Friday, December 30, 2005

This is So Flippin' Sweet!!

It's been a while since I've mentioned the Black Keys on this blog, but in this absense, my love for the band has continually been growing. Recently, I bought my own copy of their latest, Rubber City, and have been devouring it ever since. My respect for Pat and Dan grows with every album. This latest is definitely their most ambitious departure from a traditional blues-based song form, and they do so brilliantly.

But today, as I wandered through a record shop, what should my eyes happen upon except a black DVD case with the words Black Keys Live emblazoned upon it.

My curiosity is piqued!

A live concert DVD?! Who had any idea?!

Well, apparently their record label knew, because it was them who released the thing. Anyway. I happen upon this by accident, and to my joy, upon popping it into my DVD player, I find the whole concert (in Sydney, Australia in March of 2005) to be shot on low-grade flim, with only about four or five cameras rolling, so it captures a very basic, raw sense of the concert, which is precisely the feel you would get if you were at the concert itself.

The Keys don't rely on any gimmicks on stage to get their point accross, so the music must do all of the work. Aside from being great musical talents in their own rite, the songs these two have written have a longevity and satiability to them that makes it fun to listen to tehm no matter how many times you hear them. And to watch them slave over their craft makes it even more fun as you watch the frenzy build into blistering crescendos of cymbal crashes and guitar distortion.

I havne't even made it all the way through this whole disc yet, but as I sit here watching it I give it my highest recommendation. After seeing them live, I'd have to say this disc captures their energy very well on film, while letting you control the volume and just enjoy the music being made.

Program for Recital on Dec. 22nd, 2005

This is old news, but since I put the other one up, I might a well put this there alongside of it...

Johann Sebastian Bach - Suite no. 1 in G major

Paul Hindemith - Sonata for viola solo op. 25 no. 1

- Intermission -

Igor Stravinsky - Elegie

Bohuslav Martinu - Three Madrigals for violin and viola

Run time: I'm not sure. I talked for a short while before hand as well, and we started late, and it was done in 75 minutes. So not too long.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Movie Review: Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Directed by: Andrew Adamson

There is a sad trend in American cinema this years to replicate the success of other films, turning them sideways and releasing them as a new film, hoping audiences either won’t notice, or won’t mind.

As in another review I just wrote about Johnny Cash’s biopic Walk the Line, where I drew comparisons between the similarities in the films about Cash and Ray Charles (Ray.)
So with the first Chronicle film being made yet again into a film adaptation, it follows (unfortunately) in the footsteps of another mid-twentieth century literary work whose films have recently revolutionized modern cinema.
I speak, of course, of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien bear a startling similarity to each other. Both authors knew each other as men living in England during WW II, and both lamented the lack of books that dealt with the sort of fantastic subjects both men enjoyed. It was with this mission in mind both men set out to write their own vision of a mythical world inhabited by dwarves, fawns, centaurs and elves. Years later, the authors had completed their most memorable works; Tolkien the Lord of the Rings and Lewis with the Chronicles of Narnia.

So is it misfortune or logic that would dictate that on the heels of one successful film adaptation, another be gotten underway? The possibilities for comparison are endless and inevitable.

I read one review of this film which referred to this Narnia film as “Lord of the Rings Jr.”
and I feel that I must agree with him. And not always in all the good connotations.

The film begins with a verbatim recollection of how Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy came to be in the home of the Professor, hurrying us through a German bombing of London, a quick train ride to the Northern countryside and then to the mansion of the Professor, where they are told that they are never, ever to disturb the professor. All of this is done to set the stage as quickly as possible so that the children may begin their game of hide-and-seek which leads young Lucy to a spare room where an immense wardrobe invites her as a promising hiding place.
The story is quite well known; how Lucy accidentally finds herself in the magical world of Narnia, befriends the fawn Tumles and how the four siblings’ adventure begins and culminates in the battle for Narnia with the lion Aslan against the White Witch and her evil armies.

Since the story to this novel is perhaps the most well-known of any of the Narnia books, it would seem imperative that tremendous care was taken in telling the story precisely, accurately, and beautifully, just as was Peter Jackson’s concern in making the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Sadly, unlike Lord of the Rings, it would seem that not nearly enough concern was placed in the quality of production with this Narnia film.
Following in the shadow of this epic trilogy, it becomes terribly important that Narnia can clearly establish its own identity and yet display the same level of convincing detail that creates another world for its viewers.
Even though Jackson’s WETA Workshop was brought on board to do all of the special effects, computer animations and weapons and armor, it seemed to lack the same finish and luster that the Lord of the Rings became known for.
The mythical creatures in this film (centaurs, minotaurs, fawns and cyclops) do not pop off the screen or interact with other elements of the film in the same way that Gollum was so carefully engineered to do.
The scenery and landscape of Narnia fail to impress. One never really gets the sense that Narnia is an expansive land. Scenes are always shot in frames which continually contain trees, rocks or walls which give the audience a feeling of containment, but we are never let outside to marvel at the sheer majesty of Narnia’s beauty. In the back of my mind, I had to wonder how large this spot of land they were all fighting over, and if it would eventually be worth it.

Perhaps my greatest complaint about this film has to do with a fear that was instilled when I first started to see previews for this film. It has been rated PG for the violence and tense situations involving the White Witch, but I was always hesitant about the choices made by the filmmakers to make a film that was unquestionably PG. There is a certain amount of realism and believability which can only come with appealing to a broader audience than a PG film will attract.
The Lord of the Rings films understood this, and made no qualm about creating disgusting creatures, covered in blood and ooze, intense and realistic battle sequences. All of this builds a more heroic and noble struggle for our heroes to engage in.

The Chronicle, on the other hand, feels saddeningly light-weight by comparison. Sort of the Ring’s Diet Coke relative.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this film is how I didn’t care at all about the characters in this film. The power and strength of the story depends upon the relationship of the siblings with each other, and of the children’s willingness to help the creatures there because of their love for the lion Aslan.
Of course the metaphorical meaning behind the Chronicles is loudly declared, but the effectiveness of the story depends not only on the characters’ relationship with Aslan, but also with the reader’s. Or in this case, the audience.
Simply put, I didn’t care at all for Aslan. I didn’t care for his struggle (which wasn’t made clear) I never got a sense of his strength, or the significance of his sacrificial death, which is really the true emotional core of the whole book. To gloss over that emotional meaning in the film does the story a horrible disservice from which the film does not recover.
My sisters came out of the film more impressed with the White Witch than with Aslan, much to the chagrin of my father. But I completely understand why! The film spent more time with the Witch, exploring her environment and character than it did with Aslan. We were simply expected to trust the lion, and know that he was the one we should trust, without really giving us any reason.
(On a personal note, casting Liam Neeson as Aslan wasn’t any help either. Not only was I spending time trying to identify the voice artist, but I just don’t care for Liam Neeson that much. He is the same character in every film he has appeared in, particularly during the last year.)

Even the colors used in Narnia, (which are in stark contrast to the real-life colors the director uses to show 1940’s England) are almost cartoonish in their effect.
The reds on Peter and Edmund’s battle tunics are bright and never dirty or dull throughout the whole battle. The grass is a chipper green, and never mattes down, muddies or gets torn up underneath the hooves and footsteps of battle. Armor gleams throughout the entire melee, and hair and makeup remain in perfect condition despite the struggle.
In short, the whole effect of this film is a very child-like na├»ve point of view of the character’s struggle.

But what is the film’s audience? If its intended for children, then the effect would be complete, and you wouldn’t be getting good reviews from mature audiences anyway. But the film has been getting great reviews, and it is intended for all audiences. And it is because of these reasons why I hold this film and its filmmakers to a higher level of expectation.
If it was felt and agreed that the stories of Narnia were less regarded or any less-loved by millions all over the world, the expectations for a film such as this would be a lot less, but the truth of the matter remains, these films deserve the same level of attention and care as the Lord of the Rings books, and it’s treatment I don’t feel the film received.

Rather, what I believed has happened (and we see it in Peter Jackson’s newest film King Kong as well) is that a sort of formula has been established by the Lord of the Rings in both technical and creative aspects, and (just as Pixar pioneered computer-generated animated films which are now copied and ripped on to the point where there is nothing left but foolish plot lines, foolish characters and poor animation) we now will see the windfall of such a film project as their styles and techniques are duplicated again and again in hopes of recreating the same magic.
But without the same vision for the characters and the story, nothing will be made but second-grade film which has only the faintest whiff of the magic which made its predecessor so great.

I’d give this film three out of five, just for the sheer entertainment value of it. Easily could’ve been five, if only the right people were given a chance at the project.


Music Review : The Legend of Johnny Cash (2005)

This album comes out riding the storm of popularity built up from Walk the Line, Hollywood’s biopic on the life of Johnny Cash. Alongside the soundtrack to the film, this album is a tip-of-the-iceberg retrospective of Johnny Cash’s 40+ year career, putting 21 of his biggest hits together on one disc, spanning from his earliest songs like Cry,Cry,Cry and Folsom Prison Blues, to 2003’s surprisingly meaningful cover of Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt which went on to garner awards and accolades even after Cash’s death.
As much as this album is probably a horrible gloss-over of Cash’s career for true fans of his music, this is honestly a great place for me to start. I knew even before I purchased this album that I wasn’t a huge Cash fan. I certainly appreciate his music, but it didn’t speak to me in a terribly meaningful way. However, as typically happens with the golden screen, the minute a certain music is highlighted and detailed by means of film, my interest piques as I get to see inside the life of the music.
In this case, it was fun watching Walk the Line and seeing the very beginnings of Rock and Roll as Cash toured the nation with the likes of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
To further stimulate my imagination, having T Bone Burnett (the mind behind O Brother, Where Art Thou?)as the musical supervisor on this film didn’t hurt either.
So having my appetite whetted for the uncompromising and unchanging flavor of Johnny Cash, this compendium was just what I was looking for. All of the original recordings from his earliest days back in the 50’s, plus all of his hits produced since 1990’s by Rick Rubin, including Cash’s cover of Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage and Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt.

I give this album high marks for giving a cream of the crop taste of Johnny Cash’s music, fully aware that there is probably a great deal of music from Cash that you don’t get a taste of on this album.


Movie Review: Walk the Line (2005)
Starring: Joaquin Pheonix, Reese Witherspoon
Directed by James Mangold

Coming off last year’s success of Ray, the story of Ray Charles, the movie studios must have thought America primed for another biographic film of another loved musical icon. We venture from R&B to country music this time, and yet the time frame for these two stories remains very similar. In fact both Charles and Cash’s early childhood looked remarkably similar. Both involved early tragedy and growing up in poverty, which shaped both of their later musical inspirations (or so the movies go…)

Perhaps the greatest fault this movie suffered from is that it follows a year behind Ray. Personnally, my patience is a bit more tried for this type of film. Ray had my best of interests and energies, but seeing such an eerily similar story a second time, it grew much harder for me to get excited about what would end up to be a now familiar struggle.

None of this is to say that this wasn’t a beautifully made film. I felt the director, James Mangold, did a fine job at painting the many sides of Johnny Cash. In no way or at any point was he painted as a saint, first battling adulterous tendencies and then a drug addiction. The set production, costumes and art direction were are beautifully indicitive of the time, and did really re-create the 1960’s-era South.

This being said, the film bordered on tedious. I felt it too long, and seemed unwilling to cut corners on any plot detail throughout Cash’s life. As admirable as that may be, it makes for a painful movie-going experience when you round hour two. Also, considering the focus they placed on Cash’s battles with drug addictions, enough of the film was spent in shaky hand-held segments, staggering from one wall to the next, that you began to feel certain head pains. I suppose I would’ve rather more focus be kept on the performing and recording or his interactions with other legendary musicians, but it arguably takes from the human impact of the film.

A note on the acting: After Jamie Foxx’s eerie and exact portrayal of Ray Charles, much buzz was built up around Phoenix’s portrayal of Cash, including murmurings of Oscar-worthy performances. After seeing the entire film however, I just don’t believe that Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in this film is anywhere near as deserving of the accolades that were heaped upon Mr. Foxx for his Ray performance.

But this brings to mind a interesting debate that could be had: is a great acting performance, when based upon a real person, based upon a brilliant interpretation or imitation? Jamie Foxx’s praises seemed less based on great acting as it was a great imitation of the late Ray Charles.

So by that measure, Joaquin Phoenix does not reach Mr. Foxx’s level of accomplishment. However if we measure on the basis of emotional truth, I believe Mr. Phoenix is just as fine an actor as Mr. Foxx. And sadly, I believe this may simply be a sad case of first-place, second-place. Because Mr. Foxx’s movie came out a year ago, Mr. Phoenix’s portrayal will always be compared and found a wane comparison to Mr. Foxx’s version of the late Mr. Charles.

I give Walk the Line two and a half out of five for great film making, but too much length, not enough sunshine in the story, and a too-similar feel to Ray to be considered a classic.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Another Recital Done, Another Step Closer Hopefully...

To those four of you who were at my recital this Monday, thank you.

It went quite well, thank you for asking.

I'm afraid I have another performance to get to right now, so I'm not able to write further. Sadly, the email is also down, which means I've not been able to check my email for the past few days, which is (needless to say) a little frustrating.

Check out an effort to preserve the existene of Christmas:

Save An Elf!


Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Program For My Recital:

Ralph Vaughan Williams - Suite for Viola and Piano

Paul Hindemith - Sonata for solo viola op. 25 no. 1

- Intermission -

Darius Milhaud - Sonata no. 1 for viola and piano

Bohuslav Martinu - Three Madrigals for violin and viola

Program time: 65 minutes

Winter's He-re...

Yesterday Cleveland was hammered with about a foot of snow. Now I know this doesn't sound too bad, but around this parts of the world, snow removal isn't quite the science that it is in the severe midwest. It's not really even an area of scientific interest. In fact it seems almost unheard of to someone admit to enjoying winter. It's like its part of our culture here. You have to crave nice weather, beautiful scenery, (of which we get none) and have to detest the cold and snow. (Of which we get plenty.)

So does the whole city wish they lived somewhere else?

Cleveland doesn't seem to have alot going for it these days.

The good news is that the University hired snow ploughs that clear off the roads and parking lots on campus! Those who know Case Western will tell you that this is quite a step forward for us.

We're only two days out now.

My dress rehearsal was yesterday morning. I was really quite tired when it finished, but I had been playing for three and a half hours straight, so I'm not expecting the same result on Monday.
There were a couple of friend's recitals last night, but because of the snow I decided not to go out (the wipers don't work in the winter, and I wonder how well my tires are cut out for snow...this car is from Florida, after all.)

So anyway, that's what's new from the land that is Cleve... snow and a recital. Its hard to be any more observant that this while sitting in the car watching four year olds on their way to their cello lesson stagger past in the the snow. I can't say I'm handling the lack of internet well. I'm going through withdrawal. I just hope nothing important comes up via email that I would hav to have access to right away...

Anyway, it's eleven, and the only things I've accomplished today are to shovel the walk and come down here and check my email. A lot of viola playing involved...