Saturday, January 30, 2010



No, it isn't. It's about 20 minutes of sitcom material stretched out to ten times its normal length, mostly with dialogue scenes that would never actually happen in real life. (I'm supposed to believe that three adult children in their 20s are all crammed into one bed listening to their mother talk about her divorce??) It's only been an hour or so since I watched the movie and thankfully I've already forgotten most of it.

About the only thing that makes this movie watchable is the cast. Meryl Streep is excellent, and so is Steve Martin. Unfortunately his character is pretty one-dimensional. Alec Baldwin is very likable but his character his harder to judge since no man of his age would act like the character in this film. It's pretty clearly a divorced woman's fantasy. He does his best in an otherwise ridiculous scenario.

This is a chick flick that is insulting to chicks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Well, I thought tonight was the last night, but it looks like there's a whole nutha week ahead, including the night in Denver. That's too bad, as I'm sick of this show dragging on and on. Tonight the only person worth watching was the fat black guy who was very likeable but as a singer was only mediocre. I've yet to see anyone I was really excited about. The alleged jazz singer was only okay as well, but maybe she will get better in the next round. A lot of singers get more comforatable after the first a cappella audition.


The bar on animation has been set very high by Pixar, but MONSTERS V. ALIENS falls low on any scale. It's a kids film that isn't even good for kids. The writing is terrible. After the whole film, I have no idea who the main character is. She has no backstory and no purpose and is completely unsympathetic.

The character animation is weak, as are the characters themselves. Unlike 9, which I watched last night, the casting here was terrible. Even actors I like were completely wasted in the film. About the only good ting I can say about the film is that it sounded good.

Can't recommend this mess.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


It's always surprising to me when they go to a city where the music industry is strong, yet they can't find any good singers. Don't any of the talented people bother auditioning for the show? Or do the producers weed them out because it would not be interesting to watch real talent from the beginning?

I doubt anyone from this episode will make it to the top 12. At least not the way they were presented tonight. Even the few that they were raving about were boring.

Tomorrow is, thankfully, the last night before the go to "Hollywood."

Monday, January 25, 2010


9 is an animated film, not to be confused with the musical. It's based on an animated short that was nominated for an Oscar.

It's a very strange film, much closer to an experimental film than a traditional narrative. Very little happens in the film. It's also very dark, taking place in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is gone but machines have taken on a life of their own. The main character appears to be the 9th in a series of puppet-like robots that are sentient. 9 is born in the opening of the movie. He has no idea what is going on and learns about this dark world through his experiences.

In many ways, 9 is the audience. We are exactly the same as he is, thrown into this universe in medias res, and we try to grasp at tiny clues to establish the logic of this bizarre world. I like this. It assumes the audience is an active participant in the movie's storytelling, and does not insult the audience the way certain other mainstream movies do.

There's a lot to like in this movie. The animation, and the whole visual style, are amazing. The voice casting is magnificent. It was not distracting stunt-casting, but every voice fit perfectly. The sound design was great. There was a lot of use of quiet in the film, yet there were also great action sequences. Each character was unique, even though they all looked like the same type of puppet. The score was very good.

Unfortunately, this is not exactly a mainstream movie. There are almost no humans in the movie. There's very little plot or action. Even after it's over, there's a lot to discuss about what happened in the film. It's an intelligent film, for adults, but it's animated. All of this is pretty much box office death, yet it is one of the most original films I've seen in a while. If you haven't seen this, please rent it, and support filmmakers who try to do something different. I think you'll find yourself rewarded.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I'm not sure this movie (2012) is even worth reviewing. Anyone who had wanted to see the film has probably seen it by now. The level of absurdity in the plot is beyond description. But there are a few points I feel can be made.

I feel it is very disturbing that audiences find entertainment in watching world destruction. 9/11 just wasn't enough for some people. There were several points in the movie where all I could think about were people who died in real life. The fact that the Haiti earthquake just happened didn't help the viewing of this film.

As far as technique is concerned, the film looked and sounded great. Especially in the opening of the movie, there were a number of effective sound moments. In the destruction sequences, most of the visual effects were excellent.

John Cusack brings a lot of likability to the film, and some of the early writing made me care about ancillary characters enough to carry me into the third act. But the film is so derivative that you could probably make a game out of listing all the other films referenced throughout. And I don't mean good films being references in a smart way. I mean many of the awkward moments from the original POSEIDON ADVENTURE were replicated in the final act of the film. Not to mention THE TOWERING INFERNO and various other 70s disaster crapfests.

I'm not sure why the filmmakers found it necessary to kill off the Russian characters one by one, other than the fact that the director was German. I did care about those characters at least as much as the other ones.

In the end, it's just another big dumb action film that insults the audience.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Don't get me wrong, Mozart was a genius. He composed a number of pieces that move me no matter how many times I hear them. Yet, an evening of all Mozart is tough to pull off, especially when three of the four pieces are not among his best work. There is a certain sameness to the music of the high Classical era that makes it redundant after a while.

Tonight's concert had several problems. The first was the choice of material. The "Chaconne" from Idomeneo is not one of his best works. I suspect it works better when there are dancers. La Clemenza di Tito might be a great late opera, but the Overture is somewhat messy, lacking the structure that we know from Mozart's greatest works.

The feature piece of the first half was the Piano Concerto #18, performed by Benedetto Lupo. Mozart wrote 27 piano concerti. Unfortunately many of them were banged out over a three year period, and the quality varies drastically. This is not one of his more interesting works. There is one inherent problem in the Classical solo works: the individuality of the performer is often a slave to the style and the strict nature of the music. Lupo did not show much in terms of interpretive skills, with the exception being his wonderful read of the slow movement. Undoubtedly the best section of the piece, the lyrical nature of the piece allowed Lupo to show his melodic skills.

I would love to see more artists improvise their cadenzas. It would breathe more life into music that seems to have become academic in nature. I am also annoyed at the contemporary practice that frowns on people applauding between movements. This was not the case in Mozart's time, and the interplay between performer and audience would inherently make the music more involving.

What I had expected to be the highlight of the evening, and the main reason that I attended the concert, was Mozart's brilliant Symphony #40 in G Minor. This is one of my favorite pieces. From a compositional standpoint, it is absolutely perfect. It is full of interesting and unique musical ideas. (This may be the happiest piece ever written in a minor key.) It's a shame that it was ruined by weak conducting.

Bernard Labadie is the most annoying conductor I have seen. He is the stereotypical example of over-conducting. Both of his hands are constantly in full motion, even when completely unnecessary. He gave entrance cues for every single musical line of every single instrument throughout the entire evening. My wife gave up and closed her eyes for most of the evening. Mozart does NOT need this hand waving. It made me think back to one of the first concerts where I saw Jeffrey Kahane conduct. In mid-performance, he stopped conducting entirely and leaned back off the podium. He trusted his orchestra. This is a lesson Labadie could follow.

Mozart is so well-known that there is no reason to give entry cues to most performers (especially on the G Minor!). Labadie needs to trust his orchestra more. (This also points out that he was using a score. Why? He's supposed to be a Mozart specialist!)

In addition to his over-conducting, Labadie had tempo choices on the G Minor that were so poor that they ruined the evening for me. He took the second movement, an andante, at an allegretto tempo. This robbed the lyrical nature of the movement of any meaning. The orchestra desperately tried to slow down throughout the entire movement. Even worse, he took the minuet at a scherzo tempo, gutting it of any rhythmic importance. (The hemiola stops feeling like a hemiola when you conduct each measure in one!)

Taking the previous two movements so quickly forced him to rush the final movement as well. This one stood up the best. This was also the only time in the evening where I saw the conductor give any interpretation whatsoever. If he had stopped using his left hand exclusively for cuing, he would have been able to give more interpretation throughout the night to the orchestra. I also noticed that the orchestra hardly ever looked at the conductor. They were on auto-pilot because they knew they would get nothing from him. (This has not been the case with other conductors, even on repertoire standards.)

It's a shame, I really wanted to enjoy this concert. I hope for the orchestra's sake that they are not considering Labadie as a replacement for Kahane.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


"My pantz done split" pretty much says it all. The only moment worth watching in the show.

The judges are letting too many attractive women through on their looks. Even Simon is not being critical enough. They really need a better judge than Kara to round things out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


This show needs to get to Hollywood, stat. It's just boring. Shania Twain was too easy of a judge, and the bad singers trying to get on TV are not interesting, and getting redundant.

Monday, January 18, 2010

NAMM Wrapup

NAMM is the biggest trade show related to musical instruments, hardware and software. This year it was slightly smaller than the last few years, but is still one of the biggest shows in the country.

With the downturn in the economy, there was not a lot of new stuff to look at. Roland moved their setup off the main floor and into the old dome, which made them looks smaller. I'm not sure they were showing anything new.

The pro audio section had a lot of exhibitors. Handheld recorders seem to be popping up all over the place. Major hardware manufacturers did not have anything new to show.

Apple did not attend.

I'm always happy to see the number of booths related to acoustic musical instruments. For a while the show had become almost exclusively electronic, but now we're back to real music, which is heartening, although I really feel the drum manufacturers should be moved off site. Pianos have their own separate area upstairs, can't they do the same with drums?

The show is a lot of fun. I missed Day 1 as I arrived that evening. I think next year I will try to be there for Day 1 as it is the easiest day to get around. I've learned to avoid Saturday completely, it's too busy. Sunday is OK for avoiding crowds, but it's a short day and many reps leave the show early, so if you want to talk to people it can be tough.

This year we had three students attend from UC Denver. One was given both a NAMM Scholarship and a Presidential Award, another was given a NAMM scholarship, and a third was given a SPARS scholarship. This is a particularly good group of students, I'm very happy to have had a great lunch with them and talk about the show.

NAMM has a foundation which supports education. I attended their awards ceremony and their faculty mixer, both of which were excellent events. I hope to continue this relationship with our school as it is very beneficial to the students.


UP IN THE AIR is a very good movie that is marred only by a weak ending. The last ten minutes of the film are the only problem. A predictable plot twist followed by some pointless meandering undercut an otherwise great film. All of the performances are very good, most especially the two women characters. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick steal every scene they are in from George Clooney, which is note easy to do. The script is very smart, and is very timely as it deals with the massive unemployment issues that the country is dealing with.

I recommend the film, but I don't see this as best picture.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


INVICTUS is one of the best films I've seen this year. I was pretty surprised at just how good the performances were. Morgan Freeman is a sure thing for an Oscar nomination as Nelson Mandela. Although I've always respected him as an actor, I have always felt he never used his voice in a role in a dynamic way. In this film he has spent a lot of time learning the dialect and gives a much deeper performance than he has in any other film. Even Matt Damon is very good at his respective South African dialect in the film.

I'm not sure why this film has not gotten more attention, both from critics and the box-office. Mandela's story is certainly moving, and it's a great sports story as well. I suppose the only criticisms you could make of the film are that it does not explore Mandela or his history as much as one might want from a political film. Although Freeman is excellent in the role, he is painted a bit one-dimensionally in the film, perhaps too perfect to believe as human. (There is only one passing reference to his family.)

Damon's character is never well-developed, and the third act drags a bit as it shifts from political film to sports film. I imagine most Americans have no desire to watch a lengthy rugby match, which is a bit confusing to people who do not know the game. Even with plenty of expository dialogue, the game was still confusing, and too much time was spent on trying to make it exciting.

But these are minor quibbles. Americans can learn a lot about Mandela's teachings in the film, and that alone should make it required viewing. I highly recommend this film to everyone.


I'm the last person in the world I expected to hear say this, but I was pleasantly surprised by TRANFORMERS 2. It helped seeing it in the theater where they mixed it, the film sounded (and looked) fantastic.

As far as the plot goes, I think the film was about two breasts bouncing in slow motion, and stuff exploding. At least that's what I remember. Not that I'm complaining, I like both those things. And the explosions.

I was actually engaged for most of the first half of the movie. But there were a lot of plot weaknesses, some incomprehensible leaps in logic, and a very slow third act that seemed to drag. (I sincerely feel that mainstream movies should have a two-hour time limit strictly enforced.) There was a lot that could have been cut out (or at least down). The humor in particular did not suit the film very well. (Why were the parents even in the movie? Contractual obligation?)

But it's hard to argue with $835M gross, clearly the film has an audience, and it's the spectacle that succeeds here. Props to the sound crew on the film, they did great work.

Friday, January 15, 2010


CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS is a funny, smart, inventive, sweet movie that was overshadowed by a couple of other big animated releases this year. The script is very well done, with plenty of stuff for both kids and adults, and has a lot of nice layers and nuances to it. The animation is pretty good.

There's a nice subtext to the film that it is sweet for both kids and adults, that the two main characters are geeks who end up liking each other. The female character has been trained to act like a ditz because people expect that from a pretty girl, but in the end learns it's OK to channel her inner geek. The cast is very good as well.

I'm not a big fan of 3D, I'll write more about that at some point. This movie did not make the best use of it but at least it was not distracting.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I'm about as far away from the target audience for this film as you could imagine. I'm not a fan of Broadway musicals, and if I had to pick the most annoying musical ever, A CHORUS LINE keeps my "urge to kill... RISING."

So EVERY LITTLE STEP, a documentary about the revival of Chorus Line was something I dreaded watching. I mean, it's a documentary that shows the audition process about a musical about the audition process. (To top it all off, afterwards I watched AMERICAN IDOL.)

But the movie was a fascinating watch. Unlike AI, there were no stinkers in the entire audition process. In fact in many cases it was tough to pick because there were so many good voices. There are a number of moving performances as well, including one young man whose audition brought all the judges to tears, and, I suspect, many in the audience of the movie. It's definitely worth a watch, especially for singers


AMERICAN IDOL was a lot more tolerable tonight. At 90 minutes it was much better. Atlanta had a surprisingly good group of singer, but without question, the big hit of the night was the 62 year-old man singing "Pants on the Ground," and doing the splits.

It's an instant hit!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


AMERICAN IDOL Season 9 began tonight. It made me miss Boston. At two hours, the show was probably double the tolerable level for bad singers. Simon is getting out at the right time, the show is getting old. I don't miss Paula, but I don't like Kara and "V" Beckham was a waste of time. It will be interesting when Ellen joins them in Hollywood.

There were a few good singers on the show, most notably the young lady from Berklee. But in these early auditions it's very hard to judge. The show really starts in Hollywood.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Leila Josefowicz and the CSO

I'm going to come right out and say it:

The Colorado Symphony is better than the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Don't get me wrong, I worked with the musicians of the LA Phil on many film scores, and they are among the best musicians in the world. But after a season and a half with the CSO, I'm going to say that they are even better than the LA Phil. Tonight's concert with the Colorado Symphony was magnificent.

The evening started unevenly with Mussorgsky's orchestration of NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN. As Steve Ledbetter's notes point out, there were multiple versions of this piece, with the most famous version being Rimsky-Korsakov's edited and re-orchestrated version. Until tonight I had not heard this original version live, only on recording. Now I am prepared to say that Rimsky's version is far better. He is a master orchestrator. Not only is his version more flashy, it is simply better balanced. At times it was almost impossible to hear the violins on the Mussorgsky version.

But the night jumped forward on the Prokofiev Violin Concerto #1. Soloist Leila Josefowicz played the crap out of this piece. Admittedly it is difficult for everyone, the soloist, orchestra, conductor, and the audience. It's not atonal, but very challenging harmonically. The violin part is beyond difficult. There is one section in the second movement which seems like endless 16th notes, followed by seemingly impossible harmonics. She played it flawlessly. I did not hear a technical mistake anywhere in her performance (although one of the bass players dropped his bow in one of the more difficult sections).

Her encore was even more amazing, a section of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Lachen Verlernt (Laughter Unlearned). The girl can shred!

The second half of the program was Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Guest conductor Edward Gardner showed why he is rumored to be the next main conductor of the CSO. I've heard this piece innumerable times, yet he brought out new lines in the piece. He played the scherzo so fast I thought it would make the finale anti-climactic, yet he still had the orchestra reach new climaxes. Parts of the 7th are perhaps among Beethoven's best writing. The structure is nearly perfect, particularly the slow movement, which was so popular it was frequently used to replace movements in other symphonies. It also has the best of Beethoven's counterpoint. If I ever forget reasons to live, listening to Beethoven again gives life meaning. No matter how many times I hear this piece, it's still brilliant.

I'm not sure Garnder is the perfect choice to replace Jeffrey Kahane. His conducting on the first two pieces was not perfect, and I think a more emotional conductor with wider musical range might be better. But he certainly made a case with the Beethoven.

Friday, January 08, 2010


I've been going to CES for two decades now.

This year's show was smaller than last year's but still huge and busy. The area where I noticed the biggest difference was in the North Hall, which was not full, and a large area was dedicated to iPod accessories. These looked like vendors who would have been at the MacWorld expo except that it has been moved to February and Apple is not attending.

3D TVs were definitely the biggest thing at the show. I tried a few but I'm not the right audience for this. I don't get 3D at all. I see its popularity with Avatar, but I don't think the home market is ready for it. HD is finally getting a footing, and you're asking people to throw out their monitors and buy 3D sets? In this market? BluRay hasn't had market penetration yet, and never may, as downloads are become more and more popular.

There are several new e-readers, but they are not ready for release yet and won't be for months at least. They do look interesting though.

HD monitors are looking better than ever and are getting thinner (is that really necessary?).

Google's phone was not announced at the show, and was not the iPhone killer predicted. It has voice recognition. Other than that, it's an iPhone.

Otherwise, there's not a lot of new technologies happening. I think most companies are afraid of the market and are holding back expenses.

Monday, January 04, 2010


CRAZY HEART is a lovely way to cleanse the palette after last night's movie debacle. It's nice that a movie shot on a very small budget can look about 1000 times better than a movie shot on a Hollywood mega-budget. The cinematography is great.

But of course it's all about the characters in this case, and the performances are wonderful, even the minor characters are well cast. Jeff Bridges is Oscar bait, and maybe Maggie Gyllenhaal as well. The movie sounded great as well. Unfortunately on its tiny release it has grossed only $700k. Please go see this movie. It's so much better than the other crap out there. Support low-budget independent filmmakers.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


How can you possibly screw up the story of John Dillinger as badly as PUBLIC ENEMIES? He's one of the most fascinating characters of the 20th century! Just about everything about this adaptation is horrendous. Starting with the screenplay, which was full of holes and dialogue that sounded like it was randomly taken cliches from other movies.

Then add terrible acting – has Christian Bale ever been this wooden before? Why does Dillinger's girlfriend have a French accent? Even Johnny Depp seems like there was no director on the set.

And then there is the technical. The movie, as is typical for a Mann film, has the worst dialogue mix I've heard since... his last film. I'm sorry guys, I know you're pros, but someone has to tell the director that if you can't understand the dialogue, you stop giving a crap about the movie.

And the picture. What happened to Dante Spinotti? This movie looks like it was shot through somebody's screen door on their porch. The whole movie looks like crap. Everything is a close-up, so you get no geographic orientation in any scenes, and everything is so dark that all the characters look alike. I actually stopped the movie because I thought something was wrong with my BluRay player.

The music was also awful. A bizarre mix of period-accurate Billy Holiday and period-inaccurate Diana Krall (whom I normally love), plus score by Elliot Goldenthal, who is normally great, but sounds like it was temped with THE GREEN MILE, UNTOUCHABLES, and the Soggy Bottom Boys.

I can't recommend this mess at all.

Friday, January 01, 2010


For the last two New Year's Eves, my wife & I have attended the CSO's New Year's Eve in Vienna concert. It's a blast. The orchestra is wonderful, and the music is a lot of fun. The associate conductor, Scott O’Neil, handled the baton for the evening. Overall he did very well, even though he tends to bury his nose in the score a bit too much. (You really don't know "Die Fledermaus"?)

The first couple of pieces were a little sloppy, but by the Tchaikovsky piano concerto (featuring 18 year-old award winner Leann Ostercamp), the orchestra sounded as great as they always do. The soloist was very good; she was very mature and had a unique interpretation. I like the way she played with time. Some of the parts that are normally rushed were more clearly executed than I have heard. She also had a nice touch on the quieter section. However, she also had techinical problems playing the block chords. We're living in an age where we expect technical perfection from performers.

The "Radetzky March" was conducted with aplomb by the highest bidder at an auction held earlier in the year. He had the style of Elmer Fudd and was quite funny. It's an early concert, which gives you time to celebrate on your own afterward. It's a great way to start the New Year!