Friday, February 26, 2010

People Who Can Suck It: Ashley Cole

(This post is for Kameron, who both requested this entry and let me borrow the fabulous image below he made himself)

Who Needs to Suck It: Ashley Cole, British footballer and now future ex-husband of Girls Aloud babe, X-Factor judge and all-around glamour goddess Cheryl Cole.

Why He Needs to Suck It: Over the past couple weeks, if you're British (or just wish you were British), the most pressing news story of the decade has been unfolding in front of your eyes: Ashley Cole, premier British footballer, had been caught having an affair with some random skank after naked pictures of himself from his cell phone had been leaked to the press. As if that wasn't bad enough, as the days wore on, more and more bimbos came out of the woodwork to announce that they too had fucked Mr. Cole. Although the number was nowhere near as high the number involved in the Tiger Woods debacle, there was still enough to send shockwaves through the British public. Cheryl, still reeling from another of Cole's alleged affairs a couple of years ago, had to escape to L.A. with fellow footballer wife Victoria Beckham (what a doll!) to clear her head and avoid public scrutiny. Now that she's come to her senses and left the cheating dickwad for good, I only have one question: How could Ashley do it? You have a classy, bangin' sex goddess like Cheryl Cole waiting for you at home and you go out and fuck random skanks instead? Seriously? Man, if presented the opportunity to marry and sleep with Cheryl, even I don't think I could turn her down (I'm a sucker for big hair, what can I say?). Ashley Cole is a slutty piece of disgusting slime only worth mentioning as an example of men who aren't deserving of stunningly gorgeous and eternally talented women like Cheryl. I hope he dies alone and lonely for hurting our Cheryl like this; it is the only fitting retribution for repeatedly playing her for the fool like he has.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Ultimate Teen Drama

Ryan Atwood as the main heartthrob- a rough-around-the-edges everyman with a sensitive soft side.

Season 2 Blair Waldorf and Series 1 Tony Stonem as the manipulative, eternally scheming antagonists we're supposed to hate but end up loving more than the protagonists.

Seth Cohen as the dorky sidekick who is actually more adorable and lovable than the main character.

Sandy and Kirsten Cohen as the cool parents every teen wishes was their own.

Julie Cooper-Nichols as the bitchy parent no teen wishes was their own.

Season 1, "I killed a man" Serena van der Woodsen and Season 2 and beyond Summer Roberts as the eternally loyal (and gorgeous!) female sidekicks who, in the right moment, can be counted on for a good punchline.

Chris Miles as the slacker sidekick always making the wrong decisions but never less than hilarious making them.

Jal Fazer as the badass conscience of the group who can always be trusted to lend an ear and give great advice.

Mackenzie as the rich snob trying to protect his turf from the invading poor heartthrob.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Very, Very, Very Mild Defense of Robert Pattinson in Little Ashes

This weekend, because I'm a sadist at heart, I watched Little Ashes, the queer-ish tale of the kinda-romance between writer Federico Garcia Lorca and painter Salvador Dali. If I'm being honest, the only reason I bothered with this film despite the middling to poor reviews it had gotten, was the opportunity to yet again make fun of Robert Pattinson's acting. And, boy, were there opportunities aplenty. I think at one pointed out on my Twitter that the larger Dali's moustache became, the worse Pattinson's acting became. The early parts of the film were better because they played into Pattinson's in-bred awkwardness and inability to formulate a proper sentence. Once Dali became a surrealist/avant garde whatever and the character was forced to adopt wild gesticulations and speak like a madman, Pattinson became lost. For some reason, he highlights Dali's madness during this period with opening his eyes really wide and starring at Lorca for long periods of time. Literally, at one point there was a good thirty seconds where he didn't blink, just kept his eyes open like his eyelids were taped to his face while raving like a lunatic. Needless to say, it was all very embarrassing.

After the film finished, however, and I came to the conclusion that maybe Robert Pattinson wasn't as bad as he initially appeared to be. Listen, I'm not saying he should be up for an Oscar or anything; I wouldn't bother to call his performance good in any sense of the word. Rather, I think Pattinson's Dali is interesting to consider from the vantage point of how the quality of a performance can be judged by the context of the film around it. Little Ashes, as a film, is so shapeless and uninformative it becomes hard to judge whether or not Pattinson fits within it. Take, for example, the scene where Lorca and Dali kiss for the first time. Pattinson is so noticeably uncomfortable he looks like one of those straight guys in a gay porn who has to make out with another guy to "get things going" and you know would rather be giving his mother a sponge bath than kiss another guy. It is easy to dismiss Pattinson in a similar manner, but Little Ashes doesn't exactly help him out in any way. The film is so flimsy and so eager to gloss over multiple subjects without going into any depth about them, we have no idea about Dali's motivations during this scene. Is he uncomfortable with his sexuality, uncomfortable with Lorca, uncomfortable with intimacy of any kind or just a nutcase? I spent nearly two hours with him, and I still have no clue. Any of these interpretations impact how we consider Pattinson's performance in different ways, so it becomes Little Ashes's fault, in part, that his performance is so impenetrable.

Let's reconsider those awful final scenes with Pattinson acting like a mustachioed Bette Midler at her drag queen worst. Looking at the numerous interpretations that could be theorized, he may not be as bad as originally thought. If director Paul Morrison was intending for the whole movie to be quietly, almost non-existently, emotive about a doomed love affair, then Pattinson is an over-the-top freakshow unable to gauge what the film is trying to achieve. But, if the film was attempting to highlight the increased eccentricity of Dali and the lack of connection between him and Lorca some ten years later, then at least Pattinson was in the right ballpark. If nothing else, Pattinson is memorable in these scenes and more alive than any other character at any other point in the film. He may not be anywhere near "good," but at least he's entertaining (if only to laugh at the ridiculous faces he makes). All in all, I wish Little Ashes was a stronger film if only so I could gauge Pattinson's performance better and understand definitively why his performance is so off. With all the film's mediocrity and inability to commit to any perspective, Pattinson's performance will forever remain an unsolved mystery.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Random Pictures With Bonus Witty* Commentary

*I'm not guaranteeing you'll find it funny in the slightest but just humor me.

My two favorite gay men, united at last.

Work it, divas!

This is the closest Robert Pattinson's gotten to a bathtub in months. And, for some reason, I don't think it was the naked female in the tub that enticed him.

(Yes, I realize it's not exactly original to make fun of Pattinson's lack of hygiene, but come on! This picture was just begging for a joke. And it doesn't matter how many you hear, they're always funny.)

GaGa at the Brit Awards last night.

Words fail me. This has to be the craziest thing I've seen on her in awhile...


Oh wait. Spoke too soon.

In other news, the 'Telephone' video is going to be an epic masterpiece, yes?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Top 100 Songs of the 2000's: #20-1

Previous installments: #100-81 #80-61 #60-41 #40-21

20. Jessica Simpson 'I Think I'm In Love With You'
2000. From Sweet Kisses.

Of the four teen pop princesses who emerged in 1999-2000, Jessica Simpson (along with Brit, Xtina and Mandy Moore) gets the least amount of respect these days. I find it a shame that she's nothing more than tabloid fodder because underneath all of the Newlyweds, "dumb blonde" foolishness, there's a legitimate talent. When she gets a great pop song, she nails it (see also: 'A Little Bit,' 'With You,' 'Irresistible'). 'I Think I'm In Love With You,' sampling the fantastic hook from John Cougar Mellencamp's 'Jack & Diane,' is the perfect pop song, the embodiment of how I want to feel when I fall in love with someone. I want to sing that big note without a care in the world. One more than one occasion I've said that I love this song more than nearly every member of my extended family; it's still true and probably always will be.

19. Leona Lewis 'Run'
2008/9. From Spirit.

My only gripe with Britpop of the 2000's, a decade which saw the Brits deliver consistently more clever and creative pop music than us lazy Americans, is the way they constantly cover pop songs that had no business being covered (and the fact that they get to #1 again and again at an alarming rate). Just think of all Christmas #1's, X-Factor finalists/winners and charity singles that hit the top of the chart and then were quietly forgotten two weeks later. One of the very few exceptions to this rule is Leona Lewis's 'Run,' a cover of Snow Patrol's so-indie-it-hurts ballad. Leona turned this dire song into one of the biggest and most emotive power ballads since Celine Dion's heyday. Now, this how you cover a song.

18. Lady GaGa 'Bad Romance'
2009. From The Fame Monster.

A future classic. 'Bad Romance' is the moment everyone realized that GaGa wasn't fucking around.

17. Robyn featuring Kleerup 'With Every Heartbeat'
2008. From Robyn.

Whenever I hear some annoying twat complain about how shallow pop music is (especially in comparison with whatever precious indie shit they adore), I, first of all, want to shake them. After that, I would tell them to listen to Robyn's 'With Every Heartbeat,' a searing, unconventional portrait of a broken heart that is unashamed of its pop roots. The way she repeats "And it hurts with every heartbeat" over and over at the end is more emotive and real than all of your "real" music put together.

16. Destiny's Child 'Say My Name'
2000. From The Writing's on the Wall.

America's premiere girl group bounced right back from the nasty departure of two of its members with 'Say My Name,' the song that solidified their then-burgeoning fame. I simply adore the way this song plays around with tempo and pacing, oscillating back and forth, constantly surprising with what's coming next. Bonus points for that iconic music video--which girl's room do you want to be in?

15. Justin Timberlake featuring Timbaland 'SexyBack'
2006. From FutureSex/LoveSounds.

This song should have gotten old quickly. Thankfully, it hasn't. I can still listen to JT's sexy growling and Timbaland's constant "Yup!" and never get sick of it.

14. Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z 'Crazy in Love'
2003. From Dangerously in Love.

I don't fall head over heels in love with a song on first listen, but 'Crazy in Love' had me right from that opening trumpet wail. Beyoncé always had star power--'Crazy in Love' just proved that she had the ability to take over the pop world. Seven years later, we are still captivated by her.

13. Leona Lewis 'Bleeding Love'
2008. From Spirit.

My God, those lyrics! I simply can't get over how rich, emotive and surprisingly dark they are, even after hearing this song approximately 1400 times since its American debut in the spring of 2008. But this isn't the song's sole claim to success. Jesse McCartney, one of the song's co-writers, sang a version of it, but it never worked for me. Leona has this amazing knack to emote on my exact emotional level at all times. She turns 'Bleeding Love' from a great poem to an amazing musical experience.

12. Girls Aloud 'Sexy! No No No...'
2007. From Tangled Up.

The first Girls Aloud song I ever heard. What a way to start, hm? I love the absolutely relentless beat that gets heavier and heavier as the song moves along. It's so f-ing addictive, and I'm sure it is what made me a Girls Aloud convert right from the get-go (the insane punctuation in the song title sure didn't hurt either).

11. Mariah Carey 'We Belong Together'
2005. From The Emancipation of Mimi.

The moment America seemed to remember how much they truly loved Mariah after all those years of calling her crazy and washed up. I loved Mariah, even during those dark years (I still think Charmbracelet is an underrated album), but 'We Belong Together' reaffirmed those feelings like a renewal of marriage vows. A couple times a year, some R&B songstress tries to come out with a smooth R&B slow jam and try to out-Mariah Mariah. A couple times a year, those songs fail. No one does 'We Belong Together'-style balladeering better than the originator.

10. Kylie Minogue 'Love at First Sight'
2002. From Fever.

The idea of "love at first sight" is technically not a very groundbreaking concept in pop music. With 'Love at First Sight,' however, Kylie is able to capture that emotion like it was a startling breakthrough. In much the same way 'I Think I'm In Love With You' does, 'Love at First Sight' relates an idea or feeling that you hope to experience someday. Only pop music, I feel, has the power to take some emotion so mundane and make it completely zesty.

9. Ciara 'Like a Boy'
2007. From The Evolution.

Ciara stands up to all the wannabe gangsters and tough thugs in one of the cleverest take downs of this decade's rap culture...and no one pays attention. Sigh.

8. Missy Elliott 'Work It'
2002. From Under Construction.

This may not be Missy's most accomplished jam (which sounds like complaining about your least favorite track on Blackout), but it's the one I'm most fond of even after all these years. 'Work It' is Missy at the height of her powers, when she was making music for herself and having a damn good time doing it. The great thing was, everyone else was enjoying it too. 'Work It' was popular among my group of friends in high school, and I remember often talking about how insane and in-your-face this song is--especially that epic lyric in reverse during the chorus.

7. Amy Winehouse 'Rehab'
2006/7. From Back to Black.

Come back to the music world, Amy Winehouse, Amy Winehouse. This place simply isn't the same since your hasty, drug-induced departure. Who else but Amy Winehouse can make a song about refusing to get help for a drinking problem so beautiful and every so slightly sad at the same time (maybe Ke$ha, but less enthusiastically and soulfully)? I will never give up on this woman and her eventual re-ascension to the top of the music world.

6. P!nk 'Just Like a Pill'
2002. From M!ssundaztood.

P!nk's rebellious attitude had become her stock in trade by the time she released this single. Never before had she dabbled in such a dark, eerily moody place as she does in 'Just Like a Pill.' This song is often remembered only as a footnote after the twin mega-successes of 'Get the Party Started' and 'Don't Let Me Get Me,' but 'Just Like a Pill' stands on its own merits and showed the world a side of P!nk that hadn't been seen before.

5. Sugababes 'Push the Button'
2005. From Taller in More Ways.

The sexiest song ever recorded. I wasn't convinced at first, but now I want to make babies to this song.

4. Eve and Gwen Stefani 'Let Me Blow Ya Mind'
2001. From Scorpion.

The best example of post-Spice Girls "Girl Power." Rock and rap collide in this piercing take down of celebrity-hungry culture and rappers more concerned with bling than writing good rhymes. If only more people had paid attention to Eve's warning back in 2001, maybe we wouldn't have had to endure Souljaboy.

P.S. I know every word to this song. It's probably the only rap song I can say that about.

3. Kelly Clarkson 'Since U Been Gone'
2005. From Breakaway.

I'm sure this song is near the top, if not at the top, of everyone else's best of the decade list. But when a song has proven this influential (for good or for bad) and this monumental in such a short span of time, there's nothing left but to give it due credit and follow consensus. Never have I been happier to follow a trend.

2. Girls Aloud 'Biology'
2005. From Chemistry.

I still remember the moment when I realized 'Biology' was one of the greatest songs I had ever heard. I was driving home from work one random night, listening to my Girls Aloud mix CD. I had always liked 'Biology,' but something happened with the song that gave me chills. As weird as it may sound, I felt like I was having some grand epiphany of sorts. This is what pop music is about.

I love the way 'Biology' keeps on playing with your expectations without you even realizing it. The structure doesn't follow the typical verse/bridge/chorus we've come to expect from a three and a half minute pop song. Then, there's the way the first verse builds up to a heated, sexual frenzy, pausing more seductively with each "Closer," only to, for lack of a better expression, give you blue balls with the abstinence-friendly second verse. How many songs do you know that can take you up and then take you down like that all in a matter of seconds?

1. Nelly Furtado 'Say It Right'
2007. From Loose.

Surprised that a semi-serious song from everyone's favorite Canadian warbler is my favorite of the entire decade? I was rather surprised myself when I sat down to make this list that I kept coming back to this one as the song I felt most strongly about, the one that defined the whole decade for me. 'Say It Right' is a perfect, and admittedly strange, combination of mid-90's hip-hop, Eurthymics-style 80's synth pop, late 2000's American pop and East Asian zen. Add to that conflicting pile of influences the fact that I, nor even Nelly herself, knows exactly what this song is about or trying to be about. That hardly matters in the long run, though. When you have a song as mysteriously vague as 'Say It Right,' it's more fun trying to dissect its meaning rather than knowing straight off. For this reason (plus the fact that it's compulsively listenable), 'Say It Right' is officially my favorite song of the 2000's.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Films of the 2000's: #40-21

Previous installment: #60-41

40. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly

Like many people, Requiem for a Dream has scarred me for life. If I was ever likely to try heroin at any point in my life, that was squashed right at the moment Jared Leto revealed his blackened arm. My God, I just think about that image and get shivers.

39. Borat (2006)
Director: Larry Charles
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen

A sociological study of Americans as they truly behave that I laughed my ass of throughout most of the runtime. How many movies can you say that about? In any ordinary studio film, Sacha Baron Cohen's schtick would have gotten old ten minutes in. Thankfully, the decision to shoot the film documentary style keeps Cohen engaging and on his toes, ready and willing to do nearly anything to get a laugh. My brother and I were nearly on the floor we were laughing so hard during the naked fight scene.

38. Julia (2009)
Director: Erick Zonca
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Kate del Castillo, Aidan Gold

Tilda Swinton is a goddess. The rest of the movie ain't too shabby either. If only all kidnap-gone-wrong movies were this exciting, unnerving and oddly touching all at the same time.

37. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Matt Damon, Joan Allen, David Strathairn

I've admitted my action movie bias before, but I was able to overcome it with The Bourne Ultimatum. After the end credits starting rolling, I just sat in my seat completely dazed by what had just transpired. The film is a pure adrenaline rush--"Godard on crack" I believe I once called it--that makes its cheap imitators look calm and subdued with every jarring jump cut and the so-shaky-I-don't-know-who-I'm-following cinematography.

36. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Director: Judd Apatow
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Catherine Keener

Judd Apatow's first film is still his best. Even at two hours, the film remains fresh and never feels bloated or overlong unlike his two follow-ups.

35. Spirited Away (2002)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

The most beautiful animated film I've ever seen.

34. Legally Blonde (2001)
Director: Robert Luketic
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Coolidge, Luke Wilson

The moment Reese Witherspoon became a legitimate bankable star. And I've done the "Bend and Snap" way too many times even for a gay man.

33. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Director: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Starring: Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin

The little quirky indie comedy that could. I'm sure it is popular now to hate on this movie in the wake of it's immense success (hello, Juno!) but I still adore the Hoover family, their multitude of (mental and physical) crises and their bright yellow Volkswagen bus. As an added bonus, Abigail Breslin's unpretentious and unaffected performance as the eponymous Olive is one of the very few child actor performances I can stomach. And you have to give her props for pulling off that musical number; I roared with laughter when I saw this at the theatre.

32. Bright Young Things (2003)
Director: Stephen Fry
Starring: Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, Fenella Woolgar

If Gossip Girl had taken place in 1930's Britain, it would look exactly like Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things. Not especially deep, but the film is frivolous, fast-paced and fun, with an incredible cast consisting of old timers (Stockard Channing, Imelda Staunton) and then up-and-comers (Emily Mortimer, James McAvoy).

31. Adventureland (2009)
Director: Greg Mottola
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Kristen Wiig

Whereas Mottola's Superbad was crude, crass and balls-out funny, Adventureland is nostalgic, achingly sweet and even a bit melancholic at times. Two moments stick out for me like I had just seen the movie yesterday: the bodacious Lisa P.'s enticing dance and Kristen Stewart blankly staring out the windshield with the wind blowing through her hair while 'Don't Dream It's Over' plays dreamily over the background.

30. District 9 (2009)
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley

I wanted to vomit. I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to hide. I'm pretty sure I felt every possible human emotion throughout the course of District 9. I loved every minute of it.

29. WALL-E (2008)
Director: Andrew Stanton

The idea of an animated film about robot wandering a post-apocalyptic planet Earth, I must admit, was a bit of a hard sell. However, it didn't take much convincing after the Chaplinesque pathos of the first half, which I was immediately taken by. Who knew the romance of two robots could be so beautiful?

28. Bad Education (2004)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Fele Martinez

I seem to have a thing for movies where Gael Garcia Bernal makes out with men. That's so unlike me, I know. Bernal sexiness aside, this is my favorite Almodóvar film. The mystery is fascinating and keeps you engaged throughout the entire runtime. And Bernal works overtime playing three different roles, remaining an impossibly indecipherable enigma.

27. Memento (2001)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Guy Pearce, Carrie Anne Moss

It's been 3 1/2 years since I first saw Memento, and I'm still working out what it all meant.

26. The Pianist (2002)
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Adrien Brody

Not just another Holocaust movie. Frighteningly realistic, downright grimy and all too horrific to believe, it's the Holocaust as we don't like to think about. The fact that Roman Polanski lived through the horrors makes it all the more discomforting to watch; it's almost as if watching his experience first-hand.

25. The HSM Trilogy (2006-8)
Director: Kenny Ortega
Starring: Zac Efron, La Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Vanessa Hudgens

My increasing fascination with the tween subculture can be credited to one summer day in 2007 when I decided to see what all this fuss about High School Musical was about. I wasn't crazy about the first, aside from La Tisdale's epic performance of course, but I couldn't deny there was something about their inherent badness that hooked me. I caught the second film when it premiered later on that summer and, while it was technically even worse than the first, I couldn't deny my rising infatuation with La Tisdale's divaliciousness or Zac Efron's beautiful face. By the time the third installment came, it was preceded by a 6+ month anticipation that could barely contain itself by the time it premiered in October of 2008. Who would have guessed that the third would not only be the best of the series but also a legitimately good film in its own right? If nothing else, the HSM Trilogy proved to me that some of the greatest actors around are hiding in the Disney Ghetto, just waiting to be discovered and make it to the big time. Without this trilogy, just think: I probably wouldn't have encountered Demi Lovato, Sterling Knight, Tiffany Thornton or the JONAS girls. Scary thought, indeed.

24. In Bruges (2008)
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrel, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson

In retrospect, a dialogue-heavy, (black) comedic meditation on life, death, guilt sounds right up my alley. Initially, however, I was a bit skeptical. Imagine my surprise when the movie ended and I thought to myself, "Damn, everything about this movie just worked." There aren't many movies out there that you can say that about.

23. Dreamgirls (2006)
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy

All of my favorite things combined into one movie: black female belters, divas, glitter, showstopping musical numbers, the early 60's, Beyoncé wearing ridiculous fashions. You can't ask for much than that, can you? Oh yes you can. How about a showstopping, jaw-dropping performance from American Idol alum Jennifer Hudson that earned at least three rounds of applause in the theatre I saw it in (all of which I joined in enthusiastically)? Or a much maligned performance from Beyoncé that only looked shallow and undercooked because the character required it? Haters to the left (to the left)--I don't need to hear it anymore.

22. Monster in Law (2005)
Director: Robert Luketic
Starring: Jane Fonda, J. Lo, Wanda Sykes

To this day, I do not understand all the venomous hatred that has been spewed toward this film. Sure, as the first Jane Fonda film in 15 years it is a bit on the fluffy side, but so what? She's vibrant, full of life and, what else, funny as hell as the future mother-in-law hellbent on trying to split up her son (Michael Vartan) from his new fiancée (J. Lo at her breeziest and funniest). Monster in Law is a romantic comedy without all the gushy romantic garbage, replaced with hilarious one-liners (provided mostly by the always great Wanda Sykes) and fast-paced slapstick comedy. If I'm a cinematic neanderthal for liking this movie, then so be it. I will never back down.

21. Bring It On (2000)
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Bradford, Eliza Dushku

It has been ten years and whenever someone around me says, "Brrrr," I still have the urge to finish with "...It's cold in here! There must be some Toros in the at-mosphere!" And there are so many smaller moments that I remember quoting endlessly in junior high when my Bring It On fanaticism was at its peak that still make me giggle with fondness whenever I think back on them (my favorite: "Jan got spirit, yes he do/Jan got spirit, how about you?" "Dude, you just lost" *silence*). This was the sports movie made for gay men: no bullshit clichés and inspirational moments, just good old-fashioned wit, bitchiness, clever one-liners and highly choreographed routines. You can't ask for much more than that.

Monday, February 8, 2010

So, Michael Douglas is a Six-Foot Tall Rabbit? That Explains a Lot

On my way to A Single Man a couple nights ago, I noticed the poster for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps hanging up. It took me a good 15 seconds to figure out what it reminded me of.

Finally, it came to me...

I have no comment on this.

Side note: As awful as the poster is, I have to admit that the trailer looked rather interesting. Lord knows why since I have an irrational hatred toward Shia LaDouche and Michael "I've Played the Same Goddamn Character for 30 Years and Still Haven't Mastered It" Douglas.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rants on A Single Man

Sometimes it takes a non-filmmaker to come in with a fresh perspective on acceptable filmic modes of expression and shake up the way we see and think about the movies. Orson Welles, perhaps the most famous example, was a stage director and radio star before he got the chance to tinker around with films in Citizen Kane. François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were French film critics who put their money where their mouth was when they birthed the Nouvelle Vague with The 400 Blows and Breathless, respectively. Richard Lester, director of A Hard Day's Night, one of the breeziest and most carefree movies ever made, had only previously worked in TV beforehand and made things up as he went along. The examples are practically endless, but the point remains the same: sometimes, when a vision or ideology is strong enough, traditional and formal cinematic direction isn't necessary. Watching a director experiment with the medium can often times be just as illuminating as watching an old pro do the business over and over again.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that director Tom Ford deserves to be in such esteemed company yet. But if A Single Man is any indication of what Ford has to offer, give him another film or two and he may just live up to his promise. A Single Man is not a perfect movie. However, it is one of those rare movies where perfection would have detracted from what makes it ultimately work. A Single Man is a film of raw emotion. With every tightly composed and constructed shot, Ford's personal connection with the story and George (Colin Firth) is immediately felt and unexpectedly affecting. But this film isn't a self-centered masturbation exercise; the emotions he conjures up on-screen are universal. Ford does wonders with loneliness and isolation, but one of my favorite moments of the entire movie was also one of the most simplistic: George and Charlotte (isn't it great to see Julianne Moore laughing again?) are in her living room dancing to 'Stormy Weather' when Charlotte suddenly, in a fit of inspiration, puts on new, more contemporary record. She starts doing this ridiculous dance, obviously picked up on a youth-friendly show like American Bandstand, and starts urging George to join her. Initially, he laughs her off but eventually gives into temptation and lets loose for the first time in the movie. This moment, while hardly revelatory, simply feels spot on in the moment. I can just imagine doing this some of my best friends 20 years from now, just forgetting ourselves for the moment and doing something silly. Ford captures the irrepressible bond old friends have, the way they can laugh at old stories and make a fool out of themselves without giving the slightest shit.

Many have accused Tom Ford of over-beautifying the images and mise-en-scene to the point of distraction. While I can see where they are coming from, I think, if anything, the shockingly gorgeous imagery only deepens the film's themes of loneliness and isolation. George may be surrounded by a world of perfectly designed houses, crisp tailored suits, beautifully manicured lawns and extraordinarily good looking people, but that does not curtail his emptiness or make missing Jim any less painful. All the prettiness the world can muster will not bring Jim back from the dead. I find it interesting that Ford chose to represent it this way when there were so many more traditional ways he could have taken it. But that is precisely what is so fascinating about A Single Man: nothing about it feels particularly safe. Ford is experimenting with the medium, having fun with its numerous possibilities. Some of his ideas don't exactly pan out--I still don't know why that owl was there--but when he gets it right, boy does he get it right. A big shoutout goes to editor Joan Sobel for taking Ford's blankly beautiful film and making it even more coldly arresting. Another of my favorite moments of the film is when George is in the classroom giving a lecture and as he leans on his desk, listening to one of his students ask a question, his mind goes adrift with quick cutting images of people around the room, including the above shot of Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) and his bombshell girlfriend Lois blankly puffing on a cigarette and extreme close-ups of Kenny's eyes. I can not even begin to decipher what Ford truly means with this imagery, but the way it lingers on the brain is truly intoxicating.

I must say, I do not exactly understand the argument that A Single Man's beautiful imagery is nothing more than empty stylistics. Conceding the fact that narrative drive does not exactly come first, there is a real heart beating deep within the film that the images expand on. For me, those emotions and feelings are more powerful and lasting than an expanded, beefed-up story could have shown. A-

Saturday, February 6, 2010

And the Award for 2009's 'Most Underrated Album' Goes to...

Cheryl Cole 3 Words

When I named my Top 10 Albums of 2009 a few weeks ago, I wanted to include a special mention for this album. As weak as I felt 2009 was for albums, 3 Words was nowhere near my Top 10. However, I felt like all the negative attention and publicity it had received was completely unwarranted. For Christ's sake, the way bloggers and critics attacked Cheryl and her album you would have thought Nickelback had a hand in it.

One of the most common (and thoroughly baffling) insults hurled at Ms. Cole was the fact that she couldn't sing. I'm not going to defend her voice because, honestly, she doesn't have the strongest voice on the planet. But when exactly did this become a problem for everyone? Girls Aloud, as a group, have a nice sound, but, individually, none of them (except for Nadine) have that great of voices. Did everyone just forget that fact when 3 Words came out and expect her to grow Christina-sized pipes? Besides, when has not having a great voice hindered some of our most cherished pop stars? Madonna in the early 80's didn't have a stellar voice, yet she came out with classics like 'Borderline' and 'Like a Virgin.' Brit gave up trying to even sound like she was singing by Britney. And artists like Rihanna and Kylie have much weaker voices than the studio versions of their songs suggest. What these women possess, however, is a certain something extra--whether it's in production or sheer personality--that sets them apart. I truly feel that, if given a chance, Cheryl could use that to her advantage. She's a classy, well put together lady that I strive to be like; if she could incorporate that into her on-stage persona and into her music, she could be amazing. She just needs some time. To modify the old saying, "Madonna wasn't built in a day."

Honestly, I think the real reason people crucified 3 Words was because it didn't sound like Girls Aloud. As much as people deny this and claim they listened with as much of an unbiased opinion as possible, they really wanted another Chemistry. From the beginning, Cheryl said that her album wasn't going to sound like Girls Aloud, but people just didn't want to hear it. If you listen to 3 Words with Girls Aloud in mind, of course you're going to be disappointed. Ms. Cole sound is much quieter and more R&B-driven than Girls Aloud's hard-edged electropop--and that is not a bad thing.

I suspect that if most people listened to 3 Words again today after months of (most likely) ignoring it, they will be surprised at how much better it sounds. I know it took me awhile to really get into, and I'm glad I stuck around. Not only is 'Fight For This Love' a killer track that doesn't get enough credit, there are plenty of other gems on the album. My favorite happens to be 'Make Me Cry.' I know a lot of people were put off by the repetitiveness of the track, but I find the way she keeps asking, "Are you trying to make me cry?" deeply hypnotic. Forgive my pretentious-sounding reasoning, but it almost feels like she's searching for some kind of emotion that she can't put it into words. I have no idea how she does it, but 'Make Me Cry' gets me every time.

The point of this post wasn't to convince you 3 Words is some lost classic that will be remembered for years to come. I just want you to take another listen to it without all the crushing hype surrounding it five months ago. Hopefully, you'll find yourself less pissed off with it than you were last time and actually start to see it in a new light.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Tale of Sterling Knight & Zac Efron

Do you remember how on Sonny With a Chance Sterling Knight's Chad Dylan Cooper has this heated feud with Zac Efron over who is the greatest actor of his generation? Well, based on this interview clip from The Bonnie Hunt Show on Wednesday, that may have not been hard to fake on Mr. Knight's part:

Other talking points:
1. How amazing is Sterling Knight's hair? I much prefer this style over the traditional "Chad Dylan Cooper" look.
2. He is "miserably single." He may or may not be kidnapped in the near future. Just saying.
3. Bonnie Hunt better watch her back. Sterling is mine, bitch.

Top 100 Songs of the 2000's: #40-21

Previous installments: #100-81 #80-61 #60-41

40. Victoria Beckham 'Let Your Head Go'
2003. From Let Your Head Go/This Groove.

Okay, so I'm not going to accuse Vicky B of being the greatest singer on the planet. What she accomplishes on 'Let Your Head Go,' however, is a prime example of one of my guilty pleasures: the less-than-stellar singer who relies on something else to make a hot track. It may not be 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going,' but this song is eternally listenable.

39. Blu Cantrell 'Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)'
2001. From So Blu.

Who didn't jam out to this song at least once back in 2001? Blu's spirited tale of revenge and love gone wrong was one of the big girl power anthems of the decade. After this song, I know that if anyone has the balls to cheat on me, I'm not going to get angry--I'm just going to have a large garage sale.

38. No Doubt 'It's My Life'
2003. From The Singles 1992-2003.

I think this is my favorite No Doubt song, but everytime I think of it, I remember this ridiculous conversation I had with my grandma about the music video. Her idea of a good singer is someone who just stands there and sings so when she saw Gwen Stefani wildly trashing about in the music video, she started complaining about today's entertainers not having any talent and "Back in my day," etc. I defended Gwen, trying to convince my grandma she was just acting (and she was on death row in the video for God's sake!), but she was not having it. Finally, I gave up because if there's one thing you can't do, it's change my grandmother's mind.

37. Missy Elliott 'Get Ur Freak On'
2001. From Miss E...So Addictive.

Missy's standard; if she were to die right now, this is the song everyone would be using to memorialize her.

36. Eminem 'Lose Yourself'
2002. From 8 Mile (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack).

No matter what stupid shit Eminem raps about or how lame his gimmick continues to be, I remind myself that for a brief period of time, he was actually relevant and released a couple of classic tracks. 'Lose Yourself' is, undeniably, one of these tracks.

35. Sugababes 'Freak Like Me'
2002. From Angels With Dirty Faces.

For all intents and purposes, this update of the mid-90's Adina Howard hit shouldn't have worked. Instead of merely singing the original over again, the 'Babes tailored the song to fit their sound and ended up with their sexiest song until 'Push the Button.'

34. The Killers 'Mr. Brightside'
2004. From Hot Fuss.

Pure adrenaline rush. Everytime this song comes on, I just can't help myself and start screaming every word. At the same time, however, it's also one of the saddest songs I've ever encountered.

33. Christina Aguilera 'Fighter'
2003. From Stripped.

Xtina's defiant battle cry against all the haters is yet another example of my adoration for the subgenre I call Pop Songs as Personal Expression. I undervalued this one back in the day, but over the years, it's often the one I think back of first when recalling Christina during her dirrty Xtina days.

32. Duffy 'Warwick Avenue'
2008. From Rockferry.

A deceptively simple song with some of the most beautiful lyrics I've ever heard. Duffy will always have my heart thanks to this song.

31. Rihanna 'Disturbia'
2008. From Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded.

What we originally thought was a creepy pop song from our newest pop princess has become a precursor to the scarily dark and hardened Rated R. Still, without a doubt, the best single she has ever released (that is, unless she releases 'Fire Bomb').

30. Fergie featuring 'Fergalicious'
2006. From The Duchess.

She's not Bob Dylan, so you can suck it if you object to her on the grounds that she doesn't make "real" music. I love the ingenious of this song and I don't care if you find me completely shallow. Can you think of any other singer around with the audacity and gusto to pull off a line like "I be up at the gym, just workin' on my fitness/He's my witness"?

29. The Corrs 'Breathless'
2000. From In Blue.

I find, in general, that The Corrs are pretty lame as far as musicians go. In 2000, however, they struck gold (with me, anyways) with the eternally catchy and forever endearing 'Breathless.' I remember how I used to annoy one of my friends in seventh grade by singing this song obnoxiously. Ah, good times.

28. Groove Armada featuring Mutya Buena 'Song 4 Mutya (Out of Control)'
2007. From Soundboy Rock.

For whatever reason, 'Song 4 Mutya' reminds me of the first day of spring when you can finally take a drive with the windows rolled down. Besides, how awesome it that the song incorporates the singer's name into the narrative? You don't get that much outside of a Fergie song (see: 'Fergalicious' at #30).

27. Kanye West featuring Syleena Johnson 'All Falls Down'
2004. From The College Dropout.

It wasn't until a couple of years after 'All Falls Down''s initial run on the charts that I actually took the time to listen to the lyrics and what they were truly about. Well, color me surprised that Kanye, unlike so many other useless rappers around, was pulling off a social critique of excessive consumer spending, people living beyond their means and insecurity. Say what you want about his personality, Kanye is a rapper who actually has something to say; we need more of that around, don't you think?

26. Britney Spears 'Toxic'
2003. From In the Zone.

A Britney song that even non-Britney fans can enjoy without feeling too guilty.

25. Miley Cyrus 'See You Again'
2008. From Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus.

I wanted to resist. Lord knows I tried. But after listening to it 25 times in a row during a trip to the mall sophomore year of college--in a moment of my life straight out a teen movie montage--I fell head over heals in love with Miley and her best friend Leslie. Love or hate everything else Miley does and stands for (Lord knows I'm super critical), 'See You Again' is undeniably an unapologetically pop gem.

24. Madonna 'Don't Tell Me'
2001. From Music.

I swear on my life the video for 'Don't Tell Me' turned me gay.

23. Stacie Orrico '(There's Gotta Be) More To Life'
2003. From Stacie Orrico.

I realize that this is hardly the most sophisticated song ever written, but my 15 year old self connected deeply with Ms. Orrico's ode to searching and hoping for something more in life. If I was on American Idol and tried to manipulate the audience with a sappy story, this is the song that would be playing in the background.

22. Pussycat Dolls 'Buttons'
2006. From PCD.

I credit my re-emergence into mainstream pop music with this song. No matter what I did during the summer of 2006, I could not avoid 'Buttons.' I wanted to hate it at first, but eventually the Dolls wore me down and the song became too damn catchy to hate. When I left for college in September, I started getting hooked again to pure pop music; without 'Buttons' there to prove how great it can be when done right, Lord knows what I'd be listening to now.

21. Outkast 'Ms. Jackson'
2001. From Stankonia.

How on Earth can you not fall in love with a hook like "I'm sorry, Ms. Jackson. Woooo!"? In a decade full of groundbreaking and genre-crossing hip-hop from the duo, 'Ms. Jackson' is a true highlight of their genius.