31 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (2009 Ends, Not With a Bang, But a Hummingbird Edition)

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This sucker was pretty camera shy. First spotted in my front yard as I pulled into my driveway, jumped out with my camera, but the itty bitty bird flitted away.

Later, spotted this shy hummer in the backyard, but it stayed about 25 feet away, and about 35 feet up, so best I could do is this shot that's a blow up of a small section of the original frame.

30 December 2009

Ending the "Decade" Without Decade Ending Lists

I had planned on doing for music, TV, books, and video games what I had done for films, but I can't seem to find a hook or way to parse my impressions of the past ten years in those fields in the same way I could with films.

I think the reason comes down to volume. There are far fewer films than there are other forms of media. I can feel a bit more comfortable being definitive with my impressions of what films had to offer in each year, cause I see a good chunk of what seems interesting.

With those other medias, I know I'm missing vast swathes of entertaining and worthy choices, simply because there's not enough time in the day, and I don't have the resources to sample everything I would hope to sample.

So instead, broad impressions about the 00s in each of those medias.

MUSIC

I think the 00s can be defined as both the decade the industry collapsed, and solidified its position at the same time. It collapsed in the sense that no artist gets broadly listened to, anymore. All artists are niche artists, and the niches are ever narrowing. An album with broad appeal in the USA might appeal at most to 10,000,000 folks, while being purchased by 2,000,000. Great as those numbers are, that means even the most popular musicians are liked by at best 1 in 30 Americans, and except for the rarest of cases, less than 1 in 100 bother to actually spend money on their product, and more often than not, all those buzzworthy artists that get inches of ink (and pixels) at your various cooler than thou magazines and websites, they're liked by less than 1 in 10,000 folks in America.

Yet against that backdrop of less and less commonality of tastes, big label corporate managed pop has made a dramatic comeback in the 00s compared to where it had been in the 90s. Disney leads the way with all the teenyboppers they've foisted on tweens. That's one of the few demographics where you could say that popular acts penetrates a large segment of a given population (I'm just gonna let that sentence hang and marinate a bit, I blame Southpark, profanity, and hilarity at link).

All this is just an excuse for not plowing through the releases from each year of the 00s and figuring out which ones have been stickiest (as in moving from computer to computer and MP3 player to MP3 player, or which songs have managed to keep get putting on playlists). Great music continues to get made, though it all feels a bit iterative rather than innovative, lately. Regina Spektor is great, but she's the latest iteration of pissed off feminine singer songwriter. MGMT is great, but they're the latest iteration of hip underground band with solid musical chops. Neko Case is great, but she's the latest iteration of rootsy with a twist. OutKast were great (I assume they're done), but they were the latest iteration of smartly done hip hop with mass appeal. Nikka Costa is great, but she's the latest iteration of well done blue eyed soul and funk. I think you'd be hard pressed to name an innovative or defining sound that came about in the 00s. MIA might be the closest thing to an innovator that the 00s have seen, but she's just a more exotic mélange of influences than what came before, and in that sense she also was an iteration of pop performer bringing 'world' music sensibilities to a genre that hadn't been infused with that kind of sound before.

My biggest complaint with the 00s musically is that, as good as some of the stuff has been, rarely does it rise to the level that it makes me want to not spin 50s bop, or 60s garage, or 70s prog, or 70s afrobeat, 70s female folksy stuff, or 80s new wave, or 90s grunge, or 90s electronica, or 70s PFunk, or Prince. Could just be me, could just be that the music you listen to from about the ages of 13 to 30 is the music that stays with you your whole life, and music that comes after it pales in comparison in your personal estimation. It's either that, or the 00s have really been derivative musically, I can't step far enough outside myself to determine which is truer.

TV

Plenty of great TV in the 00s. TV has supplanted film as the go to media for complex drama. Listing, ordering, and trying to figure out which season of which show belongs where in relation to the entire output of what was available, that's a task I'm not up for. The good stuff breaks down into a few broad categories, though. You have the premium cable goodness, of the good Sopranos season, all of Deadwood and Rome, for some The Wire (not for me, though). You have the brilliant commercial failures of Freaks and Geeks (ran in 99-00, so just makes it, I guess), Firefly, and Andy Richter Controls the Universe. You have BBC/UK goodness with The Office (original recipe), Extras, Doctor Who relaunch, Torchwood, Sarah Jane Adventures, Being Human, the aforementioned Rome (joint BBC/Rai/HBO production), and Misfits (not yet shown in the USA, but basically what Heroes should have been). The final category is reality shows, which provided some of the best TV moments of the past ten years, even as the glut of these kind of shows has devalued both the experience of watching television, and the meaning of celebrity. Amazing Race deserves the accolades it gets, it's a fine show, though could be better, So You Think You Can Dance gets a lot of things right, and you've got attractive young people doing amazing things in skimpy costumes which never hurts. American Idol is a cultural touchstone, one of the few things that breaks generational barriers in this increasingly atomized culture of ours. Survivor kicked the whole thing off, even though I can't watch as I find the structure of the show unfair and unwatchable. MTV deserves both kudos and a kick in their collective gonads for some of the crap they've unleashed (Jersey Shore, Room Raiders, NEXT, I'm 16 and Pregnant but I'm on TV so Woohoo!, Sweet 16, Cribs, Road Rules/Real World let's all get drunk, use steroids, or large breast implants Challenge).

The good thing about TV now, there's something for everyone, the bad thing about TV, there's something for everyone, and some people have no taste.

BOOKS

Don't read broadly enough to make any recommendations. I read what I read, and I don't read what I don't read. Loved what Peter Hamilton has done this decade, same with Neal Stephenson. Joe Abercrombie's done some interesting things to the fantasy genre, and George RR Martin's big messy, probably never going to see the final few books of The Song of Ice and Fire cycle provided some entertainment. Can't stand the serious books I'm supposed to like, got my fill of that kind of literature in college, and I think authors of 'serious' books are too self consciously writing 'serious' books to actually write books that are entertaining or thought provoking. I could be wrong, there might be some great stuff out there, but everything I've tried sampling has left me unable to care enough about the characters to bother finishing the story.

The other big trend has been the rise of conservative books. Mostly, they're pamphlet lengthed polemics stretched and padded into a length where publishers can feel justified in charging $20. Doesn't mean that it's not a welcome and worthwhile change in reading habits. Don't think it reflects a more conservative nation, I do think these books get bought to be used as totems. Bookshelves aren't about having access to a good book whenever you want, in a lot of homes, what books are in your living room act as a marker as to the tribal affiliations of the people within. I suspect, that for a lot of consumers, hardcover books are bought to be conversation pieces, as they are for something to read. Books to read are bought on a kindle, or in paperback.

VIDEO GAMES

Video games are a mature medium now, with an aging demographic of players. The kinds of games getting released reflect that it's not just 15 year old boys 'wasting' their time on video games. Add on top of that the success of Nintendo's 'blue ocean' strategy, as well as the explosion of 'casual gaming', and you have a broad swath of the population enjoying various kinds of video games, but not thinking of themselves as 'gamers'. Some of my favorite games of the decade have been made by PixelJunk, who have three hits, and one clunker (avoid Racers, if you have a PS3, Monsters, Eden, and Shooter are a must download) amongst the four games they've released for PS3. Rhythm games with their living room clogging proliferation of controllers were a big trend in the 00s, but that seems to waning. First person shooters have matured and improved in the 00s, with the latest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare2 being one of the best selling bits of media of all time (over $700M in sales its first week out). Rockstar games defined and refined the 'sandbox' genre with its Grand Theft Auto games. EA dominates sports games, mainly through aggressively pursuing exclusive licenses, but they've also improved their games as they release a new version each year. The Wii brought waggle to the masses, and showed that a successful marketing strategy for gaming wasn't in better graphics, or a deeper and more challenging experience, but in providing an easier to understand, and a more intuitive interface for non-gamers to learn, way in which to interact.

DECADE IN REVIEW

The 00s were a time of increased choice, and increased cultural atomization. There have been a few standouts that managed to cross boundaries and appeal broadly (in music Taylor Swift, sort of, actually in music there aren't any really strong candidates for a cross-cultural standout, in TV American Idol, in books, Dan 'Freakin' Brown for god sakes, in videogames Wii Sports), but for the most part, each consumer has been able to pick and choose from a variety of sources and define their cultural experience of the past decade in a hugely individualistic way.

Vive la différence

Your Daily Photo (Some Folks in Venice Are Still Feeling Seasonal Edition)

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That whole, taking pictures every day while walking to the gym thing I mentioned a few days ago, cancelled on account of rain.

(Yes, I'm a wimp when it comes to weather, cold and dry I can handle, cold and wet, I'll stick with driving, plus I don't think Nikon D5000s are all that weather proof)

28 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (Troyswoman44, Today's Daily Photo Post is In Your Honor Edition)

Noticed that the model I captured along with the Dodge Challenger commented on the YouTube clip where she's seen. The stills I shot at the same time are underexposed, so I changed the exposure, and recropped them to highlight her as much as the vehicle.

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The originals below

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and the YouTube clip

27 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (It's Grey, It's Cold, Here's an Old Shot Edition)

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Cold is relative, of course, most people other corners of this nation wouldn't be complaining about temps in the mid fifties, but it is indisputably grey, so not a good day for a photo walk.

Starting tomorrow, and each morning thereafter, I plan on taking my camera with me as a I walk to the gym, so I'll upload daily snaps, daily, and these daily photos will actually be from that day most of the time. That's my intention for 2010, anyway.

25 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (Merry XWLMas! Edition)







Couple of past Christmases to peruse Christmas 2009. Hope yours is merry and full of freshly minted good memories.

24 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (Is This Christmas-y Enough For You? Edition)

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Actually I guess this isn't Christmas-y at all, so most likely you'd answer no to the question posed in the title.

(does work for a belated Saturnalia, so for all you pagans still celebrating the ancient Roman traditions, enjoy!)

Best of the 00s, A List of Films List Editions

Here's one post to rule them all!

2000
(Almost Famous, Best in Show, Battle Royale)
2001
(Shaolin Soccer, Spirited Away, Wet Hot American Summer)
2002
(Orange County, Infernal Affairs, Femme Fatale)
2003
(Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)
2004
(Kung Fu Hustle, The Incredibles, Kill Bill, Vol 2)
2005
(Sin City, Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Serenity)
2006
(Thank You For Smoking, Crank, Pan's Labyrinth, Idiocracy)
2007
(Juno, Shoot 'Em Up, Bourne Ultimatum)
2008
(The Bank Job, Iron Man, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist)
2009
(Up, Zombieland, Up in the Air)

If I had to whittle this down to a top ten for the decade, I think I'd have to go with the following (not in order)

The Incredibles
Almost Famous
Iron Man
Pan's Labyrinth
Battle Royale
Kill Bill (Vol 1&2 combined)
Crank
Idiocracy
Thank You For Smoking
Serenity

While that may seem like a wild top ten, with not a lot unifying those pictures, there is one straight line throughout, strongly realized characterizations. Other lessons from this list, you can have an entertaining picture without strong characters, but it won't be one that keeps you coming back for more. Your film can be a bit insane, so long as the logic of the world created is consistent. Well portrayed action sequences can cover a multitude of other sins, but action alone won't make your film memorable.

Clearly, I'm not a fan of your typical serious 'Oscar-bait' type pictures, and I avoid biopics as if they were the plague (especially musician/artist centered biopics). You'd think biopics would be strong with regards to character, given they're based on real life, but instead the opposite is true, biopics usually offer up the most stilted, one note performances around, yet they keep getting made in the same predictable ways.

Looking back on the decade, while it seems like popcorn pictures have mostly been of the horribly disappointing Star Wars 'prequel' variety, it turns out there have also been plenty of quality big budget productions that deliver on all fronts. Comedies seem to be getting better, with intelligently made, yet still stupidly funny films getting released on a regular basis. Also, chick flicks, almost always suck, and suck hard.

I think the dearth of good smaller independent dramas is a reflection of the Sundance-ification of those films. 'Independent' films in the 00s are all designed to play at Sundance, develop buzz, and they all play the same notes with the same characters doing the same things. I'm just not into the ten thousandth variation of another my family sucks drama. I'm sorry your mommy and daddy didn't express enough affection for you when you were a child, my sympathy doesn't extend to watching another boring drama depicting scenes from a collapsing marriage.

As far as all the War on Terror flicks go, I don't think I'm alone in rejecting the slew of anti-war war pictures that Hollywood foisted on an unwilling public year after year after year. The monotony, the predictable way in which the subject matter was handled, and the inevitability that our troops and our government were always going to be portrayed as the only true evil on this globe was as unentertaining as it was unsurprising. Hollywood wants your money America, but they still hate you. Hollywood knows if they delivered an unambiguously positive about our military, action oriented drama regarding our recent conflicts, where we were the good guys and the bad guys turned out to be Islamo-fascist Jihadi nutbags, that picture would do huge business in the United States. Instead, we get pounded with the same stupid message. It's a case where show business puts ideology before profit, I guess cause any producer/director/writer who puts out a patriotic war picture wouldn't be allowed at the cool kids table anymore, that's why we haven't seen it get made. Or maybe I'm just suffering from HIPTSDARDOPTSD (Hollywood Induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder After Repeated Depictions Of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). A lot of talented actors, directors and writers have wasted a lot of time churning out flop after predictable flop, all to make the same point over and over.

Looking back, there are plenty of films to recommend from the past ten years, wouldn't say it's been a great decade, but it has had its moments. If more filmmakers besides those at PIXAR would remember to always put story and character first, at every step of development, maybe there'd have been a lot more pictures to recommend, but even if the crap outweighs the good stuff, there's still good stuff out there if you look for it.

Best of the 00s, 2009 Films Edition

2009 isn't over, and I haven't seen all I want to see given I wait for the home releases on a lot of pictures, lately. But I've seen enough to know what I've liked so far.

2009 Films

Films I liked;
Adventureland, Coraline, I Love You, Man, Observe and Report, Crank: High Voltage, Star Trek, Drag Me to Hell, The Hangover, Cold Souls, Inglorious Basterds, Broken Embraces.

Films I might like once I've seen them;
The Hurt Locker, Sunshine Cleaning, Bright Star, Funny People, Sherlock Holmes

Films that I could have liked a lot more if they weren't terribly flawed in some way;
Watchmen, District 9, Year One, The Brothers Bloom

Films that I have strong opinions about both positive and negative, yet don't feel like articulating;
Avatar

The tentative top three of 2009

Up
An amazing opening, a full life and decades' worth of loving and heartbreak unfold before your eyes. That alone makes it one of the movies of the year. Add to that remarkable images, solid use of 3D, talking dogs (and Doug), and great vocal performances from Ed Asner and Christopher Plummer, and you have yourself one fine picture.

Zombieland
I wanted to like this picture, and luckily the filmmakers delivered. It's really a typical indie sensitive boy becoming a man coming of age story, with zombies and gore splatter thrown in for good measure. Doesn't seem like two genres that would meld successfully, yet there it is up on the screen, being entertaining as hell. It's funny in smart ways, and smart in funny ways, so long as gore doesn't put you out, this is a must see film. Jesse Eisenberg might be playing the exact same character he did in Adventureland, but he's still excellent in both films. Emma Stone is her usual solid self, and Abigail Breslin seems like a kid actor who might be able to keep acting as she gets older. Woody Harrelson gives a strong and endearing comic performance as a sort of reluctant patriarch/Obi Wan Kenobi type character. Woody Harrelson!

Up in the Air
Clooney, playing Clooney, a less glamorous, more nakedly cynical Clooney than we are used to, but Clooney nevertheless. Jason Reitman delivers again. His third feature, and all three have made the top three in their given year according to me. I have a mancrush on his directing prowess, and I don't care who knows it. Less light than his other two pictures, and does get a bit heavy handed in spots, but the characters are so well conceived, their interactions so honest, and the way the story is spun out, so skillful, that it's easy to forgive the moments when Reitman chooses to hammer home a few points too forcefully. He even makes Vera Farmiga compelling. Vera Farmiga!

23 December 2009

Best of the 00s, 2008 Films Edition

Another year, another year's worth of films to consider

2008 Films

A lot of almost films that year, Cadillac Records is almost great, but too much Adrien Brody. The Spirit almost has something, but lacks some a compelling center to drive the wild visuals. Burn After Reading is almost a solid farce, but the tone veers too much to be good. Hellboy II almost is a solid sequel, but is generally unsatisfying. Hancock is almost a strong superhero pic while also being a superhero parody, but instead gets muddled at the end. Wall-E has one of the greatest opening thirty minutes of any picture, but really doesn't hold together once it gets to the spaceship. The fine pictures, but not fine enough to top the list are, Dark Knight, which is solid, but over praised in my opinion. The Visitor which contains great performances, but is bogged down by the usual liberal preachiness on immigration matters. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, is smart, funny, painful, and has both puppets and penises (though no puppetry of the penis). The Fall is one of the most beautiful travelogues you'll ever see, but there's no there there (still worth seeing). Kung Fu Panda is one of the best non-PIXAR computer animated kid flicks. You Don't Mess with the Zohan is good silly fun, one of the few Sandler pics that I actually like. Pineapple Express is a great stoner comedy, it's not such a great action picture, and it relies a bit too much on the action and not enough on the comedy. Tropic Thunder is another extremely funny film that spends a bit too much time rehashing action picture tropes rather than exploring and expanding on the funny. Slumdog Millionaire was what it was, entertaining, engrossing even, but ultimately a slight and melodramatic film that nevertheless has a great energy to it.

The Bank Job
A period (the period being 1971) crime drama/heist film that hits all the right notes. A genre that's often screwed up, this has the right pacing, cast, and direction to make it one of the best examples of this kind of picture made. Really surprising given that the director (Roger Donaldson) is bit of a hack.

Iron Man
Comic book/superhero action done right. Robert Downey, Jr. turns in a perfect performance as the boozy, talented, arrogant, yet charming Tony Stark. No preaching, no angst, no sturm, no drang, just a straightforward good guys battle bad guys while blowing a bunch of crap up picture. Just enough dramatic details to give you a reason to care, but not to the point where anybody involved takes it all too seriously. Could have tripped up in a dozen different places, but manages to avoid all the pitfalls these kind of films often find themselves trapped(both from being too heavy, and being too cartoonish). Light, without being insubstantial, kinetic without being frenetic, and manages to spin the creation myth organically from the story, rather than halting the action with endless exposition as is often in the case when Hollywood tries to launch a superhero franchise.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
A perfect and sweet little couple meets cute but hate each other at first while they endure an adventure together picture. It also serves as a nice little love letter to NYC night life in the 00s (think of this version of NYC as the fluffy bunny cousin of the terrifying rat version found in After Hours). Kat Dennings and Michael Cera hold this together, while the rest of the cast brings plenty of the funny. These kind of films usually have a false ring to them, and while the situations are exaggerated, and the plot feels slight to non-existent at times, the leads give this film a weight that keeps this floating into nothingness.

There were plenty of solid films released in 2008, and one horrible, childhood raping excuse of a film (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull of Nightmarishly Bad Script Choices), but the films I think most worthy of remember are genre pictures that manage to transcend the genres that birthed them, while maintaining a fidelity to the form. It's easy to make a serious film with genre tropes (like Dark Knight), it's harder to make a genre picture and keep it light while at the same time taking it seriously (as in Iron Man).

Best of the 00s, 2007 Films Edition

A few more years to get out of the way, and then we are done with the 00s (I know that technically 2000 was part of the 90s, and 2010 is still part of the 00s, but since everyone treats decades as lasting from the 0-9 year rather than the 1-0 year like they should, I'm going with the flow)

2007 Films

I personally didn't like the two films from that year that you are supposed to like (There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men), I found both of them ultimately pointless and overwrought. As far as the almost making the list films, Smokin' Aces is surprisingly good for a film with Jeremy Piven in it, Zodiac wastes a lot of solid performances with a story that is spun out way too slowly, Spider-Man 3 deserves mention for strangely and inexplicably being half a musical (especially the bar scene with partially 'venomized' Peter Parker is secretly hilarious). Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End has a few brilliantly surreal sequences while Cap't Jack is alone, but the overall picture is a failure. Knocked Up has a lot of good moments, but the whole is less satisfying than the parts. Superbad is one of the best teen comedies to come along in some time, but that's not saying much as it's a pretty crappy genre. Ratatouille is solid, but not great PIXAR-ness, so long as you can get over the whole rats in the kitchen angle. Rescue Dawn is a solid picture, that avoids a lot of the clichés you'd expect this kind of flick to contain. 3:10 to Yuma is solid as far as those kinds of pictures go. The Death Proof half of Grindhouse has some of the best car related stunt choreography on film, and since it's a Tarantino picture, strong women, and plenty of shots of bare lady feet.

Shoot 'Em Up
There's nothing not to love about this picture. Monica Bellucci as a lactating hooker, check, Clive Owen as a carrot chomping super assassin, double check, and Paul Giamatti as a shockingly menacing bad guy, triple check, and mate. A smartly put together dumb action picture that explodes every genre trope even as they milk them for all their worth. A really entertaining westernized version of the old Lone Wolf and Cub Samurai pictures

The Bourne Ultimatum
A rarity, an action film sequence that gets better as it goes along. Also, it's probably the only film to use the dreaded shakycam camera technique to good effect. So long as this film doesn't make you vomit, it's a great ride of a film.

Juno
Which one of these things is not like the other? Not quite the over the top action pictures like the other two best of 07 pics. Probably the most surprising film to gross in excess of $200M of the decade (this, and that Greek Wedding film). I guess I'm a sucker for Jason Reitman films, cause he manages to hit another homerun with this picture. Forget the backlash against it, this film really did deserve the positive regard that it received. The performances are great throughout, the characters are well conceived, and Ellen Page holds this together with an amazing lead turn. Another example of Jason Reitman tackling a scenario that Hollywood would usually ruin with polemics and posturing. He lets the characters tell their tale, and leaves the politics out of it (from both the left and the right perspective, which is probably why there was criticism, and praise, from both sides). Even Jennifer Garner is made to be warm and sympathetic in this one. Jennifer Garner!





Best of the 00s, 2006 Films Edition

Another post, another year of movies to discuss.

2006 Films

Not a terrible year for films, not great, but not terrible. There were some decent films

Thank You for Smoking
An entertaining dark comedy about lobbyist, doesn't seem possible, yet it exists. Most filmmakers would have turned these characters into cartoon villains, but Jason Reitman makes a much subtler, deeper, and more interesting film than the usual anti-corporate screed that you'd expect out of Hollywood. Aaron Eckhart is brilliant in the lead, Rob Lowe has a great supporting role, and even Katie Holmes is compelling in this picture. Katie Holmes!

Crank
A kinetic, crazed, insane action picture that was everything Snakes on a Plane should have been. Jason Statham nails the lead role, offering the right mix of menace, charm and physical presence. This rushes along from one crazed situation to another. Basically, it's a video game without the controller, but in a good way.

Pan's Labyrinth
A child's dream, and nightmare, filled with inventive images, and strong emotions. It's a powerfully told tale of once upon a time, with the real world action set during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The intricate way the horror of the real world informs the terrors of the fantasy world is expertly done, and everything, from writing, to directing, to acting, to set design, to costume, are top notch.

UPDATE:

How could I have missed one of the greatest films of the decade? I guess this year will have to go up to four, since I don't feel like deleting what I wrote about the other three films, or figuring out which to knock out.

Idiocracy
It's the thinking man's stupid comedy of our times. Mike Judge has unleashed two of the best comedies of the last fifteen years (this one, and Office Space), yet both were massive flops on initial release. Funny as it is likely to be sadly prophetic.




Best of the 00s, 2005 Films Edition

Time to knock out the rest of these lists

2005 Films

2005 was a bad year for movies that appealed to me. The big prestige movies were all not my kind of films (Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Syriana, Walk the Line), the popcorn pictures were middling to Bewitched (that's synonymous with awful, see also; Herbie: Fully Loaded). It might make sense to not mention any films this year, and distribute those extra honorable mentions and top three films in the other years of the decade, but for consistency sake, there's got to be something here worthy of some recognition. Luckily there are three films that do matter to some degree, so the year isn't a complete loss. Flawed but interesting films that came out that year include, King Kong, which almost was brilliant, but just piled on the special effects sauce a bit too high, for too long, on to little of story.

A special dishonorable mention goes out to Crash, however. Easily the worst film to ever win Best Picture. Horrible film, filled with arch characters and every ridiculous liberal white guilt trope that Hollywood likes to shove down our throats. This film inhabits a cartoon version of Los Angeles that in no way resembles reality. Would be easy to turn that script into a knowing farce playing against all those ridiculous stereotypes, but unfortunately this film was played straight. The Brothers Grimm was almost up there with Terry Gilliam's best, but there's just a certain spark missing that makes the whole less satisfying than all the parts would lead you to expect that film to be. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy managed to lose all sense of what made the source material great, and tried to turn it into a standard comedic sci-fi pic, and it's a shame they so missed the mark. Wedding Crashers and 40 Year Old Virgin are both well done, but not great comedies. The Great Raid was a solid, old fashioned war picture, entertaining, but not essential viewing. Match Point was Woody Allen's best dramatic picture of the 00s, but it's not a great film. The Matador just misses the cut, it's a very satisfyingly put together comedy drama featuring an outstanding performance from Pierce Brosnan.

Now, the three most essential films of 2005 (not in order of merit)

Serenity
It's a brilliantly put together action sci-fi film that works on its own merits, even if you haven't immersed yourself in the TV series (Firefly) from which it came. I guess folks were put off by the "Space Western" aspect of the film (and series), but within the universe created for the show, it makes sense, and gives them opportunity to create fascinating visual, social and character juxtapositions.

Special bonus mention of the excellent commentary provided by Joss Whedon on the DVD/BluRay for this film. He engages fully (which in a lot of commentaries, isn't the case, you can hear the, 'I'm contractually obligated to sit in this both and say a few words, but I'm not going to like it' attitude of some directors/performers on those audio tracks) and pulls out details relating to both story and production that are worth hearing.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
All the Wallace-y and Gromit-y hijinx you had come to know and love from Nick Park and Aardman Animations, upsized to feature length. Luckily, these characters upsized well, and the charms of the shorts are maintained over the 85 minute runtime. Fun for the whole family, and not in the crappy way that phrase usually suggests.

Sin City
Not really fun for the whole family (unless you are an Addams, possibly), but a fun, violent, visually inventive, narratively flawed film. It takes the form of the graphic novels it's based on and successfully translates those images and that narrative style to a cinematic feature. No other film of this kind has been as successful in doing so. Episodic, without feeling scattered, the filmmakers managed to create an alive and vital world, that feels very organic, despite the highly stylized nature of the visuals. However, there needs to be a "Jessica Alba" rule established for all future films of this type. Any attractive young actress who signs on to a pulp-y R rated picture to play a stripper/hooker/pornstar must also agree to appear topless where toplessness would be expected for her character. Topful strippers in dive bars just doesn't cut it (even when portrayed by Jessica Alba).

That's the year that was, for films, all the best films had their start in other media, TV, shorts, and graphic novels, and owe their success for the developed nature of the characters as they were honed in those other outlets. The transition from one form to another is often screwed up, just see any video game inspired picture of the last two decades for examples of how horribly wrong these things can go. These three films serve as testaments to how best to adapt existing source material into feature films.


 


 

Festivus Grievances: 2009 Edition

It's the most wonderful time of the year, it's time to recount all the ways you've been disappointed in excruciating detail in the past 364 days since the last Festivus.

My list will be broken into categories: Arts, Politics, Sports, and Random Petty Personal Peeves, as usual, I haven't any real grievances to air against those in my personal life. Unfortunately (from an airing of grievances viewpoint), I'm surrounded by a good family and solid friends, so I have to turn outward to the rest of the world to find my grievances. Luckily, the rest of the world has been working overtime this past year to give me all sorts of great material.

ARTS:


I'm sick to death of death. Not that I don't expect people to die, but it seems the way we as a culture have come to revel in maudlin remembrances of famous folks when they die has gone completely off the rails. Michael Jackson was a freak, whose talent had long left him behind, and more a punch line and afterthought than currently relevant entertainer, yet in death, he suddenly became as vital a force in the public consciousness as he was at his absolute height back in the eighties. The industry that sprang up overnight around his death is just one example of an accelerating trend around what a great career move dying has become. So my grievance is against outsized grieving for famous folks, and the media outlets that feed this stupid behavior.

My next grievance is with ABC and the American viewing public. Better of Ted is a pretty damn fine, and pleasantly surreal, comedy show, yet ABC barely promotes it, and shuffles it around its schedule. Of course I can't direct my grievance solely at ABC, since nobody is watching the show, so how they treat the show is somewhat understandable, but if the support for that show was a little better, maybe audiences would have found it sooner.

Staying with TV grievances, Eliza Dushku, you I'm pointing my Festivus Pole your way (though it pains me to do so). Dollhouse might have been something, but not with you in the lead. Sorry, you have your talents, and in the right role, you are brilliant, but this show asked way too much of you, and was doomed from the start.

Next up, Amazing Race producers, you get a thwacking with my Festivus Pole (I'm pumped up after my Feats of Strength, so swinging that sucker around is no problem) for not figuring out a way to shoot your damn show in HD. The benefits of making a switch will surely outweigh the extra cost, just get it done, the equipment is out there, the selection of HD capable cameras is vast now, and the travelogue aspect of your show would be greatly enhanced (just look at your CBS cousin, Survivor, to see what a difference HD v SD makes, it's easier for them since they're basically on a set, but it's 2010 folks, everything on the broadcast networks should be in crystal clear HD by now).

History Channel, you get a few blows from my Festivus Pole for airing far too much UFO related programming. UFOs aren't historical in any way. Sorry, they're just not. Stick with being the All Hitler All the Time channel if you must, leave the UFO crap for Larry King.

Music, I wave my Festivus Pole in your general direction. Ironically, as we develop more ways to stream, purchase, and access our favorite music, current musical artist seem to be becoming more and more trivial. Music across all genres has become increasingly singles driven, and this mix and match, randomly generate playlist world we live in isn't the musical environment I grew up on. Seems like with the huge variety of choices now available, folks have narrowed rather than broadened how they consume their audio entertainment. Musicians are more known for their ability to attract celebrity press, than their music, I'm not blaming the Lady Gagas, Kanye Wests, Katy Perrys, or Lily Allens of the world for doing what they do, but it would be nice if musicality drove popularity in the music business.

LA Opera, don't think just cause you are high brow and unloved by the masses that you can avoid my Festivus Pole, cause you'd be wrong. Opera can work in Los Angeles, just not the way you've been doing it. We aren't NYC, don't pretend that we are, if opera is to work here, it needs to recognize that our cultural scene is a bit more laid back and eclectic. If I were running it, I'd do one big guest star driven classic per season, then the rest of the year, I'd do small challenging productions as inexpensively as possible. I'd float around the city, bring the operas where the folks are, don't expect to succeed based solely in Downtown.

LACMA, Renoir? Again?? Really???

POLITICS:


Plenty of political events to swing ole Polly at (I named my Festivus Pole Polly, got a problem with that?). First up, Obama Administration, you get thwacked for not living up to the promise of being 'the most transparent administration, ever'. Not that I was ever stupid enough to believe this to be true, but a few whacks of the Pole also go out to you rubes out there who didn't immediately press the incoming Obama Administration on just how they intended to implement this vaunted new transparency. The press fawned over Obama, but that's partly because they assumed the public was also in a fawning mood. Still, it's impressive how far off the mark the Obama Administration has been, rather than transparency, they've challenged Nixon and Johnson for most opaque White Houses of the modern, post WWII era. Rather than transparency, we've gotten Chicago style politics writ large across the national stage. For that bit of stagecraft and legerdemain, I suppose they've earned a special anti-grievance for getting away with such an obvious and total betrayal of the principles they claimed helped put them in the White House, and for going as long as they have without having to face any real consequences for this betrayal.

The Press, I'd beat you into a bloody pulp (metaphorically speaking) with my Festivus Pole if I thought it would make a difference in how you'd act in the future. This past year has pulled away the curtain, and removed all pretense about an 'objective' press in the United States. In the long run, that's a good thing, if we end up with a few national papers modeled after the British press where the biases and prejudices of the editorial style of each outlet is nakedly apparent and readily acknowledged, I think consumers will be better served and informed. But we still have this ridiculous attempt at feigned impartiality by the likes of the broadcast networks news arms, NYT, Newsweek, and the rest, even while they campaign for every left wing cause that they can shove down the public's throat. The public has gagged on this, and rebelled by tuning them out, but the alternative channels for disseminating information are still dwarfed by the traditional media powerhouses (even as they diminish before our eyes).

GOP, don't think just cause you aren't in power that you can escape the awesome power of a fully operational Festivus Pole. The Grand Old Party has not taken advantage of the historic fall from grace currently being suffered by the Obama Administration and their Democratic Party allies in Congress. The GOP needs to offer a clear and concise alternative to big government liberalism, but their recent history of big government 'conservatism' creates a lack of credibility when attacking their opponents. What's needed is a recognition of lost opportunities during the Bush years, and total repudiation of 'government first' attitudes to politics. Embrace small government, small "l" libertarianism, and advocate for a return to true federalism, and you will see a wave of people disenchanted with the past year of politics come under the GOP tent.

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen, I'm manufacturing a special coal fired, carbon spewing, Festivus Pole swinging robot to repeatedly thwack you about your collective noggins. My specific grievance with you goes along with Prof. Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds' frequent refrain, I'll believe it's a crisis, when those calling such, act like it. No reason why hundreds of world leaders, with thousands in support staff had to travel to meet face to face. There's this thing, it's called the internet, use it. Seems like this would have been the perfect event to organize as one massive teleconference, with everything streamed live to anyone interested in watching. That's just the tip of the (melting) iceberg, though. Beyond the profligate travel, there was the profligate posturing, the profligate use of limos (local supply couldn't meet demand, limos were driven in from hundreds of miles so that conferees wouldn't have to walk a few blocks from meeting to meeting), the profligate arrogance in avoiding even questions (let alone providing answers) regarding the recently revealed climate data related emails, and just the general 'let them eat cake'-ness of the whole event where all these people were meeting to make rules that will create burdens and costs on other people that they themselves never intend on bearing.

SPORTS:


Tiger Woods, damn, man, my grievance isn't with the repeated and frequent dalliances, it's with the sloppiness, and also the general lack of imagination. You're one of the most famous and richest athletes in the history of the planet, seems like you could have done better, and managed your assignations more skillfully. Better yet, by choosing to marry and have kids, then realize you are also choosing to put away all that other stuff, either do the 'George Clooney' thing, don't have kids, and let your paramours know there's an expiration date on your interest, or commit to commitment honestly, and wholeheartedly. You messed up a lot of lives, and not just in your own home, lots of other athletes are finding increased scrutiny uncomfortable. No Tiger mess, no soon to debut TMZSports.com, and we all know nothing good can come out of that.

NFL 2009, you get the Pole, this season's been too unpredictable. Of course, had the season been too predictable, you'd also be getting the Pole, but the level of unpredictability this season seems off the chart, and damn annoying. From one week to the next you just don't know which team is good, and which isn't, and even the good teams you don't know if they are going to win by three TDs, or squeak out a last second field goal. Tennessee Titans are the poster child for this season, start with an awful 0-6, culminating in an absolute 59-0 massacre at the hands of New England. At that point, it's easy to dismiss the Titans, write them off, and not worry about them, but no, instead they turn things around, rattle off a 7-1 record over the next eight games, and threaten to be one of the scariest teams in the playoffs if they manage to sneak in. How are we supposed to make sense of a team like that as fans? And don't even get me started on the Raiders. They beat most of the good teams they face, and get thumped by the lousy ones. The AFC playoff picture, even with just two games left, is as muddled as ever, and you could make strong cases for any one of seven teams representing the NFC in the Superbowl with the clear vulnerabilities exhibited by New Orleans and Minnesota. The main problem, though, is that most games are decided by which team screws up least, rather than which team plays best. If a contest is close because both teams are excellent, then it's exciting, but if a contest comes down to the wire because one team only has four turnovers against the other team having seven, then it's an unwatchable mess. There have been a lot of messy games this season.

LA Lakers, don't think just cause you are the current NBA champs, and have the best record to this point in the 2009-10 season that you will be spared from Polly the Festivus Pole. Lakers, you get the silvery aluminum shaft for not winning every game so far this season. Y'all had nothing but home games to start (or at least 17 of the first 21), and should have shattered the old season starting mark of 15-0, but instead you let a few lackluster nights stand between you and the record books. That deserves a few thwacks from Polly.

Kobe's digits, I'll merely point the Pole in your direction, quit breaking on him, please.

USC Football, you deserve a thorough Poling for your performance this season. Key injuries slowed you down, but you still had the top talent in college football and should have been able to overcome losing a few players. You blew it, and performed down to your competition, again and again, and for that, you earned the Pole, and a lousy (non-Rose) Bowl.

RANDOM PETTY PERSONAL PEEVES:


Range Rovers, you get the Pole, first it was Cadillac (pre 70s), then in the 80s and 90s it was Volvo, but in the 00s, the grand prize for cars to be most likely driven by the worst drivers belongs to you Range Rover. So for making cars that appeal to people who can't drive, you get Festivusized.

Random People Passing on the Street Who Give Me the Stink Eye Just Cause They Happen to Be in a Shot I'm Framing, you get both the Festivus Pole, and the gratuitous capitalization treatment.

Battery technology, you get a grievance for not getting better faster. I want some sort of super battery, and I want it now. I'm tired of crap not working for as long as you'd like it too. Seems like everything lasts just about 85% as long as you'd ideally like. I'm not asking for massive improvements, just in the 15-20% range (along with quicker recharge times,).

Coffeehouse outlet campers, you suck (not really a grievance, just a statement).

Gratuitously naked old guys at the gym, I'd swing my Festivus Pole in your direction, but I'm afraid I might touch something gross, so just please, I know where all guys in the guys locker, and we shouldn't be ashamed of our bodies, but there's something to be said about showing a modicum of modesty.

Twitter, you get a quick grievance for your frequent outages. Work, consistently, dammit.

Sunsets, you get a grievance for always managing to be spectacular on the days when I can't get my camera out. Seriously, I've missed a half dozen spectacular sunsets this past month, and it's pissing me off. You can go back to being spectacular when my schedule fits having a camera available to record you, in the meantime, be dull.

Flickr and YouTube commentariat, you get a grievance, say something interesting, or don't say something at all. "Cool", or "Nice", isn't insightful, or particularly helpful, if you take the time to comment, take the time to type more than one word.

So, 2010 approaches, and Festivus 2009 will soon be a memory, though these grievances may linger.

Your Daily Photo (Festivus Ostrich Has Just Completed Its Feats of Strength, Soon Come the Grievances Edition)

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Festivus Ostrich is making a list, and checking it twice...

21 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (It's the Ostrich of Festivus Eve Eve Staring at You Disappointedly Edition)

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This bird clearly has a list of grievances, I may too come Festivus.

How I'd Fix It (Survivor Edition)


First in an irregular series:

There are many broken things in this world, some require Modest Proposals, others Immodest Proposals, still others just need a little fixing. Survivor is one such thing that just needs a little fixing.

Here's how I'd do it.

Survivor is broken. Most seasons devolve into a battle of high school style cliques rather than 'surviving' and competing, and more often than not, the best competitors are booted by cabals of inferior players (though, given the rule structure of the game, an argument can be made that being inferior at the challenges is a sound strategy for winning the game, so it's as much the fault of the producers as it is the competitors for behaving as they do).

Here's how to make the challenges really count, and make it a true contest of wits, and skill rather than clique management.

Pare down the number of contestants to eight men, eight women, and have them all live as one 'tribe' in camp, but during competitions, have them compete as four separate gender balanced groups for each challenge, and let them pick their own teams. Each day of competition, have three different kinds of challenges, one physical, one mental, and one based on exhibiting mastery of a survival skill as a team. Every challenge would be set up to have clear results as to who came in first, second, third, and fourth. A simple scoring system of 4 points for 1st, 3 points for 2nd, 2 for 3rd, and 1 point for 4th. The team that has the most points after the three challenges get a reward for that day, and those four players become team captains for the next day's challenge, the team with the least amount of points gets exiled (the exile island thing is an interesting aspect of the game, so this allows it to be kept).

Points are won as a team each day, but during these challenge rounds, each individual survivor keeps their own points, and the top two men, and top two women become the final team captains where they get to pick the teams for the final elimination rounds.

In the finals, it's head to head, one team versus one team in a playoff format (1 seed v 4 seed, 2 seed v 3 seed, with the winning teams facing of in the final, finals). Make the reward for the winning team $2M, with the added twist of the twelve losing contestants deciding which 'winner' gets $1m, $500k, and $250k (that way there's still a jury aspect to the show, since some people like that crap for some reason).

These changes emphasize group play, while still rewarding individual excellence. It allows for cliques to develop, but any clique that relies solely on how they get along will fare poorly in the overall contest. It means all the folks who are cast get to stick around for the majority of the season, so if you have a favorite in the show, you're guaranteed to see them most of the season. Having each set of challenges made up of both physical and mental tasks means that teams must find a balance of competitors to succeed in the long run. By eliminating eliminations until the very final playoffs means that by the end of the run all that emotional and psychological crap that some folks enjoy about the show would still come to the surface, and any viewers who are turned off by seeing competitive prowess get actively punished by the other 'survivors' each season might be lured back to watching this show.

Explain to me how this wouldn't be a better show?

20 December 2009

19 December 2009

Is My Windows Media Center Trying To Send Me a Message?



I like to record some of the late night shows with my computer, looking at the preview pictures for the shows, I'm getting the sense that there might be a running theme.

Can you spot it?

Your Daily Photo (It's Not Just a Zoo, It's a Botanical Garden, Too Edition)

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Weekly NFL Related Humiliation: Week 15, The Picks

BS didn't add the picks to a column, it's just on his frontpage at ESPN.COM, so I'm just going to copy and paste instead of link:

Colts -3 over JAGS
Cowboys (+8) over SAINTS
RAVENS (-10.5) over Bears
BILLS (+7) over Patriots
Cardinals (-12) over LIONS
CHIEFS (-3) over Browns
Falcons (+6) over JETS
EAGLES (-8) over Niners
Texans (-12.5) over RAMS
TITANS (-4) over Dolphins
BRONCOS (-14) over Raiders
Bengals (+6.5) over CHARGERS
Packers (+2) over STEELERS
SEAHAWKS (-6.5) over Bucs
Vikings (-9) over PANTHERS
REDSKINS (+3) over Giants


My Picks:

San Francisco 49ers (+8.0) over PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (BS: PHI)
Terrible weather, which favors the road team, as they are more defensively oriented than the pass happy Iggles.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (-6.5) over Cincinnati Bengals (BS: CIN)
A team with character would be motivated and extra focused with events like what hit the Bengals this week. They are not a team with character, they are a team with characters, so I expect them to crumble emotionally and get run over by a solid Chargers team in sunny SoCal.

Green Bay Packers (+2.0) over PITTSBURGH STEELERS (BS: GB)
The Steelers have quit, and their defense just isn't that good without Polamalu. Green Bay might be the most dangerous non-dome team in the NFC playoffs (assuming they earn themselves a wildcard).

CAROLINA PANTHERS (+9.0) over Minnesota Vikings (BS: MIN)
It's outdoors in December, that can't be good for old man Brett, even if it's in North Carolina, still chilly enough to give him a bit of an ache in those old bones of his. Panthers are a confounding team, though, they could easily lose this by three or four TDs.

New York Giants (-3.0) over WASHINGTON REDSKINS (BS: WAS)
The Skins are the best lousy team in the league, and have the talent to beat any other team in the NFL, but they just don't score enough TDs, and they make crucial mistakes at key times. Eli Manning is never great in bad weather, but looks like the blizzard should have passed through DC, so long as the wind isn't blowing, he'll be alright. The Giants should outlast the Skins in a high scoring contest.

18 December 2009

17 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (Gorillas, Gorillas, Everywhere Edition)

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Don't know if I'll get time to do other stuff, so think of this as Placeholder Gorilla (Magilla's more erudite cousin, not only does he wear a snappy bowtie like Magilla, but he also wears a monocle in private, away from the gawking zoo-going masses)

16 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (The Gorilla My Dreams? Edition)

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Another day, another gorilla, still haven't uploaded my LA Auto Show shots from this past Saturday. On the film list front, that's going to be delayed a day or two as well.

15 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (I Just Can't Get Enough of Primates Edition)

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Best of the 00s, 2004 Films Edition

Only a few days left, so time to tackle the best of the 00s, Film, TV, and Music, three in each category should be sufficient.

2004 Films.

2004 was a pretty "meh" year for pictures (with a few notable exceptions). I can't really hate any of the crappy pictures enough to mention them dishonorably (not even The Day After Tomorrow, despite its obvious stupidities, has some charms, too), and the list of honorable mentions will be short, yet the top pictures are some of the best pictures the 00s have to offer, so it was a year of rare excellence coupled with mindnumbing mediocrity.

Comedies dominate the honorable mentions, with the ever rewatchable Anchorman and Harold and Kumar topping the, they aren't great but you really ought to own the DVDs of this picture if only so you can pop them in for a quick guaranteed laugh, list. Mean Girls just misses the top three, it's really a brilliantly written, wonderfully acted, solidly directed slice of American teengirl life. It's so sad to see what's happened to Lindsay Lohan since, but at least the other girls (and Tina Fey) have done well for themselves. Shaun of the Dead is another film that pains me to not name one of the top three, but when I see the three films I've picked, I can't justify taking any of them off, and elevating this in its place. Still, it's a near perfect comedy, and in large part responsible for the current zombie renaissance we are currently experiencing. Team America: World Police is another film that just misses, yet remains my all time favorite filthy puppet film and political satire. A special honorable mention goes to Downfall, both being an interestingly done serious drama revolving around Hitler's last day's in the bunker, and more importantly for inspiring a runaway, and funny the first few times, but after the fiftieth variation got tired, internet parodies (the original XBox Live banhammer edition, here).

Now, the three most essential films of 2004 (not in order of merit)

The Incredibles
The current best film company's (PIXAR), best film, delivers on all fronts. Story, character, and visuals combine to create a near perfect film. The message is surprisingly pro-libertarian, too, so there's no way I can't not love this incredible bit of entertainment. One of the most heartfelt paeans to the importance of family that has been committed to film (or assembled from terabytes of zeroes and ones).

Kill Bill Vol 2
More essential than the first chapter, while that had all the action, this had all the character development, and the final sequence is both heartbreaking, and an ode to the power of motherhood. The first volume's action sequences are fun to rewatch, but the story is kind of stagnant and is mere set up for what happens throughout this half of the two pictures. Not many actresses could be convincing in both the action scenes and the emotional scenes, yet Uma Thurman delivers a muscular, nuanced, and multi-layered performance that offers careful shading where most artists would have painted with bolder and broader strokes. Deserving a place amongst best films of the decade, if only for Thurman's performance and Tarantino's direction in pulling that out of her. Essentially, it's one long ass picture, though, so consider this placing Kill Bill Vol1&2, as a piece, on the list of top achievements in cinema for the 00s.

Kung Fu Hustle
Another Stephen Chow film makes the top three of a given year's films. This is a remarkable action picture, it's a hokey-old fashioned romance, and it's a pretty terrific Busby Berkeley style musical all wrapped up into one glittering package. All the various kinds of choreography (dance, fight, slapstick) are top notch, and it's an endlessly inventive film visually. It strikes a balance between comedy and drama (very light drama), action and character, fantasy and reality, that's very kung fu like. It's the perfect reconciliation of opposites, and kicks all sorts of ass, you really can't ask any more out of a picture than what this work delivers.

That's it for today, I'll finish up 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 tomorrow, and I'll hold off on 2009 until after Christmas and I've had a chance to see a few of the big holiday season pictures (Invictus, Nine, Holmes).

Best of the 00s, 2003 Films Edition

Only a few days left, so time to tackle the best of the 00s, Film, TV, and Music, three in each category should be sufficient.

2003 Films.

2003 was the year of the non craptacular blockbuster film. Half of the top ten grossers were good to excellent (LOTR:TROTK, Finding Nemo, POTC: TCOTBP, X2, The Last Samurai, which despite its 'let's focus on the white man in a non-white world' faults, isn't half bad) but it was a crappy year for 'prestige' pictures with one boring 'serious' film after another (Cold Mountain, Mystic River, Monster).

Dishonorable mention goes to The Wachowski Brothers for crapping all over their own Matrix franchise by releasing not just one, but two massively disappointing turds on an unsuspecting viewing public.

Honorable mentions go out to American Splendor for Giamatti's remarkable turn as Harvey Pekar, Bad Santa for Billy Bob's remarkably Bad Santa, The Cooler for remarkable performances from Macy, Baldwin, and Bello, The Core for being so ridiculously absurd, yet deceptively entertaining, Down with Love for being a strangely faithful remake of a Rock Hudson/Doris Day picture that never previously existed (complete with David Hyde Pierce as not quite Tony Randall), Kill Bill Vol1 for giving us Tarantino at his best, A Mighty Wind for delivering that Guestian groove with a bit more bittersweetness than previous efforts, Oldboy for delivering a pitch perfect revenge fantasy, Ong-Bak for introducing Tony Jaa to the world, School of Rock for giving us a likeable Jack Black character (a feat not since duplicated), and Lost in Translation for being one of the strangestly perplexing and satisfying movies to pop up in quite some time. It's a film you can love, or hate, or love AND hate at the same time, and that's pretty unusual.

Now, the three most essential films of 2003 (not in order of merit)

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Obviously, you aren't going to watch only the third film in a trilogy, so this is more a recognition of the entire eleven hours of narrative (assuming you pick up the full on extended editions). An epic, brought to screen in full detail, it's an accomplishment that hasn't been equalled before or since.

Finding Nemo
PIXAR doing what PIXAR does, with fantastic performances from Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks. Not sure I'd put it in my top five of Pixar films, yet it sits here as one of the top three films of 2003 (which demonstrates the amazing run of high quality pictures put out by PIXAR).

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
This is an old fashioned swashbuckling action/romance mated to modern production values and special effects, and for this film, holds together for the entire picture. Expect vastly diminishing returns with regards to the sequels, but for this one picture Gore Verbinski captures lightning in a bottle and gets every note right, from Johnny Depp's invention of Jack Sparrow (never has an action picture role more deserved an Academy Award, yet those stuffy bastards didn't even nominate him, despite Depp winning the SAG Award for Best Actor), to Keira Knightly's plucky heroine, to Geoffrey Rush's scene chewing Barbossa. Disney took a huge gamble in making this picture, modern pirate movies have been amongst the biggest all time flops(Cutthroat Island most notably), a shame they had to screw things up so badly as they cashed in and turned it into a franchise.

Best of the 00s, 2002 Films Edition

Only a few days left, so time to tackle the best of the 00s, Film, TV, and Music, three in each category should be sufficient.

2002 Films.

No dishonorable mentions, all the bad films are obviously bad, and most of the acclaimed films deserved their acclaim.

Honorable mentions for the pretty damn good films of 2002, Chicago, Talk to Her, Undercover Brother (no, really), We Were Soldiers, 24 Hour Party People are a diverse group of films that represent some of the best of what that year had to offer.

Now, the three most essential films of 2002 (not in order of merit)

Orange County
Jake Kasdan helms this sweet film with a great supporting cast, a sharp script, and an endearing lead performance by Colin Hanks which turns a lot of the usual high school cliches on their head.

Infernal Affairs
This brilliant Hong Kong film was turned into an inferior (though Academy Award winning) Hollywood copy by Martin Scorcese. Taut, emotionally involving, and legitimately thrilling, a perfect example of both a crime-thriller, and a Hong Kong action-drama.

Femme Fatale
Pop trash, perfection, with Brian De Palma at his ersatz-Hitchcok best. Butressed by a wonderful performance from Antonio Banderas, and a surprisingly effective Rebecca Romijn, this film is far better than it has a right to be.

Best of the 00s, 2001 Films Edition

Only a few days left, so time to tackle the best of the 00s, Film, TV, and Music, three in each category should be sufficient.

2001 Films.

First up, the not quite dishonorable mentions, rather than well regarded films that don't hold up like in 2000, 2001 features some films that were almost something, but lack a key ingredient. AI, 2/3rds of a fantastic film, but the last third sinks that film. Josie and the Pussycats, there are some smart, satirical aspects to this film, but the overall execution doesn't rise to the potential, it really could have been great. Vanilla Sky, why oh why Cameron, why did you attempt to remake Abre Los Ojos?

Honorable mentions, these films are solid, but not up to the level of the top three. Y Tu Mama Tambien, Zoolander (yes, Zoolander), Waking Life, Ghost World, Metropolis, Millennium Actress, Monsters, Inc., and the Royal Tennenbaums are all solid pictures worth watching, there are others, 2001 was a good year for movies, but these are the ones that stand out.

Now, the three most essential films of 2001 (not in order of merit)

Shaolin Soccer
Stephen Chow's fantastic melding of sports and martial arts movies, this film defies description, but it's well worth seeking out if you haven't experienced it for yourself.

Wet Hot American Summer
Yes, I'm one of those people that think this film is brilliant. But the thing is, it really is a brilliantly put together dumb comedy. It's hard to execute dumb comedy smartly, and not become overly smarmy. This film goes back and forth between smart, dumb, and smarm, but put it all together and it's tremendously entertaining.

Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki's ode to childhood and Japanese folklore, is one of the best animated film of all time. It's a dream writ real, as long as you can accept the dream logic that drives what plot there is, it's a remarkable experience. The best work of one of the world's greatest filmmakers.

Best of the 00s, 2000 Films Edition

Only a few days left, so time to tackle the best of the 00s, Film, TV, and Music, three in each category should be sufficient.

2000 Films.

First up, the dishonorable mentions, films that back them seemed kind of interesting, but on repeated viewings, or attempted viewings, don't hold up. Dancer in the Dark/Requiem for a Dream/Quills/Traffic, all a bunch of self-important, depressing crap revelling in human misery, best left un-rewatched. Next up, honorable mentions, films just outside the top three. American Psycho, High Fidelity, Gangster No.1, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon are all worth a look if they show up on cable, but not necessary to have in your film collection.

Now, the three most essential films of 2000 (not in order of merit)

Battle Royale
Insane, kinetic, exploitative, violent, and maybe even just a touch thought provoking. It's hyperviolence, done right. I'm amazed there hasn't been a Hollywood remake of this yet (NewLine announced, then killed one a few years ago).

Best In Show
One of the most rewatchable films ever made. Still the blue ribbon winner amongst Christopher Guest made 'mockumentaries' (though not the best one he participated in, that remains This is Spinal Tap). There's something new to see each time you rewatch this, and the humor as outrageous as it is at times, seems purely organic, and true to the characters as they are presented. Could have easily been mean spirited and arch, but instead it's sweet, and true, though more than a bit exaggerated.

Almost Famous
A perfect film, there's not much more to say. Cameron Crowe mines details from his own life and comes up with a modern classic. He even gets a great performance out of Kate Hudson!

14 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (Keep Your Surprisingly Capacious Bowls, I've Got a Freakin' Fruit-bearing Tree in My Backyard Edition)

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Valencias are the best juicing orange, even if they don't always have the best cosmetic appearance.

And enjoy this sentence from the wiki on Valencias (which despite the name, were developed right here in Southern California, not Spain)

However, its excellent taste and internal color make it desirable for the flesh markets, too.


(That's what Tiger said!)

(and I may have altered one letter in the above sentence, guess which one)

(and here's a link to the post that inspired me to shoot my tree this afternoon)

(also, I may have gotten a bit crazy pushing those color curves around when converting these shots from RAW to JPG formats)

Here's a slide show of the whole small set (12 pictures) taken this sunny, but cool, afternoon (at least it's cool by our standards, fine, 59F isn't exactly cold, but it's not beach weather, either).

13 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (If You Really Love Your Country, Every Day Is Flag Day Edition)

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Weekly NFL Related Humiliation: Week 14, The Picks

Sneaking this in just before kick-off.

BS Picks: (found in Part 2 of his massive Tiger Woods mailbag, Part 1 is here)

New Orleans Saints (-10.5) over ATLANTA FALCONS (BS: NO)
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (-6.5) over Cincinnati Bengals (BS: CIN)
San Diego Chargers (+3.5) over DALLAS COWBOYS (BS: SD)
Philadelphia Eagles (PK) over NEW YORK GIANTS (BS: NYG)
Arizona Cardinals (-3.5) over SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (BS: SF)

12 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (I Knew I Forgot Something Edition)

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Oops, more LA Auto Show shots going up on Flickr tomorrow (today, actually).

08 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (Check Out Those Curves Edition)

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I'm referring to the vehicle, get your minds out of the gutter (so what if the car is in the back, partially cut off, and out of focus)

07 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (I'm Not Sure If Minis Are Dogs, or Into Bondage Edition)

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Thanks go out to Prof. Reynolds for linking my Flickr collection as well as yesterday's LA Auto Show post. It's always nice to have those extra eyeballs that come along with an Instalanche. A shame I don't provide much in the way of interesting content beyond the photos. I'm just not as wordy as I used to be, I guess. I blame "Hope and Change", everything is just going so great during the Obama Administration, that there's not that much to rant about.

(quit laughing, I hear you snickering in the back)

06 December 2009

2009 LA Auto Show - The Whole Kit and Caboodle

Here's a link to a collection of all the sets.

Some of the more interesting shots below:

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Your Daily Photo (Tear The Roof Off the Sucka Edition)

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Why not, you've got a tiny little two seater, not like you'll lose that much structural intergity by turning into a convertible.

Speaking of roof tearing, Parliament

05 December 2009

Weekly NFL Related Humiliation: Week 13, The Picks

BS Picks:

My Picks (home teams ALL CAPS)

New Orleans Saints (-9.5) over WASHINGTON REDSKINS (BS: WAS)
NEW YORK GIANTS (+2.5) over Dallas Cowboys (BS: DAL)
San Diego Chargers (-13.5) over CLEVELAND BROWNS (BS: SD)
ARIZONA CARDINALS (-3.0) over Minnesota Vikings (BS: MIN)
Baltimore Ravens (-3.0) over GREEN BAY PACKERS (BS: GB)

New Orleans ought to roll against Skins, though they may suffer from a big game hangover and have a bit trouble to start. They'll still cover the spread, though.

The Giants aren't as bad as they've looked, and Dallas will do their usual December swoon, so no worries for the Jersey Boys.

Why the hell is the Chargers game the one game that CBS is showing in LA? Seriously, dudes, there's a fun looking Titans at Colts game that we should be watching instead of this crap. Worst team in the league, versus one of the top five teams, results should be predictable, and ugly.

Arizona are hard to figure out, but I still have trouble believing that the Old Man's arm isn't about to fall off any moment, or that he'll start throwing INT after INT like he's supposed to. Leinart should play well again, and as long as Vince Young isn't the other QB, the Cardinals ought to hold on to the lead at the end.

Monday night you've got a QB who loves to hold the ball too long against the Ravens defense. Wouldn't be surprised if Rodgers doesn't make it through the night. Ravens will roll.

Your Daily Photo (Have a Cold One, on Me Edition)

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And when I say on me, I mean in spirit only, of course, pay for your booze your own damn self.

Taken at the Lucky Strike at LA Live, decided to over pay for lunch over there rather than at the Convention Center itself. It's a nice change of pace having multiple quality food choices right next door.

May look like a nice, dim lit, and quiet bar, but there was a loud office party going on just to the left of this view. Booze and bowling pins do strange things to folks.

I had a cheeseburger, ordered it rare, and to my surprise, that's exactly the way it came (I order rare, expecting medium to be what's served), assuming I don't come down with food poisoning of some kind, a very satisfying meal.

As far as the shooting at the Auto Show, spent many hours, and used up both batteries I brought, but after about seven hours there and at LA Live, I was ready to call it a day, any way. Missed Government Motors completely, didn't see anything they had that interested me, and I guess I'm making a political statement by not shooting their taxpayer subsidized crap (did shoot Chrysler though, so I'm not too consistent). I'll probably go back again, pick up what I missed, and may use the zoom lens next time more and take more surreptitious candid shots of the various folks walking around, rather than focusing on the automobiles. Or not, there's a fine line between capturing a scene and being an intrusive perv.

The show seemed a bit low key, but there were still quite a few concept cars and debuts, so it's still a big event, and it has to be one of the most photographed annual events in Los Angeles, so if you don't like my shots, I'm sure you can find someone elses to enjoy (saw some really nice camera equipment mixed in with the point and shoots and celphone cameras).

03 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (Now We Know Who Invented Yoga Edition)

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Really, Yoga was invented by Orangutans, let this picture prove the truth of that statement for you.

02 December 2009

Your Daily Photo (Bloomin' Silk Floss Edition)

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Doesn't 'Bloomin' silk floss' sound like something a 19th century Londoner would say as a minced oath?

Will be wearing out my camera Friday, and possibly tomorrow. Friday definitely will be here, taking lots and lots of snaps, and tomorrow may be here, doing same.