Sunday, May 31, 2009

People Got A Lotta Nerve (A Concert Review)

Neko Case at the Ogden Theatre, May 30th 2009 C+

The boys and I attended the sold out Neko Case show last night at the Ogden Theatre. In classic rock star fashion we arrived late (missing the opening act) but just in time for Neko's set. However, our lateness relegated us to the back of the theatre (near the bar) where all night we heard the sweet sounds of Neko in one ear and drunken bar banter in the other.

Neko sang like an alt-country angel and the band played beautifully, yet the show still managed to fall short of expectation. Something was definitely missing, perhaps we were forewarned when Neko took the stage and said some about "soft rocking" our balls off. I mean, I wasn't expecting her to make my ears bleed but all night I kept waiting for that one song that would really ignite my fire or conjure up my infinite sadness. The closest I came to this sort of emotion was I Wish I Was the Moon from Blacklisted.

Naturally I expected a heavy dose of Middle Cyclone, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with the lack of Furnace Room Lullaby songs. Nevertheless, I had a great time at the show and I attribute some of the fault to us getting there late, being less than 6 feet tall, and generally having a poor view/earshot of the stage.

I'm certain that Neko would have sang "Twist the Knife" or "Mood to Burn Bridges" had she been able to see Mike, Jason, John or myself from the stage. Next time we'll indulge in less pre-show Coronas and more in overpriced Miller Lites at the venue.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Writing Down the Birds (A Book Review)

Anne Lamont - Bird By Bird B+

Perhaps my favorite thing about Bird by Bird is Lamott's honesty about writing and the writing life. Especially since it's easy to romanticize being a writer when the reality is a constant struggle to put the right words on paper.

This book was first recommended to me by Dan Elish, the author of one of my favorite novels, Nine Wives. Since then it has been recommended time and time again with good reason. I think this book separates the pretenders from the contenders in the writing process. It reveals the true satisfaction and artistic nature of writing whether you're published or not.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

State of Play - Movie Review

State of Play (PG-13) A-
Journalism at its best

Starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, and Helen Mirren

After watching the movie Twister in 1996, a friend told me that she was inspired to become a "Storm Chaser". After seeing State of Play a few days ago I found myself daydreaming about being a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper. Then I remembered that no one reads the paper and print journalism is a dying breed... but still, this film does for journalism what ER (the television show) did for the medical profession– provides the illusion of nonstop excitement, drama and intrigue.

I read that State of Play is loosely based on a BBC television series of the same name and was originally cast with Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. Those two actors backed out but the star laden cast of Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, Jason Bateman, and (cameo by) Viola Davis provided more than enough star power for this savvy and well-scripted film.

This political thriller explores the question of ethical, honest and factual journalism, as well as the indispensable importance of print newspapers in our society. State of Play has plenty of twist, turns, and headlines that rival modern day political scandals- sex, corruption, murder, etc... and there's even a fair share of well executed clichés: the seasoned, burnt-out reporter type with friends in all the right places, hesitantly matched with an eager and fresh-faced newbie. The angry and demanding editor, the pesky police, and the young politician that’s as sleazy as he is good looking.

But it all comes together brillantly. I liked this film and who would have thought that Ben Affleck would star in two of my favorite films of 2009 so far... Perhaps now I can forget about Armageddon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sugar - Movie Review

Sugar (R) 120 minutes B
A Baseball Story As American As French Toast

Starring Algenis Pérez Soto, Rayniel Rufino, Andre Holland, Michael Gaston, Jaime Tirelli, José Rijo, Ann Whitney, and Richard Bull

Growing up in a small poverty stricken village outside San Pedro de Macorís, Migel "Sugar" Santos seemed destined for baseball super stardom. At 19 years old he was called up from the Dominican Republic baseball academy (a Kansas City Royals affiliated baseball training camp) to pro baseball's minor league farm system. This was a huge step towards achieving his dream of playing in the major leagues and rescuing his family from destitution.

In the minors Sugar lands in Iowa to pitch for the Bridgetown Swing. He's a stranger in a strange land and the competition is fierce. At first he holds his own but as he adapts to American culture he can't seem to adapt to a pitching slump that makes him question himself and ultimately his life.

It all sounds so serious... and it is, but Sugar is a delicately made film full of introspection and questions. From the directing team of Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson - a film I highly recommend) they have succeeded once again in making a smart and engaging film. Some critics are calling this one of the best baseball films ever made; I'm not so sure, but it's definitely worth checking out.

Bonus DVD Review
Black Snake Moan (R) 115 minutes B-
Christina Ricci's sexiest film since (Woody Allen's) Anything Else

DVD Release Date - June 26, 2007
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, S. Epatha Merkerson, John Cothran Jr., David Banner, Michael Raymond-James, and Adriane Lenox

Back in the late 90's I had a celebrity crush on Christina Ricci, I've long since outgrown that crush but she's still very sexy. Never is this more evident than her portrayal of a troubled young woman named Rae. Rae is haunted by sexual, mental and physical abuse of her past, yet she seems less like a victim and more like a nymphomaniac. Leave it up to a hard livin bluesman (Samuel L. Jackson) to tie her down and tame her black snake moan.

This one is not for everyone but it had just enough weird sexual energy and savvy words ("just because I'm f*cked up doesn't mean I can't love you") to do it for me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Gran Torino - Movie Review

Gran Torino (R) 116 minutes B+
Original Gangsta

Starring Clint Eastwood, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, and Christopher Carley

I finally got around to seeing Gran Torino while it's still in theaters. Many of you told me months ago that this was a great film and despite all the hype it still lived up to expectations. Clint Eastwood is a totally badass in Gran Torino and in lesser hands there's no way this film would've been as good. Matter of fact it could have easily derailed had it not been for Eastwood.

A must see... especially for Eastwood fans.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lloyd, I'm Still Heartbroken...

First Impression Music Review
Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career B+

Upon first listen to My Maudlin Career it struck me as a pretty stellar album but personally I thought it could be an even better album with a few more haunting guitars, backing vocals and other bells and whistles. Tracyanne Campbell has a lovely voice but sometimes she could use a few red bulls. Away With Murder is so laid back that it underachieves; lyrically it's a good song but Campbell never elevates the track to more than a passing daydream...

But despite any misgivings I may or may not have with Campbell's vocal intensity the majority of the album is very impressive. After several spins I found myself more and more intoxicated with this sentimental gem. My Maudlin Career is ultimately a mediation on unrequited love- bittersweet and tragically lovable. Even with the recurring theme of love gone wrong, one can't help but to feel optimistic after it's all said and done.

Favorite tracks - French Navy, James and Honey in the Sun

Friday, May 15, 2009

California Dreaming

First Impression Music Review
Jill Sobule - California Years A-

When I listen to this record it pisses me off that lesser artists are saturating our airwaves when ultra talented, uber clever Jill Sobule is making interesting and profound music with no help from a record label. I guess the industry would rather finance the 7th place finisher of American Idol than invest in music that really matters. What the f*ck!

Much has been made about California Years which was completely financed by her fans. Had I been more on the ball I would have totally thrown a few bucks her way especially since donor names are mentioned in the liner notes. But as always I missed the boat so I gladly forked out $16 bucks (or whatever) and purchased a good old fashion hard copy (compact disc).

The vibe here almost sounds like a last hoorah; organic, introspective and at times conclusive. Her signature wit and phenomenal songwriting could easily break your heart on a rainy Sunday afternoon or make you high as a kite on a sunny Saturday when the possibilities seem endless.

Favorite tracks - Palm Springs, Nothing to Prove, Empty Glass, Spiderman & Wendell Lee

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I Go There Every Night Just To Hear The Beat

First Impression Music Review
Pet Shop Boys - Yes B+

The Pet Shop Boys are not just a popular act from the 80's. They have been consistently making vital music since the early 80's to present day. This past February they received an award for Outstanding Contribution to Music at the 2009 BRIT Awards.

That being said, Yes has an infectiously catchy late 80's/early 90's synth-pop vibe. It's not quite a masterpiece but it's one of the most enjoyable albums I've heard so far this year. Neil Tennant has a way (much like Lyle Lovett) of being genuinely sincere, sad and funny at the same time (not too mention iconically cool).

Tennant sang, "I'm kind of shy and dry and verging on ugly" on 1991's B-side single Bet She's Not Your Girlfriend" and almost two decade later Tennant confesses, "You don't have to be beautiful but it helps" on the captivating opening track Love etc.

I admit that some of the lyrics and bouncy beats may seem sort of cheesy at first; at times it seems like the dynamic duo are channeling their inner teenager but don't let that detour you. I hate to use the word "fun" to describe some of these tracks but that's just what they are (the tracks All Over the World and Pandemonium are good examples).

Say Yes to the Pet Shop Boys... Please

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Gray Morning in Washington DC

Thank You Tim and Shell! We had a great time on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Satisfying Quickie

The Quickie - James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge A-

According to one of every sixteen hardcover novels sold in 2007 was a James Patterson title. Among his 2007 releases was The Quickie, co-written with Michael Ledwidge.

Stephen King called Patterson a "terrible writer" earlier this year and I never imagined I'd be a fan. But now I'm curious about some of his other novels after experiencing this exciting and exhilarating romp.

Ledwidge is the author of Before The Devil Knows You're Dead - one of my favorite films and he too deserves a lot of credit for putting together this top notch suspense/mystery. The ending is a little convoluted but overall this is a must-read (or must-listen for those who get the Audiobook) for fans of the genre.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

D-Mode slightly underwhelms the Universe

First impression Review
Depeche Mode - Sounds of the Universe C+

I can't help but think that Sounds of the Universe sounds a little complacent compared to their last album, 2005's Playing the Angel. That album had a sense of urgency and tracks that stood out immediately. Songs like "hole to feed" and "peace" from Universe sound watered down and would be more at home as B-side tracks.

Hopefully it will grow on me with more listens. So far my favorite tracks are: "wrong", "fragile tension", "miles away/the truth is", and "corrupt".

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Obsessed - Movie Review

Obsessed (PG-13) 101 minutes C+
Beyonce strikes back

Starring Idris Elba, Beyonce Knowles, Ali Larter, Bruce McGill, Jerry O'Connell, and Christine Lahti

Critics generally hated this film but it's not as bad as they would have you believe. Yes, it's more or less a rehashed version of Fatal Attraction, but it's entertaining and mindless fun.

Ali Larter is the femme fatale and Beyonce is the jealous wife (her husband is not allowed to have a female secretary). I figured the film might be terrible but at least there would be plenty to stare at... Yet the film wasn't half bad even though critic Melissa Anderson claims that the break up of Destiny's Child was probably more dramatic than this film (that's pretty funny).

For mainstream moviegoers and fans of Beyonce.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Black Ballon - Movie Review

The Black Balloon (Unrated) 97 minutes C
A 15 year old boy learns about love and acceptance.

Starring Toni Collette, Rhys Wakefield, Luke Ford, Erik Thomson, and Gemma Ward

The Black Balloon is an unflinching look at autism and a coming-of-age film rolled into one. The Mollison family has just moved to a Sydney (Australia) suburb. Mom (Toni Collette) is pregnant and in need of bed rest (doctor's orders), Dad (Erik Thomson) keeps a busy schedule (he's an Army officer), which leave 15 year old Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) to care for his autistic younger brother Charlie (Luke Ford), while also trying to fit in at a new school and falling in love for the first time.

This is an excellent look at how growing up with an autistic sibling can take an emotional toll on a teenager. Director and co-writer Elissa Down undoubtedly drew from her experiences growing up with two autistic brothers.

The film is loud, sometimes annoying and often sad. The family, especially Thomas, is riding an emotional rollercoaster. The sentimental parts of the film may tug on the heart strings of most but I felt nothing. The film is enjoyable but it never elevated itself to more than average and none of these characters really touched me. Not a bad film, but nothing to write home about... rent it on DVD.