Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sex & the City 2 Movie Review: 2 out of 4 Jimmy Choo’s

Movie sequels are great when the first installment has left you wanting or needing more - when everything in the first movie hasn’t been tied up in a nice bow, and there are questions left unanswered. So why a Sex and the City 2, when everything about the first movie was tying up all the loose ends?

I was skeptical about the need for a second installment of Sex and the City, but I went to see it today on Opening Day anyway. Why? Because even though all the answers were given in the first one, I love the characters. I couldn’t imagine not knowing what Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda were up to and where else they had to go. It would be like dropping my best friend right in the middle of our friendship for no other reason than because everything was good just how it was and I felt we’d experienced everything there was to experience in our friendship. Oh - and I didn’t want to miss the outrageous clothing and shoes. 

What I liked:
  1. The characters stay true to themselves and they don’t mess with perfection.
  2. Samantha’s character embraces her age without depressing me. ( I thought her plotline in the first movie wasn’t great. They took a fun character and made you want to slap her around by the third scene.)
  3. The ladies get out of New York and show us another world we haven’t seen before. (One of the things I always loved about the series was that they showed me a side of New York I never got to see. They do the same for us with the Middle East.)
  4. Carrie and Big do not try to climb out of their self-perceived marriage rut by having children.
  5. Sarah Jessica lost the trademark chin mole, making her look more like Glenda the Good Witch than the wicked one.

What I didn’t like:
  1. Not as much emotion. There isn’t the same sentimentality of the first one, although I concede that if they’d carried that into the sequel, it might have been a little one-trick pony. Carrie has another trauma, but not on the scale of the first one. Big leaving Carrie at the altar gave me a lump in my throat and everything about it was believable. Without spoiling the plot, Carrie’s trauma in this one doesn’t measure up and feels contrived.
  2. The Charlotte plot-line. I know they had to give her one, but I had a hard time feeling sorry for her and her family problems when she has such a blessed life – like a full-time nanny and a full-time husband.
  3. Not quite as funny as the first one. There were many chuckle moments, but no belly laughs for me.
  4. The gay wedding – I was promised a gown bigger and better than the Vivian Westwood Carrie wore in the first movie for her failed wedding. All I got was a white suit. And Carrie’s “hat” in the wedding scene was laughable.  Just saying.
  5. Not as many “sexy” shockers – In the first movie, we saw actual penis (shower scene), a humping dog, someone pooing in her pants, an unkempt bikini line, and almost full front nudity from Miranda.
Sexiest Moment:
The four ladies coming over the sand dune with the Sex and the City theme song playing Middle Eastern style. Don’t know why, just a good moment. Like their friendship transcending culture, space and time. Or maybe it was just that I like that tune and the clothes rocked. One of those.

Least Sexy Moment:
Samantha in the market at the end, with all the condoms. (Don’t want to say more and spoil.) Why was this my least favorite moment? It scared me!  I wanted to be right there, pulling her away and throwing some clothes on her.  It gave me flashbacks to girls-night-outs when I had to keep my girlfriends from doing something monumentally stupid.

So, that’s my first ever movie review.  I give it 2 out of 4 Jimmy Choos. (Note: Any Jimmy Choo shoes are great in my ranking system, unless there are no Jimmy Choo’s at all.) Not quite as good as the first, but holds its own. I predict regular fans will not really like it, hardcore fans will like it but not as much as the first, and the box office will still love it because it's got more potential than most other things out right now (besides Iron Man 2, which I should review, too, because I saw that one last week).

I would write more, but seeing Sex & the City 2 on opening day was my birthday gift to self – and my birthday still has some life left in it!

Monday, May 10, 2010

5 Albums/ 5 Months - Music Reviews by guest author Stephen Sharbatz

May is now upon us and it seems like a perfectly suitable arbitrary time to assess this year’s music releases thus far.  There are a lot of good albums to consider, but there have only been a few albums that I have come across this year that could potentially get my vote as album of the year (my vote is very influential you know).  Here are my top five of 2010 along with a few other categories.  Please share your picks, I am constantly searching for new favorites.
5.  She & Him – Volume II
This album is a little tough to recommend as one of the year’s best.  Despite critical kudos, I still find it a tad embarrassing to enjoy She & Him, I would almost categorize them as a guilty pleasure.  While M. Ward delivers stellar production that is perfectly suited to singer Zooey Deschenel’s somewhat limited, but altogether enchanting, voice, the result is musical confection.  Deschenel’s lyrics could sometimes be described as trite, saccharine, and simplistic, which is the main reason for my subdued enthusiasm for the album.  Deschenel’s saving grace is that she comes off a sweetly na├»ve rather than amateurish or out of her element.  As I mentioned, the album is ultimately ear candy; it is okay in moderation so long as you are getting your nutrients elsewhere and exercising regularly.  Fortunately for She & Him (as well as their fans) sometimes music need only sound pleasing to the ear, in which case Volume II ranks as one of the year’s best.

4.  First Aid Kit – Big Black & the Blue
The first LP from this Swedish sister act follows in the storied tradition of Swedish indie folk-pop.  The lyrics are very rich and somehow convey a wealth of life experience; no small feat for a pair of teenagers.  The real draw, however, are the lovely melodies that the sisters create together.  The new LP continues right where the debut EP Drunken Trees left off, it is difficult to separate the two.  This is not a criticism, this is a sigh of relief that the group has not yet felt the need to change their style and they have not had the all too common “sophomore slump”. 

3.  Avi Buffalo
Another group of teenagers, this time from the United States, offer a solid debut LP.  While First Aid Kit sing songs of love that seem beyond their years, Avi Buffalo focuses on songs of lust that are pretty much age appropriate.  To accompany the teenaged preoccupation with fornication, Avi Buffalo delivers carefully crafted and skillful pop arrangements that both belie and embody youthful spirit.  The songs on this album are catchy and fun; the perfect soundtrack for a summer road trip.  A little Shins-y, sometimes Stars-y, Avi Buffalo surpass all other U.S. teen groups.  My only complaint is that I would like to see front man Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg make a little more space for the wonderful female voice of Rebecca Colemen.  Top tracks for me include Truth Sets In and One Last, songs that feature both vocalists equally.  With a little more maturity in their lyrics, Avi Buffalo could be an indie mainstay for years to come.

2.  The Watson Twins – Talking to You, Talking to Me
Another sister act in my top five, this time twin sisters Leigh and Chandra Watson.  This is the second LP release for The Watson Twins, but they have produced a lot of music over the past several years, starting with their contribution to Jenny Lewis’ solo debut Rabbit Fur Coat.  While The Watson Twins have always dabbled in folk, country and pop (and continue to do so) the most striking element of Talking to You, Talking to Me is the new, relentlessly vicious soul sound that dominates the album.  Songs like Harpeth River and Midnight may sound somewhat familiar in the way that most soul songs do, but the delivery is like a heavyweight punch to gut.  The voices, keyboards, guitars and drums provide a deep aching that rattles the body and soul.  When they let up just a little on Forever Me, the result is sweet, sultry and heartbreaking.  I do not think that I could make it through an entire album of songs like this, and the twins must know that and there are a couple of pop tunes and songs with lighter harmonies to provide a nice balance.  If you have any sort of emotion bottled up, Talking to You, Talking to Me provides a truly cathartic listening experience.

1.  Beach House – Teen Dream – 
This album was released on January 26, 2010 and that was the day that it became album of the year.  Over four months later this album is still getting heavy rotation in my various music-playing devices.  While it is still early, I do not expect a better album to come along for quite some time.  In my opinion, Teen Dream is an instant classic and the bar has been set for any other artists that have designs on the top spot for 2010.  I had given Beach House’s previous releases a shot, but they did not draw me in.  Teen Dream hooked me immediately with Zebra and did not let go for the rest of the album.  Teen Dream is a fitting title for this collection of ethereal songs.  My wife commented that the album sounded depressing.  As a general rule I prefer up tempo songs and I too will dismiss songs that are simply too slow, dreary or depressing; but this album is far too nuanced to be described by any single term.  While I will argue against the depressing tag, I will say that the album is very emotive.  The best way for me to describe the emotional rush you will experience while listening to Teen Dream is to liken it to a strong memory.  The memory may be good or bad, but the fact that it is in the past gives you a better perspective with which to analyze it.  If remembering a first love for instance, you might focus on a happy moment and then start to feel down because it may not have worked out; you might then chuckle at yourself for being so young and different from today.  You may catch yourself wondering “what if” before appreciating what actually came to be.  Each song on Teen Dream can take you through the full gauntlet of emotions, perhaps touching on depression, but there is too much buried in the sounds to stop at any one emotion for too long.  Singer Victoria Legrand’s unique voice rides the dreamy instrumentation expertly; her husky intonation smoothes out beautifully as she delivers bigger notes, creating sublime crescendos in each song.  With most albums, even if I like them, there are a couple of standout tracks that become my favorites and the rest quickly fade away.  With Teen Dream, six of the ten songs have been my favorite at any given time; none of the tracks are disposable.  This is a rarity these days.  

Other quality albums released this year:
  • July Flame by Laura Veirs
  • Plastic Beach by Gorillaz
  • Wu Massacre by Meth, Ghost and Rae
  • Forgiveness Rock Record by Broken Social Scene
Biggest Sophomore Slump:

Amy MacDonald – A Curious Thing


Here Lies Love by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim – A double album dedicated to Imelda Marcos, really?  This is just a truly bizarre release but I cannot dismiss it because it features an amazing collection of female singers including Natalie Merchant, Tori Amos, Santi White, Sharon Jones, Florence Welsch, Nellie McKay and many more.  The tone seems very positive; I do not really detect any sarcasm.  The title track features Florence Welsch and is a highlight for me.  Please give it a try and then you can explain the whole concept to me.  They know she was exiled from the Philippines, right?

Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant – Another double album, this one from one of my all-time favorites.  I cannot over-emphasize how much I love Natalie Merchant, but a double album consisting entirely of lyrics taken from obscure poems, really?  Only a handful of the songs are truly listenable here and while the concept is intriguing, the result is like a master’s thesis for art school.  This is impressive on one hand, but on the other, well, I will just say that it has a limited appeal.

Biggest Disappointment:

Have One on Me by Joanna Newsom – My explanation will require an entirely separate blog entry:
stay tuned.

A Few Artists to Watch For in the Coming Months:

  • Samantha Crain
  • The Roots
  • Wolf Parade
  • Stars
  • Sarah Harmer
Stephen Sharbatz lives in the Detroit area and is a relatively new father.  Stephen studied media ecology at New York University, has written album reviews for The Michigan Journal and was content editer for the official website of The Wu-Tang Clan.  Stephen's favorite artists include: Neko Case, MF DOOM, Feist and The Cardigans.Check out his new blog: 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nashville Under Water - An update from guest blogger Kymberly Bryson

In light of recent developments in Nashville, I'm reposting Kymberly Bryson's previous guest blog entry along with an update:

As many of you may have heard, Nashville is under a disaster. May 2-3, 2010 we received downpours of rain. The Cumberland River exceeded its limit causing water to flood many areas. Interstate 24 flooded causing people to have to evacuate their cars. They watched their cars being covered by water while a building from a nearby school floated by.

Also damaged was the Opryland Hotel....a favorite to visit and stay at while in town. The Opry Mills Mall had 10 ft of water inside it. The Grand Ole Opry was a heartbreaker for many here in town. It was flooded as well. So much musical history and we're not even sure the full extent of the damage inside. 

[Photo borrowed from Anderson Cooper 360's blog on CNN.]

People have lost their homes, belongings, everything. Yet, as a community we have come together. People are lending their helping hands in all ways possible. It's amazing to hear about it and see the action taking place. Nashville wasn't prepared for this kind of disaster. Yet we are going to make it through. It's been estimated that the damage is over $1 billion. This isn't to be taken lightly.

If you'd like to help the Nashville Community please give. So many people could use the support. Vince Gill will be hosting a Flood Relief Telethon tonight [May , 2010] from 7 to 10pm CST. Proceeds will help the Salvation Army, Red Cross, and Second Harvest Food Bank. If you're not a local, you can view the program at Also check out to make donations. 

Nashville thanks you for your efforts and support, and so do I.

God Bless,
Kymberly Bryson

It all starts with a song....That's a line you'll hear in Nashville, Tennessee. Filled with honkey tonks, Nashville is known as Music City. Most people in town are aspiring singer/songwriter types like myself, Kymberly Bryson. We're all here to be heard. A good song, the right connections and soon you could be on your way. I've been fortunate to play at some great venues - Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar, Legends, Second Fiddle, The Stage - along with traveling with a band to different states. It's all been a blessing.

Currently, I'm working on a cable tv project, singing with the band Beacon Hill, and performing at Buck Wild Saloon as a karaoke jockey. I've met some great people in this town. There's nothing like a country crowd. Performing for them is always entertaining. Everyone is very welcoming. But don't be fooled, not everyone walks around in a cowboy hat and boots. From business suits to chains on jeans, Country music brings many different people together. And keep your eyes open as you walk the streets of lower Broadway. You may very well see some of Nashville's finest. Blake Shelton and Jamey Johnson have both been spotted around town along with many others. And you can't forget about the regulars. When I work at Buck Wild Saloon there are several people that come back again and again to see my show. Some join me by dancing on the bar and others get up and sing a song. It's always a pleasure to see their smiling faces along with others that stop by when they are in town.

Nashville is really a great city. From the Grand Ole Opry to the Ryman Auditorium, you're surrounded by dreams coming true and the legend behind country music. So if you're looking for a small town with a big city feel...come check out Nashville. We'll be glad to have ya'll. Oh, and be sure to look for me...Kymberly Bryson.

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