Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Best of 2011 - Music

After skipping this particular top 10 last year, I promised I'd bring it back this one.  I probably didn't listen to as much "indie" music as usual, so if the popular music/artist feel of this bugs you, so be it.

10.  Seether - Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray
After their last solid album got a lot of play, this one seemed to slip in under the radar.  I admit to buying it and mostly ignoring it until I was listening to albums again for this list.  It's "typical" Seether but that's still good, hard rock at a time when there aren't many bands that stand out in the genre.
Top Tracks:  "Fur Cue," "Country Song"

9.   Lady Gaga - Born This Way
Admittedly a little "disappointing" following her brilliant debut The Fame (and even better extension The Fame Monster), Gaga is still a force in pop to be reckoned with.  She has a voice that could become once in a generation with time.  I plan to keep buying her albums, I know that.
Top Tracks:  "Marry the Night," "Judas," "Hair," "You and I"

8.   Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
Technically a 2009 album but did anybody really know about these guys before this year and their appearance on the Grammys?  I'm not sure if you can call them folk-rock, but there's definite charm to this collection of sometimes quiet/sometimes desperate tunes.
Top Tracks:  "The Cave," "Little Lion Man"

7.   The Airborne Toxic Event - All At Once
For their second album, ATE improved on their anthem-esque sound, occasionally diving into Green Day circa American Idiot territory.  It's hard not to get songs stuck in your head after a couple listens.
Top Tracks:  "Changing," "Welcome to Your Wedding Day," "All I Ever Wanted"

6.   The Decemberists - The King is Dead
Like Seether, another album I didn't give enough love to the first time I heard it.  I've been in love with this band for a couple years but didn't fall in love with this album until I listened to it loud and without distraction. Another brilliant collection of folksy story-songs that truly do belong together in one album experience.
Top Tracks:  "Don't Carry It All," "Rox in the Box," "This is Why We Fight"

5.  Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math
I was sold on this one the first time I watched the amazing video for the title track.  The rest of the album is pretty slick, too.

Top Tracks:  "Deer," "Pensacola," "Virgin," "Simple Math"

4.  Adele - 21
Cliche?  Not really because even if you think she's overplayed, you can't deny that she's good.  Stunningly good...a soulful voice that modern pop divas can only dream of truly accomplishing.  One wonders if an album not filled by Adele's heartbreak will be as good, but she certainly knows how to tap into the wounded ache we've all felt at some point in our lives.
Top Tracks:  "Rolling in the Deep," "Rumour Has It," "Turning Tables," "Someone Like You"

3.   The Black Keys - El Camino
Seems like we were just listening to and marveling at Brothers...because we were...and the duo tosses out another album filled with bluesy, stripped down rock.  It's one you'll find yourself spinning several times before you even think about switching out for something new.
Top Tracks:  "Lonely Boy," "Gold on the Ceiling," "Little Black Submarines"

2.   Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
Foo Fighters have always made good albums, but I think fans have waited a while for something on par with their early work and this might actually be their most solid, mature album from start to finish.  Only a couple tracks are skippable, but most are "turn-it-up-and-rock-out" worthy.
Top Tracks:  "Bridge Burning," "Rope," "Arlandria," "These Days," "Walk"

1.   Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
If you know anything about me and my unabashed love for Oasis and Noel in particular, this shouldn't be a surprise.  Ever since Noel sang "Don't Look Back in Anger" on Oasis' breakthrough second album and I learned he was the real musical force behind the band, I've been waiting for this record.  He did not's enough like Oasis to be comfortable while striking out in a new direction.  Filled with smart songwriting, clever arrangements and catchy hooks and choruses.  Don't make me wait 15 years for your solo brilliance again, Noel.
Top Tracks:  "Everybody's On the Run," "Dream On," "If I Had a Gun..." "The Death of You and Me"

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Summer Movie Recap

I've been predictably neglectful of this blog in recent months. I'll do the usual blame...bought a house, busy at work, blah, blah... Truthfully, I got lazy about writing.

 Rather than give an extensive review of all the films we missed, I'm gonna hit the highlights. Several of these movies will be on DVD soon, so if you're looking for some recommendations and trust my judgement, here you go.

X-Men: First Class - A-

 I admit, I wanted nothing to do with this movie from the day I heard about it. The last two X-films (The Last Stand and Wolverine) were messy at best, travesties at worst. A prequel set in the 60s seemed doomed. But as the previews came, I was impressed and intrigued.

The finished product might actually be the best of the franchise or at least on par with the exceptional X2. Carried on the strong performances of leads James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, First Class is clever, exciting and simply fun. Even the moments that as a fan are expected still work. Fassbender's evolution of Magneto is particularly excellent.

Super 8 - B+

Despite being an unabashed fan of Steven Spielberg, I didn't wax as nostalgic over Super 8 as I was probably supposed to. That's not to say it isn't a fine piece of filmmaking...J.J. Abrams' homage to his idol and the kid-centric wonder films of the 80s hits so many tonal points with ease. I think it's impossible to recapture the feeling of movies like that from our youth when we are no longer that young. It's the memory of what a movie evoked in us, so long ago, that makes it nostalgic.

I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting out of this movie, but something felt...missing as the end credits rolled. Still, the film is beautifully shot, exceptionally acted (the child stars are very evocative of those Spielberg populated his movies with as well) and filled with "wow" moments. I'm looking forward to revisiting this movie again on Blu ray.

Green Lantern - D+

Oh, DC, when are you ever going to produce a viable superhero franchise other than Batman? Your last Superman reboot failed and there's already backlash about the next one. You've got Marvel beat in the animated world (TV and direct to DVD), but your live action properties leave much to be desired.

 I was especially disappointed at the lack of imagination or excitement in Green Lantern. After Batman and Spidey, the Green Lanterns have been some of my favorite comic book characters. This one, portrayed by Ryan Reynolds, is rarely heroic and even less exciting. After spending most of the film using his power ring to impress Blake Lively and mope around, GL engages in a completely unprecedented battle with "the greatest evil in the universe" that seems to have little consequence to him. I was impressed with the special effects, especially the ring constructs (which there could have been more of), but it all felt so hollow.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II - A-

Not as effectively emotional and character-driven as part one, the action-filled finale of the Potter franchise will probably seem much more effective when watched back to back with part one. Still, it's been an amazing journey and, much like the novels, the films have grown and deepened with time. I can't wait to watch them all back to back and relive the joy.

Captain America - B+

Not quite as much fun as Thor, but the final film before next summer's sure to be blockbuster Avengers brings the Marvel universe together still hits all the right notes. Chris Evans is effective as the weak wannabe (great CGI to pull that off) turned super-soldier to fight in World War II. As with the other Avengers films, there are neat nods to fans throughout. I can't wait to see what Joss Whedon can accomplish with this cast on screen.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Hangover: Part II

I may be a few thousand miles away, have no showbiz experience (unless an acting class in college counts) and write reviews on a blog with five followers, but I understand Hollywood. I've been immersed in media (esp. movies) for most of my life and while I'm no closer to selling a film script than I am to walking in space, I'm a smart enough to understand the business of entertainment.

Two years ago, The Hangover quickly and easily became the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. The raunchy romp about three oddly matched guys trying to find the lost bachelor after a night of insanity was bawdy enough to stand up with classic sex romps but smart enough to be unpredictable and, honestly, hilarious. I find very few mainstream comedies genuinely funny but The Hangover was.

So, Hollywood reacted the only way they could...they made a sequel...and when it came time to plot out said sequel, the conversation might have went something like this:

Producer: "Well, that made us a ton of money...we need to get started on another one."
Director and/or Screenwriter: "Sweet...I have this idea...Stu and Phil have a startup business and need to woo some investors. But Alan shows up--"
P: "Whoa, whoa...back up...who's getting married?"
D/S: "I'm sorry? No marriage...we did that in the first one."
P: "Someone needs to be getting married...not Phil, he's sexy and the women in the audience need to be able to fantasize about him."
D/S: "Phil's already married, anyway."
P: "Yeah, whatever...just make sure he's shirtless at some point. So who's going to get lost this time? It can't be Alan...he's gold...Phil can't for the same reasons we discussed. Can we lose that other guy again? From the first one? I'll let you work on that."
D/S: "Wait...what?"
P: "We need Alan to screw things up again...maybe not roofies this time, but they have to have a (air quotes) 'hangover' for some reason, right? Stu needs to get jacked up in some way...maybe cut off an ear or something...that tooth thing was funny the first time."
D/S: "This sounds like the same movie..."
P: "No...don't be ridiculous. We'll set this in another city...New York maybe...wait...somewhere foreign! Americans lost in foreign cities is hilarious. And no baby this time...people got upset when we bumped its head. Make it an animal of some kind...we can deal with PETA."
D/S: "I'm sorry...this goes against all of my artistic integrity. It sounds like we're just trying to cash in on the same movie. I don't want to trick people with 'hey, look, it's just like what happened last time' shenanigans."
P: "Here is a gigantic stack of money."
D/S: "You got it..."
P: "And don't forget to put that Asian guy in there."
D/S: "Sigh..."

Look for The Hangover, Part III in 2013.

Rating: C

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Summer Viewing Project

The traditional television season is coming to an end. While the rise of original cable programming means there will still be some quality new programming over the summer (see Breaking Bad, Louie, In Plain Sight, White Collar), it's still a lighter time for our DVRs and weeknight schedules.

Sure, you could spend that time outdoors or with loved ones, but the sun is known to cause skin disease and your loved ones get annoying fast. Why not use this time to catch up on some series that you might have heard about but haven't watched, need some love and aren't so far in as too take long to catch up? The MightyMartian is here with four suggestions.


Hands down, Fringe is the best sci-fi show since Firefly went off the air, and a worthy successor to Lost fanaticism. However, if Lost annoyed the crap out of you by building up mysteries with lengthy and/or no payoff (I admit it and I'm a huge fan), Fringe will boggle your mind but keeps the story flowing organically and quickly.

Without revealing too much about the plot, the show essentially revolves around a trio of fantastic actors (Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and Emmy-worthy John Noble) who are investigating "fringe" science mysteries. These mysteries are apparently part of a Pattern that slowly come together over the course of the first season, culminating in a finale that changes the nature of the series and kicks off everything that's happened since.

The sci-fi is so cool because it's mostly incredibly believable. Nearly every episode routinely features at least one shocking moment (I call it the "holy fuck" moment after what I frequently exclaim), are slickly directed and feature smart, but not intrusive, special effects.

The fact that Fringe has lasted as long as it has is a testament to how good it is, its devoted fans and the pedigree of acting, writing (often surprisingly witty) and production that goes into it. Seasons 1 and 2 are on blu-ray/DVD now with the 3rd likely available in September. If you are already a fan, give a copy to a friend or two and create more.


It's hard to refer to Justified as a cop show when it's obviously rooted in the sensibility and swagger of a Western. Timothy Olyphant is immensely charismatic and watchable as Marshall Raylan Givens, a lawman more apt to shoot first and ask questions later. He's come back to his old Kentucky stomping grounds after stirring up trouble in Florida but trouble is something he doesn't do well at avoiding.

Raylan is one of those "women want him, guys want to be him" characters...effortlessly cool, always in control and occasionally morally ambiguous. In the first season, he deals with childhood friend turned white-supremacist turned religious zealot Boyd Crowder. Season two pits him against the Bennett family, drug runners who have been harmless until their world collides with Raylan's.

Justified is filled with unexpected moments of violence, character depth and humor. Season one is on blu-ray/DVD now. Season 2 should appear by year's end or early next.


If you're reading my reviews, you're probably a fan of a lot of TV and film. You're quite likely a little geeky (it's okay, we're kinda running the world now) and you love irreverent comedy that references your obsessions. In essence, you're "meta" and Community is the series for you.

You might have watched early episodes and wrote it off as a quirky sitcom that wouldn't last long. I strongly urge you to pick up where you left off. Community has evolved into a brilliant collection of spoofs of media cliche. Be it action movie styled paintball wars, "My Dinner With Abed/Andre" or the indelible Halloween episodes...this is a comedy that takes "situation" to a different level.


I hope the story of Southland, dumped by NBC after one season and resurrected on TNT, is one that will become duplicated with other struggling but excellent series neglected by the "big four" networks.

A spiritual successor to shows like NYPD Blue and Homicide, Southland isn't really interested in the cases the cops and detectives investigate, only the characters and the toll their jobs take on them professionally and personally. The lessons are often brutal, poignant and unflinching. The most recent season featured a sudden death that left me as a viewer reeling as much as the characters.

Three seasons are down on Southland, but TNT's have been brief (ten episodes) so catching up won't take too long.

Feel free to indulge any and all of these series over the can thank me later when all your friends are fit and sunburned.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I admit, I was pleasantly surprised at how good Thor is.

I shouldn't have been. The architects of the Marvel movie-verse (at least the Avengers side of it) haven't really let us down yet and their commitment to building a cinematic world that all of these beloved characters co-exist in. Beginning with Iron Man, it continued into The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. Thor and Captain America in a couple months complete the first phase before next year's Avengers bring them all together.

The best part of all this is that you don't need any real knowledge of the Marvel comic world or even the other films to appreciate each piece, much like how the original comics introduced all these diverse characters before bringing them together.

Thor has never been one of my favorite characters...a fantastical take on Norse mythology to fit into superhero parameters. He spoke in archaic "thous" and "verilys" and occasionally took on human form to mingle among us lower beings.

Thor the movie does an amazing job of taking a character that is vain and mighty and, well, pardon the pun, bringing him down to earth. When the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) makes a brash decision that puts their people and kingdom on the brink of war, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is cast down to our realm, along with his magic hammer, Mjolnir, denied return until he is worthy. Meanwhile, his brother Loki schemes to control the kingdom of Asgard in his place.

While the world of the Asgardians and their blend of science and magic is fantastically realized and special effects brilliant, it's Thor's time on earth that sells the picture. The screenplay plays the fish out of water premise with successful wit and his relationship with Natalie Portman's Jane isn't mired down with romance.

Hemsworth has put a stamp on this character that makes it easy to imagine him alongside Robert Downey, Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson in Avengers. The big-screen Marvel Universe is becoming just as grand and exciting as Stan Lee imagined it on the four-color page decades ago.

Rating: A

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Messages from Mars

Hanna - B

Surprisingly effective and simple little action thriller. Saoirse Ronan plays a girl trained by her CIA assassin father (Eric Bana) who joins the modern world after years in hiding, eventually playing a hunter/hunted game with rogue agent Cate Blanchett. The film has a European feel (at times I was strongly reminded of Run Lola Run) and a slick Chemical Brothers soundtrack.

Torchwood (BBC America/Starz)- A-

I haven't been keeping up with the modern Doctor Who series, but if they are half as cool as this spin-off, I look forward to doing so. The Torchwood team is an outside-the-government force tasked with protecting the planet from otherworldly threats, led by the immortal Captain Jack Harkness. Early episodes were occasionally hokey, but the show quickly found a solid tone that's sometimes quite dark. The pinnacle thus far was the third season/miniseries "Children of Earth," a tense and exciting tale of alien contact through the medium of the world's innocents. The story accomplishes a true sense of apocalyptic foreboding. A new season is scheduled for this summer in conjunction with Starz.

MLB The Show '11 (PS3) - A-

Still the best baseball game on the market, The Show gives fans of the sport or gaming in general superb graphics, intuitive control and numerous gameplay options. The pure analog option makes pitching feel like a true game of inches and challenges you to have a sharp eye for batting. In-game commentary is less obnoxious now, too, with the inclusion of Eric Karros for color calls.

The Killing (AMC) - B+

AMC's knack for excellent dramas continues (only Rubicon failed to impress). I'm always a little scared of "season-long" murder mysteries, but AMC's short seasons and the superb acting and multi-faceted story structure should keep this one interesting.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Messages from Mars

The Tillman Story - B-

The documentary about the life and death of NFL star Pat Tillman turned casualty of war isn't as much of an indictment against the military PR machine as it could have been.

Love & Other Drugs - B

The only thing that keeps this movie from the realm of predictable rom-com-dom are the charming leads. Jake Gylenhaal and Anne Hathaway have believable chemistry and most of the film is filled with real wit. The biggest problem is the cliche drama and ending. I'm not going to pretend that copious scenes of Hathaway nudity was offensive, though.

Zombieland - A-

How did I take so long to see this film? Not quite as comedy-driven as Shaun of the Dead, but not serious horror like other "-- of the Dead" films, Zombieland deftly blends the genres on the backs of a fun cast and slick modern direction. Bill Murray's cameo is priceless.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

What's In Your DVR?

I often rave about the shows that I love to watch. They fill up my DVR, they make for great conversation with friends and coworkers and they consume obscene amounts of my waking time.

I currently have 50 series recordings set up on my DVR. What can I say, it's a good time for TV. Two hours in front of a TV has better odds of entertaining you than $10+ in a theater taking a chance on a movie.

That said, I made a few tough (and some not-so-tough) choices this morning to remove some series recordings that simply aren't worth my time or my DVR's space.

Covert Affairs: Hey, Piper're cute and all, but completely unbelieveable as a covert agent.

The Event: I tried, I really did...but this over-complicated sci-fi thriller is all talk and very little action. By the end of most episodes, I realized I was so distracted or disinterested, I couldn't tell you what happened.

Lights Out: Actually, I liked this show, but FX has cancelled it.

G.I. Joe Renegades: The revamp of the Joe concept isn't bad, but the animation was pretty lousy and The Hub is apparently shelving the show until after the next film.

Transformers Prime: Too "kiddie" for my tastes...with the Bayformers and 'toons like this, maybe it's time to lay this franchise to rest and remember it only as a fond piece of our childhoods.

Mr. Sunshine: Dry humor with mostly unlikeable characters. There are a few laughs to be had, but not enough to justify tuning in weekly.

There are also more than a few shows that are in danger of being "cancelled" from my DVR...shape up or ship out series if you will.

Hawaii Five-0: I like the cast, it's well-filmed, but it's more or less a CSI/NCIS type show and formula TV never sits well with me.

The Cleveland Show: Seth MacFarlane, you'll forever have my admiration for Family Guy, but your other animated efforts don't come close.

Fairly Legal: I admit, I'm sticking with this one mostly for the gorgeous Sarah Shahi, but it does have a quirky charm to it.

Perfect Couples: Love the actors, often hate the writing.

Breakout Kings: This one is pretty new, so I'm giving it time, but if it's only going to be "escaped con(s) of the week" I'll pass.

What TV is in danger of losing your DVR love?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sucker Punch

One has to wonder if Warner Brothers watched the box office receipts roll in from this past weekend and think, "oh, crap...we gave Superman to this guy?" Sucker Punch lost out to the second Diary of a Wimpy Kid film.

"This guy" is directer Zack Snyder and his film track record is a little least in the monetary sense. After helping revitalize the zombie genre with 2004's Dawn of the Dead, Snyder scored his biggest hit to date with 300, a stylish and bloody actioner. It's blue-screen heavy effects gave it the appropriate comic book adaptation feel. The daunting task of adapting legendary graphic novel Watchmen to the big screen divided critics and fans and did nothing to draw word of mouth viewers past the first weekend. I enjoyed it, flaws and all, but it was definitely not meant for mass-audience acceptance.

Sucker Punch drew me in on Snyder's repuatation and the dynamic visuals of the myriad trailers bombarding us for months. As a friend put it after seeing a commercial for the first time, "Is this one of those movies that nerds are going to jerk off to?"

Crude though it might be, her statement isn't far from the target audience Sucker Punch would seem to be aiming for...which is both its blessing and curse. It was naturally doomed to face critical derision and attacks on what might seem to be sexual pandering. It is little more than two hours of fanboy cliche and comic/manga sensibility...scantily clad cuties in sci-fi/fantasy action scenarios. When your lead character is platinum blonde with pigtails in a school girl outfit complete with sword, pistol, knee-highs and heels...well, Oscar screeners probably aren't in the cards.

Here's the thing, though...perhaps I am the target audience, because I rather enjoyed Sucker Punch on its shaky merits. I don't think a single trailer, poster or flashing internet ad ever implied it was anything more than pure eye candy. If you walk in with that mindset and patiently wait through the relatively short efforts at story between the action pieces, you might enjoy it, too.

What story there is wraps around doe-eyed Babydoll (Emily Browning), abused and labeled loco by big bad men and shipped off to an asylum where she meets similarly damaged women. Babydoll apparently copes with her imprisonment by sending her mind into flights of dynamic fancy (I'm not going to pretend I always understood where the blur of fantasy and reality truly occurred). These illusions (delusions?) are part of an escape plan and each scenario is key to finding something to facilitate it.

What the movie is truly about are the four vibrant, violent and endlessly kinetic action-fx sequences. Any of them could have been lifted from four different movies and possibly fared better as such. The first sequence, in which Babydoll faces off against giant samurai-esque warriors, is easily the most exciting and memorable.

Probably what ultimately sold me in the thumbs up column was the music. Clever covers of songs like "White Rabbit" and "Where Is My Mind?" along with Bjork's "Army of Me" pump extra life into the visuals.

Sucker Punch is far from perfect and while this nerd won't be pleasuring himself to it, he wasn't offended by its blatant attempt to appeal to the gamer/fanboy/overgrown teenager in me.

Warner Bros. probably isn't too worried about Supes, either. Some guy named Christopher Nolan is producing and he knows thing or two about comic book flicks.

Rating: C+

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Can't Quit Movies

I'm an avid movie watcher, but I've found over the years that there are certain movies I come back to over and over again. Now, these films are also on my all-time favorites list, of course (which I need to redo soon), but there's something about them that makes me stop channel-surfing and watch. I'll watch even though I despise commercials and probably own these films on DVD or blu-ray.

USA has been running all of the Indiana Jones movies today which is what spurred this discussion. So naturally, the first movie on the list is one of them.

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark - Indy is really something of an anti-hero. He has no problem with killing (sure, it's Nazis, but still) and he's kind of a dick to women (who falls asleep when Karen Allen is kissing all over you?). This is possibly the best action film ever.
  • Aliens - I want this James Cameron back...the one who simply wants to make incredible genre flicks, not the guy trying to change the movie universe every decade (although, admittedly, he's doing it).
  • The Dark Knight - The newest entry has only been on TV a couple times so far, but I can already tell I'll be watching this one for many years to come. The fact that this didn't get a Best Picture nomination is a crime.
  • The Lord of the Rings - If I catch a marathon of this trilogy, my day is pretty much shot. The Extended Editions need to hurry up and get to blu-ray.
  • The Empire Strikes Back - Duh...
  • Contact - I think this movie is criminally underrated. Powerful exploration of the possibility of life in the universe.
  • Signs - Speaking of underrated, Shymalan's last truly great movie may have some plot holes but I love the idea of an alien invasion film that shows how average people would experience it and react.
  • Spider-Man 2 - Cuz I still get misty-eyed when the train passengers save Spidey.
  • Casino Royale - The movie that made James Bond truly exciting again.

What are your can't ignore movies?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

2010 Best Picture Nominees

For the fourth year in a row, I attended AMC's Best Picture a two day (consecutive Saturdays) event to accomodate the expansion to ten nominees. I have to say this year's slate might have been the best I've seen in some time. Not a bad movie among them, but some more deserving than others.

127 Hours - B
James Franco may have seemed stoned throughout the Awards broadcast, but he was pretty riveting as the centerpiece of this docu-drama about Aron Rolston. Splashes of Danny Boyle's last nominee, Slumdog Millionaire, are evident...but Franco sells it by staying engaging and witty. The gruesome amputation scene isn't as horrific as reported (the sounds are the most disturbing part) and the story is rather uplifting.

Black Swan - A-
Oh, Darren Aronofsky, you wonderfully insane bastard. You were brilliant with Requiem for a Dream but The Fountain was terrible (I haven't seen The Wrestler). Black Swan is somewhere in between, but much closer to Requiem in form. Natalie Portman's Oscar was well-deserved as the success of the film rests solely on her shoulders. It's disturbing, sexy, mind-boggling and stirring all at once. Am I the only one that can't wait to see what this guy can do with The Wolverine?

The Fighter - A
Probably the most unexpected pleasure for me was The Fighter. Sharply directed, well-written and cast...this wasn't just a boxing movie, though the boxing scenes were amazingly filmed, realistic and a natural extension of the story. Mark Wahlberg was solid, if not a stretch...but Christian earned his trophy by playing completely outside of the box as drug-addled former champ Dicky Eklund.

Inception - A+
I skipped this film this weekend after seeing it in the theatre last summer and already owning it on Blu-ray but it's still my favorite of the nominees. Christopher Nolan was wrongly snubbed (for the second time if you count The Dark Knight) for a Best Director nomination after bringing us his best non-Bat film since Memento. The screenplay is wonderfully twisty, the visual tricks dazzle and any film that leaves so many people asking questions or pissed off because there wasn't an answer is good in my book.

The Kids Are All Right - B-
Probably the weakest of the Best Picture nominees, Kids has good performances and dialogue, but ultimately didn't seem to lead anywhere as a story. The ending was a bit too tidy for my tastes and rather than celebrate the gay relationship at its core, it mostly ignores it. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore were great, as usual.

The King's Speech - A
I'm not sure if it truly was the "Best" Picture, but I'm not surprised at the win and I enjoyed this film more than I expected. It's incredibly witty and Colin Firth's winning performance could be the pinnacle of his underappreciated career or the beginning of a long line of such roles. Geoffrey Rush would have been a winner in any other year were it not for Bale.

The Social Network - A
I expected to love the dialogue and characters of this movie. I wasn't planning on the direction being so sharp and tense. David Fincher was also robbed for making a movie about nerds building the future of the internet seem exciting and sexy. Props to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the unconventional soundtrack.

Toy Story 3 - A
The best of the Toy Story movies and also the most guaranteed to tear at your heart.

True Grit - B+
I'm a huge fan of the original John Wayne film and the remake really isn't all that different. The dialogue was near identical and the plot only had minor tweaks. Of course, the Coen's filmed it with loving style and occasional quirk. Jeff Bridges is a gruffer Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne and Hailee Steinfeld could have a long career ahead of her...or end up like Kim Darby.

Winter's Bone - B
The "unknown" entry in the Best Picture race, Bone is a slow-burn, bleak movie about rural Ozark meth-makers and addicts. It's the kind of movie that makes you feel perpetually tense, waiting for something incredibly bad to happen at any second. Nominees Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes were recognized for a reason.

So...with all that finally said, I guess I can finally give my better late than never:

Top 10 Movies of 2010

10. Iron Man 2
9. True Grit
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
7. Black Swan
6. The Fighter
5. The King's Speech
4. The Social Network
3. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
2. Toy Story 3
1. Inception

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


This may seem a little off from my typical entertainment blogs, but books were escapist entertainment long before music, TV and movies. Tonight I'm discussing the Borders bankruptcy, what it means to me, a former retail bookseller and the future of bookstores in general.

Last week Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They are immediately closing 200 stores and likely more to come. Thousands of layoffs will come with.

Plenty of better sources and blogs have traced the history of Borders/Waldenbooks and what led to this, so I won't rehash that. I, however, spent nearly 8 years working for Waldenbooks, during which I witnessed much of the corporate B.S. that destroyed a once strong franchise.

Despite abhorrently low pay and seeing some of the worst that the public had to offer, I loved that job. More importantly, I loved my store. To many of my customers, I was "the Waldenbooks Guy." I knew their preferences, I knew their was corporate retail, but I wanted my store to feel as independent and friendly as possible.

Believe it or not, we had the same problems that independents did. When superstores like Wal-Mart and Meijer started selling books at deep discounts, we couldn't compete and we wouldn't price-match. But eventually, we did start trying. The prices of new hardcovers climbed into the $30 range, but the discounts went to 40% or more and it still wasn't enough. We started hawking candy, DVDs, music, lip balm...the checkout counter space was a battlefield of "build the basket" impulse items.

While upselling and piling on is the name of any sales game, a noticeable transition occurred from helping your patrons find the best books for their tastes and making sure that your metrics looked good at the end of the day by pushing any little trinket you could find. Terms like A$T (average dollars per transaction) and UPT (units per transaction) were discussed more often than "I made that woman smile and walk out the door excited to read that book."

The desire to make every store look and feel the same may have been the beginning of the end in my mind. Thick merchandising books were sent to us every month with explicit details on where to position books each to fill front of store wallbays, the A-frames that greeted customers on entry, even titles that should be featured in the window. My last manager and I often defied this thinking, opting to features titles that were actually popular for our area, local authors and books we genuinely liked. Upper management always frowned upon this. "People want to feel like every store is their local store." Except that when every store looks the same, there's nothing "local" about it.

I became disgruntled after getting passed over for promotion to take over my own store on several occasions. When a Borders superstore came to my area, I immediately applied. After three lengthy interviews I was finally offered a the cafe manager...without a raise. Eight years of bookselling experience...I even trained three managers...and they wanted me to run their coffee shop?

I don't even drink coffee.

I left the Walden/Borders family in late 2005. My mall-based store, long rumored to become a Borders Express, closed down a couple years later. That Borders is not on the initial chopping block and I still shop there. I usually enter by the cafe and chuckle at the bullet I dodged. (Ironically...or not, I still work with books, now in textbook publishing.)

A lot of questions have loomed about what this means for brick and mortar bookstores. With the rise of digital books and online shopping, does the demise of Borders (assuming this is the first sounding of a death-knell) signal the end of browsing for titles, covers or synopses that excite the senses and beg to be read? Maybe...I admit I'm still old-fashioned enough to like the idea of randomly stumbling on a great book or CD, but still techno-savvy enough to like the concept of an eReader and find music on the internet.

Am I the last of a generation that feels sharing the bookstore experience is vital to the reading experience?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Best Sitcoms on TV

  1. Modern Family
  2. Community
  3. The Big Bang Theory
  4. How I Met Your Mother
  5. The Office
  6. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  7. Louie
  8. 30 Rock
  9. The League
  10. Raising Hope

* * *

I watched Moon with Sam Rockwell tonight. Very simple, smart little film that works because of Rockwell's performance. Obligatory mashup comparison: Solaris meets 2001.

* * *

The X-Men: First Class trailer debuted today. I'm not particularly impressed.

I guess I just don't see the point of a retro X-film that ignores the continuity of the rest, especially when said continuity already includes sub-par entries like The Last Stand and Wolverine.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'm going to go right ahead and say it. Southland ranks among the best police/crime dramas I've ever seen. I'll mention it in the same sentence with Homicide, The Wire and The Shield. Major props to TNT for rescuing it after NBC let it go.

Parenthood is the best family drama on TV. Not surprising given it has a pedigree from creators of Friday Night Lights. Speaking of...NBC...will you hurry up and air the final season? I'm doing everything I can to avoid the DirecTV spoilers.

I realized in my Super Bowl wrap that I completely forgot to mention the Transformers: Dark of the Moon trailer. Probably because I forgot about it 10 seconds later. The first film is watchable enough to pass. The second was a complete and total mess. I'll catch the third on Netflix in two or three years on a whim.

Mumford & Sons is good music...I'm sorry it took me so long to pick up the album. "The Cave" is a great song.

Season premiere of Justified tomorrow night on FX. Watch it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl Edition

The Pepsi Max ads might have been the best of the night.

I have no idea was Groupon is about, but that dig at Tibet probably won't make anyone rush to find out.

Volkswagon gets props for two great ads...I'd seen the li'l' Vader one already, but the madcap Beetle was clever, too. needs a new schtick. If anyone is still rushing to their website to see "uncensored" videos when they can go find free porn just as quickly without server overloads...well, you deserve the diappointment.

Trailer recap:

Cowboys & Aliens...dumb title but I'm still psyched for this film.
Thor...I'm sorry, but this looks crazy awesome.
Captain America...I know I should be more excited for this, but I'm actually a little scared. Not sure why.
Rango...this looks pretty clever, unlike Johnny Depp's other film this summer..
Pirates, thank you.
Super 8...not as suspenseful mysterious as Cloverfield promotion was, but Spielberg/Abrams working together? I'm all in.
Battle this the new District 9 or Skyline?
Green Lantern...wait, there wasn't a trailer for this? Nope...score another one for Marvel.

Half time show...ugh...not that I expected a lot or really watched.

Green Bay Packers...NFL yah!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Today's Pop Culture Observations

Marvel Comics has been winning the big screen war lately (Chris Nolan's Batman films the only exception), but DC seems to have the small screen under control. Their animated series have been phenomenal since Batman: The Animated Series debut in the 90s. The latest, Young Justice, continues the trend of sharp writing, intelligent use of classic characters and new spins on familiar stories. Last night's episode might have been the coolest Amazo has been since Grant Morrison still wrote coherently.

Julie & Julia. Cute film. Meryl Streep as Julia Child is the selling point, but a toned-down Amy Adams is good, too.

Donnie Darko is one of my favorite films. Dark, mind-tripping and filled with great lines, apocalyptic imagery and an amazing soundtrack. Unfortunately, Richard Kelly has yet to impress me since. Southland Tales was a mess of genres and bizarrely uneven tones. The Box, which I finally watched today, is an arresting idea that simply goes nowhere. Darko succeeded in leaving the viewer with questions that intelligent discourse could resolve or at least agree to disagree...The Box simply asks the questions and ignores even the hint of payoff.

Does "From the Mind of James Cameron" and "Shot in 3D" compel you to go see a film? Because that is the entirety of the Sanctum marketing campaign. No thanks...

If you don't watch Archer, you're missing out on the best James Bond parody since Roger Moore had the role. Yeah, I said it...

Apparently Fringe is actually doing well on Fridays. Perhaps great TV can actually overcome network shenanigans. Somewhere Joss Whedon is...well, he's probably shrugging as he figures out where to put his impending Avengers cash.

Dear Nicholas Cage: Stop...just stop...please.

Best moment of this week's 30 Rock: Jack muttering "crap" and the voice activated TV switching to Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Community...brilliant. You almost made D&D cool again...if it ever was.

Justified returns next week on FX. Raylan Givens might be one of the best characters on TV and the new season ad featuring a conversation about Han & Greedo and "who shot first?" is awesome.

Go Packers!