Monday, December 31, 2007

My Favorite Albums of 2007

[Start checking out the Favorite Songs Lists here with Part 1]

Let's get right to it, shall we...This was extremely difficult to compile. I must have listened to at least 50 good-to-great albums in 2007 that were considered for this list...

21. White Rabbits, Fort Nightly

These guys make experimental indie pop that's also totally accessible. I'm thinking this might even be easy to dance to if I had any natural ability in that area. On first hearing this album, I was reminded of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but this is better than that band's 2005 debut (and far better than their lame 2007 entry, Some Loud Thunder). Long-time readers will also recall my bias towards rock with piano, which helps explain my immediate fondness for The Rabbits.

20. Calla, Strength in Numbers

This is a heavy, brooding guitar rock that's remarkably consistent, both in tone and quality. I love the fuzzed-out, distorted, almost tortured guitar noise on "Simone" in particular, which sounds like a Garbage song performed by a less self-conscious, male lead singer.

19. Windmill, Puddle City Racing Lights

I can't tell if I like this record in spite of its cheesiness or because it's so unapologetically cheesy. They're operatic to such an extent on every track, Windmill somehow moves beyond cheese, like U2 did on Joshua Tree (and Achtung Baby, and then never ever again.) I mean, take the song "Fit." It's ridiculously sweet and also ridiculously silly, from the swelling horns at the opening to the "Guitar for Dummies" riff over the chorus. It's hard to imagine Windmill even performing it with a straight face. It sounds like something from a musical. And not a rock musical. Like one of those Tim Rice jobs.

18. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible

Probably my most anticipated album of 2007 (I didn't know Radiohead had anything coming out), so I guess it's surprising this comes in so far down the list. Some songs are great - "Intervention," "Keep the Car Running," "Windowstill" - but there's also a sameness to a lot of the songs that got to me after a while. It certainly didn't hold up to repeat listens like the band's phenomenal "Funeral" from a few years back. And I'm sorry..."No Cars Go" is just a bad song, and the band has now put it on two separate albums.

17. Ween, La Cucaracha

These guys don't get 1/8 of the respect they deserve, so I'm always eager to shower them with praise...but even a superfan like myself must concede "La Cucaracha" was not their best-ever effort. Opener "Fiesta" is just boring, the falsetto on "Spirit Walker" grates after a listen or two and the suitably brown "Blue Balloon" goes on about two minutes too long. This album, in fact, makes the list because of three songs: "Your Party," which made my Favorite Songs of the Year list, "Object" and one of the most hilarious filthy tracks in the band's entire discography, "My Own Bare Hands."

16. Aesop Rock, None Shall Pass

There's so much going on in this album, lyrically and sonically. Even if it weren't so entertaining and listenable, you'd have to admire the sheer amount of effort that went into None Shall Pass. Aesop's rhymes are the polar opposite of the party anthems and club music that dominates the radio - intricate, detailed, absurdist, reference-heavy narratives and rants alike, they could probably be transcribed and published as a short story collection.

15. The New Pornographers, Challengers

First off, the Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) songs on this album are among his best contributions to any New Pornographers album to date. "Myriad Harbour" in particular. The remainder of Challengers feels a bit less ambitious than Twin Cinemas, my favorite of their LP's, but does include some great indie pop songs. "Failsafe," "All the Old Showstoppers" and "Mutiny, I Promise You" are the highlights.

14. Busdriver, RoadKill Overcoat

Most of the albums on this list won over a lot of fans this year besides me. Many of them made Pitchfork's Best of the Year List, and a slew of other Top 10's from around the Web. But RoadKill Overcoat came out really early this year, and I'm not sure I've heard anyone praise it other than myself. (Granted, I haven't been paying close attention). Anyway, I know Busdriver raps very fast with a very weaselly, high-pitched voice, and that half of the songs on here find him leaving his comfort zone and singing, but I still can't imagine why this isn't more popular, at least with music bloggers.

13. Blitzen Trapper, Wild Mountain Nation

Blitzen Trapper pull off a wide variety of sounds and styles on Wild Mountain Nation and never once sound less than totally confident. You'd swear the title track was written by Jerry Garcia, then it segues neatly into the contemporary indie pop of "Futures & Folly," then suddenly you find you're listening to lo-fi garage rock (interrupted by a harmonica solo) and on and on and on. All Music Guide refers to the style as "schizophrenic," but that implies that it's somehow out-of-control, when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the band sounds incredibly accomplished and tight here, particularly Erik Menteer on guitar.

12. Dinosaur Jr., Beyond

I was a bit young for Dinosaur Jr. the first time around (You're Living All Over Me dropped when I was 8 years old), and actually only discovered the band after developing something of an obsession with bassist Lou Barlow's follow-up project, Sebadoh. So this Dinosaur Jr. "reunion" is actually my first chance to be a real fan - seeing them play together at the Wiltern was definitely the best time I had at a rock show in '07. And it's all particularly gratifying because the new songs are so good, reminiscent of the music they've always made but not outdated or predictable. The Dinosaur Jr. Reunion kicks The Pixies Reunion's ass.

11. Feist, The Reminder

The Reminder sounds like a lost gem from another era. It's hard to believe the same airwaves crowded with shrill, guylinered emo bands and fucking Fergie nightmares actually broadcast these simple, perfect little Feist melodies. I liked Let It Die largely because of Karen Feist's beautiful vocals, but The Reminder gets pretty much everything right.

10. Okkervil River, The Stage Names

Not much to say about Okkervil River I haven't said before. These guys continue to impress with their expert musicianship, Will Sheff's phenomenal singing and deft lyricism and their outsize ambition. This may not be quite as memorable as the haunting Black Sheep Boy, but it's fantastic nevertheless.

9. Battles, Mirrored

I really should have put "Tonto" from this record on my Favorite Songs list. Not sure what I was thinking on that one. Anyway, it's an understandable mistake, because I never once put on an individual Battles song - I always listened to the entire album straight through. It's so easy to just get into the groove of these songs and let my mind drift, I had to remind myself after giving Mirrored about 10 listens to actually pay attention to what I was hearing. The way these guys just develop little melodies and then let them play out and mutate over the course of 7, 8 minutes is truly awe-inspiring at times.

8. The Ponys, Turn the Lights Out

Hands down, the guitar-rock album of the year. "Everyday Weapon," "Small Talk," "Poser Psychotic"...those are my favorites, but Jered Gummere and Brian Case just shred their way through 12 straight tracks. By the time they finish with the epic 6 minute plus finale, "Pickpocket Song," I typically need a nap.

7. The Fiery Furnaces, Widow City

A fine return to form for The Furnaces after several years in a kind of experimental daze, lost in the Friedberger Siblings esoteric and frequently unlistenable artistic impulses, like King Lear if he'd taken become addicted to ether during his travels. Only two songs, "Clear Signal from Cairo" and "Navy Nurse," drift around between several melodies and tempos like Blueberry Boat or Rehearsing My Choir. But rather than allowing the more clipped style to limit their palette of styles and sounds, the Furnaces just zip around more quickly. It makes for an exhilarating, always intriguing hour of music.

6. Bat for Lashes, Fur and Gold

This is late-night music, to be listened to on headphones with the lights out. I'm not sure how Natasha Khan put together such a delicate, quiet collection of songs that's this riveting. Also, what the hell is up with "The Wizard"? " Trembling midnight lands/I travel with the wizard/
Drink his blood and he's our leader"? It scares the hell out of me, and yet I can't stop listening to it.

5. The National, Boxer

I'm not sure what these guys do that other bands don't do, but I can listen to these songs A TON and not get tired of them. "Mistaken for Strangers," "Ava," "Guest Room," "Apartment Story"...I'm not even close to getting tired of these songs. Also, as they did on Alligator, The National have managed to put together a collection of songs that feel like they're about a common theme...but damned if I know what that theme is. And what it has to do with boxers. Also, I don't know how to talk about Matt Berninger's singing without making it sound like I have a mancrush on him. So let's just leave it at that.

4. M.I.A., Kala

At work, my friend Travis and I were both listening to this album obsessively all year, and it felt almost wrong somehow. Like this intensely immediate, exciting music - full of violent anger but also this powerful optimism and humanity - being listened to by a couple of guys sitting near-motionless at computers all day. But it's not really all that strange, because in addition to a good soundtrack for a convenience store robbery and/or block party, Kala is also the most compelling album of 2007, rewarding careful listening and close attention. A fucking masterpiece.

3. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Maybe Spoon's best album ever, there I said it. This is seriously up there with Girls Can Tell and Series of Sneaks, people. Every single song is good, and quite a number of them are exceptionally good. In fact, the four songs that close it out - "The Underdog," "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case," "Finer Feelings" and "Black Like Me" - are my favorite part of any album of the year. How's that for obsessive listing!

2. Radiohead, In Rainbows

Radiohead's best album since Kid A. I'm sure you're all sick of hearing me talk about Yorke, Greenwood & Co. at this point, so here's the Safety Dance.

1. Panda Bear, Person Pitch

Yes, I have the same #1 album of the year as Pitchfork. I am a poseur. But seriously...listen to this 6 or 7 times, and it just automatically becomes your favorite album of the year. It's that good. Person Pitch is like a puzzle box - at first it's confusing and you don't know what the hell's going on, and then you slowly start to investigate and figure things out and then, suddenly, everything falls perfectly into place. "Oh, wrapped up tightly inside all these sound effects and stray noises are warm little pop songs!" Gradually discovering Panda Bear's hidden melodies was one of the highlights of 2007 for me.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Shoot Em Up

This is the first film I have ever seen from Michael Davis, and I know nothing about the man. But based solely on Shoot Em Up, I'm going to go ahead and assume that he was born with severe birth defects, has spent his entire life in a single dark room, was educated and schooled with only Maxim Magazines and Jackie Chan films and that he's currently 12 years old. A pointless exercise in cruel stupidity, I could deal with. But such a poorly made exercise in cruel stupidity just makes me angry...

Shoot Em Up is one of those movies that tries to excuse ineptitude with goofiness. It would like to be a genuinely kickass action movie, but the dialogue is excruciatingly awful, so none of the jokes are funny, and Davis has no clue how to shoot or choreograph an action sequence, so it's never cool or exciting. To compensate, the film WINKS at you for 90 solid minutes. "Hey, we know these one-liners are terrible! Yeah, this gunfight is preposterous, incoherently edited and totally nonsensical! That's what makes it so funny! Ha ha!"

A touch of absurdity in a throwback action-comedy like this is welcome. Shane Black's screenplays for tongue-in-cheek action films like The Long Kiss Goodnight manage to inject lunacy into the genre without being this grating. Constant and total absurdity gets wearisome fast, and the fact that the cartoon logic and over-the-top violence in Shoot Em Up aren't cleverly employed or original kills any midnight movie value this ugly mess could have hoped for. (Also, if you want to reach a cult movie audience, don't brazenly rip off shots from Sam Raimi and Coen Brothers films. Cult movie fans are the exact people who will recognize what you're doing.)

Initially, I thought Davis was going to completely avoid telling a story at all, which actually would have been okay. The film just sort of starts and it's at least 20 minutes before even the basics of a plotline begin to creep in at the margins - and I was glad. "At least he didn't bother trying to concoct some ridiculous storyline for this nonsense," I thought. "I'll give him some credit for that." But, was not to be. Almost as if the movie could hear my thoughts, a miserably thin, purposeless and idiotic story was introduced.

The unnamed hero (Clive Owen) is essentially a bum. He's hanging out at a bus stop eating a carrot when a pregnant woman, terrified for her life, runs by him, followed by a mean-looking guy with a gun. Owen intervenes and tries to save the woman, but is confronted by a veritable army of mean-looking guys with lots and lots of guns, led by a guy I thought was unnamed but whom IMDb refers to as "Hertz." (Ha ha!) He is played by Paul Giamatti who, like Owen, salvages some dignity by chewing the scenery, just playing the entire film for laughs.

During the ensuing gun battle, Owen kills just about everybody (except Giamatti) and delivers the pregnant woman's baby. Then he and the baby get in several more gun battles. Then he brings the baby to a lactating prostitute (poor, unfortunate Monica Bellucci). Then he begins to solve the mystery of the Baby Whom All the Really Bad Marksmen Want to Kill.

See, the whole idea of the film is that Owen uses a variety of ridiculous, physics-defying, Looney Tunes-esque methods of shooting at bad guys. If this had been done well, employing some degree of imagination and Rube Goldberg ingenuity, these scenes could maybe have worked. I'm not convinced, but it's theoretically possible. I'm not a huge fan of the Final Destination series, but they're organized in a similar fashion - ironic, self-aware set pieces in which a series of unlikely or unpredictable little events lead to big, gruesome payoffs. But those films try to outwit the viewer, employing devious little surprises and twists to keep the death-mechanisms entertaining (well, somewhat.)

The shenanigans in Shoot Em Up are just unlikely, but not in a fun or interesting way. I think the major problem is the direction, which is haphazard and sloppy and does a very poor job of giving these absurd stunts even a faint whiff of genuine physical reality. You want sloppy? In the first shot of the movie, we see Clive Owen take a bite out of a carrot. A few moments later, he uses the carrot to stab another man to death, and when it pops out the back of the other guy's skull, it's brand new and uneaten. THAT, my friends, is some lazy, sloppy shit.

Oh, and I'm blaming Davis and not cinematographer Peter Pau for the film's drab, indistinct and unattractive visuals because the latter has a long resume that includes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I doubt very much all this crap was his doing.

If we don't ever believe for a moment that Owen is aiming a gun whilst skydiving, or moving a playground carousel around by shooting at it, or wielding a carrot as a weapon, or whipping a baby up into his arms by grabbing its blankie, because the movie makes it look fraudulent and jokey, then we're not going to find it funny. You have to invest in the reality of a situation in order to then find its goings-on comical. Think Ben Stiller wrestling the dog in Something About Mary. It works because Stiller's good at that kind of dorky physical comedy and because the Farrellys intercut between shots of a real dog and a fake stuffed one, complete with realistic sound effects. We know that he's not really beating up a dog, but it feels real enough to surprise us, to give the fleeting impression that an adorable dog is being manhandled by Ben Stiller.

In comparison, the effects work and editing here just don't work at all, not even for a moment. Some of this stuff might have seemed okay to me if it were pulled off well, like the bit with Owen rigging up a variety of automatic weapons with strings, and then firing them at villains like a puppeteer. That's an okay concept for a sequence, but the way Davis lays it out ruins the effect. The guns are obviously placed. The bad guys can clearly see them and would just get out of their direct line of fire. Some of the shots are so poorly edited and sequenced, it seems like the bad guys have LONG PERIODS OF TIME between realizing Owen is going to shoot at them and trying to get out of the way of the bullets. The whole movie is just botched like this, almost as if Shoot Em Up became a comedy because it couldn't hack it as a real action movie.

(These stunts are also insanely repetitive - Owen slides on his belly past enemies then fires backwards at them at least 10 times in the film's first hour, and Bruce Willis already did that a bunch in Die Hard!)

Finally, I feel like I point this out about bad movies a lot these days, and I'm not sure if I'm becoming more sensitive to this stuff or if it's creeping into mainstream films more, but Shoot Em Up is misogynist to a fairly extreme degree. Bellucci's character exists only to be degraded or to be used as a literal prop by the film's male characters. When she's first introduced, a pervert is paying her to drink her breast milk. Later, in a scene meant to be funny, she gives a back alley blowjob to earn money for a bulletproof vest. Owen kills bad guys while having sex with her, flinging her out of the way of incoming bullets, and she barely seems to notice. She's in the vast majority of this movie, and she's not given a single one-liner or heroic moment. She doesn't impact the plot in any way. It's like, "Hey, baby, show us your tits. Now fuck the lead character to make him seem more awesome. Now take care of this baby we no longer require and get the hell out of here before I throw you a beating."

Also, Giamatti gets constant phone calls from his unseen wife; he pauses from threatening to shoot Owen only to make disparaging jokes about her. Oh, and in the midst of one of the film's gun battles, the camera pauses on a calendar, in which a bullet hole has been driven right through the pin-up girl's butt. Oh, yeah, and right after a brand new mother is shot in the head, her corpse is carried around as a running joke, and Giamatti's character gets off on feeling her breasts. Ha ha!

Shoot Em Up may be what all movies are like in 30 years, when all filmmakers will have grown up surrounded by video games, Michael Bay movies and "Girls Gone Wild" ads. I just hope somebody will have the common decency to shove a carrot through my eye socket before it comes to that.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

[SPOILER ALERT: I won't blow anything fictional that happens in this movie, but I may "spoil" some actual world history in the course of this review. If you don't know shit about Afghanistan in the '80s and plan to see this movie, better not read any further.]

It's easier, I suppose, to appreciate the simple pleasures of film-viewing if the films themselves are placed into a vacuum, one where nothing has any meaning in the real world. To pretend, in other words, that it's all just some crazy fictional shit some writer concocted that was then put to film, that none of these individuals involved in the process of putting this movie together had any agenda or bias aside from making the most entertaining crazy fictional shit possible and that films cease to have any influence on their viewers the moment the reel actually stops unspooling.

As you can probably guess, I don't see this as the case. To me, an individual film comes into being in the midst of a grand conversation - not only with other films, but with other arts, with politics, with culture. It's not just ignorant and superficial but ridiculous to view a collaborative artistic project that can take years to create purely on its own terms, removed from any and all context.

So how to write about the strange and idiosyncratic Charlie Wilson's War, a well-made but highly (to my mind) misleading political satire about important events in recent American history? I'm not sure I agree with its perspective. Like...AT ALL. It's hard to translate that kind of position into a traditional "thumbs up" or a star ranking...But I can say, as a piece of entertainment, it's pretty damn solid. As a history lesson/commentary, it could be a lot better.

Charlie Wilson's War tells the true story of the U.S. response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the 1980's. The real Charlie Wilson, a skirt-chasing, alcoholic Texas Congressman, used his position on the House's Defense Appropriations subcommittee to initiate the largest-ever covert CIA operation, funneling billions of dollars in weaponry to Afghan rebels (Mujahideen) fighting the Soviets.

This is a pretty incredible story and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin succeeds in not only making complicated political machinations relatively straight-forward and even sporadically funny. He's done this largely by writing clever dialogue, full of television-style set-ups, punchlines and quips, but not to an irritating, "Studio 60" degree.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman nearly steals the entire film (for what must be the fifteenth time this year) as Gust Avrakotos, the hot-tempered CIA know-it-all who helps Wilson arrange and understand his elaborate project. Hoffman's really the audience's way into the film - he looks at the cocksure and utterly corrupted Wilson with the mix of appreciation and bewilderment I sense we're meant to feel.

Wilson's not just sleazy but defiantly sleazy, openly referring to his beautiful assistants as "jailbait" and explaining away his relationships to drug dealers by noting that they were introduced by a Playboy covergirl. Tom Hanks gets some laughs in the part, though he's a bit mistcast. And not only because he has some accent trouble and whenever I see him play drunk, I'm reminded of his Dean Martin impression.

The one defining Wilson trait seems to be a preternatural ability to cozy up to all manner of people and feign sincerity in order to win them over. Hanks' charm is a bit too genial and open - we believe other people would like him, but I'm not sure we ever see him use this charisma to his advantage. In fact, the few times during the film that Wilson is actually left to his own devices, such as a tense meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan and his advisers, he falters and ends up embarrassing himself.

Director Mike Nichols brings a veteran's touch to the film - it's very tight and professional, but doesn't really show off or call attention to its own style. Nothing about the film feels all that ambitious, really, and the entire production is disarmingly slight considering the massive award campaign behind it and the uber-stars on its poster. It's reminiscent of Wag the Dog in some ways, another small, unassuming political comedy that arrived with a big cast and epic hype.

As political satire, however, Charlie Wilson's War falls short. Very short. As in, I can't even tell who or what is actually being satirized. I think it's supposed to be Wilson himself, who could be taken as a representation of American foreign policy. He's self-involved and reckless, acting emotionally without really considering the consequences. Wilson's convinced we need to help the Afghan people because he's hot for a woman lobbying on their behalf. After visiting a refugee camp and seeing the brutality of the Soviet Army, he starts sending them weapons without considering what will happen if the Afghans actually use them.

The end of the film finds Wilson successful, but it's a meaningless victory. (Hey, it's not a Spoiler if it actually happened decades ago.) The CIA helps the Afghans expel the Soviets and then leaves them totally to their own devices. The film ends with Avrakotos grimly warning Wilson about what's happening in the country they just "saved" from Communism. "The crazies," he intones, are amassing in Kandahar. (This foreshadows, of course, the rise of the Taliban, the group of crazies that we ended up removing from power in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. Will most Americans make this connection? Does it even count as satire if it's too vague for a significant portion of the potential audience to catch?)

It almost feels as if Sorkin and Nichols want to confront the harsh reality that Wilson and the CIA, in not thinking about the consequences of their actions, maybe have indirectly led to the growth of Al Qaeda, the use of Afghanistan as a training base for terrorists, and thus, the 9/11 attacks. My point is, if they are trying to say that - and it seems to me that, in fact, they are - this needs to be much more direct.

This version of Charlie Wilson is not really an apt metaphor for America, if we're being 100% honest. Because Tom Hanks' Charlie Wilson is a genuinely good, well-intentioned, heroic guy. The film opens and closes with him being awarded a medal. Granted, the scene is kind of ironic and even snarky. (The movie opens with the line, "Greetings, members of the Clandestine Community.") But I'm not sure that's really an excuse to advance the myth of American exceptionalism as this film does so repeatedly and fervently. "Hey, mistakes were made, it didn't all work out as we'd hoped, but America is still the greatest country in the world! Am I right or am I right or am I right?"

It's just kind of wrong to celebrate covert CIA wars in a lightly comical fashion, and I'm not sure the film is clear enough about where it stands to avoid confusion on this matter. It's far too close to a celebration of American intervention overseas, a restatement of the Big Lie, the lie that's actually repeated by a Congressman (played by Ned Beatty) during the film: that America is always on the side of good in whatever it does, all over the world.

If we are to see Wilson as the embodiment of American faults, he needs to seem more reckless and dangerous. The real Charlie Wilson got into lots of trouble that the film glosses over, including some drunk driving accidents, that might have actually made the film work better as a satire. But I guess you can't make your Tom Hanks protagonist too unlikable, even if he is based on a real guy and representative of the decadent, self-aggrandizing American spirit.

The Julia Roberts character - wealthy and powerful Republican whackjob Joanne Herring - perfectly exemplifies my issues with the film. This woman is probably evil, and definitely misguided in her approach to foreign affairs, and yet the film depicts her like Queen fucking Elizabeth. Beautiful, brilliant, glamorous, passionate and adored. Maybe I'm just prejudiced against warmongering Republican Texas millionaires, but the way this character is fawned over and considered above reproach, acting solely out of compassion for Afghan refugees, struck me as entirely ludicrous. Melissa Roddy in AlterNet compares it to "tell[ing] the story of World War II and pretend[ing] that, because the United States might have given a box of guns to the French Underground, there was no Holocaust." I might not go that far, but I get what she's talking about...This feels like a whimsical fantasy at times, not a comedy based on real events.

I'm not going to settle these questions in a blog review, but this is what I was thinking about while exiting Charlie Wilson's War. Do filmmakers take on a responsibility when making films about recent history? Or is it appropriate to just take significant events from a relatively short time ago and render them unrecognizable for the sake of comedy?

Friday, December 28, 2007

What Do You Do That Makes You Famous?

In your face, John Cusack.


Daryl Hill bought his 10-year-old daughter an mp3 player for Christmas (from Wal-Mart, naturally), and it came loaded up with a heaping holiday helping of pr0n. I know, I know, it's hard to believe that a friendly neighborhood company like Wal-Mart would do something duplicitous like charging people new merchandise prices for previously-used electronics. But it's Christmas; try to have a little faith.

Hill bought three of the players as Christmas presents for his children. He said one of the devices had apparently been returned to the store from a previous owner who loaded sex clips and songs with lyrics about using drugs.

"Within 10 minutes, my daughter was crying," Hill said Thursday. "I wish I could take the thoughts and images out of her head."

You gotta feel bad for the kids, but this should be easy enough to explain.

"Santa was bringing you an mp3 player filled with Hannah Montana songs and a different mp3 player filled with porn to some horny, perverted little kid who's been particularly good this year. And one of the elves must have made a mix-up! The point is, even Santa makes mistakes. Oh, yeah, and always look directly into the camera when giving head."

There, done and done. Maybe I should have a few kids...I'm good at this...

Anyway, if you really want to laugh...I mean, more than you just did at the little girl who got porn for Christmas...check out this MSNBC news report on the incident, sent by faithful reader and Mahooligan, Brian. I wish I could embed it on here, but MSNBC continues to not provide embeddable videos...Losers...

In the segment, there's a shot of the reporter watching the screen of the mp3 player as she says, "The porn on here is so graphic...there's not even a part of it we can show you." This has to be one of the most unintentionally hilarious bits of TV journalamism EVER. The direct implication is that this journalist is watching porn on camera and judging it too disturbing for a mass audience, like Herzog listening to the Timothy Treadwell death tapes. Awesome. I'm just imagining the meeting in the NBC Newsroom where they made the decision not to show any of the tapes.

"Can we show this?"

"It's just a Cincinnati Bowtie. They show 'em on Bloomberg all the time."

"I don't know...What's that?"

"I think it's just a nostril."

"We can show just nostrils, right?"

"It depends on what's around them."

"What about felching?"

"What's felching?"

"Mr. Brokaw, you're retired now. Why don't you go home and have a nice lie-down?"

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Favorite Songs of 2007, Part 5

[Read Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4]

This concludes the Favorite Songs list for this year. In a few days, I'll post the Favorite Albums list.

Radiohead, "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi"

Yeah, that's right, I chose two songs from the Radiohead album.

Sea Wolf, "You're a Wolf"

Love the haunting cello line that runs throughout this song.

Spoon, "Finer Feelings"

It was hard not to pick multiple songs from this year's Spoon album as well. I like every track and I haven't gotten tired of any of them yet...Amazing.

St. Vincent, "Paris is Burning"

Seeing Annie Clark play this live at the Wiltern, followed by an awesome rendition of "Dig a Pony," not to mention a killer set from The National, was quite possibly 2007's concert highlight.

Vampire Weekend, "Oxford Comma"

These guys actually have kind of a Spoon thing going, now that I think about it. Very simple but intensely listenable and above all precise pop songwriting. This is just a really fun song.

Voxtrot, "Kid Gloves"

The background vocals on this song are absolutely brilliant. So '80s. Voxtrot is one of these great unknown bands that I'm almost 100% positive could be massively popular if only people had heard of them.

Ween, "Your Party"

The best ironic/not-ironic song since Beck's "Debra." As expected from musical chameleons Dean and Gene, this song pulls off yacht rock better than most yacht rock songs. The saxophone, the middle-aged-white-suburban-dork lyrics...Perfection.

White Rabbits, "The Plot"

This song was bouncing around in my head for probably 1/3 of 2007's total days.

Windmill, "Tokyo Moon"

Totally epic. This song is like Soft Bulletin-era "Flaming Lips."

Whalebones, "Don't You Know"

I love a nice low-key alt-country song. This song kind of reminds me of Songs:Ohia...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Brad Pitt of Despair

I'm a bit puzzled by this article from Variety about the failure of The Assassination of Jesse James at the box office. Specifically, how the writer appears surprised that the movie wasn't a big success.

It seemed entirely clear to me that Jesse James, despite being one of 2007's best films in terms of quality, was never going to rank among the year's most popular films. It's a difficult, deliberately-paced 3-hour Western with minimal action and one major star. Has a film like that scored with audiences since 1990's Dances With Wolves? Its backers were most likely gambling on the film garnering awards recognition or critical praise and parlaying that into a moderately-successful theatrical run and long shelf-life on DVD. That still might happen. Though it's hard to figure a $3.8 million domestic haul is anything less than a major disappointment, this is a film movie fans will discover over the course of a few years. (Here's my original review)

The interesting story here is how a foreign director with one notable American release to his credit (Andrew Dominik) was able to convince a studio to invest any money at all in this film. Instead, writer Pamela McClintock tries to use the failure of Jesse James to make some kind of point about the very concept of movie stardom:

One studio exec says people are in the mood to be entertained -- regardless of the name on the marquee, at least to some extent.

"I think it's the movie, not the movie star," one studio exec says. "Movies like 'Juno' have the accumulation of great contemporary resonance, and you have a dazzling breakthrough performance in Ellen Page."

Though it kind of unfortunately comes off as a knock on the film - implying that Jesse James isn't entertaining, when nothing could be further from the truth - the point she's making is actually quite obvious: famous names don't guarantee box office success, and attention from the tabloids doesn't mean attention from paying film audiences. (One need look no further than Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson's dismal returns at this year's box office to confirm this fact).

I mean, dozens of films open each year featuring major stars that fail to connect with audiences. The idea is that it's very difficult to guarantee an audience for a movie that doesn't have celebrities, so a film like that will have a harder time finding investors. That doesn't necessarily mean that the inverse is true, that a film that does feature celebrities will have guaranteed success. It just makes this significantly more likely to occur. I mean, duh.

It just strikes me as incredibly superficial to view this disappointment as a mark on Brad Pitt's celebrity status. It's not like the guy's had a foolproof, stellar record of hits up until now. Babel did $34 million last year despite months of publicity and Oscar nominations. From 1997 to 2000, the guy made nothing but flops - The Devil's Own, Seven Years in Tibet, Meet Joe Black, Fight Club, Snatch. He's done alright with the Ocean's movies and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but let's not forget those also starred George Clooney, Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and half the celebrities in Hollywood.

Why are we suddenly expecting him to have Will Smith-style opening weekends?

The article also fails to mention anything about the marketing or advertising of the film, and any analysis of box office performance without bringing this into account can't possibly be complete or thorough. I mean, McClintock writes that Warners had essentially written off the film years before it was ever released:

The studio says "Jesse James" cost $30 million to produce. Shooting was actually completed in the latter part of 2005; the release was delayed by more than a year until September 2007 due to editing.

By the time "Jesse James" opened in five locations Sept. 21, Warners had tempered its expectations; usually, when a film underperforms at the box office, there's all sorts of hand-wringing back on the studio lot.

So, they didn't expect it to do well and therefore, it's likely they didn't put their full resources behind promoting it. (Also, if I'm not mistaken, Pitt distanced himself from the production over time and didn't participate in a lot of publicity when it finally opened.) You think this may have had something to do with its poor showing?

Christmas with Lee Majors

He's been a very good $6 million man this year...

Is It Too Late to Change My "Best Songs" List?

I picked this up from Stereogum after I noticed that the band has been mentioned a bunch in Pitchfork's roundup of musician Top 10 lists.


The band is High Places, and they don't have a proper album out yet, but that Stereogum post has a four songs, all very good-to-excellent. This band will likely have an amazing 2008.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmastime for the Jews

Another classic SNL Christmas moment that I saw posted on Valleywag, of all places. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Favorite Songs of 2007, Part 4

[Read Parts 1, 2 and 3]

Neil Young, "Dirty Old Man"

I only liked about half of Neil's 2007 entry, Chrome Dreams II. This track sounds a lot like something he would have written 30 years ago. Lyrically, it's a lot like "Sedan Delivery" and "Welfare Mothers."

I could not find a single embeddable or direct link for this song. I guess Neil wants your 99 cents.

The New Pornographers, "Failsafe"

It was a toss-up between this track and "Myriad Harbor" from the New Pornos' "Challengers" record, but I went with this one because I love Neko Case's Kathryn Calder's vocals on it.

Of Montreal, "Gronlandic Edit"

I'll admit, some of the songs of this album were too far-out for me to get into. I admire what Kevin Barnes & Co. are going for...but it's not the sort of thing I'll listen to frequently. I listened to this song a shitload this year. It's like a Beck in full-on Prince mode, backed up by Hot Chip - weird, hypnotic and funky. Plus, you've got to love the line "physics makes us all its bitches."

Okkervil River, "Our Life Is Not a Movie Or Maybe"

This one kicks off The Stage Names with a bang. Not every band could pull off such a BIG, emotional gesture right up front and make it work, but as they did a few years back with Black Sheep Boy, Okkervil River has constructed a rock album that builds in dramatic intensity more like a rock opera. The Arcade Fire goes for the same kind of sweeping, epic scale in their music, and succeeded beautifully in Funeral a few years back, but Stage Names clearly outdid this year's A.F. entry, Neon Bible.

Panda Bear, "Good Girl/Carrots"

Holy shit. This song is a masterpiece. Almost 13 minutes long and every second is entrancing and vital. It may take a few listens to "get it," but once you're there...bliss.

Patrick Wolf, "Bluebells"

I love the use of fireworks sound effects in this song. Gives everything kind of a oddly nostalgic quality.

Photo Atlas, "Handshake Heart Attack"

The Ponys, "Poser Psychotic"

There's a lot less straight-up guitar rock on my Favorite Lists this year than in years past. Even an old fart like myself, who came of age when Grunge was King, has to admit that electronic music and hip-hop are changing the landscape of what's worth listening to. The Ponys, however, are keeping the old ways alive.

Professor Murder, "Flex-It Formula"

Radiohead, "Reckoner"

I love Radiohead. I love "In Rainbows." I love this song. That is all.

[The Favorite Song list concludes with Part 5 here!]

Do I Know It's Christmas?

Typically, this is about the time I would post some angry, curmudgeonly take on the Christmas season and piss off all the True Believers who stumble into my blog-space. In 2005, I wrote this post, "The 6 Types of Annoying Christmas Songs," a goofy little bit of business making fun of the severity or anachronism of most popular Christmas carols. I thought it was pretty lighthearted, but still received some strongly-worded rebukes in comments from Yuletide fans.

The best was from Webmastergo Dallas:

It's really too bad you're so sad. Calling you names (like a pit-dwelling grinch who's soul seems near dead) would serve no purpose and might almost surely fuel your WAY-MORE-than-cynical and hateful fire against things decent, peaceful and good, albeit agreed that in some cases antiquated (yet not irrelevant to many with joyful souls). Or you may actually enjoy such name-calling as vaildating a selected humanity-rebellion. The biggest wrong such name-calling will commit is to push you further away from the soul-saving subject-person of (and reason for) Christmas, the creator of the entire universe who unselfishly came to sacrifice himself for the likes of me and you.

Who knows if you're uncommonly financially wealthy and silver-spoon-life lived without compassion or any personal lack or struggle has utterly impoverished and jaded your spirit, with a "let em eat cake in hell" resultant attitude... or if you're just a raging semi-sociopath who from personal choice or lack of familial nurturing has grown into killjoy-jerkishness toward everyone else's happiness except your own. On top of it all you probably don't give a rat's tail WHAT anybody thinks. But just a parting tip as we ease into the joy of a season mostly celebrating Jesus Christ who LOVED YOU AND STILL LOVES YOU SO MUCH (and hopes you'll soon chill out and discover that truth ... before it's too late) -- GOD LOVES YOUUU DUDE!!! No matter who you are..what you've done.. who you've hurt..who's hurt you...GOD LOVES YOU.

I have no idea where he got the "uncommonly financially wealthy" "silver-spoon-life" thing...All I did was goof on some Christmas songs. I mean, my folks did alright, but I don't see what that has to do with anything.

Also, I object to being called a "pit-dwelling Grinch." I believe he lived on a high mountaintop overlooking Whoville, did he not? Insulting me is one thing, but I'll not have you misstate details from the beloved classics of Dr. Seuss.

Anyway, I'm not sure I really have it in my this year to do a caustic, anti-Christmas post. I feel like things have been more subdued this year (or maybe I've just been busier), and I've been less overwhelmed by holiday-themed nonsense than in years past. Is it because people are nervous about the economy and spending less on pointless crap they don't need? Or have I personally just been more preoccupied with my own shit and not paying attention to the usual full-on Shopping Orgy Experience?

So instead of ranting, enjoy Mark Jensen's Family Christmas:

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Post About Watching Football? As a Couple?

Relax, it's just the setup for a new Mahalo Daily installment. I'm not going all Gridiron on you all of the sudden...Enjoy yours truly doing an excruciatingly poor Al Michaels voice AND SO MUCH MORE!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Favorite Songs of 2007, Part 3

[Read Part 1 and Part 2]

Interpol, "Heinrich Maneuver"

Interpol's second album, "Antics," was so boring and uninteresting to me, I thought maybe the mechanism in my brain that enjoyed Interpol had broken permanently. I listened to that album 3 or 4 times, and then pretty much never again. This year's "Our Love to Admire" fared far better, and this was my favorite track - it brings together everything the band does really well.

Iron and Wine, "Boy with a Coin"

Jay-Z, "Ignorant Shit"

The great thing about Jay-Z's soundtrack/album "American Gangster," which at this point I can safely say I prefer to the Ridley Scott film of the same name, was all the '70s samples. My favorite song from the album, "Ignorant Shit," borrows the same bit of the Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets" as Biggie Smalls' "Big Poppa," invoking the memory of a patron saint of the genre and giving everything to come a feeling of significance. The opening, in which Hova wonders aloud why fans declare his party albums "genius" but can't be bothered with his more heady "Kingdom Come"-style endeavors, lays the foundation for a takedown of the culture of hip-hop and its politics that's both hilarious and insightful. I'm serious, there's a lot of interesting ideas packed into this 3 minutes and 44 seconds. I honestly can't BELIEVE Pitchfork chose a song from this album as it's Best of the Year and it WASN'T "Ignorant Shit." I like "Roc Boys" too, but...this one is clearly the highlight.

Kings of Leon, "Fans"

Hells yes.

Kanye West, "Can't Tell Me Nothing"

I swear, I'm not just picking this song so I can post this video. I really do like the song, even better than "Stronger":

Jesca Hoop, "Intelligentactile 101"

The first time I posted this song on here, I said I had no idea what it was about. But I've listened to it a lot more, and now I think I've got it. It's sung from the perspective of either (1) a fetus or (2) a soul floating around in space waiting to be placed inside a fetus, and it's about how the narrator is excited about being born. Maybe I've overthought it, but what can I say? This was one of those songs that wouldn't get out of my head this year.

The Light Footwork, "Rebellion Time"

I really like this band. This song is what Sufjan Stevens would sound like if he wrote songs instead of faux-symphonies. And had a girl with him. In other words, The Light Footwork would kick the White Stripes ass in team debate.

M.I.A., "Paper Planes"

This is an amazing song, both because I could listen to it 10,000 times without getting sick of it, and because it so boldly tells its audience what they don't want to hear. What could be a more direct response, in a year when so much of the world continues to recoil against the horror of IMMIGRANTS in their HOMELAND, than a woman flying the flag of "Third World Democracy" chanting "all I want to do is [bullet sounds] and take your money?" I'm going to go ahead and say, "nothing could be a more direct response than that."

Melody Function, "Anne Maria"

Just a great, loud, driving hard rock song. This is kind of a throwback to the early aughts when bands like The Strokes ruled the airwaves, and even though that "The Blanks" era has ended, this kind of simple pop song never really goes out of style. No embeddable copy, but you can download the song here at You Ain't No Picasso. That's where I found it, and a good deal of the other songs on these lists.

The National, "Mistaken for Strangers"

It was tough to pick just one National song for this list. There are at least 5 cuts from the album I could see putting on a Best 2007 Songs list.

[Continue with Part 4! Or skip to the end, Part 5!]

Crispin Glover Interview on Mahalo Daily!

Check this little slice of awesome out: Veronica Belmont's exclusive interview with auteur-author-musician-actor and all-around mack Crispin Glover:

I'm desperate to see the new film, It Is Fine, Everything Is Fine!. Missed it a few weeks ago at the Egyptian.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I have heard that Ian McEwan is a terrific novelist, and I fully intend to one day get around to one of his books. But I can say, having seen two adaptations of McEwan novels, that they don't make the transition to the screen very well. Enduring Love was a navel-gazing mess of a movie. I wrote in my original review:

"I'd have preferred enduring just about any unpleasant activity over Enduring Love, an utterly joyless exercise that's as preposterous as it is dull. This is clearly a film that thinks it has something to say about the nature of love, but for the life of me I can't determine what that thing could possibly be."

And now we have Atonement, another film about the unbearable pain of an impossible love. It's fairly evident to me why Joe Wright's screen version (based on a script by Christopher Hampton, best known for writing Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liasons) doesn't work - everything revolves around an event that happens within the first 45 minutes or so of the movie. In a novel, characters can spent half a book reflecting upon something that has already happened. It's prose - the unfolding of events in some kind of synchronous order isn't required to maintain reader interest, so long as the writing itself is entertaining.

But in a narrative movie, you can't really have the crucial event go down at the end of the First Act and then whisk people away to other, less interesting action with zero stakes, populated by a bunch of strange new characters. Actually, "can't" is too strong a word here. I can think of several films that do, in fact, unfold in similar fashion to Atonement, in which an incident early on in the film inspires all the conversation and attention for the rest of the film. Even this year, No Country for Old Men spends its final half hour considering the action that has come before.

What I mean to say is that Atonement failed to keep my interest through its various time jumps and epilogues.

We open in an English manor in 1935. Young Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) lives with her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley, who starred in Wright's previous film, Pride and Prejudice) and mother Emily (Harriet Walter), along with a large staff of servants and their families. Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) is one such employee, working on the estate as a gardener and planning and future career as a doctor.

Briony, an imaginative girl with a bit of a crush on Robbie, sees something she should not and makes an ill-considered accusation. She winds up causing both Cecilia and Robbie a great deal of trouble, and their woes only increase with the onset of World War II.

After Briony's accusation is made and the consequences meted out, Wright's film jumps ahead five years. Briony (now played by Romola Garai) and Cecilia are now nurses working at a veteran's hospital, but they are not on speaking terms. (Briony, we come to understand, is tormented by guilt over her actions and obsessed with trying to set things right). Robbie is serving as a private in the Army, doomed to the lowest rung on the military ladder because of Briony's misdeed years before.

I'm still not really feeling Keira Knightley, I must say. In the past, I've said she wavers constantly between two modes - pouty/petulant, and headstrong. Here, she spends the first act in Mode One, and the remainder of the film in Mode Two. You can always tell when she's evoking steely resolve...because it's pretty much all she ever freaking evokes.

This is the third film I have seen starring James McAvoy, and I only know that because I have looked him up on IMDb. (He was Mr. Tumnus in Narnia and the star of Last King of Scotland.) How boring do you have to be to star in three films in as many years and still be such a nobody? THIS boring.

The rest of the cast is fine. Both Brionys, the younger and older incarnations, are terrific, and the transition from one to the other is seamless. Brenda Blethyn plays Robbie's mother, a servant in the Tellis household, and steals a few scenes. The camera work by Seamus McGarvey is also really solid, with some really nice use of muted colors. (There's one beautiful shot of a soldier walking in a field of tulips.) There's an impressive tracking shot that has to last a few minutes at least, in which McGarvey's camera tours around a French beach where thousands of British soldiers are waiting to board ships and head home, but it's also distracting and serves no real dramatic purpose in the movie. The transition from the story of intrigue at a British manor to a war movie is abrupt enough without long, graceful establishing shots setting off the pace and calling attention to themselves.

Like everything after the time jump in Atonement, the tracking shot would have more impact if there were some importance to it, some reason we had to see what's going on at this beach. Robbie spends the entire remainder of the film waiting to go home. Just sitting around, waiting, thinking about how he came to be in France. Cecilia spends her time waiting for Robbie to get back. Briony spends her time thinking about what she did, waiting to hear back from Cecilia to see whether or not she'll be forgiven. That's a lot of sitting around and waiting.

Vanessa Redgrave shows up and plays Briony as an older woman, and she's fine, but these sequences are not at all cinematic. They play like Hampton just transcribed the screenplay from the novel. Seriously, Redgrave spends the end of the film staring into the camera and explaining to you what you have just seen, and then the title of the movie. (She's being interviewed by Anthony Minghella for TV cameras at the time).

It's kind of embarrassing, really. The film might as well have ended with Minghella in a smoking jacket with a pipe, in an easy chair, closing the book version of "Atonement" and wishing you a safe drive home. If you can't think of a way to show us what happens in the book visually in at least a semi-compelling fashion, don't adapt that book. Simple as that.

Dark Knight Trailer

I saw it in front of I Am Legend. Now it's on YouTube:

Most discussion centers of Heath Ledger's Joker make-up. Yes, it's a more realistic look than the Nicholson version. But it totally works for Christopher Nolan's vision of a more realistic Gotham City and the vibe of the first film. Plus, he has the voice TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY NAILED.

The years, to my mind, have not been to kind to the first Burton Batman film. (I maintain that Batman Returns was the superior episode). And one of the things that come off the worst to me looking back is the Jack Nicholson performance. It's way too much Jack and not enough Joker. In fact, I think he's much more enjoyable in the Charles Napier scenes, before he makes his transformation. Not a good sign.

He's just not evil enough. All Clown Prince and no Crime. (He wants to mutate the citizens of Gotham with toxic shampoo and spray graffiti in the Guggenheim? Really? That's the set-up for your blockbuster action film?) So I'm looking forward to seeing what Ledger does with the character and how he's changed.

Plus, it's hard to knock any film that releases this as a one-sheet.


I Am Legend

[SPOILER WARNING: I will do my best not to reveal crucial information about the end of the new Will Smith film I Am Legend in this review, but I can't very well talk about my impressions without divulging some aspects of the Third Act. As well, I intend to spoil the ending of Richard Matheson's original novel upon which the film as based, which is also the ending of the two previous film adaptations, the Vincent Price film The Last Man on Earth and the Charlton Heston classic The Omega Man. Sorry.]

I Am Legend gets off to an amazing start. Robert Neville is the last man alive in a broken Manhattan reclaimed by Nature. We find him racing around the streets amidst empty rows of tanks and fading Quarantine signs in a sports car, chasing wild deer around Times Square. He moves in to kill a buck, but is thwarted by a pack of lions. All around him, the evidence of our consumer-crazed, advertising-obsessed civilization crumbles. In a few more decades, all traces of humankind will have dissolved.

Director Francis Lawrence and his design and art departments render the Manhattan of 2012 so credibly, it's almost distracting. It's hard to focus on the action of the story - you have to consciously stop marveling at the empty, despoiled New York City sets.

Plus, I think I prefer watching Will Smith without co-stars. He can't wisecrack as much with only mannequins and a dog around to hear him. There's still some rather tedious business in which he chats with the aforementioned department store props, attempting to maintain some semblance of a community and a daily routine, for it's fortunately short-lived. Lawrence has made a movie of intense silences, and Smith bravely caps his usual jocularity to get inside the head of a more troubled, brooding individual than he typically portrays.

Robert Neville has a lot to be depressed about. An Army Colonel and doctor who was working on a cure for the engineered virus that wiped out nearly all of humanity, he's now without his family, his faith or any significant hope for the future. Each night, he must hide from the roving Infected, humans who have caught the virus and turned into kill-crazy maniacs.

Neville maintains a rigid schedule - hunting and restocking his Washington Square apartment by day, continuing to work for a cure in his basement lab, and then hiding in a bathtub in the fetal position with his beloved dog Sam and a high-powered rifle all night. He sends out AM radio messages searching for other survivors, but evidently has no real hope of finding anyone else.

Lawrence previously made the above-average comic book adaptation Constantine, and there as here, he demonstrates a gift for CG-heavy action scenes. I typically find sequences in which live-action characters battle with computer-generated meanies either dull or ridiculous, and it's undeniable that Lawrence's vampire-zombies (and even some of the CG animals) look entirely fraudulent. But still, there's a certain kinetic sense to the way these monsters jump around, and I liked how the Main Vampire's ragged clothes flopped around in the air as he howled and shuffled about. Everything moves fast - the vampires typically look like little more than pale white blurs - but we get just well-chosen little details. (The suble death rattle of a freshly-killed vampire, say, or the creepy, hunched-over huddle formation in which the vampires sleep.)

So, yes, there's lots to like. But then the Third Act happens and ruins everything.

Seriously, this is a horrific case of screenplay sabotage. And who wrote this screenplay, that lurches into its final half-hour and lands somewhere between obtuse and offensive? That would be the all-star duo of Mark Protosevich (writer of Poseidon!) and Akiva Goldsman (writer of...get ready for this...Batman and Robin, Lost in Space, A Beautiful Mind, I Robot and The Da Vinci Code!) Who could have imagined these guys would deliver anything less than a superior conclusion?

Sarcasm aside, it's pretty much fait accompli that an Akiva Goldsman script will fail to deliver. But I'm still gobsmacked at just how poorly the conclusion to I Am Legend comes off.

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead!]

So here's how the original story goes, the original ending that, bear in mind, BOTH previous film adaptations maintained. Neville discovers that, contrary to his previous thinking, the vampires have started their own sort of society from within the old human world. (There aren't, after all, any humans left.) They have been hunting him not because they mean to feed on him, but because he's been hunting them. The title itself refers to the stories vampires tell one another about the last human, a ghoulish figure who tries to kill them while they sleep.

It's a message about fear of the unknown and, in the end, about tolerance and acceptance. Goldsman and the Poseidon guy ditch this in favor of a very American, very silly good-vs.-evil, rah-rah-Amuricah! ending in which God comes down from Heaven and shows Neville how to save the day and destroy the evildoers. It's pretty much a complete rip-off of Signs, which is a really stupid movie to rip off. (Though it's better than ripping off Lady in the Water.)

I don't know, maybe they were afraid the original ending would make Neville too unlikeable, so they had to come up with some more heroic, noble send-off for him. The only problem is, it makes the film pointless. Also, a lot of the previous scenes we've seen (like having the vampires cleverly turn one of Neville's traps against him) don't make sense in light of the conclusion. Oh, yeah, and the FUCKING TITLE doesn't make sense. But, you know, otherwise it's fine...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Favorite Songs of 2007, Part 2

[See Part 1 here]

You know what I can't stand? Lists by music critics of the Year's Best Songs that always include the year's most popular songs near the top, as if any list like this is going to be definitive and authoritative, rather than just based on personal tastes. Rolling Stone picks Rihanna's "Umbrella" as the #3 song this year...

Really? Cause the thing is...that's definitely the year's most ubiquitous song, but it's totally overrated. Boring, even. And I doubt that it's any Rolling Stone writers sincere choice for Song of the Year. Even if you're a big R&B fan, there are better songs out there. That's just the one that hit big this summer, and that boasts the largest Ringtone sales figures.

Anyway, let's continue with my list, that does not include Rihanna's "Umbrella."

Celebration, "Evergreen"

David Vandervelde, "Murder in Michigan"

Another that's definitely among my favorite songs of the year. This song is so evocative, both of another era in songwriting and of a certain kind of feeling, between adoration and pity. Brilliant.

Deerhunter, "Spring Hall Convert"

It starts out with what sounds like a waterless bong rip, totally appropriate for a song that eventually turns into a swirling psychedelic trip out session.

Dinosaur Jr., "Back To Your Heart"

Dino Jr. was BACK this year, and they still sound FANTASTIC. So many reunions just feel like an opportunity for nostalgia, but these guys clearly have more great albums in them. "Beyond," title included, felt like a new beginning.

Eagle*Seagull, "I Don't Know If People Have Hated Me, But I Have Hated People"

I heard a song from this band last year - the very Cure-ish "Photograph" - and liked it, but this track blew me away completely. It's the piano - does it every time.

Everything, Now!, "Take a Gawk at the Weird Side"

Feist, "My Moon My Man"

My favorite song from Feist's amazing "The Reminder"

Fiery Furnaces, "Ex-Guru"

This is The Fiery Furnaces at their fuzzy, infectious best. Their 2007 release, "Widow City," is a true return to form and a surefire bet for my Top Albums list.

Great Lake Swimmers, "Where In the World Are You"

I can only take these guys in small doses - their music gets a bit too precious after a while. So intimate, you almost need to ESCAPE. But this is just a beautiful song. It should totally be in a sad movie...

Immaculate Machine, "Dear Confessor"

Straight-forward, catchy, basic indie rock style right here. This song could totally be popular if it were on the radio. (I especially like the interaction between the male and female voices - like a better, more direct Rainer Maria.)

[Go on to Part 3]

Friday, December 14, 2007

Favorite Songs of 2007, Part 1

Usually, I come up with a list of my favorite 20 or so songs out of a given year. But now that I'm regularly using iTunes at both work and home, it's relatively easy to compile a somewhat more thorough, extensive list of the music I've listened to and enjoyed in 2007. So I'm going to just post a long collection of songs, all the ones I've really been into this year, over the course of several posts. (As many as it takes, really.) Then, when that's all done, I'll post my Top Albums of the Year list (which I promise to limit to 21.)

So, here we alphabetical order...which means this wouldn't make a particularly good mixtape...

!!!, "Bend Over Beethoven"

The 1900s, "Everybody's Got a Collection"

I like this song because it sounds really pleasant and up-tempo, and then you listen to the lyrics and discover it's pretty mean-spirited. Even cruel.

Aesop Rock, "Catacomb Kids"

My favorite track on Aesop's considerable "None Shall Pass" record.

Apostle of Hustle, "My Sword Hand's Anger"

This sounds very much like a Broken Social Scene song, which is always a good thing. The hook is near-perfect. The whole album, "National Anthem of Nowhere," was really solid.

Bat for Lashes, "What's a Girl to Do"

Definitely one of my favorite songs this year. It's got the kind of lonely, desolate, even eerie sound that really appeals to me for some reason. Plus, one of the year's coolest videos.

Black Kids, "I'm Not Gonna Teach You"

Fantastic stuff. They've got a very catchy, '80s synth-pop kind of sound that takes me back to my childhood, really.

The Boggs, "Forts"

This sounds like music made by inebriated, dizzy people late at night in a forest somewhere. It kinds of reminds me of a slightly lower-key, less insane Man Man. Maybe what Man Man sounded like right before they ate the garbage bag full of magic mushrooms.

Broken Social Scene and Kevin Drew, "Lucky Ones"

Buck 65, "Benz"

I only listened to this because Cadence Weapon guests on it, but I liked the song enough to check out Buck 65's whole record. Canadian Rap FTW!

CALLA, "Bronson"

I was kind of obsessed with this song for a while. Really, just that first little part..."I know a thing or two abooooouuuuuutttt..." Not sure why.

[On to Part 2! Or skip ahead to Part 3!]

Greatest Achievement in Headline History?

I'm going to go ahead and say...yes.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Coming Attractions...

I'm not at liberty to discuss details, but we've got a Mahalo Daily coming for you people...It's really going to be something.

Actually, I know of two notable Mahalo Daily's we have planned for the near-future. One features yours truly, another features an exciting special guest.

No, not Tommy Wiseau, though that WAS pretty awesome.

I can say no more at this time, but I'm pretty sure both episodes will be up before the New Year. Look forward to them, starting...NOW.

Pure Unadulterated Pain

This "12 Days of Christmas" parody, produced by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, may be the most blisteringly awful attempt at an Internet video meme I have ever seen. This makes that creepy Ginger Kid from NewsBusted look like George Carlin.

Okay, you didn't get through the whole thing. Naturally, I don't blame you. It's impossible to watch even a second of this video and not immediately enter a Simon Cowell impression. "I thought it was absolutely excruciating. Please, please, do the world a favor and never sing again. Actually, after giving it some thought, you'd probably be better off not speaking either. You could hurt yourself."

So, to spare you the need to sit through the whole thing (as I did, dear reader, for your benefit...), here are the 12 things "the liberals" gave to the NRSC for Christmas:

12 Senators Failing

- Here, they put photos of 12 Senators up, but it's so fast and poorly Photoshopped, you can't actually tell who they are. I picked out Kerry, and that's it. And bear in mind, I follow news and politics for a living. If I'm having trouble spotting faces, how does a person who does something non-news-media-related all day have any chance?

11 Percent Approval

- Not funny in any real way, which you'd think would be the point, but at least this one is true...sorta. The reason Congress has such a low approval rating is that they won't stand up to the Republican President, the thing they were voted into office to do only last year. But I don't want to begrudge the video this's the only point they actually succeed in making.

10 Paychecks Burning

- Huh? The Democrats want to light your paycheck on fire?

90 Thousand Freezing

- This is a reference to that money that was stashed in Democratic Rep. William Jefferson's freezer. Which happened quite some time ago (in politics time, an eternity), and was only national news for a few days. In Louisiana, they'll get this joke. Otherwise, not so much. (Plus, not funny, and they have to change "9" to "90,000" just to make it fit into the song.)

No More Secret Ballots

- This is a TWOFER. It doesn't make any sense and it doesn't use an 8, which is the entire point of parodying this song! Why do a "12 Days of Christmas" riff if you're not even going to fucking bother following the format!?!!!?!?! This doesn't bother me as a liberal, but as a Weird Al fan. It's like writing a send-up of The Raven that isn't in trochaic octameter. (You know it when you hear it...)

"Once upon a midnight dreary
While I sat around in my room smoking bong loads in my underpants waiting for my Chinese food to arrive
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore..."

The effect, as they say, is lost.

700 Billion in New Spending

- This line also sucks, because they change 7 to "700 Billion" and it's so long that the singer can barely get it out in time. Also, it's kind of a weaksauce argument coming from these Republican scumbags who are wasting our tax dollars on corporate giveaways. Sometimes just losing billions at a time. For real! Just losing your money to graft and fraud!

6 Troop Funding Cuts

- The woman who sings this line sounds gravely ill, and the effect gets worse with each repetition. Also, this is incredibly disingenuous and manipulative. They're referring to attempts to end this seemingly endless, futile and bloody disaster as "troop funding cuts," as if Democrats have proposed simply abandoning wide swaths of the American soldiers in the desert with IOUs, peanut butter sandwiches and swift kicks in the ass. There have been attempts to cut off new funds to continue the war into more and more months and years. To my knowledge, no "leave 'em in the Middle East to rot whilst we move in on their wives" bills have been offered by the Democratic Congress.

Bear in mind, I don't particularly like this Democratic Congress. They're a bunch of privileged, timid, bureaucratic assholes who don't seem to give two shits about what their constituents or anyone else wants, and seem determined to fight only to maintain the status quo. But these arguments are just pathetic and dishonest in equal measure. Plus, they're delivered in song. Shrill, monotonous, nigh on unlistenable song.

Hillary's Woodstock Museum

- And here's where the song reaches maximum crapulence. It doesn't contain the 5 in "Five Golden Rings," it refers to a non-scandal that those who don't comment daily on Confederate Yankee will miss, and it's delivered in the most bleating, eardrum-shattering, hope-meltingly odious tone my ears have ever had the displeasure of encountering. This diva's final, otherworldly "Hillary's Woodstock Museum" will continue to haunt my nightmares for years to come.

The joke is, Hillary had asked for $1 million in taxpayer monies to build a Woodstock Museum in her state (not coincidentally, the state in which Woodstock occurred.) I don't actually think this is a bad idea. In fact, I'm kind of surprised there isn't already a Museum there commemorating the most famous rock concert of all time.

I mean, if some Tennessee hillbilly asked for $1 million to completely renovate and restore the Grand Ol' Opry, you think there'd be rioting in the streets or a commercial about it being such an awful idea. Probably not. (I've never been, and I don't really care about country music, but I don't think that project would be out of line either.)

The point is, this is the best Congressional Republicans can do in making their case for re-election next year. The Best They Can Do. Silly pet projects, ancient scandals, non-sequiteur (No more secret ballots? I still have no clue what they mean with that one...) and outright misrepresentations, all delivered in such an obnoxious, amateurish manner, no one could possibly sit through the whole thing, even like-minded partisans.

NOTE: They actually wrote an explanation key in the YouTube "About this Video" section, obviously figuring that viewers would be confused. But even after reading their explanation of the "No More Secret Ballots" line, I still don't know what the hell they're talking about.

(Big Labor payback for union bosses)


4 bucks a gallon

- At least they got a four in there...I'll give them that. Still, not quite sure how this is the fault of Congressional Democrats. More like trigger-happy Republican presidents starting needless wars in the places where they keep all the oil.

Al Franken ranting

- Can't help but 3. Just sad, really. You know what, Republicans? I'm going to GIVE YOU this one...

"3 Cops a-Slapping"

You remember, how Cynthia McKinney slapped that cop around when he stopped her in the Capitol? And look, it has a 3 in it! Just like the original song!

But the best part of this line is the explanation in the sidebar:

(Angry Hollywood liberal)

Yes, I mean, who could forget Franken's classic work on "Saturday Night Live," a Hollywood institution shot every week in the heart of Los Angeles, California. (Don't believe that whole "Live, from New York..." bit. It's just more of that baffling Hollywood liberal irony.)

2 liberal Udalls

- Again, I read the news every day, all day, at work, so I'm vaguely aware that there are some guys up for Congressional seats in 2008 named Udall. I can't imagine more than 1% of Americans (and that's probably too high) are aware of this fact. They do not need to be. No one needs to be. It is, at this point, totally insignificant to everyone's life.

Was this just desperation to work a two in there? Because they obviously weren't worried about that shit when it came to 3 or 5. (Seriously, how many people do you think it took to write this song? Was it more than 1/8 of one person? Because if so, that's too many.)

Also, in case you didn't watch this (and let's face couldn't have...) and forget how the original goes, 2 comes at the very very beginning, which means it's repeated 11 times. Hearing a bad joke poorly sung once kind of sucks. Hearing a bad joke poorly sung 11 times is like watching your grandmother and a litter of puppies get burned alive in a Bessemer Converter. 11 times.

And a tax hike for every family!

- As a single man, I have to tell you...I'm strongly in favor of a tax hike for most families. Fuck you all, I gots to get mine. No one's ever after my vote. Not once has a politician ever attempted to reach out to the slothful 20-something single urban male. Not once. And I could be bought...pretty easily. Way easier than these NASCAR dads, who have a list of demands a mile long and some of whom seem to love Fred Thompson, so God knows what the hell is wrong with that crowd.

But the slothful 20-something single urban male is a voter without a representative. Build me a low-cost bullet train from here to Vegas, I'm yours. Legalize it, you've got my vote for at least a decade. Stop using my money to put up billboards advising mothers to talk to their children about not having sex early and often, your ideas will intrigue me and I will subscribe to your newsletter. Pander to me for once, dammit!