Monday, February 14, 2011

RomCom Roulette!

Anyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for romantic movies, particularly romantic comedies. I’ll also fully admit it’s one of the most terrible genres in modern film – it plays on antiquated gender roles, is typically heterosexist, promotes unrealistic expectations of romantic partners, etc. But, I’m still a sucker for them, and since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d offer a bit of advice if you’re looking for a romantic comedy this year. It’s a Monday, not exactly the best night to go out – so instead, if you’re looking for something to watch in for the night, here are some very, very quick reviews of several romcoms (one at the theatre, the rest on NetFlix!).

No Strings Attached (in case you’re feeling like getting out) – Despite the terrible trailers for this film, it was actually really cute. Portman and Kutcher had great chemistry, and it’s written and directed by Ivan Reitman, so it’s pretty witty and well constructed, especially for a big budget romcom.

Love & Other Disasters – Tons of fun! Plays with the romcom genre affectionately and delivers strong performances from Matthew Rhys and (though I thought I’d never say it) Brittany Murphy.

When In Rome – When will Hollywood realize that Kristen Bell is a capable actress that needs more intricate roles? This film doesn’t totally suck, but there’s nothing special about it. Magic and Italy – an easy one to pick as background filler if you’d rather be doing other things.

Nights In Rodanthe – Has Nicholas Sparks ever written a book where someone doesn’t die? The editing in this film is so bad, even strong performances by the leads can’t save it.

Weather Girl – Super fun indie film. The protagonist isn’t likable at all as it begins, but she grows throughout the film, which is refreshing. The comic timing between Ryan Devlin and Patrick J. Adams is solid, and Mark Harmon is a great sleezeball character.

The Timer – A deep, intellectual piece that questions how and why we fall in love. If we could scientifically “prove” someone is our soulmate, would our experiences with others matter?

2 Days in Paris – Julie Delpy is one weird woman, but I kind of dig it. Her turns in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are some of my favorite romcom moments. This film is hindered by Adam Goldberg though, and Delpy’s character is only barely likable. The film is more of a treatise on how people consistently settle for relationships that are less than they deserve because they are tired of reinventing themselves.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? – Oh Hugh Grant. What happened to you? And Mary Steenburgen, what happened to your career!? This film is god awful.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Top Five Albums of 2010 - Brendan James

*This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

#1 – Brendan James
And we’re finally here loyal readers (all three of you) – my top album pick for 2010. While I was perusing iTunes one day, this album came up as a suggestion. I went, “Holy crap! When did my brother find time to record an album?” I figured any singer/songwriter that shared a name with my brother was worth the risk (though I have a strict no-impulse buying rule on iTunes). Boy am I glad I took that risk! Technically his sophomore album, Brendan James captures the sweet spot of some of my favorite singer/songwriter music. First, I’m a sucker for guys who play piano. His style is reminiscent of older pop-piano players (Billy Joel, Elton John), but his vocal tone has a smooth contemporary R&B feel. His melodies are catchy with hooks that stick in your head for days. As a whole, the album comprises solid songwriting, introspective lyrics, and a wonderful journey through life’s ups and downs. It plays heavily on themes of nostalgia and memory (Coming Up, The Fall, Get It Right), with a strong emphasis on living in the moment, seizing the day (Nothing for Granted, Emerald Sky, The Lucky Ones). The tone is hopeful, seeing the past as a way to understand the present, looking toward the future – being able to see your place in relationships/life in a way that helps you learn and grow from experience. It will be a lifetime favorite, one that captures this moment (2010) of my life pretty accurately.

Favorite Lyrics
  1. “Love your future, love your past, love your body it’s all you have/Love your secrets bottled up, but love them more when you give them up.”
  2. “Love is never supposed to be a present under our tree, I do it because I believe.”
  3. “Nothing like a storm in your heart to wake you up, someone by your side and you know they’re not enough.”
  4. “Thinkin’ ‘bout what I could lose and what I should save. I’ll be the first one to say I was caught up in something, something so bad it was wasting our good life away.”
Favorite Tracks
  1. Emerald Sky
  2. Coming Up
  3. Nothing For Granted
  4. Let It Rain
  5. The Fall

Friday, February 11, 2011

Top Five Albums of 2010 - Locksley, Be In Love

*This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

#2 – Locksley – Be In Love
I misplaced this album in my head because I associate it with winter, and the indie pop/rock turn in '09 to showcasing a “retro”-vibe for records. Most of these came up short for me, interesting for a time, but certainly not standing the test of it. Locksley hit just the right combination on their sophomore album (released early '10), Be In Love. I enjoyed parts of their first album, but was hoping the sound would gel more on their second effort – and it’s fantastic. It’s got up-tempo work that winks to old school British pop, classic punk, and some of the feel-good rock music of the 80s. One of the best parts of the album is taking the simplicity of the theme – love – and telling its story like a kaleidoscope. From the overly romantic, honeymoon period songs (Love You Too, Days of Youth), to day-to-day strains of relationships (One More Minute, On Fire, The Way That We Go) to more reflective songs capturing how love fits in with the rest of a life (21st Century, The World Isn’t Waiting). The textures and tones throughout the album are varied enough to be interesting, but not so erratic as to be sporadic. Should they come tour anywhere near me, I’ll be one of the first in line for a ticket.

Favorite Lyrics
  1. “Nothing works out just like the plans we made – nobody gives, and if you want it you take.”
  2. “I'm cut through, cut in two pieces of the people that would love to love you.”
  3. “Take the sadness from your gaze and all the bad thoughts I'll erase, hold your body to the sun ‘til the sun has come and gone.”
Favorite Tracks
  1. 21st Century (brilliant)
  2. The Whip (infectious)
  3. One More Minute
  4. It Isn’t Love

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Top Five Albums of 2010 - Vedera, Stages

*This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

#3 – Vedera Stages
Yes, yes, I know. I already did #3, but I realized about halfway through that there's an album that needs to be on this list (but in my head I'd placed it in 09 instead of 10) and 3 is my favorite number and it's my blog, so my rules. There. :o) Anyway, tying for third place is this amazing third album from Vedera. I had never heard of them until they opened for Jack’s Mannequin (one of my favorite bands) last spring. Their live show was gripping, so I bought the album. Little did I know it would become one of my defining albums of 2010. Kristin May’s voice is enticing and engaging, and the album functions as a diary of songs that chronicle the stages you go through when moving on from a relationship. From the first song, “Greater Than,” you get the sense that there are two people who love each other desperately, yet as the album progresses, it shows that love is not always enough to bridge those gaps in relationships that keep us holding on, hoping for something better. It's an amazing journey that I think most everyone can relate to. It completely consumed the first part of my year, and I’m looking forward to more from them soon.

Favorite Lyrics:
  1. Use your favorite photograph to play the recent memory back.
  2. I must confess the air I breathe and paths I tread are making me less aware of what I am to do.
  3. I don't wanna deny my heart its chance to feel, I don't wanna deny my soul something real.
Favorite Tracks:
  1. Forgive You
  2. Greater Than
  3. Goodbye My Love
  4. The Rain

Monday, February 7, 2011

Top Five Albums of 2010 - Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can

*This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

#3 – Laura Marling I Speak Because I Can
I enjoyed Laura Marling’s first album, but it didn’t sell me. This album is a completely different story. Marling’s voice is haunting, reminiscent of other folk artists like Joni Mitchell, and the lyrical prowess is unmatched. The production is simple, allowing Marling’s narrative to drive the album. Each song illustrates how she struggles to find her place within culturally drawn feminine roles (daughter, maid, girl – these terms crop up frequently). It brilliantly interrogates the lines between past and present, placing women’s identities in contested, confusing cultural space. These musings are painted on the backdrop of romantic ideologies, expectations of love spoken and implied. Ultimately, the album is about finding voice outside of these constraints.

Favorite Lyrics:
  1. "My life is a candle and a wick, you can put it out but you can’t break it down, in the end we are waiting to be lit."
  2. "I believe we are meant to be seen and not to be understood."
  3. "It’s hard to accept yourself as someone you don’t desire, as someone you don’t want to be."
  4. "I wrote an epic letter to you, and it’s 22 pages front and back but it’s too good to be used."
Favorite Tracks:
  1. Goodbye to England
  2. Darkness Descends
  3. Devil Spoke
  4. Rambling Man

Friday, February 4, 2011

Top Five Albums of 2010 - Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

*This is part of a series of posts, please refer to the parent post for context*

#4 – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (self-titled)
I’ve been a fan of Grace Potter ever since I first heard her vocals on Nothing But the Water, and then on tour with This is Somewhere. Those early efforts showcased a strong blues leaning with some big female vocal classic rock (think Janis Joplin-ish), but the sound hadn’t quite gelled. This album brings it all together, perhaps because of the addition of a second guitar and a new bass player. From the first note, you get the impression that Potter knows what she wants and knows how to get it. This is not your typical female lead vocals pining after men and feeling victimized – the songs are strong when they need power and wistful when they need to be introspective. The album moves through up-tempo and slower tracks with ease, the blend of the two reaching a balance in sound and style previous albums seemed to struggle with. The production of the CD is key here – the tracks sound and feel like live work, not studio recordings, which makes all the difference in those transition moments. Potter’s vocals are sexy and raw with solid imagery in the lyrics, and the music sticks to that blues/pop sweet spot. The intensity of the music will grab you and hold you through the entire ride.

Favorite Lyrics:
  1. “Don't let your bones turn to stone cause you're feeling so alone, just keep on walking.”
  2. “And I can feel you from the inside, prowling like a devil that I try to hide. I can feel your heart beating closer than the poison of my pride.”
  3. “Take away this sense of regret, take the things I need to forget. Take the mistakes I haven't made yet, they're all I have left.”

Favorite Tracks:
  1. Hot Summer Night
  2. Low Road
  3. Money
  4. Colors