London/Paris/Rome

Posted: December 18, 2010 in BLOG

FYI: Photos will be coming soon to the blog as well as  www.twenty20productions.com

So, we left for Europe for the first time last month. It was quite the interesting experience. I have been all over the USA, including Hawaii, as well as the Caribbean and Mexico, but never Europe. So, first on the list was to get passports (no, we didn’t need them for the Caribbean or Mexico, at the time). Then, you gotta have some sense of conversions (most of which weren’t complicated, but still): kilometers to miles, military time to standard time (this I had already learned), French and Italian to English, pounds and euros to dollars, celsius to fahrenheit (never nailed that one), so on and so forth.

Fortunately, most of the people in Paris and Rome spoke enough English for us to get by without having to bust out the translation book (people in London obviously spoke English, though sometimes the accents were so thick we had to go “huh? what’s that again”). In fact, even the French/Italian menus had everything translated into English below the main description. The flights were long (it’s about a 9-10 hr flight to London), but we didn’t have much trouble getting on British time (6 hrs ahead of central time) or Paris/Rome time (7 hrs ahead of central time), or back again. Getting around was easy via public transport. All in all, navigating Europe (whether that be physically, mentally or verbally) was not as big of an issue as we thought it might be.

Things we dodged thanks to prayers and God’s provision:

 

  • Shortly before we went to Europe, Paris had a transportation strike that was resolved before we arrived.
  • While we were there, London had a one-day transportation strike, but it didn’t manage to affect us personally.
  • A couple days after we arrived in London, the airports were shut down due to weather.
  • We had the option of doing a layover in London or Madrid from Rome. Originally, we wanted to do Madrid, just to say we’ve been and to pick up a magnet at the airport. But, we ultimately decided on London since we’d already be familiar w/ that airport, and the signs would be in English. We figured this would be helpful and less stressful in trying to switch from one plane to another. Good thing we picked London, because Spain (therefore, affecting Madrid) was having a transportation strike, including airfare. So, our flight would’ve been cancelled.
  • It was good our trip wasn’t a week later, because exactly a week after we got back to Dallas, the exact terminal and gate we landed in and would’ve landed in was evacuated due to a suspicious package.
  • While in London, there were student protests going on in an area we had been in the day prior, but were not in the day of.
  • Right after we left London, those protests turned into violent riots (I hear Prince Charles’ car got attacked, and his wife got stabbed in the ribs with a big stick, amongst other things).
  • When we were going from London to Paris, the weather was icy causing the airports to shut down. However, we booked a train, not a flight. The early morning and night trains had been cancelled. Our train (at 10:25am) was the first that had not been cancelled that day. The rationale we used in booking that particular train (they go about every hour or so) was because then we’d be arriving in Paris at check-in time at the hotel. But, clearly, there was a bigger reason why we ended up on that train.
  • Shortly after leaving Paris, they had record snowfall that caused the Eiffel Tower to shut down as well as transportation.
  • We got colds in Rome, mine with a fever (from being outside so much in the cold in London and Paris), causing us to stay in the hotel room for a whole day, but we stayed in Rome longer than we ended up needing and still got to see everything. The day we stayed inside we planned to see Vatican City, but as it turns out, it was closed that day anyway due to “Immaculate Conception”, so we wouldn’t have gotten much accomplished sight-seeing wise that day anyway as we had already taken care of everything else. So, we saw Vatican City the following day. So, the sickness didn’t cause any big dints in sightseeing plans.
  • While in London, we had the option of a day trip to either Stonehenge/Windsor Castle/Oxford or Stonehenge/Windsor Castle/Bath. We were originally gonna go with the Bath option, because we didn’t know about the Oxford option. But when we found out, we went with Oxford. We had a very friendly tour guide. However, the other bus (which arrived to the first two stops at the same time as us, and then went on to Bath instead of Oxford) had a REALLY MEAN tour guide. He was an old man that YELLED at the passengers for small stuff. This one girl got hot coffee, which the tour guide yelled at her for, shaking his finger at her, and told her to leave it behind. So she left it on the ground as the bus rolled off. Josh joked, “you want some coffee?” While this isn’t necessarily unsafe, it sure would’ve made it unpleasant.

I believe there were other things, but they are escaping me at the moment. But 11 is probably enough reasons for anyone to see that clearly these things didn’t happen by chance. God was orchestrating everything from us planning the vacation to while we were actually there.

Now…on to the cities…

London:

London was a fun city (probably my favorite of the three) that felt very “Americanized” and reminded me a lot of New York City. The difference is the fact it is a very historical city and has some very unique architecture (but no sky scrapers like NYC). Literally, all of the buildings were visually intriguing.

We saw all the main tourist sites such as Big Ben/Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus (the “Times Square” of London), St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey (this is a church, believed to be about 1000 years old, with very interesting architecture, and we also saw a mass take place there), Tower Bridge, Tower of London (which is actually a castle right in the middle of the city), London Eye (a big ferris wheel with 360 degree views of the city), etc. We saw a Broadway musical, Thriller. For Josh, we also went to Abbey Road, where the famous Beatles album cover was photographed. Next to it was Abbey Rd Studios where they recorded. We also took a day trip to Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Oxford.

Interesting facts:

There is no such thing as “Oxford University.” Instead, Oxford is a college town consisting of 38 separate colleges. So when someone says, “I went to Oxford”, you are supposed to reply back “Oh really? Which one?”

The Queen has multiple residences, the most famous being Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Whenever the Queen is “in residence”, a flag indicating such is flown from the top of the palace or castle. When we visited Buckingham Palace, the flag was not being flown, so I wondered if perhaps she was at Windsor Castle. We went to Windsor the day or two after that, and she was, in fact, in residence at Windsor (of course, we didn’t see her). Apparently, the flag is flown when she is LITERALLY IN RESIDENCE. In other words, if she goes out for coffee or something, the flag is taken down, and then put back up when she arrives again. Sounds like a lot of work to me. We saw the changing of the guards at both residences.

Stonehenge is still a mystery. There are lots of theories as to why it is there, but as our tour guide repeatedly stated, they are just “theories.” It was bigger in person than I would’ve suspected. Apparently, the stones are actually buried several inches or feet into the ground, helping keep them up. In addition, the horizontal stones on top have grooves in them to fit into the perpendicular stones (like legos).

The people of London were very friendly, and some quite funny. Like our hop on/off tour guide, amongst others. We met a lot of people from different countries while in London. I knew, based on watching Gordon Ramsay on Hell’s Kitchen, that British people say “yeah” a lot…like in place of where Americans would use the phrases “right?” or “okay”. But, even that show couldn’t prepare me enough for just HOW MUCH they say it. They say it after EVERYTHING. Sometimes multiple times per sentence. We have now developed the habit (actually developed before the trip just from watching Hell’s Kitchen) of saying it too.

London has a very extensive and efficient public transportation system, much like NYC, only bigger. However, there was a transportation strike one day while we were there, but apparently it’s against the law to completely shut down (as I imagine millions depend on the system daily). So, it was running on limited service, and didn’t affect our plans. There were also student protests going on while we were there (over the gov’t tripling tuition rates), which turned into violent riots (because it passed) shortly after we left. So, we left at a good time.

The day we left, there was some snowy/icy weather, which caused airports to shut down and the Eurostar train (London to Paris train) to cancel it’s early and late departures. Fortunately, our train into Paris was late morning, and the first or second that wasn’t affected. However, because earlier trains had been cancelled, people from those trains were put on later trains, causing a confusing shift in seating assignments. But, in the end, we still had seats, just not our original ones. But, it would’ve been nice had someone explained this to us when we checked in so as to avoid a panic when someone was in our seats. But, I digress.

Paris:

Paris was probably my least favorite city of the three, which is good because it’s the city we spent the least amount of time in.

To me, Paris is worth visiting once (solely for the Eiffel Tower), but unless you are really into museums, etc, then I suggest only going for a day. The Eiffel Tower is definitely worth seeing…during the day and especially at night. It is much larger than you would anticipate (about the size of The Empire State Building). At night, it is quite amazing. It is all lit up, and at 9pm, it flickers for several minutes. The ride to the top is not for those who are afraid of heights. I notice the older I get, the more aware of my surroundings and the potential risks associated with them I become. So, I couldn’t look out as it kept going up and up and up. It felt like it was never going to end. Then, once we were up, I could only stay a few minutes. I wasn’t afraid of falling or any such thing, so much as an attack taking the whole thing down.

We also went to the Musee D’Orsay, Notre Dame (this is a church with very interesting architecture), and we saw the Mona Lisa at the Lourve. It was roped off, so you could maybe get about 6-12 ft from it, and the painting itself was enclosed in glass. There were also security guards standing near it. But, they still let us take photos of it, which surprised me. I tried walking around to see if her eyes followed me, and sure enough, they do.

All we ate in Paris were crepes (we did try fish and chips in London, and that was good, despite my not normally liking fish), which were very good. The people, however, are another story. They are very aggressive. At the Eiffel Tower, people constantly come up to you trying to get you to buy Eiffel Tower souvenirs, give them money, or sign things. But, saying “no” or ignoring them wasn’t good enough for them. They would continue to bother you, and literally wave their hand 3 inches from your face and go “hello?” There were a couple times that people placed hands on my shoulder/arm. Then, at one of the metro stations, a ticket-checker person stated we weren’t using our tickets correctly and fined us 25 euros (about $40).

They call Paris the City of Love or the City of Lights, but I really didn’t find anything romantic about it (except maybe the Eiffel Tower at night, but then that mood is quickly ruined by annoying people that keep coming up to you wanting something or another). The city was dirty, with graffiti and even rats. But, each to their own.

We took the overnight train from Paris to Rome (we had a cabin with beds). We had a confirmation that we had to use to print out our tickets at the kiosk. Well, due to the supposed complexity of our last name, it didn’t work. But, because it was a weekend, the people that can help in such situations weren’t there. So, we talked to the reception/security area, and with broken English, he stated we could go across the street to another station that had a person there that can print it. We didn’t want to haul our six bags of luggage all around, so I stayed, while Josh went in search. An hour passes, and he finally shows back up with the tickets. All the while, I was worrying why it was taking so long and wondered if something bad had happened. But, apparently it really wasn’t across the street, and was difficult to find. Then, once Josh did find it, there was a long line. Josh didn’t have his cell phone on him (because we didn’t get the international calling plan on his phone…figured we only needed it on one phone). He also didn’t take his credit card or license with him to confirm his identity, but fortunately, they didn’t ask for any proof and just printed the tickets anyway. Unfortunately, Josh hadn’t been dressed to spend an hour in the cold.

Rome:

By the time we got to Rome, we were starting to get colds due to being outside so much in the cold & damp weather in London and Paris. But, we felt relatively well the first couple of days in Rome, so made use of our time. Then towards the end, I got a fever and spent a whole day inside the hotel room. But, fortunately we ended up being in Rome for longer than we needed, so we were able to spare a day.

In Rome, we saw the Coliseum, Roman Forum, Catacombs (where Christians are buried), Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Vatican City (which also has St. Peters Basilica and Sistine Chapel). St. Peters Basilica was very neat much like Westminster Abbey in London or Notre Dame in Paris, but it was much larger. The Coliseum was pretty cool. We were going to go to Vatican City on Wednesday to see the Pope, but that was the day I had a fever, and Vatican City ended up being closed that day anyway due to “Immaculate Conception.” So, we went Thursday. The paintings of the Sistine Chapel were almost 3D and looked like they were jumping off the walls/ceilings. The Chapel itself was actually smaller than I thought it’d be. In there, you aren’t to take photos, but they didn’t heavily enforce it. The hallways leading up to the Sistine Chapel were just as, if not more, intriguing.

Italian food is one of my favorites, probably right behind Mexican food. So, I had high expectations of “real” Italian food. But to our disappointment, real Italian food isn’t that good. The pasta isn’t too bad, but you really can’t screw that up. I liked the fact they put bay leaves in the pasta though. But, the pizza was lacking in flavor and spices. Also, if you order a “pepperoni” pizza, you will get a pizza with big, nasty peppers. Pepperoni doesn’t exist. You have to order “salami.” Shortly after we got back from our trip, we ordered some pizza back at home, and we were like “mmm American pizza…much better.” I guess it comes down to what your taste buds are accustomed to.

The traffic situation in Rome is very congested, and people park their cars everywhere, and even have to double and triple park behind other cars. Their metro trains are ALWAYS jam-packed, and it’s a rarity when you can actually find a seat. Rome is also dirty, like Paris, with graffiti everywhere. But, the people seemed a bit more reasonable, overall.

Things I liked about Europe:

  • All three cities (and most cities all over Europe from what I hear) have very extensive public transportation options. The only comparable city in the USA would be NYC. This would save time, money, gas and frustration on the road. However, it was nice to drive again once back in Dallas because after a while, you get tired of having to stand up against a million people and be exposed to germs, possible pick-pocketing/stealing (which we didn’t have an issue with, but apparently is common), and weird stares/looks (especially since everyone KNOWS you’re American just by looking at you). I did miss getting to be private, in my own car.
  • In London, if you are riding an escalator, you stand on the right if you plan to stand, and if you want to walk up/down the escalator, you go to the left. Seems self-explanatory, but something Americans still haven’t mastered.
  • I thought having $1 and $2 coins (well, euros and pounds, not dollars) was a good idea, although I suppose that could get heavy.
  • London, in particular, seemed more advanced technology-wise than America.
  • My absolute favorite thing about how Europe does things is that ALL bathroom stall doors close in such a way that there are no cracks on either side (and therefore, no one will see your crack either). Some doors even go completely up to the ceiling and down to the ground. Much more privacy.
  • One thing that I think is a GREAT idea, and should be adopted by America, is that EVERY restaurant displays their menu & pricing OUTSIDE of the restaurant, so that people can decide whether or not they want to eat there before even walking into the restaurant and wasting anyone’s time. Great idea.

Things I didn’t like about Europe:

  • Everything is so crammed and congested…much like NYC I guess, but quite different than much of the USA.
  • Everything is more expensive. I suppose if the exchange rate was 1 to 1 (where 1 pound or 1 euro equaled $1) then it wouldn’t be as bad. But, since pounds to dollars was like $1.60 – $1.80 and euros to dollars was like $1.50, then things are just naturally more expensive.
  • The bathrooms, particularly in Paris and Rome, cost money. Even if you are a paying customer at a restaurant, you’d still have to pay anywhere from 20-50 cents (which could be up to 75 cents in dollar terms). In London, the only place that was like that was at the Underground (metro) stations. Oh, and they only take exact change.
  • I got the impression that Europe is very “environmentally friendly”, and so the blow dryers in the hotels didn’t put out much power at all.
  • Speaking of hotels, with the exception of the hotel in Rome, European hotel rooms as well as the showers are so small you can barely move. There’s basically just enough room for the beds. Speaking of which, they don’t have such things as queen or king beds over there, just twins and doubles.
  • People seem to be more aggressive and maybe don’t keep to their own as much as they do in America. Some things that people can get away with over there, I imagine could get you arrested over here.
  • VAT tax…everything in Europe includes a VAT tax (about 18%, give or take). Unfortunately, this is something America is considering adopting. I do like the fact that the price you see on the item or menu is the complete price (including tax), so you aren’t left wondering what the grand total will be. That is nice. BUT…it’s still a high tax amount.
  • In addition to a VAT tax, most restaurant totals already include a 15% service charge for tip. Part of me likes this because then you don’t have to do the thinking or deciding what to tip (also kind of along the lines of the VAT tax, where what you see on the bill is it…which also explains why stuff costs more). But, at the same time, what if the server didn’t deserve that high of a tip? And what’s the incentive for the waiter to do a good job if they know they are already going to get a 15% tip anyway, regardless of the job they perform? Seems kinda backwards.
  • They are always striking over there or having riots, etc. Shortly before we came, Paris was having a transportation strike (which was resolved by the time we got there). While we were there, London had a transportation strike as well as protests and riots after we left. We heard Spain was also having transportation strikes, including airlines, while we were there, so it’s a good thing that on our flight back home, we chose the layover in London and NOT Madrid. Apparently, striking, etc is very common over in Europe. Seems they are always upset about something I guess. It seems this could really throw a kink in people’s plans on a regular basis.
  • The people drive crazy over there. It’s like there are no rules or something. And in Rome, there are no cross walks with lights. You literally have to walk out in front of cars and just hope they stop for you. So, normally we’d wait for other people to walk first, and then walk with them while the traffic was already stopped.

Something I noticed: Europe is very focused on America:

Europe focuses a lot of attention on America. In London, their news programs, and even their newspapers, focused a lot on American gov’t, not so much their own. In all three cities, they played American music in their stores. Rome had a lot of cologne/perfume commercials, all of which featured American actors/actresses. Europe has a decent amount of American food chains over there: McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, Pizza Hut and KFC. To my surprise, London actually carried Dr. Pepper (which is an American soda – specifically southern America, not a global soda like Coca Cola). NYC doesn’t even carry Dr. Pepper…but London does?!?

All in all, I really enjoyed Europe, and grateful I got to experience it. However, while it makes a good vacation or educational/historical destination, I wouldn’t want to live over there. So, it does bring with it a new, fresh appreciation for America, which was much needed given the current state it’s headed in (it’s headed for a European-like existence, but it’s not quite there yet, so America is still better). Of course, I don’t want to make it sound like Europe is awful. There are far worse off places in the world than Europe. So, Europe is worth traveling to, but I suggest sticking to the big cities such as we did. In part, because they have the most to see. But, also because they anticipate American tourists and therefore are equipped to handle them.

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Superpages.com Center held a crowd of approximately 9,600 on Thursday night. Maroon 5 was the headliner with well-known opener, OneRepublic, and Australian-born singer and former surfer, Ry Cumming.

My first thought was why is OneRepublic still an opening band? They’ve been around since 2007 with huge hits such as “Apologize” and “Stop and Stare” off their debut album Dreaming Out Loud and “All the Right Moves” off their 2009 sophomore release, Waking Up.  I saw them open for Rob Thomas in the past, and now they are opening for Maroon 5. Don’t get me wrong. Those are great musicians to open for, but it’s clear from 1R’s huge hits, song-writing skills and live performances, that it is time to go it alone. Or, at least not as a supporting act.

Nevertheless, it is clear when OneRepublic hits the stage that, in their minds, they ARE the headliner. Lead singer, Ryan Tedder (who is also known for writing and producing Top 40 hits for several artists including Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce and Leona Lewis) has loads of energy. Sporting his typical vest and hat, one almost wonders if he may have ADHD (or perhaps too much caffeine in his system) as he runs and jumps around the stage like a mad man.

OneRepublic has something different to offer beyond your traditional pop/rock that primarily features guitar, drums, keyboards and melodies. They have all that and then some. In almost every OneRepublic song, you will hear a violin and/or cello. They even bring these instruments live on tour along with xylophone and tambourine. Similar to Maroon 5, OneRepublic offers a mix of pop/rock, dance/techno and R&B which makes for very diverse albums and concerts.

The band played their aforementioned hits from both albums as well as additional songs off their sophomore effort such as “Secrets”, “Everybody Loves Me”, “Good Life”, “Waking Up” and “Marching On.” Fan favorites were their hit radio singles, but also their cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” and Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back.”  But, as entertaining as OneRepublic’s set was, it was Maroon 5 that got the crowd on their feet.

When Maroon 5 opened with their new single, “Misery”, off their third album Hands All Over, it was clear who the audience was really there for.  It is amazing how much their fan base has expanded since they opened for John Mayer and Counting Crows in previous years.

Maroon 5 engaged the crowd with some audience participation and lighting complete with a disco ball. All M5 was missing were some pyrotechnics. Lead singer and heart-throb, Adam Levine (now covered in arm tattoos), marketed the audience by discussing how much better the Rangers are than the Yankees.  He made it clear that he was from LA, not NYC, and he is on the side of the Dallasites. As always, Levine’s voice, musical style and gyrations were reminiscent of the late Michael Jackson.

The band played tunes off their first album, Songs About Jane (2002), including their hits “Harder to Breathe”, “She Will Be Loved”, “This Love” as well as some others.  They performed songs off their second album, It Won’t Be Soon Before Long (2007), such as “If I Never See Your Face Again”, “Makes Me Wonder”, “Wake up Call” and “Won’t Go Home without You.” I enjoyed taking a stroll down memory lane by hearing them sing songs from their first two albums, but with this being a tour supporting their new album released last month, Hands All Over, it seems time would’ve been better spent cutting a few old songs as well as the Alicia Keys cover, “If I Aint Got You”. Although, I did enjoy their brief cover of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with it.” But, with the band playing fewer than a handful of new songs, it made one feel as if they were just getting a repeat of the previous tour with an added bonus of the improvement in stage presence.

Putting this aside and with all things considered, Maroon 5 and OneRepublic make a good touring pair and complement each other quite well.

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The Social Network

Posted: October 1, 2010 in MOVIE REVIEWS

by: Sarah St. John

With 500 million members, 207 countries being serviced and valued at $25 billion, it was only a matter of time before a movie, “The Social Network”, was made based on the phenomenon we all know as Facebook.  The script and story-line was helped with Ben Mezrich’s book entitled “The Accidental Billonaires: The Founding of Facebook.”  The buzz already surrounding this movie is huge, with predictions of it winning “best picture of the year” at the Oscars.  In fact, the very first thing the audience members did after the movie screening was update their Facebook statuses on how good the…um, “Facebook movie” is.

“The Social Network” details the inner workings, technology, money, back-stabbing and lawsuits involved in making Facebook what it is today.  Facebook (formerly known as “thefacebook.com”) was started by Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg: “Adventureland”, “Zombieland”) in early 2004.  It started as a social site for Harvard, gradually expanding to other Ivy League schools, then to colleges and high schools across the nation.  It was finally opened to the general public in 2006.  Today, not only is Facebook being used as a social site to stay connected to family and friends, it’s also a source to market businesses, products, services, politics, charities and organizations.  Or, a place to waste time playing games such as “Farmville” or take quizzes such as “Who are your top 5 celebrities.”  But, back to the movie.

Mark Zuckerberg is an awkward, yet brilliant 19-year-old Harvard student who spends most of his free time on the internet, blogging and dabbling with programming, HTML and JavaScript.  In fact, he was offered jobs from Microsoft and AOL when he was still in high school, but he turned them down.  When his girlfriend dumps him due to his poor social skills (although never diagnosed, many argue he may have Aspergers), he creates a site called “Facemash.com” which compares and rates the attractiveness of the girls on campus.  The site gets 22,000 hits in two hours, crashes Harvard’s network (which produces the first lawsuit), and spawns the attention of the Winklevoss twins (played by Armand Hammer’s grandson, Armie Hammer, with the help of body double, Josh Pence). The Winklevoss twins along with their friend, Divya (Max Minghella), approach Mark about coding a site called “Harvard Connection” which would do as the title suggests: connect Harvard students in an online world.  Mark agrees, but runs in a different direction with his best friend, and later the former Facebook CFO, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).  It was then that “thefacebook.com” came alive.  Of course, as soon as the Winklevoss twins and Divya find out, they start accusing Mark of “stealing their idea” and a big lawsuit commences.  But, what we learn here is that it doesn’t matter whose idea it was.  What matters is who can produce it.

Putting aside all the confusing, fast-paced computer jargon that is repeatedly spewed out of Mark’s mouth, “The Social Network” grabs the audience’s attention and keeps them honed in for the full two hours of screen time.  Thanks to screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing, “A Few Good Men”), the script is sharp, brilliant and witty.  Thanks to the actors and director, David Fincher (“Fight Club”, “Zodiac”), the cast delivers and nails it to a T.
The film also stars Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the guy who started Napster.  Sean teams up with Mark and gives him some of the best advice early on to not fill up the site with ads and to drop “the” and just call it “Facebook” because it is cleaner.  Their new camaraderie starts to push Eduardo out of the picture and forges yet another lawsuit.

Ironically, the movie states “what makes us different from other social sites is Facebook never crashes.”  Um, really?  ‘Cause Facebook crashed off and on the week before the movie opened.  What is also ironic is that Facebook, which serves as a social site, was created by someone with extremely limited social skills.  Throughout the movie, Mark is egotistical, rude, sarcastic and never smiles.  Little did Mark know, a site that was created as a hobby and a way to get girls, would make him the youngest (now 26 years old) billionaire in the world.  However, on the flip side, it also cost him the few closest friendships and relationships he had.  The tagline for “The Social Network” is “you don’t get 500 million friends without making a few enemies”, and Mark sure did make a few enemies along the way.  In a sense, he is an anti-hero.

Mark Zuckerberg himself was not involved in the film in any way and says some of the details of the film are inaccurate.  Knowing this can be somewhat of a frustrating disappointment to the audience as they aren’t sure which parts to believe or not, but one thing is certain: the film is going to be one of the biggest hits at the box office all year.  I am looking forward to seeing it again myself.  But until then, I’m going to sign off here and sign on to Facebook and hope it doesn’t crash.

Easy A

Posted: September 17, 2010 in MOVIE REVIEWS

by: Sarah St. John

“Easy A” is an easy C-.

The new film stars Emma Stone (“Superbad”, “Zombieland”) as Olive Penderghast, a typical teenage girl who desires popularity and attention at her high school.  And that’s precisely what she gets when a little white lie about losing her virginity turns into a massive rumor.  Then her gay friend (Dan Byrd) offers to pay her to say she had sex with him (in order to hide his sexuality and prevent further torment by other students).  The word spreads like wildfire, and  soon numerous guys – similarly desperate –  offer to pay Olive (usually in the form of gift cards) to say they had sex in order to build reputations that will overshadow their respective weight, looks or nerd status.  In a sense, she prostitutes herself without actually having intercourse.

At first, Olive doesn’t appreciate or understand all the attention she is getting, but in time grows to enjoy her infamy and bursting wallet.  This is illustrated when Olive changes her look to fit her new reputation by wearing tighter, skimpier outfits.  It only becomes a bit silly when she attaches an “A” to all of her clothing (Olive is reading “The Scarlet Letter” in class).  Her teacher, Mr. Griffin (Thomas Hayden Church), states: “I think you are taking the reading assignment too seriously.”

“Easy A” is loaded with attempts at laugh-out-loud satire and banter.  Some of the humor comes from Olive’s sarcastic parents (the always reliable Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson); best friend Rhiannon (Alyson Michalka) who enjoys calling her names suited to the rumors; Mr. Griffin’s stiff attempts at being cool and guidance counselor Mrs. Griffin’s (Lisa Kudrow) own dirty little secret;  and a wide array of John Hughes’ clips.  The soundtrack includes some apropos songs (Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation”).  However, the narration doesn’t add anything to the story.

While “Easy A” is just another typical light-hearted teen movie, there is an underlying message just below the surface.  Olive quickly learns that it is not worth sacrificing your dignity at the expense of a bad reputation.  Initially, she considers bad attention to be better than no attention at all.  In the end, Olive becomes more lonely and unsatisfied with her new popularity, and it makes it harder for her to get the attention of the guy she’s had a crush on for years (Penn Badgley).  “Everyone is jumping at the chance to fake sleep with me,” Olive says, “but no wants to actually sleep with me.”  Our response? Boo-hoo.

Overall, “Easy A” ends up being better than anticipated (I predicted an easy F), but the movie poster suggests a more worthwhile plan of action: “Let’s not and say we did.”

The Town

Posted: September 17, 2010 in MOVIE REVIEWS

by: Sarah St. John

“The Town”, based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan, is Ben Affleck’s second successful attempt at directing, after 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone.” The movie takes place in a small town – only one square mile to be exact – called Charlestown. Charlestown is a suburb of Boston, and holds the highest bank robbery crime rate in the USA with more than 300 robberies per year.

Ben Affleck also acts in this film. His character, Doug, heads up a four-man bank/armored truck robbery team. “The Town” is just like any other heist movie, including last month’s “Takers.”  I fear this theme is becoming all too common and predictable. But, what makes “The Town” stand out from the others is in between all the car chases, shoot outs, bank robberies and fast-paced action, there is a romantic love story that develops. And not just any love story. A love story between Doug and his victim.

During another routine bank heist, the bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), is asked to open the vault. When someone presses the silent alarm, they take her hostage, drive several miles and drop her off at a beach, unharmed. However, the robbers are nervous that she may have seen James’ (Jeremy Renner) neck tattoo and could identify him in a lineup. So, Doug keeps tabs on her by camping out at her house and following her. When they “accidentally” bump into each other at a laundromat, they strike up conversation and a relationship develops. Because they were wearing Halloween masks during the robbery, she never knows she is falling for the man that robbed her bank, held her hostage and then dropped her off in the middle of nowhere hands-tied and eyes-covered.

Doug decides that he’d prefer to return to a normal life and continue his relationship with Claire. But, the rest of the crew convinces him to do one more heist – their biggest one – at Fenway Park. This offers the longest action-packed shoot-out scene of the entire movie as the other heists are relatively short in comparison.

There are a few humorous moments in the movie to cut the tension. When Claire tells Doug the story of being robbed and taken hostage, she claims she would recognize the robbers’ voices if she ever came into contact with them again. Clearly not so. When Doug apologizes that she had to experience that, she states “it’s not your fault.” Clearly it is. She then proceeds to ask him what he does for work. Little does she know that he robs banks, including her bank, for a living. Other humorous moments are mostly related to all the outfits the robbers have to hide their identity and how well they pull it off: cop, EMT, nuns, etc. They play these parts oh so well.

As “The Town” progresses, you begin to feel sympathy for Doug’s character. He had a rough childhood, with a supposed suicidal mother and a convicted felon of a father (Chris Cooper). He had a chance at a hockey scholarship, but somewhere along the way he turned to drugs and crime. Now, he wants to get out of this life style and get back on solid ground. The audience is rooting for him. We also hope that he and Claire end up together in the end.

While the general concept of this movie is nothing new, “The Town” is entertaining nevertheless. It brings to light how much talent and the multi-tasking skills Mr. Affleck possesses. Not only did Ben Affleck direct and act in this film, he also co-wrote it alongside Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard. While his acting is hit or miss (including in this film with his on/off Boston accent), his directing is a hit. Perhaps he should spend more time behind the camera instead of in front of it.

Paramore Concert Review

Posted: September 12, 2010 in MUSIC/CONCERT REVIEWS

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by Sarah St. John

Friday night, the sold-out Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie was packed with mostly teens and early 20-somethings.  The 2010 Honda Civic Tour featuring Kadawatha, New Found Glory, Tegan & Sara and the headliner, Paramore, may be one of the biggest tours of the summer.

While concert goers were mostly young people wearing  punk/emo clothing and sporting funky hair styles, the crowd was diverse ethnically and otherwise.  Even the openers were diverse.  While high-pitched Swedish band, Kadawatha, had a short set, it was filled with amazing guitar riffs, piano, techno beats and intoxicating harmonies.  American punk band, New Found Glory, was big back in the day (as in 10 years ago). Unfortunately, the audience was too young to know who they were, but they rocked it anyway.  Canadian identical twin sisters, Tegan & Sara, seemed to have the biggest fan base of any of the openers, primarily women.  They had a long set for an opener, and their harmonies and techno/piano-driven 80’s style music was refreshing.

After three hours of opening bands, the crowd’s anticipation (including former American idol contestant and Rockwall native, Jason Castro, who was spotted in the pit) for Tennessee band, Paramore (Hayley Williams, Josh Farro, Zac Farro, Jeremy Davis and Taylor York), was mounting.  While the stage was being set, Paramore would appear on the screen, and the audience would scream and cheer.  The black curtain dropped, and strings of light bulbs swayed back and forth as Paramore opened with “Ignorance” and had the crowd on their feet the entire 90 minute set.

Lead singer, Hayley Williams (also known for her vocal appearance in B.o.B’s “Airplanes”) was sporting her dyed-red hair as that is clearly her trademark at this point in her musical career.  She is a fireball and full of head-banging energy.  But what really stands out about Hayley is her sincere and genuine appreciation for their fans.  Several times throughout the evening, she continued to thank their fans for their continued support through the years.  At one point in the show, a Waco-based Christian band tossed Hayley Williams their demo CD, and Hayley announced their name to the 6,000+ crowd asking them to check the band out.  What musician does that?  Most bands wouldn’t even accept the demo let alone give the band a shout out.  That’s Hayley for you.  I can only imagine the excitement and appreciation that band must’ve felt.  I checked them out myself, and they are pretty good.

Paramore played all their hit songs including “That’s What You Get”, “Decode”, “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic” and “Crushcrushcrush.”  They closed the night with their new single, “The Only Exception” set to fireworks and a crowd full of lighters and cell phones swaying.  But, the crowd wanted (Para)more, and they hit the stage again with a two-song encore of “Brick by Boring Brick” and “Misery Business” as cannons blasted out confetti.

With six years as a band;  several hit songs;  the song (“Decode”) featured in one of the biggest film franchises (“Twilight”) in recent years;  three albums under their belt: “All We Know is Falling” (2005), “RIOT!” (2007) and “Brand New Eyes” (2009);  and high-energy, good clean punk-rock shows, Paramore won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.  We want more of Paramore.

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Flipped

Posted: September 9, 2010 in MOVIE REVIEWS

by Sarah St. John

Based on a novel by Wendelin Van Draanen and directed by Rob Reiner (“Stand by Me”, “When Harry Met Sally”, “A Few Good Men”), “Flipped” could very well be another addition to the director’s vault of  timeless stories.  Unlike the present-day novel, the film is set in the late 50’s to early 60’s.  The plot revolves around the youthful, on/off love shared by Juli Baker and Bryce Loski (newcomers Madeline Carroll and Callan McAuliffe).  Juli, as most young girls do, becomes instantly infatuated with Bryce as soon as he moves in next door.  Bryce, as most young boys do, thinks girls are gross.  Fast-forward to middle school, and as Juli’s feelings dissipate, Bryce’s interest flourishes.  The two are never on the same page, and the pleasant predictability comes from knowing that, in this type of story, they soon will be.

While “Flipped” has a rather familiar story, there are a couple of extraneous and exhausting subplots that seem to do nothing more than take up precious screen time.  One involves a sycamore tree that Juli likes to climb, which is at risk of being torn down as an eyesore to the community.  Then there is a diversion about Juli’s fascination with harvesting and distributing eggs, which adds little to the goodwill the film builds.

What is unique and captivating about “Flipped” is the style in which it was filmed and edited.  The film often moves back and forth between elementary and middle school years, as well as replaying scenes in a he said/she said manner as the characters narrate their respective points of view.  In doing so, we find they are on completely opposite ends of the friendship spectrum, which can be amusing.  “Flipped” also utilizes a sepia filter and a continuous soundtrack of golden oldies to accentuate flashbacks.  For the casual listener, these cover versions will suffice, but classic audiophiles may find them a disappointment.

In addition to being a carefree, family film, “Flipped” does touch on some topical, real-life issues such as class stereotypes, treatment of the mentally handicapped, coping with financial hardships and the importance of spending enough quality time with your family.  It is an all-around wholesome film, with nothing cringe-worthy other than a close-up shot of a snake eating an egg.  With a cast of familiar faces (Anthony Edwards, Rebecca DeMornay, Penelope Ann Miller, Aidan Quinn, John Mahoney) and a charming, enchanting story, “Flipped” is no flop.  It guarantees to be a crowd pleaser for young and old alike.