My 6 Favorite Compilations, Soundtracks & Greatest Hits Records Of 2012

As it turns out, most of the music I bought this year came from Amazon and their awesome $5 album (and under) deals. I’m a sucker for a deal and an even bigger sucker for paying a little for what I consider to be a lot. That’s the case for most of the five records on this particular list which features a soundtrack, the complete recording of a particular artist from one record label and three greatest hits packages. This is a good way to mainline lots of music from a particular artist on the cheap. muppet soundtrackI wrote about how much I enjoyed The Muppets earlier this year. That love translated into the purchase of the soundtrack as well, something that hasn’t happened in years. This one is a great mix of soundbites from the movie, original songs and a few known songs like Starship’s “We Built This City” and Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyeard.” I would have probably bought this record just for the amazing “Life’s A Happy Song,” the fact that the rest is so awesome is gravy. ZZ Top Rancho TexicanI only really know ZZ Top from their singles, a greatest hits collection my dad had and seeing them live also with my dad. I do have one of their early records, but have to admit, it gets a little slow and I tend to lose interest. So, when I saw Rancho Texicano: The Very Best of ZZ Top — which features 38 tracks! — on Amazon for a fin? That was an easy purchase. The great thing about this collection is that it’s not just all the songs you know like “Tush,” “Cheap Sunglasses” and “Gimme All Your Lovin'” but also some deeper cuts that flesh this record out. A great example of what a greatest hits collection can be when not limited to a physical disc. Also, proof that this is one of the greatest damn bands around. aretha franklin 30 greatest hitsSometimes you just need some soul in your life. That’s why I snatched up Aretha Franklin’s 30 Greatest Hits. Also, Lu likes listening to music with some swing and jazz to it, so this was an easy buy. Listening through these tracks was an interesting experience because I didn’t realize that some of these songs were hers. That’s probably a reflection on my ignorance of Franklin’s career, but I enjoy getting educated. willie nelson complete atlantic sessionsOne of the reasons I shied away from greatest hits records in the past is because I like discovering some of the deep cuts on records, the ones you don’t hear on the radio. Now that I’m getting older though, I find myself becoming more “Get to the hits!” It’s not a feeling I like and one I’m trying to work beyond. Anyway, Willie Nelson’s Complete Atlantic Sessions is like the antithesis of those hits records I avoided as it contains all 61 tracks Willie recorded for them. I haven’t gotten all the way through this one yet, but I like what I’ve head enough to warrant the purchase and its spot in this list. beach boys 50 big onesFor years and years I heard how great the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was. When I finally picked it up, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. It’s a great record, don’t get me wrong, but it lacks the fun, surf rock songs I love (for the most part). It just wasn’t what I was expecting. So, when I saw The Beach Boys’ 50 Big Ones: Greatest Hits, it was another no-brainer. The beauty of this collection is that it literally has every Beach Boys song I know of. I’m sure it’s missing the deep cuts I talked about above, but I’m okay with that. The one downside to having so many tracks, though, is that I realized I’m not built to listen to 25 Beach Boys tracks in a short period of time, let alone 50. Those amazing harmonies they do can get a little annoying when listened to in a short period of time. However, I’m still glad I have this record because I can listen to what I want, in small chunks, whenever I want.

pitch perfect soundtrackThe Pitch Perfect soundtrack is exactly why I don’t post these list before the end of the year. I actually wrote the first draft of this post a week or so back, but saved it as a draft. I’m glad I did because my wife and I watched Pitch Perfect for the first (and then second) time recently and I kind of fell in love. As I mentioned in my post about the film, I was something of an a cappella fan in college, so this brought back some memories. It also reminded me of how good that B.O.B/Rivers Cuomo song “Magic” is, which I really appreciate. I’ve had that and a few of the other songs from the film in my head since watching the movie and I actually don’t mind it, so that’s a pretty good sign.

Quick Movie Review: The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

five year engagementI had pretty high hopes for The Five-Year Engagement. I’m a big Jason Segel fan from the Freaks & Geeks days. He co-wrote this film with director Nicholas Stoller, the guys behind one of my favorite recent movies, The Muppets. Plus, you’ve got a cast packed with hilarious people like Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, David Paymer, Dakota Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Brian Posehn, all actors and comedians I like a lot. And yet, I was definitely left wanting after watching The Five-Year Engagement.

The movie follows Segel and Emily Blunt from the time they get engaged through their titular five-year engagement. It’s not that either one of them has particularly cold feet, but that life gets in the way. Blunt’s sister (Brie) has a kid with and gets married to Pratt, then Blunt gets a new job that takes them to Ann Arbor, Michigan (which is only about 45 minutes from my home town of Toledo!). Segel, a chef, kind of loses his mind while Blunt goes on with her life and he’s there spinning his wheels, having left a really great job back in San Francisco. Then things get pretty bad and I won’t get into the ending right now.

I have two problems with the movie. First off, it’s 124 minutes long which is too damn long for a comedy. I’m fully in the “90-100 minute” camp when it comes to movies that are supposed to make me laugh. My other problem is that it’s really, really, really hard to make the dissolution of a relationship entertaining and funny. It’s the kind of plot that usually works better in indie dramas or romantic comedies and it could have worked better here if about 20 minutes of the film had been cut. I love Dakota Johnson in Ben & Kate, but her character here is so obviously terrible that she could have been almost completely excised without losing anything of substance.

Stoller and Segel did a somewhat similar kind of movie with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but the key difference here is that Segel didn’t stay with the girl who did bad stuff to him. You’ve got to see all the warts of this relationship (and there are some huge, seeping ones) and you’re still supposed to be charmed by and like these people. It’s like knowing too much about your best couple friends, it’s hard to look at them the same way.

However, SPOILERS, the damn movie won me back with that charming ending. I mean, I wasn’t surprised that they got hitched, but the way they went about it was pretty fantastic. It doesn’t necessarily win me back, but it was well done. Really, I’d like to see a non-director’s cut of this movie, with big chunks chopped out and re-presented for my viewing pleasure. However, if that does happen, the editor needs to leave that part where Brie and Blunt have a relationship conversation while doing Elmo and Cookie Monster voices. That was fantastic.

Quick Movie Review: The Muppets (2011)

Back when I gave The Muppets Take Manhattan another watch (can’t believe that was TWO YEARS AGO!) I noted that most of my Muppet memories came from watching the Muppet Babies cartoons. I’ve realized since then that The Muppet Show was actually on before I was born, which is why I probably don’t remember it. I also don’t have memories of it being in any of the rerun blocks I fancied. So, when it came back in the late 90s as Muppets Tonight, I think I liked it, but didn’t have that nostalgic love (or maybe had something else to watch at that time, I remember seeing a few episodes, but not a lot, certainly not two seasons’ worth).

All of that is to say that I’m not a die-hard Muppets fan, though I believe I am now after watching the wonderful film released last year written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. The plot follows Segel whose brother Walter is a Muppet, though no one seems to notice. Segel takes his girlfriend Amy Adams on a trip to LA with Walter tagging along. While there, they take a tour of the old Muppets studio where Walter overhears Chris Cooper’s plan to buy the studio and destroy it to drill oil. He, Segel and Adams then start a campaign to get the gang back together so they can save the building making it essentially Blues Brothers with Muppets.

The Blues Brothers comparison is actually really apt now that I think about it because, while there are cartoony/unrealistic elements, there is also a real heart at the center of the proceedings. Neither group comes together again for their own benefit, but to help others (save an orphanage, remind people that comedy doesn’t need to be cynical). For a while, I found myself reacting negatively to silly humor, but since I’ve become a dad, I’ve realized that the most basic laughs come from the silly. Funny noises and voices? That’ll make a baby laugh. That’s pure. It doesn’t work for everything, but that branch of humor, when done without cynicism but with adult influences can be a wonderful thing to experience.

And that was the key to my enjoyment of the film. Sure, I was confused as to who some of the Muppets were (pretty much all of the non-Babies cast members), but I was never confused about the themes: family is important, love is important, friends are important and laughter is really important. Those are good things to remember.

Also, 80s Robot is my new favorite thing and needs his own movie. That is all.

Season Premiere: How I Met Your Mother Season 6 “Big Days”

Good fiction is like a house. Complex characters make up the foundation of the house and then the story is built on top of them. Good storytellers really engineer this and crappy ones kind of pile things up making shakey houses that might seem okay, but don’t hold up. If the characters aren’t solid the house falls down. Luckily CBS’s How I Met Your Mother has an incredibly solid foundation with it’s leads Lily (Alyson Hannigan), Marshall (Jason Segel), Ted (Josh Randor), Robin (Colbie Smulders) and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris). What worries me is that series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas are spending TOO much time solidifying the foundation and working on the walls, but don’t have a plan for the roof.

Okay, I should explain myself. The conceit behind HIMYM is that Ted in the future (voiced by Bob Saget) is explaining to his son and daughter how he met their mother. It’s been going on for six seasons starting tonight. I love the show because the characters are fantastic and the show has a lot of heart without being too corny. They also use a lot of storytelling methods that really borrow well from previous works in film and television. We’ve seen Ted move his way through plenty of relationships with many of hints as to the identity of his future wife. In Season 3 we were told that Ted’s future wife would have a yellow umbrella. In 4 Ted got the umbrella. That same season we also found out that Ted’s one-time girlfriend Cindy lived with the woman who would be his wife.

So, tonight’s season premiere started with quite the tease (SPOILERS AHEAD): some time in the future we see Ted in a tux at a wedding and Marshall bringing him a beer. It appears to be his wedding. Then, the episode jumps to the present. Most of the episode takes place in MacLaren’s (the bar our characters frequent). Lily and Marshall were planning on trying to conceive that night, but Marshall’s dad sent a crib and Lily got angry that Marshall was talking to him about their baby plans. Out of nowhere, we find out that Marshall’s really close to his dad (I don’t believe this was an aspect of the character before today, more foundation building). There’s lots of fun here with Marshall doing a little Cyrus-from-The-Warriors impression and bits with Marshall warning everyone from touching him because he’s been saving up for the night. There’s also a really sweet moment at the end where Marshall tells Lily she could never disappoint him.

The thrust of the episode involves Ted scoping a hottie at the bar out for a while. Barney comes in and calls dibs. Then, it turns out that the girl knows Ted’s ex Cindy. Is this the wife?! Nope, it’s not. Turns out, Ted never saw the roommate (just her ankles and she was wearing boots at the bar, so no chance of IDing her) and his breakup with Cindy made her reevaluate her life. She tells Ted this and it all felt very obvious that she was now a lesbian, presumably with the girl at the bar, but they wait another commercial break to tell us this. Meanwhile, Robin’s still bummed that her boyfriend Don left and has turned into what looks and apparently smells like a homeless person. Barney gives her some trouble, saying she’s lost her hotness. Robin disappears and comes back all sundressed-up. Methinks Barney did all this on purpose and might be smitten with Robin again (the two dated for a while, but broke up).

But then, we get the big surprise at the end (I think they telegraphed the lesbian thing, so you’d guess that and then not expect yet another surprise). Future Ted explains to his kids that he didn’t meet their mother that night, he met her at a wedding. They then cut to the wedding from the beginning of the episode and it turns out that Ted’s the best man at the wedding, not the groom. So, unless Bays and Thomas want to bring up another character who would randomly have Marshall and Ted as groomsmen (they were wearing matching tuxes) and Lily as a bridesmaid (ugly purple dress with a bouquet of flowers), it’s got to be Barney, right? Let’s hope so. The missus and I are hoping he’s marrying Robin who was conspicuously missing from the flashforward (it’s weird how Lost-like the show is starting to feel in my head).

Back to my initial metaphor, we got a lot more foundation with some more structure building. There’s enough to support that damn roof, so it’s got to be time soon to put it on right? Contrary to the title of the show, I don’t think it needs to end once Ted meets the wife. Part of the mystery might be gone, but then we get to see what happens between Young Ted and his new bride, plus all those other characters who can support their own roof. Hell, you can always put an addition on right? On the other hand, I’m a big fan of the British Office model of finishing a show when it makes sense. Much as I would miss How I Met Your Mother if it were to end, I’d be more upset if it ended poorly and I felt like I wasted all these seasons watching (something that some Lost fans felt, though not me). Here’s hoping the sixth season actually introduces the friggin’ wife!

Who Said Cheaters Never Prosper?

It’s weird how similar two movies can be. Within a short period of time (let’s say a week), I watched two movies about kids cheating their way through school only to get caught or quit at the very end of the movie: Cheats and Slackers, both of which came out in 2002. But the similarities don’t end there. Both feature an actor who was on the amazing Freaks and Geeks (Martin Starr in Cheats, Jason Segel in Slackers). Both also feature a former child star (Matthew Lawrence and Michael C. Maronna who you might know better as the elder Pete from The Adventures of Pete and Pete). There are probably several other similarities between the two movies, but I honestly don’t remember enough about Cheats to comment on them. I just got a kick out of the Freaks & Geeks connection.

So, you should be able to guess that I didn’t like Cheats a lot. I had seen Slackers before and was comparing the two movies in my head the entire time with Slackers coming up in almost every way (and I didn’t even realize Segel was in it). In this one, the boys are in high school and have a principal (played by Mary Tyler Moore) to compete with. She’s threatening to put a mark on their permanent records if they cheat again. This breaks the gang of cheaters up until they come back together for one last big cheat at the end of the movie. The cast is alright and there are some genuinely weird moments where the guys con a teacher’s kid into giving them her grade book in exchange for a hand job from a girl the kid liked at summer camp. Now that I think about it, that’s kinda creepy, isn’t it? The characters are a bit too over the top and the whole permanent record things sounds like it was written for a 10 year old who doesn’t know that such a thing doesn’t really exist (they don’t exist, right?). So, overall if you’re going to watch a movie about cheating, watch Slackers.

Because, damn, this is a funny movie. I don’t rank it up there with my big time favorites like Wedding Crashers or Old School, but it holds up as pretty hilarious. And, thanks to the fact that I haven’t watched it since probably around 2002, I didn’t realize how many cool people are in this movie. I remembered Devon Sawa, James King, Jason Schwartzman and Laura Prepon, but, like I mentioned, had no idea Segel was in it Plus, you’ve got a few other interesting people showing up. The main TA in the movie is played Jim Rash who is now the president on Community. He shares an office with Retta who plays Donna on Park and Recreation. Crazy right? There are also fun cameos by Cameron Diaz and Gina Gershon as ladies who can’t resist some of our main characters.

The story behind Slackers is that, these three dudes have cheated their way through college and are ready to graduate, but Sawa gets on Schwartzman’s bad side when he hits on his crush King. Sawa got sloppy on this cheating op and left some evidence behind which Schwartzman found. He blackmails the guys into helping him get King and he won’t tell the administration about their cheating. Of course, Sawa really falls for the girl, everything gets revealed to everyone, people get upset, but, in the end they come back together for one big cheat and everyone’s happy in the end (the poster is basically the last scene in the movie, which is kind of a spoiler).

Even though the basic plot is nearly identical to Cheats, Slackers carries it off with a lot more charm and brings the funny a lot better. Plus, Schwartzman is just hilarious in this thing, he plays his role “Cool” Ethan 100% honest which makes it all the funnier. He’s kind of like watching a young Michael Scott if Scott was even crazier than he is now. Plus, Segel’s as funny as he always is and there are super weird sexual moments that I won’t spoil that had me laughing. And finally, the scams they pull off in this flick are a lot more complicated and interesting. They seemed real too and got me thinking how much bullshit kids have to deal with in school, all these rules they have to follow and how you can easily get around them with a little ingenuity. Now, I’m not saying cheating is the way to go, but I would definitely hire these guys as spies, assuming they don’t cheat their way through those classes.

Judd Apatow DVD Commentaries Are Pretty Fantastic

Back in college, I was a big fan of listening to director’s commentaries. I had only recently been introduced to the world of DVDs with their tons and tons of extra features. The commentaries became a favorite because I could listen to them while working on a paper or while making the drive from home to school on my portable DVD player. After that I kind of fell off the wagon, but a couple weeks ago I hopped back on with a triple feature of commentaries all related to Judd Apatow. Superbad (2007), Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and Knocked Up (2007) were all on the docket and they were all hilarious.

In college, my favorite commentaries were for Kevin Smith movies where he would cram as many people involved in the movie as possible to sit around and offer their two cents. That’s why I like the Superbad one so much. I can’t seem to find a full list online anymore, but I know it included Jonah Hill, director Greg Mottola and Producer Apatow in New York (along with Apatow’s oldest daughter Maude who wasn’t listening in on headphones, but was still in the room which meant Hill couldn’t swear) while the rest were in California. “The rest” included Michael Cera, Seth Rogen, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and co-writer Evan Goldberg. As someone interested in the creation of films, I found this commentary very interesting, though I got a lot of the same information from the podcast Rogen and Goldberg did for Creative Screenwriting Magazine (which you can listen to here or download from iTunes). You of course get all kinds of behind the scenes information, great stories and shout outs to people and things you might have missed. It’s especially fun listening to Hill try and not curse like a sailor. He does slip a few times and gets admonished by Apatow. There’s also a part where Apatow leaves with his daughter and Hill starts yelling at him about being professional. I’m guessing it’s another big gag, but it still left me feeling confused and awkward. Good stuff.

The Forgetting Sarah Marshall commentary was another big group affair with director Nick Stoller, writer and star Jason Segel, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, executive producer Rodney Rothman, producer Shauna Robertosn and Jack McBrayer live from New York. Apatow wasn’t on the commentary, but his company did make the movie, so it still counts. Seeing as how FSM was my favorite comedy of 2008, it’s probably not a big surprise how much I liked the commentary. I like when the people who worked on a movie together seem like they really like each other. Kind of like in the Ocean’s 11 movies. It really seems like those guys have a great time together, which makes the movie even more fun to watch. Like with Superbad, there’s lots of interesting tidbits, with Segel commenting on how specific scenes were taken from his life and how the Dracula musical was something he actually wrote seriously. Sure, a lot of this information can now be read on IMDb, but I’d always rather hear it from the horse’s mouth than just read something on a forum that hundreds of thousands of people can and do contribute to. I guess it’s the reporter in me.

The Knocked Up commentary was a much different animal as it only had three people involved: writer and director Apatow, star Seth Rogen and…Bill Hader? Sure Hader has a bit part in the movie, but he’s basically there to do impressions, toss out mini-factoids and ask questions. Hader explains how he met the Knocked Up gang (the friends in the movie are friends in real life and often hang out together) and also explains that he worked in the same building they shoot his scenes as a film editor. He apparently used to be a librarian on The Surreal Life and a PA on The Scorpion King and a documentary about Star Wars. Like with the others you get plenty of information about the origins of the story, what events were taken from real life, specifics about some of the actors (Ken Jeong was an actual doctor before his turn as the doctor and his eventual role on the excellent Community) and that sort of thing. I especially liked hearing about him working with his wife Leslie Mann and their two daughters. I think she’s hilarious and am really looking forward to seeing Funny People, which will hopefully be coming in my queue this week.

Rad How I Met Your Mother Music Video

I’m guessing that many of my fellow HIMYM fans who were sitting near a computer after they mentioned www.itwasthebestnightever.com immediately typed it in to find this awesome page. I was glad to see that it wasn’t just a replay of the video they showed on the episode, but a whole new video with Jason Segel singing while Nuno Bettencourt played guitar and the other cast members hanging out. If you dug the episode or Segel’s singing in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, definitely watch the video below.

 

Alias Season 4 Was Pretty Rad

I’m sure after my previous two posts that it comes as a shock to find out how much I enjoyed the fourth season of Alias and I can firmly give credit to two sources. One, a clearly higher budget (a dude shatters and there’s a giant floating red ball over a city among other SFX) and the other, Mr. Drew Goddard who came into write towards the end of Buffy, moved to Angel, then wrote and produced Alias and went on to write Cloverfield. He only wrote 5 episodes according to IMDb, but every time I noticed his name, I enjoyed the episode, but I also enjoyed all the episodes on a much higher level. Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect, but what could have come off as cheesy and over-the-top to others, just felt awesome to me. Even the twists, many of which Em and I called, were fun to watch. And the season finale with the family kicking ass and taking names was awesome. They were like a real life super hero team and I love that kind of stuff. I was also thrown by the last few minutes and am psyched to get the first disc of Season 5.

I’ve also got to call out an episode called “The Road Home” which guest starred Jason Segel of Freaks & Geeks, Knocked Up, How I Met Your Mother, I Love You Man and Forgetting Sarah Marshall fame. He plays a guy in another country (can’t remember which one) who gets caught up in one of Jennifer Garner’s ops. It’s a great little fish out of water story with an actor I love. Overall, the famous guest roles were way down this season, but one guy returned that I love and haven’t mentioned yet, and that is Angus Scrimm. He played the crazy old guy who interrogated everyone in the first season or two but has disappeared thanks to the plot twists. He’s back in this and I love seeing the Tall Man in anything. Fantastic casting, by the way. Damn, he’s creepy.

 

Seanson Finales: How I Met Your Mother

So, as Ben so astutely pointed out last week, this week actually had the How I Met Your Mother season finale (hey, we all make mistakes, right?).

So, we got the full cast back for the season finale which actually didn’t deal with Ted’s search/discovery of his future childrens’ mother, but on the other characters. We had Barney and Robin dealing with their potentially budding relationship, Ted trying to design a BBQ restaurant, Marshall wanting to take a literal leap of faith, Ted fighting a goat and, most importantly, Ted deciding to take on a new career, a career we are promised will lead directly to meeting the woman he will marry.

I liked the season finale because I like all these characters (Marshall really got to shine in my opinion) and it even referred back to its own continuity (the goat and Ted’s birthday). I do feel a little peeved at the fact that we’re kind of left at the same place we were last season. Last season they showed us that Ted’s future wife would be sporting a yellow umbrella like his. Then we got teased with Stella coming back, but she doesn’t have the right umbrella. So now, we end another season by showing us a big space and telling us that the mother is in the group.

It’s not a huge deal, and like I said I really like the show, but I hope they actually introduce the mother early next season. I’ve talked to some people who say that that will be the end of the show, but come on, it’s just the basic premise and that can change. As a fan, I’d have no problem watching Ted and his future wife go through all the bullshit that couples do, especially if the writing stays consistent and we get to see even more development with all the characters. I’ve got faith because I think these guys put on a really good, well-thought-out show. In a weird way, it’s actually kind of like Lost because you’re got these interesting ways of telling a story and playing with structure telling a long-term story with an end goal in mind that will take some twists and turns along the way, while always remember where it came from. Good stuff.