Monday, August 31, 2009

Concert Review: Eric Hutchinson

Last night, I went to the Minnesota State Fair to see Kelly Clarkson Eric Hutchinson. I was supposed to see Kelly Clarkson. But as we were wandering near the grandstand late afternoon/early evening, we saw the sign announcing that Kelly had canceled due to illness. Refunds would be paid, but those of us with tickets were still able to see the opening act, Eric Hutchinson.

I've heard a few of Eric's songs on the radio, and I've heard his first (and only) album a few times. I liked what I knew about him. I used to refer to him as Not Jason Mraz, because they have similar voices and similar musical styles. We all know that I'm a Jason Mraz fan, so I figured I couldn't go wrong seeing Eric Hutchinson for free.

Considering the situation, with the main act not showing up to perform, there were a surprising number of people in the audience for Eric Hutchinson. He knew exactly the situation he was in - a crowd full of people who were let down and bummed out because their favorite American Idol wasn't going to sing. Eric ran with it. Because he suddenly found himself to be the headliner of the concert, he was able to do a much longer set than he normally would have. There was a lot of pandering to the crowd, but it really worked. The audience had a good attitude, and Eric was the source. "Every time I announce a song, even if you don't really know it, just scream like it's your favorite song." So we did. It actually made the show more fun.

"This next song is so new I haven't even written it yet," he announced halfway through the set (to which I shouted, "Yeah! I love this song!"). He then proceeded to sing a song about "Who is this Eric Hutchinson?" and how he seems like a pretty nice guy. It was very tongue-in-cheek and even poked fun at himself for singing in the third person. I don't know if it was improv or if it was written before the show, but it was a great addition to the set. Some other lyrics: "I think he's the guy who sings 'I'm Yours.' No, he's not." And later, "I think I went to high school with that guy. No, you didn't." It was very clever.

He was energetic and happy, and at one point announced that "all bets are off" and invited the crowd seated in the upper sections of the grandstand to come down to the floor, since so many seats were empty. A massive migration followed, and the security personnel had to rush to make sure everyone was in a seat and out of the aisles. But the ladies loved him.

Eric saved his two radio singles for the encore, closing out the concert with "OK It's Alright With Me" and "Rock and Roll," the song that put him on the musical map. It was a fun show, with good music and an appreciative star. In the end, I'm glad it worked out how it did. I was able to become more familiar with his work, and I loved the enthusiasm he put into the show. He made the most of an undesirable situation, and I think the fans appreciated it as well.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Movie Review: The Time Traveler's Wife

Seeing a movie immediately after reading the book is not a good idea. Usually I'm good at separating one entity from the other - they're completely different projects, different art forms. But I really wanted to see this movie. I loved the book so much, and I just wanted to see what it would be like.

I should have waited. Waited for DVD or something. I needed space between finishing the book and seeing the movie. I should have loved the movie, but I couldn't. I was too focused on what was different between the book and the movie, I just couldn't distance the two. I wasn't able to see the movie at its own work.

I'm going to try to write this review as objectively as possible. This is solely a review of the movie, not the book.

For a movie called The Time Traveler's Wife, it sure doesn't seem like she's the main character. Instead, it's Henry DeTamble, the one who travels through time. The movie opens with Henry as a little boy, listening to his mother sing in the car. Shortly after the introduction, we learn what Henry is capable of, and that's how the story begins.

Adult Henry is played by Eric Bana, and he carries himself with something I can only describe as a boyish charm. He speaks matter-of-factly about time travel and never really seems as grown-up as he's supposed to be. Every time he disappears on screen, it's beautiful. Those people who made the movie did that very well.

Rachel McAdams plays the role of Clare, Henry's wife. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the movie is limited to only two hours of storytelling, it's very difficult to understand her motivations - why she loves Henry so much. There isn't enough of her past in the movie. McAdams is beautiful, and you can see in her face that she does love him, but I find it a fault of the writers that we don't really get the why answered.

The movie is beautiful. The scenery is spectacular, especially the Meadow, where Henry and Clare meet when she's growing up. It's a lush, green countryside, and the movie is filled with color and warmth.

If you've read the book, and if you loved it, you might want to skip the movie. But if you haven't read the book, then it's a fantastic love story about a man who travels through time and the woman who becomes his wife.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Concert Review: Jason Mraz Gratitude Cafe Tour

Last night I saw Jason Mraz play at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Opening acts were K'Naan and G-Love & Special Sauce.

The sound balance was horribly off (at least where I was sitting) for the opening acts. All drums, not a lot of vocals, nothing else. K'Naan wasn't really my thing. I probably would have enjoyed G-Love if the sound were right. He was at least fun to watch (if only for his knees, which didn't rest the whole time he was on stage). His style mixed well with Jason's type of music, so it made sense that he was the opener.

But I wasn't there for G-Love or Special Sauce. I was there for Jason. Thankfully, they managed to fix the sound issues by the time he got going.

Watching him on stage, it's obvious that he loves what he does. He was having more fun than anyone in the audience. He opened with the song "Make it Mine," which is also the first track on his most recent album, "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things." I don't remember the whole set list, but I remember he played "Lucky," "The Dynamo of Volition" (which had a fun dance that I wasn't able to do because of the vertigo I was feeling from being in the front row of the balcony), some other songs off the new album that I don't remember very well, and "Who Needs Shelter" and "The Remedy (I Won't Worry)" from his first album. He also did an awesome reworking of "Curbside Prophet," which was always one of my favorite songs of his. I suppose the lyrics of the song as it was originally written don't really apply anymore, as he's come a long way since then. I need to find a recording of the new version - I liked it a lot!

He closed out the set with his mega-hit, "I'm Yours." For the fans, he played it mostly straight so that we could sing along (changing the lyric "it's our god-forsaken right to be loved" to "it's our god-intended right to be loved," as I think is appropriate - I'm glad he fixed that line because it used to really bother me). After the song as we know it, having fun with the crowd and doing his own thing, Jason and the band turned the song into Reggae classic "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley - that's the one that goes "Don't worry about a thing/'cause every little thing is gonna be all right." Everyone sang along, everyone was having fun, and no one was worrying about a thing. It was a great way to end the set.

Now, the Xcel center is a hockey arena. It's huge. The main floor was general admission - no seats or anything, just a giant mass of people moving to the music. For the encore, Jason and his band suddenly appeared at the back of the main floor, on a small stage by the sound booth. Watching the hoard of fans run from one end of the floor to the other was hilarious. Jason played a couple slow songs, and then the drummer pulled his girlfriend on stage and got down on one knee. She said yes. Then Jason played the old hit "You and I Both" dedicated to the happy couple.

For the second encore Jason made his way back to the main stage (another wave as the people on the floor rushed back to the front) and played a couple more songs, closing with "Butterfly." If you don't know the song, the reason I find this significant is that it's rather... suggestive. To say the least. If you actually listen to the words, he uses "butterfly" as a metaphor for a certain part of the female anatomy. But it's a fun song, and as it turns out, it was a great way to end the show.

The best part was at the very end - after the band left the stage, after they all put their instruments down, Jason was still there, waving and bowing and tipping his hat to his fans. You could tell he loves his job.

Oh, and there was also at one point a picture on the screen behind the band of a humpback whale playing a guitar. Priceless.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Review: The Time-Traveler's Wife

I've always been a sucker for a time travel story. I had been meaning to try this book for a while when I saw a preview for the movie, and I said to myself, "I have to read that book!"

If anyone tries to tell you that this book is sci-fi, don't listen. It's not even close. Thankfully, I'm also a sucker for a good romance, and that's precisely what this book is.

Audrey Niffenegger wrote a love story about the life of a man and a woman. It just so happens that one of them happens to travel through time. Throughout Clare and Henry's life and love, they have to cope with his "disorder," and they have to learn to overcome the difficulties that result from a man who disappears every once in a while.

Something I don't understand in our world is how something can become so detested after it reaches a certain level of popularity. I've read a number of reviews for this book now that I've finished it, and a surprising number of them are negative. This isn't one of those reviews.

I found the story beautiful and poignant. The characters were created to a fantastical ideal, but it worked in the story to the point where it was believable, and not at all outrageous. I believe, at times, that these characters acted how real people would act in an unbelievable situation.

I was able to see past the obvious paradoxes of time travel. Perhaps a more discerning mind would have a problem with that, but I didn't feel like I needed any more explanation of how everything worked without the world ending. It worked because it worked. I was sucked into the story of Clare and Henry. It was emotional and I was emotional. I loved it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Movie Review: Julie & Julia

I love Meryl Streep. Love her. She's amazing in everything I see her in. I wish I had even a fraction of her talent.

Going into this movie, after seeing the previews for it, I wanted to continue to love her, and to love her even more. I've always liked Julia Child, and in the previews it looked as though Streep captured her spirit on every level.

Thankfully, I was not disappointed. Streep played up the comedy in Child's enthusiasm and made me smile every time she was on screen. It was fantastic.

Amy Adams was the other star of the movie. Generally, I'm on the fence about her. She's been in a lot of movies over the last few years, and I've been getting sick of her. She's overexposed. But as Julie Powell, the woman who blogged about cooking her way through Julia Child's cookbook, she was refreshing. She was realistic and likable and relatable. The scene where she made Lobster Thermidor was particularly memorable - it's how I imagine I would act if I were trying to cook live lobsters.

I will not be surprised if this movie results in another Oscar nomination for Streep - or for Adams, for that matter. I'm glad this movie was everything I wanted it to be. It has inspired me - not to cook, but to start blogging again.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Television Series Premiere: Kings

These days, I don't watch a lot of television as it airs. There are plenty of ways for average people like me to watch TV at their own convenience. I'm surprised I had even heard of "Kings" before it came on the air, but I tend to "hang out" on an online message board community that has a board devoted to broadcast television. Then I saw Ian McShane on "The Daily Show," where they showed a clip from "Kings." After the few words I had heard about it and the brief clip I saw, I decided to give it a try. Of course, I didn't know when it was supposed to start - I only heard today that it's already been on for two weeks.

Thanks to modern marvels (Hulu, in this case), I was able to watch the premiere episode when I was ready. That happened tonight.

It's hard to describe the setting of "Kings." It mainly takes place in the large capitol city, Shiloh, but the name of the country (realm? nation?) escapes me. Ian McShane, as Silas Benjamin, is the king of this country. However, he dresses in sleek suits, not a crown and ermine-trimmed cloak. It looks like he rules over a modern America, complete with skyscrapers, luxury cars, and cell phones. I viewed it as a sort of alternate reality - where we would be today if the world had played out differently.

As the story begins, the "home" country is at war with the neighboring realm of Gath (funny, they said that one enough that I was able to remember it). We follow the story of the Shepherd family, notably its son, David Shepherd. Shepherd is played by Chris Egan (who apparently starred in the movie Eragon, which I have no intention of ever seeing - after reading the book, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to write a positive review of the movie adaptation). Chris Egan startled me, but not in the way I was expecting. About every third shot of him, I noticed a keen resemblance to the late Heath Ledger - how he looked about 7 or 8 years ago. There's a part of me that finds it hard to believe that they're not in some way related.

Nostalgia aside, Egan portrays a stalwart if naive Shepherd, fighting on the front lines of the war. Without revealing too much of the story, I'll just say that events lead Shepherd away from the front lines and to the royal family in Shiloh.

I heard a rumor - one of the few things I heard before I watched the premiere - that this show was originally developed for HBO or Showtime - one of those fancy cable networks with huge production-value shows. They planned only 13 episodes for the first season, which is typical of those networks. Watching it, I certainly believe the rumors (though it was strange to see Ian McShane drinking wine instead of whiskey, and to hear him speak with a relatively clean vocabulary after seeing him in "Deadwood"). The episode was beautifully crafted, with amazing cinematography (is that what they call it for TV?) and a very strong script. I can't wait to watch the next episode.

FYI, the show airs Sunday nights on NBC if you're one of those who likes to watch shows "when they happen."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Movie: Duplicity

The last time I saw Julia Roberts and Clive Owen in a movie together, it was in the movie Closer, which I liked enough to add to my DVD collection. They have great chemistry together. When I started seeing ads for Duplicity, I was very excited to learn that they were acting opposite each other once again.

I'm going to do my best to write this review without giving away any spoilers, but it's going to be difficult due to the nature of the movie.

Duplicity begins in Dubai about 5 years ago. Claire and Ray (Roberts and Owen, obviously) are at a party at the American Consulate celebrating the Fourth of July. They waste no time and end up in a hotel room together. Some split-screen antics ensue, and we learn that Claire has manipulated him - she takes some documents from him and leaves him alone and unconscious.

During the opening credits, we see a ridiculous scene in slow-motion, where two groups of people in business suits are standing on a tarmac near their company jets. Two men (Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti) break away - one from each group - and they meet directly between the two planes, and they're clearly yelling at each other. We don't hear any sound from the scene, but we see the hilarious looks on their faces. I'm convinced that this scene alone was worth the price of the ticket - especially when Paul Giamatti tries to kick Tom Wilkinson.

This is all set up to lay the foundation for the story at hand. We soon learn that Giamatti and Wilkinson are CEOs of rival companies. That's as much as I'm going to give you about the story. Like I said, I don't want to give away any spoilers.

The movie, written and directed by Tony Gilroy, was exactly what it tried to be. It was clever, funny, and sexy. It had a plot twist or two, as well - again, that's all I'm going to say about that. Roberts and Owen do not disappoint. They play off each other very well - better, in fact, than they were in Closer, and I think that's because of the script and the other great actors they worked with. I loved Giamatti as the eccentric and snippy CEO Richard Garsick.

I also loved that the movie kept me guessing - I loved trying to figure out who was lying and who was bluffing and who was manipulating. With a movie about spies, I always worry that they're going to give away too much and make the whole story too obvious, but they were subtle with every reveal.

I thought the movie was fantastic. I think I might even go see it again.