Overrated / Underrated 2014: This awful year, 'The Institute' 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.
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.