And Now, the Post You’ve Anticipated- INXS Concert in Clearwater, Florida

Nicole before the INXS ConcertWell, if it means anything, my vocal chords are sore.

As you can see from the picture, I wore my KICK tour t-shirt . I was smiling like crazy and jittery. I’ve waited more than ten years for this concert!

Walking into Ruth Eckerd hall, I realized that my 1988 shirt was older than some of the concert-goers…that realization made me feel old for sure! While they obviously became fans after the RockStar show, I was just happy to see that the show had no open seats. My shirt caused a lot of people to do a double take. The reaction was either: “why does that t-shirt say ‘KICK?’” or “hey! I remember that tour!” I was the only person in an INXS shirt from a previous tour. In fact, most of the people I met were new fans. Did I meet people? Of course I did. I’m my father’s daughter.

In fact, I saw more gear worn for the LoveHammers. I was eager to see Marty take the stage with his real band. The show started with their drummer doing a kodo-style rhythmic drumming. My heart pounded faster with each beat. Marty slunk onto stage, looking like Tom Petty’s head perched on Steven Tyler’s body/wardrobe.

Almost the entire rest of the LoveHammers set was disappointing. Marty kept doing the “maniacal conductor” move that was criticized during RockStar. The drummer continued to be excellent, but Marty did not display his best vocal range. Even “Trees” was self-consciously trying to be to hard rock. His acoustic version on RockStar was much better. Marty’s only good song was when he sat down with an acoustic guitar and stopped trying to crouch and pose like a Reznor-esque Johnny Depp.

I anxiously paced during intermission, then saw the 5-minute countdown on the board. I thought my vocal chords were going to crack already! JD Fortune loped onto stage with the rest of the band and opened the show incredibly with Suicide Blonde. His vocals were clean and different from (Michael) Hutchence, but not too different: he belted when Hutchence would have crooned. He made it his own without destroying the original intent and feel of the material. Carlton contends JD is the better vocalist. I am not sure about that.

The band sounded amazing! Kirk (Pengilly) had grown as a sax and guitar player. Andrew (Farris) still hid behind the keyboard, the quiet mastermind of songwriting. John (Farris) cracked the drums smoothly. Occasionally, he lost JD, but that’s the vocalist’s responsibility. Tim (Farris) and Gary Garry Beers were consistent but not heart-stopping. Tim did a couple of really fun guitar tricks.

In fact, the only annoying thing about the evening is that JD was one seriously lonely guy. He was going crazy over the front row girls, and they were going psycho, pulling on his clothes and not letting go, even when he tried to pull away. But he couldn’t stop himself. The most disturbing part of the night is when he became intimate with the mike stand. I mean, we’re talking seriously sophomoric personification of the stand.

That aside, the acoustics in the V-shaped hall were very good. I was in row 14 but stadium seating made it possible to see everything. Our row was about two feet taller than the row in front of us. I was, of course, dancing the entire time and belting every single word of every single song. (My sincere apologies to those in the row nearest my singing.) During the song “Kick,” I was dancing and singing as usual when I noticed Kirk looking at me. He motioned to his chest, pointed at me, and gave me the thumbs up! I started dancing and waving one fist, and he did the same, smiling at me. I was really glad that he saw that we longtime fans are still fans! After the show, one of my new friends sitting next to me said, “I saw the sax player looking at you. Pretty cool.”

I assumed that the set would be all of the new album songs with a dash of old songs for variety. But no, They didn’t even play all of the new songs. There were incredible hits such as “What You Need” played with more intensity than the originals; they dug deep for older songs like “Original Sin.” The variety brought back so many personal memories for me, with each song evoking an album, an era of my younger life. But this wasn’t just a nostalgic trip: the band really has elevated their energy and style. I would like to see Garry come out of his shell a little more (and JD to put it back in his shell!!). Even Carlton, the true live music critic, had chills when the band first started to play and again a few songs later.

But what got me was the encore. They started with New Sensation, which is the kind of song I like to belt in my car. That was one of the first music videos I ever saw (my parents deprived me of cable for many years). I knew all of the dance moves from the video and remember dancing in my childhood family room to the videotape I’d recorded. Then they busted out the “Never Tear Us Apart.” I started shaking with emotion. I had so many moments with that song. Dancing at a school dance with my friend Angie. Asking my first boyfriend if it could be our song (he said “no way.” It’s clear why we broke up, no?). Learning the saxophone part on my friend Allen’s sax after band class.

Finally, they played “Don’t Change.” This was the song that was played during the final RockStar: INXS show that pulled me out of my chair with excitement. It was the moment I realized that I would see the band play again. And the lyrics rang true:

I found a love I had lost
It was gone for too long

Pure perfection. The best concert I’ve ever attended, of any band.

I probably could have gotten back stage; I had talked to a few security people and it seemed easy. Plus I had the “I flew here from Indiana just for this concert?? card to play. But I didn’t want to leave Carlton alone. I just wanted to shake the hands of these guys who have meant so much to me over the past 20 years. So, even though they’ll never see this post, thank you, INXS. You did a great job. Michael would be proud.

My Sunny Girl

Yes, we ALL know you're cute.I’ve had my dog for nine years now, and she’s been with me through some really tough times and all the happy times as well. Now, her left knee is going bad and she needs some expensive surgery.

I don’t really care about the money, but I feel so guilty about her poor little knee. It snaps every time she goes up a stair. We bought her a ramp, but she still ignores us occasionally and uses the stairs. Not to mention that surgery recovery is going to be long and painful. She’s going to want to know why I put her through this. I can barely think about it. But sometimes, I can’t shake thinking about it.

I have to teach her how to swim for the post-surgery rehab. She already hates me for brushing and bathing her…I am guessing swimming lessons will not be her favorite!

Well anyway, enjoy the picture. I’ll keep you posted when I schedule the surgery.

Easy Chili Powder

Do you buy chili powder? STOP!! You can make it very easily and just wait until you see the cost:
2-3 dried chipotles
2-3 dried red chillies (dried cayennes will work too)
1/4 cup whole cumin
10 black peppercorns
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Heat your smallest skillet over medium high heat. Add the cumin and peppercorns. Roast, stirring frequently, until the aroma hits your nose or you see one wisp of smoke (usually takes 3-4 minutes with a nice hot pan). Remove from heat; pour into a shallow bowl and allow to cool.
Using a coffee grinder, grind the dried chipotles until chunks are nearly powdered. Some whole seeds will remain. Add and grind the chillies. Add the cumin, peppercorns, and salt; grind all ingredients until powdered. This mixture will remain fresh for 6 months sealed in a dark, cool place.

This is my recipe built by trial and error. It only takes 10 minutes! Don’t increase the salt because it can oversalt the final dish if you use more powder to adjust the heat level of the dish. Salt is added to this recipe to adsorb oils and absorb moisture. This recipe is smoky with balanced heat (not my usual eyebrow-scorching heat level). Use only two of each pepper if you prefer mild.

By buying ingredients at a local ethnic grocery, this recipe costs 7 cents/ounce plus energy to heat the skillet. The cheapest powder at my grocery is 49 cents/ounce. That’s SEVEN times more! In addition, this stuff is so much more delicious that you will wonder why you didn’t switch sooner! Make double batches and use it for chili, fajitas, salsa, and cornbread. A coarser grind makes a great grill rub for flank steak or spareribs.

As for cleaning the coffee grinder, I use this method for lots of seasonings, so I have a dedicated grinder. If you don’t, just wash the lid thoroughly, then buzz the grinder with some baking soda and/or stale coffee.

Do NOT use a nonstick skillet for this, as it can produce toxic fumes.

Cost: $0.56
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

Taste: [rate 5]
Ease: [rate 5]

Kingdom of Heaven directed by Ridley Scott

IMDB link

I admit it. I’m a sucker for a period piece, especially historical fiction. I knew very little about the Crusades when I began the movie. I became intrigued to learn more afterward.

As with any historical fiction, it’s best to understand the real story before taking the book or movie too literally. While the writers did take some liberties, most of them were taken with the romantic storyline, not the battle. Even those liberties manipulate timelines more than telling outright falsifications.

I have always loved Liam Neeson, but I would argue that he was the weakest link in this movie, playing Godfrey. He acts too much like himself; I had this same gripe in his voice acting in CON. Despite my griping, he’s still in a role in his comfort zone and thus didn’t detract too much.

Balian (Orlando Bloom) is a character with a great deal of history. The problem for me is that Bloom didn’t sell his performance. I’m only sad about his wife dying because they showed her dead body. I didn’t get the whole Mourning on the Mount thing. Maybe it was direction, maybe acting, but it didn’t work.

Despite these shortcomings, I was thoroughly engrossed by the movie. The costuming/set design was beautiful and made me want to buy some exotically colored fabrics just to hang around the house. Scenes in the country had a whole different gloomy look and feel from that of the desert. It may be a bit incongruous to have such different lighting and filtering in one movie, but it helped keep me in the right mood for the locale shown.

The plot suffers a bit in the scenes in the royal court, with King Baldwin, Guy, and the templars. I was totally confused by what outfit signified what rank/tribe/army; I was also stymied by some of the conversations. It seemed that the scenes were there to move along the plot to the next idea, but it reminded me of a poorly done Shakespearean-style chorus: “here’s what we just did! Here’s why we’re arguing! Here’s what’s next!??? *cue roar from crowd in royal court*

Sibylla (Eva Green) is (allow me use some clichés) luminous and exotic. She portrays complexity, hesitation, and seductive power in nearly every scene. Her entrances were almost always dramatic (thank you Mr. Scott) and I longed to see her again when she was not onscreen. Partially because the role’s costume requires it, she acts with her eyes very powerfully. She is thoughtful, bold, timid, and a general dervish of emotional crescendo.

The leper King Baldwin IV is a great performance. I recognized the actor’s voice throughout the movie but couldn’t place it. (If it had been Liam Neeson, it would have been overly easy. See my point?) Acting in a costume that only shows the actor’s eyes, he must rely on other means. His gestures and voice timber indicate everything. While sometimes it falls short of the mark, I thought that overall the actor did an excellent job. Because of the way the credits were displayed, I didn’t know who it was until the end of the movie (Edward Norton). Again, the plot suffers when Balian meets the King and they play chess. It’s obviously supposed to be a truning point for Balian, but the conversation appears to have been left on the cutting room floor.

Even though there are some writing issues, the movie yields some outstanding quotes with respect to the fighting in Jerusalem. Balian claims he will burn all of Jerusalem to the ground, and Saladin (his enemy) says, “I wonder if it would be better if you did.??? I’m amazed at how the world’s major religions all have blood on their hands because of the Holy City. What would God think of all of this killing? It seems quite senseless to me. One of the minor characters echoes my sentiment with: “By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness.???

The real history behind the movie is fascinating. Even if you don’t care about that, this is an epic worth seeing.

[rate 3.5]

New Skin for the Blog

OK, so if you are a regular visitor, you’ll notice that the look and feel of this blog have changed. I’d love to hear what you have to say. As for the blogroll, Netflix list, and other links, I asked my husband why they are now all the way at the bottom right, where the reader cannot see them immediately. He responded, “because Internet Explorer sucks.” I must heartily agree. If you look at this page in Firefox, all is well and in the correct place for your lazy clicking pleasure. So, if you want a superior browser, install Firefox immediately! Here’s Carlton’s MUCH better analysis of Firefox.

Bad Idea Update I

OK, so my weight loss/exercise post really did scare me into action! That, and the concept of fitting into a wetsuit I bought 5 years ago, has kept me in line. I’ve been watching what I eat and trying to exercise. The exercise is still only once weekly, but my weight is on track with my goal. Hey Oz- you said you were going to start- only six months to GenCon!!

To those of you who would like to figure out my weight by looking at the graph, dream on. It’s a log function mixed with some basic math. If you really want to know, ask me in person. I’m not shy about the number, but some might question my sanity if I post it online.

The scale is a little less drastic, but that’s a function of the fact that the exercise wouldn’t show up right and I don’t want to mess with it too much. The dark blue is goal weight, light blue is current weight, and aqua spikes indicate 30 or more minutes of exercise:

Still lots more work to do!

Spanglish directed by James L. Brooks

IMDb link

Part of the problem with the way I view movies is that I almost never see them when everyone else does. So, I fall victim to hearing the hype and developing preconceived notions before every film. Spanglish was one of these films. I had heard it was fantastic. I spent the first half-hour thinking the movie was not that great after all. It was good, but not amazing.

My compliments go to the costumer and hair designer. While the eighteenth-century epic may win the Academy Award, the modern film is very difficult to wardrobe correctly. Deborah Clasky (Téa Leoni) wears the quasi casual clothing of a housewife with means: pressed linen shirts that hang from a thin frame of a woman struggling with her image, living inside her Pottery-Barn home. She is a runner who is incredibly competitive, to the point of exercise-driven bulimia. Flor Moreno (Paz Vega) is a softer woman with more curves, and while her clothing follows her curves, it is not overly tight to leave nothing left to guess. This softness carries into her mild manner and feminine sensual nature. The costumes perfectly match the characters.

While the two women dominate the movie, the other characters play vital roles. Both of the daughters in the film display great range and depth. I’m always sucked into a story of being an unattractive child like Bernice (Sarah Steele). While my mother was always wonderful to me (in contrast to Bernice’s), I still have very painful scars from being mocked. I had a “boyfriend??? when I was five, and when he saw me again at age 11, he ran away. In high school, he described to me how he felt when he saw me: I had been a cute little girl and had grown into a monster. He actually used the word “monster…???

But I digress. Seeing the insecure mother prefer the attractive child over her own daughter, it was personally painful. This behavior isn’t just about attractiveness: parents do this more subtly with sports, academics, and a whole myriad of behaviors. John Clasky (Adam Sandler) is wonderfully supportive of his daughter, reminding me of my own parents as he not only loves her but respects her.

Which brings me to Adam Sandler. Looking at him without singing “Red-Hooded Sweatshirt??? is hard, but his role here pulls him into completely serious territory. His introverted style was an incredible counterpart to his usually goofy, over-the-top caricatures. I loved it. Under good direction, Sandler allows quiet moments on screen: acting with subtle expression and soft reflection.

On a personal note, watching a chef in a movie is fun. I actually preferred seeing what he cooked at home. At one point, he sits down with a beautiful toasted sandwich and a perfectly poured pilsner and I wanted to have that meal! It was a very nice touch.

And Evelyn, Deborah’s mom, delivers one of my favorite movie quotes. Her daughter’s insecurity has led to miserable choices such as treating her daughter poorly and ignoring her marriage vows. Deborah is whining about her feelings, and Evelyn (Cloris Leachman) says: “lately, my dear, your low self-esteem is just good common sense.???

Well done.

[rate 4]

The Terminal Directed by Steven Spielberg

IMDb link

I had very high expectations for The Terminal, as I have loved Tom Hanks since Bosom Buddies. I still think guys in drag are awesome. But I digress…

The film opens with classic Hollywood entrance. The bustling airport, cutesy music, opening credits scroll: all were lighthearted and unoriginal, but not poorly done. It seems every time I watch a movie these days I’m so busy dragging my expectations into it that the film can’t stand on its own. This was no different: I hold Spielberg to an unfairly high standard.

I was disconcerted at first by the Rus accent on Mr. Hanks, but quickly warmed to the character. His fictional country has begun civil war, and he is stuck in limbo. He can’t leave the airport to reach his final destination (hence the double meaning of the film’s title). He starts making the best of what he has, and I groaned inwardly. Was this movie going to be Cast Away on Dry Land? Hanks certainly shone in that role, but I wasn’t interested in a reprise. Luckily, this portion of the movie is not very long, though it’s obvious through the film that Spielberg is in love with Hanks’ ability to steal the screen.

While Catherine Zeta-Jones seems to almost always be stuck in the same role as a self-assured, sexually dominant woman, this role is not like that at all. I had thought that she couldn’t really act because the roles were all delivered in the same way. Zeta-Jones gives such a wonderful performance here. To me, this is the stuff the Academy should consider for acting awards. Amelia (her character) is so perfectly acted that I barely recognized the actor. Even the way she walks, tilts her head, and subtle accent changes are all so totally different from the normal performance. I was absorbed by the character, not the actor.

This could have been simply a cute little film about being stuck in an airport. Instead, it was a richly interwoven group of stories of those people whose lives had overlapped at the airport. The rules-mongering government agent who lets his compassion slip away in favor of his job; the food service man, love sick over the customs officer; the flight attendant who looks for love and acceptance where there is none. My favorite performance was the hilarious Gupta (Kumar Pallana), whose performance is charming, uplifting, humorous, and touching. Each character brings a bit of their outside lives into the terminal. Lesser movies cannot focus on so many characters without losing the audience.

This type of movie, without epic battles, sex, or death, is rarely the focus of the public’s attention for long. We crave the visceral so much that we lose the simple. It was fun and good-hearted but had so much more to offer as well. These actors and this director gave us a great movie when all it had to be was good.
[rate 4]

Shallow Hal Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly

IMDb link

I didn’t want to see this film.

Western society has a real disdain for the overweight. Most of these individuals develop real emotional scarring from the overt statements to the covert looks. The trailers showed this same lack of heart: lame jokes where a chair breaks or a boat that’s weighted toward the front…I had no desire to spend two hours poking fun at a group who has enough issues.

As the story unfolds, Hal (Jack Black) is portrayed as the classic, overly stereotypical commitment-phobe who only concentrates on appearance. He is then granted the ability to see women for their true inner beauty and meets Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow). She’s gorgeous in his eyes but afflicted with seriously low self esteem.

I felt a lump in my throat even during the non-funny, non-dramatic moments. Just seeing the daily difficulties and constant self-doubt of Rosemary made me want to cry. There were indeed many slapstick moments, but this is the Farrelly brothers, so I expected no different.

The film is cut awkwardly in several places, such as a car scene with Rosemary and one of her coworkers. The dialogue didn’t fit the character (a supposedly ugly-on-the-inside pretty girl), and the scene didn’t cause any laughs and/or plot progression. I think something must have been cut for time. Suspension of disbelief is also a must, so if you’re irritated when characters seem dumber than they should be, this flick is not for you. However, Gwyneth’s shy performance is wonderful and understated amid silly situations. Tony Robbin’s cameo is great; I admire people who know themselves well enough to be comfortable with charicature.

I will try not to go into a diatribe here, but the film really did show how our society treats the overweight. The astounding part that I didn’t realize is that the overweight put themselves down too. None of them can take Hal’s compliments, even though their souls are truly wonderful.

I’m seeing a pattern: most of these films I see are not what I want. Sometimes it works in my favor, sometimes not. This time, I’m glad I was dragged.

[rate 3.0]

This Might Be a Bad Idea…

…but I’m doing it anyway. I have been trying to eat right and exercise, so I decided to challenge myself by letting the whole world (or, the six people who stumble onto this site) see my progress. This graph will be updated periodically over the next six weeks. It’s overkill but I need to do it to keep myself from losing focus. My goal is to exercise at least 2 days weekly, and to lose several pounds as well.

I’m doing this for several reasons: first, my health. Second, my well-being: I feel better and more confident when I exercise. Third, I remember being exhausted at the end of each day of GenCon, and I’d like to feel refreshed instead.

There isn’t much data on the graph yet, so my goal weight is showing in blue. As it populates, you’ll see how many minutes I’ve exercised and how my weight compares to the goal. So here’s the ugly truth: