PopMatters End-of-Year-List: The Worst Films of 2010

The Worst Films of 2010

No. 3: Sex and the City 2
"Of the many sins that Sex and the City 2 commits against its fans—and there are many in the film’s grueling two-and-a-half hours, including the minutes wasted on the endless tour of an Abu Dhabi hotel—it’s the sound, thorough beating of the series’ greatest romance. Carrie was our heroine. Big was her fairytale prince. John Preston is, well, just a guy. He likes to curl up on his couch and watch TV—not horrid by any means, but nothing to make you clutch your hand to your chest and breathe a heavy sigh. Sex and the City 2 shows that Big is all limousine with nothing inside, a revelation that actually goes back and makes the entire series a little worse. And when Carrie berates him for wanting to hole up with take-out instead of squiring her away to a fancy restaurant, it diminishes her, too. Forget their relationship to each other – it’s our view of both of them that the movie tarnishes."

No. 1: Skyline
"Skyline comes courtesy of the brothers Strause, a duo best known for its special-effects work in films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. One of Skyline‘s protagonists, is in fact—if you are able to parse it out—also in charge of special effects on a big-budget film. So, when it came time for the film to deliver its aliens-vs.-humans story, what, apart from budget concerns, possessed the directors to ignore a special-effects-heavy, military-on-alien explosion-fest in favor of a smaller, human drama? Not that the latter would be bad in the hands of others—Monsters, for example, handled similar themes with intelligence—but it’s clear that this type of constricted storytelling is not the Strauses’ forte. In the few scenes when fighter planes engage in an out-and-out battle with alien invaders, the movie is pretty enjoyable (and looks pretty great, to boot). Yet the film fails to find a believable way to explain why two characters would bring a third’s digital camera into a bathroom to document a secret tryst, and why a separate fourth character would come across the photos in passing. The fact that Skyline is mostly these kinds of machinations, taking place in an isolated apartment, makes us wonder if there was a better Skyline movie going on just outside."

You can read the rest of the list by clicking through to PopMatters.

PopMatters End-of-Year-List: The Best Films of 2010

The Best Films of 2010

No. 24: Easy A
"How refreshing it is to see a smart, teenaged, female film protagonist talk like a smart, teenaged female. Easy A‘s Olive, portrayed lovingly by Emma Stone, doesn’t use texting terms or slang when she’s speaking. She isn’t dim, ditzy, or klutzy—nor is she uptight or anal-retentive. She grapples with real issues of sexuality and social perception. And, though the process is full of awkwardness and poor decision-making, she’s all the more likable for the smart way she goes about attacking these issues. (If only her male counterparts were as well-drawn and sharp, but we can’t have everything.) We’d say that filmmakers should take note of films like Easy A and Mean Girls and create more female-centered teen comedies with characters as smart and fully realized as the ones in those films—but, really, all romantic comedies would do well to follow Easy A‘s lead."

No. 23: I Love You, Phillip Morris
"I Love You, Phillip Morris is another one of those strange-but-true tales: Con man Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), a happily married family man, is hit with a car, decides to come out as gay man, turns to conning people to afford his lifestyle, gets caught and sent to prison, falls in love with another prisoner (Phillip Morris, played by Ewan McGregor), and spends the rest of his life in prison, breaking out of prison, and breaking Morris out of prison so the two can be together. (Phew!) While the facts of the story speak for themselves, the tricky part is the tone needed to balance out all of the narrative’s wackiness—and directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, together with Carrey, succeed in finding the perfect one. It acknowledges Russell’s strangeness without delighting in his misdeeds. It recognizes the humor inherent in Morris’ cons, but still manages to wring out lots of deep emotion when it is called for. When the film ends, you admire Russell—but you also kind of want to hit him in the face if you ever get a chance."

No. 6: Inception
"Director Christopher Nolan has spent his career toggling between big-budgeted action films and more thoughtful, cerebral fare. (Memento and Insomnia preceded Batman Begins, which was followed by The Prestige, which was then followed by The Dark Knight, and so on.) Inception is unique in that it succeeds at being both. At its core, it’s a heist movie, where a group of characters conspire to steal the most precious commodity of all: the ability to originate our own thoughts. And, like most heist movies, it comes with its own set of adrenaline-pumping action setpieces, with men with guns, car chases, big explosions, and perhaps the best fist-fight put to film this year. But Inception is so much more than a typical crime thriller because of its mind-bending structure. There is much to puzzle over after the film’s end. Whose subconscious were they entering? (Watch it again; it becomes clear.) Were those the same children at the end? (No, they were older and wearing different clothes.) Did that damn top continue to spin? (Well, that one’s not so cut-and-dried.) It’s this willingness to engage the mind—and the way that Nolan shows us worlds where city streets fold in on themselves, freight trains barrel through busy intersections, and hallways spin in space—that makes Inception more exciting than any close-call car chase could ever be."

You can read the rest of the list by clicking through to PopMatters.

PopMatters End-of-Year-List: The Best TV Shows of 2010

No. 13: Justified

"Justified is ostensibly the story of Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a U.S. Marshal transferred from glitzy Miami to his home town in eastern Kentucky after a (justified) shooting of a criminal. But it’s Givens’ chief antagonist in Kentucky, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who really runs away with the series. Taken from the textured world of Elmore Leonard’s short stories, there are few characters like Crowder on television. He’s certainly the villain, but one whose motivations are constantly hazy: Is he sincere and delusional, or faking it and sly?  Puzzling it out is the main pleasure in watching the first season of Justified. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that, while pursuing Crowder, Givens sure looks great in a cowboy hat."

You can read the rest of the list by clicking through to PopMatters.

PopMatters End-of-Year-List: Top Guilty Pleasure Television

The Guilty Pleasure Television of 2010

No. 6: Say Yes to the Dress
"Brides-to-be tune into TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress, a reality show that takes place at the tony Kleinfeld’s bridal salon in Manhattan, for the sheer thrill of seeing a barrage of thousands-of-dollar dresses paraded across the screen. Mermaid, fit-and-flare, A-line, and ball gown confections float across the screen, and home viewers have the guilty pleasure of critiquing gowns that they might never afford to try on in the first place. 'This one is too over-the-top,' you might think. 'The first one flattered her figure better.' Yet even after the excitement of seeing new Pnina Tornai and Vera Wang gowns has waned, it’s still mesmerizing to see the way that women sell to other women. Other television shows—The Apprentice, for example—celebrate the hard-hitting, hard-sell approach that men take with each other in business. It’s much more rare to see the approach that female saleswomen take with female clients, and observing those intricate operations is the true guilty pleasure of Say Yes to the Dress."

No. 3: 16 and Pregnant
"MTV’s docu-drama 16 and Pregnant evokes the guiltiest of all guilty pleasures: schadenfreude. 'No matter what troubles I’ve gotten to in my lifetime,' the viewer may think, 'at least I didn’t get pregnant when I was 16.' And, as callous as that may seem, it’s exactly the mission of the series. 16 and Pregnant doesn’t glamorize pregnancy and teen motherhood. Instead, it lays bare a thoroughly un-romanticized reality, full of painful labors, strained and broken relationships, the tedium and expense of raising children, and unrealized potentials and goals. Sure, the series regulars may become tabloid celebrities, but, given the choice, I’m sure that not many 16 and Pregnant fans would want to swap lives with one of its stars."

Though those are the entirety of my blurbs, you can read the rest of the lists by clicking through to PopMatters.

November, December, and January

Best of the Decade
An editorial feature package—edited by me and written with other editorial staffers—about the best county institutions that have been in business since the magazine was founded ten years ago. "One decade. Ten years of tireless research, experimentation, and reporting. Year after year, we scout out the most superlative offerings in Westchester County for our annual 'Best of Westchester' issue. Now, we’ve undertaken the enormous task of reviewing all of our previous editors' picks, distilling them down to the absolutely essential—the most stupendous, the most stunning, the most delicious, the most thrilling, the most dazzling—to bring you the 'Best of the Decade.' Think of it as the Best of the Best of Westchester."

Then & Now
A feature about how the county has changed in the past ten years: "Where do you go when, on a warm and breezy day, you want to have a drink or a bite to eat along the Hudson River? X2O? Half Moon? Red Hat on the River? The Day Boat Café? The Boathouse? A decade ago, none of these summertime staples would have been an option. The Hudson was not where we went to have fun. The river wasn’t for recreation—it was for work. (Not glamorous work, either—Riverkeeper called it the 'region’s sewer.') The water was polluted, the sites were choked off from the rest of the county, and it still had the workhorse vibe of lingering manufacturing industries, many of which had already taken flight, leaving chemical-filled messes in their wake."

She Checked It Out
A Q&A with writer Marilyn Johnson: "The old stereotype of the librarian with the tight bun, horn-rimmed glasses, and finger pressed to her lips in the 'shhh' position has been shattered. Now, you’re more likely to see librarians with tattoos, funky haircuts, and blogs that—rather than being meek and reserved—actually are quite loud-mouthed and opinionated. Marilyn Johnson, Briarcliff resident for the past 24 years, is one of the writers to shatter the fussy old preconception about librarians. Her book, This Book Is Overdue!, published in February, chronicles the work librarians do today, from getting the library plugged in to fighting the Patriot Act."

Happening Holidays
A round-up of holiday events outside of the usual performances of Handel and The Nutcracker: "People often forget that A Christmas Carol is one of the best ghost stories of all time. If you love Christmas/Halloween mash-ups, like The Nightmare Before Christmas, and want to see the Dickens tale become even more ghastly, the Westchester Broadway Theatre has a new show just for you. A Sleepy Hollow Christmas Carol, adapted by Jean-Paul Richard, weaves together A Christmas Carol and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In it, Scrooge, played by Mamaroneck’s John Treacy Egan, is visited by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle, and the Headless Horseman."

Totally Goth
A review of a local production of Jekyll & Hyde: "Behind every great man there’s a great woman and, in the case of split personalities, there are two."

Four Questions For...David Harbour
A Q&A with an actor in The Merchant of Venice and The Green Hornet: "'Al Pacino is a real gentleman—generous and gracious. He’s really grounded in being an actor and loves working on scenes. But, on stage, he’s like an untrained animal—you never know what he’s going to do.'"

Hepladock the Mylagoat
An item about a locally produced game that uses nonsense words: "'People think the hardest part of being an entrepreneur is coming up with the idea, but it’s not—it’s getting the idea in front of people,' Phelps says. After the meeting with the buyer, Barnes and Noble agreed to stock 48 copies of the game. Today, five years later, Yamodo sells more than 30,000 copies per year through Barnes and Noble, Toys R’ Us, and independent retailers, as well as its own website (yamodo.com)."

Book Clubs' Best Reads
A round-up of what local book clubs are reading: "Looking for a great book recommendation? Look no further than local active readers—the ones who go to their book-group meetings having actually read the books, not just to socialize."

November Culture Highlights
Barenaked Ladies, Anna Deveare Smith, Kathleen Hill, and more.

November Home Theater
The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, The Pacific, and The Goonies.

December Culture Highlights
Cyndi Lauper, Judy Gold, and more.

December Home Theater
Inception, The Other Guys, Despicable Me, and Futurama Vol. 5.

January Culture Highlights
Citizen Cope, Twelfth Night, the African American Writers and Readers Literary Tea, and more.

January Home Theater
Genre movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Machete, The Naked Kiss, Shock Corridor, and Justified.

Please click the links to read the articles in full.

PopMatters End-of-Year List: The Best 70 Albums of 2010

No. 40: Contra

"As with its self-titled debut, Vampire Weekend’s sophomore effort almost hides all of its innovation—its ability to blend global sounds, straight-up indie rock, and electronic music—by making such an easy, simple pleasure to listen to. Much is made of bands’ tendencies to put up a 'difficult' second record, but Contra seems engineered to encourage maximum repeat listens—there’s nothing abrasive about it, so you can throw it on at any time. Listenable, however, shouldn’t be confused with simple: band member Rostam Batmanglij’s production is easy to take in, but it’s also lush, bright, and full of twinkling elements: a marimba here, a keyboard flourish there. The full sounds still supports lyrics in that preppy upper-class milieu that brought them scorn with the last album, with references to Richard Serra, Wolford’s, and 'living at the French Connection'. But it just goes to show that the band isn’t apologizing for what it is: a band that’s created in the same mold as Paul Simon and Talking Heads, isn’t ashamed to sing about frippery like organic toothpaste and San Pelligrino, and one that is thoroughly enjoyable to hear."

Film Review: The Complete Metropolis

If There Was Ever a Movie That Deserved This Degree of Re-Examination, It’s Metropolis

"So, after 83 years of cutting and re-cutting, trying to piece together Lang’s original take we’re left to ask, Does the film live up to all the effort put in to save it?

Absolutely. Sure, on Kino’s Blu-Ray release, the newest 25-minutes of additional footage are scratched and grainy, and come in at a different aspect ratio than the rest of the film (the missing information is filled with black and gray bars), but that just underlines how gorgeous the rest of the film looks, filled with Lang’s soaring Art Deco towers and ornate cathedrals.

In fact, if there was ever a movie that deserved this degree of re-examination, it’s Metropolis. Every aspect of the movie is dense. The frames are full, sometimes with people (the DVD extras point out that 36,000 extras were used in the making of the film), sometimes with the light that bathes the saintly Maria, sometimes with smoke from the whirring machines. The story is packed with layers of symbolism. Sometimes machines are used as symbols for parts of the body, sometimes people are symbols as cogs in a machine, and on top of it all is a gloss of Biblical imagery. Even Gottfried Huppertz’s musical score—also restored to its original glory—swells and soars more often than it demurs. (Kino’s Blu-Ray is similarly exhaustive extras, mostly via a 50-minute documentary, 'Voyage to Metropolis', about the film’s making and restoration.)"

Read the full review on PopMatters.com.

Film Review: Eat Pray Love

Me Me Me, AKA "Eat Pray Love"

"Gilbert's objective is normally reserved, especially in movies, for 20-somethings. (Isn’t 'traveling to India to find oneself' the ultimate post-graduate cliché?) Liz, leaving a childless marriage in the beginning of the film, is beholden to no one. She is only responsible for herself, much like a privileged 20-something. The question is: Is there an age at which this emerging-into-a-whole-person storyline becomes vulgar? Or, considering the amount of scorn the younger generation brings down upon itself for being so similarly vain—broadcasting every interior thought on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the like—is there an age where this kind of selfishness isn’t vulgar?"

New Show Review: Outsourced

Outsourced: Series Premiere

You might want to skip this one, guys: "As the series begins, Todd, fresh out of a management training program, has transferred to India to set up a new call center there for Mid America Novelties. He’s been told that his employees are 'B-team.' They didn’t study in the U.S. They don’t know American customs and can’t speak with American accents. Todd is tasked with turning the rag-tag bunch into up-selling machines. This is the central duality of the show: half fish-out-of-water tale about Todd, half underdogs-come-from-behind-to-triumph story about his staff.

The problem is that neither plot has a sound foundation. For the first, it’s hard to identify with Todd because he’s not very likable. When he sees the traffic in Mumbai and calls it 'insane, like "Frogger" but with real people,' Todd seems not only dim but also insensitive, at best. (Has he really never seen bad traffic before? Does he seriously not consider the callousness of comparing people to the digital pixels in 'Frogger?') Because we have seen traffic before, it is easy to feel more sophisticated than Todd, and even the thought of investing an entire season waiting for him to catch up is exhausting...

While Todd’s romantic interest in an employee might complicate the series’ second plot, where the underdogs triumph, the other staff members looking like cardboard cutouts make it downright feeble. In the premiere episode we meet a series of types: the quiet one (Anisha Nagarajan), the one who talks too much (Parvesh Cheena), the corporate weasel (Rizwan Manji), the one who’s fascinated by American dating customs (Sacha Dhawan). They may as well be the pixels from 'Frogger.'"

Follow the link to read the rest at PopMatters.

September & October Issues

September Issue

Fall Arts Preview
A look ahead at the movies, books, network television shows, and cultural events premiering in the fall. Due to the size and number of components in this package, it looks much better in PDF form than on the web. See "Recent Work" for an excerpt.

Where the Laughs Are
Comedians come to the county: "Who says that every-thing in Westchester has to be so serious all the time? No, we don’t have our own dedicated comedy club, and we’re missing improv culture that’s present in a place like Astoria, Queens. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want a good laugh every now and again."

Home Theater
Iron Man 2, The Secret of Kells, and TV on DVD

This Month's Highlights
Roller Derby, circus art, and more.

October Issue

Rock-a-Bye Baby
One local musician arranges Simon & Garfunkel and Billy Joel tunes for babies: "How many times can you listen to one baby-oriented album before you wish they’d be old enough to start listening to Metallica, just for something different?"

Haunted Hudson Valley
A preview of a new Halloween attraction in Sleepy Hollow: "Unlike at certain other haunted attractions, don’t expect to see a man with a Scream mask wielding a knife at an off-model Freddy Krueger here. Lance Hallowell, the man behind Norwalk’s Misery Mansion FestEvil and last year’s haunted hayride in Sleepy Hollow, is in charge of keeping all the haunts—including the 40 to 50 professional actors working in the event—in line with our local history."

Home Theater
Scary movies: The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Splice, and the Alien box set.

This Month's Highlights
An Arts Fest in New Rochelle, Harvesting at Stone Barns, John Lithgow's one-man play, and more.