Monday, September 19, 2016

Top Ten Best Cover Songs

Greetings Pups,

Well, Holy Smokes, it has been over three years since I did my Top Ten Worst Cover Songs list! That's quite a lot of time, especially since I meant to do a Best Of list shortly thereafter. Apologies. Clearly, I got distracted. It happens. But, thankfully, I am now ready to tell you what I consider the Top Ten BEST Cover Songs of all time. You'll agree; you'll disagree. Either way is fine. Just enjoy. Now let's get this thing going...finally!

#10. "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind)?" New Kids On The Block (Originally by The Delfonics) - I know what you're thinking. 'Isn't the song called "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)"? Yes, it is, on the original, but I'm talking about the cover here. Okay, you may also be thinking what the heck I'm thinking putting this on the list. To be fair, that first New Kids on the Block album wasn't exactly groundbreaking. However, if any song on it showed their potential, certainly vocally, it was this one. And I like it. So there.

#9. "I Don't Want To Know" Goo Goo Dolls (Originally by Fleetwood Mac) - Back in 1998, a bunch of musicians got together to make a tribute album to Rumours. Some tracks were good; others, not so much. But this one was my favorite. They really transformed the whole song, while keeping the spirit of it intact. Clearly, that is not an easy thing to do, but it was pulled off here.

#8. "Chances Are" Vonda Shepard and Robert Downey, Jr. (Originally by Bob Seger and Martina McBride) - I'll let this one sink in for a minute. You good? Alright, then. A while back there was a little show on called Ally McBeal, which had a very prominent musical element, hence, the constant presence of Ms. Vonda Shepard. Well, in the fourth season, Robert Downey, Jr shows up and decided to do some singing. This duet was one of the performances. From one soundtrack to another, the original was from the movie Hope Floats, and it is also very good. But, again, we're discussing the covers. Now, run along and write a fan letter to Marvel, asking them for a musical Iron Man movie.

#7. "You Keep Me Hangin' On" Vanilla Fudge (Originally by The Supremes) - What's that? You've never heard of Vanilla Fudge? Well, tsk, tsk. Okay, they're not the most well-known band of the sixties, but they were really good. This rock version of a Motown hit certainly shows it off. I can admit that it might not be to everyone's taste, probably more than anything on this list, but give it a chance. You never know.

#6. "Tonight Will Be Fine" Teddy Thompson (Originally by Leonard Cohen) - About a decade ago, there was a great tribute concert to Mr. Leonard Cohen, which became a documentary calledLeonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, which I reviewed a while back. If you read it, you'll know that I called Teddy Thompson's version of "Tonight Will Be Fine" the highlight. That hasn't changed at all, so naturally, it made the list.

#5. "Crying In the Rain" A-ha (Originally by The Everly Brothers) - See, sometimes "One Hit Wonders" are more than that one hit. Here, we have the "Take On Me" guys taking on a classic sixties tune and doing a fantastic job. As The Everly Brothers were known for some stunning harmonies, it would be difficult to replicate them. But A-ha managed to pull off some impressive ones of their own.

#4. "Free Fallin'" Stevie Nicks (Originally by Tom Petty) - Awww! Because they're friends! Anyway, this Tom Petty song is held in some pretty high regard, so who better to tackle it than one of his equally superb colleagues? I don't think a lot of people know this cover version from Stevie, as it first appeared on the Party Of Five soundtrack and later, on her Enchanted box set. But, what with my being what some may call a "super fan", I know it well, and it is a stellar performance.

#3. "Hurt" Johnny Cash (Originally by Nine Inch Nails) - So, this is the only thing on the list where I do not like the original at all, song or artist. But credit where it's due, Trent Reznor wrote a song that was turned into greatness when a legend got his hands and voice on it. It became poignant and a classic in that case, and when it can be ranked so high within an amazing and lengthy career, that says a lot.

#2. "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" Bee Gees (Originally by Carole King) - Yes, yes. I know that this song first performed professionally by The Shirelles, but Carole King wrote it AND this cover version comes from an album that is all covers of songs off of Tapestry. So, there you go. It's no secret that I love the Bee Gees, and they were and are some of the most brilliant songwriters ever. So, to hear them on a song written by another brilliant writer was something special. Especially the part where Robin gets a solo. But what do you expect?

#1. "Hallelujah" Jeff Buckley (Originally by Leonard Cohen) - Well, this is odd. Not to spoil anything from my Worst Of list, but this might be the first time a Number One from that kind of list is the same as the Number One on this kind of list. At least, where the song is concerned. Okay, this is probably not a shock to anyone. I love this version of "Hallelujah". Now I could be vindictive and blame all the sub par covers that followed in the past two decades on the success of this one, but how can I? Jeff Buckley was pure magic, and even all the copycats cannot ruin his legacy.

And there you have it. Like I said, you may agree or disagree with my choices. However, in my opinion, these artist managed to take songs that poured from the hearts of others to make them their own. It's not as easy as it sounds, and if you doubt me on that, check out my Worst Of list. Or just listen to these songs again and let yourself have a good day.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Straight From the Theater Review - Suicide Squad

Greetings Pups,

Yes, I finally saw Suicide Squad. Sorry, I've been busy. YOU try finishing a book, publishing it and then, trying to sell it at a book event. That stuff is exhausting. But I digress. I've been wanting to see this movie for a while, and I've heard so many conflicting reactions to it. Out of the critics I trust, which aren't many, some of them loved it, some of them liked it, some of them hated it. Therefore, I decided to do something quite novel and just see it for myself. Quite a concept, I know. So, what did I think of Suicide Squad? Well, I thought it was absolutely...okay? Yeah, that's the best I can do as far as my feelings go, but let's talk more in depth, shall we? Oh, and there might be spoilers. Warning.

Suicide Squad is basically a live action version of the DCAU Straight-To-DVD film Assault On Arkham, where Amanda Waller wants to gather a bunch of bad guys together to maybe do something good...ish. So, it's that with a bunch of stuff added on to it, and funny enough, a lot of plot taken away. Also, in the real people version, she gets them from Belle Reve Prison...because of reasons. Anyway, at least, AOA had a beginning, middle and end, and was pretty coherent. Suicide Squad was a bit all over the place, and you know that whole "Show, Don't Tell" thing that's supposed to happen? Well, they struck it and reversed it, and we got a crap ton of exposition. Now, look, I do not like movies that I have to study for in advance, but you don't have to take up nearly half an hour to give me the entire history of the characters. Serious, it could have been done in three minutes. After that, I basically was waiting for the movie to start, but we kept getting sidetracked by one-liners and the "scenes" that were there merely to house them. The whole thing felt very choppy to me, structurally speaking. I suppose that's the editor's fault, but let's blame the director, too. If you asked me if I liked this thing as a whole, I would say, not really. However, there were some individual aspects that I did enjoy. Mostly, coming from a few select actors in the bunch, so let's talk about the actors.

Okay, so we had Viola Davis playing Amanda Waller. Good choice, although, I heard that Oprah was on the list as a potential to be cast. That would have been something. "You get a neck bomb! You get a neck bomb! Everybody gets a neck bomb!" If you know the story, you'll get that joke. Will Smith was Deadshot, being very Will Smith-y, though his character did get some fleshing out, which didn't happen often here. Probably because there were like a hundred of them. Our Harley Quinn was played by Margot Robbie. She looked the part, I suppose, but sounding the part is a different story. Her accent felt a bit forced. Still, 'A' for effort. She was just too annoying, or not annoying in the way that is supposed to make you love Harley. Ike Barinholtz played a guy named Griggs, who was pretty mean but in a fun way. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Karen Fukahara, Adam Beach and Scott Eastwood playing Killer Croc, Katanna, Slip Knot and some guy named Edwards, respectively, were just kind of there. And these aren't bad actors. They just weren't given anything to work with, which is a shame. And then, there's Jared Leto as The Joker...I guess. Look, he was barely in this thing, and when he was, it just didn't work for me. He was...They made him...Okay, I'm just gonna say it. He's a pimp. He's a PIMP! That is exactly how Leto is playing him, and that is not what anyone wanted. He wasn't funny, nor was he scary, and you need either one or both of those traits to portray The Joker correctly. And I'm not blaming Jared Leto for this. We know he can act, but how good is anyone with this kind of writing and direction.

But, as expected, the worst of all was Cara Delevingne. Yes, let's give this person a dual role, when we know she can barely handle one. Sorry, I'm getting mean, but I have to be honest. She had to portray Dr. June Moone, first of all, and what is even the heck? She looks fourteen and you're gonna cast her as a doctor? No. But at least, she could somewhat pull off playing the simpering, weak character. I'll assume that the director just said to this former model, "You know all those skeezy photographers who told you to pout at the camera? Well, do that, plus squint your eyes and make weepy noises. Ta-da! Sad acting!" However, when she had to play the Enchantress, who was - again, spoilers - the main villain, it was a massive fail. I did not buy it in the least. She reminded me of a combo of a five year old dressing up in mommy's clothes, pretending to be a grown-up and someone who is cosplaying...badly. Just...NO!

Alright, time to say some nice things. I did enjoy Jay Hernandez as El Diablo, mostly because he was the only one with an actual story and character arc, and he gave a good performance. Shock of all shocks, and not only to me, I really got a kick out of Jai Courtney as Captain Boomerang. He was pretty funny, and he definitely kept me entertained. But the one who really stood out was Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag. He gave an excellent performance in this. I've never even heard of him, but I might have to do some delving into his acting past. He had to go through a range of emotions and he pulled all of them off wonderfully. And not just by comparison standards. He was legit great.

Also, Affleck showed up as sub par Batman. Boo.

Now I have to talk about one more thing - the soundtrack. What was up with it in this movie? The songs they picked? They are so flippin' random, it's unbelievable. It's like someone set their iPod to shuffle and said, "Hey, this song exists. Let's put it in the movie!" I mean, they weren't terrible songs; they were just out of place and did not fit. And they were constant, in the worst way. But, technically, it's not a mix tape!

Okay, let's finish this. Do I recommend Suicide Squad? Not wholeheartedly, but if you want to rent it some time, you might be entertained by it. Certainly, by parts of it. But no need to see it in the theater, if you even have the chance, as I am late to the party with this review. Or you could rent Assault On Arkham. Maybe compare and contrast for yourself. In closing, I guess I just expected more. Thus, my main reaction to the film is that thing that so many parents have said to their children. I'm not mad; I'm just disappointed.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Friday, September 9, 2016

Genius - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

As a person who is a self-published author, I know that I miss out on some of the perks that traditionally published authors have. I wish I had the publicity, the funding and the professional help that they are accustomed to. What do I mean by professional help? Well, in this case, I am referring to that which comes from an editor. Yes, I am forced to be my own editor, which is rather a difficult thing to do, especially when you go to either the extreme of being too easy on yourself or too hard. Also, having what you write seen by someone else, someone who can give insight and criticism from another perspective, is so very valuable. But I never truly realized what a good editor can do to a book, how what they do is an art, in and of itself. Then, I saw a movie called Genius, where I got a good idea of what they do. And that is what I'll be discussing today.

Genius is a film that was released earlier this year, and if you haven't heard of it, that's okay. I barely heard of it, outside of a trailer and a short clip, but it seemed to be about writing, thus, I was in. The main character of the movie is a man named Maxwell Perkins, played by Colin Firth. Many people in the literary world would call him the most famous editor in American Lit history. I can believe that, as he worked with some of the greatest writers ever, like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, the other main-ish character, Thomas Wolfe, played by Jude Law. The story behind this film really does center around their working relationship, and eventual friendship, and the roller coaster ride that it was. To call it entertaining would be an understatement, especially if you've ever seen a writer react to having things cut from a book. Not a pretty sight, but occasionally, a downright hilarious one.

Now I don't know much about Thomas Wolfe, but if he was very eccentric and extremely passionate about his writing, almost to a disturbing degree, then I would say that Jude Law played him brilliantly, Southern accent and all. And that ended up being a nice contrast to the more low key, but still powerful performance by Colin Firth. They worked off of each other so well, and their chemistry was undeniable.

That aside, one of the most important issues that I felt is dealt with is sacrifice. The sacrifice that an artist must endure in order to make their creation everything that it needs to be, or that they want it to be. We see Perkins losing time with his family and Wolfe losing time with the woman he loves. There is an obsession that is brought out in the process that, I think, only an artist can understand. It's the need to make everything just right, or what you believe is just right. It can be so difficult and exhausting in every way, but it can be worth it.

I think I just love seeing the process being carried out. Perhaps, it is only because I'm a writer, but I am utterly fascinated by how people work. It's like one of those "How Crayons Are Made" type videos I used to see on Mr. Rogers. Sometimes, you don't realize how amazing a simple, little item is until you see the road it took to get to you. Crayons, books, it's all the same to me.

So, what else did I like about this movie? I know I already raved about Firth and Law, but they weren't alone. Nicole Kidman plays Aline Bernstein, Wolfe's significant other. Apparently, it was complicated. Also, Laura Linney played Perkins' wife, Louise. Both ladies were a absolute delight. We got Dominic West playing Ernest Hemingway, in a small, but fantastic role. And finally, Guy Pearce, as F. Scott Fitzgerald. He certainly gave the most heartbreaking performance, since his story line in the film had him dealing with his wife, Zelda's personal issues. He almost made me cry, even in a limited number of scenes, and he kind of blew anyone else who has played F. Scott Fitzgerald out of the water. I'm just saying. Point is, more brilliance.

Safe to say, I am recommending Genius. Now, I will admit, it may be an acquired taste for some viewers. But if you're someone who loves to enjoy the process of the arts, particularly that of storytellers, or if you are a writer yourself, I think this is best suited for you. Of course, if nothing else, you will certainly be entertained by the amazing performances. And you might just learn a thing or two about us writer people. For better or worse.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Saturday, September 3, 2016

High-Rise - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

Here's a question: What in the heck did I just watch? Okay, according to the title of this post, I apparently watched a movie called High-Rise, but I have no idea what that means, because I have no idea what happened in it. Don't get me wrong. Stuff happened in it. Some really, REALLY messed up stuff, but a string of bizarre occurrences does not a film make. At least, not to me. And I know that some other and actually legit reviewers really liked this thing. Perhaps, I just didn't get it. I felt like the film makers were just telling the audience that all bets are off and we need to just shut up and watch. And when I say "watch" I mean that quite literally. But more on that later. Let's get to talking about this thing called High-Rise. If I can.

High-Rise is about just that, a high-rise full of every kind of person one could imagine and with everything that one can hope to want under one roof, including a market, a gym, even a school. Basically, all the places where no one wants to go, but everyone has to go. And, as expected, there is a lot of class separation in the building. Of course, the super rich people live at the top, the middle class, mostly single people, live in the middle and all the less financially stable families with children live on the lowest level. Yeah, kids are like the worst thing ever in this movie, so, as I am not a kid person, I'll give it a point for that. Seriously, though, I think they're just seen as out of control and an intrusion of the structure. So, poor people on the bottom, rich people on the top. Does this sound familiar, cinematically speaking? Correct. It is pretty much a more visually polished version of Snowpiercer. It's shinier and cleaner, but does this make it better? No. No, it does not. Moving on. Though I might have to bring up Snowpiercer again. Prepare yourself.

Our protagonist is a guy named Dr. Robert Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston. Hang on a minute. The last time I reviewed one of his films I wasn't too fond of it either. What are you trying to do me, man, between film choices and...other choices? Do you want me not to like you anymore? Anywho, though he is considered the protagonist, he's not really centrally involved in what's happening. He seems to be just watching as an outsider, occasionally stepping in And what is he watching? Well, he's watching the "society" of the high-rise go straight down the tubes in the most chaotic way possible. To call what happens, the bare bones of the...plot, predictable is an understatement. So, I may be giving a bit of a spoiler here, thus, warning. It seems that the lower floors get mad about the upper floors getting better stuff, therefore, they start rebelling and revolting, as you do, until the whole thing becomes a maelstrom of epic proportion. I'd go into detail, but there is so much detail, I wouldn't even know where to start. I think, in this case, the only thing that can explain it to you are your eyes. But even that I'm not to sure about.

So, what exactly did I dislike about the movie? Well, it is, ever so slightly, pretentious. Now the director, Ben Wheatley, is good at the stylized kind of film making, and here is no exception. However, the book, which I admittedly haven't read, that this was based on is heavily allegorical, and that works better in the literary form. Doing it visually can make all you symbolism and metaphors a bit too on the nose. Or a lot too on the nose. We also see many of the residents leaving to go to outside jobs, which, in my opinion, takes away from the trapped feeling that I think it should be conveying. The whole time I kept thinking, "Just leave", especially when things got really bad. Sorry to bring up Snowpiercer again, but in that case, they couldn't leave, thus adding to the feeling of being trapped in an inescapable situation, even when things were at their worst. Of course, maybe the high-rise residents were just trapped in their minds, with, what one reviewer referred to as, an addiction to convenience. Maybe. Anyway, my next problem. The switch from things being okay with a few issues in the high-rise to utter chaos happens in a matter of minutes. There's this part in the middle, where we kind of see Laing's mind beginning to slip, and the next thing...mayhem! I mean, even though this film was too long for me, they could have thrown in a bit of a middle ground where things change gradually, not so jarring. I don't know. I like an artistically driven film every now and then, but this seemed a bit indulgent. As though they were tossing in weird things just for the sake of doing so, whilst everyone involved is asking the audience what they think it means.

Okay, is there anything I liked about this film? Actually, yes. We get Jeremy Irons playing a guy named Royal who runs the whole place. And his name is Royal. And he runs the place. Really? But blowing everyone out of the water is Luke Evans playing a guy named Wilder, who goes very wild in the story. And his name is Wilder. And he goes- Oh, come on! You are taking symbolism WAY too far now! Okay, to be fair, those names were in the book, but still. My point is that Luke Evans was rather brilliant. He managed to portray this character in a way where you're not sure if you should be terrified of him or amused by him. Or both. He was the highlight, hands down. Although, another thing about this film that was actually quite exceptional was the production design. This takes place in the 70's, and it looks like it, hardcore. The clothes, the furniture, the way they did the actors' hair, everything was of the time. Not to mention the lighting and the colors, all the visuals were incredible. If nothing else, it excels in that.

In closing, would I recommend High-Rise? I mean, I personally wouldn't want to watch it again, but as it seems to be quite polarizing, I think it might be an acquired taste. Basically, you might like it, you might not, but if you want to see it, go for it. As I mentioned, it's not a total train wreck, and you'll enjoy Luke Evans. I think this might become a success as a cult film. What with haters hating...and lovers loving (what!), it will find and has already found its audience. I just don't happen to be in it.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer