Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007


1) 300 - not at the top for any depth of script or characterization, but damn if it wasn’t the most fun I had at the movies all year.

2) Superbad – best John Hughes teen comedy not made by John Hughes? One of my few immediate 5-star ratings on Netflix. “Mclovin” also takes the top prize as the most-used Xbox Live gamertag variation of the year.

3) Into Great Silence – here’s where my list gets some depth. A fascinating and lengthy look at life in a French monastery, completely enthralling for anyone willing to surrender themselves to its glacial pace.

4) Tekkon Kinkreet – the most accomplished anime feature of the year, using a revolutionary look to tell a solid and entrancing tale of Japanese street urchins.

5) Paprika – Satoshi Kon continues his incredible run of quality anime films, weaving a bizarre dreamworld that only falls apart near the end with its trite Godzilla-like coda

Biggest Disappointment: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. How could a movie filmed at the same time as the awesome Dead Man’s Chest be so completely unentertaining and squander all the build-up of its predecessor? This movie sucked harder than Spider-Man 3.


1) Radiohead – In Rainbows – regardless of the media format, a work of innovation and substance. Listened to this far more than the rest of the list combined.

2) The Good The Bad & The Queen – The Good The Bad & The Queen – Damon Albarn continues his ascent as perhaps the single most important figure to emerge from the British music scene in the past decade. #1 all year until Radiohead came out.

3) The White Stripes – Icky Thump - more of the same = more spins by me

4) Crowded House – Time on Earth – completely solid effort from the veterans. I had absolutely no interest in listening to this…until I gave it a chance.

5) The Fratellis – Costello Music – best CD to make you feel like you’re in a raging Irish pub. Loud, fast, and exhilirating!

Song of the Year: Air – Mer du Japon


1) Avatar: The Last Airbender – that’s right, a Nick cartoon at #1. No other show entertained me more thoroughly this year, with an epic quest, clever scripts, and plotting so strong that they could and did spend full episodes on peripheral characters. This is no mere kids show, it’s fantasy at its best and a refreshing adventure for viewers of all ages

2) Planet Earth – completely stunning series will hold you spellbound throughout its duration. An essential DVD purchase

3) The Sopranos – end of an era

4) LOST – great final episode, solid season

5) 30 Rock – A show that has “classic” written all over it

Honorable mention: Flight of the Conchords – looking forward to the further misadventures and melodies of the Rhymenoceros and Hiphopotamus


1) The Nightly News (Image) – the rookie writer/artist completed this series as strongly as he started it, marking him as the breakthrough creator of the year.

2) Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 (Dark Horse) – Joss Whedon returns to spin some new yarns in his own sandbox

3) Daredevil (Marvel) – the only monthly Marvel title I look forward to

4) Y: The Last Man (DC) – end of another era

5) True Story Swear To God (Image) – a seemingly simple relationship comic that always keeps me coming back for more due to its passion, humor and insight.


1) Planet Hulk (Marvel) – Greg Pak is a genius, taking a character I’ve never cared about and stranding him on a distant planet where he makes new allies and goes on the grandest adventure of his life. One of the very few new graphic novels that found a permanent home in my library.

2) Sandman: Absolute Edition Vol. 2 (DC) – another year, another volume. Lush presentation of Neil Gaiman's legendary source material, recolored and complete with exhaustive extras

3) MW (Vertical) – Gorgeous hardcover edition of Osamu Tezuka’s somewhat controversial exploration of terrorism colored by US imperialism, more timely today than when it was originally serialized 30 years ago.

4) Flight Vol. 4 (Villard) – Kazu Kibuishi’s annual anthology keeps getting longer and better

5) Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Vol. 2 (Drawn & Quarterly) – 2nd collection of Jansson's daily strips from the 50s

VIDEO GAMES – Once again, Xbox 360 shooters owned the year

1) Call of Duty 4 (Xbox 360) – sure, it’s a sequel, but this game completely revolutionized Xbox Live multiplayer gameplay by incorporating RPG-like elements that keep players engaged in trying to reach the next achievement level to unlock the next weapon/perk/attachment to allow maximum customization of combat options. Over two full days later, I finally maxed out my stats and can now ponder doing it all again in “Prestige” mode. Apparently has a strong single-player mission too, maybe someday I’ll get around to playing it.

2) BioShock (Xbox 360) – a new property with an original and fully-realized concept that puts players in an underwater Ayn Rand-influenced art deco utopia gone awry. Basically a shooter with RPG elements, but with a completely immersive environment and great attention to story and pacing it completely motivates players to explore and discover all of its secrets.

3) Halo 3 (Xbox 360) – the game of the year to beat got beat, but not by much, and certainly by no fault of its own. A rewarding single-player mission and deep multiplayer options add up to a title that will still be racking up considerable play time years from now.

4) Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) – I haven’t played it, but definitely will in 2008

5) The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) – Link made his long-overdue DS debut and upheld the mastery of the series, incorporating great uses for the stylus and providing a lengthy quest.


Mariah Carey: The Adventures of Mimi Tour DVD

After nearly vanishing into obscurity after a series of misadventures a few years ago, Mariah Carey returned to prominence with the surprising success of her latest album and tour, The Adventures of Mimi. More than just a concert video, the new tour DVD showcases an artist at the height of her powers and chronicles the amazing rapport she builds with her audience. Filmed in front of a capacity arena crowd in Anaheim, CA, the DVD captures Carey’s greatest hits, both old and new, and features a few familiar old friends as well.

Unlike most modern-day pop stars, Carey has always been more focused on her vocal performance than her choreography. She’s a songbird by nature, not a dancer, so it’s no surprise to find her returning to her traditional stage presence of basically just strolling back and forth with nary a thought of incorporating the latest dance moves. She has a crew of backup dancers at times to add some physical sizzle, but she always keeps the focus fully on her vocals, not stage antics.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to look at, in fact her outfits in this production are likely the most revealing gear she’s ever sported in concert. Starting with a black bra top and briefs barely covered by a see-through floor-length flowing negligee of some sort, she’s game to show off her body throughout the production to the delight of her screaming fans. All the skin seems a bit incongruous during a couple of somber ballads, but I’m not complaining.

Dipping way back into her catalog to her cover of the Jackson Five’s “I’ll Be There”, Carey brings original partner Trey Lorenz back to center stage to assist. He’s stayed on the Carey payroll as her touring backup singer throughout the years, so his duet is no surprise, but it’s still gratifying to see the original pairing together again. The other notable trip down memory lane finds Boyz II Men joining Carey for their old smash, “One Sweet Day”. Aside from those two exceptions, the rest of the concert is all Mariah, and she never fails to impress with her strong vocals.

The set list is a strong mix of old and new, focusing on the modern, dancefloor-leaning sounds of her latest CD but leaving plenty of room for her earlier ballads. The new material gets an enthusiastic reception from the crowd, but nothing like the religious fervor they display when she belts out old chestnuts like “Hero”. The crowd reaction drives home just how much her music has touched her audiences through the years, making her return to greatness all the more heartwarming. She’s fully aware of her relationship with the crowd and does an admirable job of reaching out to them, taking time for brief stage banter and insight into her songs to add a personalized touch rather than staying on a strictly regimented schedule. This in turn makes the concert feel truly live rather than just another interchangeable stop on a pre-programmed tour.

The concert was filmed in HD and recorded in digital surround sound, although it’s currently available only in regular DVD format. The full concert appears on disc one, along with a brief behind the scenes feature. Disc two features an expanded tour documentary, as well as a karaoke feature for a few of the songs and a worthless mini-movie directed by Spike Lee called “Lovers & Haters” where haters openly disparage Mariah while she rises above it. Skip the extras and just enjoy the nearly 90-minute concert in all of its glory.

The Adventures of Mimi is currently available exclusively at Best Buy stores and their website,

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Friday, December 14, 2007


Evo Morales brings new meaning to the term “grass roots campaign”. As a humble Aymara Indian mounting an unlikely campaign to become the first indigenous president of Bolivia, Morales travels throughout remote communities in the Andes and Amazon in his unassuming regular guy apparel: jeans and sneakers. His campaign is followed by a documentary filmmaker who gives us an all-access pass to the action, even following Morales as he gets his hair cut in a decidedly unglamorous barbershop.

The term cocalero refers to Indian coca leaf growers, the Bolivian farmers who make their living off the coca-leaf harvest. As a man of the people, Morales is dedicated to defending the rights of the cocaleros, which brings him into direct opposition to US imperialism attempting to eradicate the crop and stop the flow of cocaine. He’s also tasked with defeating the incumbent party, opponents kept in the periphery of the film but alluded to as wealthy, corrupt, pro-US, anti-cocalero professional politicians. This gives his campaign underdog appeal that makes the election results all the more satisfying.

The film dives right into the campaign trail without much explanation of the background of Morales, Bolivia’s political climate or the role of the cocaleros in it. Viewers are left to decipher the situation and draw their own conclusions, a legitimate approach but one that somewhat limits a full understanding of the big picture. We’re granted access to the thoughts of Morales and his political consultant, but view everything through their eyes without much counter opinion or media perspective. However, the film fully follows through on its title by serving an intimate portrait of the plight of the cocaleros and their candidate, forced by their economic situation to defend a crop with potential illegal use.

As a political figure, Morales is not portrayed as particularly charismatic or knowledgeable, but he speaks with conviction from his heart and gives the Indian voters hope for change. His refusal to bow to political fashion convention further demonstrates his conviction to keep it real, adding to the groundswell of popular sentiment that sweeps him into office. There’s no follow up to show his initial effectiveness as President after the election, but the film is an essential document of his successful underdog campaign and a fascinating look into the hidden world of the cocalero.

Cocalero is now available on DVD from First Run Features, available for purchase here.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dirt: The Complete First Season

Courteney Cox appears to be the first Friends alum to strike gold in TV land again. As the driven, ruthless tabloid editor Lucy Spiller, Cox has a juicy role that allows her to stretch her dramatic chops, a refreshing change of pace from her fluffy sitcom days. Dirt also has a backup scene stealer with its functional schizophrenic paparazzi, Don Konkey (Ian Hart). These two instantly memorable characters contribute to an original, highly entertaining show that exposes the world of celebrities as well as the people who report on them.

As Spiller, Cox initially helms two celebrity magazines: one a respectable celebrity magazine similar to People, and the other a sleazy celebrity tabloid dedicated to digging up the juiciest smut about the stars. After a downsizing mandate forces her to merge the titles into one magazine, she sets out to revolutionize celebrity journalism by putting the sleaze and the class in one title. Her go-to guy for dirt is the deranged Konkey, a barely functional individual who always manages to get the best scoop no matter what it takes, including cutting off his own finger to get into a locked-down hospital housing a celebrity guest.

The relationship between the cold, calculating Spiller and bent, highly unstable Konkey lends the show some mystery in its opening stages due to the unlikely nature of their pairing. It’s baffling how someone as controlling as Spiller could befriend the completely out of control Konkey, but the revelation that they share a common past begins to explain their reliance on each other.

When the show isn’t focusing on Spiller and Konkey, it follows fictional celebrities who have been affected by their actions. Spiller isn’t above blackmail, but can also wield her power to help stars by featuring complimentary articles in her magazine in addition to insightful career advice. This allows her to play celebrities against each other with all benefit flowing back to her and the magazine.

While shows about Hollywood aren’t always interesting to people outside the industry, Dirt keeps stories fresh with its shift of focus between messed-up celebrities and the equally damaged people who follow them. The show sticks to a dramatic style at all times rather than going over the top with its juicy subject matter like Ugly Betty. It’s a decidedly risqué series, especially for something that airs on non-premium cable, but viewers used to HBO and Showtime series will be right at home with its sexually charged plotlines. There are also quirky effects thrown in to visualize Konkey’s mental disorder, portraying his world as something akin to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. There’s plenty here to hold viewer interest and keep them coming back for more, making it no surprise that Season 2 is on the way.

The Season 1 DVD box set includes bonus features highlighted by Courteney Cox and David Arquette discussing the creation of the show, a profile of the show’s resident schizophrenic photographer, a discussion by real tabloid editors and assorted media experts and actors about the cult of celebrity and the legitimacy of the show’s take on it, as well as the requisite deleted scenes and outtakes.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Doctor Who: The Complete Third Series

In Season 3, the new Doctor Who series has emerged as perhaps the strongest and best sci-fi series currently in production. Just to get the inevitable comparison of each season out of the way: while Season 1 suffered slightly from finding its footing and Season 2 stumbled initially with a new Doctor (David Tennant) finding his way, Season 3 hits the ground running with a fully optimized production team and Doctor, leaving only the addition of new companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) as the big question mark.

Sadly, as the replacement for popular companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), the Martha Jones character is saddled with an unrequited love story that never fully endears her to the audience. While the chemistry between Tennant and Piper was palpable and their story lines showed that their characters were in love with each other, the stated purpose of Agyeman’s arc was to show her character’s unrequited affection for the Doctor, leaving her pining for him throughout the series like a lovesick schoolgirl while he barely registers her interest, instead reminiscing about the departed Rose Tyler. Sure, she’s shown to have smarts and determination thanks to her medical school training, but when the single most memorable thing about the character is her infatuation there’s not much reason for audiences to care when she appears to check out at the end of the series.

As for the stories, the show continues its satisfying trend of overarching plot threads that come into play in seemingly standalone episodes, most significantly the dying Face of Boe advising the Doctor early in the season that “you are not alone”. This leads up to the dazzling 3-part season finale arc that reveals a second Time Lord played by John Simm (Life on Mars) in a surprisingly and gleefully evil turn. The arc also brings Torchwood star John Barrowman back into the mix, reprising his role as the dashing Captain Jack Harkness. By the time the arc reaches its transcendent coda, you’ll likely be viewing this Doctor just like the rest of the world in the series: as an absolutely godlike figure.

The DVD box set is a lavish production certain to satisfy even the most demanding fans. In addition to audio commentary on every episode, the 6th disc is a compilation of behind the scenes footage from each episode called Doctor Who Confidential, basically similar to an HBO First Look for every show. This allows viewers to take a look at the secrets behind the special effects and makeup, the logistics of producing each episode, and outtakes unavailable elsewhere. Elsewhere in the set, there are also other deleted scenes and outtakes, Agyeman’s tour of the studio, and a feature on the music and monsters. Also, disc 1 includes an entertaining live Doctor Who celebration performance filmed in front of a studio audience, hosted by Tennant and featuring many of the creatures and live music from the show. But the most entertaining and enlightening bonus is Tennant’s own video diaries, giving viewers a true taste of life from the eyes of the current Doctor and revealing his thoughts about each episode. It’s gratifying that Tennant embraced his role to this extent and was so willing to give back to the fans, further enhancing his status as one of the best Doctors ever.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Arctic Tale

If you just didn’t get enough icy nature viewing with March of the Penguins, this year’s model called Arctic Tale has arrived on DVD. Instead of focusing on penguins in the Antarctic, the film travels to the other pole to track the lives of a polar bear cub and a young walrus among others.

Arctic Tale takes the form of a narrative documentary, with the actions on screen cobbled together into rudimentary stories that attempt to convey the circle of life in the Arctic Circle. While many Arctic animals are included, the stars are a young polar bear named Nanu and a walrus pup named Seela. The action is split into three timeframes in their lives: shortly after birth, around two years old, and around eight years old. That large time gap calls into question whether the animals on screen were really the same, but regardless, the point of the film is clearly conveyed. And oh yes, does it have a point.

Instead of just providing a carefree romp through the polar wilderness, the film takes pains to shoehorn in a blaring global warming message, constantly talking about the shrinking ice fields and resulting harm to the feeding and migratory habits of the animals. Its final frame is a pointed message about how the ice fields are currently on track to erode completely by 2040 if we don’t do anything, fading out until only the “IF” is left on screen.

As for viewing guidelines, the film does touch on the full circle of life, so there are a couple of deaths presented on screen. They’re handled tastefully and are fairly brief, but parents should be aware for their youngest viewers. Also, the pace is relatively slow, especially in the early stages, so kids with short attention spans will be best served with a pass on this one.

The photography in this National Geographic Society production is suitably scenic, although there’s nothing to really set it apart from the crowd. Viewers wowed by the technical mastery of the Planet Earth series will be somewhat disappointed with the relatively flat and listless presentation here.

The film is narrated by Queen Latifah, a serviceable but completely unremarkable performance. In her defense, her script isn’t anything special and she’s saddled with conveying the constant global warming message that detracts from enjoying the nature photography. Frankly, viewers might be better off just eliminating the soundtrack completely to allow unadulterated nature appreciation.

Arctic Tale is now available on DVD and HD DVD.

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