Sunday, December 28, 2003

And Now, Since Everyone Else Does It . . .

I'm presenting my "Year's Best" lists for the year. And my year's worst, but lacking order and discipline, I won't put them in any particular order. So anyway, on with the first of my lists . . .

Favorite Albums of 2003

  • Josh Rouse - "1972" - An album reflecting Rouse's birth year (and mine, for that matter - birthday in two weeks - feel free to send well-wishes!) -- in the musical styles and message it sends. My personal favorites here are the title track and "Comeback".
  • Guster - "Keep it Together" - My favorite pop album of the year. Some of these songs just plant themselves in your head and won't leave. It gets crowded with the voices . . .
  • The Wrens - "The Meadowlands" - An album about growing older and living through life's twits and turns. I've listened to this album at least once a week since the end of August and I'm still not tired of it. This is not a happy album, but it's a hopeful one - we make mistakes, we screw up, but these things make us stronger in the end.
  • Radiohead - "Hail to the Theif" - Five years ago, Radiohead released one of my personal favorite albums ever - "OK Computer". Then they unleashed "Kid A " and "Amnesiac" upon us, and I've been trying to wash the taste from my mouth ever since. But this album is different. They've revisited "OK Computer" territory and found plenty there. Try "Sit Down. Stand Up" or "The Gloaming".
  • Kill Bill Vol. 1 - Original Soundtrack" - Wayy back in 1991 and 1994, Quentin Tarantino proved that great music can lift a great movie to dizzying heights. People still love the "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack, and after taking a long break, he returns with "Kill Bill", a bloody love letter to Hong Kong cinema. This soundtrack has it all - rock, pop, soul and funk - plus a kick ass version of the "Green Hornet" theme.
  • Alexi Murdoch - "Four Songs EP" - OK, this is an EP. It only has four songs - hence the title, but these are some great acoustic songs on here, and this guy is forgoing any label assistance. Think a non-suicidal Nick Drake. Dig around for this one; you won't be sorry.
  • The Postal Service - "Give Up" - This is a slightly new one for me; vaguely electronica pop music, but it's fun to give it a listen every now and again.
  • Grandaddy - "Sumday" - Here we have some echoes of Radiohead past, but it's a good place to go. Here's an album about living in today's society.
  • Broken Social Scene - "You Forgot it in People" - My favorite album from this year. There's no reason this album should be any good; this band has ten members and five guest musicians appear on the album. But here's the thing: you will never hear an album like this. They mix musical styles. They have acoustic anthems to growing up; springy insturmentals and great hooks. Nothing would make me happier than hearing "Stars and Sons" or "Almost Crimes" on the radio. I realize this will never happen, but I can wish, can't I?

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

The Return of Brian

I'm back, and it's good to be here.

Before I start rambling, a brief explanation. I've been slammed lately - the holidays, work, general life, flu recovery, and to top it all off, THE MAN told us at work last week that they were starting to monitor our Internet usage. Now, I'll be the first to admit that mine was probably a bit excessive, so I've decided to back off the work internet usage. Unfortunately, I had no internet access at home for several days, due to my fear of messing with the magic modem.

But now I've returned, much like a certain movie franchise, which ends this month. Many people call it THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE. I thought it was very good, but not worth the pages of hyperbole that people want to crown this movie with. I speak, of course, of The Return of the King.

I saw the movie opening night - not the midnight showing, so the people in the theater were mainly second-tier geeks - they want to see the film opening night, but aren't down with the costumes. Although there were two elves in attendance.

Here's what I liked about the film: the battle sequences (with living people) were nothing short of spectacular. My one complaint here is that it was so widespread that I felt it didn't have quite the impact that Helm's Deep had in The Two Towers, but those elephants were awfully nifty.

I also really liked Ian McKellan as Gandalf. He really nailed the part in this one, and I couldn't be happier with his performance. Will he win an Oscar? Probably not? Will he be nominated even? Probably not, but he was Gandalf in all his world-saving ass-kicking glory.

However, every silver lining has its cloud - and for me, this movie had a few problems that kept it from being great. One, it was too damn long. I realize this couldn't be helped, but when you tack on 20 minutes of trailers, this film is a bladder-bursting four hours long. That's a long time to sit and watch anything. Heck, I even take a break when watching four-hour porn films at home. It's just too much. (I'm kidding; I don't watch four-hour porn films at home. Really. Seriously. No- honest! I don't!)

The movie also suffered from not having the Scouring of the Shire at the end. Now this is a curious complaint, considering I just bitched about the length, but there was nothing there showing how the characters changed over the course of their journey. This just kills Merry and Pippin's character arcs.

But overall, these are minor problems for me. It was still a very entertaining movie, and Peter Jackson deserves all the praise he gets for this film.

One question though: what was up with the hobbits frolicking in the bed at the end of the movie? Was I the only one who found this scene a little awkward?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Flu 1, Brian 0

I spent a lot of time with the television over the past three days. Thanks to co-workers, I came down with the flu on Thursday. The day opened like any other, but by 10:30, I was shivering and exhausted.

So I spent many, many hours watching television, and let me tell you - it wasn't pretty. When you're actually looking forward to an episode of Hercules, I think it can safely be said that you're starved for entertainment.

Unlike many people, I don't sleep when I'm sick. I can't. I might doze for 15 minutes or so, but I can never fully sleep, unless I heavily medicate myself. Which means TV, and I pity those who spend all day at home watching television. They have a truly empty existance.

What did I learn? Taking a magic pill will cause you to lose 50 lbs. in two weeks! Women will hate you unless you buy them diamonds for Christmas! It's easy to refinance or get an equity loan. If you don't refinance, you're a weenie! And so on.

My only solace in this time was the first two seasons of Homicide, which I bought on DVD a few weeks ago. This truly was the best show on television - the characters were all realized - with flaws and vulnerabilities, the scripts were always excellent, and the good guys didn't always win, nor did they always do what was right.

I can see why the show didn't last; it was too deep and too dark, but for anyone looking for a show that didn't pull any punches, run out and rent or buy the DVDs. You won't be sorry.

But now, I'm on the road to recovery. My fever has abated, and I'm getting ready to rejoin the world. After I take my weight-loss pill, buy some diamonds and fill out this loan application.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Flu Season!

People around me have been dropping like flies; first they show up to work looking pale and sounding congested, then they decide to leave - after spreading the love to the rest of us. One of my friends was hanging out at my house, the night before he developed symptoms. So far, I've been lucky.

I caught the flu eight years ago, and I'm still scared of catching it again. I laid on the couch for four straight days, watching the room spin and feeling as if my head would explode any minute.

It's not high on my list of things to try again.

So all you sick people, please stay away! I'm the one wearing the surgical mask and pouring bleach on everything around me.

Perhaps I picked the wrong time to start re-reading "The Stand" . . .

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Fire on 40

The heat washed over the side of my face, even though a closed window and about 50 feet separated me from the fire. Flames swept away from the car, into the sky and the next lane. The other cars gave their brother's funeral pyre a wide berth.

I've never seen a car go up in flames like that. Once I was driving in rainy slick conditions when a truck did two 360s right in front of me, but I've never seen anything so vivid.

The most striking part of it was the car's owner standing a ways back, huddled against the wind and mist, talking animatedly into his cell phone. I couldn't help but wonder if there was another passenger. How did he get out before the fire consumed the car?

I don't think I knew him, and I thanked heaven it wasn't me in that car. Or any of my friends or family. I often joke about going out in flames, but it's definitely not on my short list of ways to die.

Usually, I rail against people who slow down at accidents, but this was so out of the ordinary, so bizarre that I understood the impulse. No one was apparently hurt - it was just the car quickly melting down in the autumn mist.

As the flames receeded into the background, I could see a fire engine pull up behind the car, and the firefighters clambered out and started to put out the blaze. All was well with the world again.

Still, my foot was definitely less heavy on the gas pedal the rest of the afternoon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Television Ennui

I realized something tonight: I have the attention span of a two-year-old, especially while watching television. In an hour-long period, I continually flipped between five gay men, two straight (and very stupid) women, government agents, poker, college basketball, an infomercial and a documentary about a boy in a bubble. Oh, and throw the X-Files in there briefly. I don't think that's good for anyone's mental health.

First off, when the apocalypse comes, I don't want Paris Hilton, her little friend or that damn rat anywhere around me. They're useless. Nice to look at, but when one of them (I couldn't tell them apart - I'll just call them Blonde 1 and Blonde 2) - Blonde 1 I think - asked what a well does, I flipped the channel. I honestly would rather watch five homosexuals save a straight man's marriage than watch those two prove to the rest of the world that Americans are stupid. At least the gay guys are funny.

Celebrity Poker was about what I expected. Can I get some takers? I'll hold Ben Affleck if someone hits him. Hard. Repeatedly. I really wanted to see more of this, but I had to watch 24 and see what wackiness befell Kiefer and his progeny - who happens to share hair color and intelligence with Blondes 1 and 2 from the previous show.

Basically, the only reason I own a television anymore is to watch movies and sports. It's depressing that something like This Simple Life makes it to the airwaves while shows like Firefly, Homicide, Sports Night and Farscape are consigned to the pit of low ratings and ultimate cancellation.

Listen up, television execs - the reason you're losing male viewers, ages 18-34, is because you're putting crap on the air. It's that simple. No one wants to watch the recycled garbage you keep throwing at the wall, hoping it will stick before people notice the stink. Granted, you probably don't care about my opinion, since I'm approaching the upper end of the bracket, but maybe if you started airing quality shows with new (and TALENTED) writers, you wouldn't be bemoaning The Sopranos' and Sex in the City's success while trying to convice America that we want to watch Whoopi Goldberg.

I'll continue my rant until I see changes, or until I see something shiny.