Saturday, July 26, 2008

MAMMA MIA

It's been a few days since I saw MAMMA MIA, but I've still got those damned songs stuck in my head. The problems with this film are so plentiful that it's almost impossible to list them all.

First off, when the hell is this movie supposed to be taking place? The lead girl is 20, supposedly conceived 20ish years ago, which would be 1988. But photos of the potential parents sure look like the 60s! Except that ABBA's songs did not exist until much later... nothing in any timeline makes sense, unless the film is supposed to be a period piece, and it's never explained if that's supposed to be the case.

Then there is the awful lighting and makeup. The three older women should sue the makeup artist. Streep looks about 100 years old... and about 50 pounds overweight! The lighting makes the whole movie look like it was shot green-screen even though it wasn't!

The plot is a lame sitcom plot. Admittedly, most musicals have stupid plots, so I would have bought the story if the rest of the movie had been better. There are WAY too many characters for them to be developed well enough to be anything more than stereotypes.

Then there's the music. ABBA had about 4 good songs. (And by good, I mean they had a decent hook and a memorable melody. It ain't great art no matter how you slice it.) Once you get past the title song and "Dancing Queen," it's a long, long wait for "Take a Chance" (which is thrown away) and "Waterloo," which makes no sense in the movie. The rest of the songs are completely forgettable, and very, very similar in sound. I think all of them are in C major.

If the music in a musical isn't worth listening to, there's no movie.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

iPhone, uPhone, weAllPhone

After waiting for several days for my iPhone to come in, I finally gave up on the AT&T Store, who apparently lied to me when they told me that I was on a waiting list for an iPhone, and went to the Glendale Apple Store last Thursday to get one.

There was a line, which surprised me a week after the release, and they told me it would be a 90 - 120 minute wait. I got a sandwich, came back and waited about 20 minutes. There were a few blips because I wanted a family plan with the other line we had started at the AT&T store, and I wanted the union discount, which they aren't supposed to do at the Apple store.

After buying it I got home, called AT&T, and got someone here in America on customer service (much to my surprise), and he fixed everything.

So far, 4 stars on the phone. It makes my Treo suck by comparison. And I liked my Treo a lot. The Internet access is great on the iPhone, and so far everything works well as advertised. It's definitely an enormous leap forward in technology.

MOZART AT THE BOWL

Tonight's concert at the bowl was probably the weakest of the season so far... and a sorry choice for me to be finishing my season. A little Mozart goes a long way, particularly when none of the pieces on the program are the "best" of Mozart.

The Overture to La Clemenza was light; as well as forgettable. Conductor Andrew Davis was fine; perhaps the best conductor of the ones I've seen this summer from a technical standpoint. However, all the music was very restrained emotionally. I know some purists insist this was the way Mozart was meant to be played, but I disagree. His melodies ache for interpretation.

Mezzo soloist Isabel Leonard did the best job of the evening, particularly on Exutate Jubilate. Her voice was absolutely gorgeous. Perhaps her only flaw is that her low notes do not project well, but then who does in the Bowl.

Piano soloist Orion Weiss showed a few moments of sympathy in the 2nd movement of the Concerto No. 17, but the whole concert felt poorly programmed. It ran long, yet was unsatisfying. The crowd was weak as well, and they will be playing the same concert on Thursday night.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

ANGELS SWEEP RED SOX

Home runs on Back-to-back pitches in the 2nd inning were not the demise of the sox. They were able to score 2 in the 3rd to tie it, then 1 in the 7th to take the lead. But Tim Wakefiled lost it in the 8th, giving up 3 runs to lose the game.

K-Rod got his 36th save of the season.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

RED SOX LOSE 2 TO ANGELS

The Angels whomped the Red Sox last night in an 11-3 runaway game, showing great offsense for a team that otherwise has lacked it.

Today it looked to be a Red Sox victory, with Josh Beckett pitching another complete game, but losing a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 7th. He ended up losing a well-pitched game, 4-2.

Looks like the Red Sox need David Ortiz more than they realized.

Friday, July 18, 2008

LANG LANG

An excellent concert at the Hollywood Bowl tonight, featuring a Chinese composer, conductor, cello soloist, and pianist.

The highlight of the night was Lang Lang performing the Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto #1.

I have mixed feelings about him as a performer. At times, he has brilliant technique, especially when playing the block-chord melody sections; his wrists were moving so fast they were a complete blur. But he has several flaws in his performance style. One is his obvious hand motions that are overly exaggerated even in the simple sections. At times I feel like I'm watching Chico Marx playing his one-fingered solos with flourishes.

But more problematic is his insistence on playing at breakneck paces; even sections that are supposed to be slow. He uses it as an excuse for sloppy playing; I think he assumes we won't notice if the notes go by quickly. The tempi are so fast that they remove musicality from the performance.

Yet the night was a pleasure. Tan Dun's Crouching Tiger Concerto was fun, and the fireworks at the end of the night were even more fun.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MENDELSSOHN & DVORÀK

Tonight's Hollywood Bowl concert had a nice mix of classics. The highlights included Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, performed by Renaud Capuçon, violin. He began the first movement a bit off (intonation is always a problem at the bowl with cold instruments), but by the time he got to the cadenza, he owned the piece. His tone was gorgeous, especially in the high register. The third movement in particular was great; the conductor, Andris Nelsons, took a ridiculously fast tempo, and Capuçon played it fluidly and flawlessly. Nelsons, on the other hand, made some of the most ridiculous faces I've seen on a conductor. He looked "special" at times.

The Dvoràk Symphony #7 was also well played by the ork, with a broad emotional range, and pulsing rhythms.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Dodgers 9, Marlins 1

Chad Billingsly pitched a career-high 13 strikeouts today. With a 6-run first inning for the Dodgers, it was good to see a clear lead from the beginning, held throughout the game. The team batted around in the first and played well through the game.

Dodgers Lose Third Straight

The Dodgers blew plenty of chances to win one against the hot-hitting Marlins, but the biggest blow came when tied in the 9th with 2 out; closer Takashi Saito had to leave the game with an apparent elbow injury.

It took the Dodgers 6 pitchers and 11 innings to lose the game. Andruw Jones struck out 5 times (although he ran out a dropped 3rd strike and made it to base once).

Kemp & Ethier each had home runs, and DeWitt had 2 hits. Small highlights in a weak loss.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

GEORGE MARTIN

One of the numerous "Fifth Beatles" spoke at USC tonight. Beatles producer George Martin, at age 82, stood for two hours and delivered a fancy PowerPoint demo about his accomplishments. I have to admit that it was impressive to hear him talk, and I did learn a few things about his work.

However, I had heard much about his tremendous ego, and assumed that those comments were laced with a bit of jealousy at both his accomplishments and his sheer luck for being in the right place at the right time. But hearing him in person, it did strike me that he was a bit full of himself. More than once in his lecture he referred to "the five of us in the band," explaining that he "played piano in the studio." I suspect he did not do very much as a musician. I have no doubt that he did a lot as a producer and engineer. But I think it's unfair of him to claim himself in the same vein as the band.

He also spent a bit of time talking about the Cirque de Soliel show LOVE that is based on the Beatles music, after complaining about contemporary artists reusing material, specifically referring to George Lucas (an odd choice while speaking at USC).

However, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear the fifth Beatle (excluding Stu Sutcliffe, Pete Best, Brian Epstein, and various other studio musicians claiming the title). And for that, it was worth it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE

Bram Tovey opened his second night as principal guest conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra with the "organ" Symphony of Saint-Saens. It's not the most exciting work for a bowl audience, but the performance was good. Tovey still has problems keeping the orchestra together, but he does have a nice emotional range.

He also suffers from diarrhea of the mouth; he won't stop talking. It's nice to say a few words about the piece, in this case Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, but he spend more time describing it than he did conducting it. The piece was well performed, but not as emotional as the other two performances I've seen at the Bowl over the last few years. It's definitely time to put that one to rest for a while.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

WALL•E

I can't get over it... the people at Pixar are geniuses, and on so many levels.

They keep outdoing themselves.

As a fan of technology, to me, the most amazing thing is that the technology pales compared to the storytelling. It took a lot of balls to write a script that has virtually no dialogue in it. The two main characters only speak about half a dozen words in the film, and the other characters speak very little. This means the story has to be told visually, which is inherently much more interesting.

I also admire the fact that the film has an extremely cynical view of our future. Perhaps it's because I fear so much of it could come true, but I like the fact that it shows an overwhelmingly negative view of humanity's future.

Oh, and then there's the incredible animation. There are many sequences involving the main characters where I forgot I was watching animation. These guys keep pushing the envelope, yet they do it in a way that integrates it so well into story, you forget how impressive it is.

I can't recommend this film enough.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

CARMINA BURANA

The Hollywood Bowl is a wonderful place. The LA Phil has risen to be one of the great orchestras of America, and the bowl may be the best outdoor venue in America for Classical music.

Tonight, the show started a little off with a piece by conductor Bramwell Tovey, which was on the weak side. Tovey seemed like a better conductor than composer. Following it was Don Juan, one of the most challenging works for orchestra, which was good but not together, and for that I can only blame the conductor.

However, after the break, it was like hearing a new orchestra on the Carmina Burana. Not only was the orchestra magnificent, the three soloists were amazing. Considering that the baritone was a last-minute replacement, he showed fantastic range and emotion. It was a great night at the bowl, even though there was a sprinkling of rain at the beginning of the evening.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Kuroda Near-Perfect Game

Hiroki Kuroda pitched another fantastic game at Dodger Studium tonight, taking a perfect game into the 8th inning. Except for a lead-off double in that inning, Kuroda would have had a perfect game, striking out 6 along the way. Had he achieved perfection, he would have joined a lofty club. Only one other Dodger has ever pitched a perfect game, and that was Sandy Koufax in 1965.

Nomar hit a 2-run homer to give the Dodgers the lead in the 5th. Blake DeWitt had 3 hits, and Kemp had a hit and an RBI.

But the night belonged to Kuroda, who has turned into the pitcher that Dodger fans had hoped for. With the victory, the Dodgers are now tied for the division lead with Arizona.

Evelyn Glennie: How to listen to music with your whole body

I'm not sure I agree with everything she says, but this is a fascinating essay by the world's most famous deaf musician (since Beethoven).


Sunday, July 06, 2008

BUGS BUNNY ON BROADWAY

For years I had avoided the annual show at the Hollywood Bowl called BUGS BUNNY ON BROADWAY, assuming that it would be mostly show tunes. It turns out that Warners was apparently afraid of scaring people off by calling it WHAT'S OPERA, DOC? or some other more appropriate title.

The first half of the show had many great cartoons, including ONE FROGGY EVENING, and culminated with RABBIT OF SEVILLE, which was by far the highlight of the evening. In fact, the second half of the show was a bit of a letdown, with only the Wagnerian WHAT'S OPERA, DOC? living up to the level of Act I. I can't remember the last time I laughed this much.

The show has been playing for 19 years and will go on hiatus next year, to come back the following year in a new incarnation. I highly recommend the show.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

DODGERS AT HOLLYWOOD BOWL

Tonight my two favorite things about Los Angeles combined for a special show: The Hollywood Bowl celebrated the Dodgers' 50 years in Los Angeles.

It was a lot of fun, although it was hardly the musical experience we usually see at the bowl with our classical series tickets.

Randy Newman was present to sing "I Love L.A." He also conducted the orchestra for music from The Natural. Nancy Bea played the organ on several pieces, and Tommy Lasorda gave a great pep talk to the crowd, then led the 17,000 present in a rousing rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

They also sang two songs I love; "It's a Beautiful Day for a Ballgame" and Danny Kaye's "D-O-D-G-E-R-S." Alas, it lacked the Lego animation, and the singer was really annoying and brash. Vin Scully read "Gibby at the Bat" (alas, he was in San Fransisco, so his performance was recorded).

The Dodgers beat the Giants today, and with the D'backs losing, that puts the Dodgers 1/2 game out of first place!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008