He don't have a heart. I just keep feeding him shells. He gets it poppin' in the hood, so his name ring bells.


Movie: Mirrormask

Sometimes you hear wildly different things about a movie from different people. Your friend loved it, while your cousin hated it and your girlfriend thought it was funny in a not-so-good way. And other times, it seems like you hear the same thing from every person you talk to. Mirrormask was one of those films for me. Choruses of "the plot is boring, but the visuals are amazing" seemed to echo from the heavens. I think most people short-changed the plot, and were a little too kind to the special effects, which makes the result.... a mixed bag, to be honest.

The story is simple, but endearing. The mother of a family of circus performers has some unnamed ailment that requires dangerous surgery. The daughter, who regularly escapes from life through her art, does literally that: she falls asleep and enters the world she has created from the drawings on her wall. She quickly learns that an evil princess took her place in the real world, and that she must find (Guess! Quick! OK, I'll tell you....) the Mirrormask to return both worlds to order. And in an Oz homage-that-is-almost-a-ripoff, all the actors who play the adults in her real life are the adults in the fantasy world as well. The dialogue is a little stilted and dry, with just enough humor and levity to keep the film from sinking into gothic boredom.

Now, for the special effects. I will say that there is an overabundance of imagination on display here. Also, considering the film's budget, the entire affair is fairly confidently managed. But you often get the feeling that you are seeing rough drafts of digital effects rather than their finished forms. Most of the CG work is very, very obvious. And while you could make the argument that this was a conscious decision meant to evoke the rough state of the girl's drawings, there are ways to achieve that effect and still develop a more polished product.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie, but not as much as I hoped I would. It is effectively the same movie as Return to Oz, except not quite as good. If that sounds appealing, dive right in.



What Sci-Fi crew is best for you?

Now here is a fun diversion. A set of questions that will gauge your compatibility with the crews of various science fiction series. Of course, I matched up with the one show I never watched. Head over and take the quiz, and post your results below.

Are you more Browncoat or Rebel?

Here's how I scored:

Moya (from Farscape)


SG-1 (from Stargate)


Millennium Falcon (from Star Wars)


Galactica (from Battlestar: Galactica)


Serenity (from Firefly)


Nebuchadnezzar (from The Matrix)


Bebop (from Cowboy Bebop)


Enterprise D (from Star Trek)



Movie: The Matador

I don't know what I was expecting from The Matador, but it wasn't what I saw. What I saw was much, much better.

Maybe it is because Greg Kinnear has always struck me as a fairly safe, vanilla actor. Maybe it is because I didn't truly believe that Pierce Brosnan would (or could) deconstruct his entire Bond image in 90 minutes. Maybe it is because I forgot that I have a secret crush on Hope Davis. I don't know why. But the fact remains: The Matador is a better movie than it has any right to be.

The plot may not win any originality awards (hitman has nervous breakdown, befriends suburban male in hotel bar), but it is fun. And the casting, in retrospect, is inspired. Greg Kinnear plays a different shade of his character from As Good As It Gets: thrown into concert with a lunatic, forced to make the best of it. He has more confidence here, and really hits all the notes he needs to. In many respects, Kinnear makes the film work. Without him, you basically have a slapstick mess with Brosnan putting on nail polish and acting retarded. Kinnear supplies the heart, the insecurity, the material that the audience can connect to. Hope Davis' role is brief, but very important, and anchors the insanity in some semblance of reality.

Pierce Brosnan has gotten most of the press surrounding this movie, and with good reason. The comedy he utilizes in this role is very broad, absurdist humor. Yet somehow, he manages to inject some real pathos into the part and generate sympathy for this complete cod-piece of a character. He goes about as far as you can go without abandoning the audience's trust, and the result is a performance that is the most captivating and gleeful work Brosnan has done since before he donned the infamous tuxedo.

It might not have been the best choice for a Valentine's Day date movie, though. :)



Movie: Match Point

Match Point (unless I am mistaken) is the first Woody Allen movie I have ever seen. I can't compare this film to any of his other oft-debated pictures, be they lauded successes, cataclysmic failures, or something in between. However, I can say that it is easily one of the best movies I have seen this year, which is impressive given how unremarkable the plot is, in many respects.

I felt that this was a story about the opposite sex as a possession. There are very few, if any, glimpses at true love. Instead, you get anything and everything that we have mistaken for love throughout the years: security, lust, comfort, acceptance.... But you never get the spark. Or, perhaps, you occasionally get a spark, but it never seems to ignite a flame.

Relationships in this story don't just happen; they fulfill purposes. Jonathan Rhys Meyers uses his to rise into a position of status; you get the impression from the moment he meets his future wife (Emily Mortimer) that he feels very little for her, and yet will undoubtedly pursue and win her anyway. Not that she is an innocent victim. After her all-too-brief girlish dance through her emotions, her true joy appears to be speaking about the minutia of their relationship with her upper-class friends. It is as if the only thing better than having a baby is getting to complain about fertility troubles over tea.

Scarlett Johansson is no better. We see her as Rhys Meyers does for the bulk of the film. At first, she is a flawless goddess. She is about as far in the clouds as most men would dare to dream of achieving. And it makes the lengths that he goes to in efforts to keep her near him almost understandable. (Appalling, but understandable.) As time passes, and the real world begins to fog his fantasy, her flaws become much more apparent, culminating in truly shocking fashion later in the film.

There is no real hero in Match Point, and no true villian. There are shades of virtue blended with deceit and darkness. The societal veneer is barely enough to conceal the less-than-altruistic intentions of these characters. And while the movie may not lift your spirits or reaffirm your confidence in the goodness of man, it is so compelling and wonderful to watch that it hardly matters.



Music: The Grammys Are Dead

Officially. Done. They are a joke. And while I suppose that many of you have suspected that this has been the case for a long time, they PROVED it last night. Proved that, beyond any shadow of doubt, they are so completely out of touch with the music scene that they ought to never hand out a trophy again. Let's look at some of the worst offenders:

Album of the Year: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, U2

Ok. C'mon. Seriously. What voter sat down with his ballot and said, "You know what the best album I heard all year was? U2. No doubt." Anyone? If you did, please stand up. Now please never vote again. First of all, the album was released in 2004. It is February of 2006. That said, even in 2004, was U2 a consensus choice to make critics' top 10 lists? No. Granted, the rest of the category shouldn't have been nominated either. But how the industry can hold up this album as its most crowning achievement last year is... well, its amazing.

Best Pop Vocal Album: Breakaway, Kelly Clarkson

Now, I have made it perfectly clear that I am head over heels for Ms. Clarkson, and any other year I would have hailed this victory as a visionary selection. Until you scroll through the other nominees, and find... Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple. Yep. And as much as I've swallowed the Clarkson Kool-Aid, even I don't think her album is better than the masterpiece that Fiona Apple released last year. No one should.

Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group: "Don't Phunk With My Heart", The Black Eyed Peas

This one requires no commentary. It's just dumb. It doesn't even matter who else was nominated. (Although, for the record, every other song in the category is a million times better than this one.) I would have preferred to see the Ying Yang Twins win this nonsense.

So, I'm filling out the toe tag. We're done, Grammys. I have given up pretending that you know what you are doing.

That said, here are a couple of things they did get right: (And to be clear, yes, there are more things in this list than in the above list, but the omissions are so egregious above that they far outweigh the good that was done.)

Best New Artist: John Legend
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance: "Since U Been Gone", Kelly Clarkson
Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals: "Feel Good Inc.", Gorillaz feat. De La Soul
Best Hard Rock Performance: "B.Y.O.B.", System of a Down
Best Male R&B Vocal Performance: "Ordinary People", John Legend
Best Rap Solo Performance: "Gold Digger", Kanye West



Movie News: Dark Crystal and Bond Girls

A couple tidbits from the Hollywood news/rumor bin this morning:

  • Variety reports that the Jim Henson Co. has hired Genndy Tartakovsky to direct Power of the Dark Crystal. If you don't know Genndy, then you don't watch enough cartoons. He is the unstoppable force of awesome behind Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Samurai Jack, Dexter's Lab, and The Powerpuff Girls. The film will apparently be shot with puppets in front of completely CGI backgrounds (similar to the technique used in Sin City). This has now surpassed Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are adaptation as my most eagerly awaited children's film.

  • The Hollywood Reporter reports that Rachel McAdams and Thandie Newton have emerged as possible options for the not-so-coveted "Bond girl" role. While this isn't Halle Berry exciting, I would certainly take either of these two over Denise Richards or Teri Hatcher. Take a look; any preference?



The New Best Network on TV: "CW"

It was announced today that CBS and Warner Brothers will be launching a new network in the fall called CW. It will be a blend of the programming on the WB and UPN, and both those networks will go away. They have not even announced a preliminary lineup yet, but I can promise you this: I will spend more time watching this network this fall than any other television station on cable. Easy.

Let's look at a short list of programs that this new station will have to draw from:

Veronica Mars
Gilmore Girls
Beauty and the Geek
WWE Smackdown
Everybody Hates Chris

Does any other network have a lineup that strong? Honestly? No. They might have hours that can compete ("Lost", or "Earl"/"Office", or "Idol"). But trust me: if this new network creates a night with "Chris" at 8, a new decent comedy at 8:30, and "Veronica Mars" at 9, I will cancel all my plans for the rest of the year. This is a huge deal. I think this new network will finally begin to compete with the heavyweights before long, especially seeing the weak crop of shows on the air right now.



My 20 Favorite Albums of 2005

Well, I have finally compiled a list of everything that was released in 2005, and thrown out a lot of it because I never heard it, and then somehow ranked the 20 releases that stand out most for me this year. This is the biggest list I have ever put together at the end of a year, which is a testament to a) how good this year was for music, and b) how much less music I ought to listen to. At any rate, we start with my most anticipated album of the year, and end with the pre-season favorite to win it all. (Many of these albums were reviewed by me at 75 Or Less, so I will link to my reviews where appropriate.)

20. 311 - Don't Tread On Me: I wrote at great length about this record on this site when it was released, and my passion for it hasn't diminished one bit.

19. Kings Of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak

18. Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway: OK, I know I will have to defend this. This list represents my FAVORITE albums this year. Ask me in five years and I might laugh at this choice. However, at this moment... the first three songs on this record OWN me. The rest is excellent pop music as well, but if you want the best example of pop perfection released this year, you must listen to the first 11 minutes of this album.

17. Beck - Guero

16. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem

15. The Duhks - The Duhks

14. Esthero - Wikked Lil Girls

13. ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Worlds Apart

12. Common - Be

11. Spoon - Gimme Fiction: That this ended up outside my top 10 is just a demonstration of how deep I thought this year was. In other years, this would be MUCH higher than 11.

10. Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs: In addition to having some of the best album art of the year, this record goes punch for punch with the consensus songwriting albums of the year (Apple, Oberst, Stevens). If you haven't heard this one, but like any of those other albums, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Genius.

9. System Of A Down - Mezmerize/Hypnotize: This would have been higher if Hypnotize had reached the heights of its predecessor. However, it is still easily the metal album of the year. Their popularity is a testament to the growth of the casual music fan over the last 25 years.

8. Gorillaz - Demon Days: My opinion of this record has grown exponentially since my initial review. I now feel that this album is superior to the first in almost every way. It is just so different that it took me some time to realize it.

7. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall: The best jazz album I have ever heard. A "must buy".

6. Eels - Blinking Lights and Other Revelations

5. Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine: Better than it has any right being. Fiona Apple used to sit next to Tori Amos on my "Useless Unless You Hate Men and Penises" shelf. No longer. This album borders on ridiculous in a very, very good way. You can see instantly why these songs were such a production challenge; they exist on a higher plane of mastery than anything being written today. Like Aimee Mann but six times more versatile. Even if you see this in the store and are sure that you would hate it... you wouldn't. Trust me.

4. Sufjan Stevens - Illinoise: I resisted this album at first, but it won me over. Big time. Not the second coming that some psychos have touted, but its darn good. (In fact, Sufjan fans are this year's musical equivalent of Firefly/Serenity fans like me; so obnoxious that they actually turn people off from the thing they are promoting.) If Bright Eyes lived on the Polyphonic Spree's compound for a year, the output would be pretty close to this.

3. My Morning Jacket - Z

2. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, Its Morning

1. The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan


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