Archive for August, 2010

The Summer of Flops and Missed Opportunities

August 13, 2010

With Labor Day around the corner and students getting back to hitting the books, it’s a good time to reflect on the summer at hand. From an entertainment perspective, the last four months have been pretty lackluster. There have been very few mainstream movies that haven’t been dead on arrival and the trend looks to continue.

In Country Music, there hasn’t been one major release of new music since Alan Jackson put out Freight Train March 30. A couple of new singles have gone up the charts of late, but all the most anticipated new music isn’t coming out until September and October which is creating more than a significant jam.

the Indie world has been on fire however. Two of the summer’s best reviewed movies The Kids Are Alright and Winter’s Bone have come from that world. I’ve seen the former and it’s the closest Hollywood has come to releasing something decent in ages.

So what’s going on?

The tried and true formulas Hollywood has relayed on ages are falling apart. It’s gotten so bad that when a friend of mine mentioned having seen Iron Man 2 I didn’t even know it had been released yet!

The real problem is the reality of our times. Moviegoers seem to be waking up and taking notice to the dumbing down of cinema. The only film to make us use our brains has been Christopher Nolan’s Inception. It’s even recommend the film be viewed twice in order to absorb all that is going on. And viewers are flocking to it.

For all of us romantic types out there, their hasn’t been one romantic comedy worth watching since It’s Complicated. The main problem lays not only with the increasingly more insane plots but with the actors themselves (if they can be called that). With Jennifer Aniston and Katherine Higel taking the lead female roles in almost each film, the genre is suffering from overload. It makes one long for the days of Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts.

I can’t believe I’m about to write this but Jennifer Aniston has proven in the past that she can act. You don’t win an Emmy forFriends without putting in some hard work. Give her more roles like her indie-hit The Good Girl. At least there she was flexing her acting muscle. On the same note, Katherine Higal can act, too. Just watch her play Izzy Stevens dying of cancer on Grey’s Anatomy. Some great stuff there.

The other main problem is the been-there-done-that mentality. So many films seem to either fall in the same genre or be the same film made over and over. How many comic book / superhero films does America need? How many times do we have to suffer through Angelina Jolie playing the part of a super spy? Even surefire hits of last year from the likes of Judd Apatow are failing. And if I have to suffer through one more film staring Michael Cera I think I might be done with. Sure, he was likable in Juno, but he’s taken the geek shtick a bit too far.

What Hollywood needs, and badly, are some new ideas. They cannot rely on what used to make money. It’s happened time and time again, too much of a good thing has the adverse effect. Just ask Michael Patrick King and the cast of Sex and the City 2. I bet another film in the franchise will only be a dream in the minds of whomever still likes the sexploits of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte. The rest of the population has moved on.

The place where Hollywood needs to take notes is cable television. Whereas Hollywood has been struggling, television has been on fire as of late.

More to come…

The Simple Joys of Reading

August 13, 2010

One of the simple joys of being a college graduate is getting to reengage in my love of reading. I’ve always loved books for their ability to transport the reader to exciting worlds different from their own. Plus, their is no better feeling than being in the middle of a novel; waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.

Two years ago, I got the first generation Amazon Kindle and I absolutely love it. Reading with an electronic reader has transformed and enriched my reading experience. I’ve often tried to put into words my admiration for the Kindle and the seemingly revolutionary concept of e-books.

With e-books, the reading experience has become interactive. Not only does Kindle allow me to adjust the size of my text; it also has a built in dictionary that helps the reader understand words they may not be sure of. I especially enjoy the changing of text size because now I don’t have to settle for teeny-tiny print that’ll do no more than hurt my eyes. Also, I’m no longer carrying around the weight of a book; so now I can read whatever I want with the freedom to take it with me wherever I go. Before, it wasn’t much fun to lug around 500+ page books nor could they easily fit in a suitcase when traveling.

But this blog post is not an advertisement for Kindle. I just happen to really love their product. For all the critics out there, I’ve never used Barnes and Noble’s Nook or Apple’s Ipad. I got a Kindle before both those products hit the market and have a loyalty to the brand.

Anyway, it’s been so nice to get back to reading for pleasure. After years of reading for classes and because certain books were required, I can now read whatever books I choose. The freedom is liberating.

I admire schools for creating reading lists but reading books chosen for you drained all the love out of it for me. Whenever a book is chosen for you, it always became that much harder for me to enjoy it. Getting kids and teenagers to read is a wonderful goal of the public school system, but let them pick the books. They’ll enjoy it more.

The catch-22 is that the younger generations would more likely pick books from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight saga or J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It’s books like these getting kids to read and I’m really happy that their is a product out there making younger generations excited about the written word. However, I do agree with school systems who’d rather see their students reading something more substantive.

But that’s besides the point. I already finished two books this summer and I’m on my third. I’ve read David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists: A Novel.

To be fair, I did begin the first book last summer and with finishing up college and starting life in the real world, I got around to finishing it in early June. I’ve referenced Edgar Sawtelle at least once on here, in the post about Steven Huneck’s memorial service. But the book made me think hard about life choices I made with regards to the dogs I’ve had in my life. A sweeping epic; it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The book tells the story of the Sawtelle Family, who raise dogs for a living on their Wisconsin farm. Their only child, Edgar, is born mute but develops a special relationship with their dog, Almondine.

Lilith Fair: Celebrating Women in Music

August 1, 2010

Yes, I went to Lilith Fair this summer. Last Friday in fact. At the Comcast Center in Mansfield. Critics have written off this once summer staple saying that this isn’t the year to bring back the celebration of women in music. Sure, the ticket prices were through the roof and the multi-talented singers Kelly Clarkson and Norah Jones bailed after the cancellation of ten dates at the beginning of July. But I went anyway. I love music and I love women singers.

One would assume that I would hate such a concert. With the lack of twang the assumption is I would be bored. It was the opposite. Despite my upbringing on the likes of George Strait and Reba McEntire, I loved every minute and came away never feeling more alive. I was formally introduced to the singer-songwriter and Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles; whom I had only known previously through her debut single “Love Song.” I now consider myself a fan. Her brand of lyrical pop rivals anything being churned out of Nashville by a female artist.

Her smart songwriting and introspective look on the world won me over. When she prefaced her song “Fairytale” by saying it’s about a princess who come to the realization she doesn’t need a price had me thinking, you go girl. When a woman can announce that they don’t need a man to fulfill them; it’s a turn on to me. She’s a thinking person’s Taylor Swift.

A highlight during her set was the cover of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It).” The most recent recipient of the Song of the Year Grammy Award, the song most clearly showcased Bareilles’s playful side and gave her a chance to dance around on stage and let loose. She must be one hell of an actress, because if she wasn’t having fun, then she hid it very well.

Her closing number, “Gravity,” drew me in like nothing else all night. A masterful and powerful song, I couldn’t believe she actually wrote it. Besides being a great singer, she’s one masterful songwriter. In the back of my mind, I knew I’d heard it before and finally figured it out. Choreographer Mia Michaels used it as the backdrop to her masterful addiction routine from Season five of So You Think You Can Dance. She has been nominated for an Emmy for work creating that dance.

While I didn’t get to see the entire eleven act bill; what I did see gave me enough joy to last a lifetime. I only partly understand the failure of this once blockbuster event. According to the New York Times, times have changed. Pop has gone Gaga. I understand this to a degree. Lady Gaga puts on one heck of a stage show but she isn’t deep. She may have songs appropriate for dancing and jigging but not for hours of endless pleasure and methodical thinking. Ticket prices were too high. I’ll give tour promoters that much. But what we did get was well worth it.

Other artists I got to hear for the first time were Cat Power and Tegan and Sara. I enjoyed Cat Power if only for the weirdness in her set. She was nothing short of awful; disengaged with the audience and playing with her bra. A times she would trip as she walked and it was clear by the conversations she would have with her band between songs that nothing was planned or rehearsed. Off the cuff is defiantly a new way to play a set. The people sitting behind me thought she was trippin’ on cocaine. Adding to it all, her hair was dirty and she appeared to have just rolled out of bed.

Now, why would I enjoy such a performance? On other dates, her antics were replaced with the likes of Sheryl Crow and Court Yard Hounds; two acts I would much rather have seen. Of course it goes without mention that I would never have seen her set had Kelly Clarkson and Carly Simon not backed out. But I liked that she gave us something to talk about. In a strange way, I felt like I was transplanted back to one of those 1960s festivals where the acts really were on drugs. The best way I can describe her was if April Ludgate, the character played by the actor Aubrey Plaza on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, were up there. Not only did the two look alike, but they acted alike as well. The similarities were spooky.

A person on Facebook said that during Cat Power’s set, everyone was silent back stage; just watching in awe. It was either the strange antics or maybe it really was the music moving everyone. Art is subjective, a sentiment never more evident than during her set.

Tegan and Sara gave an energetic set to say the least. Their blend of rock infused punk brought the energy back to the main stage after Cat Power’s dreadful set. I really want to say I liked it. I really do. It just isn’t my kind of music. The pounding drum quickly wore thin and left me needing Advil. But I can appreciate what they did do and that was put on a set of fun music. I just wish it didn’t have to rock so hard. Outside of country, I’m more of the light pop / adult contemporary type. Hard rock never set comfortably with me.

Like everyone else, I was ready when Lilith’s resident goddess Sarah McLachlan took to the stage. Opening her set, sitting at the piano, playing her smash hit, “Angel,” hooked the audience right in. Her live vocal on the song surpasses the studio version and takes her voice to places I never thought possible.

From there, McLachlan played through hit after hit. “Building a Mystery,” complete with it’s use of colorful language, “Stupid” and “Worlds on Fire,” from the Afterglow album, and the multi-purposeful “I Will Remember You.”

McLachlan even treated the audience to three songs from her new record, The Laws of Illusion. First up was “Loving You Is Easy,” the album’s first single for which she called “frothy.” Later in the set, she gave us “Forgiveness” and “Illusions of Bliss.”

She even sang what is arguably the most personal song in her back catalog, “Adia.” While a huge hit in the US, one could forgive her for leaving out the four minute and five second apology to her best friend. You see, dated and later married her best friend’s ex-boyfriend. Eleven years and two children later, the couple, he the drummer in her band, are divorced.  No shortage of ugliness there.

I was worried, when looking at the schedule, that a fifty minute set of McLachlan would seem short. Thank goodness it didn’t. She gave a perfect concert easily pleasing every one in attendance. Thinking she had sung it all, I didn’t know what she would do for an encore. When she came back out, she asked the audience if they wanted dessert before launching into “Ice Cream,” a obvious crowd favorite and easily the best dessert I’ve ever had.

The closing number a cover of Patti Smith Group’s, “Because The Night,” brought together the eleven acts who performed at Lilith that day. (Okay, it was only ten since Cat Power didn’t come back out). It was easy to see who was most enjoying the experience and that was Sara Bareilles. She ran out on stage first and made sure to stand next to the headliner. Adorable as anything, Bareilles seemed to be taking in the whole experience and learning from it. In the future, she’s going to be the better artist for it.

In the end, McLachlan said she really needed this summer to remind herself of her purpose. What I didn’t know is I needed it too. Few artists have had as great an effect on me as McLachlan. She drew me in and I sat (or stood) there mesmerized by the power of the music. I didn’t know how engrained she was in my psyche until I saw her live. Her music is something truly special and a gift put out on the world.

It’s a shame that Lilith had to cancel ten dates on the tour this year. I don’t understand how people can be so shallow as to not flock to this concert event. The thought that this kind of lyrical music could have an expiration date is the saddest truth of the year.

I hope this tour continues for years to come. I will be there.