Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Promised Comic Book Film Reviews...

I just realized that it's August. Which means I missed July entirely on this blog. So let's start out August right. Comic book movies!

Green Lanturn - W.T.F.!!! I'm very happy to report that on a friend's suggestion, I didn't actually PAY to see this film, rather ducked in after seeing another film I paid for (Super 8 - fantastic, should write a review on that). This film was the worst film I've seen since Johnny Mnemonic.

You're cute Ryan Reynolds, but NOT THAT CUTE!! Keanu barely saved his ass from that terrible film. My favorite part of Green Lanturn was sipping rum from a flask and bantering with my friends about the whole mask thing - moronic! You could totally tell it was Ryan Reynolds. Not like Batman at all. Lame sauce. Two thumbs down! Comic books are ashamed to be associated with you.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

TV's Best and Worst of 2010-2011

I finally have some down time today to compose my thoughts about last year’s TV season. Of course, I’m way behind here, and the fall line ups have already been announced – but for posterity, or perhaps just because I feel like it today, I’m going to pontificate about the many, many hours of TV I watched this past year. It’s going to be my own mini-Emmys.


HANDS DOWN the best show I’ve been following on TV this year. Superb acting by the entire cast, excellent writing, interesting cinematography.

MOST FUN – Castle

This is the show I looked forward to the most after The Good Wife. Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion have finally gelled, and the supporting cast has settled into their roles well. The writing is spotty week to week, but they clearly have fun with themselves and don’t take the plots too seriously. As a result, it’s easier to enjoy as a serial crime series than its competition. Tends to run formula - campy, campy, campy, SERIOUS episode, back to campy for a while etc., but it's been an enjoyable ride. Nice season finale too.

MOST IMPROVED – Big Bang Theory

This little gem had a quirky and interesting start, but last year fell into to what I like to call “The Sheldon Show” to the point it was getting pretty lame. With the introduction of larger roles for Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik, it’s gone back to the ensemble formula which is much, much funnier.


Beyond the schmaltzy House-Cuddy relationship that went down this season, you end by cutting tumors out of your own leg after ingesting experimental drugs barely tested on rats? Where has this show gone, really? It’s boring me a lot. Other than some interesting writing choices for Wilson and Cuddy centered episodes this season, it’s lost a lot of its initial magic.

JUST AIIGHT FOR ME – American Idol

While you can argue the talent was better this year, the judging pool was fairly worthless. I cannot believe that no one on this show uttered a single constructive criticism to Scotty the entire season when he clearly needed it. And no negative comments apparently means that you now win this show. I’m even more convinced the thing is rigged when the first year you let 15 year olds compete, the two that make the cut make it to the finale…in a large part because you didn’t critique them all season because “they’re young” yet rip apart the 20+ year olds.

GUILTY PLEASURES – Hellcats & Covert Affairs

It’s all about the eye candy. Terrible writing for the most part on both shows, but really, really nice looking people. And the production value of both have some flair - the dance scenes from Hellcats were fun to watch, and the action sequences in Covert Affairs look much better than you’d expect for TV stunt work.

MOST OVER-RATED – Modern Family

Don’t get me wrong, I dig Modern Family. It’s legitimately funny….sometimes. My problems with it lies in the way the characters sort out according to gender politics. The Pritchet crew is clearly the “masculine” force in the show, while their significant others are the “feminine” counterpoint. The fact that two of those SOs are men, and are frequently satirized for being too feminine makes me a little squeamish as a gender scholar. I should probably write a longer post on this at some point.

DOWNWARD SPIRAL OF SUCKAGE – Brothers & Sisters and Grey’s Anatomy

It’s a tie. I already ranted about Grey’s, so let me rant about Brothers & Sisters – a show that used to be an interesting character study in family dynamics has now become a trite construct whereby each episode revolves around people not being able to communicate effectively at all. And while it was interesting at first to think there was a “lost child” in there somewhere, now the lineage of the entire family just keeps getting called into question. It’s tired, and it’s clear the actors are tired of it…so, I was not particularly surprised to see it won’t be returning next fall. Unfortunately, Grey’s is. With the lamest season ever (and a terrible season finale – I know, I said I wouldn’t watch it, but I thought they might pull it out like last year. No luck.).

NEEDED TO BE CANCELED – One Tree Hill and Smallville

While I’m a bit nostalgic about the cancelation of two shows dear to my heart that have been a large part of my research on teen television, they really, really had worn out their welcome.

And that's all for post (when I get around to it) will be the battle of more comic book movies.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Battle of Two Comic Books (on Screen)

Helllllllo all my readers – you thought I’d died, didn’t you? No worries. I am the first to admit that I am a completely sporadic blogger, prone to long hiatuses and silence should I be terribly busy, distracted, or simply not have much to say. But I’ve had some time to think the past few weeks, so I have a couple gems to kick out over the next couple days. The first will be my pro/con rundown of two major comic book films in the past month – Thor and X-Men First Class.

Now for those who don’t regularly follow Popademic, you should know that I am a comic book lover at heart – but I’m not really a comic book reader. How does that work? Well, as a media scholar, my interest in comic books is pretty restricted to how they are manipulated from print into mediated stories (via TV or film, which are more my specialty than print). So, that being said, here’s my take on two comic book blockbusters of the summer so far:

THOR (Pros & Cons)

PRO – It was really pretty. Loved the CGI imaginary worlds.
PRO – Chris Hemsworth & Natalie Portman. Eye-candy galore and super cute rapport. As a bonus, Anthony Hopkins didn’t totally suck. Liked seeing Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd in something akin to his Good Will Hunting role, with a little less arrogance.
PRO – Some fun humor and quippy one-liners (as a result of Kenneth Branagh directing?)

CON – I was frequently bored. This is never a good thing for your film.
CON – The entire cast of supporting characters was under-developed and boring. In fact, I’m positive in the comic book Thor MUST be on Earth WAY longer than it seems like it takes in the film, because the whole romantic relationship with Natalie Portman takes all of a hot minute before he’s sent back home.
CON – As a counterbalance to the previous pro, the script as a whole pretty much sucked. Good actors saved some terrible dialogue from being generally abhorrent.

X-Men First Class (Pros & Cons)

PRO – I was mostly never bored. There’s one part (I won’t spoil it) that had me really bored. It had to do with the junior recruits.
PRO – I am a BIG fan of comic book films that tease out interesting and complicated relationships between men. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender did an amazing job here keeping me glued to the screen.
PRO – Kevin Bacon was a FABULOUS bad guy! Really hit that line between crazy/evil/deranged yet thinks he’s rational quite well. And January Jones was pretty intense (and hot) too.
PRO – LOVED the cameo by Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

CON – The kiddies. Most of them couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag.
CON – Plot holes…like a lot of them. Of course, I empathize with the fact that when you have to write Prof. X, it’s a fine line because really he could totally do just about anything he wants, but the film made him seem weak in ways I didn’t appreciate as an X-Men fan. Also, silly things like – we dropped the sonar kid in the water and never got him back but 20 minutes later he flies out of the water? How does that work exactly since in order for him to fly before he had to be pushed off a building? Or really, if you want to go there, why is Kevin Bacon even bothering with this stupid plan when really he could just absorb the nuclear bomb energy and wipe out the world – which is what he clearly wants to do, yet, in a convoluted fashion he waits for humans to do it? The same humans he’s anxious to annihilate?
CON – Whoever was on the Beast’s makeup team should have been fired. That weird Planet of the Apes in blue crap was so awful I audibly gasped in the theatre. And I was not alone. Two comic book nerds were with me and were like, “dude, that is UNCOOL.”

So there you have it. I’ll be interested to see what the rest of the summer comic book line-up has in store.

Friday, March 25, 2011

An Open Letter to the Writers of Grey's Anatomy

Dear Grey’s Anatomy Writers,

You are dead to me. I mean it. I am through with your stupid show. There was a time it was near and dear to my heart, you know, back when it actually had some heart. Now it’s tired and lame. I thought by giving you a second chance after pulling out last season’s finale, you wouldn’t disappoint me again. But I was wrong. I was so, SO wrong.

Before you bemoan how difficult it is to write a TV show week in and week out, let me just say that I don’t care. Suck it up. This is what you signed up for, so quit making this show suck. Some of the things I suggest you fix immediately include (but are not limited to):
  • A complete moratorium on any storyline that involves a sick person and a doctor. It’s been done. Do you remember Denny & Izzy? I do. It was terrible. Why, oh why, are you wasting the beautiful, talented Scott Foley this season? “The season that changes everything” my ass. More like “the season that recycles as many previous storylines as possible so that we can take more smoke breaks.”
  • Quit making your strong female characters weak, insecure morons. Particularly Bailey. This whole thing with the new boyfriend saying “I’m the man”?!? REALLY!?! And her being insecure about her diagnosis because he questions her? Come on. It's pathetic. Chandra Wilson looked so embarrassed to be delivering this garbage, at one point I'm sure I heard her say “my acting career just died” under her breath.
  • While you’re at it, why don’t you have the male characters actually do something other than sit around and watch the women self-destruct (besides spout misogynist lines)? Remember when Derek went psycho? That was great! When Mark was a sleazy guy? When Hunt was battling PTSD? Also great! Emo doctor guys sitting back looking all puppy-dog-eyed while their significant others fall apart is a pretty terrible statement about how culture believes men should react to women’s problems/concerns.
  • On that note, can someone please date someone who DOESN’T work at the damn hospital? Seriously. At this point I’m starting to feel like the whole Grey’s crew is a weird sex colony – you need a medical degree to get in, but after that, anything’s good until someone says the safe word (which is probably “catheter” or “enema”).
  • Oh, lest we forget this show is supposed to be about a hospital, let me throw in for good measure that it would be really nice if you won’t maim/kill/harm/psychologically mutilate the main characters every time the ratings take a dip. At this rate, the Grey’s crew is such a disaster, I’m pretty their insurance carriers have dropped them.
  • Speaking of, the lesbians. Really? We had to go there? Sara Ramirez sings a song in the next episode to help launch her career as a singer-songwriter? Is this a sign that all the doctors need to be on the market for a new gig? It’s not Glee, it’s Grey’s Anatomy. I know they’re beating you in the ratings, but adding music isn’t going to help your crappy writing.
    For all of these reasons and more, I insist as a loyal viewer that any writer currently still employed who participated in any of the above said atrocities be publicly flogged and stripped of their B.A. in creating writing or theatre, whichever took more credits to finish. Since that will most likely leave you with no remaining writing staff, I suggest hiring some actual talent in an effort to save your sinking ship. I, however, am deleting my season pass from TIVO.


    Thursday, March 24, 2011

    Pop Culture Rewind: Scrubs & Gender Politics

    Yesterday, I spent a good half of my day watching back episodes of Scrubs on Netflix, wondering, “why was I never into this show as much as my friends?” I remember it fondly, enjoyed catching episodes here and there, directed several student projects about it – but yet, could not put my finger on why exactly I wasn’t crazy in love with this show. And yesterday I figured it out.

    It’s Elliot. (Or perhaps more broadly, it’s Sarah Chalke since I hated her turn on HIMYM as well and was super happy when they wrote her off…)

    This show did an amazing job playing with our contemporary understanding of masculinity, but nothing for our understanding of femininity. Elliot is an awful character who represents the worst of our culture’s obsessions with femininity. Every other joke on the show is about her ego, her body, or her obsessions with men. Even when she’s acting like a doctor, she’s always comparing herself to the men around her (a competition she apparently always loses in her head). 182 episodes, 9 seasons, and basically zero growth in her character. I find her so incredibly annoying it’s hard for me to bracket it and enjoy the hysterical male performances in the series.

    I don’t think it’s an accident that in contrast, Carla’s character is endearing and interesting. This is a function of the positionality of the white, more educated doctor yet completely neurotic woman who can’t function in a relationship against the Latina, lower-status nurse who manages to keep her man in line and sustain a family outside of work. And in a culture where Bridget Jones caricatures reign supreme in how we frame contemporary white femininity, Elliot serves as a cultural marker for all that I hate about our culture’s obsession with women’s bodies, the devaluation of their intellectual capital/potential, and the correlation of women’s insecurities to insanity.

    So while I think Scrubs offered us some important cultural moves (particularly the presentation of “emo” men, and how emo becomes racially coded as a white male phenomenon), it saddens me that Elliot is the type of character that sells to audiences because I don’t find her funny at all.

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    Happy (?) Thoughts about Daniel Tosh

    I’m a big fan of comedy, but I’m hard to impress. I don’t find much contemporary American comedy all that amusing – it tends to rely on standard tropes and forms (particularly racism, homophobia and misogyny), rarely exhibiting any intellectual social commentary. So when I caught Tosh.0 for the first time, I was skeptical. While I enjoyed some of Daniel Tosh’s stand-up, there’s also a running problem with Comedy Central shows where they take a good stand-up comic who’s worked on an act for a year or so, produce a couple good episodes and then demand they come up with new material for a serial program each week. Not a good formula, and as a result, very funny people typically tank their comedy shows. But, due in large part to a format much like America’s Funniest Home Videos, Tosh.0 is usually pretty amusing. I could probably write a whole post on that, but I have a different point to make today. Intro over.

    This fall Tosh came through my hometown on the 2010 Tour, and I bought tickets to see the live show. Pretty funny stuff. Now that the tour is over, Comedy Central taped and packaged the stand-up special Happy Thoughts which broadcast this past Sunday. Since I’d seen the live show, it was fascinating to observe the changes once it was polished and repackaged for TV format. First, throughout the live performance, he had several spots where he inserted relevant social commentary (particularly on celebrity status, gay marriage, women’s rights), most of which was cut from the special. There were a few lines here and there that stayed in because they were embedded within the narrative of a joke, but the ones that weren’t – the ones that were asides or set-ups were mostly cut. As a result, several of the jokes that were hysterical live came off misogynistic, homophobic or racist (despite them leaving in the piece where he claims to be an equal opportunity offender crossing comedic lines wherever it seems fit) which isn’t what I think he’s trying to do as a comic at all.

    Second, he had three bits I distinctly remember that were edited out – one about crazy fans, appealing to the audience to quit doing stupid things like stalking his mother at the hospital she works at and then doing trust falls into her; one about intellectual property laws, telling fans to peer-to-peer share whatever of his stand-up they wanted because he’s insanely rich now and doesn’t need the extra money; and one about the process of putting Tosh.0 together explaining the darker side of the internet (something like, “do you ever wonder if a horse fucked a guy how much horse cock would kill that guy? I don’t have to wonder, I know.”) As a media scholar, I’m not surprised that these were the pieces chosen to edit out since they potentially impact/reveal the economics behind producing Tosh.0, and ultimately amount of money Comedy Central can make in the process.

    Overall, this picture sort of captures my reaction. I’m curious to see if they put those bits back in when they go to sell the special on DVD/Netflix or what have you. Perhaps it was edited for TV broadcast only, particularly since it was being aired on Comedy Central. On the other hand, it could be edited entirely – which is a shame because some of the smartest commentary was void from what aired Sunday night.

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    American Idol: TV's Juggernaut Hits Season 10

    Although it’s unprecedented, I believe I have to post twice in a single day. Don’t get used to it. Depending on how it shows up, I might even reverse time stamp my last post so as not to create any expectations that I'll follow through with blogging to this degree ever again. But it’s that IDOL time of year, and I do have to take stock of my addiction to all things Idol despite how it makes me die a little inside every year. Then I remember that when Idol returns, so do Jacob’s TwoP recaps, which are simply to die for and all is right with the world again. (Seriously, if you haven’t read them, and have any kind of snarky humor about TV, you should check them out).

    So – big news this year, format changes and panel changes. The judging changes have actually been kind of fun. I’ve been enjoying Steven and Jennifer’s additions, at the same time wondering how Randy has suddenly become the Simon of this season. It’s clear, however, that the panel has two new judges when you put through double the number of people to Hollywood that you did in previous years. And thus, the auditions went on FOREVER and I was actually mostly bored. There’s only so many times Steven can creepily hit on under-aged girls before it’s simply not amusing anymore.
    This is the second time in this 10-year process where I “know” one of the contestants that made it to the Top 24. [I use the term “know” loosely since there’s a difference between talking/acquainting with someone and being friends with them – so yeah. The only reason I made it through the audition rounds watching all of the footage was to see what happened to Tim Halperin. Go Nebraska! Represent!]

    Now that we’re getting to the competition part, I’m excited again. And I kind of like this new format where they just cut people and get to the real stuff. I hated the painful weeks when it was clear that there was a top half/bottom half and people stuck around week after week. This way we can just cut to the chase. I’m interested to see how this online voting thing will play out – though I’m pretty sure it’s not REALLY going to change the voting demographic all that much.

    Which brings me to my observations/predictions about tonight’s first elimination show. As I mentioned last year, I am constantly amazed at how many contestants fail to see the industry politics of Idol once the performances roll around. You’ve got one shot. The whole point is to give me a song that will convince me to buy an entire album of your music, or at least the single on iTunes. What was painfully obvious to me, but perhaps not to most viewers, is that through the production of the audition rounds, it seemed like they were picking individuals who were musicians rather than just singers. A bunch of the outtakes had contestants playing instruments, yet in this first round, my guess is they weren’t allowed to have them. This made it all the more awkward when people were criticized for “not being themselves” – if you’re a singer/songwriter type (like Tim or Paul), just singing a song doesn’t really show me what you can do.

    That said, PREDICTIONS! Given what I know of this show’s history, what I think of the public’s ability to judge musical talent, and a variety of other industry audience factors (not the least of which includes the gendered, racialized politics of this show), I think there was a pretty clear top-half/bottom-half on both nights.

    For the guys, I think James, Casey, Jacob and Scotty will sail through to the next round. I feel mixed about this because of those four, I can really only conceptualize one of them making an album produced by Idol that will make any money (I’ll let you guess which one). In the fifth spot, it’s a toss up. While I’d like it to be Tim, I think we’ll see Paul – though I wouldn’t count Brett out given the disproportionate number of tween girls who vote on this show and the large number of fans who enjoy voting for the worst contestant in an attempt to see more train-wreck reality TV.

    For the gals, the performances were far more lackluster. That said, I think Pia, Thia, and Lauren A. are locked in to the next round. Personally, I thought Haley was the best of the night though the judges beat up on her, and I think she’ll make it through. In the fifth spot, I’m kind of hoping Lauren T. pulls it out because I like her voice, but if I know this audience at all, it will probably be Naima instead. I suppose I can also say not to count Karen out for a spot. If history is any indication, Latino performers never do well on this show – but with the addition of Jennifer on the judging panel, the viewing demographic might have changed slightly from previous years.

    And that's it for this week. More on Idol in coming weeks, for sure.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Being Social About The Social Network

     I had a really good conversation about film last night, and thought I’d write a bit about it this morning as I’m still thinking about it. Post-Oscars there’s been a lot of wonder about why The Social Network didn’t come out on top (at least among the “younger” generation). After talking through the film with a colleague, I realized that at the core of this is probably the fact that most people just don’t get (or don’t WANT to get) David Fincher.

    My colleague enjoyed the film, but questioned the rowing scene’s inclusion as he felt it had nothing to do with the storyline. I thought the scene made the film. Here’s why: it equated the struggle of intellectual labor to physical competition, illustrating how several people can be working at the same goal/problem but inches, days, hours, weeks can make the difference between who wins and loses. At any given point in time, a lot of smart people think very similar things – it never pans out to be the person who was thinking of something the same time as someone else who actually capitalizes on it first. It’s part of why academia has become even more paranoid about ideas and intellectual capital. I can’t even tell you the number of people who’ve told me I probably shouldn’t be writing this blog. Using crew as a metaphor, even from early on in the film, was one of the best parts of its construction – because at the end of the day, your average individual does NOT equate intellectual labor with physical labor, though it can be equally exhausting and requires similar training and discipline.

    We also discussed at length our fairly different views of Jesse Eisenberg’s performance. Part of why I think the film gets mixed reviews is that David Fincher seems to specialize in characters (almost always male) that are narcissistic and highly unsympathetic. At moments in his work, you start to feel a bit for these ego-involved men, and at the end of the day, no one really likes to feel like they identify with that type of character. Audiences (particularly American audiences) like to identify with the underdog – the self-made individual who overcomes adversity. This is part of why Colin Firth’s role in The King’s Speech was so lauded, while Jesse Eisenberg’s role met with mixed reviews. And while I feel like he did a pretty good job playing Zuckerberg, I did feel myself wanting more from it. Perhaps I’m just annoyed that if this role were written for a woman, NO ONE would have seen this film. Smart men can be as pompous and narcissistic as they want, and their image conveys strength, determination, and vision. You can be an asshole and have redemption through intellectual labor. As an aside, I was surprisingly impressed by Justin Timberlake’s performance.

    On another note, with all the talk of this film representing a “younger generation,” I don’t think it really captured the ambiguity of emerging adulthood. The film makes references to “not knowing” what they have going on throughout – the idea that any intellectual (particularly a young intellectual) doesn’t exactly know where an idea or a concept is going to take them. Yet, the direction of the film was so confident and self-assured it rarely allowed those moments of insecurity that every intellectual has – granted, most DO cover up those insecurities with the type of bravado and cockiness depicted in the film, but as a viewer, I need to see those insecurities more clearly to feel even remotely interested in your character. So, I think it works – I could point to a number of intellectuals who really are that unlikeable – but I guess I don’t see that kind of poise and self-assurance in the 18-21 demographic I work with every day. There’s a lot of faking it, but not actualizing it. I would have liked to see more contrast between the Harvard 2003 Zuckerberg and the post-Facebook Zuckerberg.

    At any rate, it was nice to have a solid, intellectual conversation about film. I certainly don’t follow it as much as I follow TV (keep your eye out for my yearly first American Idol post – probably tomorrow after the results tonight…though I guess maybe I should make some predictions before that…okay, maybe I’ll be back later today).

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Post-Oscar Recap

    As a media junkie and scholar, I feel like I should say something about the Oscars this year. Since it was perhaps the most boring experience of my life as a media scholar (I fell asleep twice it was that boring), this should sum it up:

    1) The King’s Speech is evidence that you can win multiple Oscars by writing a screenplay that is primarily about White men, is completely formulaic in its relational progressions, then directing it in the most obvious fashion to highlight men’s accomplishments. Helena Bonham Carter’s role was paltry in comparison, even if she did get an Oscar nod for it (further evidence that women written in specific roles that don’t take too much of the limelight will get Oscar nods, especially if they have British accents).

    2) The Oscars spent a lot of time pretending to care about a “younger generation” but a lot of time appeasing them with the equivalent of Halloween candy (here’s your best music score for NIN, congrats! Or, okay, we get you liked Inception, we’ll give it some technical awards no one really cares about).

    3) The flippant inclusions of LGBT politics (“It’s been a great year for lesbians!”) made me cringe on multiple occasions. Sexuality is not the powerhouse social issue it once was when Brokeback Mountain or Philadelphia appeared. As a feminist scholar, I also have to ask, why in the year that you get a serious, thoughtful look at lesbian relationships do we spend most of the time making fun of it (except to say Annette Benning is beautiful) when the male counterparts were lauded as smart, edgy and critically worthwhile?

    I could go on, but I really feel it would be a waste of effort at this point. I should be getting back to other battles.

    Monday, February 14, 2011

    RomCom Roulette!

    Anyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for romantic movies, particularly romantic comedies. I’ll also fully admit it’s one of the most terrible genres in modern film – it plays on antiquated gender roles, is typically heterosexist, promotes unrealistic expectations of romantic partners, etc. But, I’m still a sucker for them, and since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d offer a bit of advice if you’re looking for a romantic comedy this year. It’s a Monday, not exactly the best night to go out – so instead, if you’re looking for something to watch in for the night, here are some very, very quick reviews of several romcoms (one at the theatre, the rest on NetFlix!).

    No Strings Attached (in case you’re feeling like getting out) – Despite the terrible trailers for this film, it was actually really cute. Portman and Kutcher had great chemistry, and it’s written and directed by Ivan Reitman, so it’s pretty witty and well constructed, especially for a big budget romcom.

    Love & Other Disasters – Tons of fun! Plays with the romcom genre affectionately and delivers strong performances from Matthew Rhys and (though I thought I’d never say it) Brittany Murphy.

    When In Rome – When will Hollywood realize that Kristen Bell is a capable actress that needs more intricate roles? This film doesn’t totally suck, but there’s nothing special about it. Magic and Italy – an easy one to pick as background filler if you’d rather be doing other things.

    Nights In Rodanthe – Has Nicholas Sparks ever written a book where someone doesn’t die? The editing in this film is so bad, even strong performances by the leads can’t save it.

    Weather Girl – Super fun indie film. The protagonist isn’t likable at all as it begins, but she grows throughout the film, which is refreshing. The comic timing between Ryan Devlin and Patrick J. Adams is solid, and Mark Harmon is a great sleezeball character.

    The Timer – A deep, intellectual piece that questions how and why we fall in love. If we could scientifically “prove” someone is our soulmate, would our experiences with others matter?

    2 Days in Paris – Julie Delpy is one weird woman, but I kind of dig it. Her turns in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are some of my favorite romcom moments. This film is hindered by Adam Goldberg though, and Delpy’s character is only barely likable. The film is more of a treatise on how people consistently settle for relationships that are less than they deserve because they are tired of reinventing themselves.

    Did You Hear About the Morgans? – Oh Hugh Grant. What happened to you? And Mary Steenburgen, what happened to your career!? This film is god awful.

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    Top Five Albums of 2010 - Brendan James

    *This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

    #1 – Brendan James
    And we’re finally here loyal readers (all three of you) – my top album pick for 2010. While I was perusing iTunes one day, this album came up as a suggestion. I went, “Holy crap! When did my brother find time to record an album?” I figured any singer/songwriter that shared a name with my brother was worth the risk (though I have a strict no-impulse buying rule on iTunes). Boy am I glad I took that risk! Technically his sophomore album, Brendan James captures the sweet spot of some of my favorite singer/songwriter music. First, I’m a sucker for guys who play piano. His style is reminiscent of older pop-piano players (Billy Joel, Elton John), but his vocal tone has a smooth contemporary R&B feel. His melodies are catchy with hooks that stick in your head for days. As a whole, the album comprises solid songwriting, introspective lyrics, and a wonderful journey through life’s ups and downs. It plays heavily on themes of nostalgia and memory (Coming Up, The Fall, Get It Right), with a strong emphasis on living in the moment, seizing the day (Nothing for Granted, Emerald Sky, The Lucky Ones). The tone is hopeful, seeing the past as a way to understand the present, looking toward the future – being able to see your place in relationships/life in a way that helps you learn and grow from experience. It will be a lifetime favorite, one that captures this moment (2010) of my life pretty accurately.

    Favorite Lyrics
    1. “Love your future, love your past, love your body it’s all you have/Love your secrets bottled up, but love them more when you give them up.”
    2. “Love is never supposed to be a present under our tree, I do it because I believe.”
    3. “Nothing like a storm in your heart to wake you up, someone by your side and you know they’re not enough.”
    4. “Thinkin’ ‘bout what I could lose and what I should save. I’ll be the first one to say I was caught up in something, something so bad it was wasting our good life away.”
    Favorite Tracks
    1. Emerald Sky
    2. Coming Up
    3. Nothing For Granted
    4. Let It Rain
    5. The Fall

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    Top Five Albums of 2010 - Locksley, Be In Love

    *This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

    #2 – Locksley – Be In Love
    I misplaced this album in my head because I associate it with winter, and the indie pop/rock turn in '09 to showcasing a “retro”-vibe for records. Most of these came up short for me, interesting for a time, but certainly not standing the test of it. Locksley hit just the right combination on their sophomore album (released early '10), Be In Love. I enjoyed parts of their first album, but was hoping the sound would gel more on their second effort – and it’s fantastic. It’s got up-tempo work that winks to old school British pop, classic punk, and some of the feel-good rock music of the 80s. One of the best parts of the album is taking the simplicity of the theme – love – and telling its story like a kaleidoscope. From the overly romantic, honeymoon period songs (Love You Too, Days of Youth), to day-to-day strains of relationships (One More Minute, On Fire, The Way That We Go) to more reflective songs capturing how love fits in with the rest of a life (21st Century, The World Isn’t Waiting). The textures and tones throughout the album are varied enough to be interesting, but not so erratic as to be sporadic. Should they come tour anywhere near me, I’ll be one of the first in line for a ticket.

    Favorite Lyrics
    1. “Nothing works out just like the plans we made – nobody gives, and if you want it you take.”
    2. “I'm cut through, cut in two pieces of the people that would love to love you.”
    3. “Take the sadness from your gaze and all the bad thoughts I'll erase, hold your body to the sun ‘til the sun has come and gone.”
    Favorite Tracks
    1. 21st Century (brilliant)
    2. The Whip (infectious)
    3. One More Minute
    4. It Isn’t Love

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Top Five Albums of 2010 - Vedera, Stages

    *This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

    #3 – Vedera Stages
    Yes, yes, I know. I already did #3, but I realized about halfway through that there's an album that needs to be on this list (but in my head I'd placed it in 09 instead of 10) and 3 is my favorite number and it's my blog, so my rules. There. :o) Anyway, tying for third place is this amazing third album from Vedera. I had never heard of them until they opened for Jack’s Mannequin (one of my favorite bands) last spring. Their live show was gripping, so I bought the album. Little did I know it would become one of my defining albums of 2010. Kristin May’s voice is enticing and engaging, and the album functions as a diary of songs that chronicle the stages you go through when moving on from a relationship. From the first song, “Greater Than,” you get the sense that there are two people who love each other desperately, yet as the album progresses, it shows that love is not always enough to bridge those gaps in relationships that keep us holding on, hoping for something better. It's an amazing journey that I think most everyone can relate to. It completely consumed the first part of my year, and I’m looking forward to more from them soon.

    Favorite Lyrics:
    1. Use your favorite photograph to play the recent memory back.
    2. I must confess the air I breathe and paths I tread are making me less aware of what I am to do.
    3. I don't wanna deny my heart its chance to feel, I don't wanna deny my soul something real.
    Favorite Tracks:
    1. Forgive You
    2. Greater Than
    3. Goodbye My Love
    4. The Rain

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Top Five Albums of 2010 - Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can

    *This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

    #3 – Laura Marling I Speak Because I Can
    I enjoyed Laura Marling’s first album, but it didn’t sell me. This album is a completely different story. Marling’s voice is haunting, reminiscent of other folk artists like Joni Mitchell, and the lyrical prowess is unmatched. The production is simple, allowing Marling’s narrative to drive the album. Each song illustrates how she struggles to find her place within culturally drawn feminine roles (daughter, maid, girl – these terms crop up frequently). It brilliantly interrogates the lines between past and present, placing women’s identities in contested, confusing cultural space. These musings are painted on the backdrop of romantic ideologies, expectations of love spoken and implied. Ultimately, the album is about finding voice outside of these constraints.

    Favorite Lyrics:
    1. "My life is a candle and a wick, you can put it out but you can’t break it down, in the end we are waiting to be lit."
    2. "I believe we are meant to be seen and not to be understood."
    3. "It’s hard to accept yourself as someone you don’t desire, as someone you don’t want to be."
    4. "I wrote an epic letter to you, and it’s 22 pages front and back but it’s too good to be used."
    Favorite Tracks:
    1. Goodbye to England
    2. Darkness Descends
    3. Devil Spoke
    4. Rambling Man

    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Top Five Albums of 2010 - Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

    *This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

    #4 – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (self-titled)
    I’ve been a fan of Grace Potter ever since I first heard her vocals on Nothing But the Water, and then on tour with This is Somewhere. Those early efforts showcased a strong blues leaning with some big female vocal classic rock (think Janis Joplin-ish), but the sound hadn’t quite gelled. This album brings it all together, perhaps because of the addition of a second guitar and a new bass player. From the first note, you get the impression that Potter knows what she wants and knows how to get it. This is not your typical female lead vocals pining after men and feeling victimized – the songs are strong when they need power and wistful when they need to be introspective. The album moves through up-tempo and slower tracks with ease, the blend of the two reaching a balance in sound and style previous albums seemed to struggle with. The production of the CD is key here – the tracks sound and feel like live work, not studio recordings, which makes all the difference in those transition moments. Potter’s vocals are sexy and raw with solid imagery in the lyrics, and the music sticks to that blues/pop sweet spot. The intensity of the music will grab you and hold you through the entire ride.

    Favorite Lyrics:
    1. “Don't let your bones turn to stone cause you're feeling so alone, just keep on walking.”
    2. “And I can feel you from the inside, prowling like a devil that I try to hide. I can feel your heart beating closer than the poison of my pride.”
    3. “Take away this sense of regret, take the things I need to forget. Take the mistakes I haven't made yet, they're all I have left.”

    Favorite Tracks:
    1. Hot Summer Night
    2. Low Road
    3. Money
    4. Colors

    Monday, January 31, 2011

    Top Five Albums of 2010 - Ryan Star, 11:59

    *This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

    #5 – Ryan Star 11:59
    I’ll admit, I wasn’t crazy about this album at first. Perhaps it’s because I was introduced to Ryan Star at a live show in 2009, and bought Songs from the Eye of an Elephant, which captured a lot of that year for me. That album had a dark and twisty singer-songwriter vibe, so when I first heard 11:59, I wasn’t a big fan of the shift to a more pop-radio style. I’ve outed myself as a lover of depressing music on many occasions, so after thinking about it, it’s no surprise that my first reaction was “What happened to the dark & twisty!?” The neat thing about this album is that it’s still there – Star’s voice has a smoky intensity that keeps the songs serious and anchored. The imagery is consistent, building a cohesive vacillation between the past and the future with a reminder to live in the present. The production additions alter the songs to be more radio friendly and actually make the overall album more hopeful – narratives about love, loss, relationships, memory, and time aren’t new to music, but they are certainly themes that can get depressing. I appreciate the approach to nostalgia the album embodies as it reminds us that we are a sum of our experiences – that every experience with love and loss is a chance to find what we’re looking for and become the person we’re meant to be.

    Favorite Lyrics:
    1. "Let the life that you live be all that you need."
    2. "I’m throwing rocks at your window, you’re tying bedsheets together. They say we’re dreaming too big, I say this town’s too small."
    3. "Lying on the grass now, dancing for the stars, maybe one will look on down and tell us who we are."
    Favorite Tracks:
    1. Start a Fire (I seriously can't get enough of this song)
    2. Losing Your Memory
    3. 11:59

    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    Top Five Albums of 2010 - Honorable Mentions (part two)

    *This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

    Continuing from yesterday, a couple more for the honorable mentions list.

    HM#1 – Punch Brothers Antifogmatic
    A friend of mine recommended this album, and I wasn’t quite sure if it would be my speed. It was described to me as a “bluegrass” album, which is fun once in a while, but certainly not my normal musical landscape. But Antifogmatic isn’t so much bluegrass as classically inspired. Fantastic arrangements with solid instrumental touches throughout the tracks. Lyrically, it’s interesting with clever turns of phrase on the theme of the things that keep our brains in a fog – love, lust, alcohol, work, life, etc. It skips around with strong variance of style between tracks, which makes for a bit of a disjointed listening experience. Other than that, it’s musically fascinating.

    Favorite Lyrics:
    1. "Keep your feet wet, and your eyes dry, ‘cause you’re only as good as your last goodbye."
    2. "Forming a ring round a bonfire built on a line in the sand between me and us."
    3. "But it seems that whoever has thrown her away has forgotten the trash under the sink, or was it a joke meant to buy her some time?"
    Favorite Tracks:
    1. You Are
    2. Rye Whiskey
    3. Don’t Need No

    HM#2 – The Young VeinsTake a Vacation!
    I was a big, big fan of Panic at the Disco! – even when their second album took a bit of a trippy Sargent Pepper turn. It wasn’t much of a surprise then when two Panic members (Ryan Ross and Jon Walker) left the band to form the Young Veins and embarked on a 60’s throwback album. This was probably my favorite bubble-gum beach album this summer, probably because the songs are reminiscent of The Beach Boys or early Beatles pop. The songs are short and to the point with simple hooks (and even simpler guitar work). For that reason I like it and tire of it at the same time – the songs don’t have much staying power and start to sound the same after repeated listening. It’s pretty accurate for the time period they’re going for, so if you like that style, you’d enjoy the album. As a fan of the story approach to songwriting, I’d prefer there be a more consistent narrative theme throughout the album which is why it appears here in the honorables.

    Favorite Lyrics:
    1. "A wedding ring is just a thing that weighs you down and occupies your finger."
    2. "Euphoria is a risk on the floor."
    3. "I swear this like a sailor – love is not a favor, I find it's just a concept that we live inside."
    Favorite Tracks:
    1. Take a Vacation!
    2. Change
    3. Lie to the Truth

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    Top Five Albums of 2010 - Honorable Mentions (part one)

    *This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

    As I said in the opening post, this year has been an embarrassment of riches for me in the music department. So many good albums, so little time to listen to them! Given the rules/parameters of this task that I self-impose every year, there are several albums I want to give a shout-out to that didn’t make the list. Each of these has been on constant rotation this year, but the album cohesiveness, production, narrative just isn’t as solid as the top five list.

    HM#3 The WeepiesBe My Thrill
    I’m a long time Weepies fan (Hideaway probably falling in my top ten albums EVER), so I was saddened that this album was a bit of a let down. It’s over-produced in places and seems to vacillate between emotions in a way that doesn’t quite gel together. The lyrical construction is elementary at best, with few of the poetic turns of phrase I’ve come to love so much about their first three albums. The songs that do jump out have melody and rhythm that carry them, several I tend to skip through when listening. Regardless, in terms of sheer playing time, it’s definitely a favorite of 2010 – and their concert for the album was great (several of the songs were stripped of the production additions, which made it more consistent to what I enjoy about their sound in the first place, but the lyrical simplicity was then even more evident).

    Favorite Lyrics:
    1. "To never regret means you have to forget and I don't think that I could."
    2. "Where we live men are women, women are teenage boys, and everyone wants to look like them, but be like men."
    3. "Found a book you gave me when we were first in bloom, when I thought that you might save me from the dark side of the moon."
    Favorite Tracks:
    1. Hard To Please
    2. I Was Made For Sunny Days
    3. Add My Effort


    HM#4 Sam Tsui The Covers
    For those of you who haven’t yet gotten on board with Sam Tsui, you should. His multi-part cover of Don’t Stop Believin’ made him a viral sensation, which I talked about last year. He’s an amazingly talented vocalist, and his re-imagination of pop music is refreshing. Of course, since this album is a collection of covers, it doesn’t really have the power/narrative/theme that it would if it were original music. Still, it’s worth putting these tracks in your library:
    1. Lady Gaga Medley
    2. Fireflies
    3. Down

    Top Five Albums of 2010 - Intro

    I’m a little late getting to my yearly review of music, mostly because I’ve been debating the finalized list. This year has been an embarrassment of riches in the music department for me, and narrowing this list to five is all but impossible. BUT - the Grammys are soon approaching, and I wanted to get this out before all that goes down. For those of you looking for Grammy noms on this list, you'll be woefully disappointed. Justin Bieber - sorry, dude. You don't make the cut. The nominees this year just don't have the quality they did 30 years ago (seriously, check this list of noms out).

    In general, for me to consider an album one of my best of the year, it must meet some criteria: A) it has to be released in the year I’m reviewing and B) I have to like the WHOLE thing – appreciate the story the artist is trying to tell and fall in love with it. I’m an album purist. You might have a track or two that isn't the greatest, but if it works with the story okay, none of this cutting out singles with crappy lyrics that don't make sense together (I’m looking at you Sarah McLachlan  – how could you be so disappointing?). Or situations where there is clearly a single or two that makes no sense with the tone or style of the rest of the album but is marketable enough to sell your album (Sara Barellis, you are the quintessential example of this in your sophomore effort this year).

    After working on it for a week, it’s way too long for a single blog post, so I’m breaking it up over a series of posts. Here we go!

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    Oh Crap! I'm a Virgo! (or My Thoughts on the Zodiac Panic)

    Apparently, there’s a bit of a viral panic going on over the Zodiac. I’m highly amused by this. For those who haven’t see the story, a few links to get up to speed – basically, an astronomer pointed out that if you’re tracking where the Sun is at any given point in time, there are 13 constellations through which it travels, including the 12 traditional Zodiac constellations and Ophiuchus. Taking that observation to an astrological conclusion – viral panic dictated there should be 13 signs instead of 12.

    What’s interesting to me about this story is, like most viral panics, it is oddly misinformed. First, it’s being presented as this “new” thing. Anyone who follows astronomy and astrology knows that the debate’s been around for quite some time. It’s basic science – yes, the Earth is a moving body and it’s path and pattern changes. But astrology is not science, it’s more a study of human nature. Empirical vs. humanistic if you will. Modern zodiac signs are merely generalizations about groups of people based on relative proxemic place in a system – and like most generalizations, there’s something to them, though they can’t be taken as hard and fast rules. Saying “people born in Pieces are generally quiet people” is the same as “people from New Jersey are loud and rude” – a generalized statement based on a group of people around a particular claim. Are there exceptions to both claims? Yes, of course. But grouping people for any purpose will never be entirely accurate (unless of course you want to parse out the empirical data, and even then, it’s limited by the number of people you’re able to sample which then limits your ability to generalize).

    Second, and perhaps more importantly, what is getting lost in this fury is the notion that your Sun sign is the be all end all. People who actually follow astronomy know that your astrological sign is made up of a complicated series of placements of the planets based on the year, date and time of day you were born. While our modern Zodiac follows the Sun sign as our “primary guide,” your “true” astrological reading is a combination of the placement of all the planets at the time you were born. You can get a chart of this activity from this website. Here’s mine:

    As you can see, I’m pretty solidly in Libra – Sun, Moon, Mercury, Pluto AND my antecedent node, all Libra. An important aspect of my chart is the placement of Venus (the planet ruling relationships), which is in Virgo. As a result, this placement implies that my relationships tend to enact patterns more associated with Virgo than Libra. I also have masculine planets of Mars and Jupiter in Cancer, which can be read as an attraction to the highly introverted, loyal types of men. And my antecedent is in Sagittarius, which can indicate the best type of friend to balance my energies. So the charting function of the Zodiac is not merely based on your Sun sign. As most viral news goes, it’s been boiled down to one talking point.

    Now, whether or not you “believe” in the Zodiac is an entirely different story. I think it’s fun to see what’s going on up there in the skies - and generalizations about personality from those observations are also fun. Can people create self-fulfilling prophesies for themselves from the Zodiac? Sure. You have to take it with a grain of salt. People are complicated amalgamations of influences throughout their lives, and the Zodiac isn’t going to “predict” someone to a T. At the same time, I don’t think that everything is coincidence in some cases. There are things in this world that science is not able to explain. If there’s anything I do believe with absolute certainty, it’s that there will always be more to know and discover about our universe and ourselves.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Killing Time (and My Patience)

    I’m alive! Long hiatus, I know. Basically summer distracted me, and then my fall was probably the busiest of my life so far. I’m surprised I got any sleep at all. Now that the weather has cooled off and there are less things to do outside the house, I’m getting back to my little project here at Popademic. In the next few days, keep an eye out for Film Roulette of 2010 and of course, my very important (yet slightly behind schedule) Top Five Albums of 2010.

    To kick off my return, I’d like to offer some comments on Dexter. I’m very behind since the show is headed into its sixth season – but I wasn’t all that interested in Dexter as a series. First, it’s about a serial killer. Second, it’s about a serial killer that the audience is supposed to empathize with. Third, other than Michael C. Hall, the acting is generally atrocious and fourth, I have a thing with gore/blood/creep-factor stuff. It’s just not my thing. But, as any good TV critic does, I did keep tabs on the first season, and while I liked the dramatic turns, I also tired of the above four issues. And at some level, I feel like when you (as the audience, most of whom I assume are NOT serial killers) start to think, “wow, that wasn’t very smart – why didn’t he do it this way?” there’s only a short line from there to interrogating your own mental sanity. I question my mental sanity on a daily basis enough. I don’t need a TV show helping me along.

    Enter the winter dilemma: I have a fondness for romantic comedy (which, admittedly, is generally terrible) and subject my partner to many a terrible film/TV show as a result of this fondness. Sailor happens to be fond of gore, so I agreed to indulge curiosity and hop back into the series. We’ve now watched through the end of season four and decided that after that, we need a break. I’ve had trouble sleeping since the end of that run (trying not to spoil the shocker for people, though I’m sure you can find out on the internet if you want). Lithgow was amazingly creepy and I can certainly see why he deserved the accolades he received.

    So – my thoughts on Dexter: besides the issues mentioned above, which are all still quite prominent (seriously, the acting gets worse by most of the supporting characters as they move on, though Deb has a couple episodes in season four where she pulls out a solid performance), I simply can’t stand the narrative incongruity. Sailor is always complaining about this when we watch Glee. It’s just as bad in Dexter. From one episode to the next, they introduce threads and drop them. Between seasons, they leave a lot to the audience’s imagination. And from the rate at which Dexter continues to make terrible choices about his “dark passenger,” I’m appalled that he's been getting away with killing people this long. How frustratingly ineffective can police detective work be on homicide cases? And why do all these serial killers show up in Miami? It’s like they never really address the fact that apparently Florida is attracting them like flies. I know it’s TV, so there is supposed to be some suspension of disbelief or whatever, but if you base the narrative on a serial killer (and one who is represented as a methodical control freak), I expect you to at least be logical with your narrative to a degree that it makes sense with the pathology. But then again, I've come to realize I care much more about narrative consistency than most people.

    Signing off for now - but good to be back in the game.