Wednesday, December 19, 2007

. . . And a Happy New Year!

Thought I'd squeeze in a few posts before I take off for a mostly computer free Christmas break, but it ain't looking likely. So consider this a belated light-to-no posting notice, and I'll see you all in the New Year.

Until Whenever

Monday, December 17, 2007


The greedy part of me wins. Much as I know I should prefer the way of patience, and wish that ABC had waited until a full season was ready, I'm happy that they will be giving us the 8 episodes of Lost we'll be getting. It starts on January 31.

Until Whenever

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Palpable, Actual Goosebumps

The opening credits to Sweeney Todd have been released:

  • I was convinced they would abandon the pipe organ, but right there, after a few preliminary spooky and deep bass sounds, it is
  • No factory whistle, but given that they probably won't maintain the device of having the whistle blow after every murder, that makes sense
  • Love the device of seeing the blood flow through London, to Sweeney's chair, into the meat, into the sewers, and back out to see. One can easily imagine the transition to the first scene of Sweeney and Anthony arriving in London
  • The use of the Ballad as the scoring is perfect, with a wonderful Tunick orchestration that sounds suitably filmic and big without veering too far from the sounds that make the piece of music so good to begin with

I also see this morning that the film got several Golden Globe nominations, including Picture (Musical/Comedy), Actor (Musical/Comedy), and Actress (Musical/Comedy).

Until Whenever

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Poor Andy

After having the King Kong DVD for close to a year, I finally opened 'er up the other day and listened to the commentary and watched the lengthy documentary. A few thoughts:
  • I had forgotten how good the movie is - most importantly, what a real character they made Kong, and how empathetic he was. That near-final shot, when he falls off of the Empire State building, and we see him lock eyes one final time with Ann, was heart-wrenching.

In terms of the special features, a couple of things stood out:

  • There's a bit in one of the first two discs with Peter Jackson telling a story about taking Naomi Watts to meet Fay Wray. Wonderful anecdote, and Peter's enthusiasm for the project, and for the original film and its creators and stars is probably never more evident. That Wray died a month or so after that meeting (and that she, after saying she wouldn't do a cameo, whispered to Jackson, "never say never" as he left,) makes it extra-poignant.

  • There's another bit in those first two discs with Jackson, Watts, and some of the producers visiting the real Empire State Building. Very cool, especially when the guide breaks protocol and allows a few of them to the very top. The sense of vertigo is palpable.

  • In the main documentary there's a segment in which the crew recalls how they constructed their digital Manhattan. Fascinating. They apparently bought a digital map of Manhattan from a company that sells that kind of thing (including 3-D models of every building on the island), but the map was modern. So they then bought a database of info that detailed when every building in Manhattan was built. And went in and deleted every post-1933 building from their current-day map - leaving vast swaths of empty space. That they built an A.I.-infused computer program to fill by building buildings appropriate to the time, neighborhood, and location. Astonishing stuff.

  • The Empire State itself they built by hand, using the original blueprints.

  • The material on Andy Serkis' work as Kong is great. Serkis, after being told by Jackson that he couldn't go to Rwanda to study gorillas in the wild, that the insurance would never cover it, bought his own ticket and went. Lived up close and personal with gorillas for a while.

  • They went into a lot of detail on how Serkis played Kong during principal photography, so that the actors - and later, Naomi Watts in her many solo scenes with Kong - would have someone to act of of. They show very effectively, how critical Serkis' work was to Watts, and how well they fed off of each other and how much she appreciated his presence and dedication. You can really see how her remarkable performance wouldn't have been half of what it was were it not for Serkis' work opposite her. She never was acting by herself in front of the blue screen. He was always there, whether "on screen" or not.

  • Which made it seem somewhat hypocritical - and sad - that Serkis had to do all of his motion capture work by himself. In other words, after principal photography wrapped, and he went off for weeks to do all of the motion capture work, she wasn't there for him to act off of. They don't acknowledge this in the documentary, but it stuck out for me.

I get the vague sense that Kong is being forgotten in a way the Rings films aren't. It shouldn't be.

Until Whenever

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Merry Christmas Meme

From the homebound-for-the-day Samurai Frog:

1. Favorite traditional Christmas song:
"Silent Night" boasts, for my money, one of the best pure melodies ever written.

2. Favorite contemporary or modern Christmas song:
"Christmastime Is Here" By a wide, wide margin. I do find it odd that I'm unable to find aversion to love alongside the Guaraldi original though.

3. Christmas song that makes you cry
To the best of my recollection, no Christmas song has ever made me cry.

4. Real or artificial tree:
Real. That smell and tactile feel just can't be replicated.

5. Favorite Christmas edible treat
Egg nog. I'm a bit crazy for egg nog. (I prefer the Southern Comfort brand, diluted heavily with milk, but when laziness abates I also enjoy making the stuff fresh. I don't drink alcohol, so mine is naught but milk, egg, sugar, and vanilla. It's really cake batter minus the flour, isn't it?

6. White lights or multi-colored:
White for decorating outside, colored for the tree. Colored lights on a house are too much for my taste, while white lights on a tree are too spare and cold.

7. How many Christmas parties will you go to this year:
None. I'm not a fan of parties.

8. Favorite act of kindness to perform during this season:
Buying new toys to give away.

9. Favorite sounds of Christmas:
The squeals and exclamations of little kids opening presents early in the morning.

10. Favorite things to wear:
I do not have a Christmas wardrobe of any kind.

11. Favorite Christmas movie/TV special:
Laurel and Hardy's Babes in Toyland. Hilarious.

12. Eggnog or hot chocolate:
See above.

13. Favorite Christmas book:
When I think about it, I really don't have one.

14. Christmas books on my "to read" list:

15. Peppermint or cinnamon:
Both, depending on the context.

16. What's on the top of your tree:
A knit angel.

17. Traditional Christmas meal growing up:
Turkey and trimmings. Not much different from Thanksgiving, really.

18. Online shopping or traditional "go to the store" shopping:
The store, mostly. CDs and books are easy, but for most things I need to see and touch them.

19. Something you received as a Christmas gift as a child that you still have:
I don't know that I still have any childhood gifts. I still I have a Curious George from when I was about three, but I don't know if that was a Christmas gift or not.

20. How many Christmas cards you have mailed so far:
None. Wed don't do Christmas cards.

21. Favorite source for Christmas ideas:
Not sure what this means.

22. Coordinated/themed or hodge-podge tree decorations:
Hodge-podge. Ornaments from when we were kids, our kids' ornaments, ornaments we've received as gifts or given each other, all mixed up.

23. What's on the top of YOUR Christmas wishlist:
Alex Ross' The Art of Noise. Dying to read this book.

24. Roles you've played in Christmas plays/programs:

25. Wrapping paper or gift bags:
Wrapping paper for kids, gift bags and paper for adults depending on the type of gift and time.

26. When do you put up the tree:
Two-three weeks before Christmas.

27. When do you take the tree down: A few days after New Years.

28. Do you have a nativity scene:
One in the living room and one in the kids' room.

29. Hardest person to buy for:

30. Easiest person to buy for:
Sister. We share a lot of tastes.

31. Worst Christmas gift you ever received:
No idea.

32. When do you start shopping for Christmas:
Mid-late November.

33. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present:

34. Travel at Christmas or stay home:
With three-year olds we are no longer travelling. Used to travel at least an hour and a half all the time.

35. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer:
I can not.

36. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning:
Christmas morning.

37. Most annoying thing about this time of year:
Nasty people in over-crowded stores.

38. What I love most about Christmas:
Christmas morning with kids. Pure magic.

Until Whenever
Getting Tingly

So far, so good:

Until Whenever

Friday, December 07, 2007


Yawn. I'm really out of touch with contemporary music. My very limited-due-to-ignorance reactions of the nominations:
  • Very surprised that Bruce didn't get an album of the year nomination.
  • "Before He Cheats," which I heard all summer for some reason (while I've never heard "Umbrella") is actually a solid bit of songwriting, and I'm cool with its Song of the Year nomination. Ditto for "Hey There Delilah" and "Rehab." I'm kind of shocked that I know three of the five!
  • Best Male Pop Vocal Performance - I actually think McCartney's Dance Tonight is a pretty bad performance
  • Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals - Bono's vocal on "Window in the Skies" is gorgeous, actually, and very deserving.
  • Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance - Bruce and "Radio Nowhere" vs. John Mellencamp and "Our Country" for me. Got to give it to Bruce.
  • Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals - U2 gets the nod for their "Instant Karma" cover. Bet you know where my vote is going.
  • Best Rock Song - Go, "Radio Nowhere!"
  • Glad that Bruce got a nomination for Best Rock Album.
  • Neon Bible gets a nomination for Best Alternative Album. I'll take it.
  • Best Comedy Album - Steven Wright has a new album?? Must. Get.
  • Best Musical Show Album - Grey Gardens is pretty good, but Spring Awakening is better.
  • Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media - Dreamgirls has to win this, no?
  • Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media - Babel already won the Oscar, but I did think Ratatouille was pretty fine.
  • Best Classical Crossover Album - A quick listen at iTunes shows that bass/baritone Thomas Quastoff's jazz album might actually be pretty good!

Until Whenever

Thursday, December 06, 2007

And the Winner is Todd!

Sweeney Todd has won its first award of the award season - Tim Burton for Best Direction, from the National Board of Review. Huzzah!

Until Whenever

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I Think About How I Met Your Mother Way Too Much

A few weeks ago, as we watched How I Met Your Mother, the wife commented about how much she hated Lily's new haircut. First off, she's right - Alyson Hannigan dying that beautiful red hair is kind of like Paul Newman putting in brown contacts. Why? But her comment got me to thinking. Others have pointed out that this silly, sweet, frothy sitcom can get kind of dark about the realities of that transitionary period from young adults to real adults, when for the vast majority of us whatever dreams we had about our lives start to get whittled down, bit by bit. So we've seen idealistic Marshall sell out to corporate law for money, Ted's idealized version of Robin and their future together crash around them, and Lily realizing that her dreams of being an artist will never be realized. Here's my thought. While we may have assumed that the "Lily can't let go of her dreams" storyline was tied up neatly last year, with her break up with Marshall and summer of art school, isn't it possible they'll go back there? That we'll see Lily do something else drastic to try and shake off her inevitable future as the kindergarten teacher wife of the successful corporate lawyer? And if so, wouldn't a hairstyle change that very vividly recalls her college freshman, height of optimism and idealism, goth hairdo be a subtle way for the writers to foreshadow that storyline?

Seriously, I think about this show way too much.

Until Whenever

A quick and silly meme taken from Samurai Frog:


1. Put your music player on Shuffle

2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.

3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER WHAT(this is in capital letters, so it is very serious).

"I Want to Hold your Hand" - The Beatles. Kind of creepy.

"This House Is Empty" - Elvis Costello. Harsh.

"Anthropology" - Charlie Parker. Sounds sophisticated, but not.

"Our Time" - Stephen Sondheim. How optimistic.

"Pretty Paper" - Roy Orbison. As a writer, that kind of makes sense?

"Getting in Tune" - The Who. I love that! I just might make that my actual motto.

"Keep the Car Running" - Foo Fighters. Could go either way.

"Merrily We Roll Along." - Stephen Sondheim. Pretty accurate, really.

"Sooner or Later/"I'm Calm/Ah, But Underneath" - Stephen Sondheim. I'm a schizophrenic.

10. WHAT IS 2+2?
"Bartender" -Dave Matthews Band. ?

"Ooh Child" - Jeanine Tesori. Now I'm a stereotypical black woman on a bad sitcom.

"Road to Chicago" - Thomas Newman. ?

"I Want to Break Free." - Queen - Nice!

"Love Is Sweeping the Country" - Ella Fitzgerald. Hm.

"Beautiful" - Mandy Patinkin. Come on!

"Golden Slumbers" - The Beatles. I guess they think I'm lazy?

"Beyond the Horizon" - Bob Dylan. That could actually work very well as a wedding song. Better as a 50th anniversary song, but still.

"With this Love" - Peter Gabriel. This track from his score for The Last Temptation of Christ could actually work.

"Imaginary Love" - Rufus Wainwright. Now I'm really creepy.

"I Had Myself a True Love" - Barbara Cook. Sad.

"Love Rears Its Ugly Head" - Living Colour. Apropos of nothing, but that is one of my favorite song titles.

"Pug" - Smashing Pumpkins. Hee.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Survey Says . . .

Just a quick note to highlight the survey on the right - trying to get a sense of what the folks who stop by here like and don't about Tosy and Cosh. Feel free to comment here as well.

Until Whenever
. . . And Me

Last week, having been reminded by something or another of how damn good a song "The Rainbow Connection" is, I did a search on iTunes to see if there were any covers out there worth checking out. And, boy howdy did I hit paydirt.

This Willie Nelson version is simply astonishing. (Willie's own video is here, (and well-worth checking out) but it's unembeddable thanks to paranoia at Universal Music; the video below is a home-made thing set to the Nelson version by some YouTube denizen.)

It's just Willie and his guitar, and he plays with the melody and accompaniment some, eliminating the key change and revising the ending, but this is easily equal to the Kermit the Frog version. This is another song that I never really read as "sad" or "melancholy" but that, when you listen to the melody and lyric you realize is.

But more than that, Nelson's version kind of hits home for me how the song is about dreams and about how they sometimes, nay, often, do not come true. I know the song is ostensibly about the opposite - dreams do come true! - but something in what Nelson is doing here, in the way he sings it in such a resigned, weary voice, make me think that he's trying to tell us that dreams don't come true - but that they are well worth having anyway.

"Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide/So we've been told, and some choose to believe it/I know they're wrong, wait and see."

The implicit meaning of the lyric there is that the cynics are wrong and that dreams do come true, that there is magic in the world, and that miracles are real. But, and call me crazy, if you listen to Nelson sing those words, he seems to be signaling that he knows as well as you and I that rainbows are illusions - but that they are worth believing in anyway. Which, to me, is a much more powerful message.

"Have you been half asleep, and have you heard voices?/I've heard them calling my name/Is this the sweet sound, that calls the young sailors?/The voice might be one and the same?"

I never caught the reference to sirens before, or the resulting inference that faith in something larger than us mere mortals ("hearing voices") might have tragic implications. But it's hard to deny that interpretation - especially after hearing how Nelson phrases those lyrics. Even in the lines "I've heard it too many times to ignore it" I get a sense of knowing subtext - he's heard the voices, the pull of something larger, and so he can't, and won't ignore it, but that doesn't mean he believes it either.

It's not just in the lyrics either. Listen to the way he plays with the phrases, subtly changing the melody in spots to prevent the phrases from being completed as neatly as they are in the Williams' original. That, to me, signals the ambivalence, and resignation that I hear in this rendition.

Lastly, I love his decision to end the song, not by singing, but by having a guitar play the melody as a kind of coda. The elimination of the closure the original ending provides - that "la da da da " stuff - fits in with this more shaded interpretation. Very effecting.

Until Whenever

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Merry, Mostly Mellow, Christmas Mix

This year I'm handing out mix CDs along with my gifts. Here's the Christmas Mix I've come up with:

1. Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) - The Vince Guaraldi Trio
To my mind, the most lasting and welcome addition to the stable of Christmas songs of the last 50 years. I like opening this mellow mix with an instrumental, soft and jazzy piece.

2. "O Holy Night" - Tracy Chapman
Chapman seems an odd choice for this carol, famous as it is for those lung-busting glory notes, but her hushed, reverent take is actually quite beautiful. I ended up with three versions of this song, so I wanted to kind of bookend them, with one as the second song, one in the middle, and one as the penultimate song.

3. "The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" - David Bowie and Bing Crosby
I just heard somewhere on-line the story that the "Peace on Earth" part was written in the studio when Bing and David were unhappy with the way the duet of "Drummer Boy" was going. I love that.

4. "Whatever Happened to Christmas?" - Aimee Mann
The melancholy mood continues with this pretty, wistful ballad off of Mann's very good Christmas CD from last year.

5. "Happy Christmas" - John Lennon
The mood picks up a little here with all those kids and the somewhat spirited guitar chords.

6. "Baby, Please Come Home" - U2
And it gets pretty joyous with this spirited, rocking cover, one of the great U2 covers (as opposed to a crappy one - they tend to come in one of those two flavors).

7. "Christmastime" - Aimee Mann 3:21
Needing to take the tempo and mood down a touch, but not wanting to get away from the pop/rock stretch we're in, I turn again to Mann, with this more upbeat number.

8. "What Child Is This?" - The Vince Guaraldi Trio
Time to shift into some jazz, and this uptempo number from the seminal Charlie Brown classic works great.

9. "Sleigh Ride" - Ella Fitzgerald
We go a bit deeper into cool jazz with Ella Fitzgerald doing some cool swing.

10. "Do They Know It's Christmas?" - Band Aid 3:43
We take that energy and push it forward with the 80s charity classic. I get chills every time Bono bellows his solo line.

11. "Silent Night" - Sarah McLachlan
Time to slow things down a bot with this stately, clean version of what may be my favorite Christmas melody ever.

12. "This Little Babe" - Benjamin Britten
And into some classical stuff with this excited, anticipatory carol.

13. "O Holy Night" - Luciano Pavarotti 4:13
And we dive deep into classic tropes - full orchestra and a very traditional, very gorgeous and full-throated rendition of "O Holy Night," replete with huge money notes.

14. "My Little Drum" - The Vince Guaraldi Trio
After so much glorious excess, we need to back things up again, and so we turn again to Charlie Brown and my favorite take on Drummer Boy (sorry Bing).

15. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - Judy Garland
Time to bring back some of that melancholy. "We'll have to muddle through" indeed.

16. "The Christmas Song" - Nat King Cole
We keep the laid-back mood but get a bit brighter with the awesome Cole.

17. "Skating" - The Vince Guaraldi Trio
Let's work with that happy feeling by indulging in a joyous, child-like piece dominating by beautiful falling piano lines.

18. "Winter Wonderland" - Tony Bennett
The joy moves forward with some swinging Tony.

19. "Jingle Bells" - Ella Fitzgerald
And takes a quantum leap with a bursting, fast-scatted, double-time "Jingle Bells."

20. "O Holy Night" - The New Orleans Jazz Band
As we come into the homestretch, we keep the jazz sound, but slow things down some with this beautiful horn version of 'O Holy Night" as featured on Studio 60 last year. Kind of funny that this song may be the most lasting thing to come out of that show.

21. "Christmastime Is Here (Vocal)" - The Vince Guaraldi Trio
And, because I do dearly love my symmetry, we end with the vocal version of the now-classic song.

Merry Christmas!

Until Whenever

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Free Throw Record

If I had to guess, I would have estimated the world record for consecutive free throws made atmaybe something over a hundred, but not by much. The actual record?


I simply can't compute it.

Until Whenever
Drawing Lines

I'm not going to recap the whole brou-ha-ha when the folks at PopWatch and Stereogum have done it so well already, but the short version is that Sasha Frere-Jones wrote an article in The New Yorker a few weeks back bemoaning the lack of black musical rhythms and influences in indie rock music today, using the music of Arcade Fire as a jumping-off point. Then, Win Butler, Arcade Fire bandleader, politely responded to Jones with a letter defending his band's music, and, more to the point, with an mp3 that lays out Arcade Fire snippets side by side with the (mostly) black music that inspired the band.

The mp3 is a wonderful listen, providing this musically literate-bu-barely-so fan with lots of ah-ha! moments, as the inspirations behind sounds I have been listening to in the few months since I became a fan were revealed. My favorite example is the way Butler shows how the slow opening to "My Body Is a Cage" is really just field slave chant. I never heard the connection, but now I never will be able to not hear it. Awesome stuff.

Until Whenever

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Halloween meme, courtesy of the Samurai Frog.

1. What is your favorite work of horror fiction?
Stephen King's It. Kind of an epic-sized kitchen sink summation of the genre.

2. Who is your favorite monster?
Grover. Well, the primal nature of the werewolf has always made the most interested in him - but as a rule I'm not much of a "monsters" fan.

3. What horror movie gives you the most chills?
Don't really watch them. Nightmare on Elm Street freaked me out some when I was a kid, though, even though I never actually saw the whole thing.

4. Freddy versus Jason?
Freddy. It's all about the design.

5. Ghosts or goblins?
Goblins. Those Lord of the Rings guys were gruesome, and ghosts are usually less scary than cheesy (exception: The Sixth Sense).

6. What is your scariest encounter with the paranormal?
When I was a kid I could freak myself out pretty easily, thinking that shadows of branched were hands and that a pile of clothes had some kind of monster hiding under it. Typical stuff, really.

7. Do you believe in ghosts?

8. Favorite Halloween costume?
My Dad made me a killer robot costume when I was eight or so. Dryer hoses for arms, silver face paint, the works.

9. If you had an unlimited budget, what would your fantasy costume be for this Halloween?
Captain America. To dress me as Captain America and not have the result look cheesy as hell would, luckily, require an unlimited budget. Also, I would want a working shield.

10. When was the last time you went trick or treating?
When I was ten or 11. I go with my kids now, though, and that's fun as hell.

11. What's your favorite Halloween candy?
Mini Baby Ruths. Mmm.

12. Tell us about a scary nightmare you had.
I had a recurring nightmare as a kid of sliding down a massive, never-ending slide. Terrifying.

13. What is your supernatural fear?
None, now. As a kid, I was scared of most things.

14. What is your creepy-crawlie fear?
Mice and rats creep me the hell out. When I worked at a grocery store in high school I grabbed an opened box of cookies once in the back room and a mouse peeked its head out at me. Thought my heart stopped.

15. Would you ever stay in a real haunted house overnight?
I would.

16. Are you a traditionalist (just a face) Jack O'Lantern carver, or do you get really creative with your pumpkins?
Traditionalist. Out of laziness and lack of skill, rather than a lack of desire.

17. How much do you decorate your home for Halloween?
Not at all. See the laziness answer above.

18. Do you think Halloween is too commercial these days?
Nah. It's not as if Halloween has some deep significance that commercialism intrudes on. It's the one holiday that has as its aim nothing but fun, and, frankly, the commercialism can help with that.

Until Whenever

Friday, October 26, 2007

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

An all rock/pop edition:

1. "Miss Macbeth (demo)" - Elvis Costello - Spike
From the Rhino re-release's wonderful bonus disc - full of intriguing demo versions of the songs.

2. "Seek Up (Live)" - Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds - Live at Luther College
These stripped down acoustic concerts Matthews does with Reynolds are pretty awesome.

3. "An Cat Dubh" - U2 - Boy
Early, moody, a bit adolescently pretentious, U2.

4. "The Child Is Gone" - Fiona Apple - Tidal
Apple has a remarkable sense of tone and mood for such a young woman. That this is a debut album astounds me.

5. "Come Together" - The Beatles - 1
One of my favorite Beatles songs.

6. "Joliet Bound" - John Mellencamp - Trouble No More
This is a very underrated album, full of authentic-, but not sterile-sounding, old blues songs.

7. "You Could Make a Killing" - Aimee Mann - I'm with Stupid
I prefer later Aimee, but this early album is still well worth its time. This is a nice mid-tempo number.

8. "This Is Not America" - David Bowie - Best of Bowie
I got this after realizing that Arcade Fire has some commonality with Bowie, and that as a fan of theatrical rock, I might like Bowie beyond the classic rock station staples. Haven't gotten to it much yet though, and don't really know this song.

9. "That Was Your Mother" - Paul Simon - Graceland
A pretty straightforward zydeco pastiche.

10. "Less than Strangers" - Tracy Chapman - Telling Stories
Chapman can churn out solid, melodic, heartfelt acoustic rock with ease. This may not be special, but it's a fine little song.

Until Whenever

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!

Top Ten John Williams' Scores

10. Jaws
Can a score achieve greatness solely on the basis of two notes? Yes.

9. Jurassic Park
I've always absolutely loved that fanfare theme for the way it presents us with a pretty straightforward high-adventure laced, simple theme of wonder and twists it with a blue note to symbolize the genetic tampering in the story, the non-natural aspect of these awe-inspiring dinosaurs.

8. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Some great themes, but not as cohesive a whole as Williams' great scores. Still, Hall-of-Fame worthy just for those two big themes themselves.

7. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
The best of the new trilogy scores, with a wonderfully heartbreaking theme to represent the conflict between Obi-Wan and Anakin.

6. Munich
A deeply sorrowful score.

5. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back
May be the most organic of the Star Wars scores, the most compelling from start to finish.

4. A.I.
Williams, to represent the strange but effective mixture of the seemingly disparate styles of Spielberg and Kubrick creates a hybrid of his own Romantic, full-bodied sound and Philip Glassian cold minimalism. Genius.

3. Schindler's List
The score that showed me that Williams can do serious as well as anyone, that grand adventure and big, sweeping sounds are not his only tricks.

2. E.T.
Williams at his biggest and most unabashedly epic. Those last fifteen minutes or so are just magic, and when those tympanis come in at the end? Chills.

1. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
The one that kick started big orchestral music as the go to sound for big films, a template that still has enormous influence thirty years later. I personally think that Williams will be remembered two hundred years hence for much, but if it turns out that he's only remembered for one thing, it'll be the Main Theme to this.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Music Morsels II - "No Cars Go"

As I've said previously, I am deeply in love with Neon Bible, Arcade Fire's second album, and this song is easily the highlight for me. It just pushes so many of my musical buttons - big, epic scale; on-the-sleeve emotions; theatrical style. It's got it all.

The song opens with a tongue-in-cheek sounding orchestral swell, almost the sound of an orchestra tuning up, over which we hear what sounds like a cheesy orchestra "hit" from an old Casio keyboard. This very brief introduction gives way to a very uptempo, driving and impatient bass and drum figure, aggressive and simple, that is ornamented by a quick rising and falling accordion figure. As the intro continues, the band shouts "hey!" at intervals. It sounds cheesy, but it works extremely well.

The intro, which at this point has a lot of elements going - guitar, accordion, violins, keyboard, suddenly gives way to the elemental verse, which is accompanied by just bass and drum - "we know a place where no planes go, we now a place where no ships go." I love this effect, of the many instruments and the wall of sound suddenly giving way to the fundamental driving bass and drum, only to have that massive sound come crashing in for the "chorus" - "no cars go."

After a repeat of this basic structure we get a quick bridge with some unidentifiable instrument, swirling woodwind sounds, and then a return to that main theme of accordion over bass and drum with high, seesawing violins. Which, in turn, gives way, to an ecstatic, repeating figure played by trumpet sounds. Which, in turn, gives way to a vocal interlude - with the phrase "between the click of a light and the start of a dream" repeated four times.

From here, the song begins to build to the climax - with the sonic elements slowly piling up until the lead singer, Win Butler, begins to shout out invitations - "Women and children, let's go! Old folks, let's go!"

Again - cheesy on paper. But on record, as the band crescendos and crescendos, with a big, ecstatic chorus joining in until it all finally ends, it's immensely powerful. The very simple lyrics - which seem to be about going away to a place where innocence can live unsullied, a kind of willfully optimistic and dreamlike utopia - combined with the propulsive, big, sweeping music work through some strange alchemy. We, the listeners, know that a place where "no cars go" - where we can live forever with our teenaged idealism unsullied does not exist. And somehow, through some subtle effect of the way the words are sung, the band knows as well,and knows we know. And it is precisely this combination of desperate optimism with an understanding of the fantasy of it all that makes the song so powerful.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Motivation (Update)

I took down the graph, as I couldn't figure out how to make it readable. Instead, I'll just post several days' weigh-ins in that space. I still encourage all to call me names if those numbers start to slip, though.

Until Whenever
Ten Reasons I May Delete Heroes from My TiFaux

1. Not enough characters interacting - we already did the whole "disparate storylines that will only come together at the end of the season" thing last year. This year, I wanted more working together.

2. Slow pacing. I know 22 episodes is a lot, but mindlessly drawn out things like Peter's amnesia and his refusal to find out who he is is just torturous.

3. Interesting characters who don't get anything interesting to do. Claire, Hiro, Nathan, hell, even Peter and Parkman I find interesting. And yet that interest has not paid off at all - the characters feel like they are being artificially kept in status-quo affirming, glacially slow plots to keep things from moving too fast. Because they are.

4. A soundtrack that is far too repetitive. That one mournful Eastern wail thing is cool, but that's all it ever is.

5. Hiro is the most interesting character, and he is trapped in a time travel plot that is boring me to tears.

6. The Mexican Wonder twins represent the most important new characters and they are boring, with convoluted and strange powers.

7. Only one awesome Tim Sale painting so far.

8. I just finished Deadwood, and so know how good Stephen Tobolowski really is.

9. The silliness of HRG and Claire and family hiding in a big house in the suburbs, instead of staying on the run.

10. The most interesting characters are the older heroes, and demographics being what they are, we know they won't be getting any real screentime.

I have not watched episodes 4 and 5 yet. My new modus operandi, I think, is going to be to continue to record the show, but to read Sepinwall's take after each airing. Unless there seems to be a reason to watch, I will delete the episodes as they go.

Until Whenever

Friday, October 19, 2007

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Lemon" - U2 - Zooropa
U2's club song. Quite soulful, actually.

2. "Molto meno mosso - Andante" - Penderecki - Metamorphosen Violin Concerto
A classical piece I picked up a long time ago and never really listened to.

3. "Two Hearts Beat As one" - U2 - War
Like "Lemon," a stab by U2 at a more poppy, danceable song. Not a huge fan of this one.

4. "Why Trust a Shark?" - Thomas Newman - Finding Nemo
Threatening, ominous piece with lots of low strings and tympani.

5. "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)" - Lerner & Lane - On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)
A song that has gone on to have a much bigger life than the musical it came from.

6. "The Knights of the Mirrors" - Wasserman and Leigh - Man of La Mancha (2002 Broadway Revival Cast)
Quixote's illusions are stripped from him. A scene, not a song.

7. "Je Suis De Sole" - Mark Knopfler - Golden Heart
A Creole-flavored zydeco pastiche song from Knopfler's debut solo album.

8. "I see their knavery" - Benjamin Britten - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Urgent aria from the opera.

9. "All I Really Want to Do" - Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series, Volume 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964 - Concert at Philharmonic Hall
Not one of my favorite Dylan songs. A bit too repetitive and direct.

10. "You Do Something to Me" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
Effortless as always.

Until Whenever

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Take a quick look to your right. Tosy and Cosh, since 9/4, have been trying to eat better and exercise in an effort to lose weight and improve overall weight. Why? Because, at 5'11'', Tosy and Cosh are overweight, and Tosy and Cosh would like to be able to do things like play basketball and baseball with their kids. Without, you know, feeling like a lung will soon be aspirated into the air. So - the graph. I've been keeping track of progress on a simple bar graph as a motivational tool. And, I figured if I put it up here, in public, and let others look at it - and gave others the opportunity to berate me if I start sliding, or stop posting it out of embarrassment, well that can only help. So, if you see that thin red line start to tick upwards, please feel free to chide me most vehemently. I will deserve it.

Until Whenever
Getting Hooked

After three episodes of Pushing Daisies I think I'm officially hooked. Last night's episode was in some ways better than the pilot, in the way it acknowledged the moral fuzziness of our heroine's resurrection and in its depiction of our hero's queasiness over his actions. Others have dissected the show's visual charms, the fun of its oddball tone, and the wonderful casting, but what struck me last might the most was how wonderfully theatrical and archly constructed the dialogue is. I've been going through the Season 3 Deadwood DVDs, and so the perhaps comparison was a natural one for me, but there's a very similar sensibility going on here in the way the dialogue is handled. So far, Daisies' dialogue isn't nearly as ornate and Shakespearean as Deadwood's, but it is getting there, with its winkingly, knowingly formal touches and odd constructions.

The other element that caught my attention last night was the score. That main theme is a great piece of writing - romantic, fairly-tale like, and yet not stereotypical or a blatant Elfman homage, as I might have expected it to be. I'll have to pay more attention next week and see if that originality and flavor extends beyond the main theme and into other underscoring.

This is the only new show I am eagerly awaiting new episodes of so far, and I hope it sticks around for a while.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Favorite Close-Up

My entry into the immensely enjoyable Close-Up Blog-a-Thon going on over at The House Next Door:

As soon as proprietor Matt Zoller-Seitz announced the blog-a-thon I instantly thought of this as my entry. I've long maintained that Haley Joel Osment was robbed of (at the very least) an Oscar nomination* for his performance in A.I., and the clincher moment for me is this closeup from early on in the film.

(The scene in question takes place in the 2:32 - 5:00 window of this longer clip; the close-up itself goes from 3:48-4:22, with one cut in the middle.)

At this point in the story, Osment's character, David, is simply a robot prototype of a little boy, programmed to be the quintessential "good boy" but not directed with any kind of parent-child attachment. Frances O'Connor's character, a mother who has lost her son to what she thinks is a coma he will never recover from, has decided, after a few days with David, to "imprint" him upon her. As the film has explained, this means that David will think of her as his mother, and instantaneously become completely devoted to her, with a (literally) undying love.

This moment in so many ways is the real crux of the film - David's single-minded devotion to his "mother" is the drive behind the entire film's story, and it is critically important to the integrity and internal logic of the rest of the film that we believe this moment, that we believe that David has changed, fundamentally and forever.

Now, Spielberg could have handled this in any number of ways - through the plot itself (writing a scene to demonstrate that David has changed, for example--one can easily imagine Monica saying "it didn't work" with a cut to a scene in which David's newfound love is profoundly demonstrated through action), through John Williams' score, heck, through, these days, digital effects. Instead he entrusted the moment--the moment his entire film hinged on--to the acting ability of a twelve-year old boy.

And that twelve-year old boy delivered. What astonishes me about this closeup is how subtle Osment's work is - he doesn't signal David's fundamental change of character in any exaggerated way, but through a series of very small, barely detectable shifts in expression. As Monica reads the string of random words that will trigger the change, we see some very minor changes that we might be inclined to write off as only existing in our imagination. But when she finishes the string by reciting hers and David's names, the change really takes hold, and before our eyes Osment's face changes. I've watched it dozens of times and I still can't figure out exactly what he's doing. And yet at the end of those few seconds we are looking at what is in essence a completely different character. Not a blandly pleasant little boy, but a slavishly devoted son who loves his mother without reservation or qualification. So that when, for the first time, he calls her "Mommy," we can see the wondering, astonished love behind his eyes--eyes that, only moments ago, showed no hint of any such feelings.

Until Whenever

*I have a pet peeve about critics complaining about actors being robbed of nominations and not playing fair by labeling who should not have been nominated. After all, it's not as if nominations go to all great performances - it's just the five best. And if you are going to complain about someone who should have gotten a nomination, you really should balance the equation by noting whose slot your man or woman should have taken. That being said, I unfortunately have seen only two of the nominated actors from 2001 and can't in all fairness say that Osment should have gotten, for example, Will Smith's slot (although I have my suspicions). Nonetheless, I'd easily place Osment's performace here above the only one of the five's I have seen, Tom Wilkinson's in In the Bedroom.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Three Weeks In

Three weeks into the new TV season, and what are our preliminary impressions?

How I Met Your Mother
This season has felt a little slow so far, with the show not quite as sharp as it's been, and, while we are only four episodes in, there''s been a little too much "Ted's and Robin's wacky dating escapades." And giving us a tease about the mother (we know now she will sport a yellow umbrella), while nice, is going to start coming across as just mean if they don't follow through with it soon. All that said, it's still solid and reliable and easily worth the 22 minutes.

Two and a Half Men
Still not breaking ground, still makes me laugh out loud. Not asking for more, really. and, so far, they are doing a nice job of acknowledging the kid's advancing age and decreasing naivete without being obnoxious about it.

Aliens in America
Liked the first two episodes, but I'm not sure how much I'll watch. It's very Everybody Hates Chris-like in that regard; I like the show but never make time for it.

Considering giving up on. I only got around to finishing season one a few weeks ago, and am already behind an episode now. As much as I like parts of the show, it just doesn't coalesce as a whole very well, and the wheel-spinning they have going on right now is getting very visible.

Ti-Fauxed four episodes and haven't watched a one.

Loved the pilot, liked the second ep fine, and haven't watched the third yet. This is a show the kind of fantasy-sci-fi-laden show the wife has no use for, so not sure how much I'll really continue with, especially if reports keep showing it as formulaic.

Pushing Daisies
Lovely. It's got a pretty wonderful tone going on - not at all serious, and yet just serious enough. The coy and precious elements don't bother me at all, especially given how consistent the show is, tonally. And Kristen Chenowith is wonderful as the pining-away pie shop waitress. Given the central conceit impacting the two main characters (they can't touch), I have to wonder if long-term plans have Chenowith and the Pie Maker getting together down the line.

Back to You
Seen two episodes. A decent show, but not worth obsessing over.

My Name Is Earl
The prison conceit was inspired; Earl continues to make me laugh more than most shows can. I'm very curious as to how long they'll keep him in jail; given how well they have handled it so far I would not be surprised if he stays in all season.

The Office
The hour-longs are too long, not to mention the garishness of the very visible seams showing where they have stitched two relatively stand-alone episodes together. And they keep verging on making Michael too cartoonish. And yet so much is still so right - from the empty odiousness of Ryan the boss (I have to wonder if they are setting him up for a big fall or if they will go the "life sucks" route and have him succeed despite his arrogance and lack of skill) to the sweetness and simpleness of Jim and Pam as a couple to the deepening of Dwight through his breakup with Angela.

30 Rock
A delight. The most hysterical laughter I have experienced in years (literally years) came during last week's episode - "She said my vanity plate was inscrutable! 'ICU81MI" - 'I see you ate one. Am I?'"

The Simpsons
As tired and worn out as the show is plotwise (I've said it before, but wouldn't it be great if they ages the characters? Wouldn't it open up new plots for them?), they still can deliver funny, funny stuff week in and out. It's not the genius it was ten years ago, but it's still damn funny.

Until Whenever