Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What I'm Listening To - "Flight of the Bumblebee" by The Five Browns

I clicked into iTunes and looked at my Play Count to see which song I had listened to the most and this one was #1. So, we move into the classical realm this week. Maybe I connected with this group because I play the piano, or maybe it's just the music geek in me that thinks it's really cool that these five young brothers and sisters simply play the piano at the same time. Sometimes duets can be overindulgent and one would think that if five people were playing at the same time that sense would just be multiplied. However, when the five of them play together, there's something very powerful there.

Give it a listen...this first one -- Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" is less than 90 seconds long...

The 5 Browns - Flight of the Bumble Bee (Official Music Video) - The funniest home videos are here

My second favorite of theirs -- "Selections from West Side Story" (Bernstein) isn't embeddable, but you can check it out on youtube.

However, my third choice -- Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is embedded below.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mel Gibson's been out of the picture too long...From last night's Jimmy Kimmel Live Post-Oscar Special...

Not quite as funny as the "I'm F****** Matt Damon" spot (which is still funny over a year later), but quite humorous.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Classic Movie Review - The Philadelphia Story (1940)

starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart
directed by George Cukor
screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart
Liz Imbrie: We all go a little haywire at times, and if we don't, maybe we ought to.

I had seen The Philadelphia Story before, and I didn't remember loving it. Since the word "classic" is bandied about in regards to this flick, I thought I'd give it another look. Unfortunately, my opinion didn't change a whole lot.

The film starts promisingly, striking a very comedic tone from the first scene, but it then shifts to a more subdued tone that just doesn't mesh with the beginning.

Tracy Lord (Hepburn) was once married to C.K. Dexter Haven (Grant), but they have since divorced, finding their biting, sarcastic attitudes incompatible. Cut to a few years later and Tracy is due to be married again. The Lord family is famous in the Philadelphia social scene and the editor of Spy Magazine wants to send reporter Macaulay Conner (Stewart) to cover the shindig. There's a variety of misinformation, misunderstandings, and misdeeds that create chaos leading up to the impending nuptials...ideally, that chaos would inspire comedy, but the director really didn't allow the humor to ebb and flow. There were literally 15 minutes at a time where I didn't smile or chuckle. And that's where the problem lies with this flick. If you're trying to be a comedy (which the first 15 seconds of the film tell me that it is), you need to scatter the humor throughout. (Obviously, fault goes to the writer here, as well.)

All the acting is good, but the three leads really get overshadowed by the supporting characters, particularly Ruth Hussey as Macaulay's photographer and Virginia Weidler as Tracy's teenage sister. Weidler steals every scene she's in, and if, as a viewer, you're anxiously waiting for a minor, unimportant character to come back onscreen, there's something wrong with your flick.

It's not that The Philadelphia Story is a bad movie, but I don't think it lives up to the "classic" label that it often receives.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Year of Firsts

Like I said before...95% of these are gonna be food-related...trying to widen my palette...Not that anyone else cares...just a running record for me...

- Wasabi Peas - Not what I was expecting at all.  You hear peas and you think mush, but these were cold and hard.  Like flash-frozen or something.  Odd, with a funky taste...obviously, the taste was wasabi, but it was just odd.

- Butternut Squash Risotto - I'm a risotto fan, but I've never had anything other than plain old risotto that I've made at home.  This stuff was delicious.  I don't think I've ever had squash before either.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

DVD Round-Up -- Oscar Edition

Here's a quick (though long) look at a bunch of movies nominated for Oscars that I just recently watched on dvd. See if they're worth a rental below. By the way, I apologize in advance for the funky large text below. I was experimenting a bit with large and small fonts and for some reason, I failed...

Frozen River
Nominated for Lead Actress and Original Screenplay
The film tells the story of a down-on-her-luck dollar store employee (Oscar nominee Melissa Leo) who resorts to smuggling illegal immigrants across the Canada/New York state border with the help of a Mohawk Indian woman (Misty Upham) in order to get some quick cash to help her family. Clocking in at only 90 minutes, the movie doesn't really lull at any point (which, obviously, is a credit to the script and the direction, both by Courtney Hunt in her debut). Leo's performance is spot-on, but she never has those really showy moments that one would expect in an Oscar nominee's performance which is why I may not have seen the "big deal" with her role. She was very good, don't get me wrong, but it lacked pizzazz (which I guess is the point...if you had no money and your trailer home was falling apart, I doubt you would have pizzazz either). My problem with the film lies in the fact that it couldn't shake it's "indie-ness" away. The ending in particular is stereotypical "indie" in that it ends in a way that you just go "huh?" It's flaunting it's "I'm an indie movie and we have no budget so we're just gonna end it like this" kinda way. It's a good film, but I can't stand indie movies that have that type of pretension to them. (I realize I'm not explaining myself well here, but you all know that indie vibe that I'm talking about.) That being said, it's definitely worth a rental.
The RyMickey Rating: B

Nominated for Lead Actress, Art Direction, and Cinematography
Angelina Jolie is Christine Collins, a mother in 1920s/30s L.A. whose son goes missing. When the corrupt police department "finds" her son and she claims they are mistaken, the cops throw her into a mental institution. The film was fine, but nothing special. Jolie overacts to the hilt, here, running the gamut of emotions from subdued to screaming (she was much better in 2007's A Mighty Heart...rent that one today!). Director Clint Eastwood proves once again that he's the most overrated director in Hollywood...he has a tough time editing things down and he picks both very odd and far too obvious ways of shooting scenes. Despite the faults, I think it's worth a rental if only because the story was really interesting. Even though I have nothing to rave about for this one, I still moderately liked it.
The RyMickey Rating: B-

Man on Wire
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature
I don't watch many documentaries, so I'm no expert here, but this tale of tightrope walker Phillippe Peitit's daring attempt to cross the two towers of the World Trade Center was gripping. I mean, you know he survives the thing since he's the one narrating the story, but it had me on the edge of my seat. Told through a series of interviews, re-enactments, and old home movies, it had a real "movie" feel to it. Admittedly, it took a while to get started and after the first 30 minutes, I was tempted to stop, but I'm glad I held out, because it truly was fascinating in the end.
The RyMickey Rating: B

Tropic Thunder
Nominated for Supporting Actor
I'm all for raunchy comedies (I laughed out loud multiple times watching last year's Step Brothers, but this one fell entirely flat for me. After a few hilarious fake trailers at the beginning, I really don't think I laughed once until the film's final act when the Hollywood actors go ape shit on their Vietnam-like captors. Robert Downey, Jr., got a ton of praise for this one for playing a white dude playing a black dude. It was funny for about two minutes and then got old. Seriously, I didn't get this one at all. In fact, I hated it.
The RyMickey Rating: D-

The Dark Knight
Nominated for Supporting Actor, Art Direction, Cinematography, Editing, Make-up, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects
The biggest movie of the year without a doubt. Not my kind of movie at all, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. It was too long...there was a long scene that took place in Japan (I think) that was completely unnecessary and seemed only to be in there to show a cool Batman flying effect...but it was enjoyable overall. Heath Ledger got a ton of praise for playing the Joker and he plays the role with evil glee (much better than Jack Nicholson in the "original" movie series). I would also point out that Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face was great. I walked out of this one actually liking Eckhart better than Ledger...I'm not sure I feel the same way now...it probably warrants another viewing. Although, thinking about both Eckhart and Ledger, I now remember my other problem with the flick. There was no need for two villains in this one. Either Dent's/Two-Face's story or the Joker's troubles would've been more than enough for one movie.
The RyMickey Rating: B

Kung Fu Panda
Nominated for Best Animated Feature
Well, this is Dreamworks' best animated film...in the end, that's not saying a whole lot. The film starts off super-promisingly. Jack Black voices Po, an overweight, out-of-shape panda who loves kung fu (hence the title, naturally). When he is chosen (accidentally?) to save his town and join the Furious Five kung-fu action team (sounds like a commercial for figurines or something), hilarity ensues...or so it's supposed to. The first 30 minutes leading up to Po joining the Furious Five are great, but it just really falls flat after that...But it's Dreamworks, what do you expect?
The RyMickey Rating: C+

Movie Review -- The Wrestler (2008)

starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood
directed by Darren Aronofsky
written by Robert D. Siegel

I don't think that I have ever watched a wrestling match -- professional or the type of "professional" that Hulk Hogan calls himself. So this movie really didn't appeal to me in the least. It took me a long time to decide to finally watch...and I'm glad I did.

Plain and simple, I thought Mickey Rourke was amazing. Being a young kid in the 80s, I wasn't cognizant of Mickey's first "era" -- the era of the soft-core 9 1/2 Weeks and Angel Heart -- I've heard about both, but really have no desire to see either. So, knowing next to nothing about this guy, I came into this with a clean slate. But this was an incredible performance. Not only is Rourke incredibly believable in the ring as aging wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson, but he's gripping in his scenes with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Wood) and his stripper crush Cassidy (Tomei). I really could go on and on. I thought it was a stellar performance. By far, the best I've seen this year, male or female. (Granted, I didn't see Sean Penn's Milk, but I can't imagine I'd like it better than this, so I'm rooting for Rourke to get the Oscar.)

I never really thought of her in this way, but Marisa Tomei is sexy...and I swear that's not because her breasts are ever-present in this flick. There's something that kept me riveted whenever she was onscreen. Her scenes with Rourke felt very true (that's a compliment). As far as Oscar-worthy...I'm not so sure. There was nothing incredibly powerful and she didn't have any "wow" scenes. She played her role perfectly well and entirely believably. If that means Oscar, than so be it. The other lady in the flick, Evan Rachel Wood, has minimal screen time, but her scenes proved pivotal and quite emotional.

The flick isn't perfect. It lulls a bit in the middle and I'm not sure I cared for the ending. For those that saw it, what do you think happens at the end in terms of Rourke's relationship with Tomei?

Anyway, I loved director Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, but was very disappointed with his disjointed and entirely odd The Fountain, so this was a great comeback for him, in my opinion.

Be warned that the wrestling scenes are quite intense...I definitely cringed multiple times during one of the fights, but if you can make it through them (which I imagine won't be something everyone can do), you'll be able to see a performance people will be talking about for years to come.

The RyMickey Rating: B+

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

DVD Round-Up

A quick round-up of movies available on dvd that I've watched in the past few weeks. I won't do full reviews for these (unless I really, really like them, at which point it'll be in a separate post) -- just trying to convey whether they're worth a rental or not. Here they are, in order from best to worst.

Ghost Town (2008)
A charming comedy. It felt very old-school to me, like it could've been made in the 40s or 50s. Ricky Gervais is a man who dies for six minutes during a colonoscopy and when he awakes, he can see dead people. Greg Kinnear co-stars as one of the ghosts and Téa Leoni is a possible love interest. The flick also features a hilarious "cameo" from Kristin Wiig, one of Saturday Night Live's only bright spots nowadays. What I liked about this one was that it didn't utilize all the same-old, typical romantic comedy clichés. Even the ending was pleasantly different than what one expects from the genre.
The RyMickey Rating: B


Traitor (2008)
A nice little thriller starring Don Cheadle as a man who is either working for the FBI undercover or working for a Muslim terrorist organization. Action sequences in this one were subdued, but still very tense. My problem with this one is only that it seemed very preachy about trying to get across the point that "not all Muslims are terrorists." I feel like they even said those exact words once. While entirely true, I don't need that pounded into my brain multiple times during a movie's 110 minute running time. Still, worth a rental for sure.
The RyMickey Rating: B


Eagle Eye (2008)
What started out as a great little thriller royally blew it in the final act. Shia LaBeouf stars as a man on the run from some unknown entity that has seemingly framed him for some crime he didn't commit (very North by Northwest, for you Hitchcock fans). The lovely (but rather empty and vacant) Michelle Monaghan is Shia's co-star who is in the same boat as him. Like I said, the final act was a bust...incredibly disappointing and preposterous, ruining any type of recommendation for a rental here.
The RyMickey Rating: C-


Mamma Mia (2008)
Seriously, the worst movie of 2008 that I saw. Awful, awful stuff. It's not easy to direct a musical, but even I know that you can't be jumping up and down and dancing in slow-motion while singing at a normal pace. The ABBA songs were just thrown in willy-nilly and the singing, for the most part, was adequate at best. The sets looked awful and the story was really just disgusting. "Hey, my mom was a slut when she was younger and I don't know who my dad is! Yippee! Let me get married and invite the three possible dads to the wedding, thus allowing my mom to reminisce with her two equally slutty girlfriends about their slutty escapades in their slutty youth!" Really, just vomit-inducing. The only saving grace was relative newcomer Amanda Seyfried (as the daughter) who tried her very best to rise above all the dreck. But even she can't save this one from the rating I'm about to give it.
The RyMickey Rating: F

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What I'm Listening To - "Gunpowder and Lead" by Miranda Lambert

I realize that country isn't a genre that is widely loved by those that I know are reading this blog (and the one person that I know is reading it and likes country music isn't a fan of this particular singer). However, I've grown to appreciate the down-home Southern vibe in recent years. Now, I can't say that I'm a fan of the twangy country and Miranda Lambert is as twangy as I can handle.

Miranda is just about the only artist to blossom from the reality show Nashville Star and she didn't even win the thing. Her second album Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is where she really came into her own. Miranda wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the album and there's not a bad one in the bunch. The Washington Post agreed with me, saying it was one of the top ten albums of 2007. Her single "Gunpowder and Lead" was just nominated as Song of the Year at the Academy of Country Music awards and it deserves to win. This single really showcases that she's the "bad girl" of country music. I mean, where else (but in country music) would you hear the lines "I'm goin' home, gonna load my shotgun / Wait by the door and light a cigarette"? I mean, come on...classy stuff, right? I joke, but this is (and this is totally embarrassing to admit this) probably my favorite song of the aughts ('00s). Take a listen and (dis)agree with me. Unfortunately, no official music video was created for this one, so you'll just have to listen to the song below, if you so desire.

Gunpowder & Lead - Miranda Lambert

A little mellower side of Ms. Lambert can be seen in "Famous in a Small Town" below.

The whole Crazy Ex-Girlfriend cd is stellar. I eagerly look forward to Miranda's next album (it's been nearly two years...anxiously waiting here...).

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Book a Week - The Reader

Book Seven of the Book a Week Quest

The Reader
by Bernhard Schlink, 1995
Translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway

First off, I didn't see the movie yet (this is my worst year in year in terms of seeing Oscar-nominated films...I've only seen two of the five Best Picture nominees).  So I have nothing to compare it to.

That being said, it won't take much for the movie to be better than the book.  

The story here was fine - a fifteen-year-old boy falls in love with an older woman and they begin a torrid love affair.  Years later (after they have since broken up), his former lover is on trial for crimes she committed at a Nazi concentration camp.  Not much to it.  A little odd, but it might have worked if the author was able to tell the tale in a more interesting way.

Don't get me wrong...I am all for books that have short chapters.  They're a way to keep me reading on.  The next chapter's only six pages...sure, I'll read it before I turn off the light.  However, in The Reader, the chapters were literally only 3 pages long (and the book is tiny, the font is big, and the spacing seems larger than normal).  Just when you thought the author was getting somewhere, the chapter ended and he started on another tangent.  When your chapters are short as these are and then you fill these chapters with descriptions of buildings or people that are really trivial to the grand scheme of the story, you lose me.

Now, it's entirely possible that the English translation is what killed the story here, but I'm sure that the chapters were still short in the German version, so I'm not placing all (or even most) of the blame on the translation.

I will say that despite my problems with it, I was able to pull one quote out of the book that stood out to me...I don't know why, but after I read it, I read it again, and then again.  

Is there no such thing as "too late"? Is there only "late," and is "late" always better than "never"?  

For some reason, that one stuck with me.

I can see why this was an Oprah Book Club selection (my first in that prestigious *pause for laughs* club).  Very melodramatic.  Oprah strikes me as someone who would fall head over heels for a romance between a female Nazi and a teenage boy...As I type that sentence I'm actually not sure whether I was trying to be funny or not.  Was I going for irony there?  Really...why in the heck would Oprah have chosen this as a book club selection?  She must've seen something there...but I sure didn't.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Classic Movie Review - Heaven Can Wait (1943)

starring Don Ameche and Gene Tierney
directed by Ernst Lubitsch
screenplay by Samson Raphaelson

Title Card at Start of Film: As Henry Van Cleve's soul passed over the Great Divide, he realized that it was extremely unlikely that his next stop would be Heaven. And so, philosophically, he presented himself where innumberable people had so often told him to go.

As stated in the title card above, Henry Van Cleve is dead and he is certain that he will be spending his eternity in Hell. When he arrives, the Devil is unfamiliar with Henry's life and he asks Henry to give him a quick overview of why he "deserves" to be admitted to the Underworld.

A light comedy, Heaven Can Wait, is a straightforward story of ladies' man Henry (Ameche) and his inability to settle down despite the fact that he is married to the lovely Martha (Tierney). There's really not much else to the film and that's why it never really grabbed me. Now, I enjoyed it, and I definitely laughed more than a few times, but in the end, it was kind of empty.

Ameche is quite good (I honestly don't know if I had seen him in anything other than Cocoon) and Tierney was lovely in that 1940s kind-of-way. She definitely had quite a presence onscreen. The supporting cast is also stellar. They are the ones that provide most of the laughs and they held their own opposite the leads.

The film looked beautiful. It had that Technicolor coloring to it (you know what I mean...I can't really describe it, but you know a Technicolor film when you see it). The sets were obviously on soundstages, but they were quite elaborate and surprisingly believable.

If only the story had a little more oomph to it. Still, overall, I would say this one should land in your Netflix queue (or your local library as I did).

The RyMickey Rating: B

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Book a Week - Of Human Bondage

Book Six of the Book a Week Quest

Of Human Bondage
by W. Somerset Maugham, 1915

I should probably change the "book a week quest" moniker, but I'm not going to. Ideally, I'll read 52 books this year, although I may not be necessarily reading one a week.

Especially when that one is over 600 pages and feels like nothing happens in it.

The only reason I even started this one is because a friend loaned it to me with a little post-it note attached that said "Good" on it. Little did I know, that said friend was a full-out fibber, having never actually completed the whole book (the movie, however, was good, I have since found out).

Now, I would normally have just stopped reading, but Maugham's writing style is very "readable." There's not a whole lot of superfluous descriptions and details, but he does have a tendency to go off on philosophical or artistic tangents. For example, he'd talk about a painting or a poem in great detail and I would just be lost. It's not that he wasn't writing well (in fact, I enjoyed reading about these paintings and poems), but it meant nothing to me having not known what these things were.

It was this easy-going writing style that kept me hooked...because Lord knows it wasn't the story. It's amazing to me that he was able to get 600+ pages out of this thing. It's the story of Philip Carey, an English boy born with a club foot who, when his mother and father die when he is young, is sent to live with his deeply religious aunt and uncle. We watch Philip as he goes through grade school, prep school, leaves school to study art in Germany and Paris, returns to London to study to be a doctor, falls in love with a nasty woman named Mildred, has Mildred leave him, has Mildred return to him, has Mildred leave him again, vows never to have anything to do with Mildred again, allows Mildred to return to him, has Mildred leave him...the cycle goes on and on.

When your main character is so blah and his love interest is such a, for lack of a better word, bitch to him, you just end up not caring about the guy since he can't stand up for himself.

I don't know...I mean, I may pick up another book by Maugham because I liked his style, but I definitely wasn't a huge fan of this one in terms of story (which, in turn, could be a problem with his writing style in not knowing where to draw the line in terms of what's interesting and what's not).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What I'm Listening To -- "The Show" by Lenka

I guess this we're going into pop this week -- not pop in that Britney Spears-sense, mind you. Australian singer Lenka released her self-titled first album in September 2008 and the video below is for her first single, "The Show." Personally, I think the video is just as good as the song...there's no denying the sweet, sugary pop component that's present in them both.

The Show - Lenka

The way she says "can't" has me swooning over her for some reason.

The video for her second single -- the somewhat creepy "Trouble is a Friend" -- is below. Another neat video that does an incredible job of mirroring the tune and lyrics of the song.

Come on...with puppet birds and puppet vegetables in the first video and shadow puppets in the second, what's not to love about Lenka?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Classic Movie Review - Call Northside 777 (1948)

starring Jimmy Stewart
directed by Henry Hathaway
screenplay by Jerome Cady and Jay Dratler

McNeal: I went into this thing believing nothing. I was skeptical. I figured Wiecek was using his mother to spring him. But I've changed my mind. This man is innocent, Mr. Palmer. I know that without any doubt.

Based on a true story, in Prohibition-era 1932, a cop is killed while drinking at a speakeasy and a man named Frank Wiecek is arrested, convicted of murder, and sentenced to 99 years in prison. Ten years later, Wiecek's mother, convinced of his innocence, buys a classified ad in the Chicago Times posting a $5000 reward for any information leading to a reversal of her son's conviction. Intrigued by the ad, skeptical newspaper reporter P.J. McNeal investigates the ad and discovers that everything may not have been kosher in the conviction of Wiecek.

The story is kind of trite. It's basically a cut-and-dry "investigation-type" movie. It's simply a newspaper reporter hunting down facts and figures. In that sense, it's weak plotwise. The film begins, ends, and is scattered throughout with an odd voiceover narration that makes it seem like a newsreel from the 30s or 40s. Completely unnecessary, it takes you out of the story entirely.

Additionally, this film was apparently one of the first times that a lie detector was seen onscreen and they seriously spent 10 minutes explaining what a lie detector does, how it works, and how they determine the validity of a person's responses. Similarly, at the film's climax, the 1940s audience saw an "early fax machine" (so to speak) detailing how photos were transmitted over a phone line (I think...something like that). When that's your climax, you've got a problem.

Now, it wasn't all bad by any means. Jimmy Stewart alone is enough to be worth a watch. He does nothing special here, but it's Jimmy Stewart. How can you not like this everyman? There are additionally some rather touching scenes involving the convicted Wiecek, his mother, and his wife that at least provide some emotional impact in an otherwise "by-the-book" storyline.

Another plus is the fact that many of the scenes were shot on location. While I've complained about the "newsreel" feeling of the film, the location shots at least provided a sense of realism. It reminded me of a low-budget indie film of today -- shot on a low budget, the real locations and the character actors (Jimmy Stewart is really the only person I had ever heard of before) definitely were a plus.

Unfortunately, Call Northside 777 wasn't a hit in my book. It was an okay flick that I'd really only recommend if you're a Jimmy Stewart fan. If you are, definitely give it a look...but this one doesn't quite stand the test of time.

The RyMickey Rating: C

Friday, February 06, 2009

Movie Review -- Coraline 3D (2009)

featuring the voice talent of Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher
directed and screenplay by Henry Selick

Odd. Simply odd. I don't know if that's a good thing, or a bad thing here. Coraline is just odd.

From the talent behind The Nightmare Before Christmas (which I loved when I was younger and I think is as dull as can be now), this film is just about as un-kid-friendly a kid pic can get. There's nothing objectionable here, but there's nothing that will grab a young kid's interest either.

Coraline is a young girl who is completely unsatisfied at home -- her parents don't pay her any attention and a recent move to a new home has left her with no friends but the annoying weirdo kid next door. One night, she goes through a small door she finds in her home and is taken to a seemingly "mirror" world of her current life -- her parents are incredibly (and overly) kind and loving and the boy next door can't annoy her because he is unable to talk -- for you see, Coraline's "other mother" in the new world not only has buttons for eyes, but has sewn the neighbor's mouth shut simply because Coraline was annoyed by him...you see, this new "other mother" wants Coraline to be as happy as can be and if that means sewing a boy's mouth shut then so be it. Like any kid flick, Coraline realizes that things may not be hunky-dory in this seemingly ideal world and she soon understands that she wants her "old" life back, however imperfect it might be.

First off, the movie is too long. It could have been much better as a 80-minute film than a 105-minute film. There's not much story here and cutting characters and subplots could've helped immensely.

My second problem with the flick certainly branches off of that first problem -- there's too many extra characters that were simply thrown in for their sheer eccentricity. Add to that another subplot dealing with dead ghost kids and, while I wasn't confused per se, I was perplexed as to why this was the least bit important.

Animation-wise, it definitely looked new (they were going for a computerized stop-motion look), but as the characters moved around, I couldn't help but think of the old-school Rankin/Bass "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" of the 1960s. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but things weren't always fluid all the time which I found a little odd.

Maybe I'm spoiled by Disney World 3D movies, but the 3D effects were once again not all that special. There were scenes that looked cool, but I don't think it would've been any different in 2D.

I realize I'm kind of complaining about the movie, but I didn't hate it. I appreciated the fact that the animators kind of said, "Screw the audience...we're gonna make the kind of movie that we want and we don't care if parents have to deal with kids that get nightmares," but at the same time, the story really lacked oomph.

I don't know what I think about this one at this point. I certainly wouldn't rush out to see it, but I think I'm making it sound worse than it was. That being said, it certainly wasn't anything great, but it was acceptable (yeah, I know, a rousing recommendation there).

But hey, if you want to see the biggest animated breasts that you've ever seen, this is the movie for you! (shudder...shudder...)

The RyMickey Rating: C+

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What I'm Listening To - "Abracadabra" by Robin McKelle

Delving into jazz this week...I don't even know how I came across Robin McKelle, but I think it was via iTunes.  Her name was under a "People Who Listen to xxx Also Bought This" column.

Robin McKelle is new to the scene (and let's be honest, I'm sure jazz singers aren't a hot commodity in the music video world), so not much is available online showcasing her talent. The above is a cover of the Steve Miller Band's "Abracadabra" from her 2008 album Modern Antique. It's definitely a good sample of her voice and the reworking of the song is better than the original, I think.

Unfortunately, that's all I could find (admittedly, there's another music video, but it's kinda odd, so no link is going up here), but you can discover it on youtube if you so desire. It's unfortunate because my two favorite songs of hers -- "Comes Love" (a catchy Latin-tinged number) and "Remember" (a self-penned ballad) -- are unavailable in even live performances online.

Both Modern Antique and her debut album Introducing Robin McKelle are available to listen to and purchase on iTunes.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Theatre Review - The Lion King

The Lion King
When: Saturday, January 31, 2pm
Where: Minskoff Theatre, New York City (Broadway)

What can I say. If you haven't seen this, you should. Seriously, just some breathtaking theatre here.  I had seen this ten years ago when it first opened, but I found that I remembered little about it, so it kind of felt new to me again.  I'm by no means a theatre critic, but how can you not get chills watching this thing? A little video clip to get an idea of the production is below...

The best way to describe it is simply that it's unique. The costumes -- everything from the masks worn by the lions to the bird puppet held by an actor to the ensemble wearing literal hats of grass to symbolize the savannah landscape is wonderful. You find yourself looking at the "mask" rather than the actor, but then, when it's "really important," the actors are certainly able to shine through. When a giant elephant walks down the aisle and up onto the stage and giraffes are played by guys walking on stilts, you know you're seeing something unique.

The essentially bare set. As I said above, the ensemble actually takes on "being" much of the set. They become the grass, the water, the animals.

The music -- African chants prove to be just as (and sometimes more) emotionally moving as the Elton John/Tim Rice-penned English-word songs. I think I got chills four times -- yeah, I know that's corny, but it gets to you. There's one scene in particular towards the end that is incredibly simplistic, but beautiful, and the song that accompanies it (a tune penned specifically for this show, "They Live in You") is kind of a masterpiece of emotional storytelling, in my opinion.

Director Julie Taymor really was a mastermind here. There's really just too many amazing scenes to go into here.  She really, to me, almost directs a perfect show here -- although there are two dance breaks (one incredibly out-of-place 70s disco romp during the song "Be Prepared" and a Cirque du Soleil-ish oddity during "Can You Feel the Love Tonight) that had me holding back laughter for the wrong reasons.

Really, I'm not sure how to review theater. You've gotta figure that if these people are putting on a 2 hour, 45 minute show eight times a week, singing and dancing their heart out sometimes twice a day within hours of each other, you've got to give them credit, regardless of whether you liked the thing or not.

But there's no need to worry about liking this one.  You will.  This is actually the eighth Broadway show I've seen in three years (Wicked, Avenue Q, Mary Poppins, Phantom of the Opera, Hairspray, Chicago, and The 39 Steps [a play] would be the others), and at this point, I think it tops the list.