OVERHEARD LAST NIGHT IN APARTMENT 202

OVERHEARD LAST NIGHT IN APARTMENT 202

- “Did you see Chrisafer’s post today?”

- “Yeah, oh my God! It’s about your two favorite things!”

- “Me and Ted Leo?”

- “Exactly.”


- “Danny told me the big plot twist in Hide & Seek.”

- “How does Danny know?”

- “I don’t know.”

- “What a jerk.”

- “Seriously.”

- “Was it stupid?”

- “So unbelievably stupid.”

- “Well, what is it?”

- “Charlie is _______________.”

- “That’s so stupid.”

- “Isn’t it?”

- “It doesn’t even make sense!”

- “Not at all. How do movies get made with such stupid plot twists?”

- “I kind of want to see it now.”

- “Me, too.”


“Nobody’s been fucked in that room for a long time!”

- Drew very bluntly explaining, after hearing serious headboard-and-dirty-talk noise coming through the bedroom wall at 11:30 at night, why the new neighbors seem so much happier than the old neighbors.


While watching the Apprentice, Drew and I both noticed a strange moving truck in the background whose logo had been mostly covered over but was still very recognizable. Unlike certain companies which clearly have lucrative endorsement deals with the show, any organization whose products appear on screen but who fails to pony up some major dough has its trademark rather sloppily obscured by the production so as to send the message, “Hey, we’re not giving away free publicity here.” (If I just had one of those video capture things for my computer, this would be so much easier.)

So, on a very childish dare from me, Drew called 411, and here’s his half of the conversation…

“Hi, in Seaside Heights, New Jersey please…”

“Yes, the number for a moving truck company. It’s called ‘Ul’.”

“Nothing? Well, maybe it’s ‘U-L’. Can you check that, too?”

“No, it has to be in there. I just saw it on ‘The Apprentice’.”

“Yeah, they were renovating these motel rooms in Seaside Heights, and you could see a moving truck in the background. It’s white with an orange stripe and it says ‘Ul’ on it. They rent for $39.95. Please, can you help me? I really want to use the trucks they used on ‘The Apprentice’.”

“Nothing? Well, thank you.”

Click.

Explosive laughter follows, fading into the night…

FLATTER ME TWICE…

FLATTER ME TWICE…

Thanks to him and him, here goes…

1. What is the total amount of music files on your computer?

24.65GB according to my iTunes (6,543 songs)

2. The CD you last bought is:

Who Killed the Zutons? by the Zutons and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: LA’s Desert Origins by Pavement (at the same time)

3. What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?

If I’m being honest… “Because of You” by Kelly Clarkson. Hey, I didn’t say I liked it.

Okay, I liked it.

4. Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you:

As long as we’re not calling this a “5 Favorite Songs” or anything… just 5 songs I feel like giving a shout-out to right now:

“Old to Begin” by Pavement – because it was the first song I thought of for this, and that must mean something

“Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus – because I always forget what a great song it is… and because the end ALWAYS gets to me

“Holiday” by the Other Ones – no not the non-dead guys from the Grateful Dead, the other Other Ones, because it’s just a perfect little forgotten 80′s song

“I Predict a Riot” by Kaiser Chiefs – because he wanted to know what’s going to be cool next month, and that’s my best guess

“Maybe It Won’t Last” by the Woodentops, because I’ll bet he hasn’t heard of it, and I think he’d like it

5. Who are you going to pass this stick to? (3 persons) and why?

Joe, because he has great taste and knows lots of stuff I don’t

Drew, because I know he’ll surprise me

Will, because he works at Amoeba, and it doesn’t get cooler than that

MY TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2004

MY TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2004

In relative terms, I may not buy a ton of albums or read a ton of books, but one thing I do do is see a ton of movies. 49 last year. It took me a long time to count that many and a longer time to decide which ones I liked the best. Here are the ones that were better than the 39 worst of them:

10. Shrek 2. It’s unfortunate that this was the #1 movie of the year at the box office yet it still got overshadowed by The Incredibles on most critics’ lists. The Incredibles is also a great movie, but all its gimmicky characters and noisy set pieces made me think it was just as interested in selling toys as in entertaining its audience. Maybe because every kid in America already owns a Princess Fiona doll, Shrek concentrated more its story and filling itself with tons of funny jokes. It proved once again that the best comedy writing going on today is happening in animated feature films. And that nobody does cartoon animal voices better than Eddie Murphy.

9. Million Dollar Baby. (Mild Spoiler Warning) This isn’t going to sound like praise at first, but I promise, it is. What sucks about the first two-thirds of this movie is that Clint Eastwood’s narrative style is so sparse that it’s hard to care about his characters. One of the reasons Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman and Clint himself are getting so much well-deserved attention for their acting is that their characters here are so thinly-drawn that they had to do a lot of work to make them seem three-dimensional. I can’t think of the last halfway-decent movie I’ve seen that paid so little attention to its main characters’ backstory. (Why did Hilary Swank get such a late start at boxing? There’s barely even a hint.) It’s clearly an intentional artistic choice, but it’s an offputting one. Even worse, some major story elements, like how Hilary Swank goes from such an underdog (she’s over the hill and has no real training) to such a powerhouse (undefeated against girls much bigger and more experienced than she is) in just one year’s time, are also omitted. And isn’t that sort of central to what this movie’s about? Well, no, as it turns out. And that’s why it works. What saves the movie and makes those flaws matter less is the late-in-the-film revelation that there’s a bigger, deeper story here that it seemed at first. And from that moment on, it almost doesn’t matter who these people are or what came before. Suddenly, we feel like we know them, and the drama that plays out in the third act is heartbreaking and all the more emotional for being so unexpected.

8. Kinsey. The movie’s a 10. I’m a 6.

7. Maria Full of Grace. Maria was full of a lot more than grace in this movie, but I guess “Maria Full of Cocaine Wrapped in Shoddily Fastened Latex Pouches” just isn’t as catchy. I avoided this for a long time, because I’m so sick of drug movies, which seem to exist solely so that some punk-ass showoff director can slap together some effed-up tripping effects, showcase his favorite techno music and ultimately say nothing more than, “Drugs are bad”. Been there, done that, got the message loud and clear. Snore, snore. Well, here’s something that’ll really scare you kids straight: when you do cocaine, you’re snorting something that came out of a woman’s ass! Can you still enjoy your buzz now, you doody-sniffing exploiter of the poor? As for poor Maria, besides grace and cocaine, she was full of bad decisions, and her movie was full of suspense, drama and, thankfully, a message about the drug trade that you don’t hear every day.

6. 13 Going on 30. Quite possibly the dumbest movie I’ve ever loved. Come on, magic wishing dust?! The spontaneous “Thriller” dance that saved the big party?! And that yearbook-themed presentation that won everyone at “Poise” magazine over?! Absolutely idiotic, right? Right. And I ate up every second of it. I’ll give 99% of the credit for that to Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo, who are adorable and charming and who, if they’re not going to fall in love in real life, should at least fall in love in one movie a year. The other 1% of the credit goes to the fact that it was sweet and innocent and full of 80s music and that, honestly, sometimes dumb is simply more fun.

5. I’m Not Scared. It’s hard to describe this movie. It’s like a thriller treated as a subtle character piece. Or a coming-of-age drama with some scary bits. All I can say is it so perfectly captures that moment in a kid’s life when he’s learning that the world isn’t always good and his parents can’t always be counted on to protect him that it should immediately become the textbook example of the loss-of-innocence movie in film schools across the country. In other words, it’s a foreign film. Plus, it has cute kids talking in a foreign language, which is probably my favorite thing in the world.

4. Fahrenheit 9/11. Just about the only place Democrats won anything this year was at the box office. It’s hard for me even to judge this on a filmmaking level, because for me and millions like me, there was a great comfort in seeing this in a theater full of people who were equally as horrified, amused and outraged as I was, and in all the right places. We were tired of seeing the media treat Bush with kid gloves, so there was nothing better than seeing Michael Moore go at him bareknuckled. Unfortunately, it didn’t end up being the knockout blow we were hoping for. Instead, it was a movie that lost on a decision a few months after its release. Well, we may not have the White House, but we do have wit, ingenuity and justice on our side. Okay, so I’d trade that in a second for the White House, but until we have it, I’m just going to lock myself in a room and watch this movie over and over again and pretend that the whole country is on my side.

3. Sideways. Ho-hum. I know. It’s on everybody’s best-of-the-year list. Well, it’s only my #3, which, in relative terms, is a pretty harsh smackdown. Take that, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor and Paul Giamatti, you geniuses you! Honestly, though, I know it’s not perfect. The first two-thirds of the movie are pretty slow. And there’s a scene in the middle where Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen are discussing wines that strains its extremely obvious metaphor waaaaaaaay too far. But it’s a movie that never compromises its characters for the sake of a joke, never cheats its plot developments and always respects the audience’s intelligence. The third act is so full of brilliance – hilarious comic set pieces, heartbreaking character moments, and well-earned emotion – that it validates everything that came before it. It also joins my short list of movies whose final shot is absolutely 100% perfect. (See also “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”. )

2. Spider-Man 2. Why wasn’t this abysmal? It was a comic book movie — a sequel no less. And it was rushed into theaters just two years after the first installment. I’ve spent so many years developing my cynicism reflex, just to have it obliterated by two hours of film about a guy who shoots webs from his wrists. I really think what’s ruined blockbusters of recent years is a lack of attention to characters (see Independence Day – or better yet, don’t see it; it stinks). But this movie was all about character. Sure, it still had loud action set pieces, but you know what? When we cared about the characters, those set pieces actually worked. Spider-Man, you are my hero!

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I’m not sure there’s ever been a better pairing of screenwriter and director than Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry. Granted, they also teamed on “Human Nature”, but this film should effectively wipe that misfire from everyone’s memory. Seeing this movie is like the exact opposite of getting the memory-erasing surgery depicted in the film. You’re watching scenes so incredible, so original and so deeply emotional that you can feel them getting permanently etched into your brain as the movie plays out. There’s a bit of unnecessary silliness thrown in, too, but I’m not going to complain too much about the sight of Mark Ruffalo dancing around in his underwear. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are terrific, and it’s great to see special effects put to such good use. It’s an obvious joke, but there’s really no better way to describe this or no greater compliment I can pay than to say it’s a movie I’ll never, ever forget.

Runners-up:

Friday Night Lights. Yes, a sports movie! Really!

Open Water. The scariest shark movie ever! Oh, wait. Nevermind. I forgot one.

The Incredibles. Forget what I said before. I want those toys!

Finding Neverland. Cute kids, but I couldn’t get past the feeling that between the Peter Pan theme and Johnny Depp defending the purity of man-boy bonding, this is sure to be Michael Jackson’s favorite movie ever.

A Very Long Engagement. Like Amelie, only less so.

Everything else I saw:

Latter Days. 50 First Dates. Goodbye, Lenin! Dawn of the Dead. The Ladykillers. Kill Bill: Volume 2. Mean Girls. Super Size Me. The Day After Tomorrow. Saved! Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Napoleon Dynamite. The Stepford Wives. The Terminal. Anchorman. The Bourne Supremacy. Garden State. The Village. The Manchurian Candidate. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Collateral. We Don’t Live Here Anymore. Mean Creek. A Dirty Shame. Shaun of the Dead. I Heart Huckabees. Team America: World Police. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Closer. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Spanglish. Sleepover. Meet the Fockers.

MY FAVORITE SONGS OF 2004

Not that I know what constitutes a single anymore, but for what it’s worth, here goes…

20. Sondre Lerche. Two Way Monologue. Cute song, cuter video.

19. Scissor Sisters. Take Your Mama. Much like “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies, I found this song so catchy and so kitschy that as soon as I fell in love with it, I knew I was doomed to someday hate it. I still don’t hate it, and thankfully, their album shows that they’re more than just a novelty band. But if I ever hear that damn Barenaked Ladies song again…

18. Jamie Cullum. All At Sea.

17. Razorlight. Golden Touch. It sounds like it was probably influenced by some legendary band I don’t know very well, but whom I’d like very much if I ever listened to them.

16. The Streets. Fit But You Know It. Not the best song on the album, but maybe the one that works best outside the context of the album. It also features the second-best opening line of the year: “I reckon you’re about an eight or a nine. Maybe even a nine and a half in four beers time.” Offensive and brilliant.

15. The Killers. Somebody Told Me.

14. The Shins. Kissing the Lipless. I also like the song they did for the SpongeBob soundtrack.

13. Piebald. Haven’t Tried It. I still don’t know who this guy is, but I doubt he writes many songs this catchy. It has the feel of him telling the record company, “You want a single? Fine, I’ll give you a fucking single!” He should write more singles.

12. Modest Mouse. Float On.

11. Alicia Keys. If I Ain’t Got You. The token R&B song on this list. I don’t hear a lot of R&B these days, and that’s too bad. If there’s more like this out there, I’m missing out.

10. Phoenix. Everything Is Everything. Just catchy, no other reason.

9. Franz Ferdinand. Take Me Out. The intro is the best part.

8. Britney Spears. Toxic. Just when I’d had enough, she goes and makes me pay attention again.

7. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Me and Mia.

6. Tears For Fears. Closest Thing to Heaven.

5. Dogs Die in Hot Cars. I Love You ‘Cause I Have To. I love a band whose name doubles as a public service announcement. The song has a great XTC-meets-Madness sound and is just plain fun.

4. Keane. This is the Last Time. This is the one song on the list that I’m pretty sure wasn’t a single this year. But it was the current single in the U.K. when Drew and I went to London in November, so I made an exception. It sort of became the unofficial soundtrack of that trip, and every time I hear it now, it reminds me of waiting in line for theatre tickets or browsing bookstores for stuff that wasn’t available in America.

3. The Darkness. I Believe in a Thing Called Love. This is such a perfect parody of an 80s hair band single, with such a ridiculously goofy video, that it’s hard to believe the band itself isn’t in on the joke. Whether or not they are, though, it’s still a great joke.

2. Keane. Somewhere Only We Know.

1. Snow Patrol. Spitting Games. I’ve decided that there’s no better way to start a pop song about tortured adolescent romantic longing than with the line “I broke into your house last night”. I liked Snow Patrol’s album a lot, but it was a little too uneven to make my top 10. For moments, though, it was brilliant. And this particular moment was my favorite moment of the whole year in music.

MY TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2004

MY TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2004

In the first of my belated end-of-the-year lists, here are my top ten albums of 2004. Since I’m not a music critic, a list like this is kind of silly, because, of the approximately ten bajillion albums released last year, I probably only bought about thirty or forty of them. So this isn’t anything approaching a true Ten Best Albums of 2004, as I’m sure there’s plenty of great stuff I’ve never heard, or even heard of.

Instead, most of the albums here are on other people’s top ten lists, and most of them have been featured in my sidebar, so there aren’t any real surprises or discoveries in this list. But for what it’s worth, here are ten albums I bought last year and listened to a lot, and which I highly recommend, ranked in order, just for fun:

10. Jamie Cullum. Twentysomething. If you’re as sick of Norah Jones as I am, check out Jamie Cullum. He’s fighting his own crusade to resurrect jazz for a new generation, but his is a lot more fun. He gets away with remaking Radiohead’s “High and Dry”, and the original songs are just as good as the covers.

9. The Streets. A Grand Don’t Come For Free. I still refuse to believe that that adorable little 12-year-old boy named Mike Skinner is the one writing and recording all these naughty, expletive-laden rhymes about drinking, “sharking” and bad drug trips. Someday there will be another Milli Vanilli scandal involving The Streets’ supposed frontman, and we’ll find out the only song he actually wrote is the sweet, melodic weepie “Dry Your Eyes”, which is so full of innocent schoolboy heartbreak it could only have been penned by the wholesome-looking kid in the videos. Such a nice boy!

8. Beautiful South. Golddiggas, Headnodders & Pholk Songs. Just when I’d given up on them, the band I once considered my favorite band puts out their best album in ages. Sure, it’s all cover songs, but that doesn’t mean they phoned it in. Every song is a cleverly arranged, totally unexpected, totally Beautiful South take on the original. Tons of fun.

7. Jon Brion. I <3 Huckabees Soundtrack. The movie itself was a train wreck, which is probably what’s keeping this beautiful score from getting the recognition it deserves. I’ve never been a big fan of score albums, but the music here is so rich and evocative, it’s easy to close your eyes when you’re listening to it and imagine a million better movies in your head.

6. Tears For Fears. Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. I don’t care what anyone says. In music, you can go home again. The Go-Go’s reunion album a couple years back was the most solid album of their career, and in 2004, fifteen years after a nasty breakup, Tears For Fears put out an album that stands proudly alongside their best work, too. Thompson Twins, are you paying attention?

5. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Shake the Sheets. I wish more people listened to Ted, as he’s doing his small part to reclaim rock music from all the Limp Bizkits and Korns and the poseurs in the Ramones t-shirts. But then again, if he were as popular as he deserved to be, he wouldn’t be playing the small clubs anymore, and the best way to enjoy him is live. Easily the best concert I’ve seen all year.

4. Modest Mouse. Good News for People Who Love Bad News. I’ll admit I’m among the 99% of their fans who only discovered them through this album, and I don’t know any of their old stuff. So it scares me to hear people call this their “pop” album. To me, a lot of it sounds like a crazy homeless man broke into a recording studio. I guess I like it because I’m fascinated by crazy homeless people. But I still can’t figure out why the rest of the world liked it so much.

3. Wilco. A Ghost is Born. It’s inevitable that everything Jeff Tweedy does for the rest of his life will be compared to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, so here goes: A Ghost is Born isn’t as good as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But if they’d taken out that stupid ten minutes of machine noise on “Less Than You Think”, it might have been. Who needs “challenging” music? Most people have enough challenges in life without being challenged by their choice of leisure activities. Thankfully, the rest of the album is full of gorgeous songs like “Hell is Chrome” and “Muzzle of Bees”, songs that contain the good kind of surprises, because deep down, I think Tweedy understands that “enjoyable” is much better than “challenging”.

2. Will Young. Friday’s Child. Listening to this album is like rediscovering an old album made by some teen heartthrob in the 70s and realizing it’s better than you remembered. Sure, some of the songs Will co-wrote are a little dopey, but that only seems fitting. As long as the singing stays this earnest and the production this polished, I’ll swoon for him any day. Since it’s not available in the U.S. and probably never will be, here’s one of my favorite songs on it.

1. Keane. Hopes and Fears. Keane is to Coldplay as Travis is to Radiohead, which is to say not as “important”, but usually more fun. Sure, Coldplay’s success may have paved the way for Keane, but to call them derivative isn’t fair. You don’t write songs as absolutely perfect as “Somewhere Only We Know” and “This is the Last Time” just by copying someone else. It takes true talent. This is a band that has the potential to be around for the next twenty years, and twenty years from now, their fans will still be begging them to play the songs off this album. Every single one of them.

LIFE IMITATES ZIGGY

LIFE IMITATES ZIGGY

One week ago, after being sick for ten days, I finally conceded that I was so sick that I needed to do something I never, ever do: I made a doctor’s appointment. But the doctor was all booked up until tomorrow. I made the appointment, sure that by the time it rolled around, I would no longer need it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been sick with anything for two and a half weeks.

Flash forward to today. I’m still sick and very much looking forward to seeing the doctor. When I get home, there’s a message waiting for me on my answering machine. The doctor needs to reschedule my appointment for another day.

Why? He’s out sick.

WHY I WANTED TO WATCH ALIAS LAST NIGHT

WHY I WANTED TO WATCH ALIAS LAST NIGHT

  1. Peer pressure. Mostly from these peers.
  2. Clever network scheduling placed it after my favorite show and drove home that the two shows were created by the same guy.
  3. I used to work with the guy who played the guy on the train. He’s not really Russian, he’s a word processor! Great acting, Karl!

WHY I DIDN’T WATCH ALIAS LAST NIGHT

  1. I’m still trying to kick whatever horrible infliction has taken hold of my body the last two weeks.
  2. I couldn’t get an appointment with Dr. Sexy, only a phone consult with his assistant, Precious, who faxed my prescription into the Worst Pharmacy in the World, which kept me waiting a full hour as they confirmed information I got on my cell phone in under two minutes.
  3. The real drama was in my apartment building. As Drew and I watched Alias (or, more accurately, as he watched and I dozed off), we were interrupted by loud shouting from our neighbors. They quickly moved the (most likely drug-fueled) action to our building’s courtyard, where they proceeded to beat the shit out of each other while one shouted obscenities and the other screamed “Somebody help me!” while repeatedly throwing himself against our outside window, as if trying to break into our apartment. Our response: Drew dialed 911 while I cringed in the bathroom. After that, Jennifer Garner’s slick, duded-up kickboxing and TV-style suspense just didn’t seem like such escapist fun.

Sorry, I tried. It just wasn’t meant to be.