Failure To Launch

Failure To Launch is a romantic comedy that explores the issues of the so called "boomerang generation." With our prolonged adolescence, high housing costs and high college costs, many twenty somethings return to the safety of their parent's homes, to stay for good. This creates new societal pressures for families.

In this movie, Matthew McConaughey plays such a grown up kid, except he's thirty-five, and drives a Porsche. His mom, played by Cathy Bates, and dad come up with a fool proof plan to push him out of the nest. They hire a specialist, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, whose role is to build his self esteem up so he can move out. Initially, the whole thing is expertly staged, and very professional.

This seemingly simple plan creates the drama of the film. While the pair easily falls for each other, they both get in deeper than they originally planned. Both her roommate, and his friends add to the excitement. Before long, we're not sure if they should be together, or apart. An intriguing lockdown at the end, viewed over many remote webcams, resolves the conflict in a high tech way.

Failure To Launch
is a timely film that focuses on this recent societal drama. It will appeal to both twenty year olds, and their parents.

Overall Grade: B+

Digg This

A New Save Page Feature

When you find something interesting on the internet, of course we all want to be able to find it again, and even share it with others. One way to be able to do this is to print it out, and put it up on the refrigerator with a magnet. While that will work it is so '90's (or maybe even '80's).

Anyway, we are in the Web 2.0 era. Social bookmarking is all the rage. Social who? That's social bookmarking! With a free online account, to a site like Delicious, you can save the reviews that you want to be able to find at a later date. If several users save the same item, then it becomes a "hot" review, and the packs swarm.

To make this easier, all new reviews will have the "Save This Link" next to the Delicious "chiclet" at the bottom of the post. Give it a try, and you'll be hooked. Enjoy!

I'm also including Digg which is a similar service. If you enjoy an article, here or anywhere else, feel free to "digg it."

Save This Page


Dar Williams, My Better Self (Razor & Tie, 2005)

The category of female singer-songwriters who play acoustic guitar and sing some combination of country, folk, and rock is very crowded, but Dar Williams has managed to distinguish herself over the past decade and a half with a flair for melody, a sense of humor, and strong social and political conscience. Her albums can be criticized for being predictable and formulaic, though. For better or worse, her latest effort My Better Self is largely what anybody familiar with Williams' work would expect it to be.

Over the years, Williams has written her share of songs about her past, love, and politics, and My Better Self has examples of all three. The album opens with "Teen for God", an autobiographical account of spending summers at Bible camp. In the next song, "I'll Miss You Till I Meet You," Williams addresses the ideal soul mate she hasn't met yet. On "Empire," Williams vents her anger with the Bush administration over its belligerence and its manipulation of the media and the American public. The upbeat "My Beautiful Enemy" describes a love/hate relationship on one level, but there are political undercurrents in the song as well. Williams also honors a deceased friend with "Blue Light Of The Flame," and sings "Close To My Heart" for her newborn son. "Hudson," the disc's closing track, pays tribute to the river that flows through New York City.

The original compositions on My Better Self all sound too famliar, unfortunately. I wouldn't necessarily say that Williams sounds like she's going through the motions, but she definitely seems reluctant
to break from her usual pattern. Curiously, the arrangements on My Better Self show the most life and imagination on the three songs which Williams didn't write. "Echoes," written by Jules Shear along with The Hooters' Rob Hyman and producer Stewart Lerman, is this album's most melodic and singable song. Williams duets with Marshall Crenshaw on Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," which radiates with bright energy. The most remarkable and unexpected cover, though, is Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." Deliberately placed right after "Empire," Williams brings out the song's often overlooked commentary on how people build up a wall of indifference to what's going on in the world around them. Special guest Ani DiFranco provides a superb backing vocal in the chorus as well.

My Better Self is not really weaker than Dar Williams' previous efforts. It just generally fails to distinguish itself from what Williams has done before, with the only flashes of genuine inspiration coming from the selection and performance of the cover songs. Still, long-time fans of Dar Williams who want more of the same will be happy with the new record, and people curious to hear one of contemporary folk's better performers will find this an acceptable introduction.

Overall grade: B-

Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review
Copyright 2006 The Green Man Review


Gabriel Yacoub, The Simple Things We Said (Simple, 2002)

Gabriel Yacoub began his career singing and playing guitar in Alan Stivell's band, before going on to form the legendary French Renaissance rock band Malicorne. Malicorne's compilation CD Légende: Deuxieme Epoque exceeds the quality of any of the similar compilations from their English contemporaries Steeleye Span, and is on a comparable level with the best output from Fairport Convention. Malicorne split up twenty years ago, and I hadn't heard any of Yacoub's subsequent solo material until I recently got the chance to listen to 2002's The Simple Things We Said. This album combines new songs with reworked versions of some older songs, with the specific intent of cracking the American world music market.

A couple of things have changed in Yacoub's music since his Malicorne days. For one thing, while most of the songs on The Simple Things We Said are sung in French, Yacoub also sings in English on a couple of songs. The title song is an anglicized version of an older song of his called "Les Choses Les Plus Simple." He wrote a short English song "Letter From America" for the album, and does a chilling cover of the song "You Stay Here" from one of his favorite English-speaking songwriters, Richard Shindell. Most of the music on this CD falls into the category of straightforward acoustic folk, as opposed to the Medieval and rock ends of Malicorne's musical spectrum. A greater focus is placed on Yacoub's guitar playing, which has improved significantly over the years. A couple of songs do echo Yacoub's past though, most notably the a capella "Ami: Âme: Amen (Friend: Spirit: Amen)," a song reflecting on a nightmarish summer when three close friends of Yacoub's passed away, and "Désir," which features a dueling guitar from Nicolaïvan Mignot and backing vocals from Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

Yacoub has also successfully made the transition from performing mostly traditional material to writing most of the songs on this disc. Most of Yacoub's songs, including the title song, are love songs, usually tinged with a hint of melancholy and some indication that the romance has not survived. The lyrical themes diversify in the second half of the disc, though. "Ces Dieux-Là (These Gods)" reads a lot like John Lennon's song "God," except that Yacoub's list of things he does believe in is substantially longer and the chorus is very catchy and singable even to non-native speakers like me. On "Beauté/12th Song of the Thunder," Yacoub very successfully adapts two pieces of poetry from a Navajo ritual.

A couple of facets of Yacoub's music have remained constant over time, though. For one thing, the passing years since Malicorne have been mercifully kind to Yacoub's voice. It remains very distinct and recognizable, and if anything, has matured and gained in character. Most importantly, The Simple Things We Said shows that Gabriel Yacoub remains an intriguing and compelling performer, full of creative musical ideas and still perfectly capable of turning the ideas into first-rate music.

Overall grade: A-

Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review
Copyright 2006 The Green Man Review



For this book review, I decided to take a break from my usual group of marauding submariners, and head up into outer space. We concern ourselves with John Nance's Orbit.

The novel's protagonist is Kip Wilson. The year is 2009, and Kip wins a free trip to outer space. The space vehicle is a larger version of Spaceship One, which was the first commercial spaceship, and won the X prize. The plan is for four passengers and an astronaut pilot to go for a four orbit ride in space.

Let's say that nothing goes according to plan. Before too long, Kip is alone in space, with his radio out, and a malfunctioning spaceship. There is no way to communicate with the outside world. Space faring nations all try to get an emergency rescue mission together. In the meantime Kip decides to write his "tell all" memoirs that no one will read for fifty years- or so he thinks.

Orbit is a fascinating novel in that on one level it is a story of a space mission gone bad, like a not too distant future Apollo 13. On the deeper level, we have the tale of a condemned man writing his memoirs interwoven into this. As he writes his life story, we get to know this character quite well and gain quite a deeper understanding of him. Orbit also has the theme of what one person will do to survive.

Orbit falls somewhere between a thriller, and true science fiction. Fans of either genre will enjoy this well crafted book which is quite compact for the size of the story.

Overall Grade: B+


Any film with a mermaid immediately invites a comparison with the 80's hit, Splash. Upfront, I will tell you that Aquamarine is quite simply not as good.

A terrible storm ends up washing a mermaid into the pool of a beach club that is the hang out of two best friend girls. This mermaid has been updated with blue highlights of hair, color changing nail polish and starfish earrings. However, the plot is downright childish, and rather trite. The kid moving away at the end of the summer has been done way too many times before as has the other theme of searching for true love. The groups of early teens competing, and putting each other down has got to be the most overdone plot line on television.

Still, this is adequate mindless entertainment for a hot summer evening. Watch accordingly, lower your expectations as needed, and you just might get lost in this film that doesn’t make the same Splash, and break any new ground.

Overall Grade: B-

My Boss' Daughter

Ashton Kutcher stars in My Boss' Daughter. He is the prototypical twenty something aspiring to climb the corporate ladder, but stuck on the first rung. He's attracted to the boss' daughter, and the boss is a first rate despot. When Kutcher thinks he has a date with the lady of his affection, he ends up house sitting for his boss- not exactly what he had planned! A series of events takes us out of control, and into the zany. A series of characters show up at the door including an estranged family member, an ex-employee, a mobster, and the list goes on. Combine that with the list of disasters that threaten to destroy the house and its contents. Along the way we manage to throw jokes at every possible demographic group. What results is a crazy comedy that delivers plenty of laughs. While it's downright silly at several points, I enjoyed the mindless fun along the way.

Overall Grade: B+

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

In this fourth part of the Harry Potter franchise, we have the usual cast of characters mixed up with the magical touch.

This is of course adapted from JK Rowling's runaway successful series of Harry Potter novels. In case you've been in Antartica for the last decade, the Harry Potter series traces the development of eleven year old Harry into a full fledged wizard. Each book or movie recounts a year's worth of events.

When I watch a movie based on a novel, it often leaves me wondering why they simply couldn't follow the already successful novel. However, The Goblet of Fire is quite a lengthy novel. This movie adaptation successfully pares it down to a more manageable two and a half hours.

The plot centers around a competition known as the Triwizard Tournament. Of course, our favorite teenage wizard ends up in the thick of the action. There is also the requisite visit from the evil Lord Voldemort. As the children are growing up there is also an awkward dance that shows a more humanistic side of the characters.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
is not a mere children's movie. Any fan of the Harry Potter novels, or epic fantasy will enjoy the fourth episode of this unique franchise.

Overall Grade: A

Match Point

There Are No Little Secrets

My major disclaimer for this review is that I am not a fan of Woody Allen movies. Still, Match Point does not have Woody acting (or is that whining?) in it, so I decided to give it a try.

Match Point tells the story of a tennis pro who came from the lower class, and now intermingles with the country club upper class. Before long, he is romantically involved with a high society woman. He uses this to get him a job in business, and marries into the family.

While he has gotten himself out of the lower class, it hasn't gotten out of him. A romantic side interest turns into a full blown affair. It then becomes a tale to see how far he will go to protect his torrid secrets, and what price his family will pay. We also have the themes of social class, and class mobility intertwining.

Match Point
was less prototypically "Woody Allenish" than his other works. It does work as a film, although it is quite serious throughout. Those looking for a well acted, serious adult drama will likely enjoy Match Point.

Overall Grade: B

The Codex

The Preston and Child novels can best be described as archaelogical thrillers taking us on adventure to far away lands. In The Codex, author Douglas Preston solos to write us quite a quest.

The theme is definitely Mayan, and much of the novel takes place in Central American jungles. This novel has a similar feel to Thunderhead in that it involves a quest into a very isolated area far from civilization and human contact.

Unlike Thunderhead, or Riptide, there is a new twist. Instead of one team on a treasure hunt, we end up with three in competition. You see, Maxwell Broadbent has accumulated half a billion dollars of treasure. Rather than leave it to his underachieving sons outright, he decides to stash it in a lost Mayan city. This way, the sons will have to work together to earn the money. With greed in their eyes, the sons are off to race to find the treasure, and not even close to any cooperation.

The Codex refers to an ancient manuscript of Mayan medicine. It is potentially the single most valuable treasure of the collection. This ancient pharmaceutical tome has potential to revolutionize modern medicine with hundreds of new drugs from the rainforest that are unknown in current times.

As the adventure progresses, there are plenty of twists and turns, as well as some surprises as we head further into the jungle. The Codex is well written and progresses at near breakneck speed for the entire novel. There is also plenty of symbolism that adds to the overall richness of the novel.

If you've enjoyed Preston's (and Child's) previous novels, then The Codex certainly fits in well with them. If you haven't taken the opportunity yet, then I highly recommend them. While the solo efforts are non sequential, the coauthored ones are easier to enjoy in order.

Overall Grade: A

Also Reviewed:
Mount Dragon


Harv, Polka Raggioso (NorthSide, 2005)

Last year, the band Harv followed up its excellent album Töst! with Polka Raggioso, another collection of mostly original tunes rooted in the Swedish fiddling tradition. Founding members Magnus Stinnerbom (viola and accordion) and Daniel Sandén-Warg (fiddle) were augmented for this CD by percussionist Christian Svennsson and new guitarist David Tallroth. Harv have essentially assumed the role, created by Väsen when they became a quartet and abdicated by them when they reverted to being a trio, of Sweden's leading proponents of aggressive, percussion-driven fiddle music. As a result, purists will probably not care for their sound so much, while those drawn to contemporary Nordic folk music for the way it exploits the edginess inherent in the tradition will like this a lot.

Polka Raggioso picks up right where Töst! left off, with a lot of brisk instrumentals composed primarily by Stinnerbom in a variety of styles. "Grythyttehyl" matches the power of the best tracks on Töst!, and sets the tone for Polka Raggioso quite nicely. "Direktör Deg," already availble from NorthSide as the title track of an EP from earlier in 2005, maintains the momentum. Fans of more purely traditional Swedish music criticize the use of percussion for drowning out the subtleties in polska rhythms, though, and such an argument can be made over this tune. The polka medley "Sockertöj/Ja Dä Gör Vi" features Stinnerbom's first appearance on record playing the accordion, and has a distinctively Cajun feel. The mellower polskas "Tösen" and "Titania" were both composed for theatrical productions, and are considered by the band to be the "chick hits" on the album. The title tune features a very odd key shift from A-major to F-major, but the band makes it sound perfectly natural.

As with previous Harv discs, the playing is tight and solid throughout Polka Raggioso, and the music is fun to listen to. However, while the band does add a couple of new twists with the addition of the accordion and a couple of prominent polkas, a lot of the new material is essentially indistinguishable from what they've done previously. For all the energy and good playing, I couldn't help feeling a sense of "been there, done that" while listening to a few of the tracks on this disc. It's hard to be too critical, though, given that Harv have created a sound that for the most part works very well for them.

Overall grade: B+

Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review
Copyright 2006 The Green Man Review


The New World

I generally like a movie that is an historical drama. What could be better than The New World which is based on the first permanent settlement in America, Jamestown? In short, just about anything else.

The New World is quite confusing. It takes a true art form to take a story that all school age children know, namely the relationship of John Smith and Pochahontas at early Jamestown, and obscure it to the point of unrecognizable. At times, it was completely unclear what the plot was, even though we all know the tale!

Couple this with a complete lack of dialogue at many points. The New World makes the Indians seem unintelligent and savage by having with minimal communication, and fewer subtitles. The richness of the Native Americans and their culture simply never comes through. Also, the fact that they saved the Jamestown colonists from starvation is glossed over quickly. They also didn't bother getting the historical details right as they showed a stockade in the center of Jamestown which apparently it didn't have. A five minute trip through Google was infinitely more interesting than the tw0 plus hours of pain this movie involved.

The film drags like a slug across a concrete parking lot in mid day heat. We learn nothing of the new world of America, or come to any greater understanding. This topic has great potential, and the film could be renamed "A Very Fictional Account of Pochahontas." In my view, The New World deserves our lowest grade, and the first failure I have awarded to anything.

Those viewers looking for a better movie on this topic should try Disney's Pochahontas. Even with the singing racoon, it is more entertaining, and historically accurate.

Overall Grade: F


The Chronicles of Narnia

Some journeys take us far from home. Some adventures lead us to our destiny.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe endeavors to be the next great fantasy epic serial, like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, it falls a little short of those high benchmarks.

The premise is based on a mysterious wardrobe that is a portal to the far away land of Narnia. Here there are lions that talk, and an evil ice princess among other fantasy characters. Our unlikely travelers through the wardrobe are four siblings that are in exile from London during the WW II Battle of Britain aerial bombing campaign.

A film like this lives or dies by its special effects and The Chronicles of Narnia delivers in this department. Everything looked realistic, and all of the various speaking creatures were beautifully rendered in a realistic fashion.

So what's the movie lacking? The whole plot seemed a little thin. A character comes back from death with no apparent explanation. An imprisoned child gets released for no reason. On top of this, Narnia just doesn't feel epic enough.

This first installment of The Chronicles of Narnia is a decent enough film, just don't compare it to The Lord of the Rings.

Overall Grade: B+

National Security

They only look like cops.

National Security stars Martin Lawrence. This is, quite frankly, the funniest police movie since Police Academy.

Martin Lawrence plays the cop's cop- who gets thrown out of the police academy before graduating. Next thing we know, he's working as a security guard for a firm of the movie's name. Through a series of events, he ends up trying to crack the case that most plice officers wait a lifetime for.

There's plenty of action here including shoot outs, and car chases galore. This movie really stands out for Lawence's comedic timing and witty comments. While this isn't the most recent film, it's worth a rental if you want 90 minutes of mindless humor.

Overall Grade: B+

Last Holiday

She Always Thought She Was Somebody... And She Was

All of us have thought of and talked about the following question at one time or another: "If you were told you had one month left to live, what would you do?" While few of us will get this luxury of knowing the time of our passing, the film Last Holiday shows one answer to this question.

Queen Latifah stars as a single woman with a lower class existence. She has a dead end job at the local department store, eats Lean Cuisine, shops only with coupons, and scrimps every step of the way. Then she is told she has a terminal condition, and only four weeks to live.

She then jets off to Europe, going first class all the way with her emptied retirement account. Queen Latifah stays at one of Europe's finest hotels. She interacts with people she has only heard of, suddenly their equal. There is plenty of humor like when Latifah goes snow boarding, and serious moments as well.

Last Holiday's theme is to live each day to the fullest, as it may be the last. This movie will appeal to a wide range of audiences.

Overall Grade: A-


Two Noteworthy Passings

Unfortunately, the past couple of days have seen the deaths of a pair of musicians who left indelible stamps on their respective genres. The first, Syd Barrett, was a prominent musician in England's burgeoning psychedelic scene in the mid-1960's. He named his band Pink Floyd, after his favorite bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Barrett sang and played guitar, and wrote most of Pink Floyd's early material, including the first two singles "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play" and much of their 1967 debut album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Barrett mixed spaced-out imagery in songs like "Astronome Domine" with naive, childlike sentiments in songs like "Bike." The playful whackiness of his music had its appeal, but it came at a very heavy price. In hindsight, Barrett most likely would have faced serious mental issues even without the LSD, but the combination of psychological imbalance and copious amounts of hallucinogens proved disastrous. By the end of 1967, Barrett was barely playing a note on stage, and the rest of Pink Floyd brought in David Gilmour to fill in the gaps. Within a few months Barrett was gone for good. Roger Waters assumed the role of the band's chief songwriter, and Pink Floyd eventually became one of the world's biggest and best bands. Barrett, despite leaving his mark not just on Pink Floyd but on subsequent performers like David Bowie, R.E.M., and Robyn Hitchcock, managed to record two solo albums before retreating entirely, spending most of the rest of his life in his mother's house and making very little contact with the outside world. He has always maintained a cult following buoyed by the air of mystery surrounding his life, but he was one of rock's tragic figures long before he passed away this week at age 60, due to complications from diabetes.

The other musician who passed away this week was not as well known to rock audiences as Barrett, but was a legendary figure in Irish traditional music and had a greater, and more direct, impact on me personally. Like most young traditional Irish musicians coming of age in the late sixties and early seventies, Mícheál Ó Domhnaill (pronounced MEE-haul O'Donnell) felt the pull of rock music, citing Fairport Convention and their lead guitarist Richard Thompson as major influences. He cut his musical teeth in a highly regarded but short-lived outfit called Skara Brae, which also featured his sisters Tríona and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill and fellow guitarist Daithi Sproule, who now plays with Altan. Mícheál and Tríona had bigger things in store for them, however; in 1975 they teamed up with Donal Lunny, Paddy Keenan, Matt Molloy, and Tommy Peoples to form The Bothy Band. Despite a brief four years of existence, the Bothy Band are widely regarded as the very best and most influential of all the Irish traditional bands. Ó Domhnaill's guitar and Lunny's bouzouki supplied the band with an energetic, driving, heavily rock-influenced rhythm, the likes of which had never been heard on any traditional Irish recording before. Ó Domhnaill also co-produced the Bothy Band's albums and sang a handful of songs, the most notable of which was "Fionnghuala," a short, rapid a capella pice of Gaelic mouth music. Featuring frenetic alliteration and unique harmonies, it became an instant classic. After the Bothy Band's breakup, Ó Domhnaill moved to Portland, Oregon and participated in a number of different projects, including the bands Relativity and Nightnoise with his sister Tríona. Before a Nightnoise concert in 1994 at the now defunct Bottom Line in Manhattan, I spent close to a half-hour in conversation with Mícheál Ó Domhnaill. Among other things, this was the first conversation I ever had with a recording artist. I had only recently discovered the Bothy Band at that time and didn't really know anything about Nightnoise, but he happily indulged all of my questions about his past, and left a lasting favorable impression with me. Mícheál and Tríona returned to Ireland in the late nineties. I kept waiting to hear of new work from them, and secretly hoped that I would live long enough to see a Bothy Band reunion concert, but I guess that won't happen now. Mícheál Ó Domhnaill was found dead after a fall in his home on Saturday. He was only 54.

A Word About the Comments...

Regrettably, I've had to shut down the comments on this site. While we occasionally had some real conversation, it was not the norm. Last night, I found a string of multiple comments that was offensive, and far more suitable to be etched in a NY Subway stall than on The Armchair Critic.

I cleaned it up, and hopefully no one was offended. At first, I didn't want to give these folks the attention that they probably desire, but hiding the truth is never the way to solve anything. History teaches that time and again.

As a stop gap measure, I've disabled the comments so this cannot happen again. I'll explore either a forum, or some way of moderating the comments. As often happens, a few can bring down the masses, like on September 11th, 2001- temporarily. Rest assured, we're here for the duration, and we're wiping our feet and moving on!

Thanks for your continued support and understanding. As we gain popularity, this type of behavior is "par for the course" apparently!


Merrie Amsterburg, Clementine and Other Stories (Q Division, 2006)

Merrie Amsterburg first came to my attention in 2000, with her fine sophomore effort Little Steps. Then she more or less vanished for six years, re-emerging only recently with Clementine and Other Stories, a collection of traditional American and Irish standards. It's hard not to think that Amsterburg has been dealing with writer's block, but thankfully her voice remains as strong as before, and her ability to put a good record together has only improved in the intervening years.

Most of Clementine and Other Stories consists of songs that Americans all know at least a verse or the chorus to -- "Down in the Valley" and "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again," for example -- even if they can't identify where exactly they heard them. Amsterburg takes liberty with the arrangements, personalizing the songs with some harmony here, a few subtle chord changes there, and some instrumental breaks inserted in for good measure. The album sounds and feels much like Little Steps does, so any long-time fans of Amsterburg will relish the new music simply for that. However, she breathes so much life into material that had otherwise appeared hokey or hackneyed, that one listen to the album makes it obvious why these songs had permanently lodged themselves into the collective American subconscious in the first place. "Wayfaring Stranger" broods and simmers, providing an interesting contrast with a very different but equally good cover of the same song by Neko Case on her CD The Tigers Have Spoken. The gorgeously sparse "Shenandoah" puts the listener in a vast expanse along the wide Missouri in a way my high school glee club could only dream about, if creating the right mood to do the song justice ever even occurred to us. "Lakes of Ponchartrain," popularized by the Irish band Planxty, gets a surprisingly rocking but still very effective treatment from Amsterburg and her band.

As the album's title implies, though, the focal point of this CD is "Clementine." If you aren't already singing the chorus to this sad lament of a California miner who couldn't swim to his drowning love's rescue, you will when you hear this. Amsterburg reaches back into the crevasses of our nation's history, and finds all the emotion and power that the song's original writer and singer meant to be there. The result is a song that once again is timeless.

Despite the lack of new material for six years and counting, Merrie Amsterburg has easily regained her position among the top performers in the folk-rock genre. Anybody wondering why some of America's most popular folk songs achieved their status will have a much greater understanding after hearing Clementine and Other Stories.

Overall grade: A-

Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review
Copyright 2006 The Green Man Review


The Enemy Within

In The Enemy Within, author Larry Bond takes us behind the scenes into the world of domestic terrorism, and counter terrorism. Chronologically, this book is the one before Day of Wrath. It features the characters of Colonel Peter Thorn, a Delta Force commando leader, and Helen Grey who leads the FBI's hostage response team. For whatever reason, I've been reading this series backwards, and it doesn't make any real difference.

What starts as a series of unrelated domestic terrorist acts grows into a national pandemonium as federal manpower gets overwhelmed to respond to the disasters. Slowly, a larger plot of far reaching consequences emerges from the mayhem and destruction. It comes down to the wire if the US is going to be able to emerge unscathed. Just when we think that the evil doers are unstoppable, some clues start to shake out of thorough investigation. The Enemy Within is well written and kept me intrigued and excited from start to finish.

As always, Bond is able to spin quite the tale. While this novel debuted a decade ago, it is as relevant as ever. What's quite scary is that the whole thing is quite plausible. If you're looking for a novel that combines elements of a political thriller with a military one, then The Enemy Within is for you. I just hope that the Iranians don't get a copy of this book!

Overall Grade: A

See also our review of Dangerous Ground by the same author.

In Case You're Wondering How We're Doing...

Here's our traffic over the last few months. You can see we're growing nicely, and off to a good start for July! Thanks again to our loyal readership that pushed us past a total of 5000 page views this week!

Frigg, Oasis (NorthSide, 2005)

When NorthSide released Frigg's delightful self-titled debut album in 2004, it marked the emergence of a new generation of musicians from a pair of prominent fiddling families from Finland and Norway. Now Alina (fiddle), Esko (fiddle and keyboards), and Antti (bass and fiddle) Järvelä; Gjermund and Einar Olav Larsen (fiddle and Hardanger fiddle); Tuomas Logrén (guitar and dobro); and Petri Prauda (mandolin, cittern, Estonian bagpipes) have returned with a new CD Oasis. Happily, Frigg's sophomore effort exceeds its predecessor by quite a bit, with tighter playing, a more diverse sound, and some ambitious arrangements and original compositions.

The basic Frigg sound, as defined on the debut CD, consists of a wall of fiddles reminiscent of JPP (a band which Antti Järvelä has just recently joined on bass) but backed instead by the strumming of the guitar and cittern, with a touch of dobro providing a distinctively bluegrass flavor. Some of Oasis follows a similar pattern, but the band explores some different musical styles. Antti Järvelä's schottis "Jokijenkka (Riverdance)" would not sound out of place played as an Irish polka at a ceilidh, for example. With "Hasse," Frigg puts its own stamp on one of Väsen's best recently composed polskas. "Fantomen" and "Solberg" are straightforward polkas, provided you play them at about a third of the speed that Frigg plays them here.

At other points on the album, the band makes marked departures from its original sound, with excellent results. The gorgeous title tune "Keidas (Oasis)" was composed in 5/8 meter by Prauda for a school project. Its most poignant moment comes when the third part of the tune is played by a solo fiddler. Logrén's "Tepeq" features some brisk interplay between a guitar and mandolin. The most significant addition to Frigg's sound on Oasis, though, comes from Prauda making his recording debut on Estonian bagpipes; he explained at a concert that he felt Finland needed a bagpipe tradition of it's own. The pipes magnify the urgency of the waltz "Mäenpään Heikin Valssi" and the emotion of the album's closing track, the traditional funeral march "Peltoniemen Hintriikin Surumarssi ."

For a young band, Frigg shows a remarkable depth and maturity in their arrangements and compositions. And they play pretty damn well, too. I see no reason why this Finnish/Norwegian ensemble shouldn't continue to make albums of this high quality for the indefinite future.

For information on Frigg's summer 2006 North American tour, please click here.

Overall grade: A-

Reprinted with permission from The Green Man Review
Copyright 2006 The Green Man Review

Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius

His passion made him a legend.

Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius shows us the true story of one of he greatest players of the game of golf. We see hm overcome personal adversity in the form of illness, and supporting family members. What is also fascinating is that despite winning multiple tournaments, he did so as an amateur so he was not paid for his wins.

The film is paced a little slowly in the first half. Combined with the over two hour run time, this makes it feel like a long movie. It's also a little unclear at some points where this is taking place as they shift from Scotland to Georgia.

That said, this a relaxing jaunt through the links. For those of us who didn't renew our country club membership this year, this may be the closest we get to a golf course. Enjoy the back nine, and don’t get stuck in a sand trap!

Overall Grade: B

In Her Shoes

Friends. Rivals. Sisters.

In Her Shoes is a thoughtful drama that features Cameron Diaz, Shirley Mac Laine and Toni Collette. Here we have the situation of two diametrically opposite sisters. One is an overachieving attorney who puts her career above her personal life. Opposite that we have a sister that can't hold down a job, and sleeps around in empty relationships at every opportunity. Add in a father distracted by a proverbial wicked stepmother and we've got all the makings of a serious drama. Thankfully, In Her Shoes is interspersed with enough comedic touches to keep this from becoming so heavy that it drops like a rock into the abyss of tragedy.

We clearly have a scarred, and dysfunctional family that still can't move on from the loss of their mother and wife. An estranged grandmother, across the country, provides the catalyst for a healing process to begin.

In Her Shoes is a well acted story of family relationships and healing.
Overall Grade: B+

Deep Blue

Want to see a great movie about the ocean? So do I, but Deep Blue just isn't it. The idea is to move from the shore, into deeper and deeper ocean water showing the life along the way. There are a few unforgettable moments like the killer whale venturing into the surf, and the whale that popped up to munch on a school of fish. Unfortunately, the rest is quite boring. There is only minimal dialogue, which left me wondering where we really were, and what type of fish these were. Also, they switched back and forth between the Arctic Ocean, and Antartica like they're interchangeable (hint: there are no penguins up north, only in Antarctica). Finally, for a film called Deep Blue, they spent way too much time on the beach, and not enough in the open ocean.

Deep Blue has about as much storyline as watching "The Aquarium Channel." It's pretty, but don't devote 90 minutes of your life to it.

Overall Grade: D+


End Game

The Assassination Was Only The Beginning

End Game stars Cuda Gooding, Jr as the President's Secret Service agent. The initial drama is provided as the President is assasinated right in front of him, through no obvious fault, as he did everything "by the book." Aided by a curious newspaper reporter, the two of them start to uncover that the lone gunman was not working alone, and was involved with other governmental agencies.

I say start to uncover, because in the end, we don't really come to a resolution. At least in my mind, we never really figure out who wanted the president dead, and why. I've seen Scooby Doo episodes that came together with more of a conclusion than End Game.

Putting the fall apart ending aside, there are more than enough explosive car chases and shoot outs to keep any action fan satisfied. They save End Game from an even lower grade. It's a shame that they can only save the ending by so much.

Overall Grade: C+