Friday, December 30, 2011

Ten Bullet Points on Albert Nobbs That You Probably Shouldn't Read Until You've Seen It


...Although Seriously, Spoilers Aren't Going to "Ruin" It So Come On.

01 -I cannot believe this movie was based on a play that was performed thirty years ago (that was itself based on a short story) and then worked on by Glenn Close forever until it finally made it to the screen. A movie this raggedy, this narratively scattershot, this fundamentally unsure of what story it wants to tell feels like it was thrown together in about three months. Even the Sinead O'Connor song sounds like she just started humming the melody and threw in some words here and there as she thought of them.

02 - That said, the performances by Glenn Close and Janet McTeer are ... if not necessarily worth it, at least worth giving credit to. McTeer is especially great at playing her character's exasperation and eventual fondness for Albert.

03 - Albert Nobbs doesn't know WHAT the fuck he wants. I mean, okay, he wants to own a tobacco shop, obviously, because every three seconds he's either whispering to himself "Twenty more pounds til I can buy that tobacco shop, which is my dream," or else hallucinating his name on the sign above the shop door. But like...does he want to marry Mia Wasikowska? Does he want to run on the beach in pretty dresses and finally live as a woman? Does he want to co-habitate with Janet McTeer out of pure convenience? The movie doesn't know. And, okay, maybe the point is that Albert is forever confused and reticent and unwilling to take the confident steps forward to live a life. But a fundamentally unsure and confused character who never progresses beyond that does not make for a great protagonist.

04 - Mia Wasikowska's character was similarly at sea. (Part of this observation goes to Nick Davis, who was there to commiserate on this movie with me.) She starts off as this sass-mouthed little firecracker, then comes into contact with the strapping Irish cock of Aaron Johnson, upon which time she morphs into something of a cross between Jenny Everdeen and Lily St. Regis, and then she finally downshifts into a pale, whiny thing who beats at Albert with her sad wrists in the least convincing angry outburst I have ever seen.


05 - Speaking of Aaron Johnson, he is sporting some extremely anachronistic abs in one scene (and thank God for it), not to mention how the costume department sized his sleeves like three sizes too small.

06 - Okay, so the costumers. I could absolutely see them getting Oscar nominated -- similar to how I think J. Edgar could get a Makeup nomination -- because the clothes, and costuming in general, are so integral to the plot. But, real talk, it's some seriously crappy work. What, Nobbs couldn't find a pair of pants that didn't accentuate his womanly hips? Meanwhile, McTeer is stuffed full of so much padding to offset her GIANT HOOTS that she looks like she's preparing to play Santa Claus for the (typhoid-stricken) children. Mark said she looked like one of those self-defense-class instructors who put on padded suits so the ladies can practice defensive maneuvers. Or like training police dogs or something.


07 - AND THEN we get to the part where Nobbs and Janet McTeer put on a pair of dresses and it's the single funniest moment I have seen in a movie this year (sorry, Melissa McCarthy and the puppy van), and you almost think that there's been a method to the costumers' madness this whole time because the obvious discomfort these two women are feeling is perfectly matched by these hideous dresses. But none of the rest of the movie has properly prepared for this kind of sight gag, so it all seems like an unintentional moment of hilarity. But seriously: Janet McTeer's Linebacker Shoulders for Best Visual Effect of 2011.

08 - Did I mention Janet McTeer's GIANT HOOTS? When this movie gets on DVD, remind me to post about this part again. There are Fonzerelli thumbs and everything. AND THEN, in that scene where they're in dresses, THAT'S when she decides to strap the ladies down underneath a girdle??

09 - Brenda Fricker is in this movie. Her name is right up front in the opening credits and everything. And I kept looking for her -- Academy Award-winner Brenda Fricker! (And you just KNOW that burns Glenn Close right up!) So Mark keeps trying to tell me that Pauline Collins is actually Brenda Fricker, and I'm like "Not unless she's had three Jennifer Grey surgeries," but we kept looking and looking and wondering if maybe she was going to cameo at the end as Albert's mother or something and then we realized she was there THE WHOLE TIME as the zaftig cook who doesn't get to say much of anything until the end. She was hiding in plain sight the whole time, and it made me wonder how many other movies Brenda Fricker has been in where I just never recognized her. (Super 8? Friends with Benefits? Page One: Inside the New York Times?)

10 - You should see this movie, but don't expect it to be very good. But do expect it to be a good deal freakier than you expected. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers wants a key to his adjoining room, y'all, and he's up to exactly what you hope he's up to.
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Saturday, December 03, 2011

Thought I Was Over the Bridge Now

Okay, two months since my last post and I'm sick and tired of looking at that damned Melancholia photo. My infidelity with Tumblr has gotten severe, and I have to figure out a way soon to merge these two universes so I can get back to posting on the (semi-)regular. Be prepared -- what follows is meandering and indulgent, but it's something.



I'm posting tonight because I'm still buzzing from seeing my beloved Tori Amos at the Beacon Theater tonight with my awesome pal Jason. My sixth time in the 15 years I've been listening to her. And allowing for nostalgia making things even better in the rearview, I still think this might be the best show of hers I've seen. The gimmick on her current CD -- Night of Hunters -- is that they're all orchestral arrangement, so for the tour she's brought a four-piece string section to accompany her. This means all new lush arrangements for a lot of her old songs, and the reinvigoration of this classic material is as evident as it was back in 1998 when her first tour with a backing band led her to beef up the arrangements on songs from her first three albums.

Of the (approx.) 22 songs Tori performed tonight, I'd only previously seen her perform four, and it's not like she overloaded the set with new stuff either (though I should say that the Night of Hunters songs she did play were quite beautiful, as were songs from her more recent albums that I'm not as familiar with, like Maybe California and Toast). Every time I go to a Tori show, I have a little mental checklist of stuff I've never heard live that I'd love to hear. It's a wish list that's rarely fulfilled. But tonight, I actually got THREE: "Siren" (sparklingly arranged with the strings), "Putting the Damage On" (performed solo and just as aching as the Boys for Pele version), and "Gold Dust," which A) NEVER gets played, and B) somewhat curiously was performed solo despite the fact that the Scarlett's Walk version is loaded with strings, but C) WHATEVER, it was amazing.

(As for "Cloud on my Tongue," the above embedded performance, this was another first-timer for me, and I always seem to forget how emotional that song makes me. The bridge, from which I cribbed this post title, sneaks up on me.)

I really needed this show. The last time I saw Tori -- two years ago at Radio City -- was maybe my least favorite concert of hers. The setlist felt overly familiar, and her performance style had started to feel indulgent. But one great show can put the wind back in your sails, and that's exactly what Tori did tonight. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to crawl up inside my Spotify lists for a while.
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Friday, October 07, 2011

MELANCHOLIA (Von Trier, B-)

Going to try to be better about putting up quick-hitter movie reviews as I maneuver through the fall season. Wish me luck.


Melancholia
2011, Lars Von Trier

As if it were even a question, Melancholia removes any doubt: Lars Von Trier is totally an "I don't even own a television" person. The infuriating thing about LVT is that he can make a damn movie. The thing looks like a million bucks at all times (self-consciously so, but whatever), and you will definitely see some images that you've never seen in a movie before, so credit where it's due. I don't think he rewards his actors very well (Kirsten Dunst is impressive but loathsome; Gainsbourg is affecting but pathetic), but he gives them a lot to do.

But God damn, does his smug, miserablist worldview weigh heavily on anything he does. It just crushes everything in its path. In Antichrist, that crushing, self-promotional nihilism was laughable. I mean, "chaos reigns"? Try to stay angry at something that dumb. In Melancholia, the effect is simultaneously insulting and exhausting as LVT is constantly trying to shove the end of the world in your face.

And it's so incredibly insular! No televisions, as I mentioned. No newspapers. All information gleaned from "what the scientists are saying" or else the odd Google search that turns up these sad 1998-looking one-sheets foretelling interplanetary doom. Which I guess is the point. This is a movie about the world ending, only "the world" according to Von Trier is small enough to fit on a postage stamp.

Random observations:

-- The first half of the movie takes place at a wedding reception and was constantly reminding me of my beloved Rachel Getting Married. Only replace all the scenes of world-music jamming in RGM with close-up shots of Kirsten Dunst's sad face and you've got it.

-- I suppose I should not be surprised by this, but I was kind of blown away by how big Kirsten Dunst's boobs are. For some reason, she never really came across as a booby girl to me. Maybe because she's so skinny? Though I was reminded after the movie about Spider-Man, which, yes, they did look pretty big in this movie. Anyway, obviously LVT makes her get naked.

-- Kirsten's character is loathsome throughout, but she lost me early on. Anybody who declines the invitation to spend her wedding night atop a ready and willing Alexander Skarsgard has lost all my sympathy.

-- In case you were curious, LVT's recommendations for the inevitable end of the world: don't bother with optimism or finding a moment to appreciate the beauty of the universe. Better to just feel incredibly smug that your constant, self-obsessed depression now appears to be prophetic.

-- Charlotte Gainsbourg has the face of a ghoul.

-- Brady Corbett is the male equivalent of Jennifer Ehle, for me. I've seen him in a billion things, and every time I see him in a new thing, it takes me half the movie to figure out who he is. (See also: Mark Strong.)
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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tracking the Best at Mid-Year

Boy, if it weren't for copycatting and rampant me-too-ism, I might post here even less frequently than I do. While we're on the subject, sorry about that. Blah, blah, excuses -- and also, I've been cheating on LowRes with Tumblr, but don't tell anybody.

Anyway! My pal Nick Davis has begin posting his annual mid-year "Fifties" posts -- his best-in-movies selections now that he's seen fifty movies from the current year. First of all, read all of it, it's great. Second of all, Nick inspired me to take a look at my own list, and I discovered that I saw my 50th movie of 2011 TODAY (Drive, in case you were curious, and it's violent and dreamy and great).

So with Nick's permission for the blatant thievery, I thought I might toss up my own choices for best of the year's first 50, at least in the acting categories. I'm not sure I've seen more than 5 movies this year that would be worthy of a Best Picture designation, and I think a quick read of the acting categories will let you know what those movies are. (And since I end up seeing twice as many movies in the September-January stretch, this is pretty much a best of the half-year post, at least in spirit.)

Best Supporting Actress


Hayley Atwell for Captain America: The First Avenger. The best thing about Cap was the chemistry between Atwell and Chris Evans, and she used her brisk snappiness to keep the movie humming between the action scenes.

Haley Bennett for Kaboom! I'm going to gloat so hard if Haley Bennett becomes a huge star, but I'll mostly be relieved that we didn't miss out on such a magnetic performer. Her acidic loyalty went beyond mere fag-haggery, and her reactions to all the Gregg Araki fucking weirdness around her let me know I had a fellow traveler onscreen.

Rose Byrne for Bridesmaids. I'm so glad Byrne pulled out of that tailspin she was in after movies like Knowing and Adam. She was given the most difficult role of all the non-Wiig 'maids, and she had to do it while being the lone actress in the ensemble who wasn't a comedienne by nature. By the end of that unbearable dueling toasts scene, she'd already proved her worthiness.

Dagmara Dominczyk for Higher Ground. The type she plays in the first 2/3 of Higher Ground is so familiar that I'd sworn I'd seen her in something else before. Until I realized that she doesn't remind me of other actresses, she reminds me of other real people I've known. More than anyone else in the supporting cast, Dagmara nails the odd balance between blind faith and earthly practicality.

Amy Ryan for Win Win. I'm due a rewatch of this movie when it makes it on DVD, but on a general level, Ryan gets to be so much more engaged in the story than 90% of the women in this kind of role. She reward's the script's generosity with a performance full of specificity, heart, and short-fused energy.

Honorable Mentions: Jessica Barden (Hanna); Jessica Chastain (The Help); Jennifer Ehle (Contagion); Elle Fanning (Super 8); Theresa Palmer (Take Me Home Tonight).

I had too many nagging points of discomfort with Octavia Spencer's character in The Help to really ever get into her performance, but if you were able to (and many people I respect were), then I'm happy for you. I think Chastain worked best because her character seemed to be operating in a different movie altogether. Meanwhile, Theresa Palmer was in a terrible movie where she nevertheless was completely magnetic and sincere, and she should be getting all the roles Rachel McAdams is too old for.


Best Supporting Actor


Albert Brooks for Drive. Don't listen to me, listen to everybody else raving about the guy. I know the easiest way to get critics to praise you is to underplay the kind of role that usually gets overplayed, but seriously, Brooks nails the weary-but-dangerous type, with some of the year's best line readings.

Tom Hollander for Hanna. So deliciously weird and menacing and having every bit as fun with the movie as we are.

Jake Johnson for Ceremony. I absolutely fell in love with this guy this year (he's really good in No Strings Attached NO REALLY), and if more people than only me saw this movie, I would expect that more people would be in love with him too. His alcoholic brother-of-the-bride character is mined for the usual drunk gags, but Johnson adds so many more layers onto the guy. He's menacing, he's sad, he's maddeningly sweet. The year's requisite supporting performance that should have been what the movie was about.

Joshua Leonard for Higher Ground. Seriously, I get so proud whenever I see this guy in a movie. My Blair Witch cameraman made it out of the woods! He takes a super tricky character -- the husband destined for his wife to evolve past him -- and delivers him with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of relatable humanity.

Corey Stoll for Midnight in Paris. The majority of this movie I found to be pretty reductive (oh, poor Rachel McAdams and the harpy she's forced to play), but Stoll makes for a thrilling exception. His Hemmingway embraces the man's otherworldly masculinity as the caricature it is and delivers an endless string of challenges to Owen Wilson's sputtering Owen Wilsonity.

Honorable Mentions: Bryan Cranston (Drive); Bruce Greenwood (Meek's Cutoff); Tom Hiddleston (Thor); Oscar Isaac (Drive); Adam Scott (Our Idiot Brother).


Best Actress


Juliette Binoche for Certified Copy. An endless treasure box of surprises. A long and winding road of a woman whose turns of character are handled so deftly by Binoche that she could be filming a Mercedes commercial. I'm not even telling you about this movie until you see it, because SEE IT.

Viola Davis for The Help. She's holding onto this movie with both hands, and her brow occasionally gets sweaty, but she's never anything less than the sum of her character's accumulated pain and hard-won strength.

Vera Farmiga for Higher Ground. Either Farmiga the director is smart enough to utilize the irrepressible urbanity and unquenchable intelligence of Farmiga the actress to serve a character who is constantly bursting through the cracks in her devout bubble, or else Farmiga the director/actress got very lucky.

Saoirse Ronan for Hanna. So many girl assassins at the movies these days. Saoirse stood well above them by making the most interesting parts of Hanna the parts where she's discovering the scary and wonderful world out there.

Michelle Williams for Meek's Cutoff. As hard and resilient as the prairies themselves, but in a movie where the harshest adversaries are the questions these pioneers will never be able to definitively answer (are we trekking in the right direction? Can this Native be trusted?), Williams's intelligence is almost tragic.

Honorable Mention: Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids).

Rough half-year for female leads, but what else is new?


Best Actor


Paul Giamatti for Win Win. Not the most challenging thing Giamatti's ever done, but he holds the center of a good movie with a performance of a decent guy trying so very hard not to regret the shortcuts he's taking.

Ryan Gosling for Drive. It's a director's movie, Drive. Gosling's character is a nameless man without a history by design, and I wonder how much credit he's going to get for viewers reading any number of things into scenes full of silence and stillness. But I also don't think you can deny that Gosling does end up painting a full picture of a vague man, if that makes any sense.

Tom Hardy for Warrior. I remain thoroughly depressed that this movie is being received as anything better than every other standard sports movie that follows the standard inspirational formula. And that goes double for Nick Nolte's often embarrassingly drooly performance. The exception is Tom Hardy, whose take-no-prisoners physicality really pays off in a finale that works way better than it has any right to.

Paul Rudd for Our Idiot Brother. Rudd gives a shockingly lived-in performance that only underlines what superficial put-ons most hippie characters are.

William Shimell for Certified Copy. Plays off of Binoche brilliantly with another performance that accommodates the twists and turns of the story.

Honorable Mentions: Dominic Cooper (The Devil's Double); Thomas Dekker (Kaboom!); Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class); Hunter McCracken (Tree of Life); Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris).
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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Time I Wrote About Dudesploitation


So I got my very first article published on Vulture today, and true to my form, it's about something achingly highbrow: the increased and welcome objectification of hot-ass mens in Hollywood this Summer. From Magic Mike to Captain America to Andrew Garfield's friendly neighborhood spider-ass, I am trendspotting like a goddamn CHAMP and I don't care who knows it!

So if you haven't already, please do pop on over to Vulture and read my article, and hopefully there's lots more where that came from.
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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Summer Tennis Hotness Rankings Return!


John and I are back with the next installment of the Tennis Hotness Rankings, just in time for the U.S. Open. Click on over to Pull Up a Chair to see where Janko and all those unexpected muscles fell on our list...
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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Consider Sunday Shoes Kicked Off


It does come as a slight surprise to me that I am SO excited for the Footloose remake, but the combination of actual talented dancers (Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough, both looking amazing) as the leads and the fusion of hip-hop dancing with the more '80s style of the original movie has this looking like a LOT of fun.

I talk about this at slightly more length on this week's Extra Hot Great podcast, which also included a segment on the brilliant television program that gave us the following scene:



GO LISTEN NOW, FOOLS
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bono's Hotness Window


In lieu of watching this year's (reportedly unwatchable) Video Music Awards, Roommate Mark and I settled in for a vintage copy of the 1993 VMAs that I acquired Through Methods. Partly because we're into time-capsule stuff like that -- especially during the '90s, the VMAs were like a yearbook of whatever had been going on in popular music at the time. '93 was especially interesting because it featured the visibly uneasy co-existence of the Grunge People and the Gangsta Rap people, and watching that kind of heterogeneous mixing and mingling was instructive.

Anyway, one of the performances was U2's The Edge doing that song "Numb." Remember, the one where he just mumbles in a monotone about how very much he's against media manipulation, because if there's one thing U2 will not stand for, it's any kind of media manipulation? Our reaction was basically "This is stupid," because it was. But I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that there used to be something about this song that I liked. Then I looked up the video on YouTube and I remembered.


Bono nestling his face up in The Edge's neck, singing falsetto in his ear -- it's not surprising that this made an impression on impressionable me when I was in junior high. If you'd ask me now if I think of Bono as hot, I'd say no. Too mullet-y in the '80s. Too Patron Saint of Liberal Guilt now. But that little moment up there comes from that short window in the early '90s -- post-Joshua Tree, pre-Pop -- when it was alllllll working for Bono. That's the tenuous theory I was working with when I came across the music video for "One."



Hello, Bono's intriguing chin scar. What's up, maddeningly-alluring, cigarette-smoking Irish romantic poet in a warmly-lit pub, flanked by sin and a Heineken bottle? I'd like to stare at your face for a long while.

Anyway: theory now proved. And kudos to director Anton Corbjin. Sure, he got raves for movies like Control and The American, but for my money, his finest professional accomplishment was this here video. It just all looks so handsome, and not just Bono. ...Okay, mostly Bono. Did we ever truly appreciate that narrow window of Perfectly Sexy Bono, Singing About Stuff That's Not Genocide?
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Monday, August 29, 2011

Fall Movie Preview 2011: Part 1

Fall movies! When the studios supposedly cut with the bullshit and let us see some halfway decent movies for a change! Or so the legend goes! As is my custom, I'll be previewing the season's releases by examining who these movies are appealing to, and why I would or would not go see them. Enjoy!

Movie: Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)
High-Concept Synopsis: Some kind of killer virus (bird flu? Captain Trips? Parker Posey Pox?), begins wiping out the population, and only a star-studded cast can stop it! (Er, maybe not -- this is looking like one of those movies where the virus wins.)
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of uber-pedigreed casts full of Oscar winners/nominees like Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, John Hawkes, and Jude Law. Gwynnie-haters thrilled to see her character bite it in the trailer. Travel-phobics looking for backup arguments for when their friends look at them sideways.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who like Soderbergh better when he's working with nobodies versus when he's soaking in the Hollywood elite. People who honestly don't need one more way to imagine the world crumbling into ruin and disaster. Religious people offended at the notion that the world will end in any way other than them fighting in fiery chariot-battles against winged demons and homosexuals.
Why I'd See It: Big Hollywood stars! Making plans! Saving the world! Killer-virus movies are cheap thrills, but I can't seem to resist them, especially when they're full of Matt Damons and Kate Winslets. September 9

Movie: Warrior (Gavin O'Connor)
High-Concept Synopsis: Muscled up, estranged brothers Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) and Tom Hardy (Inception; your gym-based fantasies) end up, for various contrived reasons, fighting in the same mixed-martial-arts tournament, all while their recovering-alcoholic dad (Nick Nolte) stands by and growls.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Sports-movie fans. Hot-guys-rolling-around-and-sweating fans. People looking to support a movie that could give two promising actors the chance to star in more movies.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who are into neither sports nor boys (unless they're somehow big Nick Nolte fans?). People who have watched House and have a learned aversion to Jennifer Morrison. Audiences who would cast a suspicious eye towards director O'Connor's bone fides (Miracle; Pride and Glory).
Why I'd See It: I already have, actually. And it's...fine. It's total paint-by-sports-movie-numbers, but Edgerton and Hardy really sell it. Their acting within the MMA bouts is particularly impressive. But it doesn't make much of an impression. And this idea that Hollywood types (i.e. old white men) would like it so much that they'd put Nolte and/or Hardy into the Oscar conversation seems like QUITE a stretch. I've seen weirder/worse things in the Oscar races, but not many. September 9

Movie: Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
High-Concept Synopsis: Ryan Gosling plays the world's prettiest stuntman, who also dabbles in driving getaway cars for criminals. And when Something Goes Wrong, he goes on the run, with Carey Mulligan and her little moppet.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Anybody who's been hearing the shockingly uniform raves coming out of Cannes and advance screenings. People who want to buy in on 2011 as the Year of Gosling. Fans of the sampler platter of Important TV Show co-stars Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), and Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy).
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Audiences not entirely sold on Winding Refn's previous buzzy directorial effort, Bronson. Insecure types turned off by the flourishes of pink in the posters and other marketing materials. Action-movie fans who don't like Cannes movies; art-film fans who don't like action movies.
Why I'd See It: Any time a movie this grungy gets these kinds of raves, everybody needs to pay attention. I'm trying to manage my expectations, but this movie is looking like the perfect storm of a lot of good things, not least of which is Gosling's burgeoning superstar status. September 16

Movie: I Don't Know How She Does It (Douglas McGrath)
High-Concept Synopsis: Sarah Jessica Parker answers the question "Would Carrie Bradshaw have been as self-obsessed if she were married with children in the city?" The answer may surprise you. (...No, it won't.)
Who Will Be Seeing It: SJP fans eager to not have to defend themselves against the usual anti-Sex and the City charges. Fans of the supporting cast, which includes Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan, Christina Hendricks, Seth Meyers, Sarah Shahi, and my beloved Busy Philipps. Audiences encouraged that the novel this is based on was adapted for the screen by the same writer who adapted The Devil Wears Prada.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who think that the only thing more obnoxious than Carrie Bradshaw throwing her wealth and consumerism in your face is watching Sarah Jessica Parker go all mommy-blogger on us. Audiences less encouraged that novel is being adapted by the writer of Morning Glory and Laws of Attraction.
Why I'd See It: Normally, I probably wouldn't, but this was the movie Busy Philipps was filming when The Hug happened, so now I feel like I should support the team. September 16

Movie: Straw Dogs (Rod Lurie)
High-Concept Synopsis: Sam Peckinpah's infamous treatise on violence and misanthropy gets exactly what it needs: a 2011 Hollywood gloss-over. James Marsden takes the Dustin Hoffman role, while Kate Bosworth and Alexander Skarsgard co-star.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Audiences curious to see if this remake retains any of the danger and moral repugnance of the original. Alexander Skarsgard fans for whom -- not to cast aspersions on people or anything -- a little sexual assault is not a dealbreaker. People who have faith in Lurie (The Contender; Nothing But the Truth) to show some backbone in his adaptation.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Peckinpah faithful and various other "They don't make 'em like they did in the '70s types." People who might be able to buy James Marsden as a milquetoast pushed too far, and if they squint they could see Skarsgard as a menacing cracker, but no way are they buying Kate Bosworth as anything but a block of wood. Folks who hold the slicker-than-it-should-be trailer and posters against the movie.
Why I'd See It: It's not so much that I'm offended that anybody would try to remake the original. It's not perfect -- and the cult of Peckinpah often chokes on its own macho bona fides. It's just that I have zero confidence that a remake in the modern studio system will be able to have the same amoral impact. Though, as a preemptive strike against what I suspect will be the most frequent complaint: Marsden is perfect for the role, mostly for all the reasons people think he's not. September 16

Movie: Restless (Gus Van Sant)
High-Concept Synopsis: Take an age-appropriate Harold and Maude, cross it with a (hopefully) less retarded Charlie St. Cloud, and lay it over every quirky romance about teenage misfits and you'll get this tale of youthful misfits obsessed with death, one of whom has an unvisble friend who is a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII. If Miranda July were directing this, half the people in New York would call it spellbinding while the other half would despise it intensely.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who are encouraged by the sweet, romantic chemistry between stars Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper in the trailer. Audiences willing to grant Van Sant his occasional foray into artsy weirdness. Open-hearted non-cynics.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who have had their fill of whimsically morbid teens. Furthermore, people for whom the cutesy twist of the kamikaze pilot seems kind of racist. People who prefer their artsy Van Sant to be stultifyingly boring rather than twee.
Why I'd See It: You know, it seems excruciatingly cutesy, and I'm not kidding about the Miranda July thing (I'd be in the latter half of people, in case you hadn't picked up on that). But I'm also not kidding about what I'm seeing from Wasikowska and Hopper and the trailer. That could be enough. September 16

Movie: Moneyball (Bennett Miller)
High-Concept Synopsis: Brad Pitt plays the swooniest major league baseball general manager in the history of time, and he bucks the whole system in order to sign cheaper free agents through the use of advanced statistical analysis. CAN YOU EVEN STAND IT??
Who Will Be Seeing It: Baseball fans who are down with things like sabremetrics and the Oakland A's. Sports movie fans who are cool with endings where (not at all a spoiler) the hero's team tops out as runner-up in the league championship series one time. Aaron Sorkin loyalists eager to see him bring his endless sports references to an actual sports movie.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who couldn't give a shit about sports, stats, or microeconomics. Brad Pitt fans who find his particular talents wasted as a GM and not a player or manager or someone else who might have occasion to wear the pants that show off your ass really well. People who see the Aaron Sorkin/Steve Zaillian co-credit on the screenplay as being the worst of both worlds: obnoxious AND over-worked.
Why I'd See It: The trailer suggests something interesting, and it's certainly aspiring to be more than just the typical sports movie, but I'm still having a hard time seeing how this story is a movie in the first place. And if it's two hours of Sorkin lecturing about how the Yankees are ruining the Great American Pastime, I'll be taking frequent pee breaks. September 23

Movie: Abduction (John Singleton)
High-Concept Synopsis: Taylor Lautner discovers a) that his parents are not his parents, b) that he might've been abducted from his real parents as a child, c) people are not trying to kill him, and d) that he's maybe some kind of supersoldier? I'm assuming his reaction to all of this is to rip his shirt off and run towards the woods.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Team Jacob fans, looking to give their guy a hit of his own outside of the Twi-verse. People who are looking for something like a Bourne movie, only less brainy and more abs-y. Fans of the impressive supporting cast (Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Alfred Molina).
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Team whatever the team is that likes pasty-faced creepers. People who can't bear to watch Sigourney Weaver slog through the background of another movie that's beneath her. People who feel that the issue of teenage assassins is too important to trivialize with a slick Hollywood thriller.
Why I'd See It: This looks like prime "HBO at the earliest" fodder. Also, don't be fooled into thinking John Singleton is any kind of draw anymore. After 2 Fast 2 Furious and Four Brothers and Baby Boy, all my Boyz N the Hood enthusiasm is gone. September 23

Movie: Machine Gun Preacher (Marc Forster)
High-Concept Synopsis: Criminal Gerard Butler gets born again and then goes to war-torn Sudan to go build an orphanage. He encounters resistance.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Anybody who ever had any faith in the idea of Gerard Butler: Great Actor. Fans of the versatile (or just lacking any kind of signature style) Marc Forster. People who mistake this movie for some kind of Robert Rodriguez-style grungy piece of junk that started as a fake trailer in Grindhouse.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Anybody who's previously paid money for anything starring Gerard Butler. Folks who have had enough of the white-person-saves-nonwhite-persons genre. Preachers who favor less noisy weapons, like old-fashioned fear and guilt.
Why I'd See It: Between this movie and December's Coriolanus, this feels like Gerard Butler's big stab at actorly respectability. I'm not entirely ruling out the possibility that he could pull it off, but I've been burned before. This particular movie isn't un-interesting, but there's a big opportunity for it to miss the mark, and I don't 100% trust the filmmakers. September 23

Movie: Killer Elite (Gary McKendry)
High-Concept Synopsis: Jason Statham does his Jason Statham-movie thing, this time with Clive Owen as his antagonist and Robert DeNiro as his mentor.
Who Will Be Seeing It: The same people who see all the Jason Statham movies. People interested in seeing Clive Owen as the bad guy. Chuck fanboys who will sprint to theaters in order to check out their lusted-after Yvonna Strahovski.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: The same people who have never really seen a Jason Statham movie before. People who are kind of dismayed to see Owen wasting his time with a throwaway movie like this. People wondering when Robert DeNiro got this reputation as an action-movie guy.
Why I'd See It: It's not usually my thing, but one of these days I'm bound to correct that Statham blind-spot of mine. September 23

Movie: 50/50 (Jonathan Levine)
High-Concept Synopsis: Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets the kind of cancer that afflicts adorable twentysomethings, and his best pal Seth Rogen and therapist Anna Kendrick try to help him through it.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of JGL's steadily rising star. People who like the balanced tone of gravity/comedy found in the movie's trailer. People who liked Levine's previous movie, The Wackness.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who find the JGL/Rogen/Kendrick nexus to be just on the wrong side of too-hipster-for-you. People who liked this project better when it was starring James McAvoy and directed by Nicole Holofcener. People who want the movies to make them face things like killer robots or the Jim Crow South through the eyes of a white girl, but not cancer.
Why I'd See It: I'm really hoping this is the JGL showcase I hope it is. He's already showing amazing chemistry with Rogen and Kendrick in the trailer. September 30

Movie: Dream House (Jim Sheridan)
High-Concept Synopsis: Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz move into a new house, only -- get this -- there are spirits of dead things in there! What does their family have to do with the murder that happened in the house? What does neighbor Naomi Watts know? ...Um, watch the trailer, because it seems to give away quite a lot.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who know that autumn is for getting the crap scared out of you at the movies. People who know that, if nothing else, Jim Sheridan (In America; In the Name of the Father) will direct a handsome movie. People excited to see newly married Craig and Weisz during the movie where they coupled up.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who have seen this particular movie DOZENS of times and have lost the ability to be scared or surprised by it. People who wonder why Sheridan couldn't have found a haunted house in Ireland to make a movie about. People bummed that Naomi Watts seems to be relegated to third banana here.
Why I'd See It: Seriously, that trailer gives away SO MUCH. Unless the movie is taking a really different direction they're not telling us about, I am dubious. September 30
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Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Beef to Her Bubbles



Please do tune in to this weekend's Extra Hot Great, particularly if the above clip brings you the joy it should.
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Monday, August 01, 2011

The Ultimate Pop Song Tournament: Bracket Breakdown, Pt. 5

Over at The Critical Condition, Roommate Mark has unleashed the Ultimate Pop Song Tournament upon us, and our summer may not ever be the same. I, along with Nick Davis, was fortunate enough to be invited to help shape the field of 64 songs (from 1981-2011) and even did some of the writeups. Mark has moved on to the second-round matchups. Go over there and vote.

For my part? I'm going to highlight the matchups as Mark releases them and tell you how I'm voting and why. Because every good tournament deserves some armchair analysis!

I was on vacation on Friday and missed the final matchups of Round 1, but I trust you guys made the right decisions.

ROUND 2!

(1) "Like a Prayer" [Madonna] vs. (9) "Don't You Want Me" [Human League]

"Don't You Want Me" is one of those '80s songs that I'm a smidge too young to have any emotional ties to it, but listening to it as an adult, I can absolutely appreciate that it's really well-constructed, smart Brit-pop. But I'm not going to even lead the Human League on. Because they just have no chance in this matchup with "Like a Prayer." I remember being in Catholic school in third grade when the music video came out. I remember thinking my teacher was SO COOL for not totally condemning Madonna (and actually thinking the Jesus statue crying tears of blood was pretty cool!).

(4) "I Want It That Way" [Backstreet Boys] vs. (5) "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" [Eurythmics]

I feel like the Eurythmics ended up in a corner of the bracket that made it seem like I don't like them. I do -- and I LOVE this song. But man, bad luck ending up against "Freedom '90" and now "I Want It That Way." The latter has become a target of some easy derision in the comments on Mark's site, which is totally predictable, especially since it's been up against two huge '80s hits. Generational gaps are really hard to cross, and late-'90s pop was a really common punching bag for certain children of the '80s. That's okay, I can rest in the absolute truth that "I Want It That Way" is brilliant pop that transcends its own gender.

(11) "Groove Is in the Heart" [Dee-Lite] vs. (14) "9 to 5" [Dolly Parton]

I couldn't support "Groove Is in the Heart" over "Flashdance," but I am kind of happy it advanced because I get to support it here. "9 to 5" is great, but it's a smidge more limited as to where I can optimally enjoy it. Whereas Dee-Lite is the perfect call for going out, staying in, after work, morning wake-up calls, chair-dancing at the office, or any number of occasions.

(2) "Since U Been Gone" [Kelly Clarkson] vs. (7) "Karma Chameleon" [Culture Club]

Kelly Clarkson came WAY too close to being out of the tournament in the first round. Hopefully this doesn't repeat itself in this round. I sometimes feel guilty when I think about Kelly Clarkson, because I do think she blew out her voice in order to deliver the kind of pop-rock we ended up demanding of her. I wouldn't trade this song for anything, but I do think Kelly shredded her vocal cords in order to give it to us. The least we could do is advance her another round in this tournament!
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GO VOTE!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Ultimate Pop Song Tournament: Bracket Breakdown, Pt. 4

Over at The Critical Condition, Roommate Mark has unleashed the Ultimate Pop Song Tournament upon us, and our summer may not ever be the same. I, along with Nick Davis, was fortunate enough to be invited to help shape the field of 64 songs (from 1981-2011) and even did some of the writeups. Mark has started posting the first-round matchups, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to go over there and vote.

For my part? I'm going to highlight the matchups as Mark releases them and tell you how I'm voting and why. Because every good tournament deserves some armchair analysis!



(5) "You Oughta Know" [Alanis Morissette] vs. (12) "Sober" [Pink]

I feel bad that I wasn't able to conjure up the appropriate rapture about "Sober" in my writeup, so please go and read Mark's case for the song in the comments. He makes for a brilliant advocate. I don't know what my problem is, because "Sober" is an excellent song. There is just always a ceiling on my enthusiasm for Pink songs. Mostly because so few of them burn as brightly for me five years down the line. How often to I spin "Don't Let Me Get Me" these days? Sure, I love "Raise a Glass" right now, but the New Year's Eve trailer will probably kill some of that for me. Meanwhile, fifteen years on, and I am still in the middle of a passionate but vengeful affair with "You Oughta Know."

(4) "Smells Like Teen Spirit" [Nirvana] vs. (13) "Hey Ya" [Outkast]

I love what a close matchup this is, at least so far! It's such an apples-vs-oranges debate, it's hard to believe these songs are even from the same century (okay, okay, they're not, but don't be a dick about it). The point is, I have no idea what criteria someone would possibly use to make this choice, other than to very quickly ask themselves the question out loud and then vote the first song that pops into their head. I may or may not have done that. And voted Nirvana.

(6) "Livin' in a Prayer" [Bon Jovi] vs. (11) "Crazy" [Gnarls Barkley]

Someone in the comments on Mark's blog mentioned that it takes them a minute, after seeing the title "Crazy" to cycle past Seal's early hit in their mental rolodex before arriving at Gnarls Barkley. I confess, I have to do the same. Maybe that's not the sole reason I voted Bon Jovi, but I can't exactly discount it.

(3) "Edge of Seventeen" [Stevie Nicks] vs. "Take Me Home Tonight" [Eddie Money f/ Ronnie Spector]

This is the closest I have come to actually just refusing to choose either one of them, and maybe the biggest motivation for actually casting a vote was so I could see what the current results were. (At press time, they were almost dead even which: a) is as it should be, but also b) OH MY GOD, I am going to agonize over this one.) If the entire decade of the '80s was the Brady Bunch, "Edge of Seventeen" and "Take Me Home Tonight" would be Jan and Greg, a.k.a. THE BEST ONES. How am I supposed to now go one step further and decide which song is the Jan (THE BEST ONE, people, keep up). You'd think "Take Me Home Tonight" would have the advantage because of two people vs. one, but really, this is a Ronnie vs. Stevie contest and everybody knows it. Tragically, my #justlikeRonniesays hash tag game failed to catch fire today, which is perhaps a bad omen for her chances. I'm not even going to tell you how I voted, because that's my God-given right as an American. But I will say this: I will raise SO MUCH HELL if the eventual winner doesn't at least go two more rounds.

(7) "Here I Go Again" [Whitesnake] vs. (10) "Mr. Brightside" [The Killers]

Knowing what you know about me and The Killers, it should come as no surprise that this choice gave me zero anxiety whatsoever. Sorry, David Coverdale. You'll have to comfort yourself with the knowledge that you had the greatest head of hair in the 1980s. No small feat, that. Meanwhile, I'm off to plot out a strategy for my beloved Brandon Flowers to knock off Steve Perry in Round 2.

(2) "Don't Stop Believing" [Journey] vs. (15) "Love Shack" [The B-52s]

My personal finding that "Don't Stop Believing" is somehow backlash-proof notwithstanding, I was totally expecting the attrition from The Sopranos to Rock of Ages to Glee to have soured the public on the objectively great song. (Also, for my money, I still always think of it as the song from the roller rink in Monster.) But it's currently kicking the crap out of "Love Shack," which is both probably the right call and still crushingly disappointing. Listening to "Love Shack" more than a few times this week, I was smitten anew, at the playfulness, the nimble sonic grab-bag, the scratchy, prodding guitar licks during the "Bang, bang, bang" part. Bummer it's getting dropped so early.

(1) "Crazy in Love" [Beyonce f/Jay-Z] vs. (16) "No Diggity" [Blackstreet f/ Dr. Dre]

The Curse of Sixteen continues in the Groove Thang bracket, as "No Diggity," a personal favorite and assumed competition dark horse gets instead fed to the Beyonce beast. Which is no slight against Ms. Knowles. You know I deemed "Crazy in Love" the best song of the decade. And even though "No Diggity" hails from the '90s, I wouldn't rank it above. But I will absolutely cop to throwing a sympathy vote Blackstreet's way because COME ON. This is an ignoble fate for a song that still, in 2011, gets asses to shaking. If it's not already on at least three of your party mixes, you have some personal evaluating to do.

(8) "Work It" [Missy Elliot] vs. "End of the Road" [Boyz II Men]

And thus dies the last of my four V.I.P. invites into the tournament. The imminent demise of "End of the Road" doesn't hurt the way "Freedom '90" or "I Want It That Way" do. Even I am not about to entertain thoughts of endangering Missy's position in the competition. I tried to make a case for "Get Ur Freak On" in the nomination phase, but the finality of Nick's defense of "Work It" as Missy's apex made me go back and listen to it -- really listen to it -- and he's actually right. There is just so much more happening at any given moment than you even realize. I can't even begin to speak of the horrors that await in Round 2.

But I'm glad "End of the Road" made it into the competition. For one thing, it would have seemed fraudulent to evaluate the top pop of the last 30 years without including some Boyz II Men, because they pretty much owned the early '90s. For another, this particular song is secretly the craziest thing to ever spend 10+ weeks at #1. A full third of the song is a spoken-word Ho Pass issued by a broken man to a cheatin' woman. Not even Tammy Wynette would have attempted that one. And then THAT is followed by a grown man crying for a minute and a half, while the rest of his group tries to keep the song going without things getting too weird. It is quite simply the greatest. "Oh my God. OH MY GOD!"
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Ultimate Pop Song Tournament: Bracket Breakdown, Pt. 3

Over at The Critical Condition, Roommate Mark has unleashed the Ultimate Pop Song Tournament upon us, and our summer may not ever be the same. I, along with Nick Davis, was fortunate enough to be invited to help shape the field of 64 songs (from 1981-2011) and even did some of the writeups. Mark has started posting the first-round matchups, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to go over there and vote.

For my part? I'm going to highlight the matchups as Mark releases them and tell you how I'm voting and why. Because every good tournament deserves some armchair analysis!


(3) "Nothing Compares 2 U" [Sinead O'Connor] vs. (14) "I Will Always Love You" [Whitney Houston]

I love this matchup of two of the biggest "You know that's not originally their song, right?" hits of all time. The gold standard of obnoxious know-it-alls everywhere! And you know what? I love Dolly Parton with all my heart, I really do, but I'm just about sick of hearing about how much better her version is than Whitney Houston's. Like, we get it, you're a far more substantial person for liking Dolly. And obviously her version is better! But it's not like Whitney has a number-one hit for a bazillion weeks due to hypnosis or something. When she hits that booming note for the final chorus, she's making you feel something. That's why you hate it!

Fewer people try to perpetuate the notion that Prince gives a better rendition of "Nothing Compares 2 U," thank God. Mostly because Sinead O'Connor is viewed as just as authentic as Dolly Parton. And boy, is she. If you know me, you know my very favorite thing in the universe is singers who cry real tears in their music videos. Which is why that single tear at "All the flowers that you planted, Mama" just slays me. Sinead definitely gets my vote.

(6) "We Belong" [Pat Benatar] vs. (11) "Lost in Your Eyes" [Debbie Gibson]

I had to fight to get BOTH these songs in the tournament, and even though my beloved Debbie is currently getting trounced. I'm choosing to see it as a validation of how fucking unbelievable a song "We Belong" is. Because IT IS. I love that Pat Benatar's ass-kicker of a voice is putting itself in service of perfectly constructed melodic relationship counseling. Still, though, my vote went to my childhood best pal Debbie Gibson, who managed to fight through the Casio orchestrations of her regrettable time period with the sheer clarity of her voice and lyrics. Plus, seriously, watch that music video. Shoulder pads AND Blossom hats AND Rickie Vasquez-approved color-explosion vests?? Bliss.

(2) "(Don't You) Forget About Me" [Simple Minds] vs. (15) "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" [Pet Shop Boys w/ Dusty Springfield]

Similar to my Kate Bush-free childhood, I also was somehow kept ignorant of the Pet Shop Boys, at least until long past the point where I was judged to be a traitor to my orientation for not really getting their whole thing. I think the last bus to the New Wave was leaving just as I was entering the pop-culture sphere, which means neither of these two options hold much sway over me. So I did what I felt was the only responsible thing to do and went with Dusty Springfield.

(7) "Running Up That Hill" [Kate Bush] vs. (10) "Losing My Religion" [R.E.M.]

Poor Kate Bush, you guys. I guess I can't complain too loudly about how she's currently getting trounced in this matchup. I'm the guy who apparently never came across Ms. Bush growing up, despite the fact that I was super into pretty much all her descendents (Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, you name 'em). But even though I probably can't tell Hounds of Love from Hound of the Baskervilles, I can still appreciate a superior pop song, and "Running Up That Hill" is definitely one. I like "Losing My Religion" a whole lot -- certainly my favorite use of the mandolin in music history -- but other R.E.M. songs would have given me more of an internal struggle.

(1) "Sweet Child O' Mine" [Guns N Roses] vs. (16) "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" [Smashing Pumpkins]

Now we're getting to the region of the bracket where I actually wrote the song blurbs, so I'm not going to repeat myself too much here. Except to say, once again, that I feel compelled to make the case for the underdog; "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" is a GREAT song. What is with these 16-seeds?? I love them all so much and yet I just can't vote for them again such towering competition. Billy Corgan may have my angsty teens, but Axl Rose has my hopeful formative years.

(8) "Rolling in the Deep" [Adele] vs. (9) "Dog Days Are Over" [Florence + the Machine]

Talk about two songs jockeying for position in the same square of the pop landscape. I love Adele and think she's got the better career-longevity potential. But "Dog Days" takes it for me in a squeaker. Maybe not exclusively for that moment when the beat drops out and then ol' Florence comes roaring back, but that's certainly a big part of it.

VOTE!
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Ultimate Pop Song Tournament: Bracket Breakdown, Pt. 2

Over at The Critical Condition, Roommate Mark has unleashed the Ultimate Pop Song Tournament upon us, and our summer may not ever be the same. I, along with Nick Davis, was fortunate enough to be invited to help shape the field of 64 songs (from 1981-2011) and even did some of the writeups. Mark has started posting the first-round matchups, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to go over there and vote.

For my part? I'm going to highlight the matchups as Mark releases them and tell you how I'm voting and why. Because every good tournament deserves some armchair analysis!



(2) "Since U Been Gone" [Kelly Clarkson] vs. (15) "What's Love Got to Do With It?" [Tina Turner]

Look, I realize that Tina Turner doesn't need one more man in her life doing her wrong. But I can't help it, Tina! If it helps any, Kelly's pop-perfect breakout song makes the same case for liberating oneself from a crap relationship.

(7) "Karma Chameleon" [Boy George] vs. (10) "Straight Up" [Paula Abdul]

A lot of today's matchups are pitting '80s aficionados against '90s/'00s hits, and you know what side of the line I fall on. The charms of "Karma Chameleon" don't fade over time, or repeated listenings, and when it ultimately wins this matchup, it'll be a worthy victor. But my soft spot for Early Abdul endures, particularly the mechanical ramp up to the chorus on "Straight Up." Like a Transformer morphing into a giant dance floor.

(8) "Total Eclipse of the Heart" [Bonnie Tyler] vs. (9) "Time After Time" [Cyndi Lauper]

First of all, I'm going to pat us on the back for choosing the right Cyndi Lauper song. And then I'm going to pat Mark on the back for crafting this first-round matchup that seems to be driving people into self-flagellating fits. That said...I'm kind of nonplussed to see that "Time After Time" has such a solid lead, at press time. It's an achingly gorgeous song, but "Total Eclipse" is legendary and managed to live up to its own grandeur which, if you think about it, should not even be possible.

(1) "Alone" [Heart] vs. (16) "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" [Meat Loaf]

Once again, a 1-16 matchup where I can't help but feel like the low seed deserved better. There's a lot to snicker at with Meat Loaf's big, fat romantic epic, but it builds up to crescendos that few songs can even dream of, and Lorraine Crosby (thanks, Mark) taking things up to a whole other level. Please a make a point to listen to the full version of the song, just so you can hear her wail about building Emerald Cities out of grains of sand. All that said ... it's "Alone." There really isn't much of a discussion. Ann Wilson manages to combine Lorraine Crosby's voice and Meat Loaf's imposing frame in one perfect package, and that's BEFORE we even factor Nancy into things. Done deal.

(5) "Viva La Vida" [Coldplay] vs. (12) "Voices Carry" [Til Tuesday]

Big surprise, everybody still hates Coldplay. I still don't quite know where the vehemence comes from. Not when there's so much evidence that Chris Martin and Co. know their way around brilliant pop songs. "Viva La Vida" is maybe a notch below "Clocks," in my estimation, but they both hold far more singular positions in the pop pantheon than most are willing to give them credit for. I love "Voices Carry" passionately, but I feel the need to stick up for the underdog here, even if it's seeded higher.

(4) "Fast Car" [Tracy Chapman] vs. (13) "Not Ready to Make Nice" [Dixie Chicks]

"Not Ready to Make Nice" has one of my favorite extended-bridge sequences from the past ten years. I am incapable of not being moved when I hear it. That said, picking "Fast Car" is the easiest call of today's matchups. There is so much honest pain, conveyed so beautifully, I could burst open. And not even Natalie Maines can match the sobbing yodel in Tracy's voice.

VOTE!
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Monday, July 25, 2011

The Ultimate Pop Song Tournament: Bracket Breakdown

You guys! Over at The Critical Condition, Roommate Mark has unleashed the Ultimate Pop Song Tournament upon us, and our summer may not ever be the same. I, along with Nick Davis, was fortunate enough to be invited to help shape the field of 64 songs (from 1981-2011) and even did some of the writeups. Mark started posting the first-round matchups today, and I can't encourage you strongly enough to go over there and vote.

For my part? I'm going to highlight the matchups as Mark releases them and tell you how I'm voting and why. Because every good tournament deserves some armchair analysis!

FIRST ROUND - "JOY BOMB" DIVISION

(1) "Like a Prayer" [Madonna] vs. (16) "Higher Love" [Steve Winwood f/ Chaka Khan]

This is a matchup that should not be close, on paper. And I don't really expect the voting to be very close either. "Like a Prayer" is pretty much the definition of a brilliant pop song, and that's before you consider all its ancillary benefits (it represents all Madonna for the tournament; the music video was groundbreaking and amazing). It's getting my vote, but MAN do I want to make a case for "Higher Love," one of the more underrated pop masterpieces of the '80s. By the time Chaka Khan joins the festivities, all "BRAAAAANG ME A HIGHER LOVE!" I'm pretty much in heaven. Stevie and Chaka got a terrible first-round draw; I'd have voted it over either one of the 8-9 seeds.

(8) "Tubthumping" [Chumbawamba] vs. "Don't You Want Me" [The Human League]

I think I grew up in the wrong corner of the '80s, because I never really experienced "Don't You Want Me" until its Aughts-and-beyond resurgence. It's a strong song, but so much of pop music (at least in the way I experience it) is in the emotional reactions it pulls from you, and I don't really get that from The Human League. As one-hit-wonders go, "Tubthumping" is a really strong one, as this irony-melting They Might Be Giants cover shows. It gets my vote.

(5) "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" [Eurythmics] vs. "Freedom '90" [George Michael]

It's not that I don't love "Sweet Dreams" or Annie Lennox or appreciate the positions that they hold in the halls of music history. But I'm just not going to vote for it over a song that hold as prominent a place in my own personal history as "Freedom" does. Most days, I like to pretend that David Fincher got his first Oscar nomination for directing that video rather than Benjamin Button. It holds up as a pure song without all those supermodels writhing around too, but why deny yourself all those mental images?

(4) "I Want It That Way" [Backstreet Boys] vs. "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" [Belinda Carlisle]

I advocated hard for BSB's inclusion in this tournament, and my reward was a first-round matchup with a song I have more pure heart-bursting affection for than almost any other. Oh, hi, my two children. I guess I'm going to have to choose between you now. Both songs make me want to force the entire world to sing along with me. Both have amazing breakdown-power-return moments. Iconography: the masked children with glowy Earth globes vs. the BSB white-suit assault? AAAAHHH, I can't choose! I guess, breaking it down, Belinda does solo what it takes five Backstreet Boys to do. But, man, when Nick Carter busts in with that post-breakdown "Don't wanna hear you SAYYY!" I can't vote any other way.

(6) "Flashdance (What a Feeling)" [Irene Cara] vs. (11) "Groove Is in the Heart" [Dee-Lite]

Once again, call me Sophie, because girlfriend is about to make a CHOICE. There are few songs more fun to sing along to than Dee-Lite's early-'90s confection (especially if you have like 2-3 friends with you and can assign roles -- make sure your Q-Tip can handle that rapid-fire flow!). But I honestly think "What a Feeling" is one of those unimprovable pop songs gifted from Jesus. I still think Lady Miss Kier should be a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race, though.

(3) "Bad Romance" [Lady Gaga] vs. (14) "9 to 5" (Dolly Parton)

So tough to properly evaluate "Bad Romance" without years and years of perspective. Obviously, I know "9 to 5" has stood the test of time. Will I be able to say the same about "Bad Romance"?? ...Actually, I think we will. I wouldn't be opposed to a series of battle duets to help me change my mind.

GO VOTE!
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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Sounds of My Commute, No. 004



This song makes me want a margarita. And a lesbian softball team to watch from the sidelines.
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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Oscars of the '80s: The Best Original Song Project (1990)

A co-production celebrating the movies' pop-music dominance in the 1980s, with The Critical Condition.

Previously: 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989

1990




"Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" -- Dick Tracy [Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim]

Joe: When I proposed this idea to Mark, I pretty quickly realized that I was going to have to stretch the boundaries of our '80s mission statement to include 1990, because there's no way I was going to stop ONE YEAR SHORT of Madonna finally having her moment of Oscar glory. We've talked in previous posts about glaring Madonna snubs, from "Crazy for You" to "Live to Tell" to "Into the Groove." Whether she'd won over the Academy voters through attrition or whether Sondheim's involvement lent her respectability is a matter for debate, I suppose. The latter seems more credible, particularly considering the next time a Madonna song brushed by Oscar, it was with another Broadway legend, Andrew Lloyd Webber, at the reins. (Yes, theater queens, I just drew an equivalency between Sondheim and ALW; stop fanning yourselves with your Playbills.) ANYWAY! It's lesser Sondheim, but it's still pretty tuneful, it doesn't tax Madonna's vocal range too much, and it helped inspire the album that gave us "Vogue," so who's complaining?

Mark: I can't prove it, but I'm convinced that if Madonna had written this song, it wouldn't have gotten nominated. There's always been a bias against her in Academy circles, whether among the Grammy folk (who didn't giver her serious attention until Ray of Light) or the Oscar crowd, who overlooked all the songs Joe mentioned and spent the 90s ignoring sparkling soundtrack cuts like "I'll Remember" and "Beautiful Stranger."

But that's beside the point, since "Sooner or Later" obviously did get nominated. I would've chosen "More," which features dazzling lyrics and a zippy tune, but this song is stunning. The rhyme scheme changes about 40 times, but the thinking in the lyrics is so clear that you barely notice the craft. Instead of clever assonance, you can focus on the story of a confident woman who always gets her man.



"Promise Me You'll Remember" -- The Godfather Part III [Music: Carmine Coppola; Lyrics: John Bettis]

Joe: Because you know what movie needed a jazzy love theme from the likes of Harry Connick, Jr.? The Godfather, Part III. And yes, I realize the modernity of a Connick song isn't strictly out of place with Part III taking place in contemporary times, but it still feels like a cheap attempt to cash in on the "cool" cache of the Godfather brand. That said, I'm pretty predisposed against anything Harry Connick Jr. does anyway, so maybe I'm not an objective judge here.

Mark: I'm not a Harry Connick hater -- he stirred some of my earliest yearnings when he appeared in a tank top in Little Man Tate -- and I'm also not opposed to Lite Jazz. But come on: This song is a dentist's office. It's a fancy supermarket. It is not a piece of music that demands attention or merits a major award. Again, just listen to "More" from Dick Tracy and explain to me how that got passed over for this. Family-legacy nostalgia for Carmine Coppola be damned.



"Somewhere in My Memory" -- Home Alone [Music: John Williams; Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse]

Joe: Holy shit, this music had lyrics to it?? John Williams, you tricky bastard. Always looking for ways to parlay single Oscar nominations into doubles. As you may know, Home Alone carved a place for itself in my pre-adolescent heart long before I discovered that -- as a serious-minded film enthusiast -- I was supposed to hate it, so the music certainly does bring back fond memories. But as a standalone song, the children's-choir thing isn't making it happen.

Mark: Let us never speak ill of Home Alone, as that movie has burrowed so deeply into my brain that whenever a little kid is irritating me in a restaurant, I think, "Look what you did you little JERK!" But yeah, Joe's right: This song is boring. As it happens, this was also the first Oscar-cast I watched from start to finish. and even at 12 years old, I knew that "Somewhere in My Memory" was a weak link.



"I'm Checkin' Out" -- Postcards from the Edge [Music and lyrics: Shel Silverstein]

Joe: I'm sorry, I can't look at the title of this song without being immediately reminded of the Simpsons parody of a gaudy Broadway musical, "Checkin' In!" Luckily, I have YouTube here to remind me what a great movie-ending song this was, or at least what a rousing spin Meryl Streep puts on it. I like Reba McEntire as much as the next non-Southerner, but what a pity Streep wasn't there to sing it herself (nor for her Best Actress nomination -- what the hell?). Watching Meryl do what she does here, and in A Prairie Home Companion, it seems obvious what kind of musicals she should be doing onscreen, and what she shouldn't.

Mark: Though he's mostly remembered for Where The Sidewalk Ends and The Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein also wrote a lot of great songs, including "A Boy Named Sue" and this high-stepping ditty that Meryl Streep just nails. Joe's right: It's amazing how great she sounds here and how, um, less great she sounds in that other, terrible movie that shall remain nameless.



"Blaze of Glory" -- Young Guns II [Music and lyrics: Jon Bon Jovi]

Joe: I suppose I can't be surprised that Bon Jovi's reputation has taken a nose dive in the last 15 years or so, given the milquetoast makeover the band -- and Jon Bon Jovi in particular -- has undergone. No, they didn't have very far to go, and lord knows they'll always be hated by the metalheads, but I have to stick up for a band that was this much of a hitmaker. And "Blaze of Glory" is bombastic fun in all the best Bon Jovi ways. There was absolutely no reason to make a Young Guns II, but for this song alone, I'm glad they did.

Mark: Fun fact! This song is credited solely to Jon Bon Jovi, not the band Bon Jovi, and it's the title track to his first solo album, which also doubled as the "song score" for Young Guns II. (And you thought Glee invented corporate synergy!) But all that brand positioning aside, "Blaze of Glory" still rocks in the friendliest way. Since I've never had use for authentic metal, this is exactly the kind of melodic rock that I prefer.


Final Assessment

Joe: The presence of "Blaze of Glory" keeps the streak of hits in the Best Song race alive, but the sprit of '80s pop dominance is already lost here, in favor of retro-period sounds and John Williams nomination-padding. And while, sure, there were other, better songs that could have made the cut -- Roxette's ineligible "It Must've Been Love" from Pretty Woman; something from Cry-Baby; probably not "Turtle Power" from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, though -- you could sense the volume of great original movie songs drying up. Still, I can think of three songs who would make for worthy winners, so it's not all bad. At the risk of earning the ire of Madonna fans (who are kind of defensive? or haven't you heard?), I think I'm casting my vote with "I'm Checkin' Out."

Mark: Well, look... I'm a huge Madonna fan, and I don't feel defensive at all for declaring "Sooner or Later" the rightful winner in this category. It's Sondheim, people, and even if it's not as brilliant as "Every Day a Little Death," it's still a glorious piece of songwriting whose sultry swagger and subtle craft just dwarf the other nominees. I mean, I really like "Blaze of Glory" and "I'm Checkin' Out," but they're just tasty snacks next to a delicious meal.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

2011 Summer Movie Preview, Part 3

Summer movie season! You know it, you love it, you gently make fun of it. More often than not, summer offers a better variety of movies than it's given credit for. Looking forward at this particular summer ... well, there are some diamonds, but also a good bit of rough.

Previously: Part 1, Part 2


Movie: Horrible Bosses (Seth Gordon)
High-Concept Synopsis: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis, and Charlie Day hatch a darkly-comic plot to murder their bosses -- the described-by-marketing-materials "psycho" Kevin Spacey, "tool" Colin Farrell, and "maneater" Jennifer Aniston. Everything goes wrong in One Crazy Night of attempted murder and hilarity.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Audiences placing their trust in director Seth Gordon, who gave us the absolutely wonderful The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. People who trust the comedic instincts of the cast, which also includes Julie Bowen and Donald Sutherland. People who just like movies where dudes stay up all night and crazy shit happens to them and maybe they have awful women in their lives who they hate.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who think this looks like The Hangover 3: Hangin' Tough (with Jamie Foxx in the Ken Jeong role!). People who cannot take seeing Jennifer Aniston lower herself yet again to play a woman desperate for sex and/or a baby. People who temper their Seth Gordon enthusiasm by noting he also directed Four Christmases.
Why I'd See It: It looks reeeeally Hangover-y, you guys. And both Aniston and Farrell look like gross caricatures of grossness. But I do like the three leads, and Sudekis and Day were really funny together in Going the Distance, so I may wait to see how word-of-mouth shakes out on this. July 8


Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (David Yates)
High-Concept Synopsis: Molly Weasley has her day.
Who Will Be Seeing It: ...What, are you trying to be funny?
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Joyless grumps and other such nonbelievers.
Why I'd See It: I can tell you this: I've been looking forward to this movie long enough that my sister has made plans to come visit me that weekend so we can see it together. What's left from the final book is pretty much an endless series of action and emotional high points, so expect me to be a bit rattled this weekend. July 15



Movie: Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston)
High-Concept Synopsis: The story of a runty CGI man who steps into an iron lung and emerges with a big, muscley waxed chest and the patriotic desire to defend the U.S. of A. from super-powered Nazis.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Fans of the cast, which has something for everyone, including hot guys (Chris Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sebastian Stan), grizzled veterans (Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci), pretty women (Hayley Atwell, Natalie Dormer), and charismatic villains (Hugo Weaving). Marvel fans who were pleased with how Thor advanced the Avengers agenda and are looking for more of the same. Fans of the Nazis getting their asses kicked in as many ways as we can imagine it (the Inglorious Basterds contingent, let's say).
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who already saw one movie about a buffed-out superhero in fantastical circumstances this summer, and they weren't that thrilled with Thor anyway. People with very real and very understandable apprehensions about director Johnston (The Wolfman; Jurassic Park III). Suspiciously Teutonic-sounding peoples in Buenos Aires.
Why I'd See It: I love the idea of a superhero winning us WWII by defeating a red-skulled Nazi villain. And I really love Chris Evans and the rest of this cast. Just ... The Wolfman was so terrible, you guys. I don't know. July 22


Movie: Friends With Benefits (Will Gluck)
High-Concept Synopsis: In a strange and unfamiliar universe, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis find themselves single and sexually frustrated. But they're pals, and one day, they rent a Natalie Portman movie and get the brilliant idea to start Doing It, then spend a lot of time fretting about whether they're getting Feelings. Patricia Clarkson and Woody Harrelson co-star.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who've got a special place in their pants hearts for JT and/or Mila. Fans of director Gluck, who directed the loved-by-many Easy A (as well as the liked-by-only-me Fired Up!). People who feel like there were some real holes in the fuck-buddy instruction manual that was No Strings Attached.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who hate the concept. People who hate the stars. People who wish Justin would fail as an actor so he'll go back to making music. It's not a difficult demographic to peg.
Why I'd See It: I find the stars ridiculously sexy, and I have moderate faith that Gluck will be able to spin that into 90 minutes that are worthy of my attention. Though I can't pretend that wasting Patricia Clarkson's talents on a "horny mom" character are a spectacular start. July 22


Movie: The Future (Miranda July)
High-Concept Synopsis: Miranda July is a big-ol weirdo, and she's not about to let one minute go by without you knowing it.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who saw Me and You and Everyone We Know and didn't want to claw their limbs off in order to escape the self-conscious oddness. Fans of July's co-star, and under-the-radar film and TV star, Hamish Linklater. People who like anything about the future that doesn't involve marauding robots.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who find twee little details like talking cats to be fucking excruciating. Whimsy-hating jerkfaces. People who were looking to see something carefully crafted and sublime this weekend and opted for Chris Evans's pecs in Captain America.
Why I'd See It: You guys. I'm sorry. There are people I know and love who are super into Miranda July, but I just can't. The talking cat? I can't. July 22


Movie: Cowboys & Aliens (Jon Favreau)
High-Concept Synopsis: It's steampunk meets ... well, a more overt vision of steampunk, as Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, and the growly old ham that Harrison Ford has become fight invading aliens in the old west.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Genre dudes who like being flattered for their childhood preferences. Fans of the ostensible dream team of geek properties, with Favreau (Iron Man), and screenwriters Damon Lindelof (Lost) and Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek). Audiences drawn in by the rather excellent supporting cast, including Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine, and Walton Goggins.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who don't see eight (8!) credited screenwriters as all that great an omen. People who take the longview of Favreau's films and see more misses (Made, Zathura, Iron Man 2) than hits (Elf, Iron Man). People who are fond of neither cowboy movies nor alien movies.
Why I'd See It: I could see myself buying a ticket for Daniel Craig alone, but something about this movie has felt outside of my sweet spot all along. I guess when I'm outside of the group that's being pandered to, I feel a bit alienated. July 29


Movie: Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa)
High-Concept Synopsis: Steve Carell is one of those sad, emasculated marrieds that the movies love to rehabilitate. Ryan Gosling plays an irresistible sex god who takes it upon himself to help Carell shape up and (ultimately) win his wife (Julianne Moore) back.
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who saw, via the trailer, that this potentially off-putting concept has been leavened by heartfelt comedy and a parallel plot where Gosling falls for Emma Stone. People with functioning sense receptors, because Ryan Gosling FUH REAL. Fans of directors Ficarra and Requa (Bad Santa; I Love You, Phillip Morris).
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who can't quite be sold on a screenplay by the writer of the Cars movies. People who can't manage to stomach the notion of a movie about those noxious "pickup artist" types, however humorous and barbed. People who thought I Love You Phillip Morris fell short of its considerable praise.
Why I'd See It: The trailer was VERY charming, and it suggested a satisfyingly complex structure to both the comedy and romances. And how do you lose with this cast? My disappointment with Phillip Morris is the only thing making me worry about that very question. July 29


Movie: The Devil's Double (Lee Tamahori)
High-Concept Synopsis: From the director of xXx: State of the Union, comes the story of a man (Dominic Cooper) forced to stand in as the body double -- i.e. human shield, assassin's bait, that sort of thing -- for the monstrous Uday Hussein (also Dominic Cooper).
Who Will Be Seeing It: People who will watch the hell out of Dominic Cooper in one role, not to mention two. People who have noted the unexpected raves the movie got at Sundance. People who sense an audacious streak in the movie that could make things very interesting.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: Folks who aren't wild about spending two hours watching the crazy adventures of a torturing murderer. People who could not have less faith in Lee Tamahori (the man directed Next, people!). Audiences who somehow could give a shit about Dominic Cooper?
Why I'd See It: Well, Tamahori is a problem. I hated Next a whole fuck of a lot. But from what I've heard, Cooper's performance is strong enough to nullify any directorial worries. I'm in. July 29


Movie: The Smurfs (Raja Gosnell)
High-Concept Synopsis: The tattered remains of your childhood get smurfed right in the smurf-hole.
Who Will Be Seeing It: Children who don't know better. Adults who don't do a good enough job of keeping their children away from advertisements. People with bad taste who have been waiting impatiently for Katy Perry's feature film debut.
Who Won't Be Seeing It: People who never stop getting scandalized about'80s relics getting crappy movie updates. People who are irate that Hank Azaria stole the Gargamel role from its rightful owner, Fyvush Finkel. People who feel that, even for a live-action Smurfs movie, this looks particularly crass and joyless.
Why I'd See It: Oh, I won't. But I'm fully prepared for this to become an Alvin and the Chipmunks-sized hit that will make me feel terrible about the state of American culture. July 29
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