Sunday, June 29, 2008


All Pixar movies are not created equal…some are better than others…but they all have been engaging, wonderfully crafted entertainments. Everyone who is a fan of their remarkable output will have their own personal favorites (I’m especially fond of Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Monsters Inc., for example.)

Wall-E, the newest Pixar gem, doesn’t rank up with the best of their movies but it is a charmer nevertheless. In the future Earth is such a garbage dump that the people have long since abandoned it for generations of pampered life about gigantic space luxury liners leaving robots to clean up the mess. 700 years later only one intrepid little robot, Wall-E (“Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class”), is dutifully working on the daunting task with a seeming indestructible cockroach as his only companion and a treasured videotape of the musical Hello Dolly as his favorite entertainment.

Wall-E’s routine…collecting and compacting garbage into cubes and collecting bits of stuff he finds interesting…is turned upside down by the arrival of Eve (“Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator”), a sleek robot from the Axiom, one of the aforementioned luxury liners, tasked with looking for signs of life on Earth. Wall-E has indeed found such a sign and the action shifts to outer space as he tags along with the ship taking Eve back to the Axiom (which is run by robots and computers leaving the humans as pudgy, pampered people who don’t think, walk, or do much of anything for themselves.)

The visuals are, as is par for the course with Pixar offerings, dazzling and the story…romance and action with a dose of fairly heavy-handed social commentary (the mega-corporation which left trash all over the Earth and which runs the luxury liners is a not so subtle allusion to Wal-Mart)…zips along nicely.

Wall-E and Eve have limited vocabularies and there is almost no dialogue in the first half-hour or so but it is still very easy to follow the story; in the Sunday morning showing I went to there were a lot of small children and none of them got bored or restless watching the movie.

Wall-E is a grand little entertainment as is Presto, the hilarious short (a Bugs Bunny-esque battle of wills between a magician and his rabbit) that precedes the main feature…all in all, yet another winner for Pixar.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Duffy's Rockferry / Adele's 19

Retro soul seems to be in good hands thanks to the young women of the United Kingdom. Like the great Dusty Springfield back in the day and the troubled but undeniably talented Amy Winehouse in more recent times, soulful divas are carrying the torch with a reverence for what has come before combined with a solid grounding in current times.

(Aimee Anne) Duffy’s Rockferry is a heartfelt and enormously engaging soul record, the young Welsh singer has a strong voice and she indulges in no unnecessary grandstanding, she just sings with passion and conviction (and how utterly refreshing is that?) She not only invokes the spirit of honored predecessors like Springfield and Petula Clark but she also brings the classic Motown sound to the 21st century (one can easily hear a young Gladys Knight or Martha Reeves slipping easily into the sweet mid-tempo grooves of tunes like “Warwick Avenue” (make with the clickety-click for the video) or “Serious”, with its great Supremes-like backing vocals, or the infectiously propulsive groove of a stomper “Mercy”.)

Duffy also has a smoldering, bluesy side that comes to the party on tracks like the spare (just her voice and a guitar to very fine effect) “Syrup and Honey” or the majestic “Hanging on Too Long”.

There’s not a false note to be found on Rockferry, which ends with the stirring, affirming “Distant Dreamer” with its rock-steady beat cushioned by a mighty wall of Spectoresque sound.

Adele (Laurie Blue Adkins)’s 19 starts with a dreaming song of its own, the lilting “Daydreamer”. Adele’s rich, supple voice is colored to lovely effect with her British accent. She is a soul singer but her influences seem to go beyond that to incorporate Nina Simone, Bjork (the staccato rhythms and vocals of “My Same” brings her to mind), and even the Beatles (there’s a trippy interlude on “Cold Shoulder” that could have fit nicely on “The White Album”...see video below.)

From the sassy, acerbic “Best for Last” and “Right as Rain” to the soaring “Chasing Pavements” (click the link for the video)…from the stripped down bluesy “Crazy for You” and “Melt My Heart to Stone” (both of which I can easily imagine Etta James singing…though she would be hard pressed to do them better than they are done here) to the lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” to the subdued glory of the self-affirming closer “Hometown Glory”…Adele proves herself to be a musical force to be reckoned with.

Both Duffy and Adele are soulful breaths of fresh air and their music is much appreciated from this corner.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Boys

P.J. Franklin (Jordana Spiro) is a sportswriter in Chicago. She’s also a beautiful tomboy whose best buds are a group of like-minded guys including her married brother Andy (Jim Gaffigan) and her other “boys” Brendan (Reid Scott), Mike (Jamie Kaler), Kenny (Michael Bunin), and Bobby (Kyle Howard). Being one of the guys (talking sports, playing poker, drinking beer, etc.) suits PJ well but it sometimes plays havoc with her love life (suitors having to deal with the 5 often present, very protective, very important men in PJ’s life.) PJ gets a feminine perspective from her best friend Stephanie (Kellee Stewart).

This then is the premise of My Boys, a charming TBS sitcom which kicks off its second season on Thursday June 12th. My Boys is a breezy situation comedy that is very often warm, amusing, and very entertaining. The writing is crisp and the acting is uniformly excellent (the actors all have an appealing chemistry with each other and nobody goes over the top which would upset the balance.) My Boys doesn’t reinvent the sitcom but it does acquit itself nicely in briskly paced, engaging episodes.

At the end of the first season, PJ and Stephanie were about to take off on a romantic vacation in Italy with the cliffhanger question being who PJ had invited to share the experience with her. Was it one of her former suitors? Was it one of the “boys”? Was it someone new? The answer comes in the first episode of the new season where the action is split between Italy and some misadventures in the gang’s favorite bar in Chicago. This episode and another one dealing with Andy’s super-hot new nanny are both, again, very charming and amusing…what more could you ask from a sitcom?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

@#%&*! Smilers

Aimee Mann’s new CD gets off to a sprightly start with the up-tempo “Freeway” (see video below), an engaging pop tune with a wry point of view. It’s grand start to a grand collection.

Mann’s writing is as arch (meant as a compliment not a dig) and as incisive as ever but the overall feel is a frisky, engaging one. The music is buoyed by shimmering pianos, swirling synthesizers, and deftly-strummed acoustic guitars…all in the very capable service of Mann’s rich, expressive voice (which sounds similar to Chrissie Hynde’s often…again, not a dig, I think they’re both amazing singers.) The wonderful vocal on the rueful “Thirty-One Today” and the ruminative “Little Tornado” (highlighted with a cool whistling solo) are almost worth the price of admission by themselves.

From ballads like the spare “Stranger to Starman”, floating on a lush cushion of strings, to the jauntier numbers like “Looking for Nothing”, Mann is (as always) in extremely fine voice with her words evoking interesting images and familiar feelings and reactions.

Strings inform the lovely, bittersweet “Phoenix” and the soaring, compelling “It’s Over” while a great synthesizer figure, a rock solid backbeat, and a clarion horn section bring sweet life to the wistfully hopeful “Borrowing Time”.

The CD is warmly accessible and yet still challenging at the same time; Mann and her musical cohorts draw the listener in and make them want to pay attention, make them want to linger and luxuriate in the clever wordplay, the beautiful playing, and her wondrously expressive voice. By the time you’ve reached the jaunty “Ballantines”, a duet with Sean Hayes, you’ll just need to go back the beginning and experience this great CD all over again. It’s a cool experience indeed.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bo Diddley : 1928-2008

The amazing Bo Diddley, one of the seminal figures in the history of rock and roll, died today. He was 79.