Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Best of the Year 2015: Movie

This year was when I saw the worst movie ever and maybe the best action movie of the last 20 years.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Viva practical effects! This movie rocked me. I thought the trailer was excellent--which normally sets the bar too high for a movie. I had the lowest of expectations going in, and I knew the troubled history of the movie (and also it took years of post-production--filming mostly wrapped in 2012). The wait was worth it. As others have said, it is a watershed moment for action movies. It seemed as if only 90 seconds of the movie was not action. I don't know how anyone could top this masterpiece. It is one of a kind.

Jurassic World
This is the template for the 21st century popcorn movie. Small story, but huge action scenes.

Funny, great addition to the expanding comic universe.

What We Do in the Shadows
Great, original mockumentary about the vampire genre.

The Martian
It was a good year for Mars (and Pluto)!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
How many times in your life do you get to review a Star Wars film? Well, hopefully it stays that way (and Disney handles the franchise properly). J.J. Abrams is an overrated director, and he had an impossible task, but he delivers the proper ingredients in the proper proportions.

Monday, January 11, 2016

My David Bowie experience

[insert stoic Bowie photograph from the 70s (or 80s) here]

Like many Bowie fans, I was listening to Blackstar () on repeat this weekend. "Where the fuck did Monday go?", Bowie asks in "Girl Loves Me".

I was thinking about him a lot, especially that he turned 69. I watched dozens of his music videos and interviews on YouTube. I even edited Wikipedia articles to add some detail about some of the more recent videos. Also I highly suggest The Church of Man-Love.

I saw a 1999 interview where Bowie recounted a documentary about dirty bombs (and his dread of terrorism). He kept the conversation light though, but it was an eerie vision into what would happen the New York two years later. I saw another interview where he recounted his shaving of eyebrows in frustration with Mott the Hoople. I kept comparing his 2015 facial structure to that of the 2000's A Reality tour, when he looked much more animated and youthful. He still was a sex symbol, even close to the end.

As I watched some of his recent videos from the Next Day and Blackstar, I kept thinking, "I can't wait to see what he produces next". And, "he's not too old. He looks healthy in 'Lazarus'. How old is 69 anyway?" I was really looking forward, which is something all good artists teach others to do.

Saturday night they had karaoke at a work party. Nobody sang Bowie, but I was itching to try out "China Girl" to an unsuspecting audience of non-Bowie fans. They probably didn't realize there were "visions of swastikas in my head". I don't have the vocal range.

Bowie's songs always had some weirdness. He was really into eerie melodies and atonal music, and it's all over his singles. Either lyrics ("As they pulled you out of the oxygen tent") or melodies (check out "Life on Mars?" chord progression).

Sunday morning, when I drove downtown, the local public radio (KOOP) was playing covers of Bowie songs by Bauhaus and by other artists. It was a Bowie-celebration.

I learned of his death by a talk radio show. They were playing isolated vocals of  "Under Pressure". At first, I thought the Bowie-celebration was still going, which made me happy. Ten minutes into the tribute, I knew it was reality.

My parents introduced me to Bowie. They loved him. My dad had a US vinyl copy of The Man Who Sold the World. The cover was not the one that people remember:

My dad recounted to me that his mother (my Grandma) would often go into his vinyl collection and read the lyrics. She thought Bowie was on drugs. Even though he was, Bowie was genuinely weird, and definitely a one-of-a-kind trendsetter. A genius, most likely.

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard "Space Oddity". I was in junior high, and I was listening to a small college radio station in my hometown. I was in an unfinished basement, and the DJ introduced the song with a long delay of silence. Then, the two-chord intro came on. The lyrics hit my brain and inspired me. I was hooked after that.

Grantland wrote a really good "nobituary" in 2013 when there was a rumor of Bowie's death. It goes into great detail about some of the underrated highlights and career moves of the man. I suggest you read it.

Maybe that is what early January needs to be: a few days of Bowie retrospection.

If you haven't heard his non-hits and less notable releases, I would start with the electronic era of Earthling and Outside. There is some hard hitting drum-and-bass jams on there. "The Last Thing You Should Do" is a great song for a good car audio system.

Right now, if I had to rank some of my favorite tunes from the man, I would go:

5. I'm Afraid of Americans V1
4. TVC-15
3. Life on Mars?
2. Sound and Vision
1. Space Oddity

That's all I can muster right now. Check out the breaths Bowie takes on the Blackstar version of "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore". I don't know why, but I like it.

Death can be inspiring. Take Kurt Cobain as an example; a whole cult of personality was built around him. Bowie, in life, already had a cult. To me, Bowie epitomized the cool. What will happen as times crawls on without Bowie? I'm still looking forward to the future.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best of the Year 2015: Music album

The Magic Whip
This is chiefly a Damon Albarn album--the guitar parts aren't really emphasized. But, that's a good thing. It's a mature, honorable addition to the Britpop band library.

Spirit Club
Spirit Club
Imagine a really dream/poppy version of Wavves. I hope they make more.

Art Angels
The first half of the album is pure radio-inspired pop; the second half is more morose and experimental. Eagerly waiting more from this self-produced artist.

Protest punk rock that seems easier than it sounds. Monstrously catchy riffs. Super timely, super political; super catchy!

Gaz Coombes
The Supergrass frontman goes solo, and pulls off something akin to Radiohead combined with Spiritualized. And, it's great.

Best of the Year 2015: Television series

TV is going through growth spurt, and through growing pains. Rolling Stone had a great article on how the amount of new television series broadcast has eclipsed the hours in a year. You can no longer watch someone else's favorite TV program--you've got your own massive queue. Anyway, here is what I watched and enjoyed the most.

Game of Thrones
Season 5
Always satisfying. Is this a show, or a long-form movie?

True Detective
Season 2
Even though critics widely dismissed the second season, it was quite good. Better than a lot of crummy shows out there. Waiting for season three.

The Last Man on Earth
Season 1
A hilarious breath of fresh air to apocalyptic media. Can't wait for next season.

Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter
Season 1
It's a mini-series, but I would guess it will be picked up next year by Adult Swim. It starts with the death of Paul Rudd, and ends with a spaceship powered by werewolf howls. The Jaws homage is excellent. Heermp!

The Walking Dead
Season 5
I am so sick of zombies. But, when Steven Yuen's character seemingly met his demise, I had an emotional response. I guess the simplistic, dumb show got to me.

The Leftovers
Season 2
Quite a departure from the first season, and this one is way more interesting. The final episodes of the season had me gasping for breath (because my mind was blown). Great story, great characters. It's and underrated underdog drama--the best kind.