12.28.2007

Kíla, Gambler's Ballet (Kíla Records, 2007)

For well over a decade, the Dublin-based septet Kíla have been turning the concept of traditional Irish music on its head. Rónán Ó Snodaigh (vocals, percussion), Rossa Ó Snodaigh (mandolin, percussion, winds), Colm Ó Snodaigh (flute, sax, whistles, guitar, vocals), Eoin Dillon (pipes and wistles), Dee Armstrong (fiddle, banjo, dulcimer), Lance Hogan (guitar, drums), and Brian Hogan (bass) may sing in Gaelic and use acoustic guitars and uillean pipes, but their music is as likely to evoke drum circles and Gypsy caravans as it does all-night sessions in tightly packed pubs. While their previous album Luna Park saw the band veering in the direction of extended jams, Kíla opted to keep the songs and tunes on the new album Gambler's Ballet relatively short and simple, with an emphasis on the groove.

The overall sound on the new CD is something of a cross between what Kíla normally does and the more club-oriented approach of the Afro Celt Sound System. There's no conspicuous example of programming on Gambler's Ballet, but the band adds snare drums and cymbals to their vast assortment of hand-held percussion instruments, and Lance Hogan plays quite a bit of electric guitar for the first time on a Kíla recording. Not that Kíla has ever had difficulty getting feet to move in the past, but the band definitely made danceable music the focus of Gambler's Ballet.

Some things never change from one Kíla album to the next, though. The band have, hands down, the best overall musicianship of any band in Celtic music since The Bothy Band, and they also pack their recordings with enough fury and frenzy to power whole cities. And while their albums always contain plenty of instrumentals, Kíla can always count on Rónán for a few examples of his trademark rapid fire, stream-of-consciousness Gaelic vocals.

Despie a bit of a change in style for the band, Gambler's Ballet is vintage Kíla, and will please long-time fans of the band. The strongest tracks for me this time around are a pair of high octane instrumentals, "Boy Racer" and the Eastern-influenced "Fir Bolg." Kíla are as good an example as any that folk music can be as fun, lively, and powerful as rock.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

The National, Boxer (Beggar's Banquet, 2007)

I subscribe to Paste Magazine, which specializes in coverage of independent music and film. I don't always agree with their opinions, but I do find the magazine to be an excellent source of information, and the CD they provide with each month's issue has given me reasons to buy many of the CD's that I've reviewed here over the past two years. Their choice for best album of 2007, by both the staff and their readers, is an album called Boxer by a group from Brooklyn called The National. Despite their location I'd never heard of the band, but this struck me as a sufficient reason to give their album a listen.

While The National's music fits snugly in the category of indie rock, they do try a lot of different things on Boxer. Little twists like the drum roll intro on "Squalor Victoria" keep the listener guessing, and the album as a result sounds anything but predictable. Matt Berninger (vocals), Aaron Dessner (guitar, bass, piano), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Bryan Devendorf (drums), and Scott Devendorf (bass, guitar) handle hard rockers like "Mistaken for Strangers" and acoustic ballads like "Green Gloves" equally well. The most distinctive element of The National's sound, though, is the singing of Berninger. His deep voice evokes some of the 80's New Wave singers, like Robbie Grey of Modern English or Steve Kilbey of The Church. Despite a limited range, Berninger's delivery is quite effective.

I'm grateful to have found a couple of albums over the past year where the whole turned out to be greater than the sum of its parts. Boxer certainly fits that description. There's no standout track for everybody to download onto their MP3 player, but there's no wasted track either. Rather, Boxer steadily grows on you. The lack of a clear hit may regrettably restrict The National's audience, but after listening to Boxer a few times I can understand why it has generated such a favorable response.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

Night Probe! (1981)


Night Probe! is one of the early Clive Cussler novels, following Vixen 03, and preceding Deep Six. After reading so many books by the same author, one starts to wonder if there is anything new, but I'm pleased to report that Cussler continues to satisfy this reader.

What makes Night Probe! unique is that the main protagonist, Dirk Pitt goes head to head against his British counterpart, a semiretired spy who has cheated death more times than he can remember. This turns the novel into a kind of "spy vs spy" saga that I haven't encountered before in any of the Cussler books.

The plot is more than grand in scale. Evidence is uncovered of a treaty between the United States and Great Britain, that both wished to forget after it was signed. I wondered what this treaty could have said, dating back to 1914. It turns out that it was an agreement for Great Britain to sell Canada to the US for the sum of a cool one billion dollars. Now this is global plotting on a grand scale. (As an aside, some of you might remember when our junior year high school history teacher went into a monologue of the virtues of "invading" Canada, and how the US citizens would support it, and what a great idea that would be. While not the most learned scholar to ever teach us, it does show that there is that sentiment here in the States that Cussler is building on).

As the story unfolds, the mission centers around recovering this treaty, of which there are two copies: one at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River, and the other in the Hudson River on a train. There are also some side plots regarding the Quebec separatist movement (that I used to hear more about but seems to be on the backburner lately), and the politics of Canada.

Night Probe! is a very enjoyable Cussler action adventure global thriller novel. Ol' Clive has hit his stride here, and the uneasiness of his earlier novels is not present. If you haven't read this author before, this is as good a place as any to start.

PS: The cover showing the bubbles coming from the train is completely inaccurate. Also, this novel explains where the Pullman railway car, that gets described in later novels in Pitt's garage comes from.

Overall Grade: A

Reviewed by Jonas

Nanny Diaries (2007)

The Nanny Diaries is a look at the high society of Manhattan's upper East Side. Starring Scarlett Johansson, and Laura Linney, it is an adaptation of the book of the same name. The book was written by Emma McLaughlin, and Nicola Kraus, both of whom worked as nannies to subsidize the cost of their NYU education.

In the film, Johansson plays Annie Braddock, a recently graduated business major with a minor in anthropology that has been pushed by her mother to go into corporate America. After "choking" on her Goldman Sachs interview, she decides to take it down a notch, have a rest, and becomes a nanny for the summer. While the money is initially good, the child's mother, known only as Mrs. X (Linney), and the child, Grayer, torture her to the point that she just can't take it anymore. While over time she bonds with the child, an episode that occurs with Mr. X serves as the catalyst for a new direction in Braddock's career direction.

The Nanny Diaries is cleverly told. There is a shell story of an anthropologist going undercover to study NYC's elite, complete with the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History depicting fathers golfing, and mothers shopping. There is also plenty of anthropology lingo, such as field guide entries, and "going native." Underneath this however, is some significant social commentary. Unfortunately, many of these nannies are exploited people that are cheap labor to Manhattan's richest. They get little to no time off, and sometimes are not even paid the agreed upon wages. Also disturbing is that the parents of these children, as exemplified by the father, Mr. X in the film, have no interest in parenting. They have children to fulfill a social obligation, but have no interest in raising a family- clearly a sad social commentary.

On a simpler level, The Nanny Diaries is the story of Annie Braddock, and her first job. Along the lines of The Devil Wears Prada, she is given task after task, which turn into a series of tests whether she will break or not- all with little or no reward. At the end of the film, they even short change her out of her pay!

Overall, I liked The Nanny Diaries quite well. It was well paced, well acted, and the screenplay was well done. If you missed it in theaters this summer, catch it on video, and don't miss the interview with the book authors in the bonus features.

Overall Grade: A

Reviewed by Jonas

Deep Water (2006)

Deep Water is a documentary chronicling the story of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. This was an intriguing event, that tested the limits of mankind. It was 1968, and with so much attention on the race to the moon, there was a great nautical event as well- to be the first to circumnavigate the globe in a boat, nonstop, with a crew of one. Here's the route they were supposed to take (more on that a little later):


Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

While nine contestants started the race, only one finished it successfully, and it took around nine months. One contestant got so into it, he turned his boat around and decided to go around again (but he got bored and set in at Tahiti after 45,000 miles)!

The subject of the film Deep Water focuses on one contestant, Donald Crowhurst. Using archival footage, including the 16 mm movie camera on board the boat, and the tape recorder (this was the equivalent of videoblogging in the late 1960's boys and girls), and interviews with family and friends, this film seeks to answer the question who this guy was, and how he ended up in over his head in this type of race.

Now that you understand the story, I will focus on the film. Unfortunately, in the end, while the race itself is compelling, Crowhurst is not. This guy gets into the Southern Atlantic, and realizes that his novel boat, a racing trimaran, full of new and untested technology, is taking on quite a bit of water. He knows he will never survive the big waves and bad weather of the Southern Oceans. So rather than abandon the race, he claims false locations, and then a radio malfunction. The plan is to then circle the area, and when the other contestants come around South America, he can sail home with them, falsifying that he did the race, even though he never left the Atlantic.

The death of Crowhurst remains a bit of a nautical mystery. His ship was found, but he wasn't. From his log, it appears that he went insane from the isolation, and he probably jumped overboard.

In my view, this race was a significant test of a person's resolve to stay on task in the most arduous of circumstances. It makes present day events, such as the Iditarod or a Triathalon look like easy tasks. However, I'm not sure why we focused the film on the guy that tried to cheat his way to a respectable finish. Maybe it's just me, but I would have rather seen a film about the only guy who didn't go insane, and completed the event. Also, there was probably only enough archival footage for a 45 minute documentary, and the interviews drag it out to twice that length, which interrupt the momentum of the story. Fans of the sea and grand events may enjoy this, but the rest can safely skip Deep Water.

Overall Grade: C

Reviewed by Jonas

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Hotel Rwanda is a powerful historical drama about the civil war in the titled country back in April of 1994. It stars Don Cheadle, Nick Nolte and Sophie Okonedo.

The plot focuses around Cheadle's character, Paul Rusesabagina. Paul is the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, Rwanda catering to the elite of Rwandan society. A civil war breaks out between the Hutu and the Tutsi groups that ultimately results in 800,000 deaths. In the middle of the chaos, Paul's hotel becomes a refuge for over one thousand. They use the hotel's resources, including the cash in the safe, and the liquor stores to bribe military officials into leaving the refugee camp alone. The UN peacekeeping detachment, ably led by Nolte that plays Colonel Oliver is portrayed as ineffective, and only concerned with evacuating citizens of other nations out of Rwanda. This contributed to the mass genocide that occurred.

Hotel Rwanda is inspirational showing one man's courage and persistence to do some good amidst so much tragedy. It is shot well, and has a good pace. My only criticism is that on the DVD there are no subtitles, and at times the African accents are a little difficult to decipher, so they would have helped. If you haven't rented it yet, it's well worth seeking out.

Overall Grade: A-

Reviewed by Jonas

12.24.2007

The Last Legion (DVD) - 2006

I really wanted to like this movie. After all, it's got some great actors in it (Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley), is set in an interesting time (the Fall of the Western Roman Empire) and has an Arthurian tie-in. What's not to like? After watching the film, though, on its new DVD release, I found myself monumentally underimpressed. It's not that the movie's bad, just that it's not very good. Uninspired and formulaic are another couple of adjectives that spring to mind.

The movie starts in Rome, where Aurelianus Caius Antonius, called Aurelius, has just returned from fighting somewhere. In the first, fairly unbelievable set piece, young Romulus is caught appearing to steal his sword. After threatening to hack off his hand for thievery, Aurelius lets him go. Naturally, the boy is days away from being crowned "Caesar" and ruler of the Western Roman Empire. Also naturally, Aurelius is appointed to command his bodyguard the next day. Formulaic plot point, follows formulaic plot point as if from the book "Sword and Sorcery Movies for Dummies."

Within a day or so, the Goths attack and take Rome. Of course, both Romulus parents are slain (before his very eyes, naturally) by the same evil Goth. The boy himself is taken prisoner. Aurelius men are slaughtered almost to a man and Aurelius himself is beat up and left for dead (naturally). He makes contact with a friend who is a Senator and a representative of the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantine, who offers to provide sanctuary for the boy if Aurelius can rescue.

Aurelius and one of the Byzantine's guards, a slight figure whose face is obscured by a mail drape, go to rescue the rest of Aurelius men before they are executed. They do so as the Byzantine impresses everyone by killing five or six Goths. The inter-racial Legionary commando squad is straight out of nearly every World War II movie ever made. They set off for Capri, where Romulus and his tutor, Ambrosinus, a man who is so clearly Merlin from his first appearance that the Romanized name is superfluous, are being held prisoner. On the way they learn (shock, horror) that the Byzantine is a woman! Named Mira, the romance between her and Aurelius is as inevitable as it is annoying.

At Capri, they launch a grapnel high in the air using a break-down belly bow, kill a bunch of Goths, rescue Romulus and Ambrosinus, recover the sword of Julius Caesar - Excalibur, and escape.

They rendezvous with the Senator and the Byzantine emissary, only to learn that the Byzantines will not harbor the young Caesar. Clearly what is needed is an Outlaw Josey Wales style betrayal. Instead of Gatling guns, the baddies use spear-launching scatterguns. Of course, our heroes kill everyone, losing one of their comrades so we won't think it's too easy. Mira kills her commander, the Byzantine emissary, and throws her lot in with the Romans irrevocably.

They choose to flee to Brittania, where the last possibly loyal legion, the 9th, remains. After some obligatory shots of "crossing Europe", including the "crossing the alps in the winter" sequence, they arrive in Brittania only to learn that is crushed beneath the heel of Vortgyn, the King of Anglia. Who wears a Golden Mask and what looks like a leather duster. He would not be out of place in "Masters of the Universe."

The 9th has laid down arms and become farmers, because Rome abandoned them. Vortgyn and the necessary Goth party that has been tracking the Romans this whole time ally to get the sword for Vortgyn and the boy for the Goths. After a stirring speech, the few Romans led by Aurelius are joined by a few of the 9th and go to fight the Anglians. A battle ensues, just as all seems lost, the rest of the 9th shows up like the 7th Cavalry, and the Anglians are routed. Ambrosinus kills Vortgyn, Mira kills the second string Goth baddies, Aurelius is almost killed by the Goth leader but saved at the last moment by Romulus. Romulus declares peace, throws Excalibur away where it lands point first in rock, or should I say Stone. Aurelius marries Mira, Romulus changes his name to Pendragon, marries Ygraine and has a son named Arthur. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Having roundly abused the movie, now let me back off. It's not really all that bad. parts of it are quite fun, and there are moments here and there that are thrilling. The problem, I think, is that the movie can't quite figure out what it wants to do - Is it an historical drama? Is it a fantasy? Is it a love story? The result is that it does none of things well. The history is dodgy, but it's got enough of a historical feel that things like the magic sword and female Indian warriors are jarring. The love story is completely forced, and although Ashwarya Rai, playing Mira, looks great and moves and fights well, the whole subplot just seems wrong.

In its favour, I suppose, the movie did make me wonder about the history involved and I may have to do some research on the last days of the Roman Empire - not my usual period of interest. I also have a passing interest in reading the book on which the movie was based, since perhaps in there some of the incoherence of the film can be more fully explained.

Perhaps that is the real problem: the movie tried to accomplish too much in too short a time and as a result left an unsatisfying and vaguely incomprehensible mess. It's not unwatchable, though, just ... not very good.

Overall Grade: C-

12.21.2007

Mr. Brooks (2007)

Kevin Costner always plays the good guy in all of his films. In his memorable films, from Thirteen Days, to The Guardian, to on back to Tin Cup and Dances With Wolves, he's consistently been the all American guy that you'd want on your side. What makes Mr. Brooks immediately interesting is that in this film, Costner is the villain.

Costner plays Earl Brooks, who to all appearances has about as exciting an existence as Walter Mitty. He owns the local box manufacturing plant, is married to his wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger from "CSI"), has a daughter off at college, and when he wants to blow off some steam heads on out to his pottery shed. He even wins his town's "Man of the Year" award in the beginning of the film. This all makes it even more improbable that he'd be a serial murder so good at his craft, that he hasn't been caught for years. Hot on his trail is Detective Tracy Atwood, ably played by Demi Moore.

This duplicity is reinforced in that William Hurt plays his alter ego, known as Marshall. While Brooks loves to kill, unlike many serial killers portrayed on screen, he has a conscience and knows it's wrong. While Marshall encourages the kills, Brooks tries to suppress the urge, even going so far as to attend the local AA meetings to stay away from murdering.

As the film progresses, Brooks needs to do one more crime, this time to teach an apprentice killer, known only as the generic "Mr. Smith," played by rising actor Dane Cook. What follows becomes a sort of Serial Killing For Dummies as Brooks shows him the ropes of getting the job done and not getting caught. In addition, Brooks' daughter returns from college with plenty of additional drama that all ties in as the film progresses.

Mr. Brooks is a very strong movie. It is well acted, fast paced, and well plotted. True to a thriller, it has the audience guessing up to the very end as to how this will all turn out. While I wouldn't have guessed it, Kevin Costner plays a very good villain. If you're looking for a holiday rental, this is a good one, just don't watch it alone with the lights off!

Overall Grade: A+

Reviewed by Jonas

The Insurgents (2006)

The Insurgents is an indie film that looks at the issue of home grown terrorism. It stars John Shea, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Henry Simmons.

The mini series "Sleeper Cell" explored the idea of terrorists right in our midst, and did a far better job at it with a better story that really delved into this sensitive subject. In The Insurgents, we have Shea as Robert, an "out there," retired, professor who now writes books about how corrupt our government has become, and unless we destroy the whole thing and start again, it will never be right. While he needs to be locked up for the good of the rest of us, he pontificates endlessly his dribble throughout the film quoting our founding fathers out of context to further his cause. At times, I felt preached to, as the film tries to rewrite 9/11 with some revisionist history, but not offering any proof to back up its point of view.

On top of this background noise is a plot of a cell of home grown terrorists planning to get some serious attention to the cause. Unfortunately, the plot is told with more flashbacks than the Godfather series adding to the confusion. Sure, a few twists are revealed, but it is so nonsequential that it confuses more than it reveals. It brings up the issue of who can really be trusted in this type of conspiracy, but it never develops this as deeply as it should.

In short, you can skip The Insurgents without missing anything. I think they should have made this into a 9/11 conspiracy movie, and some type of pseudodocumentary because for plenty of the film that's what I felt like I was watching.

Overall Grade: D

Reviewed by Jonas

Takedown (2006)

I've enjoyed author Brad Thor, and his larger than life action hero, Scott Harvath. Thor writes with authority on the exploits of this ex-Navy SEAL, and the thankless job he does as the President's right hand man in singlehandedly cleaning up messes that no one else wants to even get involved with. If you've never read this series, start at the beginning, and work your way through as you're in for a treat. Each of the novels stands as a global thriller.

Takedown is the followup novel to Blowback. By the fifth book of a series, things often get kind of formulaic. Fortunately, this is not the case here, and Takedown stands as well as any novel in this series, maybe better. This novel concerns itself with a post-9/11 doomsday plot that seems so plausible, it's kind of scary.

A group of terrorists coordinate an attack on Manhattan, on July 4th no less. At first it seems that they are trying to recover a prisoner that the US is holding in NYC, and they are well organized and will stop at nothing to recover him. This attack cuts off Manhattan from the outside world when the bridges and tunnels are all under fire. New York's finest are also scattered, and tied up in other boroughs.

Harvath happens to be in the city, and after rounding up some military buddies starts the chase, although he's not even sure of whom at first. In the middle of this, a secret government program is stumbled upon which only deepens the intrigue of this. There are also several NY locations that will be familiar to those of us that live around here. (The encounter with the mounted policeman in Central Park is a classic.)

My one criticism of Takedown is that with only a few pages to go, too much additional plot unfolds. Just when all the loose ends are tied up, a mere three pages later, the reader is left with another cliffhanger. I was pleased to figure out that the next novel in the series, The First Commandment is already out, so I won't be hanging for too long.

Overall Grade: A

For all of our reviews by Brad Thor, click here.

Reviewed by Jonas

Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007)

I've enjoyed the "Mr. Bean" British television series. These short episodes all place Mr. Bean in some unknown situation, which he copes with in his trademark way. The humor is very physical, and Atkinson can bring this character to life doing a mundane task like painting a room, or preparing a meal. I was disappointed with the last film that Rowan Atkinson was in because I'd rather see him as Bean, and this time around, I got what I wanted in Mr. Bean's Holiday.

It's always a challenge to scale up a TV show to the big screen. The key is to place Bean into the unknown, and this time it's a trip from England to Cannes along the French Riviera. It was cleverly chosen to put Bean into a foreign country with a language he doesn't speak to keep the dialogue to a minimum. Not too many actors can pull off a full movie with only a handful of words from the main character (at least since "talkies" have been made), but it does work here.

On one level, this film is the classic road trip. In any of the films of the genre, there are unexpected twists along the way, new people to meet, challenges to overcome, all to get to the final destination. These generally live up to the statement that "half the fun is getting there," and this time around, only a few minutes are spent at Cannes, so it's all about the journey. There are parts that are reminiscent of the film Dumb and Dumber down to the scene on the moped, and the falling asleep while driving the car.

There is another level to Mr. Bean's Holiday as well. This is the distinctly European flair to it, and the challenges of traveling abroad. While not as simplistic as National Lampoon's European Vacation, some of the same themes come up. These include ordering food in a French restaurant, losing your wallet and passport, navigating Paris, and hitching a ride to the destination.

Don't think that Mr. Bean's Holiday is all go, and no show (to turn a phrase). There is plenty of original humor, and some very funny bits. I thought the scene on the train when he spills his coffee was among the funniest Bean I've watched. Also, when he dines at the Paris restaurant it's rather humorous as he can't order, what he winds up with, and how he disposes of it. Finally, when Bean "sings for his supper" at the Paris countryside market it is a scene to be remembered.

Overall, I liked Mr. Bean's Holiday quite much, and felt that it was true to the television character that many enjoy. It is much stronger than his original Bean film, so if you're looking for some good physical comedy, then it is sure to please.

Overall Grade: A-

Reviewed by Jonas

12.20.2007

HI FIDEL - FF EXPRESS: The Company of Wolves (2007)

We've reviewed plenty of stuff in the last two years, and we've done plenty of music, with the lion's share done by Scott. A musician in his own right, with his very wide musical tastes, he can review just about anything with some semblance of a beat. We randomly get invited to review some hip-hop album a few months back, and of course, Scott's up, and we hear all we ever wanted to know about Nato Caliph.

Today, we have a problem- of sorts. Scott, our Armchair music expert has a pile of CD's to review already, and we're being invited to review some more hip-hop. My musical interests are more narrowly focused on more traditional folk and rock. Heck, most of my stuff is more classic rock, and if I write a review of Hi-Fidel's latest CD, it's going to start and end with "hip-hop's not my cup of tea," which is hardly fair to the artist.

This is what I was sent over about the artist and the album:

FF Express is leaving the station! Hi-Fidel collabs, ones again, with his partner in crime, F5 founder DJ Crucial. This full length album is the first from Hi-Fidel since the days of "Traveling b/w St. Louis and Chicago" (2001). With a new sound and a new atmosphere to breathe in, Hi-Fidel is well on the way of achieving his intergalactic mission: "live free and get rich." The first single, "Isobel and Future," produced by DJ Crucial, is worth the anticipation sought by true fans. An evolution of hotness, Fidel's rhyme skills never diminish, and he receives lyrical push ups from F5 extended family Serengeti, Black Spade (OM Records) and Pigeon John (Quannom), among others.

"FF Express: The Company of Wolves" is a testament to Hi Fidel's progressive rhyme styling and lyrical word schemes, which allows the listener to join in on the journey though time and space and benefit from the destination.

On Fidel's personal travels, from his home town of Chicago to his new residence of Los Angeles, he has made stops everywhere from St. Louis to Osaka. A truly global emcee with a viewpoint and sound to back it up, one would be hard pressed to box his sound into a single category. However, The Company of Wolves is perhaps the most accessible work yet to emerge from Fidel's extended career, while still retaining that uniquely lop-sided worldview that makes his music so dazedly impressive.

It's the holiday season, and I'm feeling generous. I'm going to post some tracks from the album, free for the downloading. That's right, free mp3's, and they are high quality, without any DRM restrictions so they'll play on your computer, and your iPod, Zune, Sansa, and every other player (use the "save as source" command on the far right of the player to download). What's the catch? All I ask, is that after you listen to them, you post something in the comments below to let us know how you liked them- or not. Fair enough? I thought so! Download your tracks below and enjoy.

Jonas

Diamonds ft. Black Spade
Jimmy
Small Victories ft, Pigeon John, Mathias
Patty Farmington ft. Serengeti
Barbara Kruger

Charcuterie - Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (2005)

Charcuterie, as all good foodies know, is the art of smoking and curing meats. Although still thriving commercially, it's nearly a lost art in the home kitchen. Which is a pity, since making your own sausage is not only fun, but allows you to control the ingredients and the spicing and the additives. Smoking hasn't completely vanished from the home cook's repertoire, since backyard grills allow for hot-smoking (intentionally or accidentally), but curing is pretty much absent. A few years ago, I began to dry-cure hams in my own home and office, make fresh sausage and paté and basically just experiment with charcuterie (all as part of my overarching project to try to explore medieval foodways and eat more locally and seasonally). Sources were hard to find and were often full of shortcuts or targeted toward industry. This book is the book I've been looking for for years.

Make no mistake, this is a specialist book. It is about the things you can do to meat with salt and fat. It is about drying, smoking and using ancient preservation techniques. The food that comes out is neither low-fat nor low-sodium, and in many cases it contains nitrates and nitrites. Except for a small section on sauces and condiments, almost every recipe involves a salt-curing or brining stage, and emphasizes the importance of sufficient fat in the mix. I'm OK with that. All things in moderation, as the ancient Greeks said, and it's true here. Yes, sausage has fat and salt in it, so don't eat eight pounds at a sitting and deal with it.

What makes the book really stand out is not the recipes themselves, though. The chapter introductions and the interstitial material is where the meat is, if you'll pardon the expression. That's where the basic techniques are explained and, even more important, the reasoning behind the techniques are explained. Without even looking at the recipes or setting foot in a kitchen, my sausage making has improved just from my greater understanding of the processes involved.

That said, the books only weaknesses is a little bit of redundancy in the actual recipes. Given that most sausage recipes fall into a couple of basic categories and within that vary only in the spicing, it seems like repeating the recipe several times almost word for word while varying the ingredient list a bit is unnecessary. On the other hand, if one is using it as a recipe book rather than a technique guide, one might appreciate having the instructions right there, so this is a mere quibble.

Ruhlman himself is an accomplished cook and food writer, and the book reads well. The style is engaging, the prose clear and appetizing. It is a good sign that as I read the book, I could hardly wait to get back into the kitchen and try out some of the recipes and techniques.

As I said, this book is not for everyone. It is not a general purpose cookbook, nor is it for the casual cook. However, for those who are interested in the curing of meats and the glory that is charcuterie, this is a fantastic resource.

Overall Grade: A

12.18.2007

Suzanne Vega, Beauty & Crime (Blue Note Records, 2007)

Despite an unlikely hit with "Luka" off her second album in 1987, and an even less likely hit when DNA did a dance club remix of her a capella song "Tom's Diner" and topped the charts with it, Suzanne Vega has spent most of her rather long career well outside of the musical mainstream. Her songs are rooted in folk music, but Vega has shown a willingness to take more chances with her music than other folksingers have. Her seventh studio album Beauty & Crime reflects the distinctive style she has developed over the years, with quirky narratives about New York City and its many characters set to mostly acoustic music with a few twists thrown in.

Much of Beauty & Crime bears the influence of the unfortunate passing of Vega's brother Tim, beginning with the opening song "Zephyr & I." Zephyr was a friend of her brother's from childhood, and in the song he and Vega are recalling things while walking in the neighborhood on the Upper West Side, just below Columbia University, where they grew up. Other songs reflect Vega's interest in American culture from fifty or sixty years ago. In "New York Is A Woman," she compares her hometown to a classic femme fatale from an old noirish movie. "New York is a woman, she'll make you cry, and to her you're just another guy." "Frank & Ava" is a discourse on the stormy relationship between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. Despite the odd subject matter, the song boasts a cool guitar hook and some fine high harmonies from special guest K. T. Tunstall. (And it's likely to be the only time in history where the word "bidet" was worked into the lyrics of a pop song.)

Vega keeps the musical arrangements on Beauty & Crime characteristically eclectic. While she's generally classified as a folk artist, she can turn things up at least a little bit as well, and like to throw a few curve balls into the mix as well. On "Unbound," for example, she puts some upbeat electronic drums underneath her acoustic guitar and makes it sound perfectly natural.

As a result, Beauty & Crime never gets dull. Many folk singer/songwriters have come and gone in the twenty-two years that Suzanne Vega has been a recording artist, including plenty of women. A lot of them almost seem to go out of their way to avoid distinguishing themselves from each other musically, but Vega continues to be an exception. I don't think she's a superior songwriter to Dar Williams, another one of the exceptions, but Williams could learn a lot from Vega on how to make a folk record sound consistently fresh and interesting.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

Think Global: World Christmas (World Music Network, 2007)

As some of you probably remember, I was a bit of a grinch concerning Christmas music last year. So when I saw that Oxfam had compiled a CD of Christmas music from around the world, I figured that there was enough of a chance that this would be more to my liking to justify giving it a listen. At the very least, I'd get a review out of it, and hopefully present a viable alternative to the standard Christmas musical fare currently polluting the airwaves just like it does every (November and) December.

Think Global: World Christmas is more or less what it's advertised to be. The CD starts with salsa music from the Dominican Republic, heads to Africa, visits Canada for a Native American Christmas song, covers most of Europe, and makes a few stops in America for good measure. All of the music here would qualify as folk music of some sort. Only a few of the songs included here are standards, like "O Holy Night" performed by the Irish-American ensemble Cherish the Ladies and a bluegrass rendition of "Go Tell It on the Mountain" by The Cox Family.

On one hand, Think Global is an interesting mix of musical styles, and for that reason alone it makes a welcome respite from the usual fluff you hear this time of year. The problem, though, is that there wasn't a whole lot of music on here that really grabbed my attention. The Breton choir Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde does a nice song called "Nedeleg," and "Zamuchi Se Bozha Majka" is an exquisitely beautiful song by Kitka, an American female vocal group who specialize in Bulgarian women's songs. But that was it, and I already have the Kitka song on their own CD Wintersongs, which I'd recommend above this one. I was particularly disappointed with one song, "Betlehem, Betlehem" by the Hungarian singer Marta Sebestyen. Sebestyen is a singer that I generally like, but she's backed up here by a really cheesy new age arrangement that does not suit her singing style at all.

The wild card on this disc is a rather bizarre version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" done by the late Joseph Spence, a venerated musical figure from the Bahamas. Spence plays a jarringly out of tune guitar, and gets very few of the lyrics right as he slurs in a style that sounds like a cross between Tom Waits and a particularly inebriated Shane MacGowan. This will send a lot of people running for cover, but I found it a distinct improvement over more conventional interpretations of the song.

Think Global: World Christmas is a generally decent, if not distinctive, break from the usual assortment of holiday music. If you have to have Christmas music at this time of year, you could certainly do a lot worse. Oxfam is an organization worth supporting as well. Beyond that, the album is not really anything special, or the kind of music I'd come back to year after year.

Overall grade: B-

reviewed by Scott

Dan Fogelberg, 1951-2007

photo by Henry Diltz

Dan Fogelberg was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois. His chief musical inspiration was his father, the band director at the local high school. Like many teenagers in the sixties, he was inspired to join a rock band after hearing The Beatles, but eventually Fogelberg found his calling in folk music. His first album came out in 1972. Like James Taylor, Fogelberg embraced a style of laid-back, introspective songs with simple arrangements based around his acoustic guitar. But while Taylor's voice was (and is) a somewhat limited baritone, Fogelberg had a distinctively silky tenor.

His commercial peak came with the ballad "Longer" in 1979 and the story songs "Leader of the Band" and "Same Old Lang Syne" in 1981. "Leader of the Band" paid tribute to his father, and "Same Old Lang Syne" recounted an actual incident where he bumped into an ex-girlfriend at the store one Christmas Eve. His recorded output remained steady until the early nineties, although years of wear coarsened his voice considerably. A 1999 Christmas album was Fogelberg's only album of new recordings between 1993 and 2003.

In 2003, Fogelberg returned with a new album called Full Circle. Despite making little chart impact, the album was of comparable quality to his best work. Plans for a tour were derailed in the spring of 2004, when he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. His three-year battle with the disease came to a losing end this past Sunday. Dan Fogelberg was 56.

Fogelberg's best-known material epitomized the sub-genre of soft rock; his songs were far more likely to appeal to parents than to teenagers, but there are worse things you can call a song than "pleasant" or "melodic." And at any rate, his music holds up quite a bit better than most of the songs he shared the pop charts with.

12.14.2007

Killer Wave (2007)

Killer Wave is the aptly named television miniseries that takes a look at the destruction that can result from a tsunamis. It aired in August on the Ion network; I watched it on DVD.

The concept is not a bad one. A large wave hits the South Jersey shore, and scientists are seeing a trend of waves coming from the Arctic circle. Kind of seriously unusual for the Atlantic Ocean, no? They start to round up the usual suspects, and of course point the finger solidly at global warming, after all what else could it be? Angus McFayden adequately plays John McAdams, not to be confused with the second president, and is currently a retired scientist that now ekes out a living on writing thriller novels that aren't selling too well. He is pulled off the bench, and pressed into duty to help solve this global crisis.

Unfortunately, the plot moves along at a snail's pace. At almost three hours, half of it needed to end up on the floor, and there was probably a film worth watching in the remains. Seriously, there were multiple points of plot stall, and "no forward motion of the plot," as I like to dub it for extended periods. This type of film is hardly an in depth character study, so I'm not sure why so much fluff, to the total detriment of the overall film.

In its defense, if you watch the first half hour, and the last half hour, then this film is not half bad, and least watchable. The end played out like a 70's era cop show finale, complete with shootout, and a foiled attempt at world domination (insert Dr. Evil laugh track here). Still, unless you're a serious fan of plots centering around ecoterrorism, reminding me of this novel, than I would recommend steering clear of this Killer Wave.

Overall Grade: C-

Reviewed by Jonas

On Our Second Anniversary...


Wow! Another year down, and it's been a busy one here on The Armchair Critic. Ever since our first post, we've been endeavoring to entertain, educate, and impart useful information that you can't find anywhere else on the entire internet. Here's my view of how our sophomore effort went.

Quite well in the end. Despite the loss of one of our more prolific writers who needed to move on to other endeavors, we still managed over 300 posts in 2007, up from under 200 the year before. Special thanks to Jeff, Jim, and Scott for their regular and high quality output. I'd also like to give an honorable mention to Rachel for her annual contribution expertise, and Armchair Newcomer Ian who brings his youthful viewpoint. Only as a team can this all succeed, and we've assembled a first rate one.

This internet game is all about links, and we've done much better this year than last. In fact, the prestigious Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has been routinely picking up our content. Also, movie site Popcorn Monsters carries our reviews as well. This among other links this year gets us the exposure that we need.


With exposure comes traffic. From the chart we can see that our traffic has essentially doubled most months compared to last year- not the easiest thing to do amidst more and more sites all competing for your eyeballs. Thanks again to all that stop by, and make us your destination for the most opinionated reviews out there on a wide variety of topics. We look forward to another successful year!

Jonas
Webmaster

Hollow Man (2000)

Hollow Man is one of those films that I kept missing for the last several years, and I finally got around to watching it. It's a Sci-Fi thriller that borders on a B-rated monster movie flick at times, but successfully skirts the line. It stars Kevin Bacon and Elisabeth Shue.

The story is that a group of scientists are working on an invisibility protocol for the military. They think they can make people invisible by phase shifting them. The team is led by Dr. Sebastian Caine (Bacon). After some initial success in animal models, they decide to "take it to the next level" and make Caine invisible, in the grand tradition of testing a great scientific advancement on yourself first. While the invisibility works well, unfortunately the reversal doesn't go according to plan. Next thing we know, we have Caine racing around the lab invisible, spying on his coworkers, and creating problems for all concerned.

The special effects were very well done throughout the film. When the invisible man splashes himself with water, it looks quite realistic. Also, the anatomy they showed during the transformation looked quite accurate.

Unfortunately, yet again, I did find another medical error. At one point, one of the scientists gets a penetrating injury to the left lower abdomen. The other scientist looks as the trauma, says it's not that deep, and duct tapes him up. Two issues here folks. First, from when the crowbar was embedded in, it looked pretty deep. In this type of injury (essentially an abdominal stab wound) it would require an exploration of the wound to assess for fascial violation to assess the need for exploratory surgery (laparotomy). This would also involve palpating the fascia in the assessment to see if it was intact, which they didn't do. The second issue is that then they tape up the wound with duct tape. First of all, with a bleeding wound, the tape won't stick with the gushing blood (and they didn't even dry it first). A few scenes later we see him climbing up a ladder, duct tape and all, like nothing happened. This is pretty implausible.

Overall, I did enjoy Hollow Man. Medical nitpicks aside, it had some of the better special effects than I've seen, and while the plot is not too deep, at least it does have one. If you're looking for some Sci Fi cinema, than Hollow Man is for you.

Overall Grade: B

Reviewed by Jonas

12.12.2007

Ghostwriters, Political Animal (Sony/BMG, 2007)

Ghostwriters started in 1991 as a side project for Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst and Hoodoo Gurus bassist Rob Grossman. Even though Midnight Oil broke up in 2002 and the Gurus have had an extended hiatus as well (they did re-unite in 2004), the Ghostwriters reconvene only occasionally. Political Animal, the fourth Ghostwriters album, is primarily a compilation, with four new songs followed by remixes of older material.

The singing and songwriting in Ghostwriters are done almost entirely by Hirst. Hirst also plays more guitar than drums on this CD -- like Phil Collins and Dave Grohl, he discovered that it's hard to front a band from behind the kit, no matter how good of a drummer you happen to be. Drummer Lee Moloney and guitarist/keyboardist D.C. are carryovers from the last Ghostwriters CD Fibromoon (from 1999), and Midnight Oil guitarist Martin Rotsey has just been added as well.

The opening song and single "Start the Day" is a hard-edged diatribe about current political events, in keeping with the kind of songs Hirst wrote for Midnight Oil. The other strong new track is "Follow the Leader," which could be about the Australian people's acceptance of the Prime Minster John Howard's government as Howard led them off a cliff, or possibly about Howard's eagerness to fall in line with President Bush's agenda. (Since this album was made, not only did Howard's party lose its majority in Parliament in a general election, causing Labor party leader Kevin Rudd to take Howard's place as Prime Minister, but Howard couldn't even win re-election to the seat in his home district. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage, and the Arts in Rudd's new Cabinet is Peter Garrett, whom Hirst and Rotsey know very well.)

There is always a bit of a danger to mixing new material with old material, though, because the new material has to justify the purchase of the full CD to long-time fans. And indeed, the four new songs aren't quite as good as what follows. Five songs are taken from the Ghostwriters' strongest album, 1997's Second Skin. Classic songs like "Impossible Shame" and "Not My Time" are on the same level as Midnight Oil's best songs. Of course, it's very tempting to wonder how these songs would have sounded if Hirst had brought them to the Oils. Only one song each from the first Ghostwriters album and Fibromoon were re-mixed for inclusion on this CD. The album does include as a bonus track the original version of "Someone's Singing New York, New York," the very first Ghostwriters' single.

Political Animal is not an easy album to rate. On one hand, the new material by itself would warrant a B or B+. Most people in the U. S. are entirely unfamiliar with the Ghostwriters' back catalog, though, and even I've had to make do with a taped copy of Second Skin. So for practical purposes, Political Animal might as well be treated as an album of wholly new material for listeners in this country, and I've decided to rate it accordingly.

Overall grade: A

reviewed by Scott

Life On Mars

Police dramas and police mysteries are nothing new to television -- unless the mystery is what's going on with the police! The very British series Life on Mars defies easy classification with its protagonist's mysterious situation.

In 2006, detective Sam Tyler (John Simm) is on a case when he's hit by a car (as David Bowie's "Life on Mars" plays in the background). When Sam wakes up, he's all better, wearing a leather jacket -- and in 1973. He has a life there -- car, apartment, history -- and a new job: the new Detective Inspector for a local police precinct. His boss Gene (Philip Glenister) is an old-style policeman who's not averse to beating up or framing suspects to get the "right" thing done. His friend Annie (Liz White) is the attractive friend who's Sam only confidante as to where he came from.

But what's happened to Sam? Sometimes signals seem to leak in from 2006: voices of relatives, people speaking about Sam as if he's in a coma. A creepy little girl shows up from time to time, offering cryptic clues. And at the start of the second and final season, Sam is getting messages claiming that "they" are working on bringing him home. In the meantime, Sam doesn't know if he's in a coma, insane, or a time traveler -- but he keeps trying to do the right thing, in the hopes that it'll bring him home.

Life on Mars is a very clever show. There are plenty of anachronisms uttered by Sam, but there's also a sense of desperation as he tries to figure out what's happening to him and how to get back. Many of the situations in the past parallel what's happened to Sam in the present, and John Simm makes Sam a rich character: a decent guy trying to survive and figure things out in a world that may not exist. Most of the other characters are pretty one-dimensional (except for Gene, a brutal flawed man who still believes he's doing good) and exist to support Sam's plight. And with Life on Mars wrapping up after only two seasons, the show resists becoming too gimmicky or wearing out its novelty -- a lesson the people behind Lost should take to heart.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch

12.07.2007

The Hostage (2005)

Once again, I turn my attention to author WEB Griffin, the "poet laureate of the military." Having finished The Corps series, The Brotherhood of War series, and most recently, the Honor Bound series, it was time to turn my attention back to his most recent series, the Presidential Agent one. My entry into this one was less than spectacular, with By Order of the President, but after an extended hiatus of a year, I was determined to press on, and I'm glad I did.

The Hostage is a much stronger novel than its predecessor. With the background information out of the way, full force can go into the storytelling, with a few occasional side trips, such as why an American WW I General's statue is outside of a European embassy. The protagonist is again Major Charley Castillo, a first rate hero. While his role was less defined previously, he now is attached to the Department of Homeland Security under some cover division. He really is at the order of the President to get the job done, and cut through the bureaucracy. Increasingly, Castillo reminds me of Scott Harvath from the Brad Thor novels.

That said, this time out, he has his work cut out for him. A US diplomat has been murdered, and his wife taken hostage in Argentina, and the clock is ticking to find her with not . At points, there are plenty of references to places in Argentina that get referred to in other Griffin novels, so this kind of felt like going back to the old neighborhood (there's also a curious reference to an old, twin engine plane that fits the description of Lowell's from The Brotherhood of War series, but not specific enough to know if it's of any significance).

As the story unfolds, we get a glimpse into the corruption that went on during Iraq's "Oil for Food" program. In the end, while some poor Iraqis got some meager food, the administrators took more than their reasonable cut of the profits.

What we end up with is an international thriller, centered around Argentina, with multiple stops in Europe and in the United States. The prose is sharp, and this is quintessential Griffin. It still is not my favorite novel by him, but it's a big step up from the series. I'm looking forward to The Hunters, which is currently his latest book.

Overall Grade: B+

Reviewed by Jonas

The Treatment (2006)

Psychoanalysis is as New York as the Statue of Liberty, street vendors selling pretzels and hot dogs, and Broadway theater. In this film, The Treatment, we get a front row seat on one guy's neuroses from living in the Big Apple, his therapist's attempt at help, and how he attempts to move on.

Chris Eigeman plays Jake Singer, an English teacher at a posh, private Manhattan high school. In front of his class, or coaching the basketball court, he is confident, and self assured. Out of the school, he is anything but. Working through this won't be easy, and actor Ian Holme, as Dr. Ernesto Morales, a flamboyant Argentinian who describes himself as "the last of the great Freudians," is there to work though the teacher's many issues. Unfortunately, it seems that no one ever gets discharged from the psychoanalyst's practice, and I wonder if his aim is anything but monetary as the film progresses. Along the way, Singer develops a relationship with a student's Mom, Julia (actress Stephanie March), that will either complicate things even further, or be be the thing that straightens it all out.

Overall, The Treatment suffers from a lack of budget. There are no big name stars turning in an award winning performance. They don't use the icon's of Manhattan to bring us a presence of place within "the City," and use the energy and frenetic pace of NYC as another character. In addition, it can't decide if it wants to be more of a romantic comedy, or a more serious film. Finally, this movie just kind of ends, and on a flat note at that, leaving the audience to wonder how this all turned out. I think another few minutes could have brought us to more of a conclusion, and a real sense of finality. In the end, The Treatment gets a thumbs sideways as to whether you should see it or not.

Overall Grade: B-/C+ (it's really right on the line)

Reviewed by Jonas

PS: I wanted to point out that this makes our 200th movie review, and that's quite a bit of popcorn consumed!

Talk To Me (2007)

Ahhh, the stormy sixties. Talk To Me Focuses on the end of the 60's in Washington, DC, and the role that Petey Greene, ably portrayed by Don Cheadle, plays during this turbulent time. Martin Sheen plays the radio station owner, and Cedric the Entertainer is fellow DJ, Bob "Nighthawk" Terry.

Greene is down on his luck- big time. He was in prison for armed robbery, and had to overcome drug addiction. His one attribute is his big mouth, and he puts it to use in prison as their DJ. After he gets out early from the slammer, after talking a prisoner down (which he sent up in the first place), he fast talks himself into a position at the local DC radio soul station, WOL (these days he would probably do a podcast...). While his fellow DJ's are content to just spin the discs, his knack for "telling it like it is" resonates well with the local urban community, and he becomes a success story. Along the way, programming director, Dewey Hughes (actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (say that one ten times fast!)), has to shield Greene and his developing "P-Town" from the radio station owner. Greene also plays a pivotal role during the riots that ensued after Martin Luther King, Jr's assassination in calming the masses down, and avoiding further loss of life and destruction to DC.

I enjoyed Talk To Me. It is well acted, and told a story with a beginning, middle, and even an end, which I guess we can't take for granted anymore. Along the way, there is even some character development, and the period soul songs don't hurt one bit to keeping the entirety authentic and moving. If you want a film that's not the same old thing, than Talk To Me will likely fit the bill.

Overall Grade: B+

Reviewed by Jonas

Transformers (2007)

At least in my mind, Transformers was the closest thing we had to a summer blockbuster in 2007. I don't know about you, but we always had plenty of the Transformer toys around the house when the 80's show was so popular. About the most exciting thing about those toys was to switch them from their car to their robot forms. You'll recall, it went something like this, "Great, it's a car, no wait, it's a robot, and cool, it's a car again," all to the cool sound effects. It was with this fond memory that I went ahead and watched Transformers.

After over two hours, my view is that this film has some really spectacular special effects, but no real story to tell. At times, it is quite visually interesting, and probably the best special effects I have seen on the big screen for quite some time. Through computer generated animation, the robots seem as real as the actors throughout the movie.

However, along the same lines as Scott's review of Radiohead's latest effort, it's simply not enough to create a satisfying experience. Great special effects are merely one ingredient to an awesome blockbuster experience, and sadly Transformers is lacking in every other department. Engaging dialogue? Plot twists and turns? Overall theme? Believable characters? Character development? Relating an experience? Sadly, this film doesn't delve into any of these things. In addition, the old Transformer cartoons had more of a story to tell to my best recollection, and they were only a half an hour- with commercials!

Unbelievably, Transformers made over 700 million bucks worldwide, so I'm sure there is a sequel in the works. Perhaps next time, they can devote a few bucks to the screenplay, and not all to the special effects. It's really a missed opportunity that they couldn't put those great special effects to better use.

I'm also deducting a half grade for overuse of product placement throughout the movie; there's already enough advertisements at the theater IMHO without having it constantly throughout the film like a pop up ad I can't get rid of.

Overall Grade: C

Reviewed by Jonas

We Are Marshall (2006)

How many more football movies can you make? I saw the DVD box, and figured We Are Marshall was Remember the Titans one more time. While that wouldn't be a bad thing, per se, what I ended up getting was a film with some more depth than the usual winning touchdown pass that characterizes such films of the football genre.

The story focuses on the aftermath of a plane crash involving the football team of Marshall University. This school, in Huntington, West Virginia is the prototypical college town where weekends in the Fall the whole town lives, eats, and breathes football. One tragic November day in 1970, a plane crash kills almost the entire football team, as well as most of the coaches, and some of the biggest fans. There were 75 killed in all, as the plane attempted to land under foggy conditions.

While such a loss of life is totally tragic, what makes it even more tragic is that the entire town, so previously focused on football, gets stuck on this, and can't move on. They even decide to disband their beloved football, and not to field a team for the upcoming season. The real story of We Are Marshall is the triumph of the human spirit in the face of such overwhelming tragedy.

Matthew McConaughey plays Jack Lengyel, the deceptively simple coach that takes on the coaching job, that no one else would even touch, to rebuild Marshall University's Herd. He fields his team with Freshman (which required a waiver from the NCAA), the very few remaining players, and athletes from other sports. He is realistic, and knows that while winning is everything to some, at least for this town, at this time, just playing the game will be enough of a start.

I enjoyed We Are Marshall, and think it should appeal to more than just football fans. It also features "The Unit's" Robert Patrick as the former head coach, and "Lost's" Matthew Fox as the assistant coach which both turn out decent performances. While it's more of a downer than a stand up and cheer, this tale of death, and rebirth is one that should not be forgotten.

Overall Grade: B+

Reviewed by Jonas

12.06.2007

A Fine Frenzy, One Cell in the Sea (Virgin Records, 2007)


A Fine Frenzy is a one-woman band consisting of singer/pianist Alison Sudol. Only 22, Sudol shows considerable promise as a songwriter with a strong sense of melody on A Fine Frenzy's debut CD One Cell in the Sea. I suppose the combination of the piano and the red hair will draw comparisons, among those who are older than Sudol, to Tori Amos. But while A Fine Frenzy has been marketed towards the indie rock audience, Sudol's writing style reminds me more of the pop sensibilities of Carole King than any recent or contemporary alternative music.

On One Cell in the Sea, Sudol mixes soft ballads in with mid-tempo rockers. Ironically, given her choice of a musical name, she doesn't get particularly frenzied at any point on the record. While Sudol's piano is the instrumental focus on most tracks, there is plenty of orchestration and programming as well, along with the standard rock band accompaniment. Sudol's lyrics deal with love, loss, and the broad spectrum of emotions that go with them. The heartbreak in the single "Almost Lover" is a bit obvious, but Sudol more than makes up for it with the joyously upbeat "You Picked Me." This is the kind of love song that will even win over people who generally hate love songs. Another highlight is the song "Rangers," about the need to find a quiet space with your lover where the outside world won't find you.

Stylistically, One Cell in the Sea is not the kind of album I normally buy, being a little quiet on the whole. The fact that it contains a few songs that grabbed my attention, then, serves as testament to Alison Sudol's talent as a songwriter. Hopefully she'll be given plenty of opportunity to refine her craft even further.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott