Watching "The Conjuring"
Published on July 30, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new horror movie "The Conjuring."

Here's an excerpt:

"I don’t scare easily, at least not at the movies, and I didn’t find the new horror film 'The Conjuring' especially scary, despite all the hype about how terrifying it is.

But as a period piece, domestic drama, thriller and insightful depiction of an unusual profession — paranormal investigation — I found the film pretty compelling. This is a well-crafted, deeply involving movie that, in an age of irony and horror-comedy, is distinguished by a heartfelt sincerity. Unlike most horror films, 'The Conjuring' doesn’t have a gratuitous bone in its body. You might not believe in the supernatural, but 'The Conjuring' certainly does, and the film’s earnestness makes it surprisingly easy to buy into the idea that demonic possession is a real threat to the American way of life.

Supposedly based-on-true events, 'The Conjuring' concerns real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), a married couple who believe they were brought together by God to help people plagued by evil spirits. Lorraine is a gifted clairvoyant who finds their work important, but taxing; Ed would like her to take a break, but she refuses. After giving a lecture, the couple is approached by Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor). Perron, her husband Roger (Ron Livingston) and their five daughters are convinced that the old farmhouse they recently moved into is haunted; they hear footsteps at odd hours, birds fly into the side of the house and die, their clocks always stop at the same time — 3:07 — and one of the daughters is attacked by a hateful spirit who resembles an old woman. The Warrens are skeptical, but agree to visit the house. As soon as they set foot on the property, they sense that something is very wrong and agree to collect evidence to present to the Vatican so that an exorcism can be performed, if necessary."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Scenes from Ironman Lake Placid
Published on July 30, 2013 by Sara Foss

On Sunday, I went up to Lake Placid to watch my friend Kim compete in the Ironman.

Click here for my observations.

Hey, Where's My Beach Ball?
Published on July 29, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about July.

Here's an excerpt:

"I spent last Monday and Tuesday at Wiawaka Holiday Center, a retreat center of Lake George, volunteering at an archaeological dig. My cellphone is still fairly primitive, and I didn’t feel like lugging my laptop along with me. So I decided to go without the Internet for a night. 'Maybe it will be good for me,' I thought. Because occasionally, I wonder whether my habit of checking my email 600 times a day is healthy.

After dinner on Monday, I went for a quick swim, dried off and found a quiet bench from which to bask in the cool evening temperatures. As I sat there, I reflected upon the fact that I’d only told a handful of people where I was going. Would my parents be alarmed by my failure to post a blog for two days, and wonder what had become of me? Also, what was going on in the world? Was I missing out on some important news?

I needn’t have worried.

The next morning, I asked some of my fellow dig participants what was going on in the world.

'The royal baby was born,' they said.

There are lots of people who care about the royal baby, but I am not one of them. Hearing that the royal baby was born didn’t exactly make me think, 'Boy, I sure regret going without the Internet for 24 hours.' It made me think, 'Maybe I should forgo the Internet more often.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Americanarama at SPAC
Published on July 25, 2013 by Sara Foss

What's it like to see Ryan Bingham, My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Bob Dylan in concert?

Pretty darn cool, in my estimation. 

Here's an excerpt from my write-up at the DG:

"I’ve been out of the office and now that I’m back in the office, I’m swamped with work, which is why you haven’t heard much from me. But I did want to jot down some quick thoughts on Sunday’s Ryan Bingham/My Morning Jacket/Wilco/Bob Dylan concert at SPAC.

First of all, this is a killer line-up. And I really wanted to see Ryan Bingham, the young singer-songwriter with the weathered voice that provided some of the most haunting music for the film 'Crazy Heart,' for which Jeff Bridges won an Oscar as a down-on-his-luck country singer, and Bingham an Oscar for best original song. I got to SPAC pretty early, and caught all of Bingham’s set, which was great — I’d love to see him play a full set in a more intimate venue, such as Valentine’s or Linda.

Next up was My Morning Jacket, one of those highly-acclaimed bands that I’ve never been able to get into. For the most part, I find their music dull and somewhat droning. However, they played a pretty fun set, opening up their songs in interesting ways and experimenting in interesting ways. My Morning Jacket is really a jam band, and although jam bands tend to irritate me (you’d never catch me at a Phish concert), I found that an hour of My Morning Jacket was a pleasant way to pass the time. Some of their songs are surprisingly bouncy and upbeat; 'Off the Record,' a song I’m apt to change immediately if it ever comes on the radio, struck me as a feel-good summer anthem when performed live. (Sample lyric: 'Sorry ‘bout the things that I had to say/And I’ll make it up to you right now at the penny arcade.')"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Not a Foodie
Published on July 24, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the Gazette, I write about food.

But I am not a foodie!

Here's an excerpt:

"The other day, I swung by The Cheese Traveler, a specialty food shop in Albany, to purchase some fine cheese for a picnic.

The Cheese Traveler is a little like a winery, except with cheese. You can request samples of any of the cheeses in the cooler, and there are free snacks throughout the shop, such as almonds and little cubes of cheddar cheese. There is fresh fish provided by the Guilderland-based fishmonger Fin, locally raised, organic meat from Tilldale Farm in Hoosick and high-quality sodas.

My mouth always waters when I go in this place, because everything looks good. On this particular day, I decided to try two different kinds of brie; they were both good, and I opted to buy the one that was cheaper. Then I scanned the shelves for a cracker to complement my wheel of cheese. 'Are you looking for a neutral cracker?' the salesman asked.

'Yes,' I said, 'a neutral cracker.'

After a short discussion, I settled on a wheat cracker with a hint of rosemary. This seemed like a perfectly good choice, but as I was driving home I thought about how ridiculous my exchange with the salesman had been. When did I become the sort of person who could utter the phrase 'a neutral cracker' with a straight face, and who sought expert advice when purchasing snacks?"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Top Reads
Published on July 19, 2013 by Sara Foss

Music: The Rock and Roll Time Machine (Part I?) by Tony Are, and J.K. Eisen on the all-girl rock band The Pandoras

Movies: Watching "Cannibal Holocaust" by Sara Foss

Parenting: The Transition from Crib to Bed by J LeBlanc

Vacation: Sara Foss on her recent trip, and how busy it was ... in a good way


The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Published on July 18, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Click here to read it.

Rock and Roll Time Machine (Part 1?)
Published on July 16, 2013 by guest author: Tony Are

Recently, I was in the physical presence of the editor of this blog (which doesn't happen very often due to geographical considerations). Along with conversations about a number of interesting topics, she described how she and another friend had come up with the “rock and roll time machine,” an imaginary device that would whisk you back to whatever important concert (or other rock event) you desired. It's at times like this that music criticism can start to resemble the endless chatter of sports talk radio, wherein people pretend that their mostly subjective opinions have the weight of actual scientific facts, which is occasionally a good thing. So in the interest of fantasy-baseball style geekiness, I will add my subjective opinions on what should be the most critical time machine settings. Always keep in mind, however, that although there is a rock and roll hall of fame, there is no Bill James in rock journalism. 

The reader should also keep in mind that I have some (surprise!) very specific thinking about what great live rock performances are about. Despite my anti-folk and punk band roots, I admire a certain amount of craft, in the service of putting across a meaning. I like emotional honesty. I favor a rough edge and an artist going out right to the edge of being out of control. And most important, the show has to be about what the performers are thinking about at the time —and how they are channeling what they are thinking about back to the audience. For me a great rock show should be more like a conversation that engages you and captures the moment and makes you part of it and less like a demonstration of how proficient the performers are at putting on a show.  

That being said, here's a quick guide for those wondering where to set the dial. I did limit it to “rock” or “rock and roll” (jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues will have to be saved for another time), and it's a little heavy on US concerts (with a few exceptions) because I know more about those. It's also heavy on 1966-1978 events because, well, shows were better in those days. 


Watching "Twenty Feet From Stardom"
Published on July 16, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new documentary "Twenty Feet From Stardom."

Here's an excerpt:

"During my vacation, my dad and I worked on a crossword puzzle together in which one of the clues was 'hit song by The Crystals.' I’m not too familiar with the oeuvre of The Crystals, but eventually I figured it out: the hit pop song 'He’s a Rebel.' After watching the new documentary 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' I’ve decided that the crossword puzzle needs to be corrected. The lead vocals for 'He’s a Rebel' were actually provided by a woman named Darlene Love.

Love is one of the many backup singers featured in 'Twenty Feet From Stardom,' an entertaining documentary that shines the spotlight on some of the greatest, yet largely unheralded, backup singers of all time. I confess: Even though I love music, I’d never really given backup singers much thought. Which was clearly a mistake. Without backup singers, many of the greatest songs in rock history simply wouldn’t be that great. '20 Feet From Stardom' did something I didn’t think was possible: It made me hear classics such as the Rolling Stones’ 'Gimme Shelter,' David Bowie’s 'Young Americans' and even Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 'Sweet Home Alabama' in a completely new way.

In addition to featuring great music, 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' also offers a sharp critique of race and the music industry without beating viewers over the head. We can see that these little-known backup singers with terrific voices are mostly African-American women: Merry Clayton, who sang with Ray Charles and Elvis Presley and is best known for her duet with Mick Jagger on 'Gimme Shelter,' Tata Vega, who has sung with Stevie Wonder and Elton John, Lisa Fischer, who tours with the Rolling Stones and Sting, Judith Hill, who was set to go on tour with Michael Jackson when he died and is now trying to make it as a soloist, and, of course, Love."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Looking For Quiet
Published on July 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

In her weekly column Greenpoint, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the elusiveness of real quiet.

Here's an excerpt:

Trying to find some true quiet, the dog and I took a walk before the sun was up last week. A few birds were already awake, but the full morning chorus had not yet started. One of our roosters was working on a solo.

Down by the pond, a bullfrog was clanking. Across the street in a poplar tree, the nest of baby woodpeckers was silent, which meant that the parents were still in bed instead of flying in and out with breakfast.

A car passed, the lovely woman who brings me my newspaper every morning, and we waved.

No other vehicles were out — no logging trucks, no commuters, not even the early morning fisherman who stops first at the beach and then at the point around 6 every morning, casting for about 10 minutes at each place. I don’t think he’s looking for dinner. I think he’s looking for quiet.

Quiet and darkness are two things we don’t have enough of in our modern world. And by darkness I mean dark enough to view the light show of the night sky — the absence of artificial light.

Same with quiet. I don’t mean silence, the lack of all sound, but the absence of human-created noise. I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to find a place where no motors hum, where no trucks rumble, where no TVs or radios blare, where no airplane interrupts the bird song. A place where you can just listen to the natural world: a running stream, last night’s rain dripping off the trees, the gurgle of a turkey or the splash of a landing duck.

I guess it’s noisier in the summer, with Jet Skis on the lakes and generators in the woods. Traffic picks up as visitors drive around for the scenery, or to bring boats to the lakes, or to head to their camps. They come for the quiet, maybe not knowing they are stealing the quiet as they come.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Saying Good-bye to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett
Published on July 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the sad departure of Boston Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Here's an excerpt:

"I didn’t have time to address this last week, but I don’t feel I can let the departure of beloved Boston Celtics Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett pass without comment. Especially Paul Pierce. This guy has played his entire career with the Celtics — he toiled thanklessly through some of the franchise’s more terrible and forgettable seasons, and then, when the team finally got good again, helped deliver a championship. The idea of Pierce playing for the Brooklyn Nets just seems wrong.

It’s easier to imagine Kevin Garnett playing for the Nets, if only because he started his career in Minnesota and came to the Celtics via trade. However, it’s impossible to overestimate what his arrival meant to the Celtics. It instantly transformed them into a championship contender. They went from being a young, somewhat scattershot team to a tough, gritty, defensive-minded squad just like that. And they were fun to watch. After watching one dismal season after the other, the championship team of 2007-2008 was a joy to behold. In addition to Pierce and Garnett, they had Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins. They were a great team, and thinking of their NBA finals victory over the evil Los Angeles Lakers still brings a smile to my face."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Relaxing on a Busy Vacation
Published on July 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my recent vacation, and how busy it was.

Here's an excerpt:

"In the days leading up to my annual July 4th vacation, I surveyed my time off from afar, as if gazing at a vast, open field just waiting to be traversed.

I imagined all the things I would do during my vacation.

I would bring my laptop along, and write for leisure, carving out time every day to sit down and be creative. I would visit some of my friends in New Hampshire. I would go for bike rides and run every day. I would watch movies every night, after the rest of my family had retired for the evening. I would read five or six magazines, and a couple of books. My vacation was endless, and full of potential.

My attitude began to change shortly after I arrived at my parents’ house in Maine.

All of a sudden, it seemed like I had plenty to do.

For instance, I had to go to the beach twice a day: once in the morning, and once in the afternoon.

We kept these beach trips fairly short, to accommodate my 1-year-old niece Kenzie’s nap schedule. Kenzie took to the ocean almost immediately, which was good. Her father, Tom, doesn’t particularly like the ocean, and her mother and I felt it was important to instill a love of the ocean in her as early as possible. At first, she seemed sort of wary of the cold water and crashing waves, but her wariness was short-lived. By the second day, she was walking down to the water of her own accord and laughing joyfully whenever my sister Rebecca lowered her into the surf and pulled her up again.

'I’m glad she likes it,' Rebecca said. 'I was worried we had another Tom on our hands.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.


Thoughts on "Cannibal Holocaust"
Published on July 11, 2013 by Sara Foss
There's a new cult film series in town, and I've been meaning to support it. But I wasn't able to make their first two screenings, for the Frank Zappa film "200 Motels" and the Indonesian horror film "Mystics of Bali." And when I heard that their third screening was the notorious Italian grindhouse film "Cannibal Holocaust," my heart sank a little. There are a lot of films I want to see, and "Cannibal Holocaust" wasn't one of them.
However, as the screening date drew closer, I grew more intrigued. A movie like "Cannibal Holocaust" is sort of like a dare for a person like me, and I figured that if I was capable of sitting through "The Human Centipede," "The Last House on the Left" and other violent, morally dubious films, then I could probably make it through "Cannibal Holocaust." Although I understand the logic of the film blogger the Self-Styled Siren when she writes, "The people who boast about how they can sit through anything, do they believe someone greets you at the Pearly Gates to say 'Dude, you made it through 'Cannibal Holocaust!' Here's your door prize!'"

In any case, I've now watched "Cannibal Holocaust," and it's a tough movie to evaluate. People rightly object to the scenes of animals being killed, often gruesomely; there's no excuse to slaughter monkeys and turtles when making a film, unless you're filming a documentary. And the scene involving the capture and butchering of a turtle is really hard to take. Weirdly, this scene could be defensible - if the turtle wasn't really being killed, director Ruggero Deodato didn't linger over the killing for so long, seemingly reveling in the some of the grossest scenes of viscera ever put on screen. After all, people exploring the remote jungle have to eat.


Watching "Man of Steel"
Published on July 9, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "Man of Steel."

Here's an excerpt:

"If we didn’t already have the 'Iron Man' films, 'The Avengers,' and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, 'Man of Steel' might be regarded as one of the greatest superhero films ever.

But the fact that it’s just the latest in a long line of films about a beloved comic book character, retrofitted for these angsty post-9/11 times, makes it difficult to evaluate the new Superman film.

Yes, it has eye-popping, state-of-the-art visual effects. Yes, it pays homage to the source material while also finding subtle ways to subvert it. Yes, it’s dark and brooding. But so what? At this point, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about a superhero movie that’s eye-popping and revisionist and dark and brooding. Almost all of the newer superhero films share these qualities. In trying to reinvent superhero films for a new age, Nolan and his contemporaries have created a template and formula that is starting to feel stale.

That said, 'Man of Steel' is a pretty good film — better, in my opinion, than Nolan’s Batman films. Sure, the film concludes with the sort of spectacular and ultimately numbing scenes of fighting and destruction that you can find in any superhero film, but the build-up is genuinely interesting, and director Zack Snyder’s take on the mythology surrounding Superman is thought-provoking and appropriately epic. When this film focuses on character and story, it’s highly entertaining. When it becomes just another 'let’s fight until the death' film, it begins to lose steam."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Pandora and The Pandoras
Published on July 8, 2013 by guest author: J.K. Eisen

It’s easy to complain about how technology has changed music for the worse. I should know – I’m one of those people. Thanks to iTunes and other services, record stores, albums and album cover art have become virtually irrelevant. It may be a common complaint from someone pushing 40, but it doesn’t mean I’m completely anti-technology. I love streaming movies, TV shows and other videos to my TV and the other electronic gadgets I own. 

However, when it comes to music, I’ve been slow to embrace the new technology. Usually when I use this technology, it’s a memorable milestone: downloading my first song, getting my first iPod and my first upload of music to Amazon’s cloud. 

But my recent discovery of The Pandoras, an all-girl hard rock group formed in the 1980s, made me realize how much new music technology I have adopted without even realizing it – technology that has changed the way I discover and experience music. More important, it’s made me realize that the changes brought by this technology may be much more positive than I had thought. 

I discovered The Pandoras through the like-named Pandora Internet radio service. The band was a recommendation based on songs the service knew I liked. This recommendation was right on target. When I heard The Pandoras play “Run Down Love Battery,” I was stopped in my tracks. The song’s in-your-face guitar, pounding bass drum and big, catchy chorus made it a great pick for someone who enjoys The Runaways, The Donnas, Betty Blowtorch and L7. 


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