Friday, March 31, 2006

Comparative Reviews

In this post, I find two vaguely comparable things, do a mini-review of them and set them up head-to-head. Only one will emerge victorious!!!

Heart and Souls vs. Chances Are

BASIS FOR COMPARISON: Both are movies of the sentimental/romantic comedy genre, released within 5 years of each other (1989 for Chances Are vs. 1993 for Heart and Souls), which star Robert Downey, Jr. The third movie of this set, I guess, would be 1994's Only You, which I have never seen.

In Chances Are a gentleman named Louis Jeffries (Christopher Macdonald) gets married to the love of his life, Corinne (Cybill Shepherd), though he knows his best friend Philip (Ryan O'Neal) is, in fact, in love with her. Unfortunately, on their first anniversary, Louis is struck by a car and killed. However, due to WACKY mishappenings in the afterlife, while re-born into a new human, his memories are not fully erased. So when Alex Finch (Robert Downey, Jr.) meets up with Corinne and Philip again through coincidence, he is suddenly struck by the fact that he was Louis Jeffries in a previous life. He attempts to seduce Corinne (who is still totally hung up on Louis), while in the meantime, Philip is still in love with her, and Corinne's daughter Miranda (Mary Stuart Masterson) loves Alex (who remember, since he was Louis Jeffries in a previous life, is really kind of Miranda's father). This leads to many wacky misadventures.

In Heart and Souls four people get on a bus (Charles Grodin, Kyra Sedgwick, Alfre Woodard, and Tom Sizemore), who all have unfinished business. Unfortunately, there is a bus accident and all four die. Then all four are suddenly "assigned" to a small child named Thomas (Robert Downey, Jr.), for reasons none of them fully understand. By this I mean, they are spirits who are bound to be around this child, and only the child can see or interact with them. Once they see that this makes the child appear to be crazy, they disappear. However, once Thomas has grown up and is in his mid-to-late twenties, the four ghosts are made aware that they are to try to resolve their unfinished business on earth, through Thomas, and they are on a very tight schedule to get it done. This leads to many wacky misadventures.

Winner: Chances Are has the more interesting plot, on the surface.

Robert Downey, Jr. cancels out in both movies. So we are left with Ryan O'Neil, Cybill Shepherd, Chris MacDonald, and Mary Stuart Masterson vs. Charles Grodin, Kyra Sedgwick, Alfre Woodard, Tom Sizemore, and Elizabeth Shue (who plays RDJ's girlfriend in HAS). Very close call, but I'm gonna have to give this one to Chances Are, as well.

Chances Are is a competently made film, which proceeds in basically the direction you would imagine it does, based on the plot outline above. The actors in the movie are all talented and successful, most of them really seem to be phoning it in. I was fairly disappointed with the execution of this film for most of the movie. What it does have going for it, is that Cybill Shepherd (who, incidentally, is way too young for her part, she's supposed to be old enough to be RDJ's mom, but is only 15 years older than him!) and Robert Downey, Jr. have excellent romantic chemistry, and the middle of the film has several very nice and romantic scenes featuring them together

Heart and Souls features winning performances from all four of the leads playing the ghosts, plus also from Robert Downey, Jr. and Elizabeth Shue. Unfortunately, RDJ and ES do not seem to have particularly good romantic chemistry, at least to my yes, but they have relatively few scenes together. All the characters in the movie are basically one-dimensional, and pretty much just have one biographical detail to their names (namely, that one issue they left unresolved upon their death). What it does have going for it, in addition to the acting, is that all the scenes where the issues get resolved are very satisfying, and the four ghosts all seem to play off each other fairly well. All things considered, given the plot and the tone they seem to have been going for, I don't see how this movie could have been executed any better and tighter.

WINNER: Heart and Souls

The ending to Heart and Souls, during the scene where Kyra Sedgwick hugs Robert Downey Jr. is probably the most touching ending I've ever seen in a film of this nature. Even though you know exactly what's going to happen at the end, it's very satisfying to see it play out. I always get choked up when I see it, no lie. The ending to Chances Are is kind of weird, contrived, and vaguely creepy. Heart and Souls takes this one no question.

OVERALL CHAMPION: Heart and Souls by far, which is one of my favorite sentimental/ emotional comedies of all time, and is basically a perfect example of the genre.

"I May Hate Myself in the Morning" vs. "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)"

BASIS FOR COMPARISON: Both are singles released in 2005 with fairly similar lyrical content.

"I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)" is a song by Rachel Stevens, off her album Come and Get It. The point of this song is that there is a female, who knows a guy is bad for her but yet cannot stop "hooking up" with him. It's an excellent pop song that never broke in the US or anywhere outside Rachel's home country of England, and never did all that well in England either. Despite that, it remains one of the more critically acclaimed singles of 2005, among more pop-oriented critics. The chugging beat to this song, and the extremely catchy chorus, not to mention the excellent vocals by Rachel are both immediately satisfying, and stand up to repeated listenings. Plus it's excllent for dancing. A perfect pop song.
"I May Hate Myself in the Morning" is a song by Lee Ann Womack off her album There's More Where That Came From. The point of this song is that there is a female, who knows a guy is bad for her but yet cannot stop "hooking up" with him. However, whereas "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)" is pure pop bliss, "I May Hate Myself in the Morning" is a) a country song b) slower tempo c) not as catchy. Nevertheless, it has a very pretty melody and features an excellent vocal by Lee Ann. Decidedly retro, but it puts a new spin on things, and never seems like a simple re-hash of older, better artists, which is always a problem with these traditionalist country artists. If you like country music at all, this is an outstanding song, which deservedly won Single of the Year at the CMA's.

THE WINNER: Can I call it a tie? I dunno, I love them both for totally different reasons. Okay, slight nod to "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)".

THE TITLES: "I May Hate Myself in the Morning" is a nice title, but "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)" is much more pointed, and has perfectly placed parentheses. ISNA(BHWA) gets the nod here.

PRIOR LEGACY OF ARTIST: Rachel Stevens was in S Club 7. Lee Ann Womack had a huge hit with "I Hope You Dance". Clear victory for Rachel.

The tone that the lyrics take on in the songs is quite different, commensurate with the melody/musicality of the song. "I May Hate Myself in the Morning", despite the fact that the line directly after the title is "But I'm gonna love you tonight", takes on a more melancholy tone. This person knows what she is doing is bad, and she really wants to stop, but she just cannot, for whatever reason.
In "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)", the speaker is very non-apologetic. She is what she is, and she doesn't care. She also knows from an academic standpoint that what she is doing is wrong, but she's having fun with it!
At least that's my interpretation of the songs' lyrics.

WINNER: "I May Hate Myself in the Morning"

OVERALL CHAMPION: Perfect pop songs are almost dime-a-dozen these days, as are beautifully melancholy country ballads. Both of these songs though are perfect examples of their genre, rarely exceeded, and never seem unnecessary. I'm gonna give the slight overall edge to "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)", while keeping in mind that both are top 5 singles of 2005 for me, maybe even numbers 1 and 2 on the list, and both are 10/10 type songs.

Hilary Duff (as an actress) vs. Hilary Duff (as a singer)

BASIS FOR COMPARISON: Obviously, it's two different aspects of the same person's career. Not only that, though, but in both aspects Hilary perfectly displays the very heights and the very depths of bubblegum.

THE VERY HEIGHTS: Hilary Duff, of course, is most famous for starring in the Disney Channel sitcom Lizzie Maguire which, although I usually prefer Even Stevens is basically perfect for its genre and intended audience. As as singer, she has the album Metamorphosis which is a good pop record and, as far as I know, is the only album ever to spawn the theme songs to two different MTV shows (as "Sweet Sixteen" is the theme to My Super Sweet Sixteen and "Come Clean" is the theme to Laguna Beach). Both are highly under-rated in my opinion.

Lizzie Maguire is a great show in my opinion, and one of the main reasons that the show is able to exceed its genre is Hilary Duff herself, who is absolutely perfect in her portrayal of Lizzie. She is very charming and perfectly portrays a girl of that age. I have to say that this show really is the best portrayal of the pre-teen, middle school years that I have ever seen. My personal favorite aspect of this show is the Gordo/Lizzie relationship, which is the perfect example of getting screwed over in the friend zone. Screw you friend zone. Truly though, Lzzie is a very lovable character, Gordo is great support, and yeah everybody else on the show is a one-dimensional stereotype, but the whole show just works.
Metamorphosis is a good, not great, pop album that did spawn one legitimately great single, "Come Clean". God, that song is an absolute perfect storm of bubblegum poppy elements that absolutely should not work, but does. Even Hilary's voice, which is normally not good, is perfect for this song. The lyrics are stupid, and the melody is even more stupid, but it all comes together to work. It's a really great pop song in my opinion. In any event, to me, the whole album is unapologetic, pure straight on teen pop, and as a pop music enthusiast I respect that, even if it doesn't all work. It does bear mentioning that there are some very good pop songs on that album aside from "Come Clean".

THE WINNER: "Come Clean" is a great pop song and she has some other good ones, but Lizzie Maguire was great for years. From a sheer bulk standpoint, Hilary Duff (as an actress) has to win out.

THE VERY DEPTHS: From the actress standpoint, please see anything she's ever been in other than Lizzie Maguire. From the singer standpoint, please see her completely pointless album Most Wanted and in particular the song "Girl Can Rock" from that album. Full disclosure, I've never seen any of her movies other than The Lizzie Maguire Movie, but 1) that movie was disappointing and mediocre and 2) she was in the worst ever episode of "Joan of Arcadia" and she sucked in it, and that still pisses me off. On the other hand, "Girl Can Rock" is not impossibly the worst song of all time, and not even in an entertaining/funny way. It's just awful. The sheer pointlessness of Most Wanted balances out the sheer pointlessness of most of her movies Know Your Voice, Cinderella Story, etc. But sheer pointlessness is prefereable to ear shatteringly horrible, and I highly doubt any of her movies are as bad as "Girl Can Rock"

THE WINNER: Hilary Duff (as an actress). Yes, "Girl Can Rock" is that bad.

OVERALL: Hilary Duff (as an actress) wins out on Lizzie alone as she doesn't have enough bulk as a singer to overcome that. She still has a chance to catch up as a singer, though recent trends do not bode well.

Mini Capsule Comparisons, presented without justification.

Anderson Cooper (as host of The Mole) vs. Ryan Seacrest (as host of American Idol)
WINNER: The Coop

The use of "Come Clean" as the theme song to Laguna Beach vs. the use of "Opportunities (Lets Make Lots of Money" as the theme song to Beauty and the Geek
WINNER: The use of "Opportunities (Lets Make Lots of Money" as the theme song to Beauty and the Geek

The ridiculousness of the title of the TV show Numb3rs vs. the ridiculousness of the very concept vs. the ridiculousness of the show itself.
WINNER: The ridiculousness of the show itself.

Sabrina Lloyd (as an actress on the TV show Sliders) vs. Sabrina Lloyd (as an actress on the TV show Sports Night)
WINNER: Sabrina Lloyd (as an actress on the TV show Sliders

"Meatballs and Mozzerella" flavored Hot Pockets vs. "Chicken Fajita" flavored Hot Pockets
WINNER: "Meatballs and Mozzerella" flavored Hot Pockets

Ha, this could go on forever, but I'm gonna stop.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Favorite #1 Singles By Year

As a companion to my previous post on #1 singles, and because this book of #1 singles I have is just too damn cool, here is a quickie post w/ my favorite #1 singles by year 1956-2005, including ratings. This is obviously based on incomplete information because despite my pop music love and knowledge there are still a lot of number one hits I don't know at all, especially the older ones.

1956: Gogi Grant - "The Wayward Wind" (7/10)
1957: Sam Cooke - "You Send Me" (8/10)
1958: Domenico Modugno - "Volare (Nel Blu Di Pinto Di Blu)" (8/10)
1959: Guy Mitchell - "Heartaches by the Number" (9/10)
1960: Connie Francis - "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" (9/10) [gets the nod over "Georgia On My Mind" due to ridiculous overplaying of that song in the state of Georgia]
1961: The Shirelles - "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (10/10)
1962: The Tornadoes - "Telstar" (10/10)
1963: The Essex - "Easier Said Than Done" (8/10) [also receiving strong consideration is "Sukiyaki" and "Fingertips (Pt. 2)"]
1964: The Animals - "House of the Rising Sun" (8/10) [over the 6 Beatles songs to hit #1 that year]
1965: The Supremes - "I Hear a Symphony" (9/10) [also receiving consideration are "Yesterday" and "Eve of Destruction"]
1966: Beach Boys - "Good Vibrations" (10/10) [also receiving a 10/10 this year are "Paint it Black" and "These Boots Were Made For Walking" in one of my favorite years ever for #1's]
1967: The Beatles - "Hello Goodbye" (10/10)
1968: Marvin Gaye - "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (9/10) [lots of number ones this year like "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" and "Hey Jude" that I respect the musicality of but never really feel like playing/listening to]
1969: Sly and the Family Stone - "Everyday People" (8/10)
1970: The Beatles - "The Long and Winding Road" (10/10) [also receiving 10/10 this year is "The Love You Save" by the Jackson 5]
1971: Rod Stewart - "Maggie May" (9/10) [also "Family Affair" and "Brand New Key"]
1972: Neil Young - "Heart of Gold" (9/10)
1973: Stevie Wonder - "Superstitious" (10/10) [also "Touch Me in the Morning", which probably gets a 9/10, not the straight 10]
1974: Terry Jacks - "Seasons in the Sun" (7/10) [awful year for #1's]
1975: Olivia Newton-John - "Have You Never Been Mellow" (9/10) [so cheesy but I have a soft spot for it. Also considered was "Philadelphia Freedom"]
1976: Rhythm Heritage - "Theme From S.W.A.T." (9/10)
1977: ABBA - "Dancing Queen" (10/10)
1978: Nick Glider - "Hot Child in the City" (7/10) [even worse than '74]
1979: Michael Jackson - "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (9/10) [also "Heart of Glass" and "Good Times"]
1980: Diana Ross - "Upside Down" (10/10) ["Call Me" gets a 10/10 as well, but nothing can beat the "Upside Down" beat. This fact is proven by the recent song "This Is the World We Live In" by Alcazar (rating 10/10) which fuses the beat of this song with the chorus of Genesis' "Land of Confusion" to genius pop effect.]
1981: Blondie - "Rapture" (8/10) [my least favorite of Blondie's 4 number ones, but sneaks to the top in a weak year]
1982: Human League - "Don't You Want Me" (9/10) [also "Jack and Diane" and "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)"]
1983: Michael Jackson - "Billie Jean" (10/10) [I think nearly every man, woman, and child in America would give this a 10/10; "All Night Long (All Night)" gets a 2 point boost to 4/10 due to the fact that the picture accompanying the song in my book is hilarious]
1984: Prince - "When Doves Cry" (10/10) ["Let's Go Crazy" is 10/10 as well, and in addition "Against All Odds" and "The Reflex" are 9/10]
1985: Duran Duran - "A View to a Kill" (9/10) [also "Shout"]
1986: Madonna - "Live to Tell" (10/10) [an exceptionally strong year; also with 10/10 are "Kiss" and "Human", receiving 9/10 are "West End Girls" and "Sledghammer"]
1987: U2 - "With or Without You" (9/10) [I don't like U2 at all but even I have to admit this is an amazing rock ballad]
1988: Guns n' Roses - "Sweet Child o' Mine" (9/10) [opening riff is unstoppable, also "Foolish Beat" and "Need You Tonight"]
1989: The Bangles - "Eternal Flame" (8/10) [also "Listen to Your Heart"]
1990: Sinead O'Connor - "Nothing Compares 2U" - (9/10) [also "Vogue"...that's 5 ballads in a row for those keeping track at home]
1991: Mariah Carey - "Emotions" (10/10)
1992: Boyz II Men - "End of the Road" (5/10) [Not a single number one hit this year that I like, but I guess mediocre is better than actively bad]
1993: Mariah Carey - "Dreamlover" (7/10) [another extremely weak year]
1994: Ini Kamoze - "Here Comes the Hotstepper" (9/10) [also "Bump N' Grind" and "The Sign"]
1995: TLC - "Creep" (7/10) [also "Fantasy"]
1996: Blackstreet - "No Diggity" (9/10) [also "Always Be My Baby", tho this Mariah Carey love-in is getting vaguely embarrassing]
1997: Spice Girls - "Wannabe" (7/10) [the only good Spice Girls song, also "Honey"]
1998: Monica - "The First Night" (10/10) [as referenced in the review of "Angel of Mine" in the 1999 singles reviews post]
1999: Christina Aguilera - "Genie in a Bottle" (10/10)
2000: Destiny's Child - "Say My Name" (9/10)
2001: Usher - "U Remind Me" (9/10) [but also "I'm Real" and "Bootylicious"]
2002: Eminem - "Lose Yourself" (9/10) [but also "A Moment Like This"...just kidding]
2003: Outkast - "Hey Ya!" (10/10) ["Crazy In Love" gets 9/10]
2004: Snoop Dogg Ft. Pharrell - "Drop It Like It's Hot" (9/10) [Usher had 4 number ones]
2005: Mariah Carey - "We Belong Together" (8/10) [still disappointed that "Since U Been Gone" never went number one]
2006 (so far): Beyonce Knowles - "Check On It" (8/10) [obv. could change]

The weird thing is, despite all the times Mariah appears on this list as a topper and an honorable mention, I'm really not too big a Mariah fan...the only Mariah songs I really love are "Emotions", "Always Be My Baby", and "All I Want for Christmas Is You"