Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Arctic Blast

Last night, I went to see the Arctic Monkeys in concert at the Ogden Theatre in Denver. It's maybe an odd choice for me for a concert, given how little I knew of them and how few concerts I actually go to. Still, I had a really great time.

When I was telling most of my friends that I was going to see Arctic Monkeys, the response I was tending to get was "who?" And though I had at least heard of them before being invited to go, I couldn't really have named any of their songs. This is all a bit funny, considering that in their native UK, their debut broke the record for fastest-selling debut album. (I think we're all happy to have Oasis kicked off that particular hill. Preferably in the teeth.)

But if you, like former me, are not in the know, Arctic Monkeys is an "indie Brit rock" band -- vaguely punkish in terms of their speed and kinetics, vaguely prog rock in their varying tempos and changing sound from one album to the next, largely "garage rock" in their loud and driving sound.

In my opinion, there are two standout performers in the band. First is the lead singer, Alex Turner, who is considerably more melodic than the usual front man of a band of like this. And based on what I've listened to of their albums, I'd say he's actually better in concert than in the studio (where the band seems to prefer a slightly looser sound).

But the big star is the drummer, Matt Helders. He's that rare combination of a drummer that can play freakishly, exhausting fast and a drummer with great technical sophistication. He's complex one moment, super disco the next, and sometimes both in one song. Pretty crazy stuff.

I wouldn't say I've found a new favorite band or anything, but I am really glad to have gone to the show, and will probably be picking up their new album when it's released next week.

Monday, May 30, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 20

Day 20: A song that you listen to when you're angry.

I confess, it's hard to beat the song my friend Shocho picked for this category when he did the Song Challenge. ("Killing in the Name" by Rage Against the Machine.) But there's a similar impulse at work in my selection, "Nugget" by Cake.

Fair warning: this song is significantly less "family friendly" than my typical blog fare.

I think this YouTuber's video stinks, by the way. But the song is still just what I'm looking for when I'm in a certain mood.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

You Win or You Die

Tonight's episode of Game of Thrones finally took us to the point I'd been anticipating for several weeks now: the death of King Robert. Last week, I was so sure we'd be there, since we actually saw him out on his fateful boar hunt. But no, that development came at last tonight -- and now it's all hitting the fan.

But just as interesting as the big developments from the book were, once again, the wonderful new scenes injected for the series. The discussion between Jaime and his father Tywin at the top of the hour was interesting. (And stellar work from the prop department on the dead animal carcass, by the way.) Then there was the very revealing (pun probably intended) scene with Littlefinger, perfectly setting up his duplicity at the episode's end.

I confess that I missed Tyrion this week. (Also absent, Arya, Bran, Robb, Sansa, and Catelyn and her crazy sister.) But I much prefer the tactic the writers are taking to make an entertaining and tense hour of television, even if that sometimes means benching characters for a week.

The thrill ride continues to accelerate... just three more weeks to go.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 19

Day 19: A song from your favorite album.

First, I have to determine what my favorite album is -- a question nearly as difficult as the hopelessly vague "favorite song" entry that started this Challenge.

I'd consider the musical Chess as a favorite, except that so many recordings of it have been released that I couldn't possibly designate one as a favorite. (Though I could go through it song by song and identify which album has my favorite version of that song.)

Sting's album Ten Summoner's Tales is pretty damn good. And I especially like the bizarre time signature of "Seven Days." But then, after trashing Sting's song writing in an earlier Challenge entry, I can't really dub one of his albums my favorite now.

But really, those would be second choices anyway. I'm pretty sure my favorite album is the major label debut of Barenaked Ladies, Gordon. There's not a bad song on the album, and only a couple that I wouldn't call "5-star songs." In fact, it's hard to pick just one song to highlight here. But I'll settle on "What a Good Boy."

Just a beautiful song.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lost Re-view: Everybody Hates Hugo

The first three episodes of Lost's second season played out a bit like a trilogy, in that they were primarily about setting up the story of the Swan station, and shared repeated content in each episode. This fourth episode thus felt like the first "stand-alone" episode of the season (to whatever degree Lost can manage such a thing.) It was written by staff writers and regular collaborators Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Alan Taylor directed, working on the series for this one and only time.

It's a Hurley-centric story that serves up flashbacks about his lottery winnings. They're a parallel for the on-Island discovery of a massive food stash he's tasked with "guarding" from the group. In principle, it's not a bad allegory: on the Island, one can of food is as valuable as millions in the "real world." But in practice, this comparison isn't quite perfect.

First of all, Hurley has never been portrayed as stingy with anything to this point in the show. He's forthcoming with his thoughts, his feelings, his support, his money... everything. So now we're asked to assimilate retroactively that he had a hard time with his lottery winnings (beyond the curse of the numbers) -- that once-friends were coming to him for money, and that this changed everything. The same Hurley that talked about using the money to help his sick grandfather, who bought a house for his mother, and seemed in no danger of exhausting his $160 million windfall. That's a tough sell.

What's tougher still is that this idea isn't really what the flashbacks in this episode show us. The scenes from Hurley's past pick up at the moment he finds out he won, and carry through over the next 24 hour period. He quits his job at the Chicken Shack and has a "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" kind of day with his best buddy. He finally asks a girl out that he's been crushing on for ages. He specifically voices the concern that things will change once he reveals his lottery winnings... but none of that has actually happened yet.

Now given Hurley's behavior on the Island in this episode, we can assume that everything he feared did come to pass. People did treat him differently because of the money. He did lose his best friend. But wouldn't a more effective set of flashbacks have shown us all these problems in his life rather than the possibility that it would happen?

Despite these flaws, the flashbacks are at least entertaining. For starters, they're centered on Hurley, always a very likeable and entertaining character (ironic episode title notwithstanding). DJ Qualls gives a fun performance as his friend. And we get a couple of fun connections in the pasts of the characters -- one when Hurley and his friend mock the Drive Shaft CD they discover in the "One Hit Wonders" section of a local music store; the other when the overbearing boss that torments Hurley at the Chicken Shack turns out to be Randy, the very same man who would later become Locke's supervisor at the box company. (The man loves picking on the obese and paraplegics. What a guy!)

One last observation about the flashbacks before I move on. The series tries out a new technique in presenting them for the very first time. (At the moment, I can't recall if it was ever repeated later.) After following the typical "scene in the present / scene in the past" structure for most of the hour, the dramatic climax of the episode (which has Hurley breaking down in the Swan pantry to Rose) is intercut with Hurley's final flashback (his friend learning about the lottery win) all within the same scene. One camera cut is the present, the next the past. Dialogue that Hurley is speaking to Rose plays over the slow-motion silence of Hurley's past. It works fairly well, though is a little more "on the nose" than Lost usually tends to be about its storytelling.

So, about that Island story. It makes good use of Hurley. He's the character who normally has an easygoing and fun relationship with nearly all the other characters, and this episode puts him in lots of short scenes with most of them. With Kate, he's uncertain and depressed about the button-pushing, and she takes on his typical "bright side" role, noting that it's just good to have a job again. With Charlie, we see the friction in a normally care-free relationship, as Hurley tries to keep the secret of what's inside the hatch. With Locke, he has an argument about whether change itself is a good or bad thing, showing just how tormented Hurley is by his predicament. Hurley even gets a scene (sort of) with Jin, a bizarre dream at the top of the hour where Jin speaks English and Hurley speaks Korean.

But the meatiest interaction of the episode is between Hurley and Rose. Putting Rose in this episode surely began of narrative necessity -- her husband Bernard is confirmed to be alive at the end of it. And yet from that necessity came a series of great scenes. After a fight with Charlie over the secrets of the hatch, Hurley winds up talking to Rose. Oddly, her complete disinterest in what's inside the hatch persuades Hurley to spill the beans. (Which does make sense, really. He needs to tell someone, and a "safe" choice is the person who doesn't seem to care.)

Soon, Hurley is chosen by Jack to be "in charge" of the food in the Swan pantry, and Rose offers her help in taking an inventory. Hurley expresses his fear this will end with everyone wanting to "hang him," which Rose sweetly shrugs off. He's the one person on the Island that everybody loves, she says. (And if you stop and think about it, that truth makes his fate at the end of the series all the more appropriate!)

But sure enough, things start to go just as Hurley fears. Kate comes to swipe shampoo while they're still tallying the stock. Later, when Charlie learns about the hatch from Locke, he tries to shake down Hurley for a jar of peanut butter. Hurley is ready to use extra dynamite from the Black Rock to blow up the pantry and everything in it before Rose talks him off the ledge, and he then comes up with an alternative plan -- give all the food away in one grand gesture. (Interestingly, in another moment that seems appropriate in light of the series end, he runs the plan by Jack for approval... but ultimately tells Jack that this is what's going to happen. Hurley consults the "leader" while actually being leader himself.)

This interesting episode for Hurley, peppered with moments that resonate with the final season, also crams in three significant subplots. The first is the continuing saga of the tailies, and the captivity of Jin, Michael, and Sawyer. We finally get to meet Libby and Bernard, get the first hints that the tailies' existence since the plane crash has been far tougher than that of their counterparts, and see the inside of a second (but far less interesting) hatch, the Arrow.

The second plot concerns the "primary" hatch, the Swan, and follows Jack and Sayid as they explore the strange electromagnetism in the place and speculate about its significance. Sayid notes that a huge amount of concrete has been poured around the source, reminding him of the way Chernobyl was dealt with. He's basically right on the money.

While those two subplots tease the mind, the third is meant to appeal to the heart. Claire (displaying startling weight loss so soon after her pregnancy) is taking in the surf when she discovers the bottle full of messages that was supposed to have been on the raft. She fears that it may mean something bad happened, but wants Sun -- as the person with a loved one actually on the raft -- to decide what to do with the knowledge. Ultimately, Sun decides to keep it a secret and keep hope alive for the survivors; she finds a secluded spot in the jungle and buries the bottle.

A lot of parts of this episode work well. A few are a little off the mark. The whole fits together fairly well, but is perhaps just a little overstuffed. Overall, I'd call the hour a B+.

One last bit of business here, though -- another one of the "Missing Pieces" episodes needs to be evaluated. According to one source I located, the events of the installment "Room 23" take place after the events of this episode. I have no idea how this was pinpointed, though it is certainly clear the mobisode has to take place before Ben makes his first appearance in the series proper (because in this mobisode, he's still with his people).

"Room 23" is a conversation between Ben and Juliet, following some unspecified crisis that set off warning sirens in the "Others" compound. Lots of ominous talk about the problems "the boy" (Walt) is causing, and a shot of a bunch of dead birds (echoing what was shown in a first season Walt flashback).

As much as I love the work Michael Emerson and Elizabeth Mitchell did on Lost, "Room 23" is a complete waste of time. You certainly can't watch it at the point it actually occurs in the timeline (as I just did) -- it has no context when the two characters haven't been properly introduced, so it makes no sense to a first time viewer. And to a repeat viewer, it just picks at the scab of an issue that is never properly resolved, the "specialness" of Walt. Juliet is completely convinced in this mobisode that Walt is doing some kind of psychic voodoo that is a serious threat. Certainly, something unnatural is going on, caused by Walt or otherwise. But it's never resolved, we get no real clues on which to provide our own private answers, and so the thing is best ignored.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Too Dry to Succeed

I started subscribing to HBO last month in order to view Game of Thrones, but I've been looking for ways to stretch the "investment." It's not that Game of Thrones hasn't felt well worth it all by itself; I just feel a little better about spending the money if I check out at least a few other things.

So it was that I tried out HBO's newest original movie, Too Big to Fail. It's an attempt to build a kind of suspense-thriller out of the banking crisis in 2008. It boasts a star-studded cast including William Hurt, Paul Giamatti, James Woods, Topher Grace, Billy Crudup, Bill Pullman, Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Modine, Edward Asner, Cynthia Nixon, Kathy Baker, and more.

Essentially, this film tries to be the dramatized version of the documentary Inside Job. And it's about as effective, which is to say that it's a mixed bag. As an insight into just what the hell happened, it's informative. But as a piece of drama, it falters for lack of sympathetic characters. The script never misses a moment to put a mustache-twirling evil line in the mouth of some banker bigwig, but doesn't manage to make you cheer for the people trying to avert the crisis.

That epic cast is really a necessity to tell the tale. Not all of those actors actually get something meaty to portray. Outside of William Hurt and James Woods, everyone is playing a fairly cardboard role (and Woods basically drops out of the movie halfway through). The thing is, this story has so many characters, all so interchangeable, and all with relatively few lines, that famous faces are needed to help the viewer track who is who. It works, but it feels like some serious talent is being squandered.

As a "further justification for HBO," the film is probably worth the time. But it's no triumph for you to seek out if you don't already subscribe. Wait for the eventual DVD release, if that. I rate it the film a C+.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 18

Day 18: A song that you wish you heard on the radio.

Well, I just got done telling you how I don't listen to the radio anymore, so it seems disingenuous to me to go whining about what songs are or aren't played on the radio. But I guess I just have to suck it up and answer the "question" put to me. So I choose "The Asteroid Field," composed by John Williams for The Empire Strikes Back:

What I'm really getting at here is that I think it would be cool if there were a radio station that played music from film soundtracks. But even then, I feel I'm being disingenuous, as it's easy enough to make yourself a Pandora station that plays exactly that.

Moving on, then...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New York

Tonight's episode of Glee would have been alright for "just another episode," but felt fairly lackluster for a season finale. Oh, I'm not talking about the outcome of the Nationals competition, because I saw that coming (and suspect I was hardly alone in that). I think my disappointment came in that it was only the last act of the show -- after the competition -- that the episode really hit a strong stride.

The first half of the episode dipped a lot in the recent Glee well of people performing on stage. I think it worked alright this time for the Kurt/Rachel duet from Wicked, as it had some story context. But for Schu, it just felt like what it was -- plugging Matthew Morrison's new album.

Watching the club to struggle to write original songs wasn't nearly as compelling this time as it was earlier in the season -- we'd seen it before, and we knew they would come through in the end. (Also, their big group number this time, "Light Up the World," though catchy, sounded awfully similar to their last big group number, "Loser Like Me." I mean, not "Born This Way"/"Express Yourself" similar, but damn close.)

But the real dramatic meat of the episode was the revelation that -- SPOILER ALERT, silly -- they lost the competition. Big time. And that's when the mostly lukewarm episode really did get interesting. It was great to see how different characters reacted to the loss. Kurt was focused only on the other wonderful things to have happened to him in New York, and in his life in general. Finn was beating himself up over it. Brittany had a contagious zen about it that pulled Santana out of a slump.

This was all good stuff, so much so that I really wish we'd skipped all that random running around New York in the first half to make time for another act of "aftermath" to close the episode. How did Quinn take losing her man and losing the competition? How about Will, who gave up on his Broadway dream only to lose the dream he had for his students? How about a little more of a taste of Sam and Mercedes beginning their relationship? Lots of untapped wells there, and I feel like they can't really be addressed too effectively at the start of season three. A summer vacation for all the characters will be too long for them to still be raw about the experience.

Speaking of summer, I hope Glee's writers can use the time to regroup a bit. I feel that with an episode like this (which I'm calling a B-, by the way) they further showed that they've been running out of steam a bit here at the end of the year. Here's hoping they can figure some good, continuing stories for some characters for next year, and come back strong again.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Low Tides

This weekend, I went to catch the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides -- like many people, it seems, given the $90 million opening weekend. But if you haven't forked over your money yet, I'm here to tell you that you probably don't want to. On Stranger Tides is not a "bad" movie as such; it commits the arguably worse offense of just being boring.

Though nearly half an hour shorter than the previous plodding film, At World's End, this movie somehow felt longer to me. It's slow paced and just generally "less" than the other Pirates movies. The action isn't adventurous or exciting. The romantic parts aren't emotional or sexy. The dramatic elements aren't engaging. There is a plot, a far more coherent tale than was served up in the last two sequels, but it is a rather joyless affair.

Even Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush, whose larger-than-life characters were the primary appeal of the original trilogy... well, they're still among the most entertaining parts of this new movie, but even they feel like they're just going through the motions most of the time, not having nearly as much fun at it as they used to. And I think part of that is because the film isn't really centered on either of them.

This fourth Pirates movie is based in part on a novel, On Stranger Tides, that had nothing to do with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I haven't read it, but to me, the movie definitely comes across as a story into which Captain Jack Sparrow was forced. He's a poor protagonist in his own story, spending most of the movie deceived, clueless, imprisoned, coerced, or several of the above. He sort of bobs along with the current, only occasionally taking charge for a moment here and there to have a clearly Hollywood-manufactured action sequence.

If anything, the antagonist was almost more the protagonist of the film. Ian McShane as Blackbeard is the one definitively bright spot of the film. He's played his share of textured villains in his career, and while Blackbeard is understandably a less-rounded character, McShane serves him up with gusto and energy all the same. He's as fun as Barbossa in the first film and miles ahead of Davy Jones in the sequels. Comically, unrealistically wicked at times, yes, but that's how these sorts of movies (and characters) work.

Still, that's not nearly enough for me to recommend the movie. I found it to be a drab, D+ affair, and would caution you to stay clear. But if you simply must know for yourself, I'd suggest you splurge and shell out the extra few dollars for 3D. I myself did not see the movie in 3D, but the film clearly pandered to that format. There were countless scenes of characters pointing swords toward the audience, people and things jumping into frame, and so forth. Perhaps I would have been more entertained by the plane-busting antics than I was by the movie itself.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Golden Crown

After last week's episode of Game of Thrones, which featured three or four scenes of significant new content, tonight's installment got back mostly to material featured in the original book. And while I preferred the few small surprises that went with seeing new scenes last week, it's not as though tonight's episode wasn't plenty entertaining.

The hour concluded with one of the scenes I was most interested to see brought to like from the page, the "crowning" of Viserys. It was a gruesome and indelible scene in the book, and I was curious to see if it could be pulled off for the camera without coming off silly or unbelievable. Indeed, it could. You don't feel at all sorry for Viserys -- an even more loathsome character in the book than he was portrayed on the show -- and yet seeing a death like that, you just have to pause.

Other great material in the hour was the entire Tyrion plot line, which allowed him to demonstrate his wit and his words to escape from crazy-town through the least likely of ways -- a trial by combat. It's stuff like this that made Tyrion a favorite character among readers, even though he could easily be considered a villain at this point in the story.

And without spoiling anything for those who haven't read the book, I'll just say that other material in the episode had me wondering if perhaps another major plot development was going to occur this hour. It didn't... though I suspect I'll be able to touch on that next week.

So, until then...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 17

Day 17: A song that you hear often on the radio.

I really don't ever listen to the radio anymore. (Given the state of the industry, it's clear I'm hardly alone in this regard.) Ever since I got a car stereo that lets me connect my iPod, that's my traveling music of choice; yet even before that, I would more often listen to CDs than radio.

It's been so long since I've regularly listened to radio that I decided the best way to illustrate would be to pick for this category a song that was played often on the radio at the time I last listened regularly. I decided on "She Will Be Loved" by Maroon 5.

Mind you, this was a big radio hit off their first album, and there have been two since. Not exactly current.

There is one other possible take I considered on this category. I go to trivia night at a local bar a couple times a month. The format is that a question is asked, then you have the duration of one song to turn in an answer for your team. The DJ/host of this event only seems to have about 50 songs on his iPod, and since it takes around 25 songs to get through one trivia night, that means a lot of repetition. So if that guy counts as "radio," I'd have to pick something by Red Hot Chili Peppers, like "Give It Away."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rapturous Applause

Lots of people are talking about it, so I feel sort of obligated to discuss tomorrow's impending Rapture. (Oh br-rother.) In particular, a lot of people have been making fun of the places offering post-Rapture care for your pets. And why not? It's a veritable comedic gold mine!

Here's my attempt to mine a few veins too:

First, why bother? Don't we know that All Dogs Go to Heaven? (Also, Sheep Go to Heaven -- though goats go to hell.)

But more importantly... if you truly believe you're going to be Raptured up to heaven, do you really want to entrust the care of your pet to one of the heathens who was left behind? "Meh, he's not good enough for God, but he's good enough for Fido." And do you really believe that a person who wasn't honorable enough to go to heaven will somehow be honorable enough to keep his promise to watch your pet for you? While there's hell on Earth and a short fuse lit to the end of everything?

Wait. My bad. These people believe the actual Rapture is going to occur tomorrow. Belief in a person who will watch their pet for them makes total sense by comparison.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shake Your Groove Thang

The early 90s brought what some called a "renaissance" of Disney animated movies. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King... they're among the best films ever released by the studio. And while you might quibble about just when this second "Golden Age" ended, there's little question that by the end of the 90s, it was certainly over. There are movies from that period I still haven't seen.

For instance, The Emperor's New Groove. It never looked all that interesting to me, and the presence of David Spade in the starring role was no incentive for me to consider twice. Nevertheless, for whatever reasons, I finally caught up with it recently.

What a strange movie this is. I mean, it's strange right from the title itself, which seems crafted to make you think that Disney has decided to take on the fable of the Emperor's invisible clothes. But nope, it has nothing to do with that. Nothing. Instead, it's the story of a spoiled emperor who is transformed into a llama accidentally when an ambitious underling tries to poison him. See? Even the actual one sentence description is peculiar too.

It's also probably the most "fourth wall" breaking of Disney's films. Which is really saying something, when you think of all the riffs Robin Williams did as the Genie in Aladdin. But it's true. The film is self-aware of it being a film, characters talk to the audience, there are modern references aplenty, and very little of the humor seems pitched to where a child would understand it. A truly oddball Disney film.

John Goodman is an island of normal in the insanity, voicing the peasant that tries to help the llama emperor regain his form and throne. His character brings a more serious vibe to the film... but there's only so much he can do when the story is otherwise so whimsical. David Spade is as annoying as I feared he might be, and it's a shame the movie revolves so heavily around him. But fortunately, there are other voices too, to keep it from being the David Spade show. Eartha Kitt makes for a great, classic-style Disney villain, while Patrick Warburton basically auditions for The Tick (a role he would later -- briefly -- play on TV) as a lame-brained, muscle-bound sidekick.

Another oddity here, for 90s Disney anyway, is the absence of musical numbers. But this is a choice that I do feel works for this film. This movie challenges the suspension of disbelief in other ways, and in any case, I can't imagine what sorts of songs could have been crafted. (I don't think much of Phish's song about a "Llama," and I doubt Sting -- who provides bookending songs for this movie -- would have done better.)

It's definitely "post-Renaissance Disney," but not unenjoyable either. It doesn't pack the emotional punch of my favorite Disney animated features, but is breezy, light weight fun. I rate it a B-.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 16

Day 16: A song that you used to love but now hate.

Another case of strong word choice here that I don't necessarily agree with. I couldn't think of a song that had passed from one extreme to the other, no song that I had soured on so thoroughly over time. But sure, there are songs I used to like a lot more than I do now. Something from that list will fit the bill here.

I'm finding these days that a big influence in changing my opinion of a song is Rock Band. There are songs that I don't like to listen to that I find quite enjoyable in game. There are songs I love to listen to that just don't have compelling gameplay. There are songs I come to respect all whole lot more -- or less -- for their sheer craftsmanship, by experiencing the way all the parts of the song work together.

A band that has really dropped in my esteem because of this is The Police. Rock Band has pointed out to me that basically every Police song ends with a minute-and-a-half of chanting the same single lyric over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. One of the worst offenders is "Can't Stand Losing You" (see 2:10 through the end of the song):

But I should point out that while experiencing The Police in Rock Band made me think much less of Sting as a songwriter, it made me appreciate the group's drummer, Stewart Copeland, a lot more. This guy is incredible. His drumming is nuanced, loaded with oddball syncopation that demands incredible limb independence. And yet it simultaneously manages to never be showy, to never call attention to itself or distract from the natural feeling of the song. For my money, he was by far the best musician in the band.

If, for whatever reason, I had to make a non-Rock Band-related selection in this category, I'd go for "O Fortuna," the opening of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. You may not know this song by name, but trust me... you know this song. That's because there was apparently a law on the books in Hollywood for a while that required at least 1 out of every 4 commercials/TV shows/movies/trailers to use it. (And for at least 1 of the remaining 3 to use a sound-alike.) Somewhere along the way, the song got retired in favor of "Hall of the Mountain King," but my original enthusiasm for the piece has never recovered.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


A few weeks back, Glee ran a special 90-minute episode. This week, the show probably would have done best for itself by balancing that out with a 30-minute episode.

Half of tonight's episode was outstanding. Just last week, I was saying that there needed to be a serious storyline for Sue to re-humanize her. I even suggested that it might involve her sister. I swear I had no idea that tonight's development was coming. At the risk of it looking like I'm patting myself on the back somehow, I'd say this was just what the doctor ordered. It's harsh to kill off Sue's sister, but I think the writers had taken Sue to such a lunatic extreme in the second half of this season that something equally extreme was needed to balance the scales.

Sue's grief seemed utterly real. (And Jane Lynch's performance was -- no pun intended -- pitch perfect.) She still tossed about a few Sylvestery barbs, but it was believable for her to react that way to her loss. And while the Glee club rallying around their nemesis seemed like an awfully big stretch, this was at least acknowledged with some justification, that they empathized with the deceased as a fellow outcast.

This wave of tender emotion set up one of season's best performances in "Pure Imagination," a really touching television portrayal of a funeral service, and the surprisingly sad breakup of Finn and Quinn. All top quality Glee.

Unfortunately, all of this material was literally broken in half by a what felt like a completely different episode. An episode we've already seen, in fact -- A Night of Neglect. As though at a loss for a way to naturally work songs into the main plot line, the episode seemed to not even want to try. Instead, we got four back-to-back-to-back-to-back performance numbers even more American Idol-style than that season low episode from a few weeks back. The kids were literally auditioning, and literally being critiqued by a character trying to behave like Simon Cowell. Which specifically was another low point for the episode. The writers, apparently unwilling to lose the outlandishness of old cartoonish Sue Sylvester, decided to graft all her mannerisms and zingers onto Jesse St. James this week.

The worst part of all of this was that a great, dramatic episode was put on pause to serve up this two acts of plotless nonsense. All the momentum that was built up at the start of the hour was thrown away, and then had to be built back up again from scratch. Were it not for the amazing performances from Jane Lynch and Matthew Morrison in the reading of Sue's eulogy, I don't think they even would have built it back at all.

So what do I do with 20 of among-the-worst-ever minutes of Glee stuffed inside 20 of among-the-season's-best minutes of Glee like some kind of Turd Oreo? Well... I think I literally average an A and an F, and call this episode a C. I really wish the writers had decided to be truly bold and risked an episode with only a single song. I think they could have made their strongest hour since "Grilled Cheesus" at the start of the year.

Of course, they'll probably never do such a thing. An 80% drop in iTunes download revenue for a week? (Gasp!)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Wolf and the Lion

Game of Thrones served up its best episode yet tonight, though the exciting new developments came at the cost of benching a couple of storylines for a week. There was no sign of either Daenerys or Jon Snow, but there were more than enough other things to keep the story interesting.

Obviously, there were major strides in the plot, as Catelyn took Tyrion to her mad sister for imprisonment. (The Eyrie looked just as cool on the show as I'd imagined it reading the book.) Eddard resigned as the King's Hand, and later was wounded by Jamie in retribution for the taking of Tyrion.

But I found the best parts of the hour to be the very choice two-person scenes that so clearly let us in on so many of the characters this week. The taunting scene in the throne room between Littlefinger and The Spider was a perfect battle of wits and barbs between two men who use their words as their weapons. The dialogue between King Robert and Queen Cersei was keen insight into the state of their marriage not just now, but over its long course.

There were also two scenes I believe to be additions from the book that also landed well for me. First came the scene between Theon Greyjoy and his whore. I recall that while reading the first part of the book, Theon was almost a non-entity to me. Among the dozens of characters I was trying to keep straight, he just didn't register. This scene wasn't startling, but did do a very good job of painting him as a more serious threat, a man to watch and take seriously. (And indeed, he is both.)

Curiously, the other scene involved sex as well -- this between Lord Renly and the Knight of Flowers. Again, Renly is a character that simply never landed for me as I read the book. Among all the people involved in the bitter power struggle, the unmemorable brother of King Robert always came off as one too many. Renly was built up more strongly in this episode than I remember him in the book -- not only in this private moment, but in his bold betting against Littlefinger at the joust earlier in the episode. I'm not sure I'm any more deeply invested in him, but I do find him a stronger personality, a "piece" worthy of the "game," if you will.

Hard to believe we're already half done with the season at this point! It's gone so fast -- and yet I wouldn't have them slow the pace that has seemed fairly relentless and exhilarating since the second episode. At least I can take comfort in knowing HBO has already re-ordered the show for season 2.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 15

Day 15: A song that describes you.

I think this has to be the toughest category in this whole Song Challenge thing. The real difficulty here is finding ways to describe yourself... just in plain language, never mind in the form of song lyrics. I honestly didn't even know where to begin on a song to describe myself. And I'm not even necessarily satisfied with the only choice I ultimately found halfway acceptable, The Beatles' "Paperback Writer":

Am I missing some obvious selection here? Is there some perfect song that you think describes me?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Black and White and Dead All Over

If you were checking in yesterday looking for my regular blog post, I apologize. A Blogger outage conspired to prevent me from keeping current. But enough with that -- let's get back to business!

Last year, when I reviewed the classic movie The African Queen, someone brought to my attention that Clint Eastwood had directed and starred in a film centered around the making of that movie, and suggested I check it out.

Let me start this review of that film -- White Hunter, Black Heart -- by clearing up a few misconceptions. First of all, the film isn't exactly about the making of The African Queen. It's actually fiction based around truth. The crazy director played by Clint Eastwood is not John Huston, but has a similar name and is meant to be very much like him. The movie being made is never referred to by title, but is not at all oblique in presenting as The African Queen. The film stars aren't Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn by name, but act and sound just like them. It's "fiction," get it? (wink wink nudge nudge)

Secondly, the film isn't really about the making of a movie, The African Queen or otherwise. The notion of filming in Africa is a pretense to get the director to the continent, where he spends most of his time trying to bag himself an elephant with the help of a local guide. The film is really about the man's obsession, one he can't even explain himself.

The film is also phenomenally boring. Perhaps this was a problem of expectations. I love movies, love to learn more about how they're made, and was eager to peek "behind the scenes" of a classic. Instead, I got a two-hour take on Moby Dick, with a pace even more languid than that of the movie on which it was ostensibly based.

Clint Eastwood growls his way through a role you'd seen him play before this movie, and would see him play many more times after. Yes, he does deliver some great zingers, and there is some occasional fun in watching him verbally beat the stuffing out of some idiot that richly deserves it. Still, it's all quite paint-by-numbers. Jeff Fahey is stronger as his foil, the writer brought along to Africa that reflects for the audience on what his job has really become. But here again, there's a sad familiarity to the narration of the film, an on-the-nose triteness that nobody but Morgan Freeman can really pull off.

Really, the only thing I can recommend about the movie is that -- like The African Queen -- it makes a showcase out of landscape itself. If you're one of those people who gets into the spectacle of film, this one is a wonder to behold. It's beautiful, and beautifully photographed. Even the scenes that play in act one, before the journey to Africa, have a sweeping scope to them that catches the eye.

But I'm not one of those people wowed by that sort of thing in the absence of compelling character or plot. I give White Hunter, Black Heart a D+. I think that puts it squarely as the worst Clint Eastwood movie (directed by and/or starring) in my book. Steer clear.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 14

Day 14: A song that no one would expect you to love.

I found this one to be a tricky category. How should I know whether anyone would expect me to love any given song? I could have looked for some metal song, given my widely known dislike of the genre, but that felt to me like it would be revisiting territory I've already covered in this Challenge. Besides, I'm pretty sure there isn't a metal song out there that I actually "love."

I thought about turning to another genre I don't care for: country. "Bad Things," by Jace Everett, came to mind. But I quickly dismissed it. As it's the theme to the series True Blood, I can't see it as a song that "no one" would expect me to love.

I kept searching, and never really came up with what felt like a clear winner. The best I arrived at was "Tainted Love," as recorded by Marilyn Manson for the film Not Another Teen Movie:

Marilyn Mason's style is usually on the far side of the boundary of "Music I Like." I'm okay with a few of his songs, but I doubt anybody would think he'd make a song I "love." Add to that the fact that this a re-record of an awesome 80s tune that I do love. Tampering with that is playing with dynamite. It can only end badly, right?

Well, I totally love this version of the song. So, surprise! (I think.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Prom Queen

Tonight's Glee was mostly good with a little touch of not-so-much.

Hitting big on the plus side for me were the first two songs, "Rolling in the Deep" and "Isn't She Lovely?" Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele on the former, and Kevin McHale on the latter, kicked ass on the vocals. And the arrangement of both songs made me think that maybe we were headed for an entire episode built around "stripped down" performances. No elaborate backup bands, no 30-piece orchestras.

No such luck. Because the glee club was playing the prom, and that meant bringing on the whole spectacle. The rest of the episode veered into modern pop territory. Totally understandable and logical music selection for a high school prom, and totally showcasing why I'm older and more square than I'd like to admit. That frakking awful (and simultaneously earwigy) song "Friday" really set the stage for what the rest of the show going to be musically. Perhaps that's why I was so surprised and pleased by the sudden appearance of ABBA's "Dancing Queen" at the end.

Plotwise, the Kurt storyline felt like the strongest thread of the hour to me... though in an unusual twist, not for Kurt himself. Rather, all the people he played opposite got the most powerful moments. First there was Blaine's story of getting beaten up before his prom. Then there was the top scene of the hour, Karofsky's tearful apology for being a bully. And then there was another scene of Burt being the Best TV Dad ever, perfectly walking the line between being a supportive father while trying to tell Kurt something didn't want to (but really needed to) hear. After all that, Kurt's big embarrassment and subsequent redemption at the prom, though poignant, actually felt like the least hard-hitting part of the arc...

Particularly when Kurt's breakdown was intercut with another scene that hit the bullseye so well -- Brittany's wonderful words of encouragement to Santana. (Okay, so it was also intercut with Rachel and Quinn's bathroom soap opera scene; but that was more fun than serious.)

What else? Well, there was the continuing cartoonification of Sue Sylvester. Threatening Artie with dental tools like they were in an episode of Alias was no less believable than anything else she's done these past few weeks -- but this time it wasn't really funny either. I think the writers really need to find a way to pull Sue back to reality before she's lost as a character and forever becomes a caricature. Maybe another heartfelt plot involving her sister? Not likely to happen in just the two remaining episodes, but I say put it high on the season 3 "to do" list: make Sue more realistic.

Then there was the return of Jesse. Hard to judge that one. He has a great voice, and his duet with Rachel was the top song of the hour in my book. But his character was so unevenly written last year that it's hard to see what he can really offer coming back into the mix. The writers tried to hang a bell on that fact by having he and Rachel actually talk about his irrational behavior, but I'd personally rather see the last two episodes of this season pay off existing stories already in motion than start a new thread with him.

Taking it all in, I think I'd rate this episode a B.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Punching In

One by one, I seem to be picking up the last of the 2010 Best Picture Oscar nominated films that I missed in the theaters. The most recent was The Fighter, the movie that actually won acting statues for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo.

On one level, it's a pretty typical sports movie -- upstart with natural talent ties to overcome adversity and be a success. But it does manage to break from the norm in a few interesting ways. For one, the adversity in this film is the boxer's family. Not because they're poor, or because they don't believe him (we've all seen that), but because they're all just royal screw-ups.

The opening minutes of the film are also presented as an interesting take on a documentary. We see a film crew gathering footage to make a documentary, not the actual "mockumentary" itself. It's characters living their actual, unedited lives, but in a heightened way, hamming it up deliberately for the cameras.

I'm not sure I see what was so fantastic about Melissa Leo's performance to warrant her Oscar win. Her acting is fine, but no more stand-out than that of co-stars Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams. All of them serve their characters, convey their emotions, and nail their accents. I don't mean for it to sound as workmanlike as all that; I simply mean it's all good without being Award-worthy.

But then there's Christian Bale. The man may have a reputation for being an ass to work with, but his results are mind-blowing. He has to be one of the best actors working today. He transforms into a wholly different person in each performance, and here is no exception. His strung-out drug addict is pitiable and loathsome, manic and defeated in turns. He has delivered Award-worthy work in many other movies, but I certainly don't begrudge the win here.

Still, the movie can only be so different before it has to snap back to the rigid formula of sports movies. Or, to put it another way -- you know how this one's gonna end, folks. I don't tend to watch many of these kinds of movies, as I can only find them so moving, so inspirational, so dramatic, whatever. And this movie, despite the towering performance, is no exception. I rate it a B, which in my book is a good but not great movie. If boxing movies are your thing, you might like it better. Either way, it may well be one to put on your list (if not rush to see).

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things

Game of Thrones continues to gather momentum in its fourth episode. Although the jaw-dropping twists of the later parts of the book are still to come, I find myself ever more thrilled with the ride getting there.

We're still meeting new characters, of course. Samwell made his first appearance tonight, an arrival that made one of my friends who has read the books "squee" with delight. Eddard discovered the king's bastard son. And Theon Greyjoy finally stepped more into the foreground, though he has been lurking about before tonight.

Personally, I found the introduction of the elder Clegane brother, "The Mountain," to be one of the more interesting parts of the episode. He himself expressed very little, but we still saw plenty of his character. There was the brutal and violent joust in which you see just how unglamorous and un-Renaissance-Festival-like the practice truly is. And then Littlefinger's chilling story to Sansa struck just the right "boogeyman" chords to be even more unsettling.

There were plenty of other good moments too. There was Jamie's disgust at being forced to stand guard as the king cheats on Cersei. (Sleeping with the queen, of course, is something Jamie himself is only too happy to do. And again... ew.) There was Daenerys finally standing up for herself against her brother. And there was the brilliant and fun image that closed the episode, of Tyrion Lannister ringed by a sea of swords.

The sites I have read that report on Neilsen ratings say that Game of Thrones has been inching up a little with each passing week. Here's hoping the trend continues. The quality keeps going up in my mind, and I'd love to see HBO reap rewards for taking the chance on the show.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Singing a Sondheim

One of my friends is currently stage managing a play here in Denver, Side By Side By Sondheim. It's a small production (and for my friend, this is well earned, coming on the heels of a massive show with a cast of more than 150), being mounted by a brand new theater company in town, the Cherry Creek Theatre.

The theater is so new, in fact, that they don't as yet have a conventional theater space in which to perform. Instead, they've procured space in an oriental rug store. After store hours, the windows are covered up (with rugs), around 100 chairs are pulled in around a raised platform in the center of the large gallery, and the theater commences.

I've attended shows with even smaller audiences before, plays where the audience is right on top of the performers like this. I've also attended plays in "found spaces" like this, outdoor settings where large crowds can gather to watch. But this was the first time I'd ever experienced both of these unconventional aspects combined into one show.

Add to that the fact that the show is rather unconventional too. Side By Side By Sondheim is a musical revue, a collection of around 30 of songs collected from about a dozen musicals with music, lyrics, or both by Stephen Sondheim. I have also attended revue shows before, but here again the show delivered an experience not quite like what I'd seen before. Usually, revue shows strain to craft some kind of makeshift plot and characters to hold the songs. This show dispenses with that artifice. The assumption is you're there to hear songs by Stephen Sondheim, and maybe a few interesting factoids about them and the shows from which they come. So why bother with the window dressing?

All this combined for a theater experience that, I must confess, put me quite off kilter for a while. An unusual show in an unusual space; this wasn't at all what I was expecting from a night at the theater.

But that's not to say it wasn't entertaining. Indeed, once I got over the initial awkwardness, I had a great time. The show was a nice mix of songs I knew and songs I hadn't. The four performers (two men and two women; a younger couple and a somewhat older couple) all did a good job with their renditions of the songs. In fact, two of them (the older couple) were quite outstanding, instilling different songs with all kinds of different emotions -- funny, tender, playful, tearful, and everything in between.

Side By Side By Sondheim is honestly closer to a concert than a play, but I found it to still be a very enjoyable and intimate concert. If you're a fan of Stephen Sondheim, if you're at all familiar with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, or West Side Story, or Company, or if you simply enjoy really clever wordplay (because few lyricists are more clever), you'd probably enjoy getting out to see this show.

If you live in the Denver area, this particular production is running three more weekends after this. Get out there and enjoy some live theater. And while you're at it, you can take a look at some rugs that cost more than my car (even including the recent maintenance expenses).

Friday, May 06, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 13

Day 13: A song that is a guilty pleasure.

It's a bit tough to be honest on this one, you know? I mean, if it's a true guilty pleasure, then it's a song I really wouldn't want anyone else to know I like, right? A song that I'd have to start explaining to a passenger in my car if it came up on a random iPod shuffle.

I need to actually care that it's not "cool" to like the song. I don't care that a fair number of music critics have been bagging on Huey Lewis and the News over the years, and have pronounced "The Heart of Rock and Roll" one of the worst/cheesiest songs/videos ever. I still like it.

I also don't think it counts when everyone was under the mass delusion of a song's spell for a period of time. I mean, everybody liked "Mambo No. 5" for a couple months there, so I don't feel especially "guilty" about still liking it today.

Dig deeper...

Maybe this will suffice:

That's 3 Small Words, ostensibly by Josie and the Pussycats. A few years back, they made a blink-and-you-missed-it film version of the cartoon Josie and the Pussycats. So first, I have to suck up the embarrassment and admit to seeing it. Then, I have to suck up the embarrassment of admitting I actually quite liked it. (So sue me. It was a scathing commentary on manufactured pop culture, and made me laugh a lot.)

Then I have to suck up the embarrassment of admitting that I really dug the music -- the crafted-to-sound-just-like-mainstream-bubblegum-pop soundtrack of "the Pussycats," whose lead vocals weren't even actually provided in the film by "Josie," Rachel Leigh Cook. Then I have to confess that I actually bought the soundtrack, love virtually every song on it, and start air drumming almost every time this track comes on in my car.

If that's not a guilty pleasure, then I must not have one.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Car Woes

And now, a tale of woe.

I got home from work last night and had about ten minutes before I had to turn around and head back out. I rushed to do some things, went back out to my car to get going... and nothing. It would not start.

Now, my knowledge of cars is virtually zero. So my mental checklist went something like this: "Dead battery?" No, there's still clearly power because everything on the dashboard is lit up.


Step two. Call my brother, the auto mechanic. (I don't mean that figuratively. He is an auto mechanic.) I describe what's happening -- I'm hearing a clicking sound every few seconds when I try to start it, but nothing is happening. (And another data point -- two weeks ago, I had one occasion where it took three tries for my car to start; I had dismissed this from my mind because it had been fine since then.)

My brother's rough over-the-phone diagnosis is that it's either a bad ignition switch or a bad starter. He's betting on the former, as Hondas had a few years with notorious problems there. (Many even had an official recall on them.) But his dealership was already closed for the night, so he couldn't get the part I needed. I at least count myself lucky that the car decided not to start when I'd already made it home. Just 45 minutes earlier, and I'd have been looking for a tow truck from work and a ride.

But speaking of work, there's the matter of getting there the next day (today). Fortunately, I have a couple of friends that happen to have three vehicles between the two of them. (The third is a burly truck for burly truck purposes.) I called them up, and was most graciously offered a car to use to get me through.

Fast forward to tonight. My brother comes over, does a quick experiment that takes all of about 20 seconds, and concludes that nope, his phone diagnosis was wrong. It is indeed the starter, not the ignition switch. I apologize for giving him "faulty intelligence." We decide to call around to some auto part stores, as he is not likely to be able to get any better price on the replacement part than I could get elsewhere.

We remove the old starter (by "we," I mean "he" -- I'm trying to remain the protagonist in my own story here), and take it over to exchange out at the nearby store. Just to be sure, we ask the employee there to test the starter, and sure enough, he comes back with confirmation that it's completely useless. I buy the part ($200... ouch), and we head back to my place.

Just as my brother is about to start installing it, I get a phone call from the auto parts store. It's the same clerk, telling me that he just discovered his tester was somehow configured incorrectly. He's run a new test on my starter, and it came back "all green." And they won't take returns on electrical parts once installed, so if I want to return it and get my old starter back, I'd better do it now.

My brother is shaking his head. So I thank the clerk, hang up, and let my brother do his thing.

Moment of truth. I go to start the car.... Nothing. But wait... I may well have drained the battery (the old, getting to be rather corroded battery) trying to start it unsuccessfully all those times, so let's jump start it.

Success! But with an asterisk. The battery doesn't seem to want to hold a charge now. (See aforementioned age and corrodedness.) My brother suggests maybe I could just drive it around for a while to build up a charge, but concedes that a new battery might not be a bad idea either. The failing starter may well have taken the beleaguered battery down with it.

By this point, I feel I've taken up more than enough of my brother's time on a night when he had other plans. So I assure him that I can at least get to the store and have them put a battery in for me. I send him on his way, and drive out to get a car battery. I decide I don't want to return to the first store that sold me the starter, just because I want to avoid any potential embarrassment over the whole "we ignored you and put the part in anyway" issue. There's another car parts store only slightly farther from my house; I'll go there.

But there are only two employees at this other store, and the weirdest Thursday night rush of customers imaginable. So my request to have a car battery installed is politely shot down. But the clerk just as politely offers me tools to change the battery myself.

Recall back to the beginning of this story. I am not a car person. My stomach instantly knotted up. But, I reassured myself, I have changed a car battery before. This task is something I should be able to manage. So I accepted the tools, changed out the battery, and went to start the car.

Nothing. Even worse results than anything yet in this saga. The lights were on all over the dashboard, but not a damn thing was happening. So I double, triple checked. Then sheepishly called my brother. If I can get another jump start from the store, can I please come over for a second consultation? He graciously agrees.

Of course, that improbable rush of customers meant that I waited nearly 20 minutes to get that jump start. But at long last, the employee comes out, tests the new battery to confirm it is indeed working, and then goes to give me the jump start.


Okay. What. The. Hell?

Now that things have cleared out a bit at the store, the employee has a moment, so he takes a look at my battery installing handiwork. But he's scratching his head. It should be working.

I'm dangerously close to "basket case" territory now. I'm embarrassed to have to call my brother again at this point. I'm sorry to have to further wreck his evening by asking him to come out to the store to take a look, and likely give me a ride back home. I'm starting to get a bit mad too -- not at him, but at the fact that I've spent $300 already, and am no closer to having a functioning car.

But I shove all that into a compartment and make the call, begging my brother to come. And he does. He takes a look...

And instantly sees the problem. Apparently, I can't install a car battery. Because in addition to the expected connections I'd seen before, there are two other loose, smaller connections to be made -- the connectors for the car alarm. These tiny cables were both were attached to the main negative battery connector, so I had squeezed them both in against the negative terminal.

But oh-no-no-no-no. One of them was meant to go the positive terminal. And with the car alarm compromised, and automatic kill function was preventing my car from starting. I'm embarrassed to have made the mistake, upset at the store employee for not having seen the mistake, and hoping that my brother is right -- that this one simple change is going to solve all my problems. Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease...

Success! Once and for all! I started the car, shut it off, and started it again. No problems! Then I apologized profusely to my brother for dragging him into my web of car woes. (Seriously, if you go into a line of work where your family members will likely call on you for your expertise, you deserve a medal.)

So now I have one more step in my extremely limited car repair checklist: "Is the battery really connected properly? Car alarm too?" And more importantly, I have a working car again. And though none of them are regular readers of my blog, and are therefore unlikely to read this, I must give thanks one more time to my brother for the repair help, and my friends for the loaner car.

Car trouble sucks. Friends and family rock.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

30 Day Song Challenge -- Day 12

Day 12: A song from a band you hate.

It would be all too easy to let this category just become an extension of "a song you hate." (Sorry, "your least favorite song.") To narrow down the options, I decided to clarify. How about a song I actually do like (at least a little) from a band I otherwise hate?

That made the choice pretty easy. I hate Metallica. No more than I hate pretty much every metal band, but as one of the preeminent bands in the genre, they're an easy magnet for my distaste.

And yet, I kinda-sorta like "Enter Sandman":

I like the Richard Cheese version better than the original, but hey... I don't hate the original.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


I thought tonight's Glee episode was the most successful "theme episode" the series has attempted to date. The Madonna episode from season 1 was fun and definitely had showier numbers, but this one offered more between the music. (As for the weaker Lady Gaga and Britney Spears-themed hours, there's really no comparison.)

Of course, it helps that I'm a fan of Fleetwood Mac in general, and the Rumours album in particular. (Though not of Stevie Nicks' goat-woman vibrato.) I do wish that there had been more of a "Glee stamp" on some of the songs, though. With the exception of the finale -- "Don't Stop" -- all the performances adhered very closely to the original tracks. Even the gender-swapped "Go Your Own Way" was styled almost identically to the original. But then again, it was hard to quibble with the strong vocals there, or the equally strong takes on "Dreams," "Never Going Back Again," and "Songbird."

As I said, I thought the story here was the strongest of the "theme episodes." It wasn't exactly a slam dunk; the who-is-accusing-who-of-doing-what-with-who drama seemed a little too teen soap for me after a while. But it was leading to a really strong revelation about Sam's family troubles. I do wish this had been hinted at and worked toward a bit in earlier episodes (but then again, Sam has hardly been around lately, so maybe you could argue it sort of was). In any case, it still landed with force all the same.

Okay, so I'm not sure why Sam is bringing his siblings to his school when they presumably have schools of their own to go to, but it was easy to overlook that small detail if you were caught up in his situation. I for one was.

Sue was a slightly less cartoonish villain this week, save for her oddball costumes at the top of the show. (And let's face it, I was too busy laughing to not like it.)

Overall, I'd call this hour a B+.

Monday, May 02, 2011

'Tis But a Scratch

I have a wicked looking scratch down the side of my forehead right now, this angry red line from my hair to my eyebrow. I would love to be able to claim this injury came from some activity either manly or outdoorsy or both. "Oh, some accident the other night with a drill..." Or "I picked it up while free climbing a rock wall after the freak snow on Friday."

Or I could go the tender, loving route if only I had a pet or baby to blame it on. "Oh, the cat clawed me while we were playing." Or, "I was giving eskimo kisses when she reached up with talon-like fingernails and clawed my face."

Sadly, the truth is just lame. I was trying on a shirt at the store, and this mean-spirited tag on the inside gave me an embarrassingly dumb paper cut on my face.

I did not buy the shirt.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Lord Snow

The third episode of Game of Thrones wasn't filled with the tense twists of the previous hour, but as a fan of the book, I found it a compelling installment nonetheless. It introduced a number of new characters into the mix, some of them people that didn't land as sharply on me as a reader -- Peter Baelish, Lord Renly -- and others entertaining at the time, but forgotten in the long years since I'd read the book -- Sylvio. Through solid casting and careful dialogue, I found them all to be effective additions to the mix here in the series.

Many of the major characters took their first steps on a long and interesting road. We saw Arya begin her sword lessons, Daenerys discover her pregnancy, and Jon Snow just beginning to gain acceptance at the Wall -- all moments that brought a knowing smile to my face as I watched the hour unfold.

This may also be the first episode in which Tyrion didn't have the best moments. Oh, he was still the fun rogue he's been, and had great scenes. Still, I think Jamie stole the show this week with his great opening scene with Eddard, his biting insult/flirtation with Cersei, and his minor confrontation with the king.

I think with the many exciting moments to come, by the end of the season, this episode won't be particularly remembered. It really did just incrementally push events forward without offering any major revelations. Nevertheless, I thought it a well executed hour with solid acting and writing.

I've not popped my usual "letter grade" on any episodes of the show thus far, and I don't think I'm going to break the trend now. Because of my familiarity with the book, it's difficult for me to take any one episode as a truly stand-alone piece. But I continue to find it a most worthy realization of the source material.