Thursday, May 20, 2004

Norah Jones and Jhumpa Lahiri

Tickets for Norah Jones at Nationwide Arena go on sale in the morning. I wouldn't mind going. I've enjoyed her two albums well enough. Still, I'll probably pass.

Tickets range from $57 to $27.50 plus the exorbitant Ticketmaster fees, but let's face the facts. If you're not shelling out for the top seats--or can't get them--I'm not sure it's worth attending. Her style of music doesn't lend itself to an arena in the first place. She's best suited for a small club, a concert hall at the largest, where she can connect with the audience. An arena is going to swallow the sound, and I don't imagine that there's going to be much of a stage show for the folks in the rear. PJ Harvey opened for U2 when I saw them at Nationwide in 2001. Her set likely would have been electrifying up close, in the confines of a small venue, but watching long distance in a cavernous arena a lot of the impact was lost.

Permit me to object, mildly, to the ticket prices also. Ten years ago I saw the Rolling Stones at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. I paid $60 for a seat, ten dollars over face value and the most I'd spent to see a concert, that was approximately a field's length away from the stage. (Unfortunately, I have since paid more--for U2 in 1997 and 2001--an overpriced ducat even if the concerts were worthwhile.) But it was the Rolling Stones, stadium pros who know how to play to the back rows and at least have earned the right to charge higher prices. Norah Jones has released two albums--the first ridiculously popular--and doesn't have the cachet the Stones do. This is how the music industry does things, though, so new artists and one album successes charge lofty concert ticket prices. I can't help but wonder if it doesn't hurt the performers in the long run, that they don't build loyal fan bases because higher ticket prices for all acts forces some tough decisions in the spending of one's entertainment dollars.

What, you say that Norah Jones isn't cool enough, so why do I bother considering this all? I think some of the backlash around the release of her FEELS LIKE HOME album was petty jealousy that COME AWAY WITH ME was a left field smash hit. Of course, the music is pleasant and unchallenging, which is part of its appeal and which makes it all the more open to criticism, but hey, I'm grooving on My Bloody Valentine's LOVELESS, so can I keep my indie cred?

Last night I finished Jhumpa Lahiri's debut collection of short stories, INTERPRETER OF MALADIES. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000, an auspicious start for the writer. The award was well deserved. This collection ruminates on loneliness and being disconnected emotionally and physically. While an air of sadness lingers over all the stories, INTERPRETER OF MALADIES is an exhilirating read.

Lahiri evokes the smells and appearances of her settings with efficiency and grace. The reader is transported to these places, whether it's residing in a small Boston apartment or visiting a temple in India. Her delicate renderings of relationships, from the opening story's strained husband-wife dyad to the symbiotic agreement between building residents and the woman who cleans the steps, display a keen eye for the unspoken and the assumed.

I'm just getting started on THE NAMESAKE, her first novel, and am really looking forward to digging into it. Lahiri's voice may be one of the most captivating I've come across in some time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Various items

Yeah, yeah, yeah, my final Ebertfest updates still haven't appeared. Those faithful readers who recall the promise of a FOURTEEN HOURS review are still waiting. (It's done but must be transferred from ink and paper to computer.) Now you know why I wanted to post while at the festival...

Hooray, ALIAS will return for a fourth season! The catch is that the new season won't start until more than six months after the completion of season three. Recent years have found the new fall TV season being pushed back later and later, sometimes to avoid competing with the Olympics or World Series. (For that matter, the idea of the TV season starting in the fall is becoming outmoded, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more of a year-round cycle within five years.) The new Halloween episode of THE SIMPSONS debuted before the season premiere this season, didn't it? So this isn't out of the ordinary, although it is an irritant for fans like me.

Still, waiting an extra two or three months isn't so bad when cancellation is a possibility. I didn't expect that to happen. Even if it doesn't pull top ratings, ALIAS is the rare buzz show on ABC. Although the media attention given the show and Jennifer Garner hasn't translated into a Nielsen hit, I expect that the tie-in merchandise (DVDs, books, magazines, video games) makes it profitable. The wait may help attract new fans. The third season DVDs will arrive in early September, so those new to or catching up on ALIAS will have some time to do so.

How about some film talk? THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA is a bad movie. It's intended to be. A goof on the unintentionally funny horror and sci-fi films of the 50s and 60s, THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA is as silly as the films it recreates and mocks. Unlike those duds, though, it isn't funny.

It's a short film idea stretched to an unbearable feature film length. The trailer is quite good at recreating the purple dialogue and narration, although it left me with the sneaking suspicion that the film could only disappoint. Whereas the trailer is succinct and punchy, the film is long and tedious. The same tepid jokes are flogged time and time again within the same scene.

The biggest problem is that the filmmakers set out to make a bad movie. If you look at those bad old films, they are completely serious. One suspects that the makers strove to make good films, even if the projects went horribly awry. It's the conviction behind the badness that makes them funny. The performers in THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA don't literally wink at the audience, but the direction and performances are dripping with postmodern irony. That's precisely why it isn't funny. Rather than making a film that is funny because it is terrible, they've made a film that is terrible because it isn't funny, because it is too self-aware.