reviews

New Music – November, 2011

I buy a lot of new music. Well, as much as my budget will allow. I buy music for the feeling it creates within me and the thoughts it inspires. You should know I have no musical talent. When I say I play music, I literally mean I’m hitting “play.” You should not take this to mean that I don’t know what I’m talking about. My taste rules. Here’s what I’ve picked up recently:

ALBUMS:

Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto – Coldplay and I have had an on again/off again relationship over the years. I’ve never understood the hate they engender, but there is a quality to some of their songs that does tend to grate on me. Translation: they can get whiny. I’m happy to report that with their latest effort they’ve gotten decidedly more cheery. There’s a real joy that permeates Mylo Xyloto. Unfortunately, I’d say this is their weakest effort melodically. With the exception of Every Teardrop is a Waterfall and the Rihanna part in Princess of China, it’s hard to identify a standout moment. There’s no Viva La Vida or Clocks or Kingdom Comehere. All that said, I play it through about once a day. I like cheery. Grade: B-

Grouplove – Never Trust a Happy Song – This band came out of nowhere for me. Lead single Colours does a neat trick where certain words get repeated like they’re stuck in a grove on a record and it never gets not fun. Every track sounds like a single from a different era of music, but all filtered through Grouplove’s particular sensibility. A fun, fun record that I could not recommend more. Other standout tracks: Love Will Save Your Soul (Elora’s current favorite song), Itchin’ on a PhotographTongue TiedGrade: A-

Angels & Airwaves – Love Pts. 1 & 2 – It’s hard to not love AVA. They rock, but their message is all positive. If you need darkness and sadness in your music, best to move along. These guys are looking to inspire you and they will. not. stop. until they do. This two-part release suffers from a bit of sameyness, but when it works, it works. Single Surrender is a stand out, as are tracks The Flight of Apollo and We Are All That We Are. Honestly, there’s so much here that I’m still digesting it. I admire it more than love it right now. Grade: B-

Mates of State – Mountaintops – I love Mates of State, but this record just kind of fell flat for me. They’re a husband and wife duo, and, honestly, sometimes I wish the dude would just shut up. His voice can get super annoying, but usually the melodies win out. I loved this record the first two times I heard it, but after that I’ve been getting diminishing returns. Sad, that. Stand out tracks include: Palomino, DesireGrade: C

SINGLES:

Mumford & Sons – Hold on to What You Believe  Not a single so much as a new song I grabbed off their new live album. They lyric is what sells it for me, which includes the lines Hold on to what you believed/In the light/When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight. As a person of faith, that’s a powerful message. It doesn’t hurt that the song is pretty awesome.Grade: A

The Rifles – Long Walk Back – A fun stomper/hand clapper that will make you get up and move your feet to it’s rootsy backbeat. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with this one. I’m not a huge Rifles fan, but this is what great singles are made of.Grade: A

R.E.M. – We All Go Back to Where We Belong – This is R.E.M.’s final single and while I appreciate the appropriateness of the lyric, the Burt Bacharach horns and vibe makes this song feel out of place with the rest of their catalog and not a great capper to a fantastic career. I’m even one of those weirdos who thinks late period R.E.M. is pretty great and I can’t really recommend this song to anyone buy die hards like me. Grade: C+

Real Estate – It’s Real – Real Estate is the new IT band. A mix of surf and indie sensibilities, this is the kind of music that just puts me to sleep but that gets hailed by critics as amazing. I don’t get it. Grade: C-

Fun. – We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monae)  I don’t know how this isn’t all over the radio. Maybe it is, actually. I don’t listen to the radio. One of the catchiest singalong choruses to come along in a while. It’s kind of dumb, but I can’t deny how great it is. Grade: B+

Have you heard anything great lately? Tell me about it!

Review: Once Upon a Time

Somebody call Bill Wilingham.

ONCE UPON A TIME is a show that bares some obvious similarities to the comic book series FABLES. That (very adult) title is about the (not protected by copyright) fantasy characters from fables and fairy tales cast out of their homelands and living with us in the modern day. OUAT has the same basic premise, but attacks it from a slightly different perspective.

In this version, the Evil Queen from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS is not dead and instead exacts revenge by sending Snow and all her friends to Maine, USA. I’ve never been to Maine so I don’t really know how much of a punishment that is. Besides the main villain being an entirely different character, the other major departure from FABLES is that none of the Fable Folk remember who they are. Neat.

The show does a great job of flashing back and forth between the past and present, showing us just what life was like for the Fable Folk before they went to hell (excuse me, Maine). These flashbacks are handled with style and sincerity. I don’t think the tone is quite right–it’s a little too serious–but I enjoyed these peeks at the life before. From the promos it looks like the flashbacks will continue. No surprise since the series was created by two of the better writers from LOST.

The main plot surrounds the daughter of two of the Fable Folk and her role in setting things right again. Her introductory scene was clever and unexpected. She’s an easy gateway into the world of the Fable Folk.

There are some smart scenes (any scene with the modern day Evil Queen is quite great–she’s one of the few Fable Folk with her memories intact) and some big ideas at play here, but the writing could be a lot stronger. Characters speak mostly in cliches and the whole thing can come off a bit cheesy, but there’s still a lot to love. I especially like that there’s no content issues and I’d have no problem showing it to my 9-year-old daughter. In fact, I’ll do that tonight.

I’d rate the show a solid B-, but there’s obvious potential here for better things and I’m looking forward to see if the creators can make good on it. I’m in… for now.

Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

No spoilers ahead. No worries.

Local blog The Fresno Beehive ran a contest last week to win one of 70 pairs of tickets to an early screening of the new Harry Potter film and whaddaya know…I won. Always cool when that happens with a movie you’d spend money to see anyway. Saw it Monday night while the rest of you were debating whether or not to eat that leftover jelly donut while you watched The Bachelorette. (Or is that just my usual Monday night?)

Anyway, my wife Erin and I attended the screening along with a couple hundred other selfish locals who didn’t tell any of their friends on Facebook about the contest. (Wait…that wasn’t just me too, right?) We both went in not sure what to expect. I’d heard mixed things about the movie. Mostly positive, but many reviewers had cited pacing issues. Pacing is really important to me. I didn’t even know if it would be in 3D, which I’m not always a fan of. It was. Check out the cool glasses they handed out.

Erin is the one with the cheekbones.

The 3D was post-converted from a 2D image, but, for the most part, you couldn’t really tell. Both Erin and I agreed the 3D didn’t make too much of a difference as far as the viewing experience went, but it didn’t get in the way either. I felt bad for the security guards who wanded us as we entered the auditorium. They were supposed to be watching for recording devices while we enjoyed the movie, but they just watched the movie with us instead, sans glasses. If it’s a cost issue, I’d say you’re fine to go 2D. Just make sure you enter the right auditorium.

But on to the movie. I’m by no means a Harry Potter fanboy. I’ve read the books and seen the movies, but my connection to it is entirely within the scope of my adulthood and I don’t have the strong, strong connection so many a decade younger than me do. What I do love about the books and movies is the sense of wonder they’ve always inspired. I don’t get the exact same feeling from Harry Potter that I got growing up on Star Wars and Back to the Future, but it comes a lot closer than the Prequels ever have. I don’t even have to tell you which prequels I’m talking about, do I? Sad, that.

Time to cut right to it: the movie was amazing. I mean, seriously incredible. It worked me over on every level: viscerally, emotionally…somehtingelseally. At the end, I clapped right along with everyone else and that’s stupid. No one who created the movie was in the room. But I clapped and I was happy to do it. The movie caps off a film series that never had any right to be good. And it caps it well.

Pacing issues? None that I could see. This sucker moves when it needs to and slows down when you need the break. It grabbed hold of me from the very start and never let go.

You know the story by now. Final showdown. Good and evil. Hilter and Nazi allegories with dragons and goblins. Friendship and love triumphing over all. Etc. I think the difference this time was that the stakes were sufficiently raised and I felt them in a way I haven’t on the other films. I’ve never gone into a Harry Potter film blind; I’ve always read the books beforehand, but somehow, with this one, I was on the edge of my seat. I felt some stirrings. That hadn’t ever really happened before with these characters.

In fact, things get so dire for our 2-story high friends that at one point I heard a woman sobbing uncontrollably in the theater. She went on for about half an hour like that. I hope she was okay. Also: I both hope and do not hope she’s an Iraq War vet or something. Maybe the war scenes brought up some bad mojo for her.

That’s the other thing: this movie’s got scale. At some points, we’re talking Lord of the Rings, everybody-fight-at-once-like scale. It’s pretty amazing to see on the big screen (DO NOT wait for home video). I completely support the filmmakers’ decision to split the last book in two. I don’t think anyone coming out of this film will feel otherwise.

What can I say? It worked on me. Daniel Radcliffe has finally come into his own. There were moments in each of the previous films that felt a little false, but not so this time. Harry Potter is a fully realized character and Radcliffe comes off well and holds his own ably against Alan Rickman’s Snape and Ralph Fienne’s Voldemort.

Hoo boy, Voldemort. You get a lot of him in this film and he’s just so much fun to watch. There’s a moment when he actually gives another character a hug and it’s both the funniest and the creepiest moment of the entire series. I don’t remember if that moment was in the books or not, but I kinda doubt it. It just felt so odd and perfectly visual. Words can’t describe.

See Deathly Hallows Part 2. It’s the only movie in the series I’d say is legitimately better than the book (well, this one and Order of the Phoenix–but everyone knows that book kinda blew). It has replaced Prisoner of Azkaban as my favorite Potter movie overall, and I never thought that would happen. Prisoner of Azkaban is truly magical, but Deathly Hallows Part 2 trumps it in nearly ever way.

Have fun. I can’t wait for the complete Blu-ray set.