Monthly Archives: June 2010

Three-Word Review of “Shrek Forever After”

Fairly told fairytale.

Captions don't count: I’m a pretty big believer in Shrek -- aside from all the money he made with his first movie, I genuinely like that flick and think it will still be enjoyed in 50 years. That original movie mixed a hard-to-control and harder-to-replicate tincture of snarky comedy, sweet comedy and genuine heart. I believe the rampant pop-culture references in “Shrek 1” will be no more baffling or off-putting in a half century than your average Gilbert & Sullivan opera. (Who knows what half of those political jokes are in “The Mikado”? But damn if it still isn’t popular.) Still, there was never a “Mikado 2,” and likewise the subsequent Shreks diminished their own returns as the tincture turned a bit pasty: genuine heart (the rarest ingredient) was in short supply, throwing off the proportions of sweet comedy, and requiring the balance to come from the universe’s vast stores of blunt, unsubtle, snarky comedy. I’m happy to say the fourth movie reversed this trend, to the point where I feel compelled to take to the Internet and say a word of praise. Not that the heart has returned in force. Indeed, it’s a pretty unoriginal kick-in-the-groin that gets our hero’s journey started: Shrek is in a rut! Having a mid-life crisis! Feeling trapped by family and friends and familiarity! Doesn’t appreciate what he has! If only he could trade it all away! But the movie is rescued by a few factors: 1.) Walt Dohrn as Rumplestiltskin is a fun villain to watch. Between the voice, the impish facial animation and his little doll-bodied antics, he’s a hoot to root against. Also, he’s surrounded by a retinue of Oz witches -- come on, the Wicked Witch; one of the best-designed bad guys in the history of bad guys! This is a spiffy template of a character to work with. 2.) Shrek’s magical bargaining that robs him of his day of birth leads to a fun alternate universe that was easy to believe and fun to explore. Without Shrek, history took a dark turn, with surprising fates for all his friends. For the first time in a while, I cared about -- and remained curious about -- how Shrek was going to set things right. 3.) Bits of comedy that lingered beyond the end credits. It’s been a week, and my kids are still imitating a quick one-off line delivered from a clingy fanboy who wants Shrek to do a personal performance: “Do the roar. Do the roar. Do the roar.” The way that joke ends still makes me chuckle. So if I assume Shrek will never get his lightning in a bottle the way he did with his first movie, then I can accept that he ended his franchise with an encore worthy of an ogre.

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Three-Word Review of “Sherlock Holmes”

Jolly good showstopper.

Captions don't count: I expected a junked-up, summer-movie'd Holmes, and was pleasantly surprised that while, yes, those fripperies were still persistent, there was quite a ripping tale within. I happily fell head-over-Reichenbach-Falls for this feature. A few disappointments: Rachel McAdams lacked the right amount of gravitas to play a wiley love interest who's nearly as smart as Holmes; and Holmes himself, while still up to his usual astonishing deductive leaps, intuits just One Too Far when he guesses the nature of a device found under Parliament. (I mean really, Holmes, you just took one glance at this steampunk water heater and sussed out the natal stages of wireless transmission, did you?) Still and all, a right jolly ride thanks to Downey and Law swimming in a mystery flavored like fun. Science-versus-magic is a standard story stand-off, beginning with Arthur Conan Doyle himself and continuing through his detective's many iterations, but the pairing feels lively and brand new here. My wife gave a mild scowl to some of Holmes' stab-in-the-dark deductions (yes, Holmes does have a really keen … and convenient … sense of smell) but if you're steeped in his deerstalkered tradition, this shouldn't pose much of a problem. I liked especially the distancing of Holmes from a suave, uptight Rathbone-type in favor of the socially stunted, poorly bathed misanthrope whose unrelenting calculations extend even to his bare-knuckled brawling. Now THAT’s a detective worthy of a cuss like Moriarty.

A Retort extra:

Quick, you've got 10 seconds to play the final round of "What's That Object?" Annnd, Mr. Holmes has buzzed in first ... your answer, sir? Hunh. "Remote-controlled gaseous poison infuser effective only on those who haven't taken its antidote" is correct! Mr. Holmes wins again!


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Drew’s “40 at 40” (part 2): Let the culture wars begin

Part 1 of this musical retrospective has already lit up my inbox with debate — as it should. Vive la difference in the world’s tastes, what what? My dear brother laments that while my thought exercise is a good idea, it’s “too bad most of the songs suck.” But he’s bound to say that. He’s about a decade and a half older and as he says “what a difference 3/4s of a generation makes.”

Too true. And this side of the list only steps a little deeper into modern territory thus ripping apart the thin threads that bound our tastes together anyway.


1. Emerson, Lake & Palmer: Karn Evil 9

When musicologists speak of “progressive rock” this is the band that, like Rome, all roads lead to. From hymns (“Jerusalem”) to tone poems (“Pictures at an Exhibition”), these guys never met a song their Moog synthesizers (and I) didn’t love. This is just a 5-minute snippet of the 30-minute song.

2. Yes: Leave It

The great thing about Yes was that their later album that came out in middle school connected me to their earlier albums listened to by my older siblings. I liked having something in common with them — even if they never gave a hoot about the poppy evolution of the prog-rock band they once knew.

3. Eurythmics: Would I Lie to You?

Oh, what a killer locomotive engine in this song. It’s unstoppable and an essential background in my high school memories.

4. Annie Lennox: Primitive

Kimberly and I listened to a lot of music after we got married. We sat on a hand-me-down couch in our German Village coach house, pumping the air full of tunes as she plowed through yet another graduate school tome. The “Diva” album was on heavy rotation, and, in retrospect, this reverie reflected my mood about the limbo we found ourselves in.

5. Luscious Jackson: Naked Eye

My friend Andy Hall once wrote me a letter to say: “I dare you to take a chance on a band called Luscious Jackson.” This song reminds me of that challenge, and the inspiring friendships I’ve had with people who inspire me to be more creative.

6. Paul Simon: Me and Julio Down by the School Yard

Paul Simon has been a major influence on me. I wrote a report in 7th grade on “The Boxer” to prove I was a Man of Substance. But that song was too long to fit on this CD. “Julio” is a welcome understudy.

7. Sting: Fields of Gold

More music played while reading with my wife in our early marriage days. I guess that’s why the romantic air of this song resonated with me.

8. Rusted Root: Food & Creative Love

(Only a wobbly live version on… really loses something off the album.)

Went through a big Rusted Root phase after I had kids and my consumption of new music began to slow down. The whole “When I Woke” album is a powerful speeding Buick from beginning to end.

9. Sons of Never Wrong: Sun Song

(Not to be found anywhere on Blip)
Our friends Chuck and Margaret introduced us to this Chicago folk trio. How many folk tunes pull in ska and gospel like “Sun Song”? And how many songs address the bad omens that presage a disastrous relationship? Yeah. Smart stuff here.

10. Small Potatoes: The Best Things in Life Are Free

(Not to be found anywhere on Blip)
Another Chicago folk group, this time a duo with a style they dub “eclectomania.” We’ve seen them in coffee shops, community halls, and even at an Evanston park where we had hired them to bid farewell to our departing friends who had introduced us to the band in the first place: Ken and Beth, our world-circumnavigating sailor pals.

11. Rodrigo y Gabriela: Tamacun

In 2006, I was sitting in another room of our house when I heard this guitar duo absolutely light up the Letterman show. Their fiery fury caused me to get out of my chair and run to see the fuss. I play this album when I need to get something done.

12. Us3: Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)

I was tooling around Columbus, Ohio, in 1993 when this jazz-sampled humdinger blazed over my radio. Music like this on the stereo made our time in that town more palatable.

13. They Might Be Giants: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Can’t escape college without a TMBG tune stuck in your head. Some call them a gimmick band, but they have real musical chops and are always up for an experiment. This tune always seemed to get air time at marching band gatherings.

14. Alabama 3: U Don’t Danz 2 Tekno Anymore

After I joined Star Farm Productions, a busy little company crammed into a residential living room, I spent long stretches of time with headphones on writing the heck out of my chapters in the Edgar & Ellen books. An Alabama 3 CD was on a bookshelf and I took a chance on it. The twisted songs of drinkin’ and drugs and “sweet , pretty country-acid house music” fueled my fingers for most of the creation of “Under Town” and “Pet’s Revenge.” Probably not a healthy input to inspire children’s books, in retrospect.

15. Fishbone: Lyin’ Ass Bitch

(An unfortunate live version)
I was introduced to ska in high school, and I couldn’t believe how cool it was to have a full brass backup as part of such a scorching sound. Man, this song just makes me laugh every time.

16. Squirrel Nut Zippers: Good Enough for Granddad

Like Alabama 3, the SNZs mix up their influences. I can’t recall who introduced this to us, but I do recall using its manic energy to keep me working that damn Nordic Track treadmill we had when we lived on Cleveland Street.

17. Mighty Blue Kings: Meet Me in Uptown

(Not to be found)
Buoyed by the zeitgeist of the “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” Gap commercials in 1998, swing enjoyed a revivial. This Chicago hipster band was our personal local connection, and we actually saw them perform at the Green Mill … in Uptown, natch.

18. Prince and the New Power Generation: My Name is Prince

Oh, come on. The Little Purple Man had to be on this list, and I can think of no better tune than this, the most self-assured, self-addressed love letter to one man’s self-funkiness. This album got frequent replays in the years leading up to parenthood, perhaps as a not-too-subtle reminder of the party lifestyle I was about to leave behind.

19. Bobby Darin: Beyond the Sea

Once again, riding with dad in the convertible, listening to 8-tracks. Bobby Darin never seemed cornball to me, even though his storytelling songs have that gleaming ‘50s earnestness about them. For me, this is comfort music from a very safe time.

20. Howard Shore: Into the West

The coda to my favorite movie series of all time, “The Lord of the Rings.” I don’t usually cotton to modern tunes tacked onto the end of movies with period soundtracks, but this graceful song — playing over the credits of the final film — tasted like lime sorbet after a hot and hearty meal.

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