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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Liesel’s Yearly Favorites: Six Favorite Discoveries of 2011

Hey everyone, it seems like I’m about to go out for New Years! So here are some quick reminders before I write this blog! There are less than 30 hours left to donate to The Extraordinary Contraptions kickstarter and six days to donate to Penny Dreadful Productions’ Remnant! Both are great Atlanta based Steampunk projects that deserve your support!

Anyway, these are my six favorite things that I discovered this past year!

6.) Shovels and Rope

I had heard of these two for some time, but never really listened to them until I saw them open for Butch Walker and the Black Widows this past tour. A combination of two solo projects from Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, Shovels and Rope is a duo that proves that you don’t have a whole lot to make old school country/bluegrass with a big sound and heart. Playing with a junkyard drumset, guitar, and a little harmonica, the two tell stories as old as time, but in a fresh and exciting way. If Shovels and Rope are coming to your town, I highly suggest taking a look!

5.) Archer

Archer is probably the wrongest animated show to come on in years, but that’s why it’s so amazing. A mix of Arrested Development and James Bond, Archer tells of the misadventures of Sterling Archer and his fellow coworkers at ISIS. While Sterling is a hilarious character who is the ultimate self server, a lot of the humor comes from the others at the ISIS office. While Mallory Archer is pretty much the same as Lucille Bluth, she’s still the perfect example of the ultimate non caring mother. Probably my favorite characters in the series though are Human Resources head Pam Poovey, a woman of size who can hold her Jaeger better than anyone else, and Dr. Krieger, a scientist with the weirdest interests. So wrong, and so funny.

4.) Murder By Death

I blame this all on my dear Corbin. He kept mentioning this band, so I decided to finally check them out at Steampunk World’s Fair. Despite a very tiring and emotional day, I was fully entranced by this band telling stories of death and revenge. Much like Shovels and Rope, Murder By Death tell stories that are old as time. Sometimes with a supernatural twist, but always with a shot of Whiskey in hand. I enjoyed them so much that not only did I download most of their albums, I even saw them when I traveled to Alaska. Now THAT was a party.

3.) The Hunger Games

As I said in my blog about the books I enjoyed this year, The Hunger Games seems like such a simple concept on the surface. Years after the fall of America, the new government forces two children from each remaining district to face off in a yearly battle to the death for purposes of entertainment. However, once you read the books, it become so much more than that. It becomes evident that the Capitol put these games in place to punish the districts for something now long passed and squelch any hope of rebellion. When Katniss Everdeen becomes an inadvertent hero in her games, the series soon becomes a story about the terrible price one pays in war.

2.) Adventure Time and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

I should probably list these two separately, but they often feel like two sides of the same coin that it feels hard to separate the two. Both stories tell colorful tales in fantastical settings about the power of Friendship. For Adventure Time, it’s a surreal tale of a young boy and his dog as they travel around the land of Ooo. However, it’s very evident how important Jake is to Finn as well as the other friends he’s made along the way, including two very awesome girls named Bubblegum and Marceline, showing that boys can befriend girls and they aren’t just a personality-less accessory for their adventures. For Friendship is Magic, the story is more female focused, as Twilight Sparkle has to record the various lessons she learns about friendship she learns during her adventures. From here, we get a very diverse ensemble cast of fillies. They’re all very different, but they’re friends all the same. With their colorful natures and tales of Friendship, is it easy to tell why I think these two shows take place in the same universe.

1.) Parks and Recreation

Even while I was in the middle of this show, I was wondering where it had been my whole life. A bright and optimistic show done in a documentary style, it follows Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation Leslie Knope as she tries to make her town of Pawnee a better place to live. The characters are rather loveable in a strange way and the stories are extremely well written. Overall, it’s a show that makes you love and care about the characters and the world they’re apart of. We’re not laughing at them. We’re laughing at the situations they get it. Like you do with friends you love and care about.

 

Happy New Year, everyone! Have a safe night tonight and tomorrow, I’ll be writing about things to look forward to in 2012! See you then!

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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Books, Music, Television

 

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Liesel’s Yearly Favorites: Favorite Videos of 2011

Originally, this post was going to just be music videos, but then I started thinking of my favorite reviews and viral videos of the past year. So, why not review them all? This post will be split into three categories: Music, YouTube, and Reviews. Perhaps you’ve seen some of these, but hey… maybe not.

Six Favorite Music Videos

Honorable Mention: ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Dark Carnivale’ by Frenchy and the Punk

Have to give my friends Scott and Samantha credit. They know how to make fun videos that fit their sound and image perfectly. Steampunk mixed with a little dark fantasy, cabaret, and fairy dust. Both songs come from Happy Madness and are even more of a joy live.

6.) ‘Spotlight (Oh Nostalgia)’ – Patrick Stump

It’s sort of sad that this came out the same day as the ‘Born This Way’ video. While both songs carry the message of being yourself, Patrick’s comes across as a bit more genuine and uplifting. The video for the song enforces this, with real people (and one three legged dog) showing off their unique talents.

5.) ‘Summer of ’89’ – Butch Walker and the Black Widows

Butch Walker continues his 2011 theme of Nostalgia in this Shane Valdes directed video. While not as over the top as some of Valdes’ other videos, the video deliciously skewers tropes from the 80s hair metal that Walker grew up on. What really makes this video is a cameo from veteran actor Seymour Cassel as the very insistent video director. Valdes also directed a very post apocalyptic trailer for The Spade around the same time.

4.) ‘Otis’ – Jay-Z and Kanye West

As of writing this blog, I haven’t had a chance to listen to many tracks from the Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration Watch The Throne. However, I LOVE the video for ‘Otis’, the joyride of a track that samples ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ by Otis Redding. The video, which features the coolest (and most dangerous looking) ride and a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from Aziz Ansari, fits the track perfectly and makes it hard to frown after watching it.

3.) ‘Last Friday Night (TGIF)’ – Katy Perry

I didn’t want to like this video because… well… Katy Perry. I was pleasantly surprised though when the funny and dayglo video brought together icons of three generations to tell the story of a wild Friday night. Go Uncle Kenny!

2.) ‘You And I’ – Lady GaGa

There seemed to be some debate over whether this video was Steampunk or not. While it was some sort of Retrofuture, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this video was a Burton-esque insight on loving others and loving yourself. Though, I think that’s what it’s about. I was rather distracted by GaGa’s alter ego of Jo Calderone. Ooo la la, sir…

1.) ‘Ready To Go (Get Me Out of Mind)’ – Panic! at the Disco

I’m sure some people thought I would bring up that very Steampunk video of Panic!’s on this list. While I do still enjoy that video, it did not bring as much joy as this beautifully done, musical inspired video for Panic!’s follow up single. Along with bringing way less drama, it’s just extremely happy and makes me want to go dancing out in the street with my umbrella.

Six Favorite YouTube Videos

6.) ‘Woody Allen Jesus’ by Tim Minchin

A song written by Minchin just in time for the holiday season, it was sadly cut from The Jonathan Ross Show due to fear of people taking offense to the sacrilege. Lucky for us, the internet exists for this such a thing.

5.) ‘Just Glue Some Gears On It (And Call It Steampunk)’

I tend to try and stay out of the debate of what constitutes Steampunk, but I have to give Sir Reginald Pikedevant, Esq. some credit for creating a wonderful chap hop song for all of us who have ever searched ‘Steampunk’ on Etsy and facepalmed.

4.) 500 Miles of Doctor Who

Created for David Tennant and Russell T. Davies’ last Doctor Who cast party, this video surfaced on the internet earlier this year. Along with The Ballad of Russell and Julie, this video reminds us all of how awesome the Davies years could be. Unlike The Ballad of Russell and Julie, it does it in three and a half Proclaimers filled minutes.

3.) Kermit sings ‘Life’s A Happy Song’ with Bret McKenzie

I’ve expressed my love for The Muppets several times on this blog already, but only because it was so wonderful and sincere. Of course, in true Muppet fashion, Kermit took a few moments to sing with the songwriter. Like Paul Williams before him, Bret McKenzie was joined on the piano by everyone’s favorite frog to sing a happy song.

2.) Like PB’s Status!

Gotta give Yamino credit for this one. She managed to create one hilarious Adventure Time themed thank you video for AskSugarlessGum and taking audio from Miles Jai’s Like My Status rant video. I don’t know how many times I watched this video and laughed my ass off. About the time it gets to Weeabo Bubblegum, I lose it every time and it just continues until the very end with autotuned LSP.

1.) Multiculturalism Go Wrong

I don’t know what to say about this video besides this is what happens when you let Steampunks rewrite certain scenes from Kevin Smith movies. In particular, the first scene with Hooper X in Chasing Amy. You’ve been warned.

Six Favorite Reviews

6.) Music Movies – Phantom of the Paradise

While nothing major happens in this joint review between Paw and Elisa from the Nostalgia Chick’s crew, it shines a favorable spotlight on one of my favorite cult movies. Not to mention some light on a few of Brian DePalma’s influences.

5.) A Bunch of Reviewers – The Last Airbender

After starting Avatar: The Last Airbender (review coming soon), I can understand all the rage the internet has let loose against M. Night Shyamalan and his adaptation. The funniest, most rage filled one, however, has to be this one with Rollo T, Y Ruler of Time, Todd in the Shadows, JesuOtaku, and tons of cameos. Sure, there’s pain, but there’s also an excellent Aasif Mandvi impersonation from Y.

4.) Nostalgia Chick – TLC and the 90s

Oftentimes, it has been the Nostalgia Chick to remind us that music brings about just as much nostalgia as a TV show or movie. While the review starts off in usual Nostalgia Chick territory with a humorous look back on the career of her favorite childhood group, it ends up with an honest reflection from Lindsay Ellis over the death of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes back in 2002.

3.) Todd In The Shadows – ‘Sexy and I Know It’

While Channel Awesome’s most mysterious reviewer can tear apart a pop song with the best of them, it is very rare that he gets into true snob territory. That is, until this review. After giving up on this LMFAO song early, Kyle “Oancitizen” Kallgren convinces Todd to take a deeper look at the song. Quickly, the review turns into the most hilarious, hot aired filled analysis about a song about parading around with your shirt off ever to exist. Probably the only one, but who knows.

2.) Nostalgia Critic – Moulin Rouge!

Doug Walker has been involved in a lot of epic videos. Many of them within this past year. However, he certainly outdid himself in this review of Baz Lurhman’s 2001 movie musical. What easily could have been a scathing solo review becomes a 45 minute musical tribute to guilty pleasures with help from Rouge defenders Nostalgia Chick and brentalfloss.

1.) Brows Held High – The Man Who Fell To Earth

This video didn’t just make me start watching Brows Held High. It made me a fan of Kyle Kallgren for life. Set to the music of David Bowie, Kallgren sings his way through his usual high brow analysis of this 1976 science fiction. Except for some help during a musing set to ‘Dance Magic Dance’, he does this musical review solo, making it even more impressive.

Tomorrow, I will do my last reflection on 2011 by looking at my favorite things discovered this past year. Stay tuned!

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Internet, Music, Steampunk

 

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Liesel’s Yearly Favorites: Six Favorite Books Read in 2011

This list is somewhat different from the other lists. Due to the fact I’ve only read three books published in 2011 this year, I feel like it would be very uninteresting to only talk about those three books. Therefore, I’ve picked the six favorites out of the books I’ve read this year. And in my eyes, graphic novels and non-fiction are on the same footing.

6.) Phonogram: Rue Britannia by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (2007)

After a fine woman named Emma suggested that I was a Phonomancer, I decided to check this series out since it had been quite sometime since I had read a new graphic novel.

For those who don’t know, Phonogram is a comic series that follows phonomancers, those who have magic control over music, around London. The first volume, Rue Britannia, follows David Kohl, who discovered his powers after getting into Britpop in the 90s. After his patron goddess Britannia goes missing, he must search for her, bringing back old memories and influences for him.

While many of the references were out of my sphere of knowledge (which was helped by a nice little glossary in the back) and David’s snobby hipster attitude can get fairly annoying, I have never read a work that so perfectly captures what it is to be in love with music. While neither David and I can play our own music, we do derive power from the music that saves us. Part of David’s weakness is that he cannot abandon his goddess, despite the fact she has very little power and most of her followers have switched over. It brought back memories of the music I loved when I realized I wanted music to be in my life forever and how it’s been hard to leave it behind entirely.

While I have yet to read Singles Club, I’m looking forward to knowing more about the world of Phonogram.

5.) Dreadnought by Cherie Priest (2010)

Cherie Priest has become well known for her Clockwork Century novels within the Steampunk community. Centered around a universe where Seattle is underground, the Civil War has gone on for twenty years, and zombies come about from a sickly gas, we see what would happen if war technology had won out in the years of the war between the states. While I have yet to read two of the books in the Century (Clementine and Ganymede), I did read the first two this year. While Boneshaker had a tendency to drag, Dreadnought was an exciting novel that captured a very long and arduous journey in 400 pages.

Following a recently widowed nurse named Mercy, Dreadnought follows her as she makes a journey through air, river, and train from Richmond, Virginia to Seattle, Washington to see her dying father. Crossing through enemy lines, Mercy inadvertently falls into the Union’s war effort. Not only is the action reflective of a very long and dangerous journey, but the characters Mercy meets are interesting and worthy of their own stories. In particular, I’d love to know more about the uppity Miss Theodora Clay, Mercy’s cabin mate through her journey on the Dreadnought.

Cherie Priest has a tendency to bring back characters in her universe. Here’s hoping that we see Mercy Lynch again.

4.) Nation by Terry Pratchett (2008)

I haven’t read much Terry Pratchett outside of Good Omens, but I decided to read Nation after reading a review of it online a couple of years ago. While the book does have some of Terry Pratchett’s traditional humor, the book ends up being a very emotional alternate history about a boy and a girl affected by a tsunami and how they have to rebuild.

The story follows a boy named Mau who was in the middle of his manhood ritual when a tsunami wiped out his entire village. The only person left on the island is a “ghost girl” named Daphne, who was on a wooden ship that washed up on the island on its way to port. As more people from the surrounding islands spill into what is left of Nation, Mau has to work with Daphne and others in order to preserve the island and protect who is left. While he questions the Gods of his culture, he begins to learn the history of his island.

Many have suggested that this story is Terry’s reflection on his Alzheimer’s, and I can sort of see it. Here, we have a story about someone who loses everything and tries so hard to save what is lost. So much of the emotion comes from Mau’s loneliness over being the last person left of his tribe. However, as the tagline of the novel says, “When much is taken, something is returned.” As much as this novel is about loss, it’s also about what you gain from that loss.

3.) Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher (2011)

I became a fan of Carrie Fisher as a writer after watching her one woman show Wishful Drinking late last year. Wishful Drinking is a funny and honest memoir from Fisher about her family, her experience as Princess Leia, and her Bipolar disorder. Shockaholic feels very much like an addendum to Wishful Drinking, but where the previous memoir was all about her, Shockaholic is a very honest reflection on the people she’s known.

The whole idea behind this followup is explained briefly in Wishful Drinking and elaborated on within the first chapter. Fisher has been undergoing Electroshock Therapy to help treat her Bipolar disorder. She explains that it is nothing like in the movies and that it has been a massive help for her. However, a downside of it is that she loses about four months worth of memory. After the initial introduction to her memory loss, Carrie tells us about various memories and reflections of her past. From her retelling of going toe-to-toe with Ted Kennedy while on a date with Chris Dodd to random memories of her first stepfather Harry Karl. However, the most telling chapter is towards the end, where she talks about her father Eddie Fisher, who recently passed away. She talks about how her relationship with him and how he was towards the end of his life. As someone who has lost a grandfather recently, it was an emotional read and so much more raw than anything else in Wishful Drinking. The book is not as funny as Wishful Drinking, but it is so tender and telling, showing yet another side of Fisher that we have never seen before.

2.) Drinking With Strangers by Butch Walker and Matt Diehl (2011)

As I showed in my album review list, I’m a huge fan of Butch Walker. His music has been a life force to me for the past five years and his albums have a special place in my heart and in my CD collection. When I heard he was writing a book, I was ecstatic to read it and soak in what he had to say.

Drinking With Strangers is equal parts memoir and how to guide to make it in the music industry. As a midlevel artist who has been working in the industry for more than 20 years as both an artist and a producer, Butch has stories a plenty to share. Some even include your favorite artists. One of my favorite stories in the book is about him and Gabe Saporta teasing and hitting each other during production of the last Midtown album. Also, it’s probably the first time I’ve ever understood how royalties work.

However, the book is not a rock’n’roll drugged out tell all. In fact, Butch keeps it very tame and doesn’t name names. Partially for legal reasons, I’m sure, but names are only dropped when things are positive. Instead, Drinking With Strangers really becomes a story about following your dreams, overcoming your obstacles, and enjoying life as it comes. It just happens to have stories about other rockstars interspersed throughout.

1.) The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (2008 – 2010)

Perhaps it is cheating to list three books as my number one, but The Hunger Games is not a series of stand alone novels. It’s not a Battle Royale ripoff. The trilogy is a story about a girl who put herself in danger to protect her family and inadvertently started a war.

The world of The Hunger Games is what I’ve called a post-post-apocalypse. Where the world has rebuilt after an unknown disaster, but where the ones with money really do have all the power. The main concept may be a battle to the death involving children done for entertainment, but through that, we see that the world of Panem is brutal and puts these characters into a never ending cycle of poverty and oppression that keeps those outside of the Capitol bending towards their will. And yet, here we have Katniss Everdeen of District 12 becoming the Mockingjay, becoming a symbol of hope and resistance for a downtrodden nation. However, she’s reluctant and just so very… human. As the series progresses into a full blown war, we see the consequences of it and how it tears down someone so easily. It may be a futuristic setting, but The Hunger Games tells a very painful and very real human story.

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about my favorite music videos and online videos of this past year!

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Books

 

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Liesel’s Yearly Favorites: Favorite Movies of 2011

Long time, no see!

Okay, I’ll admit that I never usually end up seeing all the movies I really should any given year. I missed a lot of summer blockbusters this year due to travel and I probably won’t see Oscar bait films until sometime next year. However, out of the ones I’ve seen, these were the six I’ve enjoyed the most.

Honorable Mention: True Grit

This is such a weird one for me to include. I desperately want to include it in my favorites since it was the first movie I saw in 2011 and set such a standard for me. However, it was technically released in December of 2010, making it ineligible for this particular list.

However, this doesn’t mean I don’t suggest this film. In fact, I highly recommend it. Jeff Bridges is excellent as the surly Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon does exasperated fairly well. In true Coen Brother fashion, the action is a bit slow moving, but not boring, and the characters are plenty rich. The real standout of this movie though is Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. The original story is very much about Mattie’s quest for retribution against the man who killed her father and Steinfeld’s performance reminds us that what it’s really all about. She’s angry, stubborn, and much older than her fourteen years. At several points in the film, it was hard to forget that this was Steinfeld’s first major motion picture. She acts circles around Bridges, and that is no easy feat.

While I have since come to terms with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and am very much looking forward to her performance, seeing this movie makes it easy to understand why Hailee was such a favorite to play the Mockingjay.

6.) Sucker Punch

I know I really shouldn’t like this movie. It’s bizarre, kind of non-sensical, and its attempts at empowerment and its outlook on sex and sexuality are skewed, to say the very least.

However, recognizing all of that, I still enjoy this movie. The fantasy action sequences are gorgeous and exciting, especially the Steampunk WWI segment. Plus, the use of music in this movie appeals to one of my weaknesses when it comes to film. The soundtrack synchs up really well to the action and the covers and remixes on the soundtrack are actually fairly good.

Even with the film’s weaknesses, there is one thing it does have a positive in. In a world where it is rare for an action movie to have a female lead or more than one woman involved in the action, there’s an ensemble cast of five (six if you count Carla Gugino’s character). They do not fight against each other or betray each other purposely (Blondie’s situation being a very upsetting case of being stuck in a corner). They work together to achieve their goals and it’s doesn’t become just about Babydoll in the end. While this film will probably be a footnote against female ensembles like the cast of Bridesmaids and Friendship is Magic, female lead action films like Hanna, and next year’s Brave and The Legend of Korra, but I have to give it a positive point for that.

And did I mention the German Steampunk Zombies?

It’s extremely flawed, but it’s my guilty pleasure of the year.

Best Scene: GERMAN STEAMPUNK ZOMBIES.

5.) Cowboys and Aliens

I hated the fact that so many critics hated this film.

Was it a game changing sci-fi that will define the genre for years to come?

No.

Was it an iconic western movie that flawlessly incorporated science fiction?

It looks like one, but probably not.

Was it just a whole lot of fun that mixed classic westerns with alien invasion tropes?

You bet your ass it was.

Directed by John Favereau and featuring the most nerdgasmic cast to ever exist on film, Cowboys and Aliens follows outlaw Jake Lonergan as he tries to regain his memory and help members of a local mining town find their loved ones who had been kidnapped by the invading force. It provides a lot of B movie action on a large scale without a lot of the B movie schlock. The acting is also pretty good, but in his traditional way, Sam Rockwell as Doc manages to steal focus any time he’s on screen. Considering he’s on the screen with Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde, that’s pretty impressive.

Best Scene: Jake carrying an injured Ella away from the river.

4.) Captain America: The First Avenger

I really want to give DC more credit sometimes since they’re my preferred comics universe, but between the reboot and their failings in film, it makes me want to switch over to the Marvel universe sometimes.

This year, Marvel hit it out of the park movie wise with two films leading up to next year’s The Avengers. The first being May’s Thor (which I will talk about later in the post) and then Captain America: The First Avenger in July. While neither film was quite as good as Favereau’s Iron Man movies, they each brought something that has been missing in superhero movies for years now. For Captain America, it’s the positive protagonist.

Played by Lucas Lee Chris Evans, Captain Steve Rogers is probably one of the most likeable super heroes to come out on film in the past ten years. He’s honest, honorable, and caring of his fellow man. This makes it all very easy to like him as a hero. As for the story, it stays very true to the origins of the Captain America character as well as the story of the Howling Commandos. The movie is also a dieselpunk dream come true, which is probably due to director Joe Johnson and his experience in that field (see: The Rocketeer). Mixing the factors of World War II, the appearance of HYDRA, and the camaraderie among the commandos and the Strategic Scientific Reserve, it doesn’t feel just like a superhero movie. It feels like a war movie with superhero elements. I’m going to miss that in future movies with the Cap, but maybe we’ll get Bucky back!

Best Scene: ‘The Star Spangled Man’

3.) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

It’s hard to think about what to say about this movie that I didn’t already say nearly two weeks ago after I saw the film. Still, if its presence on this list is any indicator, it’s cast and use of action made it one of my favorite films of this year. It was exciting, intriguing, and I sincerely hope there will be a third one.

With Stephen Fry coming back.

Though probably not naked.

Also, it is very hard to speak to people about this movie without wanting to ask them about the relationship between Holmes and Watson. He taught Watson how to dance. How is that not… Oh never mind. this is not the time nor the place for my fandom themed prattle. However, I do hope that this movie will be a launchpad for more Noomi Rapace in North American films. If it will not be this one, it will probably be Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

Best Scene: Any between Holmes and Watson. Especially the train.

2.) Thor

While Captain America: The First Avenger brought back the positive protagonist in a world full of brooding heroes, Thor brought back magic to a world that wants to know what would happen if a heroes circumstances were more realistic. While the realism can be fine, it often takes some of the fun out of the movies. This is especially true for the world of Batman. While he may not be magic himself, he interacts with the magic fairly often.

When it comes to Thor, it doesn’t just let the magic co-exist in the same universe as Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, and Steve Rogers, it reveres it. Thanks to the Shakespearean eye of Kenneth Branagh, we get insight into the gorgeous Asgard as well as the fall and rise of the titular God of Thunder as he is exiled to an unknown land and learns to be a more caring man. It’s emotional, magical, and grand, but that’s the touch of Branagh.

While I will admit that the romance between Thor and Jane did feel wooden, the cast is superb. It’s hard to pick one particular standout performance since everyone played off of each other so well. That being said, I especially enjoyed Jaimie Alexander as the warrior Sif, Kat Dennings as the ever suffering intern Darcy (we are kindred spirits, her and I), and Idris Elba as the simultaneously intimidating and comforting Heimdall, who protects the gate between the realms.

The end of the movie leaves it unclear as to how exactly Thor will be returning to Earth, but I cannot wait to see how he plays off the heroes of science in The Avengers.

Best Scene: Darcy tazes the God of Thunder

1.) The Muppets

This movie needs to be the very definition of feel good.

I’ve already talked at length about this movie, but I’m still impressed about how well Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, and Bret McKenzie understood what the Muppets really are about. It’s about making people happy. The Muppets are never mean spirited, dishonest, or (as Fox News would have you believe) anti-capitalism. As they said in the movie, they’re all about providing the world with laughter.

And this movie provides a lot of it.

The music is wonderful, the characters top notch, and the writing out of the park. I think if Jim Henson were here, he’d be proud of what the crew behind this movie has accomplished. Here’s hoping that there will be more Muppets for years to come!

Best Scene: Pretty much the whole movie, but the scenes of ‘Life’s A Happy Song’ and ‘The Rainbow Connection’ especially.

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting about my favorite books read in 2011!

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2011 in Film

 

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Liesel’s Yearly Favorites: Six Favorite TV Episodes of 2011

All apologies for not getting this post out sooner. There was some dimensional backup after visiting a man named Pemberton yesterday.

Before I start talking about my very favorite of television this year, I have to mention that The Extraordinary Contraptions have met their Kickstarter goal! They’re currently at 104% with 4 days left to donate. If you haven’t done so yet, now is your chance! Also, there will be a Kickstarter Victory Show in Atlanta on January 5th at the 5 Spot. More information on that show can be found here.

Anyway, this year was a pretty good year for Television, but what did I personally enjoy? I have to admit, this was one of the easier lists to put together. Lots of comedy, lots of drama, and a surprising amount of animation (and spoilers)…

6.) TIE: ‘The Categories of Life’ (Torchwood: Miracle Day) and ‘You’re Getting Old’ (South Park)

I’m at a bit of disadvantage including these two episodes on the list due to the fact I haven’t seen all the episodes in their respective seasons. At the time writing this, I’ve only gotten halfway through Miracle Day and I haven’t watched South Park regularly for a while now. However, these two episodes were definite standouts from what I’ve seen and practically define the phrase ‘turning points’. For ‘Categories’, it was the Torchwood team realizing not only who the true villains of the story are and how humans can be even worse than the aliens threatening their existence. The last few minutes of the episode are absolutely chilling and bring back memories of Gwen Cooper’s speech about the Doctor from Children of Earth. It’s a beautiful confluence between the actors giving amazing performances (especially Bill Pullman as Oswald Danes and Marc Vann as Colin Maloney) and Jane Espenson’s pitch perfect writing.

For ‘Old’, it’s a stark reminder that while the boys of South Park, Colorado get into off the wall satirical adventures about life, universe, and everything, they are still nine year old boys who have to grow up sometime. The episode carries on in usual South Park fashion for most of the episode, with plenty of jokes about fecal matter, terrible movies, and Randy Marsh’s constantly changing interests. However, in the last few minutes, Trey Parker and Matt Stone get honest with the viewer through their characters. They’re getting older too, and these adventures are making them cynical too. By the end of the episode, things have changed drastically for the characters and their fate is left unsure. While things have been reset and the two have signed up to produce episodes until 2016, it was still an unprecedented moment in South Park history.

Defining Moment(s): The Death of Dr. Vera Juarez and the Landslide montage.

5.) ‘Heart of Archness’ (Archer)

Archer was one of my favorite television shows from 2011, if my constant quoting it on tour with Corbin Welch was any indicator. It reminded me so much of Arrested Development while still having it’s own distinct voice as a spy comedy. ‘Heart of Archness’ was a three part episode that serves as a bridge between the end of season 2 and the upcoming season 3, where ISIS stages a rescue mission for the missing Sterling Archer (voiced by H. John Benjamin), who has gone off the grid after the death of his bride Katya Kasanova. In true Archer fashion, what seems like it should be a simple mission spirals downwards into insanity before you can even blink. For this 3 parter episode, it’s Archer becoming a pirate king, the pirates staging a mutiny, and Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell) getting blackout drunk and transferring all the money ISIS has to an offshore account. The episode is already hilarious enough, but two guest spots from Patrick Warburton and David Cross take this three parter over the top and remind us why Archer is the best at what it does.

Defining Moment: Archer making fun of Rip Riley’s 1930s-ness.

4.) ‘A Dog and Pony Show’ (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

Friendship is Magic was probably the most surprising show of the year. Based on a traditionally gendered franchise from the 1980, Lauren Faust ended up creating a bright and funny show that doesn’t conform to the traditions and stereotypes of most shows aimed at girls. This is especially evident in ‘A Dog and Pony Show’, which happened to be the first episode I ever saw of the series. In the episode, the very fashionable and dainty Rarity is kidnapped by the gem obsessed Diamond Dogs while looking to fill an order. When her friends set out to rescue her, they believe that she is crumbling under her conditions. However, we see that it’s quite the contrary. Rarity is not only holding her own, but bending the Diamond Dogs to her will. In most girls series, Rarity probably would have been the wilting flower that needed to be rescued by her bolder friends. It’s wonderful for a series to show that those into fashion and prefer to be neater and dainty can be just as strong as any other girl.

Defining Moment: “I am not whining! I am complaining!”

3.) ‘The Fight’ (Parks and Recreation)

The hardest thing about picking an episode of Parks and Recreation to go on this list was the fact that 26 of the 45 episodes I watched in December were broadcast in 2011. 26 great episodes that were hard to choose one from. Do I pick April and Andy getting married, Leslie and Ben finally getting together (or back together), or the episode with my very favorite line from the series (which is “Make me, stag! I am Diaphena!”).

At the end of the day, I have to go with ‘The Fight’, which is not only an advancement for the character of Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), but it also sets up a character path for both Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) confronting her flaws and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) moving out of government. However, the real humor of this episode comes most of the cast’s drunk acting as they continue drinking Tom’s invention of Snake Juice. It’s not only a hilarious episode, but the moments surrounding the drunken climax remind us why we love and root for these characters.

Defining moments: “Everybody’s wasted.”

2.) ‘Fionna and Cake/What Was Missing’ (Adventure Time)

Perhaps it is cheating to list two episodes, but they’re in the same episode block. I think it counts. While Adventure Time at its core a show about a young boy going on adventures with his dog, there is still a very strong female presence in this show. None more so than ‘Fionna and Cake’ and ‘What Was Missing’. ‘Fionna and Cake’ started as a series of comics from character designer Natasha Allegri that eventually evolved into a rule 63 fanfiction by the Ice King. However, the characters aren’t just genderswapped versions of their characters. They’re their own people. Fionna isn’t just an adventurer with a crush on Prince Gumball (played by Neil Patrick Harris). She’s a strong young woman who stands up for those she loves and isn’t just waiting for some boy to sweep her off her feet. The episode is a lot of fun, has a lot of great voice work, and makes me wish that we had more of Fionna the Human Girl and her sassy stretchy cat Cake.

On the second half of the block, we have ‘What Was Missing’. The episode starts off with Finn revealing that he still haves a piece of Princess Bubblegum’s hair. When it’s stolen from him from The Door Lord, he goes chasing after him through Bubblegum’s castle and Marceline’s place, who have also had things stolen from them. In order to get them back, Finn and his three best friends have to form “a genuine band.” This leads to several musical numbers, but the highlight is Olivia Olson as Marceline singing what sounds like a very bitter love song to Princess Bubblegum. Many fans will tell you that this episode is about the secret love affair between the Princess and the Vampire Queen, and it certainly feels like it sometimes. If they were together or not, this episode does stand out for having a great message about friendship and showing that your friends can be very different from you, but still be your very best friends in the world.

Defining Moment(s): ‘Oh Fionna’ by Neil Patrick Harris and ‘I’m Just Your Problem’ by Olivia Olson

1.) ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ (Doctor Who)

While some of this list had some tough choices, my top episode for this year was no contest. There were plenty of great episodes in this season of Doctor Who, but the true winner for this season was the Neil Gaiman written episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. Something of a one off adventure, it reminds the audience of one essential thing about Doctor Who. No matter where the Doctor goes, what he looks like, or who he travels with, the series is really about a madman and his big blue box.

This is the episode where we finally hear from the big blue box.

Played wonderfully by Suranne Jones, the TARDIS finally gets to have a voice for an episode. The episode provides great comedy from Matt Smith’s Doctor and his TARDIS as they run to save Rory and Amy, some great suspense as the Ponds are chased by a disembodied Michael Sheen, and a terribly sad climax as the TARDIS burns up her human form. It’s may be a standalone adventure, but it reminds us of the magic of Doctor Who. That anything is possible with him and that his heart really does lie with the lady who may not always take him where he wants to go, but always takes him to where he needs to be.

Defining Moment: “Hello Doctor. It was so very nice to meet you.”

In a few hours, I’ll be posting my top movies of the year. Hang tight!

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2011 in Television

 

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Liesel’s Yearly Favorites: Six Favorite Albums of 2011

Sorry for the lack of posts this past week. I hope that you’ve all had a wonderful holiday season! As our year comes to an end, it’s time to take a look back at all the things that brought us joy this year in media. All week, I’ll be talking about my favorite things from this year. Starting with this past year in music!

6.) Night Shades – Cobra Starship

I’ve been a fan of  Cobra Starship for a very long time and have been very happy to see them gain so much success in the past few years. However, I wasn’t a huge fan of their third studio album Hot Mess. It felt disjointed and was a watered down version of the fantastic Viva La Cobra. It was quite literally a hot mess.

When I heard Cobra had a new album coming out, I was a little worried that they had perhaps lost their edge. I guess this left me in a position to be pleasantly surprised when I actually heard Night Shades. It’s not a hot mess. Not at all. It’s the most mature album Cobra Starship has released.

An album about love found and lost, the album perfectly mixes modern electropop with sounds from the 60s and 80s. These influences are most obvious on the songs ‘Fool Like Me’ (which features French band the Plasticines) and ‘Anything For Love’. However, the true standout song on this album is ‘Disaster Boy’, a catchy and emotional song about being in love with the wrong person with keytarist Victoria Asher on lead vocals.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Disaster Boy’, ‘Fool Like Me’

5.) 21 – Adele

I’ve been familiar with Adele for some time now. After seeing her on a few quiz shows in 2009, I took a listen to her debut album 19. It was a fantastic album with a great single in ‘Chasing Pavements’. While the single did gain some ground with the VH1 crowd and Adele eventually won a Best New Artist Grammy, she didn’t seem to catch on too much with the mainstream. I became sure that Adele would be much like Kate Nash and Lily Allen. Popular in their home country, but only marginally known here in the US.

That was until 21 hit US shores.

Starting with the hit summer single ‘Rolling In The Deep’ and continuing with ‘Someone Like You’, 21 by Adele became the most inescapable album of the year. Not to mention the best selling. In a world where the autotuned often seems to win out in the pop market, Adele’s old school sound won out and helped to start turning the tides away from the endless barrage of party coming from the radio.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Rumor Has It’, ‘Set Fire To The Rain’

4.) Vices and Virtues – Panic! at the Disco

Vices and Virtues had a strange way of coming into being. When the band started work on the album after getting off the road for their 2008 album Pretty. Odd., it wasn’t long until things started to shake up. In 2009, Panic! was split down the middle with bassist Jon Walker and lead guitarist and songwriter Ryan Ross leaving and lead singer Brendon Urie and drummer Spencer Smith staying behind.

For the next two years, Urie and Smith took a lot of time to evaluate and to create music as a newfound duo. At the end of this road, Vices and Virtues was created. An album about bidding a painful farewell to your past while looking forward to your future, V&V seems to pick up from the burlesque/baroque direction 2005’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out seemed to be going while mixing it with the lessons and musical maturity learned from Pretty. Odd. Produced by Butch Walker and John Feldman, Vices and Virtues is full of catchy songs, emotion, and Brendon Urie playing every instrument known to man.

Oh, and a Children’s choir helping with the big finale.

It’s that kind of album.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Nearly Witches (Ever Since We Met)’, ‘Hurricane’

3.) Ceremonials – Florence and the Machine

Florence and the Machine gained some slight popularity when their previous hit single ‘Dog Days Are Over’ began to be played on the radio. With indie credibility intact, the Machine headed by machine Florence Welch released their newest album Ceremonials this September. A dark and very fluid record, Florence and the Machine carry on and improve the sound found on their 2009 release Lungs while mixing a certain gothic style reminiscent of Kate Bush.

The sound of the record though, while impressive (like the swimming through water feeling of lead single ‘What The Water Gave Me’), it would feel incomplete without a complimentary voice. Luckily, Florence Welch’s siren sounds help carry the visuals of the sound perfectly and bring a certain emotion to the music that is often hard to describe in words. She can cover the darkness in songs like ‘Seven Devils’, but she can also bring the light. When I hear ‘Shake It Out’, it feels like everything wrong will soon be righted.

But perhaps that is idea behind ceremony. It can be just as much about darkness and uncertainty as it about celebrating happiness and light.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Shake It Out’, ‘Bedroom Hymns’

2.) Soul Punk – Patrick Stump

I was asked after this record came out who Patrick was. For those who don’t know, Patrick Stump is the powerhouse lead singer of Chicago Pop-Punk band Fall Out Boy. In October, he released his debut solo album Soul Punk.

The follow up question was, “Does the album sound anything like Fall Out Boy.”

“Actually, it sounds a lot like 80s Minneapolis Sound. You know… Prince… Morris Day and the Time…”

“So… nothing like Fall Out Boy?”

“No. Not really.”

While the record is a departure from the evolved Pop Punk sound that Fall Out Boy popularized, it shows that Patrick is not a one trick pony. Influenced by his love of Pop Music, R&B, and the swagger of The Time, Patrick mixes these sounds with the rock he’s known for. While his lyrics can sometimes be a bit… strange, Patrick sells it with catchy hooks and grooves that could make the hipsters sung about on ‘Cryptozoology’ dance. Not to mention his already powerful voice reaching its full potential.

Even more impressive is that every instrument on this record is played by Patrick himself, making it the most true solo record released this year. Mixed with the fact he has become a very charismatic front man live, Patrick has proven that he’s not just Fall Out Boy. In fact, he is so much more…

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers)/Cryptozoology’, ‘Everybody Wants Somebody’

1.) The Spade – Butch Walker and the Black Widows

In 2010, producer and mid-level solo artist Butch Walker formed a new band to play and released a record titled I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart. While the record was a fantastic album that took a more Americana turn for the ever-changing Walker, it still felt like it was Butch singing with a band to go along with his new sound.

This year, Butch didn’t release a solo album. He released a band record.

Tested and recorded live, Butch Walker and the Black Widows unleashed The Spade onto the world in August. While there’s still plenty of Butch’s usual storytelling to go around on this record, the band stands out just as much as Walker does. From the fantastic guitar playing of Fran Capitinelli across the whole record as well as his songwriting on ‘Sweethearts’ and ‘Bodegas and Blood’, to the drunken playfulness of Chris Unck on the song ‘Everysinglebodyelse’, and the happy defiance of Jake Sinclair on ‘Synthesizers’, it shows that Butch did not just pick these people to back him up. He picked them because they’re vastly talented and add something naturally wonderful to his music.

Of course, Butch still has his own moments on the record. So much of the record looks back on his past as he gets older. There are memories and reflections all over this record, but there is also a hint of sadness of leaving the places and people you love behind. This is especially evident in ‘Day Drunk’, which is easily the most emotional song on the record. However, there’s also reflection on what you have in the present and looking forward to the future in there too. It’s a human record with a real Southern twist.

And it has a fantastic closer about bar fights, too.

Must Hear Tracks: ‘Dublin Crow’, ‘Bodegas and Blood’

That’s it for today! Come back tomorrow where I’ll be talking about my favorite TV episodes of the past year.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2011 in Music

 

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The game is still afoot in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes has had quite a re-emergence in the media in the past couple of years. Between the Guy Ritchie directed Sherlock Holmes in 2009 and the modern adaptation by Stephen Moffat in 2010, the world’s only consulting detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has found a new modern popularity. Now with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and the second series of Sherlock, that popularity is set to continue. This blog in particular concerns A Game of Shadows, which features Robert Downey Jr. returning as the titular detective.

Naturally, there are spoilers that follow. In short, the film is a fine follow up to its predecessor and especially shines in its cast and its action.

A Game of Shadows takes place not very long after the previous film. John Watson (Jude Law) has moved out of 221B and is preparing to marry Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly) and Sherlock Holmes (Downey) has been heavily investigating Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), who’s crimes had been hinted at during the previous film. As Moriarty begins to bring his plans to fruition, the duo finds themselves banding together for one last adventure that takes place all over Europe.

Like many of Doyle’s stories, the events in this film are not dependent on the previous film. In fact, the biggest tie to the previous film is killed off in the first ten minutes. If you haven’t seen the first one, it will be no problem to go into this one and enjoy it.

As previously mentioned, one of the biggest strengths of this film is the cast. Downey and Law are a fantastic Holmes and Watson. They play off of each other perfectly and demonstrate just how dynamic the relationship between the detective and the doctor is. More fandom oriented viewers may see a more romantic side to this relationship, but it certainly isn’t unfounded. Multiple times during the movie, I did wonder to myself if the two were finally going to kiss…

Taking the place of Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler as the female lead is Noomi Rapace as Sim, a Romani fortune teller who was an anarchist in France before the events of the film. Rapace is most known for her portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film adaptation of The Millennium Trilogy, which I hope to review for a future blog. In her first English speaking role, Rapace provides a quiet and strong character who creates an interesting addition to the Holmes/Watson partnership as they travel across Europe in search of her brother Rene, who has become of a major part of Moriarty’s game.

As for the new Mrs. Watson, Reilly continues to bring a certain brightness to the role of Mary. Here, she seems somewhat more tolerant of Holmes’ madness and even helps bring Moriarty to justice by the end of the film. Mrs. Morstan-Watson, I always did think you to be brilliant.

Rounding out the main cast is Harris as the villain Moriarty and British national treasure Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes. While Moriarty is quite literally the archetypical mad scientist, Harris plays him here with a frightening subtlety. At some points, Moriarty seems like a quiet and charismatic professor, but then there are moments where he becomes the scariest thing ever put on celluloid. I will never see Schubert in the same way (but more on that in a bit). Fry, however, has a quietly humorous performance that balances well against Downey as his younger brother. It’s not very atypical for Fry, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Just be prepared to see more of Fry than you’re probably expecting. Literally and figuratively.

Outside of the acting, the action in the film is top notch. If you’ve seen the previous film, you have an idea of how this film will move. However, the ante has been upped and there are several parts of the film that feel like we are inside Holmes’ head. In particular, there’s a scene in a German forest where Holmes, Watson, and the group of Romani are running from soldiers at a weapons plant. The action alternates between moving quickly and time slowing down as mortars are being fired. It’s suspenseful and beautifully shot.

There is also the return of Holmes’ narration as he analyzes and explains the attack he’s going to make. I adore these sequences not only for the way they are shot, but for how much they characterize Holmes. The best turn of this comes at the end when in his final fight against Moriarty, Moriarty himself joins in on the narration and breaks down the moves he will make. This shows that he is at Holmes’ level, if not higher. This will be a delight to Doyle fans, who will recognize the similarities this film has with ‘The Final Problem’.

Another element that delighted me was how much music is incorporated into this story. The score by Hans Zimmer is top notch and continues the themes from the previous film’s score. It’s epic, playful, and sounds like it should be played in a 19th Century pub. However, this time, there are also many Romani elements present to compliment Sim and her group. There is also a very heavy incorporation of opera into the narrative. Moriarty’s obsession with Schubert and ‘Die Forelle’ leads to not only one of the most frightening moments of the film, but a great gag later on when Holmes bests Moriarty. There is also suspensful use of Mozart’s Don Giovanni as the trio of Holmes, Watson, and Sim try to stop a bombing in France.

Fans of Holmes, especially Guy Ritchie’s vaguely steampunk vision of the character, shall enjoy this film. It’s properly action packed while staying faithful to the spirit of Doyle’s texts as well as his trademark character. If the end of this film is any hint, this will not be the final problem for this incarnation of Holmes.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2011 in Film

 

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