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Watching "Noah"
Published on April 10, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new movie "Noah."

Here's an excerpt:

"Let’s give 'Noah' some credit. This film inspired me to read a little bit of the Bible. After watching it, I was like, 'Hmmmm. Maybe I’ll take a look at Genesis and see how that whole thing with the ark really went down.' I was fairly certain that director Darren Aronofsky had taken some liberties with the story when adapting it for the screen.

Now, I don’t really care whether 'Noah' is or isn’t faithful to the original story, and I thought Aronofsky’s interpretation was pretty interesting — an intellectually provocative, highly personal re-imaging of a very famous Bible story. I didn’t always understand Aronofsky’s choices — why, for example, did he think it necessary to portray Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family as vegetarians, sustaining themselves through foraging? — but I was never bored by 'Noah,' and I appreciated his refusal to turn a sometimes dark and morally complex tale into a children’s fable."

Click here to read the whole thing.


The Julie Ruin, Live
Published on April 3, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about Kathleen Hanna's latest band, The Julie Ruin.

Here's an excerpt:

"On Tuesday I headed to Easthampton, Mass., to catch the band The Julie Ruin at the Flywheel Arts Collective, an old church that has been converted into an all-ages venue.

The Julie Ruin is not especially well-known, although it should be: Their frontwoman is the legendary Kathleen Hanna, who founded the hugely influential punk band Bikini Kill, was a big part of Riot Grrl, the underground feminist punk movement of the 1990s, and later formed the electronica/rock/punk band Le Tigre. Full disclosure: Though I’ve long been aware of Hanna, I hadn’t listened to her music very much until recently, and I became more interested in her after watching the very good 2013 documentary 'The Punk Singer,' which tells her story. The Julie Ruin concert was announced around the time I saw 'The Punk Singer,' and I immediately bought tickets.

The Julie Ruin has one album, 'Run Fast,' and it’s very good — hard-charging, lyrically inventive, noisy yet surprisingly poppy and extremely danceable. At times, the band sounds a little like the B-52s, but with a rawer, punkier edge. Much of Tuesday’s show consisted of songs off the Julie Ruin’s album, as well as older Hanna material, such as the song “Radical or Pro-parental,” off her criminally unknown 1997 solo album, also titled the Julie Ruin."

Click here to read more.


Film Capsules
Published on April 1, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about some of the older films I've watched recently, including "Hatari!" and "Death Wish."

Click here for more.


Watching "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Published on March 26, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Wes Anderson movie "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Here's an excerpt:

"I had some time to kill before the Saturday evening showing of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' that I attended, and so I swung by the coffee shop next door to the Spectrum.

'It’s been busy,'" the barista told me. 'And it’s Wes Anderson’s fault.'

Anderson is the whimsical auteur responsible for 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' and his movies are highly anticipated among a certain subset of moviegoers. The screening I attended was packed with people who had clearly seen his previous films, and were delighted to see Anderson regulars such as Bill Murray and Owen Wilson pop up in small roles. Because Anderson has such a devoted following, the stakes seem to get higher with each new release. Fans excitedly discuss whether the film is great or merely good; his detractors complain that his work is cartoonish, mannered and has no heart.

Meanwhile, I keep wondering whether Anderson will ever make a film as good as his animated adaptation of 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is a very good movie ... but it doesn’t surpass 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

 


A New Cat
Published on March 25, 2014 by Sara Foss

I got a new cat!

And I wrote about it.

Here's an excerpt:

"After my cat Paul died last November, my surviving cat, Clem, began to seem increasingly neurotic. He would stand by the door and meow until I let him into the hallway. When I left for work, he was despondent. And when I came home he seemed especially needy. As time wore on, it occurred to me that Clem might be lonely.

Some time ago, my father suggested that my mother’s cat Sammy might benefit from having a kitten “to mentor.” Of course, I laughed uproariously when I heard this idea. 'Cats don’t mentor,' I said, as if only a fool would believe such a thing.

Meanwhile, my mother informed my father that she didn’t want another cat. 'I want the cats to dwindle,' she explained. Which I thought was an interesting euphemism for die — one that I now employ with some frequency. In any case, when Paul dwindled I found myself becoming less contemptuous of the idea of feline mentorship. 'Maybe Clem needs a little mentee,' I said. 'Maybe he needs a companion.'

A few weeks ago, I learned about a 6-month-old cat living in a colleague’s basement. I was told the cat had initially lived in the rafters, avoiding human contact. But she had become friendly over time, and my colleague’s children adored the cat. But they were also allergic, and the time had come to find the cat a new home."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "Tim's Vermeer"
Published on March 24, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Penn & Teller art documentary "Tim's Vermeer."

Here's an excerpt:

"I like magic, and I like Penn & Teller, the famed illusionists known for their prankish sense of humor and scientific skepticism. I still remember seeing the duo perform live as a child, and watching Teller swallow sewing needles and thread, then pull the thread from his mouth with all the needles threaded on it. As magic tricks go, that’s pretty unforgettable.

Penn & Teller always keep things interesting, which is why I was excited to see 'Tim’s Vermeer,' a documentary directed by Teller and produced by Penn Jillette and Farley Ziegler. The subject isn’t magic, but art — more specifically, an art mystery. The film focuses on inventor Tim Jenison (a friend of Penn’s) and his effort to prove that 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer used a system of lenses and mirrors — something similar to a camera obscura — to create his stunningly realistic domestic scenes.

Jenison wasn’t the first to suggest that Vermeer was aided by the technology of his time, and acknowledges his debt to British painter David Hockney, who explored the idea in his 2001 book 'Secret Knowledge.' But for those who believe Vermeer was a genius with an uncommon gift for painting light, textures and other tiny details, the theory is radical and unwelcome, because it suggests the great painter might have been a bit of a cheat, tracing images reflected on a mirror. Or, if not a cheat, a tinkerer and inventor, rather than a true artist."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Jonathan Richman, Live
Published on March 19, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about Jonathan Richman's recent concert in Albany, which was fantastic.

Click here to read all about it.


Getting Back Into Running Shape
Published on March 18, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the 4 mile race I competed in last weekend, despite not really being in very good shape for it.

Here's an excerpt:

"I started running last spring, and I swore up and down that I would never run in a race.

But then my sister Lesley convinced me to run in a turkey trot in York, Maine, in November. And my landlord got me to run in Albany’s Last Run, a nighttime 5K, in December. These races taught me several things: 1. Running a 5K is something I can do 2. Road races are kind of fun and 3. If I can run three miles, I can probably run four or five miles, too.

In any case, I was feeling pretty good after the Last Run, and found it fairly easy to commit to competing in the Runnin’ of the Green in March. When my landlord suggested I sign up, I didn’t hesitate.

'Sounds fun,' I said.

Committing to a March road race is the sort of thing that’s easy to do when you’re coming off two 5Ks, have been jogging fairly regularly, and it doesn’t seem all that cold. But my jogging fell by the wayside in January and February, due to cold and snow and general malaise, and on March 1 it suddenly dawned on me that the Runnin’ of the Green was just two weeks away. 'Ugh,' I thought."

Click here to read the whole thing.

 


Watching "The Wind Rises"
Published on March 13, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Hayao Miyazaki movie "The Wind Rises."

Here's an excerpt:

"The final film from legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, 'The Wind Rises' is strikingly beautiful but also unsettling, a dreamy, ambiguous biopic about the engineer who developed fighter planes used by the Japanese Empire in World War II. Days after seeing 'The Wind Rises,' I can’t decide if the film confronts a dark chapter in Japanese history, or whitewashes that history. Maybe it does a little bit of both.

Animation-wise, 'The Wind Rises' is as captivating as anything in the Miyazaki canon, with flying scenes that are intricate, kinetic and colorful. It’s also Miyazaki’s most adult film, and lacks the fantastical creatures and wise children who typically populate his films. At times, the film feels like a cross between an old-fashioned romantic melodrama and a quirky fable about a plucky artist determined to bring his vision to fruition. In other words, this is not a film for kids, who might be bored by movie’s more languorous passages, which often involve watching the engineer, named Jiro Horikoshi, study airplane designs and offer his thoughts on rivets and fuselage. At its most basic level, 'The Wind Rises' is an especially elegant and visual stunning ode to science and math.

But it’s a lot more than that, and I sometimes wondered whether Miyazaki had bitten off more than he could chew. The film opens when Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a boy in rural Japan, eagerly reading aviation magazines, stargazing and dreaming of the day he can build airplanes of his own. At his first job, where he’s assigned to build a fleet new airplane for the military, he’s regarded as a genius, so consumed by his work that he neglects his personal life. When he later announces that he’s engaged, his boss roars with laughter, saying, 'We thought you would marry an airplane!'"

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "The Great Beauty"
Published on March 5, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review 2013's Oscar winning best foreign film, "The Great Beauty."

Here's an excerpt:

"For the first hour of 'The Great Beauty,' this year’s Oscar winner for best foreign film, I was convinced it was one of the best films of 2013. But the film runs for about 140 minutes, and by the time it ended, I was far less certain. 'The Great Beauty' is a feast for the senses and an unforgettable sensory experience — but what does all the flash, pageantry and debauched exuberance really add up to? I’m not sure.

Helmed by the talented Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, 'The Great Beauty' is the latest in a long line of films about soul-sick Europeans who have grown weary of living lives devoid of meaning and purpose. The film’s obvious spiritual forbear is 'La Dolce Vita,' the legendary Federico Fellini film about a gossip writer awakening to the shallowness of his decadent, party-filled existence. 'The Great Beauty' also owes a debt to the works of fellow Italian Michelangelo Antonioni, who spent his career exploring the lives of people who are highly educated, wealthy and completely bored with themselves, their friends and life in general.

'The Great Beauty’s' protagonist is Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), who is celebrating his 65th birthday at the utterly intoxicating rooftop party that opens the film. (Sorrentino is second-to-none when it comes to filming party scenes.) Jep is a writer who penned a highly acclaimed novel 40 years earlier, but never followed it up; today he writes fluffy, entertaining articles for a magazine. His real vocation, it seems, is hob-nobbing with Rome’s high society and hosting all-night shindigs. 'I’m a writer. I’m not a pimp,' he tells someone. Given the lavishness of his lifestyle, it’s easy to see why he feels the need to draw a distinction."

Click here to read the whole thing.


A Feast of Rabbit
Published on March 4, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about eating rabbit on Oscar night.

Here's an excerpt:

"Last Tuesday a friend of mine arrived at my apartment around 10 a.m., his car loaded down with pork. My friend, an upstart farmer who lives in Schoharie, was delivering the half pig I ordered last year, along with two co-investors. He deposited three boxes of pork on my living room floor, which I then transferred into my refrigerator and freezer: locally raised, locally butchered hams, pork chops, roasts, sausages and pork belly. It was truly a sight to behold.

I have yet to eat any of the pork, so I can’t attest to how good it is. It certainly looks good, and I’m eager to thaw some of it out and sample it. But I can tell you how much I enjoyed eating rabbit, because the farmer also included (per my request) a rabbit with my order. The rabbit, which came packed tightly in a plastic bag, was a gift for a friend who likes to cook unusual things (we ate frog not too long ago, which I wrote about here), and I gave him the rabbit with the understanding that we would eat it together."

Click here to read the whole thing.


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.


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