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.