Thursday, January 27, 2005

2004 In Review

Alright, after a month break, I'm back. And what better way to start 2005 than with...

THE BEST OF 2004!!!!

That's right, here are my thoughts on the various entertainment areas of 2004:

I didn't see much theatrically in 2004, mainly because I grew tired of paying the insane multiplex prices. Seriously, $6.50 for a matinee? Go to hell. But I did venture out occasionally, and my enrollment in Netflix gave me a chance to see some early 2004 releases. I would have to say that, as of right now, The Incredibles takes my prize for Best Movie of 2004. It's a lot of fun, and takes a great idea - a family of superheroes forced to act normal - and runs with it. The script gets a little too action-y towards the end, but up to that point it's, well, incredible. Sideways was a close second - how did Paul Giamatti not get a Best Actor nomination? - but it didn't equal the pure joy that The Incredibles did for me.

Of course, 2004 will be remembered as the year of both The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11, two polarizing movies that beat the odds and became outrageously successful. I haven't seen Passion yet, mainly because I'm not that interested in watching Jesus get flogged for two hours, but I did see Fahrenheit 9/11. I can see why audiences embraced it - Michael Moore really knows how to make an entertaining movie - and while I thought it was good, it was a bit too over-the-top at times. And I didn't like how he kept flip-flopping his position on the troops. One minute they were portrayed as redneck idiots there to do some killin' and the next they were sensitive, caring individuals overtaken with the job they were sent there to do. It did succeed in making me hate our president even more than I already did, so I guess Michael Moore did what he set out to do.

Of course, there were terrible films last year as well. Starsky and Hutch was painful to watch, a laughless "comedy" that couldn't decide if it wanted to ridicule or embrace the original series. Mean Girls was disappointing, a severe knockoff of Heathers that jettisoned the latter's black comedy in favor of sugary sweet morals and speeches about being nice to everyone. The Terminal was a strange misfire from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, two individuals I really admire. And Spider-Man 2 was alright but nowhere near the "BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER!!!" tag that many have labeled it.

I don't keep a list of what CDs I buy, so I can't look through it in order to label something "The Best". R.E.M.'s Around the Sun has grown on me, but I still think they need to take some uppers, plug in their instruments and rock again. I tried very hard to love U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, but in the end I realized it was a mediocre U2 album. Probably the set that's gotten the most play has been Nirvana's With the Lights Out, a collection of home recordings, demos, unreleased tracks and b-sides that came out late in 2004. There are a lot of jewels on this set, including a cover of Leadbelly's "Ain't it a Shame" that is so much fun you can practically see the smile on Kurt Cobain's face.

In November I bought an iPod that turned out to be the wisest $300 I ever spent. At this point I have 3600 songs loaded into this wonderful toy, representing about 60% of my collection. (In the end it should hold about 5500 songs.) It's made going to the gym fun again, since the random feature can provide some pretty strange - yet cool - mixes for me to work out to. For example, last night the 'pod was in love with Bruce Springsteen, playing at least three of his songs in the 45 minutes I was there. You would think working out to "My Hometown" would suck, but you'd be wrong. (It sure beat working out to Britney or Christina or Jessica or any of the other soulless pop music they always play at the gym.)

As for concerts, I didn't see my usual amount due to schedule conflicts and lack of interest. R.E.M. at the Murat was my favorite show of the year. As usual, they were full of energy, performed both the big hits and the album cuts, and interacted generously with the audience. David Bowie was a cool show at the Murat, both visually and musically. Probably the concert moment of the year would be Alanis Morissette and Barenaked Ladies dueting on BNL's "Call and Answer". Her vocals took a beautiful song and elevated it to perfection. (And her set at the concert was better than expected, prompting me to check out her latest album.) It was fun to see Simon and Garfunkel at Conseco Fieldhouse, but their performance was a bit too rehearsed for me to really enjoy. Prince's concert at Conseco Fieldhouse was alright. I would have preferred less medleys and more full-length versions of his songs, but I consider myself lucky that he even did them at all. The worst show of the year was Van Halen at Deer Creek. I'm not the biggest VH fan - I love their Diamond Dave stuff and pretty much despise the Van Hagar material - but I always wanted to see Eddie Van Halen in action. Too bad it was a pitiful show. Even Eddie's ten minute solo was a bust. Midway through it he stopped playing and said, "I hope you know what I'm doing, 'cause I have no fucking idea." Cross them off the list of bands I want to see again. (Unless they can patch up their differences and hit the road with David Lee Roth.)

I have to mention theatre, especially since I was in four shows in the past year. All of them had their positives and negatives, but I had a blast doing each and every one. My favorite show from last year was Charlotte's Web. All nine of us became great friends, there was no internal drama during the rehearsal process, and nearly every single performance went extremely well.

My favorite show that I saw was a Ball State production of Comedy of Errors. It was a unique interpretation of the text, and everything about it - the cast, the direction, the sets, etc. - was stellar. Civic's young adult production of Working comes in second. There was a lot of talent on that stage, and every single person got a chance to shine. I also enjoyed Buck Creek's Violet, although the storyline didn't lend itself very well to the musical format. (Not Buck Creek's fault, I know, but it did detract from my enjoyment of the show.) The Rocky Horror Show at the Artist's Studio was well-performed but a bit too much like the film version. I kept thinking, "Hey, that's great! They did that in the movie!" And Annie's cast tried hard, but the show didn't do much for me at all.

As for my theatrical plans for the upcoming year, at this point I'm playing it by ear. After some consideration, I decided not to audition for The Music Man. A friend is staging Jesus Christ Superstar in Lebanon, so I might wind up in that one. And I'm planning on being in the Lebanon Follies again. It has a minimal rehearsal process that fits well into my schedule and it will be nice to work with everyone again. I spent 103 days either rehearsing or performing last year. That's a lot, so I'm not that bummed about taking a break.

The best DVD I bought last year was the complete series of Freaks and Geeks. This set was put together with a lot of love and care, giving a fan of the show everything they could want. Each episode gets at least one commentary track, some get two, and some even get three. There are deleted scenes for every episode. Bloopers. Audition footage. On-set video with the cast goofing off. And more and more and more. There's even a deluxe version of this set that houses the DVDs in a yearbook and adds an additional two discs worth of bonus material. (Which I didn't buy, because at the time I didn't think it would be worth it. Whoops.) All of this would mean nothing, though, if the show weren't simply terrific. It's one of the most accurate portrayals of high school I've ever seen. The kids look and act like real kids, not like a Hollywood version of what kids should be like. It's a steal for $50.

The big DVD release of the year was Star Wars, the last "major" film to make an appearance on the format. While I bought the set, I have mixed feelings about it. These aren't the original films everyone knows and loves. George Lucas has redone a lot of the shots in each film, fixing things here and there, inserting new creatures, changing music, adding different actors so that all six films will jibe with one another, and generally mucking with them. Now, I don't mind special editions of films coming out with new scenes, shots, etc., just as long as the originals are made available. But in George Lucas's mind, those originals were crap and need to be perished. And while that's been his stance, I know he's a savvy businessman. My prediciton is that in a few years, after the release of the sixth movie and just in time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first film, we'll see a mammoth box set with all six movies, all of them in their original form. And we'll all have to buy them, once again. George Lucas is an ass.

There were other big releases this past year, but I didn't buy many of them. (I stopped my practice of buying one DVD per week in an effort to save some money.) Of the ones I did buy, the Goodfellas Special Edition was cool, as was the SE of Scorsese's After Hours. I picked up the 4-disc The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King the day it came out, but I haven't watched it yet. Another favorite was Capturing the Friedmans, which had bonus material that enhanced the film rather than supplemented it. And I'm happy that Live Aid finally made an appearance on DVD, although I have yet to buy it. (Come on, Best Buy, slap that guy on sale for me!)

Little Children by Tom Perrotta was the most entertaining book I read the entire year. A Question of Attraction by David Nicholls turned out to be a lot of fun to read. The plot: A freshman college student decides he's going to join his school's quiz show team, both because he wants to be on television and because he has a crush on one of the teammates. The show reminded me of the Brain Game, only without Bob Gregory as the host.

The absolute worst book I read - well, started to read, before I gave up in disgust - was Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. Lame characters, inane dialogue, and puzzles that weren't terribly challenging made it awfully painful to read. Why it's become this phenomenon is beyond me, because it is an awful book.

And there you have it, my thoughts on the best entertainment options of 2004. And now, back to your regularly scheduled blog.