Monday, February 27, 2006

Monday Random Ten

I was busy having a fun visit to DC on Friday (thanks again, Christina and Ben for showing me around), so I didn't get around to posting. Besides, it's my blog, I can do what I want. Hehe... So here's the quick random 10:

1) Dave Matthews Band, "Lie in Our Graves" - Sure, he's trite and frat-boy-rock, but I still like most Dave, especially earlier stuff. Crash was just a good album to listen to, due in large part to Carter's drumming...

2) Aerosmith, "Kings and Queens" - Classic Aerosmith is always a good thing.

3) Steve Reich, Sextet, 5th Movement - Few people have the ability to appreciate mallet percussion minimalism. I happen to be one of those few. Organized chaos is one of my favorite musical styles, and that's probably the best way to describe minimalism. Random, repeated notes, but it all fits together to create a harmonious whole. Interesting that I've never noticed the way this piece has both very even rhythms and jazzy, rocking ones...

4) Radiohead, "Everything is in its Right Place" - Wow. I was planning on listening to Kid A when this was finished, and here's the opening track. I cannot rave about this album enough. Each track contrasts with the previous, adding a new layer of sound. But it's all synthesized. "Robot rock" is one way that I've heard it described. If you like experimental music that really is a masterpiece of style blending, check out Kid A.

5) Toad the Wet Sprocket, "I Will Not Take These Things For Granted" - In high school, I traded with my friend Tony, giving him my Alice In Chains Dirt CD for his Toad Fear CD. He couldn't get rid of Fear fast enough, simply because the lyrics contained the words "God damn" at one point. Tony was very religious and blasphemy was very serious to him. Best CD trade I ever made, though. I loved every track of it and became a big Toad fan for a long time. Just great, pleasant stuff.

6) Led Zeppelin, "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" - Very uncharacteristic Led Zeppelin tune. It's kind of like a bluegrass/country jam, but in a good way. I have never been timid about voicing my complete disdain for country, but this is just such a fun song. Makes me want to tap my foot to the beat. It's because of tunes like this that I've always thought Zeppelin was even better than people gave them credit for. They were talented musicians that could write and play any style of music.

7) Sergei Rachmaninov, "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini," Variation XVII - Short little filler section. Variation XVIII is the famous one. If you've heard of this piece, you no exactly what part I'm talking about.

8) Medeski, Martin & Wood, "Sasa" - The iPod has good (and very diverse) taste today. MMW's kind of an acquired taste for people who aren't really into jazz. Sure, I was pissed when I saw them and they didn't play an encore. But getting this CD for free from a friend made up for it.

9) The Clash, "Bankrobber" - Not my favorite Clash song, but not a bad one either.

10) PJ Harvey, "Down by the Water" - This was a big radio hit for her (mid-90s), probably the only one she ever had. She's a bit too freaky/alternative for mainstream radio, but she's always had a pretty loyal underground following. I saw her open up for Live in the summer of '95. She puts on a great live show and I became a fan.

OK, that's it for today... I'll probably post something real later this week.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Headline Too Good to Pass Up

They changed the headline on the page itself, but on CNN's main page, the title of this story is "Shooting victim apologizes to vice president." I kid you not. Cheney shoots the guy. Then the guy apologizes to Cheney. Wow. And I thought this was just a joke.

Friday Random Ten and Links

First, the fun stuff. Take the iPod, hit "Shuffle Songs," and we have...

1) Pink Floyd, "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3" - Part 2 was the famous "We don't need no education" song. Nothing special about part 3...

2) Les Miserables, "Wedding Chorale / Beggars at the Feast" - Now we're getting some fun mixes of tunes. I love Les Mis, and the Thenardiers are always among the most fun parts. Not musically great, though.

3) Sting, "The Hounds of Winter" - Probably my favorite track from Mercury Falling. Pleasant, quintessential Sting song.

4) Igor Stravinsky, "The Firebird: Infernal Dance of Kaschey's Subjects" - I love, love, love Stravinsky and especially the Firebird suite. This is a great, aggressive piece with a lovely flowing melody about halfway through that is sprinkled with brash repeated notes.

5) Harry Connick, Jr., "It Had to be You (Instrumental)" - Fun piano jazz. This is from the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack. It's all Harry Connick, which means it's all good.

6) Rush, "Leave That Thing Alone" - See, after I criticize the iPod for picking bad tracks, now it starts picking good ones. Counterparts is far and away the best of the latter day Rush albums. This is a cool instrumental jam from it.

7) Nickelback, "Someday" - Got it from iTunes. I like Nickelback enough to listen to their radio songs, but not enough to buy a CD.

8) Live, "Freaks" - Any song with a Henry Miller reference thrown in is a great song by my judgment.

9) Rush, "La Villa Strangiato" - Another Rush instrumental. This one from the late '70s/early '80s (don't remember). It's a 10 minute track of about 25 different musical styles. Great prog rock, though.

10) Miss Saigon, "What's This I Find?" - Thuy confronts Kim and Chris. I had the fortune of seeing Lea Salonga reprise her role as Kim on Broadway a couple years ago. It was part of the celebration of the musical's last 6 months on Broadway before closing. She was incredible. The rest of the cast... Well, let's just say that there's a reason it was closing.

Bonus track - Belle & Sebastian, "If You're Feeling Sinister" - I was going to stop at 10, but I let the shuffle continue and this came up. I had to include this one because of an hysterical line: "She was into S&M and Bible studies. Not everyone's cup of tea, she would admit to me." I smile whenever I hear that, because, well, I'm weird that way. I like mixtures of speciously conflicting imagery.

Now for the stuff that's not as much fun. Links to some serious stuff:

WaPo conservative George Will once again rips the Bush administration a new one for its complete disregard for the law.

Liberal blog Daily Kos has very disturbing photos from Abu Ghraib. Warning: some pretty graphic stuff. These are definitely not the timid pictures of people on leashes or human pyramids. But it is important to see what actual results from the leadership of our currently elected government.

And lastly, the Department of Homeland Security warns Sony that the rootkit style of DRM "protections" may result in legislation and regulation. I'm glad to see DHS getting involved, but I'd like to see some sterner language used.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Real Life Transformer

This is frickin' great! A four-wheeled vehicle that changes into a two-legged walking robot. Can I just say how much I loved Transformers growing up? And how much I want this thing on this video?

Saturday, February 11, 2006


In research my Oscar/Brokeback posts, I did a little looking around on IMDb. I can't believe it's been 6 years since the Dilbert animated series. I remember the hype about this when it was coming out. I can't believe that was that long ago. Wow...

Brokeback Mountain

So, in my previous post, I mentioned that I hadn't seen Brokeback Mountain yet. Well, now I have. I thought the movie was excellent and is very deserving regarding the best picture Oscar. I feel even more strongly that Ang Lee should win best director. The cinematography is breath-taking, and Lee's vision is wonderful. Of his other movies, I've seen The Ice Storm (only once, and that was a while ago) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Lee is without a doubt one of my favorite directors (Curtis Hanson, Bryan Singer, and Tim Burton are some of the others that come to mind). Whenever he gets the chance to use nature as a visual aid, there is no one who can capture it as well. His movies are remarkably beautiful to watch. Whenever I think of Crouching Tiger, the first image that pops into my mind is the way the bamboo trees would flow in the wind. With Brokeback Mountain, obviously, it is the majesty of the mountains. Cold and austere, yet ever present and comforting.

The acting was also very good. If it were not for Capote, I would say that Heath Ledger should get the Oscar for lead actor. He was surprisingly good. Any other year, I would say he would win. Not this year, though. Hoffman's portrayal is simply too perfect to be beaten. Jake Gyllenhaal was less than great at the beginning of the movie, but he improved a lot as the story progressed. I don't know exactly what it was at the beginning. He seemed to be trying too hard. I'm not sure. And, of course, there's also Michelle Williams for supporting actress. She was very good. Of the acting categories, supporting actress seems to be the one that is the most competitive. Hoffman should have lead actor locked up. Clooney won the supporting actor Golden Globe, but none of the Oscar nominees really stick out as that great. I think I actually liked Randy Quaid in Brokeback more than I liked any of the nominees. Felicity Huffman will most likely win lead actress. But for support actress, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and Catherine Keener are all deserving. I haven't seen North Country, but I know that Frances McDormand is always brilliant, so she probably has a shot, too. I think the award will go to either Weisz or Williams, but I think this category is very close.

OK, so enough of Oscar talk and back to the movie itself. What I loved about this movie is the indirect story-telling. If you wanted to learn how to create a movie to tell a story without relying on dialogue, this is the quintessential case study. If I remember correctly, the word "love" is never uttered by anyone in the movie. Yet that is what it is all about. And the ending. Poetic brilliance. The love that Ennis had for Jack allowed him to learn to love his daughters. If that seems a little obscure, go see the movie. It'll make more sense.

This movie, like I mentioned in regard to Munich, succeeds because of the emphasis on the inherent drama of human relations. There are no easy answers. There is no simple love story without the context of the world around us. I read somewhere that that is one of Ang Lee's signatures. He likes to create stories of love that cannot be as a result of external forces. That certainly is the case here. The world is not perfect and we must make the most of every opportunity to experience love.

So, yes, I am officially on the bandwagon now. Brokeback Mountain is my pick for the best film of the year.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Oscar Thoughts

Since the Oscar nominees came out a couple weeks ago, here are some related thoughts and judgments. First, this will be the first year that I will have seen all of the movies nominated for best picture. I haven't seen Brokeback yet, but I think I'll go this weekend since I'm on my own. (Brianne's heading to Cincy to pick up her dress and the bridesmaids' dresses.)

Of the four that I have seen, I can say that all of them are very good movies. Typically, when I see the nominees, there is at least one, sometimes two, movies nominated that just don't quite seem as good as they should be. Master & Commander, A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator, Jerry Maguire. Those are a few off the top of my head that were good movies, but they just did not really seem like great movies. I think this year's pick for that distinction would be Good Night and Good Luck. Yes, it's very good and thought-provoking, but it's just not on par with the others. While Strathairn's performance was excellent, there wasn't much for the supporting cast to work with.

You can't say the same thing about Capote. Yes, it's a bit unbalanced because of Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal (I give him a 99% chance of winning, and deservedly so), but the supporting roles were also done very well. Catherine Keener was very good, though I think I'm pulling for Rachel Weisz in supporting actress.

Crash was probably the most well-balanced of the movies nominated. The acting all around was good (though no contenders stuck out). I've always thought that Sandra Bullock was a better actress than the roles she typically plays. I'm not saying she's Helena Bonham Carter or Frances McDormand, but rather that she's capable of better roles than Speed and While You Were Sleeping.

Munich, which I saw recently but didn't talk about here, was excellent. Of the four that I've seen, I think I would pick Munich as being the best. It was surprisingly apolitical. Yes, it made political points (terrorists do bad things, governments do bad things, that whole cycle of violence thing), but it never really picked a side. It did not try to justify the Olympic murders or the revenge killings. I think what I particularly liked was how human the Israeli assassins were, especially the role portrayed by Eric Bana (very good, very underrated actor). They are not Ethan Hunt or James Bond. They are real people with wives and children that get hired by their government to go on an assination mission.

After I see Brokeback (if it lives up to the hype), I'll see how my picks change.

On a related note, I really like the Oscar database. It's very easy to use and a quick way to get information about past winners and nominees. Whenever I look back there, I find several movies that were highly acclaimed at the time and have been all but forgotten (Billy Elliot, Babe, Mr. Holland's Opus), some that I never saw but feel I should (Bullets Over Broadway, Good Fellas, Hannah and Her Sisters, Gods and Monsters, Saving Private Ryan, Adaptation, Maria Full of Grace), underrated, great movies I am glad I saw (Hotel Rwanda, In America, City of God, Shine), some WTF nominations (Beauty and the Beast for best picture, Tom Cruise for Jerry Maguire, Joan Cuasck for In & Out, Julia Roberts for Pretty Woman, Gloria "Old Rose" Stuart for Titanic), and some how-the-hell-did-that-beat-the-other victories (Gump over Shawshank, Gwyneth Paltrow over Cate Blanchett in 1998, Julia Roberts over Ellen Burstyn in 2000, A Beautiful Mind over Fellowship of the Ring for directing or picture, Sean Penn over Johnny Depp and Bill Murray in 2003, Tim Robbins over Djimon Hounsou in 2003). Oh, and no best picture nomination for Glory?!? Wow.

My top five favorite Oscar winners:

  • Frances McDormand (actress, Fargo)

  • Al Pacino (actor, Scent of a Woman)

  • Anthony Hopkins/Silence of the Lambs (actor and best picture)

  • Marissa Tomei (supporting actress, My Cousin Vinny)

  • Denzel Washington (supporting actor, Glory)

Honorable mentions: Halle Berry (actress, Monster's Ball) and Marcia Gay Harden (supporting actress, Pollock)

Friday Random Ten

OK, it's a common, silly meme, but I've often thought it would be interesting to see what came out of my iPod by setting it to random. My musical tastes are fairly wide and bizarre, so let's give it a try...

1) Red Hot Chili Peppers, "My Friends" - One of only two (with Aeroplane) from the Dave Navarro era that I can listen to.

2) Moulin Rouge, "Like a Virgin" - Probably the worst song from the movie, I never really cared for it.

3) Coldplay, "Speed of Sound" - Ah, guilty pleasures. Yes, I confess. I like Coldplay. I've never really understood the backlash against them. Sure, a lot of it sounds similar, but it's pleasant to hear.

4) Belle & Sebastian, "Me and the Major" - Fun song. B&S are a very interesting group. It seems that everyone who's heard them loves their music. But not very many people have heard them...

5) Annie Lennox, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" - I like this version just as much as the original. The tinkling sound that plays the instrumental theme is a little annoying, but her voice is so lovely that I can forgive that. The random harp notes are oddly nice, too. This is one of my favorite Annie Lennox songs.

6) Dave Matthews Band, "Spoon" - Nice tune. I never play it intentionally, but whenever it comes on, I enjoy it.

7) Rolling Stones, "Beast of Burden" - I've never been a huge Stones fan, but this is one I've always liked.

8) David Lanz, "Improvisation: Near the Still Waters of Amsterdam" - If you're looking for some relaxing solo piano stuff, pick up "Return to the Heart." Very soothing music.

9) Rent, "Rent" - I love Rent. Yes, it's melodramatic. Yes, there's something a little silly about having finely tuned singers on top of a rock beat. But it's just so much fun.

10) Peter Gabriel, "Blood of Eden" - "Us" is such a great CD. This song is one of the reasons why.

OK, so there was nothing too bizarre this week. Part of the reason for that is that I have very little classical stuff on my iPod (I've still got a lot of ripping to do and not a lot of time to do it...). We'll see what comes up in future samples. Only 2495 more songs to go...