Monday, December 31, 2007

Top 10 Albums 2007

2007 was a much better year for music than it was for movies. Let's face it, we at ART OF FUNCTION live and breath our iPods, so many movies and many albums fly across our radar on a weekly basis. I want to go on record and state that every record on our list and every record listened to this year, was purchased and not stolen off of a Bit Torrent or Peer To Peer network. I will also go on record as stating I do not approve of pirating music or movies. However, many artist these days elect to offer music for free or for whatever you want to pay (Radiohead). We purchased the majority of our music from two locations, iTunes and Amoeba Records. I believe that many albums on this list are not new revelations if you have been checking in on any music critics year end reviews. However, we love them and you should too.

I had to leave off a few albums from the Top 10 . I also discovered a few new artists I had not been turned on to this year, so I will distribute a few supplemental awards before we hit our top 10 list!

Honorable Mention
The Bravery - "The Sun and The Moon" - This album is just good solid indie rock without much pretense. These guys feel a little like Modest Mouse, but probably a little more streamlined and simple. I found the album however rock solid.

Best Compilations Album
Various Artist - "Indoor Picnic Music" (iTunes Exclusive) - This a great compilation of soft Indie Rock bands and Singer Song Writer types, and some old favorites are on the list, like the Barenaked Ladies and Jars of Clay. The best part about this album is you get 19 tracks for only $3.99. And that is just freaking amazing!

Best Artist Re-Discovered

This is a tie. Both of these artists did not release any album in 2007, but I did not Re-Discover them until this last year, and I have to say, I am really glad I did. I purchased two albums each from them and listened to them a ton. I could not put them on the TOP 10 for 2007, but I had to mention them. They are Mike Doughty (former lead singer of Soul Coughing) and R.L. Burnside (the Blues Virtuoso). I recommend Doughty's Haughty Melodic and pretty much any album by Burnside if you are a fan of The Blues. His voice is like gravel and filled with wisdom and passion. Do yourself a favor and pick up an album.

So, here is the list!

10. Cold War Kids - "Saint John" - This one I first heard off of a co-workers iPod, and I was hooked. I went out and downloaded it as soon as I returned to Casa De Montgomery. The entire album is one of the most diverse and risky albums I listened to this year, with some tracks failures but the majority of them are resounding successes. Indie Rock done well!

9. Barenaked Ladies - "The Barenaked Ladies Are Men"
- The Canadian Pop Rock institution followed up last year's "The Barenaked Ladies Are Me" with this companion album that is just as fun and whimiscal as their previous efforts. It is a solid "Make you Feel Good" album.

8. Peter Bjorn and John - "Writers Block"
- Storming out of Sweden with wonder in their hearts and in their musical instruments, Writers Block will tickle you while you sleep. I often find myself whistling their music as I ready myself for bed. This album is excellent, but a few tracks do fall flat, but as a whole very solid.

7. Bloc Party - "Weekend in the City"
- This album is simply awesome. If you love a great drummer, then this is the album for you. I love this album in the car late at night as I am driving home from work or after a show.

6. Arcade Fire - "Neon Bible"
- Powerful is the best word to describe the Arcade Fire's 2007 effort. This one was highly anticipated, and it did in fact deliver. Part funeral dirge, part working man's anthem, The Arcade Fire deliver their signature sound with poignancy and adept skill. The only reason the "Neon Bible" is not higher on the list is due to the fact that I find a few of the tracks indulgent.

5. The National - "Boxer"
- This one will haunt you. It just makes you sad. I have always been a big fan of Nick Cave, and this album reminded me a lot of the Bad Seeds. It reminds me of dreary Thursday mornings driving to work.... simply gorgeous.

4. Eddie Vedder - "Into the Wild: Motion Picture Soundtrack"
- Mr. Vedder left his fellow Pearl Jammers in Seattle to record his second effort involving Sean Penn. The first was a few wonderful tracks on the "Dead Man Walking" Sound track. Here Mr. Vedder delivers powerful folksy rhythms mixed with his tell tale lyrical style. I look forward to his Oscar Nomination and subsequent performance.

3. Various Artist - "Once: Motion Picture Soundtrack"
- Okay, I will preface the following top 3 with a NOTE. Any one of these albums could have been my numero uno. However I had to pick one, so I did, and I put the ONCE sound track at number three because it has been with me the least... only a few days... but after about a dozen runs on my iPod, I thoroughly love it. I wish I enjoyed the movie as much as I enjoyed the songs from it. But this modern Musical is incredible and really turned me on to Glen Hansard, and I look forward to exploring his own band "The Frames" more in 2008. It's mix of melodic vocals with Celtic inspired folks songs and a little indie rock is almost perfection. Almost.

2. Amy Winehouse - "Back to Black"
- Before she became a tabloid train wreck, Ms Winehouse put out what may have been one of the best albums in ten years. Back to Black is awesome, nostalgic and original all in one. Her voice on the album is spectacular and unique, both warm and abrasive. She turns in a performance that future vocalists seeking to mimic her jazz nouveau sound will have to measure up to.

1. Silversun Pick Ups - "Carnavas"
- At the end of the day, I love Rock. This album characterized my musical journey this year where I really began to seek out bands with a different sound and attitude. The Silver Sun Pick Ups album "Carnavas" fell into my hands in January of 2007, and it has consistently stayed on my rotation all year long. It is moving and seething and stretches you while consoling your ID. I often summerize a year of my life by one album. In 1992, it was Pearl Jam's "Ten", in 2000 it was Shifting Skin by On, and this album fits that category. It will forever remind me of a time in my life. Truly excellent work, and deserving of someone No. 1 for 2007. It is mine.

So, 2007 was a great year for music. Really creative and really inspired stuff. Let us hope that 2008 brings in even better music.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Top 10 Movies of 2007

I love me my movies. However, I did not love 2008. It may have been one of the most mediocre years of movie making in the past ten as a whole. There were some bright spots do not get me wrong, but many of the films I will soon discuss will not go down as the best of my best, but some of the movies were very good. However, when we here at Art of Function find ourselves at the end of a long and fruitful year, we celebrate with Top 10 lists. So, here is our top 10 list of movies from 2007.

My criteria for grading was simple. Did I enjoy it? Would I recommend it? Would I revisit it? Did it do something I had never seen any other movie do? Did it execute with excellence within the its genre of film making? If the answer was yes to any four of these questions, they made the top 10.

However, before we get to the best, lets hand out a few awards.

Worst Movie of 2007:
The Heart Break Kid: Barring its box office success this movie was just flat out terrible, and not funny. I found myself drifting off in my own head to a place of boredom, annoyance and eventual apathy. It really feels like the Farrely Brothers peaked out with Dumb and Dumber.

Most Overrated Movie of 2007
Knocked Up: This movie was funny and had was blessed with a star turn by Katherine Hiegel, but at the end of the day it failed to capture the same spirit of warmth and fun that Apatow's previous effort "The 40 Year Old Virgin" managed to generate.

Most Regretted Movie we did not seen in 2007
It's a tie with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. We're keeping our fingers crossed we can see them this weekend.

So, on to our list of the Top 10 Best Movies of 2007!

10. Live Free, Die Hard
- True to the original concept, Bruce Willis returns as Detective John McClain and immediately finds himself embroiled in an mystery involving, mercenaries, an evil genius played by Timothy Olyphant, explosions, thrills and a wise cracking side kick played by Justin Long. The old formula that worked so well in the first Die Hard movie is back, but the action was amped up a bit, and the 2007 version of Officer McClain is a little bit more hardcore. I have to say this was the best all around action movie I had seen in a few years. It was an enjoyable watch.

9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - I always walk away from the Harry Potter movies feeling satisfied and this darker and more mysterious fifth installment in the franchise was very inspiring while offering more chills than previous efforts. I will be sitting in the theater in 2008 for the next chapter in young Harry's adventures.

8. 28 Weeks Later - This movie did not live up to the brave and bold predecessor 28 Days Later, but it did give it one hell of a try. 28 Weeks Later is succeeds in creating a stronger human interest story in it's first act, but devolves a bit into a chase and scream film in the later third act. However, it is beautifully shot and edited. Definitely worth picking up at the video store... if you like zombie movies.

7. Once - Now, I admit that some folks adore this film. I think that as a film it brings a wonderful reality to the portrayal of two heart stung musicians who find each other on the streets, and learn about love and themselves through the recording of a demo album. The music is fantastic, but for the most part, I failed to be charmed by the lead performance of Mark├ęta Irglova. She fails to deliver for me, and at times is a bit annoying and that took me out of the movie, but Glen Hansard more than makes up for her inconsistencies. In the end, I am a bit torn over pacing and some performances, but this is a wonderful little story.

6. The Lookout - When I saw Brick last year (my No. 1 from 2006) I quickly jumped to old IMDB to find out what Joseph Gordon-Levitt's next project would be. I saw that The Lookout would be up next, and circled the calendar. This wonderful character study of a former high school star athlete haunted by a poor choice that left him mentally challenged is exquisite in its concept and the most interesting part of the film is learning how Levitt's character Chris gets through his day and deal with the disappointment of his life. However, the main plot device of the film, the robbery, that Levitt is coaxed into participating in, is somewhat dull and uncreative. However that is a minor critique for this strong film.

5. Black Snake Moan - I like to call this film a fantastic mess. Craig Brewer is a director to watch out for, and this was to be his second installment in his music movie trilogy, with Hustle and Flow which received ton of Oscar buzz and nominations. Black Snake Moan follows a cuckolded former blues player, Samuel L. Jackson, turned farmer who encounters a woman left for dead on the road, Christina Ricci, who also happens to be a nymphomaniac. He sets about trying to make her right with God, while finding himself returning to his musical roots. As I said before the film is a mess story wise. At times it feels like Brewer cannot decide to fully embrace this movie for its sexploitation devices or allow it to be rich character study, but thankfully Sam Jackson probably gives his best performance in years in this movie, and he makes it worth the watch in a big way.

4. Hot Fuzz - It is official Edgar Wright, Simon Peg and Nick Frost are genius. This movie was Universally criticized for not delivering the strength of story that Sean of the Dead gave us. However, I disagree with that statement. This film rides waves of genre film making like a deft surfer plowing down a 40 foot wave off of the Big Island. This time the trio mix the action adventure cop movie with the british rural countryside comedy and a little bit of the old murder mystery plot in this wild ride that was well worth my money spent on a seat at the old cineplex.

3. Waitress - I have to say this, a great movie about a young women struggling with an unplanned pregnancy hit theaters in 2007, and it was not "Knocked Up". We had heard people rave about this movie for months and months, which usually amounts to a big disappointment come viewing time. However Adrienne Shelly truly delivered one of the best films of 2007, quirky, funny, heart warming, romantic and filled with Drama, this movie about the best little pie maker, and her baby and her terrible husband and odd doctor make for a truly memorable viewing experience in 2007.

2. Zodiac - Mark us members of the David Fincher fan club. From Fight Club to Seven, Mr. Fincher delivers on creepy like no other film maker working in Hollywood today. His 2007 film about the notorious Zodiac Killer truly is a master piece in thriller / true crime film making. This movie truly disturbs and engages all at the same time. Each depiction of the different murders is equally more disturbing than the last, and Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. turn in terrific performances in this creep, dark and truly terrifying movie.

1. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters - Yes, A documentary takes home the first place finish on our list of the best movies of 2007. Seth Gordon emerged as a documentary film maker force with this incredibly entertaining look at coin op gaming and the characters who devote their lives to achieving high scores on video games that are almost as old as we are. Gordon deftly arranges his protagonist, Steve Wiebe as a down and out hero just trying to achieve one great thing in his life, the highest recorded score on Donkey Kong. Standing in his path is mullet master and the only man to register a perfect score on Pac Man, Billy "Try My Hot Sauce" Mitchell. There is high praise for editing and composition in this story where you truly laugh and cry as Mr. Wiebe hunkers down at the joystick for hours and hours of time attempting to prove that he is one of the best in the world. We left the theater in love with this movie, and forever quipping the line, "There's a Donkey Kong Kill screen coming up in five minutes," to anyone who would listen.

So, that's it! We're through 2007 and looking forward to some more great movies on the horizon... we think... we hope and we pray. See you at the movies!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Star Trek Next Generation Comes True!

When I was a kid, I used to catch the occasional episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation". I would not call myself a Trekker or Trekkie, but I liked and enjoyed the show. In the waning days of bachelor hood, my room mate and I used to watch old episodes of Voyager on DVD till the wee hours of the night. One of the things I loved about the show were the props, I equally enjoyed how many of the visions of the future displayed in the shows are now coming true, with intelligent desks and massive touch screen displays on the near horizon. Another wonderful toy the crews used to use were these digital tablets that contained all kinds of information, including complete libraries of literature from all moments in history and across all cultures... what an awesome thing to have! I always wanted one.

Well, I share this with you, because, thanks to the KINDLE we may finally see this television prop as a reality. Amazon is selling a new device that is marketed exclusively to readers who want something a little more tech oriented. The Kindle is a Web Connected Wireless device that allows you to download digital books directly to the device through a free wireless service. It also constantly updates news papers and blogs for your viewing pleasure. The Kindle also has what is billed as an 'electric-paper screen' which allows for a brighter view that looks to the human eye like real paper.

In my humble opinion this is a very overlooked gadget that did not get a lot of hype, but quietly sold out at the Amazon store. The best part about he device is that you can acquire product directly to the device without having to download to a computer first and syncing like an iPod, or without have to pay a service subscription fee. What more, the books you download are on average about %50 cheaper to purchase.

Unfortunately, this gadget is on major back order, and rumor has it, that even if you purchase it now you would not see it on your doorstep until February. Also the price tag is hefty at $399.99 a pop, but none the less, this is a great step in the right direction for the literature industry... finally books along with music and video will be available for instantaneous consumer satisfaction via a digital format. What remains to be seen is whether or not big box retailers like Barnes and Noble or Borders would follow suit with a similar product. Based on sales, I think it may be only a matter of time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tina Fey and Martha Rae Part 2

Well, originally, I did a post on the Writers Strike when it first struck. It has been almost eight weeks since the writers decided to put down their pens and pick up their picket signs, and in eight weeks there have been no new developments. Nothing has happened... well I shouldn't say nothing has happened.

  1. No More Original Scripted Shows: Many folks are scanning their DVR's and noticing the same thing I have noticed in the last few weeks, no NEW shows. This is equally disconcerting for promising new shows like Pushing Daisies or Big Bang Theory which will have to reintroduce their shows to the public if they return. Also, the crop of 'new reality shows' that the network has trumped out like ABC's failed "The Duel" have not lived up to the hope of delivering viable new content during the strike. The end result at this point is that consumers are indicating that they will turn now to vendors like Netflix and the movie theaters for their entertainment of choice, or worse of the media world... books!
  2. Economic Impact: The state of California alone lost 200 million dollars in revenue tax dollars in the month of November. The clear drop in cash flow will eventually leak over to affect the California Real Estate Market as the lack of usable cash in the market will provide yet another blow to the real estate market and subsequently the credit and loan business. This has many folks outside the industry concerned as well as those in the industry who are already seeing a steady decline in business for vendors who supply the entertainment industry.
  3. Lost Jobs: The Writers Strike does not present an immediate financial burden to the parties involved in the strike on a personal level. Writers depending on who you believe (the WGA says $60,000.00 and the AMPTE says $200,000.00) make about $125,000.00 dollars a year. Well over the median income in California. Obviously producers, studio and network executives make far more (Les Moonves made about eight figures in 2008) So, on a personal level neither the writers nor the AMPTE members are really impacted by this strike. It is the folks making middle income in the industry that will find themselves without a job during the holiday season. For example, Costume Departments, Casting Directors, Hair and Make Up, Transportation, Electricians, Camera Assistants, Production Assistants, Editorial and Craft Services all will suffer without shows to work on. These are lean times.
The frustrating part of this strike is the failure of both parties to develop and maintain a consistent dialogue in regards to settling the dispute. Both sides point the finger at the other as the main reason for breakdown in talks. However, it is clear that without two sides coming together there is a need for third party mediation in this dispute. That will be the responsibility of the federal government as it is obvious both the WGA and AMPTE will not be able to agree on their own mediator. They already turned down Bill Clinton's attempt to aide in negotiations, and he brokered a peace deal with Palestinians and Israelis. A somewhat faded light of hope comes in the form of a sister union, the DGA. The DGA (or Directors Guild of America) is the next major heavy weight to have their contract expire (around March). The DGA has deliberately backed off on their own negotiations (or even starting them) to see if the WGA could come up with a fair and reasonable deal. The DGA and it's members are already out of work, so they have supposedly come up with a deal that the AMPTE is rumored to like in pre-talks. It is unclear if the WGA is equally excited about the proposal. However the DGA is not going to even start their negotiations with the AMPTE until January 2nd of 2008. So, if a deal is not brokered with in the first few weeks of the new year, we will not see new shows until perhaps late February or March.

Early on many people picked a side to fight on. Many creative types sided with the Writers, etc. Now, it is clear that the actions of the WGA is causing some divisiveness amongst the Teamsters and Creative. Bitterness is starting to finally settle in. So, it is important that public opinion shifts from uncertain uneasiness to a push for resolution. Resolution is better for the greater community of industry professionals in the short and long term. There is not enough Art being generated in Hollywood these days, and the only thing preventing it from happening... is Greed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

J. David Carlson - Arist to Check Out!

J. David Carlson is an artist, who lives to 'Play'. Describing Mr. Carlson's art is somewhat difficult. It's part mixed media, part sculpture, part painting, part everything. However, if you get a chance to see his work, I highly recommend it.

Mr. Carlson's work does two things to the purveyor. First, it engages you. It is different, unique, beautiful and clever. Your entire adult mind nods at the twists and turn of each piece, and then second thing happens... your inner child lights up, because ultimately, what you are looking at is one gigantic, gorgeous toy. It is usually at this point that you find your hands reaching out to touch the piece, and hopefully your fellow gallery mate has the good sense to gently slap them away.

Mr. Carlson's work is best summed up in his own words, "Play has become essential to my artistic journey." Mr. Carlson like so many of us creative types and children of the late seventies and early eighties grew up with carefully crafted and unique toys that sought to put you into a complete world of fantasy. The G.I. Joe or Transformer not only functioned as a toy but a new universe where you mind was encouraged to take the intent and purpose and story of the toys even further than what had been imaged. It is here where as and adult I find myself drifting back to those days of building complex G.I. Joe forts with legos, and dreaming of bigger and badder landscapes to play with. Mr. Carlson seems to take that point of view and push it to the next level. I enjoy his "Play Scapes" the most. So, go on over and visit his website (linked above) and if you can catch one of his shows. I bet you will fight the urge to take one of his pieces home with you... I do every time I see one.... so I can play with it whenever I want.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Letter To Santa 2007

Some may call you Santa, but I will simply call you... 'Friend' for the purpose of the letter below.

Dear Friend,

We have enjoyed a wonderful relationship over the years, and despite the fact that I have now turned the age of 30, I still enjoy the fact that once a year, you and I may continue our correspondence. I see no need to discontinue a mutually beneficial friendship because I have turned the Big 3-0. I mean you still get jazzed by toys and you are what? 756 years old? You are only as old as you feel. Right? And thanks to my acupuncturist, I feel at least 27 years old again.

Now, I believe a Christmas Letter to Santa (or in this case, my Friend) should of course recount some of the special accomplishments or good behavior that you have come to expect from some of the wonderful and truly deserving people on your list. A list, I feel, I am quite at home on... the NICE LIST. (However, my neighbor who throws loud parties, smokes, and has loud... you know what, I won't go into that, but safe to say, his behind belongs on the naughty list, my wife would like to recommend he get both a bag of rocks and dog dookie for Xmas).

Where was I? Oh, yes, The Nice List! This year, I did three plays, I was promoted at work, I had four of my plays produced, and I got my SAG card, I was in a movie directed by Ron Howard, and I was in a movie with Jim Carey. Ron Howard said, I was "A Well Trained Actor". So, yeah, I'm like good and stuff. I also started my own acting class, that I teach. It's now been about 8 months and still going strong. I have great students.

Oh, and here is the biggest news, I'm about to have a bundle of joy delivered via the stork. Yep, my first child is on the way, and I'm super excited. Lot of growing up this year.

So, I think that's a pretty good.

So, that being said, what would I like for X-Mas. Well, I have assembled something of a list, and for the first time a few years, no iPod is on the list. So, relax you do not have to deal with Steve Jobs this year. Here is the list! Oh, and if you click on the links, it will take you to online stores with solid prices so you save a penny or three!

  1. HD-Television: Jenny and I did finally purchase an HD TV this year, but she has been less than excited to upgrade the signal to HD. So, we still watch Standard Def shows on an HD set. Could you please put in a good word with her, to let me upgrade.
  2. Salomon Trail Running Shoes: These are the best shoes for exercise I have ever put my feet into. I wear a size 11 in these bad boys, and I absolutely love them. They can also be purchased at R.E.I. for a very reasonable price.
  3. CROCS: I have wanted these for a long time. Everyone I know who has a pair swears by them. Now, I am not willing to go all Mario Batalli on these and get an orange pair. A reasonably subdued color would be find. Brown, Black, Charcoal. I'm guessing I'm a size 10.5 in these.
  4. Diaper Dude Black Skull & Cross Bones Diaper Bag: I'm more than willing to change a diaper, and care for my soon to arrive baby on my own, but I am unwilling to carry around a some frou frou diaper bag. I want a manly bag. This is a diaper bag a dude can be proud to carry on his shoulder and drink beer and scratch things.
  5. The OGIO Locker Bag: I need a new gym bag, after three years my last bag is starting to thread and come apart. So, I need a replacement. This is my favorite. I think it's awesome.
  6. XBOX GAMES: Yeah, my XBOX is still running without he Red Ring of Death! So, I think the following games would be winners: Call of Duty 4, Assassin's Creed, Orange Box, Bio Shock and Mass Effect. So, just click the link over each title and it will take you right to for a purchase page.
  7. Gift Cards: I like the following places, Barnes and Noble, iTunes,, Gamefly, and of course Best Buy. Although this year a gift card for the Apple Store would also be good, as I am saving up for a new laptop.
  8. Clothes: Look, let me be clear, you are going to buy me clothes, so let's make sure they fit. Here are my sixes: T-Shirt - XXL, Dress Shirt 33R/18.5, Pants 42 - 40 inches or XL, Shoe size 10.5. Or heck, if you have no idea what to buy me... send me a gift card to Target or Kohl's or even Macy's.
  9. Knife Set: Yep, I could use a new set of knives in the kitchen. It would be really great. Mine are dull and were never that great to begin with, and since I do the lion share of cooking right now, I'd love to have them.
Okay Santa. It's a pretty tame list. Just click the links, and check the stuff out. I'm also not one to stick up my nose at the occasional surprise. I am really glad my whole family will be together this Christmas for the first time... well, ever. So, that's a great gift.

Merry Christmas, don't eat too many cookies, and don't forget to get Mrs. Clause something nice this year... I mean come on? Who gives their wife a vacuum for Xmas... for shame!

Your truly and warmly,
Mick Montgomery