Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 Wrap-Up Part One

I'm not going to monkey with top 10 lists. Inspired by Jamie's random Top 10 list, I'm just going to highlight several things I found to be of import in 2007.


I didn't see 95% of what came out this year. I'm moving into a period in my life where trailers tell me nothing about why I should drop my hard-won clams on a movie, movies aren't aimed at my demographic, or I feel like I've already seen the movie before.

My favorite movie of 2007: No Country for Old Men

It's probably Cormac McCarthy who deserves the real praise here, as from what I hear, the movie's greatest achievement was sticking close to the book. But for once, a movie managed to surprise me, have uniformly excellent performances, stark but fantastic cinematography and told a story with no fear. Still, adaptations are difficult at best, and to truly do the source material justice may actually be more difficult than creating a movie from the ground up where the audience has no foreknowledge and/ or no expectations.

Moreover, it's no secret that the Coens were a huge part of why I was enamored enough with film when I started college and remained a tremendous influence throughout much of my teens and 20's. Unfortunately, of late, I had felt they were no longer making movies I really cared about. This movie proved me wrong.

The movie took a plot that could have been a standard "package" movie, and, instead managed to make a coherent statement upon the nature of evil in the world and what becomes of good men who spend their lives fighting something they can't ever really understand.

Anyhow, it did lead to me buying a three-novel collection of McCarthy's work I'm going to crack here before the New Year.

Least Favorite Movie of 2007: So many to choose from!

Probably the most cynical and bankrupt of the movies I watched this year was "High School Musical 2", which I watched half of one night with Wagner. Calculated and intentionally stupid, but bright and shiny as a 52" Plasma Screen's demo disc, this movie was intended to give elementary and middle school kids who think high school is going to be AWESOME something to aspire to. Made Saved by the Bell look nuanced. Heck, it reallyw asn't any different than "From Justin to Kelly", except that this movie was somehow even more chaste. But, then again, it is for little kids.

Also, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" was... it was just a failure on so many levels, I don't have the time. Pair it with the nuttily bad "Ghost Rider", and Marvel had a rough year at the movies. Both will have sequels, I am sure.

As I mentioned, we really didn't see a lot of movies this year, and while many of them didn't do much for me, I can't say it was that the movies were bad, per se. They just weren't that great. But I think that's pretty typical.

True standouts:

Had we not had tickets to see Robosaurus after Transformers at the Alamo, I would have walked out. It was that bad. Oh, yes it was. The entire center thirty minutes of the film was embarrassing and nigh-unwatchable. If you weren't bored and squirming in your seats during the "Transformers sneak around Spike's backyard" sequence, I cannot help you.

But above all stands Tarantino's "Death Proof", the second half of the Grindhouse double feature. Yes. I do, in fact, get it. I am not against paying homage o exploitation movies, bad movies, etc... I think it can be nifty. But I do think that believing that whatever dialog you put in the character's mouths is interesting and needs no editing is a fallacious assumption. Tarantino's post "Pulp Fiction" career seems to be a test to see exactly how much he actually does need Roger Avary as the years go by.

Whatever Tarantino once added to the movies he made by recycling old bits from cheap movies and polishing them up has drained away. Now we're left with endless, pointless dialog and modestly directed action sequences. The movie was not (a) exciting, (b) funny. And it was easily thirty minutes too long.



My favorite TV show of 2007: 30 Rock

For probably snooty reasons, TV reviewers (who have absolutely no ground to stand on being snooty) thought Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was going to be the winner in the contest between the shows about a comedy sketch show. After all, Studio 60 was moody and joyless and featured alcoholics and other staples of the TV landscape of adult programming. But a show where absolutely nobody is funny or even cracks a smile about a sketch comedy show?

30 Rock stepped up to the plate and gave a writer's-eye view of working on a sketch comedy show owned by a mega-corporation and the goofiness the disconnect between the two worlds creates. Like all good jesters, Tina Fey is able to comment by making a joke, on everything from politics to star theatrics to the very suits who have made her career possible. The show may not be for all tastes, but with every episode a bit different, and without getting bogged down in any pointless "will they or won't they?" romantic plotlines, it's been a standout show that seems to get better all the time.

Also, due in large part to Alec Baldwin, it's possibly the most quotable show on TV any given week. Thanks to JAL and a certain sketch featuring "Paul Schwetty", I was quite glad to see Baldwin take on the role of Jack Donaghy, and they show has found it's voice in the schizm between the idealistic Liz Lemon and corporate shark Donaghy.

Add in Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski and Jack McBayer (as well as any of the rest of the show's multitude of characters) and it's a lot of fun.

Honorable Mention: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

The premise of the show: people are awful, especially when they're looking for an advantage.

There's no real story here other than a bar run by family and friends and their various misadventures from starting a band to trying out for the Eagles. In the current trend set by HBO programming, basic cable is waking up to the fact that shows with characters who are more morally ambiguous are inherently more interesting. And, in this case, a lot funnier.

This is the show that made me like Danny DeVito for the first time in more than a decade, made me want to join a band, and gave us Kaitlin Olson as Sweet Dee (a tie for my favorite female character in TV, right there with Liz Lemon).

Least Favorite Show of 2007: Any show that asked me to get invested (while providing nothing in return)

Dear TV,

I have only so many hours in my week. I know most people now seem to love getting wrapped up in the complicated mythologies of hour long dramas. I am not one of them.

There was a time when TV shows were good first, and then lasted long enough to build up a backbone and larger plots. These days, you take a fairly benign concept like "The Bionic Woman" and load it down with fifteen tons of dead-weight in the first two episodes with massive conspiracies, fractured families, precocious teenage sisters with criminal records, huge San Francisco apartments owned by bartenders and overly complicated backgrounds for Harvard-bound future bionic women.

Thanks to shows like X-Files (which eventually built a mythology), and the break-away success of shows like "Lost", every show has to have a built in mythology. This ignores the fact that probably, at some point, a better idea could come along but the show will be locked into whatever angle they put in the pilot. And trying to write around whatever was in the pilot will just make things even more awkward.

I dunno.

I wonder if I am not a bit jaded regarding the "instant mythology" bit from seeing too many comics that believe they need to cram potentially interesting ideas down your throat in the first issue or two, but when you get down to it, there's nothing there beyond the mythology. The characters don't behave from an area of honesty, they become walking plot devices or behave in ways that serve plot while providing no real motivation of their own that I can buy.

In the deepest, darkest places in my heart, I am secretly hoping that the writer's strike and lack of programming for a year or so will mean that in 2008 I will no longer see the look of shock on people's faces when I admit I am not interested in Show X, or that I have no plans to watch Show Y, no matter how good it is. Especially if I have 40 episodes to watch in order to catch up.

Where do you people find the time?

Sophomore Slump 2007: Friday Night Lights

Formerly a show about the pressure cooker of kids growing up in the spotlight of high-school football, as well as the strain on a coach in a town where football is king... this year Friday Night lights became a show about inappropriate relationships between those above and under the demarcation of high school graduation.

This is not what I signed up for.

Last year, even when the show had a bad week or flimsy plotline, it would be wrapped up quickly. This year, it seemed as if they brought in the writers from Felicity and set them loose upon formerly interesting characters.

Once the plotlines were used up from the Peter Berg movie (and the book? I've not read it.), the writers knew too little about their own subject to know what to do. Even the potentially interesting "finding Jesus" storyline started for one of the characters was dropped without comment, while the implausible "murder" storyline took up an inordinate amount of screentime when the ending was really never in doubt. And while Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler both deliver great performances each week, the TMU coaching storyline was awkward and somewhat unbelievable. Probably too believable was Julie's storyline about a high school girl acting out and feeling misunderstood. It just wasn't interesting.

It'll be curious to see what happens when/ if the show returns.


I really didn't buy many albums this year. I think the real story for 2007 was that fissures in the music industry became visible cracks as Radiohead tried it's own distribution experiment and pretty much proved that whatever labels once offered (especially for established artists) is no longer relevant. The interwebs have compltely repainted the picture as of two or three years ago, and effects are now becoming obvious.

Musical Celebrity of the Year

Suck it, Steve Jobs. I know you wanted this, but it ain't happening.

I choose Amy Winehouse. It's not often we get a musician who is such a public trainwreck as part of the package BEFORE they've really taken a toe-hold on the American music scene. But Winehouse was already a celebrity in the UK, and came to our shores pre-packaged as a bee-hived chanteuse who was so deep in the sauce, she might just pass out at any time.

We didn't even need to watch the inevitable rise and crash of a starlet. Winehouse came to us in "Britney, Career Year 6" mode, so there was no suffering through the peppy teen-years, awful movies or ghost-written books.

Nope, we went right for the "I have to cancel my ACL Fest appearance because I'm drying out" phase shortly after I'd downloaded Rehab to iTunes.

Plus, her album isn't half bad, IMHO.

ACL Fest

Surprisingly lived up to the hype. It was a perfect way to watch music for those of us with attention deficit problems, and I saw a lot of good shows. And walked away from a lot of shows I just wasn't interested in.

I will definitely be attending again in 2008.

What the @#%$??? goes to the Hannah Montana phenomenon and all of the psychotic parents raising a generation of entitled sociopaths by dropping thousands of dollars on tickets to watch a modestly talented little girl lip-synch.

Just imagine if those parents, instead, wrote checks to Doctors without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross or some other worthy organization and told their children what they were doing with the money, and then bought their kid a Season 1 DVD set of the TV show.

Yes, I am judging. It's what I do.

I also liked the LCD Soundsystem album

That's it for this post.
Next time we'll get into some other items of import. Maybe the news, politics, comics and space travel. Who knows?


Steven said...

I liked "Heroes".

It was heroic.

Anonymous said...

I know nothing of "Hannah Montana," but surely we must all be allowed our pop culture indulgences? If we adopt the "the money spent should have gone to charity," surely we will all fail?

The League said...

To an extent, I obviously agree. However, I feel it's something of a failure of parenting.

I do think that thousands spent on tickets to a children's concert (prices set by scalpers, not the legitimate ticket dealers) does little to actually enhance the life of the child who receives them. Obviously scalping tickets has it's own set of problems, but in two years, are those kids really going to care if they saw Hannah Montana? At $2000 a seat? Any more than those kids who got a Cabbage Patch Kid in the 80's got one at the expense of their parents being trampled? (I seem to recall a death related to a stampede of people looking for the dolls, but can't source it. Probably an urban legend which accurately reflected the toy-hysteria of the time.)

It's a free country and something of a free market, so people are willing to spend their dollars however they like. It doesn't mean I can't think they're an idiot for spending their money poorly or setting an unrealistic and materialistic example for heir children.

Anonymous said...

Is it that they are children that prompts the concern, or that the act being seen is a forgettable novelty?

The League said...

That's a fairly complicated question. Clearly the children would have, at best, a difficult time affording the tickets from scalpers. And certainly part of my criticism is that a two hour show is a forgettable novelty.

Certainly I think part of any childhood is learning that some niceties are financially taxing to parents. Kids can learn to live without, learn about delayed gratification, or earn the cost of a ticket.

It would be interesting to see, if the child were asked to work off the debt, if they could not find literally hundreds of items they'd rather be able to spend the money on.

I dunno. I just think there are better ways to spend money that don't contribute to a child's sense of entitlement.

Anonymous said...

Part of childhood, too, though, is having fun. Part of parenting is wanting to provide that fun to your kids. Sometimes a silly concert is just a silly concert.

The League said...

Agreed. Which is why I find it silly to pay thousands of dollars for tickets.

Now, all of this is my opinion. People are free to spend their money any way they please, and I don't have a 9 year old daughter telling me she'll DIE if she doesn't see Hannah Montana.

As it's my opinion, I think they're spending their money foolishly, just as 99% of the population would find my spending habits foolish (I mean... comics? And Superman memoribilia...?).

As per bad parenting: Again, my opinion. I am sure most of these parents believe they are doing the best thing possible for their child or they wouldn't do it. Unlike many people, I kind of think kids are greedy little apes and their gratitude usually only extends as far as the next present. I also suspect most parents just want to be able to put a notch in their belt in the odd parenting competition so they can prove they care more about their kid than the Joneses.

Look, if the kid were thirty five years old and had been following Hannah Montana since middle school, then heck yeah... pay whatever. Put the 35 year old kid on a plane and give them the best weekend of their life. But Hannah Montana is the Cabbage Patch Kid of 2007.

I dunno. I just think its sort of stupid to pay that much money for something the kid is going to forget they did in two years, or else be vaguely embarassed by it by the time they're thirteen.

Anonymous said...

Just watch an episode of "My Super Sweet 16" on MTV.