Monday, September 28, 2009

Shameless Musical Promotion

This summer, music sucked. Dave Matthews Band released a great, joyful album in Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, and Eminem had a respectable release in Relapse (though his attempts at humor grew a little stale a little too fast); the Black-Eyed Peas, on the other hand, reached radio ubiquity with a disappointing The E.N.D.: though "Boom Boom Pow" was inventive (but obnoxiously overplayed) and "I Gotta Feeling" was the album highlight, too many songs sounded exactly like the song before it. Overall, the summer releases just didn't have the requisite heat, and my music listening reverted back to old favorites rather than new tracks. Thankfully, fall is here to save the day. With September coming to a close, this month saw the release of three wonderful new albums, which I am here to encourage you to listen to. They're not necessarily obscure artists; most were much-anticipated releases. But I hope you all give them a chance to be heard, as good music is finally back. The Resistance, Muse: This is the album I have not been able to stop listening to since I downloaded it. To be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of Muse before; their music was good, but there was never really anything too distinct about them to me other than they had a much more symphonic production than most of their fellow alt-rockers. On The Resistance, though, Muse released an album thats not so much a collection of songs so much as it is a alternative symphony, casting Muse as a modern-day Queen in a concept album with a story that resembles George Orwell's 1984. My personal favorite tracks are "Resistance" and "United States of Eurasia," which is equal parts piano concerto and fist-pumping rocker with some Oriental melodics thrown in for good measure; it's essentially Muse's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Don't let the band's Twilight affiliation deter you; The Resistance is much better than anything associate with Bella and her sparkly bloodsuckers. Check out "United States of Eurasia" here: The Blueprint 3, Jay-Z: Pretty much just what you'd expect from the best rapper alive (sorry Wayne). After the fantastic American Gangster album, Jay-Z follows up with the second sequel to The Blueprint, and it doesn't fail to prove that he's still at the top of his game. My favorite tracks are, apart from first singles "Run This Town" and "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)", "Empire State of Mind", in which he and Alicia Keys wax rhapsodic about his native NYC, and "Young Forever", which samples Alphaville's "Forever Young" (a song I never thought I'd care about now) and offers Jigga's most introspective rhymes yet. Jay-Z has reinvented himself with this one by staying consistantly himself, which is all one can ask for. "Young Forever:" Man on the Moon: The End of Day, Kid Cudi: Simply the best rap debut since Kanye West's The College Dropout. Cudi introduces himself as a stoner rap pioneer, with his singles "Day 'n' Night" and "Make Her Say" already hits, but the rest of the disc is equally incredible. His beats are inventive and original, and if it does sound familiar, its because he helped produce West's 808s and Heartbreak last year. But Cudi establishes his own distinctive identity, and is never better than on "Up, Up, and Away (The Wake & Bake Song)", a joyful ode to not caring about what anyone says. A wonderful mix of rap, ambient, and punk, Kid Cudi has carved a niche for himself as one of the best rappers in the game today. "Up, Up and Away:" Comment and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Emmy Reflections 2009

This is a little late, I know, but with school work taking up most of my free time (along with my decision not to live-blog the event), I just haven't yet been able to get around to this. Personally, the delay has given me extra time to think about what happened that night, and decide what I really thought. Emmy's smartest move of the night: separating the show into separate genres, saving best comedy and best drama for last. Keep that idea! It should be noted, however, due to my limited resources, I will only comment on comedy and drama separately, giving notes on the other categories together. Host: Poor Neil Patrick Harris. He was obviously trying his hardest up there, but they obviously didn't give him much to work with. He was saved however by that classic NPH charm, and I personally was hoping he'd show off some of the magic tricks he knows. Anyway, its safe to say he was much better than the reality-host-nominees-as-Emmy-hosts disaster from last year. Variety/Music/Reality/Miniseries/Movie - Little Dorrit was a shocker to me, namely because I always assumed HBO was invincible in the miniseries category. But good for PBS for winning. - Of course Grey Gardens won made for TV movie. Who thought it wouldn't? - I'm glad The Daily Show with Jon Stewart won for the umpteenth time, but The Amazing Race too? Really? - Robot Chicken deserves an Animated Program Emmy. Give it one. Comedy - I'm really glad that Kristen Chenowith won Best Supporting Actress for playing Olive Snook in Pushing Daisies. Let that be a reminder to you, ABC, that you cancelled a truly brilliant show. The category as a whole was very strong this year; the only one I wouldn't really like to have won would be Vanessa Williams (decent performance in an overrated show). - Congratulations on winning Best Supporting Actor, Jon Cryer. He truly is the heart of Two and a Half Men, and its great to see his performance recognized. However, who really deserved to win? Jack McBrayer: how could you not love his ultra-naive Kenneth the Page (complete with Muppetvision)? - Saturday Night Live was on spot this year, with both Justin Timberlake and Tina Fey winning Guest Actor and Guest Actress, respectively, for their incredibly funny performances on the show, particularly Fey as Sarah Palin. - I thought for sure that Tina Fey or Mary-Louise Parker would win Best Actress, but Toni Collette? A part of me thinks I need to investigate United States of Tara to see why she pulled this one off. The most surprising thing here is the lack of the Desperate Housewives cast: there's not a single one to be seen. - Alec Baldwin's win was what I thought would happen originally, but as the awards drew closer, I began to think that Jim Parsons would pull an upset for The Big Bang Theory. I am glad Alec Baldwin won, though, not only because he's truly brilliant in 30 Rock but also because he's not Tony Shaloub. - 30 Rock accounted for 4 of the 5 writing nominees; of course it won (sorry Flight of the Concords, but you never stood a chance). - 30 Rock won Best Comedy for the third year in a row, which is perfectly fine by me. What makes me happiest is that the unfunny, incoherent mess of an excuse for a comedy that is Family Guy did not win. Honestly, it didn't even deserve the nomination. Here's hoping its never nominated here again. Drama - Cherry Jones' win for Best Supporting Actress in 24 is notable in that it was 24's only major nomination in the drama categories this year. Also, as a slight side note, they missed the best supporting performance of the year in not nominated the glorious Allison Pill for In Treatment. She was heartbreaking. She deserves to win. - Thank God Michael Emerson was finally recognized! His Ben Linus on Lost is consistently one of the best performances on the show, and he is easily one of the creepiest villians of all time in any medium. I was convinced they would reward William Shatner for hamming it up on the mediocre-to-abysmal Boston Legal; maybe there is justice in the world. - The guest spots this year were interesting but not revolutionary: Ellen Burstyn won Guest Actress for Law & Order: SVU, and Michael J. Fox won Guest Actor for Rescue Me (which is absolutely fantastic, but he pretty much had the Emmy locked up the moment he rolled on screen). It is curious, however, that Fox's win is the first Emmy to be earned by Rescue Me, which has been consistently good over the last five seasons. It needs more recognition than that.... - Glenn Close won Best Actress for the second year in a row for her role in Damages. This was a great year for actresses on television, but this category was full of familiar faces with multiple nominations. I think its time for this category to let in some fresh faces, such as Friday Night Light's Connie Britton or Dollhouse's Eliza Dushku. - In a stunning upset, Best Actor went to Bryan Cranston for Breaking Bad instead of Jon Hamm for Mad Men! Sound familiar? Its the exact same thing that happened last year. I haven't seen Breaking Bad (yet), and I'm sure Cranston's phenomenal, but what's it going to take to get Hugh Laurie an Emmy for playing House, easily the most interesting character in a medical show ever? Or Michael C. Hall for his creepily sympathetic turn in Dexter, for that matter? And surely they didn't intentionally overlook Gabriel Byrne's graceful performance in In Treatment? It was certainly a crowded year, with every nominee (except Simon Baker) deserving a win. - Just like in comedy, the Dramatic Writing category was consisted of only two shows: one nomination for Lost, and the remaining four for Mad Men. Mad Men won, of course, but the winner should have been Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse for the fantastic episode of Lost entitled "The Incident." It's one of Lost's finest episodes, and deserved to be honored as such. - If you haven't gotten it by now, I am a Lost fanatic. And so it's understandable why I was disappointed when Lost, just like last year, didn't take home it's second Best Drama Emmy (here's hoping it happens next year for the final season). Mad Men won again, making it two-for-two all time in this category, despite never having an acting winner. To be honest, I didn't think it would win this year. If not Lost, I was hoping House or Dexter would take the prize, but I predicted AMC would still win this category with Breaking Bad. Lesson learned: never bet against advertisement agents who enjoy drinking and sexually harassing their female coworkers in the 1960s.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fall '09 Movies: Cheers, Fears, and Unclears Part Two

So yesterday I posted the movies coming out this fall that I am most excited. However, due to my obnoxious homework and time restraints, I never had time to complete that post, hence why it is now in two parts. This one will cover my fears (the movies I'm dreading the release of) and the unclears (movies that I'm on the fence about). Fears -All About Steve, expected 9/4: Ok, I get it. Romantic comedies appeal to a specific audience that just happens to love them. I have nothing against the genre. But this just seems sad. A movie about a crossword editor that falls in love with a reporter and then stalks him accross the country? No thanks. I would like to point out that I have never been a fan of Sandra Bullock. Her performances are way too heavy-handed, and she usually plays the same character over and over, in my opinion. This one is different for her, I admit; but where the character is supposed to come off as eccentric, Bullock seems way too creepy, like the crazy girl who needs to be institutionalized immediately. I fail to see the romance or the comedy in this one. And honestly, this poster alone ruined it for me.

-Any one of the myriad horror movies: There's plenty of slasher/torture porn this year. From Sorority Row (9/11) to Pandorum (9/18) to The Stepfather (10/16) to Saw VI (10/23) to The Fourth Kind (11/6, this one has the nerve to call itself a true story too), its just another year of crappy horror films meant to scare teenagers and offer little else. Of the movies I listed, only two are originals; the others are remakes (with the exception of Saw VI; as a personal note, the Saw franchise needs to go away, ASAP). There's no real reason to be excited about any of these.
-Capitalism: A Love Story, due 9/23: I'm one of the few liberals, I think, who despises Michael Moore. His causes are usually noble ones; namely, exposing different government agencies and industries that are corrupt and in need of fixing. However, this doesn't excuse the fact that his "documentaries" can hardly count as fair, much less worth watching. In this one, as he takes on Wall Street, I expect audiences will see him mugging for the camera, interviewing people with the intent to make them look like idiots, all while using his usual "aw gee, I'm just a normal guy" schtick to make us feel like we're being shafted. I don't mind exposing the truth, but when you're a rich documentarian who can go anywhere and do just about anything he pleases, don't tell me you're a champion of the people. Knowing just how much money he's going to make from this one is reason enough to miss this one.
-2012, due 11/6: It's bad enough that people actually think the world is going to end on December 21, 2012. Since when have the Mayans been in charge of the fate of the world? Isn't it possible that they just stopped their calendar? And, least we forget, their entire civilization was wiped out by the Spanish centuries ago. Not exactly earning them credibility points. What makes this movie worse is that it's all about special effects and the destruction of as many global landmarks as hack director Roland Emmerich (he of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow fame) can possibly fit between snipits of "plot." There seems to be some kind of ark, and there's a Bentley driving out of an airplane, according to the trailer. Personally, it seems very been-there, blown-that-up. In fact, this spoof trailer looks better than the movie actually does:
-The Twilight Saga: New Moon, due 11/20: Honestly, I could write a book about how much I despise Twilight and all of its spawn. But there's just not enough time for that, and I don't feel like wasting any time on this.
-Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, due 12/25: 'Nuff said.
-Jennifer's Body, due 9/18: It does have some good things going for it: Megan Fox in what feels like a parody of herself, the wonderful Amanda Seyfried, a gloriously campy trailer and a script from Diablo Cody. Against it, though, is the fact that it is indeed a horror movie, and I fear that it will fall into the usual horror tropes. Plus, I'm sad that Cody is doing the typical female-Oscar-winner-does-horror-as-follow-up thing. It's supposed to be a gory metaphor for high school sexuality; if it maintains a certain camp factor, then it could be a great B-movie.
-Amelia, due 10/23: It's exciting to see Mira Nair doing an epic biopic like this, but it feels a little too much like a female version of The Aviator. Its certainly glorifying Amelia Earhart, an undoubtedly interesting character; but I'm not a big fan of Hilary Swank. I feel like her performances are a little too forced, like she's refusing to let the character come to a complete life. And, this is a personal opinion, I think she robbed Annette Bening and Kate Winslet of an Oscar in 1999 and 2004, respectively. I may go see this one, but unless I see some more impressive footage, I may not.
-Antichrist, due 10/23: I've never seen a Lars von Trier movie, and from what I understand he is a very hit-or-miss director. However, this one got a lot of buzz at Cannes, and the trailer that I've seen for it looks creepy. If it has a deep psychological element to it, this could be a great modern horror film. If that creepiness gets too bizarre, though, I doubt I'll find it exhilerating.
-A Christmas Carol, due 11/6: I saw the last two films Robert Zemekis made with his motion-capture technology (The Polar Express and Beowulf), and I found them likable enough (though I must add that this being his third movie like this, with a fourth, a remake of Yellow Submarine, on the way, he's getting a little obsessed with this). He's supposedly fixed the whole "dead eyes" problem, and Jim Carrey as Ebeneezer Scrooge and all three ghosts should be a blast to watch. Still, I've just got a strange feeling about this one. The trailer hasn't entirely convinced me yet, as you can see here:
-The Princess and the Frog, due 11/25: Disney returns to the 2D animated musical with this retelling of the classic fairy tale, setting it in New Orleans. It looks like a well-made movie, and will hopefully serve as a reminder that in our increasingly 3D world, 2D can still tell a great story (assuming, of course, this has a great story). The casting of Anika Noni Rose is inspired (she was dreadfully overlooked in Dreamgirls), and the music sounds as vibrant as the Ninth Ward at Mardi Gras. My only fear is that it will play way too flat, and end up being a stinker. And might I go ahead and wonder why its taken this long for Disney's "Princess Club" to finally get an African-American member?
-Avatar, due 12/18: Yeah, yeah, I know. It's James Cameron's sci-fi masterpiece. It's revolutionary in its effects process. It's going to change the way movies are made forever. It's the best movie ever made in the history of time. It's going to be the biggest movie in the history of the world. But after watching the first trailer, and shifting through the ridiculous amount of hype surrounding it, I can honestly say that I still have no idea what's going on. It looks like a great effects movie, and I don't deny this process is revolutionary. But at the end of the day, does it have any semblence of a story? And is the acting any good at all, or does that even matter? I can't say I'm going to be first in line for this one; if I do see it, I'm approaching with caution.
So there you have it. See you at the movies. Expect a pretty steady stream of reviews as I get around to seeing this films.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fall '09 Movies: Cheers, Fears, and Unclears, Part One

The summer's over, which means its that time of the year again: fall, when all of the studios roll out their Oscar fare in hopes of big box office and major awards. This season is no exception, though it has had a few surprises already (most notable: Shutter Island's move to February 2010. Maybe Paramount's hoping for a Silence of the Lambs-esque run at the 2010 Oscars? Or maybe there's just little faith that it will be completely ready for October? Who knows...). However, for me, the beginning of September is way too early to start predicting the Oscars- I'll do that towards December- but it is just the right time to give my preview of the movies I'm most looking foward to, the ones I wish would not get made, and the films that I'm really uncertain about. Let the previewing begin!
- 9, expected 9/9: I have to admit, when I first saw the trailer for this one, I wasn't completely sure about it. The Tim Burton-producing credit excited me (the Timur Bekmambetov-producing credit, not so much), and the cast seemed respectable, but it seemed just a tad too...strange. A bunch of ragdoll-like creatures running around an apocalyptic landscape with mechanical rodent-things chasing them? Really? But after watching Shane Acker's short film of the same name, I was won over. It appears that 9 is set to be an incredibly original film, and with a PG-13 rating, its certainly not aimed at the family crowd. I'm hoping this lives up to my creative expectations, and becomes another great entry in what has so far been a fantastic year for animated movies.
-The Informant!, expected 9/18: Matt Damon. Steven Soderbergh. Comedy. It feels like a lost Coen Brothers movie, and the trailer alone had me laughing out loud. And in this tough economy, a film where the average man has both the government and the company in his control ought to play well. And how can you say no to a film with a poster like this?
-Surrogates, expected 9/25: I'll admit it right now: I'm a sci-fi nerd. Well, sort-of. When it looks well-made and has a certain level of creativity to it, I'll get excited about it. And if there's something metaphorical or allegorical to it, even better. Surrogates, to me at least, carries a certain relevance in it's idea of people living their lives through robots rather than doing so themselves; we as a culture are constantly finding "lazier" ways of accomplishing simple, everyday tasks, and if the possibility of surrogate living ever were to emerge, I wouldn't be surprised to see people jump on board quickly. Hopefully, the film itself will live up to its big ideas, but it looks intense, and the effects are high quality, so I'm not too worried about it.
-A Serious Man, expected 10/2: Honestly, I get excited anytime the Coen Brothers do a movie. They especially excel at dark comedy, which this one definately is. The trailer doesn't reveal too much, just traditional Coen humor. Which, to me, is reason enough to look foward to this one.
-Zombieland, expected 10/9: This looks like the madcap, gonzo zombie comedy we've all been looking foward to. Turning zombie-killing into a sport as well as a way of survival, this looks like an entertaining, bloody film. Hopefully some creative zombie deaths are in store, and with a wonderful cast featuring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin (!), there will be big laughs too.
-New York, I Love You, expected 10/16: Back in 2007, I fell in love with Paris, Je T'aime, a collection of short films from various directors shot around (and about) Paris. The film captured many different people in different situations, and alternated between humorous, heartbreaking, and fantastic. It was a celebration of life, of humanity, of filmmaking, and, of course, of Paris. NY, ILY is the "sequel," and with a cast the features Bradley Cooper, Natalie Portman, Shia Labouf, Julie Christie, Anton Yelchin, Chris Cooper, Andy Garcia, and Ethan Hawke, and directors such as Mira Nair, Shekar Kapur, Brett Ratner, Joshua Marston, and Natalie Portman (her directing debut), I'm hopeful that this one will match the joy of its predecessor.
-The Road, expected 10/16: Please, for the love of God, let this be good! The Cormac McCarthy novel on which its based is wonderful, possibly the best book I've ever read. The casting of Viggo Mortensen as the man is very exciting, and John Hillcoat is an inspired choice for a director. This image from the film gives me hope that this will be the devestatingly personal post-apocolyptic thriller it should be:
This, however, worries me:
-Where the Wild Things Are, expected 10/16: Finally! Spike Jonze's troubled production seems to have resulted in what is shaping up to be a hip, indie family movie that will tickle the imagination, warm the heart, and make us all feel like children again. Jonze's shown that he can work fantastical comedy before (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), and he seems right at home here. Bonus points for using The Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" in the trailers. -Precious, expected 11/6: I'm ready to feel like crap after seeing this one. The story centers on an illiterate, overweight Harlem teenager who's dealing with a second unwanted pregnancy and a home life that could literally kill her. Mo'nique has gotten raves for her performance as the girl's abusive mother, and Mariah Carey shows up in a role that is surprisingly subdued. It looks like powerful stuff, though maybe not feel-good stuff. -Fantastic Mr. Fox, expected 11/9: I love Wes Anderson. Despite what many people said, I loved The Darjeeling Limited. I found it to be a humorous story of spiritual discovery and family bonding. And Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on a Roand Dahl book, should include subtlely funny performances from its wonderful cast (George Clooney, Meryl Steep, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray) through '70s-style stop-motion animation. This looks like another Anderson classic.
-Broken Embraces, expected 11/20: There are certain directors out there who have one actor who really gets him, and they end up collaborating in one fantastic movie after another. Martin Scorsese had Robert De Niro (and later Leonardo DiCaprio), Woody Allen had Diane Keaton, and Pedro Almodovar has Penelope Cruz. This is their fourth film together, and perhaps their most personal: Cruz plays an actress who grows close to the filmmaker she idolizes. I'm looking foward to this one to be another great entry into the Almodovar-Cruz anthology.
-Nine, expected 11/25: There are plenty of reasons to be excited about this one. It's a musical based on Federico Fellini's 8 1/2. It centers around a film director and his relationships with the women around him. Those women are Marion Cotillard (so great in Public Enemies earlier this year), Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson, and Fergie. It's directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago). And perhaps most intriguing of all: the director is played by none other than Daniel Day-Lewis, who, according to early reports, is actually a really good singer. We'll see about that.
-Brothers, expected 12/4: This one seems like a much smaller film compared to most on this list, despite the fact that it features Jake Gyllanhaal, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman. It centers on two brothers, one of whom supposedly dies in Afghanistan. The other brother then moves in with his brother's widow, only to see him return. This looks like the makings of a good drama that seems grounded in a reality of war: when you're presumed dead, how do you handle your world moving on? The fact that it's directed by Jim Sheridan (In America) helps.
-Invictus, expected 12/11: This is the story of Nelson Mandela in the early years of his presidency in South Africa, as the nation was still struggling with its aparteid past and centers on the nation's upset rugby victory in 1995. Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood reunite for this one, though this time Eastwood is strictly behind the camera. I'm excited about this one because I'm a big fan of Eastwood, especially as a director.
-The Lovely Bones, expected 12/11: Or, Peter Jackson's return to his pre-LOTR roots. The story of a girl who is raped and murdered, then watches the lives of those around her from heaven, seems like the kind of dark territory Jackson treaded with Heavenly Creatures. And the fact that he has the WETA effects team behind him means there will be some wonderful heaven scenes. I'm hoping this one will be as good as his LOTR films and King Kong.
-Sherlock Holmes, expected 12/25: This reboot of the famous detective isn't your average Holmes: he's now a martial-arts expert on top of brilliant deducer. Guy Ritchie (Snatch) directs, and Jude Law and Rachel McAdams show up in supporting roles. But the real draw here is the charismatic Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes. Honestly, I can't say that I'd really be that interested in this one if he wasn't involved.
-The Tree of Life, expected 12/25: I'm not entirely sure of what the plot of this one is, nor am I sure that it will actually be any good. I do know that it's a fantasy epic starring Brad Pitt and Sean Pitt. And the fact that its only been three years since Terrence Malick's last film (The New World) rather than a decade or two is always welcome.
Part Two will feature the fears, or the films that I'm dreading the release of, and the unclears, the films that I'm kinda hyped about but not really sure if I want to see....yet.