Saturday, February 24, 2007

With Love...

Hilary Duff's latest single is shamelessly titled "With Love." I say shameless because earlier this year, Duff launched her perfume, also called With Love. When I first saw the music video, I thought it seemed like a blatant advertisement for the fragrance, only to find out that part of it is actually used in a commercial.

"With Love" is the first single off her new album, "Dignity," to be released April 3. Hilary's music has always been bubble-gum fare, but lately she's been moving away from her cookie-cutter image. She seems to be following some of her peers/rivals, going for an electronic dance sound similar to Lindsay Lohan's "Rumors." She is also going for a more mature look. While the short black wig doesn't really suit her, it's refreshing to see her with a little more meat on her bones (she could still stand to gain a few pounds though, and while she's add it she could dye her hair blonde again).

Although I miss the old Hilary, the more I listen to this song, the more addictive it becomes. I've been a fan of hers since "Lizzie McGuire," and I've enjoyed her music since she sang the words, "It doesn't matter where I go with my boy shoes and my rock star phone," in her first single, "I Can't Wait." I like "With Love" for the same reason I liked that and everything she's done since-- it's fun and entertaining and it makes me want to do a crazy dance.

Click here to watch the video.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"Bridge to Terabithia"- Save Yourself Some Money and Read the Book Instead

It's hard for me to look at a film like "Bridge to Terabithia" objectively. I love the book by Katherine Paterson and consider it one of the most beautiful children stories I've ever read. While the film version is a fairly accurate interpretation of the novel, a passive viewing of a film cannot compare to reading a story that is all about the powers of imagination.

"Bridge to Terabithia," directed by Gabor Csupo, was released nationwide on Friday. Disney and Walden Media, producers of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," teamed together again, far more unsuccessfully, to produce this film.

Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is a boy from a poor family. The middle child in between four sisters, he works hard at his chores, wants to be the fastest runner in his class, and is a talented artist. When Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) moves in next door, she teaches him how to escape the bullies and pressures of his home life by imagining a secret land called Terabithia.

The film was marketed as another "Narnia," which was a mistake. Although the book does make reference to the Narnia stories, Narnia is a real place, whereas Terabithia exists only in the minds of Jesse and Leslie. In the book, the world of Terabithia is never really explained, leaving it up to each child to imagine it. The creatures that appear in the film are never mentioned in the book.

The misleading preview for Terabithia shows the children battling giants, vultures, and strange animals that look like porcupines. At least the film itself stays away from making those scenes the central part of the story. From what I've read, viewers are surprised that these creatures did not take up more time in the film, but the story is not about that. What happens in Terabithia is not as important as what its existence means to the children.

Katherine Paterson is an expert in the way children and adolescents think and express themselves. Hutcherson and Robb are believable in their roles, but I was more moved by their characters reading Paterson's words than watching them on the screen. Of all the actors, 7-year-old Bailee Madison, who plays Jesse's younger sister May Belle, is the talent to watch for. She captures May Belle's stubborness, innocence, and idolization of her older brother in some truly heartbreaking scenes.

The book was published in the '70s, and although the story is timeless, the film was placed in the present time with a quick reference to the internet. This would be less of an issue, if it wasn't for a crucial scene in which a teacher (the always enjoyable Zooey Deschanel) calls Jesse and a Saturday and takes him to a museum. Call me cynical, but it seems very unlikely that such an event, however innocent the intentions, could occur in today's society.

This is not why the film doesn't work. There is nothing awful about the film, but it doesn't work because it just isn't that memorable. It's an interesting companion piece to the book, but it would be a disservice to see the film without having read the book.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Michael J. Fox was Alex P. Keaton

I just wanted to share some exciting news. "Family Ties" is finally coming out on DVD on February 20. How did I not know about this? Of course, this leads to the dilemma, do I buy the first season when it comes out or do I wait for the inevitable complete box set? I believe there were 7 seasons, so I could be waiting a while. Either way, that was a nice pick-me-up from those winter blues.

Words are fun

I'm going a little stir-crazy. I've been locked in my apartment for two days after the snow storm. So I've been thinking about random things. And today I was thinking about the word "blog." I don't really like the sound of the word, it sounds like something really unpleasant, but I like multi-purpose words.

I used to work at the dining hall while I was at Tufts (they had the best white pizza ever) and we had to wear these shirts that said TUDS, which stood for Tufts University Dining Services. But we would call ourselves TUDS, as in people who work for dining service. The singular form is TUD, as in, "Who is that sexy TUD playing 'It Wasn't Me' in the dishroom?" (Sexy TUD can also be abbreviated to STUD). The great thing about the word is that it can also be a verb, as in, "I'm tudding tonight," or, "I can't go out tonight, I have to go tud."

Blog operates the same way. A blog is a noun, but blogging is a verb. And I have no doubt that it will soon be used as an adjective, as in "Have you ever noticed so-and-so has an inherent bloginess to him?"

This is what happens when it snows.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

This Book Will Change Your Life

For one of my classes this semester, "Arts and Arts Criticism," each student has to read a book by a critic in his field. I chose "Love is a Mix Tape" by Rob Sheffield.

I devoured this book. I would have finished it sooner if it wasn't for silly things like classes and an internship. I found myself taking the local instead of express subway just to have more time to read. As I told somebody the other day, I loved this book so much that it is hard for me to talk about it. But since I'm presenting about it on Wednesday, I better figure out how.

Rob Sheffield is a contributing editor at "Rolling Stone." He has written for various publications including "Spin" and "The Village Voice." When he was 23-years-old (in 1989), he met a girl named Renee. He married her in 1991 and she died unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism in 1997. In "Love is a Mix Tape," he explores his grief using 15 mix tapes. This is the bravest work by a music critic that I ever read.

Although I am reading this book for a criticism class, this is in many ways the opposite of criticism. Criticism, in the strictest terms, is supposed to be objective. Sheffield looks at every piece of music in the most personal way. And he doesn't write about it in terms of whether it is "good" or "bad," but what it means to him. The very idea of creating a mix tape is a way to make a piece of music belong to you, by fashioning a new way to listen to the songs.

There is one particular tape that he made over a year after Renee died. "This is a classic example of a tape that tries to ruin a bunch of great songs by reminding you of a time you would rather forget," he writes, "Sometimes great tunes happen to bad times, and when the bad times is over, not all the tunes get to move on with you... Individually, all the songs on this tape make me smile, but lined up in this order, they make me shudder..."

Almost as much as this book is about Renee, it's about the music of the '90s, and Sheffield is also dealing with the grief of the end of the '90s:
"I get sentimental over the music of the '90s. Deplorable really. But I love it all. As far as I'm concerned, the '90s was the best era for music ever, even the stuff I loathed at the time, even the stuff that gave me stomach cramps. Every note from those years is charged with life for me now. For instance, I hated Pearl Jam at the time. I thought they were pompous blowhards. Now whenever a Pearl Jam song comes on the car radio, I find myself pounding my fist on the dashboard, screaming, 'Pearl JAM! Pearl JAM! Now this is rock and roll! Jeremy's SPO-ken! But he's stil al-LIIIIIIIVE!'"

This book is just as funny (as you can see from the previous passage) as it is heartbreaking. Sheffield knows how to write funny without being obvious or over-the-top, and he writes beautifully about loss without being manipulative.

Perhaps what I love most about this book is that Sheffield doesn't discriminate when discussing music. He admits to loving top 40 radio, he even admits to loving "MMMBop," and he devotes equal time to these as to Nirvana or the Beatles. While there are some jabs at bands like Cheap Trick, he doesn't resort to snark.

I'll leave you with one line that pretty much sums up the book. It's a line for anybody who has had to deal with the pain that comes along with listening to music that is reminiscent of someone or something that is no longer around. "I knew I would have to relearn music, and that some of the music we'd love together I'd never be able to hear again."

Spring Fever

I finally saw "Spring Awakening" (oh how I love student rush) and I am happy to report that the hype was founded. I haven't seen every new Broadway production this year, but so far, I will have to agree with every critic who named it the best musical of the year.

If you're unfamiliar with the show, "Spring Awakening" is based on an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind. The controversial play deals with adolescents trying to understand their sexuality in a world where they are taught to fear their desires. The musical is also set in 19th century Germany, but the musical numbers bridge the past and the present. Actors sing into microphones, turning each scene into a rock concert. There are seats for the audience on either side of the stage and ensemble members sing from there, dressed in jeans and t-shirts.

So much has been written about the show already, so I will let "Spring Awakening" speak for itself. Here is a video of the song that has been stuck in my head since Thursday, the adrenaline-pumping "The Bitch of Living" (music by Duncan Sheik, lyrics by Steven Sater). Pay attention to John Gallagher Jr.'s (he's the first one you see in the video) electrifying vocals.