Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Top 5 Music Videos You Have Never Seen (Released After 2000)

I am a huge fan of the music video. I long for those nights where I just can't sleep, so I curl up in front of my TV and watch music videos until the sun comes up. Because of this habit, I have seen music videos some people may not even think really exist. This list is by no means exhaustive, even with the stipulation of the videos being released after 2000. It's a good starting point for recent forgotten music videos.

Number 5: Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap
Even with her recent Grammy nominations, Imogen Heap is not a household name, and she probably never will be. The most recognition she received was through the use of her song Hide and Seek on the TV show The OC, but even then, people learned the song and not her name. The music video is equally as impressive as the rich tapestry of layered vocals she created for the song with her keyboard and a vocoder. Instead of the standard wide screen format, the camera is turned ninety degrees, meaning the video is seen in a tiny vertical sliver on the screen. The visuals are simple: Imogen in a plain room with simple costume, lighting, and effect changes with her just singing her song. It's beautiful in its simplicity, and a perfect match for this rich musical experience.

Number 4: Gimme by Jill Scott
If I had to pick one artist who truly came into their own since 2000 that will still be relevant twenty years from now, it would be Jill Scott. Her second album, 826+, was a double disc album, featuring one CD of a live concert and another CD of newly released tracks that somehow didn't make it onto Who is Jill Scott: Words and Sounds, Vol. 1. The one single used to promote the release was Gimme, a mid-tempo jam about the joys of being in a strong, sexually fueled relationship. In the video, Jill Scott plays Dr. Love, who brings joy and happiness to all the patients in her hospital with her trust nurses Hugs and Kisses. In the end, everyone feels so great and filled with love that they all dance together. This video is great for two reasons: 1) it shows just how talented Jill Scott is while allowing her to show that she doesn't take herself too seriously; 2) it adds an entire new level of context to the song. Any video that can realistically expand and improve upon the song by adding more complexity to it is a great music video.

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Number 3: Natural Blues by Moby
This music video, more than any other, truly represents Moby's career. He is best known for his brilliant business sense, linking his songs to international ad campaigns with few people ever learning his name. This somber video shows Moby as an old man - a showcase of some of the best make-up since Michael Jackson's video Thriller - looking back on his achievements at the end of his life while wasting away in a nursing home. Eventually, Cristina Ricci appears as a dancing angel of mercy to end Moby's suffering and bring him new life. This video is so beautiful and so sad that I can't help but cry every time I see it. Leave it to Moby to create a brilliant statement on the fleeting nature of fame and everyone's inevitable end without anybody truly realizing what he is doing.

Number 2: Time and Time Again by Chronic Future
What? An anti-war video that doesn't blame the Bush administration for everyone's problems? Yes, Chronic Future's animated video for Time and Time Again is commentary on what can happen when people choose to fight in a war for reasons other than a true desire to defend their nation. Equally sad and infuriating, Chronic Future used simple, computer generated cut-out animation to make a statement that says far more in three and a half minutes than all the angry words a musician could ever say about war could ever achieve.

Number 1: Pagan Poetry by Bjork
This is a controversial video. It wasn't seen by many because it features brief glimpses of suggestive (and full) nudity. It wasn't aired by most because of the extremely disturbing physical content. The video to Bjork's greatest song - and my favorite song of all time (previously Gretchen am Spinnrade by Franz Schubert - has Bjork stitching strands of pearls into her skin with a needle. The sexual nature is suggested, not explicit, and the graphic content is artistic, not vulgar. This video may be hard to watch, but it is a perfect match to a deeply personal and passionate song. It easily belongs up on a wall in an art gallery as part of a digital display of film making.

Varb For Me

Special Feature: The 2006 Sketchy's for Achievement in Film

In honor of the Academy Awards tomorrow night, I will be hosting my official film awards show live, right now, on my blog.

Introducing The 2006 Sketchy's for Achievement in Film

This is no weak little awards ceremony with five nominees and endless categories. We dive right into the nitty gritty here with Gold, Silver, and Bronze awards in a few succinct categories that cover the full spectrum of films released on 2006. And yes, there will be spoilers.

Our first category is Best Performance in a Feature Film

Bronze - Ellen Page in Hard Candy: Ellen Page provides a tour-de-fore performance unmatched by anyone in her age range in the horribly underrated Hard Candy.

Silver - Doug Jones in Pan's Labyrinth: It's hard enough to act in a horror film and do a good job. Doug Jones gives not one but two of the strongest performances of the year in film in the dual roles of Pan and the Pale Man in the twisted masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth. Chilling work.

Gold - Jackie Earle Hayley in Little Children: Jackie Earle Hayley gives an iconic performance as a pedophile who wants nothing more than to please his mother in Little Children that will love on as one of the greats in cinematic history. Every single frame he's in oozes the pain, frustration, and dementia of this character. This is what acting is supposed to be.

Our next category is Scariest Scene in a Film

Bronze - Mama's Dead in Little Children
: When Jackie Earle Hayley's character becomes completely unhinged upon the death of his mother, you know all hell will break loose. I don't know what I was more afraid of: what he might do to someone else or what he might do to himself.

Silver - Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth: This is the scariest sequence in a truly horrifying film. From the blood colored walls to the eyeballs in the hand and hanging skin, this scene will be appearing in my nightmares for years.

Gold - The Palace Gates in The Queen: I know what your thinking: Trent Sketch, how the hell is that scary? You know nothing happens to her because this film is based on recent history and the Queen is still alive. Yes, yes she is. But that doesn't remove the tension, apprehension, and fear that Helen Mirren displays in addressing the silent crowd that hates her more than the paparazzi that chased down Princess Diana. Sometimes, implied horror and hatred is scarier than all the psychopathic killers you can lock up in a mental hospital.

Our next category is Funniest Scene in a Film:

Bronze - Borat Opening: Welcome to Kazakhstan indeed.

Silver - Meeting the Prom King in Little Children
: This is the funniest sequence of the film, and the look of shock on those soccer mom's faces is priceless.

Gold - Meeting the New Prime Minister
: This scene embodies the humor of The Queen and the approach to the subject matter: mocking the customs, not the people. That is why the film was so successful.

Our next category is Best Artistic Achievement in Technical Filmmaking

Bronze (Tie) - The Visual Effects Team of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer: This film had the single most convincing scene of CGI I have ever seen in a film: a handkerchief floating in the wind. Breathtaking and worthy of a spot on a digital gallery wall.

Bronze (tie) - Costume Design by Chung Man Yee in The Curse of the Golden Flower
: Just Look At These Costumes. They look even better in motion.

Silver: Javier Navarrete's Scoring for Pan's Labyrinth - The single most haunting score of the year and probably one of the greatest ever composed for film.

Gold - Sound Department of Pan's Labyrinth: The most impressive aspect of this film is the sound design. It is pure perfection. Everything comes to life because you become surrounded in the fantasy world by the sound. Everything else just adds to it.

Our next category is Best Direction of a Film

Bronze - Guillermo del Toro for Pan's Labyrinth: His vision is so perfectly executed, his story so masterfully told, you have to give the man a lot of credit.

Silver - Stephen Frears for The Queen: This film could have easily been a total joke. Frears steers the film away from self parody and into an enjoyable drama that casts one of the most publicized deaths in history in an entirely new light.

Gold - Paul Greengrass for United 93: This is what direction should be. As World Trade Center showed, not just anybody can take on 9/11 and do it in a respectful and intelligent manner. Paul Greengrass is a filmmaker to watch for in the future.

Our final category is Best Achievement in Film

Bronze - Hard Candy

Silver - The Queen

Gold - Pan's Labyrinth

That's it for the 2006 Sketchy's for Achievement in Film

Varb For Me

Review: Imogen Heap Album "Speak For Yourself"

I'll say it right now: I love Imogen Heap. I think she is an incredibly talented musician who, even after being nominated at the Grammy Awards, is extremely under appreciated by music fans. Her songs are solid and her use of electronic music technology is breathtaking. This talented artist is a true one-woman band who doesn't have to rely on tricks and gimmicks to stand out. Her crazy personality and talent work just fine.

So when Imogen Heap started her own record label to release her solo album "Speak for Yourself", I figured she might get some good reviews in the US, but might not even receive US distribution. But when RCA Victor picked up the rights to distribute in the US, I knew something big was going to happen.

Fast forward to Imogen Heap, dressed like a background performer in the Calista Flockhart version of A Midsummer Night's Dream on Grammy night losing Best New Artist to the far more well known and commercial Carrie Underwood. More surprisingly, Imogen Heap was the only Best New Artist nominee NOT to perform at the Grammys. Though, interesting sidenote, a friend of mine who works for Atlantic Records told me how the head of the label had to call and bitch every day to NARAS to get James Blunt a performance slot for the show, so at least Imogen wasn't supposed to be alone. But what can a self-run artist do to get that kind of respect in the industry?

Release an incredible album. "Speak for Yourself" is an underrated masterpiece, filled with great song after great song. All of her music incorporates catchy repeated keyboard patterns with nice touches of other instrumentation and creative use of vocals and wordplay. The crowning achievement, of course, is the show-stopping track "Hide and Seek". Imogen takes the traditionally used for effect only Vocoder and, with the help of her trusty keyboard, creates a musical landscape of layered vocals that could make a grown man cry.

This CD is routinely available, even after the Grammys, in the discount bin at stores. It's more than worth it to invest your time and money in will undoubtedly be one of the most listened to albums in your collection.

Varb For Me

Friday, February 23, 2007

Review: Hard Candy DVD

I've been toying and taunting with you all for more than a day and the overly awaited event is finally here.

Introducing, the weekly Video Blog.

I wanted to start off really artistic with a cool concept, so I present to you:

Hard Candy DVD: A Silent Film Review


PS: I will speak in future reviews. This silent acting thing was hard.

PPS: Theme Music available at the official Trent Sketch musical Myspace.

PPPS: Join the YouTube video group and let me know what you think. Awesome one stop shopping for videos of almost every reference I make. You can add your own videos to suggest what I should review next. Or post your own reviews.

I'll stop whoring myself out now.

For now.

Varb For Me

Review: Avril Lavigne's new video "Girlfriend"

Ladies and Gentleman, I introduce to you, the long awaited follow-up to critically acclaimed album Under My Skin, from the punk rocker that brought you such hits as "Complicated", "Sk8r Boi", and "My Happy Ending", former nominee for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards, Mrs. Avril Lavigne with her soon to be Kids Choice Awards winning Music Video: "Girlfriend"

Words cannot describe the pure artistic genius of this video.

For starters, that no talent ho Christina Aguilera TOTALLY stole Avril's whole Vanilla, Srawberry, Chocolate hair and choreography concept for her Candyman video, but really, who wouldn't?

Second, that song is SO smart, like "Sk8r Boi", but fortunately, all the on-tour tutoring corrected Avril's prior spelling errors and taught her that linguistic shortcuts are no way to build a career.

Third, Mariah must be steaming that Avril borrowed her video concept from "Heartbreaker" and made it award worthy.

Fourth, if Perez loves it, then it must be good.

Fifth, if you believe a single word I wrote in this post, you, my friend, need to revisit sarcastic snarking 101 and then come back to this site.

Sixth: I still have not posted my totally ground breaking, award worthy, artistic, creative, wonderful surprise post for today, and I genuinely hope to have it up by midnight. Hallelujah Hollaback, bitches. I'll eat your food.

Sorry, I started to think of The White Rapper Project for a second there. Fake as it is, it really is funny to laugh at the stupidity and lack of talent among the contestants.

And just so everyone hates me after this: Yankees suck, Scorsese sucks, ScarJo Sucks, Obama Sucks, JayZ sucks, TV sucks, Earth Sucks, and Your Mama sucks.

PS: Did you go back and review your snark manual for that last part? I sure hope so.

PPS: I still will hold out judgment on Avril's album "The Best Thing" because I really believe this girl is talented. But if all the songs are like this, she really should just stick with writing songs for Kelly Clarkson and other Idol alums.

Varb For Me

Review: Film Short "The Deader the Better" by James Rolfe

The first thing many would ask when they see the title of this review is "Who is James Rolfe?"

Well, the YouTube fanatics in the crowd might recognize him by his popular, foul-mouthed alter ego: The Angry Nintendo Nerd.

So then the next question is pretty obvious, too: Why would you review a film from that Angry Nintendo Nerd guy? All he does is drink, curse, and ramble on about video games.

The answer is obvious when you watch his short films: James Rolfe is actually a talented filmmaker.

The Deader the Better is a short horror/comedy about two guys - Lloyd and Earl - who work the night shift at a graveyard. There job: keep the dead dead. In this one cemetery, the dead have a bad habit of coming back to life, and it's Lloyd's job to stop them by any means necessary; Earl doesn't approve of Lloyd's messy execution since it's his job to clean the graveyard back up so no one knows what happens when darkness falls. It's a strange concept, but it works surprisingly well.

The best aspect of the film is the technical film making. As evidenced by James Rolfe's work on The Angry Nintendo Nerd, he knows how to properly frame a shot, edit footage, and piece everything together so that the audience is never bored. It's solid, creative film work and his efforts certainly pay off with this short.

What's so great about the technicals? The use of color. The short, shot in black and white, only incorporates one color during the graveyard sequences: red. Whenever there is blood, you will know it. Also great? The gore. I am a firm believer that there is nothing a computer can do for traditional gore that cannot be accomplished better with practical effects, and this short proves both points at once. The practical effects are perfectly convincing, while the digitally enhanced scene - however necessary for maintaining the tone and style of the short - do work, but are not as convincing as the practical effects.

I guess all I'm trying to say is this: "The Deader the Better" is a pretty impressive short that shows illustrates James Rolfe's potential to really make something truly great.

Varb For Me

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Review: Kit Kats

Sorry for the lame review, but I'm planning something huge for tomorrow.

Kit Kats are a delicious, chocolately treat. Crunchy, sweet, melty, and super tasty. Even Carrie Underwood agrees. Best Female Country Vocal Performance, indeed.

Varb For Me

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Review: X-Play: The Musical

I'll say it right now: I have nothing but good things to say about the long-standing institution of video game wisdom: X-Play. Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb are funny, intelligent, and so natural on camera that you can't help but love them for it.

In a total display of geeky fandom, I will now review the second best episode of X-Play ever: The recently aired X-Play: The Musical.

The plot is familiar for anyone who knows plots: The devil offers a deal to Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb that they can't refuse: X-Play: The Official Game. Once they sign the contract, Adam and Morgan think they will live the good life, until they get to play the finished product. It turns out the game is utterly unplayable for two reasons: one - it's only for Dreamcast (the horror), and two - it's the spawn of Satan and believes that Adam and Morgan are it's parents, constantly crying out for love. Adam and Morgan make the difficult decision to give the game a horrible, horrible review, and they all live happily ever after, except for everyone who dies.

The original songs are extremely impressive - while all of the titles are clever plays on classic show tunes, including A Game is Born and Gamer's Lament, the songs are true to the world of musical theater without being stolen from musical theater. Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb do perfectly competent jobs with the singing, especially since those songs are actually pretty tricky to sing. The production values are top-notch, even if the hired dancers aren't always in step, and all of your favorite bit players - mine's Drunk Link - make appearances in the episode.

The fact that the show is willing to do a musical episode shows that Adam and Morgan still have fun making this show, no matter how many times they mention hating the network, their lives, their work, and each other. It truly is a joy to watch a TV musical episode that isn't just a blatant gimmick to get people to turn in (like, say a musical episode of Scrubs starring a non-singing Stephanie D'Abruzzo (if you're going to cast one of Broadway's brightest stars, why would she not be singing in every damn scene...)) that actually works as an encapsulated musical.

Should I hate myself for enjoying this? What do you think?

Varb For Me

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Review: Little Children, the film

Ahh, much better.

After a disastrous morning, which included the horror of Justin Timberlake's new video, a bus ride that took twice as long as it should have to get back into NYC, and motion sickness caused by aforementioned bus ride, I decided that I deserved a treat for my mind. Thanks, student discount ticket day!

Little Children
is a story about regrets. Sarah Pierce, played by a never better Kate Winslet, is a married anthropologist/author who gave up her career to raise her daughter. Brad Adamson, Patrick Wilson - also incredible - is a stay at home dad who is going to try for his third and last time to pass the Bar Exam to appease his wife Kathy Adamson, Jennifer Connelly giving a performance that had me questioning who that actress was until I saw the credits and went "of course". Their small community is turned upside down when convicted sex offender Ronnie J. McGovery, the single best male performance of 2006 provided by Jackie Earle Hayley, moves in. There are plenty of other characters who weave in and out, but Sarah, Brad, and Ronnie really drive the film.

I truly do not want to provide many details about the plot because part of the joy and challenge of this film is just not knowing what will happen. Every character has something they desire that is just slightly out of reach, and they will all stop at nothing to achieve it.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film is the narration. Not once did the voice overs distract from what was happening on screen. That is a very difficult task and director Todd Field completed it with flying colors.

I believe it's safe to say that viewers should be forewarned: this is not an easy film to take in. A lot of taboo subjects, even for film, are discussed in this work, and the ending of the film does not tie everything up into a pretty little package. I can say, however, if Little Children is not a happy film, it certainly is a hopeful film with a lot to say.

Varb For Me

Review - Justin Timberlake's What Goes Around... Video

Ah, early morning posts. Nothing in the world quite like not getting any sleep at all because your two dogs have been fighting non-stop for the past 48 hours and tuning into some actual music videos on, of all stations, MTV.

So, of course, I wind up being really offended by what I see.

Let me start by saying I am not a prude, nor am I faint of heart. I enjoy almost any form of entertainment, but hold a fondness in my heart for the horror genre. If you can take my attention away from what's happening in the real world and scare me more than things that might actually impact my actual life? That's impressive. I'm not a huge gore hound, but I love twisted, psychological horror, including: Audition, Repulsion, The Eye, Carnival of Souls, and the single greatest film of all time regardless of genre. I even enjoy the occasional revenge fantasy, such as The Stendhal Syndrome, Last House on the Left, or even (in a sick and twisted way) the earlier entries in Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series.

So, I figure, I'm pretty prepared for most of the stuff that can appear in a music video, since there are certain standards in place to make sure Viacom doesn't lose it's target audience of tweens.

And then What Goes Around comes on. This is the single most disgusting, disturbing, and infuriating music video I have ever seen in my life. Here's the basic plot: Justin Timberlake plays a dirtbag trying to pick up a kinda slutty girl (perfectly played by Scarlett Johansson) at a bar, even though JT has been told by SJ that she is with someone else. Musical interlude of the two getting drunk and doing some heavy petting, musical interlude of JT pretending to be an airplane while firedancers perform behind him, dialogue with the guy that SJ said she was with clearly hitting on her again, musical interlude with JT pretending he's an airplane, dialogue scene where JT beats the crap out of the other guy for making out with SJ, musical interlude where JT chases SJ out of their apartment building, into her car, chases her with his car, and FORCES HER INTO A FLAMING CAR ACCIDENT THAT TOSSES HER OUT OF HER CAR AND KILLS HER ON IMPACT, and end with JT looking smugly satisfied.

What can I say? Justin Timberlake is a scumbag, but I already knew this. I might not even mind it so much, but with past videos JT has shown a significant lack of social skills necessary to cope with a break-up in a healthy way. The revenge fantasies he provides are not exactly an intelligent glimpse into this kind of event. This video is a disturbing glimpse into the mind of a man who never learned proper social behavior, and I for one would feel better if I never had to watch it again.

It's great that a man who only has a career because he was dating Britney Spears can get away with this. From discussions and lectures provided by music industry professionals who worked on this amazing transformation, JT was viewed as a liability to Britney's career because he was so nerdy. Therefore, he was given a solo record deal, a complete image makeover, and now has a successful, award winning career. Because he dated Britney Spears, she of the total and complete mental breakdown.

Where am I going with this? I want to know if I'm overreacting. Watch the video and tell me what you think.

Varb For Me

Monday, February 19, 2007

Review: Yoshi's Island DS

I decided that there was no more appropriate, fitting way to celebrate this marvelous President's Day than to sit down on my couch all day and - here's where the change comes in - play video games. That's right, the first show I watched all day is the currently airing I Love NY, but since that's must see TV (as is the White Rapper Show), it really doesn't count.

Anyway, for Christmas, my brother gave me three games: Super Princess Peach (meh), Yoshi's Island DS, and Kirby Squeak Squad DS (?). Today, aside from playing some Voodoo Vince (best game you never played for the XBox) and Elebits(best on the Wii, until Sadness comes out in a year), I opened up the Yoshi's Island DS box for the first time and I am impressed.

Based on Super Mario 3: Yoshi's Island, but NOT a direct port of the original game, Yoshi's Island has the whole crew of Yoshis once again shooting eggs and kicking in mid air through colorful kingdoms with an interchangeable selection of adorable baby Nintendo characters on their backs. Mario is your standard, go to baby. Peach, also really cute, allows you to float on the breeze. Donkey Kong, again - so damn cute, lets you climb vines. The game is another strong platformer on Nintendo's latest handheld, the DS, and really, what else can you expect? The company has yet to screw up a platformer on their new handheld, and is constantly trying to innovate the genre that truly made their company.

One complaint: no real use for the stylus. You can move around the menu screens easier with the stylus, but it can be done with the buttons as well. However, this game had to be released for the DS because it makes excellent use of the dual screen action, with many important gaming elements happening in the upper screen.

Really, if you own the DS and love platformers, get this game. It's totally worth your thirty dollars.

Varb For Me

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Review: The Amazing Race - All Stars

In case you haven't noticed by now, I am a reality TV junkie. I'll take my fix anyway I can get it, so what better way to spend a Sunday evening than to watch the premiere of The Amazing Race - All Stars?

For starters, my favorite race team of all time is competing: Charla and Mirna. Yes, Mirna's voice can shatter glass with her screams of "hurry Charla, muy rapido Charla" and Charla has to carry the team through every task, but by golly they knew how to race. Plus, it appears this time around that Charla AND Mirna will be participating in the road blocks and detours, not just Charla.

So 11 teams are competing, ranging anywhere from The Guidos of Season 1, to notoriously lucky Uchenna and Joyce from that season where I didn't really like any teams after the first few weeks. There is even a new superteam: an Alpha male from an Alpha male team and a pretty blond girl from a pretty blond girl team. I don't know who they are or why I should like them, but they're the only new team on the race. Also, Romber, of winning only one of (now) six reality shows they have appeared on together, and their one win (Amber on Survivor - All Stars) was by default, since they somehow managed to be the final 2. It will be great to see them lose again.

Here's all you need to know about this season: it's not the Family Edition; therefore, it's a good show again. The end.

Oh, and Phil is the best working host in reality TV.

The actual best host: award winning news reporter Anderson Cooper for his wonderful work on the painfully short lived US version of The Mole. The best part: playing along at home to try and find and decipher the hidden clues that reveal who is The Mole. The second best part: Kathy Griffen in a bathing suit comparing herself to the School Marm in a soft-core porn film set in a sorority (note: season does not include Phil, was first All Stars and featured a Baldwin, a supermodel, and a whole slew of B-List and worse celebrities). The third best part: Silly Silly costumes. And the fourth: burning everyone's possessions for failing an early mission. Did I mention Anderson Cooper? He made that show work. If it started now with him as the host, it would last much longer than two real seasons, the second of which was bumped back to a midsummer replacement after airing the first four episodes at the start of sweeps month. Good times. Good times.

Varb For Me