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Within and Without

9 May

great-gatsby-posterIt comes within the first few seconds of the film.

Tobey Maguire, playing Nick Carraway, utters the first lines of The Great Gatsby. Except, they’re not the words as written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. They’re a close approximation — just without the elegance and thematic context.

That’s your first indication that Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the Fitzgerald classic will be good, but not quite as good as its source material.

But really, how could it be? Gatsby is a book that many (but not everyone) consider the Great American Novel. One that’s been a high-school-reading staple for generations. A novel that seems damned near impossible to adapt in any sort of satisfactory fashion, despite four big-screen attempts (including a 1974 version that starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow).

So having Nick (and Luhrmann) reset the audience’s expectations right off the bat frees us up to just watch the movie and not be disappointed later.

It’s kind of a smart move, if you think about it. Continue reading

This Blog Post Will Help You Write Better [Infographic]

24 Mar

People who can’t write well are what we in the editorial world call “job security.”

And given that more and more businesses and organizations are getting hip to the value that content can have in telling a brand’s story — and thus, attracting more customers, donations, fans, and other desired endgames — let’s just say there’s plenty of reason to feel secure in my choice of a career these days. Continue reading

2010’s Entertainment Stays with Me

31 Dec

A couple nights ago, I re-watched the series finale of Lost for the first time in about four months.

I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it as much, if not more than, I did when the episode first aired in May, and the last time I watched it back when the DVD was first released in August — and that’s not just because I’m still blown away by how great Evangeline Lilly looked in that black dress.

That’s a relief, because when the finale aired, I was lamenting the end of one of my all-time favorite TV shows.

The last episode of Lost not only lived up to the hype, but it endures and continues to be great. Continue reading

The Facebook Book

8 Sep

I finally finished reading Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires last week.

I say finally because it only took me, oh, about a year to do so. That’s not indicative of how much I enjoyed the book. Rather, it’s just that the book fell victim to my lack of reading time and my laziness about finding time to read.

Actually, this summer, as I got more and more excited about seeing The Social Network, I made the time to read, and I spent a number of Sunday afternoons outside reading the book.

And I’m glad I did. Continue reading

I Resolve To …

1 Jan

Like it or not, January and 2010 are both here.

Among other things, that means it’s time to stop looking back and start to look forward.

In most cases, that also means coming up with some resolutions for things to change in the new year.

Generally, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I’m never able to keep them.

But this year I’m going to publish my list of resolutions here, and I’m hoping that the public declaration will help me stick to them.

So with that in mind, I resolve to … Continue reading

An Entertaining Year

31 Dec

There was a lot to like this year, entertainment-wise. For example, it was inconsistent and frustrating at times, but when it was great, there were few shows I enjoyed as much as Glee. I didn’t read as many books as I have in years past, but I thought Steve Knopper’s Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age was very good. I picked the winner of American Idol as far back as February. Lily Allen, U2, Jamie Cullum, and John Mayer all released great albums. And of course, there were a bunch of impressive movies too.

As of this writing, I’ve seen 48 of the year’s releases (down from 53 a year ago), and if pressed to rank my favorites (not necessarily the best ones), here are the top 10:
1. Up in the Air
2. In the Loop
3. A Serious Man
4. Up
5. Star Trek
6. Precious
7. The Girlfriend Experience
8. Two Lovers
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
10. Where the Wild Things Are

What were your favorite movies, albums, TV shows, books, etc.? I’d love to know.

Listen Up

23 Sep

Tuesday was one of those big multimedia purchase days that I have every so often.

The third season of 30 Rock was released on DVD, and David Gray, Mika, and Harry Connick Jr. all released new albums.

When I was at Costco, I noticed that A.J. Jacobs had a new book out, so I grabbed that, and because I hadn’t purchased it yet, I also picked up the third season of Brothers and Sisters on DVD.

A mixed bag of music for sure, and maybe not your tastes, but I always enjoy new stuff from artists I like. (The David Gray album is particularly good. I’ll let you know about the others when I hear more of them.) Continue reading

An Exception to the Rule

8 Feb

Based on the the best-selling book of the same name by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, the film He’s Just Not That Into You tries to dramatize and explain — and make light of — the reasons why dating is so hard for so many people. We meet the wrong people. We believe lies. We get overeager and share too much about ourselves up front. We don’t read the signs. Etc. Etc. We’ve all done it or caused someone else to do it. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t remind us of all these stupid behaviors in grating, annoying fashion. Instead, it’s a surprisingly enjoyable time that won’t make men feel emasculated or ashamed when the lights come up.

To be clear, HJNTIY is less of a romantic comedy than romantic dramedy. Which is not to say that it’s unfunny. It’s just that more of the laughs come from watching the movie and saying to yourself, “I’ve done that” (or listening to people around you who say it), or from knowing that what the characters are doing is exactly the wrong thing to do (and, yes, hearing people who sit next to you call that out). The Altman-esque ensemble is filled with likable actors in likable, sympathetic roles — even Scarlett Johansson, who plays a seductress who tries to break up a marriage, while also trying to deflect the affections of a young suitor played by Entourage‘s Kevin Connolly. Think Love Actually, but set it in Baltimore not at Christmastime, and cast it with younger people, and you have the basic idea.

Much of the movie is told from the POV of Ginnifer Goodwin‘s Gigi, the prototypical single girl who keeps falling for the wrong guys and believing they’re more interested in her than they actually are. When a guy tells her he’ll call and then doesn’t, Gigi spends all day checking her voice mail and working herself up over why he hasn’t, and whether she should call him or do a “drive-by” at a place she knows he’ll be. On one such drive-by, Gigi befriends Alex (Justin Long), the manager of a bar, who advises her in blunt, honest style about how to understand men (essentially, he’s Behrendt’s stand-in). If you, like me, were a fan of the TV show Ed, then you’ll agree that it’s good to see these two back together again all these years later. The entire cast has easy chemistry, and while they all don’t interact with each other, the relationships on screen do seem believable.

Thankfully, HJNTIY avoids most of the obvious cliches of chick flicks: there’s no silly montage of bad dates, no gay best friend, no cheesy soundtrack, no sitcom-y cliches, no nothing like that. Which, I think, means that HJNTIY may not be a chick flick at all, given the conventional definition. Yes, some of the story lines do end happily, but not all of them, and it’s not like there’s sweeping music or guys running down the street to meet an impossible deadline or anything cliched like that to make you groan when they do. The women here are not swans in ugly duckling wardrobes, or put-upon sad sacks prone to clumsy antics, who are waiting for Prince Charming … and the guys are portrayed in equally imperfect fashion. This is essentially a lesson movie, but it’s one whose lessons go down easy.

Because dating foibles are something we can all identify with, and because it’s not just the women who are the victims here, HJNTIY is actually a movie that can be enjoyed by either gender. Could it be a tad shorter than two hours, 10 minutes? Sure. But the winning cast keeps things moving and the relatable storylines keep the action engaging. I’m into He’s Just Not That Into You so I’m giving it a B+.

On the Record

5 Jan

In his new book, Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age, writer Steve Knopper explores the history of the record companies, from the 1960s and the creation of the CD to the present day, trying to explain why the industry enjoyed such boom times in the 1980s and late 1990s, and why it’s in the crapper today. I suppose it wouldn’t take much thought for any casual music fan and amateur industry analyst to provide a guess as to where the business went wrong, but chances are it would not be as thorough or enjoyably presented as Appetite is.

Knopper knows his stuff — he’s been a regular contributor to Wired and Rolling Stone for years — but rather than rehash his old articles and tell the same old stories (like Jeff Gordinier did in his X Saves the World), he’s gone back to the well, conducting more than 200 brand new interviews with executives and others who’ve had a hand in creating or distributing music over the past 40 years. Much of Appetite is anecdotal and episodic, with Knopper zeroing in on one or two characters for pages at a time and telling their stories. There’s a chunk about Steve Jobs and his early struggles with getting the record companies to buy into the iTunes Music Store, of course, and there are sections about Shawn Fanning, Lou Pearlman, and Walter Yetnikoff, among others. Yes, you’ve probably heard some of this before, and Knopper seems to know that, but the way he tells the stories, it’s still entertaining. The Napster chapter is one example where I basically knew the story arc, but I still loved reading about it and learning some new facts about the players involved. It brought me right back to those heady days when I was enjoying the software, before it was taken offline.

It doesn’t really ruin anything to say that Knopper’s message is essentially that the record companies screwed themselves and have only themselves to blame for their current financial woes. They tried to duplicate the success of Thriller too many times, they took advantage of music buyers by raising prices of CDs too high, they sued their own customers at the dawn of the digital age, and they still haven’t adequately capitalized on the potential of the Internet. As charismatic as some of them are, the executives often are presented as slow-to-react traditionalists who resist new technologies, not even realizing the potential of CDs at first, and who stick to the “tried and true” and other old fashioned methods rather than embracing new ways of reaching customers. Everything is included — everything. For example, Knopper includes a history of the longbox and gives appropriate grief to SONY BMG’s rootkit, the software included on some CDs (including one by Neil Diamond) that installed viruses and worms on users’ computers without their knowing. Suffice it to say, music fans won’t find many heroes in this book; instead, they’ll be saying “I told you so” over and over.

Full disclosure: I know Steve Knopper, and have worked with him multiple times on articles for Continental magazine. One of my favorite Knopper articles in Continental was about the Chicago blues scene. Point is, I am not entirely unbiased about this book. But that said, if you’re a music fan, like I am, I hope you’ll give this one a try. It’s a quick but comprehensive read, and it’s full of really interesting information. If Appetite is correct, and the record industry will soon be dead, then Knopper’s book will serve as one hell of an obituary.

Oh, The Places He’s Gone

23 Sep

I’ve always had a fondness for Waldo.

You know, the bespeckled wanderer and star of the Where’s Waldo? series of books by Martin Handford.

Back in the day, I was a little obsessed. I collected the books. Most of my college admissions essays tackled the same theme: that I was very much like Waldo, an explorer who still hadn’t found what he was looking for. Freshman year (and maybe sophomore year too) of college I had a poster of Waldo in the Land of Waldos on my dorm-room wall.

And when my hair was longer and parted like so, people used to tell me I looked like Waldo. (No, I never did dress up like him for Halloween. I knew you were going to ask.) Continue reading

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