Thursday, December 28, 2006

2006: A Year in Review.

It was suggested to me that my post this week should be a sort of year in review type of post. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to speak to each of the categories I tend to write about, namely Music, Movies, TV, and Cars. I’m definitely not versed enough in any one topic to do a Top 10 Best of, so I’ve decided to stick to a Top 3 Favorite format. Now in order to become one of my Top 3 Favorites, I have to have seen the movie, listened to the album, etc. There are probably plenty of other great things out there; nevertheless here are the ones that influenced me the most this year.

Top 3 Favorite Albums of the Year

3. Mates of State: Bring it Back—This album came out of nowhere and easily became my soundtrack for the summer. For those who don't know, Mates of State is a husband/wife, drums/organ duo. When I heard they were opening for the Death Cab for Cutie show in August, I thought I’d brush up on their latest and greatest. You know when critics call things a “tour de force”, well that term perfectly describes this album. It’s a string of eclectic, almost power ballad-like tracks that culminate in an organ-induced chant fest. Stand out track: Punchlines.

2. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins: Rabbit Fur Coat—Well, I’ve already spoken to Jenny’s live performance capabilities. But this album itself is a sweet ode to modern folk rock. There are very few fun and haunting albums these days—this is one of them. When you listen to this album there’s definitely a bit of a time machine effect. It’s almost like you’re transported back to a time when the line between country and rock wasn’t so defined, a la Cash and Carter. Stand out track: Rise Up With Fists!!

1. The Killers: Sam’s Town—This choice might actually come as a surprise to a few. But the post-modern bliss that is Sam’s Town took the cake for highest Play Count in my iTunes this year. Honestly I’m not sure exactly what it was that captured me about this album. I know it has something to do with the way this album deconstructs pop-culture and the fact that it absolutely rocks. Check out Upto12’s Kyality-inspired review for more. Stand out track: Read My Mind.

Top 3 Favorite Mainstream Movies of the Year

3. V for Vendetta—rarely do flicks have a solid combination of action, drama, wit, and let’s say… thought-provoking power. V surely qualifies in each of those categories. Was it hard to look at that mask for a full 132 minutes? Yeah. But the poetry, the unique story-telling structure, and a very hot, shaved-head Natalie Portman totally made up for it. Basically, this film was vindication to us, the fans of the original Matrix, who felt totally betrayed by the sequels. Was V for Vednetta great? Yes. Is the Wachowski Brothers’ debt paid? Not yet. Stand out feature: killer DVD packaging.

2. Casino Royale—Critics agree, 6 weeks after release, Casino Royale is still sporting a 95% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Seriously, that’s like Lord of the Rings good. You’ve got to appreciate a flick that has both the edge of a movie like Snatch and the mass appeal of a something like Patriot Games. If you haven’t seen it, do. And if you have seen it, you can come with me—I totally want to see it again. Check this previous post for additional thoughts. Stand out feature: amazing street climbing opening sequence.

1. Stranger Than Fiction—When I look at my favorite movies of all time there are a few things they all have in common. First, they can almost all be labeled ‘dramedies’—there’s a tight, purposeful script with great balance of powerful emotion and smart humor. Second, there’s a high level of production design with great sets and locations, costumes, and lighting (not to mention some killer cinematography to showcase it all). And finally, there’s an exceptional soundtrack with inspiring songs and an original score that doesn’t have to rely on typical Hollywood conventions to get the point across. Out of all the films I’ve seen in 2006, Stranger Than Fiction fits the bill for my fave film of the year. Stand out feature: fantastic motion graphics by MK12 out of Kansas City, Missouri.

Top 3 Favorite TV Shows of the Year

3. LOST—Well, so far, Season 3 has been, let’s say… interesting. This show has the uncanny ability to piss me off then totally redeem itself within a single episode. It’s unreal. Honestly I can be so frustrated with an episode, and then in the very next moment a flawlessly executed scene will completely blow me away. Take for instance the World Series scene with Jack or the do-you-love-him scene with Kate—amazing stuff. I don’t care what you say, I'm still a fan and I can’t wait for the rest of the non-stop season. Stand out moment: anyone kissing Kate.

2. The Office—Forget Season 1, stop comparing it to the original BBC version, embrace the characters, then just sit back and enjoy. I’m discovering more and more that it’s the supporting cast that makes this show exceptional. It’s even better that half of the supporting cast are writers for the show as well. I’m a stickler for details and somehow, someway they jam enough in that I’m craving more and more as the week goes by. Exploding fist pounds, faxes from the future, warp-speed brainteaser solving, it’s all good. Stand out moment: “Right place at the right time.”

1. 24—Okay, all I have to say is wow. This is what television is all about. First, it was a non-stop season, meaning no missing weeks and no reruns—awesome. Second, they’re unabashedly killing people left and right, giddy up. Third, Jack was hitting the perfect balance between being completely insane and totally in control at the exact same time. It was stunning. You look at most shows out there, and when they’re hitting that 5th season (and sometimes sooner) they just start falling apart. Bravo to Kiefer and the team for making Season 5 even better than Season 1. Stand out feature: Jack’s awesome military hoodie and satchel full of spy goodies.

Top 3 Favorite New Cars of the Year

3. Ford Mustang GT—I am so down with the rebirth of the muscle car. There is a certain amount of irony built in, I mean here we are in an energy crisis of sorts, and finally Detroit is making some cars worth revving your engine at. Ford has pulled out ahead of the pack with a beautiful reinterpretation of the classic Mustang lines. Now this car only works in the GT incarnation or better. The base model is a joke. But when you get a couple of fog lights on there, some nice alloys, and that classic fastback roofline, it’s a fantastic looking vehicle. Stand out news: word on the street is that a Bullitt Edition is expected to be released next year!

2. Dodge Charger/Magnum Police Interceptors—For the first time in decades police officers have vehicles worthy of a decent car chase. These cars make the Impalas and Crown Vic’s out there look like grandpas on patrol. If intimidation is a valid law enforcement tactic, then these cars are it. Granted they may also inspire the occasional criminal (or car fanatic) to drop the hammer just to see how those machines handle, but I’m glad that precincts have determined that it’s a risk they’re willing to take. Stand out detail: those blacked-out rims just look mean.

1. BMW Z4 M Coupe—The moment I saw photos of the Z4 Coupe Concept from the Frankfurt Auto Show, I thought: they have done it. They’ve made the car that I’ve dreamt about for years. With its silver matte-finish and graphite grey deep-dish rims, no one can deny its iconoclastic impact on the automotive landscape. It is everything a sports car should be. And the best part? Within 6 months, BMW released this very concept, preserving nearly every detail, as a production vehicle in both stock and M Division models. Has any car company ever taken a bona fide concept vehicle to production that fast? I’d honestly like to know. Time will tell how the Coupe will influence car design in years to come, but for now it’s the hottest car on the road. Stand out detail: the new Coupe comes with BMW’s new iPod Seamless Integrated System to boot.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pirates 2: The Real Villain was a No-show.

The other night, we rented and watched Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest for the very first time. We missed it when it was in the theaters, so we were fairly anxious and excited to catch it on DVD. We actually rented it the day it came out. That evening we tucked the kids in, popped some corn, positioned the couch just right and got ready for what should have been a smashing sequel to an exceptional popcorn flick.
First, lets talk about why the first Pirates was so great. Even though at its very core, this film is utterly Disney—being based on the classic Disneyland ride, it was much more Depp than Disney. And what does that mean? It means that there was a rebel-ness about it, a can’t-believe-he-got-away-with-that vibe to his performance.

When Michael Eisner visited the set of the first Pirates, early on in the shooting schedule, he was disturbed by Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. Eisner vocally opposed things like, oh let’s see, the heavy use of eyeliner and his drunken/effeminate demeanor while shooting. Apparently Eisner thought he put the kibosh on it all—that was until he saw the final cut of the film and Cap’n Jack’s performance was there, as we know it in all its glory. And I guess it really wasn’t that big of a deal to him once the buzz started, not to mention the Oscar nod.

As far as Pirates: Part Deux is concerned, here’s what I think happened. Besides the indecipherable plotline, the complete lack of character development, and the over-the-top action sequences that had nothing to do with the story itself—I think the issue was this. Rather than the film being great despite Disney like the first one, the second one was trying as hard as it could to be great because of Disney.

The real villain was MIA, there was no Eisner to snub and you could see it in Johnny’s eyes. There was an expectation already set and he couldn’t come out of nowhere with a jaw-dropping performance. Depp with no Eisner is basically like Superman with no Lex Luthor, flat, soulless, and without real conflict. Plus the flick was also like 45 minutes too long, but whatever.

PS: For more awesome Eisner folklore check out the book Disney War by James B. Stewart.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Now Turn Your Hymnals to Number 2002.

In 1968, David E. Davis, the Editorial Director of Car and Driver wrote the first US review of the BMW 2002. Here are some very cool excerpts from that groundbreaking article:

“As I sit here, fresh from the elegant embrace of BMW’s new 2002, it occurs to me that something between nine and ten million Americans are going to make a terrible mistake this year. Like dutiful robots they will march out of their identical split-level boxes and buy the wrong kind of car.

“Depress the clutch. Easy. Like there was no spring. Snick. First gear. Remove weight of left foot from clutch. Place weight of right foot on accelerator. First stoplight. I blow off aging Plymouth sedan and 6-cylinder Mustang. Not worthy of my steel. Too easy. Next time. Big old 6-banger Healey and ’65 GTO. GTO can’t believe I’m serious, lets me get away before he opens all the holes and comes smoking past with pain and outrage all over his stricken countenance. Nearly hits the rear-end of a truck in a panicky attempt to reaffirm virility. Austin-Healey is a different matter. Tries for all he’s worth, but British engineering know-how is not up to the job. I don’t even shift fast from third to fourth, just to let him feel my utter contempt.

“Nobody believes it, until I suck their headlights out. But nobody doubts it, once that nearly-silent, unobtrusive little car has disappeared down the road and around the next bend, still accelerating without a sign of brake lights. I’ve learned not to tangle with the kids in their big hot rods with the 500 horsepower engines unless I can get them in a tight place demanding agility, brakes, and the raw courage that is built into the BMW driver’s seat at no extra cost.

“What you like to look for are Triumphs and Porsches and such. Them you can slaughter, no matter how hard they try. And they always try. They really believe all that jazz about their highly-tuned, super sophisticated sports machines, and the first couple of drummings at the hands of the 2002 make them think they’re off on a bad trip or something. But then they learn the awful truth, and they begin to hang back at traffic signals, pretending that they weren’t really racing at all. Ha! Slink home with your tail behind your legs, MG. Hide in the garage when you see a BMW coming. If you have to race with something, pick a sick kid on an old bicycle.

“I’ll be interested to see who those 10,000 owners of the 1968 BMW 2002 actually turn out to be. The twits won’t buy it, because it’s too sensible, too comfortable, too easy to live with. The kids won’t buy it because it doesn’t look like something on its way to a soft moon-landing and it doesn’t have three—billion horsepower. BMW buyers will—I suspect—have to be pretty well-adjusted enthusiasts who want a good car, people with the sense of humor to enjoy its giant-killing performance, and the taste to appreciate its mechanical excellence. They will not be the kind who buy invisible middle-of-the line 4-door sedans because tha
t’s what their friends and neighbors buy. It’s too real.

“The German paper Auto Bild recently called the 2002 the Fluster Bombe, which means ‘Whispering Bomb’. Feel free to test-drive one, but please don’t tell any of those ten million squares who are planning to buy something else. They deserve whatever they get. Now turn your hymnals to number 2002 and we’ll sing the two choruses of The Whispering Bomb.”

PS: In case you’re wondering whatever came of good old David E. Davis, I’ve discovered that he’s just been made the Editor-in-Chief of a new car mag called Winding Road. Here’s a little video to see what he’s up to, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like he’s behind the wheel of an X3. Very interesting.