Wednesday, May 28, 2014

White Oleander - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

I like a good book, and I like a good movie. I certainly like it when a good book can get adapted into a good movie. Yeah, that doesn't always happen, though. So when I come across one that succeeds at this, I tend to gravitate toward it. Take the book, White Oleander, for example. This book was released in 1999, and it is pretty great. Of course, it is. Would Oprah endorse it if it wasn't ? Well, okay, sometimes she gets things wrong, but she has a decent track record when it comes to literature. Anyway, in 2002, it was adapted into a film. Now, because I enjoyed the book so much, I was a bit concerned about the film, but, soon enough, I realized I needn't have worried. Why? Well, let's talk about it and find out.

White Oleander follows the story of a girl named Astrid Magnussen from the age of fifteen into her early adulthood. She is played by Alison Lohman, who was actually about twenty-two at the time. Don't worry, though. If I didn't tell you this, you probably wouldn't have known. She truly was able to convincingly play the character through all the years. When the film begins, Astrid is living with her mother, Ingrid, a visual artist played by Michelle Pfeiffer. She is a woman who has a great love for her daughter, and it is reciprocated. Astrid adores her mother, but also knows that she can be a cold woman. Anyway, Ingrid starts dating a guy named Barry played by Billy Connelly. Well, sort of. I heard that his part was criminally cut down which is one of my only complaints here. Now, their relationship takes a turn for the not-so-great and, after Ingrid does something that gets her sent to prison, Astrid is put into foster care. We then follow her throughout her journey of going from place to place in these temporary homes, as she waits for her mother and as she grows up. I don't want to give away too much of what happens in these places, but let me just give a brief description of whom she encounters.

The first home she is sent to is that of Starr Thomas played by Robin Wright. She is former stripper and alcoholic turned Christian. Although, perhaps, she doesn't follow everything the Bible says about certain things. This is something that Starr's rebellious daughter often points out, like the fact that she's living with her boyfriend, Ray, played by Cole Hauser. Still, Starr is trying to make up for past sins by being something of a do-gooder, which has led her to take in a lot of foster children. Though it is difficult for Astrid, what with this being her first foster home, she settles in as best she can. Still, due to some unforeseen events, she is forced to leave the house sooner than she thought.

Eventually, Astrid leaves this house and goes on to something of a a modern day orphanage. I love what they say about it in the book and the film, when talking about why some kids choose to go there. They call it "the floor you can't fall below". While there, she meets a guy named Paul, played by Patrick Fugit. She becomes close to him, initially due to the fact that he is also an artist, but she it is also obvious that she just needs someone to be there. And Paul is someone who comes to genuinely care for her. Astrid does quite a bit of growing up in a short time in this place, because it is full of 'tough' kids, and she learns that she has to be the same way. She basically just learns to survive.

After a while, Astrid is moved to another foster home, this time that of Claire and Mark Richards played by Renee Zelwegger and Noah Wyle. Mark works in the movies and is gone for most of the time, so Claire, a struggling actress, is the one taking care of Astrid. She is a kind, but very sensitive woman, yet she gives Astrid some much needed stability. Of course, she must also move on from this home as well, again, due to circumstances beyond her control. It's at this point that Astrid seems to just stop trying. (P.S. You get to see what a good sense of humor Renee has here, because Claire shows Astrid a short scene from a horror movie she was in, and it's Renee in that Texas Chainsaw movie! Yes, she let the world be reminded of that. Dedication to her craft, that is.)

Anyway, during these experiences and as she continues on to even more, Astrid sporadically visits her mother in prison. It is clear that they still love each other, but their relationship becomes understandably strained. Things get more difficult with each visit and everything culminates with secrets that have been kept for years being revealed. The movie comes to a close, bookending with the opening scene, and it does so perfectly. I love when this is done so well in films.

So I think this movie is pretty much amazing. I know it seems as though I said a lot about the plot, but I barely scratched the surface. This film really is so much about the performances, particularly those of the four main actresses, so let me discuss that a bit. First, Alison Lohman is unbelievably great here. Not only does she act well, but she basically carries the entire movie. I don't think there is a single scene that she isn't in. That's got to be hard for an actress who has been doing it for decades, so to see such a young woman pulling it off is overwhelming. Then, there's Robin Wright. She plays her character over the top, but that's okay because Starr is over the top. She's outrageous and excessive in her personality, and she's kind of fun, though in a way that's almost uncomfortable. Robin does it impeccably. Then, we get Renee Zelwegger. Her character Claire is probably the most fragile person she has ever played, and Renee's performance is incredibly sad. And I mean that in the best way. She just breaks my heart every time I watch this, and to be able to be so effective emotionally is quite a gift. But, if I had to pick the most outstanding performance, I have to give it to Michelle Pfeiffer. I love Michelle Pfeiffer. I love her as an actress, and as a woman, I think she is so wonderful and beautiful and classy. Ingrid, however, is kind of an awful person. Yes, she loves her daughter, but she loves her to the point where she wants to control everything that comes in and out of her life. She is narcissistic and vicious and believes that her way is THE way, and she has no problem hurting people so long as she is able to make her point. And Michelle plays her perfectly. I think this is her best role ever, as a matter of fact.

Okay, one more thing. Yes, I think White Oleander is a fantastic movie, but I also would like to say how well it is made as an adaptation. As I said, I read the book and, as expected, there were several changes made for the movie. They condensed things, changed some character ages and even eliminated some characters altogether. The thing is, the changes, at best, made perfect sense to me, and at worst, just made me shrug my shoulders and say "I don't get it, but whatever!" For example, it made sense to turn Ingrid from a poet to a visual artist, because, to quote the author, Janet Fitch "What could be more exciting than watching a writer write? It's like watching the paint peel off the wall". But they also changed the name of Claire's husband, from Ron, as it was in the book, to Mark. I don't see why they did that, but it's just a cosmetic change, if you will. Actually, if you're looking for a good example of how to do an adaptation, what to keep, what to cut, you could do a heck of a lot worse than this movie.

So, in closing, go read the book, White Oleander, then go see the film, White Oleander. It's a beautiful, gripping, heartbreaking story, and it needs to be exposed to the masses. Guaranteed, not enough people have seen this. Again, it's so much about the characters, particularly this young girl, having life thrown at them from unexpected angles. That usually is life, so, no matter everyone's individual experience, I think this story can affect anyone.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Friday, May 23, 2014

The One Seasoner's Club - Running the Halls

Greetings Pups,

I don't know if you guys have noticed this, but when one thing gets popular, 'copycats' tend to start popping up. It gets even worse when said popular thing goes away, and a ton of things come around hoping to take its place. This kind of happened in the early-to-mid-nineties, after the super popular Saved By The Bell went off the air on Saturday morning. By 1993, when that happened, we were already a year into the amazing show that was California Dreams. Some people called it a Saved By The Bell knockoff; I called it that show's cooler cousin. Then, NBC started this whole thing for Saturday mornings called TNBC. "T", I assume, standing for teen. Because all the actors playing teens on these series' were actual teenagers. Of course. Anyway, one of the shows that was part of this new idea was Running the Halls.

Running the Halls began airing in 1993 and stopped airing in 1993. Yep, September to December, thirteen whole episodes. There you go. It was all about a bunch of students at a boarding school called Middlefield Academy and all their shenanigans. I mean, what else would it be about? I will say this, though. This show was a tad different from the others being aired at this time. Whilst most of them all looked like they were made from the same company or whatever, which they pretty much were, Running the Halls, quite literally, did have a different look to it. It was not filmed in front of an audience, but probably on location, and they used the kind of camera that is more like the ones used today for everything. You know, the ones that make it look 'not live', if you guys know what I'm talking about. So, it did manage to stand out, in a way. Now let's talk about those characters. And keep in mind, I haven't seen this show in a LONG time, so I'm working off mostly what I can remember. Fingers crossed.

We got your typical mix of a few girls and a few guys, who don't exactly have much in common, but still all end up as "best friends". First the guys. We had Andy McBain, or just McBain, as he was called, played by Richard Hayes/Hillman(I've seen him credited with both names, so...). He was, for lack of a better comparison, the Zack Morris of the show. He was constantly scheming, was popular with the girls and was overwhelmingly arrogant, yet still had a few moments of selflessness. Oh, and he was good at sports, too, so I guess he had some Slater in him as well. Next came David Reese, or just Reese, as he was called, played by Trevor Lissauer. I could never figure out if he was supposed to be a little nerdy or a quirky, cool guy. Maybe the show couldn't figure it out either. I guess he was just well-rounded. Then, there's Miles Taylor, or just Taylor, as he was - okay, you guys know what the deal is by now! He seemed to be the brainiest of the guys, though not really a full-on nerd. Also, he tended to get kind of spazzy about his grades. Hey, it happens.

And now for the ladies. First up is Holiday Friedman played by Laurie Fortier. She was the edgy girl from New York City, where all edgy girls come from, it seems. As time went on, she softened a bit, mostly thanks to the friendships she acquires. I have to say, she was my favorite. Probably because I, too, am an edgy girl from New York. No, wait. I want to be one. Moving on. Next, Molloy Simpson. I would call her the brainiest of the girls, but she was a tad calmer about things. Well, give or take a few situations, but you know, females be freakin' out a lot and whatnot. Finally, we have Nikki Watson played by Senta Moses. I don't know if this is true, but she seemed to be the character that they had the most fun with. By 'they', I mean the writers. She was funny and sweet, and she just tried so hard with everything, sometimes to her own detriment. But, with everything she did, she was so entertaining.

Okay, so we can't have just kids here. We need a couple of adults. Enter Headmistress Karen Gilman played by Pamela Bowen. Where she was concerned, the words 'tough but fair' come to mind. The students might not have been buddy-buddy with her, but they liked her and, amazingly enough, they respected her. And then, we have Mark 'The Shark' Stark played by Richard Speight, Jr. Yeah, to this day, I don't exactly know or remember what he was on campus. He wasn't a teacher, but he also wasn't a student. I think he was something of an RA, like they have in dorms at colleges. Maybe. Anyway, he often bore the brunt of a lot of the hijinks of the students, which he did not exactly appreciate. While Miss Gilman was held in high regard, I don't think that Shark was afforded such a luxury. Still, he was funny.

So those are the characters, and during the run, they went through most of the experiences one would expect from such a show. Struggles with school, relationships, family, etc. Still, they had some unique twists on story lines, which I appreciated. It should have been enough to give this series some longevity. And yet, as I've mentioned, a mere thirteen episodes was all this show got. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it was timing or luck of the draw or behind the scenes stuff. Who knows?

Now did it deserve a second season? Yes, definitely. I know that they did adopt a lot of the tropes used in teen television, but they also put forth an effort to make things a bit different. I certainly enjoyed it for the time it was on. It was legitimately funny, witty even, and everyone was pretty darn good with the acting. I take comfort in knowing that about everyone went on to have some success, in varying degrees (seriously, IMDB them to get some good credits), and it was all well-deserved. Sadly, though, I heard that Richard Hayes/Hilman passed away about five years ago. Never good. He had talent.

Now, unfortunately, I don't believe this show had some big cult following, like your My So-Called Life or your Freaks and Geeks. Why, I don't know. I wish it did. Then, maybe I would have the chance of getting it on DVD. For now, though, I must live with my memories. And they were good memories, if only of what could have been. But, hey, if they ever do release this, I say give it a watch. It was good. And there was a guy on the show named SHARK, for crying out loud! What have you got to lose?

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Monday, May 19, 2014

Breaking My Own Rules

Greetings Pups,

Several days ago, I made mention of the fact that I've been working on a new book, and also, about the issues I've been having with the inconvenient times I am often hit with inspiration. Yes, that is still happening, but I thought I'd take the time to talk about something else when it comes to my current project. It is something that perhaps is tying into the aforementioned "problem", maybe even causing it. And it's all happening because I am flat out breaking one of my own personal rules.

Okay, I'm pretty sure that I may have said that there should be no real rules when it comes to writing, but there have to be some. We all know that. I think it might be even better if most of your rules as a writer are somewhat personal. One of the things I have always done, especially with my poetry, is to never hear it in someone else's voice. Now I do not mean that like writing so it sounds like the work of another writer, which is also not a good idea. No, this time, I am referring to imagining the words you've written being said by the literal voice of another person. Normally, after I've written something, I'll read it out loud in my own voice, obviously, which is not a sound I am a fan of. Yeah, I don't particularly like the sound of my own voice. Therefore, if something I've written seems very good coming out of my mouth, then it is probably, legitimately good. It's a way to be objective.

You see, as you all most likely know, there are some people in this world, who are not me, that are blessed with absolutely beautiful speaking voices. I recall one time on Oprah, she had Anthony Hopkins read her the phone book, just to see if that whole "He would even sound great reading the phone book" thing was for real. It was. So, as a writer, I always thought it was the best idea to not hear my own words in these amazing voices. And thus, we are brought to my issue at hand.

What I am currently working on has been, quite literally, inspired by the voices of others. And they are the voices of particular people. I won't mention names, but I feel as though, if I did, you all would completely understand. This has never really happened to me before. I mean, words and lines and phrases, they can come out of nowhere and everywhere, but when they do, they usually arrive in my own speech or they come so fast, I can barely tell what they sound like, only what they are. This time, things are different. Everything that has been coming to me has been doing so in the voices of these people. I don't know why, but I feel as though it must be happening for a reason. So, I'm going with this, whatever it may be.

As I said last time I spoke of my writing, I welcome inspiration, any time, any place, any way, even when it feels like an inconvenience. Everything that has ever come to me has done so with a purpose attached to it. So, if this is the way my inspiration is choosing to visit me, I'll take it. Gratefully.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Top Ten Episodes of The Facts of Life

Greetings Pups,

It would seem that the last review I did put me in something of a nostalgic mood. Although, this time, rather than talking about music that I began enjoying in my childhood, I'm going to talk about some good TV. Specifically, The Facts of Life, one of the greatest shows from the 80's, maybe of all time. Shut up! Yes, it was!

Yeah, that's the thing about this show. Some people who, perhaps, weren't as much fans as I have been, seem to not remember just how successful The Facts of Life was. It ran for nine years, for crying out loud, and whilst I know that longevity doesn't exactly equal quality, anyone who really watched it can agree that it had both, for the most part.

Even those who never watched it officially still know about the show that takes place at an all girls school called Eastland, and, of course, they know the characters. We had the den mother, if you will, Mrs. Edna Garrett; shallow girl with a heart of gold, Blair Warner; tough chick, but not always tough, Jo Polniaczek; hilarious and creative, Natalie Green and finally, the youngest yet most dramatic, Tootie Ramsey. They were portrayed by Charlotte Rae, Lisa Whelchel, Nancy McKeon, Mindy Cohn and Kim Fields, respectively. Love these ladies!

Of course, this was the main line up for all the seasons, excluding the first and the later ones after Mrs. Garrett's departure. Whilst everyone but Jo was also there during that opening year, the girls were also joined by Sue Ann Weaver, the sheltered but sweet girl from the Midwest; Cindy Webster, the pre-Jo tomboy; Molly Parker, the opinionated and precocious girl with a ukulele; and Nancy Olsen, the...hmmm. I hate calling anyone a ditz unless they really deserve it, but they implied that maybe she wasn't the sharpest stake in Buffy's weapons chest. Also, she had this boyfriend, Roger, who literally was never seen. Ever. BTW, those girls were played by some amazing actresses, namely Julie Piekarski, Julie Anne Haddock, Molly Ringwald (Yep!) and Felice Schacter. Oh, yeah, and there was also this Mr.Belding-ish headmaster named Mr. Bradley played by John Lawlor and another teacher, Miss Mahoney played by Jenny O'Hara. I liked them, and they were good for some laughs. Honestly, though I've heard reasons, I really don't know why all the changes were made for the second season. I really loved the first year.

Anyway, I guess I should mention the later seasons, specifically Eight and Nine, since they brought forth upheaval. For one thing, as I mentioned, Mrs. Garrett left and was replaced by her sister, Beverly Ann, played by Cloris Leachman. Also, two formerly recurring characters became regulars, Andy Moffat played by Mackenzie Astin, and George Burnett. Oh, I'm sorry. Did I need to remind you that he was played by George Clooney? 'Cause he was. Anyway, I'm not going to say that this is when the show began to run out of steam a bit, as all shows do, but...well, just check out which seasons most of my favorites come from.

That reminds me. I am here to do a Top Ten list, aren't I? Sorry for rambling. Off we go.

#10. "Seven Little Indians" (Season 8) - Well, speaking of something from the Clooney Years, here's this. Even though the episodes from around this time weren't exactly as great as the previous, there were some standouts. This one, for example, is quite memorable. It was done as something of a murder mystery, but also as a very blatant homage to The Twilight Zone, complete with a Rod Serling impersonator who does kind of a hilarious job. Especially the way he likes to say "Tootie". Don't we all, though. Look, it's basically a gimmick episode, but that can work. And it does here.

#9. "Take My Finals, Please" (Season 4) - In the words of Abed from Community, it's a bottle episode. Well, sort of. Most of the episode is spent confined to the bedroom of Blair, Jo, Natalie and Tootie as they study for finals. And eat. And fight. Just another day for high school girls, as I recall. Still, when you stick a group of already stressed out teenagers in a room together, the funny will come. For us, anyway. And it did.

#8. "Cruisin'" (Season 6) - And from a sort of bottle episode to an actual one. Yep, here we are with the four girls in a car and that is it. Hence the title, they are, in fact, cruisin'. I don't know why, but I love things that are road trip-py, and this is that in a shorter form. Oh, and since they are in a car, with a radio, you may be expecting a random sing-along. You will not be disappointed. Trust. You will not.

#7. "Breaking Point" (Season 2) - In case you kids don't know, the 80's was the era of the "very special episode". That occurred when a normally lighthearted sitcom tackled a heavier topic, such as drugs, abuse, whatever. I suppose we look back on them now with a bit of an eye roll, and to be fair, sometimes that might be warranted. But every now and then, one would be done very well. Such is the case with this episode. I actually don't want to give away too much about the plot of this one, but it does deal with the very serious subject of suicide. Still, it does so in the most respectable and realistic way. They managed to balance everything out so that it all remained true to life. That was quite an accomplishment.

#6. "Starstruck" (Season 3) - Okay, I am the last person to be judgmental of anyone who happens to crush on a celebrity. I wrote a whole book about some of my own, so, yeah, I'm quite understanding about the subject. Still, I realize that things can get a tad out of hand. Take Tootie, for example, when she, in this one episode anyway, develops an intense infatuation with Jermaine Jackson. Not Michael, Jermaine. Just wanna make sure you're clear on that. Her fanaticism becomes so intense that she shirks responsibilities and breaks promises...to Jo, of all people! Seriously, Tootie, are you insane? I guess so since she also has a full on freak out moment, one that frightens Mrs. Garrett. Sure, this episode is mostly funny, but it does also make you think, especially about how much or, even better, how little we should let celebrities affect our lives.

#5. "Dope" (Season 1) - What could be a more fitting way to close out the first season of a show than to talk about the drugs? In this episode, Blair manages to get Sue Ann into - wait for it!- The Group. Yep, nothing specific about this group. It's just...The Group. Small school, I guess. Anyway, the leader of said group is Tumpy Barksdale, who was only mentioned in previous episodes, along with her sister(?) Kedgie, but this time she actually shows up. I'm sorry, what? You need me to rewind a bit? Oh, is it that you can't believe that there were actually characters named Tumpy and Kedgie? Well, believe it. Gee, I wonder if they come from old money. Moving on. Turns out that The Group partakes in some extra curricular activities that may be illegal. Probably dope, since that's the name of the episode. And as it happens, breaking the rules leads to consequences. I know, right? Kids getting disciplined for disobeying? My, how times have changed. Also, look for young Helen Hunt in this episode. And listen...for Mrs. Garrett...swearing! Gasp! It's okay. She only did it once, and she apologized. All is forgiven.

#4. "Pretty Babies" (Season 2) - So, men are pigs, am I right? Okay, not all of them, but some. In this episode, a famous fashion photographer is visiting Eastland, looking for fresh faces. And the fresher the better, if you get my drift. Blair, of course, wants to be chosen because she's Blair, but, at sixteen, she's way too old. The photographer would rather use young, YOUNG Tootie. Am I being clear enough when it comes to what this episode ends up being about? Relax, though. In the end, as per usual, Mrs. Garrett comes to the rescue. Don't cross Mrs. Garrett. I am SO putting that on a T-shirt.

#3. "Read No Evil" (Season 3) - This episode certainly resonated with me. Natalie discovers that the school library has been banning a few choice books. Yeah, you can see why I might get a tad upset about that, being a writer. Well, Natalie is a writer, too, and someone who loathes censorship, so she also becomes very upset about it, as do the others. In an attempt to make a stand against this, however, she faces a few hurdles, some very devastating for her, in fact. Still, despite that, the whole episode is a lesson in standing up for what you believe in. Not a bad lesson, I'd say.

#2. "Emily Dickinson" (Season 1) - Speaking of writing, this episode is all about poetry and the theft of it, therein. All the girls are assigned by Mr. Bradley, who I guess is also the English teacher now, to write one poem. As it happens, that one poem counts for like half their grade for the semester. Wait a minute, what? ONE poem, for HALF their grade? Maybe it's because I've been known to knock out ten poems per day, but this seems...a tad...underwhelming. Honestly, girls, what are you having so much trouble with this? Anyway, Blair puts off her work until the last second and ends up turning in a poem by Emily Dickinson. It is quite praised by Mr. Bradley, far more than the poems of the other...whoa, wait another minute! Are you trying to tell me that the English teacher could not spot a poem by one of the most famous poets of all time? Okay, I'm not going to say that public school teachers can't be as good as private school teachers, but if the parents of these particular students are shelling out the big bucks in tuition, I think they deserve an English teacher who can spot an Emily Dickinson poem. I'm just saying. And yet, I still absolutely love this episode.

#1. "Runaway" (Season 3) - I love New York City. I'm going to live there one day, mark my words. Guess who else loves New York Cty? The girls of the upstate New York Eastland, a world away. So Blair, Jo, Natalie and Mrs. Garrett make plans to go to Broadway, but it's Tootie who truly wants to go there, because she wants to be an actress and therefore, must see a Broadway show. For some reason, though, the other girls and Mrs. Garrett keep going without her. Well, not this time! Though she is not given permission by either her parents or Mrs. Garrett to go with her friends, Tootie runs away, by herself, to meet them there. Sounds safe to me, a teenage girl in New York City on her own in 1982, a year that had a %60 rise in crime. Hey, no guts, no glory! Anyway, while there, she meets another very young girl named Kristy. They begin to talk and get to know each other, but eventually, Tootie learns that she is a prostitute, with a pimp wanting her to do some recruiting. It's actually a pretty heartbreaking episode and everyone is on their A-game with the acting. No wonder it's my favorite.

I have to say, this was another one of those tough to make lists. It's not just that there are so many episodes that I really love, but I also have so many good memories attached to them. Maybe it's because of the disgraceful state of most of television these days, but I truly appreciate the work that was done on this show. It was legitimately funny and was also able to deal with mature subjects, all the while remaining a show that can be enjoyed by the whole family. The Facts of Life is a series that never failed to put a smile on my face. I am very grateful to the actresses and actors, the writers, and everyone else involved who gave us such a great show.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Step By Step / New Kids on the Block - Album Review

Greetings Pups,

There aren't a ton of things from my younger days that I still enjoy almost as much now as I did back then. One of those things, however, is the music of New Kids on the Block. And I know they have new music from the past few years, but I am talking about the old stuff only, back from the first time they were a group. Way back in the 80's. Yeah, you kids today don't even know what a boy band phenomenon is. You think you do, but you don't. I know that, since the days of Elvis, every generation has had its own hoard of screaming fan girls. Call me biased, but I think we were the best, or at least, the scariest. Am I right, Donnie Wahlberg? Remember that mob of insane, teenage girls chasing you? Jigsaw's got nothin' on them! Keep in mind, though, when I use the word 'we', I am only marginally including myself. I was never a screamer or a squealer when it came to this. Certainly not in public, anyway. What were you girls thinking? But I digress. I'm here to talk about the music. Specifically, I'm here to talk about Step By Step, the fourth album bestowed upon us by these fine Boston gentlemen, and it's my favorite. Still, in order that you appreciate it fully, I may have to give a quick synopsis of what came before. I'll be as brief as possible.

In 1986, they released their first album, the self-titled New Kids on the Block, or at least, it was self-titled once they changed their name. It was not that successful, at first, but after they became super-famous, we all went back and bought it because it apparently and magically turned brilliant. Is it actually brilliant? Not even close. But is it entertaining and fun to listen to? Oh, all of the hecks yeah. This thing is straight up, unadulterated, bubblegum pop in its purest and possibly finest form, and it is a joy. When I think of the pleasures of being nostalgic, this album certainly comes to mind. Next came, Hangin' Tough, in 1988. This was the one that pushed their success to the rooftop and then kept going. It is nowhere near as bubblegum pop as the first one, not that anything ever could be, but it is still pop. Whether it is due to subject matter or the quality of the music, it is definitely much more mature and a vast improvement. After that, they did the obligatory Christmas album, Merry, Merry Christmas. It exists. Look, I'm not that into Christmas, and, therefore, not that into Christmas music. Still, it's actually not bad at all. There are only three traditional holiday songs, and the rest are originals, which are pretty good. Except for "Funky, Funky Xmas". That one isn't pretty good. That one is pure gold. And now on to the subject at hand.

Step By Step was released in 1990, and at this point, the boys were experiencing an overwhelming amount of success. This album was going to do well no matter what they put on it. They could have coasted by quite easily, just phoning it in, and still sold a boatload of copies. They didn't do that, though. In fact, they did what every artist is supposed to do. They grew. Though most of the songs were still being written by Maurice Starr, they began to get more involved in writing, production and even started playing instruments. Again, it was still pop, but with a richer, fuller sound than they had been creating before. And they ended up with what I consider their best work. So let's talk about some of those songs.

The album opens with the track "Step By Step", and it is a strong one with which to start, ultimately becoming one of their best known songs. With good reason. It's catchy and gives each member a chance to have their moment, even if it does last only a mere moment. After that, comes "Tonight". This song is...interesting. It is way different from anything they had ever done. It is way different from anything anyone was doing. Very random, with the sound of it and all, and yet it became a hit. It may have done so, at the time, simply because it was their song, but, in hindsight, I think we can all really appreciate how unique it was.

"Let's Try It Again" is a ballad and I think one of their best. The lead vocals are sung by Jordan, of course, and surprisingly, Danny, who rarely got solos. It was quite lovely to hear the contrast of their voices together. What with Jordan and his great falsetto and Danny, with his low baritone. I think he would be considered baritone, anyway. I'm not good with technical, musical terms. But whatever, it sounds amazing. That's what counts. And speaking of those who rarely got solos, Jonathan gets a song to sing on this album! Yay! I say 'Yay!' because he has a really nice voice. Anyway, the song is called "Happy Birthday". Not the song sung before you blow out your candles. That would be silly. No, this is new, and it's fine. Actually, it seems to have a bit of a slow, 50's, doo-wop type feel to it, which is kind of nice. Or am I just imaging that? Who knows?

Now let's go to Side Two. What's that? You don't know what I'm talking about? Well, I first bought this on something called a cassette tape, which had a Side One and a Side Two. Google it, kids. Moving on.

Side Two (I love saying that!) begins with "Games". It's possible that they were attempting to recreate "Hangin' Tough" here, but just with more of an edge. It was probably the most edgy thing had done at the time, not to mention a way to make a statement to all their haters. Yes, they had haters. Those people made it personal, so why not respond in a personal way as well? They eventually did a remix for it, which was even better, and I recall them performing it at the AMA's one year. Either my memory about that is wacky or Flavor Flav really did show up to perform with them and J-Lo was one of the backup dancers. I know, right? And from a bit of a somewhat angry song to a song that is easily the most fun from this collection, "Stay With Me Baby". I totally think they were trying to go reggae on this one, especially Donnie, who was singing lead, and my response to that is...why the heck not? Many have tried and failed, but I'm gonna give this a thumbs up.

Now Step By Step has a nice range to it when it comes to the sound of the music. We get upbeat songs, like "Call It What You Want" and "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again", but also nice, gentle ballads, like "Baby, I Believe in You", "Time is On Our Side", "Where Do I Go From Here?" and, hands down, my favorite song on the album, "Funny Feeling". Yeah, this is not only my favorite song from this album, but it might just be my favorite song by the New Kids on the Block period. Strange thing is, there is not a particular reason as to why. I mean, it has a beautiful melody, as many of their songs do, and lyrically, it's not exactly overwhelmingly groundbreaking. And yet, I just love to listen to it, and I love how it makes me feel when I listen to it. Just all warm and fuzzy inside. Now whilst Jordan did sing on the chorus, it was Joe who handled the verses. So, naturally, I gravitated toward that part of the song, since Joe was my favorite at that time. Because you had to pick a favorite. No lie, it was like a rule. And this song may be a bit simple, but sometimes, if it's done well, that's all you need. Clearly, it's all I needed.

So there you have it, my review of the best album, in my opinion, from New Kids on the Block, Step By Step. If you're an old school fan, as I am, you probably already own this, and probably in more than one form, so I hope this prompts you to go back and give it another listen. Writing this review certainly prompted me to go and finally follow all the guys on Twitter. But if you're one of the newer, younger fans who discovered this group through their 2008, miracle of miracles, reunion (that's what I call it), and you don't yet own this album, go get it, any way you can. It's worth it. And it just goes to show you that, take away the hype and the insane merchandising and the crazy fan girls, you're still left with five guys who were and still are extremely talented. They deserve a lot of respect, and I am more than happy to give it.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Untimely Inspiration

Greetings Pups,

So I am currently hard at work trying to finish a new collection of poetry for publication. Whilst trying to do so, I have been attacked with a massive amount of inspiration, mostly thanks to a few people who may or may not moonlight as full on muses. This is a very good thing to have happen. There a few, maybe zero, worse things to happen to a writer than attempting to finish a work and having no inspiration. That said, having so much can make for a handful of problems, or just a single big one.

Now I am a person who has always had sleep issues. I'm never tired when I should be or when it will not be an inconvenience, and I think that is because, come a normal bedtime, my mind is constantly racing with ideas. So it is quite a pleasure to have been working for a long period of time, then having the brain and the body calm down and relax at the perfect time in order to sleep. However, many times, as I am on the threshold of slumber, that moment where you don't have to force your eyes to close because you know you have to go to sleep but they close on their own, I am suddenly hit with a word or a phrase or a line or a lyric that may just be the start of the greatest thing I have ever written. Of course, it's probably not the start of the greatest thing I've ever written, but the thought that it might be and I may miss out on it if I don't write it down is enough to jerk me from the beginnings of rest in order to grab a pen and paper and record it.

Such is the...joy of being a writer. And, of course, there are other instances of the muses having bad timing, or possibly just being extremely rude. Yes, I do feel as though, sometimes, they keep an eye on us just to be able to say, "What's that? You currently have no writing accoutrements whatsoever? Well, here is your magnum opus! HAHAHAHA!!!" NOOOOO! I suppose it just teaches us writers to never EVER be without pen and paper. Still, even if we have them, sometimes we just cannot stop and use them. I've been in that situation as well, but for now, it is this "Finally, I can sleep. Oh, darn. Here come some words saying 'Oh, no, you don't'" problem with which I am dealing.

Of course, I am trying not to complain too much. I don't really mind getting up to write something down if it means I may produce something truly good from that small seed. Also, in those few times when I just can't pull myself from the coming sleep, perhaps because I have had none for two days or so, I simply say a little prayer that, upon awaking, I will remember this one word or sentence should it lead to something potentially excellent, and if I don't remember, let that be a sign that it wasn't meant to be, either for now or ever.

I must say, though, it is wonderful to have inspiration and not only as a writer, but with anything one chooses to do in life. Or with whatever one may be chosen for in life. It could be much worse. I could have none at all. Nothing to push me or motivate me to go on and create. How awful would that be. Well, I am certainly grateful to not be burdened with that. So very grateful.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Top Ten Worst Hit Songs of 2006

Greetings Pups,

And now for the Worst Hit Songs of 2006, again, only my opinion. If you like these, good for you. I just sort of don't. Also, if it looks as though I may be picking on a particular genre, I apologize. I didn't mean to do that. I actually can be quite of fan of said particular genre. It's just that, this year, it gave me some not so great stuff. Come to think of it, a lot of this stuff, though it still appears on the 2006 year end chart, was actually released in 2005. And we all know about the reputaion 2005 has when it comes to music. Yeah. Anyway, let's get started. My worst of 2006 awaits.

An honorable mention first, though, for the song "I'm 'n Luv (Wit a Stripper) by T. Pain. Mostly because, no, sir, I don't quite think you are in love with that stripper. Sure, you might be, but I just don't think so.

#10. "Life is a Highway" Rascal Flatts - This song only barely made the list for one reason - I like it. Hold on there. I like the song; I do not like this cover version of the song. Not at all. Whilst the original singer, Tom Cochrane, had this rough, gravely voice that suited the song, what these guys did to it with their vocals just ruined it for me. Also, it was a tie in to the movie Cars. Enough said.

#9. "Promiscuous" Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland - When Nelly Furtado first showed up, she was a relief. In the midst of all the carbon copy pop princesses with which we had been dealing for a while, she and her music really stood out. Then, she released a second album that didn't do so well. Then, she decided to do a 180 into the world of...whatever the heck genre of music this is. I mean, her sound and her lyrics were so unique and thoughtful, but, after one critical disappointment being herself, she decides to just sound like everyone else. Of course, I can't say she wasn't successful at it or even that she wasn't pleased with it. I'm not against an artist evolving, but believe it or not, I think there is a difference between evolving and changing. If that makes any sense.

#8. "Check On It" Beyonce featuring Slim Thug - So, The Pink Panther remake. Man, did that movie suck! What's worse than getting a group of amazing actors together, the likes of Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Emily Mortimer, JEAN FLIPPIN' RENO of all people, and then ending up with something like this? Well, how about we add a terrible tie in song to the mix? Okay, so here's the thing with Beyonce. I would not call myself a fan of hers, but I don't deny anybody whatever talent they have. When she does get something right, I won't say she didn't. She did not get it right this time. It just sounded the same all the way through, without a decent hook or anything. I don't know. Beyonce can certainly be good. Just, no thank you, this time.

#7. "My Humps" Black Eyed Peas - Do I even have to talk about what's wrong with this thing? The lyrics are beyond awful, the beat is just...whatever. I pretty much consider this song unlistenable, if that's even a word. So why is only at #7? Well, get yourself over to the YouTube and search the title of this song along with the name Alanis Morissette. Then, you'll know why a part of me is glad that this song exists.

#6. "London Bridge" Fergie - Back in the summer of 1999, I went to see Cher in concert. Seriously. Her opening act was Cyndi Lauper, and her opening act was a trio called Wild Orchid. What is the point, you may ask? Well, there was a girl in that group named Stacey Ferguson, who we know today as Fergie. If you haven't heard the way she sang when she was in Wild Orchid, particularly a song called "At Night I Pray", go have a listen. She has a phenomenal singing voice. So why does she not use said phenomenal voice nearly as much as she should? She certainly didn't use it on this song. I just don't get it.

#5. "Laffy Taffy" DTL - When I did my Worst of 1995 list, I had a song on there called "Tootsee Roll". And now this. Maybe I just don't songs with the name of a candy in the title. Maybe I'm trying to cut back on sweets and I don't want anything encouraging me to go against that. Or maybe this song just does everything a song can do to be irritating.

#4. "Ms. New Booty" Bubba Sparks featuring Ying Yang Twins and Mr. ColliPark - This song says the word "booty" a lot. A LOT! And when I hear the word "booty", it makes me think of my own booty. I'd rather not, thank you. I am kind of not in the best shape of my life at the moment. Now I know that in my Best of 2006 list, I had that "Hips" song by Shakira, and no, I don't want to think of my own hips either. But, as I mentioned, her dancing, even the thought of it, is enough to distract me from my personal body image woes. This song, on the other hand? I just...I just can't.

#3. "Photograph" Nickelback - So there were about three Nickelback songs on the Hot 100 list of this particular year. I could have picked any one of them. Still, if I had to pick a worst, and I did, this was the winner. Well, "winner".

#2. "Run It" Chris Brown - I would like to make it abundantly clear that I did not put this song on the list because of the...incident back in 2009 or whenever. How could I? This song came out before that happened. No, I am judging this song on its merits, which are, at best, few. I am not a fan of Chris Brown. I was never one, unless you count that song he did with Jordin Sparks. That was good. This was not.

#1. "Stupid Girls" Pink - I hate a few things in this world. Hypocrisy is one of them. And I don't just mean in other people. Oh, no, I can be guilty of it myself, and I do not approve. And this song and its "message" is so full of it. It's basically Person A and Person B doing exactly the same things, and then Person A says "Hey, Person B. Shame on you, only you, for doing these things, as I continue to do them myself". I think the attempt here was to tell girls that they need not act stupid to be sexy, prompted, no doubt, by the whole Jessica Simpson phase the world went through, and I'm not saying that that's wrong. I quite agree, actually. But this song, and especially the video, seem to be more of an attack on specific people for just being a way that Pink chooses not to be. And perhaps if she, herself, wasn't so vocal about being open minded in other areas, I could find the joke or the point, but I can't. It's all just "Shame on you for getting plastic surgery; shame on you for spending your money; shame on you for being skinny; shame on you for...having a dog?" Seriously, what the heck? Also, when you criticize someone for acting like a whore after you got up at an awards show when you won for your Moulin Rouge song and say "Thanks to everyone who thought we would make good whores", even if it's a joke, you lose a little credibility there. I'm going to try and give her, like, a B for effort, since I see what she was trying to do, and what she was trying to do was good. But the end result was just...no.

And there are the Worst Hit Songs of 2006, in my opinion. If you agree, great. If you don't, even better. Do not be a sheep, my friends. I just can't like everything. And I don't. Hmmm. That should be my tagline on all of these.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Monday, May 5, 2014

Top Ten Best Hit Songs of 2006

Greetings Pups,

So what happened in 2006? Well, there was an Olympics in Italy, Twitter started, SOMEBODY decided that Pluto wasn't a planet anymore, Wallace and Gromit won an Oscar, Paul McCartney, who wrote "When I'm Sixty-Four" turned 64, whilst his one-time collaborator and piano genius, Billy Preston, passed away, and Salzburg erupted in numerous celebrations in honor of it being 250 years since the birth of Mozart. Also, a ton of other more important things, but I need to move on. So why exactly did I choose this year to discuss my opinions of the best and worst in pop music? Someone requested it. That's why. See, I said I take requests for things seriously.

So let's get to it, shall we? Chosen, as always, from Billboard's Year End chart, these are the Top Ten Best Hit Songs of 2006...in my opinion.

#10. "Love" Keyshia Cole - You know, there is something so enjoyable about a beautifully sung, nice, simple love song, and that is what this is. You can just sit there and listen to it and let it be music in its purest form. Nothing crazy or over the top. Just a good song. I swear, those can exist.

#9. "Because of You" Kelly Clarkson - So this song came from Kelly's second album, Breakaway,a.k.a. the album she made to prove that she was not just some chick who got lucky on a singing contest. And she did prove that for awhile. She managed to achieve some really great songwriting with the help of others, and ended up with a darn good collection of tunes. I know her career is going to this day, but I'd say this is still Kelly at her best.

#8. "Show Stopper" Danity Kane - Sigh. I hate being completely honest on this blog sometimes. This is one of those times. The whole Danity Kane thing was so bizarre and yet somehow entertaining, thanks to the reality show that put them together. But that more had to do with the behind the scenes drama. I would never call myself an actual fan of this group, though I can admit they were quite talented vocally. And yet, I cannot help but really, really like this song. It wasn't as big as their hit "Damaged", I don't think, but I kind of like this one better. Also, I sure am glad that this song mentions cars, otherwise, I'd think that guy saying "Jingle them keys" was a euphemism.

#7. "Too Little, Too Late" JoJo - I do not know what happened to JoJo after her initial success. I recall hearing something about "label trouble" which is never good. But I certainly wish she was still around making music and getting hits. Why? Because, Holy Crap, that little girl could sing. And she was very young at the time, with a voice far more mature than her years and far better than any of her contemporaries, no matter what their age. I suppose I could refer to her as the Ariana Grande of her day. And this is one of the hits she had. It's pretty much a straight forward pop song, but her vocals take it to another level. I just hope she manages to make a comeback. We could use her.

#6. "You're Beautiful" James Blunt - Yeah, I'm a sucker for this one. I'm a sucker for any heartfelt, tragic love song. That's right, people. It's a TRAGIC love song, because it's about a broken relationship. For the love of all things pure and good, stop using it at weddings! I suppose you can use it at your "conscious uncoupling" ceremonies, though. Ya know, if those become an actual...thing.

#5. "Crazy" Gnarls Barkley - I really don't like it when things get all samey sounding on the charts. A breath of fresh melodic air is always welcome in my book. When this song hit, it was hailed as being very unique and very good. It was. I'd venture to say that there wasn't a single other song that was anything like it at that time or since. And, unlike a lot of songs, it still holds up today. And it's Cee Lo, so there you go.

#4. "Hips Don't Lie" Shakira featuring Wyclef Jean - I always say that, no matter how good you are at something, you'll always be more impressed by what you can't do that others can. For example, I would not call myself a good dancer, so I am quite impressed by people who can dance, in any way or style. Enter Shakira. I don't mean this in a weird way, but I do get kind of mesmerized watching her move the way she does. So why not have an entire song dedicated to showcasing that talent? Also, I hear Tom Hiddleston likes this song. I'm actually surprised it isn't his theme song. If you've seen him dance, you'll know what I'm talking about. Moving on.

#3. "Feel Good Inc." Gorillaz featuring De La Soul - Again, samey sounding music, not always that great. Unique and good, thumbs up. And this song was...yeah. It was weird. It is weird. But, therein, lies why I love it so much. You just listen to it and you think, "What the heck is this? What am I listening? I have no idea, but I love it". A similar reaction may be had whilst watching the video. I know there were actual human people behind this music, but it was also like a cartoon band, right? Just like Jem and the Holograms! I'm in!

#2. "Call Me When You're Sober" Evanescence - I love it when a musician is so gifted that they can mix it up and it seems effortless. Take Amy Lee, the front woman for Evanescence. She is a legit classically trained pianist (who can also play the harp, apparently. Who plays the harp?) but she can totally rock out. Her versatility has always been evident within the music of her band, and it's no different here. Though they have continued to make music, despite some turmoil, this was pretty much their last big hit. Until they get another one. Hopefully, they will.

#1. "Black Horse and a Cherry Tree" K.T. Tunstall - So here we have a song with a catchy melody, great lyrics, fantastic vocals, all done by another artist who seems to have disappeared. WHY! Why do all these amazing and unique artists not get the success they deserve? I just don't get it. To this day, I absolutely love this song. This should have been the start of a career full of massive popularity and acclaim, but, no, this talented woman had to get shoved aside to make way for all the crap to follow. Sorry. This makes me sad. I'm going to go and listen to this song, and it will make me feel better.

And there are my favorite hit songs of the year of 2006. I'd like to think I was eclectic enough with my choices. I even hope for that more so with my next list. Speaking if which, tune in tomorrow for my least favorites of the year.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Writer's Room: Reminding Us That We Matter

Greetings Pups,

During the many years for which I have been writing, I have come to realize a simple yet unfortunate truth - some people just don't get us. By "us", I mean writers, of course, and when I say "people", I mean non-writers. Sure, we get each other just fine, and we appreciate and acknowledge the art that is created by our peers, alongside our own. And, to be fair, there are actually a few outsiders who value what we do. But I constantly get a feeling that a big part of the world does not think that being a writer holds much worth. I suppose that, when a lot of these people think of the word "writer", they also automatically think "books". BOOKS! NO! Books are for school (maybe, these days!) and nowhere else! Well, newsflash. Writing is not only done in the books, kids.

Yes, I know that people most likely are not reading books as much as they once did, and, if they do happen to read a book, it might not be one that is making them more intelligent or articulate or insightful. Oh, the titles I could mention but will not, because I'm trying to be nice...today. I understand that, currently, we have so much less time and so many more distractions, but therein lies some irony. Some of what distracts people most from the joy of books are things like television and movies and video games. Hello! Every single thing I mentioned there usually begins because of one person - a writer. Yeah, I said it! We tend to be the person with the idea, and the idea is the foundation for all of this. I understand that said foundation must be built upon with the help and talent of others in order to create a great work of art. But, again, a lot of the time, it all starts with us. Yet, somehow, I'm not sure that all of us get the recognition we deserve. I thought that the writer's strike of 2007-08, where writers not writing literally ground an entire industry to a halt, may have made people see how important we are. Perhaps, it helped a bit, but never enough. My point is that WE MATTER! And, thus, after much rambling, this brings us to today's topic, The Writer's Room. Sorry I took so long, but I had to say those things.

The Writer's Room is a show that premiered in 2013 on the Sundance Channel. It is hosted by Jim Rash. Many of you may know him as the super-fun Dean Pelton from Community, but he is also an Academy Award winning writer. Must have been one of those rare times when they got it right. Anyway, this is a thirty minute talk show of sorts wherein the writers from different hit series come in to discuss their work and their process and all the things about which we love to talk. It has featured writers from shows like Scandal, New Girl, Games of Thrones and others. That is the basic and simple premise, and it is downright amazing.

Okay, I may be biased, because I have always been someone who loves to listen to other writers. I relish in hearing their stories and what process they have. It inspires me, encourages me and, hopefully, makes me a better writer myself. But even if you aren't a writer or even someone who ever particularly took notice of the writing, you may still find this show very interesting. Actually, of the series that have been featured, I have personally not watched even half of them. Yet, I still watch the episodes, because writers are writers, good is good, and I can always learn from them. Oh, heck, let's be honest. I can learn a lot from bad writers as well. Mostly, though, in the opposite direction.

In closing, let me just say that I am extremely grateful for The Writer's Room. I am so glad that someone decided to put those who are rarely in the spotlight right at the forefront, so that all the hard and irreplaceable work they do can be seen and appreciated. Growing up, I always thought I was an outcast because I spent so much time with the worlds I created in my own head, and I don't doubt that there are a bunch of youngsters going through the same thing right now. Hopefully, they will watch this show and know that the worlds they create in their own heads might be able to escape into the real one and change it for the better someday. And as a writer, an artist, even on my most difficult days that are filled with staring at empty pages and usually an even more empty wallet, I remember that it's all worth it. If we allow it to be so, we can truly have a rich life.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer