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!

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.