Thursday, December 27, 2007

Something to fill my heart with joy this holiday season

You know - of course you know - that nothing gives me greater pleasure than a big movie gone truly terribly wrong. The idea of a company investing $180 million dollars into a movie and nobody ever saying "Hey! This script is written by the same guy who wrote 'Mannequin IV!'" is one of the brilliant ironies for which America should become better known. I mean, certainly it can be disappointing to discover that the epic series you've been following ends in a sniveling whimper of misguided plot decisions and dizzyingly off-putting effects, but when you enter a theater knowing that what you're in for is an example of ham-fisted storytelling and breathtaking jumps in logic, what more could you ask for on a rainy Saturday afternoon? Buy popcorn and bring a friend along who also can't help but smile whenever Chris O'Donnell tries an accent. You won't regret it.

Certainly from the preceding paragraph you would be expecting this post to be about National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and yes, that post is coming, though I haven't yet seen what's sure to be a glorious piece of cinematic goobledygook. But, incredibly, there is a movie approaching which looks almost certain to eclipse Nat'l Trez: BS as the finest example of how everything gone wrong in Hollywood sometimes makes everything feel oh so right. That movie is In The Name of The King: A Dungeon Siege Film. It comes out in January 18th, it'll be in every theater near you, and it's going to be terrible. I mean, so godawful that you won't be able to believe it, you won't even be able to breathe. If you doubt that it could in fact be as bad as I say, follow along with me for a moment as I break this movie down and show you just how mystifyingly stupid this film is destined, even guaranteed, to be.

First things first: let's take a look at the director.

The Director
It's directed by Uwe Boll. If that doesn't make you gasp with a combination of horror and wonderment, keep reading. Uwe Boll is, to put it nicely, the worst director in the history of cinema. To be fair, though, the earth has yet to implode into a little ball, so it is still possible he could be unseated. But it is not likely.

What's incredible about Uwe Boll movies is not just that they are bad, but that he consistently can find investors to keep making them. Video gaming is the biggest new market in the world, a much bigger business than Hollywood, and Boll only does adaptations of video games, so it seems impossible that he would be unable to tap into even a very small section of that market. And yet, against ludicrous odds for success, he fails anyway. His most recent film, BloodRayne, cost $30 million and made $2.5 million, not a great return. Boll has one sequel for BloodRayne already in the works, and is beginning funding projects for a third film. All his investors are reportedly German, and also apparently not too bright.

And his movies are not too-hip-for-the-room artsy flicks. All three of his video game adaptations are on IMDB's Bottom 100 Films list, and Rob Vaux once stated that his first adaptation, Alone In The Dark, should make all other bad movie directors feel better in comparison: "'It's okay,' they'll tell themselves, 'I didn't make Alone in the Dark.'"

This is the man who once rejected a proposed script adaptation for reasons that included "not enough car chases." This is the man who blames the poor commercial performance of his video game adaptations not on his own inability to direct, but on his distribution company, Romar, and has filed a lawsuit against them as a result. This is the man who, whenever he publicly expresses interest in making a movie out of a certain video game, the producers of that game have a press conference to announce "We would never let Uwe Boll do that. Ever." This is the man who sent an email to Wired after a nasty review of Postal, explaining that the reviewer didn't "understand anything about movies and that you are a untalented wanna bee filmmaker with no balls and no understanding what POSTAL is. you dont see courage because you are nothing. and no go to your mum and fuck her ...because she cooks for you now since 30 years she deserves it." He explained later that he wasn't mad about the review, but just angry at the reviewer personally.

This is the man who gave all the critics who panned his movie the opportunity to fly out to his house, and - I'm serious here - box him. "Put up or shut up," said Boll. Incredibly, all five critics he specifically invited to fight him actually decided that they would. When film critics actually physically want to hurt you, and are willing to spend their own money in order to get at you, then yes, you are the worst director of all time. All five critics arrived expecting some sort of publicity stunt where they would take a few swings and get their pictures taken. Instead, Boll took each of them into the ring, one by one, and beat the snot out of all of them.

This is the man who directed this movie. How excited am I?

The Cast
Uwe Boll movies are usually not particularly well cast, but this one is a stunner. Jason Statham stars as a lowly peasant pressed into great things by fate. Statham is, naturally, completely unfit for this role, but he's always said he's the sort of actor who's game for anything with a lot of action and sex in it, and this movie certainly seems to fit that category. I like Statham, so I won't fault him for this choice. Even though it's bound to set him back in Hollywood a bit, I don't think he cares. I only have pity for a man whose longtime girlfriend once broke up with him for Billy Zane. I'll let him have his nonsense role in this and I won't pick on him, even though he's playing a character named "Farmer Daimon," for chrissakes.

More amazing - breathtaking, really - is the presence of Ray Liotta as an evil magician. You might know Ray Liotta as the main character in Goodfellas, an excellent film that opened 17 years ago, or as Shoeless Joe in Field of Dreams, which opened 18 years ago. You might also remember him in aggravating supporting roles in aggravating films like Heartbreakers, Operation Dumbo Drop, or Narc, with which he has bombarded us ever since. If that doesn't help, you might remember him from playing a mobster in every mobster film that's been released in the past 17 years, up to and including video games and documentaries (I could not have made that up. That is fact). You might even, unfortunately, remember him playing Frank Sinatra in that TV "Rat Pack" movie. Regardless of whether you remember him in any of those roles, but what is certain is that at no point in the last twenty years have you said to yourself "y'know, if you put a polo shirt and a leather bathrobe on that guy, he could be a killer evil magician named Gallian." You know how amazed I am at this? I'm even amazed that Uwe Boll thought of this. That's how amazed I am.

But not nearly as amazed as the idea of Burt Reynolds as the devilish King Konreid. I mean, I'm amazed at the idea of naming a character "King Konreid," but casting Burt Reynolds is beyond my ken. I think I have reasoned out Uwe Boll's thought process, though:

Master Director Uwe Boll: "Hey - who was the king in that Robin Hood movie?"
Whoever The Hell Uwe Boll Bounces Ideas Off Of: "Sean Connery."
MDUB: "Think we could get him to do this?"
WTHUBBIOO: "No. Lord, no."
MDUB: "Well, let's get someone who looks like him, then. Who looks like Sean Connery?"
WTHUBBIOO: "Uh... nobody, really."
MDUB: "Burt Reynolds kind of looks like him, right?"
WTHUBBIOO: "Not really, no. Not at all, actually. They both have whitish beards, though."
MDUB: "Good enough. C'mon, I bet we can this thing cast before this strip club closes."

I might have some of the phrasing off a little - it's possible Boll mentioned the name of the actual strip club they were attending - but that's certainly close.

Now, at this point, you must be saying to yourself, "isn't there some flailing young actress whose career has gone in the toilet who'll be willing to play the female lead just to get some sort of publicity, however putrid?" Well, then, you must be reading my mind, because this film also stars Leelee Sobieski.

"Leelee Sobieski?" you say. "Say, she was in... that movie a long time ago!" Right on! Sobieski once had a blossoming film career, from her Lolita-ish moment in the sun with Tom Cruise in Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (note to parents: it would have been wise to stop letting your kids act in Stanley Kubrick movies), all the way to her Emmy nod for being Joan of Arc, Sobieski's career arrived in 1998 and disappeared in 2001. A string of brave failures (Les Liaisons dangereuses is always a gutsy call) combined with mindless flops (Joy Ride, The Glass House, and most painfully, with Nicholas Cage in The Wicker Man), Sobieski's career has descended to the point that she is now most famous for her disastrous performance on the Tonight Show of a poem she wrote about 9/11, entitled "This Day and all the Rest." Howard Stern likes to play the audio of this performance on his show whenever he's feeling down and needs a laugh. I honestly can't imagine an actress who needs a movie, any movie, more than Sobieski, with the obvious exception of Sean Young, or maybe Claire Forlani, who... wait... is actually in this movie as well.

You may be suspecting by now that while most actors would like to wash the taste out of their mouths after doing a Uwe Boll movie, surely somebody would be willing to stick it out and appear in more than one. Of course that person would also have to be crazy. Presenting Kristanna Loken.

Loken is best known for getting naked to play the most recent Terminator, the "Terminatrix" (clever!) in T3: Rise of the Machines, but you might remember her as one of the main characters in, yes, BloodRayne. She's also starred in such luminosities as Rise of the Nibelungs (who names these movies?) and the TV show based on the Mortal Combat game. A full 70% of her Wikipedia article concerns debate whether or not she is bisexual, which I think gives us a fairly accurate barometer of her acting chops. Naturally, she has also guested on The L Word (it may, in fact, be illegal in California to be a possibly lesbian actress in Hollywood and not appear on the show. We have seen no evidence to the contrary).

You might have realized by now that In The Name of the King is supposed to conjure up a certain other epic movie series concerning swords, kings, evil sorcerers, everyday people being called to quests, and big orc-like monsters fighting in the rain, but in case the trailer didn't give that away, there's an actual actor from The Lord of the Rings in this movie. Presenting John Rys-Davies, better known as Gimli! He seems to be playing a wise, sage-like advisor who guides Statham, Sobieski, and Loken on their quest, though it's possible he's simply been digitally cut out of the Rings movies and inserted here.

Finally, and most wonderfully, Matthew Lilliard is in this movie. Yes, Matthew Lilliard. The killer boyfriend in Scream. The street-smart hacker from Hackers. The man who made both Seth Green and Dax Shepard look like a serious thespians in Without A Paddle. And, of course, the man who made us gasp in disbelief at his picture-perfect interpretation of Shaggy in Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. He's here too, playing a character named "Duke Fallow." My cup runneth over.

The Trailer
This trailer is sure to be the best minute and twenty-nine seconds of your day. Let me break this down for you, second-by-second:

:01 We get our first glance at Uwe Boll's logo, letting us know just what we're in for. The trailer company has chosen to let it only appear for .3 seconds, so that most viewers are hopefully still blinking and saying "wait, is this another trailer?"

:08 Shots of a bell tower ringing, orc-like things rustling in the bush, and Jason Statham looking bravely worried, and also looking like he spent about 14 seconds of preparation to look like a peasant. A voiceover of another character explains the situation - pillagers approaching - to somebody named "Crug." Crug is not in the cast list, so we can safely assume he'll die in this early battle.

:09 The first of many exact replicas of Lord of the Ring orc costumes appears on screen. The entire pillaging sequence continues for another five seconds, all of which is shot exactly as it appears in The Two Towers, including an exact match for the whirling overhead helicopter shot. That movie was a full five years ago, though, so I'm sure Boll can safely assume everyone's forgotten about it at this point.

:13 Our first shot of what I'm 85% certain is a rebuilt model of Minas Morgul, shot with slightly different lighting so no one will notice the similarities. The craning establishing shot is also the exact same as in Lord of the Rings. We also get our first bit of voiceover from Rhys-Davies, explaining, "I believe it was Gallian. He has fallen into madness," a line that seems obviously unoriginal and yet eerily prescient for this film. We also get our first shot of Ray Liotta, who has chosen to stick with the mobster hair for the film, looking like he has just suffered a concussion. Also, a shot of the flaming orc mines, which I am at least 90% sure was simply lifted from the Isengard sequence of The Two Towers directly. I'm not sure, at this point, what I find more alarming - that Boll is stealing so dramatically from the Rings movies or that he only seems to own the second one.

:17 Our first shot of the graphics, which is typed in the Papyrus font, all uppercase. "FATE... WILL CALL HIM." Someone was paid $10,000 dollars to do graphics that I could have done in 34 seconds.

:20 Jason Statham speaks for the first time. Brave choice, keeping that Cockney accent. But, I suppose that's what the character of Farmer Daimon would sound like, what with living out here in the wilderness.

:24 "ENEMIES... WILL SURROUND HIM." I'm trying to place which Rings movie the soundtrack is from at this point. I think that... yes, it's The Two Towers.

:26 Ray Liotta summons a great storm before him and sends it out against Statham. Hey, a Fellowship reference! Excellent!

:29 Rhys-Davies announces "the King has been poisoned." Ah, well, I guess we won't get that much Burt Reynolds in this one. That's disappointing.

:30 A shot of Liotta with a bunch of books flying wildly around him. I have tried to think up a logical explanation for this and failed.

:31 Rhys-Davies notes that "Gallian is raising armies. Vast armies." Four quick shots fly by, including one of orcs running in the rain that I'm seriously at least 98% sure is in fact lifted from The Two Towers. I am not kidding about this.

:35 "ALLIES... WILL JOIN HIM." Phew.

:37 Our first shot of Sobieski. She's wearing... yes... her Joan of Arc armor. Elvish people decend on large ropes that are supposed to look like vines but look quite patently like ropes. I am not hopeful for Statham at this point.

:38 Shots of Statham fighting hundreds of Uruk-hai all by himself. Those allies made it through less than a second of screen time. Statham is likely in real trouble at this point.

:39 Kristanna Loken, wearing Peter Pan hair, announces "Those who you fight - we will help you fight them," which is good, because it does appear that Sobieski and the elf-people are not going to be particularly useful. This is also helpful because Loken will be helping Statham fight those who he is fighting, as opposed to those who he is not fighting, which might have been the problem with that last group.

:42 "AND AN EPIC BATTLE... WILL BEGIN." Hopefully, against those with whom he is fighting.

:44 Rhys-Davies explains "A small force might slip through." Now that is an original idea. Shots of Statham and his A-Team walking along New Zealand-y mountaintops, then gathered gazing at a burning Minas Morgul. The music, thankfully, has switched over to "royalty-free standard trailer music."

:48 We get our first shot of Rhys-Davies actually talking, by which we can safely assume that at some point during the movie, he has an incredibly long scene of exposition to move us to the next part of the movie. Inexplicably, he has chosen to have Farrah Fawcett hair for this role.

:49 A low-angle shot of the Uruk-hai attacking Helm's Deep. 95% certain this is stolen.

:50 Quick shot of Ray Liotta levitating a sword in front of him, then fighting Statham in hand-to-hand combat with sword in hand. Liotta seems to be able to do a lot of showy magic but has yet to cause any actual damage with it. Perhaps he's merely an illusionist, or perhaps Boll hasn't figured out how to adapt special effects into an actual storyline. His expressions in these shots leads me to believe he's getting stoned before each shooting day, whatever the case.

:52 I discover that Brian White is in this movie as well. He used to play in the NFL, which is more than enough acting training for a Uwe Boll movie. He's also black, so, hey! Diversity! Boll strikes me as one of those directors who adds a black character just under the mistaken impression this will bring in gigantic black audiences, like Gary Dourdan on "CSI," except that the strategy doesn't work on "CSI." Also, Gary Dourdan is a really good actor, so that's another difference.

:55 Ray Liotta casts a spell at the camera. His face turns purple, and it looks like he's about to vomit. Is it possible that the climax of this movie will involve Liotta throwing a million ineffectual spells at Statham, then passes out? One can only hope.

:56 More books swirling, this time around Statham, as they seem to have caught him in a spinning tower of knowledge. It's like a spell from the Ben Franklin Little Book of Charms. How is this your go-to spell when fighting an arch-enemy? Harry Potter learned cooler spells in Herbology class.

:58 Statham notes that "The king called upon you to face death." I'd like to point out that the king is, in fact, dead at this point, so it's all really kind of moot, right?

:59 The Emperor sends Luke to the floor, screaming in pain at the blue lightning coming from his hands. It's official, Uwe Boll has seen more than two movies.

1:00 Our first shot of Matthew Lilliard, with an unimpressive beard, giving Brian White the bug-eyes. It appears Lilliard will be some sort of villain in this movie. All hail the evil Duke Fallow!

1:01 "IN THE NAME OF HONOR." No one involved in this movie has anything of the kind. C'mon guys, open up. You can admit it to yourselves. The sooner you come to terms with it, the less likely you are to break down in tears when Conan asks you what the hell you're doing in this movie.

1:02 Statham yells inspiringly "Tonight, we dress our wounds!" Who let these people get injured and not dress their wounds? What kind of terrible leader is this Farmer Daimon?

1:05 Random fighting shots. "...bury our dead!" continues Statham. William Wallace has nothing on this guy. Didn't Uwe Boll see Braveheart? How is it possible Uwe Boll did not see Braveheart?

1:06 "IN THE NAME OF FREEDOM." Ah, there's the shout-out.

1:08 "Tomorrow, we gouge evil from its shell!" Wait, so we aren't doing anything today? We're gonna wait 'til tonight, dress our wounds, bury our dead, then up bright and early to gouge evil from it's shell? Should we work on a good fight song or find Sobieski some armor that isn't from the 1400's or something?

1:09 Rhys-Davies appears to also be some sort of magician. He casts an invisible spell that does nothing. Its like all their sorcerers have an attack of -7.

1:10 Introducing Claire Forlani, peasant girl, with plunging neckline. In the meantime, it appears Sobieski has gotten new armor! It's gold, and has a gigantic silver cape. In the race to see who will lose more credibility in this movie, Forlani seems, sadly, to have pulled slightly ahead, even though that cape looks ridiculous.

1:11 Liotta seems to have crucified Statham on a wall of swirling books. Wait, is Statham perhaps a Christ figure in this movie? And are books a metaphor for... evil? What goes on in Uwe Boll's head?

1:15 "IN THE NAME OF THE KING - A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE." Some parts of the title are bigger than others, and the text glistens slightly, but it's still written in Papyrus. So, 3 minutes in Final Cut. That's another $25,000 down the drain.

1:26 "JANUARY 18TH 2008 - WWW.INTHENAMEOFTHEKING.COM." Sign me the hell up.

Here's a link to the trailer. Take a look, and be filled with wonderment. I'll see you in line.

In all serious, though, who's going? I am not showing up to this thing alone.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

A Very Merry Christmas To You

I'm sitting here watching Christmas movies to try to catch the Holiday Spirit before five consecutive pressure-packed services grinds it clean out of me (last year was particularly unpleasant). I do love Christmas, so I'm always hopeful about a day like this in spite of circumstances.

I did get an early Christmas present, though. You might remember a few posts from September - perhaps this one - bemoaning the disastrous fantasy football season of my team, the Yardbirds. I'd never played fantasy football before and I'd made some awfully foolhardy moves (backup RB Tatum Bell for superstar WR Chad Johnson? 14 weeks later, I can't believe I ever thought that one was wise. Embarrassingly, I bragged about it at the time. Yeesh). It was not unusual for me to drop a player early in the week and pick him up later. I ended up making more waiver moves than the next top two teams combined. I lost the first two games rather convincingly, and it didn't look like my team was going anywhere. However, I made a amazingly daring prediction, considering my situation:

"I want to win a fantasy championship my first year out. In fact, I'm going to win a fantasy championship my first year out."

After a shaky start, I finished the year 7 and 6, snuck into the playoffs as the seventh of eight seeds facing the number two seed, a team I'd lost to just the week prior. Things didn't look promising, but I made adjustments every week of the playoffs, despite massive injuries - I lost my best QB in the first round and my best rusher in the second:

Through luck and smart choices, I made it through to the title game. One of my QBs got knocked out in the first quarter, his backup went on to score 46 points that game, not that it helped me any. My best running back (the league's leading rusher) broke his leg on the first play, netting me a grand total of one point. I thought I had no chance. But everyone else kept coming through for me, and the gambles that I took as a result of the injuries (Dominic Rhodes, Steve Smith, Joshua Cribbs) came up aces.

Here's the opposing team's total:

And here's me:

I tell ya, it feels mighty good. A Merry Christmas to all!


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I've never done that before, I don't think.

I was digging around my room, pulling out laundry to do a load in our new washing machine, which we inherited from a family that didn't have electricity anymore, and so didn't need it (swear to God), when I happened upon my old gym bag. I opened it up to see if there was anything still inside that could use a washing (and by this time, I was pretty certain that whatever was in there would certainly need a good scrubbing), and pulled out this shirt.

My shirt, it seems, had dissolved during its long siesta in my gym bag. I did the only logical thing and called my parents for details. They didn't know either, but a brief Google search revealed that, over time, sweat will actually dissolve cotton. Huh. This is the sort of pertinent information the Cotton Council never puts in those damn commercials.

In other news, my brother did the grocery shopping this week at Dollar Tree, which was having a sale (danger, Will Robinson!). One of his purchases was this item:

That's right, folks. Keep it simple. Pay only for taste. Unfortunately, the box didn't specify who I was to pay for taste, because it isn't the Cocoa Drops Company. Chris and I ate exactly two Cocoa Drops between us - my one that I spewed into the sink, his one that he spewed into the trash can after trying it to see if it was as bad as I said. I suppose its only to be expected - if "don't trust purchasing advice from a cartoon kid on a skateboard" isn't in every financial guide somewhere, it should be.

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Christmas Recommendation

In addendum to the last post, I’d also like to highly recommend Jars of Clay’s new Christmas album, aptly titled Christmas Songs. I’m a huge fan of Christmas, but I’m not a huge fan of Christmas albums by everyday recording artists, so an album has to be really stellar for me to be sold (I pumped Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong to everyone last year, for example, but couldn’t come close to warming to James Taylor’s middling effort). But Jars’ album isn’t the warmed-over pop nonsense that clutters holiday shelves these days, with halfhearted renditions of carols sandwiching poorly composed originals, instead, it’s as good an album as they’ve ever put out.

It makes sense that Jars would be fully suited to such an endeavor, this is a band that successfully reinvents their sound for each new album, so putting themselves into a Christmas mindset proves a fluid transition. Standouts from the album include original songs rather than being the dreck you sort through waiting for “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas;” both the peppy “Love Came Down at Christmas” and sedate “Winter Skin” are exceptional. Some of the best standards are the ones that are most unlikely, like a beautifully orchestrated, thumping-bass version of Paul McCartney’s terrible “Wonderful Christmastime.” Epic reinventions of past favorites like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Drummer Boy” are here as well, but my favorite so far is the poetic “Peace Is Here,.” “Angels sing in righteous envy, kings of earth kneel by the throne,” croons Dan Haseltine. “Born to push against the Fall, far as the curse is found.”

Let’s see James Taylor match that.

By the way, exactly a year from now you can purchase the Third Day/Jars of Clay Christmas concert and hear my voice. Due to my endless network of connections (my co-worker, Nick), I scored some backstage passes to the show and ended up sitting just behind the soundboard. However, I ended up seated perilously close to the crowd mics, which aren’t really set up to have people be that close. So during the sing-alongs, you might notice a pleasantly off-key New England-Texan twang coming from your speakers, along with a voice that occasionally goes “woo!” at inappropriate intervals. I’ve pretty much got my Christmas shopping for next year done.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Best Music of 2007

I’m renaming this post in the first sentence to “My Own, Personal Favorite Music from This Year” because between not being a music reviewer and not having bought several hundred albums after becoming financially independent from a marriage to a wealthy heiress, I didn’t listen to every major album that came out in the past twelve months.

But I did listen to some (and I really liked some of what I heard), and since my opinion is very, very valuable, it’s important to get these views out there.

If you feel that there’s something that should be on here that isn’t, I’m sure you’re right, and you’re welcome to state your case. There are a good handful of albums (Spoon, Ryan Adams, Elliott Smith, etc.) that would be lock to appear on this list if I’d actually listened to them, so don’t fret. You’re welcome to put your recommendations in the comments, and maybe I’ll check them out, but the odds are strong that I’ll probably just chuckle quietly and ignore them. I don’t really need anyone else’s opinion when mine’s so awesome.

I thought about re-titling this post “Christmas Gifts For Music Fans,” but decided I wasn’t that desperate for readers frantically trawling Google for last-minute shopping help. To be more accurate, I decided that I am that desperate, but was just unwilling to admit it aloud.

10. All the Lost Souls by James Blunt. I, like most – like Blunt, actually - tired of Blunt’s first album through constant overplaying. But it’s surprisingly good to hear him again, Blunt’s voice is distinctive, melancholy and his songwriting’s grown shades and contrasts, with more than a hint of razor-sharp vengeance in his tone. A fully welcome, unheralded sophomore effort.

9. We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank by Modest Mouse – Like their previous albums, it grew slowly on me, as originally I was baffled by its eccentricities. Hard-edged snarling cynicism layered on top of jangling guitars and gentle harmonies, the album’s energy and tone is harder and darker than it’s been in recent memory. Good New For People who Love Bad News had a few immediately accessible singles (who on this planet didn’t love “The World At Large” on their first listen? I ended up sticking it as the theme for one of my final films in college), but We Were Dead was a tougher slog in the early going for me. It turned out to be worth hitting “repeat” half a dozen times, though – one of the most enjoyable, expressive, lasting albums I’ve heard in the last few years.

8. Wincing The Night Away by The Shins – The Shins are the sort of band that hits and misses – they aren’t worried about getting you and keeping you as much as they are just getting you. Natalie Portman was right: they’ll change your life. But it’ll never be an entire album that gets you, it’ll be one song, one moment. The one that got me this time was “Turn On Me.” It’s more than worth a listen, as is “Phantom Limb” or “Sleeping Lessons,” which is featured in the latest Zune commercial.

7. Alright, Still by Lily Allen - I have very few albums (though as you know, dozens of TV shows and movies) that I can call a guilty pleasure, but this one indubitably is. Allen disses jilting ex-boyfriends, catty girlfriends, and lecherous pub crawlers in painful detail but with an airy British tone over Mark Ronson pop hooks – it reminds me, for all the world, of the female Britpop version of a ghetto rap album. It absolutely shouldn’t work, and yet somehow Allen and Ronson make it work. Perhaps the secret lies in Allen’s ability to deftly mix self-absorbed nonsense with softly-sighing clarity of vision. On “Everything’s Just Wonderful,” she looks at her life and asks aloud, “don’t you want something else, something new, than what we’ve got here? Until that day, I guess we stay, doing what we do, screwing who we screw.” If pop was like this more often, less people would complain about the radio.

6. It Won’t Be Soon Before Long by Maroon 5 - It’s a pity it’s become so fashionable to hate Maroon 5 so passionately, this album’s too good for people to miss. I’m as quick as anyone to jump bandwagons (though, bizarrely, I’ve remained on Ben Affleck’s for several years now), but there wasn’t any real good reason to leave. Adam Levine kills on this album, letting his soaring falsetto tear into lovers past with both a sad tremble and a knowing leer. Outside of “Kiwi,” a disaster of a seduction tune, the album is across the board exceptional.

5. All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone by Explosions In the Sky - I’d heard good reviews but hadn’t jumped on board with these guys until I saw “Friday Night Lights” and first heard the sweeping, atmospheric guitars that elevate the show. Explosions in the Sky has no vocalist, they’re writing songs for movies that seem to only exist in their heads. I want to go and make those movies. If you’re looking to check them out for the first time, download “Your Hand In Mine,” the song that plays as the emotional theme for “Friday Night Lights” (both the movie and the show).

4. In Our Bedroom After The War by The Stars - I’ve been pushing these guys for a while – if I didn’t force you to listen to “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,” you didn’t hang around me for very long the past few years. But this album is heavier and sadder and… weightier. The music is as lush, the themes as sweeping, and the interplay between leads Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell as natural as it’s ever been (by the way, how great a name is “Torquil?” My first kid is definitely named Torquil, even if it’s a girl), but the songwriting comes out with its scars still healing. Download “Personal,” a dialogue between two people trying to start a relationship through a personal ad, one of the quietly saddest songs I’ve ever heard. Or, even better, download the title track, the best song on the album and lock for you to leave on “repeat” after your first time hearing it. I once drove to Dallas and listened to that song close to 40 times along the way.

3. The Reminder by Feist - She doesn’t need my help now that her iPod commercial has vaulted her to notoriety, but if you haven’t heard “1 2 3 4” by now, give it a spin. What a great song. The rest of the album varies from very good to very good but not as good as “1 2 3 4.” I’ve never been able to recommend an album as clearly with the “if you like this song, you’ll like the album” strategy as this record. Go check it out – and, of course, it would be appropriate that if you do, you check it out on iTunes.

2. The Con by Tegan and Sara - I stumbled upon this by accident; I’d never heard of the duo, but everywhere I turned, I was reading glowing reviews of the album, and I figured it was worth giving it a shot. I loved it – if it wasn’t for “Neon Bible,” it’d be a lock for the top of the list, it’s head-and-shoulders above almost every album put out this year.

So, counting Millan, that’s four female artists on the top ten list this year – five, I guess, if you count Tegan and Sara separately, though I suppose I’m really stretching at that point. That’s not just rare for me, that’s completely unprecedented. I rarely really enjoy female singers. I’m a fan of Leigh Nash, and Sarah McLachlan, and I like some PJ Harvey, plus maybe occasionally some Norah Jones, and then, uh… no one else. So this is huge.

1. Neon Bible by Arcade Fire. This how you know the “Neon Bible” album is good: let’s say you’re making an iPod mix, or a mix CD, or, I dunno, a mixtape, depending exactly where you are on the technological spectrum (McLuhanites to the left!), and you start looking through your music for possible tracks. While you’re still on the A’s, you come across Arcade Fire and say, “well, I’ve got to put something from them in. Lessee here, I have to put in ‘Keep The Car Running.’ And of course ‘Intervention.’ And ‘No Cars Go.’ And – geez, I can’t leave out ‘Ocean of Noise.’ And, y’know, ‘My Body is A Cage’ might be my favorite song right now.” Before you know it, you’ve picked the whole album, song by song, for your mix. And then you discover you can’t bring yourself to cut any of it, so your mixtape (or whatever), entitled ‘Best of 1970-2007’ is about one third Arcade Fire.

I would estimate that’s happened to me at least three times in the past year. That’s how good that album is.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Fine, Odysseus had it worse, but...

As you may know, I live in a less than reputable apartment complex, so I was enthused to hear on my return to town that in order to decrease crime/shootings/genocide in our parking lot, management added a large spotlight to illuminate the grounds. Y'know, that whole "bright places are safe places" bit. If nothing else, it gives our residents decent light to aim their handguns by.

So I'm thrilled about the light, it's just its placement that I mind.

Yes. That is my bedroom window.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Sudden Change is known to Shock The System

On Monday afternoon, I took a walk downtown to remind myself what a New England small town looks during a snowfall ("wondrous" was the word that I came up with). Bitten by the photography bug as I am, I wanted to capture the moment, but since my car mechanic stole my camera (have you heard that story yet?), I had to make do with my cell phone's camera. I'll post some more pictures later, but here's an idea of what everything looked like:

24 hours later, I was in Houston. This is what everything looked like:

Is there a sort of jetlag associated with wildly changing the weather around you? Because I'm exhausted today.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Christmas in New England, Christmas in The Woodlands

Insert appropriate apologies for the lack of posting here. I've been working up a larger post on television for a bit, but I haven't bothered to go ahead and finish it off yet. It's long, so it's taking a while. I'll try to throw together some shorter posts in the meantime.

I've spent the past two weeks at home, vegging out, sleeping in, seeing old friends, and meeting my niece, the cutest baby ever made. I took some pictures, I'll post one at the end here. It's been a peaceful, lazy-sunday sort of vacation, and exactly what I needed - as soon as I get back, I hit the Christmas rush again. Outside of Best Buy, nobody gets hit with the Christmas rush like a megachurch, and I have a nasty suspicion I'm going to get a phone call two hours after my plane lands saying "can you come in right now?" I'm placing 3-to-1 odds on this if you want to get in on it. 2-to-1 on my saying no.

That being said, I adore the Christmas nonsense our town (and yes, our church) has every year, with musicals and kids' shows and garish decorations and flocks of sheep and herds of camels (we have a Christmas petting zoo/cultural exibit/camel ride station at our church. Really.) and other idiosyncracies too numerous to recount. The bombast of Christmas as a spectacle appeals deeply to me. People in the area know that it's silly and frivolous and enjoy it anyway, whereas I enjoy it because it's sillier than even they know. Growing up in megachurch culture desensitizes you to it, but the spectacle of all of this seems all the sillier in comparison to New England restraint.

I went downtown the other night with my mum in order to see the tree-lighting ceremony in the town square, which was named the Christmas Stroll or something similarly sedate. There was a countdown yelled into a cheap audio system, followed by scattered applause as about thirty-seven little bulbs lit up on the big tree. A girl scout troop sang some carols, someone had brought down a horse-and-cart and was giving out hay rides, and Mum and I helped ourselves to some free hot chocolate. Then we wandered home.

To be brief, in The Woodlands, the tree-lighting ceremony (one of three separate lighting ceremonies that they hold) involved a gigantic fake tree built on a steel frame, a little girl hitting a button that sets off the lighting display, a bevy of fireworks, and massive pyrotechnics. And that's the smaller lighting that fewer people go to. In fact, there might have been much more than that going on. I only happened to know about the pyrotechnics from wandering by as a crew of workers set everything up. I didn't stop to ask questions because, hey, that's a day in The Woodlands. For all I know, they could've sacrificed a panda to St. Nicholas that night. If anyone's up for gambling, I might even give odds on that.

So to finally reach my point: I'm excited to go back. There's bound to be chaos and spectacle every night of the week, and I promise you at least one story from the Christmas musical this year. It's destined to be memorable.

It's going to snow tonight, my last chance to see it again before I leave. Can't wait.

Alright, just as I promised you, here's that pic:

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