Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Art Meme

Sorry for the absence, but work and life have been kicking me around a bit - and likely will continue to for a while more. Nonetheless, here's a fun artsy meme from good 'ol Roger Green.

Name a book that you want to share so much that you keep giving away copies
I gave my best friend a copy of The amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay I think four years ago. If he would ever give it back, it might be that one.

Name a piece of music that changed the way you listen to music
U2's Acthung Baby. When I first got this in 1991, as someone who had no real obsession for music until The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum turned him into a rabid U2 fan, I was dismayed. What was this noise? Why is Bono's voice distorted? What is going on?!?! But after several listens, I all of a sudden could hear the U2 ethos, spirit, and sound right there within the noise; and what was more the "noise" was adding very interesting, and in some cases beautiful, things to that U2 sound. Since then, I've always been very, very leery of dismissing any music after a few listens. And it's a strategy that has paid off - there have been man types of music that, after first disliking them, went on to become favorites (minimalism, Sondheim).

Name a film you can watch again and again without fatigue:
Braveheart, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Fisher King, the Lord of the Rings films, many others. BUT - there are no films I can watch over and over again in quick succession without fatigue. I need a several-month break after seeing a film two or three times before I can watch it again and not be bored.

Name a performer for whom you suspend all disbelief
None, really. Even the best actors can't make me forget that I'm watching an "actor" without at least a decent script.

Name a work of art you’d like to live with
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Because of the Sondheim connection, of course.

Name a work of fiction which has penetrated your real life
Not sure what that means. But over the last two years, Edward P. Jones' The Known World has been hard for me to shake off.

Name a punch line that always makes you laugh:
Naked Gun 2 (or 3)
Robert Goulet Bad Guy (Has Drebben at gunpoint): Any last requests, Drebben?
Drebben: Can I . . . have the gun?

Until Whenever

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!

Top Ten TV Characters

(Disclaimer - Not "of all time" - just my favorites)

10. Dr.Perry Cox (Scrubs)
They've done a fine job over the years of not softening him too much, and McGinley is not at all afraid to oversell the assholery.

9. Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
I love that Whedon took this bubbly teenager and over seven seasons made her bitter and destructive and heroic and faithful all at the same time. Would have been easy to just play up the reluctant hero card over and over, but after a few seasons they mostly moved on from that.

8. George Costanza (Seinfeld)
That scene where George ponders career options ("I could be a sportscaster. I like sports") is one of my favorite scenes ever, and it nails how good a character George is - pathetic and likable and defeated and hopeful all at the same time.

7. Grace Manning (Once and Again)
The teen who did not go on to big Hollywood movies was actually the more interesting character on this all-time great family drama. Grace was insecure, needy, and childish without ever being the predictable TV-version of those things.

6. Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)
The great anti-hero of the TV landscape and the progenitor of a thousand successors to the throne. Such complexity and depth, but never at the expense of the fact that, at his core, he's a selfish, reprehensible thug.

5. Dan Conner (Roseanne)
The second-best TV Dad ever. Goodman's lack of an Emmy during his long run is a crime.

4. Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls) - The fun-loving, youthful, sassy, immature Mom would have been a pretty unique character all on its own. But that they made her a tad self-destructive with real emotional problems and a nasty core of selfishness made her great.

3. Jed Bartlet (The West Wing)
A fantasy, sure, but so what? A wonderfully balanced, very real-feeling character, with details to his backstory (direct descendant of a Declaration of Independence signer, the Nobel Prize for Economics, the smoking, the lapsed Catholicism) that made him feel like an organic creation, not an assembly of liberal dreams.

2. Dr. Jeffrey Geiger (Chicago Hope)
An egomaniacal bastard of a genius surgeon with out respect for anyone but the patients he can save who's perilous closeness to mental illness reveals itself through anguished singing of showtunes. David Kelly you magnificent bastard!

1. Homer Simpson (The Simpsons)
There's something in Homer for all of us - the doomed dreams, the anger, the childishness, the ineptitude, the propensity towards failure, the buried love for family, the can-do-it spirit in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence - need I go on?

Until Whenever

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

And More and More Errata

I don't think I've ever seen fewer Oscar-nominated movies than I did this year. I saw Dreamgirls (my thoughts on that on are here). I saw the FX-nominated Superman Returns. And I think that's it. Pathetic.

So, since I can't really comment on the nominations, I'll respond to this meme, courtesy of Lefty Brown.

1) Do you have a crush on somebody?: I'm married; crushes are strictly verboten.
2) Do you hate more than 3 people?: Personally? I don't think so.
3) How many houses have you lived in?: Just houses, no apartments, puts it at six.
4) Favorite candy bar?: Baby Ruth, preferably with a large Coke with ice, so that the ice, Coke, and Baby Ruth can all be chewed together at the same time. No idea why I like that so much.
6) Have you ever tripped someone?: To my eternal shame, I'm sure I deliberately tripped my younger sisters a a kid.
7) Least favorite school subject?: History. I was good at Science and Math and English but never got into History. I could blame it on its being taught in a very dry way, but that feels like passing the buck.
8) How many pairs of shoes do you own?: 10, including boots. Which might be deemed excessive for a guy, but: old yardwork sneakers, regular sneakers, sneakers that stay in the gym locker at work, brown dress shoes, black dress shoes, brown casual shoes, loafers, beach shoes, workboots, and sandals for the summer.
9)Do you own a Britney Spears CD? I do not.
10) Have you ever thrown up in public?: I have not.
11) Name one thing that is always on your mind: The kids.
12) Favorite genre of music?: Good rock (defined liberally as rock I like).
13) What's your sign?: Virgo.
14) What time were you born?: No idea. I can never remember that.
15) Do you like beer?: I do not. I find even the smell nauseating.
16) Have you ever made a prank phone call?: I have not.
18) Are you sarcastic?: Very. It's a default defense mechanism, as the wife knows all too well.
19) What are your favorite colors?: Red and blue. Deep and bold.
20) How many watches do you own?: One that's needed a battery for over a year.
21) Summer or winter? Summer. I get cabin fever easily.
22) Is anyone in love with you?: Yes.
23) Favorite color to wear?: Non-colors. Gray, beige.
24) Pepsi or Sprite?: Pepsi, preferable Diet Cherry Pepsi.
25) What color is your cell phone?: Black and silver.
26) Where is your second home?: In my imagination, it's on a lake in New Hampshire. In reality, it does not exist.
27) Have you ever slapped someone?: I don't think I have. Punched, yes, but not slapped.
28) Have you ever had a cavity? Sure.
29) How many lamps are in your bedroom?: Three - a big floor lamp and two small ones on the nightstand. .
30) How many video games do you own?: Seven or so. Playstation I, baby!
31) What was your first pet?: A dog that "ran away." (Into traffic.)
32) Ever had braces?: No.
33) Do looks matter?: Of course.
34) Do you use chapstick?: No, but twice a year, when the weather changes, I require the application of Blistex.
35) Name 3 teachers from high school: Mr. Varjian (Best. Math. Teacher. Ever.). Mr. Cogger (Cancer is evil). Mr. Maxwell (Convinced me that singing was worth a shot).
36) American Eagle or Abercrombie?: And the care-o-meter plummets.
37) Are you too forgiving?: I'd say I'm forgiving enough.
38) How many children do you want?: Ideally, three, but I would be eternally happy if the two we have were all we were blessed with.
39) Do you own something from Hot Topic?: I do not.
40) Favorite breakfast meal: Corned beef hash and eggs sunny side up and potatoes all mixed together. Good eats.
41) Do you own a gun?: No.
42) Ever thought you were in love?: Just once. Still am.
43) When was the last time you cried?: Came perilously close watching Finding Nemo last night.
44) What did you do 3 nights ago?: Now THIS is freaky. Had takeout Olive Garden and watched Friends with Money.
45) Olive Garden?: SEE!?!?!
46) Have you ever called your teacher mommy?: Not sure, but I think I might have as a wee lad.
47) Have you ever been in a castle?: As a teen, three friends and I broke into an old abandoned castle. Good times.
48) Nicknames?: The guy who ran the rec center in my home town called me Supe, as in Superman (my hair does that curl-in-the-front-thing)
49) Do you know anyone named Bertha?: No Berthas.
50) Ever been to Kentucky?: Never.
51) Do you own something from Banana Republic?: No.
52) Are you thinking about somebody right now? Yes.
53) Ever called somebody Boo?: No.
54) Do you smoke?: No. Never tempted, either.
55) Do you own a diamond ring?: No.
56) Are you happy with your life right now?: Most of it. Live comfortably, have a loving wife, two adorable, good-natured, genius girls, a nice house, heat, food, never go wanting, don't worry about ends meeting. I have a severe dislike of my job, but that seems a small price to pay.
57) Do you dye your hair?: Never ever.
58) Does anyone have a crush on you?: I would hope the Wife does!
59) Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts? Starbucks for lattes, DD for regular coffee.
60) What were you doing in May of 1994?: Finishing up my second year of college.
62) McDonald's or Wendy's?: It used to be Wendy's, but my little girls' love of the place has soured me somewhat.
63) Do you like yourself?: Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
64) Are you closer to your mother or father?: Mother. Divorce can do that.
65) Favorite physical feature of the preferred sex?: It's a cliche to say breasts, but damn it if it ain't the case.
66) Are you afraid of the dark?: No - when I was a kid, sure.
67) Have you ever eaten paste?: No.
68) Do you own a webcam?: Nope. No desire to either.
69) Have you ever stripped?: No. And the world breathes a sigh of relief.
70) Ever broke a bone?: Hairline fracture to the nose.
71) Are you religious?: Not at all.
72) Do you chat on AIM often?: No. Only very minimal use at work.
73) Pringles or Lays?: Lays. With dip.
74) Have you ever broken someone's heart?: I doubt it.
75) Rugrats or Doug?: Neither.
76) Full House or The Brady Bunch?: Brady Bunch at gunpoint.
77) Do you like your high school guidance counselor?: I barely remember my high school guidance counselor.
78) Has anyone ever called you fat?: My best friend, and the best man at my wedding, calls me Fat John - constantly.
79) Do you have a birth mark? None.
80) Do you own a car?: A Camry and a Mazda MPV.
81) Can you cook?: Only a little. Nothing to brag about, certainly.
84) Money or love?: Love.
85) Do you have any scars?: Yes--tore a slice of skin away from my thumb by pretending to dunk in the house and hitting the hanging lamp.
86) What do you want more than anything right now?: Time off. Sad, given how recently I had a good chunk of it.
87) Do you enjoy scary movies?: No.
88) Relationships or one night stands?: I'm most definitely a relationship kind of guy.
90) Do you enjoy greasy food?: Do some people not? I don't get it.
91) Have you seen all the Rocky movies?: No - haven't seen all of V or the new one.
92) Do you own a box of crayons?: A box? Hah.
93) Who was the last person that said they loved you?: My wife.
94) Who was the last person that made you cry?: My wife.
95) Who was the last person that made you laugh?: My daughter.
97) Who was the last person that called you? My dad.

Until Whenever

Friday, January 19, 2007

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Love Walked In" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Gershwin Songbook
Old-school Hollywood style - you can see the orchestra in their tuxes and the dance floor and the romantic leads dancing delicately together and falling in love as she sings.

2. "Childhood Remembered" - Danny Elfman - Batman (Score)
One of the score's less bombastic pieces. All hushed strings and ethereal choir.

3. "The Big Light (Live)" - Elvis Costello - King of America
From the bonus CD on the Rhino re-release. A rollicking, countrified rendition.

4. "Brilliant Disguise" - Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love
A perfect pop song.

5. "Star to Follow" - Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Christmas Eve and Other Stories
Maybe a piece based almost entirely around voice wasn't the best choice for these guys.

6. "Workingman's Blues #2"- Bob Dylan - Modern Times
Sweet and crisp and dusky- you can feel the soft breeze and the setting of the sun.

7. "Let You Down" - Dave Matthews Band - Crash
The wife's. Don't really know this one.

8. "Under Your Spell/Standing (Reprise)" - Joss Whedon - Once More with Feeling
Haven't seen the Scrubs musical yet, but am guessing that this will remain the gold standard.

9. "She Loves You" - The Beatles - 1
Truth? I really don't like this song.

10. "Main Titles (Sommersby)" - Danny Elfman - Music for a Darkened Theater (Vol II)
One of Elfman's lost scores - nothing like his standard style, but more like a John Barry epic Western sound, really.

Until Whenever
Rather Like My Thighs
I make no bones about simply adoring the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast. Saw it three times - once with my sisters, once with my other sister and brother and my father, and once with my wife, sister and brother-in-law and niece. I love the robust, full-flavored old-school score Alan Menken and Howard Ashman fashioned for the film and how it seamlessly transitioned to the Broadway stage. I love the very of-a-piece new songs Menken wrote with Tim Rice--the fact that in the Broadway version the Beast gets to sing is no minor thing in my eyes. (And the song he does sing, "If I Can't Love Her" is a gorgeous piece of music, and one that takes some of its internal melodies and harmonic ideas from music that was already in the film - the bridge takes the melody that underscores the opening narration). I love that they did such a fine job of crafting an engaging, colorful, spectacle-laden piece of theater that could speak so well to really little kids. I love that they sold (and maybe still sell) little t-shits that say "My First Broadway Show"). I love the tenderness and subtlety with which they allow Belle to fall in love with the Beast who has imprisoned her. Hell, I love that logo above, such an elegant and beautiful piece of poster art.

So I'm sad. Sad that, as of July, Beauty and the Beast will finally close, thus depriving me of the chance to take my kids to see it, as I've been wanting to since I saw it the first time. Not upset, since 13 years is by any reasonable measure one hell of a healthy run. They're not being crass or stupid in closing it. And that a Little Mermaid musical will replace it - replete with a whole slate of new Alan Menken music - is some comfort. But still. Sad.

Bye, Beauty. We'll miss you.

Until Whenever

Added: No, I have no idea what the title means in relation to the post. I just love the lyric.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sing Out, Louise!

I know I come across like a grumpy old man when I get into one of these rants, but I just don't care. Having read a slew of good-sounding stuff about My Chemical Romance's new album, The Black Parade, and having liked what I heard when they were the musical guest on Saturday Night Live a few months back, I stuck the album on my Christmas list. I was intrigued by the reports of obvious Queen homages, marching band appearances, and a honest-to-God Liza Minnelli guest vocal. Got the disc, and the reports were all accurate - there is a lot of very welcome, big and bold, multi-layered, melodic grand-opera-like rock in this album, along with a lot of the quasi-punk thrashing that I'm assuming was the predominant piece of their sound previously. It's a fun album and I'm glad I got it. But listening to it last night, I realized just how much more potential the album really has.

See, lead singer Gerard Way, like 99% of all modern rock singers, well, isn't much of a singer. His tone is thin and tinny, he needs to yell to hit certain notes, and his lack of technical skill means that he can command little subtlety or phrasing as he sings. Again, this isn't as much a knock on Way as it is a knock on modern rock singing. But whereas most rock singers who can't sing play to whatever strengths they have, the band here has written material that begs out to be sung by a real singer. The big arcing melodies, the theatrical style, all apply not just to the production but to the vocal melodies as well. And Way simply cannot do them justice. This comes across strongly on the lead single and album centerpiece, "The Black Parade," but it also became very clear to me on the wonderful, very Kurt Weill-esque "Mama," which contains the aforementioned Liza Minnelli cameo (which is much briefer than I had assumed - like two bars worth of singing brief). I long ago resigned myself to the fact that the vast majority of rock singers, especially today, simply don't sing, and that I would just have to overlook this if I was to enjoy modern rock music, but every once and a while I am reminded of the fact forcefully.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On the Nightstand

Christmas left me awash in a sea of books I'm only just starting to crack the surface of; on top of that a recent visit to the library yielded some spontaneous borrowings that took some precedence. So, the pile currently on the nightstand now includes:

Coronado, Dennis Lehane - Just finished this book of short stories and one play. I had already read the collection's centerpiece, the brutally brilliant short story "Until Gwen," in the Atlantic, and the simple fact is that none of the other stuff - including a theatrical adaptation of "Until Gwen" really comes close to reaching the same heights. Most of the stories seemed to end just as they were getting started - the story of some teens vandalizing the homes of some wealthy townspeople most particularly. "Until Gwen" notwithstanding, I wonder if Lehane's true medium is really the novel.

U2 By U2 - A massive coffee table book stuffed to the gill with pictures that also functions as a wonderfully detailed year-by-year oral history of the band as told by all four members and manager Paul McGuiness. A great book that took me completely by surprise - I had thought it was just a bunch of photos, but the narrative is supremely done, with each of the band members weighing in in their own distinct voices. Almost done with this one.

The Best American Magazine Writing 2006 - My lovely wife gets me this every year and every year I eat it up. This year's edition (which I am only 2/3 of the way through) has some great pieces, including a poetic look at the Genome Project, a detailed look at the selling of the Iraq War, a superb profile of a conservative radio personality, a writer's up-close-and-personal look at her last months of a cancer-shortened life, a scathing accounting of what the coal industry is doing to mountains in Kentucky, and a profile of a snake-collecting novelist/crooner. Always a wonderful collection.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best American Non-Required Reading, 2006 - Borders had a two-for-one sale. Couldn't be helped.

Lisey's Story, Stephen King - I actually got this a few months back - this might be the longest I've ever waited to tear into a new King book. Should be soon.

Until I Find You, John Irving - A birthday gift that I still haven't started. Will definitely have to wait until after the King.

Until Whenever

Friday, January 12, 2007


I'm stealing this book-themed quiz from Jaquandor, although if you link over to him you'll see I omitted some of the questions (the quiz is somewhat sci-fi-themed, and I really don't read much sci-fi these days).

1. Science fiction, fantasy, or horror?
These days of the three I probably read more horror if only by virtue of the fact that I read everything Stephen King publishes (although I've yet to crack open the newest, Lisey's World. When I was a teen I read a lot of Koontz and McCammon but never branched out into other horror writers; similarly I read a lot of Asimov but not much else. Come to think of it, in fantasy I read pretty much everything Terry Brooks wrote but, and again, not much else. I'm kind of a single-author whore, or so it seems.

2. Hardback, trade paperback, or mass-market paperback?
I like hardcovers best, but given that I do most of my reading on the train I actually these days prefer a paperback, trade or mass-market (less poundage to lug around in my bag). For ownership I prefer hardcovers for aesthetic reasons - a shelf full of hardcovers just looks sharper than a shelf full of paperbacks. That being said, I certainly own enough paperbacks, including a whole slew of trade paperbacks. After all, it's not as if I have the resources to spend hardcover prices whenever the mood strikes, and used bookstores are chockablock with great paperback deals. Really, the only author I conscientiously buy in hardcover each time out right now is Stephen King.

3. Heinlein or Asimov?
Never read any Heinlein, and read lots o' Asimov. So an easy one. I do find that in the little re-reading I've done of Asimov that his very straightforward style can now sometimes grate. Seems the older me likes a bit more flair in his sentences.

4. Amazon or brick-and-mortar?
Both, for different reasons. Browsing in a big huge bookstore (or a small used bookstore) is a real pleasure. But then so is searching though Amazon's vast archives. They're just different pleasures, and I'm very grateful to get to enjoy both.

5. Barnes & Noble or Borders?
Barnes and Noble, if only because the one nearest me is a monstrous, two-storied beast of a store that I whiled many an hour away in as a teen and young adult. Nothing against Borders, tough.

6. Bookmark or dog-ear?
These days I bookmark, although almost never with an actual bookmark (a receipt, a parking stub, a torn-off strip of newspaper - whatever's handy). When I was young I almost never bookmarked or dog-eared, but would rather just close the book and find my spot when I resumed reading. I guess it's age, but I find that harder to do thee days.

7. Alphabetize by author, by title, or random?
By author, but in categories. So all the fiction goes together, all the plays, all the music non-fiction, all the baby stuff, etc. And I don't mix and match - hardcovers get shelved separately from trades, which get shelved separately from mass-markets. Actually, though, all of this is currently moot - we moved a month ago and all the books are still in boxes, as we try to figure out where to put them and as we try to acquire cheap bookcases (the old house had built-in bookcases in the Den and finished basement).

8. Keep, throw away, or sell?
I keep most stuff for ever, but once in a long while will cull the stacks slightly. When that happens I tend to donate the castoffs.

9. Keep dustjacket or toss it?
Keep. I don't know that I've ever tossed a dustjacket.

10. Read with dustjacket or remove it?
I keep them on. Not sure why, as they do annoy me slightly.

11. Short story or novel?
I much prefer novels. I'll enjoy the occasional short story, but almost always gravitate towards novels.

12. Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
Haven't gotten to Snicket yet, but just adore the Potter books.

13. Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
At a chapter break if I can, but since I do a lot of reading on the train it's typically the end of the ride that dictates where I stop.

14. "It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time?"
"Once upon a time." I'm ashamed to admit that it took me years to figure out what makes "It was a dark and stormy night"bad writing.

15. Buy or borrow?
Borrow much more than buy. I love my library something fierce, and when it comes down to it I'm typically very reluctant to shell out money for a book I know I can borrow from the library for free.

16.Buying choice: book reviews, recommendation, or browse?
If I'm buying a book, I almost always know ahead of time - it's very, very rare that I'll just browse and see something I want to spend money on.

17. Hard SF or space opera?
Again,I don't read much sci-fi these days, but when I do it's the hard stuff I gravitate towards.

18. Collection (short stories by the same author) or anthology (short stories by different authors)?
Collections - I like the consistency of the same author.

19. Tidy ending or cliffhanger?
Tidy ending, or ambiguous ending, is fine, but a cliffhanger can grate if I don't know I can read the next book right away. Worst case of this? Stephen King's cliffhanger ending to the third Dark Tower book, The Waste Lands. The next book didn't come out for something like five or seven years.

20. Morning, afternoon, or nighttime reading?
Morning and late afternoon (commuting time!)

21. Standalone or series?
Standalones mostly. I like series, but the commitment involved keeps me wary of diving into them.

22. New or used?
I only care about having a new book for those few books I absolutely adore - Stephen King's stuff I always get new.

30. Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
Tabitha King's One on One. King's wife is a marvelous writer, and that she doesn't get more attention saddens me.

31. Top X favorite genre books of all time? (Where X is 5 or less)
Stephen King's The Dark Tower Seven-book series)
Issac Asimov's Robot Series
Terry Brooks' Magic Kingdom for Sale Series
Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy
Robert R. McCammon's Swan Song

Until Whenever

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I Don't Get It

I hadn't watched a "classic" movie in a while. When I first got Netflix, I tried to be conscientious about renting some of the great films I've never seen. Finally saw The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, 2001, Citizen Kane, Casablanca. But when I started using Netflix (and then Blockbuster) for mostly TV on DVD, that kind of stopped. Until last week, when a mix-up in my queue yielded Chinatown. Watched it. And, really? Don't get it.

This happened with some of the aforementioned films as well - I for the life of me just couldn't figure out what all the hype was about. I mean, it was a competent little detective film, but really not much else, was it? And why so slow? I don't think this is the result of my modern, MTV-generation self being unable to appreciate a slower pace - after all, The Godfather moves slowly, and I loved that. And Citizen Kane is hardly a rocket ride. But this just felt like it plodded, with far too many lingering, drawn-out shots of cars pulling up, cars pulling away. And the whole "water board" aspect of the mystery came across, not as a welcome departure from the glamorous exotic MacGuffins in most mysteries, as Robert Towne apparently intended it to be, but just as dry and boring stuff. The acting was excellent, sure, but the plot and writing were so deliberate and careful that nothing in the film ever grabbed me or got me to sit up and take notice. And I have to admit to just not getting the whole "Chinatown" connection - seemed like the notion of Chinatown as a corrupt, chaotic hothouse of criminality was just tacked on. Not a bad film, no, but "great?" Or even "very good?" What am I missing?

Until Whenever

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!

Top Ten Neil Young Songs

1o. “It's a Dream” – Young at his slowest and most reflective. This is my favorite Young mood, as the list to continue will attest.

9. “Ohio” – Angry political songwriting at its best. Sometimes lyrics need not be more complicated than “Four dead in Ohio.” (But the classicist in me still cringes horribly at the awful mis-scan of the word “Ohio.” We say “OH-higho,” not “oh-HIGH-o”)

8. “Are You Passionate?” – Languid and evocative. The album (of the same name) this song comes from, a consistently critically mocked album, is one of my favorite Neil Young albums, actually.

7. “Heart of Gold” – Great harmonica part, here.

6. “Hey Hey” – In that classic live version everybody loves, of course.

5. “Needle and Damage Done” – Eloquent, straight-faced cautionary drug tale.

4. “Razor Love” – A lost cut from the mostly acoustic Silver and Gold album and a gem of a song, all humble, shuffling rhythm and delicate singing.

3. “Harvest Moon” – The song that got me into Young in the first place. A wistful, pastoral lullaby of a song.

2. “Rockin' in the Free World” – Angry, loud Young. Surprising how high I rate this given how much I obviously love quiet acoustic Young.

1. “Philadelphia” – It’s gotta be some kind of sin to name a soundtrack song as my favorite Neil Young song, but the heart wants what it wants, and it wants this devastatingly sad, reflective piano ballad that by all rights should have blown its fellow album-mate, Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” out of the water at Oscar time.

Until Whenever

Friday, January 05, 2007

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Ticket to Heaven" - Dire Straits - On Every Street
A sweet bit of irony, with a lilting, summer-breeze melody and arrangement over lyrics about swindling TV preachers.

2. "Letter to the Governor" - Jason Robert Brown - Parade (Original Broadway Cast)
A convicted murderer's wife pleads for leniency.

3. "Leaving Here" - The Who - Thirty Years of Maximum R&B
An early bit of hip, tight pop.

4. "Open" - Peter Gabriel - Passion (Music from The Last Temptation of Christ)
Slow, moody synth washes.

5. "Victory Celebration/End Title" - John Williams - Return of the Jedi (Film Score)
The new, lamer, world music ending. Bring back the Ewok song!

6. "End Credits (Broom Dance/Grr Ahh)" - Joss Whedon - Once More with Feeling
Short bit from Whedon's musical episode of Buffy.

7. "40'" - Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
I have a hard time figuring out what I think about Franz Ferdinand. Half the time I like them, half not as much. This time? Not as much.

8. "Christmas in the Mountains" - Paul Simon - The Capeman (Original Broadway Cast)
A cut song form the Puerto Rico sequence in Simon's shot at Broadway.

9. "Solid Rock" - Dire Straits - Making Movies
An almost swinging bit of straight-ahead piano-and-guitar rock from Dire Straits.

10. "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" - Frank Loesser - Guys and Dolls (1992 Broadway Revival Cast)
One of the all-time greats. This song makes it hard for high schools to do Guys and Dolls well, since finding a high school boy who can hit those notes is hard.

Until Whenever

Thursday, January 04, 2007

On Being Way Behind
Finally saw Superman Returns. Liked it. Didn't love it. If I were a reviewer in a newspaper I would probably give it three stars, although in all honesty it would just barely eke over my personal two and a half star mark. Why?

To me, the producers main failing was in, to put it in cliched terms, trying to have their cake and eat it too. In making this film, Brian Singer could have started over with an origin film - indeed I expect that's what most expected. But he liked the first two films and wanted to honor them by not starting over from scratch, as the Batman Begins creators did. He wanted to continue the story they started, in a way (while skipping over the universally-deemed wretched Superman III and Superman IV). And I not only respect that, I love it. I think it was a great idea and the right way to proceed with the franchise.

But he (or, most likely more accurately, Warner Bros.) also wanted to build a franchise that could go on for a while, for many years to come. So they cast young actors in the leads. And with that simple move the whole thing starts to crumble. Because Kate Bosworth is not believable as the same character started by Margot Kidder. Acting talents aside, she's too young. She doesn't look like a seasoned, scrappy reporter, but like an intern. And Superman, similarly, comes across as the Superman who, just weeks ago, was Superboy - as Superman first starting to become Superman. Not as an experienced Superman who has been away for five years. It seems simple, but throughout the entire film I couldn't stop thinking of Superman as Lois as too young - as kids playing Superman and Lois, and not as Superman and Lois.

On top of that, the script did Bosworth no favors by writing Lois as blandly as possible. What makes Lois an interesting character is her obnoxiousness, her moxie, her spirit, her wit. Not that she's pretty. This is why Margot Kidder was so good in the role - she was pretty, but not like Bosworth is. Posters of Bosworth are probably hanging up in college dorms all over the country as I type. In the late 70s, I doubt such was the case for Margot Kidder. And that's (partly) why she was so right for the role. She has a character actress-look, not an ingenue look. But more importantly than the casting was the writing. Lois had no spark, no idiosyncrasies, not character. She was just the smart, pretty brunette. Bleh. Even Clark wasn't as specific and character-based as he was in the earlier movies. The difference between Clark and Superman was there, but much shorter than it was for Christopher Reeve. And, again, I (mostly) fault the script, not the actors.

As for the plot - it had some nice elements, but yet another prison escape/maniacal, destructive land grab by Luthor felt very much like overkill. I liked the "Superman's been gone" bit, and the stuff with Superman and Lois' kid was done well, but the same-old feel to the threat of the villain and the whole "jealousy of Lois' fiance bit felt very stale and lazy. And some bits were just laughably stale -moldy in fact. Luthor seducing an old lady, Producers style, to regain a fortune to wreak havoc with? And starting the film with that hoary bit of business? And Parker Posy's character felt like a complete retread. A Luthor mistress is moved to from villainy to compassion by Superman's inate goodness. Yawn.

So why the overall positive grade? It sounds silly, but it's the effects and production. And for a superhero movie - especially a Superman movie - this is no small facet. Stuff I've always wanted to see was there and executed gorgeously. The mid-air rescue, the speed of flight, the catching of immense objects, the out-flying fire, the hovering-in-space-stuff, the heat vision, the x-ray vision, even the foiled bank robbery all had me feeling like a kid again. And in some ways, this was the most important part to get right. After all, a better script can be written for the sequel, with better characterization and plot, and Bosworth and Routh are only going to get older and more seasoned. But the visual world they've created, the visual way they show Superman in action, can't be swapped out so easily or seamlessly. So, as much as the little fantasy world in my head keeps telling me what a wonderful Lois Lauren Graham would make, I am very much optimistic about how whatever they call the sequel will turn out.
Until Whenever

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I Am Old and Out of Touch

Tom's post about the 2006 movies he saw spurred me to see just what of the offerings Hollywood proudly birthed in 2006 I saw. Dismal:

Curious George
Superman Returns (Half so far, actually)

Part of is that TV has overtaken films for me as my primary source of filmed entertainment. Part of is that my wife's tastes and mine are fairly divergent. And part of is two-year old twins. Still. Kind of pathetic.

Until Whenever
No Sheet Music?
Browsing through the bookstore, I noticed that there exists a novelization of Dreamgirls. Now, as a wee lad I had all sorts of fun reading novelizations of movies I'd liked - I still remember with great fondness the Goonies novelization, complete with a spooky "Goonies travel across a huge underground lake on a raft" sequence that never made it to the film. But a novelization for a musical? Curious, I flipped through it, and to my immense amusement found that for the songs themselves, they just printed the lyrics right on the page. So we get:

Effie did what she did best.

And I am telling you
I'm not going
You're the best man I've ever known.
. . .

Strange, no?

Until Whenever

A First?

Looking through the NBA page of my local paper I noticed that the two highest-scoring players in the league play for the same team. With Allen Iverson's trade to the Denver Nuggets, the Nuggets have the highest scorer (Carmelo Anthony) and the second-highest scorer (Iverson). That has to be the first time that's happened, right?

Until Whenever

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

But She Is Going. That's What Makes it Great.

So I saw my first film in the theater since X-Men III. Yay timely cinema-going! The wife and I took in Dreamgirls last week, and, well, the magic and promise embodied in Chicago has been fulfilled, and big-time. The theater we saw the film in was maybe three-quarters full, and yet the reactions coming from that audience were louder and more appreciative than any I can remember in 30+ years of going to the movies (and until the last five years or so, a hell of a lot more than three times a year).

I've read in a few places about the oddity of applauding and cheering a film performance. The notion is that since the actor (in this case, Jennifer Hudson) can't, you know, hear the applause it's silly to provide it. Two reactions. First, the thinking ignores the reality that applause, or at least the applause in question, is not considered and deliberated. It's spontaneous. Audience members aren't thinking before they applaud, "Oh, wait, Jenifer Hudson isn't actually here," but simply reacting viscerally. It's a spontaneous reaction to a performance that has moved and thrilled - and in the context of a musical, where we are accustomed to applauding.

Second - it's easy to say that Hudson can't hear it, but reports of the wild applause she is getting, especially at the hair-raising conclusion to her already-fabled rendition of "And I Am Telling You," are certainly getting back to her, right? Can you imagine the thrill for a young actress - especially one who had a taste of fame and success only to have it prematurely taken from her by a fickle TV audience - to hear that audiences in movie theaters are screaming their love for her? When she knows full well that movie audiences almost never applaud? She must be bursting!

The other thought I had leaving the theater was that producers all over New York must be desperately tyring to finagle a Dreamgirls revival on Broadway for next season starring Hudson. I mean, it's ridiculously obvious right? If a movie theater audience - an audience that almost never applauds - is reacting like this, then how would a Broadway audience - which always applauds - react? I can't even fathom it.

Oh, by the way - what about the movie? All the good stuff you've heard. Eddie Murphy is phenomenal, and can really sing; Beyonce Knowles acquits herself beautifully in her 11 O'clock number, and the whole thing moves and pulses with a rare and thrilling - and unique to musicals - energy. Dreamgirls makes a ironclad case for the virtues a musical can bring to an audience that no other type of film can approach. I can only know hope that it does huge business, so as to keep Hollywood in the business of making musicals.

Until Whenever
2007. I Remember When 1987 Seemed Like an Improbable Year

Tosy and Cosh are back and (somewhat - OK, hardly) rested. And what better way to dive back into the deep end than with a Meme. Thanks, Jaquandor!

Five Things You Don't Know About Me

1. I spent a good portion of the X-Mas break in pain, a long-dormant wisdom tooth finally deciding to make its presence known. As of later this week, I will no longer be one of those people with all of their teeth.

2. If I had to list the five most rewarding experiences of my life, singing in the chorus in a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony would be in the mix. I still remember vividly how remarkably overpowered I was by the music and the orchestra and the moment - one of those rare times when (for me) it seems possible, nay, obvious, that a God exists and that he is grand - otherwise how could such glory exist? That's saying something powerful about how remarkable music can be, considering how I'm an atheist and all.

3. I used to run, and well (recording a personal best time of 18:58 in a 5K run in cross country in high school). Now, at the tender age of 32, I'm embarrassingly out of shape with a bum knee to boot. Time (and laziness) can suck.

4. After college, I interviewed for an entry-level editorial job at Swank magazine (the low-class version, if you can believe it, of Hustler). I bailed out of the interview after the proofreading test of the porn star's sex column made me realize that working in hardcore porn - even in print only - every day would not be good for my psyche.

5. I, as a maybe five-year old, hit my the side of father's above-ground swimming pool with a hammer to "see what would happen." (The answer? Hundreds (thousands?) of gallons of water pour into the small lot behind your father's store and he gets very, very mad. And everyone assumes sublimated anger issues related to your parents' divorce are to blame.)

Until Whenever