Sunday, February 27, 2011

Recent Grammy Winner: Esperanza Spalding Serenades USC

Coming off of her Grammy win for Best New Artist, Esperanza Spalding visited USC's Bovard Auditorium to serenade the students and the general public.  While she is well-deserving of the Grammy win, many were shocked by her win.  Justin Bieber (the somewhat "favorite" for the category) fans apparently trashed her Wikipedia page post-win in typical pre-teen rebellion.  However, after hearing her in concert, her win was not that surprising.

Born in 1984, the young artist has been hitting the jazz circuit hard.  She received a full scholarship to Berklee School of Music (the preeminent music school, right up there with Juilliard).  However, this wouldn't be the only time this school has been in her life, she then became the youngest professor at the school at the age of 20.

Now, her music is definitely jazz-y.  With clear jazz techniques of improvisation, solos from all of the members of the band, and scatting, Spalding continues the jazz tradition.  Her combo band in concert included piano, violin, viola, cello, drums, back up singer and of course Spalding on vocals and string bass.    But with her soulful, dreamy voice, the scatting sounded more like a waterfall than abrasive as it sometimes can sound.  And then her string bass acts as a character himself on the stage.  She plays him with dexterity of a professor at a major school of music, but with the emotion of a true artist.  In many ways, she dances with the string bass, swaying side to side with it as though wooing the large instrument.

My stand out favorite songs from her concert was "Apple Blossom"  (from her CD entitled Chamber Music Society) and "Fall In" (from her earlier CD entitled Esperanza).  She is really more emoting these songs then singing them, making jazz accessible to a diverse audience.  Speaking of diverse, she clearly has many cultural influences depicted in her music.  This reminds me of another jazz icon, Miles Davis's amazing record: Sketches of Spain, which uses flamenco influences.  Like Davis, Spalding uses other musical styles (everything from hip hop to soul) to create her unique sound.

And even more special in the jazz community is the fact that Spalding is a bassist.  Usually and more traditionally, instrumental jazz groups generally revolve around a brass instrument.  With such famous jazz musicians as Miles Davis (trumpet), Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), and Charlie "Bird" Parker (saxophone).  Or if not brass, then piano, like famed eccentric Thelonius Monk.  But how many bassist can you name?  That's right, not many.  So, Spalding with her youthful energy and appreciation for her genre really is becoming a stand-out on the jazz scene.  She is definitely the next it-thing in the jazz world, and if the pop/hip hop crazed Grammy's giving top awards to her?  Spalding must be something special indeed.

 Listen to Esperanza Spalding singing "Fall In" here:

Listen to Esperanza Spalding singing various songs here:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Are Your (boy) FRIENDS Up To?

So, since our FRIENDS have all been up to such interesting projects since their time at Central Perk, I thought a friendly check-in was due.  


MATT LeBLANC: While his other FRIENDS were heading off pursuing non-FRIENDS related careers, LeBlanc chose to continue playing his famed-role, Joey in the ill-advised JOEY.  This premise was about FRIENDS character Joey Tribbiani spinning off into La La Land to pursue his acting career.  However, JOEY just proved that without the support of the full ensemble cast of FRIENDS, Joey was not viable.  So, after this went south, he remained low profile (understandably if you ever saw JOEY).  However, recently he has graced the small screen with a new role: himself.  Yes, he actually plays Matt LeBlanc in Showtime's EPISODES.  With its premier in early 2011, the show has been received well.  Similar to Kirstie Alley's FAT ACTRESS the show chronicles LeBlanc's love/hate relationship with fame.  However, unlike FAT ACTRESS (also on Showtime), EPISODES is not solely about LeBlanc.  It's really about this British couple (played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) who have a hit comedic television show in the UK and are convinced to adapt it for American audiences in Los Angeles (basically what Gervais's THE OFFICE did).  However, (like THE OFFICE), the UK version is superior to the American counterpart in almost every way.  And when the studio forces lead actor Matt LeBlanc onto the writers, the show within a show goes from bad to worse.  Soon its about a hockey coach's one-liners and a librarian with short skirts.  EPISODES really soars and LeBlanc is actually funny without resorting to Joey-esque humor.  Bravo, LeBlanc, for playing a non-FRIENDly role.  The show is certainly a better bet than JOEY ever was and will have a larger arc than FAT ACTRESS (which literally only focused on her weight).  I would highly recommend watching LeBlanc's new show: EPISODES.  

MATTHEW PERRY: Matthew Perry was always my favorite male cast member of FRIENDS because of his dry, sarcastic wit.  So when I heard his latest project MR. SUNSHINE was airing on ABC (in the timeslot of FRIENDS friend Courtney Cox), I was excited.  His previous television series post-FRIENDS was STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP.  A show that was definitely much better than it was given credit for.  But with the ratings subpar, the show was cancelled.  But now with MR. SUNSHINE, our sarcastic bestie is back.  However, despite the fact that the cast is promising (hilarious Allison Janney leads the group), the pilot and second episode were mediocre.  And I really wanted to love this show.  You see, the premise explains that Matthew Perry's character is the general manager of the Sunshine Center (sort of like the Staples Center) where sports and entertainment are supplied to the masses.  However, since no outside life is established for our funny lead, it becomes a work-place comedy complete with nepotistic assistants, crazy bosses, and little substance.  Sure, it has it's comedic moments, but is not my bet for best comedy of the year.  That probably goes to MODERN FAMILY and while this hilarious show leads into MR. SUNSHINE, it's not enough to make it a hit.  Plus, like a lot of his FRIENDS are trying to avoid, Perry still keeps Chandler-esque humor alive and well, which may be his downfall.  

DAVID SCHWIMMER:  Schwimmer's post-FRIENDS life has been fairly underwraps.  Known for wanting to direct more (he directed a few episodes on FRIENDS), he's done a few projects, but nothing really well-known besides his HBO series LITTLE BRITAIN USA.  However, he has been the voice of Melman in MADAGASCAR the animated feature films and shorts.  Onto his third feature for this animated family series, Schwimmer keeps busy, but remains quiet.  But with his one-episode role on 30 ROCK, Schwimmer proves he doesn't need a Ross-and-Rachel role to keep it interesting.  Yet with this, he has been active in his somewhat native Chicago (he attended Northwestern University) with Lookingglass Theatre.  As a co-founder of this theatre company he has acted and directed numerous shows and guides the company.   Schwimmer is quoted to have said: "I've made a good amount of money. I'm very happy that I can now support my theatre company and support friends and family, and I'm ready to maybe go back to school and change careers."  So, who knows what will come next for Schwimmer, but we are looking forward to it.  


Monday, February 14, 2011

What are your (girl) FRIENDS up to?

So, since our FRIENDS have all been up to such interesting projects since their time at Central Perk, I thought a friendly check-in was due.  


JENNIFER ANISTON:  Aniston has had a string of successful/semi-successful romantic comedies as of late.  Just coming out this weekend was JUST GO WITH IT, co-starring Adam Sandler.  While jury is out on how well this will really go over, the reviews have been mixed.  Rotten Tomatoes critic forum gives it a terrible 18%, leading me to conclude it can't be that good.  But previous rom-coms THE SWITCH (co-starring Jason Bateman) and THE BOUNTY HUNTER (co-starring Gerald Butler) have been more successful.  The question is, if she is 42, why is she doing romantic comedies?  Now ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that adore Ms. Aniston, but why is she still doing these movies?  Her days as a dramatic actress in a film like THE GOOD GIRL were strong, but fleeting.  Where have these juicer roles gone for her?  She needs to do more roles like this.  And while I appreciated her stint opposite bff Courtney Cox in sitcom COUGAR TOWN, this is not her arena anymore.  Aniston needs to sink her teeth into some serious meat.  
(Though on a side note, I appreciate her outspoken friend Chelsea Handler, who denounced Angelina Jolie on her E late night show, Chelsea Lately, for Aniston, something Cox couldn't do).  
COURTNEY COX: Cox has been keeping very busy, just like gal-pal Aniston.  She has been starring in her suburban cul-de-sac of a show called COUGAR TOWN on ABC.  In it's second season, Cox is the only friend who has really done the sitcom game again.  With this show (though hideously titled) Cox plays an older woman, looking for love.  With its off-beat humor and notable one-liners, the show can soar.  However, it is certainly not as endearing as FRIENDS was as it often times lacks depth and heart.  But, between another sitcom, like TWO AND A HALF MEN, COUGAR TOWN this show will win out every time.  Why?  Because TWO AND A HALF MEN is sitcom-slime to the tenth degree and really dumbs down it's audience.  Even though COUGAR TOWN doesn't take itself seriously, just like it's Sheen-starring counterpart, it does have really interesting characters and a new take on the love triangle plot line.  Plus with guest stars like Emmy-gold Aniston, and series regular tv-icon Busy Philips, the show has some street-cred.  But, only a bit.  Will it last 10 season like FRIENDS?  Hell no.  Does it add to the fun of Comedy Wednesday on ABC, yes.  And to Cox's credit, she does not play Monica in this sitcom.  Something her other FRIENDS have been pigeonholed into.  

LISA KUDROW:  Kudrow has kept her recent activity fairly quiet, though guest spot on Cox's COUGAR TOWN did keep her busy for a week or so in 2010.  But beyond that, and that terrible movie HOTEL FOR DOGS, she has been keeping a low-profile.  The most recent film she was in (that was of worth) was EASY A, starring the newcomer (and now red carpet maven) Emma Stone.  Kudrow plays a guidance counselor at Stone's high school.  This off-beat character fits Kudrow, but isn't too much like her alter-ego Phoebe.  She has some great actors to play off of in this film including Stanley Tucci, Malcolm McDowell and Thomas Haden Church.   
Kudrow has some phenomenal lines in this film including my personal favorite: 
"He brought a knife to school. It's just a butter knife,
but you know what they say, it's a gateway knife."

But Kudrow has also been creating a one-woman improvised webisode WEB THERAPY where she plays a therapist.  You can visit the site here:  Though I haven't heard too much about it, at least she is doing something and keeping her comedy alive.

NEXT UP?  What are your (boy) FRIENDS up to?  


Friday, February 11, 2011


JESS + MOSS is a really wonderful film about two kids (Jess is 18, Moss is 12) and their summer in Kentucky.  While the two seem an unlikely duo due to their age difference, they are actually the best of friends and know each other better than anyone.  Dealing with tragedy (Moss's parents passed away tragically) they find ways to relate.  But the story is not really why you should see this film.  It's really more of a concept film than an actual plot-driven film.  Because, nothing really happens.  Yep, there is no plot.  However, you do learn an awful lot about these characters throughout the course of the film.  In a way, it sort of reminds me Kristen Dunst's MARIE ANTOINETTE in that nothing happens, but then so much happened, too.  However, unlike MARIE ANTOINETTE, these characters have a real arc and history (no pun intended).

The film concentrates on the theme of memory.  A fascinating choice when you consider that memories are probably the most precious personal commodity we have, but the least tangible.  With dealing with the families and their lives we see these two connect in unusual and unexpected ways.  And the film holds true to using memory not just in the front-of-camera arena, but behind the camera, too.  Well, really its IN the camera.  You see, this film uses expired and degraded film stocks.  What does this mean?  Well, first off, in the new era of digital media, this film is actually shot on 16mm film.  Shocker for a low-budget indie shot on the director's parent's farm in Kentucky.  But the "expired and degraded" part means that this was film that was not supposed to be used.  The effect is magical.  With a film all about memory, the partially destroyed, weakened, and sometimes grainy film evokes the theme of memory.  It's as if we as an audience are remembering the story of JESS + MOSS and the details are fuzzy.  Its absolutely brilliant.

The actors, Jess (played by Sarah Hagen, best known for BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and FREAKS AND GEEKS) and Moss (newcomer Austin Vickers) are a vibrant pair.  With Hagen's street cred and unusual looks and voice, she lends a whimsical, vintage hispter vibe to the young Kentucky native, in a realistic and also moving way.  And then Vickers presents Moss sweetly and naively but we see him grow and develop over the film and his acting, though clearly he was a novice, is really not too bad.  But I must say without Hagen there to lend support, Vickers would have fallen short.  But there are some real moments when Vickers is honest and vulnerable, a difficult task for such a new actor.

Overall, this film is highly worth the watch.  Though it certainly would not be for everyone.  It's artsy, but not annoyingly so.  It's plotless, but has an arc.  And it is a fantastic study on memories and how we keep people and things alive after they've gone.

Rent/Buy/Go See JESS + MOSS if...
-you like Sarah Hagen (you will not be disappointed).
-you like "plot less" shows that are really just an exploration of character.
-you like good cinema without the flash and whirlygigs of tentpoles.

See the trailer here:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Friday Night Lights: Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose.

I interrupt the SUNDANCE 2011 reviews to bring you a goodbye to a phenomenal show, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.

This is the best show that no one saw.

No one saw, huh?  That's right.  This show which has garnered 35 nominations from various award ceremonies over the past five seasons and was a show that no one saw.  Why you ask?  Well, this show has had an interesting past.  It premiered on NBC (the owner of the rights), to flop-like ratings.  However, with such tremendous support from critics and NBC execs, the show found a new distribution pathway - DirecTV.  Yes, unusual.  This means that only those who get DirecTV can see what happens with Jason Street, Tim Riggins, Matt Saracen and Coach Taylor in the following seasons.  So, after the season airs on DirecTV, NBC then re-runs them on NBC months later but at a less-than-prestigious time slot.  That actually sounds like a decent compromise, because if the DirecTV deal didn't go through, there would have been only one season, instead of five.

So, now that we understand why this show didn't hold an audience due to its unfamiliar distribution strategy, we must turn to the story itself.  FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (FNL) is a drama that is shot in a documentary-style.  It follows Coach Eric Taylor (football coach in a small town of Dillon, TX) and his wife, Tami, and daughter, Julie, as they deal with high school, football, and living large in Texas.  Sounds terrible, right?  Or at least it sounds like any old primetime soap, right?  Well you are wrong.  This show is not over the top, this show is probably the most realistic depiction of small town, USA on television.  There is so much heart and courage in not just the stories, but in the style and acting that the show resonates with numerous, die-hard fans of all ages.  First off, the football is accurate, not just "played at" but is the most accurate of any sports I have seen depicted on television.  Second, the relationships between the high school sweethearts, the best friends, the married couples and the town are all well within the realm of reality and are probably too accurate.  This is why the show did not succeed on its first run on NBC.  The show is too accurate.

Today, our television waves are too full of sensationalism (oh my!  there's a bomb inside a body!  or... oh my!  there's a pike running thru a person, but they can still walk!), that any accurate television sends us into sleep mode.  Well, FNL is here to combat this and finally present some critically acclaimed sports drama to network television.  But unfortunately, not enough heard this call to duty.  This show is heart wrenching.  There are so many moments I can count that have made me reflect on my own time in a small town, and the people I met there.  And beyond that, the characters you meet in FNL are by far some of the most relatable characters that when you get to see them grow, you feel like you've known them your whole life.

Finally, this show (though now it just finished its series finale last night on DirecTV), has received the credit it deserves, though a bit late.  It has been nominated for 8 Emmy's, finally winning 1 (for outstanding casting).  But you know how award shows work, the viewers at home have to know the winner, and so this "little engine that could" was passed over for the big win numerous times in favor of more well-known shows.  However, in 2010, Kyle Chandler (Coach Eric Taylor) and Connie Britton (Tami Taylor) finally (FINALLY!) got nominated for their work with an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor and Actress, respectively.  Now, they didn't win, but the nomination was a lot of validation for these two actors who have by far created the most realistic marriage on screen.  By far.

Now, I know, I know, you all must think that I am over-exaggerating this, but I assure you, I am not.

This is the best television show that no one saw.

You should rent/buy FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS on dvd if...
-you enjoy football or sports in general.
-you enjoy small town portrayals that are accurate.
-you enjoy really well-acted and well-crafted television.
-you want to see a marriage depicted actually realistically by some fine actors.

This is a show that hopefully will live on through dvd sales:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011



THIS IS NOT A SUIT is a short film by A. Sauvage is part advertisement part art.  A. Sauvage is a tailor who presents fashion shows at the world's largest arenas, like London Fashion Week.  His clean cut style and classic lines transfers to not only his clothing lines (entitled THIS IS NOT A SUIT), but also to his short film.  

The film explores what it means to be an artist, a designer, and a tastemaker.  Best of all, the film itself is artistic with design aesthetics, and a tastemaker itself.  With it's white background, the suit stands forward as the main character - seconded only by the man who wears it.  The film not only is a character study into the designer himself, but into the idea of what an artist is.  With a smirk and a wink, the short not only manages to advertise his suits (which are classically gorgeous), but it makes a statement about arts and where artists are in our society.  With its dated (yes, dated, but with nostalgia, too) voiceover the film feels like it came out of the 1960s instead of the 21st century.  This gives the film some wit, some charm, and some real class.  With its MAD MEN feel, the film reminds us of the importance of art in our daily lives - including what we wear.  And like the big tent-pole movies, the combination of art and commerce is entangled in this short.  This short is a MUST-SEE.

See it if:
You like design and fashion.
You like quirky, smirking shorts.
You like Mad Men.  
You find the journey and charisma of the artist fascinating. 

BEST OF ALL: See it on You Tube here: