An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Classics, 2006)

Before I begin to discuss Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, I should probably explain what it is that I do for a living. I'm a postdoctoral atmospheric scientist at Columbia University, and I do my research at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. GISS was set up initially in the early sixties for the study of planetary atmospheres, but over the years the research focus has shifted towards the earth's atmosphere in particular. The director of GISS, James Hansen, was the first scientist to testify before Congress about the need to address the issue of global warming -- indeed, a small portion of one of his appearances on Capitol Hill is included in the film. I study aerosols, which are airborne particles that absorb and scatter the sun's radiation. In addition to writing and publishing papers I have also engaged in a bit of public outreach, including giving a very similar PowerPoint presentation to the one the former Vice President gives during the movie. So I'm writing about the film not just as somebody who writes reviews for a hobby, but as somebody who studies climate for a living and who, like Gore, understands the need to present the science to the public more clearly that it has been done to date.

An Inconvenient Truth can be essentially broken into two sets of segments. The first set consists of Al Gore giving a public lecture, presumably at a university, about the basic science behind global warming and the greenhouse effect. Most of what Gore covers should have become common knowledge years ago; the fact that so little of the science is known by the public at large served as Gore's primary motivation for the lectures and the film. In a nutshell: the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased enormously since the start of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide absorbs heat emitted by the earth and keeps heat within the planetary system, the earth's temperature is higher than it has been in at least a millennium, the rate of warming over the past twenty-five years in particular is completely unprecedented and defies any purely natural explanation, the resulting temperature rise is already affecting ecologically sensitive areas and will only affect more places in the future, storms could worsen, heat waves and droughts will increase, and sea levels will rise. Gore doesn't say anything that the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists would disagree with, and presents the science in a mostly clear and straightforward fashion. One part I thought was presented in a misleading manner, though, was the graph showing carbon dioxide levels back through the earth's history and the corresponding surface temperature values of the earth. Gore makes note of the close correlation of the two in a way that implies that it results from a simple cause-and-effect relationship, but there are at least a few historical examples where the carbon dioxide increase actually lags a bit behind the start of the temperature rise.

The second set of segments deals with Gore's personal history and the development of his environmental conscience. The most poignant of these deals with how the Gore family remained in denial about the health effects of the tobacco they grew on their farm until Gore's sister died from lung cancer. Gore effectively compares this situation with the refusal of the American public in general to acknowledge the severity of the global warming threat. Many of these segments did not really appear relevant to the global warming issue, though, and the movie rather curiously overlooks Gore's background in journalism. After all, Gore isn't actually doing any of the science discussed in the movie, he is reporting on it. Gore does point out, quite accurately, that much of the reporting on global warming in the media does not even acknowledge, much less reflect, the overwhelming consensus among the people who study climate. He should have taken some time at this moment to discuss a number of often repeated but easily refuted claims made by climate change skeptics in the media, but he regrettably lets the opportunity pass. The other segment that I felt could have been handled better was the footage of the dialogue between Gore and James Hansen at a 1989 Senate hearing in which Hansen testified. The clip used in the film shows Gore doing most of the talking. Perhaps I'm taking it a bit personally because Dr. Hansen happens to be my boss, but it would have been proper for the filmmakers to present different footage from that hearing that portrayed Gore as more of a listener.

All criticisms aside, An Inconvenient Truth does present the basic scientific evidence explaining why the earth is indeed getting warmer due to human influences on the atmosphere. Everybody should know at least as much science as Gore presents in this movie, and for that reason alone I would have to recommend it strongly. For more detailed, but readily digestible, scientific information on climate, I'd have to recommend checking out the RealClimate blog. (For the sake of disclosure, one of my colleagues at GISS is directly involved with RealClimate.)

Overall grade: B

Environmentally-Friendly Entertainment

There are two films showing in theaters now which deal with environmental issues in a responsible manner, but in very different ways. An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim and starring former Vice President Al Gore, can be viewed at many local art theaters (including the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, Long Island), while the DreamWorks animated film Over the Hedge is currently running at major cinema chains nationwide.

An Inconvenient Truth is based on the informative global warming presentations which Al Gore delivers on a regular basis, worldwide. It’s not thrilling in a cinematic sense, for it plays like a lecture; however, it is a highly important and dreadfully persuasive lecture which everyone should heed. Every point Gore makes is supported by graphs, charts, photography and thoughtful analogies designed to make abstract ideas tangible to the average viewer. I’m not going to comment too much on the film’s content, because The Armchair Critic’s very own Scott just happens to be an atmospheric physicist; here are his insights into the documentary from a different perspective.

Gore’s personal life is brought into the film, including reflections on his 2002 loss for the U.S. presidential bid. I’m sure this is designed to be, in part, political self-promotion; however, he’s earned it: Gore is not paid for the work he does lobbying for the environment, in what the film’s website calls a “fervent crusade to halt global warming's deadly progress in its tracks by exposing the myths and misconceptions that surround it." Whether you like Al Gore or not, the points he makes must be made, and acted upon, before it is too late. It is a wakeup call for adults and a good education for the young.

Over the Hedge is, of course, specifically designed for young people; however, its humor is smart enough to hold the attention of any adult. It is the tale of a band of small creatures who wake up after winter hibernation to find that most of their forest has been transformed into a vast housing development. The film wryly comments on the rapacious appetites of contemporary suburban dwellers and how rampant development of open lands leaves our wildlife with no habitat other than silver garbage cans which they can raid for junk food. Many famous folk lent their voices to the characters of the film, including Bruce Willis, Wanda Sykes and William Shatner; especially hilarious is comic Steve Carell as a manic squirrel.

When viewing the film I thought that this was possibly one of the funniest and cleverest animated films I’d ever seen…until the end of the film. There is no solution provided or even suggested at the end: the bad guys trying to exterminate the animals are vanquished and everyone’s happy, but these and countless other animals must still muddle through life—or die—in ever-dwindling natural habitats. What’s to be done? This is not discussed. The end of the storyline also disintegrates into crazy car chases and the chief “villain,” a single, childless career woman obsessed with keeping her home and housing development pristine—obviously all the trademarks of an undesirable individual—proves herself to be evil beyond any form of credibility (a Cruella deVil for the new millennium). Yes, it’s just a cartoon—but just as the messages we send children about our environment in peril hold great importance to how the next generations will treat the natural world, the human stereotypes we present to them instruct them as well.

Overall Grades:

An Inconvenient Truth: A-
Over the Hedge: B+


Treasure Hunters, NBC

Mix in equal parts of TV's The Amazing Race, and the film National Treasure, simmer with a pinch of The Da Vinci Code, and we have the recipe for this summer season's newest reality show: Treasure Hunters.

Unlike The Amazing Race and most other reality shows, there are groups of three contestants. This gives it more of a team feeling, and should avoid the significant others duking it out that inevitably happens midseason. While some of the teams are family based (like a quite ruthless and less than Christian pastor, wife and child), other teams are based on another commonality such as the particularly well suited ex-CIA, and Air Force teams that got off to an early lead.

Treasure Hunters
successfully recaptures the excitement and intrigue that the first season of The Amazing Race had, but subsequent seasons lacked. So far, the challenges are about half physical, and half mental. Clues are provided along the way to solve varied puzzles. I like that the show has brief segments explaining the solution to the puzzles along the way. I found that this allowed me to play along, and involved me more deeply into the show. Thankfully, there was no bungie cord jumping, or eating of insects that has been more than overdone at this point.

In the film, National Treasure, Nicholas Cage has to follow a series of clues across America, finding hidden artifacts to unlock the secret to a treasure. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer was also involved with that film, and Treasure Hunters bears more than a passing resemblance to it. There is also an Americana theme, with some historical trivia thrown in for good measure.

In the first episode, we traveled to Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota's Mt. Rushmore, and Nebraska. I also like that one team took a detour to Colorado, and were given an enigmatic clue to get them back on the right path. While they never figured it out, they used their cell phone to call another team- now this is a high tech reality show! This side adventure made the whole affair feel a lot less like a carefully structured reality show, and more like a real quest.

On the downside, while I realize that product placement and marketing makes this kind of thing profitable, I'm sick of it already. We really don't need to mention the brand of cell phone, notebook computer, search engine, or credit card more than once per episode. I am intrigued that there is an internet connection and tie in for the players and am curious to see how that develops.

Broadcasting companies seek to connect with their viewers online, and Treasure Hunters is a good example of this. There is an online game for us viewers to play. There is a new puzzle for each week; it took me about fifteen minutes to go through this week's, including a short registration process (hint: click on the clock until the raven appears). The plan is for a winner to be chosen from those that complete the online puzzles that will join in somehow for the season finale with 200 G's at stake. I'm only mildly optimistic at my chances, but hey, you never know so keep your fingers crossed.

Treasure Hunters is a great new reality show. Check it out on Mondays at 9 p.m. this summer on NBC.

Overall Grade: A-

If you're looking for info to solve the online challenges to find the treasure, then head on over here.

The World's Fastest Indian

The World's Fastest Indian is a film focusing on an intepid tinkerer, Burt Monro, played by Anthony Hopkins. We get a glimpse into this man's hopes and dreams. The Indian is a 1920's motorbike which has been modified just about beyond recognition.

The film opens in New Zealand. We meet Hopkins in his tool shop, and see his practical approach to machine shop practice and motorcycle design. He is aided by a neighbor's son, and a pension clerk. His dream is to “top end” the bike on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The next part shows us a road trip as this "kiwi" from New Zealand overcomes a series of obstacles to get to the salt flats in time for the big event. It is very engaging to watch as folks of all different walks of life lend a helping hand along the way to our persistent protagonist.

The final part shows us the Bonneville Salt Flats "Speed Week" in1967. It was great to see the reproduction of the event, and many of the details involved in this type of racing.

The World's Fastest Indian is a very enjoyable film with broad appeal. Anthony Hopkins is showcased as a master of his craft. It is closely based on a true story, and the DVD includes lots of extra footage, including an interview with Munro.

Overall Grade: A

The Brotherhood of War: Special Ops

Special Ops is the ninth novel in W.E.B. Griffin's epic Brotherhood of War series. At the very least, not too many series of anything go to this many parts. Of further interest, part eight was published in 1988 (The Aviators), and Special Ops wasn't released until 2001. The belated timing makes this feel more like an epilogue than a finalization or conclusion.

Special Ops is considerably longer than the novels that comprise the first eight parts of the series. The first third of Special Ops cleverly interweaves among some of the earlier novels providing additional detail and enriching the previous plots and characters. The latter two thirds takes off where The New Breed left off. Once again we're in the Congo. This time Griffin chooses to use a somewhat obscure Cuban revolutionary that planned to export Communism to Africa. Several of our favorite special forces characters are there to thwart the spread of the Communists.

On the one hand, it was fun to see how many of the concepts, like Special Forces, Army Aviation, and secret CIA air cargo company get synthesized into a single complicated operation. There were also some characters in previous novels that never quite got their chance in the spotlight that Special Ops provides. On the other hand, unless you have read the previous novels recently, be prepared for some confusion at times, and some significant memory jogging. Also, some of the previous favorite characters play only a minor role in this book.

To conclude, fans of this series will need to read Special Ops. However, it doesn't quite stand alone, and be prepared for a long read to take in this complicated tale.

Overall Grade: B

Also reviewed by W.E.B. Griffin:
By Order of the President

Fun with Dick and Jane

See Dick Run

Fun with Dick and Jane is a remake film and features Jim Carrey. For a while, I have not found Carrey funny as he tried to move beyond his early, unique comedy in films like Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber. Fun with Dick and Jane features a more mature Carrey, who has refound his comedic groove.

The plot shows us Carrey as climbing the corporate ladder as the company falls apart around him. His idealic life rapidly disintegrates and he faces jobless presuures. Before long, he is willing to do just about anything to bring home a buck. I found the scene where he was competing with the immigrant day laborers for employment particularly humorous.

Many films promise "laugh out loud hilarious," but Fun with Dick and Jane actually delivers on that promise, which is a rare find. The plot involving corporate scandal keeps this film grounded in reality with a message, and not just another silly, pointless film.

Overall Grade: A-


...When Dreams and Reality Collide

Dakota Fanning stars in Dreamer, based on a true story about a race horse. My first response to this movie was "How many times can we remake the girl with a horse movie?" Well after enjoying Dreamer, the answer is at least once more.

The plot centers around the horse, Dreamer, with strong bloodlines, and some early wins shows great potential. However, a leg injury indicates that the horse should be put down. What follows is a tale of a family that attempts the near impossible, and have to literally "bet the farm," in the process.

The beautiful scenery of Lexington, Kentucky adds to the visual imagery, and supports the story. The vast expanses of green grass and stretches of white fence were a joy to see.

Dreamer also educated me ino some of the financial considerations of thoroughbred horse racing. At over 100 grand to enter some races, this is not for the faint of heart.

Dreamer is one of a few movies that both children and adults can equally enjoy. It is definitely not just another horse movie.

Overall Grade: A



Speech, The Vagabond (Bluhammock Music, 2006)

Speech first came into prominence over a decade ago as the lead vocalist of Arrested Development, a somewhat off-kilter hip hop band that were highly regarded by critics and enjoyed a fair amount of commercial success as well. In 1996 he embarked on a solo career, and The Vagabond is his fifth album. I was compelled to give the album a listen after hearing the brilliant single and opening track "Braided Hair," a song about life's twist and turns that features guest appearances from Neneh Cherry and the Native American vocal group Ulali. Unfortunately, nothing else on the rest of the album comes close to matching the first song's quality. Speech alternates between rapping and singing, but his singing only works in a hip-hop context; his attempts at soulful crooning just fall flat. His lyrics talk about love, family, spirituality, and his frustration with the negativity and preoccupation with "bling" that reflects the current state of popular rap and hip hop. His heart is certainly in the right place, and he at least deserves some credit for saying the right things, but I felt that the only moments beyond the opening song where the music did justice to the sentiments were the catchy rap "Esmerelda" and the closing song "Gone Away," a tribute to Speech's deceased brother. "Have Fun" has some superior bass guitar work from Victor Wooten, but is done in by an uninspired chorus. On "What You Give," Speech's criticisms of current hip hop come across as too self-righteous.

The Vagabond, ultimately, is the work of an artist who means well, but with one exception lacks the artistry to match the intentions. One song is really good, and a couple more are decent, but I found most of the album forgettable at best. In the age of downloading, it's tough to argue that one song can justify the purchase of a whole album.

Overall grade: C


Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, All The Roadrunning (Nonesuch, 2006)

Mark Knopfler had originally asked Emmylou Harris to sing on a song for one of his solo albums, but upon hearing the results the two of them decided to collaborate on a full album of duets. After seven years spent fitting each other into their tight schedules whenever possible, Knopfler and Harris have released All The Roadrunning. Consisting of ten songs written by Knopfler and two by Harris, All The Roadrunning explores couples at different stages of their relationships. The pair keep the tone of the album mostly positive and happy, especially in the album's standout track "This Is Us," an upbeat song about a married couple looking back on old photos. Musically the album follows the same ultra-laid back, country/rock pattern that has characterized all of Knopfler's work since the last Dire Straits album On Every Street. Indeed, if any criticism can be made of All The Roadrunning, it's that it is a little too laid back for its own good, and it wouldn't have hurt for Knopfler to cut loose on his guitar more than he does. All The Roadrunning instead remains focused on the paired vocals, which to be fair work beautifully throughout the album. Emmylou Harris has had an enviable career not just for her own solo recordings, but also for her ability to bring out the best in the male partners she has sung with -- including people like Bob Dylan, Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett, and now Mark Knopfler who have built their reputations in spite of, more than because of, their singing voices. Knopfler's vocal range hasn't gotten any less limited on this record, but his voice just seems to have new life breathed into it when it blends with Emmylou's.

All The Roadrunning
showcases two of music's venerable performers harmonizing to songs about the building and sustaining of romances in good times and bad. There might not be anything groundbreaking on this album, but the songs are well crafted and sung, and like most of the relationships Knopfler and Harris sing about, the album holds up well to scrutiny.

Overall grade: B


Cheaper By the Dozen 2

Steve Martin stars in Cheaper By the Dozen 2. Martin is the father of no less than a dozen kids. He sees his children, including Hillary Duff who is planning on moving to NYC, growing up before his very eyes. Martin and his wife wax nostalgic about their summer rental on a Wisconsin lake, and decide to do it "one last time." When Martin and his family arrive, an old rivalry is rekindled against the Murtagh family. After an interval of congenialty, tensions come to a pinnacle during the Labor Day competition. On top of this, Martin has to work extra hard to field his team that is rapidly outgrowing the event.

Cheaper By the Dozen 2
has the feel of a cliche summer camp movie. It has all been done before, and Martin is only marginally humorous. If looking for some mindless entertainment, this might fit the bill. For the rest of us, this is about as shallow as the shore of the lake and should move on to something better.

Overall Grade: C+


Amy Speace, Songs For Bright Street (Wildflower Records, 2006)

Baltimore native Amy Speace has been living in New Jersey and performing on the folk circuit in New York City (along with Hoboken and Jersey City) for several years. She recorded her second album Songs for Bright Street with her backing band the Tearjerks, consisting of James Mastro (guitars, producer), Richard Feridun (guitar, banjo, lap steel, keyboards), Matt Lindsey (bass and backing vocals), and Jagoda (drums). Speace's songs straddle the line between folk and alternative country. The field of female singer-songwriters armed with acoustic guitars is rather crowded, and about half of the songs here would fit well, if inconspicuously, on albums by people like Dar Williams or Shawn Colvin. It's on the other half of the disc, where Speace either shows her edgy side or delves more deeply into country music, that she really shines as a singer and writer. On "Not The Heartless Kind," a lively rocker propelled by some fierce slide guitar work from Mastro, Speace threatens all sorts of retribution against an ex-lover but seems reluctant to make good on her warnings. "The Real Thing" is a classic anthem of female defiance, which deservedly got the loudest reactions when I saw her perform live and is most likely Speace's best chance for significant airplay. The countrified cover of Blondie's "Dreaming" is a brilliant re-interpretation; generally the best indicator of a well-written song is if it still works in a completely different arrangement than the original performers intended, and that's clearly the case here. Speace also shows her sense of humor with "Double Wide Trailer," a song about a woman from up north whose car breaks down on her way to visit friends in North Carolina, and winds up being rescued in more ways than one by the classic stereotypical southern man.

Amy Speace is an artist with plenty of things to say, and she says them very effectively on Songs for Bright Street. This album will obviously appeal to WFUV listeners, but Speace's songs have enough edge and wit to reach a broader audience as well.

Overall grade: A-


Yours, Mine & Ours

16 Kids. 2 Families. 1 Force of Nature.

Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo star in this family comedic drama. Quaid plays a Coast Guard Admiral who is a father of eight chldren. Let's just say that he runs his house like a ship ready for combat. On the other hand, Russo has ten children, and she has more of a hands off parenting style. Their worlds, and families, collide when the parents marry. While they move into a lighthouse, this is not exactly one happy family. While the whole thing is rather implausible, it does have some significantly entertaining moments. If you're looking for some summer entertainment, Yours, Mine and Ours is well worth checking out.

Overall Grade: B+


Luminescent Orchestrii, Too Hot To Sleep

Take some traditional gypsy fiddling, soup it up with the energy of an aggressive rock band, throw in some hip hop rhythms and no small amount of general whackiness, and what you have is the Brooklyn-based Luminescent Orchestrii. This band puts on an impressively creative live show, featuring songs and tunes from their most recent CD Too Hot To Sleep. The focal point of Luminescent Orchestrii's sound is the fiddle and vocal interplay of Rima Fand and Sarah Alden, joined by Kaia Wong on most of the disc and Julianne Carney on the rest of it. Sxip Shirey hammers away on a guitar with a distinctively choppy sound that fits the band's anarchic arrangements remarkably well, and he also writes some really off-kilter songs. Aaron Goldsmith provides a solid bottom on his guitarron, the giant Mariachi equivalent of a bass guitar.

Too Hot To Sleep effectively captures the energy of a Luminescent Orchestrii live performance. They show off their instrumental chops in their frenzied arrangements of Balkan instrumental tunes like the medleys "Freilach/Rabbi in Palestine/Warsaw" and "Cohen Kolemeike." The band's silly side tends to be reflected more in their original compositions. The unsubtly suggestive "Knockin'", written by Shirey and sung by the women, gives a slightly different meaning to the phrase "show me the money." Fand's funky instrumental "She's A Brick" features a human beatbox and, in a performance that has to be heard to be believed, Shirey playing a harmonica through a bullhorn. The Luminescents can be melodic when they want to be as well; the opening song "Amaritsi" and the traditional (I'm guessing Hungarian) tune "Mahala" are my favorite tracks on the disc. My one real complaint is that a few of the tracks sound a bit messy to me, lacking the tightness and precision they displayed when I saw them perform. For that reason, while I like Too Hot To Sleep, I'd recommend checking them out live before getting the CD if you have the chance. (For those of you in the New York City area, the next chance will come on July 12 at Joe's Pub, in a double bill with Ljova and his newly-formed Vjola Contraband.)

Overall grade: B+


Paul Simon, Surprise (Warner Brothers, 2006)

Paul Simon has re-invented himself musically a couple of times previously. The first time came when he ended his partnership with Art Garfunkel and began his solo career, and the second when he brought indigenous African music in particular and world music in general to the attention of mainstream audiences with the release of his seminal album Graceland, now twenty years old. So when Simon shifted gears yet again with his new album Surprise, I can't really say I found it, well, surprising. On the new album, Simon teams up with veteran producer and synthesizer wizard Brian Eno, and the result is easily the most electric and electronic album Simon has ever done. Still, Paul Simon's singing and songwriting styles remain as distinctive and unmistakable as ever, and I didn't find any reason for longtime fans to feel uncomfortable with the new sound.

Like Simon's previous album, 2000's You're the One, Surprise has it's ups and downs. The big difference is that the best songs on the new album are especially good. In the opening song "How Can You Live In The Northeast," Simon sings about how people are quick to question other people's beliefs and life decisions, yet we're all looking for the answers to the same basic questions. "If the answer is infinite light," Simon poses, "why do we sleep in the dark?" Religion and spirituality come up very often, most powerfully and poignantly in the album's jewel, "Wartime Prayers." An instant classic worthy of inclusion among the large list of Paul Simon's essential songs, "Wartime Prayers" discusses the search for hope and something to believe in at a time when "people hungry for the voice of God hear lunatics and liars." On "That's Me," Simon looks back at his past and into the future at however much (or little) time he has left.

Surprise isn't perfect, but it's well worth getting. Paul Simon remains as thoughtful and a deep a songwriter as there is in the business, and he's still perfectly capable of creating an enduring, classic song. And that shouldn't surprise anyone.

Overall grade: B+

Teddy Thompson, Separate Ways (Verve Forecast, 2006)

Children of well-known musicians don't always have it easy when they pursue musical careers themselves. Sure, Julian Lennon's eerie vocal and facial similarities to his father opened doors for him early on, but they also made it impossible for him to escape comparisons with a man whose musical legacy was beyond his ability to approach. Teddy Thompson, the son of Richard and Linda Thompson, has a few more things working for him than Julian does. For one thing, his parents are both alive and well, and both happily contribute their talents to Teddy's sophomore effort Separate Ways. While Linda and especially Richard are regarded as legends in some circles, those circles are pretty small, and younger folk or rock fans who hear Teddy will probably not draw immediate comparisons. Teddy's smooth tenor also differs significantly from his father's deeper baritone. Still, fans of Richard Thompson whore are curious to hear Teddy's music will probably have some expectations regarding the quality of the songwriting, as I, right or wrong, did.

Most of the songs on Separate Ways, unfortunately, didn't meet my expectations. The opening song "Shine So Bright," despite being one of the album's better songs, illustrates why Teddy's lyric writing is still very much a work in progress. Teddy sings, "I want to be deathbed thin, never realize the state I'm in, walk with my head in a cloud, be followed around by crowds, I want to shine so bright, it hurts." The line shows a strong sense of sarcasm, and the same indifferent attitude towards stardom that has characterized his father's entire career, but it lacks any sort of subtlety. The bluntness gets worse on some of the other songs, particularly the ones that deal with romantic break-ups. Instead of any ironic twists or clever phrasing, Teddy offers irritatingly curt lines like "You broke my heart, you broke my heart, I know who's to blame, you're to blame," or worse, "Being happy is easy when you're dumb."

Having said that, a couple of songs on the album do work. "I Should Get Up," a catchy song about pulling yourself out of an emotional slump, is very easy to sing along with. The sad country ballad "Sorry To See Me Go" showcases Teddy's considerable vocal talents. Fans of Richard Thompson's guitar playing will be pleased with his contributions to the disc; Richard tastefully fills in the musical gaps on a handful of the songs without re-directing the spotlight away from his son. Unfortunately, these make the album's shortcomings that much more frustrating. Teddy Thompson has a good voice and a decent flair for melody, but he really needs to develop more consistency, and a much more delicate touch with his lyrics, than he shows on Separate Ways if he wishes to have a distinguished career.

Overall grade: C+



Blindsight is a medical thriller by physician-author Robin Cook. While his novels are all thrillers, and not exactly in a sequential series, a few of the characters and locations of Blindsight do come up in some of his other works (Chromosome 6 and Contagion).

The main character is Dr. Laurie Montgomery, a young forensic pathologist working in the NYC Medical Examiner's Office. She ends up investigating two seemingly completely unrelated series of deaths: random execution style shootings, and drug overdoses in upwardly mobile "yuppies" with no history of drug abuse. Along the way she interacts with Lou, an experienced police detective, and Jordan, an ophthalmologist specializing in cornea diseases. Her boss, Dr. Bingham, also figures into the plot as the Chief Medical Examiner who is on her case for most of the novel.

I've read Cook's novels before, and I've found them a little flat in terms of characters, although Blindsight is one of his better efforts. His intricate plot did have me guessing- until about 2/3rd's of the way in, although I wasn't completely sure I had it right until the very end.

Blindsight is a fast read, at only just over 300 pages, and it keeps moving the entire way like an unmarked police cruiser barreling down the Grand Central Parkway at 3 AM. It also shows how forensic pathology, which examines the dead, in fact relates to the living. If you're looking for a decent thriller in a fast read, check out Blindsight. It may be just perfect to bring to the beach with you this summer, and a great place to start if you haven't enjoyed Cook's novels before.

Overall Grade: A-


The Greatest Game Ever Played

Read it, roll it, hole it.

The Greatest Game Ever Played focuses on a famous golf game. More specifically, this is the story of the US Open of 1913. Frankly, I don't play golf, and I don't watch it on TV, so why would I enjoy a film about a golf game from almost 100 years ago? Well, it really is quite a tale and apparently the movie is closely based on a true story.

Like in the fictional film Tin Cup, the US Open allows qualifying amateurs to compete against pro golfers. Back in the early 1900's golf was an upper class sport. (With the costs associated with it, maybe it still is). Through a series of events, we end up with a caddy playing against the British champion. It was done well, and had me on the edge of my seat.

While on face value this is a film about golf, there is some additional depth here. The deeper level deals with class divide in early 20th century America. This is all supported by well done scenery of Boston in this era complete with horses, early motorcars and period costumes.

In summary, The Greatest Game Ever Played offers a strong "stand up and cheer" sports movie, backed up by something more.

Overall Grade: A

Brandi Carlile

Reviewed by Rachel Wifall

I had the pleasure of seeing Brandi Carlile in performance at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, on May 25, 2006. She is a 23-year-young singer/songwriter from Washington State who sings and plays acoustic guitar with power and a country flair. Her debut album Brandi Carlile was released last year; it includes ten tracks, some written by Brandi alone, others variously co-written with her two band members, Seattle natives Tim and Phil Hanseroth—also called “The Twins.” While both brothers sing backup vocals, Tim also plays guitar and Phil plays bass. The album features a few different drummers and, on a couple of tracks, strings.

In concert, Brandi opened with a rousing rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Time’s They Are A-Changin’,” which featured vigorous guitar strumming, a strident drumbeat, and powerful heartfelt vocals. Brandi was a down-to-earth and unassuming presence, wearing jeans, high top sneakers and a simple blazer over a t-shirt. Throughout the show Tom and Phil Hanseroth were energetic and positive forces onstage with Brandi, both with shaved heads, tattoos and casual clothes; Phil actually didn’t wear shoes. Also shoeless was a cellist who remained onstage with the band throughout the show. The group was completed by a drummer (one drummer), a New Yorker whose mother we met up on the balcony.

Before the show, I was only familiar with the catchy, rolling tune “Closer to You.” This number, which features only drums and acoustic guitar, moves along at a fast clip, taking the listener on a ride both through the countryside and the singer’s sense of longing. I was willing to go to the city and pay for the show based simply on my knowledge of this addictive song (which I’ve had playing in my car for the past month or so—over and over...); however, I was bowled over by all I heard at the show. The first original song which the band played was “Follow,” which begins slowly and quietly with acoustic guitar and cello but crescendos with Brandi’s gritty, gut-wrenching and multi-octave emoting. Song after song—some on the album, some new—the band continued to thrill me with their energy. Needless to say, I bought the album at the show.

The album: I like it. I like it a lot. However, it is missing some of the intensity of the band’s live performance. I suppose this is to be expected, but some of Brandi’s vocals, which were so powerfully and variously delivered on stage, come off on the album as a bit stylized and “samey” (an adjective made up by a former director of mine, which I have never been able to shake—it’s so useful). Most tracks also do not feature the strings which helped to give the music on stage so much depth. With this said, I still recommend the album highly. “Throw It All Away” is a beautifully haunting piece; “Happy” is a well-crafted, lightly-delivered country song which trips along and hearkens, for me, to the 1970’s; “Tragedy” is a moody tune which has been featured on the show “Grey’s Anatomy.”

For samples of her music, you can go to the Brandi Carlile website, or you can find her on My Space. Perhaps my call for more variety on her album was anticipated: it will be re-released both in stores and online on Tuesday, June 13th. The new version will contain the radio edit of “What Can I Say” (a catchy tune with rich harmonies and steady rhythm) and a new recording of “Throw It All Away”—as well as two bonus tracks, including a live version of “Sixty Years On” (an Elton John song) and “Tragedy (Austin Cello Version).” Brandi and band will be on tour through the end of June; details can be found on the band’s website.

Overall Grade: A-