Sunday, July 31, 2011

Live concert review: Sara Bareilles. OR, I wish I had earplugs.

I went to hear Sara Bareilles in concert in Portland, Oregon. Lucky me!

When I bought the tickets, I decided to get four, because my daughters love to sing along to her CDs and the show said "All Ages" (they are 11 and 8), so that sounded like something they would love! We thought the fourth ticket could be for their Auntie Sarah (my sister-in-law), so we could make it a Girls' Night. We were all SO very excited!

What I didn't think through was the start time. 8 pm. With two opening acts.* That means that my 8-year-old daughter was having trouble keeping her eyes open before Sara even came out at 9:45 pm. That was my fault. I really should have thought that through. What wasn't my fault was the language. Apparently, Sara thinks it's titillating to use the F word. I myself don't think it's all that exciting. It's not rebellious, it's not edgy, it's cliche. I'm fine with hearing it, I'm just not impressed by it. Regardless, when the ticket clearly states "All Ages," there may be kids in the audience who don't enjoy hearing it. That's right, they don't think it's 'super cool' to hear it, it makes them uncomfortable. And that's all them, that's not my influence. So using it in every between-song-patter, and having the whole theater emphasize it while singing a song together, and talking about people having sex in the back row... these moments were not fun for the girls. They liked the music, but they had to try and wash those other moments from their minds. As a ticket buyer, I interpret "All Ages" to mean "All Ages."

* What is the deal with opening acts these days? The headliner seems to come on later these days than I remember. Two to three hours past the time on the ticket! That seems ludicrous to me! And I have seen some BORING opening acts lately. Can I start coming to the show two hours late? Does anybody do that, because I'd like to know if it's a viable option. As a musician myself, I don't want to show the opener such disrespect, but come on, waiting two hours through music I don't like is just too much. 45 minutes seems right to me.

My main reaction to the concert itself? Loud. PAINFULLY loud. Fingers-in-my-ears loud. I-can't-hear-any-actual-notes-I-can-only-hear-distortion-loud. Weird, because Sara is a musician. Not a 'rock star,' a beautiful musician. I'd like to be able to hear the music she is making, along with her talented band mates.

And now we're at the part where I gush.


She is so funny, and so beautiful, and WOW does she have an impressive vocal command, and HOO BOY the girls and I loved that she plays instruments (mainly a grand piano) as well. (We did already know that, but still it's such fun to watch live!)

I loved her audience rapport and stage presence. She had COMMAND of that big, historic concert hall! She played to every corner!

There were a few moments that were particularly memorable. I loved the different arrangements she did on some of the songs. I loved the creative uses of the band members (they are all so versatile!), for example, starting one song with all of them on various pianos/keyboards while she banged the bass drum and sang.

At one point, she and the band appeared in the first balcony (we were sitting near the front of the orchestra - Row M - so we could turn around and see them) and sang a capella with no microphones. The theater was so quiet, listening to their rendition of "Little Lion Man" by Mumford and Sons (I love that song) (also, though, this was one that has the prominent and repeated use of the F-word). Then we all started to sing along, although we could still hear Sara's killer voice through it all, and the sound was beautiful. (I also enjoyed the break from all the LOUD!)

There was the audience participation - teaching different parts of the audience how to sing the "ooo ooo" parts for "King of Anything" as well as provide the hand clap percussion section.

Not to mention the part when Sara commented that she loved it when the audience sang and then joked "you all can just sing and I'll just listen... actually you can play the piano for me too!" and a guy in the audience yelled, "I'll play the piano for you!" and then she invited him up to play. He was great. He played "Love Song" (even though she pointed out that song was coming later in the show; she said, "let's just do it twice!") and she sang. Then she pulled a few people up on stage to sing. When they all left, she said, "that was amazing. I've never done that before. That was something we'll all remember, so thank you."

I've since read that this has become extremely common - this letting someone from the audience come up and play/sing. I read a piece on NPR that said that celebrities basically can't say no, because they will incur the wrath of the internet if they do. I will point out that later in the show, someone else yelled out "can I come sing with you too?" and Sara said "I'm sorry, no, don't hate me" in her adorable way, and the person yelled, "that's okay, I love you!"

All in all, I'm very glad I went! I've now seen my two favorite female singer/songwriters this year (saw KT Tunstall in May - awesome)! The girls were so very tired, that we left when the encores began, but they were feeling happy. I hope that when they look back on this, the memories they have are of that young female musician, perfectly comfortable on that stage up in front of that crowd.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Three Movie Reviews: The '2' movies of summer 2011

So far this summer, I have seen three new ‘2’ movies:

Kung Fu Panda 2

Cars 2

The Hangover 2

Kung Fu Panda 2:
Of the three, I’d say I liked this one best. It is in keeping with the artistic style of the original, and it advances the story of Po’s development into a Kung Fu master while simultaneously exploring Po’s back story. Into the future and into the past: a neat feat.

Just as any good sequel should do, certain things about the original were ‘bumped up a notch.’ The kung fu action sequences were more amazing and exciting, and the Asian Art – inspired visual choices were even more beautiful.

It left us with an intriguing premise for another sequel; and when I say intriguing, I mean clever, surprising, and exciting!

Cars 2:
Of the three sequels, this one was (no contest) the most different from the original. It is completely different in tone, pace, type of story… it just happens to have some of the same characters in it. Most of them are in what felt to me like the ‘B’ storyline, though. The ‘A’ storyline only utilizes one returning character – Tow Mater – and many new characters. It’s a LOT of Mater, and even in the first film I definitely felt that he is a character best appreciated in small doses. This one had Too Much Mater for me, for sure!
This movie is a spy comedy, a genre that I really like, so I'm on board with this re-booting of the franchise. I also liked the racing sequences, and thought the animation therein was eye-poppingly gorgeous. My particular favorite was the Italy scenery.
I did have a few problems with it other than Too Much Mater (and its accompanying Not Enough McQueen). I thought it was too fast-paced. We didn’t get any scenes where we could just enjoy the characters – everything was coming at us fastfastfast.
I thought the plot resolution was too confusing for the target audience. The bad guy is who again? And why was he masterminding all this? Pretending to promote alternative fuel while secretly sabotaging alternative fuel in order to drive up oil prices because he actually is trying to sell oil even though we thought he was out of the oil business? There’s one too many twists there, I think, and Sarge’s statement of “once big oil, always big oil” doesn’t make things any clearer!
I also thought the main moral, which seemed to be ‘stand by your friend no matter what,’ wasn’t terribly effective. McQueen felt bad for snapping at Mater when he acted like an obnoxious fool at a public event for McQueen’s professional career. We seem to be telling kids that obnoxiousness should be excused if we really love someone. I’m not on board with that message. How about 'I will always love you, but this behavior is not appropriate and I believe you can learn how to behave?' Not a terribly appealing moral, but that's one I would support.
My mom loved the idea that we should love our dents because they represent memories – I’ll agree with that one. That was cute.

The Hangover 2:
I thought this movie was AWFUL. It was trying to be exactly like the original, but it didn’t even come close to being a poor imitator. It had none of the magic of the first movie. Such a disappointment.
What’s worse is that I don’t think I laughed once!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: The Eyre Affair

I finally have a chance to report on the next book I read in my "Summer of Reading!"
This summer project is explained here.

Book Review:
The Eyre Affair
by Jasper Fforde

This book seemed like it was written particularly for me!

It’s witty, smart, literary, and has an element of mystery. There are many literary references (I’m sure I didn’t catch them all), but the main one is, of course, Jane Eyre, which is one of my top TWO favorite books of all time.

There is so much going on in this book! There are fantastical inventions, time travel that has changed the history and governments of the world, a society that worships Shakespeare and other literary figures above all, a secretive series of governmental departments (kind of like if there were lots of CIAs), people with mysterious abilities; I could go on and on.

There is a fascinating heroine: Tuesday Next. She is strong yet vulnerable, as well as undaunted by risks and danger. She takes us on an exciting ride, yet provides us with a love story so we can root for a happy ending.

There are several sequels, and I look forward to enjoying them! I’m not sure that they will feel quite as close to my heart as this one (the only book I love as much as Jane Eyre is Pride and Prejudice), but Tuesday’s adventures are so fast-paced, thrilling, and above all, cleverly written!

What did I love most about this book? I have to single out two things in particular. One is the pace at which we learn new things about this society - it’s exercise for the brain! The second is the giddy joy the author takes in wordplay. It’s clear he loves the way words sound together – and that he expresses that love more playfully than reverently. It’s just such fun to read!

I also loved that Tuesday’s life was mirroring the story in Jane Eyre, even outside of Jane Eyre itself! (Yes, I’m saying that part of the story takes place inside of ‘Jane Eyre’!)

Did I have any problems with the book? Well, in this world, Charlotte Brontë originally wrote a different ending to Jane Eyre, and it’s the characters in this book that change it to the ending we now know. I found that a little disappointing, being asked to believe that Brontë would have written the inferior version. My love for the classic novel is just too strong… It was definitely worth it, though, because the climax is so thrilling! In the end, I certainly didn’t hold it against this book. I still wanted the characters in this book to find out that Charlotte Brontë had intended this ending all along, and the time travelers had changed things, or something, but I admit that this approach made for a rip-roaring thrill ride of an adventure!

The Eyre Affair defies classification. Since it is an exciting combination of action and intelligence, I’d say that its uniqueness is a definite selling point!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Movie review: The King's Speech

The King's Speech well deserved its Oscars.

What a finely crafted movie, making speech therapy enthralling.* Employing masterful cuts to make a halting political speech gripping. There were lots of pauses in each sentence of the speech, while the stammerer worked through his techniques, but the pauses were well utilized. The same was true of the earlier speeches, where we could experience the discomfort of listeners and speaker alike.

(* It's quite a feat! I can say that because I have been through speech therapy.)

I cannot say enough about the work of Colin Firth. This was acting, tremendous acting, acting with every muscle, without a hint of scenery-chewing. Bravo, sir.

I found the story fascinating as a history, and also as a portrait of a unique friendship.

A remarkable film!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Audiobook review: Bossypants

written and recorded by Tina Fey

This was the first audiobook I have listened to in 15 years or so.

Bossypants is a memoir. I thought it was going to be more of a humor book, but it is definitely a memoir: it starts with her childhood, and tells us about her life in chronological order.

It is, as expected, funny. It's like hearing a friend tell you her life story, and isn't that what we love about Tina Fey? There are many little gems included when comedy-writer Tina shines through, from her responses to internet commenters to her fashion advice. Ah, Tina. She is a treasure!

My absolute favorite excerpt is "The Mother's Prayer for Its Daughter," which I had seen on the internet before I read (well, heard) the book. It's gold; it's just absolutely perfect. I hope it's okay (since it's all over the internet) to post it here at the end of the post...

While listening to Tina Fey's recording, rather than reading the book, was fun, I actually think I would have laughed more if I had been reading it myself. I'm back to books! With paper!

"The Mother's Prayer For Its Daughter" by Tina Fey:
First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her

When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.

What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.

“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Stage review: Les Miserables

We went to see the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables. We both love this show, and while we weren't sure the younger kids are quite old enough, we didn't want to pass up this opportunity for them to see it. So we bought enough seats to take the whole family, which cost a pretty penny. It cost so much that it was a major decision for us! It was like, "vacation or Les Miserables?"

We were able to have this event serve as Big Girl's birthday present as well, so that was nice! She learned about the story (which made her nervous- she's squeamish about death and fighting) and listened to the soundtrack. She ended up being VERY excited about seeing the show!

I did not realize that it would be a restaged production. Instead of having the iconic turntable stage, it has a more traditional set and staging. I did like the new backdrops, based on watercolors by Victor Hugo. They were beautiful and really did set the mood. The backdrops were animated at times, moving us through Paris, which was really cool.

Overall, it was wonderful. I mean, it's Les Miserables after all! I loved how the audience cheered for the opening BUM, BUM BUMMM! by the orchestra - definitely an audience of theatre fans! The music was exhilarating and the ending made me cry. A great Les Miserables experience.

Big girl loved it. Middle girl liked it very much, but had bad dreams of battle scenes that night. The Boy was bored, so I whispered the plot in his ear during the second act. He enjoyed it more that way.

In general, aside from the cool backdrops, I liked the original version better. It's more iconic with the revolving turntable and the minimalist sets - this one was more like other shows. I also felt the battle scenes were less impactful without seeing both sides of the barricade.

The singing was very shout-y in this production. It must have been a direction, because everyone in the cast was turned up to 11. I don't agree with that choice. If you have quiet moments in the song, it gives the powerful notes so much more impact. These songs were sung with such intensity on EVERY NOTE that it all ran together. A shame.

The exception to this was Eponine. I really enjoyed her interpretation of the songs; it's interesting that she was the understudy. I also enjoyed the performances of Marius and Cosette more than I usually do.

The most shouting was done by Fantine. EVERY SYLLABLE!!!

I recommend seeing Les Miserables. It does a good job of being Les Miserables! But you might want to bring earplugs...