Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes- Game of Shadows

Over Christmas weekend, I went out with some friends to see "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows," sequel to Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes."


"Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows" takes place at some point after its predecessor. It begins with Holmes believing that seemingly unconnected crimes are actually the work of college professor James Moriarty, who has something sinister up his sleeve. While out celebrating Watson's wedding that will take place the next day, Holmes meets up with a Gypsy girl named Simza who is somehow connected to Moriarty through her anarchist brother. Holmes, dragging along Watson who worries about his new bride, and Simza journey to Paris, Germany, and Switzerland as they try to stop Moriarty and his evil scheme.

One problem I had with the first "Sherlock Holmes" was that the plot was sort of scatter-brained and did not seem to be very smooth. In this movie, the plot was even worse, and it was difficult to understand. I did not understand Holmes' reasons for the move to each place and how he came to his conclusions about Moriarty. Much like the first one, certain scenes would be repeated to show that Holmes was really working something else and that something else was going on that will actually change the outcome; this time, however, it felt more like a cop-out and did not flow smoothly with the plot or the rest of the story. The movie also seemed too long. I was expecting it to be over by the time that the characters got to the train, but, no, it kept going on. I also noticed that my sister, who was in the party, frequently looked at her cell phone clock and which indicated that she too was bored with the movie.

Even though the plot of the first movie was scatterbrained, it was enjoyable because of the character interactions and their witty dialogue. This movie, however, fell flat. Holmes and Watson were no longer entertaining or bouncing off of each other. Holmes also looked jealous for most of the movie, jealous that Watson was getting married, and it led to some rather awkward scenes, which I'll mention later. The characters themselves were dull and nothing special. Holmes was eccentric, but it was not truly memorable or funny like it had been in the first movie. Watson looked more like he was tagging along rather than actually helping his friend. I was excited when I heard that Jared Harris would be playing Moriarty because I had liked him on "Fringe," but his character here was dull and nothing really memorable, which is a shame because he can act so much better.

Another problem I had with the movie was the content. The first movie was relatively clean, with no language and no sex/ sexual references (except for the very brief scene with Holmes and the pillow), but this one was different. There were several awkward scenes between Holmes and Watson that almost came across as being semi-homosexual, such as when they're wrestling in the train car after Holmes throws Watson's new bride Mary into the river. The scene where Holmes' brother Mycroft is nude was totally unnecessary and in bad taste. The scene of Holmes dressed like a woman was obviously done for laughs, but the way it was handled only served to worsen already-awkward scenes between Holmes and Watson.

Perhaps it was because the writers wanted to redeem the plot, but the content of the movie was uncalled for and looked as if it was added more for laughs. Another thing that was added that could have been left out were the number of slow-motion scenes. Some of the scenes looked more like they were trying to explain how Holmes thinks (which the first movie used), but here they were used in over-abundance and became annoying. In particular, the scene where the Germans are firing on Watson, Holmes, and Sim was slow-motion for most of the time, and it made me want things to speed up so that the scene would just end. These things were likely added to make the audience forget about the slow, convoluted plot, but they only served to worsen, not redeem, the movie.

I was disappointed in "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows." I had expected something similar to the first movie, but it ended up being worse than the first, not improving on the first's issues and adding extra and unnecessary special effects and crude innuendo to distract the audience.

I give it two stars out of five.

Monday, December 5, 2011

CD review: "Celtic Christmas" by Orla Fallon

In honor of the Christmas holiday, I will give a review of Orla Fallon's "A Celtic Christmas." She released the album and DVD last year, but the holiday passed before I had a chance to review it.

"Joy to the World"

Orla starts off her album with this joyful rendition of the popular Christmas carol, accompanied by a choir and by a background fiddler. I got to give her credit for singing the entire hymn and not leaving stanzas out. This currently is my favorite version of the song, and it's a good start to the album.

"I Saw Three Ships"

Orla continues being upbeat with this Christmas song. Accompanied by a flute and some percussion, she adds a cheerful playfulness, and you can hear her smiling as she sings. This is another one of my favorites from the album.

"Do You Hear What I Hear"

Orla becomes more subdued though no less powerful as she sings this song. She is accompanied by her harp and by former Celtic Woman Meav. This song is stunning, and it is nice to hear Meav singing again since her departure from CW in 2007. This is another favorite from the album.

"It Came upon a Midnight Clear- The First Noel"

This song is divided between the two popular Christmas hymns. The first half is slower but beautiful, reminding me of "The Mermaid" from Orla's debut album except for the background orchestra. There is an interlude with the pipes, and then the song changes key for "The First Noel." The second half is also pretty, even though Orla only sings the first stanza and the chorus. The entire song is very pretty and flows much more smoothly than the combinations on Orla's "Winter, Fire, and Snow" album.

"Little Drummer Boy"

Against the background of a guitar and a drumbeat, Orla sings this as a duet with Vince Gill. This song is not one of my personal favorites, as I'm not a fan of Gill's vocals and the two voices seemed unevenly matched for a duet. Then there is that odd little section in the middle where there are extra lyrics that aren't from the original song, and it seems thrown-in there.

"Silent Night"

This song starts off strong, with Orla singing the first stanza in Gaelic. Then David Archuleta sings the first stanza in English by himself. Then the two combine, with Orla in Gaelic and Archuleta in English; I personally am not fond of this, as it sounds messy. I again think the duet is very uneven. Their "Pat-a-Pan" is a little better, even though that version is not on the CD.

"A Soulin'"

I am not familiar with this Christmas song, but I personally find this version very annoying. I skip it every time I listen to the album.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

This song sort of reminds me of Orla's earlier "The First Noel." It's pretty though not one of my favorites on the album.

"Bells of Christmas"

If you listened to Orla's "Winter, Fire, and Snow" album, you will recognize this song from that album. Except there are a few differences between the two versions. This song is pretty, but I prefer listening to the original version.

"Away in a Manger"

Orla sings this version acapella with Irish choral group Anuna providing the background vocals. It is pretty, though I personally prefer the version Orla did with Celtic Woman.


Orla sings this acapella again, just like she did on "Winter, Fire, and Snow." I am 80% sure that this is the exact same version that she released on that other album; in that aspect, it almost doesn't fit with the rest of the album's ethereal sound.

Compared to "Winter, Fire, and Snow," this album is vastly improved though not perfect. Orla puts much more passion into her singing, and this sounds more like her enjoying herself, which was not the case in the other album. The album started off strong with its first four pieces, but after that the songs were either ok or not as good as original versions. Except for her song with Meav, I was not impressed with Orla's other duets, as the vocals seemed unevenly matched and did not flow together very well.

The album was ok and not one of my favorite Christmas albums. There are some strong songs, but the others are either hit-or-miss for me.

I give the album three stars out of five.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

CD Review: "Anamceol" by Deirdre Shannon

In the spring of this year, former Celtic Woman member Deirdre Shannon released her second solo CD titled "Anamceol." She celebrated this release by offering a special deal of an autographed copy of the CD. I ordered the CD but unfortunately, for whatever reason, mine was not autographed. Nonetheless, the CD was worth it on its own.

"Follow the Heron"

This stunning song is about the coming of spring and the departure of winter. The lyrics are rich in their description, and Deirdre's voice soars as she sings them. This song is an excellent start to the album and one of my personal favorites.

"John O'Dreams"

This song is about John O'Dreams, a mythological Irish figure who has some connection to death (the insert in the CD explains it better). The dark lyrics are offset in a somewhat odd way by the more up-beat tune. Nonetheless, it is a pretty and catchy song.

"Maid of Culmore"

After the previous two pieces being more powerful, Deirdre becomes more subdued here, though she loses none of her emotion. This song is about a beautiful girl from Culmore who captures the heart of a man but leaves him heart-broken when she sails to America, causing him to go after her.

"Bonny Blue-Eyed Nancy"

This romantic song is about a young man who loves the beautiful Nancy, who is considered too low for him, but he remains loyal to her. Deirdre sings this beautiful song with tenderness and passion.

"Gartan Mother's Lullaby"

This Irish lullaby, which Orla Fallon fans will recognize from her debut album, is beautifully sung by Deirdre. The song is subdued and lovely, one of the highlights of the album. The background noise of water helps to give the song a very soothing atmosphere.

"Silent O Moyle"

Fans of Meav will recognize this song from her "Silver Sea" album. Deirdre sings this lament, accompanied by the piano, and she puts great emotion into it. No offense to Meav or to Anuna, but this version is my favorite.

"Siobhan Ni Dhuibhir"

I have only heard Clannad cover this song on their debut 1973 album. Deirdre sings this in Gaelic, accompanied by a strumming guitar and background strings. It does have an odd feel to it, a Gaelic song being accompanied by a small orchestra. It isn't a bad song, but it is not one of my personal favorites.

"Down by the Sally Gardens"

This song has been covered by so many Irish artists that after a while most versions tend to sound alike. This is not the case with Deirdre's cover. Much like Orla Fallon's version, Deirdre sings this with the piano and background orchestra, but she makes the song sound very atmospheric and beautiful without sounding busy or overdone.

"Lass of Glenshee"

The only version of this song I am familiar with is the one that Anuna did with former Celtic Woman Meav. Deirdre sings this romantic song, accompanied by a guitar. I prefer this version more than Anuna's because Deirdre actually sings loud enough to be heard.

"Crucan Na Bpaiste"

I have never heard this song before, but it is based off of a poem that Brendan Graham (writer of "You Raise Me Up" and "The Voice", both made popular by CW) wrote. The Gaelic song is a mother's lament for her dead child. Deirdre sings this with such tender emotion that is heart-wrenching when you hear her. This one of my favorite songs from the album.

"Song for Ireland"

Deirdre ends the album with a tender reflection on her home country of Ireland. It is pretty though not one of my favorites.

Compared to Deirdre's first album, I like this one much better. Firstly, because Deirdre stays much closer to her Irish- Celtic roots. Every single song on this album is Irish or Scottish, and I enjoyed how she picked more remote songs, not sticking to the popular ones that people associate with Irish music. Secondly, Deirdre's first album came across to me as being more pop. This album feels more like a contemporary take on Celtic music; even though some aspects remind one of pop, everything still feels distinctly Irish. If I have a complaint about the album, it's that some of the songs sound alike after a while. On her debut album, Deirdre had the upbeat "I Know My Love" and "Gathering Mushrooms," but this album only has "John O'Dreams." I would have liked more upbeat songs to offset the more subdued, quiet pieces.

Otherwise, "Anamceol" is a beautiful album. Instead of going on a pop route to entice American fans, Deirdre remains true to her Irish roots. Out of all of Celtic Woman's members over the past several years, her voice has not changed or gone sour, and she has continued singing truly Irish music. If you are looking for a beautiful Celtic album with emotion and power without it sounding sappy or overdone, this is the album for you.

I give it four out of five stars.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Movie Review: The King's Speech

Given my fondness for movies about British royalty, I recently watched "The King's Speech" with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.


"The King's Speech" is set in the 1930's England and tells the story of George the Sixth, also known as "Bertie." Bertie is the son of King George the Fifth and brother of the future King Edward, and he has speech problems, which lead to teasing within his own family. Bertie gives up hope of ever being able to talk normally, but his devoted wife Elizabeth seeks the help of Lionel Logue, an unorthodox Australian therapist, to work with her husband. As time goes on, Bertie develops a friendship with Logue, but he becomes terrified at the prospect of him becoming king with his father's death and his brother's abdication.

The story itself flows smoothly and, from what I have read, looks pretty historically accurate. The plot is interesting and keeps you engaged as it moves from different events throughout the 1930's, from a failed speech to Edward and Wallis Simpson's affair to Bertie's first big speech. The plot itself sounds like a typical inspirational story that is more fluff than anything else. What truly sets this apart is the witty dialogue and the characters.

The characters were well-written, and the actors did an excellent job portraying them. Colin Firth played Bertie, and he truly showed off Bertie's quick temper, his devotion to his family and his country, and his own fears regarding the possibility of him ruling; he also does a convincing job as a stammerer. Helena Bonham Carter, unlike her usual eccentric movie roles, plays Bertie's wife Elizabeth and pulls off the elegant, polite character well. Geoffrey Rush plays the witty Lionel Logue and does this very well; his character is quite memorable and likable. There are various other characters throughout the movie, but they all add to the story.

The costumes and sets looked realistic, and the movie itself felt like it was indeed set in the 1930's of England.

The movie is rated R, but it only has that rating because during a therapy session, Bertie starts yelling profanities, as he discovers he never stammers when he swears. This scene is not very long and is largely played for humor, but the great amounts of language in the short scene give it its R-rating.

I truly enjoyed watching "The King's Speech." It truly was an enjoyable and interesting movie.

I give it 4 and 1/2 stars out of five.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Movie Review: Thor

Tonight, I saw the movie "Thor" for the first time.


"Thor" is one of the Marvel Comic movie adaptations, set in the same universe as other superheroes such as Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America. Thor is the son of Odin and is slated to be the next king of Asgard. However, he is arrogant and reckless, wanting to kill the Frost Giants because of an ancient war with them. For his behavior, Odin banishes his son to earth until he can learn some humility. While on earth, Thor hooks up with a scientist named Jane and her colleagues. Meanwhile, Thor's brother Loki is scheming behind the scenes, wanting the throne of Asgard for himself.

The movie moved along at a fast pace; my brother noted that it seemed much shorter than one hour and forty-eight minutes long, which I agree with. There is plenty of cool action and fighting scenes. The plot itself is rather simple and easy to follow, and it ties up pretty well at the end.

My one problem with the movie was the huge amount of cliche material that was used. You have Loki, who turns out not to be Odin's son but a Frost Giant. There are several deaths or near-death scenes that all (except for one) end in the character being resurrected or turning out alive in the end. Then you have the arrogant person of higher blood who is banished and learns humility while in exile, and he changes into a completely different person by the end of the story. Then there is the romance between Thor and Jane, which is totally cliched and, for me, didn't really click.

One thing that helps redeem the movie from its many cliched aspects was its humor. I have to say that this is probably the funniest out of the whole "Avenger" adaptations. Part of this came from the whole different cultural interactions between Thor and those on earth. Thor is big and tough, and he doesn't understand that tasers can knock him down flat. And he believes that throwing coffee cups on the floor means a compliment, not breaking dishes.

The characters were pretty good. Chris Hemsworth (whom I've only seen in the beginning of Abrams' "Star Trek") was an excellent Thor. I liked Anthony Hopkins as the wise, old Odin, and Tom Hiddleston was a good as the villainous Loki. Natalie Portman as Jane was only ok, and her character wasn't as unique as the others.

The movie was enjoyable. It ultimately wasn't excellent or high up there, but it was a good popcorn movie.

I give it four out of five stars.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

CD Review: Music Inspired by Middle Earth

I'm a big "Lord of the Rings" fan. I adore the books but dislike the movies more every time I watch them. This particular CD by David and Diane Arkenstone (or the Elbereth Orchestra or Middle Earth Orchestra... yeah, too many names, depending on which site you listen to it on) showed up on rhapsody for me a few months back due to a "best of" album which featured the song "Arwen and Aragon." I wasn't a big fan of the album at first, but listening to the entire thing via youtube changed my mind. And so, in honor of the 74th birthday of Tolkien's book "The Hobbit"....

"Prelude/ Hobbits of the Shire"

The CD opens up with a dark song that reminds me of a marching army, but this eventually becomes a happy, folksy tune, which likely is like a theme for hobbits.

"The Road to Rivendell"

This song is happy and bouncy, sounding like several friends going for a long, fun tramp inn the woods. Even though I think this piece is a little bit light compared to the book's dark portrayal of the journey, it's very catchy and could fit with the hobbits going around the Shire before the ringwraiths started chasing them

"The Quest"

This piece has a majestic feel to it, with the flutes serving as the hobbits' theme. This makes me think of the Fellowship first starting out and the first part of their journey, before it becomes much darker.


This is a very dark and shadowy piece. Unlike Howard Shore's version, Arkenstone creates an atmosphere that makes you shiver when you think of how Tolkien wrote about the darkness of the abandoned mine of Moria; Diane Arkenstone's vocals definitely add to the creepiness of the song. There is a brief part of the song where there is a sound that reminds me of glittering, that I guess may refer to the mithril that is mined there. This is one of my favorite songs on the album.


This is a tender and pretty song, I think capturing Tolkien's Lothlorien much better than Howard Shore did.

"Galadriel's Mirror"

This is a beautiful piece. It focuses on Diane's ethereal vocals, and a stringed instrument at times serves as a hobbit's theme. It comes across as a little too pretty for the mirror scene in the book, but it's still a lovely piece of music. This is another one of my favorites from the album.

"The Riders of Rohan"

This song is majestic and bouncy. When I listen to it, I can see a group of proud riders riding across the plains of Rohan, bouncing in their seats and the wind in their hair. This is yet another highlight of the album.

"The Palantir"

This song is a little more electronic than the rest of the album, which captures the atmosphere well. It is mysterious sounding, and the electronics make me think of the spinning palantir.

"Arwen and Aragorn"

This song is what first introduced me to the rest of the album, and it is absolutely gorgeous. It is a graceful romantic piece, and I always think of a loving couple being together. There is a bit in the middle of the song that sounds like a hobbit theme and thus almost doesn't fit, but it works. This is my absolute favorite off of the album.

"To Isengard"

This is a majestic-sounding piece that makes me think of a marching army. The hobbits have their own theme at one point, as evidenced by a stringed instrument and the harp, but it quickly returns to the previous marching theme. It's not one of my personal favorites from the album.

"In the Land of Shadow"

If you thought Moria was creepy, then this song about Mordor is even creepier. The atmosphere is dark and makes me think of a post-apocalyptic landscape, where the hobbits trudge onwards against all odds. There is a brief marching section in the middle of the piece, which I think could refer to when Sam and Frodo are accidentally impressed into the orc army. This is another favorite of mine from the album.

"The Field of Cormallen"

After the darkness of Mordor, you get a triumphant, majestic theme to celebrate the triumph of the fellowship over the Dark Lord.

"The Gray Havens"

This is an ethereal piece which captures the atmosphere of the Gray Havens and Frodo and the elves sailing away. It's a very nice conclusion to the entire album.

This album is vastly different from the music that Howard Shore composed and, in some areas, I think captures the atmosphere and mood of the books much better. In other areas, I think the music is a little too light-hearted for the books. Even though David Arkenstone is known for his electronic New Age style, he does very well in his interpretation of Tolkien's Middle Earth. Even if you're not a Lord of the Rings fan, the music is lovely on its own grounds. I highly recommend it, as it is one of the few albums where I enjoy the entire thing.

I give this four and a half stars out of five.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Show Review: Celtic Woman "Believe"

Tonight I went with some friends to go see Celtic Woman's DVD recording "Believe" in Atlanta in the Fox Theater. This is the first time I have been to an actual recording, and so it was definitely different from a normal concert. I do have to say that the balcony seats my friend and I had were excellent, the closest I've ever been to the stage for the cheapest price; we had a very clear view of the entire stage, except for the heads in front of me. The theater looked pretty full, but I didn't see the ground floor at all, so I don't know how full it was.

I guess each recording has its own glitches, but tonight it was the microphones. The PBS representative was supposed to talk into a mic, but it didn't work so everyone was running around trying to fix the problem. Throughout the night, the sound guy (who told us when to clap and such) had mic problems as well. During a couple of songs, for a brief second it sounded like there was a male talking into a mic, even though there was no one on stage doing it. It was odd, but it was a glitch that I doubt will be shown on the final DVD.


Song #1- the show started off with the usual Mairead solo and then led into the three singers Lisa K, Lisa L, and Chloe singing. I didn't recognize this song, but it sounded like a mixture of "The Call" and "Sky, Dawn, and Sun" and was about waking either the night or the heavens.

Song #2- the second song was a Lisa K solo (which is typical, it seems). I don't know the name of it, but the only line I recall from it is "you are the only one." Lisa used a hand microphone while she sang it. This one reminded me of "Fields of Gold."

Song #3- the third song was a Mairead solo. I don't know the name of this one either, but given past shows, I'm guessing it is a David Downes- Mairead creation. This one sounds eerily like "The Butterfly," except Mairead did some Hendrix screeching during it. Mairead didn't look like she was on fire like she has been before, but at the end of the song her bow was shredded.

Song #4- the fourth song was a Chloe song with Mairead accompanying on the violin. It was soft and pretty, and the word "nocturne" was repeated several times throughout.

Song #5- the fifth song was all four girls but centered predominantly on Lisa K. Bagpipes played a large part in the song, and I was less than twenty feet away from the lead piper who was in the balcony. The problem with the pipes is that they played along with the girls and, as a result, were nearly drowned out because of the voices. The song was very short and dealt with sailing on the sea.

"Bridge over Troubled Water"- I am not familiar with the original version of the song, but CW's interpretation was nothing memorable to me. The Gwinnett Young Singers, a local kids' choir, joined in and sat on the stairs in the center of the stage, surrounding the girls. This one got standing ovation.

"Black Is the Color"- I was not familiar with this song until wikipedia informed me it is largely an American folk tune. This one was sung by Lisa L; this is the first time I have heard her perform, but I was not that impressed with her voice. To me, Lisa Lambe sounds like a combination of Lisa K and Chloe, which made it difficult for me to tell the girls apart when they sang. Lisa L moves around a lot on the stage, much like Mairead dances, and it was a bit distracting.

"Give Me Your Hand"- I first heard this song on the "Songs from the Heart" tour last year, but this is the second half of the "Songs from the Heart" medley in the second act. I loved the pipes on this one. It was good, but I missed Alex and Lynn being a part of it.

"Tears in Heaven"- I believe this was an Eric Clapton cover; even though I know Clapton a bit, I was not familiar with this one. Chloe sang this, and it reminded me of her version of "The Prayer" that she sang at Slane. It was not a memorable piece.

It was interesting in that during this song, I noticed some people getting up and walking out. I'm not sure if they returned a different way, but it made me wonder if some fans were not happy with some of the songs.

"My Heart Was Home Again"- I also first heard this on the "Songs from the Heart" tour when former member Alex Sharpe sang it. Alex's version, to me, was so powerful and emotional, and it was her signature song. However, the duet between the two Lisas just did not work for me. Out of loyalty to Alex, I didn't clap at this one.

"I Dreamed a Dream/ Circle of Life"- This one was a medley of stuff from the musicals "Les Miserables" and "The Lion King." Lisa K focused more on the first half with Lisa L on the second half. The drums reminded me of "Mo Ghile Mear," and David Downes played a whistle during the song. I didn't like the Lion King song, and I thought it really didn't fit with the entire scheme of things.

Between this one and the next song, there was a five minute interlude. The sound guy gave us instructions on clapping and stuff about gas prices. I thought it was a poor attempt to keep the audience entertained while the girls changed.

"Teidhir Abhaile Riu"- don't be deceived; this is NOT the original traditional Irish song. Much like "Nil Se'n La," it was part of the original Gaelic chorus added to a song that had little relation to the original. This one was the "Nil Se'n La" replacement, with all the girls coming out barefoot and wearing what looked like green bathrobes (I kid you not; one of the chaperones agreed with me about the dresses for this one). Nonetheless, it was a fun, upbeat song. They had a male Irish tap dancer on stage (I have no idea who he was, but he seemed to know Mairead very well, given their interactions). There was the sense of "At the Ceili" with the girls doing a bit of acting, and there was dancing, including a neat spinning scene. It was entertaining and one of the highlights of the evening.

Then we had an intermission. It was supposedly fifteen minutes, but I think it was closer to twenty because they kept delaying returning to the show. While they set up, the audience sang "happy birthday" to Ray the drummer, as today is his birthday. Finally, Lisa K and Chloe came out and taught the audience how to sing "Green Grow the Rushes O"; I wonder how much of their interaction was scripted or if it really was unplanned.

"A Woman's Heart"- this song has been sung by Mary Black and by Eleanor Mcevoy, but I had never heard it before. It was sung by the two Lisas and Chloe. The lights were very bright during this one, and it made it hard to look at the stage.

"The Water Is Wide"- I'm sorry, Lisa K and Mairead, but Orla Fallon and even Chloe as a soloist were far better. This song was too loud and lacked the power that Orla put into it on her first solo album. The bagpipes were predominant and loud on this one. Nonetheless, it got a standing ovation from the audience.

"Green Grow the Rushes O"- the audience was urged to sing along with the three girls. It wasn't a very memorable piece.

"You'll Never Walk Alone"- all four girls performed this one with the kids' choir. The drums were rather loud on this one, but it came across as being sentimental.

"Smile"- I'm not familiar with the original, but this one was sung acapella by the girls, with Mairead accompanying them. It was a rather bland and homogeneous arrangement, and it made me miss CW's earlier days when everyone sounded different. It wasn't very memorable.

"Walking the Night"- this is the first half of the "Songs from the Heart" medley popular on the recent tours. It was ok, but Alex and Lynn sang it far better, in my opinion. Lisa L acted very dramatic on stage, but it came across as silly and not fitting the song.

"A Spaceman Came Traveling"- I was hoping this song would not be performed, but it was anyway. It's a catchy tune, but being a Christian, I found the song offensive for its portrayal of angels being aliens. Lisa L spun around the stage like crazy, but it came across as a poor imitation of Mairead.

"Ave Maria"- Chloe and the kids' choir sang this new arrangement of the Catholic hymn along with the orchestra. I prefer the original version that Chloe and Orla did back in 2004.

"Women of Ireland"- this was Mairead's replacement for "Ashoken Farewell/ The Contradiction." It started off slow and then picked up the pace at the end. To my disappointment, the drummers did not come down to perform with Mairead; instead, the Irish dancer came back on to dance with her. The crowd enjoyed the dancer, and they got all excited when they saw the wood being laid down for him before the song began.

"The Parting Glass"- this was the last song of the night. It started off acapella but then the other instruments joined in. This song was extremely loud, and I had a headache and sore ears by this point. The bagpipes nearly drowned out the girls' singing. Some confetti was shot out on the stage towards the end of the piece, and I pity those who have to clean it up tonight.

Then, everyone cheered, and the performers bowed and left the stage to the "At the Ceili Reprise". The ending felt rather abrupt, but perhaps that was because I'm so used to the "Mo Ghile Mear/ Finale" and "Spanish Lady" to finishing out the show.

As far as music, I was rather disappointed with the song choices. Most of the songs dealt with sadness or some kind of depression, and very few of them were upbeat. They sang Celtic songs, but they did not have any Celtic flavor to them, coming across more like pop and not traditional. And several of the songs sounded familiar in that they were mere replacements for previous show songs or that, in the case of Mairead's pieces, they sounded exactly like what's she been playing for the past seven years.

The costumes were nothing special either. The dresses struck me as looking like different versions of those from "Songs from the Heart" DVD. Neither of the dresses looked particularly good on Chloe, and I think the designer needs to pay attention to the fact that she's bigger than the other girls and that she should dress differently from them.

I was concerned about the extra eye candy that was rumored to be in the show, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The tap dancer wasn't distracting; he did add something interesting to the show, but I still think that he was a bit unnecessary. The kids' choir was ok, but it seemed that they were there to convince people that CW loves kids. The confetti at the end was a bit much, and I think the fog machine let out a bit too much fog at times. The lights, however, were very bright at times, and I was left worrying that I'd get a migraine from them.

As for voices, I honestly don't know if what I heard was live or not. At times it seemed live, but most of the time I didn't know. I'm reserving judgment until I see the final DVD result. But, given Lisa L's constant spinning, it wouldn't surprise me if she was lip-synching.

A big problem I had with the show was the treatment of the girls. Lisa L seemed like a third wheel, only added as an extra vocalist; Lisa K and Chloe were on the stage far more frequently than Lisa L. Mairead also seemed like another third wheel, only showing up in a few songs. Lisa K once again was shown off as the predominant, leading singer, which seems to have been the case for the past few years, but it was done at the expense of Lisa L and Mairead. It reminds me of "Songs from the Heart," where the original three girls were promoted while Lynn and Alex were treated more like background singers. I'm not sure what songs will end up on the final CD, but I hope it's not going to be a repeat of the last show.

I was really excited about "Believe," but I was left feeling rather underwhelmed. It seemed more like a pop repeat of "Songs from the Heart." To me, this show was even worse than "Songs from the Heart." I may change my opinion about it, but I was not very fond of what I saw. It seems, to me, that CW is only continuing to decline as a show, and I'm losing confidence in their ability to entertain.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Movie Review: Unknown

Recently, I watched the film "Unknown" starring Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger.


"Unknown" is an action-thriller-drama movie set in Berlin, Germany. Dr. Martin Harris and his wife arrive in Berlin for an important science conference; however, on the day of their arrival, Harris forgets a bag at the airport and tries to retrieve it, only to end up in a car accident. He wakes up four days later with amnesia and then remembers the conference and his name. However, when Harris returns to the hotel where he and his wife were staying, his wife does not know him and another man has assumed his identity. People start trying to chase Harris, and he turns to the cab driver Gina, who caused the car accident, and a German PI named Jurgen for help.

The plot seemed straightforward and interesting, but it became twisted and did not flow smoothly. As I watched it, it seemed as if the writers couldn't quite make up their mind as to the ending would be; this made the build-up confusing and the revelation looking as if it had suddenly been added with nothing to lead up to it. I still don't fully understand the assassination scheme and the whole thing about genetically modified corn. Also, the ending of the film felt like the ending of a Bourne movie, though it was not as well-done and did not fit in well with the rest of the movie.

The characters were all right though nothing memorable. At first, I sympathized with Harris when I wondered what was going on to him; however, by the end of the movie, he was nothing special. Harris remembering his true identity reminded me of Jason Bourne, but he was far less sympathetic than Bourne; Bourne's change of heart in the first film made sense, but Harris' did not. Neeson and Kruger had no chemistry together, and they did not work together well.

Maybe it was because of the meandering plot, but there was quite a bit of action in the movie though not as cool as other action films. I did have a problem with the shower sex scene and the meaningless off-screen sex in Gina's apartment; neither fit into the movie, and they seemed more like they were thrown in for no good reason whatsoever.

The movie looked like a popcorn film, but I was disappointed. It came across as meandering and then like a Jason Bourne wannabee that miserably failed. It was not a very memorable movie, and I'm not likely to watch it again.

I give it two stars out of five.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Movie Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

This evening, I made my first trip to the movie theater in several months to see "Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

For those who are familiar with the original series that started back in 1968, the current movie is the first one of a reboot and does not deal with the original story.


"Rise of Planet of the Apes" is a new origin story for the "Planet of the Apes" mythology. James Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist who is trying to find a cure for Alzheimer's Disease, emotionally inspired by his own father who suffers from the disease. After Will's cure seems to fail when an intelligent chimpanzee Bright Eyes becomes violent, he and his assistant Franklin discover she has a baby. Not wanting to kill it, Will takes the baby home, where his father names it "Caesar." Because of the drugs given to his mother, Caesar becomes a highly intelligent chimpanzee. When Will's father's dementia returns, Will makes a new but more aggressive form of the virus, but he and his company do not test it on humans, preferring to continue the testing with chimps. After an incident involving Will's father, Caesar is sent to a primate house, where he is abused by the workers and is disgusted with the other unruly chimps. Caesar soon becomes the domineering chimp and begins instructing the other orangutans and gorillas, and things become more interesting when he manages to get a hold of the intelligence virus and give it to his companions.

The plot was easy to understand, coherent, and interesting. My one complaint is that it seemed a little slow, as the real action didn't begin until later in the movie. Part of that is that this movie is an origin story, which means that it's a mere introduction to what will happen later. Which means that if there is at least another movie in the works, then that one will likely deal with more actual conflicts between apes and humans and not the build-up.

The characters were divided into the human and the animal. The human ones were generally nothing memorable, but neither were they ones you disliked or hated, except for the greedy cooperation owners and the people who run the primate house. The apes were definitely meant to be sympathetic as they suffer from abuse at the hands of humans, and they all had their different personalities, like the young male who challenges Caesar, the ferocious gorilla Buck, or the orangutan who befriends Caesar.

The special effects for the movie were cool, especially in regards to the CGI apes. Andy Serkis did an excellent job doing Caesar's role, and the apes looked much better than in the 60's and 70's versions where people were just dressed up in makeup for the roles.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this movie, but I ended up thoroughly enjoyed it. It was an entertaining drama-action film, and I believe worthy of being continued. If a sequel is ever produced of similar quality, you will find me at the movie theater when it arrives.

I give this film four out of five stars.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Miniseries Review: John Adams

If you haven't noticed by now, I'm something of a history geek. So when a movie or TV series based on historical events comes out, I like watching it. There's nothing that pleases me more than a historically accurate telling of real events. Recently, I watched the TV miniseries "John Adams," based on the life of America's second president.


The TV miniseries is in seven parts and begins with John Adams as a farmer and lawyer in Boston, Massachusetts. He is called upon to defend the British soldiers accused of starting the Boston Massacre, much to the chagrin of his hot-headed cousin Samuel Adams. Adams is reluctantly dragged into joining the Continental Congress, but his hot-headed nature tends to alienate him. He is then sent away to France to ask the king for aiding the Americans, which causes him to butt heads with Ben Franklin and which causes tension at home as he misses his wife and children. Eventually he is reunited with his wife and with his friend Thomas Jefferson in France and visits Paris and England. Washington is elected the first president, and political struggles immediately begin, especially between Jefferson and Hamilton. Adams is elected the second president and is also beset with political tensions between Britain and France due to the French Revolution. After he fails to win another election, he retires on his family farm, where he suffers grave losses within his own family as he grows older and outlives most of them.

The show's writers did a good job of capturing the highlights of Adam's life between 1774 and his death. It moved at a good pace, and there was never a dull moment, even if Adams was reading a newspaper criticizing some political event or person; part of this was because of the characters, but I'll get to that later. I really enjoyed the look at power politics, such as the struggles between Jefferson and Hamilton, and it was a reminder that American politics were divided from the very beginning. The writers also did good in making certain scenes emotional, particularly in the last episode which has several deaths in it though other notable scenes are: Adams watching hot-headed Patriots tar a tax collector and Adams and his wife being reunited in France after several years apart.

The characters were very memorable, and the actors and actresses were chosen well. Paul Giamatti made a very good John Adams, capturing his sarcasm and his short-temper in a way that makes him flawed but likable. Laura Linney was a good Abigail Adams, and her character matured as she started off as an unsure young woman who did not like her husband being away so often, but she transformed into a strong shoulder for Adams. Tom Wilkinson, David Morse, and Stephen Dillane were also good in their roles as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, capturing what made these historical men unique. These characters kept the plot going, and they had good chemistry with one another, making the miniseries seem even more real.

The costumes, makeup, and scenery was also well-done. Everything looked accurate, and I felt as if I had been transported back to late colonial times. The makeup was especially excellent, especially as you watched the characters grow old, as their hair grows whiter and more wrinkles appear on their face. I was quite amazed at how they managed to make Giamatti look ninety years old.

All in all, the miniseries was excellent. I did not know much about John Adams and what he had done, but this gave me a good look into America's War for Independence and more into what went on behind the scenes, like in the Continental Congress. If you are an American history buff or someone in search of an accurate historical story, this is definitely the miniseries for you. Case in point: we got my sister, who's not very interested in history (and calls us history people geeks frequently), to watch the show, and she thoroughly enjoyed it.

I give it five out five stars.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans

This evening, I watched "Clash of the Titans" with the family.

If you're like me, you've seen the original version released in 1981 which dealt with Perseus, the half-god and half-mortal, as he has adventures in saving his love Andromeda. It was also complete with Harryhausen graphics, which don't look very real but are nonetheless classic.


The 2010 "Clash of the Titans" is about Perseus, the illegitimate son of the Greek god Zeus and Danae, a queen; he and his mother are sentenced to die in a coffin, but Perseus survives as a baby and is adopted by a fisherman and his wife. However, the world is restless as men are openly questioning and rebelling against the gods on Olympus, including Perseus and his adopted father. After his family is killed, Perseus ends up in Argos, where his demigod nature is revealed, and he is called upon to save the princess Andromeda from the Kraken, a creature created by Hades to destroy the Titans. As Perseus and his group journey to find a way to kill the Kraken, they battle beasts like Medusa, the three witches, giant scorpions, and others, and Perseus continually resists his demigod nature and refuses to act like a god.

The plot was rather strange and did not smoothly flow together. It seemed to take aspects of the original movie as well as parts of Disney's 1996 "Hercules." Basically, you have the gods trying to get humans to love them, as human prayers power them; then there is Hades who is scheming to get Zeus out of the picture so he can be king of the gods; then there is Perseus resisting his demigod nature and hating the gods, refusing to use their many gifts; then there is the chaos in Argos as religious fanatics scream about doomsday and disobeying the gods, wanting to sacrifice Andromeda, who is willing to die to save others but whose father thinks otherwise. It all may tie in for some semblance of a plot, but I found that it did not really exist or flow. The movie seemed to be more about the big action scenes and declarations of independence from the gods but little else.

Part of the problem, I found was the severe deviance from Greek mythology. Io, instead of being one of Zeus' human lovers who was disguised as a cow, became a mortal cursed with agelessness and a romantic interest for Perseus, which Andromeda originally was. The djinn, an Arabic mythological creature, were added as beings to aid Perseus, but their addition was rather bizarre and did not fit. Acrisius, the husband of Danae, becomes Calibos (in the original movie, he was a monstrous being cursed by Zeus for killing the god's flying horses), and it's his wife, not his daughter, who is impregnated by Zeus; the entire circumstances surrounding Perseus' birth were also not from the original legend (the 1981 version sticks true to what the legend says what happened). Compared to the 1981 version, Zeus and Hades were the only two gods to play a major part in the events, also deviating from the legend. Perhaps it's just me, but I prefer it when movies stick to the original mythology because continuity is better (though Disney's "Hercules" is an exception because it was watered down for young audiences, but it still worked).

The characters were nothing truly memorable or special. Sam Worthington plays the reluctant hero Perseus who hates his true origins, which is a typical stereotype in modern stories. There is the military man Draco who is meant to be likable because he lost his daughter and hates the gods because of it. Queen Cassiopea is meant to be unlikable and boastful, and there is no sympathy at all for her, and her husband barely does anything in the story. Andromeda is supposed to be a beautiful princess, but I found she wasn't anything special other than the stereotypical royal girl who loves her people and wants to save them, despite what her parents want.

My biggest problem with the movie is that it came across as being more of an anti-religious rant than anything else. Practically all of the characters hate the gods while the gods themselves are portrayed as selfish and unlikable. The entire movie was anti-religious to the point that that was its theme, and the movie was meant to drive that theme into your head. It was very annoying (not to mention offensive, because I am a Christian), and it made the movie difficult to watch and enjoy. I would have liked the movie a little better if the theme was not as predominant.

The special effects were neat, ranging from the giant scorpions to the three witches to the Kraken. However, they often reminded me of stuff from other movies, namely "Pan's Labyrinth" or "Hellboy" (both the first and the second), and I would have liked more originality in that area. Also, in my personal opinion, I liked Harryhausen's animation better, even though the recent stuff was neat.

The movie looked like it would be a cheesy guilty pleasure, but it didn't turn out to be one for me. It was an anti-religious rant with little plot and special effects galore. I think I'll just stick to the original movie for the Perseus and Andromeda legend.

I give it one and a half stars out of five.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Movie Review: Hereafter

Last night, my mom and I watched Clint Eastwood's recent film "Hereafter."


"Hereafter" takes place in 2004 and 2005 and switches between three main characters. Matt Damon plays George, a psychic who can communicate with the dead but wants nothing more to do with his gift, which he calls a curse. The second character is Marie, a French reporter who has a near-death experience in the 2004 tsunami and decides to write a book about such experiences. The third character is Marcus, who loses his twin brother Jason and is placed in a foster home, where he tries to find a psychic who will enable him to talk to his dead brother. In the last twenty minutes of the film, these three characters finally collide in London, England.

The movie's plot was continually at a snail's pace, and I was constantly waiting for something to happen, but it never happened. There were a few exciting scenes like the tsunami or the train bombing in England, but they were rather out of place in the slow-moving plot. George doesn't do much except take an Italian cooking class and try to avoid giving people a reading, Marie spends her time thinking of her near-death experience and arguing with her publisher to get her controversial book published, and Marcus walks around in an emotionless daze, looking for a psychic or for some sign of his dead brother. And then, in the last twenty minutes, the plot becomes predictable when Marie ends up in London for a book fair and George is there on vacation, and the three characters finally interact, where Marcus finally accepts his brother's death and then George and Marie meet up to begin a romantic relationship. Other than that, there was no real goal for the plot, and it merely trudged along.

The characters were rather dull, and their experiences did not help the already-slow plot. Matt Damon is a talented actor, as seen in his roles in "Good Will Hunting" or the Bourne trilogy, but this was role was a waste of his talent; he spent most of the film complaining about his psychic abilities, and I felt little sympathy for his character. Marie was also a very dry, uninteresting character, and I could have cared less if her boyfriend cheated on her or if she lost her job because of her book. Marcus was also uninteresting, and I found it difficult to sympathize with him as he struggled to deal with the grief of his brother's death. The only character who had a semblance of life was Bryce Dallas Howard as Melanie, who George meets in his class, but she disappeared early on from the story and was not brought up again. Interesting characters can often save a dull story, but the ones in this film only added to its trudging nature.

There was ultimately nothing interesting or memorable about "Hereafter." I spent the entire film feeling bored and wondering when it would be over. The three stories did not interact or mix very well, and the characters were boring and forgettable. The concept was interesting, but it was not well-done; it needed a lot more work if it was to be a memorable, dramatic story about death.

I give it one star out of five.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fringe- Redeemed Season 3?

Fox's television show "Fringe" had its season finale a little over a week ago. A few posts back, I went on a little rant on how I was disappointed with the way the show was going. However, curious to see if "Fringe" would redeem itself by the end of the season, I continued to watch it, even though I skipped over a few of the episodes. With the season finale, I am disappointed to say that "Fringe" season 3 was not redeemed in my eyes.

Disclaimer: The following views are not fully mine, as other "Fringe" fans have also voiced their own opinions, which I happen to agree with; so I am restating what other fans have said.

Comparing "Fringe" season 3 to its previous seasons, season 3 has fallen extremely short of what it used to be. One of these is in the plots and how the story is becoming weak and poorly written. In seasons 1 and 2, the writing remained consistent, and it was clear that the writers were making their way towards something cohesive and towards a larger picture. In season 3, this was not the case. Even though the machine seemed to be the underlying theme of the entire season, there were other side plots that seemed important and then were dropped and never resolved. For example, as a fan pointed out, Walternate's attempt to figure out how Olivia could cross between universes was never explained; another one would be Bolivia's rapid pregnancy, for which a reason was never given, and I would think there would be easier ways for Walternate and his minions to get Peter's DNA. Peter's vigilante activities against the shapeshifters were never explained, his more aggressive behavior, and the whole affair were quickly dropped after only one episode and never brought back.

Not only that, but looking back over the rest of the season, it became clear to me that the writers were not working with a unified plot anymore. An example is the First People. When the First People were first introduced in the episode "6955 kHz," they seemed like an interesting addition, as they had a different calender, invented the vacuum, and other things. However, by the season 3 finale, this perception changed with the rather weird statement that the First People were actually future Walter, Peter, Olivia, Ella, etc... Everything about that scenario completely contradicted the original information, and it almost looks like the writers had one idea in place and then abruptly changed their minds at the season's finale. This lack of a unified plot only led to further problems and story arcs that looked as if they were just thrown in for fun. I have no idea what the whole Belliva arc was about, as fans speculated that perhaps there was something more to Bell's motives, but in the end the storyline didn't make sense and added nothing to the season. This is very sloppy writing and is not at all what I expected from the writers from previous seasons.

Another problem this season was the pacing. The season started off strong, but as it went along, it felt like it was dragging its feet and not going anywhere. The whole Olivia/ Bolivia switch lasted too long and should have only been for a few episodes. After that arc was resolved, the middle of the season went limp. The episodes at that point became boring and added nothing to the overall plot, and the cases were nothing interesting, compared to those from seasons 1 and 2. Beginning with "6:02 AM," the build-up to the finale took way too long and seemed pointless. I felt as if the events of those three episodes could have been resolved in one episode and that the writers were just dragging out the plot. Not only that, but the entire finale buildup was disappointing; after a season finale, I generally get all excited in looking forward to the next season, but this time I did not feel that way.

Another problem this season was the characters. Because I am re-watching "Fringe" and am working on season 2 at the moment, I was struck by the difference in the characters between seasons 1 and 2 and then season 3. Olivia used to be a strong character, but this season she felt limp and not very interesting. Peter lost his cynic, humorous touch, and I lost respect for him when he did not recognize Bolivia's infiltration. Walter had a few memorable moments, but he was not as funny as he has been in the past. None of the other characters were memorable or deep either.

Given the poor quality of season 3 and how the writing is getting sour, I do not have high hopes for season 4. If Abrams took the reins of the show again, I could see some redemption, but currently I'm only expecting further decline. It is a great shame because "Fringe" started off as something that had great promise and that would not end up turning into "Lost," but now it looks like the original touch has been lost, most likely permanently. I may watch season 4 to see if the show is redeemed, but in the meantime I shall focus on seasons 1 and 2 for my dose of "Fringe."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Movie Review: The Young Victoria

Admittedly, I am a history geek, and, for reasons unknown, I have a thing for the English monarchy. So, when I heard that there was a movie in the works about Queen Victoria, I was interested.


"The Young Victoria" begins about a year or so before Victoria will ascend to the throne of England. Victoria, the their to the throne, hates her restrictive life that is tightly controlled by Sir John Conroy and her submissive mother the Duchess of Kent, as she makes few public appearances and is treated like a child. Her uncle King William IV fears that if he dies before Victoria's 18th birthday then her mother and Conroy will control the throne. Meanwhile, Victoria's uncle Leopold, who is king of Belgium, wants to manipulate his niece and decides to do so through Victoria's young cousin Albert. Albert woos Victoria at his uncle's command, but he finds himself falling for her. Victoria becomes queen of England and rejects her mother and Conroy's influence, choosing to take her advice from the charming Lord Melbourne. However, this will make Victoria's reign difficult as she finds herself the target of assassination attempts and the hatred of the parliament and the people.

The story of Victoria was well-told and, from what I've read, the movie is pretty accurate. I especially enjoyed the whole complexities of the court and the political games that several of the characters played. One thing I do have against the plot is that it followed history but did not have an underlying flow to it. In other words, the plot runs between the first few years of Victoria's reign, but it seemed as if there was no real resolution. In the end, Victoria lets Albert become her greatest influence, but there is little mention of how she managed to successfully deal with her early unpopularity and her doubts about ruling. I understand all of that can't be explained in a movie that only deals with a few aspects of Victoria's life, but it would have been nice if there was a better flow with the general plot and a satisfactory ending.

The characters were also well-done. I have only seen Emily Blunt in a few films, but she did an excellent performance as Victoria, capturing both the pride and determined nature of the princess/queen as well as her vulnerable and unsure moments. Rupert Friend did well as Albert, and I liked how he transformed from a willing political pawn to an independent man. The characters were written in such a way that you either truly dislike them (like the Duchess of Kent and Conroy) or like them (like William IV or even Melbourne), and all of them behaved in ways that were consistent for that time period.

I truly enjoyed the romance between Victoria and Albert. It was truly well-written, non-sappy, and Blunt and Friend had excellent chemistry between them. Their relationship was one where you would say "awwwwwww" when they marry and then when they are reconciled after their argument. It was sad, though, when at the end of the film they mention Albert's early death and how Victoria remained loyal to him until her own end.

Another good aspect of the film was how realistic it all was. The costumes were good, and the settings of the palaces and gardens were excellent. To me, they all captured the air of nineteenth century England with no sense of modernity in them, as is the tendency to happen in recent historical films.

I truly enjoyed watching "The Young Victoria." I enjoyed its historical accuracy and the realistic characters, which are hard to find nowadays. If you are into films based off of historical events, then this is the movie for you.

I give it four out five stars.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thoughts on "Fringe"

Ok, I want to get this off my chest. I've been a fan of "Fringe" the television show for over a year now, and after last night's episode I feel the need to talk a bit about it.


I first discovered "Fringe" last year via my sister who had started watching it in the middle of the second season. The rest of the family got hooked on it, and we bought the first season and watched it through. Basically, this is the show's premise: an FBI agent named Olivia Dunham contacts Peter Bishop, who is a cynic largely wanting to do his own thing but has a mysterious past, in order to get his father Walter Bishop, who has been put into St. Claire's mental institution, because the quirky scientist knows how to save her boyfriend. However, it turns out that there is a much bigger threat to the world in the form of strange scientific experiments that are harming and killing people. And so Fringe division is born. The first season focused on following a group known as ZFT that is somehow connected to many of these strange cases, a drug called Cortexiphan that Olivia was treated with as a child, and mention of a parallel universe. The second season focuses more on the parallel universe, on Peter's mysterious childhood, and a bit more on Cortexiphan. The third and current season has introduced an arc focusing on interactions between the two universes and Peter's connection to a machine that can either create or destroy.

What I loved the most about "Fringe" was particularly the first season. I loved the characters and their interactions: Olivia's determination for justice, Peter's sarcastic cynicism, Walter's off-kilter behaviors, and Astrid's long-suffering attitude towards Walter. I enjoyed the plot and its various arcs, and altogether the show looked like it was destined for great things. The second season was also good, though to me it was not as good as the first. And now, I'm not very confident in this third season.

One of the reasons is the characters. Walter used to be genuinely funny, but this season John Noble's acting seems a little more forced and Walter's behavior is not as humorous as it used to be. Peter has lot his sarcastic, cynic touch, and this season he's proven to be fairly stupid with him not recognizing the truth about the Olivia/ Fauxlivia switch; it does not help either that the love triangle between Olivia, Peter, and Fauxlivia is still going on. I sympathize with Olivia because of the switch that was made, but her character seems weaker than it previously was. And poor Astrid seems to have been pushed into the background, barely appearing in the episodes anymore.

Another reason is the general plot itself. There were plenty of imaginative, interesting stories such as Peter's heritage from the Red Universe and the Cortexiphan experiments, and they made for good arcs. However, the ones for season 3 have turned a little odd, with Peter's connection to the machine and the whole Olivia- Faulivia switch and that entire mess. And, not to mention now the pregnancy story, which is unimaginative and will probably doom the show. Besides that, the cases that the Fringe team investigates are not as interesting as they used to be, and they have been replaced with more focus on the drama.

A last reason is the loose ends and inconsistencies within the whole frame of the story. Several story lines such as the man in "The Arrival" who was looking for the beacon, the empath child in "Inner Child", and who John Scott was really working for were never explained, and there has been no further mention of them; rumor has it that some aspects of season 1 will eventually be explained, but the long delay between introducing a plot line and then explaining it is a while to wait while you introduce new plot lines. Then there are some aspects of the plot that don't make sense at all, such as the recent episode "The Firefly", which seemed like a complete waste of an episode. Some of the inconsistencies are like how Olivia crossed over in season 1 finale and ended up inside her car in the season 2 premiere or how Walter talks about the car crash where he and Peter were nearly killed and how he changes the story depending on which season it is.

I used to love "Fringe", but I'm feeling underwhelmed by recent episodes. I hope it gets better or gets cancelled before it turns off too many fans.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

John McGlynn- Songs for a Fallen Angel

I first discovered indie Irish singer and guitarist John McGlynn through his involvement with my favorite choral group Anuna, where he played the guitar and often arranged certain pieces like "Siuil a Run" and sings, though admittedly half of the time I cannot tell if it's him or his twin brother Michael singing. Anyway, I further discovered his album when one of his songs was done for Anuna's "Celtic Origins" and when I learned that his song "Swimming in the Barrow" was covered by former Celtic Woman member Lynn Hilary. The album likewise made an appearance on my pandora station, and I ended up buying it from lala before it was shut down. The theme of the album deals with love and the fallout after a broken relationship.

"If All She Has Is You"

This sad song was featured on the CD and DVD for "Celtic Origins" though it was different. This version features some strings in the background, but it is not distracting. The lyrics are heart-tugging, and you can feel the pain in them.

"She Took My Hand"

This song is a more up-beat but still has a melancholy feel to it.

"I Know You Hear Me"

The beginning reminds me of Anuna's 2002 version of "Siuil a Run", but it quickly proves to be different. I like the lyrics for this one.

"What If.."

This reminds me a bit of "She Took My Hand". The lyrics are about the contemplating of the impending breakup.

"Fallen Angel"

This song is darker than the others. The lyrics deny the "magic" of love, but otherwise I'm not sure of the interpretation.

"Face the Wall"

This song is one of the more upbeat ones, but it has sad content. It is about a young couple who don't know how to react to their love, and so they end up drifting apart.

"In Your Eyes"

This is one of my favorites from the album. The lyrics are about being haunted by the departed lover who betrayed the other.

"If I Looked Any Better"

John offers his listeners a bit of a reprieve into his humor in this piece. According to an interview he did, this one is about the whole celebrity "life in the fast lane" during the few years when Anuna was involved with Riverdance. It's an upbeat song and quite memorable.

"Swimming in the Barrow"

Celtic Woman fans know that this song was covered by former member Lynn Hilary, but this one is the original. It is a lively song about John's childhood memories of the Barrow River in Ireland during the summer. This is also one of my favorites from the album.


After the happiness of the last two songs, the listener returns into the brokenness of the relationship. This one is very powerful in saying that the lover is justified to be away from the singer though he still loves her. Another one of my favorites.

"The Fisher King"

This song was featured on Anuna's album "Deep Dead Blue", but this is a different version. It's a gentle love song, and I like how it's just John's voice and the guitar without the addition of the background choral singers.

"Now and Forever"

The album ends with on an upbeat note about the end of the relationship despite the other having said she will love the singer "now and forever".

Despite the album largely being focused on one topic, it's very well-done. The songs all fit on the album. While they may sound similar, the pieces make up for it with their powerful emotion. I thoroughly enjoy listening to it, and I'm looking forward to John McGlynn's next album, which is rumored to be soon.

I give it four and a half out of five stars.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dargaard: The Dissolution of Eternity

Snow days are a wonderful thing; they mean you can stay home and find the time to write. And so, I will do another music review for another album that I discovered via pandora a few months ago and have been hooked on ever since.

The band is called Dargaard, and it hails from Austria. It is made up of only two members, Tharen and Elisabeth Toriser, who use a synthesizer for all the instruments. I have largely only heard this album "Dissolution of Eternity", and it has a very gothic, haunting sound, almost like something you would play on Halloween night or inside a large cathedral.

"As Old as the Bones of the Earth"

The song starts off dark and threatening with what almost sounds like the screech of a bird, and then the vocals and bells begin. It is a very haunting piece. It is a long song (about seven minutes), but it is good nonetheless, making me think of some deep, hidden underground cavern. It ends with the sound of the wind blowing.

"Thy Fleeing Time"

This song is faster than the first one, and it is sung by Elisabeth. It is very haunting, and this is one of the songs that first got me interested in Dargaard.

"A Path in the Dust"

This one has a more threatening, ominous tone though is not as memorable as the first two pieces.

"In the Omnipresence of Death"

This is another seven-minute long song. It has the feel of a requiem and is sung in Latin, and the bells add a nice touch. This is one of the more memorable pieces on the album.

"My Phantasm Supreme"

This song is louder than the other two, and Elisabeth's vocals are almost drowned out by the music. There is the sound effect of wind at times during the piece.

"Night before the Vastland Storms"

The harp plays a big part of this song. While it is less dark than some of the other songs, the bells and drums do give the impression of lightning and thunder being seen and heard from afar.

"Fire's Dominion"

The synthesizer gets a little high-pitched here, but it doesn't last two long. The sound effects of fire can be heard around the middle of the song.

"The Isolated Vale"

This is a gentle, quieter song sung by Elisabeth with a harp strumming in the background. It is a pretty piece.

"A Prophecy of Immortality"

This is a mournful piece with various sound effects like horses and shouting in it. When I hear it, I think of someone not looking forward to living forever on the earth.

"Wanderer at the End of Time"

This song starts off very high-pitched, which I'm not fond of, and I've yet to hear the entire piece because of it.

This album is a very haunting, dark piece. All the songs fit together perfectly, and the synthesizer does an excellent job of sounding like a full orchestra at times. The songs are arranged very well, and a good portion of them are memorable. I'm not much into darkwave or Gothic-sounding music, but I've made an exception for this album.

I give it four and a half out of five stars.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Movie Review: Tron Legacy

My break has been busier than expected, hence the lack of music reviews. I will instead give a review of "Tron: Legacy", which I saw in theaters yesterday.


"Tron: Legacy" begins in 1989, a few years after the events of the original "Tron". Kevin Flynn has become CEO of ENCOM and has a young son named Sam, whom he tells tales about his experiences on the grid. Suddenly, Flynn vanishes one day, leaving Sam alone. Fast-forward about twenty years to Sam (played by Garret Hedlund) who is the typical rebellious, slightly embittered son who is not willing to take over his father's empire and only plays pranks on ENCOM and tries to avoid the law. One night, Sam is told that a message was sent from Flynn's abandoned office, so he goes to the old arcade to investigate. While there, Sam is digitized like Flynn was years ago and ends up in pretty much the same situation: a program has gone rogue and is controlling the system strictly, and Sam can only stop it if he can get home through the portal before it closes. He meets up with his father, who has been sought after by the villain C.L.U., and Quorra (played by Olivia Wilde), a unique program who dreams of being human, and together the three make a hazardous journey to the portal.

I do not remember much of the original "Tron" except that the graphics were cool, despite being done in the early 80's. However, from what I do remember of it, it was completely different from this new version. While the special effects are cool, they look a little too realistic, not like the old graphics which reminded the audience that Flynn was in a different world. An entire city has been built to house the programs, most of which are idle and do not do anything beyond being entertained in some fashion or other; this makes for a completely different setup from the original, but it also means that there is great inconsistency between the two in terms of world-building.

The plot itself is rather skewed and full of holes. Sam arrives in the grid but ends up in a digitized version of his dad's arcade, so why does he have to travel all the way beyond the grid to get to the portal if that is his only way home? Flynn has been in the computer world for years (he states elsewhere in the film that minutes in our world mean hours in the digital world), so why did he age like a normal human being if the time is messed up? C.L.U is trying to dominate the world, but how does he have the inside influence to be able to get word to Sam? The plot itself is rather strange with a large rabbit trail of Sam trying to get help from Zuse (played by Michael Sheen), which ends in disaster when the program betrays him and results in a large club fight and then Sam, a wounded Quorra, and Flynn barely escaping to make their way towards the portal; it seemed like a rather useless situation, only put in there for the sake of being a cool fight scene. The side plot of Quorra's true identity was also weird, as was her desire to be human and experience things like sunrises. There was also a great amount of predictability to the plot, such as Tron's fate (he was supposedly killed by C.L.U years ago though Flynn never saw it happen), Flynn's death, and Sam deciding to become the CEO of ENCOM at last.

The characters were nothing special. Sam was the typical stereotyped son who got jilted by his father and so doesn't want to do his job but later changes his mind; he had a smart-alack personality, but it was nothing memorable. Flynn was odd in that he suddenly became Buddhist or Zen while inside the grid, and so now he sits around in silence "listening to sound". Quorra was not special either, and it was predictable that she and Sam would get together more or less at the end. C.L.U. was not a memorable villain, and his goal of taking over the human world was rather weird and did not make much sense.

The special effects were cool, but to me they were a little too modern and too realistic-looking. When I remember the original "Tron", I recall the graphics being pretty cool despite being done in the early 80's, but they helped to establish the strangeness of the world and reminded the audience it was different. Here, the special effects are a little too real and a little too sleek-looking; after all, Flynn was trapped in 1989, so why did the rest of the world look like the digital world would? Still, the graphics were neat.

A redeeming point in the movie is the soundtrack, done by French electronic band Daft Punk. The soundtrack is excellent, at times sounding like Vangelis, Hans Zimmer, or John Powell and then at other times turning into catchy techno music. It was truly well-done, and I have been enjoying listening to it on rhapsody.

In conclusion, "Tron Legacy" was only an ok movie. The plot was filled with holes and did not make much sense, though the effects were cool and the soundtrack amazing.

I give it 2 and 1/2 stars out of five.