Monday, December 31, 2007

Best Albums of 2007

[Guest post - Appraiser]
1. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

This album has it all, variety, top-notch lyrics, mood, orchestration, message and most of all execution. Neon Bible is the “Must Listen” of 2007. It’s without question the first quality concept album since Radiohead’s OK Computer (1997). Neon Bible is a modern day tribute to John Kennedy Toole’s book of the same name. The Arcade Fire paint a clear picture of their unmistakable frustration with the current religious and political climate around them. From top to bottom, Neon Bible is probably the most diverse yet cohesive album to be released in 2007. It’s a brilliant cd that makes you think and yet pleasures the senses.

Click below for the rest of "Best Albums of 2007".

2. Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

Mr. Ritter has finally has finally put together a “complete” album by matching his typically keen lyrics with equally charismatic melodies and composition. Known for his mid-western charm, there’s no question Ritter knows how to write a poem. However, it took his 5th full length release to finally put together an album that grabs you from song one and keeps you there for the full 42 minutes. Historical Conquests has great acoustic driven tempos with various moods. It keeps you engaged from start to the finish.

3. The Veils – Nux Vomica

New Zealand’s best singer/songwriter returns with a new line-up and a great musical work of art to match. Finn Andrews, the artistic force behind The Veils, was forced to replace the other three members of the band in 2005 after struggling over the musical direction of the group, following the 2004 release The Runaway Found. The Veils have been compared to The Smiths and even Jeff Buckley. Nux Vomica attacks you from the start. With the songs “Not Yet”, “Jesus for the Jugular”, “Pan”, and “Nux Vomica”, it feels as if you are riding a horse that’s galloping much faster than you intended. However, the feeling is exhilarating and you can’t wait to get up there for another go.

4. Phosphorescent – Pride

Matthew Houck’s one-man band puts out a third full length album that results what might be the most emotive and visceral cd of 2007. Sure, Pride won’t knock you over the head with up-tempo drums or thick guitar riffs, but it’s well produced, well written and full of feeling. Having drawn comparisons with Will Oldham and Neil Young, Houck is certainly gaining artistic notoriety and critical acclaim at a rapid pace. These aren’t three minute pop songs with a catchy hook. Houck writes songs in a simple almost unformatted pattern that resolve themselves when he is done singing. There’s nothing pre-packaged about the songs, which gives Pride an honesty and intimacy seldom heard these days.

5. Radiohead – In Rainbows

They’re back, maybe not better than ever, but proving they’ve still got their chops. After a couple of less-than-inspired solo projects (Johnny Greenwood’s BodySong (2004) and Thom Yorke’s The Erasure (2005), the band is back together and in good working order. Radiohead has been kind of a square peg for the last decade, which hasn’t bothered me as much as some others. Now that they’ve had their fun with the over-glitchy tribal jazz fussion that they’ve spent three albums trying to perfect, In Rainbows brings the boys back to a more listenable brand of music. The songs come across as a bit more genuine with true emotion. There’s very little self-indulgence or the “look what we did” mentality that comes across in there more recent works. In Rainbows is a mellower, more inspired, easier listen that will hopefully guide Radiohead back into a new or “old” direction.

6. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

With a second full length album, LCD Soundsystem have perfected the dance-punk-funk sound that put them on the map in 2005. Upon arrival to the scene, the New York based group was often mistaken as a British born band. Sound of Silver is great cd to have in the background at any party. It’s danceable, listenable, and sometimes laughable. However, they don’t have the euro-trash, dub-heavy sound that’s so often overheard coming out of the cheesiest dance clubs in town. Instead, the LCD has a bit of lyrical integrity that fits well with a more east coast danceable gutter-punk vibe. They don’t take themselves too seriously, but the music is definitely calculated and precise. Every music fan should hear “North American Scum”, “All My Friends” and “New York I love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down”.

7. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha

The musically prolific whistling guitar playing violinist is at it again. Andrew Bird is quickly becoming the eclectic indie folkster everyone wants to add to the cd collection. With a long list of instrumental contributions on over 20 albums for other artist’s ranging from Squirrel Nut Zippers to Rufus Wainwright to My Morning Jacket, it appears that Bird has finally given full attention on his own creation. After the critically acclaimed but commercially ignored Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005), Mr. Bird has followed up with a well-arranged, catchy, and quirky work that might even be considered radio friendly. Armchair Apocrypha is dare I say delightful and even grandiose at times. It truly is an enjoyable listen from beginning to end.

8. The Shins – Wincing the Night Away

The third full length is a nice departure for the Albuquerque quartet. Now based in Portland, The Shins have been one of the true indie-darlings of the last five years, with appreciable help from the Garden State “infomercial”. Wincing the Night Away isn’t an acoustic pop melody driven record like Chutes too Narrow (2003). It’s a lyrically mature artistic endeavor with more attention to detail. With soaring vocals, nice use of the slide guitar and strings, the tracks are well produced, without being over produced. The songs are more self-effacing rather than self-indulgent from a lyrical standpoint. The Shins are the lovable deadbeats everyone roots for. They make it look way too easy, but the end product is always quite satisfying.

9. Interpol – Our Love to Admire

A little more Rock with a little less Pop makes the version of Interpol bit more enjoyable this time around. It appears that the New York new-wave inspired rockers have returned to their roots a little. Although still sounding remarkably like Joy Division (the comparison is unavoidable), Our Love to Admire has some oomph behind it. It’s not just a few guitar riffs that seem drowned out by the overly-danceable drum beats that many thought Antics (2004) brought us. As usual, Paul Banks delivers the lyrics with an intensity that pierces the air as you’re listening. Our Love to Admire has a real strength and density that most of the Interpol loving public was hoping to hear.

10. PJ Harvey – White Chalk

PJ shows us her softer side with White Chalk, an honest stripped down, yet well-produced, collection of acoustic soul-searching ballads that is a true departure from her earlier work. The ready to blare electric guitar has been put aside as PJ puts her recent piano lessons to use. While there isn’t much orchestration in her playing, less is clearly more on this eleven song effort. Harvey has changed directions lyrically as well. These songs are about loneliness, unrequited love, even self-weakness and frailty. White Chalk proves Harvey is capable of producing a consolidated effort of beautiful intensity. PJ’s newly found softer, mesmerizing and at times reverbed voice soars through the CD providing a gentle yet powerful presence to the collection.

11. Tunng – Good Arrows

Watch out Beta band, your place might be taken by a band that does it better. Tunng might be the next great British indie quirk band.

12. Unkle – War Stories

A great cohesive guitar driven cd that doesn’t confuse with too many break-beats. The performers are diverse as usual, however, the songs fit together nicely for once. This is what UNKLE was meant to sound like.

13. The Polyphonic Spree – The Fragile Army

The happiest band on earth returns with a less symphonic, yet easier listen. Instead of overly dramatic orchestration, The Fragile Army pulls you in with a more radio friendly standard approach that still maintains the integrity of the band.

14. White Rabbits – Fort Nightly

This is great debut with punch with a refreshingly new sound coming from New York. With clever lyrics and well-written / constructed songs, the White Rabbits prove you can rock with a piano.

15. Beirut – The Flying Club Cup

Now living in Paris, Sante Fe’s 21 year-old musical prodigy’s second full length release is a little less eastern block, and little more romantic. The flying Club Cup is amazingly creative in instrumentation but easily accessible, unlike the first full length Gulag Orkestar (2006).

16. Kate Nash – Made of Bricks

The 20 year old West London-based songbird took Britain by storm in 2007. The comparisons with Lily Allen don’t bother Kate a bit. They’re actually quite close friends and went to music school together. With wittingly sarcastic and straight to the point lyrics matched with a light and lovely musical back-drop, Made of Bricks is relationship-based cd that is quite poppy, yet surprisingly credible.

17. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin

It’s not a far departure from their 2006 release Everything, All the Time, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Hailing from Seattle, you wouldn’t expect to hear the Midwestern, straight off the tractor guitar pop resonating from the speakers. Band of Horses have a refreshingly new sound that one might expect to come from Lawrence, Kansas or Athens, Georgia.

18. Blitzen Trapper – Wild Mountain Nation

Log cabin cool, there’s no other way to describe Blitzen Trapper. With a mid 70’s up-tempo southern rock vibe, Wild Mountain Nation has a back-woods guitar driven sound that can only be compared to the classics like The Grand funk Railroad and Mountain.

19. The Besnard Lakes – Volume 1

This is a new and refreshing sound to psychedelic shoe-gaze. The soaring atmospheric instrumentation with Beach Boy-esque harmonies makes for a sonically ambitious spin on the typically boring so-called new-gaze genre. It’s quite a stimulating album that that keeps your attention from beginning to end.

20. Sea Wolf – Leaves in the River

The latest film school drop-out to turn singer/songwriter, but he gets I right. Alex Brown Church AKA Sea Wolf writes pretty yet well constructed poems that tell a story. The songs don’t jump out the speakers at you, but they maintain a pleasant melody and cadence that is both enchanting and artistic.

21. Dr Dog – We All Belong

If you’ve been waiting for Beatles 1971 guitar pop, We All belong is here for you.

22. Liars – Liars

A well conceived, easy listen from the “street-beat” veterans of NYC.

23. Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover

Not made for everyone. But the Rubdown continue to show aspects of genius and versatility.

24. Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight

This is a well-written album that may not be musically bold, but is lyrically strong, with a distinctively feminine point of view. Jenni Lewis never disappoints as a poet.

25. Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog

Like most of Sam Beam’s work, it doesn’t grab you by the nape of the neck, but it does hug you and holds you close in it’s acoustic singer/songwriter arms.

26. Akron Family – Love is Simple

A happy fun hippie time that takes you back to Woodstock for 11 songs.

27. Efterklang – Parades

A diversity of sound-scapes that is beautiful for some, but not made for everyone.

28. Lightning Dust – Lightning Dust

A beautifully slow and melodic side project of Black Mountain’s Amber Webber and Josh Wells.

29. Saturday Looks Good to Me – Fill Up the Room

Straight-forward Indie rock from Michigan. Fill Up the Room has a lot of moving parts that work well together.

30. M.I.A. – Kala

British female vocalized eccentric electronica dance that’s a bit urban, a bit tribal, and even a little Jamaican at times.

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There Will Be Blood - A

The fact that Paul Thomas Anderson dropped out of New York Film School after only 2 days proves that genius cannot be taught or learned. And with enough persistence and luck, that genius can be shared with others. Anderson’s first feature Hard Eight aka Sydney (A-) starred John C. Reilly as a luckless drifter who is befriended by the successful and established Philip Baker Hall. Hall’s mentorship leads to compromises and revelations and the film perfectly exemplifies the independent film movement of the 1990s. Anderson would expand his canvas in his following 2 films by borrowing liberally from admitted influences. In Boogie Nights (A+), Martin Scorsese seems to be his primary inspiration with its episodic narrative and virtuoso camera moves. Magnolia (A) is structurally identical to Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. With his fourth feature Punch-Drunk Love (A-), PT began to form his own style and voice. Jon Brion’s music was a cacophonic mess of a soundtrack accentuating Adam Sandler’s inner turbulence. Anderson use camera flares and bold colors seemed be the start of a new visual style as well. (Continue by clicking below)

In There Will Be Blood, Jonny Greenwood’s score is revolutionary with its mix of dissonant sounds and abstract rhythms. Only occasionally will a melody form. Like PDL, the music is stressing its main character’s inner turmoil. The protagonist (or is it just agonist?) here is one for the ages, Daniel Plainview, an ambitious, deceitful, aggressive oilman. Taking place from 1898-1927, the film tracks Plainview’s rise from a poor struggling prospector to a Howard Hughes-like recluse. Daniel Day-Lewis completely inhabits the character of Daniel Plainview, giving a blustery, powerful performance. He goes farther and with more depth than anyone since Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. He’s funny and frightening, fiery and furious. He’s in every scene in the movie – including the 20-25 minute wordless (but hardly silent) opening sequence, possibly homage to the opening “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. As a bookend, the ending line and choice of closing credits music is downright Kubrickian as well.
In between is the most searing condemnation of capitalism and greed since The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (including Kubrick’s The Killing). But PT Anderson has much more on his mind than merely avarice. He’s also after the manipulative nature of man. Plainview cons numerous people out of their land. His main nemesis Eli Sunday sees him for what he is and vice versa. Sunday (played by the admirable but outmatched Paul Dano) has his own church and congregation and claims to be a healer and a vessel of the Holy Spirit. Plainview seeks to expose Sunday as a fraud. Some will view the final scene as anti-God but it’s just another example of how some people will discard everything, including family, friends, and faith for monetary gain. The man who made Magnolia, with all its religious references and acts of providence, could hardly be considered anti-God. In There Will Be Blood, the churchfolk are presented as honest hardworking believers trying to help and save Plainview. They may be gullible to both Plainview and Sunday’s wiles and tactics but they are basically good. Also, the “Blood” in the title may only refer to the violence inflicted on man by man and nature. But can’t it also be alluding to the redemptive blood of Christ?
In addition to showing increasing thematic maturity, Anderson shows restraint with equally complex, but less showy directorial flourishes. He seems to be after image composition and is clearly more secure in his storytelling ability, keeping dialogue sparse at times and his camera still for the most part. The sequence of the year begins when Plainview’s young son H.W. is injured on an oil derrick when it begins to spew oil. After Daniel saves him, the oil is then set ablaze. It’s unlike anything ever captured on film and the turning point in the movie. The only thing Daniel loves (his son) is now chronically injured and he increasingly lashes out at man and God alike. It’s a landmark performance and like the film itself, it will split audiences (and Oscar voters). Indeed, it’s tough to know how to react to such a dense film on a single viewing. There will be more. There must be. A

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Favorite Scenes - Once

.Guy plays his CD for his father, who sits listening and smoking a cigarette. He taps along. It ends. His father is moved.

Guy: "Well"
Guy: "You didn't like it?"
more silence
Guy: "It's just a demo. I..."
Father: (interrupting) "It's f*cking brilliant."
Guy: (surprised) "Really?"
Father: "Fantastic stuff. It'll be a hit. There's no question. Even I can hear that."
Guy smiles.

Click below for the rest of the scene.

Father: "When are you off?"

Guy: "What?"

Father: "I've got a few hundred quid for you. For a deposit on a place. And I'll come over and see you when you get settled. When do you think you'll go?

Guy: (pausing) "Tomorrow"

Father: "Good man. About time."

Guy: "Will you be alright?"

Father: "How do you mean? I was alright for years before you came along, wasn't I? Miles and Mary from next door can look after me if I need anything."

Guy: (vacillating) "Maybe I'll leave it for a while..."

Father: "Go! Are you going to hang around for the next ten years looking after me? I don't f*cking want that. I don't want that on me conscience. Get your f*cking act together. And the best of luck to you. Make your ma proud."

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There Will Be Blood - ?

Since news of Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, There Will Be Blood, came about last year, it has gotten so many posts that it almost deserves its own 'label.' A PTA film about religion, power, greed and family starring Daniel Day-Lewis with a score by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead sounds more like my answer to a fantasy 'best case scenario' movie situation than an actual film. Given the import and anticipation for the film and the general need for face-to-face conversation instead of email, Doctor, Lawyer and Priest all converged in Dallas this weekend for Saturday's sold out Midnight sneak preview of There Will Be Blood at the Angelika. I've sworn off a review until I can see it again and our minimal groggy discussion indicated we all were still processing the dense and unrelenting film. So...we'll all be posting reviews in the next week or so. Stay tuned.And here is the rest of it.

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Local Art - Jerrod Smith

Priest provided me with some materials from Oklahoma City artist Jerrod Smith featuring several JFK and other historic mixed media items. If you're interested in seeing more of his work or buying some, go here.

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Christmas in Kansas City


Liberty Memorial.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

National Treasure - Book of Secrets - C+

In theaters. Rated PG, 124 minutes. Trailer.

A true nerd at heart, I've always been a sucker for treasure hunt movies, especially those with an "historic" angle. After enjoying the first National Treasure, I decided, in spite of the long running time, to venture into the sequel. The old gang is back, led by an oddly coifed Nicolas Cage and generic Jon Voight. Same exact formula, not quite as good of a result. Click below for the rest of the review.

The film opens with Cage and Voight presenting evidence that their great-grandfather, Thomas, should be included in a Civil War heroes exhibit, only to be refuted by the non-maimed twin brother of Ed Harris' character in the History of Violence. Harris produces an original missing page from the John Wilkes Boothe diary that seemingly shows the deceased Gates to have been the mastermind of the Lincoln assassination. Cage claims Thomas was trying to stop the Golden Knights of the Confederacy from finding Cibola, the lost City of Gold, and burned the page, while Harris claims he was behind the assassination. So, Nicolas is 'forced' to clear Thomas' (and his) good name by finding the treasure. Of course, Harris is a latent member of the GKC and is trying to trap Gates into leading him to the treasure and doing all the hard work on the way.

The first 2/3 of the film are enjoyable and tightly paced. The last third borders on self-parody, though, as each turn in a cave brings yet another 'could the indians have really built that?' moment for the audience. The best parts of the film are Justin Bartha as underappreciated Cage sidekick Riley Poole and Bruce Greenwood as the President of the United States (he was also great in I'm Not There as an unrelenting BBC journalist), not to mention Diane Kruger. The worst parts are all of Jon Voight, Helen Mirren and Ed Harris' character's lines and stories, not to mention the massive leaps the audience is asked to take to make the plot stick. The Queen must've cringed hard at this script as her follow-up to winning last year's best actress award.

Viewing note: Showing started at an AMC theater at 7:30. Actual movie didn't start until 7:56, because of previews for every bad movie coming out this Spring, and a 10 minutes Goofy cartoon about tv's and installing them.....seriously. Not a commercial, no point, no relation to the movie, just me watching 10 minutes of Goofy. Why did Disney do that to us? I got some weird looks and a sharp elbow from the wife when I audibly booed at the end of it. I have nothing against Goofy, but I don't appreciate my time being taken without reason.

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The Kingdom - B+

Released on DVD this week. Rated R. Original review: here.

4 FBI agents go to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to investigate a Khobar Towers-like bombing on an American compound. Lead agent Jamie Foxx’s best friend was killed during the blast so he’s obsessed with solving the crime. His ability to con both Americans and Saudis to fit his agenda is sometimes far-fetched, but Foxx is in full movie star form with a terrific ability for empathy when the moment requires. The inevitable cultural clashes develop into even more inevitable intercultural teamwork.

The movie isn’t as engrossing as it should be. Foxx’s shout-out to Terrell, Texas is out of place. And director Peter Berg’s decision to use similar music to Friday Night Lights (still his best film) as well as FNL alum Tim McGraw in an emotional but unbalanced scene is also ill-suited since Odessa and Saudi Arabia have zero in common except both are kinda sandy. But Berg continues to be a top-notch action director and the last 30 minutes are riveting.
As 2 of the other agents, Chris Cooper is at his usual level of excellence and Jennifer Garner is in her best ass-kicking mode. As the wisecracking agent, Jason Bateman delivers some much need levity to the proceedings and his character’s journey is the center of the movie. After he gets back to the US, he’ll most likely be back to his class clown baseline in a few months. Americans clown around and are mostly unaware of what’s going on outside of the 48 contiguous states. After Americans celebrate Christmas with friends and families, the assassination of former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto has much of the Eastern hemisphere in turmoil. We’ll probably forget about it by the end of the Patriots-Giants game. Go Giants!

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The Heartbreak Kid (2007) - B-

Released on DVD this week. Rated R. 115 minutes.

I’ve always felt There’s Something About Mary (B) was overrated. After suffering through Me, Myself, & Irene, Shallow Hal, Stuck on You, and Fever Pitch, even the biggest fans of “Mary” must have said enough is enough and Mary was a fluke. With The Heartbreak Kid, eternal perverts Peter and Bobby Farrelly not only have their first remake and their first reteaming with Ben Stiller, but their best movie since. As the newlywed who slowly realizes he married the wrong person while on his honeymoon in Mexico, Stiller is terrific as the exasperated Eddie and is able to deliver his lines with unabated R-rated fervor. (The last line of the movie recalls the last line in Eyes Wide Shut). Stiller is also pretty good at the falling-in-love scenes when he meets Michelle Monaghan while in Mexico as his wife is stuck in the hotel room with a 2nd degree sunburn.

Ben Stiller is generous by letting the supporting players steal scenes from him. First and foremost is his real-life father Jerry who’s delightfully vulgar in trying to live vicariously through his more reserved son. Rob Corddry (TV’s The Daily Show) gets some great lines as the P-whipped best friend. But Malin Akerman (as the new wife) goes the farthest and will apparently do anything for a laugh. Certainly she’s obnoxious (we’re viewing the film through Eddie’s eyes after all), but it is Stiller’s responses to everything that make it work.
At nearly 2 hours, the movie is at least 20 minutes too long and some first and second act cuts are needed. The third act is surprisingly brisk with a great sequence involving Stiller trying to cross the US-Mexico border without a passport. It would be too easy to bitch about continuity errors, the lack of directorial style, and the implausible plot coincidences. The Farrelly brothers are only concerned about making you laugh and they are successful here for the first time in years, mostly because they haven’t been neutered and defanged by a PG-13 rating. B-

Note#1: I haven’t seen the original 1972 version of The Heartbreak Kid in nearly 10 years so I can’t compare the two.

Note#2: Stay tuned through the closing credits.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pop Portrait of a Priest: What Impacted Me from Pop Culture in ‘07

There’s dozens of “Best of” lists swirling around this time of year, and, if you’re like me, you’ll try to read every last one of them (I suggest the top 100 singles list on to broaden your listening—they’ve got a link for pretty much every song, so you can sample and taste as you read). This, however, isn’t so much a list of what’s best, but what impacted me most from the pop cosmos—a snapshot, if you will, of what I had on repeat or was quoting or suggesting to anyone who’d listen (often, dear reader, you). Also, because I’m generally slow on the uptake (especially where music is concerned), many of these were released years ago. Still, for some reason, they hit home for me this year.


Patti Griffin, Living with Ghosts (1996). Lyrically, the best album I’ve ever heard, Griffin uses her voice like a violin, then a sledgehammer, to drive home every nuanced line. More sacred than any “contemporary Christian” (shorthand for crap) album in years, these songs mirror life in ways that leave me stunned and asking for more. Her territory is Springsteen’s: small town losers, fighters, and lovers. Consider Sweet Lorraine, the tale of a “fiery-haired brown-eyed schemer who came from a long line of drinkers and dreamers, who knew that sunshine don’t hold up to dark, whose businesses fail, who sleep in the park.” Griffin sings, “Her daddy called her a slut and a whore on the night before her wedding day. The very next morning at the church, her daddy gave Lorraine away.” I come from small town Arkansas. You can take the rest of the bull crap country and flush it away. That’s True right there. And that’s Griffin’s gift- she spits the truth and lets you figure what to do with it.

Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (2000). I discovered Ryan on his Gold album (2001), so I missed this country gem. I’ve reviewed it elsewhere, so I won’t say much here beyond commending To Be the One when you want to cry and Shakedown on 9th Street when you want to some foot-tapping rockabilly.

Neil Diamond, The Essential Neil Diamond (I told you I was slow on the uptake). When Neil made headlines by (creepily) announcing that a toddler-aged Caroline Kennedy was the impetus for Sweet Caroline, I decided I ought to have a little of the Solitary Man in my iTunes. The Diamond I knew was the ‘80’s “Turn on Your Heartlight”-singer. But the early singer-songwriter had a desperation on Solitary Man, Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon, and I Am, I said, that I couldn’t get enough of.

Greg Laswell, Girls Just Want to Have Fun (2007). Greg takes Cyndi Lauper’s pop classic, slows it way down, and makes it a lament for all the good guys dumped by girls looking for a good time. But the real fun is knowing that Laswell (a good Point Loma boy), trying to make it in the business, had his wife leave and clean out the house while he was at work, which lead him to record this song, which lead to a modest iTunes hit, which lead to his dating Mandy Moore. It almost makes being left worth it. Almost.

Also deserving mention (and primarily not covered more fully here because I’ve already wrote too much about them): Rilo Kiley, More Adventurous (2004) and Under the Blacklight (2007); Radiohead, In Rainbows (2007); The Decemberist, Crane Wife (2006)); Josh Ritter, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007); Lilly Allen, Alright, Still (2007); Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope (2006); Glen Hansard, Lies (2007); Beck, Lost Cause (off Sea of Change. Can’t seem to find the year. 2003?).

Heroes. Due to the death of the DVR days in the priest household (and the utter crap of the first two episodes) I never got into season two. Still, season one had me rabidly asking “Save the cheerleader, Save the world? (and How old is that cheerleader, again…?), and What will become of Peter Parker? and Has there ever been anyone as evil as Silar on network TV?” Yeah, I was one of those. And, although we all figured out during Back to the Future that there are inherent problems in the time travel plotline, I still dug this one to high heaven. Sure, it’s X-Men for TV, but, hey, it’s X-Men for TV!

The Office. I wanted Pam and Jim to work out more than all but two relationships I was ever in (therein, some might say, lies the problem). While Michael Scott was greatness, it was the sum total of all the supporting players that made this the most rewarding show on TV for me last year. I laughed and I cared, something Seinfeld, Cheers, the Cosby Show and even 30 Rock never accomplished.

Craig Ferguson. When Craigers (Kilborn) vacated the Late, Late Show, I was beyond bummed. What was I suppose to watch after Conan? Kimmel? Total Request Live take 2? I shouldn’t have worried. Ferguson’s opening monologue, stories and stream of conscious ranting instead of the set-up/punchline jokefest favored by Leno and the boys, is comic genius. He is late night’s swinging, self-deprecating bachelor. A position Lettermen started vacating with the heart attack and finished with the birth of his son.

The Chris Matthews Show. While I was addicted to Hardball for years, this weekly half-hour is my new favorite political show. Chris brings in four top journalists and they talk shop. My favorite section—“Tell me Something I Don’t Know”—Is information and predictions that these journalists haven’t released yet. Although it’s usually hooey, sometimes its bombshells.

Also deserving mention: Antique Roadshow (I’ll watch a new Roadshow over anything else on TV. Anything); 30 Rock; any This Old House-style home show (love em); How I Met Your Mother (“Suit Up!”);

A Man Without a Country (2005), Kurt Vonnegut. While I’ve never been a huge Vonnegut fan (besides Slaughterhouse and that “Graduation Speech” that was passed around the internet with his name attached to it before he stepped up and disavowed any involvement), Country was my favorite book in several years. Part memoir and part collection of essays, this was side-splittingly funny and so wise. If nothing else, his diagram and analysis of Hamlet (that what makes Hamlet great is that it never says if anything that happens within it is good or bad, right or wrong, because ultimately we’re just too close to know that) is worth the money.

The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days (1985), Frederich Buechner. Pulitzer Prize-nominated Buechner is one of my favorite authors. A Presbyterian minister and the author of 27 books, some “religious”, some not, Sacred Journey is his story of coming to faith. His belief mixed with honest doubt is just the tonic if you’re tired of preachers and writers pretending like all the answers are easy and faith always makes sense. Funny and touching, he’s about as close as I’ve come to finding a kindred spirit out there (and don’t think I don’t know I’m presuming a lot in proclaiming myself a kindred spirit). He reminds us, as does Jon Irving (who had Buechner as a chaplain in high school) in “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” that faith is often grounded in doubt, and vice versa.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). I’ve already written extensively on this one, but I can’t talk about books this year and not mention it. I dreaded and celebrated the release of this final book, but it was everything it needed to be and a good bit more. This series was worth reading if only because of the excitement I felt before launching into this finale. The closest thing I can compare it to is the release of every new U2 album, of The Return of the King, and of The Return of the Jedi.

I’ll be writing a true “Best of 2007” for movies, so I’m going to pass right over this one for now….

The final category is a new one, but one whose time has come.

Film Trailers. Once my favorite thing in the movie theatre, they’re now my favorite thing on youtube. Although basically commercials for films, I like to think they’re little pieces of art in their own right. Whatever, I watched tons this year, many repeatedly. Like, but covering music, books, TV, video games, and films, this site assigns a numerical value to about twenty or so reviews per item, then averages it out. They also lift a few key sentences from every review and place it on the website, along with a link to the entire review. You want a thumbnail of what’s worth your entertainment dime? Not a bad place to start. If you want a balanced view of the news from the folks that break it (not just buy it) you ought to read both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. The Times, subscription only until a few months ago, just made that easier by posting all content for free. Now, you can either pay a couple bucks a day to get it delivered or check it free on the web. If you make a doctor or lawyer’s salary, I suggest the first. If you’re more in a priest pay scale, I commend the latter. Tragically, the Journal is still subscription only, so a balance (for free) is still a few years away.’s Pop Candy blog. The best entertainment blog on the web, this one keeps up with music, TV, graphic novels, and film news. Updated throughout the day, the morning news section is what will get you hooked. If you’ve only got three minutes a day to look on-line for entertainment info, it ought to be here.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War - A-

In theaters. Rated R, 97 minutes. Trailer.

In a year clogged with serious war movies, Charlie Wilson's War shows how politics and war can be fun. The film tells the story of Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson and his key involvement in the Afghanistan victory over the USSR in the 1980's. Tom Hanks is pitch-perfect as the eccentric whisky drinking womanizer, balancing Wilson's persona with his passion for getting things done. Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin take a great book and turn it into one of the most enjoyable films of the year. Click below to keep reading "Charlie Wilson's War - A-".

The backdrop of the story is the invasion of Afghanistan by the Russians, and the weak US policy of lip service assistance instead of real help to protect against the Red scourge. Charlie is challenged by a Houston socialite and romantic interest, Joan Herring, to use his power to increase the funding of the aid to the Muhjahadeen. After a trip to Pakistan to meet with the President, he slowly starts increasing the funding, eventually going from 5 million to 500 million over the course of several years.

I was all set up to hate this, with my dislike of Sorkin and know-it-all attitude toward politics. Hanks, Nichols, Sorkin and Philip Seymour Hoffman overcame my attitude and this coalesced into one of my favorite movies this year. Only slight attention is paid to any deep themes, and the filmmakers made the curious choice to leave out any reference to Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the Afghani Muhjahadeen and direct beneficiary of the US training and weapons. The focus here is on Wilson as a flawed but focused man that made a big difference. Of course, Wilson is and was a Democrat, and the uber-liberal Sorkin gives him a pass on being a warmonger and stripper chasing coke-user, all of which are true. There's no need for character in Sorkin's universe, Wilson is a mere stand-in for his views on Clinton's philandering and poor personal judgment (read: irrelevant).

Hoffman plays Gust, a rough around the edges CIA operative in charge of the Afghan initiative. His scenes with Hanks are genius, with multiple laugh out loud moments. Hoffman has had an especially strong year with his unraveling in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and the detached brother in The Savages, but this is the best of the three. Julia Roberts is fine as Joan, but I would have rather seen someone do something with the good role than just be a Houston version of Julia Roberts.

Nichols paces the film perfectly and explains a complex and seemingly implausible story all without ever getting bogged down. The 'insider' Congressional scenes are all VERY accurate, including the vote swapping and donor talk. There is some acknowledgement of the eventuality of what the Afghani victory meant in the last scene (which is well done), but you can expect a good time out of this.


The belly dancer is Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips' daughter. There are brief mentions of Rudy Giuliani. Joan Herring hired Dick DeGuerin (the attorney who sued Tom Delay and led to his downfall) to sue the studio, and they watered down the script to create a more flattering picture.

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The Savages - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 96 minutes. Trailer.

Ostensibly the story of two middle aged kids dealing with their father's descent into dementia and, eventually, his death, The Savages is a solid, but not exceptional film. The film is written and directed by Tamara Jenkins and stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as the emotionally dysfunctional caretakers of their father who emotionally abused and abandoned them. The film isn't a serious weepy, but instead an enjoyable and funny movie with flawed characters. Click below to keep reading this review.

Hoffman inhabits the older, detached brother with the all-business exterior of a man that has suppressed his painful upbringing in order to navigate the world. Unfortunately for him, emotions are not optional in his personal life, in which he struggles to commit to his Polish girlfriend. Linney is up to her usual but effective neurotic and kind-of pretty self (see, for example, You Can Count On Me and Love Actually). Her character is smart and educated, but, like her brother, at a complete loss for emotional connection. She is sleeping with a married neighbor (that looks like Jacque Chirac) even though she knows it is pathetic.

These two misfits join together to deal with their father's descent and cope with putting him in a nursing home. The back and forth between them is acidic and funny, succeeding where Margot at the Wedding failed. There are several poignant moments and the writing is honest and enjoyable, even in the cringeworthy moments. I have a limited attention span, though, for the plight of the unmarried, middle aged, educated and amoral liberal, so this stays in the B pile.

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Atonement - A

In Theatres, Rated R, 130 minutes. Trailer.

Atonement is the kind of sweeping tragic love story with its eye on more than just romance that Oscar loves. The setting is just before and during WWII in an aristocratic English home in which the oldest daughter Cecilia Tullis (Keira Knightley) and the housekeeper’s oldest son Robbie Turner (Jim McAvoy) are suddenly lovers. The scenes between these two bristle with the eroticism and desire of youth and possess a candor and truthfulness often lacking in period pieces. You will remember what it was like to be Robbie and Cecilia at 20. At first blush Atonement looks to be the umpteenth film of thwarted love between classes, but director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, 2005) is hunting larger prey. Click below to keep reading "Atonement - A".Saoirse Ronan plays Briony, the younger sister of Cecilia, who has an intense crush of her own on Robbie. At thirteen she’s too young to understand the sexual interplay between adults, but old enough to be aware of it. On a fateful day she misconstrues several events and, in a moment driven equally by jealousy and concern, she swears to something she didn’t understand and didn’t fully see.

The balance of the film follows Briony’s attempts to atone for her lie, first by giving up a promising collegiate career to be a volunteer nurse, then through her subsequent life as an author. But is it possible for us to atone when we’ve hurt those closest to us? And is a thirteen-year-old accountable in the same way an adult would be? It’s no fun for me to ruin the ending by saying more, but the issue here is a gripping one that resonates with our shared human experience.

Also explored is the power of words to create, shock, turn-on, and destroy. Key to the opening act is an explicit letter McAvoy writes but never intends to send. As he types the mother of all bad words each letter appears in his typewriter, inhabiting the screen as the key is struck with a thud. The awkwardness in the theatre was palpable, much more than if the object described was shown. The film returns to this device of hearing an old typewriter pounding paper as the characters use words to create and destroy.

The visuals of Seamus McGarvey (World Trade Center) are stunning throughout. Keira Knightley is ravishing in greens and reds, and a long, slow tracking shot of the British army on a French beach as they await transport to Dunkirk is one for the ages. The acting is superb across the board, but it’s Vanessa Redgrave as the now old Briony in the final minutes that will blow you away and haunt you long after the credits scroll. She looks you in the eye and says the very words you’re scared to utter, not from some detached pinnacle of separated wisdom, but still full of doubt, jealousy, and self-loathing. She pleads that you tell her she’s made recompense, if only because she’ll say it back to you. A

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ricky Gervais Interview

Click here for a great video interview of Ricky Gervais.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Quick Hits

It has been freezing in Dallas, so I've been relegated to rental and Video On Demand fare of late. This episode of Quick Hits covers A Mighty Heart, High Fidelity, The Heartbreak Kid (1972), and Miller's Crossing.

1. A Mighty Heart - B+ (On DVD (2007), Rated R, 102 minutes). Trailer - This looked like an insufferable movie with a plot and ending that everyone already knew. It turned out to be a taut thriller with interesting political overtones. The film tells the story of the Marianne Pearl (Angelina Jolie), the widow of kidnapped and beheaded journalist Daniel Pearl.

Click below to keep reading "Quick Hits".

The Pearls are a cosmopolitan journalist couple with a baby on the way. They are in Karachi, Pakistan in connection with Daniel's foreign correspondence responsibilities for the Wall Street Journal. He goes to an interview and never comes back, eventually being graphically and crudely beheaded by Islamic radicals. The film focuses on Marianne's amazing strength during the monthlong kidnapping and fight to save Daniel, all the while being 5 months pregnant. Jolie's portrayal of Marianne is restrained and she pulls off the French accent. The bulk of the film focuses on the search for Daniel, carried out by the US Consulate and the Pakistani security forces, trying to save face for their country. The cultural and political difficulties encountered in their search are a micro-cosm of the state of geo-politics. Director Michael Winterbottom stays away from overt political messages, except those voiced by Mariane Pearl herself, and balances a 'think-piece' with quick cuts and shots of the bustling city to keep the film moving. Worth the rental, and in my current top 20 for this year.

2. The Heartbreak Kid - B- (On DVD(1972), Rated PG-13, 106 minutes). Trailer. The recently panned Ben Stiller remake piqued my interest in the original, starring one of my favorite comedic actors, the sublime Charles Grodin. Grodin is Lenny a New Yorker newly married to Lyla. On their drive to Florida, she reveals several undesirable traits that make him doubt his marital decision. A chance meeting with the radiant Cybil Shepherd on the beach causes him to divorce his new wife and pursue his new love all the way to Minnesota. There were several funny scenes, most notably Grodin's lying to his wife to spend time with Cybill, but overall it was about 1/5 as funny as I thought it would be. There are some darker themes at play, such as disillusionment, youth and beauty, but the scenes felt thrown together and reaching beyond the material for something that just wasn't there. It probably gets better with each viewing.

3. High Fidelity - B
(On DVD(2000), Rated R, 113 minutes. Trailer. John Cusack loves the sensitive man-boy roles, and High Fidelity is perfect for him. A cross between Say Anything and Empire Records, this focuses on the inability of his character, a slacker record store owner, to settle on a career and set goals instead of always 'keeping his options open.' Great supporting performance from a young Jack Black and lots of overbaked record guy talk equal an enjoyable film.

4. Miller's Crossing - B+ (On DVD(1990), Rated R, 114 minutes. Trailer. Hailed as a masterpiece by critics (including Doctor), I revisited this last week and wasn't enthralled. I acknowledge the greatness of the Gabriel Byrne character and enjoy *some* of the dialogue, but the setting and adherence to the 20's dialogue turned me way off. The cutesy 'what's the rumpus' and other similar gags throughout just about ruined it for me. Not one of my favorites.

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Top 100 Songs of the 90's

VH1 aired a special on the Top 100 Songs of the 90's tonight. Plenty to argue about, and lots to laugh at.

01. Nirvana "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
02. U2 "One"
03. Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way"
04. Whitney Houston "I Will Always Love You"
05. Madonna "Vogue"
06. Sir Mix-A-Lot "Baby Got Back"
07. Britney Spears "...Baby One More Time"
08. TLC"Waterfalls"
09. R.E.M. "Losing My Religion"
10. Sinéad O'Connor "Nothing Compares 2 U"
Click below for 11-100
11. Pearl Jam "Jeremy"
12. Alanis Morissette "You Oughta Know"
13. Dr. Dre (featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg) "Nuthin' but a "G" Thang"
14. Mariah Carey "Vision of Love"
15. Red Hot Chili Peppers "Under the Bridge"
16. MC Hammer "U Can't Touch This"
17. Destiny's Child "Say My Name"
18. Metallica "Enter Sandman"
19. Beastie Boys "Sabotage"
20. Hanson "MMMBop"
21. Celine Dion "My Heart Will Go On"
22. Beck "Loser"
23. Salt-N-Pepa with En Vogue "Whatta Man"
24. House of Pain "Jump Around"
25. Soundgarden "Black Hole Sun"
26. Eminem "My Name Is"
27. Counting Crows "Mr. Jones"
28. Ricky Martin "Livin' la Vida Loca"
29. Vanilla Ice "Ice Ice Baby"
30. *NSYNC "Tearin' Up My Heart"
31. Radiohead "Creep"
32. BLACKstreet "No Diggity"
33. Spice Girls "Wannabe"
34. Third Eye Blind "Semi-Charmed Life"
35. Oasis "Wonderwall"
36. C+C Music Factory "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)"
37. Green Day "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)"
38. Christina Aguilera "Genie In A Bottle"
39. Goo Goo Dolls "Iris"
40. Color Me Badd "I Wanna Sex You Up"
41. Spin Doctors "Two Princes"
42. Collective Soul "Shine"
43. En Vogue "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)"
44. The Fugees "Killing Me Softly With His Song"
45. Hootie & the Blowfish "Only Wanna Be With You"
46. Shania Twain "You're Still the One"
47. Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch "Good Vibrations"
48. Matchbox Twenty "3 AM"
49. Jewel "Who Will Save Your Soul"
50. Alice in Chains "Man in the Box"
51. Tupac (featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman) "California Love"
52. Sugar Ray "Fly"
53. Naughty by Nature "O.P.P."
54. Joan Osborne "One of Us"
55. Fiona Apple "Criminal"
56. L.L. Cool J "Mama Said Knock You Out"
57. Jay-Z featuring Amil and Ja Rule "Can I Get A..."
58. Sophie B. Hawkins "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover"
59. Weezer "Buddy Holly"
60. Bell Biv DeVoe "Poison"
61. Sheryl Crow "All I Wanna Do"
62. Live "I Alone"
63. The Notorious B.I.G. featuring Mase & Puff Daddy "Mo Money Mo Problems"
64. The Presidents of the United States of America "Peaches"
65. Digital Underground "The Humpty Dance"
66. Edwin McCain "I'll Be"
67. Deee-Lite "Groove Is In The Heart"
68. Will Smith "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It"
69. Korn "Freak on a Leash"
70. Jamiroquai "Virtual Insanity"
71. Arrested Development "Tennessee"
72. Barenaked Ladies "One Week"
73. Marcy Playground "Sex and Candy"
74. Cher "Believe"
75. Kris Kross "Jump"
76. Blues Traveler "Run-Around"
77. Ice Cube "It Was a Good Day"
78. Lenny Kravitz "Are You Gonna Go My Way"
79. Meredith Brooks "Bitch"
80. Right Said Fred "I'm Too Sexy"
81. Paula Cole "I Don't Want to Wait"
82. Geto Boys "Mind Playing Tricks on Me"
83. The Breeders "Cannonball"
84. Snow "Informer"
85. Cypress Hill "Insane In The Brain"
86. The Cranberries "Linger"
87. Billy Ray Cyrus "Achy Breaky Heart"
88. Duncan Sheik "Barely Breathing"
89. Liz Phair "Never Said"
90. New Radicals "You Get What You Give"
91. Sarah McLachlan "Building a Mystery"
92. Public Enemy "911 Is A Joke"
93. Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories "Stay"
94. Fastball "The Way"
95. Montell Jordan "This is How We Do It"
96. Nelson "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection"
97. Prince & The New Power Generation "Gett Off"
98. EMF"Unbelievable"
99. Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)"
100. Gerardo "Rico Suave"

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story - C+

In theaters December 21. Rated R, 96 minutes.

Judd Apatow (writer and producer) tops off a banner year in less-than-inspired fashion with this send-up of every musical bio-pic in the last few years. John C. Reilly stars as singer Dewey Cox. By starting his career in the ’50’s and continuing through the 70’s, Walk Hard manages to skewer early rock ‘n roll such as Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison up through Dylan and the Beatles, into the late ‘70’s variety shows many older musicians of the era fell back into.. The gags are hit-and-miss, with the funniest bits coming when Cox is a child and when he plays a Dylan-esque protest singer. Jenna Fischer (Pam on The Office) plays June Carter Cash to Reilly’s Johnny, and does a tolerable job. Still, both this film and Blades of Glory misuse Fischer. She’s at her best playing the Tina Fey-type too-smart-to-come-on-to-you (and not quite sure how) girl much better than the va-va-voomstress she tries to pull off in these two films. While music business cameos including Eddie Vedder, Jewel, Jack White, and Lyle Lovett abound, my favorite supporter players were Jack Black, Justin Long, Paul Rudd, and Jason Schwartzman as the Beatles (McCartney, Harrison, Lennon, Starr). Still, it’s Reilly, in almost every scene, that makes the film. He is dependably funny with classic comedic timing and a remarkably good voice to boot (he does his own singing). Still the jokes fall much less frequently (and often pretty hard) as the film progresses, oddly leaving the parody genre and developing a heart at the end. Good for some laughs, but I’d wait for video. C+

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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - B

In theaters January 4. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes. Trailer.

Based on the book of the same name, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a film about life, the human spirit and love as seen through a man stricken with locked-in syndrome in the prime of his life. Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor of Elle magazine in Paris with three young children at the time of his stroke, which left him totally paralyzed except for his right eye. Given the excessively high marks this has been getting from critics, I was expecting to be blown away. I enjoyed the film and acknowledge its visual spectacle, but felt like it was an artier version of the Sea Inside, another Euro-subtitled film about paralysis. Click below to keep reading "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - B".

The film opens with an extended sequence in the hospital when "Jean-Do" wakes up, and our perspective is his, partially clouded and limited to his one eye. His frustration with the doctors and his inner dialogue is poignant and funny as he comes to learn about his state of living. Director Julian Schnabel intercuts the film with scenes from Jean-Do's high flying Parisian lifestyle and his relationship with his apartment bound father (Max Von Sydow). His relationship with his father is touching and those scenes are the best parts of the film due to their emotional nature and loving dialogue. Jean-Do has 3 children with the beautiful Celine, but he left them for a mistress named Ines. Celine visits him regularly while Ines refuses to come.

Jean-Do's inner dialogue is spunky and comical, especially his gentle learing at his 2 attractive physical therapists. Henriette is charged with developing a method of communication, which involves blinking and using a chart to slowly spell out each word so he can communicate (she reads the letters and he blinks when the letter he wants to use is called). This allows him to write the book the film is based on, and to communicate on a limited basis with his friends and family. When Ines finally does call, Celine is the only one around and must painfully translate his desires to Ines.

Jean-Do's character turned me off because of this scene and his relative indifference to his family in favor of the attractive nurses. He expresses remorse and regret at times throughout the film, but really only pays it lip service. There are several realistic scenes about the logistics of his physical condition, and the sequences with the diving bell (an old-timey deep sea diving suit that symbolizes being locked in his body) and the butterfly (which he imagines to lift himself up) are effective. His situation reminded me of the final scene of Being John Malkovich when John Cusack's character is trapped inside the child of Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener in its claustrophobia and sense of hopelessness.

Worth renting, but not one of the ten (or twenty) best of the year.

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There Will Be Blood - On the Radio

Paul Thomas Anderson, director of Hard 8, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and the forthcoming There Will Be Blood will be the guest tomorrow on NPR's Fresh Air for a full one hour interview. Go here for times in your area. In Dallas its on at 11:00am on KERA 90.1.

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Apatow Bit

Click here for an R-Rated (not work friendly) Judd Apatow, Jonah Hill, Justin Long, Craig Robinson and Paul Rudd video about promoting movies, followed by a new Dewey Cox preview. Very funny.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Extras - Series Finale - A

Originally aired on HBO December 16, 2007. Preview.

Creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant struck gold with their BBC hit, The Office, and limited it to 2 seasons and a season finale. They've duplicated that formula with Extras, if not the greatness of their original work. On the whole, the Extras series has been consistently good with a few great episodes mixed in (Sir Ian, for one), and I would rate the overall series a B+. With the 81! minute series finale, Gervais and Merchant were able to again tap into greatness as with The Office finale. Oddly enough, the words I would first describe this finale with are dark, depressing and funny. Click below to keep reading "Extras - Series Finale - A"

The show picks up with Andy (Gervais) still loathing his successful but 'broad' sitcom "When the Whistle Blows" and his catch-phrase "Are you havin' a laugh?", and Maggie still an amazingly unsuccessful extra. Andy's hapless agent, Darren Lamb (Stephen Merchant) is still dimwitted and accompanied by sidekick Barry. Andy is famous but not respected and he begins treating people horribly, including Maggie, his most loyal friend. After firing Darren for a more traditional flashy agent, he ends "When the Whistle Blows" abruptly and demands better work. What he gets is less famous and no work but an 'alien slug'. Ultimately he ends up on England's Celebrity Big Brother, stuck in a house with a slut, the mother of a highly publicized murder victim, an aging dancer and various other pathetic types. After being driven to the brink, he delivers an on camera rant against celebrity culture (including himself).

Ha, ha, right? There are several funny bits involving Darren and Barry, especially their sales technique at the Carphone Warehouse. Multiple laugh out loud items there. The finale shifts all previous perceptions from the series about Darren, Barry and Andy. During the series, I felt sympathy for Andy and probably agreed he should fire Darren, but during the finale I was on Darren and Barry's team as the goofy but loyal friends. There are great cameos from George Michael, cruising the park for male prostitutes (great self-deprectation) and Clive Owen as a cruel and egotistical star "I'm Clive Owen, I can get better than that".

The final act is the most effective, with Andy's final speech worth printing here in its entirety if I could find it. The show is almost long enough to be a movie, and has several shots using film stock and techniques throughout, including several beautiful overhead shots of the Thames river. The writing on films like Juno is funny, but the writing on this show is 'my kind of funny'. One of the year's best.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Dark Knight Trailer

New Batman trailer: Here. {Updated with a clearer version}

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Other Takes

All these films have been reviewed previously by my colleagues. In some cases I’ve commented on the film previously, but, for the record:

Rescue Dawn C+

This is a dissenting view from the Lawyer’s (A- from him and a placement in his top 20). I’d be tempted to give this a C if the acting wasn’t so solid throughout. That said, in the P.O.W. camp (at least half the movie) nothing happens then nothing happens, then nothing happens again. The dialogue is good, but it goes on and on. The third act is much stronger, but, by then, I didn’t care. Click below to keep reading "Other Takes."

Gone Baby Gone B+
Casey Affleck’s was my favorite thing in Ocean’s 13. Come to find out, he was just getting warmed up. Starring in his brother Ben’s redemption song, he plays a morally complex private eye pulled into a no-win kidnapping case with subtlety and feel. Still, it’s the Boston southside locals inhabiting the edges of this film that nearly steal it with their gritty, honest performances. Not an easy film, but a good one that will keep you thinking about right and wrong (and who gets to make that call). Original review.

No Country for Old Men A
It’s time to acknowledge that the Coen Brothers are master artisans at the absolute top of their game. As a friend said to me the other day (speaking of No Country): “The thing is, nothing happened for the first half-hour, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.” The best movie I’ve seen in several years. Original review.

You Can Count on Me B
I liked but didn’t love this film of siblings dealing with their parent’s untimely death 20 years on. Laura Linney is great and Mark Ruffalo is as well, although Mark is just too good looking to be dating the poor girl he’s taken up with at the beginning. The story rings true throughout, but I need some move towards redemption to really get behind it. Original reviews.

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Juno - B+

In theaters. Rated R, 93 minutes. Trailer.

Getting pregnant is a funny thing. One woman's inconvenient truth is another woman's godsend. Juno is the third of the 3 mainstream accidental pregnancy movies of 2007, preceded by Waitress and Knocked Up. The 'woman' in this film is Juno (Ellen Page), an 'East Dallas' wisecracking 16 year old. She has been impregnated after having sex with Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), and has decided to give the baby up for adoption. The adoptive parents, played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, are the best part of the film due to their well written parts and great performances.

Click below to keep reading "Juno - B+."

The film is written by ex-stripper, former novelist, current 'it' screenwriter and backpage Entertainment Weekly columnist Diablo Cody, the 'story' of this years awards season (for more on her admittedly interesting backstory, go here and here). The screenplay is full of lines like: "You should've gone to China, you know, 'cause I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those t-shirt guns and shoot them out at sporting events."

Director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking) tells the story in a straightforward manner, allowing the showy dialogue to be the star. Juno is a typical alterna-kid that thinks she knows everything. At first, she handles the pregnancy with less concern than a dental filling, going cavalierly to the Women Now abortion clinic to do the dirty business. On the way in, she runs into a zealous but fairly portrayed protester that has classes with Juno at their high school. After an awkward stop and chat, the protester tells her the baby has fingernails and a heartbeat. This knowledge causes Juno to bail on the schmsmortion in the waiting room. This take on pregnancy is different than in Waitress or Knocked Up, where 'termination' is never considered. I thought this scene was well written, acted, and directed. That is a very difficult needle to thread, and they do it. The protester is earnest but not overzealous, and Juno makes the right (ed. comment) choice to keep the baby and give it up for adoption.

The best part of the film is Juno's interaction with Garner and Bateman, an upper middle class couple that cannot get pregnant and has turned to the 'penny saver' to get a baby of their own. Garner conveys the pain and tragic nature of her situation, and Juno's indifference to this is the most obvious sign of her immaturity. Her character is obsessed with becoming a mom, but isn't pushed into a caricature. Bateman is a former rocker that can't come to terms with adulthood and several other things, and his role is also well written and acted.

Overall this is a really good movie. The dialogue is overly reliant on phrases like 'meat sword' and 'thundercats go', but does bring it home and each character is well written and multi-dimensional. Comparisons to Little Miss Sunshine are misguided, unless you mean that it is an Oscar contender when it shouldn't be. This is better than Waitress but not as good as Knocked Up.

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I Am Lifted

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I Am Legend B-

In theatres, 101 minutes, PG-13. Trailer.

Will Smith stars as the last man in New York in this faith-affirming, CGI-laden zombie flick. Smith is good (if nondescript) as Robert Neville, a doctor with only his dog as company as he continues search for the antidote for a constantly mutating virus. Originally introduced as a cancer cure, it has evolved into a zombie-making bug. While most infected die, those left are super-strong, quick-moving, sun-hating killers. If this sounds like 28 Days Later (B+), it feels like a much lower-wattage version of it. Click below for th rest of the review.
While 28 Days used real people for their Zombies, Legend employs CGI creatures. This allows the undead to move more quickly but also gives many scenes a video game feel, something I found distracting.

The movie is suspenseful at moments and explores some interesting theological themes (what happens if humans play God? Will God continue to work in and around human mistakes?). Unfortunately, they are brought up quickly and resolved as fast. I was also disappointed that some introduced themes weren’t developed further. These include whether the infected still had a right to live and if they were actually developing a bond with each other even as they hated humans. Director Francis Lawrence also directed Constantine, which suffered from similar flaws. Both films want to make theological statements, but they feel ad hoc. Still, there are some good jolts here and the New York City is pretty cool. B-

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Oscar Got It Right

Best Supporting Actor in 1990
Joe Pesci in Goodfellas
Goodfellas (A+) is one of my very favorite films filled with Martin Scorsese’s spectacular camera moves, breakneck editing, and the typical great Robert De Niro performance. It also features career-best work from Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, and (of course) Joe Pesci (as Tommy). Somehow, with everything else that’s going on, Pesci’s relaxed style makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else. No one else has ever been captured on film telling stories as well. He’s alternately comfortably hilarious and shockingly violent.
Click below for more pics and commentary.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Lost in Traslation, Translated

Go here to hear what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johannson in the last scene.

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Will Smith, in his own words

Maybe his new movie should be called "I Am Looney". From this profile.

"I've studied Buddhism and Hinduism and I've studied Scientology through Tom[Cruise]. And nobody's saying anything different! Look, I use the Bible to explain the ideas of God, and life, and love, and relationships, and the life of Jesus Christ to teach my children how to defend their spirit. But in all of the experiences I've had with Tom [Cruise] and Scientology, like, 98 percent of the principles are identical to the principles of the Bible. The Bible says, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And you know, there's a Scientology principle: Do not create experiences for others that they cannot comfortably perceive." Smith would rather stroll many paths to enlightenment than commit to one high road. "The Bible talks about your spirit being immortal, that you were created for existence beyond your physical body. Well, that's no different from Scientology! I don't think that because the word someone uses for spirit is thetan that the definition becomes any different."

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

London Critics Circle Award Nominations

A great list. Hopefully the Oscar list will be along similar lines.

Film of the Year
No Country For Old Men
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
There Will Be Blood
The Bourne Ultimatum

Click below for the full list of nominations.

The Attenborough Award for British Film of the Year
Once (Icon)
Control (Momentum Pictures)
Atonement (Universal)
Eastern Promises (Pathe)
This Is England (Optimum Releasing)

Director of the Year
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck - The Lives of Others (Lionsgate UK)
Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood (Miramax)
Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country For Old Men (Paramount)
David Fincher – Zodiac (Warner Bros)
Cristian Mungui – 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Artificial Eye)

British Director of the Year
Anton Corbijn – Control (Momentum Pictures)
Paul Greengrass – The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal)
Shane Meadows – This Is England (Optimum Releasing)
Joe Wright – Atonement (Universal)
Danny Boyle – Sunshine (20th Century Fox)

Actor of the Year
Ulrich Muhe – The Lives of Others (Lionsgate UK)
Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Bros)
George Clooney – Michael Clayton(Pathe)
Tommy Lee Jones – In the Valley of Elah (Optimum Releasing)
Daniel Day Lewis – There Will Be Blood (Miramax)

Actress of the Year
Laura Linney – The Savages (20th Century Fox)
Marion Cotillard – La Vie En Rose (Icon)
Maggie Gyllenhaal – Sherry Baby (Metrodome)
Angelina Jolie – A Mighty Heart (Paramount)
Anamaria Marinca – 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Artificial Eye)

British Actor of the Year
Sam Riley - Control (Momentum Pictures)
James McAvoy – Atonement (Universal)
Christian Bale – 3:10 to Yuma (Lionsgate UK)
Jim Broadbent - And When Did You Last See Your Father (Walt Disney)
Jonny Lee Miller – The Flying Scotsman (Verve Pictures)

British Actress of the Year
Samantha Morton – Control (Momentum Pictures)
Julie Christie – Away From Her (Metrodome)
Keira Knightley – Atonement (Universal)
Helena Bonham Carter – Sweeney Todd (Warner Bros)
Sienna Miller – Interview (The Works)

British Actor in a Supporting Role
Tom Wilkinson – Michael Clayton (Pathe)
Toby Jones – The Painted Veil (Momentum Pictures)
Alfred Molina – The Hoax (Momentum Pictures)
Tobey Kebell – Control (Momentum Pictures)
Albert Finney – Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (Entertainment)

British Actress in a Supporting Role
Saoirse Ronan – Atonement (Universal)
Imelda Staunton – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros)
Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton (Pathe)
Kelly Macdonald – No Country for Old Men (Paramount)
Vanessa Redgrave – Atonement (Universal)

Screenwriter of the Year
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck – The Lives of Others (Lionsgate UK)
Joel and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men (Paramount)
Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood (Miramax)
Ronald Harwood – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Pathe)
Christopher Hampton – Atonement (Universal)

British Breakthrough – Acting
Saoirse Ronan – Atonement (Universal)
Sam Riley - Control – (Momentum Pictures)
Thomas Turgoose – This Is England (Optimum Releasing)
Benedict Cumberbatch – Amazing Grace (Momentum Pictures)
Dakota Blue Richards – The Golden Compass (Entertainment)

British Breakthrough – Film-making
John Carney, writer and director – Once (Icon)
Sarah Gavron, director – Brick Lane (Optimum Releasing)
Anton Corbijn, director – Control (Momentum Pictures)
Matt Greenhalgh, writer – Control (Momentum Pictures)
Stevan Riley, writer, director, producer – Blue Blood (Miracle/Warner Music)

Foreign Language Film of the Year
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Pathe)
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Artificial Eye)
The Lives of Others (Lionsgate UK)
Letters from Iwo Jima (Warner Bros)
Tell No One (Revolver Entertainment)

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P.S. I Love You - A tribute

Every few months, a trailer for a movie is released that I hate so much that I actually like it. The trailer for PS I Love You features the picture below (provided by Doc), girls karaoke night, girls fishing trip, irish accent guy, stuttering Harry Connick Jr., and the Michelle Branch song "Breathe." Gerard Butler is certainly softening his image after his lead role in 300 - Nice boxers/suspenders. Vomit.

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Golden Globes - List of Nominations

Below are the Golden Globe nominations, the awards handed out by the Hollywood Foreign Press. The ceremony is being held January 13th. These always impact the Oscars, and get the award season started in earnest.


Motion picture -- drama
"American Gangster"
"Eastern Promises"
"The Great Debaters"
"Michael Clayton"
"No Country for Old Men"
"There Will Be Blood"

Click below for the rest of the list, including tv and film.

Actress -- drama
Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
Julie Christie, "Away From Her"
Jodie Foster, "The Brave One"
Angelina Jolie, "A Mighty Heart"
Keira Knightley, "Atonement"

Actor -- drama
George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"
James McAvoy, "Atonement"
Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises"
Denzel Washington, "American Gangster"

Picture -- musical or comedy
"Across the Universe"
"Charlie Wilson's War"
"Sweeney Todd"

Actress -- musical or comedy
Amy Adams, "Enchanted"
Nikki Blonsky, "Hairspray"
Helena Bonham Carter, "Sweeney Todd"
Marion Cotillard, "La Vie En Rose"
Ellen Page, "Juno"

Actor -- musical or comedy
Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd"
Ryan Gosling, "Lars and the Real Girl"
Tom Hanks, "Charlie Wilson's War"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Savages"
John C. Reilly, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"

Supporting actress
Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"
Julia Roberts, "Charlie Wilson's War"
Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement"
Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone"
Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton"

Supporting actor
Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"
Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War"
John Travolta, "Hairspray"
Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton"

Tim Burton, "Sweeney Todd"
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, "No Country for Old Men"
Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Ridley Scott, "American Gangster"
Joe Wright, "Atonement"

Diablo Cody, "Juno"
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, "No Country for Old Men"
Christopher Hampton, "Atonement"
Ronald Harwood, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Aaron Sorkin, "Charlie Wilson's War"

Foreign-language film
"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," Romania
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," France and U.S.
"The Kite Runner," U.S.
"Lust, Caution," Taiwan
"Persepolis," France

Animated film
"Bee Movie"
"The Simpsons Movie"

Original score
Michael Brook, Kaki King, Eddie Vedder, "Into the Wild"
Clint Eastwood, "Grace Is Gone"
Alberto Iglesias, "The Kite Runner"
Dario Marianelli, "Atonement"
Howard Shore, "Eastern Promises"

Original song
"Despedida" from "Love in the Time of Cholera"
"Grace Is Gone" from "Grace Is Gone"
"Guaranteed" from "Into the Wild"
"That's How You Know" from "Enchanted"
"Walk Hard" from "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"


Series -- drama
"Big Love," HBO
"Damages," FX Networks
"Grey's Anatomy," ABC
"House," Fox; "Mad Men," AMC
"The Tudors," Showtime

Actress -- drama
Patricia Arquette, "Medium"
Glenn Close, "Damages"
Minnie Driver, "The Riches"
Edie Falco, "The Sopranos"
Sally Field, "Brothers & Sisters"
Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace"
Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer"

Actor -- drama
Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"
Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"
Hugh Laurie, "House"
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, "The Tudors"
Bill Paxton, "Big Love"

Series -- musical or comedy
"30 Rock," NBC
"Californication," Showtime
"Entourage," HBO
"Extras," HBO
"Pushing Daisies," ABC

Actress -- musical or comedy
Christina Applegate, "Samantha Who?"
America Ferrera, "Ugly Betty"
Tina Fey, "30 Rock"
Anna Friel, "Pushing Daisies"
Mary-Louise Parker, "Weeds"

Actor -- musical or comedy
Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"
Steve Carell, "The Office"
David Duchovny, "Californication"
Ricky Gervais, "Extras"
Lee Pace, "Pushing Daisies"

Miniseries or movie
"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," HBO
"The Company," TNT
"Five Days," HBO
"Longford," HBO
"The State Within," BBC America

Actress -- miniseries or movie
Bryce Dallas Howard, "As You Like It"
Debra Messing, "The Starter Wife"
Queen Latifah, "Life Support"
Sissy Spacek, "Pictures of Hollis Woods"
Ruth Wilson, "Jane Eyre (Masterpiece Theatre)"

Actor -- miniseries or movie
Adam Beach, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"
Ernest Borgnine, "A Grandpa for Christmas"
Jim Broadbent, "Longford"
Jason Isaacs, "The State Within"
James Nesbitt, "Jekyll"

Supporting actress -- series, miniseries or movie
Rose Byrne, "Damages"
Rachel Griffiths, "Brothers & Sisters"
Katherine Heigl, "Grey's Anatomy"
Samantha Morton, "Longford"
Anna Paquin, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"
Jaime Pressly, "My Name Is Earl"

Supporting actor -- series, miniseries or movie
Ted Danson, "Damages"
Kevin Dillon, "Entourage"
Jeremy Piven, "Entourage"
Andy Serkis, "Longford"
William Shatner, "Boston Legal"
Donald Sutherland, "Dirty Sexy Money"

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Oscar Got It Right

Best Supporting Actor in 1989
Denzel Washington in Glory
Click Below for more pics and comments.

Glory (A-) looks more and more melodramatic every year. The movie is overly preachy and hits its points with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The performances of pretty boys Matthew Broderick and Cary Elwes are stilted and pompous, respectively. Morgan Freeman and Andre Braugher (his first film) are good but Denzel is on fire as runaway slave Trip. He’s a man amongst boys – truly the best thing in the film (James Horner's music is a close second). Sure, he’s given all the great lines, but he knocks them out of the park. Without Denzel, Glory would only have a couple of well-executed battle scenes and Morgan Freeman looking for someone to act with.

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