Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Music Review: Mat Kearney's "Young Love"

Get Swept Up in "Young Love"

Mat Kearney's fourth album debuted earlier this month as number one on iTunes, entitled "Young Love."  The mellow singer/songwriter from Oregon just got married (you can see their ethereal wedding photos here) and the first single on the album, "Hey Mama," tells the tale of how he met his wife Annie.  To get an idea of what Kearney sounds like, take a smidgen of the playful singsong lyrics of Jason Mraz and mix with a healthy dose of the resounding croon of Coldplay's Chris Martin.  Throw in that Kearney can softly rap like nobody's business and you have a soulful singer who can capture the ear (and hearts) of a wide variety of listeners.

Whether clap-happy or echoing of loss and loneliness, there is a common thread that carries his songs: hope.  This is very important.  It keeps the slower songs from becoming too heavy.  They have just the right amount of weight to take your breath away and leave you lost in thought.

On iTunes, Kearney's music is categorized as "pop" and "religious."  A sense of spirituality comes through in his music, but it's never overpowering.  He is a storyteller, and he uses his music to pass on messages of encouragement and love.

Kearney is wonderful live.  His voice is as full and sensational as it is on his albums.  He is detached a bit, deep in his performance on stage, but likely to suddenly throw himself into the crowd, singing his heart out at the end of his performance.

Want more? You can listen to his tunes and check out tour dates here. Let me know what you think of M.K.!

Songs Not to Miss:   
--Ships in the Night
--Learning to Love Again
--Count on Me

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Top Five Reasons to See "The Help"

The Jackson Five

“The Help” combines strong characters with warmth and hard edges and a story that makes you think. It is a special kind of a movie that is satisfying without needing to tie every loose end or close with a fairy-tale ending.  “The Help” is a wunderkind.  Below are the top five reasons why this film, based in Jackson, Mississippi, is a must-see.

 5. Bryce Dallas Howard (who happens to be Ron Howard’s daughter) plays the “villain” of the film, Hilly Holbrook.  Her portrayal of an uptight, unabashedly racist housewife of the 60s is one of her best roles to date.  Her antics drive everyone around her mad, but karma comes around to bite her in a most disgusting way.  Watch and you won’t be disappointed!

4. The wardrobe of the housewives in “The Help” is absolutely delightful, except for that of Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, Emma Stone’s character.  She is unlike her peers, who only focus on playing the part of the superficially perfect housewife.  Skeeter wants to be a serious journalist.   She could care less about acting like a floozy to draw in a suitable husband.  Therefore, her wardrobe is not eye-catching or well-tailored.  This is a mystery to me, since most of the other characters in the film, like Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain (a fresh face, who acts wonderfully) playing Celia Foote, all sport the most beautifully fitted clothes and shoes.  Hilly wears cerulean blue high-waisted slacks with tiny oxford flats in one scene, a simple, elegant combination.  Celia, as the “white trash” of the era, wears what today is the norm: body-hugging skirts, a nipped in waist defined by a wide belt, and candy-colored, sky-high heels.

3. Emma Stone has proved her quirkiness and on-target comedic skills in past exploits like “Superbad,” “Easy A” and “Crazy Stupid Love.”  She takes the center stage in “The Help,” along with Viola Clark and Octavia Spencer.  She absolutely shines, in a most understated way that only Stone can.  There is something most intriguing about many of her expressions.  They often border on being funny.  Curiously, it doesn’t take away from her role, but rather adds a sort of authenticity to her character.

She has one scene in “The Help” that isn’t funny at all though.  I was floored, in fact, at the depth of sadness she portrays after hearing some news from her on-screen mother, played by Allison Janney.  What really got me was a tiny detail: her chin wobbles.  As far as I know, chin wobbling is no easy feat.  Stone must have reached deeply into her character, or perhaps her own life, to produce such a perfect display of sorrow.

2. Aibileen Clark, played by Viola Davis, is the hero of “The Help.”  While Skeeter is a hero for writing the story of the women who live behind the scenes, Aibileen is the first to take the terrifying leap, to defy the law, to tell her story.  She convinces her best friend Minny Jackson, played by Spencer, to join her.  Soon the tales come pouring out from women all over Jackson.  Davis holds the spotlight in her scenes.  She is a beautiful woman, but it is downplayed and subdued in her role as Aibileen.  Her character is easily the heart and soul of the film.  Aibileen may appear to lead a simple, solitary life, but she is not oblivious to the conversations of the white women she works for.  They speak about her like she is invisible.  She has no way out, no serious realization that things can change, until Skeeter asks to interview her. 

If Aibileen is the heart and soul, then Minny is easily the spirit of the film.  She takes some especially hard breaks, but her keen observations of the family she helps and her sense of humor will keep you in stitches.  She is Aibileen’s partner in crime, the one that keeps her going and makes sure she gets the credit she deserves within their community.  Spencer plays Minny with great skill.  She can be incredibly funny in one scene and broken down in another, both equally believable.

1. The relationship between Aibileen and the child that she cares for, Mae Mobley, is absolutely heartwarming.  Mae is the fourteenth child she has brought up.  Aibileen plays mother for each of these children, loving them as her own, doing all of the hard work behind the scenes, while their mothers flit around worrying about dresses and entertaining company.  

Aibileen impresses upon Mae one of the sweetest and most touching sentiments.  She tells Mae that she is kind, she is smart, and she is important.   Mae, with her blonde curls and chubby cheeks, recites it back to her with aplomb, “I am kind, I am smart and I am important.” It is so ironic and moving that a woman who struggles with invisibility and is rarely appreciated at her job, can still pass on such a wonderful notion to a child.  Mae is not necessarily made to feel smart, kind or important by her own mother, but more of a burden.  It is inspiring that Aibileen is able to hold onto these values herself, despite the oppression she deals with every day.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Battle of the Ryans

Comic Hits and Misses With Reynolds and Gosling

Many are stumped and befuddled as to the truth.  Who is the hotter, oops, I mean stronger actor, Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds?  Just like it’s cats vs. dogs and Mets vs. Yankees, you are either Team Gosling or Team Reynolds.  There is no in-between!

What better time to compare their abs, er, talents, then a time like this when both Canadian leading men star in comedies that came out this summer: “Crazy Stupid Love” for Gosling and “The Change Up” for Reynolds.  After the jump: a quick review and conclusion as to which Ryan truly rules.