January 30, 2007

Women rule!


Or at least they do in Pedro Almodovar films, and this one is no exception. It is a movie full of strong characters facing unusual circumstances with grace. The visuals are most appealing, particularly the vibrant colors, and the incredible depictions of food. But the strength of Volver is the storytelling, which is delivered with laughter and tears. And the crown jewel is Penelope Cruz, who earns every bit of her Oscar nomination as a mother that will do anything to keep her family together. See this movie! You won't be disappointed.

January 21, 2007

Music is joy

You know, sometimes it takes unusual circumstances to remind you why music is the food of love.

I won't tell you the long sordid story, but will tell you that I received an early birthday/congratulatory gift from my wonderful ScottE. He knew that I'd been thinking about shopping for a new iPod for awhile now (I have the original version of the iPod Mini, and its battery life is barely lasting 45 minutes between charges). So when he saw a good deal, he made me the proud owner of a Video iPod. And it is awesome.

But what really made the deal sweet was I decided to switch my music to my current laptop. I'd kept it on my old one for awhile, but eventually the CD drive went kaput. So for I don't know how long (a year?) I wasn't able to add any new music to my iPod unless I bought it from the iTunes store. It was horrible!

So in my recent musical extravaganza, I've been able to finally burn many recent purchases onto the new iPod. It's like rediscovering songs for the first time! I'd forgotten how awesome the collaboration between the Indigo Girls and Pink on "Rock & Roll Heaven's Gate" was. Or that Alicia Keys' live duet of "Wild Horses" with Adam Levine makes me smile.

Buying a new album is definitely a great thing. But I admit I've become like a channel surfer with music - I want to sample the best bits one after another, courtesy of the shuffle feature on my iPod. Is that so wrong?

January 17, 2007

The poison pen

Notes on a Scandal

I love Judi Dench. I love Cate Blanchett. Judi + Cate = awesome. Especially when they are against each other as they were in Notes on a Scandal. It's a genteel psychological thriller that delivers all one could hope for. Quite simply, you must see this movie if you like seeing how delishly awful a person can be.

January 10, 2007

Strangely intriguing

You know how sometimes your friends now you so well that it becomes rather eerie?

Well I had this happen when I received some Christmas love from Joyous. One of the things she picked out was a CD by...Paul Anka. Yes, he of the "Put Your Head On My Shoulder" and "Puppy Love". It's a swing album, OK, fine. Then I start reading the titles of the songs. "Eye of the Tiger"? "It's My Life"? "Smells Like Teen Spirit"???

It's no joke. The album (Rock Swings) is a collection of popular rock and pop songs that have been arranged as swing music. Sure, your immediate reaction is "Uh HUH." So was mine. But...

The album indeed has some surprising moments where these reinvented songs are great and can stand alongside the original. "True" (originally by Tears for Fears) is great, as is REM's "Everybody Hurts." And in one case I actually liked this version better than the original - the Nirvana song.

But there are also a few where I had to just shake my head and say, "No, stick with the original." Examples of that were Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" and Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel."

Still, the album as a whole is full of surpises, and I will proudly add this to my collection. I can just imagine playing this during our next cocktail party and having people chatting along before they stop and say, "Wait - were those just Bon Jovi lyrics I heard?"

January 07, 2007

Boys, they'll make you happy

Maybe I just pick good movies to see, or perhaps I stick to movies I think there's a good chance I'll like. Regardless, I'm happy to say that these two reviews are both positive.


I would venture to say that every year there is one film that we're just dying to see in our household. But I don't know when we anticipated it so highly we built our holiday travel plans around it! On Christmas Day we were poised and ready to see the (sold out) Dreamgirls. Thankfully I have seen the sad man who rides the bus in those commercials and picked our tickets up in advance.

How best to sum up this movie? Jennifer Hudson rules the universe, and the audience at our screening applauded no less than four times. But let me elaborate...

The movie is already ahead in that it's chock full of some classic, catchy, memorable songs. I defy you to get the tunes out of your head the next day. In particular there are winning moments with "Steppin' To the Bad Side" and "Move."

And then of course we have J-Hud. It is as if, like Athena, she sprung fully grown from the head of Jennifer Holliday, poised to take the character of Effie into the next milennium. She growls, she rolls her eyes, she bitches, she moans. And most importantly - she belts. Sure, her crowning moment (and the reason she'll receive an Oscar nomination) is "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." But watch for her more subtle and sparkling performances with "One Night Only" and "I Am Changing." She doesn't steal the movie, but you'll be hard pressed to not have her be the first thing you talk about when you exit the theater.

The rest of the cast is mostly great. Beyonce is quite surprising in her turn as Deena. She plays it as very meek and unassured in the beginning, only asserting herself with the very well-sung "Listen" in the final act. I would say she is no Sheryl Lee Ralph [whom I meant recently is an absolutely divine human being], but she doesn't disappoint either. To really appreciate her performance I call your attention to her own attention to the details. Look at her when they first take the stage as Jimmy Earley's back-up singers. Her face is all nervousness as she tries to quickly find a choreographed groove. It's one moment that actually stands out to me. Let's just say my respect for Ms. Knowles has gone up several notches.

Yet the most underrated performance from the reviews I have read is Anika Noni Rose. Perhaps that's appropriate, as she portrays the underrated, "forgotten" member of the trio, Lorrell. Noni (I can call her that, because I know we're totally going to be BFFs), provides the biggest laugh-out-loud moments in the film, and really grows as a character throughout. The shy giggling teenager at the start becomes a cool self-assured woman when she finally ends her troubled romance with Jimmy. Thankfully she gets a chance to shine as a singer in the made-for-the-movie song "Patience." [Trivia moment - the lounge singer late in the film is Loretta Divine, who played the original Lorrell on Broadway.]

Speaking of Jimmy, it is with great surprise that I tell you Eddie Murphy is kinda awesome. He creates a believeable character that's all his own, wooing ladies you believe he could actually get. And he sings! Well! When he starts in on "Cadillac Car" I just love it.

The weak spot here is Jamie Foxx. He's not bad, per se, but it's just not his best work. I kept finiding myself thinking how much better he was in Ray.

As for the rest of the film, it's all glitz and glamour. The costumes, divine when appropriate, at other times hilarious in that "I can't believe people wore that in the 70s" way. The music is well-integrated to the plot, better than in Chicago. The editing is fast-paced and will leave you breathless. When the three girls sashay onto the stage all in red flapping sequins for "Steppin'" you'll say, "Now THAT is what I paid for!"

Children of Men

What could be more completely different than the above film? How about Alfonso Cuaron's horrific vision of society in ruins in the year 2027? Nothing is more cheery than a future where all of mankind is sterile.

Borrowed from P.D. James' excellent novel of the same name (read it, really liked it), the movie isn't uplifting, but it's not really a tearjerker either. It's thoughtful, interesting, and visually depressing. What I liked most about the movie is that it just keeps going - you don't have moments of people sitting around blathering on and on. Sadly it was overlooked at the Golden Globes and likely won't get any Oscar notice.

The highlight (shocking, I know) is Clive Owen. He's very, very good - but not at all trying to be the sexy stud we know and love. He's just a man trying to help any way he can. How hot is that?

This is not a movie about a destination. It's about the journey. And appropriately - it ends when the journey has neared its conclusion. It's satisfying in this simplicity, and yet you'll find the visions of what mankind can do to itself will linger well after the lights come up.

January 05, 2007

Tune in

Where have I been for so long? It's been a month! Well, with the end of the fall TV season, a busy schedule followed by holiday vacation and travel...I just haven't been doing much exciting in the world of entertainment. But now I'm back and ready to get back into the swing of things leading up to the winter TV season, and of course Oscar time!

For a little warm-up, I thought I'd share some recent iTunes purchases. I don't buy songs there all that often, but I received a lovely gift for Christmas, so I went crazy. I even bought an ALBUM! Which was a little bizarre.

First let me share with you a little ditty I heard in a Chicago music store - it's a blues song by Fruteland Jackson. Imagine an old-time beat-driven blues song lamenting all your problems. And updating the lyrics to reflect 2007. That's it! It's the blues about traffic, too many emails and workin' 9 to 5. And the title? "Blues 2.0" - how perfect is that?

Image courtesy of Big Hassle

As for the album, I decided to try out the much-lauded Panic! At the Disco. It's really unlike anything I have in my music library. It's full of passionate driving music that really feels like it's pushing you to (or perhaps away from) something. The beat can only be described as relentless. And the lyrics are very witty. To sum up the sound, I'd call it Depeche Mode singing the soundtrack of Rent as produced by No Doubt.

Coming up - some great DVDs I got as gifts this year. And of course my review of the Christmas miracle known as Dreamgirls!