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.

Watching "Her"
Published on January 30, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Spike Jonze movie "Her."

Here's an excerpt:

"When I was little, I had two imaginary friends named Waxy and Jenny. Most people assume I played with Waxy and Jenny when I was lonely and none of my real friends could come over. But this isn’t true. Sometimes I broke away from my real friends to go hang out with Waxy and Jenny. One of my best childhood friends remembers me wandering off into the woods to look for them.

I no longer abandon my real friends to spend time with my imaginary friends. But I often have to repress the urge to check my email or social media when I’m with other people.

And I’m not alone. Whenever I go to a bar or a restaurant, it seems like at least half the people in the room are looking at their phones, checking for messages and updates.

Why do we do this? Is it because we’re addicted to instantaneous feedback and commentary, and fearful of missing something? Because we imagine we’re more important than we are? Or because it’s easy to trick ourselves into believing that the friends who aren’t with us are more interesting than the friends who are?

Whatever the case, the new Spike Jonze movie imagines a world where people don’t just communicate with friends and family through gadgets. They communicate with the gadgets themselves. Why bother the messiness of real-world relationships when you can have a rewarding relationship with a machine that caters and responds to all of your needs?"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Five Songs
Published on January 29, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about five songs I'm really enjoying.

Click here to see what they are.

For-Profit Colleges Are the Worst
Published on January 27, 2014 by Sara Foss

My good friend Adam Rust has written a piece for Salon about how for-profit colleges are the worst.

Click here to read it.

Struggling to Finish a Book
Published on January 23, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my attempt to read the Roberto Bolano novel "2666," and other unfinished business.

Here's an excerpt:

"I can’t remember the last time I didn’t finish a book. I think it was middle school, when I failed to complete 'The Red Badge of Courage.' And I managed to get through Stephen Crane’s classic war novel in high school, so it no longer counts as an unread book.

It’s been a long time, but I’m now faced with the question of whether to bail on a book: Chilean writer Roberto Bolano’s massive 2004 novel '2666.'

I’d heard nothing but good things about '2666,' and when I started reading it, months ago, I was excited. I usually enjoy long, acclaimed literary novels. I liked 'Infinite Jest.' I love 'Moby Dick.' I’m a fan of both 'War and Peace' and 'Anna Karenina.' But I’m struggling with '2666.' And because I always finish the books I start, I feel like I’m trapped in a novel I cannot get out of. For various reasons, I cannot bring myself to stop reading. But I feel like, at my current pace, it’s going to take me another three years to read '2666,' and that there are a lot of books I’d rather read instead.

So why can’t I stop reading '2666'? Well, it was so widely praised I feel like at some point it must all come together and start to make sense. I mean, sometimes long literary novels require a certain amount of patience. But I’ve read about 300 pages, and I’m still puzzled by the book’s reason for existence. What is this book about? What is it trying to say? I have no idea. I’m worried that I’ll read all 900 pages and feel like I’ve wasted months and months of precious reading time."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "Nebraska"
Published on January 23, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Alexander Payne movie "Nebraska."

Here's an excerpt:

"The new Alexander Payne film 'Nebraska' is one of the funniest sad films I can recall, a tender and melancholy movie about a son trying to connect with a dad who is deteriorating mentally and has never been emotionally available or particularly fatherly.

The dad is played by the great Bruce Dern, and the son by Will Forte, who is best known for his comedic work on 'Saturday Night Live.' Dern has been nominated for best actor and is receiving well-deserved praise for his performance, but Forte is the key to the film. We see the father, an irascible alcoholic named Woody Grant, through Forte’s eyes, and relate to every other character — Forte’s mother, his brother, his cousins and aunts and uncles — through Forte. And it is Forte who provides the emotional core of the film. There’s an aspect of Woody that is distant and unknowable. But the son, named David, is a likable everyman. He is put-upon and weary, yes, but also kind-hearted and generous and clearly trying to do right by his ailing father, who has failed him in many ways.

The plot concerns Woody’s belief that he has won $1 million. David informs him that his mass-mailed sweepstakes letter is really just a scam to trick him into buying magazines, but Woody’s having none of it, and tells David that he intends to walk to Lincoln, Neb., to collect his money. Realizing that his dad is too stubborn and addled to be reasoned with, David offers to drive Woody to Lincoln. When his mother Kate (the little-known June Squibb, in a fantastic performance) lambastes him for indulging Woody, David says, 'What’s the harm in letting him have his little fantasy?' packs up the car, and takes off. Of course, Woody is not the easiest traveling companion. When David asks whether he wants to stop at Mt. Rushmore, Woody replies, 'It’s just a bunch of rocks,' and when they get there, he observes, 'It looks unfinished.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Published on January 16, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about Martin Scorsese's new film, "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Here's an excerpt:

“'The Wolf of Wall Street” is one of those love-it-or-hate-it movies.

Well, I loved it. This wild black comedy (yes, it’s a comedy) is the funniest movie Martin Scorsese has ever made, as well as a trenchant examination of dude culture’s uglier facets. The characters are stockbrokers, but they occupy the same moral universe as the gangsters in “Goodfellas.” Both films suggest that if your sole goal in life is to be rich, you’re probably a soulless monster.

'The Wolf of Wall Street' tells the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who founded the corrupt firm Stratton Oakmont, made a bundle of money, abused countless drugs and was ultimate convicted of defrauding investors with fraudulent stock sales. (The story of Stratton Oakmont also inspired the 2000 film 'Boiler Room,' which is worth a look.) Scorsese films Belfort’s rise and sort-of fall in the most electrifying way possible, as an unhinged, non-stop bacchanal that DiCaprio has described as 'almost like a modern-day Caligula.'

The excess and style on display has prompted some to wring their hands and worry that Scorsese’s film glorifies the criminal and immoral actions of really bad men. But I never got the sense that Scorsese viewed his characters as good people, even as he invites us to laugh at and indulge in their antics. At heart, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a deeply moral film, about the consequences of allowing people like Jordan Belfort to run amok and slapping them on the wrist when their crimes can no longer be ignored. For all his wrongdoing, Belfort only served 22 months in prison. This isn’t Martin Scorsese’s fault."

Click here to read more.

Favorite Albums of 2013
Published on January 14, 2014 by guest author: Eric Perkins

I'm foregoing a traditional Top 10 list this year and going for some completely made-up categories instead. I thought 2013 was a decent year for music. Nothing blew my mind, and judging by the look of other Top 10 (or however many) lists out there, there didn't seem to be much of a consensus about what was great. Anyway, here's some stuff I really liked:

Looking For the Northern Lights
Published on January 14, 2014 by Sara Foss

I did not see the northern lights last week.

But I wrote a little something about my attempt to find them.

Here's an excerpt:

"Last week a friend and I decided to take a late-night drive and see if we could catch a glimpse of the northern lights.

Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights are a natural light display. Though rarely seen south of New York’s northermost counties, astronomers reported that a massive solar had shaken up Earth’s magnetic field, expanding the reach of the Aurora Borealis. The big question, then, was weather the northern lights would be visible, or obscured by clouds — a strong possibility, according to the weather reports. Having never seen the northern lights before, my friend and I decided to err on the side of caution, and headed out to Thacher Park shortly after 11 p.m. on Thursday. We’d heard that the northern lights wouldn’t be visible until about midnight, and didn’t want to get there too early.

When we got to Thacher, we were surprised by two things: The crowd that had gathered by the side of the road, and the bright flashing lights of the four or five police cars that had pulled onto the shoulder. I liked the idea of joining a large, spontaneous gathering of amateur astronomers, but not if it meant skywatching under police watch. So we decided to drive around for a while and circle back later, as it would be hard to find a better vantage point than Thacher’s long, steep escarpment."

Click here to read more.

2013 in Film
Published on December 31, 2013 by Sara Foss

I watched a lot of films this year.

Over at the DG, I list some of my favorites.

Click here to see what they are.

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