Overrated / Underrated 2014: Looking back at 2014 and more
There's a lot of pop culture to sort through week after week. Times staff writer Chris Barton offers his take on what's up and what's down in music, movies, television and just about anything else out there that is worth considering.
Jewel Samad, AFP / Getty Images
OVERRATED: 2014 While humanity's track record reveals few years that leave us looking better than the year before, 2014 seemed particularly grim with the loss of some of our best (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Haden and Robin Williams to name just a few) and too many of our worst traits exposed in a legacy of systematic torture and police brutality. Add to that the inexplicably durable popularity of Coldplay. Let's say there's nowhere to go but up in 2015 — but we've been wrong before.
UNDERRATED: A la carte TV at last In today's churning, up-to-the-second news cycle, it's easy to forget HBO and CBS will help start a transformation that's been overdue for years with the 2015 introduction of stand-alone online television subscriptions. While cable companies fret for the loss of subscriber revenue setting the industry back, a scan through most channels further down the TV dial reveals that we can't regress much further than the multitudes of real housewives, storms of sharks and Bigfoot hunts airing now.
OVERRATED: Our franchised multiplex Hidden between Michael Keaton's grimace and Antonio Sanchez's hard-hitting drum score was a real message in "Birdman," one that pointed toward our on-screen addiction to fantasy and superheroes, and the more familiar sequels, adaptations and reboots the better. Soon movies will offer an endless summer of the latest (or recently reinvented) stars from Marvel and D.C., a blockbuster battle where the only losers are those sad relics who prefer human stories.
UNDERRATED: The great outdoors : With Hollywood looking more to the durable man-versus-nature conflict with adaptations of Cheryl Strayed's "Wild" and Robyn Davidson's "Tracks" along with next year's "Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson, there's a sense our culture is missing something vital and true hidden beyond our cities and interconnected screens. In the new year, maybe it's best to remember an unplugged world is out there and still can't be captured in a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: Mourning "The Newsroom" Can a show be a prestige drama if someone just says it enough times? Flawed from the start, Aaron Sorkin's grating and dated TV news fantasy occasionally found a solid speech or sharp walk-and-talk banter, but as it enters its final episode Sunday the show's straw-man arguments, implausible plot lines and paper thin characters hurt it more than that modern journalistic scourge, the Internet, ever could. Is it too late for a "West Wing" reunion?
Courtesy of McCandless family
UNDERRATED: "Return to the Wild" on PBS Perhaps it says something about our society that after more than 20 years, suburban college graduate turned wilderness wanderer Chris McCandless still captures the imagination. Jon Krakauer's "Into the Wild" and the corresponding film adaptation made his tragic story a phenomenon, and this documentary poignantly examines McCandless' volatile home life, offering perhaps a partial explanation for a drive to pursue a more honest (though still unforgiving) world.
Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: First Aid Kit Just as in the days of ABBA, Sweden is the nation of choice in pop with high-profile producers (Max Martin, Shellback) and singer-songwriters (Tove Lo) burning up the charts. And while this sister duo of Johanna and Klara Söderberg have gained some year-end accolades for their album "Stay Gold," they're better left behind with the rest of 2014 as simplistic lyrics and over-glossed production overwhelm what are at best just stylish impressions of vintage Americana.
UNDERRATED: Tyshawn Sorey's "Alloy" Think of albums led by a drummer, and workouts akin to Antonio Sanchez's soundtrack for "Birdman" can come to mind. However, this transfixing recording from a star on the New York jazz scene breaks the mold with pieces that turn more on meditative space and atmosphere than high-powered paradiddles. Led by the lonesome piano of Cory Smythe, the 30-minute "A Love Song" builds out of feathered percussion into a spellbinding, graceful epic.
Danny E. Martindale / Getty Images
OVERRATED: Band Aid 30 Remember 1984? Bob Geldof organized an all-star group for the famine-relief track "Do They Know It's Christmas?," which is better remembered for Bono's goosebump-raising breakout than measurably benefiting world hunger. Now Geldof is back with an Ebola-targeting remake but with new lyrics and 100% more One Direction. A nice thought, but something now feels cringingly patronizing when First World pop stars deign to turn Third World tragedy into song.
UNDERRATED: 'Enemy' (2014) Jake Gyllenhaal has earned a lot of notice for his role as a dead-eyed cameraman/sociopath in "Nightcrawler," but he's equally compelling as a dead-eyed professor/actor in this bizarre body-double drama. Cold and deliberately vague where this year's similarly structured "The Double" was darkly absurd, the Denis Villeneuve film mixes the surreal sense of seeing your replica with oblique references toward totalitarian politics. Oh, and giant spiders (did I mention it's bizarre?).
Anne Joyce / RADiUS-TWC
OVERRATED: 'The Immigrant' (2014) Thanks to attention by the New York Film Critics Circle, this underseen film could benefit from whispers as a dark horse awards candidate in the Mobius strip of publicity and speculation of the Oscar race. Pay them no mind — though Marion Cotillard shines as a struggling Polish immigrant, she's lost as a melodramatic story creaks under a showily high-gloss visual style and gruff scenery-chewing from Joaquin Phoenix.
UNDERRATED: 'Peaky Blinders' on Netflix Does the world need another sepia-tinged story about a calculating mobster steadily venturing in over his head? Maybe not, but despite the seemingly nonsensical title this BBC effort set in post-WWI Birmingham, Britain, has more direct pleasures than the departed "Boardwalk Empire" thanks in part to a fresh, hellish setting and the reliable chill of Cillian Murphy, whose icy stare pairs well with the show's grim Nick Cave soundtrack.
Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: Eminem's shock value Proving this once-dominant artist has regressed to hip-hop's answer to Marilyn Manson, the former Marshall Mathers released maybe his most tone-deaf attempt to shock listeners yet with a recently leaked track that reportedly threatened Iggy Azalea with rape and Lana Del Rey with physical violence. While Em's tired trolling act marginalizes his talent, credit to Azalea for responding on Twitter with grace and wit.
UNDERRATED: 'We Are the Best!' (2014) The field of rock 'n' roll movies is littered with disappointment (please — let's leave the '60s and '70s alone for awhile), but this Swedish import carries so much heart and honesty it makes the energy of punk rock sound new again. Covering the awkward and mostly awful beginnings of a band of endearingly precocious 13-year-old girls in 1982, "We Are the Best!" will inspire you to write and play terrible teenage anthems with your friends all over again.
Elizabeth Malby, TNS
OVERRATED: 'Serial' If you listen to only one podcast, chances are it's this one, which has quickly become a weekly whodunit phenomenon. While the skills of journalist-host Sarah Koenig can't be denied in making the examination of a 1999 murder conviction a compelling listen, the show's reliance on a chatty quirkiness typical of its "This American Life" radio roots can feel at odds with a narrative drawn from real lives and issues that aren't so tidily captured in half-hour episodes.
UNDERRATED: 'High Maintenance' on Vimeo A low-key comic favorite in the crowded field of Internet TV, this series by husband-and-wife team Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld stars Sinclair as a bearded marijuana delivery service who acts as a sort of Zen observer and participant in slice-of-life comic-dramas on the streets of a strange yet warmly human New York City. Like any good drug dealer, they've made the first season available free, but the newly released second is $7.99 -- and worth it.
OVERRATED: Another 'Toy Story' Though it's risky to question John Lasseter and the money-printing machine at Pixar, there's reason to be wary with word that the "Toy Story" franchise is coming back (at least) one more time. Nothing against Buzz, Woody and the rest, but "Toy Story 3" pulled off the impossible by both topping and satisfyingly closing a beloved trilogy with heart and grace. Yet another chapter seems to prove the animated world may be no more imaginative than the real one.
UNDERRATED: Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett on 'Saturday Night Live' Sturdily moving ahead in its unfathomable 40th year, the sketch comedy warhorse has been enduring an uneven transitional period highlighted by occasional, twisted brilliance from Taran Killam and Kate McKinnon. But Mooney and Bennett seem poised to inheret "Lonely Island's" throne of prerecorded weirdness with sketches that are surreally absurd, bizarre and typically funnier than another musical monologue.
OVERRATED: 'Marry Me' on NBC It's tough to kick a genre when it's down, but the American sitcom has been on creative life support for years (sorry, fans of "Modern Family" and "Big Bang Theory"). And as strong as this show looks on paper with the talents of "Childrens Hospital" veterans Ken Marino and Rob Huebel and holdovers from the cult favorite "Happy Endings," its manic churn of zingers from flat, mostly unpleasant characters wears out its welcome.
Dine Alone Records
UNDERRATED: Spain's 'Sargent Place' Led by the son of a jazz legend in Josh Haden, L.A.'s moody Spain has carved out a noirish niche since breaking nearly 20 years ago with the aptly named "The Blue Moods of Spain." For the band's new album, Haden has added fuzzy guitar and an occasional dark swagger to complement his spare, soft-spoken melodies. Listen to the barbed and menacing "From the Dust" and watch as an as-yet-unfilmed David Lynch movie comes into focus around you.
OVERRATED: The new marketing Last week, there was a brief, bizarre window when a Bieber-esquely handsome store clerk was the most famous person on the Internet thanks to hordes of teenagers sharing his photo on Twitter. In a surprise, this wasn't a faintly disguised ad for the store but a viral promotion for a marketing firm touting its ability to manipulate the "fan girl" demographic. Lesson learned: If something on the Internet inspires a feeling, it's probably selling something.
Victoria Will, Invision /AP
UNDERRATED: 'The Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways' on HBO On the surface, this series is a cleverly disguised commercial for an upcoming album by a durable, arena-level alt-rock band led by Dave Grohl. But if you set aside all the earnest yet inevitably mediocre Foo Fighters music sprinkled throughout, the series acts as a beautiful and loving tribute to the many iconoclastic music scenes and figures across the country, including Chicago's Steve Albini and D.C.'s Ian MacKaye.
OVERRATED: 'Birdman' (2014) There is so much to like here — a skewering of "serious" actors by Ed Norton, an indictment of comic book-addicted film culture and of course, an overdue return by Michael Keaton and the meta-narrative his time as Batman provides. Yet despite the energy of its performances, single-shot style and a flamethrowing score by drummer Antonio Sanchez, the movie somehow struggles to find a heart, leaving it feeling like an empty (superhero) suit.
Bond / 360
UNDERRATED: 'Alive Inside' (2014) A poignant look at the power of music, this documentary also offers a sobering look at the often disgraceful state of elderly care in this country as Dan Cohen attempts to introduce individual iPods as an alternative treatment for dementia. Living in Los Angeles, we all know we'll be young and beautiful forever. But in the unlikely event time catches up with us (And surprise! It will.), we'll be grateful for the work of Cohen and others, which still goes on.
OVERRATED: Tributes to New York Taylor Swift's glossy single "Welcome to New York" is another line in the sand for anyone still under the impression that she's a country artist, but the song's real problem is its standing as yet another love letter to a city that's not only well in love with itself already but also at least twice as magical for those on a pop star budget. Want to celebrate a city? There's a whole globe to choose from where you don't have to try topping Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind."
UNDERRATED: Land Observations' 'The Grand Tour' Few albums this year pair so beautifully with the contemplative sweep of travel than this transfixing set of instrumentals by the U.K.'s James Brooks. A slow-burning, atmospheric collection of multitracked guitar, "The Grand Tour" was inspired by a centuries-old tradition of cultural tourism across Western Europe. Even if it's just scoring a walk around the block, Land Observations' intricate post-rock sound can shift how you see the world.
OVERRATED: 'The Wonder Years' A nesting doll of sitcom nostalgia that featured the voice of an adult in the '80s and '90s looking back on his childhood in the '60s and early '70s (reprised on a DVD set just released last week), "The Wonder Years" is revolutionary by comparison to most modern sitcoms, but its over-reliance on mawkish sentimentality makes it best suited for childhood memories. Want more Fred Savage in 2014? Watch him as a director in the underappreciated "Party Down."
Warner Bros. Pictures
UNDERRATED: 'Edge of Tomorrow' (2014) The rare failed summer blockbuster that deserved much better, this film starring Tom Cruise had a tough time at the box office with a premise smarter than the typical action movie. A nimble cross between a fresh sci-fi concept (that doesn't involve a Marvel comic book) and "Groundhog Day," this film's reborn-until-you-get-it-right conceit has been called the first movie to capture the video-game experience, but it's much more fun to watch than that.
Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: The Who's "farewell" It was big news last week when this band led by surviving members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey announced one last jaunt around the world for their 50th and supposedly last world tour. Given the band's many shows since first saying farewell in 1982, let's take that branding with a grain of salt. If Cher, Elton John and the Eagles taught us nothing else, it's that farewell tours may look good on a T-shirt, but their sincerity fades much faster.
UNDERRATED: Mostly Other People Do the Killing's "Blue" Jazz fans have had a year filled with small outrages, and the latest is this wryly daring album, which takes the next logical step in the modern proliferation of jazz tributes by recording a note-for-note re-creation of Miles Davis' landmark 1959 album, "Kind of Blue." Did the group succeed? Of course not, which is part of the point for a project that offers a subtle and smart commentary on what defines jazz and how it's sold.
OVERRATED: "They Came Together" (2014) Less of a movie than the aggravating experience of sitting next to someone who keeps reminding you how much smarter they are than the movie, this rom-com spoof should have been bent comedy gold with a cast that includes Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler and a host of alumni from "Wet Hot American Summer" and the sketch series "The State." Movie formulas are well worth mocking, but such efforts are much more fun if they're clever and funny.
Wicked Delicate Films / Argot Pictures
UNDERRATED: "The City Dark" (2011) Living in L.A., it's easy to forget the night sky wasn't always framed by a burnt-orange haze and should reveal more than the Big Dipper and a vague hint of Orion's belt. This documentary examines the harsh effects of light pollution, a condition endemic to urban and suburban areas that's not just affecting the natural world with migratory patterns but the existential one as well. Humans seem better behaved with an awareness of things larger than ourselves.
Hayley Madden, Redferns
OVERRATED: Mark Kozelek, cranky person Best known from the Red House Painters and current band Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek recently hit new heights with the difficult, intensely personal album "Benji." Yet Kozelek seems determined of late to become better known as a grump, insulting his audience at one show and acting out a "feud" with indie rock's War on Drugs way too long after another. An artist doesn't need to be likable to be liked, but he shouldn't have to chase publicity either.
Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times
UNDERRATED: "Transparent" Amazon can be a tough choice if you appreciate little things like authors and local businesses, but if you're already combining online errands with entertainment, this series is a standout in the company's streaming offerings. With a deft blend of comedy and catharsis (courtesy of creator Jill Soloway, who wrote for "Six Feet Under"), the show pivots on star Jeffrey Tambor, who portrays a parent on a transgender journey with dignity and grace.
OVERRATED: "Gracepoint" As TV continues sifting through the import airwaves for safe programming bets, it's no surprise the BBC's excellent "Broadchurch" was considered ripe for a U.S. remake. But as much as the revamped version benefits from "Breaking Bad's" Anna Gunn and an Americanized David Tennant (who sourly led the original), this reboot feels empty, like the layer of network gloss turned a story rooted in a sense of place into something nondescript.
UNDERRATED: Anthony Pirog's "Palo Colorado Dream" With Bill Frisell somewhat disappointingly preoccupied with classic rock covers (see the new album "Guitar in the Space Age"), it's a pleasure to hear this guitarist follow in Frisell's footsteps toward distinctive new ground. Here with an avant-garde-leaning rhythm section of Michael Formanek and Ches Smith, Pirog ventures into bent jazz, jagged post-rock and lush atmosphere that's engineered for wide open spaces.
Julien Warnand, EPA
OVERRATED: Fan communities Proving that nothing is quite so powerful as humans in groups, social media has made it easier than ever for an angry mob to form and lash out at a moment's notice (under an appropriate hashtag banner, naturally). With swift and vigorous backlash awaiting anyone who dares to defy the wisdom of the collective on Lady Gaga, One Direction and even "50 Shades of Grey," just imagine what would happen if we could come together on things that actually matter.
Sony Pictures Classics
UNDERRATED: 'Tim's Vermeer' (2014) Not exactly what you'd expect from the fountain of realist magic that is Penn & Teller (Penn narrates while Teller directs), this documentary tells the story of vaguely eccentric inventor Tim Jenison, who endeavors to paint exactly like Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. What sounds like a quixotic slight of hand ends up being a quasi-expose on artistic technique as Jenison discovers that a painter's vision can not only be taught, it can be replicated.
OVERRATED: 'Frank' (2014) Maybe it's inevitable that a story about an imaginary cult band that crumbles when overexposed would yield a movie unfit for high expectations. Much has been made of Michael Fassbender's masked performance, which is convincing enough for someone who spends most of the movie behind a gigantic fake head, but for all its quirky charm the film's oddball vignettes stubbornly refuse to add up to anything more emotionally affecting than a curiosity.
UNDERRATED: Otis Brown III's "The Thought of You" A hard-swinging jazz drummer who in the past has backed the likes of Joe Lovano and Terence Blanchard, Brown makes a splash on his debut album for Blue Note. Deftly balancing cutting-edge post-bop with a nod toward hip-hop beat alchemist J Dilla, the album could be slotted in a new category dubbed "post-Glasper" (as in genre-hopping pianist Robert, who also appears here), but its warm charms run far deeper.
OVERRATED: "Red Band Society" on Fox If all the tear-jerking YA fare in theaters has you craving a feel-good teen TV drama about cancer, your day has arrived. But instead of depicting the raw spirit and humanity that comes with fighting a terrible, al too common disease, this show opts for a strangely distancing approach with a tone that combines the glossily glib antics of "Glee" with mawkishly manipulative sequences that pair well with Coldplay songs. You know, just like in real life.
Autumn de Wilde
UNDERRATED: Cold Specks' "Neuroplasticity" There's a lot to absorb in the new album from this Canadian singer-songwriter, who performs under the name Al Spx, including guest turns by Michael Gira and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (she also delivered haunting cameos on Swans' and Akinmusire's recent albums). But the centerpiece is Spx's expressive, lightly sanded voice, which provides a brilliant counter to the dark churn of songs like "Absisto" and "A Season of Doubt."
Richard Shotwell / Invision/AP
OVERRATED: "True Detective" buzz Amid the social media speculation about the next dynamic duo for Nic Pizzolatto's aggressively literary HBO series, there was a moment when it seemed the series could take a real shift, most interestingly by changing its tortured white male focus. Now Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell are confirmed as the next to furrow their brows against the show's harsh world, which may be fine but sadly means a missed opportunity for a true new detective.
UNDERRATED: "About Time" (2013) About halfway through the latest unabashedly sentimental rom-com from Richard Curtis (who delivered the now overrated "Love, Actually") you'll maybe write off its hastily explained time-travel conceit, blandly upper-class London and tragic misuse of Rachel McAdams, who's so underwritten she barely exists. But then Domhnall Gleeson's awkward ginger hero and his father, Bill Nighy, make off with the film's heart, and you're helpless to resist.
Ben Blackall/BBC Pictures
OVERRATED: Grim British TV Some of the most compelling crime dramas of late have come from the U.K., including the "Red Riding" trilogy, "The Fall" and "Broadchurch" (coming soon to Fox as the Americanized "Gracepoint"). But those appetites for darker-than-dark atmosphere and harrowing violence have finally grown exhausting, despite the quality of relative newcomers "Happy Valley" and "Hinterland." Lighten up, Britain -- it's no wonder Scotland thought of leaving.
UNDERRATED: Jon Bois' 'Breaking Madden' With watching NFL football a fraught moral choice given recent events, this weekly online column driven to push the logistical and perhaps spiritual limits of its video-game alter ego is a hilarious alternative. In Bois' diabolical hands, a team of Tom Bradys cannot be denied, offsides can be legal and a 5-foot-tall, 400-pound quarterback dubbed Beeftank dominates an unsuspecting video gridiron. The only one hurt is the game, which, frankly, has had it coming.
Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP
OVERRATED: The U2 backlash There are many reasons to feel annoyed by U2, particularly if you've decided to buy one of the group's albums over the last 15 years. But it seems unfair to hold the band solely accountable for its incursion into millions of iTunes libraries with a free copy of "Songs of Innocence," when it's U2's cuddly corporate partners that supplied the means. Annoyed by U2's reach? Wait until you see what other music Apple will no doubt also "give" to your collection.
UNDERRATED: Charles Lloyd, 'Arrows Into Infinity' As much a document of a creative spirit as a career, this DVD chronicles the path of the jazz saxophone great with a gentle, vivid intimacy. This film features footage of Lloyd with the all-star band behind his '60s hit "Forest Flower" as well as an exile to Big Sur that led to recent great heights with drummer Billy Higgins and pianist Jason Moran and shows Lloyd's drive to reach forward both as an artist and a human being.
Matt Slocum / AP
OVERRATED: Football outrage Here in L.A., we may be lucky not to have a stake in the NFL, given recent controversies such as the league's appalling response to traumatic brain injuries suffered by former players and the depressingly slow, PR-driven response to domestic violence, including the hideous video featuring running back Ray Rice. Fortunately, all this anger has kept fans away in droves, and with TV ratings plummeting, the league has been forced to -- oh, wait. Never mind.
REK Room Media
UNDERRATED: Becca Stevens Something akin to the jazz-pop vocal muse of 2014, with stunning cameos on albums by José James, Ambrose Akinmusire and Billy Childs' lovely Laura Nyro tribute, "Map to the Treasure," Stevens steps into the spotlight with the coming album "Perfect Animal." At times resembling a more folk-tinged St. Vincent, Stevens offers richly twisted originals alongside covers of Frank Ocean, Usher and Steve Winwood. (She performs Thursday at the Bootleg Theater.)
OVERRATED: 'Blue Ruin' (2014) Lauded during its release as a next-level take on the revenge thriller, this indie film is tough to knock when you consider its budget is roughly equivalent to the change left behind in sofa cushions. Still, apart from the haunted eyes of lead actor Macon Blair, the film struggles to build on its tense opening, and what begins as an understated, Southern gothic morality play eventually devolves into an over-the-top bloodbath.
PBS / Zero Point Zero
UNDERRATED: 'The Mind of a Chef' on PBS Maybe no profession has been more overanalyzed and publicized in recent years than that of the humble cook, but this series produced by Anthony Bourdain remains fresh. The show has exposed the inspirations and obsessions of kitchen greats David Chang, April Bloomfield and Southern food champion Sean Brock; the new season focuses on Magnus Nilsson and Ed Lee, two more chefs to make you reconsider the value of chain restaurants.
OVERRATED: Rebooting 'Vacation' You have to give Hollywood credit; it's far easier to recast old characters and ideas than to take a chance on new ones. Last week brought the news that "Thor's" Chris Hemsworth and "It's Always Sunny" star Charlie Day had joined this coming movie, which features Ed Helms as the son of Clark W. Griswold, who was originally played by Chevy Chase. Also scheduled to appear? The flaming wreckage of your fond memories of the 1983 original.
UNDERRATED: Anne Kaempf and Lior Shoov's 'Where Is My Mind' Who is this duo that performs under the name La Boca Abierta? They're nobodies -- just two street performers with an accordion and hand-drum performing the Pixies classic in a video that's awkward, imperfect and packed with so much pure joy that it might expand your heart three sizes. Loving music as a product that clones an Ariana Grande each year is hard. Watching YouTube clips of its raw power makes it easy.
Andy Barron / AP
OVERRATED: Burning Man Right now, some 23-year-old venture capitalist with enough shares of Facebook to buy Minnesota is passed out amid the ashes of this techno-pagan desert bacchanal, which fosters feelings of community that its wealthiest fans easily circumvent with lavish, air-conditioned compounds. But kudos, burners: Nothing says artistic counterculture like a pricey celebration of self among millionaires where you bravely forgo Internet access for three days.
Sony Pictures Classics
UNDERRATED: 'Only Lovers Left Alive' (2014) With the genre feeling drained after "The Strain," the "Twilight" series and the just-departed "True Blood" (to name a few), leave it to Jim Jarmusch to find a way to make the blood-sucking myth feel new. Centered on the relationship between Tilda Swinton's character (wonderfully bizarre as usual) and her depressively reclusive partner (played by Tom Hiddleston), Jarmusch's deceptively tender love story thrives in a world that may be too dark for vampires.
Michael Hickey / Getty Images
OVERRATED: Knocking the 'Ice Bucket Challenge' Whenever something graduates to the rarefied air of a meme the way this charity effort for ALS has, it's natural to feel suspicious — trust us. But the glib, frat-friendly sight of dudes dousing their heads with water and questions of whether the likes of Oprah and Kobe Bryant are putting their money where their heads are seems beside the point. People are talking about and donating to ALS research more than ever, and that's a welcome start.
UNDERRATED: M. Emmet Walsh Though the magnificent Brendon Gleeson is earning long overdue praise for his turn as a beleaguered Irish priest in the haunting "Calvary," this veteran character actor is a welcome sight among Gleeson's odd flock as a rumpled and decrepit American writer. Walsh has built a long career portraying grave or menacing characters, but he also has flexed some scene-stealing comic timing in "Raising Arizona," "Blood Simple" and, of course, "Fletch."
Big Machine Records
OVERRATED: Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off' Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off': The pop charts belong to Taylor Swift — the rest of us are just visiting. But was there a more jarring juxtaposition last week than the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and Swift's goofy new video playing dress-up with hip-hop culture? Even setting that aside, it's worth remembering that while Swift plays at being so awkward in the pop world, this is a 24-year-old adult (albeit a very sheltered one). How many years until she realizes it?
UNDERRATED: Aphex Twin Now that EDM are the initials of choice for music fans eager to baffle their parents, let us hope they discover this pioneer in what was oddly called IDM (that is, "intelligent dance music") in the '90s. Born Richard D. James, Aphex Twin announced an upcoming album last week using a cryptic Internet message board and a blimp over London. Whereas today's electronic stars sound like a massive party, James' music was bold enough to conjure strange new worlds.
Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: 2014 Amid a summer filled with a bad action movie's worth of global crises that include an ongoing drought, an ebola outbreak and too many bleak reports of war and violence to count, this year has seen a disproportionate loss of gifted, creative spirits that includes Charlie Haden, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Maya Angelou and now Robin Williams. If no one minds, how about we just fast forward to New Year's Eve and get this over with?
Pen & Banjo Films
UNDERRATED: 'The Institute' (2013) With San Francisco quickly becoming an overpriced and uninspired playground for new millionaires, this documentary about a mysterious game/art project involving a missing girl named Eva and an absurd conspiracy surrounding the Jejune Institute serves as a vivid reminder of the city's original character. The tech boom roars on, but this oddball film recaptures a time not long ago when San Francisco's main export was eccentricity.
Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: Provoking music fans By the time you read this three more ill-conceived stories have probably bled into the Internet with the intent of enraging — and thus engaging — unsuspecting readers. It's a successful business plan, but we've reached a tipping point for jazz. Let's give contrarian takes on rock or hip-hop a turn. But first, let's say it together: Putting words in Sonny Rollins' mouth is not funny "satire," and, really, once and for all: If you're listening, jazz is not dead (see below).
UNDERRATED: Bob Stewart's 'Connections -- Mind the Gap' How many classic tuba albums have been released? Near the top of the list has to be this deft blend of jazz and classical from this artist and educator, who has performed with the likes of Charles Mingus and Elvis Costello. Backed by two groups, a string quartet and a guitar-spiked First Line Band, Stewart's lush compositions and deep tone bridges the gap between a concert hall and joyful New Orleans street parade.
OVERRATED: 'Snowpiercer' (2014) Perhaps benefiting from being graded on a curve for being so wildly, unapologetically insane, this ambitious sci-fi tale has been touted as a left-field alternative to typical action fare this summer. But apart from a magnificently weird turn from Tilda Swinton, the film quickly wears out its welcome despite a promising premise of class warfare on a train hurtling across a frozen, post-apocalyptic world. Unfortunately, idiosyncratic nonsense is still nonsense.
Benjamin Thuresson / AP
UNDERRATED: 'Welcome to Sweden' Though set in a country better known for sensibly modern furnishings and noirish mystery novels, this NBC newcomer shows that Scandinavians can also be funny. Co-created by Greg Poehler (brother to Amy), this fish-out-of-water story of a New Yorker adapting to Swedish culture doesn't insult anyone's intelligence and mines an unexpected source for a sweet and often subtle sort of comedy. Clearly, it's not from around here.
OVERRATED: Piper Chapman's value to 'Orange Is the New Black' For all its Emmy nominations, this Netflix prison drama wobbled at times in its second season, particularly when concerned with its supposed star in the recently incarcerated Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling). Predictable and often annoying, Chapman saps the energy of an otherwise rich ensemble that can transcend cliches in the hands of Natasha Lyonne, Samira Wiley and others. Is it too soon for parole?
UNDERRATED: Ethan Hawke in 'Boyhood' Richard Linklater's sprawling coming-of-age story isn't as flawless as some have insisted, but one of its most surprising successes is Hawke, who carries the film's 12-year arc in a way that's at times more poignant and true than the film's star manages. A glib absentee who grows into the sacrifices and commitment required of being a father, Hawke's character evolves into adulthood in a way that makes us finally forgive him for "Reality Bites."
Matt Rourke / AP
OVERRATED: The Nicki Minaj meme If you've been on the Internet in last week, you've probably run across the many efforts to repurpose this ex-"American Idol" judge's remarkably lewd (and still-unreleased) album art using some judicious Photoshop skills. While the semi-mocking subtext here is laudable, this is another example of "art" being released with the sole expectation of being talked about -- for good or for bad, it doesn't matter. Are we sure meme isn't short for marketing?
UNDERRATED: 'Stand Clear of the Closing Doors' (2014) A lovely and poignant snapshot of New York seen from the city's ever-churning subway system, this indie film captures the sensory overload and inevitable indifference of urban life through the eyes of a lost autistic boy. Director Sam Fleischner covers a lot of ground here with nods toward the city's ethnic and class divisions, but the film retains a graceful magnetism while drawing a portrait that is too often left in the margins.
Speak Thunder Films
OVERRATED: 'Tiny: A Story About Living Small' (2013) There's no faulting the spirit of this earnest documentary, which chronicles a young man's quest to build and live in a home slightly larger than some closets. We all should consider how much space and stuff we really need, but there's something in the design movement referenced here that feels vaguely sad, like a tacit admission that any living space that's bigger than "tiny" has become simply out of reach for most of us.
UNDERRATED: Tuatara A wonderfully weird instrumental indie supergroup that includes the Screaming Trees' Barrett Martin, Luna's Justin Harwood and avant-jazz saxophonist Skerik, Tuatara returns Tuesday with a new double album, "Underworld." First formed in the '90s to score as-yet unwritten films, the group remains as evocative and unclassifiable as ever, with lush Eastern textures, taut jazz-funk grooves and guest turns from R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Pearl Jam's Mike McCready.
Christopher Polk / Getty Images
OVERRATED: Green Day Never mind that these Buzzcocks-informed pop-punks earned a place in our heart for the giddy adrenaline of breakout album "Dookie" and the well-intended (but overpraised) "American Idiot." What this trio has wrought in accidentally paving the way for 5 Seconds of Summer may outweigh all the good they've done. Which would you rather have? "Longview," "She" and "Basket Case"? Or these glossy Aussies with guitars invading pop radio? Tough call.
Toronto Film Festival
UNDERRATED: 'Under the Skin' (2014) Directed by Jonathan Glazer (of the vivid and vicious "Sexy Beast"), this film starring Scarlett Johansson as a man-hunting alien has proved divisive for its patient pace and defiantly ambiguous storytelling. Don't be fooled: This is about as haunting and original as science fiction gets, and Johansson is perfectly cast as a hypnotic, icily detached beauty who slowly, uncomfortably becomes drawn toward human behavior and emotion.
Michael Buckner / Getty Images
OVERRATED: 'The Hotwives of Orlando' on Hulu Maybe you need to already be a fan of the many mutations of the Bravo network's "Real Housewives" juggernaut to get the joke, but something about this parody series feels behind the curve. First comes the question of how can anyone properly spoof a TV genre that seems bizarrely adept at spoofing itself year after year? And second, what funnier things could talents like Kristen Schaal and Matt Besser be lampooning instead?
UNDERRATED: Ought, 'More Than Any Other Day' Released on the same label as cinematic agit-rock explorers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this Montreal-based quartet ticks every box in the twitchy post-punk handbook drawn by Television and Talking Heads while adding new ones. Led by jagged guitars, violin and the fevered drive of singer Tim Beeler, Ought channels frustration, connection and resilience into a breathtaking soundtrack for a too-hot summer.
OVERRATED: Aiming low with a 'Sharknado' sequel A left-field hit on Twitter, this cynical, so-bad-it's-apparently-funny construct returns at the end of the month with "Sharknado 2: The Second One" (see what they did there?). Except it's hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice, and once you've seen one funnel cloud of angry sharks you've pretty much seen them all. But don't worry, there's a coffee shop full of writers out there doing their level worst for the next viral hit. Yay?
Tim Fitzwater / Courtesy of Simon and Schuster
UNDERRATED: 'The Hard Way on Purpose' With news of a very good NBA player returning to play in his home state no longer filling our TVs, let this heartfelt collection of essays by David Giffels reveal the wit and pride that are beyond all our preconceptions of Akron, Ohio. In addition to looking beyond the postindustrial "ruin porn" that colors most depictions of the Rust Belt, Giffels will also make you reconsider just how much L.A. weather is worth given Midwestern real estate prices.
Mark Humphrey / AP
OVERRATED: Garth Brooks' Ireland comeback There may not be a dry eye in Dublin this week because Brooks' five-night run of sold-out stadium gigs (as opposed to an offered three) was called off after a tiff with local officials. Although the complaints that led to the cancellation seem shady, Brooks sounded oddly petulant insisting on five shows or nothing "because of the fans." This fight was about a cowboy hat-filling ego that demands full stadiums and wallets, nothing more.
UNDERRATED: 'Gloria' (2013) Do not adjust your set: This is a movie about a woman who is older than 30, not a comic caricature and does not exist to prop up the story of her children (who may be fleeing aliens, robots or some combination of both). No, this quietly elegant Chilean import centers on a radiant Paulina Garcią as an adult with dignity, bad decisions and real demands for a full life. Approach with care: This species is rare and may startle easily.
Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: 'New' Pink Floyd music Proving that no band of a certain size can stay dormant, a new studio album is coming from Pink Floyd, the group's first since "The Division Bell" in 1994 (which this month received an unnecessary reissue). But even if "The Endless River," a collection of mainly instrumental tracks from sessions 20 years ago, somehow lives up to Pink Floyd's legacy, the fractious band's true lineup hasn't existed since "The Final Cut." If only that record lived up to its title.
UNDERRATED: Grantland's 'Men in Blazers' With the World Cup ending, fans of what we call soccer can work through withdrawals with this podcast. Hosted by pop culture-obsessed fans Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, the British duo who brightened ESPN's coverage with quick-witted post-match commentary including nicknames for tactics (the passive defensive posture of "not in the face") and the gutsy but outgunned U.S. team ("The Von Trapps"). And chin up: 2018 is around the corner.
OVERRATED: Mystery TV Nothing against the average "Poirot" potboiler, but we're entering a period of diminishing returns when it comes to serialized whodunits or, in the case of HBO's ominously baffling "The Leftovers," what-is-going-ons. Television that makes us curious is the best kind, but the field is littered with twist-heavy shows whose final reveals ("True Detective," "Lost," "The Killing") couldn't possibly live up to expectations. If only answers were as easy to write as questions.
UNDERRATED: Bobby Avey's 'Authority Melts From Me' Haiti has been on the pop music radar of late, with Arcade Fire's dance-leaning 2013 record "Reflektor" and Swans' epic track "Toussaint L'Ouverture" looking to the island for inspiration. But this young pianist may have released the most beguiling listen yet. Backed by a band that includes saxophonist Miguel Zenón and guitarist Ben Monder, Avey delivers an engrossing listen that, like the best of jazz, transcends borders.
Tim P. Whitby / Getty Images
OVERRATED: Iggy Azalea If you took anything from last week's BET Awards — not always an easy task with awards shows — it's that hip-hop star/ex-"Idol" judge Nicki Minaj does not care for this Australian rapper, and with good reason. Despite the chart-topping "Fancy," Azalea's shallow sound offers the same mimicry that made the equally blond Macklemore a Grammy darling. Azalea's rapid-fire wordplay shows flashes of talent, but at least "Same Love" tried to say something new.
UNDERRATED: Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden's 'Last Dance' Has any album of the past 10 years carried a more ominous name? Released last month, this thoughtful and expansive exploration of the jazz songbook by a pair of masters draws from the same intimate sessions that produced the lovely "Jasmine" duets from 2010 -- an unfortunate necessity given Haden's recent struggles with post-polio syndrome. A rich, enchanting listen, but may its title be proved an utter lie.
OVERRATED: Laughing off 'Transformers' Noisy, over-the-top and deliriously dumb, the "Transformers" franchise is the Nickelback of the cinema: Few adults admit to liking it, but clearly someone is buying. While Internet commenters smirk at brain-dead dialogue, wooden acting and Michael Bay being Michael Bay, the movie has made talking truckloads of money. Bad video games passing as films are funny in theory, but with each successful sequel it feels like we're the joke.
UNDERRATED: 'The Final Member' (2014) Maybe you've heard about this documentary and thought, "Sure, it's about the world's only museum dedicated to male genitalia. How weird can it be?" Far more so than expected but with an odd sweetness thanks to the matter-of-fact drive of curator Siguršur "Siggi" Hjartarson (who assembled the collection in Iceland) and the odd contenders for the museum's first human specimen. See it, then write your own puns for this space.
Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: A Great Big World's "Say Something" A platinum-selling single that rose to prominence late last year, this potent depressant still roams the airwaves. Beneath its swooning chorus -- and there's not really much else to it -- is the kind of bombastic, piano-glossed swooning that's better left to weepy teen dramas than public spaces. But if you're craving the kind of mawkish ballad that makes Air Supply sound upbeat, all your eye-dabbing dreams have come true.
UNDERRATED: ESPN's "30 for 30: Soccer Stories" Though typically home to as many talking heads and talking points as a 24-hour news network, ESPN scored with its "30 for 30" documentary series, and this collection is no exception. Starting with the nearly incomprehensible tragedy of the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster involving the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans, the series proves that -- much like this year's World Cup -- some of the best sports stories lie beyond these shores.
David Paul Morris / Bloomberg
OVERRATED: Amazon's music venture As music continues transforming from something owned to something conjured from a distant electronic fog, Amazon has joined the streaming-music field with a new perk for its Prime members service that offers a variety of pop albums for the same $99 a year. Though it's a narrow selection compared with Spotify and Rdio, what is it about a company that sells everything that underscores how roughly a million songs are now worth almost nothing?
UNDERRATED: Jolie Holland's "Wine Dark Sea" First gaining notice in the early '00s with the rootsy folk group the Be Good Tanyas, Holland has earned steady acclaim with a lush, rounded voice and a weaver's way of tying together blues, country and rock into a sound that straddles classic and current. Here Holland dips into rougher waters, adding layers of barbed noise and Crazy Horse-shaded guitars to circle her every twisted word. It may be dark, but Holland shines.
OVERRATED: "True Blood" After six seasons, HBO's campy vampire soap opera goes into its last good night with a final run of episodes starting Sunday. And while series creator Alan Ball's demented concoction offered some silly and self-aware pleasures in its quest to touch all the horror-fantasy bases, this show has always been more concerned about breaking new ground in sex, silliness and gore than anything else. Rest in merciful peace.
Lindsay Brice / IFC Films
UNDERRATED: "The Punk Singer" (2013) This documentary about singer and activist Kathleen Hanna of the underground riot grrrl band Bikini Kill does more than show an underappreciated musician in a new light. In addition to revealing Hanna's fascinating if sadly illness-ravaged recent output with Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin, the film also highlights a tireless and distinctively vocal commitment to feminism and equality that begs the question why more haven't followed in her footsteps.
OVERRATED: "Escape From Tomorrow" (2013) One of the most talked-about films at Sundance last year, this micro-budgeted indie has an audacious conceit as a thriller filmed entirely (and without consent) at Disney World. And yet, for a surrealist story of a father's descent into madness at the Magic Kingdom it's remarkably tedious and feels like a missed opportunity. Want to see someone suffer a psychotic break at a Disney theme park? Film someone as they see the ticket prices.
UNDERRATED: Jimmy Guiffre Splitting time between clarinet and tenor saxophone, Guiffre was a lesser known yet still influential figure in jazz up to his death in 2008. This year may bring a welcome lift to his profile with the rich, Guiffre-inspired "Riverside" album from trumpeter Dave Douglas and "The Jimmy Guiffre 3&4: New York Concerts," a bracing, odd-angled live set from 1965 that at times recalls Ornette Coleman with a restless, freewheeling spirit that still sounds ahead of its time.
OVERRATED: 'Comedy Bang! Bang!' on IFC Now in its third season, this surrealist cross between "Pee-wee's Playhouse" and a standard talk show has acres of talent in the otherworldly improvisations of Reggie Watts and comic guests eagerly playing along, but too often this show isn't so much funny as it is an elaborate commentary on what's considered funny. It's like molecular gastronomy: intriguing to look at but often not nearly as satisfying as the thought behind it.
UNDERRATED: Rik Mayall The actor didn't earn as many headlines in the U.S. as his native Britain, but comedy fans lost a uniquely twisted talent with his death last weekend. Briefly appearing in these shores in the manic '90s curio "Drop Dead Fred," Mayall is maybe best remembered as the leftist poet (far left above) in the strange and occasionally sick U.K. sitcom "The Young Ones," a show that united fans of British comedy and British punk while on MTV in the '80s. R.I.P., Rik.
Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: Interpol Not to be confused with the world police organization, which seems properly rated, this stylishly brooding New York City band recently announced a new album, -- terrific news for those unaware of the existence of Joy Division or New Order. If this is nostalgia for 2002, when Interpol's infectious but empty "Turn on the Bright Lights" debuted, you should know that Good Charlotte and Nickelback were also big that year. Are we really ready to go back down this road?
UNDERRATED: Billy Hart A well-traveled drummer with a list of collaborators that includes jazz royalty such as Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd and Herbie Hancock, Hart has been a gratefully prolific bandleader as well of late; his recently issued "One Is the Other" is his second album with a quartet that includes Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson and saxophonist Mark Turner. Hart comes to the Blue Whale on Thursday and Friday in a pair of shows that should be considered required viewing.
OVERRATED: The escapist joys of 'Game of Thrones' Earning near-universal acclaim for a season packed with almost as much ambition and intrigue as bloodthirsty nihilism, this epic drama is getting exhausting. In addition to the escalating gore, why the disproportionately graphic punishments for any character who dares seem heroic? Not to say we always need happy endings, but maybe "fantasy" isn't the best term for this genre. Is "brutal reality with dragons" too cumbersome?
UNDERRATED: Matt Walsh in 'Veep' The rapid-fire wit of "Veep" and writer Armando Iannucci (of the similarly lacerating "In the Loop" and "The Thick of It") can be too acidic for binge watching, but one standout in HBO's comedy is this actor, who portrays communications director Mike McLintock. With chops honed by the same Upright Citizens Brigade that gave us Amy Poehler, Walsh keeps the depictions of D.C. ambition and incompetence at the edge of the absurd but no less biting.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
OVERRATED: 'Trance' (2013) Danny Boyle is one of the more interesting filmmakers today — "Sunshine," "127 Hours" and "Trainspotting," anyone? — but he's also one of the most uneven. That's never been more true than with this stylishly incomprehensible heist film that must be a thrill ride for anyone who equates hypnotism with alternate realities. You have to feel for the underserved Rosario Dawson; at least her costar James McAvoy had that indie hit "X Men" to fall back on.
UNDERRATED: Melanie De Biasio's 'No Deal' This Belgian singer and flautist has earned a steady swell of notice in Europe. Her blend of echo-laden atmosphere with languid, crystalline vocals imagines a more jazz-informed Portishead headlining a noirish nightclub in an as-yet unreleased David Lynch movie. A sultry mix of feathered percussion, cascading piano and ominous yet subtle electronics, De Biasio's dreamy, intoxicating sound makes any room feel a little darker.
Chris Pizzello / Invision AP
OVERRATED: 'Ant-Man' In news that that sent ripples through the comedy and lesser-known comic book-fan community last week, Edgar Wright -- director of "Cornetto Trilogy" genre mash-ups "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" -- was removed from adapting this insect-leading hero's jump to the screen. The good news? Now Wright is free to bring his reliably skewed eye to something other than the increasingly tiresome trough of Marvel comics, something that leaves us all better off.
UNDERRATED: "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me" (2012) The Memphis power-pop band Big Star has earned enough acclaim among critics and record collectors to nearly land on the other side of the column. But even if you've heard "September Gurls," "Thirteen" or "O My Soul," this film paints a compelling, even heartbreaking portrait of one of American pop music's should've-been success stories. If you're not already part of this band's obsessive cult, this may make you one.
OVERRATED: "Riot" on Fox Has anyone seen Steve Carell? Dark-haired fellow, about this tall, capable of inducing near-hysterics with a mix of the absurd and odd vulnerability on "The Office," "The Daily Show" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"? Because not even his reliably likable presence as costar and executive producer could brighten this dreadfully dumb newcomer, which mixes the free-form anarchy of improv with the thoughtful pleasures of watching people fall down. Come back, Steve.
Northern Spy Records
UNDERRATED: Arto Lindsay's "Encyclopedia of Arto" How often does "experimental" music sound this heartfelt? A key figure of the New York "no wave" scene of the '80s who collaborated with the Lounge Lizards and the Golden Palominos, the Brazilian-born Lindsay merged the delicate melodies of Brazil with flashes of jagged chaos on guitar. A broad sampling of his work, live and in studio, is collected on this two-disc set, which at times can sound lush, poetic and unhinged.
Kevin Winter/Billboard Awards 2014/Getty Images
OVERRATED: Holograms What's more tragic? The untimely death of an artist or the questionable taste of those hoping to keep that artist's fame alive? Buoyed by the projection of Tupac Shakur that lighted up the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2012, Michael Jackson was "resurrected" at an awards show last week to perform a song he never finished. Setting aside how creepy technology has become, are we so bereft of living artists that this is necessary? Want to see Jackson perform? Go diggin' on YouTube.
Bill Watterson, Andrews McMeel Publishing
UNDERRATED: 'Dear Mr. Watterson' (2013) This low-key documentary about the beautiful, hilarious and much-missed comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" isn't the sort of big-budget cinematic experience bolstered by a churning Philip Glass score or even an interview with its subject, cartoonist Bill Watterson. But what it does is capture how a boy and his tiger still captivate almost 20 years after the strip ended and how Watterson's purity of vision remains an example of true artistry.
Twentieth Century Fox
OVERRATED: 'The Heat' (2013) Arriving on a surge of goodwill after the success of "Bridesmaids," this film directed by Paul Feig proved that women can lead predictable and over-the-top buddy cop comedies too. Sure, the details of Melissa McCarthy's Boston family rang true with the help of Massachusetts-born comic Bill Burr, but for the most part the easy physical gag was relied upon far too often, and if you enjoyed Sandra Bullock's comic timing in "Gravity," you'll love it here too.
UNDERRATED: Lake Street Dive Can you be an overnight success after 10 years? First founded in Boston, this quartet delivers a heartfelt blend of vintage R&B with jazzy flourishes led by the shimmering voice of Rachael Price. The breakthrough album "Bad Self Portraits" was released this year, and the band has shown up on David Letterman's and Stephen Colbert's shows and December's New York City concert inspired by the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis." Try the title song and never look back.
Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: The ukulele Humble favorite of Tiny Tim and the great state of Hawaii, we once hardly knew you. But now we know far too much after a blend of Zooey Deschanel-informed pixie dreamgirls and the hammock-ready vibes of Eddie Vedder reduced this earthy mini-guitar to a quirky affectation or grating display of soul from the frat house crowd. Unless your name is Jake Shimabukuro (look him up) or you can currently see a campfire, let's tone down the twee for a while.
UNDERRATED: 'The Double' (2014) Filmmaker Richard Ayoade went all-in for the stranger side of cinema with his latest, a captivating story of mistaken identity. Armed with the nightmarish visuals and black humor of Terry Gilliam and the Coen Brothers (think "Brazil" tangled with "Hudsucker Proxy"), the film stars Jesse Eisenberg as a meek office drone who pines for a coworker (Mia Wasikowska), who falls for his extroverted replica. It's exactly as odd as it sounds, thankfully.
OVERRATED: Mourning 'Community' On the verge of cancellation from the moment it first aired on NBC, this show from the demented, tortured mind of Dan Harmon had enough lives for two or three cats before finally being cut down (possibly?) for good last week. While the show may yet find a way to meet its social media prophecy of "#sixseasonsandamovie," isn't it enough to celebrate the wealth of weird it provided while it lasted? Greendale is gone, yet Greendale lives forever.
UNDERRATED: Paul Bley's 'Play Blue' Now in his 80s, the Canadian pianist hasn't received the same notice as Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea outside jazz circles, but his special way with piano is no less inspired. Here, in a recording of a magnetic 2008 solo performance in Norway, Bley delivers inside-out improvisations and in-the-moment ventures that aren't always note perfect as they skirt the frayed edges of the avant garde, but they're all the more beautiful for it.
OVERRATED: Even more "Spider-Man" Currently earning many truckloads of money at the box office, the latest installment of Marvel's superhero super-franchise is an early winner at the start of blockbuster season. But once the inevitable third film from Andrew Garfield and company swings our way, can we all agree to put this web-head to bed for a while? As frightening as it might be to consider a new way to sell popcorn, six movies since 2000 may just about cover it.
UNDERRATED: "The Moone Boy" Cutting the cable cord isn't easy, but this Irish sitcom on Hulu remains one of the true gems of Internet TV. Again led by ever-likable "Bridesmaids" star Chris O'Dowd, who is both the show's co-creator and probably the best imaginary friend anyone could ask for, the new season following the adventures of the sweet, vaguely hapless schoolboy Martin Moone remains charming and hits an absurdist nerve that our networks seldom reach.
OVERRATED: Avril Lavigne The early '00s gave us so much, one being this "Sk8er Boi" singer, who was basically Britney Spears for those who like their pop stars with an edge (read: a bit more dark eyeliner). Still pluckily insisting on a music career, Lavigne apparently came down from her lofty perch recently and allowed fans in Brazil to take a picture two, maybe three feet away from her for over $350. A little advice? Invest wisely, Avril, that rate isn't going up.
UNDERRATED: "Drinking Buddies" (2013) On paper, this indie rom-com shouldn't have been half as watchable as it is. Written and directed by Joe Swanberg, a veteran of the naturalistic and naturally frustrating brand of action-resistant filmmaking dubbed "mumblecore," this film stars Olivia Wilde and "New Girl's" Jake Johnson as two bantering brewery workers who don't realize they're made for each other. To everyone's credit, the results are livelier than they sound.
OVERRATED: The late-night game With Stephen Colbert taking over "Late Show" after the retirement of the masterful David Letterman, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Craig Ferguson is also leaving his show, one of the last outposts of strangeness on the after-hours circuit. Though Colbert has potential, we're a long way from the days when these shows offered more than another benign stop on the promo circuit. Just look at the ingratiating, Internet-courting antics of Jimmy Fallon.
UNDERRATED: Billy Bob Thornton in "Fargo" Bringing this idiosyncratic Coen brothers film to the screen was never going to be easy, and though the new FX series set in the film's politely cold-blooded world wobbled at first, its footing is secure thanks in part to a strong cast led by this character actor. Already familiar with the Coens' style as the laconic barber from 2001's "The Man Who Wasn't There," Thornton's dryly menacing hit man is part Anton Chigurh, part mischievous fairy godfather.
OVERRATED: "Grease" Part of a durable if inexplicable '50s revival that happened in the '70s (see: "Happy Days" and "American Graffiti"), this theatrical war horse will soon mount yet another comeback as a live musical on Fox next summer. Setting aside the almost diabolical nesting doll of nostalgia this could spawn, are we really at a point where there's a shortage of campy "Grease" revivals? On the bright side, we've dodged a fond look back at "Phantom of the Opera" for one more year.
Joshua Black Wilkins
UNDERRATED: Jenny Scheinman's "The Littlest Prisoner" Fans of Bill Frisell's Americana-dusted jazz should be familiar with this California-born violinist, who has also been heard with Madeleine Peyroux and Lucinda Williams. Though Scheinman's lovely, string-laden jazz has long been worth hearing, particularly her rambunctious "Mischief and Mayhem" ensemble, here she's revealed as an enticing vocal force as well, expertly backed by Frisell and drummer Brian Blade.
Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: Calvin Harris One of the big winners of a Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that saw it drift further from its alt-rock roots and into a costly resort-styled playground for the beautiful people, this Scottish-born DJ-producer out-drew headliners Arcade Fire with big, dumb beats and airy synth whooshes. No hard feelings as EDM takes the reins from rock for a while, but look elsewhere to Darkside, Chvrches and even Skrillex for music that aims for more than easy dance floor thrills.
UNDERRATED: 'Silicon Valley' on HBO One of the most promising TV developments of 2014 is the return of Mike Judge, who in this series may have found the ideal arena for the biting wit of his culture-skewing comedy "Office Space." No aspect of culture is more deserving of skewering than the influential insta-millionaires of our tech-heavy neighbor to the north, and with the talents of actors Kumail Nanjiani ("Portlandia") and Martin Starr ("Freaks and Geeks") he's off to a strong start.
Frank Ockenfels / AMC
OVERRATED: The end of 'Mad Men' One of the most stylish, celebrated and stylishly celebrated shows on TV, AMC's ponderously paced prestige show mercifully ends this season, and it's oddly hard to care. Though the vintage furnishings have changed, most characters stubbornly refused to evolve along with them, particularly Don Draper, who's now a slightly older womanizing cad. On the bright side, soon Jon Hamm can become the alt-comedy powerhouse he's long yearned to be.
UNDERRATED: 'The Conversation' (1974) Sure, part of the charm of this film is seeing Gene Hackman wear John Cleese's raincoat from the "Dead Parrot" sketch for an hour, but these NSA-dominated times are well suited for revisiting a true classic of surveillance and paranoia. Hackman portrays an uptight and tormented professional eavesdropper, and while the film may venture over the top in depicting a growing obsession over a recorded conversation, it's also memorably haunting.
Win McNamee / Getty Images
OVERRATED: Selfies It began with Ellen, who posed with her famous friends at the Oscars in a glorified phone commercial aimed at Twitter. It was a hit, of course, as was an innocent-seeming shot by a Boston Red Sox star who posed with President Obama in what was really just another shameless phone company plug (much to the dismay of the White House). Let that be a lesson: Unless you're the one for sale, let's return all future self-portraits to their roots: Oil paintings.
Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times
UNDERRATED: Regina Carter's "Southern Comfort" Jazz violin isn't a crowded field, but Carter remains a standout regardless. After exploring African music with the lauded "Reverse Thread" in 2010, Carter turns toward her roots in Americana and folk, and the results are just as arresting. Mingling swift, sawing runs with guitar and accordion, Carter delivers fresh takes on rootsy classics including "Hickory Wind," "Honky Tonkin'" and a funky, electronics-dusted "Trampin'."
Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: Coachella Right now, somewhere in the desert, an underdressed and overprivileged young person is not drinking enough water because all his or her money went to a three-day concert. Remember when music festivals didn't require a credit check? Sure, everyone who can afford to has a grand time, but suppose you want to see OutKast or the Replacements and don't have roughly $1,000 to burn on a ticket, gas and a hotel room. At those prices, it's no wonder people steal music.
Michael Yarish / Comedy Central
UNDERRATED: "Review" on Comedy Central Though missing the millennial-skewing tone of fellow newcomers "Broad City" and "@midnight," this series deserves a look if only to experience its strange yet sharp satiric bite. Led by "Eastbound & Down" vet Andy Daly, who stars as the cheerily oblivious Forrest MacNeil, this show takes a critical eye toward life itself as opposed to works of art. Among MacNeil's targets? Divorce, racism and cocaine, each with their own twisted results.
Theo Wargo / Getty Images for CBGB
OVERRATED: The Flaming Lips This band led by earnest and off-key ringleader Wayne Coyne used to be a reliable source for strange and soaring psychedelic rock. Now the ringleader has become a carnival barker, desperately trying to top a series of increasingly exhausting stunts, from aggressively quirky collaborations with the likes of Kesha to an oh-so-clever April Fool's stunt about releasing an album to sync with "Dark Side of the Moon." If only the band's recent music was as well conceived.
Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times
UNDERRATED: 'Short Term 12' (2013) A newcomer on DVD, this movie is a graceful reminder of all that's still right in independent cinema. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the film looks at the tenderness of life in a foster care facility and its young staff, led by John Gallagher Jr. and Brie Larson (pictured with Cretton, left). In addition to revealing a system whose hopeful -- even heroic -- side often goes unseen, the film turns on the aching sweetness between its central couple, who have their own pasts to overcome.
OVERRATED: 'Oblivion' (2013) Ambitious and beautiful to look at, this sci-fi epic starts off strong in imagining a fallen futuristic Earth, but ultimately a script that veers too close to the lower-budget (and far more interesting) 2009 film "Moon" wastes all that potential, sending a decent premise careening into twist-heavy gibberish. Still, if you had to pick a human to robotically roam an abandoned Earth after the apocalypse, the ever-resilient Tom Cruise seems like a safe bet.
UNDERRATED: 'Miles at the Fillmore 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3' Part of an ongoing excavation into the jazz great's archive that's recently yielded impressive live albums from Europe in 1967 and 1969, this new box set taken from a furious four-night run delivers plenty of sparkling, funk-rock invention. Backed by an all-star band in Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and Keith Jarrett, Miles is firing on all cylinders here, particularly in surging tracks from "Bitches Brew."
OVERRATED: Future Islands Recent winner of indie music's flavor-of-the-minute sweepstakes, this Baltimore synth-pop group may have won over David Letterman on a recent "Late Night" appearance, but don't be fooled. Led by a Jack Black-meets-Mario Cantone frontman who pursues an everyman charisma in Action Slacks by dancing like an overbearing wedding guest, this band's theatrical, over-earnest packaging can't hide that it's a less interesting Fine Young Cannibals.
UNDERRATED: Neil Halstead It remains a bit of a mystery how one of the architects of a gauzy shoegaze masterwork like Slowdive's "Souvlaki" and its spacey follow-up "Pygmalion" can one day evolve into an artist on Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records, but Halstead's sound remains striking nonetheless. His solo debut, "Sleeping on Roads," is engineered for sun-soaked drives, and his lush 2012 album, "Palindrome Hunches," marks him as an heir to the folk legacy of Nick Drake.
Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment
OVERRATED: Young adults All hail, Harry Potter -- the young wizard whose movies proved there was no safer bet in Hollywood than filming a fantasy series that adolescents have already read. After "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent," it's hard to say what's more unsettling: That so much of the industry hinges on an audience that already knows a movie's ending? Or that our most lucrative films and books aren't written for adults? Isn't this the plot for a futuristic dystopian trilogy?
UNDERRATED: 'Ride the Divide' (2010) Entertaining the idea of bike commuting but leery of the few miles of asphalt from here to there? This documentary puts distance into perspective by following the handful of hardy maniacs who battle loneliness and wilderness in tackling a 2,700-mile mountain bike race that stretches from Canada to Mexico along the Rocky Mountains. It may not make rush hour on Glendale Boulevard any less treacherous, but at least there isn't any snow. Or bears.
OVERRATED: 'Lost' Has it really been 10 years? Ten years since a series flew by the seat of its pants into a strange island and captured our imagination with an addictive, unsolvable mystery made for the DVR era? Stranger still, it feels far longer since the series ended and we all just shrugged, quietly agreeing among ourselves the series never actually happened. Were they just dead all along? The bigger mystery is why we thought the show mattered in the first place.
Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times
UNDERRATED: Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana's 'Mehliana' Beloved by jazz fans for inside-out piano excursions with his nimble acoustic trio (performing Wednesday at Disney Hall), Mehldau returns to the noisier, more groove-oriented textures of his electronic-shaded "Largo" project with this recording. Amid sparkling Fender Rhodes, burbling synthesizers and restless electronic rhythms, "Mehliana" is a strange and shifty venture into starry-eyed space-funk.
Kevin Mazur / WireImage
OVERRATED: SXSW Now that everyone is back from Austin's annual South by Southwest music conference-marketing campaign, can we agree to keep our overcrowded concert-going to local clubs and festivals where they belong? Even setting aside a track record of overindulgent behavior that culminated with this year's fatal suspected drunk-driving crash, anyone convinced that those who perform inside oversize vending machines have compelling thoughts about art needs some serious soul-searching.
Mark Schafer / HBO
UNDERRATED: Richard E. Grant Recently seen as Jessa's coke-crazed partner in crime on HBO's "Girls," this actor hasn't been as visible on screen in recent years, but he has few equals as a wild-eyed, often comic force. "L.A. Story," "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and the otherwise forgettable "Hudson Hawk" benefited from Grant's twitchy energy, but best of all was his giddily unhinged portrayal of boozy self-destruction in the brilliant 1987 British comedy "Withnail & I."
Michele K. Short / HBO
OVERRATED: 'True Detective' Though there's no denying the actorly fireworks that emanated from Messrs. Harrelson and McConaughey, has there been a more buzzed-about show that was at its heart so secretly conventional? For all its metaphysical McConaughey monologues and atmospheric mystery that ultimately crashed HBO Go last week (Seriously? In 2014?), this cop drama revealed that for all its haunting imagery and literary ambition, the enemy was just another bad guy.
Robbie Ryan / Sundance Institute
UNDERRATED: 'The Summit' (2013) Similar in spirit to the vertigo-inducing documentary "Touching the Void," this tense, tragic film examines a disastrous effort to scale K2 in 2008 that resulted in the deaths of 11 climbers from around the world. The film, which uses footage from the climb and sometimes confusing reenactments, may not explain what drives so many to scale a mountain that clearly doesn't want them there, but it does put a morning commute up the 405 into perspective.
Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: 'The Spectacular Now' (2013) Lauded as a modern-day analogue to the overpraised "Say Anything," this film starts predictable and stays there. Led by a charmingly obnoxious (or obnoxiously charming) senior played by Miles Teller who falls for a nice girl (Shailene Woodley) who's inexplicably an outcast, the picture mistakes earnestness for compelling characters as it revels in cliches that better movies ("Submarine," "Adventureland," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower") strive to break.
UNDERRATED: Science Viewers may not flock to the second coming of "Cosmos," led by Neil deGrasse Tyson, at least not in the numbers of those drawn to stories of zombies and Bigfoot, but you have to give Fox and executive producer Seth MacFarlane credit for addressing the nobler side of human curiosity. Couple that with the news that Craig Ferguson is producing a TV adaptation of the Facebook page "I ... Love Science" and an age of actual reality television could be at hand.
Amy Sussman, Invision / AP
OVERRATED: B.J. Novak Television writers. Is there anything they can't do? Fresh from NBC's "The Office," Novak is earning praise for a recent leap into the literary realm with the collection "One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories." While there's some improv-sharpened skill in imagining scenes such as a woman on a first date with an African warlord, there's not much depth here beyond an occasional laugh. It's charming, sure, but let's ease back on the George Saunders comparisons.
UNDERRATED: 'Welcome to Night Vale' Like "A Prairie Home Companion" with LSD in its drinking water, this addictive, deeply weird podcast is for anyone who likes his or her quasi-radio listening with a surrealist tilt. Plagued by mysterious hooded figures, black helicopters and dinosaur-spewing time portals -- just to name a few -- the twisted desert town chronicled by an often deadpan host resembles the sinister, dryly hilarious dream-child of Art Bell and H.P. Lovecraft.
OVERRATED: 'Bates Motel' on A&E Can a TV show aim high and low at the same time? On one hand, there's no denying the talent of lead Vera Farmiga, and the idea of reimagining a classic like "Psycho" into present day is nothing if not ambitious. That said, the show is over-the-top, trashy camp as it heads into its second season. Watching Farmiga chew scenery, it's worth asking: Is the show trying to be good? Or spectacularly bad? And does it matter anymore?
UNDERRATED: 'The Broken Circle Breakdown' Maybe just too strange to process for academy voters who weren't sure what to make of a film involving a doomed love affair between a bearded bluegrass bandleader and a hard-living tattoo artist in rural Belgium, this movie regrettably lost out in the foreign language category. But for a terribly sad, beautifully drawn ballad with a spirited, banjo-flecked soundtrack that's far more reminiscent of the WPA than the EU, look no further.
Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images
OVERRATED: 'Ordinary Love' by U2 In fairness to the creators of the Idris Elba-starring biopic "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," it may be impossible to shoot a film about human rights in South Africa without U2, given the band's longtime activism. That said, brace yourself for the minor travesty if Bono & Co. beat out "Frozen's" "Let It Go" for original song with a U2-by-the-numbers entry that serves as a harsh reminder of how long its been since the band sounded vital.
Will Oliver / EPA
UNDERRATED: Steve Coogan Maybe the finest byproduct of Harvey Weinstein's full-court press for the "Philomena" best picture campaign has been the extra notice earned by this actor, writer and comic powerhouse. If you haven't watched Coogan's many barbed misadventures as failed U.K. TV presenter Alan Partridge, you're in for a treat, not to mention his self-lacerating turn in "The Trip" and as ego-mad record label head Tony Wilson in the terrific "24 Hour Party People."
Mary Cybulski / AP
OVERRATED: The knee-jerk defense of 'The Wolf of Wall Street' Maybe the only thing more jarring than the parade of decadence in Martin Scorsese's Oscar contender is the vigor with which some critics defend it and its filmmaker from accusations that Jordan Belfort's antics are a bit glorified. To be clear, Scorsese is a brilliant director but also not above criticism. Although if someone finds greed-addled white guys tough to watch in theaters, they should probably avoid CNBC.
UNDERRATED: 'Cutie and the Boxer' Overshadowed in the Oscar documentary feature category by the bigger, more issue-oriented stories of "The Act of Killing" and "The Square," this raw, intimate portrait of two New York City artists and their volatile relationship deserves a look. Underappreciated while supporting her struggling artist husband, Ushio, for 35 years, Noriko Shinohara details the often grim compromises of their marriage as her own art -- justifiably -- begins to shine through.
Caitlin Cronenberg / MCT
OVERRATED: Pompeii From a just-released disaster flick that casts the eruption of Mount Vesuvius as ancient Rome meets "Armageddon" (Spoiler alert: The volcano wins) to the unnecessarily acrobatic vocals of the blandly "fun." hit of the same name by Bastille, seen recently on "Saturday Night Live," it's time to let the well-preserved, ash-encrusted citizens of this ancient city rest. There's plenty of other cities whose suffering is worth remembering too, such as New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Detroit.
John P. Johnson / HBO
UNDERRATED: 'Looking' on HBO A premium-cable newcomer, this show created by Michael Lannan is among the first major-network programs built around gay relationships that's also being asked to be the show about gay relationships. Regardless of expectations, the show's strongest trait isn't how it represents or speaks to a specific audience, it's how familiar it rings for any viewer. Watch the sweet, simple yet resoundingly true first-date walk-and-talk episode, "Looking for a Future."
Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles Times
OVERRATED: 'A Single Shot' (2013) How does an indie film featuring Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy and Jeffrey Wright wind up to be such a dud? First and foremost is the story, which is basically a slower, less interesting version of Sam Raimi's "A Simple Plan" but with less snow. Rockwell (pictured) is as game as ever, but Wright commits so deeply to his drunken backwoodsman act that he's unintelligible. It would all be too heavy-handed if anyone still cared once it ended.
UNDERRATED: Cheatahs Good news: Indie rock may be starting to drift away from its tired fascination with synthesizers. Not that there's anything wrong with the occasional Depeche Mode or Human League knockoff, but this London four-piece draws from the sound of '80s and '90s fuzz and feedback merchants Ride, Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine for inspiration. The group's self-titled album doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it's a well-timed reminder of louder, lusher sound.
Scott Halleran / Getty Images
OVERRATED: NBC's Olympic coverage Another four years, another missed opportunity to expand the audience for what's surely a very expensive event to cover. Never mind the clichéd athlete back stories and tape delays that have become traditions by now, but the broadcast's online presence remains weirdly antiquated. With so many leaving cable behind, why not allow everyone to buy access to Olympic coverage on Apple TV or Roku? Does, say, $25 sound right?
UNDERRATED: Rudy Royston's '303' A first-call young drummer on the jazz scene who has recorded with Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas and Ben Allison, Royston released his first album as a bandleader this month, and it should only add to his reputation. Featuring fellow rising stars in guitarist Nir Felder and trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis along with a pair of bassists, Royston delivers a variety of shape-shifting originals and expertly drawn covers of Mozart and Radiohead.
Nick Ut / AP
OVERRATED: Nathan Fielder Let's congratulate this Canadian-born comic, whose Comedy Central show "Nathan for You" was revealed as the source of the "Dumb Starbucks" shop that briefly fascinated the easily fascinated of Los Feliz. Your stunt earned plenty of chatter, but you've helped confirm what's all too true in our viral marketing-obsessed world: Anything strange, witty or mysterious that appears in public isn't actual art or an idea, it's only a commercial. Thanks.
The Kobal Collection
UNDERRATED: Griffin Dunne A master of the subtle slow burn, this actor behind memorable turns in Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" (pictured) as well as one of the first corpses in "American Werewolf in London" remains a welcome sight on screen, most recently as Dr. Vass in the Oscar-courting "Dallas Buyers Club." He may not be recognizable behind a mane of silver hair and scruffy beard, but that same, slightly twisted mischief burns as brightly behind Dunne's eyes as ever.
OVERRATED: Prince on 'New Girl' Though there's no accounting for taste (he's apparently a big fan), here's an incomplete list of TV shows that would've been far more fun destinations for a Prince cameo than a middling sitcom: "Crossfire," "Sherlock," "Nashville," "Chopped," "Downton Abbey," the Puppy Bowl, "The Bachelor," "Adventure Time," the Weather Channel, "Duck Dynasty," "American Horror Story: Coven" and, of course, the Super Bowl halftime show.
UNDERRATED: Pete Robbins' 'Pyramid' One of the most talent-rich jazz releases of the new year, this album by the Brooklyn-based saxophonist features some New York City heavyweights drummer Tyshawn Sorey, bassist Eivind Opsvik and MacArthur grant-winning pianist Vijay Iyer. But the music deserves just as much notice with boldly reimagined takes on Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine," Stevie Wonder's "Too High" and a tangled cover of "Wichita Lineman."
OVERRATED: Rebooting 'RoboCop' At this stage, there's little point in feigning surprise at Hollywood's addiction to remaking the past, but the idea that this picture could return without the stinging satire that filmmaker Paul Verhoeven stitched into what was superficially an action movie isn't just disrespectful to the 1987 original, but it's also that much more pointless. Anyone who thinks this movie is about a robot cop probably also thinks "Starship Troopers" is about alien invaders. (Columbia Pictures)
The Weinstein Company
UNDERRATED: Michael B. Jordan in 'Fruitvale Station' Now that Oscar season is entering its Olympics break, let's consider why this young actor who rose to fame on "Friday Night Lights" didn't receive a lead actor nod for his role in the dramatization of the life of the late Oscar Grant, shot by a transit cop at an Oakland BART station in 2009. Jordan captured a complex, conflicted human who deserved a far better fate, and he did it without scenery-chewing or campy costumes.