Sunday, August 29, 2010

Life During Wartime - Movie Review

Life During Wartime (NR) 98 minutes C+
Try to forgive, forget and not relive what makes you upset

Starring Allison Janney, Ally Sheedy, Paul Reubens, Michael Kenneth Williams, Charlotte Rampling and Shirley Henderson.

As I was watching this film I overheard the lady sitting directly across the aisle whisper to her friend, "this movie is so morbid". That's the nature of unconventional director Todd Solondz whose latest film, Life During Wartime examines the lives of dysfunctional and unhappy people as they struggle (and sometimes fail) to stay afloat in a post 9/11 society.

The film is a sequel to Solondz's 1998 film, Happiness, however, none of the actors from Happiness are in Life During Wartime. Characters that were Caucasian in Happiness are African American in Life During Wartime. Characters that were fat in the previous film are skinny in this one, the young are old and the old are young... catch my drift? Solondz reinvented old characters and made them new by changing their ethnicity, body, age, etc...

Life During Wartime is a hard film to watch. It feels disconnected and the acting is hit or miss. I loved the "Joy" character played by Shirley Henderson, Ally Sheedy and Charlotte Rampling can do no wrong and Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) in a dramatic role- excellent! But I cringed when Michael Kenneth Williams (from HBO's The Wire) and 13 year-old Dylan Snyder were on screen, I didn't find their characters convincing at all.

Solondz films aren't always great, are rarely mainstream, yet they're always intriguing. That's why he's worth watching.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gray Delivers Celtic Soul & Quiet Storm (A Music Review)

First Impression Music review
David Gray - Foundling B
Release date: August 17, 2010
Less than a year after his last album, Draw the Line, David Gray drops his ninth LP, Foundling. An album that Gray described as a "private record" during an interview with Elizabeth Day of The Observer.

Foundling is the polar opposite of Draw the Line. The new release is introspective and intimate, most of which sounds lovely and amazing over the course of this 2-disc CD.

You won't find anything here you haven't heard from Gray before, yet these songs will get under your screen and stuck in your head. Fans of his 2001 release, Lost Songs, will love Foundling. It's an album that's guaranteed not to disturb the peace but it might take your heart and mind to places they haven't been in awhile.

Favorite tracks: "When I Was In Your Heart" , "Indeed I Will" and "Who's Singing Now".

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Eat Pray Love - Movie Review

Eat Pray Love (PG-13) 133 minutes B-
A New York state of whine

Starring Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem and Viola Davis

The things I liked most about Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 memoir are the same things I liked about the film adaptation- the longing, the hurt and the wanting to escape it all and reconnect to one's core self. Unfortunately most of us can't afford to spend a year traveling, eating and mediating but luckily through the aforementioned mediums we can live vicariously.

Eat Pray Love is fairly realistic to a point, a the catastrophic break up (in this case a divorce), the inevitable doomed rebound relationship and soul searching that makes you question everything including the ability to live and love. Naturally the book trumps film in the details department by providing grittier insight to her true emotional and mental state. But when her journey to Rome, India and Bali begins so does the disconnect to anything I could ever relate too.

First stop is Rome (“eat”), in many ways my favorite segment, yet the most uneven and superficial. India (“pray”), probably the most substantial and heartwarming, while Bali (“love”), seemed the most indifferent and necessary.

The film features an outstanding cast that includes a couple Oscar winners and a few Oscar nominated actors/actress, none of which shined brighter than Richard Jenkins; he played the "Richard from Texas" character.

Julia Roberts brings charm and charisma to the role of Elizabeth Gilbert, however a lesser known actress probably would've have been more effective. Throughout the film I found myself watching Julia Roberts play Julia Roberts instead of Elizabeth Gilbert being portrayed by Julia Roberts.

I'm not one for spoof films but I would be intrigued if someone adapted Andrew Gottlieb's 2009 parody Drink Play F*ck: One Man's Search For Anything Across Ireland, Las Vegas and Thailand.

EPL was enjoyable if not a little exhausting, but all in all it's a worthy adaptation.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

All I Want Is To Feel This Way (A Concert Review)

Toad the Wet Sprocket w/ John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light @ Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder C+

It’s easy to take for granted a band like TTWS. They're not flashy, outlandish or sexy. They're just a band with a funny name who had a respectable string of hit singles between 1991 & 1997 before breaking up in the summer of 1998.

As far as I know TTWS haven’t technically gotten back together yet they still tour together from time to time and tonight was one of those times.
I don’t dislike Toad but I was never a big fan. I have their 1991 release, Fear, on cassette and 1999's P.S. (A Toad Retrospective) on CD. Normally I'd prefer that an artist play deeper albums cuts sprinkled with their more popular songs during a live show, though tonight I was hoping for all the singles that made them radio darlings during the mid-nineties.

They opened the show with Something's Always Wrong (one of my favs) and played several songs from Fear that I'd completely forgotten about like "Before You Were Born", which didn't sound all that great.

Surprisingly two of the most disappointing tunes of the night were two of their biggest hits- All I Want and Walk on the Ocean, both sounded tired and uninspired. During the encore would've been a perfect time for Glen Phillips to come onstage alone and play a raw, acoustic version of Walk on the Ocean instead of the flat, sing-along the band did at the end.

Overall the show was OK. I sorta like Glen Phillips, he seems like a hard working, serious musician who loves making music. His solo career may not be as financially successful as TTWS but it might be just as substantial.

As for the opening band, John Common & the Blinding Flashes of Light... they seemed nice but bored me to tears.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

First Impression Music Reviews

Once again I've gotten behind on my First Impression Music Reviews. Here's the latest batch.

The Black Keys - Brothers B
Release Date: May 2010
A pleasantly surprising stylistic jaunt that's fun, infectious and sounds good in my car stereo. My only problem is that it goes on a little too long and doesn't sustain the momentum. Trim the fat (3 or 4 songs) and this is one of the best albums of the year.

Sleater-Kinney - All Hands on the Bad One A-
Release Date: May 2000
The music rocks and everything about this album is hot!
Sincerely yours,
Riot Grrrl Fanboy.

Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away B-
Release Date: May 2010
Everything I've seen, heard and read about Josh Ritter indicates that he's an intelligent man, great musician and a genuine nice guy. But I'll be damned if he isn't making it hard to like his latest offering. It's a hard listen, a slow burn and one that I like better each time I listen. Most of the songs here are strong even though they don't always flow together as a whole. Perhaps he planned it that way because often times it's these albums (the slow burns) that are ultimately the most rewarding.

Richard Ashcroft - Human Condition C-
Release Date: February 2003
This album has moments of respectability but overall it's a bit of a bore. The first couple listens I felt like it was a cool guy trying too hard to craft a cool (commercial) album. But upon further review it's just a nice, slightly boring album that would be right at home as the background music for a contrived, melodramatic night time television drama. Check the Meaning.

The Roots - How I Got Over B
Release Date: June 2010
I started really hot on this one and then cooled a bit. Still it's a refreshing change from some of the stagnant hip hop currently dominating the airwaves.

Devo - Something For Everybody C+
Release Date: June 2010
Can you believe I bought a Devo album? Damn that People magazine for writing such a good review of their first album in ten years. Something For Everyone isn't for everyone but it is the perfect album to throw into a party mix. Here you'll find a number of upbeat, feel good tunes that's sure to bring out your inner geek.

Katie Herzig - Live in Studio: Acoustic Trio B-
Release Date: October 2009
After seeing her live this album feels like a bit of a let down but realistically it's pretty solid.

Patrick Porter - Lisha Kill B
Release Date: March 2005
I totally discovered this by accident and it ended up being quite the little treasure. I'd never heard of Patrick Porter before and haven't heard about him since but this atmospheric jewel seems to keep finding its way to my stereo.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - Movie Review

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (PG-13) 112 minutes B+
Great Scott! He Got Game

Starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Johnny Simmons, Mark Webber and Ellen Wong

From director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) comes the most inventive and original film of the summer - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Some will say that Michael Cera plays the same character again and again but this might be his finest moment.

One of my favorite young actors, Cera is becoming the master of deadpan comedy. Here he plays the lovelorned Scott Pilgrim, a sensitive, 22-year-old slacker from Toronto who plays bass guitar in a band called The Sex Bob-omb.

The story begins with Scott and his new 17-year-old girlfriend, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) getting to know each other and playing Dance Dance Revolution. Scott hasn't been lucky in love and seems smitten with Knives until he meets Ramona. Ramona is literally the girl of his dreams, a real game changer, but true love comes at a price. Scott Pilgrim must fight Ramona's seven evil ex's before they can truly be together.

Sounds silly? It is! But man is it good fun! Not to mention one of the most quotable films I've seen in a while; "Bread makes you fat!?!" or "Wait, they make films in Toronto?". And even though the fight scenes are a little redundant the film is completely infectious and a wonderful homage to video games.

New York Times film critic A.O. Scott liked this film as did I, he brilliantly stated that it's "violent like a video game and sexy like a pop song on the radio". Scott Pilgrim vs. the World isn't for everyone but anyone up for an adventure should check it out.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Salt - Movie Review

Salt (PG-13) 99 minutes B-
Wham! Bam! Thank You Ma'am

Starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

If you're planning to see this film the less you know about it the better. But I will tell you that Angelina Jolie is an ass-kickin machine and bona fide action star in Salt.

That being said, this is nothing more than a popcorn movie (with extra "salt"), entertaining for 99 minutes and forgotten a few days later. The explosions, car chases and fight scenes are fast and furious, yet the plot is so outrageously ludicrous it's laughable (luckily we don't watch action films for the realism).

I am a fan of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Liev Schreiber but Jolie is the only reason worth watching. In this film she's sorta like the female equivalent of Jason Bourne. The role of Evelyn Salt (Jolie) was originally written for a man, thankfully that didn't happen or else this would've been just another run-of-the-mill espionage action thriller.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mr. Isaak, You Don't Cry Like I Do (Concert Review)

Chris Isaak A-
@ the Arvada Center 8/7/2010

Normally I'm not one for antics when I go to a concert. Rock star banter, humor, stories behind the songs- sure! But too much screwing around gets in the way of the music; all the passion, emotion and intensity I feel when listening to the CD should be magnified at a live show.

Chris Isaak sings some of the most bittersweet love songs you'll ever hear, he’s criminally handsome (hard to believe he’s over 50) and a goofball. Fortunately he knows where the antics end and the music begins. His live show is the musical equivalent of good cop/sad cop, one minute he can make us smile, the next he breaks our heart.

Back to Rockville, the music blog of the Kansas City Star once wrote, “when your goal is to entertain and you look and dress like Chris Isaak, you've won half the battle before you open your mouth.”

I swear he's the ultimate showman, a true entertainer. Each time I've seen him he gives the audience exactly what they want, whether it's channeling his inner Elvis, crooning like Roy Orbison or posturing as love's most loveable loser.

Tonight’s show at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities was no different. In front of a sell-out crowd he performed a variety of retro roots rock, upbeat rockabilly and at least one track from each of his studio albums. Highlights include the opening song "Lonely With a Broken Heart" from (my personal fav) the San Francisco Days album, a revamped gospel version of "Worked it Out Wrong" from Always Got Tonight and a wonderful acoustic rendition of "We Lost Our Way" from his latest album, Mr.Lucky.