across the story of a kid who has Hutchinson–Gilford Progeria Syndrome. It's a disease where the bodies of children age 10 years for every year they live. I click on the link and I was sucked in from the first moment. 

The kid's name is Josiah Viera. He is six years old and he loves playing baseball and the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite long odds of not surviving his first two years, he did. And to many he has become one of the most inspiring people they have ever seen. Despite the disease, he has an amazing spirit and a smile with enough wattage to light up all of Paris. 

His story and his sheer joy with baseball struck something really deep within me, on an almost spiritual level. Maybe he sort of reminded me of myself when I was little. Maybe it's because I have a niece I adore who is the same age. I don't know. All I know is that I was touched in a way that a TV program had never touched me before.

I mean, yeah, you know me. I've always been a little bit emotional, if not a big crier. But I am the same guy who cried at an episode of Highway to Heaven when I was a little kid and who sometimes feels bad for pitchers getting shelled during big games (unless they're on the Yankees). Well, a couple of minutes into this video I started tearing up in a major way. There were tons of people around me doing work and I don't know how well I hid it. After all, the tears were dripping off my face and onto the table. 

There's just something transcendent in that smile Josiah gets when he's playing baseball. It's such an exuberant, joyful, full-of-life smile. And at the same time it's so heartbreaking. He doesn't have much time left. He gets sick a lot and regularly has strokes and seizures. His story is bittersweet and beautiful and tragic and uplifting, all at the same time. 

Words can't describe all the intensity of the feelings I had in watching this. Throughout the rest of the day I kept tearing up in the library and had to run to the bathroom a couple of times to compose myself.

In some ways, this shows just how unfair life can be. I think we all wish there was something more we could do for him. To make his life even more special. He's given us all so much, we want to give something back. I wish with all my heart I could take away all the pain and suffering. So he can play baseball for a long, long time. So he can play catch, run the bases and watch his Phillies win another World Series. So he can smile for us and inspire us for many more years. I'm honestly getting teary-eyed just typing this. 

Seeing the smile on his face when he got that hit during his Little League game was the beauty of life distilled in one moment. 

At the heart of it all is a kid who has a wonderful, beautiful spirit who has touched the lives of so many people in ways he probably doesn't even know. I want to tell him how much he has meant to me, even if he is too young to really comprehend it. 

Now I'm just rambling. There's so much I'm feeling, so much unsaid that I can't get out. The kid inspires me while at the same time shattering my heart into a million pieces. I went on the website for his family and gave $50 to help pay for his medical bills and wrote his mom an email trying to describe what Josiah's story has meant to me. I couldn't write it in one sitting because I kept getting overwhelmed by emotion.

I'm even toying with the idea of running the NYC Marathon next year as a fundraising event for him. It wouldn't be much, but it would raise a little awareness and probably get the family a grand or two. I don't know what else to do.

I'd give everything I had if it could buy him more time. I do take solace in the fact that he has been able to have a joy-filled life thus far. He played Little League. He's heard his name chanted from the stands. He's met his heroes, the Phillies. It's a beautiful thing.

I hope the rest of his days are filled with love, joy, laughter and baseball. He deserves it more than anyone.



PS If you get the chance, check out the website his mother created and throw a couple dollars their way:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veterans Day Mini Marathon

I have to admit, that compared to Memorial Day, there are little to no war movies on today. I thought someone would be showing Band Of Brothers. Although I will admit, I am not interested in the John Wayne movies being shown on AMC. So I caught two others by accident on HBO.

How many movies make a marathon? I am going to say three or more, hence the two almost make it but not quite. Its a really scientific thing and I don't have the time to go into my reasoning right now:

Away We Go (2009)

I have to say, I really enjoyed this and it made me sort of sad that I hadn't seen this previously. I am not sure why I put it off either. One thing that probably counted against it was the fact that the campaign for it made it look like and adult Juno knockoff. But this is so much better than either that movie and the writing of Diablo Coady. In fact, Dave Eggers wrote this, and it is actually a good look at a likeable couple (Jon Krasinski is the king of playing likeable guys, and he does really well here. Both Maya Rudolph and him make for an enjoyable couple who I wouldn't mind hanging out with.) Sure, the conceit is a little much, as a surprise pregnancy forces a couple to reevaluate their relationship, but also go on a road trip to figure out where they want to live and raise their child. It sounds trite, but it plays out much better in practice. And I like the ending especially in one crucial way...this couple isn't married but they make a commitment to eachother nonetheless. There is a specific reason in the script why the woman, Maya Rudolph, doesn't want to get married, but still wants to be with Jon Krasinski's character..and, well, I like that they stayed that way and didn't suddenly decide to get married, that they were all right in their arrangement and secure enough with eachother that there wasn't some surprise change of heart in the end. I am going to go out on a limb and say, to me, this is definitely Sam Mendes best movie. I also want to say that the supporting cast, especially Jeff Daniels, Catherine O'Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Schneider, Josh Hamilton, Allison Janey, Greg Gaffigan...are all pretty terrific too.

Fun Fact: Maya Rudolph's mom is Minnie Ripperton:


Taking Woodstock (2009)




You have to at least hand it to Ang Lee for working in all sorts of different genres, and trying things. But often when you try new things, sometimes they fall sort of expectations. This is one of those times for Ang Lee. And I have to admit, I come into this with a small chip on my shoulder. Mostly because I am sick of hearing about Woodstock and the myth of Woodstock. But, I have to admit that this isn't a bad movie, it's just not great. Its actually pretty likeable, if not hilarious. Its sort of an amiable, shambling coming-of-age/comedy about how Woodstock ultimately got put together. Its a nice enough diversion, but Lee lays it on a bit too thick about how the transformative powers of hippies changed everybody and everybody just decided to become all groovy because they came through their town and trampled their alfalfa fields. I really like Demetri Martin as a standup comedian, but he can't quite carry the load of a whole movie on his own. Eugene Levy, as usual, is awesome.

To be perfectly honest, I don't really like Santana either. But this performance of "Soul Sacrifice" at Woodstock is really amazing, credit where credit is due. It never seems to get highlighted like it should. Conspiracy!




I did end up watching the War Torn documentary on HBO last night. It highlighted the problem, and the evolution of the understanding of PTSD in soldiers from all the way back in the Civil War to today. To put it in its simplest terms: it was heartbreaking. And if you get a chance you should check it out.

-K

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In Defense of Kanye West

(for someone people get so angry at, Kanye West knows EVERYBODY)


This has been a long time in coming, and every day Kanye West does something else funny, infuriating, awesome or all three. Every day I wait there would be something else to add here, so I might as well just write this thing.

For example, just today, this happened. Where Kanye West just decided to perform an impromptu acapella joint on a Delta airplane. My mind would have been blown, and a stewardess would have to come around and clean my head off the seat.

There is no escaping the man. Much to a lot of people's chagrin. Even yesterday, none other than President George W. Bush was mentioning how mad Kanye made him with his "George Bush doesn't care about black people" comment in his exclusive interview with Matt Lauer. As much as I think it was funny and is still funny that George W. Bush fumes at the thought of Kanye West, him getting mad at Kanye illustrates something about West that I should find annoying but I actually find sort of endearing/funny (again.) (Although lets put some perspective on it. No matter what you think, Kanye was the only one on that special to speak out about Bush's handling of the Katrina aftermath. You can clearly tell he was upset and couldn't hold it in anymore. I'm sorry Bush feels bad now (sarcasm) but he deserved it.) He makes people (and I will just say this right now, often times, white people) SO mad. He makes them SO mad and I find it funny. If he were someone else I am quite sure I would find his behavior terribly annoying, probably. So why does  get a pass? Probably because I really do think he is really talented and I happen to like his music. Does it work all the time? No not all. But he's not afraid to experiment and to look nuts. I'll be the first to tell you that, yeah, he is crazy megalomaniacal egomaniac, and he does crazy (and obnoxious) things like interrupting Taylor Swift. Sure it's douchbaggy, but I really don't think warrants this clutching of pearls that usually happens when he does something annoying. So, to me, it ends up being more funny than him. He is a nut. But he happens to be a talented nut. I wrote about this before, and I think what I said still applies, to whit: "Kanye West gets boatloads of shit for his ridiculous behavior-most of it probably deserved. But this obscures the fact that in both beats and rhymes department, he not only is really good at what he does, he really does take a lot of risks with his music despite the fact that he manages his image so much. Like any risk (see Mos Def), they either work or they don't. Another fact that gets obscured is how Kanye's output in the 00's became the gold standard for hip hop (open for debate). Also, when he started, he was about as humble as a superstar producer and soon-to-be superstar MC could be. He used the sped-up soul samples that he made famous with his beats with Jay-Z. And while not the wordsmith that Jay-Z is, he was inventive, poppy, likeably eccentric, and retro and futurist at the same time."


I mean, even President Obama called him a jackass. He makes everyone so angry, it kills me.





I guess the other thing is, why does all this still surprise anyone? I said this a few years ago when all these people, once again, were SO mad at him at Bonnaroo because he threw a hissy fit and didn't start his set until like 4 in the morning. If I was there and I was amped on seeing Kanye, sure I would have been annoyed but I would have also adopted the attitude of what Red Sox nation used to say about Manny Ramirez: it really is just Kanye being Kanye. Here's what gets lost in all this though, and I will qualify this by saying that I am sure that Kanye probably could have handled this in a better manner, yes, he probably could have. But here is why he is annoyed, and this is taking his massive ego into consideration, I kind of get why he was annoyed. And now reading this it seems like, okay, he asked for a later slot (which I also get because he's is better than Pearl Jam, not fact just opinion) he needed it later for his lightshow. But it was Pearl Jam that went late and then it took a while for him to set up for his show. And thats why people were so mad!? I misunderstood this situation and it is stupider than I thought. Sure I would have been annoyed, and maybe he could have toned down his stage show, but him being asked to play Bonnaroo during this tour, they knew that he was going to bring his whole stage and do his whole spiel, and thats what they wanted. People might have been mad at Kanye but it sounded like they could have saved some vitriol for the organizers. Or how about Pearl Jam for going over? It sounds like Kanye being whiney about them going over was really only about a third of the problem but takes the brunt of the criticism. Just saying, I bet if, say Pearl Jam did the same thing they would be cut much more slack. Also, shut up Robert Randolph.


By the way, this was his show at the time, during the Glow In The Dark tour. I am not even sure if this really all that illustrative of what the show was really like:



I saw the Glow In The Dark tour (this video was actually from the show I was at) and in a weird way it made me like Kanye more. It showed pretty much how nuts he was and I loved him for it. It was truly weird and audacious. I mean, he had this whole narrative going on that he would slot his songs into, where he is traveling across the universe in a spaceship with only a sentient robot as a companion. Its truly weird, and it was amazing to see live. So I felt a little bit of responsibility after having seen that then urging people to go see him at Bonnaroo and was disappointed that people were so upset with him. But I shouldn't have been surprised he seems to be always pissing off someone, but I feel like, for the most part the anger thats reserved for him is usually out of proportion to what he actually did. And I feel like, even what I read about Bonnaroo it was the same thing, with a great many people just waiting to hate on him.


I guess, though, that Kanye doesn't need me to defend him, dude probably sleeps on top of a pile of money each night. Want to know what prompted me even thinking about this? Well, even better than an acapella jam from him was this story about the tail end of the CMJ fest in New York at like 2 in the morning at the Brooklyn Bowl. He just comes out to this packed place and does a couple songs. Honestly, that would have been enough, but then The GZA comes out and does "Liquid Swords" and "Shimmy Shimmy Ya". Yeah my head would have exploded. It looks so great, one of those times for me personally I wish I had stumbled onto this show and been able to experience this live. But it also made me think: I like Kanye, I think it's funny when people get SO angry at him, and I honestly am excited to hear his new album. I guess this is all a long winded way of saying that.


Lastly, have you ever seen this, from, obviously the time of Katrina. The guys that made it area actually from New Orleans and its really good:





(Also, his Twitter feed is comedy gold, too)