Friday, November 30, 2007

Two Years or So Behind, As Always

Because for years I had an iPod that refused to play nicely with my computer, and so didn't sync as often as I liked, and for a while at the end had to even manually move music over using my home computer, since the thing wouldn't sync with my home computer at all. But three months ago I got a new iPod Classic, (80GB black), that (so far) is playing beautifully well with the creaky VAIO I call my home computer, so I at long last have started to listen to some podcasts. Not many, but some. A quick rundown:

Coverville: Always worth a listen. Brian Ibbott puts out two or three podcasts a week, each chock full of cover songs, the vast bulk of which are things you likely have never heard. I love that Ibbott's selections are so varied - there seems to be no real discrimination going on, with poppy, synthy, heavy, folksy, jazzy, dancey, rappy, bluegrassy, country - pretty much any kind of music being represented. He's currently soliciting votes for his yearly countdown of the 40 greatest covers ever, so head on over and check it out.

Film Score Monthly Podcast: I literally started listening to this just yesterday, but so far I'm loving it. It looks like they go long swaths without issuing new episodes, but the Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, and plagiarism episodes I've listened to so far are just great - intelligently, clearly argued and full of things I had never known or realized.

Onion Radio News and Onion News Network: These I'm less enamored with. When I think to listen to them I'm amused, but not so much that I look forward to them. So far it seems that the music stuff is more my speed.

So - anyone have any good music podcasts to recommend. I keep thinking that there has to be a good musical theater one out there, but so far I haven't found anything.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Nine Times

I fee like I struck gold. has nine brief clips up from Sweeney Todd, and I am in Sweeney Heaven. I don't see a way to embed (let me disclaim, though, that as pretty much a technological dummy I may just not know how), so I won't have video samples handy in the post, but I nevertheless must comment:

Film Clip1 - Sweeney Todd Now
Mrs. Lovett informs Sweeney of what happened to his wife and daughter, and Todd promises revenge.
What struck me here is something pretty obvious but not something I had ever thought about. On stage, this scene (any scene) must be played, to a degree, broadly and loudly. You can't really whisper on stage or the audience won't hear you. So it was kind of a revelation to see this played so quietly and naturalistically. It works extremely well for the material and it sets the movie further apart from the stage version as its own thing. Bonham Carter is doing much more subtle work here than, say, Lansbury did, but again - she can. Her performance wouldn't work at all on stage, but in the film (or in these few seconds, at least), it's perfect.

Film Clip 2 - My Friends
A quick verse
Depp's voice is sweet and melodic, if a hell of a lot less imposing than we are used to, but from this little bit it seems as if it will work with his characterization of Sweeney just fine. And this briefest of snippets gives me goosebumps all over as I realize how completely awesome it is going to be to hear Sondheim's score in big movie-theater sound, as played by a big Hollywood orchestra.

Film Clip 3 - You Gandered at My Ward
The Judge confronts Anthony after Anthony has spoken to Johanna.
Rickman seems every bit as good as you'd imagined. And I love that this little scene, in the play played out on the street, as part of one big sequence, is moved here to the Judge's chambers. Again, on stage it would be cumbersome and excessive to move to a new set for this quick a scene. In film, there's no reason not to.

Film Clip 4 - The Contest
A verse of Pirelli
Baron Cohen can sing!!! I'm pretty sure they're cheating on the silly high note at the end by dubbing in someone else (maybe a female), but he gets the pompous theatricality of the character just right.

Film Clip 5 - How Long Until Pirelli Gets Back
Lovett discovers Todd's first murder
Again, I love Bonham Carter's underplaying of the character, and the comedy. On stage it would fall flat, but here it's perfectly pitched.

Film Clip 6 - Epiphany
A brief bit of the song
I very much like the idea to make the song somewhat fantastical by having an unseen Todd sing to unaware passerby. And while a part of me will always miss that big baritone sound, especially in this song, I can't complain about what Depp is doing - it works.

Film Clip 7 - Little Priest
A brief bit of the song
Having Todd and Lovett spy people outside the window who inspire their choices for victims is truly inspired. And surprise of surprises, Bonham Carter sings quite nicely!

Film Clip 8 - Not While I'm Around
A brief bit of the song
I love that Toby is very young, and I love that he sounds like a "trained" singer - one gets the notion that the Toby stuff (this and, assuming it's in the film, "Miracle Elixir") would be sung even in the film weren't a musical - his songs could easily be seen as diegetic - "Elixir" as a song Pirelli taught him to hype up crowds and this as a lullaby.

Film Clip 9 - Pamper You
Todd sweet-talks the Beadle into his chair.
Timothy Spall as the Beadle is as oily and unctuous as you would like. The casting on this film really seems spot-on so far.

Goosebumps not abating.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On the Nightstand

(Spoilers may lie ahead)

Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer
I actually have a prologue still to go, but for the purposes of this post it's done. While I liked the book, and while reading it has me interested in the Sean Penn movie, it very much felt like what it was - a very good magazine article (not that I read Krakauer's original Outside article) injected with filler to expand it to book length. The accounts of Krakauer's background, his trips into the wild, and especially his fatal trip to Alaska were engrossing and moving; but the extended look at "other people who died in the wilderness" and at Krakauer's own close call with death in Alaska at a young age felt like the filler they were.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver
I liked this book - an accounting of Kingsolver's family's year spent living on nothing but food grown locally (as "locavores") - less than I expected to, while still liking it fine. In retrospect though, the book's dynamics were kind of predictable. The personal stories and details were highly entertaining and illuminating, while much of the hectoring about the evils of eating oranges out of season felt like, well, hectoring. Kingsolver made her points well, but in the end those pieces just felt too much like schoolmarmish lectures and were not as integrated into the story of that year as well as I might have hoped. Plus, the interspersed dry essays from her husband on various corporate evils and recipe-laden chapter-ending contributions from her college-aged daughter were intrusive and poorly written, respectively, thus adding to the feel of the book's primary narrative - the story of that year - being undercut again and again.

Runaways - Brian K. Vaughn
Been reading this in trades, and it's one of the most enjoyable Marvel super hero stories I've read in a while. Vaughn's respectful, fun, and clever use of continuity is a blast, and the storylines he spins come across as eminently logical outcomes of Marvel Universe life. That a support group for faded teen superheroes, secretly funded by Rick Jones, would exist in the Marvel Universe is just . . . perfect. Plus, he manages one of the most emotionally affecting deaths in a comic I've ever read (in large part because for once I'm not convinced the character will return at some point).

Blaze - Stephen King
This trunk novel is actually one of King's best in a while. A clean, straightforward, lean tale of a tragedy bound young criminal nicknamed Blaze, the story has King hitting beats he hasn't in a long while. The Of Mice and Men parallels are obvious but hardly disguised, and, more importantly, they worked. The end of this one had me more affected than many a King novel's.

Lisey's Story - Stephen King
King writes a novel from the point of view of a woman for the first time in a while (since Rose Madder I guess), and it's a damn good one. In the end it leans a little too heavily on the whole Talisman/Dark Tower universe's notion of parallel worlds that exist alongside our own, but much of it, especially the opening material about a widow coming to terms with the death of her husband, is deeply moving. As the old Blaze showed, it's really time for King to write a non-supernatural novel again. He handles the real-world stuff so well, you wonder sometimes why he's so quick to jump to the supernatural.

On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan
A lean and economical novella about a frigid young bride and her patient but excited husband on their honeymoon night that spins almost entirely out of that one horrible night. McEwan makes you care for his characters despite their problems, and forces the reader to take an uncomfortable look at his or her own notions of how sex and marriage are intertwined.

Until Whenever

Monday, November 26, 2007


Coyote Squirrel has video up of Johnny Depp singing as Sweeney - both in the studio and in the film. It's just a quick bit, but it shows me that while Depp's Sweeney will not be traditional - dark, rich baritone - it will be musical. And I'm OK with that.

On another note, I've rad in some quarters criticism that Depp is too young for the role, that Sweeney should be older, more middle-aged. To that, all I can say is:

Len Cariou's age when he originated the role: 37
Depp's age when he filmed the role: 44

Until Whenever
Two to the Third

Everyone have a nice Thanksgiving? Get enough turkey? Cranberry sauce? stuffing? Pumpkin pie? Great. As per decades-old tradition, I hereby offer my de riguer post-break palate-cleansing meme post, courtesy of Jaquandor:

8 things I am passionate about:
1. The music of U2
2. The music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim
3. The fiction of Stephen King
4. The world of Lost
5. The wife.
6. A certain moppety three-year old
7. A very similar-looking moppety three-year old
8. The inanity of obsolete grammar rules still being enforced.

8 things I want to do before I die
1. Perform in the chorus for a performance of Beethoven's 9th symphony (this is one I've already done, but sweet Jesus almighty I really need to do it again)
2. Play Sweeney Todd
3. Direct Assassins
4. Spend a summer driving around the US with the family, seeing all that can be seen in two months
5. Publish something that will be read by more than a few hundred people (if that)
6. Be able to competently accompany myself on piano and guitar for at least a few songs.
7. Read the Harry Potter series to my kids
8. Perform a Shakesperean role

8 things I say often
1. "Itchy's a jerk"
2. "Good stuff"
3. "Rock and/or roll"
4. "Sure"
7. "F***!"
8. "Jeezum Crow!"

8 books I've read recently
1. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver
2. Runaways - Brian K. Vaughn
3. Blaze - Stephen King
4. Secret War - Brian Michael Bendis
5. Astonishing X-Men - Joss Whedon
6. On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan
7. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again - David Foster Wallace
8. Consider the Lobster - David Foster Wallace

8 songs I could listen to over and over
1. "Overkill" - Colin Hay
2. "Sugar Baby" - Bob Dylan
3. "No Cars Go" - Arcade Fire
4. "Something Good" - Elaine Stritch
5. "Window in the Sky" - U2
6. "The Impossible Dream" - Many
7. "Philadelphia" - Neil Young
8. "Come Down in Time" - Sting

8 things that attract me to my best friends
1. Sense of humor
2. Shared interests
3. Easy-going natures
4. Understanding of me (I'm a closet narcissist, it appears)
5. Enjoyment of discussing pop culture minutia
6. Loyalty
7. Shared history
8. Trust

8 (or more) things that I am thankful for this year
1. The last Harry Potter
2. The new Stephen Kings
3. Arcade Fire
4. Lost
5. Continued gainful employment
6. Financial security
7. The wife
8. The kid
9. The other kid
10. Family
11. Health - mine and others.

Until Whenever

Friday, November 16, 2007

Comics Update
A long while back, I posted about returning to comics. Afterwards, I really didn't post much about the comic themselves - not sure why. In any event, I thought now was as good a time as any to do a rundown of which books I currently read the monthlies of.

Astonishing X-Men

I've yet to be disappointed by any of Whedon's comics work, and although Astonishing really begs to be read as a trade, given how tightly tied the long arcs are and how long it is between issues I simply don't have the discipline to wait. The issue released last week featured what may well be the most artfully executed plot twist ever in a comic. Well, maybe that's a bit much. But still, it was beautifully done.

Avengers: The Initiative

This Civil War spin-off has actually done a very good job of following the logic of the mini-series ending through, and I'm glad it exists, because for many of the other books Marvel publishes it's barely noticeable that Civil War happened. The idea of rookie superheroes being trained, boot camp-style, has great appeal.

New Avengers

Maybe my favorite title right now, Bendis has done a great job of following through with the story of outcast Avengers trying to operate in the wake of Civil War and the fact that they are fugitives. I'm very, very much looking forward to the Invasion mini that will be spinning out of this in the next few months.

I've read the first three issues, and have yet to get to this week's fourth. I'm on the bubble with this one; I like Straczynski usually, and the idea of Thor navigating his way in a post-Civil War world is very interesting, but Straczynski's mystical/mythical stuff can be very heavy-handed. This issue will likely be the deciding factor.

World War Hulk
This old-school mini-series, with the Hulk trying to kill all the superheroes, and with more massive fistfights than any comic in recent or vintage memory has been fun. Ended this week, but I haven't read the conclusion yet.

Captain America
Almost a year after Captain America's death, Ed Brubaker has done a great job of keeping the series going. Lots of political intrigue, secrets, and a deft juggling of lots of supporting characters all vying to fill the vaccum left by the title character's absence.

Amazing Spider-Man

This book is in an odd state of flux right now, with the "One More Day" storyline taking forever to progress due to artist delays. Being a big Spider-Man junkie I'll probably stick with it when it comes back, but it's not at the top of my list currently.
Ultimate Spider-Man
That Bendis has never faltered with this series, with issue #116 coming out this month, astonishes me. I mean, we are close to ten years since the Ultimate universe was introduced, and while Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four have gotten very inessential and The Ultimates, while loads of fun, remains very sporadically produced, this title just keeps steaming along - never dull, never by-the-numbers, and very cohesive and integrated. Great stuff.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Whedon's conceit - that this is the never-produced eight season of the TV show - has proven genius, as that simple concept has gotten the masses (including me) into a Buffy comic like never before. So far, the story feels just right - with the right touch of the old combined with very natural and, in hindsight, inevitable developments flowing from the series finale.

Until Whenever
I Know No One Cares

But I can't help myself.

My Rock/Pop collection boils down to this:

5-Star - 403 songs, 12%

4-Star - 922 songs, 27%

3-Star - 1,822 songs, 54%

2-Star - 156 songs, 5%

1-Star - 55 songs, 2%

Until Whenever

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!!

Random Top Ten Audra McDonald Songs

10. "Cradle and All" (Jessica Molaskey and Ricky Ian Gordon)
A tender and bittersweet ballad sung to elderly parents--hardly a well-mined area.

9. "Somewhere" (Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim)
A reverent and hushed rendition of the West Side Story classic.

8. Come to Jesus (Adam Guettel)
A young woman sings of her conflicting feelings upon getting an abortion. Again, not well-trod stuff.

7. "Way Back to Paradise" (John Michael LaChiusa)
A bouncy and defiant song from LaChiusa'sMarie Christine about the challenges faced by women.

6. "I Won't Mind" (Jeff Blumenkrantz)
A heartbreaking, gorgeous ballad sung by a young, childless woman to the child she loves.

5. "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" (Randy Newman)
A spare, haunting version of the Randy Newman classic.

4. "You Don't Know This Man" (Jason Robert Brown)
A stirring, deceptively simple song from Brown's Parade, sung by a young wife to a mob convinced her husband has killed a little girl.

3. "My Heart" (Neil Young)
I never in a million years would have thought one of my three favorite Audra McDonald songs would be a Neil Young cover, but here we are.

2. "Stars and the Moon" (Jason Robert Brown)
This song has quickly become a cabaret staple, but McDonald's version is pretty definitive. Wonderfully ironic and ruminative piano ballad.

1. "How Glory Goes" (Adam Guettel)
From Floyd Collins, this song is sung by a dying man, as he asks God what heaven will be like. One of the most beautiful and tear-jerking songs I've ever heard.

Until Whenever

Monday, November 12, 2007

Damned Lies

A while back I did a Random Top Ten of my favorite bands/artists. But after finally finishing ranking all the rock and pop music on my iPod, I got to wondering - in terms of percentages, who do I really love? Which of my favorite artists have the highest batting average for me - the most percentage of their songs that I have ranked as a 4-Star or 5-Star song? So, I crunched the numbers, and this is what I came up with. The artist whose songs I ranked the highest proportion of as 4 or 5 star songs was not U2, as I would have guessed/assumed, but Aimee Mann, at 60%, who I only put at #8 on that earlier list. On the other hand, I rated only 6% of Mann's songs at 5-star ratings, which ties for the lowest 5-star share. Clearly, I like most of Mann's songs a lot, but love only a handful.The artist with the highest share of 5-star rated songs was, remarkably enough, Dire Straits. Except that figure is heavily skewed by the fact that I have a Dire Straits best-of, but only two actual albums. So if we discount that, the easy winner is Bob Dylan - I have 234 songs of his songs in my collection, and have rated over one in f as a 5-star song, one of my all-time favorites.

In any case, this is a fun little exercise for the more obsessive-compulsive music fans among us. Give it a try! (You know who you are).

The percentages for all the biggies in my collection:

Aimee Mann
4- and 5-Star - 60%
5-Star - 6%

Bob Dylan
4- and 5-Star - 50%
5-Star - 21%

Dire Straits
4- and 5-Star - 57%
5-Star - 27%

Elvis Costello
4- and 5-Star - 26%
5-Star - 6%

John Mellencamp
4- and 5-Star - 42%
5-Star - 14%

Neil Young
4- and 5-Star - 45%
5-Star - 15%

4- and 5-Star - 57%
5-Star - 18%

Paul Simon (including Simon & Garfunkel)
4- and 5-Star - 45%
5-Star - 18%

4- and 5-Star - 32%
5-Star - 12%

The Who
4- and 5-Star - 35%
5-Star - 9%

Tracy Chapman
4- and 5-Star - 44%
5-Star - 17%

4- and 5-Star - 49%
5-Star - 16%

Until Whenever

Friday, November 09, 2007

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "The Rising" - Bruce Springsteen - The Rising
A song that has grown on me - when this album was first released, it was not one of the songs on the album I loved. Now, it's pretty close.

2. "Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid) - Sufjan Stevens - Greetings from Michigan
A somber piano ballad. I like Stevens, a lot, but can sometimes get very impatient with the idea that a lot of the stuff he does - this kind of piano-based, slow song, for example - is done much better, but to little acclaim - by musical theater writers like Adam Guettel and Jason Robert Brown.

3. "There Won't Be Trumpets" - Stephen Sondheim (sung by Bernadette Peters) - Sondheim, Etc.
A Sondheim song that was originally cut from the show, but has been sung by more singers than many, many, many Sondheim songs. Peters has the perfect voice for it - slightly strident and impetuous.

4. "So Far Away" - Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
Does anyone make more laid-back music than Mark Knopfler?

5. "Allegro" - Brahms - Symphony #3 in F
A spirited and lively piece of music.

6. "Black Beauty - Memories" - Danny Elfman - Music for a Darkened Theater, Vol. II
Elfman has a reputation for repeating himself that's nearing James Horner levels, but this forgotten score sounds nothing like the "typical" Elfman sound. It's lush, Romantic, and sweeping - and one of his most beautiful pieces of work. (Oh, yeah - and where the hell is Vol. III!?)

7. "Meet the Flinstones" - Homer Simpson- Go Simpsonic with the Simpsons
This. Genius.

8. "With Every Light" - The Smashing Pumpkins - MACHINA/The Machines of the Gods
For some reason, I always kind of forget that I like the Pumpkins.

9. "Prelude to Act I" - Leonard Bernstein - Peter Pan
Bernstein's "lost" score for Peter Pan (He wrote much of a score, but only one or two songs ended up getting used), is really lovely, with lots of pretty underscoring.

10. "The Happy Medley: Mammy" - Mandy Patinkin - Mandy Patinkin
Patinkin pays tribute to the man many consider to be his most obvious influence with a warm loving tribute to Al Jolsen and his signature tune.

Until Whenever
Expectations Subverted
(Sorry for the lack of posting - sometimes life and blogging get into staring contests. And life always wins.)
So I finally saw Spider-Man 3. I expected to be entertained but disappointed - all the stuff I read about the film had me expecting to find the film overstuffed, with a weak plot, not enough depth, and generally just glossier and less textured than the second film.
So of course it's my favorite of the three Spider-Man films.


The Action. This is the first comic book film where the fights and physics actually felt like they do in the comics and in my imagination - with a remarkably well-balanced blend of exaggerated speed and kinetics with real-feeling physics and three-dimensionality. Each and every "set-piece" - from the Peter/Harry fight, to the crashing crane, to the fight with Sandman, to the final epic battle had the excitement, inventiveness, and sense of hyper-real madness that great comic book fight scenes have. While other modern comic book films films have had some great visuals, this is the first film to get the combination of live action and animation right, with stunningly seamless transition from a CI Spider-Man to Tobey Maguire, for example. And the Sandman may be the best-realized comic book villain ever in terms of how they are able to portray his powers. Gorgeous and remarkably effective.

The Plot - I expected the three villains to be just way too much, but their stories were actually balanced very well, with Harry's amnesia taking the Goblin out of the picture in the middle and the late development of Venom keeping things from getting too crowded - until that big finale, in which the motivations and actions of each of the four superpowered characters were crystal-clear and well-established.

The Fidelity to the Spirit of the Comics - The stack of remarkable coincidences (meteor falls where Spider-Man is; Gwen Stacy just happens to be in the building that gets destroyed; Eddie Brock happens to be in the church where Peter gets rid of the symbiote), instead of being silly and suspension-of-disbelief stretching, felt very faithful to the way plots work and have always worked in the comics. These kinds of coincidences are part and parcel of the super-hero comic book story. Evil Peter, in all his goofy glory, dancing included, also felt faithful to the classic 70s Spidey stories. The plot and feel of the film just felt the most organic and true to the spirit and tone of the classic Spider-Man stories of any of the films.

I am SO going to get crucified for this - but this may well be my favorite superhero film to date
Until Whenever

Monday, November 05, 2007

Dead Mother

I don't know why, but I can't stop thinking about how the reveal of who the mother is and what her story with Ted will be (when they eventually get to it) on How I Met Your Mother. My newest thought, as the title hints at, is - what if the mother is dead? Granted, this pretty down and macabre twist might not play well in a sitcom, but there is a certain logic to it. After all, Future Ted is telling his kids this story in very drawn-out fashion - rather than give them the short version he's detailed 50 (so far) short stories, without even (we assume) introducing the mother yet. Why would someone do this? If the mother died when the kids were young, it would make sense to go into this long and detailed history. Especially if the kids were raised by Aunt Robin - if Robin and Ted do end up together, not as a couple, but as a widower and close friend raising his kids. This would explain the sheer tonnage of material about Aunt Robin he's giving the kids - for, if Aunt Robin was just a friend, would the kids really need this much detail?

In an episode from a few weeks back, we got a quick tag of a high Future Ted asking where his wife was. We were to assume that it was a random, pot-fueled non-sequiter designed to remind us, the audience, that there is a mother. However, given the show's abundant love of letting context reveal hidden meanings, what if the real point was that the mother is gone, and this was a kind of sad moment for Ted, as in his stoned state he asked after his dead wife?

OK. Maybe not.

Until Whenever
Sweeney Trailer - The Second

Thanks to Coyote Squirrel for the link. The Internet trailer for Sweeney Todd doesn't give us any additional singing, but it does show off the marvelous orchestrations Jonathan Tunick has done for the film, as well as show us a little more of Todd in action - including a quick but spine-tingling throat cutting. Add this to the nicely in-depth Entertainment Weekly article (and cover!) that was published on Friday, and I am just more and more encouraged by all the pre-release stuff I'm seeing.

Until Whenever