Thursday, January 03, 2008

No One Vote for This Guy, Okay?

Of all the ludicrous political ads I've posted this year, this piece of work from Rudy Giuliani may be the most offensive and insane:

What's the selling point behind this advertisement? Rudy Giuliani's already been in charge of one place that got blown up! How many cities that have been placed under your immediate supervision were thereafter successful targets for international terrorist conspiraces, Fred Thompson? Oh, zero? How interesting!

I mean, just like the ad says, Giuliani was "tested." He had a chance to select any location in New York City for his command center. He chose the World Trade Center. He had a chance to ensure his fire crews had proper, working radios. He didn't. He had a chance to protect the health and safety of his rescue teams by determining and disseminating accurate information about the the risks of breathing Ground Zero air. He didn't. So, yeah, he's been tested, but it's not like he passed the test. This is like asking a stranger to have sex with you because you've been tested for STD's. I don't care that you took the test...what were the results? Cause if I were to extend the 9/11-STD metaphor, Rudy Giuliani would have, bare minimum, Stage 3 syphilis.

But even putting the logic of his argument aside for a moment, the ad's crude xenophobia is just sickening. If America survives its current economic, social, political, military and existential crises, and our history classes ever get around to studying the politics and culture of the mid-to-late Aughts, I'm convinced this ad would be shown as an example of our growing fear and hatred of Muslims, informed largely by a thoroughly corrupted media propagating a warped, completely counter-factual narrative about encroaching Caliphates and imminent threats to our way of life.

Though it's hard to top the intensely bizarre, maniacal Tom Tancredo ads in which Our Hero attempts to save us from the creeping Brown Menace, I think Giuliani wins the "Most Racist Political Ad of Our Times" award. That this is a serious piece of actual campaigning, airing on Iowa television as recently as today, is scary stuff, and not for the reasons intended. Giuliani, like Bush before him, wishes to terrorize the American public into submission. He aims to make Americans so horrifically, constantly afraid of terrorist threats, they will continue to blindly cede to him the same powers and privileges we have ceded to his predecessor for seven years. If you really like the way things are going for America at this particular moment in history, please, vote Giuliani. However, if you like things like not-torturing-people or being-spied-on, maybe go some other way...

I Smell Bacon...Does Anyone Else Smell Bacon...

And now, the Best Headline You'll Read Today:

Pig + Space Heater = House Fire

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Worst Movies of 2007

[SPOILER ALERT: These are all bad movies. Sometimes, I will ruin them for you. I'll let you know before I do, but if you actually want to see one of the movies I'm discussing and don't want to know how it ends, probably you're safer just skipping that section and moving on.]

I started at Mahalo last January, so unlike in previous years, I didn't have the benefit of free movie rentals in 2007. Yet I still saw more than enough horrible movies to fill a Worst of the Year list, complete with runners-up. You case you were worried...

First things first, the year's worst movies that even I was not brave enough to see. The "Doomed to Fail" list:

Reign Over Me

The log line on this movie seriously makes me want to barf:

"A man who lost his family in the September 11 attack on New York City runs into his old college roommate."

And that's even before I tell you the tragic case at the heart of Reign On Me is played by Adam fucking Sandler! And that it comes to you from the genius behind HBO's short-lived "Mind of the Married Man"! Nooooooooo!

In the Valley of Elah

In Crash, Paul Haggis bravely told you that racism is teh l4m3z0rz. Now, in In the Valley of Elah (great title there, by the way, PH), he boldly takes on the Iraq War. Hmmm, I can't help but wonder if he'll have any useless, generic bromides to share with us...

Dan in Real Life

Has the "uptight dad terrified his daughter will get laid" genre ever given us an actual good movie? When you find yourself mining the same comic territory as Tony Danza, that's when you know things have gone horribly, horribly awry.

Wild Hogs

I don't really even feel the need to elaborate on this one. At this point, I greet trailers for new Tim Allen comedies with roughly the same enthusiasm as new Osama bin Laden videos. "Oh, shit, what's he going on about this time...What an asshole..."

Kickin It Old Skool

Now I've thought long and hard about this, and I'm pretty sure Jamie Kennedy's wigger persona is the lamest schtick in which any comedian on the fucking planet is engaging at this precise moment in history. Bear in mind, this means I find it less inventive or funny than Carlos Mencia's "look at the wildly gesticulating, racist Mexican who's not even really a Mexican" routine, Larry the Cable Guy's "look at the ignorant backwoods good ol' boy who's not even really a good ol' boy" bit and Michael Richards' "walk into a room full of black people and say deeply insulting things" schtick. Seriously, it's that bad...

Delta Farce

Well, as long as we're talking Larry the Cable Guy...He did manage to get some more work this year. Presumably from people who didn't see Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector.

The Bucket List

The more I find out about this movie, the more I hate it. I hate the way it totally ignores the truth about terminal illness, and pretends you could do stuff like motorcycling across the Great Wall of China while wasting away from cancer. I hate how it reveals our disturbing inability to deal with the plain truth of our own mortality in this country. I hate that it reduces the once-legendary Jack Nicholson and the great Morgan Freeman to sub-sitcom "wacky old people" cliches. But most of all, I hate the very notion of such a "list of generic activities" these two simply must engage in before they die. Most of them (at least from what I can see in the trailer) are unimaginative and predictable, and all of them require spending a lot of money. Well, isn't that just the ideal holiday fantasy? Blowing through a wad of cash on pointless shit you don't need, then dying.

License to Wed

Wins the award for the Worst Trailer of the Year:

I think I talked about this before, but I HATE comedies that rely on one of the main characters being completely insane and another character having to do everything the insane one says. That's such a pathetic, desperate way to write a movie, and because we realize immediately that the entire movie is based on needelssly forcing sane people to act insanely (because we're never provided with a GOOD REASON for such a scenario), we realize there are no stakes and essentially give up. Oh, and Robin Williams cloying, vapid blathering doesn't help matters.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Don't remake Toys, you fools! No one liked that the last time!


Okay, that's quite enough of that. Let's move on to the bad movies I actually took the time to watch:


16. Paris J'Taime

20 different directors contribute 5-minute films to this anthology about romance in Paris, and I can't honestly say a single one really comes together or demands attention. Each one of the films, in its own way, feels half-baked and tossed off, and with a few exceptions, we're only be able to identify the directors involved because they're named at the beginning of each segment. Many of them are shot well, but none of them are compelling, despite the relative freedom of the concept. (Characters in love or falling in love in different neighborhoods of the city in five minutes...that's it.) It might have been tolerable for a while, but 2 hours of this is far far far too much.

15. Bug

Perhaps Bug just works better on a stage. Tracy Letts adapted the script from her own play, and I guess, at least from the level of performance, its teeth-gnashing theatrics might work in a live setting. But William Friedkin's film version is just absolutely ludicrous. Rather than watching Agnes and Peter slowly go mad together in a crummy motel room, we see them discover a new romance, start to get along, and then suddenly FREAK OUT in a mad, overripe frenzy of schizophrenic horror. Now, of course, it's not really about a couple going insane in the midst of a bug infestation. I understand that weightier themes are involved, about desperate co-dependency, the terror of hopeless loneliness, all that...But it's impossible to take the drama seriously, what with all the funhouse lighting and open sores.

14. Mr. Brooks

In this movie, William Hurt plays the physical manifestation of a voice in Kevin Costner's head urging him to kill. Together, they match wits against blackmailer Dane Cook. Do I need to keep going?

13. Vacancy

Okay, I'm putting my foot down. No more "car fatefully breaks down during already-poignant/emotional road trip" horror movies. I can't fucking take it any more. You guys keep making them and I keep watching them and they're all pointless and lame. This movie actually asks us to tremble with fear at the thought of being attacked by a relatively unarmed Frank Whaley. ("You can't can't hide from...The Nerdy Pervert! Rated R.)

12. Smokin' Aces

Perhaps the ultimate reminder that stunt casting for its own sake is lame, and that few things are more painful than unfunny cameos. Many many members of Hollywood's semi-famous B-list ranks pop up for a scene or two in Joe Carnahan's miserable action-comedy Smokin Aces, most of them playing hitmen determined to wipe out Jeremy Piven. (Unfortunately, we're tasked with rooting against them.) None of them does anything even remotely amusing throughout the entire film; the only moment, in fact, that seems to get any kind of reaction from the audience is when several annoying characters die suddenly and mercifully disappear from the film. That earns a round of applause.

11. Factory Girl

Is this film a really sly, subversive homage to Andy Warhol? A simple-minded, superficial tribute to a brazenly and defiantly superficial mind? Maybe, but it's more likely Factory Girl is simply unable to provide any fresh insight into its already-familiar cast of characters nor any sense of the significance of these artists and their experiences. It reduces the story of Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan and the New York art world of their time to the most pedestrian level possible - celebrity gossip. "Did you know that this socialite floozy fucked Bob Dylan? And he thought Andy Warhol was, like, totally using her, and Andy Warhol was all like totally jealous, and she got all messed up on drugs and needed rehab?" And of course, the movie itself was tabloid fodder because of Sienna Miller's highly revealing nude scenes, her crushed award-season hopes and her tumultuous romance with Jude Law. Ugh.

Oh, I didn't mention Hayden Christensen's so-bad-it's-hilarious take on Dylan, who didn't allow the filmmakers to use his name or music in the film because he didn't like their take on his relationship with Sedgwick, probably because it's stupid and poorly-conceived. Having Anakin to impersonate Dylan's highly idiosyncratic manner of speaking poorly throughout the entire film was just a horrible choice by director George Hickenlooper. It makes the whole film feel like a bad SNL sketch. I'll take Cate Blanchett, thanks so much.

10. Spider-Man 3

Raimi had always resisted putting Venom in the Spider-Man films, but the rabid fanboy enthusiasm won out in the end. So we got a Venom movie from a guy who clearly doesn't understand or enjoy the Venom character. (I can't say I blame him...I've never really found Venom all that compelling as a character.) Every decision made on that end just sucked, from casting Eric Forman to play the character to featuring Tobey Maguire in heavy guyliner, trudging around in alien-symbiote-inspired angst like a backup dancer fired from a Fall Out Boy video. The effects were terrific as always in this Spider-Man, but everything else felt turgid and empty.

[Read the original review here]

9. The Number 23

Wow, 2007 fucking SUCKED. I can't believe this piece of shit is actually coming in #9. I picked EIGHT MOVIES as worse than this piffle? This piffle, I should add, directed by one of my all-time least favorite directors, a guy nearly guaranteed a spot on my Worst of the Year list any time he releases a movie, Mr. Joel Schumacher. Joel can't even make it into the Top 5 this year...Damn...

Anyway, I don't want to blow the whole thing for you necessarily, but the entire mystery behind Number 23 is intensely insulting. The set-up: Jim Carrey and wife Virginia Madsen discover a weird book in a rare book shop. It seems to describe aspects of Carrey's childhood and life, details it would be difficult for someone else to know. Also, the book describes a character who grows obsessed with the number 23 and its significance in probability, the universe, etc. That's all fine, I suppose. Mysterious enough I guess, even though it's punctuated by weird, really irritatingly-shot, overexposed "dream sequences" or whatever in which a tattooed Carrey alter-ego stalks around acting generally menacing. But the ending just feels so gratuitous and rushed, like it occurred to the screenwriters five minutes before their pages were due. A movie like this lives or dies by the last five minutes. If you don't have a great final twist, why write a thriller that spends 90 minutes building up to a final twist?

8. Pirates of the Caribbean 3

This movie was awful in a really weird way. I mean, how could you possibly fuck this one up? The first movie is really good, I personally think the second is even better...and then, this aimless, ceaselessly perplexing final chapter, which seems to purposefully ignore all the charms of the first two films? Really? 20 minutes of Depp, with visible flopsweat, desperately dicking around in front of a plain white backdrop? All of the lively, interesting characters sidelined, and newcomer Chow Yun-Fat killed off near-instantly, in favor of some snooty aristocratic Englishmen in powdered wings and their various double-, triple- and quadruple-crosses? The Kraken, the coolest adversary in the entire series, killed off-screen between films? Like I said, just...weird...One of the year's great disappointments.

[Read the original review here]

7. I Know Who Killed Me

As ridiculous as I found the conclusion of The Number 23, Lindsay Lohan's foray into the serial killer genre actually earns the dubious Worst Twist of 2007 award. It's so dubious, they actually have Art Bell appear on-screen during the movie to assure us in the audience that, in fact, these claims are possible. Trust me...they are not. Twists aside, this is just an extremely dark, muddy and unattractive film about a suburban good-girl slasher victim who wakes up after her attack minus an arm and under the impression that she's a stripper. It's just as nihilistic, unpleasant and grim as it sounds, not just brutally violent but also disgusting and lurid. It's trying to shock you, which doesn't make it shocking...Just sad...

6. Southland Tales

This movie's a gigantic mess, and really my respect for Richard Kelly's ambition is the only thing keeping it out of the Top 5. It feels like the work of someone caught up entirely within a world of his own creation. He has no idea how to bring others into this creation, to help us understand the significance of these bizarre characters and random, dimly explained goings-on, to him or anyone else. These images and concepts just sit there, on screen, sometimes coalescing into something approaching satire and other times defiantly refusing to make any sense at all, and after a short time, I found it completely impossible to even pay attention to them.

[Read the original review here]

Interestingly, this is yet another 2007 film with a giant cast of unimpressive, B-level celebrities, many of them "Saturday Night Live" alumni. These kind of deep comedian rosters are like a Grand Tradition truly bad movies. Anyone remember Rat Race? Of course you don't...

5. Stardust

When whimsy fails, it EPIC FAILS. Like farce, whimsical fantasy has to be done with an extremely deft touch. Miss the right tone/tempo/attitude/style/performance even by a bit, and the whole thing's just off. Stardust misses all of the above and MANY MANY MORE. In addition to woefully amateurish special effects and an essentially inert non-romance drearily stretched out to feature-length proportions, Stardust features the least-likable cast of characters in any recent fantasy film. Just when you're thinking no protagonist could possibly be more boring than the Orlando Bloom wannabe they've cast as Tristan, here comes Claire Danes as the whiny Star Girl Yvaine. Oh boy!

The worst of all is, of course, Captain Shakespeare, the friendly mincing sky pirate who pretends to be a tough guy in front of his men even though, when left to his own devices, he's a right dandy! He's played by Robert De Niro, who's obviously in dire need of funds to pay for his grandmother's operation.

[Read the original review here]

4. Transformers

It's not that I had high expectations for Transformers, you understand. I knew it was going to be terrible. It had nothing going for it from the first, save perhaps the corporate, almost entirely non-creative input of producer Steven Spielberg. I mean, a Michael Bay adaptation of an '80s toy concept involving truck-robots scouring the Earth for energy cubes. Suddenly the Lindsay Lohan as the forgetful dismembered stripper concept doesn't sound so bad.

What I wasn't prepared for was the migraine-inducing "action" scenes, which were not entertaining at all but did manage to exactly replicate the POV of a kitten that has been placed inside a dryer along with some Hot Wheels. I wasn't prepared for the "comedy" scenes, in which Optimus Prime bumbles around Shia LaBeouf's backyard like he's starring in some kind of anime Preston Sturges homage. I wasn't prepared for the seemingly endless sub-plots that went nowhere and were suddenly dropped in the last half-hour anyway, padding an already-overlong film into a bladder-decimating 150 minute ordeal. Watch as I instantly transform into someone who doesn't pay for Michael Bay movies any more!

[Read the original review here]

3. Shoot Em Up

Yet more proof that Chuck Jones was a fucking GENIUS. This movie is obviously trying to be live action Looney Tunes, yet director Michael Davis is unable to devise a single joke or set-up that's half as memorable or inventive as any random Warner Bros. classic short. Seriously, to set your expectations this low - a movie with essentially no plot that's just a bunch of random gunfights and cheap chauvanism - and still utterly fail to hit the mark, that's when it's seriously time to consider a new career path. Why would Clive Owen do this to us?

[Read the original review here]

2. 300

Go back and read the full review to get my extensive thoughts on this horrifyingly offensive, Western-supremacist war porn abomination. The popularity of this film and the fact that so many of my countrymen have defended it and lauded it with praise this year seriously makes me feel badly about where we are as a society. This kind of self-congratulatory, bloodthirsty propaganda, disguised as history of all things, just reinforces - and not in a suble way - a great mass of negative, destructive ideas. Homophobia, the fetishization of war, the demonization of foreign's all in there, and you don't have to look particularly hard to find it.

For those of you about to write me angry messages in the comments about how 300 is based on a graphic novel from years ago about a war thousands of years ago, and thus can't possibly relate to anything in 2007, let me just say that you might want to read some books without drawings now and again.

[Read the original review here]

1. Revolver

Guy Ritchie's Revolver was produced and released in Europe years ago, but it only made it to America in 2007, because it's clearly one of the worst movies ever made. Here's what Roger Ebert said:

"Revolver" is a frothing mad film that thrashes against its very sprocket holes in an attempt to bash its brains out against the projector. It seems designed to punish the audience for buying tickets.

He's far too kind.

Word on the street is that Ritchie was inspired by his wife Madonna's Kabballah religion, and if that's the case, those people are easily as fucked up as the Scientologists.

Ritchie's movie constantly promises to lead to something, and then keeps turning you around and showing you what you've already seen. (Get it? Revolver? Ha ha, this obvious pun excuses all my film's repetitiveness!) A convict is freed from jail. There's a gangster after him for some reason. Two mysterious guys come to his aid, but keep asking him to pull crappy errands for them in exchange. Are these the same two guys he got to know through the walls of his prison cell, who had long planned how to pull off the perfect crime? I still have no idea, because the movie doesn't so much answer questions as ask them over and over and over again. Eventually, you stop caring about getting any answers and just want to get as far away from the DVD of Revolver as possible. You may even lose your will to live. Who knows? Results may vary.

[Read the original review here]

The Magic of Reeding

Admittedly, I'm ripping off this post from Sadly, No. But I can't help myself. This is the most hilarious facial hair I have ever seen.

I thought it must have been PhotoShopped in there, but no, it's the real deal.

This is Reed Heustis, Jr. He's a lawyer. This sentence appears on the front page of his website:

"Unfortunately these same students are never taught that there exists one sovereign power that reigns supreme, even over the Constitution: King Jesus Christ."

I have to say, as far as personal webpages go, Reed is batting 1000.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Let's start 2008 with a chuckle. Here, compliments of the inimitable Prof. Myers, is an ACTUAL FOR-SERIOUS letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune. I give you a look inside the twisted mind of one Vera B. Ivie:

In his Dec. 27 letter, Steven Fehr says he believes President Bush is the worst president he has seen. Whenever I hear someone complain about the president, I ask them, “Do you pray for the president of the United States daily?” Is that too much trouble?

She poses this question as if it's obvious. "Oh, no wonder Bush starts illegal wars, tortures innocent people and spies on his own citizenry, then craps all over the Constitution trying to cover it up! We haven't been praying for him every single day! Man, is my face red..."

And I mean...every day? Do we really want to nag the Lord in this way? Imagine if someone asked you to do something and then pestered you about it every day.

"Hey, God, it's me, Lon, again. Look, I hate to be a bother, but you remember how I asked you to bless our millionaire cokehead president? Could you actually get around to doing that? Like, some time soon? I mean, I know you've got a lot on your plate but it's, like, totally super-important that we get this thing squared away. I really appreciate it, Big Guy. Thanks a billion. I'll call you tomorrow to make sure it's done. No, it's no problem. Thanks again. I owe you one."

It's like, he's God. He knows what you're going to ask for before you even ask for it. Once a week ought to be enough.

There used to be a custom of praying for our president.

You know, there used to be a custom of living in caves, dressing in animal skins and doodling on cave walls to pass the hours between sabretooth tiger attacks. It's called progress.

>Perhaps too many people in the United States believe this would be mixing politics and religion.

Yes, I fail to see how engaging in a religious practice on behalf of a politician mixes religion and politics.

If the majority of the people are agnostic and atheistic, it may be that they are partly to blame for the problems we have.

I think, clearly, the majority of the people are not agnostic or atheist...sigh...atheistic. The majority of people still believe in angels and Heaven, last I heard. But you've still got to appreciate how Vera needlessly hedges her bets here. She's saying something irretrievably stupid, but leaves herself rhetorical "outs" anyway in case anyone calls her on her bullshit. the majority of the people are agnostic and atheistic, it may be that they are partly to blame for the problems we have. Why not just out and say it? Shun the non-believers! Shuuuuuuunnnnnn.

To think one man is responsible for the war and the problems we face in our nation is about as foolish as to not believe in the power of prayer.

Where to begin with this one? I mean, what a strawman. No one's suggesting Bush and Bush alone is responsible for the war and the problems we face. It's Bush, Dick Cheney and their cadre of fanatics, of course. I mean, has anyone suggested that Bill Kristol, David Frum, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld and a whole cast of unsavory characters don't share some of the blame here?

Then Vera blathers on for a while meaninglessly. The point is, Atheists is the Devil. Go Bush FTW!

It's gonna be a good year, I can just feel it.

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.