Sean’s Top Tens of 2005

Once again all the little boys and girls have returned to school and all is seemingly right with the universe, albeit a little less fun. Actually, I’ve been down here for more than a month now, but who’s counting? I am. But I can only count to ten. Three times.

Top 10 Films of 2005

10. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Edging out superior films like King Kong and The Aristocrats is the best of the Prequel Trilogy. Sure, it’s not like it’s even close to as good as A New Hope or Empire, but I bet if there was room for a fourth prequel it’d be around Return of the Jedi quality. Plus, sweet lightsaber fights.

9. Crash
This movie is overrated. And depressing. But it got people talking about important issues, so, you know, that’s cool.

8. Brokeback Mountain
A lot of people are scared to see this movie because of the infamous sex scene. I think that thought can ride alone.

7. Good Night, and Good Luck.
Why did so many people at LW hate this movie? Is George Clooney not cool now? Is he the next Ben Affleck? Cause I’ll tell you, I still support ol’ Ben too.

6. The Squid and the Whale
This movie’s kind of gross and weird. But it’s also pretty funny. In a real funny kind of way.

5. Cinderella Man
Who doesn’t love the underdog boxer film? Russel Crowe goes through a lot of hard shit on his rise to the top, and it feels oh so sweet when he makes it.

4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
This movie is good. Not as funny as later Apatow works, but how were we supposed to know that in 2005?

3. A History of Violence
A brutal, thrilling little story about a dude who just wants to run a diner in some shitty little town. Remember the part with that guy’s nose? Intense!

2. Batman Begins
Totally reinvented the Batman on film and invalidated its predecessors, only to be surpassed by its sequel.

1. Serenity
My cousin Brian told me to go see this movie and I did. And it was awesome. And then I got the show DVDs and watched the whole show. And then I was sad it was cancelled so early. And now I have to carry that burden my whole life. That intense feeling of dissatisfaction that the show got cut so short I could never fully shed. Thanks a lot, Brian.

Top 10 Albums of 2005

10. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Just barely edging out the excellent In Your Honor from Foo Fighters is an album I’m sure much less people would enjoy from a band with a very divisive lead singer. But, you know, I’m just not really trying to listen to Foo Fighters these days. They’re more of a Rock Band band for me.

9. Kaiser Chiefs – Employment
Fuckin’ sweet. Next.

8. Franz Ferdinand – You Could Have It So Much Better
I think both John and my favorite track is “Walk Away.” I love the sound of that song.

7. Spoon – Gimme Fiction
Spoon, huh? Gimme a spork. I was going for a pun on the expression “gimme a break,” playing on the title of the album and the band’s name. Not sure if it came through. If you did get it and were amused, I’m sure I’ve ruined that now.

6. Gorillaz – Demon Days
If you haven’t at least heard the “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head,” you should check that out. Dennis Hopper.

5. Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
One of those diminishing returns bands, this album rocks my socks off, but the latter two hardly untie my shoes.

4. Coldplay – X & Y
Oh God isn’t everybody sick of Coldplay at this point?

3. Beck – Guero
It’s Beck, but a little more accessible while still being really good. Nice.

2. My Morning Jacket – Z
MMJ goes a little more out there, still awesome.

1. Sigur Rós – Takk…
This is just beautiful. Brian’s getting into these guys finally, so that’s another number one spot I can share with him. I wonder if I can come up with something for whatever my favorite 2005 video game is for the hat trick.

Top 10 Video Games of 2005

10. Guild Wars
I thought it was neat. You know who played it with me a couple times? Brian. You know who said he would play with me but I don’t think ever did? Jake.

9. Lumines
A neat little puzzle game. It’s all about the music.

8. Psychonauts
Most people treat this game like royalty. It sure is funny, one of the best stories in recent memory as far as video games are concerned, but the gameplay didn’t really stand out in any way for me. Sorry. I still really liked it! Top ten!

7. Wario Ware: Twisted!
The best in the Wario Ware franchise was also the only twisting game I can remember playing. Oh Nintendo of 2005, you’re so crazy.

6. God of War
A really violent, angry game. Excellent.

5. Kirby: Canvas Curse
Sold me on the DS. Too bad there aren’t more games this good.

4. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
In this game you can smash a car and turn it into boxing gloves. Or flatten a bus and surf on it. Or run straight up a building. I could go on.

3. Resident Evil 4
The only RE game I really loved. CHAINSAW CONTROLLER!

2. Shadow of the Colossus
If you haven’t played this game yet, (and you consider yourself a gamer) you, sir, fail.

1. Guitar Hero
This game kind of changed my life. At least the “hanging out” part of my life. One of the few games I’m better than Brian at. Bam!


(Contains Spoilers)

I didn’t want to see this movie. I was with my dad and brother and I was trying to go to the sneak peak showing of Whip It but Paul didn’t want to (plus we were too late) so we saw this, a free movie is a free movie I guess. So I’d anticipated this movie to suck and it kind of did but no where near as much as it could of. With a weak story line (complete with it’s share of plot holes) and a strangely unsatisfying length of 88-89 minutes or so, Surrogates makes up for some of it’s shortcomings with such a fun concept and great makeup effects from Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (Kill Bill, Grindhouse and about a million other movies).

Set in Boston in the not too distant future, Surrogates reveals a world where almost everyone has become fully dependent on technology. Living through highly advanced robots, people can look like they want, feel what they want and do what the want without ever leaving the home. That is until the son of the wealthy creator of Surrogates becomes the first person to ever die while connected, leaving the mystery in the hands of FBI agent Harvey Greer (Bruce Willis).

Now I’ll bet that many have contemplated this concept before, so it was fun to see someone finally take a hack at it. Actually it was quite humorous to be introduced to these fashion model-like characters only to see that they are in reality, ugly, lazy, slobs. I’ve always liked futuristic films that portray future civilizations as ridiculously lazy, so if anything this had a few laughs. The downside here is that the story had to be on such a large scale. An elaborate murder mystery investigation, topped with non-surrogate citizens trying to start a revolution, blah blah blah. They just had to turn this into every other generic murder mystery, when it had the potential to be more reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode. I suppose you can lay that blame on the graphic novel upon which it is based.

So Bruce Willis, who’s playing the typical Bruce Willis character, eventually becomes very anti-surrogate (as I think you would assume) and descends upon a so-so shoot em’ up investigation, while as well unraveling the true intentions of the Surrogate company and it’s former mysterious leader/founder. Well here’s where I’ll start spoiling stuff, thought I might give you a heads up. Soon we discover that the company founder (James Cromwell) has been taking on the identity of multiple surrogates, including the leader of the anti-surrogate movement (Ving Rhames) in an effort to put an end to surrogates. You see it’s after his son is murdered that he decides things need to change. Doesn’t sound so bad does he? But apparently to do so he has to kill everyone attached to a surrogate to make a fresh start. Yeah that’s really helping mankind, killing most of the earth’s population. I’ve heard of the expression “Kill a million to save a billion” but never the other way around.

Now James Cromwell’s “Evil Plan” wouldn’t of bugged me so much if it wasn’t for what came next (Oh yeah James Cromwell kills himself). For what follows is your typical countdown to doomsday, where Bruce Willis is at a computer trying to prevent a virus from killing everyone attached to a surrogate… And yes he ends this countdown at “1” how amusingly cliche. Then the computer gives him some sort of option to either reconnect everyone to their surrogates (everyone is temporarily frozen) or deactivating the surrogates while leaving the people unharmed… Are you kidding me? You mean there was a way to put an end to the surrogates without harming a single person? How come James Cromwell didn’t know about this? He did invent the surrogates after all. Even if he didn’t know of this “loop hole” don’t you think he’d go to greater lengths to find an alternative to killing a billion people?

This is one of those action flicks that treats moviegoers like idiots. I mean most moviegoers are idiots but can’t you try and challenge us from time to time? It didn’t entirely bring down the movie but it really did annoy me. Somehow I walked away from this experience not too disappointed, I had no expectations whatsoever but to walk away feeling nothing is not what a movie-going experience should be.

A Musing on Muse’s Amusing Latest

Muse – The Resistance

I like Muse. I don’t think I’d go as far as to say I love ’em. But I appreciate them. Their new album, The Resistance, isn’t bad. It’s not as good as some of Muse’s previous stuff, especially the hot Black Holes and Revelations. On paper, it’s pretty hard to fault the British trio for what they tried here, everything seems to be in the right place. But, honestly, I can’t really get into this album.

Maybe one of my problems is that Muse are wearing their influences on their sleeves a little too obviously. Namely Radiohead and Queen. Well, Muse has always kind of had that “Radiohead-light” persona, but the Queen really comes through on this album too. The problem is Muse paying homage to other artists isn’t as good as the originals or Muse doing their own thing.

Muse can really rock when they want to, but it seems like this time around they wanted to be sweeping and epic instead. The most glaring example of this is the last three tracks of the album, the Exogenesis: Symphony. Who is this for? Certainly not me. It sounds all right, it’s not horrible or anything. I just don’t care. I really do like the first couple tracks. The rest just tries to be too much and comes out almost bland. That’s sounds a little too negative, but I just wanted more from these guys.

Favorite Tracks: “Uprising,” “Resistance,” “Undisclosed Desires”


Monsters of Folk – Monsters of Folk

I downloaded this a few days ago (Though technically it came out today) but I’ve been so desperate for new music that I just had to get this in advance. “Music-wise” it’s been rough for me finding anything worthwhile lately. Here it’s already September and I’ve barely heard anything that’s really impressed me. Fortunately I’ve finally found peace in the last week or so with the latest from Muse (I’ll review it eventually unless Sean wants to, I think he’s a bigger Muse fan than I am.) and now the debut record from rock supergroup “Monsters of Folk”. A soulful and beautiful slice of Americana from a very talented group of guys.

Jim James is what initially attracted me to this project but here he’s just another cog in this rock n’ roll wheel. These four work so tightly together that I find it surprising that they’re a supergroup. I don’t know how these guys managed to get on such a perfect wave length but this album just flows seamlessly from acoustic ballads to jaunty blues folk. Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes takes on producing duties and excels at tying together these rootsy rock gems.

What’s great here is even if there’s a song I’m not crazy about, the production and instrumentation will make up for it. Earthy acoustic guitars with limited, yet inventive percussion provides a fun and genuine listening experience. I mean a lot of the songs here are pretty basic but considering the genre it all feels quite appropriate.

Lyrically M.O.F primarily invokes imagery of the american frontier of yesteryear. Connor Oberst stands out with his poetic approach but like I previously stated, there’s really no weak link in any department of this group. What makes the Monsters of Folk a good supergroup is how evenly everything is divided up. There doesn’t appear to be any egos or any member trying to push their way into the spotlight. It’s just a bunch of alternative rockers getting together and having a good time. Finally I have an album this year that I can honestly say I like without the word “But…” following it.

Favorite Tracks: “Ahead of the Curve”, “Say Please”, “Whole Lotta Losin'”


The Informant!

Steven Soderbergh is one of the most interesting directors around today because of his “one for me, one for them” approach, where he rotates between making a art house film and a more mainstream movie. Kind of like an even more extreme Gus Van Sant. Well he already delivered The Girlfriend Experience this year, so Soderbergh had to come back with a more by-the-numbers piece. That’s The Informant.

The Informant is the story of Mark Whitacre, a whistleblower who exposes a price-fixing scandal at ADM. Of course not everything is as it seems, and as the FBI works with Whitacre, things get stranger and stranger.

I guess the big deal going into this movie is Matt Damon putting on some weight for the role. That’s great, and he turns in the best performance in the movie, but I think it also exposes the most glaring problem I have with the movie. It’s a comedy. Not a dark comedy, a pretty straight forward one. Whitacre is a disturbed man, and in the hands of a different team this could have been a dark masterpiece. Instead, it’s just kind of boring.

The rest of the cast is tolerable, no one really excels. Joel McHale was better in the first episode of Community than he is here, and, well, at least Scott Bakula tried. Melanie Lynskey’s pretty good as Mrs. Whitacre.

Ultimately, this is an acceptable movie. You might like it. You probably won’t hate it. But as a straight-up comedy, it’s more occasional chuckle than laugh-out-loud.

So I Sing a Song of Love

The Beatles: Rock Band

I just read that Guitar Hero 5 was comfortably outselling The Beatles: Rock Band. The fuck is up with that? The only thing that seems interesting about that game is the questionable use of Johnny Cash and Curt Cobain as playable characters. On the other hand, The Beatles: Rock Band is easily the best gaming experience I’ve had all year.

You have to understand that this is completely different from a game like Guitar Hero: Metallica or even that Rock Band: AC/DC pack. This is no simple track pack, this is like a documentary. A documentary game. Everything was designed to take you on a journey through the Beatles’ career. From the breathtaking opening cinematic to the final credits of story mode, it’s obvious an incredible amount of care went into making this title possible.

The main feature is the story mode. You start out playing in clubs in England, and play in all the big venues you’d expect, Ed Sullivan, Shea Stadium, and Budokan. After that, as we all know, the Beatles went studio. The game’s answer for that are these sweet dreamscapes that are somewhat interpretative of the lyrics or reflective of the Beatles films. All in all, the game provides a delightful glimpse at what it was like to live through the Beatles.

There are 45 songs in the game. That’s fine. Sure, it would be nice to have more, but these are 45 great songs. I’m sure Harmonix wanted to maximize DLC sale, and I can’t blame them. Everything sounds great and it’s all charted well. The big new feature is vocal harmonies, and I can’t imagine going back to a game without them. Playing and singing is incalculably fun, you really have to try it.

I’m bored of writing this. Have been since I started. I shouldn’t have to write this. You know how you feel about the Beatles. If you like that music at all, buy this freaking game. Even if you don’t like video games, buy it. It’s so good.

Two Hours of Peace & Music

Taking Woodstock

Bored last Labor Day my dad and I saw this on a whim. I wasn’t expecting much and have never been much of a fan of Ang Lee but Taking Woodstock was probably the most intriguing and genuine portrayal of Woodstock I’ve ever seen.

Adapted from Elliot Tiber’s book by frequent Lee collaborator James Schamus, Taking Woodstock is the story of Elliot Tiber an aspiring artist trying to save his parents dilapidated motel in Upstate New York. Desperately searching for a solution, Elliot hears of “Woodstock Ventures”, a group of people looking to host a music festival. So with the only music permit in his town, Elliot decides to invite Michael Lang and company to have the festival in White Lake and offer accommodations at his parents motel… The rest is history.

What’s unique about Taking Woodstock is it’s approach at such a historic and gigantic event from a significantly smaller perspective. We essentially see everything (including the actual show) from Elliot’s eyes and get a far more personal view of what went down in the summer of 69.

The cast is made up of an odd collection of performers but it somehow works. Demetri Martin plays Elliot fairly soft-spoken and reserved but it feels quite befitting for the character. Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman are highlights as Elliot’s old-fashioned parents and Liev Schreiber is worth note as a gun toting transvestite named Vilma. Emile Hirsch and Jeffery Dean Morgan don’t really have a lot to do here but they’re a nice addition and Eugene Levy pops in for an enjoyable performance as Max Yasgur.

Next I thought I’d address some of the surprisingly negative comments I’ve heard about this movie, which has mostly received a luke warm reception. The most common complaint being “The audience is teased by the fact that we never actually get to see much of the show.” Fair enough but what do we really need to see that we haven’t already? Some guy impersonating Jimi Hendrix? People have to remember that were only seeing what Tiber saw and the truth of the matter is he never got close enough to see much of the show. Tiber spent most of his time fraternizing with fellow concertgoers as the sweet sounds of the festival lifted through the air. “Demetri Martin’s performance” is another beef but I honestly didn’t see anything wrong with him and the third common complaint is the handling of Tiber’s homosexuality. Particularly the fact that it’s never quite delved into but once again, were only shown Tiber’s first hand experiences. So what if he’s gay, how’s it relevant to the rest of the film? Perhaps him embracing his sexuality would feel akin to the spirit of the festival but that just didn’t happen.

Overall Taking Woodstock isn’t the most exciting film but it has heart and according to my dad, the most accurate portrayal of an acid trip he’s ever seen in movie. Not to mention all the good tunes and visual homages to the original film (some 16mm camera work and occasional split screens) very groovy in a far out happening kind of way.