Veronica Mars the Movie!

Sadly, the Veronica Mars movie isn’t playing in my local theater. Thankfully, though, its unusual theatrical release was accompanied by a simultaneous On Demand release, so we were able to watch the film its opening weekend from the comfort of the Muruch home. And it did not disappoint.

The cool opening sequence gives a quick but interesting summary of the tv series that’s beneficial for those who didn’t watch the show and nostalgic for those of us who did.

The movie is speckled with what may be the best, most eclectic collection of cameos ever. I don’t want to spoil things, but let’s just say if you like NPR and a certain alt-rocker on the movie soundtrack you’ll squeal in delight at the first two non-character cameos. There are also brief appearances by former cast members of Freaks & Geeks, New Girl and The State. In fact, Freaks & Geeks fans will be almost as giddy as “Marshamallows” (a.k.a. Veronica Mars fans).

And, of course, Marshmallows will be even more happy with the character cameos, questions answers (Did she choose Piz or Logan?!) and plethora of in-jokes – which include references to the tv show, the movie’s Kickstarter campaign, Buffy, The O.C. and a lot of great music.

It may not quite live up to the superhuman hype it’s received, but it comes pretty darn close and leaves welcome room and a lot of potential for sequels. And I suspect it’d be even better on the big screen.

Rent Veronica Mars @ Amazon On Demand

Pre-order Veronica Mars DVD @ Amazon

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Albums

In addition to my usual year end lists, I’ve also compiled Best of the Decade lists. Following are my favorite albums that were released between 2000-2009…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Albums

25. Muse: The Resistance

This is one of those albums that has classic potential, and I expect to move its way up the list as the years go by. A quote from my review: “Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard.”

Buy @ Amazon

24. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Rabbit

It was difficult to narrow how Gaba’s releases to just one, but I think her latest is her strongest to date. As I said when I named it #4 on my Top Albums list, it is “probably the most unusual and creative album” of 2009.

Buy @ Amazon

Buy @ Artist’s Site

23. Soundtrack: Once

The soundtrack to the Irish independent film Once features The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I said in my 2007 review that Hansard’s “lyrics are deeply poetic, his music is heart-wrenchingly lovely, and his beautifully raw voice conveys emotion as if the man were literally ripping his own chest open as he sings.”

Buy @ Amazon

22. Antony & The Johnsons: Antony & The Johnsons

Instead of a best of 2005 list, I deemed it The Year of the Bird and that post says everything about how Antony’s music made me feel when I first heard it. While I Am A Bird Now was their more popular release, I’ve always favored their self-titled 2000 album.

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21. Pina: Quick Look

Pina sadly remains my best kept secret. I discovered her in the early aughts when a French pal shared mp3s of “I Loved the Way” and “Bring Me a Biscuit.” I also love Pina’s 2005 release Guess You Got It, but the rougher edges of Quick Look‘s production fit better with her “Gothic folk” style.

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20. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones

My 2008 review summed it up: “The flawless beauty of this album is almost beyond my comprehension.

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19. Hem: Funnel Cloud

I like this album even more now than when I called it a “nearly perfect album” in my 2007 review.

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18. Damien Dempsey: To Hell or Barbados

As I stated in my 2007 review, the album is a “genre-hop through folk, rock, electronica, and reggae…but the genre gymnastics still take a back seat to the stunning quality of Dempsey’s voice.”

Buy @ Amazon

17. Anais Mitchell: The Brightness

My 2007 review said: “Like the greatest of classic literature, the compositions on The Brightness are the kind that softly seep through your skin and slowly make their way into your heart and mind before exploding in dazzling display of amazement.”

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14. Xavier Rudd: Dark Shades of Blue

Xavier has quickly become my favorite male artist in recent years, and as I said in my 2008 review: “the astounding quality of his songs make me wonder if future generations might consider Xavier Rudd to be the greatest artist of this era.”

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15. Mavis Staples: Never Turn Back

I’m almost ashamed not to put this at #1, because in many ways this is the greatest album of the past two or three decades. I simply don’t listen to it often as the albums listed below. I suppose this is because the weighty subject matter requires a certain mood. But as I said when I reviewed it two years ago: “We’ll Never Turn Back is what music should be. Gut-wrenching blues, earth shaking beats, hip swaying rhythms, deeply moving lyrics, and a rich voice that defies description.

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14. Luminescent Orchestrii: Too Hot to Sleep

I deemed 2005 “the year of the bird,” but that’s only because I didn’t hear Luminescent Orchestrii until 2007 when I said: “there’s a definite connection between their frenzied, violent approach to orchestral instruments and the punk cabaret of The Dresden Dolls, but neither description fully captures their unique and unearthly sound.

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13. Flogging Molly: Swagger

This album ushered in the Celtic Punk craze of the decade. There’s no such thing as a bad Flogging Molly album, but this one was definitely their best.

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12. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory

In my review I called Inland Territory a grand “display of Vienna Teng’s brilliance, grace, and talent.” I continue to fall more and more in love with this album with each listen.

Buy @ Amazon

11. Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads

My #1 album of 2009. As I said in my review: “I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time.”

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10. Mary Timony: Mountains

I had never heard of former Helium singer Mary Timony until a friend sent me this album shortly after its 2000 release. Mary’s unusual mix of Medieval folk, chamber pop, and indie-rock was unlike anything I’d heard before, and it remains one of the most strangely beautiful recordings I’ve ever heard.

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9. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band: The Whole Fam Damnily

My #1 album of 2008. In my review, I called it an “inebriating concoction of swamp stomp and backwoods pluck.” But in subsequent listens I’ve found myself drawn more to The Rev’s lyrics, which accurately capture the perils of modern rural life.

Buy @ Amazon

8. Allison Crowe: Live at Wood Hall

Oh that voice! Still gives me chills. I’ve posted about Allison Crowe so many times over the years that I consider her Muruch’s musical mascot. As I said in my 2007 review: “there’s really no way to convey through mere words how much the music on Allison Crowe’s Live At Wood Hall moves me” Forget Susan Boyle, Allison sang the definitive cover of “I Dreamed a Dream.” (mp3)*

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7. Soundtrack: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling

I always call it the “Buffy Musical” rather than its proper title Once More With Feeling.” Years before Dr. Horrible, Joss Whedon wrote a hilarious, poignant, and very catchy musical for an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I don’t know how well the songs translate if you never watched the Buffy series, but I still love singing along to the soundtrack. The album features vocals by actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Allison Hannigan, Michelle Trachtenberg, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters, and Anthony Stewart Head. This is an example of why file sharing works – I and several friends burned our own soundtracks from mp3s recorded directly from the televised episode long before the soundtrack was released, yet we all purchased the official album once it became available.

Buy @ Amazon

6. Xavier Rudd: White Moth

I could easily include all of Xavier Rudd’s albums on this list, but I tried to limit myself to just two. My 2008 review said: “Rudd deems the album his “proudest work” and it’s easy to understand why.” But it’s really only been with repeated listens over the past two years that I’ve grown to love and truly appreciate its magnificence. And nothing speaks to the greatness of an album like having a panic attack when you think you’ve lost it and knowing you must replace it immediately. Fortunately, I found my copy!

Buy @ Amazon

5. Damien Rice: O

Unlike most Americans, I heard and fell in love with O when it was originally released in Ireland in 2001. My clothbound first edition of the album is a collector’s item now, but I wouldn’t part with it for anything. Rice seems to have faced some post-hype backlash in recent years, but that doesn’t erase the brilliance of this album. Most remember it for Lisa Hannigan’s delicate harmonies, but Rice’s use of strings and opera music were also very unique at the time. And the album as a whole has withstood changing trends in music over the years.

Buy @ Amazon

4. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine

This is another example of why file sharing can have a positive effect on album sales. Remember “Free Fiona”? If you don’t, Fiona recorded a version of this album with producer Jon Brion and her label initially refused to release it. Mp3s of the demos were leaked online, the fans loved them, and a huge campaign called “Free Fiona” was launched in hopes of getting the album released. It worked, though Fiona re-recorded most of the album for the official release. I was one of many who purchased the album even though I had the demo mp3s. My 2005 review also shifted the focus of this site from simply sharing music to encouraging people to purchase albums. It has since become one of my favorite albums ever, and I hope Fiona decides to grace us with another release in the near future.

Buy @ Amazon

3. Soundtrack: Hedwig & The Angry Inch

Among the 2000-04 archives of this site that have been lost were my reviewes of the movie Hedwig & The Angry Inch (which I saw in a double bill with The Anniversary Party at a local film festival) and its soundtrack. Whether or not you’re familiar with John Cameron Mitchell’s awesome musical about a German transgender rocker, the soundtrack is one of the best rock albums of all time. There are thunderous punk rock numbers like “Angry Inch” and heart-melting ballads like “Origin of Love.” Why Mitchell continues to act instead of record music is a mystery to me.

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2. Old Crow Medicine Show: Big Iron World

In my November, 2006 review, I said “I don’t believe I’ve ever said this about an album before, but I think Old Crow Medicine Show’s Big Iron World is just about perfect.” I stand by that statement. I’ve played this album more than any other released in the past three years, and only one band could keep it from the number 1 spot…

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1. The Dresden Dolls: The Dresden Dolls

Anyone who knows me or has been a longtime reader of this site knows that The Dresden Dolls are/were my favorite band. My posts about their self-titled debut (and the live A Is For Accident album that preceded it) were also lost with early archives of this site, but I’ve raved every other Dresden Dolls release since then. After “Over the Rainbow”, The Dresden Doll’s “Girl Anachronism” is my favorite song and this is possibly my all-time favorite album. Amanda Palmer proves without a doubt that – in the right hands – the piano is the most punk rock of all instruments.

Buy @ Amazon

*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Television

Yes, I’m one of the crazy people tackling Best of the Decade lists. In addition to my annual year end lists, I’ll be sharing my favorite Albums, Books, Movies, and TV Series of the past decade. First up, my favorite ten television shows that aired between 2000-2009…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Television

10. Firefly

As you’ll see below, Joss Whedon dominates this list. There were several shows that almost edged out Firefly – most notably The Sopranos, but that’s not a show I could ever watch again. But in the end, there was just something about the short-lived sci-fi series starring Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, and Summer Glau that captured my little tv-addicted heart. Though it has a devoted fanbase and even got its own movie, it sadly never received the attention that Whedon’s other shows did.

Buy @ Amazon

9. Absolutely Fabulous

AbFab remains one of the funniest, most bizarre shows I’ve ever seen. What was so great about the show is that the two overindulgent main characters Eddy and Patsy (played by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley) were unabashedly vapid and unlikable, but you loved watching and laughing at them anyway. The show originally aired on BBC in the late 1990s and early aughts, but was rebroadcast on Comedy Central here in the U.S.

Buy @ Amazon

8. Once & Again

If you don’t remember Once & Again, it was a poignant little ABC drama by the creators of Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life. The show initially centered on the romance between a single mother played by Sela Ward and a single father played by Billy Campbell, and the struggles they faced from their respective kids and ex-spouses. But as the series progressed, it was the shy, awkward, teenage character Grace (played by Julia Whelan) who drew me in most. It also introduced a then unknown Evan Rachel Wood as Grace’s little sister Jesse. The show only lasted three seasons, but it was one of the best scripted dramas that has ever aired.

Buy @ Amazon

7. Arrested Development

I think Arrested Development was to the U.S. what AbFab was to the U.K. The hilarious Fox sitcom centered on The Bluths, a rich, despicable, and totally lovable family. The show itself was bizarrely clever and outrageous, but it was the perfect casting of actors Jason Batemen, Will Arnett, David Cross, and a then unknown Michael Cera that made the show so brilliant. I’m tempted to quote some of my favorite lines, but I don’t know that they would be as funny if you haven’t seen the show. My favorite moment was Will Arnett’s Gob “Final Countdown” entrance to his magic show. Or his duet with his puppet Franklin. Oh and when Tobias (David Cross) joined Blue Man Group. And…well, you get the point. It was all very weird and very funny.

Buy @ Amazon

6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I remember everyone I knew made fun of me for watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer during its cheesy first season. I was one of the few people who actually liked the Kristy Swanson movie that spawned the show, and there was just something about the tv characters Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Xander, and especially Allison Hannigan as Willow that made me keep watching. Then the game-changing, darker finale of that season suddenly made people take notice. By the time beloved vamps Spike and Dru joined the show in the second season, the show was no longer considered a joke. Seven seasons later, the show had a huge cult following, a spinoff, and there was talk of another movie. Creator Joss Whedon created completely relatable high school characters though he placed them in a nightmarish world. Though I watched from beginning to end, I lost interest in the final two seasons as the Buffy character lost her strength and humor, and far too many new characters were added. And I don’t know that I would love the show as much a decade later, but at the time, at the age that I was, I thought it was brilliant and I loved it even during its weakest moments.

Buy @ Amazon

5. Angel

When my least favorite character on Buffy got his own spinoff, I didn’t think I’d bother to watch it and certainly didn’t expect to end up liking it better than its predecessor. Angel was often a much darker program, but it also had its share of humor – especially in the puppet-centric episode Smile Time. Though it featured many of the characters and actors first created for Buffy, it really came into its own during the final season. Actors Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker were particularly riveting as their characters drastically evolved over the years. Denisof’s Wesley went from an annoying, by-the-book geek to a haunted loner in various shades of gray. And Acker not only portrayed the many moods and quirks of resident geek girl Fred, she tackled the entirely different character of Illyria in the final season. Also entertaining in that final season was the banter between Angel and new cast member James Marsters as Spike. And Angel‘s final episode was possibly the best series finale ever.

Buy @ Amazon

4. The Office

Yes, I’m cheating and combining the British and the American versions of The Office. When NBC’s remake first aired, I thought it was huge mistake since they’d obviously failed to capture the painfully realistic mood of the BBC original. But by the second season, the U.S. version stopped trying to mimic the Ricky Gervais vehicle that spawned it and instead found its strength in its new side characters played by actors Creed Bratton, Angela Kinsey, Mindy Kaling, Brian Baumgartner, and Phyllis Smith. The BBC version had bite, the NBC version has heart. And both versions of the show are so hilarious that I can no longer distinguish which I like more. I’m still waiting for a Cousin Mose spinoff…

Buy @ Amazon

3. Friday Night Lights

I think I’ve written enough about Friday Night Lights (especially in my first post about it two years ago) for you to know how much and why I love the show. Every episode of the series has been so brilliantly written, acted, and directed that it’s been like watching a feature film every week.

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2. Freaks & Geeks

I pretty much listed everything I loved about Freaks & Geeks in my 2008 review of the new DVD set, from which here is a brief quote: “Set in 1980 Michigan, the show centered on aspiring freak Lindsey Weir (Linda Cardellini) and her little geek brother Sam (John Francis Daley) as they traversed the nightmarish landscape of high school, the precarious loyalty of friends in their respective cliques, the anguish of unrequited love, the transitory nature of relationships, the mortifying affection of their parents, and the sheer humiliation of the teen years.

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1. Lost

Was there any doubt? After My So-Called Life, Lost is probably my favorite TV show of all time. The final season begins on February 5, 2010, and I’m both excited and very sad. No other series has so wonderfully trusted, engaged, and challenged the intelligence and imagination of its audience in the way Lost has with every episode. I remember vividly when I first watched the pilot, which was the summer before it first aired on ABC (aw, the innocent days of Bittorrent). I, like so many others, was hooked from the very first second. The first two seasons were excellent, but I think the last two seasons have been the strongest for the show thanks to addition of characters like Desmond, Ben, Daniel, and Richard, the increased focus on Locke, and the deliciously convoluted mysteries woven throughout each season. I’ve also appreciated how enthusiastic the actors seem about their characters in interviews, and how the writers have so intensely utilized the internet to stir up interest in the show. There has never been a show like Lost, and I fear there never will be again.

Buy @ Amazon