Tuesday, December 31, 2013

American Hustle - Movie Review

American Hustle (R) 138 minutes A
Hustle and Flow

Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Michael Pena and Jack Huston

Outstanding performances (Christian Bale is masterful), stunningly beautiful women (Amy Adams never looked better), and a story that had me on the edge of my seat for the duration.  American Hustle is David O. Russell's best film to date- much, much better than 2012's Silver Linings Playbook.  This might be the best film of 2013!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Philomena - Movie Review

Philomena (R) 98 minutes A-
Human Interest

Starring Anna Maxwell Martin, Dame Judi Dench, Judi Dench, Mare Winningham, Michelle Fairley, Steve Coogan

Philomena is based on the true story of Philomena Lee, played by Dame Judi Dench.  As a teenager in 1950s Ireland, Philomena became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.  Shortly thereafter, her baby boy was taken from her.  Fifty years later her only goal in life is to find out what became of her son.  Initially, the trailer for this film struck me as a dull and pandering to the older holiday crowd (because it can't be all fart jokes and explosions).  But, this film is funny, cynical and frankly, surprisingly touching.  Steve Coogan is marvelous, as is Dame Judi Dench.  Philomena is very understated, but don't let that fool you.  High Recommended.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Two Unique Voices, Two Mixed Results (Book Reviews)

Published February 2006
Published April 2002
 Open: Stories - Lisa Moore B-
I found some of these stories original and enthralling, while others were contrived and forgettable. I'm sort of undecided about this one, but I think Moore's voice is interesting enough to consider her other books.

Sinners Welcome: Poems - Mary Karr B-
The poems in this collection are hit and miss, but I thoroughly enjoyed the essay on poetry and faith. Sinners Welcome is a nice companion piece to Karr's extraordinary 2009 memoir, Lit.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Punk Singer - Movie Review

The Punk Singer (NR) 80 minutes A-
Rebel Girl

Starring: Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon, Joan Jett, Adam Horovitz

Watching Sini Anderson's documentary The Punk Singer made me happy, because it reminded how much art matters.  It also made me feel regretful, because I wish I'd possessed the passion and the drive to pursue art when I was younger.  The Punk Singer follows the evolution of punk rock feminist Kathleen Hanna, from little girl to riot grrrl, to her battle with late-stage Lyme disease.  Hanna may or may not come to mind when you think of influential feminist icons.  But, there's no denying that when she talked you could hear the revolution and where she walked you knew the revolution was coming. 

I wanna be her best friend. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Better, Better, Bland (Music Reviews)

Released Sept 2013 
Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You A

Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt B+

John Mayer - Paradise Valley C
Released Oct 2013 
Neko Case and Pearl Jam are two of my favorites; but, until their latest releases I thought their best music was behind them.  The Worse Things Get gives Furnace Room Lullaby a run for its money as the best album of her career.  Lightning Bolt is not Pearl Jam's best, but it's their best album in over a decade.  
John Mayer is an artist who has the potential to be one of the future greats.  Yet, the bland Paradise Valley would suggest otherwise.  Mayer is a brilliant dude with a tendency to do and say stupid sh*t - a perfect combo for making intriguing music.  However, as he mellows out and settles into Americana/adult contemporary territory I hope he doesn't get all top forty cheesy on me. 
Released Aug 2013 
Favorite tracks:
The Worse Things Get
Night Still Comes,
I'm From Nowhere
Nearly Midnight, Honolulu,
Lightning Bolt
Mind Your Manners,
My Father's Son,
Sleeping By Myself
Paradise Valley
                                          Dear Marie


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

All Lit Up (A Book Review)

Published November 2009
Lit - Mary Karr A

I know it sounds cliché, but this book changed the way I feel about writing, religion and my own personal demons. Lit was a reminder of why some people are special, while others only dream about being special. Not only did Mary Karr persevere through insurmountable odds, she channeled those odds into a literary masterpiece.

Mary Karr talks Lit  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hu7QyaOFgPc

Friday, December 6, 2013

It's His Vibe (Concert Review)

Jeff Tweedy @ Paramount Theatre 12/5/13 B-

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (YHF) is one of the greatest albums of all time.  Jeff Tweedy's solo concert at Denver's Gothic Theatre in 2006 was one of the ten best concerts I have ever seen. Yet, my love for Wilco has faded over the last seven or eight years. A Ghost is Born, Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (The Album), all failed to conjure up earlier mystic.  Maybe it was because they became super popular after YHF, or maybe because of my own musical shift...?  Whatever the reason, It wasn't until 2011's The Whole Love that Wilco popped up on my radar again.  A solo acoustic Jeff Tweedy show seemed like the perfect shot in the arm to motivate me to dig out all my Wilco cds and give them a spin.  But, Thursday's show wasn't a "play the hits" kind of deal... Tweedy played a very casual, very talky show that played well to the KBCO types and the hardcore Tweedy fans.  Since I no longer belong to either subset (I still think the guy is a brilliant singer-song writer), I have to confess I was a little disappointed.  It's lame to admit, but I hoping to hear more of the songs I love- "She's A Jar," "Sunken Treasure," "Misunderstood," "Acuff-Rose," "I Must Be High," "Reservations," etc... Instead, the set-list looked something like this:
* Denotes my favorites
1. Someday Some Morning Sometime (Woody Guthrie cover)
2. Laminated Cat (Loose Fur song)
3. Ashes of American Flags (Wilco song)*
4. One Sunday Morning (Wilco song)
5. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (Wilco song)
6. One Wing (Wilco song)
7. Pecan Pie (Golden Smog song)
8. Remember the Mountain Bed (Woody Gutherie)
 9. Long Time Ago (Golden Smog song)
10. Bob Dylan's 49th Beard (Wilco song)
11. Jesus, Etc. (Wilco song)* 
12. Born Alone (Wilco song)
13. You Are Not Alone (Written by Tweedy for Mavis Staples)*
14. The Ruling Class (Loose Fur song)
15. New Madrid (Uncle Tupelo song)
16. Box Full of Letters (Wilco song)
17. California Stars (Written by Woody Guthrie)
18. So Much Wine (The Handsome Family cover)
19. Passenger Side (Wilco song)
20. Nothing Up My Sleeve (Wilco song)
21. I'm the Man Who Loves You (Wilco song)*
22. A Shot in the Arm (Wilco song)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Enough Said - Movie Review

Enough Said (PG-13) 93 minutes A
Second Chances

Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, Amy Landecker, Tracey Fairaway, Eve Hewson and Tavi Gevins

Nicole Holofcener is quietly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers. She has written and directed: Walking and Talking (1996), Lovely and Amazing (2001), Friends with Money (2006), Please Give (2010), and the wonderful new film starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini, Enough Said.  In each of the aforementioned films Holofcener created something humanistic, funny, slightly sad, and memorable.  It's no coincidence that her first job in the film industry was working on the set of Woody Allen's 1982 masterpiece, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.  Four years later she was an apprentice editor for Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, one of the best films in cinematic history. It's no wonder Holofcener is becoming such a distinguished force in film and television.

I haven't said much about Enough Said, but that's because I love this film so much I don't want to give anything away.  Enough Said is smart, has great acting and nearly made me cry.  This film isn't going to change the world, but for an hour and half it took me out of mine. Highly highly recommended for those not opposed to a sweet and funny romcom. 
Bonus Rental Review
Nobody Walks (R) 83 minutes B
Fatal Attraction

Home Release date: January 2013
Starring John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Dylan McDermott, Justin Kirk, Rhys Wakefield, Emanuele Secci, Sam Lerner and Mason Welch

File this one under, "Bitter indie drama that is not for everyone."  This film doesn't quite achieve the emotional breadth it may or may not be shooting for.  But, it is an intriguing story of a horny, skinny jean wearing femme fatale and an undersexed married man.  Not to mention the other infatuation laden side plots. I am becoming convinced that I like everything Lena Dunham touches(she co-wrote the film).  Nobody Walks generally received terrible reviews;  however, it did take home a "Special Jury Prize (for Producing)" at Sundance 2012.  This one is worth a look for those who like awkward, abrupt, relationship driven indie dramas- everyone else should steer clear.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Love, Set, Match @ the Bluebird Theater (Concert Review)

Tennis @ Bluebird Theater B+ 
Photo by RW
I was excited about seeing Tennis, the Denver-based indie pop band at the Bluebird Theater tonight. The husband and wife team of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley spawned one of my favorite albums of 2012, Young and Old, and based on that gem the concert was destined to be a groovy kick-off to the Thanksgiving holiday. An energetic crowd welcomed the band, who were happy to be wrapping up their tour at home after dodging a tornado, being robbed and getting sick while on the road. They played songs from both of their studio albums  and the new EP, Small Sound. They also debuted a new song that had previously never been performed live. South of France opened for Tennis.  I liked what I'd heard from them prior to the concert. But, unfortunately their opening set was a little hit and miss... Nevertheless, check out South of France at   http://southoffrance.bandcamp.com/album/another-boring-sunrise and look for Tennis on tour in 2014:

1/3 Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court Gallery
1/4 Boise, ID @ Neurolux
1/5 Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
1/6 Vancouver, Canada @ Fortune Sound Club
1/7 Seattle, WA @ Barboza
1/10 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
1/11 Los Angeles, CA @ The Satellite
1/12 San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar
1/15 Austin, TX @ The Parish
1/16 Dallas, TX @ Club Dada
1/17 Norman, OK @ Opolis
1/18 Kansas City, MO @ Record Bar

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mission Accomplished! (Theatre Review)

The Book of Mormon @ The Buell Theatre A

It is a beautiful thing when one realizes they are in the presence of greatness.  The Book of Mormon is the best musical I have ever seen and possibly the best production (in general) I've ever seen at the theatre. Extraordinary!

Book Of Mormon returns to Denver in 2015.  Tickets for those shows go on sale tomorrow morning.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Can't Sink This Town (Concert Review)

Freedy Johnston @ The Walnut Room B+
w/ Kris Harris & Al Trout
Photo by RW
When RW and I arrived at The Walnut Room we found a convenient parking spot in front of the venue.  We walked in and snagged a table right away. We devoured a delicious margheritaville pizza.  We found two seats in the front row.  The night was nearly perfect. 

Kris Harris opened the show with some playful honky tonk.  Al Trout entertained us to no end with his brand of gothic rock-a-billy.   Freedy Johnston reminded us why he was Rolling Stone magazine's songwriter of the year in 1994.  It's just too bad that the good people of Denver (and surrounding areas) don't appreciate one of the greatest songwriters of the 1990s.  For the second time in a row I watched and listened while Johnston played to an embarrassingly small Denver audience.  One can only hope that his forthcoming album, Neon Repairman, will help put him back on the map.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Three Nights, Three Reviews at the Starz Denver Film Festival

Starz Denver Film Festival Opening Night
Labor Day (PG-13), 111 minutes B

Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Tobey Maguire, Clark Gregg, J.K. Simmons, Brooke Smith and James Van Der Beek

A lonely divorcee is befriended by an escaped convict.  It features a pie making scene that rivals the pottery wheel scene in Jerry Zucker's 1990 film, Ghost.  Some film goers will give Labor Day the "yeah right" eye roll because romantically it feels a little too fanciful.  Nevertheless, writer-director Jason Reitman couldn't go wrong with Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Gattlin Griffith. 

Griffith was awarded the 2013 Starz Denver Film Festival Rising Star Award after the film.  Labor Day is based on the novel by Joyce Maynard.  The release date for this film is Christmas 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival Big Night
Nebraska (R) 115 minutes B+

Starring Rance Howard, Missy Doty, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk, Devin Ratray, Will Forte, June Squibb and Bruce Dern

Alexander Payne's road trip dramedy was nominated for a Palme d'Or, while Bruce Dern won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.  If you're looking for a bittersweet, small town father-son road trip film, this is a must-see! This film opens in limited release next week.

Starz Denver Film Festival Closing Night
At Middleton (R) 99 minutes B-

Starring Vera Farmiga, Taissa Farmiga, Spencer Lofranco,Thomas Skerritt  and Andy Garcia

At Middleton plays like a funny and fluffy love story.  Two married adults meet and fall in love while accompanying their kids on a college admissions tour. This film is very entertaining, but the comedy stuff really outweighs the dramatic story line here... and that's too bad.  The release date for this film is January 31, 2014.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Must Love Dogs (Theatre Review)

Sylvia @ Lone Tree Arts Center B

Sylvia is an A.R. Gurney play about a man, a dog, and his marriage. Greg (Jonathan C. Kaplan) is essentially going through a mid-life crisis.  His wife (Kim Staunton), views her husband's new dog as a major inconvenience to their empty nester lifestyle. 

Recommended for dog loving couples.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mazzy Star Still Shines Brightly (Concert Review)

Mazzy Star @ the Ogden Theatre 11/10/13 B-

In the dark shadows of the Ogden Theatre, Hope Sandoval's quiet voice, petite figure and ethereal presence reminded me of a shy college freshman more than a 40-something veteran rock star.  Mazzy Star has not toured since 1996, but their stop in Denver last night drew a healthy crowd.  They opened a dreamy 75 minute set with "Look on Down from the Bridge," followed by "Cry Cry" from 1996's Among My Swan. I never expect a band to play a lot of their back catalog when they are supporting new material, so I wasn't surprised that they only played three songs from my favorite Mazzy Star album- 1993's So Tonight I Might See.  However, I was surprised that they played less than half of their new songs from their new album, Seasons of Your Day. Sandoval was not much of a talker, instead they had short non-musical/artful noise interludes that filled the dead air between songs.  Overall, it was a solid show if not a little undemonstrative.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Wildflowers and the Natural World (Book Review)

The Wild Iris - Louise Glück B-
Published November 1993

Glück's Pulitzer Prize winning collection, The Wild Iris, is written from three different points of view; An omnipresent god, flowers, and a human. It feels a little unfair to rate the book after one reading because the poems demand to be read and re-read numerous times. However, many of these poems didn't engage me like I thought they might. The Wild Iris is an interesting concept and Glück is a wonderful writer; but, ultimately the poems left me slightly underwhelmed.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Gravity - Movie Review

Gravity (PG-13) 91 minutes D
Lots of flying Debris in 3D

Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris

If you're a fan of epic space drama, cool special effects, George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, and you plan to see this film regardless of the grade I am giving it... fork out the extra cash and see it in 3D! Imax 3D if possible.

Now, if you're like me- you like George Clooney, Sandra Bullock is okay, not a big fan of sci-fi films, but wanted to see what all the hype was about... proceed with caution.  

Honestly, the two or three people that actually read this review will probably go see the film, watch it on Netflix, or have already seen it.  Most people I know liked the film, some even loved it.  I thought it was hokey as f*ck and I thought George Clooney "phoned it in" (not that there was much he could do with such a one-dimensional character).  

Needless to say, I was disappointed.  However, other critics seem to love it, audiences like it, and I guess the special effects are pretty cool if you're into that sorta thing.  So, go see it for yourself and let me know what you think. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Visit From Jennifer Egan (Book Event)

Inside The Writers Studio with Jennifer Egan B+

Jennifer Egan, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in 2011 was Inside the Writers Studio tonight.  She discussed her writing life and how President Obama's campaign inspired the infamous PowerPoint chapter in the Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit From the Goon Squad.  With all the hoopla surrounding Goon Squad, it was nice to hear about her other books during the interview... several of which I knew little or nothing about.  Egan's 1995 debut novel, The Invisible Circus, was adapted to the big screen in 2001.  The film starred Cameron Diaz.  Egan's short story collection, Emerald City and Other Stories and her mysterious and robust novel, 2001's Look at Me were both nominated for the National Book Awards.

Here's a short youtube clip of Jennifer Egan from a few years ago - Enjoy.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What's up Yeezus? (Album Review)

Released June 2013 
Kanye West - Yeezus B+

The first track from Yeezus is called "On Sight" and it is on point! The song, fully loaded with beats by Daft Punk, jumps out of the speakers and "gets this bitch shakin' like Parkinson's." Yes, this album is lewd, angry and neurotic...  I own all of West's previous studio albums, yet known of them grabbed me with such intensity and intrigue as Yeezus, his sixth studio album.  However, the downside is that the album's first four tracks are so strong I felt like the rest of the album fell off a cliff. Luckily, after repeated listens I got my groove back for the second half of the album.  Turns out, I really dig "Blood on the Leaves," which features a heavy sample of Nina Simone's "Strange Fruit."  I also like the album's closing track, the old school-ish "Bound 2."  Needless to say, Kanye isn't for everyone.  But, it's hard to dispute his genius. Favorite tracks: New Slaves, Black Skinhead, On Sight and Blood on the Leaves.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (Book Review)

Published July 2013
The Rest of Us - Jessica Lott B-

I heard about Jessica Lott's debut novel, The Rest of Us, on NPR. It appealed to me because the two main characters, a budding photographer and a well-respected poet, were entangled in what I hoped would be a unique and artistic story about second chances. At times, I was completely captivated by this first-person account of longing, friendship, photography and love. But, I also got a little frustrated when the side plots (like Rhinehart's Ukrainian family history) would break the novel's momentum.  I found myself hurrying through pages to get to the parts I liked most- the friends, the lovers, the photography and the ex-wife. The ending wasn't particularly original, yet it was one I didn't expect. I enjoyed The Rest of Us; the characters are likable, smart and well-written. However, overall, the novel didn't quite win me over like I hoped it might.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Salinger - Movie Review

Salinger (PG-13) 120 minutes A-
A Broken Man

Starring (Documentary): Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, Judd Apatow, Edward Norton, Martin Sheen, Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, Jean Miller, A.E. Hotchner, Joyce Maynard, A. Scott Berg, and Margaret Salinger.

Let me start by saying that I never read The Catcher in the Rye.  I tried reading it 15 years ago, but my expectations were so high it didn't stand a chance.  After reading several pages I put the book down and never picked it up again.  Going into this film I practically knew nothing about J.D. Salinger.  This documentary, which has garnered a rash of lukewarm reviews, was completely enthralling.  I have a tendency to gravitate toward talented and tormented writers and Salinger definitely fit the bill.  Among other things, the film revealed that Salinger was an intensely private and reclusive writer whose fame afforded him the luxury to seduce vulnerable young women.  It also revealed the traumatic experiences he endured during WWII.  Salinger likely suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before it became commonly known as such.

The documentary is filled with reenactments, talking heads and still photos of Salinger because he was never keen on publicity.  As a result, the film feels second tier and a little History Channel-ish.  Nevertheless, it is full of personal drama and the type of tortured writer stuff I love.  Salinger definitely inspired me to give The Catcher in the Rye another chance.  This documentary is recommended for all you literary types, while others should proceed with caution.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Don Jon - Movie Review

Don Jon (R) 90 minutes B

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Rob Brown, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Jeremy Luke

When I think of films about sexual addiction, I think of: Shame (2011), I Am A Sex Addict (2005), Auto Focus (2002), Crash (1996), and Choke, the outstanding 2001 novel by Chuck Palahniuk that was adapted to the big screen in 2008 (I read the book but didn't see the film).  All of the aforementioned films are edgy in a gritty, unflinching sort of way.  Don Jon is racy, provocative, honest and even heartwarming.  But edgy, not so much... and that's okay.  This is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's writing and directorial debut and he's not trying to scare off audiences on his first attempt.  He is however, sporting a little swagger, a little style, and a little "manufactured glitz" to quote writer and critic Jamie S. Rich.  Don Jon is a better than average mainstream film about sex/porn addiction.  But if you want the real thing, pimples and all, seek out one of the films (or the book) I mentioned above. Furthermore, here is My Gray Morning's short-list of sexually extreme/slightly bizarre films for the adventurous cinephile (in no particular order).

1. Shortbus http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8A1dwEhSMY
2. Secretary http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5Yu-IGx0-4
3. Auto Focus http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l15ydlXoHt8
4. Crash (1996) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XlDp3DLHxc
5. I Am A Sex Addict http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znUMg4JfygU
6 . Boogie Nights http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkkcvtrIUSg
7. Shame http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zh2w0iym0Gk
8. Kissed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fA1Vr4OdhlU
9. Savage Grace http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZXPzLfapOw
10. Eyes Wide Shut http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEfyfcEdW4Y
11. Young & Wild http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0sD12aTWHw
12. Bitter Moon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jb1YcQjOiw
13. Sex, Lies and Videotape  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxdQQpJ9t-4
14. Sex with Strangers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0J2znKqmWfU
15. Center of the World http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAi3ADVcyfk

Saturday, September 28, 2013

In a World - Movie Review

In a World (R) 93 minutes A-
Sexism & the Industry

Starring: Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino and Fred Melamed

In a World is mostly about the competitive nature of the voiceover industry. But, it's also about love (bad boy vs. nice guy), about a father's ego and his relationship with his daughters, and about a marriage in crisis. In a world full of crap films that corrode our brains it's a shame that more people won't see this film. Written and directed by Lake Bell, and the recipient of the Sundance Film Festival Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, In a World is a funny, slice of life, dysfunctional family comedy that is a low-key gem. Recommended!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mazzy Star & NIN - The Tale of Two Bands (Album Reviews)

First Impression Music Reviews
Mazzy Star - Seasons of Your Day B
Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks B 
Released 9/24/13
Released 9/3/13

Obviously these are two very different bands with very different sounds, but their new albums had a similar effect on me.  Since acquiring both they have acted mainly as mood music.  For Mazzy Star this has always been the modus operandi upon the first few spins of their music. However, Trent Reznor and company usually dig their claws in right away and begin gnawing away at my pessimistic little soul. Hesitation Marks feels like a smart album-cold, calculated and at times, surprisingly funky. But, when I turn off the music a majority of these songs (on both albums) are not staying with me. That's not to say that there is a lack of strong material here. Season of Your Day and Hesitation Marks feature some of my favorite songs this year. Mazzy Star's "California" is a near perfect single and probably one of the best songs they have ever done, while NIN's "All Time Low" jumped out of the stereo the first time I heard it. The things is, whenever I pop these CDs (yeah, I'm old school) into the stereo I am initially jazzed, but by the time the disc stops spinning I've already mentally stopped listening. Both albums are good and worth paying for; however, I have yet to make a deeper connection... but the potential is there.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Butler - Movie Review

The Butler (PG-13) 132 minutes A-

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, John Cusack, James Marsden, Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, Jane Fonda, Minka Kelly, Vanessa Redgrave, Clarence Williams III, Yaya Alafia, Elijah Kelley and Alex Pettyfer.

It's true, I sort of expected The Butler to be a highfalutin, over-cameoed, schmoozy film about a black butler working in the White House through eight presidencies.  Forest Whitaker is one of the best actors of our time, but when I heard about so many high profile stars: Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Lenny Kravitz, etc... I feared the film would be overindulgent.  Boy, was I wrong! I underestimated everything and everyone in this film... especially director Lee Daniels who I am now convinced is someone very special.  I will be rooting for Daniels, Whitaker and Winfrey come award nomination season.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fruitvale Station - Movie Review

Fruitvale Station (R) 85 minutes A
The little film that can

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand and Ariana Neal

Sometimes, the sign of a great film is still being surprised even though you know how it will end. Not only is Fruitvale Station timely because of Travyon Martin, it's powerful and heartfelt.  This film definitely evoked emotion from me and it stands as one of the year's best.  Recommended!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Blue Jasmine - Movie Review

Blue Jasmine (PG-13) 98 minutes B+
Break it down again, no more sleepy dreaming

Starring: Vanessa Ross, Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alden Ehrenreich, Michael Emerson, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K. and Charlie Tahan

Cate Blanchett won an Academy Award for her role in the 2004 film, The Aviator.  However, my favorite Cate Blanchett film is 2006's Notes on a Scandal.  But, don't be surprised if she becomes best known for her role in this film, Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.  Here, the actress plays Jasmine, a privileged women who has lost everything after her husband's indiscretions and shady business dealings come to surface.  With no where to turn Jasmine moves to San Francisco to live with her less than privileged sister and start a new life... but the transition is not an easy one to say the least. This is a great cast, but ultimately Blanchett is the main attraction.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Spectacular Now - Movie review

The Spectacular Now (R) 95 minutes A-
Leaving Las Vegas for the YA set

Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler

Not only is this the best coming-of-age film of the year, it's destined to be in the running for my best overall film for 2013.  Based on Tim Tharps's novel, a National Book Award Finalist in 2008, this unlikely love story is charming, tender and pretty darn spectacular.  Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are stars in the making.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Reluctant Rock Memoir (Book Review)

Published August 2010
Rat Girl - Kristin Hersh C-

Rolling Stone magazine called Rat Girl one of the 25 greatest rock memoirs of all-time. I'm a Kristin Hersh fan, but I was sort of underwhelmed by Rat Girl. I kept waiting for it to pull me in, but it never did. Maybe my expectations were too high?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Girl Most Likely - Movie Review

Girl Most Likely (PG-13) 103 minutes C-

Starring: Kristin Wiig, Annette Bening, Darren Criss and Matt Dillon

Kristin Wiig is always worth watching, but unfortunately Girl Most Likely is light weight and forgettable.  It's a horrible film, but wait for it to arrive on cable and watch it on one of those lazy days with a big bowl of buttery popcorn and a carbonated beverage.
Bonus Rental Review
Hello I Must Be Going (R) 95 minutes B+
Melanie Lynskey, Melanie Lynskey, Melanie Lynskey

Home Release Date: January 2013
Starring:  Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Dan Futterman and Julie White       

So, let me name a few things about this film that I liked other than the film itself: Melanie Lynskey,  Melanie Lynskey, Melanie Lynskey.  Additionally, I've always thought Todd Louiso (the film's director) was a funny guy... and probably a really cool guy in "real life."  Christopher Abbott, best known as "Charlie" from the phenomenal HBO series Girls.  He's does a great job at playing a peculiar 19 year-old.  And lastly, the soundtrack, which is playful and catchy.  

The film itself is smart, funny and intriguing.  A freshly divorced 35 year-old woman becomes intimately involved with a 19 year-old manchild.  What ensues is highly worth watching.  If you've never heard of this film and you like bittersweet rom-coms, seek it out.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

There Will Be Blood (Book Review)

Published April 1974

Carrie - Stephen King B-

It took me a little while to get into this one, but eventually it hooked me. I've never seen the Carrie film and television adaptations; however, I'm curious to see how they match-up with what I imaged from the book.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gatsby - Movie & Book Review

Gatsby (2013)  B-
The Great Gatsby (1974)  C
The Great Gatsby (1925)  A

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was published in 1925, yet it felt surprisingly applicable to current times. The novel, which has been adapted to the big screen four times, is superior to the 1974 and 2013 films. Both films follow the book rather closely, but neither duplicates the imagery, the intrigue, or the connection I had with narrator Nick Carraway while reading Fitzgerald’s magnum opus. The films are enjoyable and worthwhile; however, depending on your preference (contemporary glam or traditional aesthetics), you would be better served picking one of the two films to watch.

Gatsby (2013)

This redux, directed by Baz Luhrmann is brass, colorful and splashy. I understand the logic behind such an “in your face” approach. It is so similar to the book and the 1974 version, something had to be done to make it stand on its own. However, that something probably could have been dialed down a notch- less digital effects, less hip-hop (it's a decent soundtrack, but there's no need to beat us over the head with it) and less gloss. The film feels extremely over-produced. Luhrmann, and the rest of the creators behind this film are ultimately in a lose-lose situation. They are remaking a classic novel that has already been adapted for the screen three times prior. A few younger moviegoers may think Gatsby is “cool” and be inspired to read Fitzgerald’s novel. But, those of us who do not wear skinny jeans, and do not view film as a vehicle for profit, will likely find this over the top. That being said, Leonardo DiCaprio (Jay Gatsby) and Carey Mulligan (Daisy) are preferable to their 1974 counterparts. DiCaprio evokes more emotion than Robert Redford’s 1974 portrayal of Gatsby, while it is not difficult for the fresh-faced Mulligan to outshine an anemic Mia Farrow who portrays Daisy in the 1974 version.

 The Great Gatsby (1974)

The Great Gatsby circa 1974 felt a little slow and methodical after watching the newest version. Directed by the late Jack Clayton and screenplay adapted by celebrated filmmaker Francis Ford Coppela, this third installment was not well received by critics upon its release in 1974. However, it did go on to win two non-acting Academy Awards (Best Costume Design and Best Music) in 1975, while Coppela won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for The Godfather II that same year. Not to mention, Coppela was also competing against himself for Best Picture, as the ambitious filmmaker also wrote and directed The Conversation starring Gene Hackman (a fine film if you have not seen it). So, perhaps Coppela was not emotionally invested in the adapting the screenplay for The Great Gatsby; hence, its lack of appeal.

The characters here seemed to run the spectrum. Mia Farrow as Daisy seemed about as believable as a three dollar bill. Redford, a logical choice for Jay Gatsby, seemed stiff and uninspired. On the other hand, I preferred the young Sam Waterston over Tobey Maguire, the latest version of Nick Carraway. Waterston brought anonymity to the role that Maguire could not. From the beginning of the film, Waterston appeared sweaty and slightly awkward, in a way that seemed authentic and not scripted. That was the first sign that I liked this Nick Carraway. I also preferred model-turned actress/former Bond girl, Lois Chiles as Jordan Baker (inspired by Edith Cummings). Jordan Baker’s role was fairly small in both films, but she represented one of the more memorable characters in the novel. Tom Buchanan, of whom who Fitzgerald wrote,“He’s the best character I have ever done,” was the most consistent and equally matched character in both films and the novel.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

This Is the End - Movie Review

This Is the End (R) 107 minutes B
Apocalypse Now

Starring James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Danny Robinson, Michael Cera, Emma Watson and Paul Rudd

This Is the End is sort of a "We are the World," slacker, stoner, penis humor extravaganza directed and written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.  It's mindless fun that's worth the price of admission.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Camera Obscura - Album & Concert Review

Camera Obscura - Desire Lines B-

I read that the band wanted to shake things up a bit on this record.  Desire Lines features guest appearances by Neko Case and My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James.  But, the album can't escape that Camera Obscura sound of breezy tragedy and cutesy hooks.  I loved everything about 2009's My Maudlin Career, including a rockin concert at the Bluebird in June of that year. The bar was high in anticipation of this latest effort which saw a band member beat cancer, a pregnancy, a new location (recorded in Portland) and a new producer-Tucker Martine.  Desire Lines took awhile to win me over and now I am ready to be heartbroken. Favorite tracks: New Year's Resolution, Desire Lines, Troublemaker

Camera Obscura @ the Gothic Theatre  C+
June 27th

The lovely Tracyanne Campbell and company made a tour stop in the mile high city tonight in support of their fifth album, Desire Lines.  A moderate crowd made it easy to get close to the band, get a drink at the bar, and find a seat with a good view.  The show was slightly underwhelming, but they played all my favorites. It felt good to be out on a week night with my best girl, a cold beer, and listening to live music.

2009 Camera Obscura Show

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Before Midnight - Movie Review

Before Midnight (R) 109 minutes A-
Still there, Still there, Gone

Starring Ariane Labed, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Walter Lassally, Xenia Kalogeropoulou

Almost twenty years ago (eighteen to be exact), the talkiest romantic drama trilogy ever made was born, Before Sunrise.  Nine years later came Before Sunset and nine years after that we have Before Midnight... arguably the best of the three.  This time Jesse and Celine are in Greece, married with twins, and struggling with relationship issues not uncommon to most fortysomething couples.  This film is uncomfortably realistic at times, while Delpy (always intoxicating) and Hawke fill the screen with effortless chemistry.  This one is not for everyone, but it should be. Good stuff!   

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sad, But Truly Inspirational (Book Review)

Published in 1996
Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt B

Angela's Ashes is an epic memoir of poverty, sadness and determination.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Cook, Eat, Love (Book Review)

Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain B+

Kitchen Confidential is interesting, educational, and makes me wish I wasn't such a picky eater. 

Published in 2000


Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Internship - Movie Review

The Internship (PG-13) 119 mins C
Crash and Learn

Starring Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne, Max Minghella, Aasif Mandvi, Josh Brener, Dylan O’Brien, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael and Josh Gad

Two recently laid off watch salesmen are forced to embrace technology in The Internship.  This mildly entertaining film turns the Wedding Crashers into "Google Crashers" with less than stellar results.  It solely relies on the charm of Vaughn and Wilson, but that isn't enough to make this underdog story worth the price of admission.  Wait and watch this one at your local discount theatre or Netflix. 

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Pleasure Was All Mine (Book Review)

The Pleasure of My Company - Steve Martin B+ 
Published in 2003

I really enjoyed Martin's first novella, Shopgirl. I was a little apprehensive about The Pleasure of My Company because the cover (Martin hugging himself) looked silly. I feared that the cover might be indicative of the story. But, (insert idiom here), The Pleasure of My Company was highly entertaining. Martin's protagonist, Daniel Pecan Cambridge, is one of those quirky yet lovable characters that you can't help but root for. This book is silly in the best possible way.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Frances Ha - Movie Review

Frances Ha (R) 86 mins  A
Something about Greta

Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver and Michael Zegen

Sometimes I like a film so much it's hard to explain why.  I could tell you how it mirrors real life, albeit in a cutesy and comedic sort of way.  Or, how Greta Gerwig is absolutely fantastic and surely the new queen of indie film.  John Anderson, of the Wall Street Journal, called Frances Ha a "Brooklyn hipster's version of Woody Allen's Manhattan." Sara Vilkomerson, senior writer at Entertainment Weekly said the film was "kind of like HBO's Girls without all the nudity."  Both comparisons are fair, but I say this film is playful, charming, delicate and everything I love about the art of film. 
Bonus Home Video Review
Newlyweds (NR) 95 minutes A-
The interuption of everything

Release date: VOD December 26, 2011
Starring: Edward Burns, Kerry Bishé, Marsha Dietlein,  Max Baker, Dara Coleman, Johnny Solo, and Caitlin Fitzgerald

Newlyweds is an independent film written and directed by Edwards Burns.  The film was made for $9000.00, and Burns proves once again that one doesn't need a million dollars to make a great film.  Newlyweds is a talky,Woody Allen-esque film about two newlywed couple whose lives are interupted by emotioanlly draining friends and family.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Pushing Love Away (Music Reviews)

First Impression Music Reviews

Push the Sky Away - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds  B
Unlike most other Nick Cave albums, I initially had a hard time embracing Push the Sky Away as a whole.  That's because I found myself listening to tracks 4 and 5 over and over again.  But, once I let the other tracks in I realized what I'd been missing. 
Favorite tracks - Jubilee Street, Mermaids   

Drifters/Love is the Devil - Dirty Beaches  B+
Here is one of those albums that I eagerly anticipated because of the previous album, the last time I saw them live, and all the pre-release hype about how personal this album was.  It doesn't disappoint.  Drifters/Love is the Devil is music for the disenchanted.
Favorite tracks - Casino Lisboa, Night Walk   

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Movie Review

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (R) 130 minutes B

Starring Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Nelsan Ellis, Liev Schreiber, Martin Donovan, Riz Ahmed, Christopher Nicholas Smith, Om Puri, Haluk Bilginer, Shabana Azmi

Based on the 2007 novel by Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist follows a young, charismatic Pakistani man as he takes the business world by storm, pre-September 11, 2001. But, after the terrorist attacks everything changes.  His American dream becomes an American nightmare.  I'm not a fan of 9/11 films, nor am I a fan of Kate Hudson.  However, I liked this one a lot.  It's a little talky and a tad long, but it is also compelling and relevant. Recommended for those who enjoy a good, suspenseful political/immigrant drama.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ageless Silver (Concert Review)

Bob Mould @ the Bluebird B+

Bob Mould rocks! Hüsker Dü, Sugar, solo stuff- he played it all... he played it loud.  Good rock show! 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

About A Boy (Book Review)

Slam - Nick Hornby B+

Slam, Hornby's first YA novel probably doesn't break any new ground; but, like great pop star he always writes an irresistible hook.

Nick Hornby talks about Slam.  Video courtesy of you-tube.

Monday, April 1, 2013

On the Road - Movie Review

On the Road (R) 124 minutes C+
The Writing Life

Starring: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kristen Dunst,  and Viggo Mortensen

Kerouac's On the Road has finally made it to the big screen and it's a hot mess.  Clocking in at over two hours long this film is both annoying and alluring.  Surprisingly, Kristen Stewart is one of the best things about this train wreck which sort of  wins me over at the end.     

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bowie, D-Mode & Bob Mould (Music Reviews)

First Impression Music Reviews
The Next Day - David Bowie B+
Delta Machine - Depeche Mode C+
Silver Age - Bob Mould B+

The Next Day has been touted as the best Bowie album in a long time.  Several critics have even suggested that it's his best album in 33 years. I almost take offense to that because it dismisses my favorite Bowie album, 1995's Outside.  Frankly, I was only mildly interested in Bowie prior to 1995. Outside was a trippy concept album that resonated with me and motivated me to explore Bowie's back catalog more explicitly.

The Next Day, Bowie's 24th studio album, is a grower. Some songs took awhile to connect, while others ("Heat," "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die," and "Where Are We Now") stood-out right away. Additionally, this album is intriguing because of the mysterious nature of its birth and the speculation that the "Thin White Duke" is at the end of his rope. Many thought that Bowie had all but retired, others feared he was near death. But suddenly, out of the blue, a single and video for the song, "Where Are They Now." A couple months later the album dropped.

This album has a fresh, yet vintage feel. Bowie sounds like a man with a lot to say, and he should. It has been 10 years since his last release. The Next Day is nothing like Outside, but what I love about the album is the introspection and the serious emotional impact the slower tracks deliver each and every time I hear them. Eventually, the more rockin and poppy tracks clicked as well. This one is recommended for all Bowie fans, regardless of which decade you loved him most.
Favorite tracks - Heat, Love is Lost, You Feel So Lonely You Could Die, Where Are We Now, and The Stars (Are Out Tonight).

Prior to the release of Delta Machine, Martin Gore said something about the album sounding/feeling like vintage Depeche Mode... well, he wasn't kidding. This album sounds like Depeche Mode's Greatest Hits - The B-Sides. I've listened to this album about 4 times. I like it a little better each time, but initially only two songs jumped out at me - "Welcome to My World" and "Soothe my Soul," with the latter sounding more like a guilty pleasure than a great track. But, that being said, D-Mode is one of my favorite acts of all-time.  They've been my father, my son, my holy ghost and priest :-).  So, maybe Delta Machine will eventually soothe my soul after repeated listens.  
Favorite tracks - Welcome to My World, Alone, Soothe my Soul

Bob Mould's Silver Age is 38 minutes of pure power pop that's makes me thrash and dash around my living room with pleasure.  
Favorite tracks - Star Machine, Silver Age, The Descent, and Briefest Moment

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Zipless Life (A Book Review)

Fear of Flying - Erica Jong  B-

It has been 40 years since the initial release of Fear of Flying, and unfortunately I don't think it stands the test of time like another novel I recently finished, Sylvia Plath's - The Bell Jar.  That being said, I can understand why this novel was so controversial in 1973.  I can also understand how it brought female sexuality and femininity to the forefront of social consciousness.  However, protagonist Isadora Wing doesn't seem as vital in 2013.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Side Effects - Movie Review

Side Effects (R) 106 minutes B
Pill Thrill

Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum

This film is a  psychodramatic thriller that will keep you guessimg.  The less you know about this one, the better. Director Steven Soderbergh rarely disappoints.   
Rental Review
Arbitrage (R) 107 minutes C+
Power, Corruption & Lies

Home Release Date: December 2012
Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling and Tim Roth

This film would have been better had I not expected so much.  Arbitrage is intriguing, but it also feels a little too familiar.  Unfortunately, it's not as good as the trailer would suggest or Roger Ebert's glowing review. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sylvia (Book Reviews)

Published in 1971 
Published in 1963
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath A-
A poetic narrative about a talented young woman slowly slipping into the abyss. Largely based on real people and real events from Plath's life, The Bell Jar still holds up 50 years later.    

Winter Trees - Sylvia Plath B
As leftovers from the Ariel poems, this collection was composed during the last year of Plath's life (with the exception of "Three Women").  Winter Trees struck me as fire and ice wrapped in melancholy.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

*My Gray Morning's Best of 2012*

Best Films

10. Moonrise Kingdom
Cutesy, but completely original

9. The Sessions
Iron lung is no joke...  & Helen Hunt - yowzah!

8. Argo
It's good even though you know how it ends. 

7. Young & Wild
A 2012 Sundance film- the title says it all.

6. Supporting Characters
This one stars my boy, Alex Karpovsky (I once sat next to him at a film screening). 

5. Safety Not Guaranteed
The dark horse film of the 2012. 

4. The Queen of Versailles
I was simultaneously entertained and dumbfounded

3. Your Sister's Sister
 2012 was a great year for Mark Duplass fans. 

2. Liberal Arts
Because I feel younger than I am.  

1. Flight
Denzel... nuff said. 

Best Albums (w/ my favorite track)

10. Voyageur - Kathleen Edwards
Empty Threat

9.  Most Of My Heroes Still Don't Appear On No Stamp - Public Enemy

8. How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? - Sinead O'Connor
Reason with Me

7.  Born & Raised - John Mayer
Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967

6. Young & Old - Tennis

5. Lonerism - Tame Impala
Be Above It

4. Clear Heart Full Eyes - Craig Finn
 Western Pier

3. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City - Kendrick Lamar
Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe  

2. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean
Thinkin About You

1. The Idler Wheel... - Fiona Apple
Anything We Want

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty - Movie Review

Zero Dark Thirty (R) 157 minutes C
The Interrogation Locker 

Starring: Chris Pratt, Édgar Ramírez, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong

Steve Coll wrote an interesting article in the February 7, 2013 issue of the The New York Review of Books.  Essentially, the article quoted several high ranking government officials stating their disdain for the exaggerated and potentially dangerous reenactment of interrogations techniques, counterterrorism and historical facts in the film Zero Dark Thirty.  When I saw the film I didn't know how much was exaggerated for Hollywood purposes.  But, I tend to agree that it doesn't necessarily send out a positive message when its entire premise is based on "this is how it went down." I'll be the first to say that fiction is fiction.  However, after the closing credits rolled I felt like I'd be okay if I never saw another  Kathryn Bigelow film.    

Monday, January 28, 2013

My Gray Morning's Sundance 2013 Wrap-up

Another great year at Sundance!

*Cutie and the Boxer B+

It Felt Like Love A-

*Crash Reel A-

Pit Stop B

*The Way Way Back A  

Escape From Tomorrow D-

Milkshake B

* Most likely to succeed in 2013.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Love, Marriage and Liberal Arts (Book Review)

Published October 2011
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides B+

The Marriage Plot is sort of epic, if not a little pretentious.  It stuck with me for days afterwards.  The characters are authentic and enthralling. It is a thoughtful and highly entertaining read.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Acoustic story time with Dar Williams (Concert Review)

Dar Williams @ L2 Arts & Culture Center - Jan. 8, 2013 B+

Despite a pesky cold and cough, Dar Williams put on a wonderful acoustic set Tuesday night.  The highlights included "You're Aging Well" from 1995's The Honesty Room and the heartbreakingly beautiful "If I Wrote You" from 1997's End of the Summer