Concert Review: Alastair Moock


Today my family & I attended a special performance by singer/songwriter/folk troubadour Alastair Moock at the Children’s Music Center of Jamaica Plain.  Moock, himself a father of four-year-old twins, entertained both his young audience and their parents with selections from his album A Cow Says Moock, some new songs, and some timeless children’s classics.

I have some of Moock’s albums and from his gravelly voice I imagined he would be a grizzly, gruff-looking type, not the clean-cut man we saw before this.  His voice is still pretty incredible though with a lot of expression.  He an easy manner performing for the children and did some clever tricks like singing “The Alphabet Song” backwards.  He was very receptive to his audience whether it be the boy who asked him to play a song on the banjo next or my own son’s insistence that there be a kitty cat on the bus saying “meow, meow, meow!”  Moock’s original songs are folk ditties with clever word play.  Highlights include a song about “Belly Buttons” set to a Latin beat and a song about “Spaghetti in My Shoe” that name checks various forms of pasta and footware and then is repeated as Ramones-style rave-up.

The audience was up and dancing for the most part.  My son chose to quietly contemplate the music but sang along with the familiar standards like “Old McDonald’s Farm,” “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad,” “The Wheels on the Bus,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” and “You Are My Sunshine.”  Moock fit a lot of music and a lot fun into a one-hour show.

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Movie Review: The Damned United


Title: The Damned United
Release Date: 27 March 2009
Director: Tom Hooper
Production Co:   Columbia Pictures Corporation
Country:  United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Biopic / Sport
Rating: ***1/2

Summary/Review:

This movie is a highly-fictionalized account of the life of English football manager Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) who was able to lead clubs like Derby County and Nottingham Forest to win the First Division championship.  Central to this film is Clough’s short term as manager of Leeds United, one of the most successful clubs of the 1970s and one Clough had been critical of for their dirty style of play.  The film is set up to focus on Clough’s relationships with two different men.  One is Don Revie (the always great Colm Meaney) Clough’s predecessor as manager at Leeds United.  If the film is to be believed Revie’s slight of Clough at a FA Cup match early Clough’s career provided both the motivation for Clough’s success but also his hubris and ultimate failure at Leeds.  The other relationship is with Clough’s assistant coach Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) who has great skill at scouting players for the team.  The structure of the film with its historical inaccuracies comes off as melodramatic especially since the true story would make as good or better a film.  The Damned United is saved by brilliant acting performances by the Sheen as the mouthy and flashy Clough, Meaney, and especially Spall’s portrayal of the long-suffering Taylor.  I also enjoyed the gritty football action sequences that capture an era of sport long gone.

Movie Review: Little Miss Sunshine


Title: Little Miss Sunshine
Release Date: 18 August 2006
Director: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Production Co: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy
Rating: **1/2

Summary/Review:

This dark comedy seems to me as if the filmmakers got together and made a bet that they could make a movie about a dysfunctional family with the most awful characters possible and still have them rally together for a Hollywood ending.  If that’s the case, the filmmakers pulled it off quite well in this road trip movie about a family racing to California to fulfill a young daughters dream to appear in a beauty pageant.  There’s a lot of this movie that’s too precious and the recurring gags about the family’s VW minibus remind me of a Roger Ebert comment on how funny cars are a sign of desperation.  And there’s a lot of scenes that defy belief. Still this movie’s high points stand out and I’m especially impressed by Paul Dano who is expressive despite playing an angry teen who has taken a vow of silence, Steve Carell as the suicidal but droll uncle, and the always wonderful Alan Arkin as the vulgar grandfather.

Movie Review: Princess Mononoke


Title: Princess Mononoke
Release Date: 26 November 1999
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Production Co: DENTSU Music And Entertainment
Country: Japan
Language: Dubbed into English
Genre: Anime / Fantasy / Adventure
Rating: ****

Summary/Review:

I don’t have much experience with anime so this was a wonderful introduction.  Princess Mononoke is a gripping adventure, imaginative fantasy, and a feast for the eyes.  There are many establishing shots that look like fine works of art.  The story is centered around Ashitaka, a prince who slays a fearsome demon that attacks his village but is cursed in the process and thus has to go into exile.  Seeking the source of the demon, Ashitaka finds himself between the spirits and gods of the forest and a town of ironworkers who threaten the forest’s existence.  There’s a clear environmental message here but it’s not too heavy-handed, and I’m impressed that no side is ever seen as good or evil and the viewers sympathies keep shifting as the story goes along.  A quite excellent film all around.

Movie Review: Mathematically Alive


Title: Mathematically Alive: A Story of Fandom
Release Date: 2007
Director: Joseph Coburn & Katherine Foronjy
Production Co: Vitamin Enriched Inc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary / Sports
Rating: ***

Summary/Review:

This movie is about something near and dear to my heart – fandom of the New York Mets.  Set during the historic 2006 season when the Mets lead the National League in wins and made it as far as the 7th game of the championship series, the documentarians track several diehard fans through their game rituals and Mets-centered lives.  The premise is very similar to Still We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie, but without support of the Mets and Major League Baseball, Mathematically Alive lacks the glitz and production values of the Red Sox film.  Major League Baseball trademarks and ballgame footage (and even Mike Piazza’s face!) are pixellated out of the movie.  The affect though makes this even more of fan-based film, by fans and for fans, and Mets fans true to their blue-color heritage are not about glitz.  I was especially excited to see the son of a good friend near the end of the film pontificating wisely about his favorite team.  A must-see for Mets fans, recommended for baseball fans, and others may be interested if sports fandom interests them.

Movie Review: 24 Hour Party People


Title: 24 Hour Party People
Release Date: 5 April 2002
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Production Co: Baby Cow Productions
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Biopic / Comedy / Music
Rating: ***1/2

Summary/Review:

This surreal, comic film tells the story of the Manchester music scene from the mid-1970’s to early-1990’s.  Central to this story is Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) a TV news presenter who champions Manchester music scene by managing bands, starting a record label, and opening a night club.  History and legend are gleefully mixed together as Wilson narrates his own story, often breaking the fourth wall to comment on events from a later perspective.  Real people from Manchester bands appear in cameos sometimes commenting that the scenes in the movie aren’t how they remember them.  The effect can be overly cutesy at times but mostly is rollicking good fun and Coogan really carries the film.  Of central importance though is the music as bands like Joy Division (later New Order) and the Happy Mondays take center stage.

Elmo’s Song


I got tagged for a meme on Facebook and as my preference I’d rather post it here where I can find it again in a few months.  I think I’ve done this one before to be honest.  Most of the responses are nonsensical, but hey, there are some good songs here.

These are the “rules”:

1. Put your iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc. on shuffle.

2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.

3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS.

4. Tag n friends, where n is a non-negative integer

5. Everyone tagged has to do the same thing.

6. Have Fun!

IF SOMEONE SAYS ‘ARE YOU OKAY’ YOU SAY? “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” – Stevie Wonder

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF? “Come Back Baby” – Aretha Franklin

WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GIRL/GUY?  “Woman Be My Country” – Johnny Clegg and Savuka

HOW DO YOU FEEL? “Sail Away Lady” – Uncle Bunt Stephens

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE? “End of the Night” – The Doors

WHAT’S YOUR MOTTO? “Kansas City” – Wilbert Harrison

WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU? “Coda” – David Goodrich

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN? “Salvation”- The Paperboys

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND? “If I Needed Someone” – The Beatles

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY? “Wasted Word” – Kris Delmhorst

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP? “Maybe Sparrow”  – Neko Case

WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE? “The Train Song” – Music Together

WHAT IS YOUR PASSION IN LIFE?  “Ed Ladki Ko Dekha [1942- A Love Story]” –   Kumar Sanu

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR? “Infinity Guitars” – Sleigh Bells

WHAT DO YOU WANT RIGHT NOW? “Cruel Sea” -Maybe Baby

WHAT DOES YOUR LOVE THINK ABOUT YOU? “We Are The One” – The Avengers

WHAT WILL YOU TITLE THIS NOTE AS? “Elmo’s Song” – Sesame Street

Book Review: Boilerplate : history’s mechanical marvel by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennet


Author: Paul Guinan and Anina Bennet
Title: Boilerplate : history’s mechanical marvel
Publication Info: New York : Abrams Image, 2009.
ISBN: 9780810989504
Summary/Review:

Boilerplate reads like a textbook or maybe one of those Time-Life history books from the 1980’s covering the period 1893-1918 when Professor Archie Campion’s Mechanical Marvel walked the Earth.  In hopes of eliminating the loss of life in war, Campion invented the automaton Boilerplate to be a robot soldier.  This book covers the life and times of Professor Campion, his remarkable sister Lily, and the mechanical marvel itself, Boilerplate.  A noble automaton, Boilerplate served in the Spanish-American War in Cuba and the Phillipines, is on hand for the Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War, and finally serves as a doughboy in The Great War where he vanishes while searching for the Lost Battalion.  Along thew way he becomes acquainted with Theodore Roosevelt, Nikola Tesla, Jack London, Mark Twain, Frank Reade, Alice Roosevelt, Jack Johnson, Lewis Hine, T.E. Lawrence, Jeanette Rankin, Pancho Villa, and Black Jack Pershing.  It shouldn’t be too big a spoiler to reveal that this robot never existed.  The beauty of this book is in its historical detail.  Sidebars cover historical events in accurate detail without mentioning the fictional centerpiece of this book.  I could see this could be an interesting teaching tool for children, because there’s so much history here as long as you keep in mind that the robot is fake.  This is a unique and entertaining take on alternate history.

Recommended books: The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle by Erez Yakin and Five Fists Of Science by Matt Fraction.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen


Author: Rivka Galchen
Title: Atmospheric Disturbances
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2008)
ISBN: 9781433214455
Summary/Review:

This is an odd little novel in which a man becomes convinced that his wife has been replaced by a simulacrum and heads off on a wild-goose chase to her home in Argentina to find her.  Along the way he gets caught up in what he calls a “meteorological conspiracy” and ruminates on things philosophical and psychological (as well as meteorological).  I’m pretty certain that the unreliable narrator has a mental problem that makes him believe his wife has been replaced rather than that happening in actuality but the novel is never too clear on the subject.   I need to take better notes of why certain books make it on my reading list.  This almost reads like a fictional version of one of Oliver Sacks’ case studies.

Recommended books: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks and Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem.
Rating: **

Soccer Spectating Report 10-23 January 2011


Liverpool 2:2 Everton (16 January 2011)

Everton traveled across town to Anfield for the second leg of the Merseyside Derby.  The Reds dominated the first half with Tim Howard rightly angry with his defenders.  Raul Meireles broke through in the 28th minute to put the home side up by 1.  The Blues came out strong in the second half and within 6 minutes Sylvain Distin and Jermain Beckford put them up 1-2.  Sadly, the come from behind would not last as a Tim Howard foul set up a successful conversion of a penalty kick by Dirk Kuyt.  On the one hand it’s a disappointment that Everton wasn’t able to hold on to a win.  On the other hand a road draw with Tim Cahill and Steven Pienaar not available (and taking 4 points from Liverpool on the season) is not too shabby.

Barcelona 4:1 Malaga (16 January 2011)

Barça demolishes yet another La Liga opponent.  I feel like such a glory hunter watching this time, yet they play so beautiful.  At least Malaga was able to net one goal for themselves.

Ajax 2:0 Feyenoord (19 January 2011)

It feels like a long time since I’ve seen Ajax.  I enjoy the Amsterdam supporters chants and the especially appropriate singing a Bob Marley song (“Three Little Birds”).  This was the second leg of the Klassieker derby, although while Ajax are close to the top of the table, Feyenoord are not very competitive this season.  Ajax easily handled their rivals with a Toby Alderweireld goal in the 31st minute and a Miralem Sulejmani penalty kick in the 77th minute.  This match got my hopes up for Ajax to continue climbing up the Eredivisie table but they then proceeded to lose their weekend match at Utrecht.

Palermo 1:0 Brescia (22 January 2011)

Not for the first time I’m writing about a 1-nil match involving Palermo where the final score gives no indication of the end-to-end play on the field with numerous shots off the crossbar, crosses right across the goal mouth, and great saves by the keepers.  Palermo had the better of possession and chances on goal and their efforts were finally rewarded with a lovely shot in the back of the net by defender Cesare Bovo.

FC Bayern München 5:1 1.FC Kaiserlautern (22 January 2011)

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a Bundesliga match and it seemed to me that the pace of play both in dribbling and passing was faster than in other  leagues.  The score of the game is a bit misleading as Bayern München piled on 3 goals in the final 10 minutes.  Still, the home side dominated the match overall unlike their earlier meeting at Kaiserlautern when the Red Devils upset the Bavarians.  I need to make sure I fit in more German fußball in my soccer diet.

United States 1:1 Chile (22 January 2011)

The USA opened up their 2011 campaign by hosting a friendly against Chile at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA.  The American roster included an even greater number of young, inexperienced players than the previous game in South Africa with seven players earning their first caps.  Chile drew first blood with a beautiful set-up and goal by Esteban Paredes in the 54th minute.  Substitutes Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo spiced up the US attack in the second half. Agudelo was tripped making a run through the box and Bunbury sealed the equalizer on the penalty kick.  Another decent performance by a young American side giving hope for the future.

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