Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 In Review - Movies

To say 2011 was a sub par year for movies could be an understatement.  One of the biggest commercial and critical hits is my most overrated of the year.  Not that any movies were terrible, but most had a 'been there, done that' vibe I couldn't shake.  Maybe I've watched too many movies.  Or am too old.  Or both. 

Whatever the reason, my lack of passion for this year's crop should be evident.  I should point out that I'm usually six months to a year behind people that actually...you know...go to the movies. 

For better or worse, let's run down the year that was. 

MOST REWATCHABLE

Inception:  I'm hooked every time I stumble across this on HBO.  Doesn't matter where it is, my thumb hovers over the channel button until I slowly put down the remote and get sucked into this bizarre and addictive universe for the 50th time. 

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World:  For completely different reasons as I catch new details every viewing.  That and it's entertaining as hell.  The bass duel between Scott and the vegan has more care and craft put into it than most entire movies. 

Knight and Day:  Not because there are several scenes that were filmed in my neighborhood (although it helps), but because I still crack up over Tom Cruise's depiction of a secret agent who has become so bored with the spectacular nature of his job that he lays out compliments while hanging on the hood of an out of control car or politely giving a message to a henchman before knocking him out.  That he can't understand why Cameron Diaz is freaked out by gunfire and car chases makes this all the more entertaining. 


FAVORITES

Piranha:  Rarely have I fallen in love with a movie so totally and quickly as I did with this one.  The opening scene (which I won't give away) had me laughing immediately.  Funny, legitimately suspenseful and gory, and contains one of the more gruesome spring break parties you'll ever witness.

The Social Network:  Despite all the accolades and buzz I was prepared for a let down.  Not so.  Just as great as everyone has been raving about. 

127 Hours:  How a movie about a dude stuck in a dark cave wound up more involving and exhilarating than 90% of the movies release this year is a testament to one of the best directors working today: Danny Boyle.  'Trainspotting', '28 Days Later', 'Slumdog Millionaire' and now '127 Hours'.  Not a bad resume at all. 

The Town:  Ben Affleck proves 'Gone Baby Gone' was no fluke by directing and starring in one of the best heist movies of the year.  A bit over dramatic with the girlfriend, but I thoroughly enjoyed this. 

Winter's Bone:  Cold, depressing, disturbing, yet oddly hopeful after a teenage girl goes looking for her missing father in order to save her younger siblings from eviction.  One of those films that seems like a documentary nobody would allow to be made. 

TrollHunter:  Swedish movie that's a cross between 'Blair Witch' and the most demented children's show ever created.  Team of journalists follow self proclaimed 'Troll Hunter' around the country side only to learn he's been telling the truth the entire time.  The special effects are much better than you'd expect. 

Easy A:  Any other year, this wouldn't have made my list.  I'm stretching this year, so I'll add it mainly because I'm in love with Emma Stone (but still won't see 'The Help') and she kills it here.  Hated the ending, but enjoyed this for the most part. 


BEST MOVIE I FINALLY WATCHED

City of God:  Rented this through Netflix after the urging of several readers and was blown away.  You will literally never see a more disturbing movie the rest of your lives.  That it's based on real events makes this even more haunting. 


MOST OVERRATED

Bridesmaids:  Don't get me wrong; I laughed quite a few times at this movie, loved Kristen Wiig, John Hamm (who stole every scene), Melissa McCarthy, and all the actors.  I just didn't think it was GREAT.  If anything I was distracted that this was the same movie as 'I Love You, Man'.  Replace Paul Rudd with Maya Rudolph, Jason Segal with Wiig, Rush with Wilson Philips, ad lib a few scenes and presto, new movie everyone loves. 


OVERRATED RUNNER UP

Black Swan:  Granted, any movie that has Mila Kunis going down on Natalie Portman is worth watching, but the 'descent into madness' angle we've seen a hundred times and the fake shocks with later realizations they were hallucinated wore thin.  I did like the theme that all artistic genius has a touch of madness behind it, but I can't figure out why this garnered so much attention.  Other than....you know...Mila Kunis going down on Natalie Portman.


BEST PERFORMANCE

Casey Affleck - The Killer Inside Me:  Be warned, do not watch this movie if you can't handle some intensely brutal scenes (including one in which the love of my life - Jessica Alba - gets the living shit beat out of her).  Affleck is supremely creepy as a sociopath who thinks he's smarter than everyone else (and just may be).  The movie has flaws, but is held together by Affleck as a genial, aw shucks, cold blooded killer. 


BEST USE OF MALE NUDITY

Hall Pass:  The scene were Owen Wilson falls asleep in the hot tub.  I will say no more, other than I'm glad the Farrelly Brothers can still bring their A game now and then. 


BEST USE OF FEMALE NUDITY

The American:  Which I liked because of it's bleak view of being a professional assassin.  While many tend to glamorize it, this movie creates a lonely, bleak, paranoid world that is only broken by falling into the wrong kind of love...with a smoking hot girl who's naked a lot.  Sounds like a perfect relationship to me. 


MOVIE THAT WAS MUCH BETTER THAN EXPECTED

Predators:  Frankly, any movie that begins with some dude free falling into a jungle is worth my time.  That it didn't let up for over 90 minutes is why I'm mentioning it.  Some serious dysfunction between the characters makes this more demented and entertaining than I could have ever hoped. 


MOVE THAT WAS MUCH WORSE THAN EXPECTED

Dinner for Schmucks:  No, it wasn't terrible, but when you have Paul Rudd and Steve Carell together again I was expecting a classic.  Some amusing moments, but wanted so much more. 

Think that's it for this year.  Everyone enjoy their New Year's!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

2011 In Review - Music

I realize music is very personal. What I enjoy may not be what you would ever listen to in a million years (unless you're Kos). Therefore I would never dare title my musical entries 'The Best of 2011'. I'm nowhere near educated enough to declare anything better than anything else.

I merely present to you - dear readers - what I've enjoyed the most over the past twelve months. I ask only that you listen to the examples I post (and, please, listen to the entire song and give it a chance) and make up your own minds.

Three quick hits before we get this going:

1: You'll notice quite a few hard core entries this year. My musical tastes tend to reflect my moods and I was not in a good mood due to work related reasons. I'm better now, but my anger is represented strongly.

2: I know I'll forget something. Happens every year and I don't expect this year to be any different.

3: 2011 was a great year for music.  Prepare for lots to sift through. 

Off we go!


MOST ENTERTAINING

Beastie Boys -Hot Sauce Committee Part II: The Brooklyn trio return with more funk, hilarious name dropping (John Salley and Tippy Hedren in the same song?), and musical inventiveness than any other 10 albums combined. Easily my most addictive album of the year.

Check out: Really, you can pick any song from this and be happily bouncing along in seconds. Here's 'B-Boys in the Cut' for one. Or how about 'Lee Majors Come Again' which demands to be played loud. Hell, here is 'A Little Something For Ya'. You're welcome.


OTHER FAVORITES

Mastodon - The Hunter: Still trying to smash the prism through which heavy metal should be viewed and, most importantly, heard. These guys are ferocious, yet intelligent and thoughtful in how their songs are constructed. It should say a lot that this isn't their best album but is still head and shoulders above what everyone else in their field is even attempting.

Check out: Even you non metal heads, please listen to 'Dry Bone Valley'. Just once. If I can convert just one of you, my mission will be accomplished.


MuteMath - Odd Soul: This album is all over the place in the best way possible. A soulful rock album whose best moments are the seemingly random instrumental breakouts midway through some songs. Even the lyrics are weirdly abstract yet personal enough that it makes you wonder if they came from one of the band member's dreams.

Check out: 'Walking Paranoia'. Jesus is coming back...gonna catch me...at the porno rack...


Talons - Hollow Realm: According to my iPod, I've listened to this album more than any other over the past six months. And I have no argument whatsoever. A creative, hard core, completely instrumental album that I simply can't get enough of. Besides, who am I to disagree with a piece of computer electronics?

Check out: 'In The Shadow Of Our Stilted Homes' for some of the best guitar work you'll hear this year.


Crooked Fingers - Breaks in the Armor: I’m 90% positive Eric Bachman (former Archers of Loaf leader who will make this list, too, believe it or not) could grab three people off the street and crank out a great album. Proof that the 'singer songwriter' label doesn't mean things have to be dull.

Check out: A live version of one my favorite songs of the year 'Bad Blood'.


Bayside - Killing Time: I've always enjoyed this NJ band, but I never fully committed because I got the impression they were trying to be something they weren't. Namely another emo-pop punk band with darker lyrics. I even debated wasting a buck on their new one until I heard the opening song. Rock on!

Check out: Allow this song to do the talking for me. Apologies if you need to skip an ad.


Hard-Fi - Killer Sounds: Dance rock at its most addictive. Think I listened to this album straight through six times in a row when I first got it. Even Wifey enjoys it - which sort of alarms me.

Check out: 'Stop' which epitomizes the Hard Fi sound - catchy music combined with amusing, self loathing lyrics. I really enjoy these guys!  For the hell of it, here is 'Bring It On'.  Get your grooves on!


Imelda May - Mayhem:  Foot stomping, jazz - rockabilly fusion that somehow invokes old school while being completely fresh and lively.  While Adele deservedly gets a lot of attention, I wish May would get her reward.  Instead she'll have to settle for being mentioned in my yearly review that (maybe) 10 people read. 

Check out:  Live version of 'Mayhem'.  If you like this song, pick up the entire album. 


TV On The Radio - Nine Types of Light:  Bittersweet that the last release before TV's bass player died of lung cancer is also their strongest, most consistent, most enjoyable and best so far. 

Check out:  A strange, dance video for a song about abusing drugs



NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

MachineHead - Unto The Locust:  Since we're into my hard core phase, allow me to scare the shit out of people.  Old school throwback metal with machine gun drums, guitar solos and pulse pounding bass.  I cranked this from work to home and my entire car was vibrating.  Bonus points for covering two of my old favorite bands - Judas Priest (The Sentinel) and Rush (Witch Hunt) and doing them justice. 

Check out (if you dare): 'Be Still And Know'.  The cover art on this album is - as my boys would say - SICK!  That means good. 


Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage:  An epic mix of death metal and opera like atmosphere.  Creepy and exhilarating. 

Check out (if you dare): 'Astral Blood'.  I'm fully aware this proves I have some underlying issue I have yet to address. 


Cave In - White Silence:  Uncompromising (as usual), eclectic and completely original.  These guys truly make music for themselves and really don't care who they please and who they alienate. 

Check out:  Here is live version of  'Centered'.  Here is 'Heartbreaks, EarthQuakes'.  And, yes, these are both off the same album.  Now you get the idea. 


Russian Circles - Empros:  Six epic, hard core songs that express more musically than most bands do with words. 

Check out: One of the milder songs, Mladek.  Note how even this one turns dark about 2 minutes in. 


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See:  The Monkeys take a step back in their warped time machine and do some old school, classic rock anthems while maintaining their trademark, quirky lyricism. 

Check out:  A live version of 'That's Where You're Wrong' that sounds fantastic.  I now want to see them live.


George Thorogood and the Destroyers - 2120 South Michigan Ave:  Thorogood sounds reinvigorated while covering a bunch of Chess Record tracks (hence the address of the title).  Guess he wants to show how the old school operates. 

Check out:  A live version of Chuck Berry's 'Let It Rock'.  Man still has it. 


Bombay Bicycle Club - A Different Kind of Fix:  Straight ahead, sensitive, school boy, pop which is totally not my bag.  Yet, I find this blissfully distracting. 

Check out:  'Take The Right One'


Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys:  Like Mastodon, this isn't their best stuff (for my money 'The Seldom Seen Kid' is going to be tough to beat) and - like Mastodon - their lesser stuff is still better than most other bands on their best days.  Bet you didn't think I could compare Elbow to Mastodon, did you?

Check out:  A real live version of 'Lippy Kids'.  I love how the lead singer always looks like he just rolled out of bed. 


The Generators - Last of the Pariahs:  Punk rockers return with a ferocious bunch of new songs that provide the argument they should have never gone away. 

Check out:  The video for 'You Against You'


Talkdemonic - Ruins:  In the past ten years, I've probably bought one or two completely instrumental albums. This year I have three that I love.  Ironically, a band named Talkdemonic is the gentlest and most atmospheric of them all. 

Check out:  Their video for 'City Sleep'.  Give this one a few minutes before making up your mind.  On a side note, is it me or are all female violin players hot?


Thursday - No Devolucion:  I've always been a bit frustrated with Thursday and their lack of commitment.  While Cave In use variety to define their sound (and somehow always sound like Cave In while doing so), Thursday seems to just go with what's trendy.  While that continues here (esp on the electronic laced 'Magnets Caught In A Metal Heart), the intelligent songwriting and the use of different genres blends into their heavy sound rather than detract from it.   

Check out:  'Past and Future Ruins' which sums up the glorious schizophrenic nature of this album. 


The Wonder Years - Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing:  Nothing extraordinary here, just good old fashioned pop punk at it's finest.  Crank and sing along!

Check out:  'And Now I'm Nothing'.  Enjoy. 


BEST RE-RELEASE

Archers of Loaf - Ickey Mettle:  If you want to check out my personal musical evolution, you can start with Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Rush and Judas Priest then stumble across Arches of Loaf who open your eyes for all sorts of alternative possibilities.  Holds up shockingly well after 20 something years. 


THE WORST

The Kooks - Junk Of The Heart:  A band I thought had no boundaries takes another misstep.  They've gone from a fun, freewheeling band to one that would have a hard time making the cut on a 'Very Special Grey's Anatomy'.

Lady Gaga:  I don't even care about her music (although 'Born This Way' sounds an awful lot like Madonna's 'Respect Yourself'), I just want her to stop showing up like a performance art exhibit or Al Pacino.  I'm no psychological expert, but when a person goes to any length to be anyone but herself, I think help is required.

OK, need to stop and do some actual work.  Hope you find something you enjoy.   

Monday, December 5, 2011

2011 In Review: Television

That's right, ladies and gents!  It's that time of year again.  The time we run down the good, bad, and worst of the year that was.  So let's stop dilly dallying (I hate when we do that) and get right to it.

I've been operating under the theory that this past year has seen more quality television than it had movies.  Quick, I asked Wifey and now you, name me one GREAT movie you've seen this past year.  Anything spring to mind?  I'm normally a year behind so 'Inception' pops up.  Possibly 'Scott Pilgrim' if I give it enough thought.  But other than that?  I can't think of one 'WOW' movie I've seen recently. 

But television?  Now we're talking. 

BEST OF THE BEST

Modern Family:  I've spewed on enough about this show that I'll keep things brief. I was worried that success would go to this shows head, but, if anything, it's better than ever.  So consistently funny that we take for granted how memorable and relatable the characters are.  Top notch work by everyone involved for three years running. 

The Good Wife:  Still as intelligent, absorbing and thought provoking as ever.  Getting Eli to 'work with the team', Will and Alicia's complicated fling, the work/family stress, the Alicia/Kalinda mess (which just got messier than ever after last night's episode), Cary and  his new girlfriend (who Kalinda is attempting to seduce), Peter investigating Will without trying to seem biased...I really could go on, but if you're not watching already there's nothing I can say that will sway you.  Just know you're missing one of the best shows of recent memory.  Human, heartfelt, often hilarious, and - like life - complicated and messy. 

Suburgatory:  A cynical, sarcastic, hilarious look at the lily white suburbs from the point of view of an inner city teenage girl.  Every character is quirky and slightly deranged and it affects everyone and everything in town.  Up to and including the PTA.  The Halloween episode is my favorite.

Boardwalk Empire:  After sauntering out of the gate in it's first few episodes, this show has steadily picked up momentum while fleshing out every character we meet.  If I had to pick one show at gunpoint as my single favorite, this might be it.  Might be...

The Walking Dead:  Some spoiler alerts here, just in case.

I freely admit to having a dark side, having my doubts about the existence of any holy creator or overseer, and am a bit fed up with television and movies sugar coating the workings of the real world.  Bad things to happen to good people every day.  It's a fact and refusing to admit such is ignoring reality.  I don't wish it so, but it's true. 

Enter this season of the Walking Dead, which not only has it's main character (and the viewer's emotional connection) openly question the existence of God (in a church no less), but who's challenge for a divine sign from above is answered with his own son being shot in the woods.  If that's not a spiritual 'fuck you', I don't know what is.

Keep in mind this is the same show that has done the following:  Had the main character's best friend and his wife get it on while they thought he was dead, resulting in a (now unwanted) pregnancy; have a character watch her sister die, then come back as a zombie only to have to shoot her in the head; have another character fall into a ravine, awaken with a zombie gnawing on his boot and an arrow through his torso only to get shot by his own crew after he staggered back to camp; have a now missing character saw off his own hand because he lost keys to the handcuffs that chained him to a pipe; and recently have a little girl go missing for weeks after our hero misdirects her back to the highway.

But even I wasn't prepared for the climax of the search for the little girl that ends with her as a zombie trapped in a barn and being shot in the head by the best friend who is now if full psycho mode.  This show isn't just dark, it's pitch black and it is leaving viewers with little to no hope.  Forget sticking together, this group may not even survive. 

And, yes, I fucking love this show.  Would you expect anything less?

Boss:  Kelsey Grammar stars as the corrupt (and terminally ill) mayor of Chicago.  Another example of television now drawing in quality talent from movies.  Martin Scorcese is involved with Boardwalk Empire and Gus Van Sant directs a few episodes of this shockingly well made show on Starz.  Grammar is eye opening as the vicious and cold hearted mayor who thinks he's above it all.  I love the (possible?) hallucinations caused by his disease.

The opening scene from the series contains the best acting I've seen on TV all year:  Grammar listening to a doctor give his diagnosis while the camera lingers, uninterrupted, on his face while he attempts to process.  Just fantastic.  I did have a hard time buying into the extremes other people would go in order to please him, but it's not a deal breaker.  He's just a mayor.  Not even the President would get that kind of reverence. 

ESPN'S Documentary Series:  This used to be the '30 for 30' series, but they don't use that title any more for some reason. Regardless, these are some of the most absorbing shows you'll ever see.  My favorites being the ones on Steve Bartman (who comes off as the only rational, considerate, intelligent person in the entire debacle), real life Rocky, and Chris Herren (because I remember him from his high school days). 


BEST OF THE REST

New Girl:  Surprisingly funny is all I can say.  Not a huge fan of Zooey, but she gives enough freedom to her co-actors that the guys she lives with wind up stealing every episode.  Oddly, a show about a girl is one of the few that honestly portrays male friendships:  Rude, insulting, argumentative all solved with a simple 'You want to come with us?'

Up All Night:  Amusing sitcom about new parents.  Many laugh out loud moments (often throw away lines, at that) and someone has finally put Will Arnett to good, 'Post Arrested Development' use. 

Community:  Not as good as it has been, but some stellar episodes (The multiple time lines, the 'Heart of Darkness' spoof) keeps me coming back. 

Parks and Recreation:  I finally got  hooked on this show two seasons ago and have not been disappointed. At this stage, it's better than 'The Office' (see below).

House:  While not in it's prime, it's still better than most of the crap out there.  I'm thiiiss close to being done.  Although I've been thiiisss close for three seasons now.  Guess as long as Hugh Laurie is on board, so am I. 

GUILTY PLEASURE

Revenge:  I'm not proud I watch this, but it's been entertaining and addictive enough that I keep coming back.  Plus the lead chick is hot and you root enough against the bad guys that there is satisfaction in their come uppance.  Been slowing down a bit, which I don't like.  No revenge has been taken in three episodes now. Let's get to it. 

DISAPPOINTMENTS

The Office:  It's not terrible (yet), but Steve Carrell leaving should have put everyone on notice.  I'm hoping this is simply growing pains and they figure it out, but it's not looking good. 

Bones:  Unlike 'House' I am done with this show.  Babies being born everywhere, personal crisis neatly resolved every week, Bones and Booth now romantically involved.  Pick a 'jump the shark' reference and this show has had it over the past season and a half. 

The Big Bang Theory:  After some friendly urgings, I gave this show a shot.  I laughed once while that 'audience' laughed hysterically at every 'joke'.  Don't get it. 

WORST

Terra Nova:  Not only does the premise make no sense, but they can't even pull off the action scenes properly.  All the characters are one note and the family we're supposed to care about is annoying and pouty.  I wanted to punch the son in the face after 15 minutes and that urge hasn't abated.  Made it through two and a half hours before bailing. 

Whitney:  I'm convinced the only reason this show was created was because Whitney Cummings is hot in an anorexic, plastic surgery addicted kind of way.  I've never seen her stand up nor any of her comedy, but if this show is any indication, I wouldn't laugh once.  Far and away the worst show I've seen all year. 

Two Broke Girls: WTF, CBS??

Music entry coming soon.