Thursday, March 29, 2007

Miscellaneousness In List Form

Awesome Shows I'm Missing Due To Being Out Of Town At The Time, You Bastards, So I Hope Nobody Goes To Your Stupid Concert
  • Hot Chip - Saturday April 21 @ 9:30
  • Spoon - Saturday April 21 @ Sonar
  • Bloc Party - June 3 @ the loathsome D.A.R. Constitution Hall

Relevant New Albums Discussed On Pitchfork, That I Would Rather Not Wait For, But Will, Because I Have No Guns And Therefore No Choice

Albums By Bands I Like That I Kinda Panned When Discussing Them Earlier, But Have Come Around On, And Now See For All Their Fully-Worthy-Of-Their-Predecessors Awesomeness, Thus Making Me Feel Like A Dick
  • Ted Leo + Pharmacists - Living With The Living (Shoulda waited a week or two to say anything.  This album's awesome.  Still no Hearts of Oak, but neither is Tyranny of Distance or Shake the Sheets.)
  • !!! - Myth Takes (I deeply regret calling out Nic Offer back in January.  His presence is so much better here, as opposed to his in-your-faceness on Louden Up Now, that I should've just patted him on the back.  Myth Takes is an excellent album that deserves an unqualified rave, not my stupid, relentless nit-picking of its lone moment of weakness.  I apologize.)
  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - both albums (Just kidding.  They can still suck my balls.)

Albums I Kinda Regret Pimping, Though It's Not Like They Suck, They're Just Not Worth Being Crazy About, And I Thus Retract My Enthusiasm For Them
  • Klaxons - Myths Of The Near Future (everything besides the 4-5 good tracks is boring)
  • Peter, Bjorn and John - Writer's Block (also pretty much dispensible except for "Young Folks")
  • That's it.  My taste is otherwise impeccable!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Real Reason Why Southwest Is Kicking Ass

It's because they do all that endearing customer-friendly cutesy-poo crap they signed contracts to guarantee reasonable oil prices prior to the price boom.  Their competition is dying because their fuel costs are rising but they can't afford to raise ticket prices; meanwhile, Southwest is paying nearly 50 cents on the dollar because they were smart enough to foresee the mess we're in right now.  The linked article is almost two years old, but I suspect the situation isn't any different now than it was then.

That certainly goes a lot further to explain their market dominance than simply chalking it up to being "outsiders."  All that "the airline for regular folks like you and me" garbage wouldn't fly (sorry) if the prices weren't under such good control.  The real deal is that they're just that much smarter.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


So, Modest Mouse singer Isaac Brock had a fun weekend. He cut himself across his chest mid-song at a concert the other night. [link via Idolator] No word on whether he screamed "BORED! BORED! BORED!" while doing it.

In what I'm confident is unrelated news, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank is in stores today.

But you know, I have no problem falling prey to Ike's transparent publicity stunt. We Were Dead is a great, great, great, great album. If you can read this post, then you should get it. This is a band working at the very peak of its power, and they've release what is, in many ways, the ultimate "hey, our weird band is popular now!" album. Totally excellent, highly recommended.

As is the video for "Dashboard," which amuses me more each time I see it. (Check. Check.) Check it out:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Best Movies Of 2006

[edited 3/18 for typos, incomplete thoughts, and one horrible movie]

Yeah, so it's almost April. I can't make a best-of list in March?

2006 was kind of a lousy year on the whole for "important" movies. This is evidenced by my #1 movie of the year having won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars last year. Further, the gap between #1 and #2 is far wider than the gap between #2 and #10. "Oscar" films like Dreamgirls and Flags Of Our Fathers fell short of expectations (apparently), and successful ones like Babel and The Queen didn't make a meaningful dent with the average moviegoer. Even the five Best Picture nominees had its share of weaknesses, after a 2005 in which the nominees (if not the winner) were arguably award-worthy.

The resulting void in high-end story-telling was filled by movies on the low end. Rarely have there been so many successful high-brow action movies in a single year. Not in the sense of originality of premise, a la The Matrix or Die Hard, but in the sense that cliched B-movie genre stories were given A-movie treatment. Bringing an auteur's touch (and gravity) to stories in traditionally superficial genres. Everything in the movies is cyclical, so this is hardly a reflection of the New World Order or anything, but this certainly seems to be the trend. The list that follows is awfully long on quality...

  • Look at what Martin Scorcese, Spike Lee and Michael Mann did with their warmed-over action premises. All three turned in superlative efforts. The bar may have been raised TOO high.
  • Casino Royale accomplished what the Bond series has been working towards for over a decade: a plausible, believable, mature Bond.
  • Children of Men, a filler-heavy, hole-ridden story with a great hook, snuck onto best "films" lists thanks to the exceptional, visionary direction of Alfonso Cuaron.
  • I haven't seen Apocalypto, but it is generally believed to be in the same category: a visceral action film with high aspirations. I don't need to see it to know that the premise is higher on concept than bankability.
  • Then there's Banlieue 13, whose parkour action is more original and organically thrilling than anything in the previously-mentioned films.

I find it remarkable that so many action movies managed to bust past the "genre film" label. Given how many disappointing "serious" films (Dreamgirls, Flags Of Our Fathers, The Good German, All The King's Men, Marie Antoinette) and traditional tentpole thrill rides (Pirates 2, Superman Returns, X3, Da Vinci Code) saw release this year, it's encouraging to see so many talented filmmakers roll up their sleeves to make simple, entertaining, well-made movies. And though these guys may appear to be "slumming it," many of the world's great directors have worked primarily within genre: Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, the French New Wavers (Godard, Melville et al), Spielberg, Tarantino... a list of masters if I ever saw one. There's no shame in going this way, as opposed to taking the traditional art/auteur road.

What's more is that the auteurs who make shoot-em-up movies put the rest of Hollywood's gun-for-hire genre specialists to shame. As an audience, how could we possibly tolerate another Brett Ratner piece of crap after we've just finished watching The Departed? Who'd even attempt a standard future-apocalypse movie after seeing Children of Men? What double-cross heist movie could possibly top Inside Man? There's Hertz, and there's not exactly; the A-list just proved it. Hacks of Hollywood, you've been outed.

So, now that I've buried the lead, let's get down to doing what bloggers do best... lists.

Honorable Mention
  • The Science Of Sleep
  • Inside Man
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Banlieue 13
  • The Pursuit of Happyness

Most Surprising (good)

  • Monster House
  • Night At The Museum
  • Miami Vice
  • Talladega Nights

Promising Movies That I Wish I'd Seen
  • The Fountain
  • The Proposition
  • The Prestige (it's in my apartment as we speak)
  • The Good Shepherd
  • Perfume
  • Big Momma's House 2
  • For Your Consideration
  • Happy Feet
  • Little Children
  • Stranger Than Fiction
  • Curse of the Golden Flower
  • The Lives of Others

Promising Movies I'm OK With Missing Or Having Missed

  • United 93
  • World Trade Center
  • Dreamgirls
  • Blood Diamond
  • Apocalypto
  • Volver
  • The Queen
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • Letters From Iwo Jima
  • The Last King Of Scotland (I said it once, and I'll say it again: you don't need to tell me that Forest Whitaker kicks ass.)

Promising Movie That I Definitely Don't Need To See, Because The Prick Who Made It Is A Miserable, Overrated, One-Trick Pony Who Cons Big-Name Actors Into Hamming It Up In An Ensemble, In The Faint Hope Of Grabbing An Oscar That The Actor Probably Doesn't Deserve In The First Place, While Simultaneously Conning The Audience Into Buying His Phony-Baloney, Contrived, Manipulative, Melodramatic Horseshit... Anyway, This Guy Sucks

  • Babel

Films That Disappointed Me

  • Let's Go To Prison
Wow. I was really excited about this one. I was so sure this movie would be hilarious. And I was so wrong. There were a couple laughs, and Will Arnett is his usual incredible self, but the rest of the movie is an abortion. Great idea, tons of potential, even some great lines. But as a whole, it's pointless, stupid, unlikable, and very, very unfunny. That such a small and ultimately harmless movie could cause me this kind of disappointment is a real feat. Sigh.
  • X-Men: The Last Stand
  • Snakes On A Plane
Remember my spiel up top about good directors shaming bad ones? These two movies are made by bad ones, and it shows. SoaP obviously wasn't meant to be much, but even that could have been fine given the tiniest bit of talent or brains. X3, however, was a complete miscarriage. What was once the most thought-provoking comic book film franchise is now one of the most insipid. If they open up a war crimes tribunal against Brett Ratner, I'll testify. And I'll volunteer to smash his nuts with a sledgehammer. What a heartbreaker.
  • Clerks II
I've grappled with this one for a long time, searching for a justifiable reason to hate on it. My conclusion is that the problem is neither a lack of humor nor a lack of observational commentary, but an inability to balance those elements properly. It's too serious-minded (a la Chasing Amy) to suit the comedy, but too cartoonish (a la J&SB Strike Back) to let the serious material resonate. No single element is all that bad, but the juxtaposition doesn't work.

Further, I felt like Kevin Smith showed too much restraint in certain parts. The funniest part of the movie, a rant on how Dante could theoretically impregnate his own mother via a toilet seat, isn't even in the movie. It was cut, presumably, because the scene had a very important point (Randal's gonna miss Dante) and the rant doesn't affect the scene's outcome. From a Robert McKee standpoint, that's legitimate, but that's not what Kevin Smith got famous doing. I don't care what happens to Dante and Randal, I care what they're talking about while it happens.

And am I alone in wondering why there was so little attention spent on ass-to-mouth? That's where the comedy gold is. It's not in creepy Elias.

Anyway, yeah, disappointing. Not, like, X3 disappointing, but still.


10. The Devil Wears Prada

Hey, I'm as surprised as you are. But this movie is really, really good. The thing that separates this from typical girl-movie crapola, apart from the presence of Meryl Streep, is its breakneck pace. The story moves along at 200 miles per hour from start to finish, giving you a feel for the pressure and an entertaining ride at the same time. The wardrobe, the pith, the script, the acting (Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt)... all excellent.

9. Idiocracy

Even though its high point as a film involves a dog biting a guy in the nuts, the social commentary has stuck with me well beyond the initial viewings. Mike Judge again shows an ability to tap into practical, down-to-earth fears... increasing garbage, increasing corporate presence, decreasing command of proper English... and turn them into an apocalypse. It's box-office poison, which Fox certainly recognized. It's cheap, which should be evident from the first scenes. But it's an excellent movie.

8. Casino Royale

(flickr user Gilmore Boy)

After the success of GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan expressed a desire to make Bond more real, more fallible. Those attempts in later films (Die Another Day, The World Is Not Enough) were hackneyed and isolated, exposing a lack of commitment to that cause. Casino Royale certainly solved that problem. The most plausible and thoughtful of all the Bond films, and featuring the series' most talented Bond in Daniel Craig, it keeps the action real (Banlieue 13-style parkour chase, Bourne-style fist-fighting, Idiocracy-style testicular torture) and focuses almost exclusively on Bond's character.

7. Dave Chappelle's Block Party

One of the most genuine, lovable movies you will ever see. Great music, great idea, and well-executed on all ends. A very funny monument to the ways in which generosity repays itself. And how many movies do such a great job conveying earnest, unadulterated positivity without turning sappy? Flawless concert film.

6. A Scanner Darkly

Very, very underrated movie from Richard Linklater. There's a unresolvable problem of disembodiment, however: even though the technology is the only way to faithfully reproduce the story, the distance inherent between character and audience is just too much. It's not unemotional, but the most dramatic places in the story subject us to an odd, unsettling feeling rather than emotional resonance. When we discover the depths to which Keanu Reeves' character has fallen, it isn't as devastating as perhaps it ought to be. It's just somewhat troubling. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating movie with plenty of replay value.

5. Children of Men

This dreadfully serious film is just as much a reflection of modern society's post-apocalyptic fears as Idiocracy. It's a tangible apocalypse, where the planet is a technology-free wasteland and England is the Middle East. But it's got so many plot holes, and uses genre cliches so freely, that I can't list it much higher. Still, the ambition and vision on display merit high marks.

4. Borat

Like so many people, I was blown away. (Shortly after Azamat was! Thank you, thank you.)

I nearly spat out a lung. It's not much of a departure from the HBO show, except in that they went so far over the top with the concept that it couldn't possibly be done again. During the credits, sitting aghast in my seat during the would-be Kazakh national anthem, my mouth was gaping. I couldn't believe what I'd seen. That's the sign of success.

The real achievement here is making Sacha Baron Cohen a household name. He's one of our few genuine comic geniuses. The points of comparison for this guy are along the lines of Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Peter Sellers... the giants of screen comedy. It's good to know we'll have more SBC in the coming years.

3. The Departed

Class act from start to finish. As excellent as Infernal Affairs is, The Departed is that much better. It's the ultimate double-cross crime thriller... gritty as Scorcese, clever as Hong Kong. And after having watched a lot of very talented actors botch the incomparable Boston accent in recent years (most notably in Mystic Rivah) it was refreshing to hear Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg do an understated, natural job of it. Everyone was great, the story was fantastic, and it was as exciting as it could have been.

But it's not a chart-buster. It hasn't changed the game in any way. We won't be pointing to future double-crossing cop movies as Departed rip-offs. Because there's nothing much to rip off. The achievement was in the professional execution of the fantastic script. That it won Best Picture doesn't change the fact that it's just a bang-bang shoot-em-up movie done very well. It's not The Godfather, it's not GoodFellas. It's just a great movie. (Then again, so were Gladiatorand Return of the King.)

2. Pan's Labyrinth

The movie that deserved Best Picture. This is the second straight year in which the best movie wasn't even nominated (Walk The Line missed out last year), a failure that I consider criminal. Well, maybe not "And the Oscar goes to... Crash!" criminal, but unarguably the mistake of the year.

Pan's Labyrinth is just unreal. Like everyone else, I was expecting something a lot less Spanish Civil War-obsessed. I wasn't expecting Schindler's List with a Crazy Eyeball Hands Guy. (I love calling him that. I especially like making him talk like Adam Sandler. Hey, I'm Crazy Eyeball Hands Guy! I got eyeballs in my hands like a crazy guy! NOW GIMME SOME CAN-DAY!!!)

Aaaanyway, it's not only the most creative film of the year but the film that best leverages its creator's genius. Guillermo del Toro, like his countryman Cuaron, deserves to be an A-list director. There's no doubt in my mind that a Hellboy sequel will kick all kinds of ass.

1. Tsotsi

Any weirdness I feel about putting this movie on my list is neutralized by being given the ability to tout this movie again. I haven't been so moved by a movie in a long, long time. I was a mess by the end of this thing, and I don't mind saying it. Every aspect is just phenomenal. The gritty shanty-town set sucked me in, and the story did the rest.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

More Idiocracy Goodness

Via comes this link to graphic design blog Speak Up, and its breakdown of Idiocracy's creative, underrated, and ingenious set design.  The props and logos are what makes the satire of our own ad-driven society so prescient.  Say what you will about the movie's story, or even the movie itself, but you can't say that Mike Judge's garbage-covered vision of the future is implausible.

Monday, March 05, 2007

I Accidentally Glued A Piece Of Paper To My Face

This discussion of what a silent Garfield would be like is old, but I've been reading through it all morning. To say the comic is vastly improved is a gross understatement.

Then again, the Interwebs Classic below proves that adding your own dialogue is the way to go:

Also of note is the Garfield Randomizer, which produces some nice results as well.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Bungling Of The Dismemberment Plan Benefit

DC legends Dismemberment Plan are reuniting for one night only next month for a benefit concert.  All proceeds go to the cause.  It sold out in seconds.  Great, right?  Sure, but only in a "I gave ten cents to a homeless guy, don't blame me" kind of way.

Yes, I am about to attack the band and the venue for putting on a benefit show.  Because that's how completely and thoroughly they have fucked this process up.

The bottom line is that their well-intended benefit has left tens of thousands of dollars on the table, for no conceivable good reason.  $15 is just way, way too low a price for that show.  Astronomically low.  If the band holds any consumer-friendly sentiments about pricing tickets, I should damn well hope they are secondary to the cause at hand.  I mean, they didn't think nobody would want to see them, did they?  Earth to D-Plan: it's only Travistan that sucked!  The rest was pretty goddamn popular.

First, you have to think that a single-night reunion of a band of their stature, in a venue of that size, has to be priced as a luxury as compared to a normal show.  In their heyday, they'd probably be a $15-20 ticket, so let's bump that up to $30.  Big ticket, but still not out of whack under the above conditions.

Now consider that it's a charity show, and you can hit up buyers for another $10-15.  Hell, I don't even like them all that much, and I would gladly have paid $40 to see this show.  What would someone who actually enjoys their music pay?!?

Finally, a smart person would have noted that hipsters from every city or college campus within 500 miles was a potential customer; as such, the price could be elevated yet again.  I'd think $50 would be the bare minimum for a ticket to that thing.  Not $15. 

And yet $15 it was.  No econ majors at the Black Cat, apparently.

Why is that such a Travisty?  Because fans from here on out will be paying $50 prices anyway, thanks to the scalper fucks who bought 50 tickets a pop on Ticketmaster.  That's right... they weren't keeping people from buying tickets to a tiny venue in 50-ticket quantities.  Who are the ad wizards who thought that was a good idea?!?  However much money the band and venue raised for SMA, they easily left twice that amount on the table.  Fans are still paying ridiculous prices, and that cash will go straight to scalpers.  Bra-fucking-vo.

It just kills me when stupidity causes harm to something genuinely good.  I mean, great idea and all, and it's not like you're doing nothing, but this is a capital-m Mess.