Posted by: cosborn | January 20, 2009

Gran Torino – Eastwood at His Best

Clint Eastwood directed and stars in Gran Torino, and he absolutely nails this movie. This is what I wish I could see every time I go to a movie in terms of character development, story telling, acting, etc. It’s terrific. The nmovies web site is likewise, well done. http://www.thegrantorino.com/

Eastwood plays a retired autoworker and Korean War veteran – Walt Kowalski – whose wife just died. His neighborhood is changing as immigrants are moving and and changing the look and feel of the street in ways Walt just can’t seem to grasp comfortably.

But as this story unfolds, Walt’s strength of character and spirit lead him on a path he never expected, and for a movie goer, it’s a path that makes this a really exceptional movie experience. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, so I won’t go into plot elements. But it is worth mentioning three really great supporting performances.

Abney Her is really touching as Walt’s neighbor, Sue.  She is simply outstanding, and her character provides an great emotional anchor for Walt’s journey.  Bee Vang plays Sue’s younger brother, and his performance is great. This character really transforms right in front of us as Walt takes a deep – and surprising – interest in the boy. And Christopher Carley was really good in the role of a young priest whose patience is really tested by Walt.

One fascinating element to the movie is the difficulty assimilating into American Hmong immigrants face. Sue offers a great line about the problems saying, “Hmong girls do well, but Hmong boys go to jail.” The prevelance of gangs and violence in poor neighborhoods in transisiton – like Walt’s – threaten every resident and strain every relationship.

There are some really funny moments in the movie as Walt’s crude and rough around the edges character collides with the unfamiliar Hmong culture now occupying the house next door. I know it wasn’t PC, but I could not help but laugh at several points in the movie when Walt’s unabashed, out-of-touch attitudes showed up in his comments and snide remarks to and about everybody he met.

Gran Torino is a worthwhile movie experience, but it’s not an easy story. But – trust me – it’s more than worth it!

Posted by: cosborn | January 12, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire – No Dog At All!

Slumdog Millionaire is a terrific movie. It’s directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan. I have no idea if the slums of Mumbai are as depicted in this film, but if they are, my – it’s a terrible life. This movie could certainly have been far more depressing than it was, and I must confess to being surprised at how much I liked it.

Doyle directed a another movie I liked – Millions. Like Slumdog Millionaire, that film is about loot, love and the bonds of family – such as families come to us. I think Doyle’s most recent film is quite a bit stronger than Millions, but like Millions, the story unfolds through a child’s eyes (though Jamal grows up in this film).

We meet the three main characters in their childhood and all three are orphans. Salim, Jamal and Latika. The story is told in flashback form by Jamal. He is a contestant on a game show, “Who Wants t be a Millionaire?” Essentially, he is accused of cheating mostly because of his rather humble (and that’s being generous) roots.  So Jamal tells his story around a series of events that reveal answers to the questions as the narrative moves forward.

At it’s core, this movie is about redemption and love. Given the surroundings, it’s amazing the characters maintain any sense of decency or hope – but Jamal does, and it’s his spirit in the end that drives this really good movie forward.

I’d recommend this movie to friends.

Posted by: cosborn | December 26, 2008

Yes Man – Okay, Say Yes

We have a fun tradition with our kids of going to a movie Christmas Eve. We let our teenagers pick this year, and they selected “Yes Man” starring Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel. I am not the world’s biggest Jim Carrey fan, but I really like some things he’s done. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a very interesting film, and Carrey did a very good job in it. So I think he’s capable of some good work, and he can be in good movies. I don’t like the Ace Ventura stuff, though. So, Jim Carrey movies generally come with warning labels in my mind. You can take the warning label away for “Yes Man.”

Jim Carrey plays a really boring loan officer (Carl Allen) whose life is basically on hold. He’s divorced, and he’s never really gotten to the point where he will be social in the three years since his marriage ended. Bradley Cooper plays his best friend who’s ready to dump him, and John Michael Higgins plays another good friend who is worried, but a bit less sympathetic. Both of these actors offer some terrific moments in the movie.

Carl’s life is changed when he attends a seminar, and makes a covenant to say “Yes” to any opportunity. Think “Liar, Liar” to get the basic premise. There his character (a lawyer) could no longer lie, and here his character (a loan officer) can’t say “no” to anything. Carl’s life indeed changes, and he meets Alison, played by Zooey Deschanel. Alison is a free spirit who captivates Carl.

All in all, this is a fun little movie. It’s light and breezy, but you pull for the characters to get it together before the end. Carrey was really silly in places (okay – he’s Jim Carrey), but overall he kept the stupid antics under wraps long enough to let the audience get to know and actually like Carl. Zooey Deschanel was terrific. I’ve liked this actress in several other roles, and her quirky looks and voice (I really like her voice!) may keep her from ever achieving big time stardom, but she’s talented and very engaging in roles like this one.

I wish movie studios could be a bit more creative with movie ideas, but I was pleasantly surprised by “Yes Man”, and I’d recommend this movie to friends.

Posted by: cosborn | December 24, 2008

Top Albums of 2008

Granted, this isn’t original, but I wanted to get my favorite releases from the year posted. A few disclaimers: these may NOT be the best albums of the year. I’m not a critic or a musician. I’m just a fan, so these are simply the 2008 releases that seemed to find their way into my CD player or onto my i-Pod more than others.

Old 97’s – Blame it on Gravity.

Blame it on Gravity

Blame it on Gravity

The Old 97’s delivered their first new studio albums in several years, and they delivered a real gem. I’ve grown to really love Satellite Rides and Too Far to Car. And I enjoy Fight Songs. This newest release is becoming my favorite. I might not have selected Dance With Me as the first single, but this song has really grown on me – much like the whole album. My Two Feet, The One, No Baby I, and Here’s to the Halcyon are all really great songs. The Old 97’s headlined Twangfest here in St. Louis this year, and they played a blistering, rousing and wonderful 28 song 2+hour show. They featured this record, and this is a band truly worth seeing live. In the meantime, this is a terrific release, and it’s pretty easily my favorite of the year.

Tift Merritt – Another Country

Another Country

Another Country

I have no idea what this lady is like, but her music is extremely likable. Another Country features my favorite song of the year – Broken. It was nominated for Song of the Year by the Americana Music Association.  She has a great ear for melody, and this collection of songs has been a  delight since I bought it. In addition to Broken, Something to Me, Keep You Happy and Tender Branch are really nice songs. Here’s hoping Tift Merritt releases another album in 2009.

 

Teddy Thompson – A Piece of What You Need

A Piece of What You Need

A Piece of What You Need

 

http://www.teddythompson.com/home.aspx – is the URL to Teddy Thompson’s website, and I encourage you to explore it. You can listen to this terrific album, and you won’t be disappointed.  Teddy is Richard and Linda Thompson’s son, but he is not nearly as morose as his father. However, he is just as gifted. This collection of songs features really catchy hooks and melodies, great singing and excellent guitar fills and riffs throughout. In particular, I really like In My Arms and The Things I Do.

 

REM – Accelerate

REM Accelerate

REM Accelerate

Where have these guys been? Remember when REM was a really essential band? Every release used to be interesting, different and exciting. Well – they lost their way for several years – especially after they signed that big deal with SONY. Accelerate is a much welcome return to form. I was really surprised to read a very favorable review of this record in Esquire, and that piqued my interest. I listened to a few tracks, and bought the CD. This is one of my favorite REM releases ever. It may be due to my long held affection for this band more than the actual quality of Accelerate, but this is a really good effort. The first few tracks really hit you with a high level of intensity, and it never really lets up.

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raising Sand

Raising Sand

Raising Sand

I was so prepared to not like this record. I’d heard the hype, read the critical acclaim, yada, yada, yada. And then a friend got me a bootleg copy of them performing the old Led Zeppelin song Black Dog in concert. That cinched it for me – I bought the record. My first listen left me more than a little disappointed, but I kept hearing a different track here and there, and every time I heard a track, I really liked it. So – after making some time to really listen and absorb this record, I must admit – it’s really good. T-Bone Burnett put the project together, and it really works. I think the reason I needed some time to get into this record is that it’s very subtle. After repeated listens, it’s the subtlety I realy love about it. I also had the pleasure of seeing them at the Fox Theater in STL for an amazing show.  They’re great performers, it’s a great record, and it turned out to be my most pleasant surprise of 2008.

Hayes Carll – Trouble in Mind

Trouble in Mind

Trouble in Mind

Speaking of pleasant surprises – Hayes Carll hit my CD player with a vengeance this year. He opened, with The Hubcap Stealers, for the Old 97’s at Twangfest at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis. I’m not always on top of new artists the way I’d like, and I’d never heard his music before that show. The band – the aforementioned Hubcap Stealers – was great. They were so polished and tight that is was a great way to get introduced to this very charming storyteller. He won Song of the Year from the Americana Music Association for She Left me for Jesus. It is a GREAT song! I still chuckle when I hear it, and if you aren’t familiar with it – hit his web page and give it a listen. I’ve backfilled my collection with Carll’s release – Little Rock, too. I am really looking forward t his next record.

John Hiatt – Same Old Man

Same Old Man

Same Old Man

John Hiatt has been one of my favorites for years, so I’m not even going to pretend to be objective. He’s got a distinctive voice that is getting more expressive with age. He still puts on a great show, and this record certainly won’t disappoint fellow fans. I think part of why I like him so much is that so many of his songs are personal and are about “stage of life” things I really understand.

 

Lucinda Williams – Little Honey

Little Honey

Little Honey

 

She’s odd, quirky, weird and any other similar adjective you want to use. She’s also hugely talented, and this is a good record. I really love her voice, but I recognize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But this is a worthy effort, and it’s getting some attention from even mainstream music press like Rolling Stone.

Shelby Lynne – Just a Little Lovin’

Just a Little Lovin'

Just a Little Lovin'

 

This is a very nice tribute to Dusty Springfield. Shelby Lynne takes a pretty big risk re-recording some of these tracks, but it works. I really like I Only Want to be With You. I heard an interesting interview with Shelby Lynne on NPR around the release date, and she had some cool things to say about recording The Look of Love. It was a bit intimidating, according to Lynne, but she really treats the song well.

The Derailers – Guarantied to Satisfy

Guaranteed to Satisfy

Guaranteed to Satisfy

I’d agree with this title. This IS a very satisfying record. Here is another band I truly like. These guys – twangy thought they are – really play fun, interesting music. The first track – Bad, Bad Girl is country music exactly as it ought to be played. Ignore that over-produced pabulum Nashville keeps hoisting off on the public, and try something really authentic sounding. These guys are good, and I’m really looking forward to their next release, too!

Posted by: cosborn | December 16, 2008

War, Inc. – NetFlix Rental

I’m a big fan of John Cusack. He’s made many entertaining and some very good movies during his career. I loved Grosse Point Blank, High Fidelity, and a few others. War, Inc. will not be on my list of good John Cusack movies. It’s really a mess of a movie.

I’d bet the script read great. You can definitely see what the intent was, but the execution was terrible. Marisa Tomei is wasted in what could have been a fun role as a journalist covering a totally “outsourced” war. The US government privatized an entire war – that’s the premise. It’s got promise as a premise, but it’s a premise that promised more than it could deliver in the hands of this director. (Sorry for that – just couldn’t resist.) Dan Akroyd was also wasted as a corrupt former Vice President running the show.

Don’t waste ytour time with War, Inc.

Posted by: cosborn | December 14, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

My college aged son wanted to see this, and my wife and I agreed to go – reluctantly. And – we were pleasantly surprised. It’s not great, that’s for sure. But it is entertaining, and the big time effects are really good.

Keanu Reeves was cast as Klatuu, the alien visitor sent here to protect the Earth. He was supposed to be wooden and a bit stiff, so the part was absolutely perfect for Reeves. I actually like him as an actor. He comes off as having an inner sense of decency, and he seems to do well in films that require some physical action. (This one does not.) Think Neo from the Matrix, with less personality, and you get the part.

Jennifer Connelly is among my personal favorite actresses. On interview programs, and in print interviews, she comes across as pleasant, likable and an oddly normal mom and wife. She is drop dead gorgeous, and it’s easy to get caught up in her looks and give her little credit for her acting skill – which is considerable. Her character is very strong, and she provides the moral center of this morality tale. And she does this very well.

Will Smith and Jada Picket’s son – Jaden – plays her step son, and he was good, although his character is a bit annoying. Kathy Bates plays a very annoying Secretary of Defense. She offers up a great wooden, robotic administration official who can’t think an single independent thought. (Geez, I wonder what administration that was taken from?) John Cleese has a short – but important – cameo.

I’d recommend this movie for big screen viewing, but just don’t go expecting a masterpiece. It’s decent, and Reeves and Connelly are both solid.

Posted by: cosborn | December 14, 2008

Rachel Getting Married – Elope, PLEASE!

Anne Hathaway as Kym, a drug addict just out of rehab, is getting much deserved acclaim for her performance. Okay – I get it. She’s a mess, but the WHOLE movie is a mess otherwise.

Jonathan Demme offers up a jumbled up, overly long, poorly edited, poorly filmed, poorly directed effort. The had held shooting is supposed to create a sense of tension. It just made me nauseous. 

Save yourself $20, and skip this movie. Wait for the DVD release, rent if you think you can stand it, but be warned. The rehearsal dinner and wedding scenes drag on, and on, and on, and . . . well, you get the drift. In fact, the whole movie should have lasted about 20 seconds., and it came during Kym (Hathaway’s toast) at the rehearsal dinner. She said something to the effect of, “I’m a mess, and you’re an angel” (to Rachel, Kym’s sister). Yep – that’s about it.

Posted by: cosborn | December 14, 2008

Movies – Australia

Australia is a big – and I mean BIG – movie. Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman are big time stars and they are both very appealing. The movie starts out a bit campy for my taste, but I have to admit I enjoyed sitting through the whole thing. There are several valid criticism you can make about Australia. It’s too big. It tackles too many big themes (WWII, taming of the Outback, treatment of indigenous people, etc.). That said – it’s still a fairly satisfying movie experience.

Jackman and Kidman are both very good. He has a true “screen presence.” Jackman does not offer much in the way of emotional range in the part, but I don’t think he was supposed to, either. He was more of a physical presence than anything, but he does make a very likable leading man. Nicole Kidman remains one of the most beautiful leading ladies anywhere. Like Jackman, she wasn’t asked to do too much from an emotional perspective, but she was also very likable. She steps into her murdered husband’s ranch, and as any strong woman on film will do – rises to the occasion. Even though it was totally predictable, you still rooted for her character.

The two best parts in the whole film were the villain, played by David Wenham (Faramir from Lord of the Rings). He was a terrific bad guy in the old fashioned melodrama vain. He was really rotten, and his character maintained a bit of a respectable facade, so the villainy was even more pronounced. Wenham had the best part in the film, and he played it to the hilt.

Brandon Walters played Nullah, and Aborignal boy who Nicole Kidman’s character takes in after tragedy strikes. Nullah provided the narrative theme to the film, and the boy was very likable.

On the whole, Australia is nobody’s excuse for a great film. But it is worth the time to see on the big screen.

From time to time, the group of friends I exchange mixes with each month come up with themes for everyone’s mix. One of our favorite “themes” is to get everyone to submit a bunch of random song subjects or ideas. We then pull from an envelope 10-12 topics, and you are supposed to put on song for each topic on your mix. Directly from the e-mail message this morning:
  • A groovy tune
  • The craziest song you’ve ever heard
  • Your favorite song from 1986
  • Song to be played at your funeral
  • Song about the weather
  • Song about a body part
  • Song about prison or jail
  • Song about money
  • Song about family
  • Song about a famous person
  • Song about stress

Obviously, there’s a lot of room for some creativity and fun here.  This list will definitely change, but here’s some starting thoughts:

  • Groovy song – a Flamin’ Groovies song (Teanage Head?) or Groovy Times – The Clash
  • Craziest song – Crazy – Patsy Cline or Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
  • Favorite song from 1986 – Joshua Tree by U2 was recorded in 1986 – so maybe something from that, or King of America by Elvis
  • Song for my funeral – In My Life – The Beatles is a good one, but too obvious
  • Song about the weather – Like a Hurricane – Neil Young or Rainy Day, Dream Away – Jimi Hendrix, Rain – The Beatles
  • Song about a body part – Mary Anne With the Shaky Hands – The Who
  • Song about prison or jail – pick your favorite great country song . . . but – I’m not sure yet
  • Song about money – Fortunate Sun – Credence Clearwater Revival, and any number of “down on your luck” country songs
  • Song about family – I don’t know yet
  • Song about a famous person – Frank Sinatra – Cake
  • Song about stress – 19th Nervous Breakdown – Rolling Stones, Cold Turkey – John Lennon

I have no idea what will end up on this mix, but this is a starting point.

Posted by: cosborn | September 6, 2008

August 2008 Mix

Once a month, I meet a group of friends for lunch and we swap mixes. There are usually five of us, and everyone really likes music and knows a bit about the tunes they share. We all have somewhat different tasts, and it’s a great way to find some new and interesting stuff to hear. I have links to the blogs of two my mix friends over in the side bar. Check them out.

Here’s the mix from last month:

1. Workingman's CafeVietnam Cowboys—Ray Davies  The only thing wrong with Ray Davies is that he doesn’t record enough great stuff. From his newest release – Workingman’s Cafe.  I must confess to being a big Kinks fan, and I’m really happy with Ray Davies’ last two releases.  The new one is excellent!

2. Rebel in You—Supergrass  This is from their new release. Very derivative music, but it’s catchy. I’m still not sure what to make of Supergrass. Parts of the new release – Diamond Hoo Ha – are really good. I’m listening to it, and it’s been interesting to explore.

3. Dance All Night – Ryan Adams and the Cardinals They’re coming to the Fox Theater, St. Louis, MO in October. Another pop gem. I know he’s got a reputation for being “difficult.” So? The music is really great, and this song from “Cold Roses” is a really nice song.

4. The Dumbest Magnets—Dolly Varden Band is named for a fish. Saw them at a Ranch House concert this summer—really nice show. I was pleasently surprised by how much I enjoyed seeing them. I got a chance to chat with Steve and Diane. They are very nice, and they really brought their charm and warmth to the show.  To top it off – they are really talented.

5. Mull of Kintyre—Sir Paul Who but a Beatle could make bagpipes sound lovely?. And – yes – I agree. Some of his solo work hasn’r been great or even good. But I’ve always liked this melody.

6. Something Wonderful—John Dee Graham Another Ranch House concert from this summer. GREAT, GREAT show! John is recovering from an auto accident. I’d never seen him before the Ranch Hosue show, and I was knocked out. He’s funny and was very entertaining. He can falt out play, and the show was a rockin’ good time!

7. That Beat—Amy LaVere  She was nominated for an award by the American Music Association last year for this record. Very cool sound. I am totally smitten with this record. She has a breathy quality to her voice that really works. The songs are really interesting and varied in tone, theme and sound. If you haven’t heard Amy, you owe it to yourself to check her music out.

8. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll—Ian Drury & The Blockheads Anthem for the whole punk thing and many lost weekend in the early 1980’s. Hard not to smile when you hear this infectious tune.

9. Little Sister—Dwight Yoakam One of the best music videos of go-go dancers ever made to this cover of an old Elvis Presley song. Dwight Yoakam is one of the true Americana/Twng masters, and this song is just so cool it’s almost painful. LOVE Pete Anderson’s guitar!

10. The Motivator—T-Rex  Very cool, stripped down song that used to rattle around in my head playing baseball. Go figure. It’s a real shame Marc Bolan died, becasue I really keep going back to Electric Warrior for this song and several other really great songs. It’s a very underrated record from the early 1970’s.

11. Closer to Mercury—Wheat Want to hear what a perfect pop song is supposed to sound like? Here it is. I stumbled across Wheat on the Elizabethtown Soundtrack (which – BTW – is a GREAT soundtrack). Then they kept showing up on a couple of stations I built on Pandora. This is about as perfect a pop song as I can imagine.

12. Sing a Song—Earth, Wind & Fire A very good friend turned 50 in mid-August. I made a mid-70’s mix and used this cool old dance song.

 

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