Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Pop

I heard them too late to be on my singles list, but they'd contend:

Carrie Underwood - "So Small": The debut single off of her new release, this song is a dramatic, sweeping country ballad, along the lines of "Jesus, Take the Wheel". Now, we'd all like to hear more poppy stuff like "Before He Cheats" out of her, but let's not forget that "Jesus, Take the Wheel" was a completely brilliant single as well. And, oh yeah, so is this one. The production on this is a bit cheesy and so are the lyrics, but she's an amazing singer and what an awesome melody! The type of song that can really sweep you up and carry you away, if you let yourself give into it. It's a really pretty song, and I'm so pumped for this album. [8.5 out of 10]

Girls Aloud - "Sexy! No, No, No": My favorite GA single since, oh, 2004 or so? It's a lot harder and more electro than most of their singles, and a bit less based on melody and more based on music. Those usually portend ill for me, as I tend to love songs with strong melodies, but the propulsive rhythm and vocal/musical effects make this their most infectious single in a while. It's fun, and I'm sure it would be a great dance song! I wish the clubs in America would play this song, but that's clearly never going to happen :(. [8 out of 10]

Natalie Imbruglia - "Glorious": A really pretty acoustic ballad from Natalie. OK, all of Natalie's songs sound kinda the same -- that's true, and this will win her no new fans. But I'm a previously declared fan of Ms. Imbruglia, and I really, really love this song. It's so pretty and summery! It's got a very catchy melody, and Natalie continues to be one of my 3 or so favorite vocalists in pop music today. This contends for her best non-"Torn" song. Really fun and amazing. [9 out of 10]

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

208/365-Year Top Singles List

This was supposed to be a half-year singles list, but obviously I am too late for that, so it is what it is. Since my year-end list consists of 50 singles, this list therefore consists of (208)/365 * 50 = 28.63 singles. I'll round to 29.

The TCR 208/365-Year Top 29 Singles:

1. Rihanna - "Shut Up and Drive": Much like my 2006 single of the year, "Sweet Temptation (Hollow)", this is a song that a lot of people seem to like, but nobody seems to like as much as me. Oh well. It's got a great melody, fun car-as-metaphor-for man lyrics, and the same enveloping, warm instrumental background as "Umbrella". The central metaphor may be somewhat stilted, but it produces several nice little turns of phrase. The bridge takes everything down a notch, but I like it.

2. Miley Cyrus - "See You Again": Although I thought that, on the whole, the music in Hannah Montana 2 lacked the fairly consistent highs of the first season's soundtrack, I loved this song. I mean, if I made a list of my favorite 5 Hannah/Miley songs, about 4 would come from soundtrack 1, but I can tell you that this song would be number one. Frickin' incredibly infectious melody and definitely Miley's best lyrics ever: "The last time I freaked out/I just kept looking down/I st-st-stuttered when you asked me what I'm thinking 'bout/Felt like I couldn't breathe/You asked what's wrong with me/My best friend Lesley says 'Oh she's just being Miley'/The next time we hang out/I will redeem myself/My heart can't rest 'til then/Oh I can't wait to see you again". The "st-st-stuttered" is my favorite moment in music in 2007, and "My best friend Lesley says 'Oh she's just being Miley" is also in my top 5. I've probably listened to this song 50 times since the soundtrack was released. Very, very questionable eligibility, but when it comes to this Diz stuff, who is to say what is and isn't a single. Shrug.

3. Aly & AJ - "Potential Breakup Song": Best lyrics of the year, best vocal performance of the year, and a truly outstanding melody. I guess that would seem to add up to higher than number 3, but Miley and Rihanna have truly transcendent melodies (and good vox/lyrix too). (see previous Potential Break-Up Post). Also, best music video of the year.

I'm certain that the three songs listed above, (plus "The Best Damn Thing", if ever released) are my 3 favorite songs of the year, but the order keeps changing in my head! This is where I stand now.

4. Keith Urban - "Stupid Boy": Heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. Very nice guitar sound on this one, Keith is a great singer, and and a nice melody, but it's really the lyrics that make this one. That, and the song-end fakeout at 3:45 leading to the best outro of the year. That outro, a 2 and a half minute powerhouse of a gutpunch makes for as moving an experience as music can create.

5. Natasha Bedingfield - "I Wanna Have Your Babies": Still totally awesome. I've written about the outstanding lyrics and melody of this song before, and have nothing new to add.

6. My Chemical Romance - "Famous Last Words": Powerhouse rock epic which, like Aly & AJ, weaves together various awesome but disparate parts in a very deft way to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Not to mention, I AM NOT AFRAID TO KEEP ON LIVING is the greatest sing/shout-along chorus to come along in years.

7. Vanessa Hudgens - "Say OK": Quite possibly still the best pure melody of the year. And Vanessa gives a good performance too! Not quite ambitious enough to crack any higher than this, but if I had to pick any one song to listen to over and over again for hours this would be the one. Dozens of listens later that melody is still as amazing as it was when I first heard it. One of the prettiest songs in years.

8. My Chemical Romance - "Teenagers": So fun! Don't trust anybody over 30! Funniest lyrics of the year, and a great high-energy chorus. Great usage of electric guitar. MCR continue to be the best mainstream guitar based rock band out there today. This is a great song that may climb even higher as the year goes on.

9. Natasha - "Hey Hey Hey": I suppose there isn't too much too this song, but it's a fun, infectious number that deserved to be a smash hit. Natasha has breathy, airy vocals that lend a sense of airiness to the song, and which conflict with the hard, driving background music in a really wonderful way. Then we kick into "Hey Hey Hey" and nothing else matters. It's very slight, and I'd like to see what a self-assured braggart of a singer could do with it, but it's a real winner as is.

10. Sophie Ellis-Bextor - "Catch You": I've really loved this song since the first time I heard it, and I still think it's the best song on SEB's (kinda disappointing) album this year. This thing has the power to just lodge in my head and hang around there for a long, long time.

11. Amerie - "Gotta Work": Yeah, yeah, yeah, a ripoff of "Crazy in Love", not to mention "1 Thing", but it's a bouncy fun number. The trumpets are great and the chorus is great. But the stutter-step, start-and-stop verse, with it's bouncy, fast, shouting qualities is what really made me love the song. You'd think they'd try to marry a chorus like this to some silky-smooth melody, but there isn't even really any melody to the verses at all. Unexpected, but it really holds the song together, I think, and is the main reason the song holds up to multiple listens so well when other similar songs tend to fade away quickly. I'm hoping for this one to go #1.

12. Ne-Yo - "Because of You": Speaking of silky-smooth melodies...I like Ne-Yo a whole lot, and all of his singles have been pretty good. His album gets a bit tiresome to listen to all the way through, because the songs are so samey, but this is basically the theoretical peak of the style of music he's going for. I love the slap bass in the verses and the main instrumental hook, but the silky smooth melody and vocals are the story of this song. Just kinda makes me drift away when I listen to it. Like "Say OK", one of those melodies that just says super-crisp no matter how many times you hear it.

13. Avril Lavigne - "Hot": Man, the art of the power-ballad is practically dead these days. So many amazing power ballads in the 80s but nobody even tries any more. Avril is one of the last who consistently produces great power ballads. This song is right in her wheelhouse and she knocks it out. Very catchy melody, it gets stuck in my head for days.

14. Blake Shelton - "The More I Drink": Hilarious and true! Drinking does, in fact, make one want to drink more. This is part of a long, long tradition of drinkin' songs in country, and it's a worthy entry into the lineage. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the chorus is catchy as hell too.

15. Katharine McPhee - "Over It": So pretty it almost makes me tear up. Just a great wistful melody and so what if it's a "Too Little, Too Late" ripoff, the formula works and McPhee knocks it right out of the park, as always.

16. Fall Out Boy - "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race": Fall Out Boy step out of their normal box to create a more ambitious, experimental rock song, but it really works. A great explosion of a high energy rock song. Nothing going on with the lyrics and not great vocals, but just as pure music it's very, very good.

17. Toby Keith - "High Maintenance Woman": Another I've written plenty about and have nothing to add too. Like Blake Shelton, catchy-as-hell and funny. Lyrix aren't quite as good as Blake's, so it ranks 2 slots lower.

18. Cupid ft. DJ Unk and Fabo - "Cupid Shuffle (Remix)": Best hip hop novelty song of the year! This has a catchy melody and a nice energy, and that basically makes up for the lack of substantive lyrics. I have never done the Cupid Shuffle myself, but I can tell you this is a hell of a lot better than the Cha Cha Slide song (as a pure song).

19. Shop Boyz - "Party Like a Rockstar": OK, putting the two best hip-hop novelty songs of the year right in a row required a bit of cheating/shuffling, but it seemed appropriate. Really fun song, though. The Boyz have some great flow and they can write some great lyrics and it all comes together in this one song. The rest of their album is just OK, but it kicks way into high gear for this. Like I said about Ne-Yo, this is basically the theoretically best possible song for what it's going for.

20. Sara Evans - "As If": Another great single from one of my 5 or so favorite single artists of the decade. And, okay, this great single sounds kinda like most of her other great singles, but she's got her sound and she runs with it. She's still a really phenomenal singer, and this song has a very nice melody and good lyrics. Not much going on with the music, and it's a little too unoriginal to rank any higher.

21. Rihanna ft. Jay Z - "Umbrella": Amazing synths and amazing lyrics, but the melody (other than ella ella ey ey ey) doesn't grab me as much as it apparently grabs some others. And the Jay-Z part is stupid. It's gotten old from overplaying but don't let that diminish that this is still a very good song. Just needs a little bit more to be a great song. But, great marriage between the sound of the song and the title/lyrics though, very impressive.

22. Tim Armstrong ft. Skye Sweetnam - "Into Action": Heh, a fun throwaway number that will be completely forgotten 5 years from now. But given all that, it's pretty amazing. So fun and catchy. I thought ska was a dead genre, but if the genre can still produce numbers like this bring it on.

23. Carrie Underwood - "Wasted": OK, with the release of this, they've finally run of out great singles on Carrie's debut album to release. (Seriously, the 2nd best song on her debut album). Her 2nd album is definitely my most anticipated album of the 2nd half of the year, let's hope it doesn't get delayed.

24. Sophie Ellis-Bextor - "Me and My Imagination": Great disco melody and disco beat. Sophie's not a great pop singer, but she's competent and she's able to carry a good pop song. This is a dreamy, dizzying little pop number, and I don't like it as much as "Catch You", but I do like it an awful lot.

25. Fergie - "Big Girls Don't Cry (Personal)": Probably my favorite song on Fergie's album other than "Fergalicious". It should be clear from this list that I am a real sucker for mid-tempo ballads. For whatever reason, mid-tempo ballad melodies ("Say OK", "Hot", "Because of You", "Over It") seem to hit me way stronger than the melodies for other songs. I'm not sure why that is but I certainly am not going to fight it.

26. MIMS - "This Is Why I'm Hot": Fun brag-rap that straddles the line between amazing and completely irritating. It mostly sits on the right side of that line, but it is tough to listen to over and over again. But come on: "I'm hot cuz I'm fly/you ain't cuz you're not". Awesome.

27. Ciara - "Like a Boy": It's a mid-tempo ballad. The melody grabs me. Shocker. Nice bouncy musical backdrop though.

28. Enrique Iglesias - "Do You Know (The Ping Pong Song)": Probably the best single Enrique has ever released, thanks to a great chorus and very inventive ping pong ball percussion. The cheesy music and dragging verses do all they can to eliminate the goodwill generated by that chorus and percussion, but the forces of good win out.

29. Kelly Clarkson - "Never Again": I still like the lyrics and I still love the bridge. The melody is maybe not as strong as the best of KC, but it's still pretty good. A tad disappointing, maybe, just because it's Kelly, but judged on it's own it's still a triumph. I like the "Sunday School answer" line.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Movies of 2007

OK, after what basically amounts to a 3 month break from this blog, I'm back and ready to go. Starting with a summary review of all 2007 movies I've seen, then later posts catching up on some albums (Hannah Montana in particular) ("See You Again" 4eva).

This is probably incomplete, I'm basically going off the top of my head and skimming through IMDB, but here's all the 2007 movies I've seen so far:

Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard
One sentence plot summary: Average man and prostitute are put in a sleep chamber for 500 years, and awaken to find America so dumbed down and devolved that they are the smartest people on the planet.
Review/Comments: IMDB suggests that this was actually released in late 2006, but I only watched it this year and I've already thought out my opinion on it, so such is my commitment to accuracy that I am going to throw away my one rule for this post and just put this in anyways. This was a reasonably funny movie. It wasn't as funny as some of the reviews I've read have made it out to be, but it is one of the better comedies of this decade, particularly considering how little I typically enjoy current (non-romantic) comedies. I really did not see this as some kind of highbrow biting cultural satire or whatever, as the subjects of the satire seem to be very, very broad, but there were some good visual jokes. I didn't care for the lowbrow genital jokes and fart jokes and whatnot. In any event, if as Kogan says, Hero Story Variant 7(b) is "Everybody is being snookered but me", then most of the reviews of this movie I've seen fit squarely into Hero Story Variant 7(c): "Society (not including me OR my readers) are being snookered and we are above that". Which is to say: "Oh man, how true, people DO watch stupid TV and stupid movies and people like Paris Hilton are more famous than smart people who contribute more to society, etc. etc." But unlike in the other hero story, people here aren't trying to convince their readers, who are implicitly assumed to be as smart and informed as the author, but just attacking a strawman. And so it goes...
Rating: B MINUS

Jump In
Starring: Corbin Bleu, Keke Palmer
One Sentence Plot Review: Boxer learns to jump rope, much to the chagrin of overbearing father.
Comments/Review: Semi-review previously published here.
Rating: C PLUS

Catch and Release
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith, Juliette Lewis
One Sentence Plot Review: Woman's fiancee dies and she falls in love with his best friend who she previously considered loathsome.
Comments/Review: Nobody seemed to care too much about this movie, it got generally lukewarmly positive reviews, and faded out of the theaters very quickly. All of this is understandable, because it is a very slight movie, and I suppose not for everybody, and it breaks no new ground, but I really enjoyed it. The acting is uniformly excellent, the characters are real and well rounded, the dialogue is crisp, and the emotional scenes pack a real heft. Not to mention, some of the comedy is actually pretty funny. The movie made me cry, which is becoming progressively easier and easier to make me do. There's a real warmth and heart to this little movie, and that's enough to take me above all of it's faults and cliches. Congrats to Susannah Grant, whose In Her Shoes I really wanna see now, after being put off by the mediocre reviews.
Rating: A MINUS

Music and Lyrics
Starring: Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore
One Sentence Plot Review: Washed up pop star hires plant waterer to write a song with him for a big pop star and in the process they fall in love.
Review/Comments: This was the second of the romantic comedies released earlier this year that I really wanted to see (after Catch and Release), but the movies, though I tend to lump them together for that reason, are in fact quite different. Catch and Release is all about the emotional core and more about the drama, whereas Music and Lyrics is your pretty standard silly romantic comedy. It won't surprise careful readers of this blog to know that I loved it. This movie was written and directed by Marc Lawrence, whose previous Two Weeks Notice and Miss Congeniality I really disliked, so I'm perfectly content to attribute the success of this film to the wit and charm of Hugh and Drew and to the awesome music. Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore are two of the best romantic comedy actors, and seeing them together is great! They have really good chemistry and are both really funny throughout, and the movie is genuinely romantic. And the Wham! style 80s pop hits for Hugh Grant's character are genuinely really good. 'Tis completely fluffy, escapist fare, a cotton candy movie, but to me fluffy, escapist fare is one of the best uses of the film genre. Probably one of the 5 best traditional romantic comedies of this decade.
Rating: B PLUS
Okay, Okay, So What ARE the 5 Best RomComs of This Decade: Bridget Jones, Love Actually, Just Like Heaven, Down With Love, and this movie.

Ocean's Thirteen
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Al Pacino and a bunch of other people.
One Sentence Plot Summary: A bunch of people rob a casino
Review/Comments: Yeah, it was basically the same as the first movie, but all of the actors have so much fun with it, and the plotting/pacing is so tight that it makes a really compelling watch. Way better than Ocean's Twelve at any rate.
Rating: B

Spiderman 3
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace
One Sentence Plot Summary: MAN HAS POWERS OF SPIDER.
Review/Comments: I apparently enjoyed this movie a lot better than most reviewers. The balance between ridiculous soap opera-esque drama and superhero action was very true to the comics, all the characterizations and acting were a hoot as always, and I thought emo-Peter was really funny. Calling the female temptress Gwen Stacy was a nice callback to the character in the comics, though clearly this character wasn't intended to be a straight adaptation of the Gwen I know and love. Sandman backstory was kinda pointless but not too distracting and at least they tried to make a character out of him. All in all a fun little romp and, I suppose, not as good as Spiderman 2 or the other great superhero movies of modern era, but better than the first Spiderman for sure and a worthy view.
Rating: B

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Starring: A bunch of people I never heard of and Jessica Alba
One Sentence Plot Summary: The four superheroes save the world from Silver Surfer and Galactus.
Review/Comments: Silver Surfer is so badass. It's pretty hard to screw him up too bad, although the 90's cartoon certainly pulled it off. They do a good job of adapting him here, and it makes for some exciting action scenes and pretty visual effects. The characters are all one-dimensional and silly, but then again so are the comics characters so I guess that's OK. The Johnny Storm/Super Skrull attack on Surfered up Dr. Doom was really enjoyable, and by far the best action sequence yet in these movies. The plotting was all sorts of screwed up though, Galactus sucked, and Dr. Doom continues to be really underwhelming. And you don't need an Oscar caliber performance in a movie like this, but come on a little bit can't hurt here. Better than the first, but this is still a second tier action franchise
Rating: C MINUS

Nancy Drew
Starring: Emma Roberts
One Sentence Plot Summary: The teen detective goes to LA and solves a mystery involving a disappeared actress
Review/Comments: Back when I thought Kay Panabaker (still the Official Actress of the TCR) was going to have a more substantial role in this film (i.e. more than one minute of screen time), this was my most anticipated film of the year. Even once I learned the truth of KPB's involvement, the presence of Emma Robers had me really pumped. And it didn't let me down! The only problem I had with this movie was that the kid Emma meets up with and befriends in L.A. is really annoying, but that's a fairly minor concern. I liked how they attempted to integrate the fish-out-of-water stuff with the mystery stuff, though I wish they had spent more time on the social aspect of Nancy's time and less on the not-so-interesting mystery itself. What I liked was that they made Nancy's character a real standout original and didn't try to make her over or make her change to fit in. She knew who she was and she never wavered and that was that. Emma's performance in this was truly outstanding, she's still got the most charm and screen presence of any young non-Panabaker actress out there.
Rating: B PLUS

Live Free or Die Hard
Starring: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Review/Comments: I actually had no idea Mary Elizabeth Winstead was in this film and it was a really nice surprise to see her. I loved her in Sky High, she was OK in Final Destination 3, and she's one of my big celebrity crushes. She was pretty good in this film, though that's mostly beside the point. The point is that Bruce Willis still kicks ass, and this was basically an 80's action movie. Very ridiculous, and the computer stuff is embarrasing, and the plot veers wildly out of control about halfway through, but so much fun that it doesn't even really matter. Just sit back eat your popcorn and enjoy it.
Rating: B

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and whoever plays Ron Weasley (research!)
Review/Comments: Harry Potter movies are Harry Potter movies, enjoyable fare without much depth. I never read the books and probably never will, but the movies are enjoyable if slight. This was, as reported elsewhere, much darker than the previous movies, but it's exactly the same quality.
Rating: B

Yeah, yeah, yeah, a pretty narrow range of ratings, but I tend to only watch movies I think I'm gonna like and haven't really loved too much I've seen this year.

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