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Watching "The Lego Movie"
Published on February 27, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the great new animated film "The Lego Movie."

Here's an excerpt:

“'The LEGO Movie' is just as much fun as you’ve heard. It has you grinning from its opening moments until its closing credits. It takes a dubious premise, and somehow manages to spin it into gold. It is fun, fun, fun — one of the most fun blockbusters I’ve been to in a long time.

This film could have been terrible. It could have been an extended LEGO commercial, and nothing more. But in the capable hands of co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (whose previously film, '21 Jump Street,' was also way better than anyone had a right to expect), 'The LEGO Movie' becomes a witty, visually astonishing, occasionally subversive delight. At times it plays like 'The Matrix' for kids. At other times, it reminded me of the Mike Judge comedy 'Idiocracy' and the Pixar film 'The Incredibles.' But it never feels like it’s ripping off those earlier films.

'The LEGO Movie' is something rare: a unique cinematic experience. Of course, it would be hard for me not to love a film in which the villain unleashes his minions with the cry 'Cue the micromanagers!' and the 2002 NBA all-stars make a cameo appearance."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Sliding Down a Mountain
Published on February 26, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about winter hiking and the pleasure of being able to slide down a mountain.

Here's an excerpt:

"I’ve always wanted to get into winter hiking, but I never knew exactly how to go about it. Part of the problem was my lack of winter hiking partners. Finding people to accompany me on hikes is a bit of a challenge, and when it’s cold it’s an even bigger challenge. Another problem is that I had no idea how to prepare for hiking in the winter. Did I need snowshoes? Microspikes? How many layers should I wear? What if I got too cold, or if it started to snow?

Thanks to a friend who really enjoys winter hiking, I’ve started getting answers to these questions. A month or so ago we hiked Blackhead Mountain, a 3,940 foot peak in the Catskills. The trail was more icy than snowy, so I wore my Microspikes — a lightweight, plastic-and-metal traction control system that can be pulled on over your hiking boots. On any icy hike, Microspikes are invaluable. The spikes grip the ice, preventing falls, and we especially appreciated them on our descent, while navigating a steep ice formation that resembled a waterfall. Dangerous as this formation was, it was also quite beautiful, and I was glad we had ventured deep into the woods to see it. Overall, hiking felt terrific: I did get a little chilled near the summit, but I wasn’t nearly as tired and sweaty as I would have been on a hot summer day. When I got home, I took a warm shower, which made me feel even better.

My friend and I returned to the Catskills last weekend to hike Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills at 4,190 feet. ('The Mt. Everest of the Catskills,' my friend called it.) We weren’t sure what to expect, as it had snowed quite a bit since our last trip to the area. In fact, we had tried to get to the mountain one week earlier and encountered a snowstorm, as well as a slick, snow-covered mountain road that was too much for our little car. (We ended up turning around and going snowshoeing at the Ashokan Reservoir instead.) But this week it was much warmer and clearer, and our drive to the trailhead was uneventful."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Power Ballads: An Addendum
Published on February 23, 2014 by Sara Foss

In response to my post on power ballads, my friend J.K. Eisen has put together his own list of favorite power ballads. Here they are:

“Here I go Again” by Whitesnake – A classic power ballad with a classic video. It’s hard not sing along. You know it’s a serious power ballad when the video shows three band members playing keyboard. “Is This Love?” also deserves an honorable mention.
“Forever” by KISS –I’m sure you guessed I’d get a KISS song in here. This was written by Paul Stanley and Michael Bolton. Yes, that Michael Bolton. They played this song at my very first KISS concert in 1990. It was all lasers and lighters as they played.
“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison – This one set the standard in the 1980s. We should all thank singer Bret Michaels’ girlfriend for breaking his heart and inspiring this song.
“Home Sweet Home” by Motley Cure – This song also comes to mind whenever I hear the term “power ballad.” When I saw them in concert two years ago, it was hard not to be impressed by the audience singing along to every word.
“Heaven” by Warrant – It’s only within the past few years that I began to appreciate this song. Warrant seemed to be aimed at teen and tween girls in the late 1980s. I believe it was seeing the song used in the “Rock of Ages” musical that made me take another look. The lyrics are vivid and memorable.
“Fly to the Angels” by Slaughter – There aren’t many power ballad videos with Amelia Earhart. Slaughter was among the few good pop metal bands to hit the scene in 1990 before grunge. Solid song here. Though, if I tried to sing along and hit Mark Slaughter’s notes, I’d end up in the hospital. Also, have you noticed how many power ballads mention driving?
J.K. Eisen writes about entertainment and the world around him. He lives in the Deep South. He also blogs at celluloidandsound.blogspot.com
Previous Posts By This Author: Nine Inch Nails Hesitates

My Favorite Power Ballads
Published on February 23, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I discuss some of my favorite power ballads.

Here's an excerpt:

"I didn’t become familiar with the term power ballad until college, when my roommate introduced it to me. Whenever one of her favorite power ballads came on the radio, she would turn it up and passionately belt out the lyrics. Her enthusiasm helped teach me that there’s no shame in liking power ballads, and that it’s great fun to shout along with them. And I do mean shout.

Anyway, the other day I came across an essay on the pop culture site Badass Digest making the case for Guns N’ Roses’ 'November Rain' as the greatest power ballad of all time. 'That’s a pretty good choice,' I thought. I’ve always loved 'November Rain,' especially all that crashing piano at the end.

But then I got to wondering whether I agreed with this assessment. Sure, 'November Rain' is a great song. But is it the best power ballad OF ALL TIME?

Now, the definition of power ballad is a bit nebulous.

According to the Badass Digest writer, Henri Mazza, 'There are several definitions, usually used to help sell different compilation albums and Time Life CD collections, but for the most part a power ballad is what happens any time a hard rock band slows it down a little bit and shows their soft underbelly so they can sing about love, heartache and emotions.'

This is actually a pretty helpful definition, as it helps distinguish power ballads from ballads, and explains why songs such as George Michael’s 'Father Figure' and Bette Midler’s 'The Rose' are generally left off power ballad compilations and lists — they’re too soft rock-y for inclusion. Of course, there are exceptions to the basic rules of power balladry: Many people consider Tina Turner’s 'We Don’t Need Another Hero' a classic power ballad, even though Tina Turner is hardly known for fronting a hair metal band, or singing hard rock."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Also, my friend J.K. Eisen has put together his own list of favorite power ballads. Click here to read it.


Wanna Ride a Bobsled?
Published on February 20, 2014 by Sara Foss

Yes, you can ride a bobsled!

I rode one about seven years ago, and it was great.

Learn more over at the DG.


Watching "August: Osage County"
Published on February 18, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "August: Osage County."

Much to my surprise, I sort of liked it!

Here's an excerpt:

"Every year, there’s at least one Oscar-nominated film I can’t stand, and this year I fully expected 'August: Osage County' to fill the slot. But this movie surprised me. At times, I found it unbearable. But I also found it strangely moving, darkly humorous and entirely engrossing. A day later, I still can’t say whether I liked the film, or describe exactly how it made me feel. But I certainly won’t forget it anytime soon, which is a testament, I think, to its weird, almost ghoulish power.

What elevates 'August: Osage County' is its source material, a Pulitzer-prize winning play by Tracy Letts, and a terrific cast. Meryl Streep, as monstrous matriarch Violet Weston, and Julia Roberts as bitter, strong-willed daughter Barbara Weston, both earned acting nominations for their performances, but the rest of the cast — Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson — is equally good. Frankly, any film composed of scene after scene of barbed conversation, yelling and arguments is going to sink or swim based on the conviction and intensity of its actors. I’m not the world’s hugest Julia Roberts fan, but this might be the best performance she’s ever given, and whenever 'August: Osage County' threatens to fly off the rails, she keeps the film watchable.

The film tells the story of the dysfunctional Weston family, who find themselves gathering at their Oklahoma homestead after the alcoholic patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard) has drowned himself in a lake. One daughter, Ivy (Nicholson), has remained in the area, faithfully tending to the cancer-stricken, pill-popping Violet, but two other daughters, Barb and the flighty Karen (Juliette Lewis) return home after a long absence. Karen has her sleazy fiance (Dermot Mulroney) in tow, and Barb is accompanied by her husband Bill (McGregor) and 14-year-old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin, looking way more sullen than she did in 'Little Miss Sunshine.') The trip comes at a bad time for Bill and Barb: The couple recently separated, due to Bill’s affair with one of his students."

Click here to read the whole thing.

 

 

 


Enough Snow
Published on February 13, 2014 by Sara Foss

I'm officially sick of the snow, and I wrote about it at the DG.

Here's an excerpt:

"OK, enough. Uncle. Today’s snowstorm is the last straw. Winter officially has me screaming for mercy.

I like snow. Not too long ago, I went skiing at the Pine Bush and found myself wishing for snow. The trails were patchy and icy, and I began to worry that it would never snow again and I would have to pack up my skis and wait until next winter to get out again.

But last week it snowed. A lot. And I was pleased. 'Now I can ski again,' I thought. I spent the weekend in Maine, where it snowed about six inches on Sunday night. A friend and I drove out to a local golf course and broke trail for about an hour, and it was nice. In my opinion, the Northeast had plenty of snow. It didn’t need any more."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Published on February 5, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the new Coen Brothers film, "Inside Llewyn Davis."

Here's an excerpt:

"After this year’s Oscar nominations were announced, film critics took to social media to voice their complaints. Many of them were outraged by the snubbing of the new Coen Brothers film, 'Inside Llewyn Davis.' One of my favorite tweets said something along the lines of 'Congratulations to all the best picture nominees. And congratulations to ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ for actually being the best picture of the year.'

Having now seen 'Inside Llewyn Davis,' I think it’s safe to say that it’s one of the best films of year, and better than perhaps all but one of the best picture nominees. If I were to revise my list of the best films of 2013, 'Inside Llewyn Davis' would probably be third, behind 'Upstream Color' and 'The Wolf of Wall Street.'

'Inside Llewyn Davis' is one of the best films the Coen Brothers have ever made, which is saying something. It revisits themes from some of their previous films, such as 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?', with its emphasis on American music and nods to Homer’s Odyssey, and the more recent 'A Serious Man,' about a modern-day Job. But it also builds upon the brothers’ earlier work, exploring matters of philosophy and religion with a surprisingly light touch. For a film about an unhappy folk singer’s doomed quest for popular success in the aftermath of his singing partner’s suicide, 'Inside Llewyn Davis' is both fun and funny, filled with the sort of quirky, offbeat characters and touches the Coens are known for. A basic description of the plot of 'Inside Llewyn Davis' makes it sound like a depressing experience. But the film is a joy to sit through."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching the Super Bowl
Published on February 3, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about watching the Super Bowl.

Here's an excerpt:

"Watching Super Bowl XLVIII brought back memories of the first Super Bowl I ever watched, or attempted to watch, Super Bowl XX.

That game, in 1986, pitted a mighty Chicago Bears team against a happy-to-be-here New England Patriots team. Nobody expected the Patriots to win, but in New England excitement over the team’s first Super Bowl appearance reached fever pitch. Just 11 years old at the time, I requested permission to stay up past my bedtime to watch the game.

'OK,' said my mother, who likes to manage expectations. 'But the Patriots will probably lose, and the game probably won’t be very exciting.'

Sure enough, Super Bowl XX was a dismal affair, at least for Patriots fans. I remember eventually walking away from the TV and marching myself off to bed.

During Sunday’s Super Bowl, my thoughts drifted to that ill-fated Patriots-Bears game. I wondered whether my good friend Dave and his 4-year-old son Milo, Broncos fans who don team jerseys for every game, were experiencing what I had experienced so many years ago. Were they sitting silently in front of the TV, rendered speechless by the carnage taking place? I wondered whether their disappointment was worse than my 11-year-old self’s. After all, my mother had warned me that the Patriots were unlikely to win, or even come close to winning, and the lopsided loss was just another thing she ended up being right about. But I suspect Denver fans felt pretty good about their chances Sunday. And why wouldn’t they? Their team boasted one of the best offenses of all time, one of the best quarterbacks of all time and a pretty good defense. Even if the Broncos lost, it would be a close, exciting game, something you could take pride in."

Click here to read the whole thing.