Monday, December 29, 2008

A Moment to Remember Those Who Left Us in 2008

Don't know why, but my favorite part of the Academy Awards ceremony (which I watch religiously each year) is the montage of movie folks who died during the year. While an obituary cannot capture the meaning of a person's life, I've always enjoyed the exercise of trying to encapsulate the essence of one's existence through obituary writing. It forces you to boil down each person's real "life's work" (which is all that they accomplished during their lifetime) and comment on it in a few short paragraphs (or longer, when warrented).

I did not comment on the passing of every notable this year, that is not the purpose of GNABB. But reviewing my GNABB Cemetary, I see that the vast majority of obituaries that I chose to write were of entertainers. That makes sense because entertainers are people that we all think we get to know collectively as a society and therefore their passing gives us something in common to reflect upon. Secondly, if any of you know me even in passing, you know that I am an obsessive about music, movies, etc. Just look at what I have chosen to post about here over the last year.

While more important actors died this year (like Charlton Heston), the one that had the most direct impact on me was the subject of the second post in GNABB's history, the obituary for Roy Scheider. I watched "Jaws" probably 32,693 times as a child, so Roy Scheider has always been a favorite. Even when he was acting in material that was beneath his talents (which was often), Scheider had a class and professionalism that was unsurpassed. Plus, he always seemed like a supercool dude.

ABOVE: The underrated Roy Scheider died in February of this year

The big film notable who died this year was, of course, Paul Newman. An argument could be made that he was the greatest American film actor.

ABOVE: Paul Newman: a beautiful man in every way

I did not write an obituary on David Foster Wallace because I don't read much other than nonfiction these days, but he was obviously a titanic talent. My friend JMW wrote a great remembrance of Wallace over at ASWOBA. Check it out.

On a personal note, the most important passing for me was Toby. I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten to know him.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dez's Favorite Movies of 2008

I hope that all of you had a Happy Kwanza. Returning to my Favorites of 2008, it is time to take a look at the movies. I am usually on top of what's happening in movies, but this year I saw fewer than I had hoped to see. As a disclaimer, what follows is a brief list of films that I did not see in 2008 that I still want to see:

“Burn After Reading,” “Man on Wire,” “JCVD” (seriously, I heard this was really good. And it stars Jean Claude Van-Damme), “Cadillac Records” (about the greatest record label ever – Chess Records), “The Wrestler,” “Frost-Nixon,” “Milk,” Gran Torino” and “Valkyrie” (my dislike for Cruise can be overcome by my interest in the subject matter.)

OK. On to my favorites and least favorites of what I did see…

I hate to be so mainstream, but I’ve got to say it was a great year for the superhero. If I have to be honest, the two movies that I enjoyed the most this year were “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man.”

Iron Man has long been my favorite superhero. For many years I have maintained that a well made Iron Man flick would be an intriguing superhero movie. “Iron Man” certainly delivered, largely due to the the performance and personality of Robert Downey, Jr. He had the perfect combination of having fun with the role yet also taking it seriously and committing to the role. For a full review of the film, click here.

“The Dark Knight” arrived on a wave of hype, due to the unfortunate death of Heath Ledger and the fact that it was the next Batman movie. I feel that the film delivered wonderfully and accomplished what it was trying to accomplish with this latest, darker reinvention of the Batman character. Much has been said of Ledger’s mesmerizing performance as The Joker, all of it earned. Sure the movie was a tad long, but the faults are all easily forgiven based on everything the film did right. Kudos to director Christopher Nolan for going old school on the stunts and keeping the CGI down to a minimum. The real thing still looks better than what computers can do. For a full review, click here.

I also enjoyed “Tropic Thunder,” although it had its faults. For a full review, click here.

The superhero flick that did not deliver this year was “The Incredible Hulk.” Terrible.

The worst movie that I saw this year was “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Yes, Ford is old as dirt. But they could have dealt with that much more deftly than they did. It could have even become an asset had the script and direction been in the right hands. As good as Spielberg can be, nobody can escape badness if they are forced to collaborate with George Lucas. For a full review, click here.

Your turn. Favorite and least favorite flicks of the year?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'm Old. Or, Dez's Favorite Music of 2008

Looking over the list of 2008 releases that I bought and that I still enjoy, I realize that I am old. It is not that I do not seek out newer artists or that I am one of those grizzled classic rock veterans insisting that music ain't what it used to be. ain't what it used to be.

Dez's Favorite New Release of 2008:
Coldplay - Viva la Vida
If there is any band out there to take up the mantle of U2 it is probably these guys (they even have Brian Eno producing). Their fourth release is by far their best, least derivative, and most sonically diverse and interesting. Opening with the much too short, joyous intrumental "Life in Technicolor," the record immediately announces that Coldplay has awakened from their stupor. "Lost!" is one of my favorite songs I've heard all year, while the infectious title track has deservedly gotten a ton of airplay. I like that they finally let their inner Prog Rock band loose with extended tunes like "Lovers in Japan / Reign of Love" and "Yes" with its three minute coda that is probably my favorite three minutes of the entire record.

Dez's three runner-up favorites of the year:
They are all live records from veterans who show that in the live setting, they've all still got it. In fact, they have never sounded better in the live setting than on these new releases.

Jeff Beck - Performing This Week...Live at Ronnie Scott's
The Police - Certifiable
Lindsay Buckingham - Live at Bass Performance Hall

These are three artists whom I respect a great deal. Jeff Beck defies the rules of aging for classic rock guitarists, although he never really fit in that mold to begin with. The older he gets, the better and more intense his playing. I will continue to trumpet Jeff Beck as the greatest living rock guitarist to my dying breath. Here he finally has a band that really complements his skills, and this CD is probably his best showcase yet. I saw the Police reunion tour last year (and paid more money for it than I have any show I've ever attended). It was so worth the wait. I own several live Police albums, and to be honest, they were always a bit sloppy live. A much better and tighter studio band. But on this tour, they finally learned how to play together! One of the best concerts I have ever attended in my long concertgoing career, and a great live record to remember the tour. Lindsay Buckingham is one weird dude, but he is also one of the most underrated guitarists and songwriters out there. He performs several solo acoustic jawdroppers here, but also rocks out with a great band. (It's cool that he plays his fun tune "Holiday Road" from 'Nat. Lampoon's Vacation').

ABOVE: Jeff Beck - guitar god

Other 2008 Releases that I liked:
Ryan Adams - Cardinology
Big Head Todd & the Monsters - All The Love You Need
Jackson Browne - Solo Acoustic 2
Lindsay Buckingham - The Gift of Screws (it's been a busy year for Lindsay)
The Cure - 4:13 Dream
Ray Davies - Working Man's Cafe
The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
Steve Winwood - Nine Lives

Biggest Disappointment of 2008:
The Streets - Everything Is Borrowed

Mike Skinner's (aka 'The Streets') debut was one of the most exciting and interesting rap records I'd ever heard. Everything he's put out since is a disappointment after that peak. His latest is no exception.

Worst Record of 2008:
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Deja Vu Live

So much wrong here. For a group who stakes their reputation on peerless harmonies, their voices are particularly ragged these days (let's face it, Stills lost his voice in the 1980's). As celebrated as this foursome is, they are generally better when performing separately as CSN and Neil Young. Neil's presence overwhelms the others who have to defer to him just to convince him to still work with them, while Neil's maverick streak is held in check as he tries to blend with the other three. Neil doesn't really blend well with anyone. Neil Young's sloppy, hastily assembled and not very good record Living With War serves as the basis for this live show. They pointlessly reproduce most of that record here, trying to remain relevant as protest artists whining about the war in Iraq. It is a very sad record, but not for the reasons that they intended.

OK, your turn. Favorite music that you picked up in 2008? I would love some fresh suggestions, so I'm all ears...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dez's Best of 2008: TV

The end of another year and it is time to look back at the best (and worst) that 2008 had to offer. I'll start these retrospectives off with a look at the year in television. I'm no expert, but my wife and I do watch our fair share of TV.

No shocker here: cable is where it's at nowadays. And for me, Showtime is the new HBO. HBO may come back strong in '09 when Season 3 of "Big Love" starts in January, but '08 was fairly quiet on the HBO front.

My favorite shows of 2008:

"Dexter" Season 3 (Showtime)
This delicious show about a Miami police forensics expert who also happens to be a serial killer continued its strong performance in its third season. Michael C. Hall is still brilliant as the conflicted title character. While the premise of the show is certainly dark, and the show does have many dark moments, one of its saving graces is the twisted humor that permeates every episode. I usually hate voiceovers, but Hall's voiceovers are key to the show. They are less voiceover and more a window into Dexter's thoughts to himself as he goes about his day. I was initially skeptical about how good the show could be with the departure of Dexter's nemesis Det. Doakes (Erik King) (who turned swearing into an artform), but this season's addition of D.A. Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits) provided Dexter with another complex relationship. (Warning: watch this on Showtime or DVD, do not watch the watered down network version. It is pointless.)

ABOVE: Has Dexter finally met his match in Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits)?

"Californication" Season 2 (Showtime)
Season 1 of this well written guilty pleasure was near perfect in its story arc (so much so that I wondered what they could even do with a second season), but David Duchovny's loveable, melancholy lothario writer-who-never-gets-around-to-writing-his-second-great-novel Hank Moody was able to get himself into enough trouble in the second season to keep it interesting. A fellow fan and friend of mine disagrees, but I really enjoyed the addition of record producer Lew Ashby (Callum Keith Rennie) as Hank's new buddy and partner in crime. Supporting actor Evan Handler as Hank's hilariously down on his luck agent Charlie Runkle continues to steal every scene he's in. (The scene where Charlie unwittingly follows his potential client Daisy to a "film shoot" to talk business and ends up walking into a gonzo porn set is one of the funniest scenes of the year).

Alright, I can also give props to the networks...

"Chuck" Season 2 (NBC)
A silly premise is the foundation of this warm, funny show. (Loveable underachiever Chuck Bartowsky inadvertently becomes a crucial government asset due to a computer chip that is implanted in his brain. He is assigned CIA and NSA protection, and gets involved in various espionage plots). The strength lies in the writing and the great characters. While the main three characters of Chuck Bartowsky and Agents Walker and Casey (deadpan comedy must run in the Baldwin family, because Adam Baldwin is hilarious as the desperately humorless NSA agent assigned to protect Chuck), the colorful supporting cast working at the Buy More is classic, including former Missile Command champion Jeff Barnes, Call of Duty expert and Chuck's best friend Morgan Grimes, Lester, Big Mike, Harry Tiberius Tang and Anna Wu. I look forward to the subplots at the Buy More as much as I do the main espionage plots involving Chuck, Walker and Casey. One of the few shows in recent memory that makes me consistently laugh out loud.

“Friday Night Lights” Season 2 (NBC)
Technically this season started at the end of 2007, but it continued into 2008. Season 3 will be shown on NBC starting January of 2009. Network TV’s best drama got off to a shaky start in its second season after the pitch perfect first season, but it soon found it footing again and by the end of the season it was richer and as engrossing as ever. Can’t wait for Season 3.

Kudos to actor C.S. Lee, who does great work in two of Dez's favorite shows of 2008. He is Harry Tang in "Chuck" and Masuka in "Dexter."

Worst of 2008: "Heroes" Season 3 (NBC). This once engaging sci-fi drama continued its ugly fall with its convoluted Season 3. The only bright spot was Robert Forrester. Too bad he was wasted on this crap.

How about you? Favorite and least favorite shows in 2008?

Dez Lives

I am sorry for the lack of new posts in the last several weeks. Life, work, etc. all get in the way. It was so much easier to keep the new material flowing when I was unemployed. But fear not, Dez will have more fascinating articles up very soon. Meanwhile, marvel at our president's fast reflexes. Evidently much faster than his secret service detail.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"These Days"

On occasion I like to post a choice acoustic performance. On a sunny Sunday morning, nothing sounds better than a little prime Jackson Browne. This is the type of guitar playing that I really love to listen to (and play)...