Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Concert Review: Garth Brooks

At best I’m only a moderate fan of country music. I’d heard Brooks gave a great concert performance, but nothing prepared me for the entertainment atom bomb of Brooks’ live show. The man transcends any musical genre and is a phenomenon unto himself.

Brooks had two opening acts, Mitch Rossell and Karyn Rochelle. Singer-songwriter Rossell said his gig before that was playing in airports for tips. Rochelle had a sweet voice and is an extremely talented songwriter. But the audience was there to see Garth, who strutted out in a black cowboy hat and promised to play “all the old stuff.” And he did. He did sing some newer material, but continually wowed the audience with his greatest hits package, along with some album deep cuts that kept the entire US Bank Arena on its feet, screaming and applauding, for two plus hours.  

Garth began with his massive hit Rodeo, followed by Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House, and The Beaches of Cheyenne accompanied by some great beach video. He also did versions of The River, a very fun Two Pina Coladas, the tongue-in-cheek Papa Loved Mama, and a rockin’ Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up). Additional songs included Unanswered Prayers, The Thunder Rolls, and We Shall Be Free. He knew what the crowd wanted and gave it to them, with sugar on top.

I’ve never seen a closer bond between performer and audience. The only other performers who can compare are Elvis and Bruce Springsteen. Elvis was too shy to be that close and it’s not really Springsteen’s personality. But Brooks embraced his fans, addressing the audience personally, calling out signs and commenting directly to audience members. At one point, he would gesture to various sections of the crowd and they would cheer as if their home team had just won the Super Bowl. “I thank God that this is my gig!” he cried to the heavens.

Mid-concert Brooks was joined on stage by his wife, country star Trisha Yearwood. They sang a duet and she did several solo songs while Brooks no doubt collapsed on a couch somewhere. Brooks and Yearwood have a wonderful stage presence together, alluding to a deep love and partnership with no rivalry. If a competition exists, the audience certainly couldn’t tell.

Near the end of the show, Brooks cemented himself forever in my book as a class act. Talking to a woman and her mother near the front of the stage, Garth asked them about their sign saying the older daughter had cancer and attendance at the concert was her way of thanking her mother for helping her through. He asked her how the treatment was going and how she was doing. He wished her well and dedicated a song to her. Then Brooks asked a stagehand to bring him a Garth Brooks breast cancer baseball cap with a pink ribbon on it. Taking the hat in his hand, he drew it back to toss to the mother and daughter. Smiling at the last minute, he instead ripped off the cowboy hat he had been wearing all night, tossed it to the daughter, then flipped the baseball cap onto his head. He wished her well and went into the next song. No one in the arena auditorium had a dry eye after that. Mr. Brooks, you are my hero.

When the band took a break, Brooks read song requests off audience signs and played them on his guitar—not only his own deep cuts, but he was pleased to do a version of Don MacLean’s Starry, Starry Night as well.

When the band came back, Brooks finished with some of his most famous songs, including The Dance (in my opinion one of the finest songs ever written), and of course I’ve Got Friends in Low Places, complete with the rare naughty fourth verse.

Brooks spent over two hours jumping, laughing, singing, playing and engaging the audience like they were friends in his living room over for a jam session. For his last number, he playfully crawled over the stage to his guitar and jammed a fantastic rendition of another Don MacLean song, American Pie. The crowd shouted the lyrics with him.

The Brooks show was in my top three concerts of all time, and with perspective may end up being my favorite ever. I’ve never seen artist, band and audience in such perfect sync. This was my first Garth Brooks concert. Now I can’t wait until the next one. The man left nothing on the stage, and I think we both left exhausted.

Rating: ****** out of 5 stars

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Recent Movies

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – I love Star Wars and I am desperately trying to like the new films. So far they are 0 for 2. Rogue One isn’t an awful film; it’s just boring. The actors are stiff and lifeless with no attention paid to character and less to the story. The characters gather in a throne room to talk, then a war room to talk, then on ships to talk ... why don’t they do something?! Actress Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso is bland and even more uninteresting than Daisy Ridley as Rey in The Force Awakens. She has no personality, no emotion and the charisma of a bag of doorknobs. It’s about the same for the crew of rebels who assist her, with the possible exception of Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe. They put Zatoichi in a Star Wars movie. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Forest Whittaker as Saw Gerrera is at his “Look at me, I’m ACTING! Look how TORTURED I am!” best. He has given this exact same performance a hundred times. It may be time for him to report to Overactors Anonymous.   

There is nothing inherently wrong with having a diverse cast, which Rogue One does. But it gets a bit weird. The entire Rogue One Squadron, the good guys, is either female or minority—and all villains and evildoers are middle-aged white men. Um, what are you trying to tell us, Star Wars Universe?

Of course the special effects are breathtaking, as are the digital reproductions of young and deceased cast members. Darth Vader was handled well and was definitely on model. But overall Rogue One was an unnecessary tale told by a group of lackluster actors and filmmakers. The PC elements didn’t help. This drivel gives me little hope for future Star Wars installments.

Rating: ** stars out of 5

The Legend of Tarzan – Much to my delight, Hollywood is once again trying to introduce Tarzan to modern audiences. Since I read a buttload of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Jungle Lord books when I was a teenager, I’m a huge fan. Tarzan is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters and I care about getting him right. Unfortunately, this is not the film to do so.

This time around Tarzan is played by True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård. He’s a great Tarzan, the filmmakers chose well. His wife Jane is Margot Robbie, also a great Jane. Inglorious Basterds' Christoph Waltz is a credible villain. The only misfire is Samuel L. Jackson as the whiny comic relief. This film was shot before Robbie’s breakout role in Suicide Squad, where she became a geek household name. I suppose the producers thought the film needed some star power, so they created a superfluous role for Jackson, who has no earthly reason to be in this movie.

The plot is decent; Jane is kidnapped in Africa and Tarzan has to go find her. This is the plot of 90% of ERB’s Tarzan novels and is perfectly acceptable. The execution is ... not good. It’s as if someone told someone else the story of Tarzan, then that person talked to the writers and they used that story to write the movie. Did they crack a Tarzan book? In the books, Tarzan wears an animal skin loincloth; leather, lion skin, leopard, whatever. In the movie, he wears culottes. Tarzan does not wear culottes. This took away from the classic visual of the character and just made him a muscular guy in culottes. Ugh. In the books, Tarzan never goes into the jungle without weapons, usually his bow and arrows, knife and possibly a spear. In the movie, he gets off a train and runs into the jungle with nothing. He’s following an army and trying to rescue his wife. That’s not just not following the books, it’s stupid.

When Tarzan gets off the train and goes into the jungle to rescue Jane, Sam Jackson’s character goes to follow him. Tarzan says, “I’m not going to let you slow me down.” Then Tarzan proceeds to slow from a run to a walk, then walk through the jungle rather than swinging from tree to tree, thereby letting Jackson’s character slow him down. Was anyone paying attention to their own script?

The movie did get some things right; Tarzan is a well-educated, well-spoken man. But the movie Tarzans are never as raw, as primal, as ERB’s original. The literary Tarzan was highly intelligent, compassionate and honorable. The movie Tarzans are always weak and equivocating. This movie Tarzan was a creature of the city, ashamed of his jungle heritage and reluctant to go back into the forest. The literary Tarzan, a much more interesting creature, was proud of his jungle life and always longed to visit his African holdings.

The great Tarzan film has yet to be made. 1984’s Greystoke starring Christopher Lambert was close, but no cigar. I’m still waiting, Hollywood. Please do better next time. And no culottes!

Rating: *** stars out of 5

X-Men: Apocalypse - 20th Century Fox continues to pump out X-Men movies, whether anyone wants them or not. Here, the oldest and first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), is released from his Egyptian tomb and gathers a group of mutants to conquer the world. Bryan Singer directs, but doesn’t offer anything new to X-Men or superhero movies.

Apocalypse gathers some young mutants, including Mystique, Storm and Angel, as well as an older, disillusioned Magneto (Michael Fassbender). His efforts are fought tooth and nail by Professor X (James McAvoy) and young versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey and the Beast. The actions scenes are superior and the special effects of Apocalypse slaughtering humans and the X-Men fighting back are truly spectacular. The highlight of the movie is a terrific cameo from a feral mutant everyone has come to love. But there is just nothing new here. An evil mutant threatens the world, the X-Men team up to stop him. No one discovers something new, no one acts out of character and almost no one offers anything worth watching. Michael Fassbender is always fascinating to watch as Magneto, and he did have an interesting story arc and the most growth of any character. But that was a small part of the movie. I kept looking for something that made X-Men: Apocalypse special or unusual or stand out in any way from a crowded superhero marketplace. I suppose this film is not the worst way to pass two hours. But in the end, out of all the movies made last year, X-Men: Apocalypse was one of them.

Rating: **½ stars out of 5

Monday, January 2, 2017

Top 10 Comics of 2016

In alphabetical order:


Bone: Coda

Future Quest

Lake of Fire

Manifest Destiny

Rachel Rising

Red Team: Double Tap, Center Mass


Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses