Friday, December 28, 2007

Movie Reviews: National Treasure and Charlie Wilson's War

Yeah, so it seems this is the time of year where I end up seeing an assload of movies. If I have to see that fucking video for The National Guard by Three Doors Down that they play before the previews one more time, I'm going to hunt down their lead singer and punch him in the balls.

Anyways, I decided to combine two movies into one post since one is utter shit and doesn't really deserve that much space. Which one was shit? You guessed it, the one with Nick Cage. Seriously, has this guy ever met a script he didn't like? As long as you pay him he will appear anything. I deem that the Samuel L. Jackson corollary.

I'll be honest, I enjoyed the first National Treasure movie. It was stupid as hell, but it was a good popcorn flick that injected some tidbits of American history in the fat faces of America. Sadly, this movie was just a dull retread of the first movie with even more implausible action set pieces (plus Nic Cage's hair, seriously that thing on his head is freaky). Even if you mildly enjoyed the first movie, skip this one.

On to the much better popcorn flick: Charlie Wilson's War. I had high hopes for this one , because it makes sense to turn a complicated geopolitical situation into a sex comedy. Fuck, it's the American way. It sounds like it could be a horrid misstep, but everyone really shines in this one. Phillip Seymour Hoffman steals the show as the crude CIA guy. Every time he is on the screen, you just can't help but laugh. If I had a vote, I'd give him the Golden Globe for best supporting actor.

The only thing that was a semi stumble for me on this one was the lack of discussion about the fallout from Charlie's actions. Most people know that the "freedom fighters" we armed during the 80s came back as the Taliban and our bestest buddy Osama later on. The movie gives you a couple scenes to drive this point home (best done in the scene in Afghanistan with Doc Long screaming "Allah Akbar"), but it needed more.

So in the end, what did I learn? Nic Cage is still a toolbag, and I would like to have drinks with Charlie Wilson. I'd say that it was a successful week at the movies.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 Music Retrospective

After a lot of thought (sort of), I figured I should uphold my status as a nerd and actually put down some thoughts on the year in music, since MK did such a fantastic job with the movie review side. First off, usually I care more about tracks, and this year is no exception - to facilitate that, I put together a 'mixtape' of some of my favorite songs (and mixes) from this year. Obviously it isn't exactly complete - how could it be, in 80 minutes? - but it should get things started:

RC's 2007 Mixtape Extravaganza

As far as albums, this year proved a bizarre one, with great albums springing up in odd categories. It would be nearly impossible to go through them all, but the ubiquitous and probably irrelevant Top 10 analysis is what blogs were made for, so pretty much FU.

Honorable Mention: The Hood Internet, (Mixtape No. 1) (which is just unreal - check these guys out here, it's the mash-up given new life as a remix . . . )

10. Okkervil River, The Stage Names
Where Black Sheep Boy traded in rough edges and some degree of inconsistency as endearing for the listener, The Stage Names works a borderline-melodrama into a much smoother, more consistent shape. A fantastic album, with a solid premise that never falls into "hokey" even though it could have at any point.

9. Simian Mobile Disco, Attack Decay Sustain Release
Originally, I found myself surprised this was so low on my list - I would guess that at least three singles off this album ("I Believe", "Hustler" and "Sleep Deprivation") had to be in the top-25 most listened to in my car this year. However, as an album, it falls into the "Electronic Music Trap": it just doesn't flow, the connectivity wains, and it begins to sound like a collection of singles instead of an album. This CD just didn't have the staying power for me - although the raw strength of it keeps it solidly in the top 10.

8. Spoon, Ga ga ga ga ga ga
Putting Spoon on lists like this is old hat - you just sort of pencil them in whenever they release something new, at this point. However, Britt Daniel's ego and songwriting benefited greatly from the inclusion of Jon Brion in production (and on bass), giving Spoon's stripped-down sound a sheen and depth that makes tracks like "The Ghost of You Lingers" work and not flop. Besides this, the album finishes with its two strongest songs ("Black Like Me" and "Finer Feelings"), which earns brownie points in my world.

7. Blitzen Trapper, Wild Mountain Nation
An oddball choice, to be certain - these guys are all over the map, sounding alternately like a retard Grateful Dead ("Wild Mountain Nation") and a '90s alt-rock cover band ("Sci-Fi Kid", which might be the best song released all year) and everything in between . . . but somehow it works.

6. Panda Bear, Person Pitch
My favorite 'review' of this album came from Bradford Cox of Deerhunter, who said that he hated this album when he first listened because it was "too perfect" . . . and it might be. A modern equivalent of all the best Brian Wilson Beach Boys materials, but with a sensibility and scope unlike really anything else released this year. Originally I wrote this off as a 'summer album' (something like The Boy Least Likely To last year), but I'm pleased to say out loud that I was completely wrong. This one just makes you feel better about everything when you listen.

5. MIA, Kala
If there was an award for being the favorite on the car stereo, this would be MIA's second such victory. Not really "rap" in the truest sense, nor "techno" in any reasonable sense, Kala strikes me as the ultimate evolution of the Baltimore Gutter scene fused with modern indie music - a connection that doesn't seem intuitive, but makes perfect sense when performed by a radical revolutionary who can't spell well enough to keep a MySpace blog (or get a visa into the US). "Paper Planes" also reaches the short list for best song of the year - really, it's everything that Kanye's "Stronger" did for modern radio rap, on a smaller scale.

4. Burial, Untrue
Burial makes dubstep for people who have never even heard of dubstep, and the results could not be any better. Whereas last year's self-titled album came off as creepy, rumbling and fresh, Untrue produces better songs and a nearly ghostly vibe. The haunted, echoing, chopped "vocal" samples can be hard to work with if you're not used to this sort of thing, but on the whole, this is an electronic CD that produces an album feeling better than almost any other out there. Dark, moist, dreary music that becomes beautiful in an unexpected fashion.

3. Justice, [Cross]
Likely the party album of the year, Justice makes sounds that should not come out of good speakers and somehow make the whitest white kid indie geek shake his/her ass. Among the static and the harsh tones comes Daft Punk reincarnate, with a sense of melody and proportion that rival the most immense of the French DJ set. Quick tip: the singles get the most attention, but "DVNO" is the track that gives me the biggest thrill when it comes on.

2. Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer?
An early-year release that blew the doors off my expectations - while some have considered Of Montreal a sort of novelty act, Hissing Fauna instead became Kevin Barnes's coming-out party. A quick, short move into a freakshow version of the glam-rock that infected mainstream radio, as well as a soul-searing separation from his wife produced an album that pleases the ears beyond previous Of Montreal work, as well as lyrics that produce both wonder and satisfaction to support the tracks. This CD is simply a blast to listen to, and has given me so many great listens over the year that it is amazing this can only rise to #2.

1. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver
Then again, the #1 album just blows everything else out of the water. James Murphy, under the LCD Soundsystem moniker, has produced some of the best singles of the past 5-10 years . . . but until now, the concept of "album" has eluded him just as the concept of "cohesive, insightful lyrics" often flew by the wayside. Sound of Silver fixes both problems, producing a series of tracks that jump off the album and gain notice. A beautiful album about growing old, staying cool, finding yourself, rediscovering things like friends and music, and just living, Sound of Silver produced more spins than any other album in my collection in 2007. A worth champion, to say the least, and an album that should appeal to a broad base of music lovers, no matter whether they lean to the rock, electronic, indie or "other" sides of the aisle.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Top Movies of 2007

So I can't give a final list yet since I'm not a critic and can't watch early screenings of a few movies I really want to see. Specifically There Will Be Blood and Charlie Wilson's War. So this is my list that could be updated after I see all the movies I want to see. Without further ado, my list for best movies:

1.) No Country For Old Men:

I'm a huge Coen Brothers nerd, so I was looking forward to this after their semi stumbles (although I didn't think Intolerable Cruelty was as bad as they say, but that is for another day). Plus Cormac McCarthy is one of my favorite writers nowadays so I think this was a great choice for them. The result is an amazing thriller that is not only intense but also thoughtful. The whole cast gets it just right and the script has a pitch perfect black comedy streak.

2.) Michael Clayton:

Intelligent, quiet character study/thriller with what I believe is the best villian in recent memory. If Tilda Swindon doesn't win something for that role, it will be a damn shame.

3.) Atonement:

After reading Ian McEwan novel, I had no idea how they were going to film this, but they did a damn fine job. I'm impressed they kept the ending intact seeing as it is pretty devestating, but they handled it well. The 5 minute tracking shot on the french beach is worth the price of admission alone.

4.) Juno:

To tell the truth, after the first five minutes, I was ready to punch this movie in the face. It was getting a little too quirky for me. However, after awhile it eased into the story and was pretty enjoyable. Not to mention that Michael Cera is great in anything. Again, the ending was what sold it to me. They didn't sell out and give it a happy one, and I think everyone involved could take something away with the bittersweet ending. Except Jason Bateman's character, he was just a creepy dick.

5.) Superbad:

I don't care what anyone says, this was the funniest movie of the year. I don't think I laughed harder at anything. The entire almost sex scene with Michael Cera had me in tears. If you can't find that uncomfortable comedy both painful and funny then you are truly dead inside.

Movie Review: I Am Legend

Let me preface this review by saying that I have read the book by Richard Matheson and think it is an excellent little horror story with a very satisfying ending. Of course they had to go and make the movie again, but this time move things to New York and cast Will Smith as Neville. I'll be honest, I'm not a huge Will Smith fan. He has ruined some good ideas (Wild Wild West) and tends to be more annoying in roles than impressive. So entering into this I was a little apprehensive.

Well, if this movie did little else, it at least convinced me that Will Smith can act and can easily hold the screen by himself for an hour or so. Most of the first half of the movie is just Will Smith and his dog. This is the part of the movie that I enjoyed the most. The shots of an abandoned New York were amazing and haunting and Will Smith actually conveys some emotion as a man trying as hard as possible to keep a grip on his sanity. Really, for me the movie ends when (spoiler) his dog Sam dies and he goes after the zombie/vampire/CGI shit monsters.

After that point, where they introduce God and tack on an annoying happy ending, it really is just a sucky summer blockbuster. I thought they might have had something, but of course they had to fuck it up in the end. I knew they couldn't have used the ending of the book (too much of a downer) but the ending they had and the way they tried to explain the title were just piss poor.

Note: Another huge problem I had with this movie is the CGI shit monsters. They looked just awful and not realistic. Did they really have to use CGI? Why not use makeup? CGI does not equal a better movie. They could have done a much better job and spent a lot less.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Today = not good

Today, the Mitchell Report will be released in about 15 minutes. As a baseball fan, it's a terrible day; here are a few people (or groups of people) who stand to be hurt by this:

1) George Mitchell: previous to this, he had a near-sterling reptuation (besides being a lobbyist for Big Tobacco). Now? How many people will look at him as a shill for Major League Baseball and Bud Selig? How can you be a director of a MLB team and be the lead in a process like this? How can you publically accuse players of taking steroids when you have, in some cases, just 2nd hand stories and a near lack of witnesses and proof?

2) Baseball players: this is obvious; from reports, it seems like the release of the report will be the first time many players realize their names are contained in the report. How would you like to wake up one day, turn on the TV, and find out you're being accused of cheating at your job? How about find out you've been accused of abusing certain substances? Becoming an outsider from the game you've played for so many years because you are accused (notice, not proven) of taking steroids, HGH, or other similar substances. Of course Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and others stand to lose their place in history, but what about lesser stars or players?

3) MLB owners and Bud Selig: I'm lumping them together because their fates will be intertwined after the release of this report. When the smoke starts to clear, how are things explained? Where does this really leave MLB? Will the release of names really change things?

4) The fans: unfortunately, this seems to just be the start of a terrible lead-up to spring training. Get ready to see the knocking down of some sports heroes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Guantanamo Bay Case in Supreme Court

Arguments have begun in front of the Supreme Court in the newest batch of appeals by Guantanamo detainees. For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of this specific case is the matchup of opposing counsel, pitting the current Solicitor General (Paul Clement for the US) against a past Solicitor General (Seth Waxman, who was SG under Clinton and is now a partner at WilmerHale). Kennedy looks to be the crucial vote in this case (but then again, what else is new), and it will be very interesting to see how the Court comes out on this.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Podge Belgian Imperial Stout - Two Thumbs Up

So I'm a bit of a beer nerd; my wife went into Boston yesterday, and I had asked her to pick up a few bottles of Rogue, Chimay, Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, and others that you generally can't get around my house. One of her friends suggested Podge Belgian Imperial Stout; upon trying it last night, I found a new beer to add to my list of favorites.

It came in a single, 11.2 ounce bottle, with an alcohol content of 10.5%. The first thing I noticed was a light smell of chocolate. I was prepared for a taste much like the chocolate stouts I have tried previously, but here the chocolate taste was more subtle, with an unexpected kick of carbonation. The sugar used added to the sweetness and the finish, but I did not find it overpowering by any means.

I have to admit, the carbonation took a couple of sips to get used to, but that did not take away from any of the enjoyment. If you're not used to strong brews, this may not be a good first beer to try, but experienced beer drinkers should pick up a bottle.