Monday, April 30, 2007

Season Endgames

Here at the end of the 06-07 season, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the series I watch, where they stand, what I thought, and were they are going. So:

How I Met Your Mother - I though the second season was superb. I missed a fair share of episodes thanks to what I'll refer to as the "Tragic DVR Implosion of 07", or "TDI07," but still caught a good hunk of the season, and thought the writers did a fine job of a) deepening Barney without needlessly softening him, b) developing the Ted-Robin relationship, and c) fairly handling the Lily-Marshall break-up/reconciliation. I understand that the season finale upsets some apple carts, but am reassured by the good Mr. Alan Sepinwall that a third season will surely get approved and any open plot threads the chance to get resolved next year. Huzzah!

Studio 60
Never found its stride. I think having the leads be savior/geniuses who succeed out of the gate at rescuing Studio 60 was a major dramatic stumbling block (I never really believed in their genius), and that the tone of "this stuff isn't of earth-shattering importance, but it is to us, and we treat it that way" that Sorkin achieved so nicely on Sports Night was missing. Sorkin tried to have his cake (write about folks just putting on a show) and eat it too (the show was the most important show ever) and ended up neither possessing or ingesting it.

Saw this intermittently over the year and have seen most episodes by now. Loved the plotting and sense of momentum. Loved the sense of humor. Thought the portentousness fell flat and that the character interaction writing - the dialogue - was oft clumsy. Still, very eager to see how this first season plays out.

Gilmore Girls
Thought, as usual, that long-time fans overreacted to the shift in focus. No, this season hasn't been classic Gilmore Girls, but it has been worthy and honest and entertaining. I'm one of the few hoping the 13-episode final season gets approved, so that the tying up of loose ends can be done more elegantly.

Veronica Mars
TDI07 had me miss all but the first, stellar, arc, but I eagerly await the last episodes of the season, and most likely series. I have a feeling it'll take the DVD to really appreciate this chopped-up season. I do think that Veronica Mars had the potential to be very interesting in the long-term, as they let Veronica grow up, and on that basis mourn its supposed demise even more.

I marvel at every episode at how well-directed, shot, cast, scored, and produced this is. While Heroes may have gotten a lot of ink for successfully aping Lost's sci-fi, geeky, serialized nature and bettering it in plot-advancement, I don't think it's gotten enough dis-credit for not coming close to equaling the writing, acting, or production excellence that is Lost. I know many lost patience with this season, but I remain enamored. We've learnt much about the Others (whose story this season is clearly largely concerned with) and have seen some interesting dynamics develop between characters. Count me as hugely anticipating next week's Ben-focused backstory and the Jack-(again?? - I bet this time there's a good reason)-focused finale.

My Name Is Earl
Only saw a handful of these, but loved the messing with the format they've done, and actually think the last few episodes, which suggest big changes for Earl, could be great.

The Office
Missed some key episodes (all the Roy-Jim stuff), but absolutely loved how they have managed to balance soapy, plotty stuff (the Jim-Karen-Pam triangle, the Michael-Jan relationship) with more standalone humor. It's a hard balance to strike, but I think they're doing a great job of it.

Seen maybe half of the episodes and have liked them just fine. Scrubs is one of those shows I never think about, but always love when I remember to watch it.

30 Rock
A great first season that evidenced a remarkable ability to adjust on the fly. An ability that will hopefully not be tested by an Alec Baldwin-less season. Still, I don't curry with the seemingly unanimous notion that Baldwin carries the show. A Tina Fey-less 30 Rock I could not fathom. Get the right actor to replace Baldwin and you could still have a show.

Still moving, still capable of wonderful drama.

The Sopranos
Have only seen the premiere so far. Will post thoughts once I'm more caught up.

Battlestar Galactica
TDI07 had me miss the entire second half of the season. Am trying to grab reruns now.

Until Whenever

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Stars and Moon

When this song came up in a Friday Shuffle two weeks ago, I wrote at (relative, for a Friday Shuffle entry) length about what a great song it is, and how quickly it's become a cabaret staple. At the time, I tried to find a video to better illustrate its brilliance, but was unable to. No more. From a live Audra McDonald concert in London. Enjoy.

Until Whenever
Things That Can Kill You

When your three-year old, the one who carts her baby doll around with her everywhere, is told that she can't take a highchair for her baby doll to sit in, because she's not real and a real baby might need it, and she responds, with absolute stunning sincerity, "But my baby is real."

Until Whenever
Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!

(Longest Random Top Ten Title Ever!)

Top Ten Most Attractive Saturdan Night Live Female Cast Members

10. Joan Cusack

9. Molly Shannon

8. Kristen Wiig

7. Jan Hooks

6. Amy Poehler

5. Sarah Silverman

4. Maya Rudolph

3. Janeane Garafolo

2. Tina Fey

1. Julia-Louis Dreyfus

Until Whenever

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Trio of Dylan

Can't say I understand the whole whiteface thing, but the live album of Dylan's 1975 tour is the one disc that really got me into Dylan. From the acoustic set, an impassioned "Tangled Up in Blue."

A very, very early performance. Ain't he cute!

And a pretty recent (2002), pretty rocking performance of "Cry a While." Dylan and his live band pretty much define what it means to be "tight" as a band.

Until Whenever
On the Nightstand

Forty Signs of Rain, Kim Stanley Robinson

The author of maybe my favorite sci-fi series ever (the hugely recommended Mars trilogy) has written a three-par (I think) series about environmental disaster, replete with the usual real, hard-core science to back up everything that's happening. The touch Robinson displayed with character in the Mars trilogy seems to be missing here, with most of the largish cast of characters pretty generic and stock. That being said, a romantic subplot that should be cliched and hoary as hell (it involves a main character getting caught in an elevator with an attractive woman and sparks flying) actually works very well. This first book is really stage-setting, with not much of import happening until the last fifty or so pages, when a monster storm takes out Washington D.C. The slow build-up notwithstanding, the book served its purpose and I am eagerly looking forward to reading the second book.

Aging with Grace, David SnowdonThe fascinating story of the long-term Nun Study, in which author David Snowdon has enlisted a few hundred nuns in a long-range study designed to tease out some answers around the causes of Alzheimer's, what keeps the mind sharp in old age, and other medical issues facing the elderly. To really make the study worthwhile (especially around the Alzheimer's question, which is pretty central to the study and the book), Snowdon actually convinced each nun to donate her brain to the study upon her death. The scenes in which Snowdon recalls making the request, and the life-affirming responses he received are some of the book's most emotionally powerful. Snowdon's writing is a bit plodding (he's no master prose stylist), and yet he still manages to convey the warmth and giving nature of these women wonderfully. The most intriguing conclusion wrung from the study so far is a remarkable correlation between idea density in the nuns' writing (each nun had penned a few-page autobiography before entering the convent) and the risk of developing Alzheimer's. The denser with ideas the nuns' sentences, the less likely they were to develop the disease.

Until Whenever

Friday, April 20, 2007

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Broadway Baby" - Stephen Sondheim (sung by Elaine Stritch) - Follies in Concert - 1985
Probably my favorite performance of "Broadway Baby." And I've heard a lot of them

2. "Honey Are You Straight or Are You Blind?" - Elvis Costello - Blood & Chocolate
Love the see-sawing organ bit. Steve Nieve rules.

3. "The First Goodbye" - William Finn - The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Original Broadway Cast)
I got this probably a good year ago and haven't really listened to it. Not sure why.

4. "Somewhere" - Leonard Bernstein - West Side Story (Original Broadway Cast)
Quite simply one of the purest, most achingly beautiful melodies ever composed.

5. "Madman across the Water" - Bruce Hornsby - Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin
A very nice cover. Hornsby is a natural fit doing Elton John's music.

6. "Chasin' the Train" - John Coltrane - Ken Burns JAZZ Collection: John Coltrane
Epic, at times seemingly atonal saxophone piece by the master.

7. "Boy with a Problem" - Elvis Costello - Imperial Bedroom
This pretty, bittersweet ballad sounds like prom music. Not sure why, but, yes. Prom music.

8. "Ship of Fools" - Elvis Costello - Kojak Variety
From the bonus disc that came with the Rhino reissue. Piano-based bar tune.

9. "Queen Amidala and the Naboo Palace" - John Williams - Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (Score)
Mood setting piece, with a lovely quote of Anakin's theme.

10. "Wanting Things" - Burt Bacharach - Promises, Promises (Original Broadway Cast)
Bacharach's score is very underrated - a canny blend of Broadway and his own instantly identifiable sound. If Tom Jones hasn't covered this he damn well should.

Until Whenever

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Trio of Sondheim

Mark Evanier over at News From Me linked to this a while back, but it's definitely worthy of a look. Stephen Sondheim works with a student learning "Send in the Clowns." His comments are so wonderfully specific and tailored, and illuminating, that you just wish you could see the entire thing, and not just these four-plus minutes.

This is quite simply the most beautifully acted performance of "Send in the Clowns" that I have ever seen. What can't Judi Dench do?

And, finally, one of the most iconic Sondheim performances of all time - Mandy Patinkin's original performance of "Finishing the Hat."

Until Whenever
More, More, More!!

From good ol' reliable Jaq, this time:

What do you think about Ouija boards?
That they're very silly. But them I'm a pretty hard core, no ghosts, no spirits, you become naught but meat when you die kind of a guy.

Your favorite TV shows?
Currently? Lost, The Office, How I Met Your Mother, The Sopranos, Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars, Scrubs, Battlestar Galactica, 30 Rock.

What’s on your mouse pad?
Promotional information about the learning center at my company in the shape of a subway map.

Favorite board game
I don't have the mental discipline of chess, but the writer and word-lover in me loves him some Scattergories.

Favorite magazine
The Atlantic. This month's issue has a great (and creepy) piece on mass suicides in Japan.

Favorite smells
Chocolate chip cookies baking. Christmas. The beach. Really, all the cliches.

Worst feeling in the world
Seeing your child in pain.

Best feeling in the world
Seeing your child become a person.

Favorite soundtrack
All of John Williams' Star Wars scores, collectively. Close runners-ups to his A.I. score, James Horner's Braveheart score, Thomas Newman's Shawshank Redemption score, and Michael Giacchino's Lost scores.

What is the first thing you think when you wake in the morning
You can do it. You can get through another day of work.

Roller coaster - scary or exciting?
Gross. I have no tolerance for roller coasters, but it's not a "I'm scared" thing, it's a "when I go on one I feel horrible" thing. It's basically a kind of pain, an intense, nauseating discomfort in the belly and chest.

How many rings before you answer the phone?

Favorite Foods
See here.

Chocolate or vanilla?
Has push come to shove? It has? Chocolate then. Because mediocre chocolate is still good. Vanilla is bliss, but only high-quality vanilla.

Do you like to drive?
Not particularly.

Do you sleep with a stuffed animal?

Storms - cool or scary?
Cool. Until they cause real damage, Fortunately, I've never been in that position.

What type was your first car
Buick Le Sabre. Named her "Jenny," after my Grandma - both were old, large, and loud.

If you could meet one person dead or alive - who would it be?

Favorite alcoholic drink
None. (Teetotaler)

What is your zodiac sign?
Virgo. A wimpy kind of sign.

Who is your favorite poet?
Don't have one. Never got into poetry.

Do you eat the stems of broccoli?
I do. Yummy.

If you could have any job you wanted, what would it be?
Short-term? Broadway actor. But the truth is I'm too much of a family man to maintain that kind of schedule long-term. So, long-term, let's say pop culture critic at large. I really want Chuck Klosterman's career.

If you could dye your hair any color, what would it be?
Well, I could if I wanted to and I don't.

Have you ever been in love?
Have and am.

What is on your walls in your room?
Caricature of me and the wife. Cast-signed poster for a production of Man of La Mancha I directed. This:

Is the glass half empty or half full?
Depends on the day.

What is your favorite Snapple?
I just discovered Diet Carrot Orange and am in love.

Favorite movie(s):
Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Shawshank Redemption, The Fisher King, The Last Temptation of Christ, Beauty and the Beast.

Are you a lefty, righty, or ambidextrous?
Righty. What am I, a freak?

Do you type with your fingers on the proper keys?
Not remotely.

What’s under your bed?
Crap. Oddly enough, the same crap that was under it in the old house. You'd think we wouldn't have just moved it. But we did.

What is your favorite number?
42. Because I'm a good geek.

Favorite sport to watch
Basketball. Only I have the patience to watch these days.

Say one nice thing about the person who sent this to you
Jaq writes probably my favorite Star Wars commentary out on the Web. And there's a LOT of Star Wars commentary out on the Web.

Favorite quote
"Evil will always win over good. Because good is dumb."

Until Whenever
More Music Meme!

Another one filched from the sword-wielding Japanese amphibian:

What was the first recorded music you bought?
Casettes to use on my brand-new Walkman - the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack (pretty much for that awesome piece of synthesized instrumental coolness, "Axel F") and the Goonies soundtrack (can not for the life of me remember what song made me want this. Although it may well have been "Goonies (R Good Enough)" I was an odd child.

What was the last?
The soundtrack to the second season of Lost. Giacchino works wonders on that show.

What was the first "professional" music show you ever went to?
U2, Zoo TV Tour. Seventeen years old, last-minute scalped tickets, after beating the parents into submission to get them to let me and the younger sister go and getting lost on the way and almost giving up before approaching some guy selling in the larking lot, and paying way too much per. Indescribably thrilling.

What was the last?
Allmann Brothers. Went with my father last year when a guy at work offered him tickets. Not really my bag but a worthy evening just the same, if just for the experience. Guys can play, that's fo' sure.

What's your "desert island" album?
The Joshua Tree. Easy.

What's your favorite album/song title?
Album and song - All this Useless Beauty. I just love the phrase. Even wrote a short story inspired by it.

What's your favorite album art (include an image of it if you can)?
Human Wheels, John Mellencamp. It's really a lovely image, and one very appropriate to the album's themes.

Ideal choice for a karaoke song?
Something by Dylan. Everyone thinks he can't sing, so you're not being judged too harshly.

Song you don't like that WILL NOT LEAVE YOUR HEAD if you hear it."
No one will know what I'm talking about, but there's a song, "Going on a Hayride," from a really, really low-budget, bad video my kids unfortunately love that sticks like glue.

Which is cooler? -- Vinyl? CD? Cassette? 8-track?
mp3 or other digital. I really don't notice sound quality at all unless it's really bad, so portability wins out.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Is There a Time?

One of my favorite songs, in an understated, quiet live performance from Milan. I love how Bono, while clearly not in the best vocal shape late in the tour, still manages to pretty much nail the high note in the aria section, the one done by Pavarotti on record. Not sure how many other rock vocalists could do what he does here - sing a note like that, in full voice, without screeching or screaming it.

Until Whenever
iPod as Magic Eight Ball

Thanks to Electronic Cerbrectomy for the meme. The iPod's shuffle feature mystically provides insights into my life:

1. How does the world see me?
"Remember Vinnie Bolanzo" (from the A View from a Bridge opera) The world cautions me not to follow the example of poor Vinnie.

2. Will I live a happy life?
"The Worst Pies in London" (from Sweeney Todd) No; the worst kind of life, apparently.

3. What do my friends really think of me?
"Two of a Kind" (from The Wild Party) They think we're pretty tight.

4. Do people secretly lust after me?
"Mother and Child Reunion" (Paul Simon) Not if the image that comes to mind is a heartwarming family reunion.

5. How can I make myself happy?
"The Show Biz" (from Ragtime) Goodbye corporate world! I'm going to make it on Broadway!

6. What should I do with my life?
"A Quiet Girl" (Leonard Bernstein) What I'm doing, so it seems, spend it in domestic contentment.

7. Will I ever have children?
"Polly" (Nirvana) Not either of my kids names, but OK.

8. What is some good advice for me?
"My Wife" (The Who) My wife is good advice, or has good advice?

9. How will I be remembered?
"Eminence Front" 9The Who) - As a man of eminence? Cool.

10. What is my signature dancing song?
"Rhode Island Is Famous for You" (Mandy Patinkin) - A sweet and silly standard that you'd dance along with the kids to? Works well.

11. What do I think my current theme song is?
"O beauty, o handsomeness" (Benjamin Britten) - Tee hee.

12. What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
"Caca" (Elaine Stritch) - Sheer perfection.

13. What song will play at my funeral?
"Simple Joys" (from Pippin) - A bit upbeat, no?

14. What type of women/men do I like?
"Les Poissons" (from The Little Mermaid) - I like fish-women?

15. What is my day going to be like?
"Whisper of a Thrill" (from Meet Joe Black) - Not yet.

Until Whenever
Lost Thoughts

As Lost moves into the end stages of Season Three, I'm finding myself, much against the grain of much of the Internet-based fanbase, of becoming more and more fond of the season. Last week's episode was notable in its several reveals - what happened to Claire, Juliet's backstory, the truth (maybe) of her joining the beach crew - but even more notable, for me, were a few acting moments. Josh Holloway's performance of the moment when Jack and Kate return was a revelation - without one word he was able to very clearly convey the changes Sawyer has gone through in the two or so months they've been on the island. In particular, the way he made his feelings for Kate known was remarkably clear and affecting.

At the same time, Elizabeth Mitchell was masterly, throughout, but especially in the scene where Ben shows her video of her sister and her little boy. The way that Mitchell showed us Juliet being just completely overtaken by emotions was what impressed me the most - she didn't play just relief, or joy, or sadness, but a wrenching combination of all three.

What also impressed me greatly about that moment was how invested in it the show was able to get me - it was a very effecting emotional moment, that moved me as a viewer, and yet that particular storyline has hardly gotten oodles of screen time - a couple of flashback scenes in one episode prior and in this on and that's it. And yet it was extremely involving.

Whatever faults Lost may have, and even I'll admit it has some, the production values - from the direction to the acting to the editing to the scoring (especially to the scoring) - are impeccable week in and week out, and do not get near enough credit. So as we move into the endgame - and to a season finale that will most likely leave us to go seven-plus Lost-less months - I'll say, loud and proud, that Lost is still delivering the goods, in pretty much every way.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Can't Be Real

My favorite band, as any regular reader will have been made painfully aware, is U2.

My second-favorite superhero, and a childhood obsession, is Spider-Man.

And one of the most revelatory moments the arts have given me over the years is Julie Taymor's remarkable vision in the musical The Lion King - the opening parade of animals moved me like precious little art has.


So why does the news (news I'm still inclined to think is some kind of hoax, by the way) that a Spider-Man musical, with music and lyrics by Bono and the Edge and book and direction by Julie Taymor, so fill me with discomfort?

I mean, if I--a man who is passionate about musical theater, comic books in general and Spider-Man in particular, and the music and lyrics of U2--think this is a dodgy idea, then who exactly is rooting for it?

Puzzled. very puzzled.

Until Whenever

Friday, April 13, 2007

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Batman Theme" - Danny Elfman - Batman (Film Score)
One of the best character-specific themes in the annals of film music. Just absolutely right.

2. "Electioneering" - Radiohead - OK Computer
Probably the most direct, straight-ahead rock song on the album. And a line on at that.

3. "You Turned to Me" - Elvis Costello - North
Sweet, with a happily surprised sweet tone.

4. "Miracle Drug (Live)" - U2 - Vertigo Tour Anaheim 2005
Kind of crappy quality actually.

5. "Melinda" - Lerner and Lane - On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Original Broadway Cast)
A old-fashioned, sweeping, grand ballad.

6. "Stars and the Moon" - Jason Robert Brown, sung by Audra McDonald - Way Back to Paradise
This song has over the past decade become a cabaret staple, and it's easy to see why. It's a beautiful piece of songwriting that tells a very clear, bittersweet story about a woman who passes on love and adventure for money and material luxury, with the obvious but well-executed twist at the end being that, of course, after she finally gets her riches and life of comfort she wishes she had taken "the moon" after all.

7. "Seasons of Love" - Jonathan Larson - Rent (Original Broadway Cast)
This rousing, inspiring anthem of hope and life can come across as a bit too obvious, but sometimes isn't that just fine?

8. "Act 4, Scene 1: "Look . . . through the port comes the moonshine astray!" - Benjamin Britten - Billy Budd (Opera)
A sweet and slow aria.

9. "That'll Show Him" - Stephen Sondheim - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1996 Broadway Cast Revival)
Lesser Sondheim, with its central joke (the ingenue slave will "show" the captain who has purchased her by pretending as she makes love to him that he is really her true love) falling mostly flat.

10. "Savages (Part 2)" - Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz - Pocohontas
The song part (this track is fronted by a good minute of scoring) is a little on the nose, perhaps, but Menken is pretty much incapable of writing a boring melody, or Shwartz a lyric without at least something to recommend it.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Music Morsels Vol II - "Check It Out"

Back when I first started to get into music, when my music collection was still small but had started to gain some mass, I made a list of my 100 favorite songs (blogging impulses were clearly there long before there was blogging). And as time went on, I would periodically revisit the list, adding in new songs I had discovered and shuffling others as my tastes evolved. And yet every time I made my list, one song always took the top spot. Now, if I were to compile such a list today (and I just might!), I'm not sure that John Mellencamp's "Check It Out" would still come out on top. But it just might.

The Lonesome Jubilee remains, 20 years after its release, Mellencamp's best album. It's a distinctive, unified album that features a singular combination of county and rock elements that he's never since really combined in the same way. And "Check It Out," which was the second single released, I believe, is easily the album's highlight. The song starts with a crack of the snare a split second before the band comes in. We hear strummed guitar, bass, and drums, the meat and potatoes of rock music, but the primary element is not the electric guitar (which if it's present at all is doing rhythm work along with the acoustic) but an electric fiddle playing a high melody. It's this melody that forms the core of the song, and it's a gorgeous one - a sad, yet hopeful lyrical piece of music that speaks volumes in its quiet simplicity.

When Mellencamp comes in, after the fiddle has finished a complete rendition of this primary theme, it's over confident guitars and drums kicking out a steady beat:

A million young poets
Screaming out their words
To a world full of people
Just living to be heard
By future generations
Riding on the highways that we built
I hope they have a better understanding

This isn’t a verse, or early showing of the chorus, but rather a refrain that will reappear at the end of the song. The song, in fact, features no standard verse/chorus form – it’s structure is instead ABBA, with those central B sections comprising repetitions of the band-shouted phrase “Check it out!” with Mellencamp-sung pithy pictures in between.

The content here is familiar ground for Mellencamp – the changing of the guard that happens as one generation ages and another matures. My high school yearbook quote comes from Mellencamp, from the liner notes to Scarecrow actually, and it neatly encapsulates this recurring theme of his: “There is nothing sadder or more glorious than generations changing hands.” “Check It Out” is about this theme. That “I hope they have a better understanding” gets called back at the end of the song when Mellencamp repeats it five times, alternating the “hope” with “maybe.” The message is clear—while we all may like to believe that our children will learn from our mistakes and improve their lot and the world’s lot, that’s hardly a guarantee. You can hope for it, or look to its possible fruition, but you can’t bet on it.

The “verses,” for lack of a better word, paint a typical Mellencamp picture of lower-middle class life in the Midwest.

Go to work on Monday
Got yourself a family
All the utility bills have been paid
Can’t tell your best buddy that you love him

The music here is simple but effective, very American rock-based, with open chords and contended strumming. But after these lines the fiddle comes back and the chords darken, as Mellencamp questions the happiness of his typical family:

But where does our time go
Got a brand-new house in escrow
Sleeping with your back to your loved one
This is all that we’ve learned about happiness

Here that plaintive, searching fiddle theme repeats before we get to the second “verse” with middle-aged life being questioned. At the end of this verse comes one of my favorite Mellencamp lines: “Soaring with the eagles all week long/And this all that we’ve learned about living.” Here the strumming dies down and the guitar instead picks out an introductory bit of business that leads up to the fiddle reaching up to a high note, not once, not twice, but three times, each time it’s ascent halted by a gunshot drum blast. This leads into what in reality is a pretty conventional guitar solo that restates the main melody, but that in practice is actually very effective, this being the first time in the song we’ve really noticed any electric guitar. It’s also important to note that the tone of that solo is almost resigned, not triumphant at all.

After the break, we get that repetition of the A section again, with its final five-time repeat of the “understanding line.” And the tension Mellencamp achieves here, with each unresolved (lyrically and musically) “hope (or “maybe”) they’ll have a better understanding,” is quite effective. You can hear the weariness and the wariness in his voice as he keeps repeating the question, until he can’t take it anymore and the core fiddle melody returns to close out the song. That the question is never resolved is important, I think, and central to the song. After all, how well or not future generations fare is not something we really ever get to see for certain.

I still do love this song greatly, and while it’s “all-time top” spot would probably go to “Where the Streets Have No Name” these days, it’s still way, way up there.

Until Whenever
Just Wrong

Can anyone tell me why this whole Imus thing is getting swept under the rug? I mean, it's as if the news outlets are deliberately trying to ignore it. It make me sick to my stomach. I mean this should be much bigger news than it is. I really can't fathom it. My office, if you can believe it, is still open today. As if I can be expected to work in such a time of crisis. It's unbelievable. I just wish more people were talking about it, that more stories were being written about it, that TV news was devoting more air time to it. You know? Why hasn't the President weighed in? What's wrong with him? And the worst part? That Imus himself is still out there. Walking around. A free man. And not in jail for life. Or worse. The sheer lack of attention this thing is getting is just a disgusting state of affairs, and sad, sad commentary on our priorities..

Until Whenever
On the Nightstand

Lolita - Vladimir Nabakov
This was pretty much a "I should read a classic, haven't done that in a while" read, and a worthy one. I've read from many, many sources over the years what a gifted, effortless prose stylist Nabakov is and the hype was well-deserved. Dude can write. It's not a new observation, but it's impressive how creepy and disturbing the book is given that Nabakov never gets dirty or explicit at all; there are no cheap sex scenes, no "erotic" writing, just the eminently believable and horrifying story of a pedophile. What's really amazing is how well Nabakov manages to straddle the line between making Humbert sympathetic and downright evil. While we understand him, we don't really sympathize with him either; Nabakov never lets him off the hook for his actions but at the same time makes sure we understand them well. A neat trick.

The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
As an atheist, I apreciated much of Dawkins' methodical, reasoned, and passionate arguments for reason and enjoyed the book, although I do feel he gets a little, well, too evangelical in spots - especially where he likens the teaching of religion to a child as abuse. His near-hysterical insisitence that it's the height of horror to refer to a child as a "Christian" or "Jewish" child, when of course a child has no real conception of what those words mean, has a core of reason to it, but he blithely ignores the fact that religion is deeply cultural as well. Parents who teach their children about the Christmas story, for example, do so for many reasons, and the idea that the literal truth of the story is to be accepted as the basis for their belief system is, at least for many, pretty far down the list (or not on it at all). Dawkins pretty much ignores the fact that cultural identities and traditions and religious beliefs are so irrevocably tangled together, and treats religion only as a rigid belief system, which is why his arguments can sometimes ride off the rails. Still, I appreciated much of what he’s put forth here and recommend the book.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Very Brief Thoughts on Movies I've Seen in the Past Few Weeks

The Prestige - I'm one of the dummies that only suspected the twist with Christian Bale's character at the end and didn't assume it, so it worked for me pretty well. What really impressed me about this film though was how well-constructed it is, how tightly written and precisely acted. Definitely one of those films I'll have to watch again, to see how some of the last-minute revelations are hinted at throughout.

Casino Royale - Immensely entertaining, and Craig is as good a Bond as advertised. I did find the third-act love story stuff a bit forced but in the end I didn't mind much. I do wonder how that torture scene (naked Bond tied to a chair and his genitals beaten) managed to elicit only a PG-13 though.

Little Miss Sunshine - Steve Carrell was great, and showed that he has real range as an actor - his character here was nothing like Michael Scott. Arkin was a whole lot of fun, if not really Oscar-worthy. Abigail Breslin was Oscar-worthy - a great child actor performance. and Greg Kinnear and Toni Collete did a fine job at limning (especially in her case) fairly underwritten characters. The writing was punchy and funny and fat-free and had me laughing throughout. But that ending? How we are supposed to connect Arkin's grandfather character with the routine he came up with for his moppet grandchild just completely eluded me.

300 - A perfectly realized vision. The computer-generated backdrops and blood and skies and action is used very deliberately to create a specifically non-realistic, stylized, and impressionistic style that works wonders. If this was done "traditionally," with an army of extras out in the real desert it would never have worked as well. A gorgeous live action cartoon of a movie. (And the criticisms of that cartoonishness I've been reading continue to puzzle me - do these critics not realize that the effect is intentional, and not a sad by-product of CGI?)

Until Whenever

Friday, April 06, 2007

Makes Puppies Look Like Slackers

I have pretty much zero interest in hockey, and one of the things that I dislike about the sport most is the ridiculous fighting. No other sport tolerates fights (except boxing), so why does hockey? It's just lame and pathetic. And yet. This is easily the cutest thing ever.

(With a tip of the hat to ALOTT5MA)

Until Whenever

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Call for Help

I remember seeing a movie as a very young kid that struck a deep chord with me, that I've always remembered, but that I've, as an adult, been unable to find any info on. The problem is that I can't remember the title, or who was in it, or much of anything, really. Just the premise (of which I very easily could have some details wrong):

In the future the earth has become inhospitable and a group of schoolchildren (all girls?) must live on a planet where it rains all year. All except for one day, one glorious day of sunshine, that the kids look forward to all year. Some mean girls lock the main character in her room on the sunshine day and she misses it. Very tragic and very upsetting to young Tosy. After the sunny day is over, the mean girl(s) feel badly.

Anyone know what movie (TV movie?) I'm talking about??

Until Whenever
Seven Songs

Roger has (mildly) tagged me with this round-making meme, in which I am to list seven songs I have been listening to this week. So:

1) "Overture" - Merrily We Roll Along (Original Broadway Cast)- Stephen Sondheim
This has just been remastered and released and I took the opportunity to get it, seeing as how it was one of those albums I had on tape and listened to hundreds of times and yet still never managed to get on CD. The overture here is one of my favorites, a bright and brassy slap pf energy featuring some wonderfully loud and exuberant drumming. A wake-you-up-in-the-morning kind of piece.

2) "Hurley's Handouts" - Lost (Season Two Soundtrack) - Michael Giacchino
Finally got the second release of Lost music and I have been enjoying it more than I even expected. This track, a slow, piano- and guitar-based piece, is a real standout. Something about the music is sweet and casual, and offers a definable different sound than most of Giacchino's work for the show.

3) "The Gathering" - Lost (Season Two Soundtrack) - Michael Giacchino
Another favorite from the soundtrack, a longer, more momentous piece. Giacchino's work for this show, as I've said before, is simply wonderful; I really do think he's working well above any other TV composer.

4) "All's Forgiven . .. Except Charlie" - Lost (Season Two Soundtrack) - Michael Giacchino
A simple-sounding piece, but one that works as its own piece of music better than a lot of the material on this album. A slow introduction leads to some lovely, understated ukelele stuff. Slow and sad.

5) "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
The praise and hype wore me down and I finally got this much-acclaimed album. Have listened to this first song more than any other and like it (and the album) well enough, if not so much as to really understand the undying praise I've read.

6) "Nightswimming" - In Time: The Best of REM - REM
Just got this (REM is a perfect best-of band for me; Automatic for the People aside, I've never really been turned on by any of their whole albums, and yet I like some of their songs very much) and have been reminded by it of what a gorgeous piece of songwriting this is.

7) "City of Blinding Lights (Live)" - Vertigo: Live in Chicago - U2
As the weather had started to get nice late last week (it's since regressed) I would drive home with the window down, enjoying the spring air, and blasting this live version of one of my favorite U2 songs as loud as I could stand it. Epic arena rock at its best.

Until Whenever

Monday, April 02, 2007

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!

Top Ten Superheroes

10. Beast - I've always had a propensity for those "super-agile" heroes. I guess some unformed part of my psyche always wanted to be a gymnast.

9. Daredevil - The "blind" angle should really by all rights be a lot cheesier than it is. Not sure how they pulled that off.

8. Wolverine - A canny creation that has probably been overused to the point of no return at this stage. Still, it's not his fault.

7. Superman - The foundation from which all else sprung. I put in my fair share of hours running around the house with a bath towel tucked into my shirt for a cape.

6. Batman - The gadgets angle could get contrived really quick, but the iconography of the character (the costume, the cave, the origin) is hard to beat.

5. Iron Man - I used to daydream about having an Iron Man suit in a briefcase that I carried with me. I love the character, but the "technology is magic" angle can get overused - whatever they have going know with his armor being some kind of liquid that comes out of his skin is clearly over the top.

4. Green Arrow - Inerrant marksmanship is just cool as all get out. It's why Bullseye is one of my favorite villains.

3. The Flash - He's always been my favorite DC superhero and I've never quite understood why Marvel has never been able to tap into superspeed as an elemental power in as cool a way as DC.

2. Spider-Man - Dress up as Spider-Man for Halloween. Had a Spider-Man cake. Religiously watched The Electric Company, mostly for Spider-Man. I was hooked as a little one.

1. Captain America - Anyone have the over/under on when his "death" becomes less-than-permanent? The good Captain has always (well, since I started reading comics anyway; as a wee lad my favorite Superhero would likely have been Spider-Man) been my favorite. Not really sure why; some combination of the moral certitude, the indestructible shield, the status as the world's greatest fighter, and that iconic costume just always spoke to me.

Until Whenever