As might be guessed from the band's name, Winterpills have an affinity for dark, wintry songs. If you're the kind of person who runs from any musical implication that everything isn't OK and the world might not be such a happy bouncy place, feel free to skip to the next review; the self-titled debut album from this Northampton, Massachusetts quartet is not for you. Singer/acoustic guitarist Phillip Price will never be confused with an infectious optimist, but he has a good flair for words and many of his melodies stick with you after hearing them. He, lead guitarist Dennis Crommett, drummer Dave Hower, and backing vocalist Flora Reed do a fine job of creating the right atmosphere to fit Price's lyrics. In particular, Reed's hauntingly eerie harmonies make her an irreplaceable component of the Winterpills sound. Most of the songs deal with romantic relationships in various stages of coming undone. Even when the music is upbeat, like in the solid rocker "Laughing," the lyrics describe running away from a girl just as things start to get serious. Often the words get downright creepy, like in the song "Pills For Sara" about a drug-addicted girlfriend, but the band's musicality brings a sense of power and earnestness to the emotions and makes the song work.
Winterpills is the debut work of a band that has a lot to offer musically, even if they've embraced a style that will not please everybody. Personally I've tended to find melancholy music very therapeutic in the right doses, especially when done really well like it is here.
Overall Grade: B+
The second season of Prison Break already reminds me of CBS' The Fugitive television show. In pursuit of the prisoners are the captain of the prison guards, Bellick, and an FBI agent- both obssessed with the chase like Ahab in Moby Dick. Entering the mix is Michael's love interest, the prison doctor, who he feels he needs to make amends for.
Of note, the series premiere is available on the Fox website, commercial free. Catch it live on Fox, Mondays at 8 PM.
Preliminary Grade: A
They use their contacts to network their way to Drew using the six degrees of separation model. Along the way, we meet Drew's limo driver, cousin, screenwriter and facialist.
My Date With Drew tells the story of one man's dream. As an aside, it also shows the power of the internet. Be prepared to fast forward your way through his singing episodes in the car, Simon Cowell would agree he can't sing. The film does provide some entertainment, but it's clearly second rate.
Overall Grade: B-
Thandiswa Maswai spent an eight-year musical apprenticeship as part of a highly regarded South African band called Bongo Maffin. In early 2005, she released her debut solo CD Zabalaza (Xhosa for "rebellion"). Thandiswa combines black musical styles from her homeland and from abroad; on Zabalaza you will hear township jive, kwaito, and traditional Xhosa music interwoven with soul, R&B, gospel, jazz and reggae. In addition, Thandiswa has quite a bit to say with her lyrics, alternately sung in English and Xhosa but always direct and to the point. The opening song "Nizalwa Ngobani (Do You Know Where You Come From)" chastises South African youth for their obsession with material goods and indifference towards their nation's history. The title song laments the poverty and disease still afflicting the South African villages more than a decade after the end of the apartheid regime. "Transkei Moon," the closing song, pays tribute to the home village of Thandiswa's mother.
Musically, Zabalaza consists of ten songs ranging from nearly five to over eight minutes in length, along with three very brief interludes of traditional Xhosa singing recorded during Thandiswa's visit to Transkei. The impact of the songs on me depended a lot on the musical style of the particular song. On one hand, the gospel song "Revelation" and the jazzy "Ntyilo Ntyilo" didn't really distinguish themselves from similar-sounding songs by Western performers. The kwaito style exemplified by the song "Kwanele" is basically a South African take on standard dance club music, and doesn't really interest me all that much. On the other hand, Thandiswa and her musicians do a fine job of turning extended song lengths into an asset rather than a hindrance for most of the album with their steady, insistent grooves. In particular, the songs that feature traditional African vocal harmonies grabbed me right away, especially "Lahl' Umlenze" and "Ndiyahamba (I'm Leaving)."
Thandiswa is a talented singer and lyricist with a lot say about her homeland as it struggles to recover from a troubled past. The diversity of styles on Zabalaza might make it hard for listeners to like every song on it, but conversely there should be something to please everybody on it.
Overall grade: B
Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review
Copyright 2006 The Green Man Review
The film that I actually watched could have been better named "Boxing at Annapolis." Rather than showing us the rigorous academics that goes into making a naval (or marine) officer, a majority of time goes into the boxing at the school. This is known as "The Brigades" where classmen of any year get the opportunity to slug it out against each other.
Annapolis strongly reminded me of An Officer and a Gentleman, and next month's release, The Guardian. There are themes of pushing your abilities to the max, restraining yourself against overbearing leadership, and persisting in what you believe in, even when others have given up.
The movie needed to show more of the personal side of the struggle. For example, most of the deleted scenes shouldn't have been cut as they reveal the strained relationship between our protagonist, James Franco, and his aloof father.
Based on my expectations, I was a little disappointed, and felt a little duped. The nonboxing portions are very good, however the boxing scenes dominate the film. If you set your sights lower, and want to see some amateur boxing, you'll enjoy Annapolis a lot more.
Overall Grade: B
Date Movie is a film that spoofs a whole slew of other films, mostly of the kind of stuff you'd watch on a date. The comedy is fast, and you need to have watched the other films to get the somewhat obtuse comedy. Here is the list of the movies it makes fun of:
-Bridget Jones' Diary
-Meet the Parents/Meet the Fockers
-My Best Friend's Wedding
-The Wedding Planner
-Sweet Home Alabama
-Lord of the Rings
-My Big Fat Greek Wedding
The scary thing is that there is probably another film or two as well! Yes, the whole thing is a little more crude than clever at times, but Date Movie was entertaining, and fast enough paced to hold this reviewer's attention for the 83 minutes of laughter it provided.
Overall Grade: B
This film is based on a novel that stems from a true life experience of working as a personal assistant to a fashion magazine mogul. Anne Hathaway plays Andie, the second assistant. She is the frumpy young woman who lands this job that "a million other girls would kill for" even though she really wants to work in journalism and has less than no interest in fashion. In short, she is the apprentice. Meryl Streep plays Miranda Priestley, the woman in charge of the fictitious fashion magazine, Runway (translation: Vogue). Streep is particularly adept with her character for her no nonsense business attitude; she makes the Ice Queen from Narnia seem warm and cuddly.
Hathaway starts the job and is a total misfit. She is clueless about fashion, and yearns for a different job. The gold carrot that keeps her going is that if she can stick it out for a year, the doors of opportunity will open to a job she actually wants. As with many jobs, there is a seemingly endless list of tasks to master. Just when she thinks she has them down, they throw another more difficult task at her (my favorite involves obtaining an unpublished Harry Potter novel). As time goes on, she does become more functional, and picks up a sense of fashion despite her initial resistance.
Unfortunately, as can too easily happen, getting ahead in a career involves personal sacrifice. Hathaway is literally a prisoner to her cell phone, and has to be able to instantly respond to any request from her boss. This strains her relationship with her entire social support network: her friends, her parents, and her “significant other” boyfriend. At first it appears worth it, but all that glitters is not gold, and Hathaway must ultimately make some serious choices for her future.
The standout role of the film is Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the high power, dominating magazine executive. Reportedly, she didn’t talk to Hathaway during the filming in order to keep up her icy edge. She is the perfect example of the type of executive who never raises her voice, but commandeers respect and obedience from her underlings. At a few points in the film we get a glimpse into the softer side of this woman. However, she views her troubled marriage more like a failed business merger, than what it actually is. Streep should strongly be considered for an academy award for this role.
While The Devil Wears Prada is highly character driven, in the end, it also functions as a morality tale. Hathaway must ultimately choose between being true to herself, or pursuing the business of world, permeated with greed and power. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, learned quite a bit about how the fashion industry works, and highly recommend it. This is one of very few films that I can’t wait to see again when it comes out on disc.
Overall Grade: A
The story that sets the scene is that a brilliant scientist gets lost in the Amazon after a plane crash. She is presumed dead, and forgotten. Fast forwarding ten years we have a corporation attempting to monopolize the world's water. Hence the title of the novel, Blue Gold. Kurt and Joe stumble on this and unravel the mystery that leads them from Mexico to Lake Tahoe. There's also a stop in Alaska's Aleutian Islands with some vintage military hardware.
The other plot line involves two other NUMA scientists who who find our plane crashed scientist. The storyline in Central America in search of rain forest pharmaceuticals reminded me of The Codex.
The nonstop action at a breakneck pace is quintissential Cussler. Even a casual reader will appreciate the care with which the authors carefully choose the words to succintly and accurately create this work of art. Blue Gold should make anyone's list of novels to spend some time with.
Overall Grade: A-
Also Reviewed by Cussler:
The scenes with the family held hostage are unsettling. There is no way to escape as the criminals are one step ahead, and use cameras to watch their every move. Ford has his back up against a wall, and makes the choices that a loving father would be expected to. The crooks are quite creepy, and exploit their knowledge of the family at any opportunity, sometimes to just be sadistic and exert control.
The heist is a little weak in my mind. Ford ends up home brewing some cobbled together hardware to break into his own system. As some of you know, I have some expertise in this area, and his solution, at least in my mind, wouldn’t likely work. Maybe I’m just disappointed that I wasn’t hired as a consultant, but digitizing a scrolling computer screen, and trying to do optical character recognition seems like quite the longshot to me.
Firewall becomes a tale of the invasion of personal identity. It is rather disturbing to see how the criminals can invade every aspect of Ford and his family’s life. In typical hero fashion, Ford bides his time until he can turn the tables to his advantage.
Overall, I enjoyed Firewall, computer glitches notwithstanding. I just had the nagging feeling that there was very little new here, and the whole plot has been done plenty of times before.
Overall Grade: B
Overall Grade: B+
Overall Grade: B-
No matter what kind of tangent my musical tastes may be wandering off on at a given moment, I invariably wind up craving some good old fashioned, straightforward, two guitars, bass, drum and maybe some keyboard no-frills rock and roll. This is why I always look forward to new releases from Tom Petty. Sure you can argue that he's predictable -- and he certainly doesn't throw any curve balls on his latest album Highway Companion -- but he's also very dependable. For Highway Companion, Petty gave most of the Heartbreakers the session off. Only Petty, Heartbreakers lead guitarist Mike Campbell, and producer and fellow Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne perform on the recording. (In case you were wondering, Petty handles the drums himself and does an acceptable job.) The sound of the album is a bit laid back on the whole, but more or less what you'd expect from Petty. The songs are melodic, the playing is solid, and the style is guitar rock in its purest form. Highway Companion may not string together one memorable song after another the way Full Moon Fever did, but every song is at least decent. The stand-out tracks are the bluesy "Saving Grace" and the upbeat "Flirting With Time." Both would make excellent singles, and could conceivably win Petty some new fans. Even if that doesn't happen, long-time fans of Tom Petty will have no difficulty getting into Highway Companion.
Overall Grade: B+
For the second time in less than a month, an influential but highly enigmatic musical figure from the Summer of Love has passed away. Arthur Lee was the leader of Love, a California-based psychedelic band who combined aggressive hard rock and hippie mysticism in a way that acts like Led Zeppelin and Lee's close friend Jimi Hendrix would emulate a few years later. Love was unique for its day in that it was multi-racial; Lee was black, and the original band had a couple of Asian members as well. Love first gained significant attention with their second album Da Capo, released on New Year's Day, 1967. Songs like the proto-punk single "7 And 7 Is" and "She Comes In Colors" deserve to be considered classics of the era, and the 18-minute "Revelation," which took up all of side two, set a new standard for song length. The follow-up, 1968's Forever Changes, remains a mandatory inclusion on any critical survey of the 100 greatest rock albums. This album had some dark moments, though, as Lee seemed convinced his days were numbered. Lee hung around, but his behavior afterwards became increasingly unpredictable. He repeatedly changed Love's line-up over the next few years, but none of his subsequent output generated anywhere near the same interest or critical approval as Forever Changes did. Eventually he started getting in trouble with the law. In 1996, Lee was arrested after firing a gun into the air. Nobody was hurt and no property was damaged by the incident, but California has a rigid three-strikes-and-you're-out law and this was Lee's third strike. Lee's original jail sentence carried a term of fifteen years, but he was released in 2001. Free from prison, Lee went back on the road with a new version of Love. The shows were very well-received, and for the first time Lee seemed happy with himself and his musical legacy. Unfortunately he ran out of luck earlier this year, when he was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of leukemia. Lee had no insurance, and several benefit concerts were held for Lee, including one at New York City's Beacon Theater hosted and headlined by Robert Plant. The money helped offset the medical costs, but regrettably couldn't benefit his health. Lee passed away on August 3, at age 61. His career had many ups and downs, but Forever Changes and the first half of Da Capo are required listening for anyone interested in the rock music of the sixties.
March of the Penguins is a documentary about the Emperor Penguin. It was shot on location under the chilly conditions of Antarctica. It is well narrated by the rich voice of Morgan Freeman.
Here we are able to see that the process of bearing penguin young is anything but easy. Between the seventy mile inland treks, the below freezing temperatures, balancing the egg for months and no food for months at a time, and you wonder how any penguin manages to breed. Despite it all, the determined penguins can show us determination. The scenes showing the penguins "flying" below the ice, at depths up to 1800(!) feet are particularly dramatic.
March of the Penguins has an enduring quality. It is simultaneously educational and entertaining. This film will appeal to all age groups. It's a great way to see some ice in this summer heat wave.
Overall Grade: A-
In Path of the Assassin, Harvath takes a break from his day job guarding the President. Here, he is hot on the chase of terrorists involved in The Lions of Lucerne's plot. Both his SEAL and Secret Service training are needed as we circle the globe. He parachutes, helicopters, drives cars and motorbikes, and races boats as the novel progresses. This is breakneck, pedal to the metal action all the way.
His new romantic interest in this novel is Meg Cassidy. She is a public relation expert that gets unwillingly thrown into the hunt for the terrorist. Harvath and Cassidy meet during a rescue operation from a plane in Egypt. Harvath, like in the previous novel, must operate independently, and even ignore orders from superiors, to get the job done.
This novel is well plotted, and well paced. The other strength is how the scenes are incorporated into the plot. Each exotic land is expertly described, and well detailed with the sights, smells and sounds. After a Thor novel, I feel not only like an armchair critic, but an armchair traveler as well.
Path of the Assassin is a well done sequel to The Lions of Lucerne. I'm confident that fans of action thrillers will not only enjoy it, but look forward to the next novel in the series.
Overall Grade: A
For all of our reviews by Brad Thor, click here.
Overall Grade: Incomplete
If anyone wants to add to the review of this film, let me know.
The year was 1965, and the civil rights movement was in full swing in America. Against this backdrop we have the movie Glory Road.
A girl's high school basketball coach is given the opportunity to coach boy's basketball at a NCAA division I school- Western Texas University. Despite having to move his family into a college dorm, this coach is on a mission to win. Unfortunately, he needs some better players, and can't compete with the budgets of the bigger schools. In a then revolutionary move, he decides to go the inner cities and recruits a team of African American players. He then trains these players to become a championship team.
This happens against all odds. The players are in continual culture shock. While they have plenty of talent, it is rather raw, and difficult to control at times. As they play throughout the South, they also encounter racism at several of their stops.
Glory Road is supported well by vintage footage of the era. The soundtrack also sounds like a Motown's Greatest Hits album which is always great to listen to.
While I'm no great fan of basketball, I'm always up for a stand up and cheer movie. Glory Road is a great film, and tells a story that is not only true, but should not be forgotten.
Overall Grade: A