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Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Casual Critic — Rod Stewart's Live at Royal Albert Hall

Far from a die-hard fan of Rod Stewart, I nonetheless thought his Live at Royal Albert Hall would be more than a little fun. Yet, even for the first half of the concert in which Stewart was performing the way most fans would expect, it seems his best days have passed him by.

Stewart covers some of the classics he's known for, such as "You Wear It Well," "Some Guys Have All the Luck," "Rhythm of My Heart," and "Hot Legs." All are songs that would halt my station surfing, but the performance was from an old guy singing the songs that made him famous a long time ago. He brought Jeff Beck out for a couple songs, which triggered several guest performances, including a rather hot woman playing bagpipes. Completely unexplained, this was apparently about Rod proving he could still get a hot woman to do things.

The strangest moment cames when he trotted out Amy Bell for a duet of "I Don't Want to Talk About It." He announced her as though she were his personal discovery, which she may very well be, but who the hell cares? At the risk of sounding completely out of touch, I've never heard of the woman. She sang well enough, but it wasn't like she came out and made some incredible impression.

Of course, the concert was done in support of Stewart's American Songbook albums. So, halfway through the show, he transforms into his Songbook outfit and tries to fall into the smooth, aging-gracefully performer. I like "You Can't Take That Away From Me," but after that all of the songs sounded the same to me.

If you're really, really into Stewart — both old and new — you may like Live at Royal Albert Hall. Otherwise, leave it for the true fan.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Casual Critic — Florinda Donner's Shabono

When parents' encourage their kids to read more, they often talk about how books can take readers into far-off worlds without them ever going anywhere. Shabono by Florinda Donner brings that promise to life (albeit for adults) in a very readable way.

Anthropologist Florinda Donner immerses herself in an indigenous tribe in the rain forest in South America. The comfort and familiarity with which she offers images of daily life with the Yanomama, including the intense rituals of this native civilization, portray a world that most who could find this or any website could never imagine.

Though not a page turner, Shabono still reads well enough to keep you going to the end. At times, Donner takes too much of a "nonjudgemental" tact in her writing. Though appropriate as a scientist, she lost a connection (at least with me) to the average American reader when she refused to question native rituals that seem primitive to more modern nations. Yet, it was very interesting to see their steadfast belief in rituals that amounted to taking drugs, chanting, and dancing to bring about positive results for a sick child, an upcoming raid of another tribe, or even Donner herself.

The relationships Donner developed (and described) was enough for the reader to feel like you truly got to know and care about some members of the tribe. When it was explored, their fascination with Donner was compelling, and challenged my own prejudices about them. She was seen almost as a child, or at least something to be taken care of. In fact, dealing with that realization, and the fact that she had no real pressures in their society, helps her leave what became an existence in which she seemed tempted to stay.

If you're looking to cozy up with a book, look elsewhere. But, Shabono is a mildly challenging read that might be worth reading for those looking for something truly different.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

The Casual Critic — Monsters, Inc.

The kids — one niece and nephew — were around this weekend, so Monsters, Inc. was on tap . . . a lot. I was hoping for a classic Disney flick that, while catering to the young ones, didn't put the adults to sleep. Though cute at times, this one fell short of that possibly overly ambitious hope.

John Goodman is the voice of James P. Sullivan or "Sulley," the legendary monster of Monsters, Inc. His career of collecting screams from children needed to keep the power on in monster world is suddenly jeopardized when he allows a kid to crossover. Along with his partner Mike Wazowski, voiced Billy Crystal, he must put "Boo" (as Sulley dubs the little girl) back in her world before anyone realizes he is responsible for bringing the threat that children are considered to be into the monster's world. These efforts are often foiled by Sulley's rival, the mean Randall.

There are some funny bits between the big, furry Sulley and the short, little-more-than-an-eyeball Mike. But there weren't any belly-laughs. The story is rather inventive, though it seemed like kids needed more than my nephew's four years to follow it . . . not that it stops him from wanting it on! (My niece is just one, and was more interested in the clicker.) He did mention a "scary part" early on, so beware if your kid(s) frighten easily.

Most likely the numerous, closely grouped viewings soured me a bit, but overall this one wasn't something you'd watch without the kids around. So, unless you're babysitting, skip it.