Thursday, November 30, 2006

Movie Review: Sky High

Coming up this December I will have plenty of fun Christmas related content for you guys, including reviews of Christmas albums & songs, Christmas movies, and Christmas episodes of TV shows. (I'll have some non-Christmas content too, depending on just how many ideas for Christmas content I can come up with). Given how well I've stated I can relate to "Not This Year" one would think I'm not the biggest Christmas fan, and I'm not! But I do love Christmas themed entertainment. If you have an idea for any Christmas themed material (though with a teen culture interest) for me to review, please leave a comment or give me an e-mail. If you suggest something I will track it down and review it. My e-mail address is in the sidebar. Year-end review content as well! It will be a fun month, so be sure to check back.

Until then, though let's close out November with a review of one of my favorite teen movies of all time, and one of my top 5 favorite movies of 2005.

Sky High

Starring: Michael Angarano, Danielle Panabaker, Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Plot Summary: It all begins at a secret school in the clouds like none on earth: Sky High, the first and only high school for kids with super-human powers going through crime-fighting puberty. At Sky High, the student body throw flames with their footballs, study Villainy with their Chemistry and are divided into Heroes and Sidekicks instead of jocks and geeks. It's an out-of-this-world yet completely recognizable place where cool gadgetry, rampant bravery and awe-inspiring magical skills mix it up with parental battles, peer pressure and dating trouble--with explosively fun results. This year's class features some of the best, brightest and most powerfully gifted super-teens ever assembled. And then there's Will Stronghold. When you're the son of the world's most legendary super heroes, The Commander and Jetstream, people expect you to live up to the family name The problem is that Will is starting with no superpowers of his own and, worst of all, instead of joining the ranks of the Hero class, he finds himself relegated to being a Sidekick. Now he must somehow survive his freshman year while dealing with an overbearing gym coach, a bully with super speed and a dangerous rebel with a grudge (and the ability to shoot fire from his hands)--not to mention the usual angst, parental expectations and girl problems that accompany teenage life. But when an evil villain threatens his family, friends and the very sanctity of Sky High, Will must use his newfound superpowers to save the day and prove himself a Hero worthy of the family tradition. [attribution to IMDB as always. What a terribly written plot outline.]

Greg's Review/Comments: Sky High is an extremely entertaining teen movie that harkens back to the classic 80's teen movies, while not being merely a pale imitation of the same. In fact, I would stack this movie up against any of those 80's movies that this one has been accused of ripping off. The teen relationships in the movie are very realistic, which makes them interesting to watch. Plus it captures the fear and excitement of entering high school really well! Really, the fear and excitement of undertaking any new project which you feel you may be slightly inadequate for. In addition, the comedy in this movie, while not laugh-out-loud funny, does add to the movie. Particularly of note are the comedic performances of Kids In The Hall alums Dave Foley and Kevin MacDonald. That being said, if you are just going into this movie hoping for sidesplitting comedy, you will be disappointed. Like the best movies of this type, it lightly touches on the comedy, and quickly lets it pass by, to draw laughs but also to lighten the mood of the movie. It doesn't dwell on the comedy to the detriment of developing the characters' relationships, and those relationships are what are definitely at the heart of the movie.

The superhero aspect of the film is what, of course, brings it that extra level of entertainment, above and beyond your typical teen film. Not only do you get very entertaining teen drama with real teen relationships, but you get exciting superhero action as well! I went into this film with extremely low expectations for the superhero action, but it was actually a pretty entertaining aspect of the film. The superhero action scenes are not intense, at all, but they do feature acceptable special effects and very entertaining action, and are well-paced. They additionally are lighly dotted with humor at appropriate moments, and all in all they have just a really fun feeling to them. The movie ends, in particular, with a long and very entertaining action sequence where Will & his friends take on a team of super villians. Although, once again, it should go without saying that you should not see this movie if you are only interested in seeing exciting and intense superhero action.

OK, so if it's not the comedy and it's not the superhero action, what does make this move? The movie has a whole stable of memorable characters plus excellent performances all around, particularly from the female leads, and plus just the inherently entertaining nature of the teen movie formula. All of the characters are basically just your one-dimensional high school movie stereotypes, but they have super powers! That always makes things more entertaining. OK most of the characters end up in a different place, and with a different personality than when they started, but I think most people could predict how this movie will end approximately 1/2 way through the movie. My mom did, and she is horrible at predicting these things. But yet, several of the characters, particularly the supporting characters, have a kind of unique and original edge to them that elevates them above the genre. Plus the main characters of Will and Layla do have a nice depth to them, and really make you root for them. Yay Will and Layla, boo Gwen!

OK in any movie or TV show with a Panabaker, I of course will have to effusively praise their performance. It's one of the primary laws of the Teen Cultural Revolution. I can't pretend to be objective about a performance from a Panabaker sister. In this case, I will say that I didn't have any clue who Danielle OR Kay Panabaker were when I first saw this movie, and it was only through this movie that I became a fan of Danielle. Needless to say, Danielle's performance in this movie was terrific. She conveys the unrequited love of the character extremely well, and her friendship with Will is touching and fun to watch. Plus she manages to be nearly as naturally charming and loveable as Kay Panabaker. She is an ideal lead for these types of films, and although she is very good at dramatic work as well, I hope she doesn't convert her career entirely over to dramas. The one who really surprised me, though, is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Gwen. I had seen her before in Final Destination 3, and she was not good in that movie. In fact, I might even say that she was bad. But she's really great in this film. She conveys the popular girl really well, slowly revealing how heartless she really is, while gradually converting over from untouchable perfect woman to the evil, evil woman we all know she really is. A lot of actresses in similar roles, I've noticed, can screw this up one way or the other. That is, act so loveable that we feel compelled to like the character even after her dark, heartless side has come out, or let the dark, heartless side come out too early, so that we don't believe that the main character would really be in love with them (actually, this was a big problem I had with Danielle's performance in Read It And Weep). Yet, Mary perfectly strikes a balance between the two. Plus she's hot. Kurt Russell delivers an oustanding performance as well, as he always does. He's made a lot of poor movie choices, but surely this is one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Show me another actor who can do kickass action movies like Escape From New York and The Thing, subtle dramatic work like Miracle, and lighthearted comedic work like this movie so well, and so effortlessly. There are others out there but they are generally, unlike Kurt, acknowledged as great actors. Michael Angarano and Kelly Preston give adequate performances, but don't really seem to jump off the screen. In addition to the KITH alums cited above, Bruce Campbell also gives a memorable and very funny turn as a professor at Sky High.

And They All Learned a Valuable Lesson: Cliques are bad! Judge people for who they are on the inside! Yes, this is the message to EVERY TEEN MOVIE EVER. But this movie pulls it off better than most, and when Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston acknowledge that the sidekicks are real heroes, it's a great scene.

Final Rating: 9/10. Highly recommended to watch. There are only 3 movies of 2005 that I can definitely say that I would definitely rank above this one on my list of favorite movies of the year (those being Junebug, Brokeback Mountain, and Just Like Heaven). Thus this movie ranks in my top 10 of 2005 for sure, if not the top 5.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hannah Montana

Certainly, my blog does not suffer from a lack of Hannah Montana related content. But I've been meaning to give updated thoughts on the HM show for a while now, and I can't really think of anything else to write, so lucky you, you get more! My original thoughts on the show were put on this blog several months ago, before the show had really had a lot of time to develop. Additional thoughts to those originals are contained herein:

1) I've insulted Miley Cyrus' acting show frequently on this blog. What can I say, she is such an easy target! Nevertheless, to give credit where credit is due, her acting has improved substantially from the early going. She still seems uncomfortable during the dramatic scenes, she's overly shouty, and her delivery on some of the punchlines is head-scratchingly weird. Nevertheless, she's improving in all areas, and she still brings an energy and charm to the role that a lot of other actors would kill to have. Her acting is still probably a net negative on the show, all things considered, but it does contribute to the cuteness of the show. When they come back for a season 2, I wouldn't be surprised to see her acting improve even more. My touchpoint for this is Shia LaBeouf. When he started on Even Stevens he was just OK, nothing really special. But the more the show went on, the more comfortable he became with the character and the better his comedy became, until, by the end of the series, he was an excellent comedic actor. Congrats, Miley

2) The character of "Jake Ryan" was an excellent addition to the show, and I expect to see a noticeable downgrade in the quality of the episodes now that he is gone. Jake Ryan played a famous actor who started to attend Miley's school, and he and Miley had unresolved crushes on each other. Then Miley would get into wacky misadventures attempting to "get with" Jake. High comedy. The actor who played Jake was a natural comedic actor with an easy, winning charm, and the way he and Miley played off of each other has been the highlight of the season to this point, in my opinion. Plus, I read that he is good friends with Brie Larson, which is always a plus. I really hope he comes back. The one episode that had after his (temporary?) exit from the show was one of the worst of the season so far.

3) The show is not so much a ripoff of Lizzie McGuire as it is a ripoff of Lizzie McGuire via ripping off Unfabulous. It's probably not fair to call it an out-and-out ripoff of Unfabulous given that Unfabulous itself was basically an out-and-out ripoff of Lizzie McGuire, but the show's are just too darn similar. There's the obvious, which I've pointed out before, connection of everygirl main character, two best friends (one male, one female) and one sibling (a brother with whom she has a rocky relationship). This is the traditional pre-teen show formula that I believe was pioneered by Lizzie McGuire (and stolen to great effect in Panabaker-vehicle Read It And Weep). In both Unfabulous and Hannah Montana though the main characters are singers/musicians. This obviously plays a much larger role in Hannah. What bothers me about the similarity is in the two "popular girls" in both shows (Maris and Cranberry in Unfabulous I forget their names in Hannah Montana). The popular girls characters are so similar that it just bugs me. Also Miley (the character) seems a lot more similar to Addie Singer than she does to Lizzie McGuire, in my opinion.

4) I feel really sorry for Mitchel Musso. He paid his DC dues in Life is Ruff (a DCOM that is so bad that even though it stars Kay Panabaker, the official actress of the TCR, even I admit it is a terrible movie). Then he finally gets his shot as the star of a show on the Disney Channel, in a signficant role. And it's the biggest hit new Disney Channel show since, hell, That's So Raven I guess. And then his role gradually shrinks over the course of the season, virtually eliminated during the whole Jake Ryan series of episodes, until he is completely marginalized on his own show. In an average Jake Ryan episode, Oliver would have about 5 lines. And his character is horrible! Every time Oliver is on the screen I want him to be off it, not because Mitchel is bad, but because the quality of the writing for his character is so low. Like I said, poor Mitchel Musso.

THE OFFICIAL OPINION OF THE TCR: All in all, still one of the best shows of its type on TV. of all the current tween shows airing on Disney, Nick, and D-Kids, the only ones I will legitimately defend as quality television are Unfabulous, Darcy's Wild Life, and this show. I still say Unfabulous is the best of the lot by a wide margin, but this is a solid #2. I doubt it will ever reach the upper echelon, as I hinted it might in my early review, but it's the best current Disney Channel show by far. And the show is still pretty young, who knows, maybe they'll all but eliminate Oliver and Rico, add back Jake Ryan, improve the consistency of the scriptwriting, and rocket this show up into the top rung of tween shows.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Unwritten About Singles of 2006

I usually like to keep pretty strict themes on my posts, but this here is just a mishmash of great singles (at least tangentially related to teen pop) of 2006 I haven't written about before on this blog and don't forsee writing about in the future.

Marit Larsen - "Only A Fool"
Contending For: Top 5 singles of the year
Comments: Country music! Marit was one of the two M's in M2M, and she was great in that. Despite her teenpop pedigree, there's nothing too teenpop about this, but it IS a great song! Marit's album was pretty good, but this is definitely the best song in my opinion. An absolutely amazing mid tempo melody, great lyrics, and great guitar make this track an absolute keeper. Provisionally slotted as my 3rd favorite single of the year, but could rise from there. Probably won't fall.
Greg's Rating: 9/10

Beyonce - "Irreplaceable"
Contending For: Top 5 singles of the year
Comments: As of right now, I'm willing to say that this is my favorite single Beyonce has released to this point in her career, including the Destiny's Child catalogue. Like Marit, she has solid teenpop pedigree as a member of one of the best teenpop groups of the late 90's/early 00's. Again, this isn't really teenpop but it's so awesome! Plus all of the essential Beyonce songs released to this point in her career ("Say My Name"; "Crazy In Love") have been uptempo...I think this is her first really good ballad. At least it's the first ballad of hers that I've really loved. Great gutpunch lyrics. Compares well with "Only a Fool" for most unforgettable midtempo melody of the year.
Greg's Rating: 9/10

All-American Rejects - "Move Along"
Contending For: Top 10 singles of the year
Comments: Emo-rock seems to be the completely dominant form of teen pop right now, at least if you define teen pop as what teens actually listen to. Right now, there is a big disconnect between what I would consider "teen pop" (i.e. music made my teens) and what teens actually listen to. When I was in high school (1996-2000) the music that teens loved was often actually made by young people and would typically be referred to as teen pop. I'm thinking here, Spice Girls, Hanson, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, NSync, etc. Those bands were all huge on a larger scale, but Britney, Christina, BSB and NSync were just unbelievably massive among high schoolers. But now, if you take Hannah Montana, High School Musical, et al. they are unbelievably massive among the younger set, but I can't imagine they are particularly huge in high school. JoJo is one that comes to mind as somebody who may be big among high schoolers, though I don't really know. Anyways, if emo-rock is the new teenpop bring it on if all the songs sound like this. Actually I don't like most of the emo-rock bands, but I love this song.
Greg's Rating: 9/10

Paris Hilton - "Nothing In This World"
Contending For: Top 10 singles of the year
Comments: Well, the TCR has yet to weigh in on the Paris Hilton phenomenon so far. There has been so much excellent ink spilled on this album in the pop community that I hesitate to try to add anything to it. Nevertheless, this is a great song! The Martin/Luke formula apparently never gets old, because songs in that mold keep getting released and I keep loving them! This is more of a dance take on the "Since U Been Gone" formula rather than most of the rock-oriented tracks lately. But this seriously kicks ass! Yes, all this proves is that if you have enough money you too can purchase a good pop album. But pop is a very producer and songwriter oriented genre, and I don't see why the artist has to have personal input on it! My number one pet peeve (by far) in pop music is the idea of "legitimacy" and whether somebody "deserves" to be a pop star.
Greg's Rating: 8.5/10

Hilary Duff - "Play With Fire"
Contending For: Top 15 singles of the year
Comments: To my ears, this is Hilary's first essential single since, oh, "Fly" I guess ("Jericho" wasn't a single)? Yes, this is decidedly a Rachel Stevens rip, but given that Come And Get It is probably my favorite album of 2005 in retrospect and that "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)" was at the time, and still remains, my favorite single of 2005, this is something that does not particularly bother me. I guess most in the pop community will say that it's just Rachel done worse, but I think this would have been a standout on CAGI. Plus it's not like Rachel is anything great as a singer herself. I really hope it gives Hilary the mainstream breakout hit that she has lacked since "Come Clean". Powerhouse chorus.
Greg's Rating: 8.5/10

Fergie - "Fergalicious"
Contending For: Top 20 single of the year
Comments: Oh God, I hate Fergie. I hate her so much. The Black Eyed Peas are my least favorite pop act of the 00's and she is the main reason why. I didn't care for "London Bridge" too much, as it seems to be to be a Gwen Stefani rip ("Hollaback Girl" in particular). Plus this song has the same "I am so hot" lyrics that I hated in "My Humps" so much. Man, I wanted to hate this song so much! But even from the first time I heard it, it sounded OK to me. I kind of sweated it out a while and assumed I would grow to hate it, but ultimately even I had to admit that this is a great song. A grower. Curse you Fergie.
Greg's Rating: 8/10

Natasha Bedingfield - "The One That Got Away"
Contending For: Top 15 singles of the year
Comments: Natasha finally releases the best track off of her debut album as a single! Ok, maybe "Unwritten" is better. This song was released to US clubs only, so maybe I should rate it based on the club mix, but I really love the original spare album mix. So simplistic, yet so catchy. Natasha's first album is one of my favorite of the 00's based entirely on the quality of the top songs, although it's very maddeningly inconsistent. For example, I absolutely love this song, "These Words", "Unwritten", "I Bruise Easily", and "Stumble". Now, this song and "Stumble" were not on the UK version, but I live in America so all references to the album herein are to the US version. Those songs could stand with the top 5 tracks from almost any other album of the 00's. But that's not the whole album! It also has (garbage, to my ears) songs such as "Single", "Size Matters" and "Drop Me in the Middle", some of which even beat this song to being a single! Wait where was I going with this? Well, anyways, in summary Natasha Bedingfield = good, Natasha Bedingfield ballads > Natasha Bedingfield uptempo songs, and this is one of the best tracks of the year. This song is trending upwards; the more I listen to it, the more I love it.
Greg's Rating: 8/10

Christina Aguilera - "Hurt"
Contending For: Top 25 singles of the year
Comments: This really pretty ballad is probably my favorite song off of the extremely disappointing Aguilera album released this year. This or "Candyman". In any event, I don't really have any need to decide which I like better, since this is the single and not "Candyman". But this is a great song, and to my ears it could stand up against any other ballad Christina has released in her career, including "Beautiful". And she doesn't even really try to over sing it! Even though, as is well documented, "Genie in a Bottle" is my favorite song of the 90's and one of my favorites of all time, I've never really been too huge a Christina fan. Other than "Genie", "Fighter" is the only other really essential song in her catalogue, and I might even slate this as my third favorite single she's released. This song, "Beautiful", or "Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)".
Greg's Rating: 8/10

This is my provisional top 10 singles of the year. My hypothetical Pazz & Jop ballot:

1. Lillix - "Sweet Temptation (Hollow)"
2. Amy Diamond - "Don't Cry Your Heart Out"
3. Marit Larsen - "Only A Fool"
4. Beyonce - "Irreplaceable"
5. Carrie Underwood - "Before He Cheats" [Nashville country single of the year. It baffles me how it took so long to release this as a single.]
6. Hannah Montana - "I've Got Nerve"
7. Camera Obscura - "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken" [old indie habits die hard]
8. Texas Lightning - "No, No Never"
9. All-American Rejects - "Move Along"
10. Paris Hilton - "Nothing In This World"

I don't anticipate there will be too many substantive changes between this list and my ultimate year end list. This list does not include "Rush", which I consider 05 or "Not This Year" or "Indiana", which are not singles. I will say that "Sweet Temptation (Hollow)", "Don't Cry Your Heart Out", and "Not This Year" are my only 10/10 songs of the year, and that "Not This Year" would seriously contend for number 1 if it were included. A good year for singles, far better than last year in any event.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Movie Review: Ella Enchanted

The Movie: Ella Enchanted
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes
The Plot: Based on Gail Carson Levine's award winning novel, this is the story of Ella, a young woman who was given a "gift" of obedience by a fairy named Lucinda. Anything anyone tells her to do, she must obey. When her mother passes away, Ella is cared for by her thoughtless and greedy father who remarries a loathsome woman with two treacherous daughters. This modern-day, fantasy Cinderella features fairies, ogres and well as a hero in the guise of Prince Charmont, whom Ella falls in love with. Unlike Cinderella though, Ella must depend on herself and her intelligence to get her through her troubles and find Lucinda in order for her "curse" to be broken!
[Yanked from IMDB as always.]

And They All Learned A Valuable Lesson: It's wrong to force people to do things against their will! A subversively libertarian film!

Comments/Review: The first thing I wanted to discuss about this movie is the comedy. The comedy in this movie is primarily based on 3 things: 1) Updating fairy tale conventions or placing modern innovations into the fairy tale world; 2) Broad political/social satire, and; 3) The inherent humor of Ella's situation of being forced to do whatever anybody intentionally or unintentionally tells her to do. The comedy in this film that is based on points 1 and 2 above is very bad. As in, not just not funny, but actually distracting. There is enough humor to be had from her inherent situation, that they could just use it to dot the various scenes, while keeping the light, charming tone throughout the rest of the movie. This is definitely not the movie to watch if you are in the mood for a humorous comedy.

That being said, there ARE several things that this movie does have to recommend it. First and foremost among these is Anne Hathaway, who is one of my favorite current actresses. I find Anne to be instantly likeable in these kinds of roles (i.e. this film and the Princess Diaries movies). I see now that she is trying to be respected as a serious dramatic actress. And she is good in those roles too! However, I hope she doesn't give up on the "cute" acting forever, because she is really good at it. We need a romantic comedy for her, stat. In any event, she really sells this role and this movie. In order for the film to work, we need to understand her plight, and feel sorry for her, and just legitimately like her and want to root for her. PLUS, the love story with Char has to be believable, in both her initial hatred, and her eventual love of him. So, while these roles seem easy, they are really deceptively difficult to pull off, as I have noted time and time again on this blog. Anyways, Anne is a pro, and pulls off all of the aspects of the role very well. And oh yeah, she's super hot.

The supporting characters in this film don't really make the film, but they do add a bit to it. Minnie Driver is pretty good in her role as Ella's nice aunt. The EVIL stepsisters and stepmother are, in fact, believably evil and unlikeable, as is Cary Elwes as the Claudius ripoff. Cary Elwes as always I like a lot, but the stepsisters and stepmother manage to be too annoying and unlikeable. You want to dislike them for the plot to go along, but it's probably not a good thing to constantly wish for the scene to end swiftly every single time they are on the screen. Other than them though, I do like the other team of good guys, elves, giants, ogres, et al.

Ultimately, what this film has going for it, above all else is that is incredibly charming and cute. The tone of this movie is extremely light and fun throughout, even while going over very dark and serious material. They always do a good job of mixing in the serious scenes with the more comedic scenes, to keep the movie going along. All in all this is one of the cutest and most charming movies I've ever seen! Like the best of the movies of this type, it picks one consistent message and tone, sticks with both all throughout the movie, without ever taking itself too seriously. The romance is charming and believable, Ella's plight is presented in mostly a funny and not tragic way, and all the "danger" that they get in throughout the way is always presented in a light way. And when the film does turn tragic and serious towards the end, the serious scenes are always punctuated with light and funny scenes featuring the supporting cast. Plus the light and funny scenes and the romance set up throughout the movie give those serious scenes a real emotional punch that is normally missing in a film like this. A feel-good classic.

Oh yeah, and also this. A pop cover of Queen's "Somebody To Love"! Brilliant! The movie also starts with Darren Hayes' pretty good pop cover of "Strange Magic". One of my favorite scenes I can think of in a recent film.

I gather from some research on the internet that this film is extremely disliked by fans of the book. This is often true of movie adaptations of books, but I gather it's much more extreme than usual in this case. But all I have ever read on why they dislike it basically boils down to "It was different from the book". Yeah, when there's a film adaptation of a book you really like and you are really looking forward to it, it can be very disappointing when the movie is so incredibly different. I can understand that. But when the movie is so entertaining on its own merits, who cares! (Note that I've never read the book, and I never plan to.)

The Official Opinion of the TCR: Good acting work (and, yeah, some eye candy) by Anne Hathaway, a nice little message, and the tone kept throught the movie elevate this above the average "cute" movie, and make it one of my favorite "cute" movies of all time. 8.5/10. Highly recommended, as long as you are able to go in to it separate from any expectations the book may have created.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Breakaway As a Concept Album

Frank Kogan writes on the Teenpop Thread on Feb. 16 about his interpretation of Breakway as a concept album. I don't know how to link to individual posts, you can scroll down to find it. His basic idea is that the album can be taken on its surface to be an album about a girl who declares independence then spirals into codependency in an unhealthy relationship. You can read the post if you want to know exactly what he said, but that's the basic gist.

And it's funny that he wrote this, because ever since I got this album last year, I've always thought of it as a concept album where the tracks are out of order because they loaded the singles to the beginning. Here's another, more optimistic take on the concept of the album, revising the track listing to make it more to what I've always viewed the story to be:

1. "Because of You" -- Her dad beat her mom. The mom just rolled over and took it, leaning on Kelly for support. This screwed Kelly up for life. She can never open herself up to people because she is afraid that she will be hurt the way her mom was hurt. Amazing, incredibly dark lyric to this song. The "And now I cry in the middle of the night for the same damn thing" part may place this later in the continuity than I've put it here, but for the backstory I'll leave it first. Most accurately it would probably be placed between "Where Is Your Heart?" and "Walk Away". Gives the song an extra lyrical punch if interpreted in that way.

2. "Hear Me" -- Kind of similar to "Because of You". After living her whole life sheltered off from other people she is feeling lonely and scared. Literally screaming and pleading for somebody to find her and FORCE her to open up to her. She knows her life and psychological situation is messed up, and she needs somebody who is going to be patient with her and stand by her. Not a song known for its lyrical subtlety. Dig in particular: "I used to be scared of/Letting someone in/But it gets so lonely/Being on my own/No one to talk to/And no one to hold me/I'm not always strong/Oh, I need you here/Are you listening?"

3. "You Found Me" -- Right, getting onto a happy note post "Because of You" and "Hear Me". Walled off her whole life, she finally meets somebody she likes enough to open herself up to. Because she's always been so shy, nobody ever thought much of her. But this guy knew there was a good person inside and got her to open up. One of the only happy songs on the album. I don't read a dark undertone to this song, except that it is pretty clearly from the same perspective as the previous two.

4. "Addicted" -- Whoops, that didn't last long. As you might imagine from somebody who was so incredibly desperate to find somebody who liked her ("Hear Me"), she almost immediately spirals into a sickening and frightening codependence. She's never been in a relationship before, so she might not know what is an appropriate level of affection to show. Pretty clearly she knows this is messed up: "It's like I can't breathe/It's like I can't see anything/Nothing but you/I'm addicted to you". Right, using a drug metaphor. The person is totally consuming her life in a way that even she knows in unhealthy but there's nothing she can do about it. She loves him (or is it just the idea of a relationship she loves so much) too much to stop.

5. "Where Is Your Heart" -- Instantly starting to doubt whether he really likes her at all. This is the awkward part of the relationship where you seem to be way more into your partner than he/she is into you. She is so loving and co-dependent of him, and she wants something in return. Pretty clearly this song is from the perspective of a person who has spiraled into a co-dependence as described above, as in: "Is it so hard/To give me what I need?/I want your heart to bleed/That's all I'm asking for/Oh, where is your heart?" I want your heart to BLEED? She wants him to be a codependent mess, just like she is! Yikes. Does he really love her and her expectations are unrealistic, or is he really kind of wishy washy about it? No way to know because it's all from Kelly's perspective.

6. "Walk Away" -- At first appears to be outside the continuity of the album. But upon inspection, seems to be Kelly pre-emptively breaking up with her boyfriend because he doesn't seem to be that into her. I'd say it fits into the continuity pretty well. E.g.: "I've waited here for you/Like a kid waiting after school/So tell me how come you never showed (showed)?/I gave you everything/And never asked for anything/And look at me/I'm all alone (alone)". Notice the interesting analogy she uses. She's waiting for him like a KID waits for his PARENTS. That's pretty clearly not a healthy relationship. Anyways, upset by the lack of attention she's getting (described in "Where Is Your Heart"), she decides to break up with him before he breaks up with her. Take it in the context of "Because of You". Rather than risk getting into a dysfunctional relationship like her mom was, she's gonna end it here.

7. "I Hate Myself For Losing You" -- Kelly, finally starting to realize that she is probably more responsible for the breakup for the relationship than he was: "I hate myself for losing you/What do you do when you look in the mirror/And staring at you is why he's not here?" In fact, since Kelly broke up with him, she's been a broken mess, and meanwhile he seems to be happy with another woman: "You got what you deserved/Hope you're happy now/'Cause everytime I think of her with you/It's killing me/Inside, and/Now I dread each day/Knowing that I can't be saved/From the loneliness/Of living without you". Seeing him happy with another woman makes her realize she was placing unrealistic demands on him, and the reason they broke up was Kelly and not the guy. Or is it just that she now knows he is capable of love, it's just that he didn't want to love her? Not sure. Probably a little bit of both.

8. "Behind These Hazel Eyes" -- Very, very similar to the last song. She's completely destroyed by the break up. But since he's happy with another woman (please note that him being with another woman is not mentioned in the lyrics to this song, but it follows from the prior continuity), she will not let him see her sad. She has to pretend to be as happy as he is, in order to not make it seem like he has "won". Dig: "I told you everything/Opened up and let you in/You made me feel alright/For once in my life". Once again, not inconceivable and perhaps likely that this is from the same perspective as the singer in "Because of You" and "Hear Me". It does kind of read as a call out to "You Find Me". The song takes on new meaning when viewed from the lens of the rest of the album, rather than as a statement on its own.

9. "Gone" -- Once again, may not appear to fit the continuity on the surface, but I actually view this song as occuring contemporaneously to "Since U Been Gone". As I see it, just as she is starting to get over this guy and be ready to move on to another, the guy breaks up with his new girlfriend (as from "IHMFLY"). He immediately comes back to Kelly, asking her to take him back, give him one last chance, etc. This is the moment she's always been waiting for! She's been pining for him, wanting him back so bad! But it is at this very moment, when he's back asking for her, that she realizes that, no, she can't ever go back to him. She's already over him and it would take too much out of her to give it another go around. Read the first verse: "What you see's not what you get/With you there's just no measurement/No way to tell what's real from what isn't there/Your eyes they sparkle/That's all changed into lies that drop like acid rain/You washed away the best of me/You don't care". Should seem familiar because it's the exact same lyrical content as previously in the album. She cannot take him back because she can never be sure if she really likes him or not, or if he ever really liked her. She was too shell shocked from the previous break up. (And once again, I'm not really sure if he was really sending mixed signals, or if she was so sickeningly co-dependent that anything he did didn't seem to pass muster by comparison.)

10. "Since U Been Gone" -- Everybody knows this of course. Now she's finally realizing that she's better off free from the shackles of co-dependency that her relationship was locking her under. Pay attention to specific lyrics such as: "And all you'd ever hear me say/Is how I pictured me with you/That's all you'd ever hear me say". This was somebody who was really into her boyfriend, before they broke up and she was devestated. But now she's free! Particularly compare "I can breathe for the first time" to "It's like I can't breathe" from "Addicted".

11. "Breakaway" -- A declaration of independence. She's over the guy, she's over her previous fears of opening up to anybody. She'll never forget the person she was, or her bad childhood, but she's grown away from it. Nice song.

I don't include "Beautiful Disaster (live)" in the continuity, because it's a different version of a song from the previous album. Could be interpreted as a moment of hesistation before she decides to break up with him. Between "Where Is Your Heart?" and "Walk Away". Not sure whether it would be before or after the correctly placed "Because Of You". I'd probably place it before.

OVERALL STORY: This is my interpretation of the overall story, summarizing the above. Girl grows up with bad childhood and refuses to make close friendships/relationships with people ("Because of You", "Hear Me"). Girl meets somebody new ("You Found Me") and is so excited to have somebody willing to be with her, she quickly goes overboard and becomes co-dependent ("Addicted"). Ultimately it seems they might not be right for each other, and he might not be as into her as she is into him ("Where Is Your Heart"). Remember that she's never been in a relationship before ("Hear Me") and so doesn't necessarily understand what constitutes a normal level of affection and commitment at any given point of a relationship. Suffering from the same kind of hurt of abandonment (or perceived abandonment) as her mom did ("Because of You" - "And now I cry in the middle of the night/For the same damn thing"), she decides to break up with him ("Walk Away"). Not that I think he was abusive, but that she understandably has fears of that. Ultimately realizing that it was her fault ("I Hate Myself For Losing You") upon seeing him with another woman, she is devestated. But to keep up appearances so as to seem like she's OK ("Behind These Hazel Eyes"), she pretends not to be. Ultimately, he wants to get back together with her, but she turns him down, unable to accept that he may really love her ("Gone"). She also realizes that her prior relationship with him was unhealthy and that she was better off without it ("Since U Been Gone"). Then it ends with a nice declaration of growth and independence ("Breakaway"). Much happier than Frank Kogan's story.

The concept is not as perfect as I have presented it above. There are a lot of the parts of the songs that don't really fit, I left those out in my analysis for obvious reasons. OK also the fact that there are many different songwriters for all of the different songs may make it unlikely that it intentionally tells one consistent story. So one could interpret it in a lot of ways, or declare that I am full of crap. But I think the above is a reasonable reading of the intent and meaning of the album, although it does require a hell of a lot of shuffling around of the tracks. Heck, even if it's not intentional, it is a very interesting coincidence, to me at least. Plus my reading makes the concept of the album consistent with the title of the album. Ultimately my favorite album of the 00's. Very underrated lyrics.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

10 Reasons Why Summerland Season 2 Was 10x Worse Than Season 1

Sorry, it's been a while yet again.

1. Bradin Westerly (Jesse McCartney). The average number of times per episode I want to punch him in the face is approximately 10. He's so unbelievably selfish that it borders on absurdity. I know that most high school kids are jerks, and that there's hardly a 16 year old out there that isn't a selfish idiot. I know I was when I was 16. But there are limits to how big a dick a character can act like and still be remotely likeable. Bradin shatters that limit within about 2 episodes.

2. Simon was the most boring character ever and had no chemistry with Ava (Lori Loughlin). I think this was supposed to be intentional, as ultimately their lack of chemistry is what ultimately results in their wedding being called off. But this was still a retarded storyline. NOTE TO PRODUCERS: I don't want to watch boring people with no chemistry be involved in a doomed relationship. Even though this happens in real life, that's one of those things I generally like to see glossed over.

3. Waaaaaay too much time spent with Ava's boring business ventures. The writers apparently labored under the impression that we are extremly fascinated by whether Ava's fashion design business was pulled off. And not only that but we needed to see it be pushed along by a ridiculous and offensive gay stereotype character. This impression is incorrect. This is a teen show, focus on the teen characters please. Especially Kay Panabaker.

4. Derrick's hair + character assassination. Season 2 was broken up for a couple months when it aired, and it was treated as two mini-seasons. The first mini-season took place during the school year, and it then skipped straight into summer vacation. When they came back, Derrick (the youngest Westerley kid) had gotten a new and HORRIBLE hair cut. In addition, he was all of the sudden really into skateboarding (had he even been shown skateboarding before? I can't remember. Certainly it wasn't an important part of his character). Also he was acting like a selfish jerk, just like Bradin! The show had too many a-holes that I want to punch in the face already. He was better when he was a pointless dead weight, like in the first season. At least then I didn't hate him.

5. Everybody is so mean to Nikki (Kay Panabaker)! Why is Amber in so few episodes? Plus Cameron (Zac) consistently and efficiently acts like a jerk to her in every single encounter they have over the course of the season. But yet she's still in love with him! Nice guys lose, be a jerk. And why did the gay guy from the book group (played by Will Stronghold from Sky High) ask her out on what clearly appeared to be a date, then be shocked when she thought it was the same (note that Nikki had no way of knowing he was gay at the time)? Clearly state your intentions jerk.

6. Carmen Electra guest stars in about 6 episodes and is horrible. Plus the way they wrote her out of the show was stupid. After she dies she is hardly talked about at all.

7. The fact that the kid's parents recently died is hardly acknowledged at all. Good to know they've been forgotten about already. They don't even have a picture up or anything!

8. Christy Carlson Romano as the spoiled pop star was ridiculous and over the top and much, much more annoying than funny. PLEASE stick to your bread and butter of teen drama!

9. The sequence where Nikki has to read a poem in front of a large audience to win an award, and then Amber gives her some alcohol is one of the least realistic scenes ever captured by camera. Nikki gets drunk off of part of one drink of Schnapps. Then she acts extremely over the top drunk, like a vaudeville parody of a drunk person. Then she goes up on stage and reads her poem perfectly, the alcohol having taken the edge off her nerves or something? Nice message to send to the kids, there.

10. The storyline where Bradin takes perfomance enhancing drugs to improve his surfing was laughably cliched and horrible. Worst storyline ever. In fact the entirety of the surfing storylines in season 2 pissed me off. At the beginning of the season he can't even crack the starting lineup on his school's surf team, and then a couple months later he's a national surfing champion. Come on. Then, he's portrayed as some kind of MASSIVE superstar. They mention that ESPN is calling him! PEOPLE DON'T CARE ABOUT SURFING. WHY DOES THIS SHOW PRETEND THAT THEY DO? Way, way too surfing centric, this season was.

Bonus 11th reason:
11. It sullies Danielle Panabaker's good name by having her guest star in two episodes.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Album Review: Hannah Montana OST

Hello all. Sorry for the lack of updates lately, but trust me, there has been a good explanation for it. OK on to the actual post.

(same picture of Miley they always use because it's the only one ever taken where her mouth was not open.)

Hannah Montana OST

Well, I was incredibly disappointed when the tracklisting to this soundtrack was released and confirmed about a month ago, and here's why:

1) "The Best of Both Worlds"
2) "Who Said"
3) "Just Like You"
4) "Pumpin' Up the Party"
5) "If We Were a Movie"
6) "I Got Nerve"
7) "The Other Side of Me"
8) "This Is the Life"
9) The Click Five - "Pop Princess"
10) Jesse McCartney - "She's No You"
11) Everlife - "Find Yourself In You"
12) B5 - "Shining Star"
13) Miley Cyrus & Billy Ray Cyrus - "I Learned From You"

Yawn. Hannah Montana's first 6 singles to Radio Disney, plus two songs ("Just Like You" and "The Other Side of Me") that hadn't had full versions released yet, but had been played on the show many times, including snippets that were more than a minute in length. No new Hannah Montana songs at all, unless the ballad with her dad counts. Which it totally doesn't. I was really looking forward to some more Hannah songs! Screw you Diz!

As to the Hannah songs on the mix, there were three that I had not yet heard full versions of (the two aforementioned ones plus "This Is the Life" which got no RD plays at all). You know what, this whole thing doesn't really flow as an album at all, so the most appropriate way to review it is probably track-by-track:

1) "Best of Both Worlds" - Still great. The lyrics are very theme song-ish, which is appropriate, but not meaningful outside the context of the show. I love the guitar riff. 9/10.

2) "Who Said" - You know, I've never really dug the melody to this song too much, though I love the musical backdrop (esp the twangy guitar!). The lyrics are better than BOBW, but still a bit too rah-rah to have any consequence at all. Still, a solid song. 7/10.

3) "Just Like You" - Pleasantly surprised, the full version is superior to the snippets on the show. But the lyrics to the song are revealing her pop star/regular girl double life! Be more careful Hannah! I like the "I'm the lucky girl..." part a lot, but the song doesn't seem to go anywhere. Plus the melody doesn't seem to match her voice very well. 6/10.

4) "Pumpin' Up the Party" - HORRIBLE. Dear God, what were they thinking. OK the story of this song. The chorus to this song was featured briefly at the very beginning of the Hannah episode "Mascot Love". And, hey, it's a really catchy chorus, despite it's stupidity. Fans started to get anxious...hey, here was this awesome chorus, with no song attached. We want the full version! The full version of this song was very highly anticipated, and RD released it together with "I Got Nerve" with great fanfare! It was played constantly when first debuted. But now they never play it, because even little kids know the difference between a listenable song and an unlistenable one. Still a catchy chorus, but it's amazing they managed to screw this up so badly. 1/10.

5) "If We Were a Movie" - Hannah's only love song! The others are all really rah-rah inspirational stuff ("I Got Nerve", "Who Said") or songs with lyrics that are directly applicable to the show and have no real general meaning ("The Best of Both Worlds", "Just Like You"). Consequently, this is the best of Hannah's songs lyrically, and plus it's got a great melody. I'm not a huge fan of the verses, which prevents this from being one of my very fave Hannah songs, but it's a good one. 8/10. Plus in the 1 minute Typhoon Lagoon video of this song, she does a "sexy" hip roll about 40 seconds in that is hilarious.

6) "I Got Nerve" - I love this song so much. Yeah, the lyrics are nothing special, but I like the melody of the verses a lot, I love the prechorus, and I REALLY love the chorus a lot. Plus Miley is a great singer. Good guitar riff too. I could listen to this song for hours on end. One of the top 10 and possibly top 5 singles of the year. 9.5/10.

7) "The Other Side of Me" - Horrible once again. Was this always a dance song on the show? I don't seem to remember it being that way. Why do they keep trying to do dance songs with Hannah, when Miley's voice is clearly not suited to it. The two dance tracks on this album are clearly and by far the two worst tracks on the album. 2/10.

8) "This Is the Life" - Whoa, where did this come from? I had only heard brief snippets of it on the show. Given how badly the song flopped on Radio Disney I was expecting it to be very bland and stupid, but it's not! It's got a really great melody, and it's perfectly suited to Miley's voice. It's got a real kind of country twang to it that I love. Giving it a 9/10, this could be the second best song on the album. A top 10 single of the year contender.

So based entirely on the Hannah Montana songs, the album would get a 6.44 using the Poptimists scientific album score criteria. That's not a bad score, it's got a couple clunkers, but a lot of great songs. The real problem is the remaining 6 tracks. They aren't awful really, but they are all highly mediocre, they have absolutely nothing to do with the show, and they add nothing to the album at all. I'm really disappointed that Disney put them on, although I should really have learned to expect nothing else other than greedy greed from them by now. The duet is OK, but again adds nothing. I don't skip it on the album, but I can't imagine anybody intentionally choosing to listen to it.

OFFICIAL OPINION OF THE TCR: Miley is a really great singer. She is far superior as a singer to any other Disney product, especially Hilary. Tho some of the songs she's been given are no where near as good as some of the songs Hilary has been given. But a lot of the songs have great melodies and good backing tracks too! Hannah is my favorite singles artist of the year. Five of the above songs would make my top 50 or so of the year (all the RD singles except "Pumpin' Up the Party"), with probably at least 3 in the top 25. That being said, don't waste your money on the album. The highs are high indeed, probably the best top 4 songs of any album released this year. But 3 of those 4 songs are still played on very heavy rotation on Radio Disney. Just listen to Radio Disney, you'll hear about 10 HM songs a day and it's free. Plus if you're less than 14 you can enter their contest to receive a phone call from Miley! Leave this one for the kiddies, where it belongs.

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