Friday, November 16, 2012

Pop Culture Roundup

I recently read The Silent Years by Alan W.C. Green, the review of which you can read here.

I'm still reading Boneshaker. Set during the Civil War, Seattle has been walled off after a drilling disaster that unleashed some kind of toxic gas into the air, which causes death and reanimation. Unfortunately for a few characters, they have no choice but to go into the city for various reasons. This has been an engrossing book so far, but I haven't been able to sit down and read it as much as I'd like due to, you know, "real life." It's books like these that make me yearn for the days when I'd rock Coffeeson for 2-3 hours at a time during his nap.

We watched The Change-Up last week, starring Jason Bateman as lawyer and family man Dave, and Ryan Reynolds as perpetual slacker and ladies' man Mitch. The two go out for a night, telling each other about what they envy about each other's lives. They end up drunkenly peeing in a fountain and wish for the other guy's life, and the next morning find themselves trapped in the other's body. This wasn't the romp that I expected it to be. There were funny moments, but this movie also strove to be something more as each realizes not just what they're taking for granted in their own lives but what they've been lacking. That's a fairly predictable development for a film with this premise, but it's done in such a way that gives the story more weight than I expected. Leslie Mann also deserves special credit for her role as Mitch's wife, as she greatly helps the movie navigate that comedy/drama edge.

We also watched Captain America this past weekend, starring Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, a scrawny kid who dreams of enlisting in the army during WWII but who is turned away repeatedly due to his size and other health issues. A chance meeting with Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) changes that, as the doctor has long been experimenting with body-altering chemicals in order to create "super soldiers." Fast forward a little, and Steve becomes Captain America. Unfortunately, the evil Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) also has access to these chemicals and is developing advanced weapons, eventually leading to the big final showdown, etc. And of course there's Samuel L. Jackson's obligatory cameo as Nick Fury to further set up the next film, which is really the only reason they made this one. I found this to be the weakest of the recent Avengers-related movies: the effects didn't always seem up to snuff and there were a couple cheesy moments that made me roll my eyes. But Coffeewife and I figured that watching this was a prerequisite to watching The Avengers, so we made it through and now we finally can.


Ty Segall Band, Slaughterhouse - I first heard Ty Segall on a music podcast that I like and figured I'd check out this album as a result. Segall has both a solo career and this outing with his band, and I think the band effort was more what I was interested in. The sound is reminiscent of 1950s rock n' roll, except with a lot more crunch and fuzz. It was a great album to turn up with no one else around.

Dar Williams, The Green World - I've had a burned copy of this album in my CD folder, but I can't recall ever listening to it before a week ago. Williams is a wistful singer-songwriter with a slight rock edge, though not much. She hits her emotional themes in just the right way, coupled with simple, understated arrangements. I especially enjoyed "Spring Street" and "We Learned the Sea."

Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do - I run hot and cold with Fiona Apple...mostly cold. I thought "Criminal" was fine, as well as one or two other songs. Otherwise, I'm not a big fan of her voice, which is just her speaking or yelling half the time, and when she does sing it tends to be off-key warbling. Maybe I just don't "get it." I tried to "get" this album with the ridiculous long title, which is that voice overtop of simple arrangements mostly consisting of repetitive piano riffs. I still don't.

Fiona Apple, When the Pawn - I wasn't paying attention and Spotify just moved right along to playing this album. I liked the musical arrangements much more than Idler Wheel, but that's about it. This actually fell into that "albums I can ignore while doing other things" category, which doesn't say much for it, I think.

Terry Callier, What Color Is Love - I recently heard Callier's song "You're Goin' Miss Your Candyman," and decided I wanted to check out the whole album. Callier's soulful singing and R&B arrangements were a welcome palate-cleanser after back-to-back Fiona Apple. Besides "Candyman," I especially liked the opening track "Dancing Girl."