Of Things Read & Seen & Heard

51lLIoLvZFL._SL160_.jpg

“Four And Twenty Blackbirds” (Cherie Priest)

Summary: Eden sees ghosts, but the three that haunt her life most are benevolent guardians killed in a tragedy long before Eden was born. When she goes on a quest to find out about the mother and father she never knew, Eden finds that her own story begins in the mid 1800s and is born out of blood and magic and death . . . and the story is far from over.

Response: Overall, I enjoyed this book and recommend it if you like ghost stories, but I have to admit that I started off expecting it to be a bit more moody and atmospheric than the story turns out to be. The first twenty or so pages primed me for something elegiac, a Bradburyesque story of ghosts and childhood, of fear and difference. And while there are some genuinely spooky moments throughout, the story takes a turn toward mystery/action that I found somewhat disconcerting. Ms. Priest offers no great twists or turns in this novel, and I found myself being slightly ahead of Eden when it came to figuring out what was going on. Still, Eden is a fun protagonist, tough and self-deprecating and sarcastic. A fun read, but not quite as introspective and interesting as I expected from the opening chapter.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

 

51WYGQE8D8L._SL160_.jpg

Summary: Boy breaks piggy-bank, buys prostitute, is abandoned by uptight father and adopted by the old shop-owner across the street who teaches the boy about life and the Koran and then dies. Boy grows up to be shop-owner and thus the cycle continues.

Response: The acting is quite good, but the film just doesn’t really go anywhere new. Oh sure, the sixteen-year old buying his first sexual experience is cute, but the everything in the film feels so clean and well kept, despite the fact that Momo and his father are supposed to be living in a seedy area of town. The ending feels cheap and convenient. The structure felt jerky and haphazard and would have benefited by letting the audience know that the entire story was being “told” by the older version of himself (who is introduced only in the final scene). I found myself thinking “it’s Karate Kid with Islam instead of karate.” Partly because the kid playing Momo looked a little like Ralph Macchio and partly because the story of a dispossessed kid taken in by an older mentor was being painted pretty much by the numbers here.

The acting really was good though, and Omar Sharif is a joy to watch – so if you are a fan of his, I would totally recommend this movie. But if you aren’t, I wouldn’t bother.

Rating: 5 out of 10

 

51KatmvxMPL._SL160_.jpg

If you like Death Cab for Cutie, then you’ll like this album. If you don’t, then you probably won’t. And if you haven’t really listened to them much, I would probably recommend you start with either “Transatlanticism” or “Plans”, both of which I think are stronger albums. However, Narrow Stairs is a solid album and offers up Ben Gibbard’s typical themes of loss, loneliness and the desperate separation between people that are the staple of his songwriting. What puts him above many other songwriters in “hip” and “cool” alternative bands, is the attention to detail in his lyrics. This is apparent from the first track “Bixby Canyon Ridge” when he sings
I descended a dusty gravel ridge / Beneath the Bixby Canyon Bridge / Until I eventually arrived / At the place where your soul had died. / Barefoot in the shallow creek, / I grabbed some stones from underneath / And waited for you to speak to me.
Gibbard is most masterful when evoking scenes and images with this lyrics, bringing you along to the place of the song and not just the feelings of it. In fact, when he writes more broadly he looses a lot of his power and you get songs like “Talking Bird” and lines like:
And you’re kept in an open cage / So you’re free to leave or stay. / Sometimes you get confused / Like there’s a hint i am trying to give you. / The longer you think, the less you know what to do.
But while there are a few songs that don’t highlight Gibbard’s best, overall the album invites the listener into a series of scenes and lives that evoke recognition of those scenes and moments in our own lives when we are trying to reach out to people we’ve lost, or express ourselves to people we love, or admit to our own sense of mortality. Some of my favorite lines include:
“She holds her smile like someone would hold a crying child” (“Cath”) “I’ve been slipping through the years / My old clothes don’t fit like they once did / So they hang like ghosts / Of the people I’ve been” (“You Can Do Better Then Me”) “I guess you decided that that old queen holds more space than you would need. / Now it’s in the alley behind your apartment with a sign that says it’s free. / And I hope you have more luck with this than me.” (“Your New Twin Sized Bed”)
Musically there are no surprises here, although the band does enjoy contrasting melancholy lyrics with music that seems to be a bit more “up” than you would expect and they do this more effectively than a lot of other bands might. If you like your bands a bit ironic, your lyrics both poetic and specific, and your songs coming with a healthy dose of melancholy and full of imagery, Narrow Stairs will not disappoint.
Rating: 8 out of 10.

What is with people’s fascination with this chick? Sure, she’s pretty but I’ve never seen her do more than adequate as an actor and this album does not add to my impression of her.

She does an album of Tom Waits covers.

Tom Waits covers.

Does it work? In a word, “no.” In fact, my reaction to listening to this (which I did at imeem.com, for free thank god!) is that listening to Scarlett Johannson sing Tom Waits is a bit like listening to a ten-year-old reading the poems of Charles Bukowski, they both understand the words, but not the sense behind the words.

Give it a listen if you must, out of curiosity or fear, but don’t expect any worthwhile reinterpretations of Waits’ music.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

On this day..