Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My Favorite 4 Minutes of Music: 9/15/2045: "Golden" by Travie McCoy featuring Sia

Now that both the Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson/Pentatonix concerts have passed, I have been able to take 1989 and Piece by Piece off repeat and actually revisit the world of current pop music.  Thanks go Songza's "Today's Pop Hits" station, I've recently discovered some great new songs.  One of which has prompted me to resuscitate "My Favorite 4 Minutes of Music" here on my blog.

You need to listen to this song for no other reason than the lyric "She's my Patty Mayonnaise to my Doug Funnie".   Because that lyric is everything.

Past that lyric, the song is really enjoyable.  The catchy hook sung powerfully by Sia in combination with the creative verses provided by Travie McCoy creates some delicious pop snackage.  The video is equally as enjoyable to watch, playing some visual tricks that make you question what you just saw as if its all in one take.  Two thumbs up for both the song and the video!


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Things I Love About California: Mendocino Farms

You know when you go to a restaurant three times in eight days, it has to be pretty damn good.

I recently discovered a great local chain in LA called Mendocino Farms.  I had driven past one of the stores and as cheesy at it sounds, just the design and visual appeal of the restaurant made me want to go.  Then I read the reviews on Yelp.  997 reviews with a 4.5 star average?  For a sandwich shop?  It's hard to get that much better on Yelp.  That was it.  I had to try it.

My first visit was to the store on 3rd and Fairfax, right near the Grove.  There was a quite a line (another good sign in LA), but we were greeted by a very friendly and knowledgeable young man who was more than prepared to guide us through our first ever trip to the establishment.  He explained that the schtick about "Mendo" is that everything is locally grown and gathered from the area.  In fact, as you looked around, the place had advertisements for the days and times of the local farmer's markets.  This place is all about supporting the local economy.  In fact, the name comes from a county in NorCal that is known for spearheading farm-to-table eating and sustainable dining.

After talking us through the options (some of them being safer while others are more unique and risky), I went with the Korobuta Pork Belly Bahn Mi.  Basically, pork belly with carrots, daikon, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapenos and chili aioli on grilled ciabatta bread.  Not something I would normally order, but it was recommended as one of the most popular selections.  And the employee told me that if I didn't like he, he would make sure to order me a different sandwich on the house.  A deal with a guarantee like that can't be passed up!

Next we were instructed to try some of the salads and sides in the deli counter.  You could sample anything that you wanted before buying (which I think is a fantastic selling point).  I tried two side dishes... the basil pesto pasta salad an the sirachia smashed potatoes.  From the first taste, they were both so good, I had to order a side of each!  I was very impressed.  I could have tried others, but I was so impressed at that point I decided to stop.

After paying, I went to get a drink of the soda machine to discover that Mendo has Boylan handcrafted sodas on tap.  I hadn't heard of the brand (and was initially disapointed there was no Diet Coke... hahaha), but then I saw a diet black cherry soda option and got excited.  It, too, was super delicious!  And its made with natural flavors and cane sugar!  Score!

The sandwich arrived and I was blown away with the flavor!  I've recently been foraying a bit more into spicier foods, and this sandwich has the perfect level of heat.  Enough to add a punch of flavor without burning you from the inside out.  I did take off about half of the jalapenos that came on it, but it was pretty freakin' fantastic.

Fast forward 6 days later and my friend Shanyn is in town visiting.  I was so excited to take her to Mendo!  We found one in Marina Del Ray and decided to head there.  I tried a different sandwich this time (the new seasonal Spicy Steak on Pretzel Bread) and it was just as good as my first trip!

The next day, I find myself in West Hollywood around lunch time, and decided to head to the Mendo on Santa Monica.  It isn't possible that I could try a different sandwich at yet another different location and still be successful, could I?  I COULD!  I got "A Sandwich Study of Heat" which was a hand-carved turkey sandwich with spicy smashed avocado sauce, gouda cheese and jalapeno relish on rustic white bread.  It was INNNNNNCREDIBLE.

So... with three separate trips to three different locations, I came up successful every single time.  I think I have found a new favorite place in LA.  And... I haven't even been to the location closest to where I live!  I can't wait to try that one.  Fourth time is a charm.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Favorite 4 Minutes of Music: May 8, 2013

There have been some seriously good tunes for motivating and inspiring me lately!  I love that music has taken a turn for the positive.  The song I'm obsessed with at the moment is "Wings" by Little Mix.  I heard this song for the first time maybe 3 or 4 weeks ago at the SRC (on the new "Matador Music" station).  I Shazam'ed it because it definitely sounded like a tune that I should know, and I hadn't heard it before.  Since then, I've heard it several other times, including when the top 4 girls on American Idol decided to cover it. 

This morning, I was running laps at the SRC and this song got me through the final mile (my total was 4.5 miles!  Woo hoo!).  I played it three times in a row.  Then as I walked back to the locker room, it came on Matador Music!  This made me remember that I haven't posted a blog in a while, so it was just the inspiration I needed to dust off the old blogger account.

After some further research I discovered the Little Mix was actually the season 8 champion of X-Factor UK.  I can't believe that I hadn't already heard of them, considering that I'm usually up on my reality-competition-music shows.  Anyway, I'm happy to have found them, and found this song.  Hopefully it will put some pep in your step like it did for me!  :-)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

American Idol Top 10

Now that we are down to the top 10, I thought I'd write my first review.  After tonight's show, I have to say I am actually really happy with most of the top 10.  Someone asked me who my favorite was, and I told them that it was actually easier for me to name who I didn't like, because I truly enjoy over half the contestants this season.  I'm yet to be in LOVE with anyone... but there are lots of good propects and I'm excited to see where the season goes.

Here's my breakdown of the top 10 so far this season:

Deandre Brackensick- Deandre ranks near the bottom for me this season. He's one of those that "it'd be easier for me to tell you who I don't like".  Here's what really bugs me about him: he doesn't seem like he's in the moment when he's performing.  The weird look he has in his eyes is almost like "look at me everyone! I'm on American Idol!".   It's like he's looking into the camera and in the audience and feeling the people looking back at him... and not feeling the music.  I guess what he's lacking is genuineness.  Tonight's performance of "Only the Good Die Young" wasn't anything to write home about.  I think he's done better.  There's a definite chance he could be in the bottom three tomorrow.  Oh... and did I mention how much it bugs me that he reminds me of Milli Vanilli?  :-)

Erika Van Pelt- I actually really like Erika and I have from the start.  She's lacking the "star image" but honestly that is what is real about her.  It's funny that tonight she mentioned that Pink is one of her favorite artists... because she's reminded me of Pink and I think that's why I like her so much.  Pink is the same way in terms of not having the stereotypical "star image" that the likes of Britney or Christina did back when they all started on the scene... but as you can see Pink has done pretty darn well for herself.  And just like Pink, Erika has the vocal chops to set herself apart.  I just hope that America can jump on the EVP train and actually vote for her.  She's been in the bottom every time which saddens me.  And I have to say: I. LOVE. THE. HAIR!  The makeover does give her a bit of an edge... and I think it truly is helping her carve out an image.  I just hope its enough to carry her through tomorrow's elimination.  "New York State of Mind" was a great choice for her, but I do agree with what the judges keep saying: that they can't wait for her to tryly unleash ALL of her chops and talent.  I hope she sticks around long enough for us to get to that moment.  I think she's trying to play it smart because she wants to hold a little back so every week it looks like she's improving... but it could be a tactic that comes back to bite her.   I'm honestly worried for her because I don't think America has caught on to her like I have.  We'll see!

Joshua Ledet- Alright... I'm prepared to get some flack for this one... but I don't like Joshua.  I think he's doing too much.  He's doing the most.  And it's just not my style.  I certainly wouldn't buy his record.  If I can be 100% honest (and I can because this is my blog) one of the things that frustrates me most is that obviously this guy "plays for my team"... and it kills me that he's probably grown up in the church and probably doesn't feel comfortable enough in his own skin to come out.  And now... he's on this nationwide TV show where his personal life is going to be thrust into the spotlight and at some point he's going to crumble.  It pains me for him.  I prefer to root for contestants who are truly 100% themselves and put their everything out there for America week to week (see: Phillip Phillips)... and I feel like Joshua is going to give us what he thinks America wants/what he thinks his church wants/what he thinks his family wants.  Until there is that feeling of genuineness, I have a hard time being a fan of Joshua.  He has the chops, yes... and I give credit where credit is due.  The boy can sing.  He will probably go far.  But I'm not going to vote for him. 

Skylar Laine- Watch out for this girl!  I think she's a "sleeper" and we could see her in the finale show.  She's got the cute charm of Carrie Underwood, with a a lot of the down-home countryness of Kellie Pickler.... and as you can see by how well the two of them have done in the country music industry, there is definitely a niche for her.  I also like that she has that Tanya Tucker/Gretchen Wilson/early Reba grit to her.  There hasn't been a performance of her's that I haven't liked so far.... and the week that I went to the show (Top 13) and she sang "Where Do Broken Hearts Go", it was FANTASTIC in person.  She's gonna be around for a while!  Tonight's performance of "Shameless" was again, right in her lane and doing what she does best. 

Elise Testone-  Elise has fluctuated with me a LOT since the beginning of the season.  At first I thought she had a super cool vibe and a different, interesting voice, but as time has gone on her personality has started to take her down several notches for me.  Here's what bugs me: After her Top 13 performance of "I'm Your Baby Tonight", and the judges feedback, she got all pissy!  Even the following night on the results show during the group performance, Elise had this stank-face on the whole time.  When she ended up in the bottom three she was rolling her eyes and being super bitchy and I'm sorry, but that does not make me want to vote for her one bit.  I need an Idol that seems appreciative of the experience and is happy to be in this spot where hundreds of thousands of other people would LOVE to be.  Elise did really well tonight, and she's gonna make it through, probably at the expense of my favorite, Erika.  It pains me that one performance that the judges love can be her "comeback" and will get her an influx of votes, when someone like Erika has been consistently good every time.  Grrrrr.....

Phillip Phillips-  What can I say?  Phillip is the kind of contestant that I DON'T want to like, simply because he fits the cute, white, guitar-playing guy stereotype that has produced several underwhelming Idol winners (David Cook, Kris Allen, and Lee DeWyze... the latter who has gone absolutely nowhere).  Obviously he's the type that the teen girls and cougars love... and those are the populations who tend to power-dial and power-text.  With all of that said... I actually REALLY like Phillip.  I would buy his album and go to his show.  He's unique.  He's real.  He's MAD talented.  He's the type of guy you root for and that this competition is made for.  I have loved all of his performances so far this season and tonights "Movin' Out" is no exception.  Phillip's strength is his excellent song choices.  He's picked songs that either hit his unique voice, or that he can spin to fit it.  I think we'll be seeing him in the finale!

Hollie Cavanaugh-  I've liked Hollie for a while too.  I actually remember her from when she tried out previous seasons and I'm so glad she's gotten her chance to actually be on the show in Season 11.  She's sweet and she has a powerhouse voice.  You definitely can't deny that!  I think she's done really well so far, but she could benefit from doing something a bit less ballady.  Or else she's gonna get Pia'ed and be out of the competition earlier than she deserves.  Her performance of "Honesty" was good tonight... but almost too safe.  I don't think she's in jeopardy of going home this week, but she's gotta show some more personality and range if she wants to make it further than top 7 or 8.  She can't be relying on her dad and brothers to be her only unique factor. 

Heejun Han-  The same people who probably hate for not liking Joshua are probably going to hate me for LOVING Heejun.... but I can't deny it.  I really like him.  He makes me smile and laugh... and he surprises me with his talent every time he sings.  I appreciate the comedy and entertaiment value that he brings to the show.  What I like is that it seems natural to him and is just who Heejun is as a person.  It's not forced like some of the other laughable contestants from season's past (Sanjaya, Norman Gentle, etc.).  I loved a few weeks ago when he gave autographed photos to Jimmy and Mary J Blige... and I loved tonight when he told Tommy Hilfiger that Michael Bolton was his male fasion icon.  Hilarious!  :-)  Tonight's performance was SO Heejun.  I loved the slow intro, the taking-off-the-jacket, the colorful shirt.... and most of all I loved that he switched it up to the uptempo song!  He's been doing ballads pretty well but it seems so contradictory to his true personality.  I definitely don't want to see him go anytime soon.

Jessica Sanchez-  OK folks.  I was there, in the audience, the night of "I Will Always Love You".  When Ryan teased that Jessica would be doing Whitney's biggest hit of all time, I immediately said "oh god no... not I Will Always Love You".  I thought the song was too iconic for anyone to tackle and I was super worried for her.  BUT... as we all saw, I was VERY wrong.  Jessica knocked that performance out of the park and she's been on a roll ever since.  Last week, I actually liked her performance of "Turn the Beat Around" even though the judges didn't.  I thought it was good for her to broaden her horizons.  Tonight's performance of "Everybody Has a Dream" is one of those that will be played back again and again when referring to her as a contestant.  It was great.  My only drawback with Jessica is that I don't know if she's quite a "star".  I'd like to see more of her personality.  We know she likes fashion and likes to shop and has a cute family.... but I think that was another reason Pia got eliminated early last year is because we don't know too much about her (or maybe there wasn't much to know?  Maybe she's just a pretty normal boring person).  That is the one area that scares me for Jessica's future on the show. 

Colton Dixon-  So we all know Colton has played this American Idol game before... and he's got the whole back story with his sister.  That is helping to keep him around.  I think his style is keeping him around too.  There are a lot of teenage girls that like the punky-bad-boy-but-nice-enough-to-bring-home-to-mom type (calling all Twi-hards!).  I agree that Colton is good and that he deserves to be in the competition.  Him choosing "Piano Man" was all sorts of predictable... but in the end can you blame him?  The performance was great!  I just think that at some point he's going to turn into a caricature of himself and no longer be believable.  His schtick can only go on so long.  He's affected and trying too hard a lot of the time.  But still, I recognize his talent and think he'll be around for a good long while. 

So after all of that... here is my ranking of the contestants... not just on last night's performances but on how much I like them over the entirety of the season thus far:

1. Phillip Phillips
2. Erika Van Pelt
3. Heejun Han
4. Jessica Sanchez
5. Skylar Laine
6. Hollie Cavanaugh
7. Colton Dixon
8. Joshua Ledet
9. Elise Testone
10. Deandre Brackensick

What is your ranking?

Marcus Collins

Not gonna lie.... I kinda love this cover.  I've actually always loved the original White Stripes version too.  This song just makes me happy and the video is simple and fun.  This guy was runner up on the X-Factor UK last year.  I'm interested to see what else he comes out with!

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Favorite 4 Minutes of Music This Week- 3/19/12

It's been a while since I've posted a song on here as my favorite 4 minutes of music.... but this song just came out of nowhere this morning and slapped me right across the face!  I had to post it... not only because I love it... but because I wanted a historical reference on my blog of the first day I heard this song. 

Katy Perry is re-releasing her Teenage Dream album with a few new tracks and remixes, and just this morning I heard one of those new tracks called "Wide Awake".  At first listen, it grabbed my attention simply because of its catchiness.  Should we be surprised that Katy Perry has a catchy pop tune?  Not after five #1's off the same album!  :-) 

After listening through a few times and catching some of the lyrics, I googled the lyrics and followed along as I listened.  I got goosebumps AND even teared up a bit.  The song definitely is striking a chord with where I'm at in life right now.  I need my hands on this single ASAP.  I hope it comes out on iTunes soon.  This is the kind of music that makes me feel better about life, even in my darkest moments (a`la Sara Bareilles and Kelly Clarkson). 

WTG Katy!  Props for releasing another amazing song and making my love for you grow even stronger!

Enjoy "Wide Awake"

I'm Wide Awake
I'm Wide Awake

I'm wide awake
Yeah, I was in the dark
I was falling hard
With an open heart
I'm wide awake
How did I read the stars so wrong

I'm wide awake
And now it's clear to me
That everything you see
Ain't always what it seems
I'm wide awake
Yeah, I was dreaming for so long

I wish I knew then
What I know now
Wouldn't dive in
Wouldn't bow down
Gravity hurts
You made it so sweet
Till I woke up on
On the concrete

Falling from cloud 9
Crashing from the high
I'm letting go tonight
(Yeah I'm) Falling from cloud 9

I'm wide awake
Not losing any sleep
Picked up every piece
And landed on my feet
I'm wide awake
Need nothing to complete myself - nooohooo

I'm wide awake
Yeah, I am born again
Outta the lion's den
I don't have to pretend
And it's too late
The story's over now, the end - yeah

I wish I knew then
What I know now
Wouldn't dive in
Wouldn't bow down
Gravity hurts
You made it so sweet
Till I woke up on
On the concrete

Falling from cloud 9
Crashing from the high
I'm letting go tonight
(Yeah I'm) Falling from cloud 9


Thunder rumbling
Castles crumbling
I am trying to hold on
God knows that I tried
Seeing the bright side
But I'm not blind anymore...'cause I'm... wide awake

(Oh now I'm) Falling from cloud 9
It was outta the blue, I'm
Crashing from the high
(Yeah) I'm letting go tonight
Letting go of illusion
(Now I'm) Falling from cloud 9

I'm Wide Awake x5

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Real Housewives of Disney- Bloopers

The only redeeming quality of Lindsay Lohan's stint as SNL host was the brilliant video clip "The Real Housewives of Disney".  NBC just unveiled a blooper reel from the recording and it is just as funny as the actual skit.  Thought I would share with you all to spread some laughter!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I'm in love with Idol.... AGAIN!

Hello blog friends!

So I used to maintain a blog that was dedicated only to American Idol, but I realized I just don't have the time I'd like to fully dedicate to the cause.  Still, I LOVE writing about American Idol and sharing my thoughts and reviews on the contestants... so I decided that from time to time, I'll just post an update here on my personal blog! 

Let me first of all say, that I've had a love/hate relationship with Idol this season.  When the audition shows first started in January, I was in love with my favorite show again.  Steven's jokes.... Jennifer's funny comments... it was just all reminding me of how much I missed Idol (and how much BETTER it is than X-Factor!).  But... then as time went on and we moved to Hollywood rounds, I was realizing just how slim this season is on talented standout stars!  Is it because we are 11 seasons in and the show is reaching a burnout point?  I was really starting to get worried... and was sad that my favorite show seemed to be taking a downturn. 

THEN.... last week's cut to the top 13 REALLY had me in a love/hate situation.  First of all, I was upset that they were only doing ONE semi-final cut.  It seems unfair that these people only get one show to make it.  And I felt particularly bad for the people who got little to know airtime up until now (poor Chase Likens... he stood no chance at all).  I couldn't believe they weren't stretching the semi-finals out for a longer period of time. 

BUT... then once the results were in, I was pleasantly happy and back in love with Idol!  I can't explain in words how enthralled I was with my TV during the wild-card sing off.  I was really hoping that Jeremy and Erika would be called up to sing... and when the did I was literally clapping and cheering... in my room... alone.  I know.  I'm sad.  If thats not sad enough, I literally teared up when Jeremy was singing and the camera panned to JLO with tears in her eyes.  What is my problem?  Why am I so attached to this show?  Needless to say, when Erika and Jeremy both got selected by the judges, I was ecstatic. 

When all was said and done, I was pretty happy with the top 13.  I was VERY thankful that some people didn't make it though (in particular, Reed Grimm who annoyed the piss out of me from day one).... and sad/surprised that some didn't make it through (I really thought Jen Hirsch was good).  Still... the results could have been a LOT worse.  All in all... once the 13 people were revealed, I was back in love with Idol.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar Best Picture Nominees

Many of you know that I'm a list guy.  I like to read lists... make lists... check things off lists...

Well this past year, right after I turned 31, I made a list of 31 things to do during my 31st year.  Setting some goals, but also just trying to keep things fun and interesting... and (probably most importantly) holding myself accountable to actually following through on tasks.  Some of the things on the list are things I've always said I've wanted to do but never done.  One of those things:

Watch all the films nominated for Best Picture before the Oscars. 

I have always wanted to do it because I'm such an awards show buff... but also because every year I can never have a total frame of reference for which film I believe is truly the best.  Unless you've seen all of them, how can you really know? 

Well... by seeing them all of course!  :-)

I mean, especially with me being in Los Angeles... the entertainment capital of the world... the ability to see the movies was pretty easy.  Before the nominations were actually announced I had already seen 5 of the 9 films, simply because they were "buzz-worthy" and I thought I might as well check them out.  I had four others to cross off the list and after a couple rentals and one night flying solo to the theatre, I had officially seen them all. 

I thought that before the actual awards show (later today) I would take some time to chronicle each of the movies, not only for my personal records, but also to maybe share with anyone who may be interested reading about all the nominees if they didn't get a chance to actually see them.  At the end of each writeup, I'm summing my thoughts up in a tweet (less than 140 characters) just for fun, and for anyone who might not have the time to read through the whole review. 

So, here are the 9 nominees for Best Picture at the 2012 Academy Awards.  I have ranked them in order of my personal preference, leading up to my favorite.

9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close-  I'd like to first of say that none of these nine movies were really horrible.  I actually liked them all, or at least could justify why each garnered a nomination.  I feel that EL&IC snuck in under the new Best Picture nomination rules.  You may or may not know that the Academy changed the way that films earn a Best Picture nom.  For many years there were five nominees and then three years ago it changed to ten, and at that point the Academy would just select the five or ten films which receieved the most nomination votes.  Well this year it changed once again, and now the rule is as follows:  There will be between five and ten nominees and in order for a film to recieve a nomination it must recieve at least 5% of the Academy members' first place votes.  That means that Academy members will rank their top picks and 5% must say that this movie is THE best movie of the year.  This year, nine films met this criteria.  What this new critera means is that a movie could be panned by a majority of members, but if just 5% think it is first-class movie-making, then it can be nominated.  
I feel that this is the case with EL&CI.  It got so-so reviews (Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 46% average: ouch!), but it probably really tugged at the heart strings of Academy members based out of New York City.  For those of you unfamiliar with the plot line, its about 9/11.  A boy about 12 years old is on this trek across the city to find meaning to a key that he found after his dad had died in the World Trade Center.  Him and his dad always went on these treasure hunts around the city and so when the boy comes across this random key he thinks that his dad left it for him on purpose.  I mean, a key must exist to open or unlock something, right? 
Well the movie is very powerful in the way that it flashes back to the moments of the day of 9/11.  I can't imagine the emotional reactions to this movie that would be had by a NYC resident or a family member of someone who died that day.  The reason this movie ranks last for me is that although the movie is based on a true event, the actual story line just seemed so ridiculously unbelieveable.  I mean, how could a 12 year old boy just go trouncing around this huge city, unsupervised?  This fact alone left me uneasy and upset for 60% of the movie.  Also, the actor who plays the boy main character had a lot of pressure on his shoulders to carry this movie.  I just felt like the acting wasn't as good as it could be... but I don't know if that is necessarily his fault.  I think it would be hard for a young kid who wasn't around (or too young) when 9/11 happened to understand exactly what sort of emotions to be portraying in the movie.  He was almost too stoic to be believable. 
The other thing that drove me crazy was the old man in the movie with the "Yes" and "No" tattooed on his hands.  I get that the man can't talk... but isn't yes and no an easy thing to communicate with a simple head nod or head shake?  Why the hands? 
Extremely Loud's tweet:  "Powerful movie about the most impacful moment of my generation. Can the kid just find the damn lock and get home safely now? I'm panicked."

8. War Horse: This movie I went to see in the theatre by myself on a week night because I couldn't get anyone to go with me.  Can you blame them really?  Did the PR for this movie make it out to be something you wanted to rush to the theatre for?  It doesn't have any big stars in it (the biggest is Emily Watson, Oscar-nominee a few years ago... but still 90% of Americans have no idea who she is).  The only star with any name recognition is director Steven Spielberg.  If its a Spielberg film its got to be good, right?  Well, yes.  It was good.  Not great.  Not one I'll purchase on Blu-Ray.  But again, one that I can understand why 5% of voters would fall in love with it. 
It's a set in World War I (which right off the bat is difficult for me... I've never been a war movie fan), so you've got to give credit to the crew for set design, costuming, etc.  You also have to give credit to the sound crew for this movie because with all the shooting and gallopping, they did a great job of heightening the drama of the film.  The acting is pretty well done here, especially by the young actor Jeremy Irvine who plays the main character who must give up his horse to the war and then enters the war himself.  This was his first every major movie role and he did a fantastic job.  As cliche as it may sound though, the star of the movie really is the horse.  It just boggles my mind to think how movie makers can get animals to cooperate in a way that tells the story so perfectly... especially huge horses!  I know this day in age a lot can be done digitally afterwards, but still... the horses on the film were incredible. 
My main issue with this film is that is had this big contradiction between trying to be a family-friendly animal film and an epic war drama.  There were all these heart-warming moments dealing with the horse and the love that the boy has for the horse... but at the same time, soldiers are getting killed left and right.  Hard to have your heart-warmed with so much death around. 
War Horse tweet: "Feels like Saving Private Ryan collided with Free Willy.  Should I be happy about the horse living or sad about hundreds of men dying?"

7. Midnight in Paris: This was a movie a dragged my feet before seeing.   I have never seen a Woody Allen movie that I can say I genuinely enjoyed or thought was brilliant movie-making.  Sue me.  I know a lot of people thing he's a genius, but I just don't get his films.  Then add Owen Wilson into the mix.... really??!   Could this possibly be a decent film?   If I hadn't set this goal to see all the Best Picture nominees I wouldn't have seen it.  But I am certainly glad I did!  It was very enjoyable.  The script is so very well done.  Very witty and creative.  I wish that I was more of a history/literary buff because I'm sure I would have loved it even more.... but some of the jokes probably went right over my head. 
The movie is about a husband and wife who are vacationing in Paris.  The husband, played by Owen Wilson is a semi-successful screenwriter who has been working on his next big piece of writing.  One night, he goes out in Paris around midnight and he encounters some unbelieveable characters.  I won't spoil too much in case you haven't seen it.  It's an enjoyable flick so you should really check it out.
I really love the Paris scenery in this movie!  It's a beautiful setting and very well shot (Woody Allen has a Director nom for it).  The mix of current time/language/costuming with that of the early ages was fascinating and engaging. 
Midnight in Paris tweet: "Much more enjoyable that expected!  Makes me want to visit Paris again. And read more. And learn more"

6. The Tree of Life:  OK, so first of all, a lot of people would have put this at the very bottom of their list of nine.  A lot of people don't like it or think its just bat-shit crazy.  But, although I wouldn't rank it as my #1 choice (obviously), I do see it being a relevant movie and one that maybe years from now will be appreciated more than it is today.  I felt similarly (yet in a total different way) to this movie as I did to Requiem For A Dream.  It was confusing yet gripping... and I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.
The film flashes between present day and the 1950's/60's.  In the earlier times, Brad Pitt plays a father to three sons.  The mother is played incredibly by Jessica Chastain who is nominated this year for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Help.  In present time, Sean Penn plays the role of one of Brad Pitt's sons, all grown up.  The movie follows Penn as he is searching for the meaning of life and searching for what or who has made him who he is today.  He is reflecting on his past and taking into consideration the impact that both of his parents had on him separately and together.  It's quite an interesting take on soul searching. 
As he's searching for the meaning of life, the film is intertwined with all of these confusing images of the earth, the solar system, nature, at one point even dinosaurs.  These things come up sporadically throughout the movie and you are truly wondering what the heck is going on.  In fact, at one point, I'm pretty sure that these images went on for almost seven to eight minutes with no dialogue or mention of the actual characters.  It's hard to comprehend at the moment, but I think its indicative of Penn's character feeling like such a speck in this giant huge world.  And how, in the history of everything that has happened in time, did he happen to be on this planet right here, right now?  It truly is thought provoking.
The one thing I do have to say about this movie is it is one of the most beautifully shot movies I have ever seen in my life.  If it does not win for Best Cinematography (which it will probably lose to the Artist), then it is a travesty.  Every shot is intentional.  The lighting and colors are spectacular.  It is beautiful. 
The Tree of Life tweet: "Maybe due to me being in a self-reflective state, but I found this movie thought-provoking & meaningful.  Stunningly beautiful shots."

5. The Descendants:  Similar to Midnight in Paris, this movie was shot beautifully on location and makes me want to travel... but this time to Hawaii.  A beautiful setting for a beautifully-disturbing movie. 
The Descendants was not at all what I expected.  I knew it was a flick with some family drama surrounded by George Clooney's character but I wasn't sure what the core of the drama really was. The movie was somewhere between the naggy, continuous catty family drama of a flick like the Family Stone and the other side of the spectrum with dark, twisted family drama of something like American Beauty.  I didn't expect The Descendants to have as many twists and turns as it did.  This movie can be described as many things, but definitely not predictable.  There were several surprises that were very well done in the movie.  A few scenes were so unexpected that I remember audibly gasping in the theater.  That is a sign of a good script if you ask me!
If there was any downfall to the movie, I would say I was somewhat irked by some of the acting.  I'll get it out of the way now and just say that I wasn't blown away by Clooney in this role.  I know he's one of the top contenders for Best Actor this year, but I still felt like it was Clooney playing Clooney.  He was acting and talking in this role just as you would see him on the red carpet or on the Tonight Show.  I just wasn't blown away.  The other character that drove me nuts was Sid.  Sid, (the oldest daughters boy-toy) added some comic relief to the movie... but overall, he really just drove me nuts most of the time.  On the flip side... I would like to bring to mention some excellent acting by the girl who played Clooney's oldest daughter, Shailene Woodley.  This girl was FANTASTIC!  Her role was a difficult one to play.  Mixing grief with anger and revenge is difficult but she did it all really well.  If after seeing all the films I feel there was any real nomination snub, it is that Shailene should have gotten nominated for either Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress.  She was incredible. 
Overall, I think the movie was definitely a good one... but if there was any flick that I didn't think lived up to all the hype that it was getting it was this one.  I expected it to be a bit better considering all of the stellar reviews. 
The Descendants tweet: "Things to do: 1. Add anything with Shailene Woodley to my Netflix queue. 2. Appreciate my loved ones.  3. Go to Hawaii."

4. Moneyball:  I think this writeup should start by explaining that I watched Moneyball on the little 6" screen in the back of the airplane seat as I was on my way back to California from Michigan over the holidays.  I really wish I would have seen it on the big screen, but let me just say I was on the edge of my seat (or at least as much as I could be in window seat 24-A... LOL). 
I like sports.  I like attending sporting events.  I know the rules and in's and out's of most sports.  One thing I'm not good at is sports history or sports statistics.  So... while this move was based on true events, I honestly had no idea what was going to happen.  I know that all of this has happened during my lifetime, but I wasn't a SportsCenter fiend during that time, so I was watching this movie as if it was a written script just like any other film.  And honestly, I think that made it all the better.
The movie is about the transformation of the Oakland A's using a statistical math formula developed by a young baseball enthusiast played by Jonah Hill.  Brad Pitt plays the A's general manager who enlists the help of this character and it takes the A's from the worst team in the league to a record-setting team. 
I can't find much I don't like about this movie, so let me tell you several of the things I loved: I loved the filming of the sports scenes and how they are intertwined with actual footage from back in the day.  I love the scenes with the old guys sitting around the scouting table.  I love the story line of Pitt's character's daughter and the cute adorable song she sings.  I love how the movie was able to build such drama and suspense even though its about completely true events.
But most of all, I have to say that Brad Pitt is just fantastic in this film.  I'm not a huge guy to gush over Brad and think he is the best thing ever... so I'm not just saying he's great because I love him like everyone else loves Brad Pitt.  I truly think that THIS is a great performance.  The critics are talking about Clooney being neck and neck with Jean Dujardin from The Artist for Best Actor, but I truly feel its a travesty that Brad Pitt isn't spoken in that same breath.  I think he is deserving of the award this year for this performance.  He had to pull off the bold brute-ness of a major league general manager while also executing the sweet, heart-warming scenes with his daughter (not to mention the awesome, nose-thumbing scenes with his ex-wife).  Pitt rocked this performance and its sad he won't get the award. 
Moneyball tweet: "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack... I'm sucked in and can't stop watching!  A must-see for anyone who remotely likes sports." 

3. Hugo: Of all nine movies, Hugo was the biggest surprise for me.  I didn't really expect to like it all that much... and I think I had a misconception about the movie that was shared by a lot of people: that this was a kid's movie.  It was a movie about a kid, but it wasn't a movie just for kids.  I loved it! 
This movie centers around a young boy who lives in a train station clock tower.  He has this "automaton" that is left from his father and he has to find a heart shaped key to make it work.  Through his adventures, he helps an older retired filmmaker reenvigorate his love for the cinema. 
This is the kind of flick where it gets everything right: the casting, the costuming, the script, the cinematography.... everything is just rolled all into one awesomely enjoyable flick.  I laughed, I cried (just a little... but there were tears), and I left thoroughly feeling like the I got my money's worth for my movie ticket. 
When I mentioned Extremely Loud earlier, I talked about the boy actor not doing as good of a job as needed to effectively portray the role.  In Hugo, the main boy was REALLY great, which I think is what made the movie so enjoyable.  The main girl, played by Chloe Moretz (known by most for her role in Kick-Ass) was also delightfully enjoyable. 
Hugo tweet: "A simply great film about film-making and going after your passions and dreams.  Wait... was that really Sacha Baron Cohen?" 

2. The Artist: A silent movie?  About silent movies?  I was intrigued from the start.  This movie was getting Oscar buzz right out of the gate, so its one of those flicks that I wanted to see right away (just like Slumdog Millionaire).  This movie was so enjoyable!  I hate that people were like "I don't want to see a silent movie".  Really??!?  You're gonna limit yourself like that?  I think this movie portrayed love, heartbreak and drama just as well as any other movie with plenty of dialogue. 
The movie takes place during the times where silent movies were just starting to meet competition from "talkies", the first movies with sound.  Jean Dujardin plays an actor who has been a superstar in the silent movie genre, and so he has much hesistation about these new movies with sound.  He falls in love with an extra on one of his films, and she later goes on to become a huge star in the talkies.  You can see where this is going... :-)
The extra is played beautifully by Berenice Bejo.  She is so dazzling and engaging on the screen.  You can't take your eyes off of her.  Dujardin definitely does an excellent job as the lead too, and stands a great chance at the Best Actor win.  It's interesting to judge an acting performance with no dialogue up against others with it.  These characters had to be so expressive with thier faces and bodies, but it is done so very well. 
If there is one downfall, it is that the movie is pretty predictable.  After reflecting on that, it may be because the filmmakers were trying to keep it true-to-form.  Silent movies back in the day weren't filled with dramatic, dark twists and turns.  They just wanted to entertain and make you feel something.  Make you laugh.  Make you cry.  I did both (again... I know.  I'm a sap).
Will it win the Best Picture Oscar tonight?  By all the predictions I've seen and the precursors of awards shows leading up to tonight... YES.  Do I think its deserving?  Yes.  It is innovative and enjoyable.  A great piece of film-making from start to finish.  But still... it's only my #2.  :-) 
The Artist tweet "A silent movie about silent movies?!!  Would I see it again?  With pleasure."

1. The Help:  Out of all nine movies, the one that I enjoyed the most, and that I think is most deserving of the top honor is The Help.  Will it win?  Unfortunately probably not... but I have heard some rumblings that if there is any shocker at the show it would be The Help sneaking in for the Best Picture win.  We'll have to see if it has enough steam to pull through to the end.
I have to admit, I didn't see this film in the theatre during its theatrical run.  It's surprising because I typically would be all over a movie like this, especially because it has Emma Stone in it.  I think it may have just been a difficult time for me and I wasn't seeing many movies at all.  I did end up seeing it while I was back in Michigan for the holidays.  It was Christmas Eve and I was at home with mom so we rented it on her satellite dish.  It was one of those rentals where you rent it for 24 hours and it just replays over and over again on that particular channel.  Well... mom and I watched it through... and then it started playing again right from the beginning and I watched it all the way though again.  I've never done that with a movie before.  It was just that good... and one of those flicks that once you know what happens in the end you want to watch it again from the beginning with that context. 
The acting?  Stupendous.  This film won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble Cast and it is well deserved.  Clearly their peers in the acting world agree by giving the cast that honor.  Viola Davis is perfect in this role.  Octavia Spencer is moving.  And Jessica Chastain is hilarious.  I even think that Bryce Dallas Howard has been overlooked for what a fantastic job she plays as the main villian in this movie.  It's funny that one of the main reasons I would have initially seen the movie, Emma Stone, ends up being outshined by so many different characters. 
The script?  Enthralling.  There are parts that I was laughing out loud (which, honestly, I rarely do at a movie... even a really good comedy) and parts that I was crying.  But most of all, I was just simply engaged.  I couldn't take my eyes and ears off of it.  I wanted to know what was going to happen next.  It's one of those movies where you get sucked in and everything else in the world seems unimportant.  Heck, I was was watching it on Christmas Eve and I forgot it was Christmas! 
The set design and costuming?  Gorgeous.  It really helped to elevate the script and the acting to an even higher level. 
One thing I like most about this movie is that I'll have the memory of watching it with my mom.  At one point my mom looked at me and said "this is exactly how some people were back in that time".  She was getting really emotional about it, but she lived through the civil rights movement.  It was during her high school years... so its all very near and dear to her.  You could also tell that she was so happy to now live in a time where that sort of racism is behind us.  Still there are struggles, yes... but we can say that we are now a better people.  And hopefully, all people will have a more open mind after seeing The Help.  In my mind, the best movie of the year.
The Help tweet: "You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Pop Songs- #2

Making the decision for which song would be number one was tough between the top two... but in the end I had to make a decision.  One reason in the "pro" column for the following song is because its related to a super fun memory from my past... but ultimately, it had to be the runner-up.  Good effort Mariah.  You were close to that top spot... but in honor of your twins, you'll be representing the #2. 

My number two Christmas pop song is "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey.  Sure... it's over played.  Sure... its been remade.  But let's be real.  For my generation, this song is the pinnacle of holiday classics.  Mariah is the last big pop star to release a holiday album where a single instantly has become a holiday staple.  It takes a lot for a contemporary artist to be considered amonst the old-time greats like Bing Crosby or Johnny Mathis... but Mariah's song is one of those that you hear everywhere, in every store, on every station, every year. 

The reason it's towards the top for me is for a couple reasons.  Well first of all, back in the day I was OBSESSED with Mariah Carey.  I mean... my freshman year of college (as many of my current friends can attest) I had an entire two walls covered with Mariah Carey posters and photos.  She was my ultimate artist.  I knew every song to every word.  My uber-fan status was so well known that during my freshman year, that is probably one of the main descriptors people would have used if you asked them about me.

Mariah released "Merry Christmas" when I was still in high school, and it was played on repeat starting in November until mid-January.  I believe it was my freshman year when it came out... and somehow I was able to talk a group of my girl friends to back me up as I took the solo and lip-synched this song at the Mendon High School holiday talent show.  My mom made me a silky santa-inspired robe... I wore a hot dress... bought some girly heeled shoes at Goodwill... and I even borrowed a bra from my well-endowed neighbor lady so I could stuff it.  In hind sight... I was a drag queen.  Yep.  I was a drag queen before I even knew what a drag queen was.  I was so clueless about my sexuality as a 9th grader that I just thought that I was paying homage to my favorite artist by dressing up as her and lip syncing it in front of the entire school.  I knew it would get some laughs... and I was so competitive that I really just wanted to win.  But let me tell you... that stage got WORKED!  :-)  Hahahaha.....  I went out there and I felt like I WAS Mariah Carey.  I sashayed.  I shimmied.  I belted.  I performed every word with so much gusto and heart that I had the audience on their feet at the end.  Long before anyone knew of RuPaul's Drag Race, I was out there "lip syncing for my life".  :-) 

Although embarassing to watch on video now, I still love that clip.  I love that I was this clueless 9th-grader who was performing for the rush and the thrill of the crowd.  I love that I wasn't afraid to get out there and be myself.  And in hindsignt, I love that I brought a little bit of diva to my small town high school.  I call that a gay victory.  :-) 

Fast forward a few years.... after Mariah's semi-insane ice-cream-cart-pushing, tshirt-stripping, word-slurring pit stop at TRL, my love and dedication for all things Mariah started to waver... but still to this day, I know most all the lyrics (pre-2000), and I can't get enough of her Christmas album at the holiday time.

For these reasons, I present to you my #2 Christmas Pop song of all time: "All I Want For Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey: 

Friday, December 23, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Pop Songs #3

Only three songs left in the countdown!  This one is by the legendary Elton John.  I first came to really love and appreciate this song in college.  During my first year, I was living in the residence halls, and I totally remember a girl on my floor, Megan Stojic, talking about how "Step Into Christmas" was her favorite Christmas song.  I think I even remember her telling us all some story about how her and her sister used to put on their favorite Christmas socks and dance around the house to it.  She put the song on and danced around her dorm room.  :-)  One of those random things that just always sticks with you.

I'm pretty sure right after that I went and downloaded Step Into Christmas (for free... on like LimeWire or something... because that's how it was done in 1999 baby... hahaha).  Ever since then, its been on rotation every year for Christmas.  I just love how fun and carefree it is.  One of those songs that you can't help but bob your head to.... or put on your Christmas socks and dance around the house to.  :-)

A quick funny story about this song...  You know that commerical that is out right now where they show the people singing along to Elton John's "Rocket Man" and getting the lyrics completely wrong?  Well I sang a line to "Step into Christmas" wrong for the longest time.  For some reason I thought the lyric "Hop aboard the turntable" was actually "Hop aboard your chimney, boy"... as if Elton was singing this song directly to Santa Claus, hopping from chimney to chimney.  Hahaha!  I mean, the lyric was definitely wrong, but the chimney reference applies to Christmas, so it sorta made sense.... right?  Right?... (*crickets*).... Alright, I'm an idiot.  :-)

Enjoy song #3: "Step Into Christmas" by Elton John

Thursday, December 22, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Pop Songs: #4

So you know I take things like these countdowns very seriously... :). Almost just as serious as the decision of what song will be number one is what song will be number FOUR. Hahaha!

The song at #4 is one I consider to be one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded... Holiday or otherwise. From start to finish, this song has a delicate beauty to it that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Add in the lyrics that exude such a hopeful spirit for the season, and you've got one amazing holiday tune!

The song is "Light a Candle" by the contemporary Christian vocal group Avalon. There was a time when Avalon was on the top of favorite musical artists list. The released some pretty incredible albums back in the late 90's and early 2000's. In 2000 they put out a holiday album called "Joy" and it still is one of my favorite Christmas CD's. For me, "Light A Candle" is by far the standout track. Just listen and I think you'll know why.

I've got some fond and impactful memories of this song. During the holiday season of 2000, I went to Saginaw and saw Avalon perform a holiday concert. I went with my friends Lisa and Allison. It was a great concert and Avalon did a signing afterwards. It was so awesome for me to meet this group that I loved! One of my first celebrity geek-out moments :)

Then in 2001, after the 9/11 tragedy, I remember there was a nation-wide candlelight vigil where people were encouraged to go out on their porches and light a candle in honor of those who lost their lives. I went to Lisa and Allison's house in Big Rapids (because at that time I was living in the residence halls and had no porch). We sat on the porch and blasted this song while we lit our candles. Although it wasn't holiday time, the hope and promise of this song was so poignant that it was perfect for the moment. It's a moment I'll never forget.

Enjoy #4: "Light a Candle" by Avalon

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Pop Songs- #5

We're getting closer to #1 folks!  We've got a super fun song at #5... by one of the most legendary music artists of all time: Paul McCartney.  The song is "Wonderful Christmastime."

I love this song because from start to finish it is just full of happiness.  Between the synthesizers and the very sing-along-able lyrics, it just always puts me in a good mood.  The video is full of cheeky cheesiness, including some awesome 80's style "special effects".

One thing I didn't know about this song until I did a little research is Paul McCartney recorded this song completely on his own.  His band Wings is featured in the video, but for the recording they had no part.  Pretty cool, and very talented to record and mix such a classic holiday song all by yourself. 


12 Days of Christmas Pop Songs- #6

We've made it halfway though the countdown!  And I'm happy to report that #6 is the last semi-depressing song on the list.  Hahaha!  I was reflecting on some of the previous songs and there are some serious ones in there for sure.  After we get through this song, I promise its only songs of hope and fun for the rest of the countdown.

 The song at #6 is "Do They Know It's Christmas" by the artists of Band Aid back in the 80's.  I've always enjoyed the song... but listening to the lyrics, its not something to get you excited about Christmas.  There are some pretty sad lyrics about the hunger in Africa, and I don't know about you... but when I'm preparing to eat a thick piece of Christmas ham its hard to be reminded of the starving people all over the world... but alas... this song has become a big hit over the years. 

I have to be honest with you about this selection.  I was really thinking that it was going to be lower in the list until I pulled up the YouTube link for it. If you haven't watched the video, or seen the collection of people pulled together for this song, then you HAVE to watch.  It's crazy in hindsight to see all of the really big names in music that came together relatively early in their musical careers to put this charity single together.  I mean, just watching the first minute you are going to see Sting, Bono of U2, George Michael, Phil Collins, Boy George and Simon from Duran Duran.  Whether your taste for 80's Europop is strong or not, its hard to deny that these are some of the biggest artists in music history.  That alone makes this a very powerful song.  Add that this song went on to be the biggest selling single in UK sales chart history when it was released, and its hard to deny this Christmas song as one of the best of all time.  I still like it every year at the holidays... so enjoy!