Thursday, December 31, 2009

25 Albums of 2009: 15-11

Please forgive the abridged post today, but I have a New Years party to organize. I'll finish the list in earnest this weekend. Happy 2010 Errbody!

15. La Roux - La Roux

La Roux are a pretty huge deal (singer Eleanor Jackson and synth-player/writer/producer Ben Langmaid) throughout Europe, but are virtually unheard of across the pond (here). It's funny how the US/UK music scenes parallel in some respects and are starkly different in others. But that's a topic for another post. La Roux would fit right into the Lady Gaga/Beyonce music scene here without missing a beat, so she probably needs to find a new publicist/agent.

Best Track - In For The Kill

14. Fanfarlo - Reservoir

Another band I blogged about makes the list! What are the chances?!?! The thing is, when I blogged about Fanfarlo before, I had only heard one of their songs. As you can no doubt tell from its placing on this list, the whole album is stellar. Lead singer Simon Balthazar's voice has Zach Condon's flutter, but with less bravado, and the orchestration relies heavily on the violin and the trumpet, but still manages to distinguish itself from Beirut by not being afraid to work in some drums and electric guitars when the situation calls for it. The best measure of a unique act is not being able to peg their sound, and I can confidently say that about Fanfarlo.

Best Track - Harold T. Wilkins or How To Wait A Very Long Time

13. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)

There's not much to say about Wilco that hasn't already been said. One of the best rock bands to come out of the US, responsible for the brilliant album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that launched a thousand blogs. In the years since, the label "Dad-rock" has become affixed to Wilco. Unfair or not, Wilco decided to have a little fun in 2009, releasing the self-titled Wilco (The Album) that offered some of the most accessible music of their career and enough experimentation to satisfy critics and fans. "Dad rock" or not, it sounds good to me.

Best Track - I'll Fight

12. The Veils - Sun Gangs

Sun Gangs is The Veils most intimate album yet, but they still have a flair for the dramatic. Maybe it's Finn Andrews warble that adds a layer of desperation and urgency to his lyrics. They've come a long way in 5 years, hopefully Coldplay-level success isn't too far behind.

Best Track - The Letter

11. Pictureplane - Dark Rift

Pictureplane is the electronic alter ego of 24-year-old Denver-ite Travis Egedy. Egedy originally made a name for himself through remixes, but has since cut out the middleman and started chopping and clipping bits from other songs, and then proceeding to bury everything until only tiny glimpses of the source material remains. It's all very exciting. It's hard to explain, so I'll stop trying and just link to "Goth Star" below, which samples Fleetwood Mac's "Seven Wonders". Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

25 Albums of 2009: 25-16

I always think that every year is a disappointing year for music until I come up with these lists, so believe me when I say I'm doing it as much for myself as I am for anyone. Maybe it's the culture we live in that causes me to digest, obsess and then forget about most albums in less than a week, or maybe I just have a terrible memory. I'm leaning towards the latter.

Here's 25-16

25. Clipse - Til The Casket Drops

While brothers Pusha T and Malice have risen through the ranks enough to be lauded by critics, commercial success has remained elusive. Perhaps that's why most of the songs on here sound both defensive and inflated, deflecting criticism from those they've passed while peacocking for everyone else. Thematically, Til the Casket Drops is uneven, as songs like "There Was a Murder" about senseless violence are sandwiched between songs like "I'm Good" and "Never Will It Stop" that glorify it. Thankfully there's enough top-notch stuff here to balance out the lows.

Best Track - Popular Demand (Popeyes)

24. Let's Wrestle - In The Court of The Wresling Let's

Most critics have slept on these guys, but they cannot be denied. Writing punchy, addictive tracks that sound almost improvised, they sound like a lo-fi Arctic Monkeys, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Best Track - I Won't Lie To You

23. Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor

While a stark thematic departure from his last album, (2007's 'The Magic Position'), the defiant Patrick Wolf is still able to extract melodies from amidst the lush orchestration. Still not sure why the album cover looks like some Final Fantasy screenshot. 

Best Track - Hard Times

22 - Dead Man's Bones - S/T

I've already blogged about this Ryan Gosling project, and after seeing them live (with an entire children's choir) my opinion has not soured. Even if it's merely an artistic distraction from acting, it's an eerie, noble one.

Best Track - Pa Pa Power

21- Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

While not their best or most accessible album (that honor belongs to Strawberry Jam), Animal Collective continue to silence all their critics and redefine indie rock. All in a days work. And that cover, one of the best of ALL TIME. ALL TIME. /kanye

Best Track - Girls
I'm not going to post a link, you all know this song and it was one my top 200 tracks of the decade list if you need a refresher.

20- Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon

Time will be kind to Man on the Moon. While dismissed as too dark and moody by some, there's a lot to like if you can get past the icy exterior. Unfortunately, most people expected more songs like "Poke Her Face" (which is wildly out of place here) and were disappointed. Kid Cudi has promised a more upbeat album in the near future, but here's to hoping his critics give Man on the Moon another spin in the interim.

Best Track - Soundtrack 2 My Life

19 - The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz

Karen O has one of the best voices in music today, capable of snarls in one instant and delicate coos the next. It's Blitz offers a slight tweak on their rock formula, peppering in a few synths and some ambient sound, but the trio is smart enough to keep Karen's voice front and center where it should be.

Best Track - Heads Will Roll

18 - Discovery - LP

Two hipsters from two of the whitest bands of the decade (Vampire Weekend, Ra Ra Riot) try their hand at R&B, complete with synths, handclaps and autotune? Critics everywhere licked their chops. And then a funny thing happened. It was awesome. Unabashedly embracing the syrupy lyrics and the harmonies you've come to expect from R&B, the production remains decidedly indie. While the 2nd half loses a bit of momentum, for a while it is disarmingly great.

Best Track - Osaka Loop Line

17- Drake - So Far Gone Mixtape

"Dropped a mixtape, that s--- sounded like an album" as Drake says on Forever, and he says it best. Drake revolutionized the mixtape game with this thing, with "Best I Ever Had" becoming a chart-topping summer anthem. Mixtapes are supposed to be fun throw-away indulgences, but apparently Drake never got that memo. Never has an artist experienced such a meteoric rise to the top, and it all started here. Crazy to think about.

Best Track - Ignant Shit (but I'm probably biased due to the Lil Wayne verse)

16. Harlem Shakes - Technicolor Health

Sad these guys broke up, because this album really shows that they were on to something special. I had the pleasure of seeing them open for Passion Pit a few months ago, and they were a tough act to follow. I know Brooklyn rock bands are a dime a dozen, but listen to "Sunlight" and tell me that doesn't get the old toes a-tappin'.

Best Track - Sunlight

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

25 Albums of 2009: Honorable Mentions

Before we start dissecting the decade, I wanted to make a list of my favorite albums of 2009, many of which will likely pop up again when I crank out a "Best of the Decade" list in the next couple weeks. I'm probably going to hold off on a best of 2009 film list for a little while because I still have a lot of movies I want to see, but if all goes according to plan, you'll be suffering for list overdose by the end of January. These lists will still be chock full of the irreverent charm and witticisms you've come to expect, so don't fret. Here are a few Honorable mentions from 2009, in no particular order.

Morrissey - Years of Refusal

Morrissey has closed out the decade with a renewed sense of purpose and determination, and we are all the better for it. His last three albums have found The Smiths leader happy (as happy as Morrissey can be), and on Years of Refusal he puts out some of his strongest post-Smiths work, his fluttery boom of a voice as strong as ever. I saw him perform in March, and it was a transcendent experience.
Best track - Something Is Squeezing My Skull

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

These young gents from the UK have quietly matured since releasing their debut in 2006. While their newest album has its share of catchy riffs and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, there are also songs like the brilliant Cornerstone that find Alex Turner at his most tender, without sacrificing any of his wit.

Best Track - Cornerstone

Mos Def - The Ecstatic

While unfamiliar with most of his work before The Ecstatic, this album made my check out the rest of his catalog. Mos Def balances his dynamic lyrics with hearty doses of social commentary and consciousness, a rarity in the hip-hop world today and a welcome change of pace.

Best Track - Life In Marvelous Times

The Almighty Defenders - The Almighty Defenders

A collaborative feature from The Black Lips and King Khan & BBQ, The Almighty Defenders have an unsurprising grungy sound, but what is surprising is how fun it sounds and how undeniable the hooks are.

Best Track - All My Lovin'

The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love

2009 found perennial "Best of" powerhouses The Decemberists experimenting a bit, originally conceiving The Hazards of Love as a musical, eventually releasing it as an album instead. While the whole thing is perhaps a bit ambitious (even for The Decemberists), the album works for the most part and the female parts make for a nice balance and change of pace from their typical balladry.

Best Track - The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid

Stay tuned for albums 25-16 tomorrow!!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Review: Sherlock Holmes

Being unfamiliar with Conan Doyle's source material, you're going to have to take this review with a grain of salt, as I won't be making any surly anecdotes that people usually make with regards to literary adaptations. I am however, quite familiar with Guy Ritchie's work and feel comfortable addressing how this change of pace fits into his canon.

A Guy Ritchie film is synonymous with fantastically choreographed fight scenes, snappy dialogue, grimy scenery and a convoluted spiderweb of a story that may or may not find any acceptable resolution before the credits roll. This formula was utilized to great effect in Lock Stock and Snatch, but showed serious signs of wear in the mess that was Revolver, before recovering slightly with 2008's RocknRolla. Despite his success, one couldn't help but wonder why Ritchie didn't try his hand at another genre (I'm going to pretend that Swept Away doesn't exist). Maybe he insisted on doing all the screenwriting and heist movies were all that he could tease out of his brain. Maybe he didn't see any reason to mess with a winning (financially) formula. In any case, if more films like Sherlock Holmes are what we can expect from a post-Madonna Guy Ritchie, he should have ended things years ago.

In many ways, Sherlock Holmes is the perfect bridge for Guy Ritchie to attempt some semblance of mainstream success. The Holmes-Watson dynamic feels ripe for Ritchie-esque dialogue, and that's BEFORE you even realize that Holmes himself will be played by Robert Downey Jr and his straight man of a sidekick will be personified by Jude Law. Inspired casting to be sure. All other Guy Ritchie trademarks are here also, for better or worse. Grimy 19th century London streets, slo-mo shirtless fight scenes between Downey Jr and hulking behemoths, spiralling plotlines that come together a little too neatly in the end (more on that later).

As you've probably guessed, Robert Downey Jr is fantastic as Holmes, though he doesn't really bring a lot more to the table than he does as Tony Stark in Iron Man other than a British accent and tamer facial hair. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since much of is charm stems from cheeky quips and twitchy glances anyway (both of which are present here in spades). Additionally, Jude Law's Watson is a serviceable comic foil for Downey, at times in awe of his whirring scientific sleuthing and essentially babysitting him in others. He feels less like a sidekick and more of a friend, as well he should. Rachel McAdams plays Irene Adler, a con acquaintance/love interest of Holmes. She feels like an afterthought, and only serves too deepen the stale double/triple/quadruple-crossing story arc. On the bright side, she isn't completely helpless.

The central plot surrounds the evil, power-hungry Lord Blackwood who seemingly rises from the dead and terrorizes London, offering plenty of fight/chase/crime scenes in the process. The action scenes are quite effective here, especially when filtered through Holmes' scientific mind (you'll understand when you see the film). Also effective are the scenes that paint Holmes as a 19th century Robert Langdon, piecing together evidence with ease (to the delight of the bumbling Scotland Yard). Unfortunately, this detective work builds towards an obligatory "here-let-us-spell-everything-out-for-you-because-there-are-too-many-loose-ends" scene, that also feels like Robert Langdon (not a compliment). That's not to say it wasn't great fun, but I hope that they tell Ritchie to reign it in a little for the sequel (and there will certainly be a sequel). At least Sherlock Holmes is evidence that you can teach an old dog like Guy Ritchie new tricks, provided the new tricks are virtually identical to those he already has.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Worst Songs of the Decade

While I'm still compiling my "Best of" lists for the year/decade, I took a few minutes this afternoon to recall some of the worst songs of the 2000's. A selfless act to be sure. These songs were inexplicable hits at some point during the past 10 years, for reasons that continue to baffle me. I tried to have a good balance of rock/pop/rap but alas, most lean toward the rock persuasion, for good reason. Without further adieu:

Dishonorable Mentions
Shaggy - Angel
Smashmouth - I'm A Believer
Both of these songs are remakes, so I am showing them some mercy and leaving them off this list. I have half a mind to put them at the top of the list for completely shredding any tender thoughts I had concerning the source material, but it's the holidays, and there are plenty of other songs to round out this list. Here's the video for I'm a believer in case you mistakenly thought it was "catchy".

10. Simple Plan - Perfect/I'm Just A Kid/Welcome to My Life
This is the start of a trend. For especially insufferable artists, I took the liberty of lumping together all of their songs. I may be unfairly lumping the entire creation of the Emo genre on Simple Plan's skinny shoulders, but I really don't care. The nasally whine and the temper-tantrum lyrics in all of these songs are embarrassing to listen to, and I don't know how the band themselves can perform these songs with a straight face. Especially now, since they are all over 30.

9. Follow Me - Uncle Kracker
"Uncle Cracker is a great name son, but I just think we need to make it a little edgier for the kids. I don't know, could you pull out some vowels, or slip a Z in somewhere?"

"I could swap the C in Cracker for a K. That could add some style without sacrificing the core phonetics"


This song is WORSE than the name, if you can fathom that.

8. Nickelback - Hero/Photograph
You knew it was coming. No self-respecting music fan can make a "Worst" list without shoehorning Nickelback in. Nickelback had so many hits this decade, it was hard to narrow it down to only two songs. Thankfully, I was able to calibrate my ears in time to tune most of their new songs out, but not before these these two songs embedded themselves into my frontal love. Everyone knows (and loathes) "Photograph", but you may not recall the song "Hero" from the Spiderman soundtrack. That, my friends, is what YouTube is for.  Enjoy. Or not.

7. Hinder - Lips of An Angel
New year, new god-awful "rock" "love" "song". Whoa, that's a lot of quotation marks, but they are all appropriate. I don't know when this song came out, or how popular it was, but the fact that it has 14,000,000 views on YouTube tells me enough. If an alien spacecraft picks up an FM transmission of this song, they will almost certainly obliterate our planet. I don't blame them.

6. Sheryl Crow - Soak Up The Sun/First Cut is the Deepest/Picture

When you make Kid Rock look talented, you need to cut your losses and pack it in.

5. Puddle of Mudd - She Hates Me
From the Uncle Kracker school of spelling comes Puddle of Mudd. Make no mistake about it, while the music video makes this song look playful and tongue-in-cheek, these men are completely serious, as evidenced by the gnarly guitar solo. Let this be a lesson to you kids. Even if you look slightly like Kurt Cobain, and sound vaguely like Kurt Cobain, you are NOT Kurt Cobain.

4. Hoobstank - The Reason
Someday my grandchildren will ask me how I could stand idly by while a song like The Reason climbed to number TWO on the Billboard charts, and I'll have to pretend I can't hear them.

3. James Blunt - You're Beautiful
A wise man once likened James Blunt to a singing seagull. If only it were so simple and you could feed him a couple Alka-seltzers and he would explode. Or maybe leave a couple plastic six-pack rings around so he could strangle himself. Sadly, we just have to hope that he succumbed to hypothermia at the end of the music video.

Note: The comments above are in jest, except those about it being a terrible song
Music Videos by VideoCure

2. Soulja Boy Tell'em - Crank That
If you know me, you know I love rap. Which means that this song must really be something for me to place it so high on this list. Well, it is. It is everything terrible about rap. Terrible beat, terrible lyrics, terrible hook. Just a mess of a song, from an untalented hack. But what do I know, this song was a hit. Mims- This Is Why I'm Hot is terrible also, but I forgot about it until just now. Darn it.


1. Crazytown - Butterfly

Without question, the worst song of the decade. Zero redeeming qualities. Laughable in every way. And that's BEFORE you see the music video.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Movies

Tis the season for me to conjure up a list of my favorite Christmas movies. If you were expecting to see Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story, you may be disappointed (I didn't see either growing up). I should also warn you that I have a soft spot for the 90's.

Home Alone (1990)
Home Alone is the ULTIMATE mischievous kid fantasy. It also helps that I looked exactly like Kevin McAllister and that I had all the same toys that he used to terrorize Marv and Harry with. This film was singularly responsible for me setting up countless Rube Golbergian contraptions throughout my house (none of which worked whatsoever). Watching Rated R movies, eating all the pizza and ice cream you want, going through your brother's private stuff, this is the stuff of dreams for a 9 year old boy.

The Santa Clause (1994)
Another movie that preyed on 10 year old boy fantasies. What if your dad was Santa? Oh the possibilities! Of course you'd tag along with him and hightail it to the North Pole, and no one would believe you. I still say "I SHAVE IN THE MORNING, AND IN THE AFTERNOON I LOOK LIKE THIS" for no particular reason, and whenever I see accomplished actor David Krumholtz , I only think "Bernard the Arch-elf". Sorry, David.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra's 1946 masterpiece is a no-brainer. While the first two films on this list struck a chord with the 10 year old boy in me, this one continues to get better and better. A transcendent story of community and redemption that never fails to bring me to tears when George Bailey (in the role of a lifetime by Jimmy Stewart) reads Clarence's note that says "Remember George: no man is a failure who has friends." The definitive Christmas movie.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
I am by no means a Jim Carrey apologist. Apart from Dumb and Dumber and his more serious roles (Eternal Sunshine, The Truman Show), his rubberface slapstick shtick is downright grating, but he is fantastic here. He does all the grand gestures and makes all the same funny faces he usually does, but in a hairy green suit under a metric ton of makeup that works somehow. The art direction is imaginative and actually does justice to Dr. Seuss which is no small feat. I'll always have a spot in my "two sizes too small" heart for the original cartoon, but this is an admirable alternative.

Elf (2003)
I may be in the minority here, but I think this is the best thing Will Ferrell has ever done. He brings a wide-eyed enthusiasm that makes Buddy's behavior completely believable and completely hilarious. One would think that the fish-out-of-water story would get stale quickly, but Favreau and Ferrell deliver, scene after scene (as the video below can attest). The best measure of a performance is whether you can imagine another actor filling the role. Will Ferrell was born to play Buddy the Elf.

Honorable Mentions:

A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
My favorite iteration of the Christmas Carol story.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Just Classic.

What are your favorites? Did I miss any?

Bah humbug.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Review: Avatar

To call James Cameron's Avatar immersive would be an understatement. If you haven't heard of it, I'd like to ask how you have access to my blog underneath your rock. It tells the story a paralyzed marine Jake Sully in the year 2154, who replaces his deceased brother on an avatar project. The avatar program allows Jake to become animated into the planet Pandora as one of the native Na'vi people, regaining use of his legs in the process. While on Pandora, Jake is tapped to gain military and scientific intelligence about the planet, most notably, the location of a rare element Unobtanium. As Jake learns more about the Na'vi people and the planet they call home, he becomes increasingly torn about his role.

15 years in development and 4 years in a making, Avatar has been hailed as the film that will bring motion capture technology, CGI wizardry and 3D technology to dizzying new heights. From a technical standpoint, Cameron delivers on all fronts. Never have I seen such imaginative landscapes, seamless CGI/live-action integration and flawless motion capture. In the 12 years since Titanic, Cameron has become enamored with underwater landscapes and released 2 documentaries exploring the depths of the ocean floor. This fascination is apparent in every frame of Avatar, but especially pronounced in the night scenes that feature a carnival of bioluminescence. The world of Pandora is so vividly realized and transformative, that we the audience are just as disappointed as Jake when he is unplugged from his avatar and returned to the real world and just as aghast at the destruction that follows. The 3D technology is stirring but never jarring, changing focus and depth just like the human eye, placing the viewer in the center of the action, but never resorting to "WHOA" gimmickry.

The plot here is nothing new, corporate greed vs ecological conscience, but because the world on display here is so jaw-droppingly fresh and new, the story feels that way also. Through these rose-colored 3D glasses, otherwise campy dialogue sounds endearing, blatant foreshadowing is overlooked, and an otherwise awkward love story between 10 foot tall blue aliens is staggeringly convincing. Who knows whether it will be as captivating upon repeat viewings, but such is the euphoric trance that Cameron conjures here.

I believe that what keeps this film from transcending from the ultimate popcorn experience to legitimate masterpiece is Cameron's tendency to tell rather than show. He doesn't trust his audience's intelligence to piece together what is happening around them, opting to add narration and back-and-forth's between characters to explain things that we understood already or could have easily picked up on with more delicate direction. It's both thrilling and maddening that someone responsible for the revolutionary art direction on display here still relies on tried and true (and boring) methods of storytelling.

While the above paragraph may seem contradictory, let me be clear in saying that Avatar is an incredible theater experience and does things with the film medium that have never been done. It has to been seen to be believed. While the creativity here is enough to distract from other flaws on first viewing, I don't believe repeat viewings will be so kind. If he ever allows a capable screenwriter to get ahold of his script, WATCH OUT WORLD.

Authors note: I have not seen T2:Judgement Day, True Lies, Aliens or The Terminator, but on all of these Cameron shares screenwriting credits.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: The Box

Richard Kelly is a frustrating talent. His first film, Donnie Darko, while a commercial flop (being released in the wake of 9/11 didn't help), achieved unparalleled cult status since being released on DVD, prompting midnight showings and even the release of a "Director's Cut". His second film, Southland Tales, while ambitious, was largely panned as too sprawling and convoluted. In his newest film The Box, Kelly attempts to split the difference, for better or worse.

The plot of The Box is simple. A couple is delivered a wooden box, which houses a red button. A man later arrives with the key to said box and a proposition. If they press the button, they will received 1 million dollars and a person they do not know will die. They have 24 hours to decide. The fabric of this story is based on a short-story by Richard Matheson entitled "Button, Button", but the parallels end within the first 40 minutes or so.

For this film, Kelly was given a budget of 30 million, much more than his prior two films, but it's hard to say exactly where the money went. I'm sure a large sum went towards casting Cameron Diaz and Frank Langella (who's fantastic here, by the way), and I'm going to assume the rest was spent on sets, donuts, etc. Kelly has said that he envisioned this film as something "commercial while still retaining his artistic sensibility". While an admirable goal, the film falls short on both fronts.

What made Donnie Darko such a relatable and successful picture was the cyclical nature of the story and the resolution that gives a context to and adds layers to earlier events. As a result, you feel compelled to watch it again with the new subtexts in place. In The Box, Kelly spends too much time attempting to instill the sense of confusion and determinism of Donnie Darko, before he considers any sort of resolution. Payoffs only work if you are able to establish suspense and maintain the audience's attention until the end. This worked fanastically in Donnie Darko largely because Jake Gyllenhaal played Donnie as both smart and disturbed, digesting the riddles and the symbolism with a pure sense of curiosity. In The Box, the characters actions are wholly selfish and motivated by fear. As a result, the whisperings of strangers, the philosophical passages and the dusty scientific theories don't feel like pieces of a mysterious puzzle, they just feel trite and Shyamalanesque. Sadly, the cyclical conclusion could have worked if the whole thing hadn't jumped the rails well before.

James Marsden does a good job of looking confused/conflicted for the better part of this movie, and Cameron Diaz, while not abysmal, feels woefully miscast as a literature teacher at a private school. The art direction does a great job in recreating the mid-70's and the camera work is solid as well, adding tension when the plot doesn't deflate it. Maybe Kelly is a one trick pony, whose existential themes of human nature and the supernatural were all but exhausted in Donnie Darko, forcing him to resort to stale rehashes since. Maybe his hands are tied by the studios and he has had to edit and cut so much that the end product is reduced to a couple of interesting kernels of philosophy with rivers of pretension and incoherence in between. In either case, many directors have done much more with less.

Monday, December 14, 2009


After months of hemming and hawing about returning for a third season, Flight of the Conchords officially packed it in last week with the following statement on their website:

Bret, Jemaine and James (co-creator/director) said “we’ve noticed the less we say about the future of the show, the more people want to talk about it, so in an effort to reverse this trend we are today announcing that we won’t be returning for a 3rd season. We’re very proud of the two seasons we made and we like the way the show ended. We’d like to thank everyone who helped make the show and also everyone who watched it. While the characters Bret and Jemaine will no longer be around, the real Bret and Jemaine will continue to exist.

As sad as it is, I guess I can't blame them for quitting while they're ahead. I have no doubt its incredibly time consuming to write a funny episode, especially when you're trying to sprinkle in original songs and dance numbers on top of it. I remember hearing they were having trouble coming up with new material after the first season (hence the long wait between seasons 1 & 2), and they've now achieved enough success that they can both move on to other opportunities rather than try and drag the show forward in the face of diminishing returns. At least we'll always have Sugalumps.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

On Repeat: Shine Blockas

I've been listening to this Big Boi track for nearly 2 months now, and I still can't get over how great it is. Off his upcoming solo release Sir Luscious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty, the song re-establishes Big Boi as a lyrical force to be reckoned with. A fantastic, complex beat that samples "I Miss You Baby" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and a memorable verse from Gucci Mane don't hurt matters either. It is dense with different vocal flows and beats, careening from chorus to verse so quickly that they nearly overlap at times. The chorus is "Hey Ya" level catchy, and the subject matter promises to shoehorn "Don't block my shine shawty" into the awkward white person vernacular just like Hey Ya did with "Shake it like a Polaroid picture!".  

The Onion may be on to something here...

Maybe they will commute his sentence to return the favor. One can dream!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Review: Timbaland Presents: Shock Value II

Even the harshest critic would concede that Timbaland is a mastermind in the studio. While not a bold statement, it is nonetheless corroborated by his extensive resume of #1 hits, three of which appear on his "solo" release Shock Value from 2007. What made Shock Value such a unique album is the way that Timbaland employed artists that had been pigeonholed by their genre, bestowing upon them a new lease on life, provided they don't mind being blasted by every nightclub in the world.

Shock Value II = Shock Value I + Autotune. Depending on how that equation strikes you, Timbo's newest project will evoke thunderous groans or applause. The actual product is somewhere in-between. While an incredible talent, Timbaland certainly has his weaknesses. First, he is an abysmal rapper. This is clear from the first song "Carry Out" with Justin Timberlake, where the pair compare sex to fast food (blech) and inexplicably try rhyme "errors" with "areas". Handicapped by such an awful opening song, the album spends the rest of the first half trying to dig itself out of this hole. Miraculously, the rest of the songs on the first half of the album are surprisingly strong, mostly because Timbaland is resigned to chorus duty and "HEY!'s", allowing the songs to be admirably carried by the previously insufferable Jojo, Miley Cyrus and CHAD KROEGER of all people. If Timbaland is able to make a Chad Kroeger (of Nickelback, in case you weren't sure) song that doesn't elicit instant nausea/laughter, he truly is a genius. Most notably, songs like Lose Control, Morning After Dark and Can You Feel It? capture the energy and innovation of the original Shock Value. Sadly, Timbaland cannot help but mess with a good thing.

The precipitous descent into terrible starts with Undertow, a blatant ripoff of the song Apologize from his last album. Before you even have a chance to check the song title to make sure you're still listening to Shock Value II, Timbo dives into the ballad-rap travesty that is Timothy Where You Been. To call this song an embarassment is like calling a tornado a breeze. The song is mind-numbingly awful, and immediately followed by a third and FOURTH ballad. Whomever decided on the sequencing of the album, needs to find another line of work. In a last ditch effort, Timbaland attempts to perform CPR on himself on the last two tracks, but the damage is done. What started out with focus and a refreshing playfulness, has completely devolved into incomprehensible mush. Sad.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox is an adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1970 book of the same name. While not my favorite Roald Dahl book (that honor belongs to The BFG), it features all of Dahl's trademarks in full bloom. While most of Dahl's work can certainly be classified as "children's books", they have an edge and a grime that brings to mind the similarly morbid Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Dahl paints vivid characters and settings with his words and does not shy away from showing the grotesque and the beautiful in equal measure. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is no exception. Wes Anderson's adaptation expounds on the original story in the same way that Spike Jonze was able to stretch Where The Wild Things Are; cleverly and tastefully.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is essentially a cat-and-mouse game between Mr. Fox and the farmers (Boggis, Bunce and Bean). Mr. Fox steals chickens, ducks and cider from the farmers, and the farmers resolve to find and destroy him, sparing no expense in the process. Mayhem and adventure ensue. Wes Anderson (the director of cult-classics Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and most recently, The Darjeeling Limited) tells the story of a reformed Mr. Fox, resigned to a menial newspaper column after a close call in a heist 2 years ago (12 fox years). He struggles to keep his animal instincts in check, and ultimately finds himself sneaking out under the cover of darkness to indulge himself. Needless to say, the farmers notice.

Plot points aside, this film is unabashedly Wes Anderson, from the soundtrack that uses The Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys, to the obligatory cross-section tracking shots and the impeccable attention to detail. For better or worse, it's all here. Personally, I love it, but I can see how people can dismiss it as pretentious. What cannot be dismissed is the incredible stop-motion animation work on display here. Stop-motion animation is not a new medium by any means, but never before has it been imagined so vividly. From the fur of the animals, to the elaborate sets, everything is painstakingly perfect. I don't know why I am surprised, it's Wes Anderson. But still, it's quite a sight to behold.

While this is all well and good, art direction cannot push a plot forward and flesh out characters, and this is something that some of Anderson's recent films have suffered from. Not enough heart. Anderson smartly introduces universal existential themes to rationalize the behavior of Mr. Fox in the same way that Brad Bird did so effectively in The Incredibles in 2004. Both feature male characters leading an unfulfilled life, who ultimately put their entire family at risk by entertaining their fantasies. Both Bird and Anderson deal with these weighty themes beautifully, striking a balance between the dark morality of Tim Burton and the sickly-sweet lessons of Disney. The new medium also allows Anderson to infuse the film with some talents I didn't even know he had. Namely, his knack for physical comedy. The characters run, sneak around and get washed away in hilarious fashion. He also does some impressive things with facial expressions and mannerisms that are a challenge to incorporate into a stop-motion film. The voice work here is also perfect, featuring George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Willem Dafoe and Bill Murray. Also, I can't imagine a more petulant Ash than the one voiced by Jason Schwartzman.

Wes Anderson's imagination and affection for his work has never been in question but he has struggled to inspire the same sense of wonder and sentiment in his audience. In Fantastic Mr. Fox he finally succeeds, not because the characters are especially more likable or because he has toned down his style, but because the sides and the stakes are clear. Escape or die. There is no sense of double-crossing and adult pettiness that left such a bitter taste in your mouth during The Life Aquatic. That's not to say the characters are perfect (far from it), but their motivations are transparent, and there's a certain warmth in that.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

As If You Needed Another Reason to Love Google

E-cards are cool and all, but there is something to be said for receiving tangible greeting cards via "snail mail". Google understands this, and are offering a free Holiday themed postcard (shipped free of charge also) as a gift to Gmail users. Simply personalize it and fill out the address field, and Google will do the rest. Easiest Grandma brownie points ever!! There are six different designs (I chose Rudolph) and a limit of one per user. Hurry and click here before they run out!

EDIT: All out! I warned you!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tiger, Tiger, Tiger

In case this whole Tiger Woods fiasco/firestorm has raised more questions than answers for you, 1-Apple news of Taiwan has been considerate enough to piece together a dramatization of the events that happened the night Mr. Woods lost control of his Escalade. It's hilarious, and probably not far from the truth.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Take Away Show: Phoenix

If you've never heard of the Take Away Shows (also known as Concert A Emporter) on, you are in for a treat. Director Vincent Moon beautifully films music acts performing as they tour through Paris (some Take Away Shows are in the US, but the majority are in Paris). By stripping down the bands instrumentation as much as possible, Moon allows the bands to perform in some very unique, confined places like bars, elevators, even inside cars. He has an adventurous camera that does a great job capturing the spontaneity of the shows,  focusing on the curious spectators and the scenery rather than simply holding the camera steady on the lead singer. This makes for some truly moving performances. Moon's most recent work features everyone's favorite French popstars Phoenix performing on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower, on top of a double-decker bus, and underneath a bridge. Really neat stuff. Check out the rest of the Take Away Shows when you have a chance, you won't be disappointed.

Phoenix - 1901

Phoenix - 1901 - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Phoenix - Lisztomania/One Time Too Many

Phoenix - Lizstomania / One time too many - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Phoenix - It's Never Been Like That

Phoenix - Long distance call - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sad State of Affairs

Although I haven't been writing this blog for a long time, I've made a conscious effort to steer clear of broad social commentaries for two reasons. One, because I want this blog to be a source of levity and entertainment, and two, because I don't think it's my place to be casting wide swaths at things that I find obnoxious. I am going to make an exception today.

Since the dawn of reality television, regular people have spared no expense or amount of shame to secure themselves a moment in the spotlight in the hopes that it will springboard them to super-stardom, or at least another reality show. I have no aversions to the concept of celebrity for those who are genuinely talented and for whom paparazzi cameras and interviews are simply a means to an end. Those I am speaking of are people who offer nothing to society at large and treat every flashbulb and microphone like a rung on a ladder. To these people, the phrase "there's no such thing as bad publicity" is their lifeblood.

You have no doubt known people that fit this description at some point in your life. The man whose lofty aspirations dried up long ago and couldn't be bothered to work hard in the interim, the woman who was told she was pretty one too many times and began to use it as a tool to manipulate and extract what she wants from others. These people aren't inherently bad, they are a function of a society that allows and rewards people who behave this way. This situation has come to a head in recent weeks. Recently, as the ratings for reality television wane, the attention seeking brethren have been pushed to great depths to procure the fifteen minutes they are entitled to. While these publicity stunts have largely left the public aghast, they continue to serve their purpose.

In October, Americans were enamored with a young boy who appeared to be trapped in a homemade helium contraption hundreds of feet in the Colorado sky. 3 days later, the entire ordeal was uncovered as an elaborate scheme by an overzealous father to secure a reality TV show. Charges were filed and his reputation as a scientist has taken a hit, but the publicity well is far from dry and that's all that matters.

And just last week, a posh Virginian couple successfully "crashed" a White House state dinner, posing for pictures with members of President Obama's cabinet and even meeting Obama himself. As the story unfolds, this isn't the first time the couple has found themselves at parties they were not invited to. Coincidentally (or not), the couple also have reality TV aspirations. Despite the public/political outrage that followed, the couple are peddling their "story" to the highest bidder and have shown no amount of remorse or regret for breaching the highest levels of national security so they could hob-nob and make their friends jealous on facebook (seriously).

Maybe my vitriol for these people is misplaced and I should instead wag my finger at the media outlets who continually blur the line between news and sensationalism. Maybe we are all guilty for holding celebrity and all that it entails to such high esteem. Maybe I shouldn't write anything and allow the stories and the people responsible for them fade away into oblivion. All I know is that these people make Flavor of Love seem like an exercise in high art.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Review: BlakRoc

BlakRoc is a Hip-Hop Rock project featuring blues-rock duo The Black Keys and several prominent members of the Hip-Hop community including Mos Def, RZA, Ludacris, Q-Tip, Raekwon and even ODB (RIP). The project as a whole doesn't seem like a tremendous stretch as far as Rap/Rock collaborations go, and if the lead single "Ain't Nothin' Like You (Hoochie Coo)" was any indication, the venture promised to add up to more than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, rather than use the circumstances to crank up the guitars and the wordplay, everyone involved sounds largely muzzled.

Firstly, gone are the face-melting guitar riffs Black Keys fans have come to expect. Most of the guitar parts are strangely drowned out and feel like an afterthought. I suppose this should be expected on an album where they guitars/drums are simply there to hold a beat, but I expected The Black Keys to be a bit more adventurous in this context. They sound sound positively reserved and sheepish.

Secondly, maybe I've been listening to too much Lil' Wayne (probably), but the hip-hop contingent at work here feels stifled. The burbling beats of The Black Keys force them to deliver their lines with a slow, bluesy cadence that makes the whole thing feel casual and tired. It's sad when the most confident, memorable verse on the first half of the album comes from ODB, since he recorded his contribution years ago. I'm not sure if they intended for the album to lean towards a lounge-style atmosphere, but everyone feels a little bit out of their element here. The subject matter supports this theory, as it borrows heavily from traditional blues fare (failed love and hard times).

The album works best on songs like Ain't Nothin' Like You and What You Do To Me, when it lets Auerbach's smokey voice to carry some of the vocal load, allowing the rappers to rhyme over stripped down arrangements and at the pace they are used to. It's also no coincidence that most of the strongest songs feature Nicole Wray's pitch-perfect blues voice, as she admirably bridges the gap between the two genres.  

Maybe the whole thing would have worked better if older brass-knuckle Black Keys tracks were used and the hip-hop artists were forced to keep pace and match the intensity. Or maybe it would have worked better if The Black Keys made a reverse mixtape and generated blistering new riffs for popular rap songs. Instead, it sounds like Blues and Hip-hop for dummies from artists who are far from it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Trader Joe's Crash Course for the Uninitiated

With new Trader Joe's Supermarkets popping up weekly 'round these parts (there are at least 4 within 5 miles of me), I thought I'd take some time to impart a sampling of the knowledge I've accrued being a regular Trader Joe's shopper to make the transition for the Whole Foods/Foodmaster regulars as smooth as Trader Joe's White Bean and Basil Hummus. Before I get into the culinary/strategy nitty-gritty, there are a few things you should know about what will furthermore be referred to as TJ's.

1. Trader Joe's almost exclusively sells items from their own Private Labels. This means, you won't be finding Cheerio's or Oreo's. Instead you'll have to settle for Joe's O's (delicious) and Joe Joe's (heavenly). This allows Trader Joe's to save lots of money by cutting out the middle man, while at the same time allowing them to oversee the quality of the ingredients.

2. Speaking of Quality ingredients, Trader Joe's has this to say about the products they sell:

Our logo assures that the products it is on contain NO artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; NO MSG; and NO added Trans Fats. In addition, ALL Trader Joe's private label products are sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients. 

3. Finally, if you enjoy trimming coupons and slogging through newspaper inserts for sales flyers, you will also be disappointed as Trader Joe's does not offer sales. The good news is, that their prices compare quite favorably to Market Basket are light years better than Whole Foods, especially considering that many of Trader Joe's products are organic and none contain any artificial ingredients.

Now that you've read all that and are sufficiently intimidated, take my hand and let me bring you to a place of PUUURE IMAGINAAAATION. At least that's the song I hear when I go inside a Trader Joe's, but maybe that's just me.

Here are a couple pieces of advice to make your grocery transportation as painless as possible:

-Trader Joe's parking lots are heinous. They are tiny and they are incredibly busy. Thusly, I bike whenever possible. I know this isn't feasible for everyone, but understand that you will need a hearty dose of ruthless to find a parking spot.

-Do not get a grocery cart under any circumstances (unless of course you are buying alcohol, more on that later). The aisles are narrow and choked with people and you will bring nothing but carnage and frustration
upon yourself if you try to scoot around with one. Use a hand basket and thank me later.

-Finally, you're going to want to bring your own bags. Trader Joe's does offer paper bags if you forget, but I think they are manufactured in hell.

As you can probably tell from the picture above, you can't carry more than a bag of tortilla chips without the flimsy handles tearing off and sending your perishables on a parking lot adventure. Don't say I didn't warn you.

With all that out of the way, let's get down to brass tax. Because all of the food is "Trader Joe's" brand, it is incredibly overwhelming setting foot into one for the first time. Probably akin to going to a supermarket in a foreign country. The good news is, almost everything is delectable. And I have tried everything, believe you me. Here are some of my favorite items, and a few items that didn't tickle my fancy.


Trader Joe's Pita Chips/Trader Joe's Hummus - Less than $2 each, and both are incredibly delicious. The Chipotle Pepper Hummus does not last 24 hours in my house. MMM!


Trader Joe's Tamale's - $2.29 for 2. If you have ever had these, you will know why I bring them lunch every week without fail. Shredded beef and soft masa in a corn husk. So simple, so PROFOUNDLY DELICIOUS.

Trader Joe's Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup- Sounds a little bizarre, but out of this world awesome. I also love the creamy tomato soup, but the red pepper adds a little extra tang and flavor. I like to put TJ's Oyster crackers in it. So delicious and less than the cost of a crappy can of Campbell's soup. SERIOUSLY.

-DESSERT Before I go any further let me just say that I don't really care for dessert. I like ice cream from time to time, but as far as cakes and pies go, I can take it or leave it. That was before I started sniffing around at TJ's. I cannot tell you how many time's I've had something in my hand, being all wishy-washy and then I remembered the last Trader Joe's dessert I had and it immediately goes into my basket. I am not a huge fan of the MOCHI like SS is, (maybe he isn't either and just likes to say it/yell it to/at Katie), but from the Sorbet to the Creme Brulee', C'est MAGNIFIQUE.


-WINE/BEER Finally, last but not least is alcohol. Mind you, not every Trader Joe's carries alcohol, but when they do, hold onto your butts because you will be 30 minutes late to whatever you have planned and adding a cool $50 to your grocery bill. The good news is that $50 in Trader Joe's booze goes a LOOOOONG LOOOONG way. Don't believe me? Might I interest you in some 3-buck-chuck? In addition to this, Trader Joe's carries it's own brand of wines and beers and hundreds of other varieties, many for less than $6 a bottle. That is obscene. And they are largely fantastic. $5 for a six-pack of TJ's beer? Yes please. $4 for some Riesling? Why not. Just practice that response and you'll be just fine.

The Less Good

Here are a few Trader Joe's offerings that you should stay away from, or at least follow my instructions diligently.

- Produce. Apples = Good. Oranges = Good. Frozen Veggies = Super. Bags of lettuce? Liquefy 6 hours after you open it. Unfortunate, but them's the rules in the little town of "No Preservatives".

- Another rule is that your cheese and breads will sprout unsightly mold spots faster than you can say "Who wants some crackers and EWWWW." Fine if you are having a dinner party and will use it all at once. Otherwise, no amount of Tupperware/Vacuum Sealer can keep your refrigerator from making a sacrifice to the Mold Gods.

- I had some Trader Joe's Tuna thing about a year ago that was very strange and blechy. I think this is a picture of it.

- They have really cheap ($1) chocolate advent calendars for Christmas every year that I always buy, but the Chocolate always tastes like it should have an MSDS. I bought one again this year too and brought it to work. Oh well, they eat it early and out of order so serves them right.



Hey, they should put that on their ads. If they had ads. Which they don't.