Archive for July, 2011

By now you all know what “The Book of Mormon” is, where it comes from and what it is about. I will not waste any time on exposition suffice to type a single obligatory statement: for the sake of this review I am referring to the hit broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” and not the volume of scripture used by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of the same name.

Shortly after my trip to New York, still on a naughty-puppet high from seeing Avenue Q, I rushed to to take advantage of the TBOM soundtrack for $2.99 (with digital booklet). That price has since returned to a more customary $10.99 so my apologies to all of you who missed out.

TBOM has received critical praise, boat-loads of awards and accolades far and wide. It has been heralded as “revolutionary” and, especially where I’m from, created no small uproar for it’s “lewd” “crass” “offensive” “vulgar” “disgusting” lyrics.

I am here, an unapologetic Mormon man, siding with the former. TBOM is extraordinary. I remember one reviewer saying that if anyone stands to be offended, it’s the Ugandans.

While the lyrics are blatantly explicit, the fact remains that the songs are entertaining and at time heartwarming. I literally got goosebumps listening to “I Believe,” the Act III opus that finds the at-times-downtrodden Elder Price triumphantly proclaiming his faith as he marches alone into the camp of a tyrannical warlord.

It wasn’t the only time. I laughed-out-loud listening to “Baptize Me,” as awkward Elder Cunningham and a female Ugandan prepare for the defining moment of any missionaries experience abroad: the first baptism. The humor comes from the lyrics taking on a double-entendre as the two get excited for their “first time” and Cunningham explains that he will “hold her like this” and “lower her down” and then screams triumphantly “I baptized you GOOD.”

It’s hilarious, ESPECIALLY if you’ve actually been a missionary. The awdward, sex-starved, two-year famine where recreation of any kind is a sinful waste of time and the slightest mis-thought sends you through a shame spiral where you question your own self worth. My companions and I would do a “Dança do Batismo” or “Baptism Dance” after every such ceremony once we were alone in our apartments.

And that, in essence, is the pure genius of TBOM. It is undeniably crude and vulgar but it is also excruciatingly spot-on in its portrayal of Mormon culture and Mormon missionary life. From “Hello” which portrays the mundane torture of Missionary Training Center exercises to “Turn It Off” which pokes fun at the cognitive dissonance that so many Mormons, struggling with their own weaknesses, feel but have been raised to never voice.

The creators take some creative license in some minute details but they are fully within their right as story tellers and the small comedic deviations do not detract from the overall level of accuracy that even a team of lifetime Mormons would have trouble reproducing with the amount of doctrinal variation from one tithe-payer to another.

The score has its weak points. I didn’t care too much for “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” and “Joseph Smith American Moses” is just an avenue for the Southpark Creators to spray vulgarity at you. In a different vein “Man Up” is just an annoying song, skip it entirely. At times it seems like Trey Parker and Matt Stone are trying a little too hard to swim against the stream and stretch the line between crisp social commentary and cheap laughs a little too far.

For the curious among you who are slightly faint of heart, stick to “Hello,” “Baptize Me” “You and Me” “Turn it Off” “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” “I Believe” and “I Am Africa.” You’ll get the occasional expletive but nothing more than the typical modern Pop album and with a good sampling of the production as a whole.

That said, nothing in this album comes close to approaching the level of offense of some modern Rap albums that seem to make their money off of degradation of women. These are dirty jokes for laughs, the kind that your uncle tells at Christmas, drawing a slap on the shoulder from your mother even though she’s hiding back a smile.

In the end, we have a creatively ingenious effort that occasionally misses but mostly hits the bullseye over and over again. TBOM pulls an often-misunderstood religion out of obscurity under the guise of poking fun, but instead presents it in a heartwarming, uplifting, and outright hilarious light.

Oh yeah, and the digital booklet is fantastic.

Download this: “Baptize Me” “I Believe”
Grade: B*

*note, this grade applies ONLY to the music and not the overall stage production of TBOM as staging, acting, and inter-musical dialogue create a more enhanced experience

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Like all things in life, you can only amass a certain amount of success before you become resented and targeted. I suppose it’s not all bad. After all, our country was built on the idea of economic competition.

And so we see ourselves facing the latest realization of the Google Empire’s sense of Manifest Destiny. While other social networks have taken on Facebook by taking a page from Zuckerberg’s own playbook — building from a nucleus of tight-knit, like-minded individuals into the defining global unifier — Google has decided instead to amass world domination overnight and have put exhaustive resources into spreading the tentacles of their new creation.

Their hubris may, however, prove to be their demise. As one writer said of Google, “Social networks grow LIKE trees, not on them.” Logging onto G+, one finds a rather overtly innocuous interface with about as much pizazz as rice pudding.

One of the most notable differences between G+ and Facebook is Google’s use of “circles,” a grouping mechanism that mandates users separate their contacts into such criteria as friends, family, acquaintances etc. With such a setup, users can direct their posts to the world at large or to specific segments of their online universe. To me, however, this proves to be little more than a nifty parlour trick, much like the expensive knives you see on TV that can slice meat thin enough to read through it. It’s a neat gimmick, but I’m not sure when I’d ever use it.

Google-amorists have been quick to tout Circles as their banner of magnificence. I, personally, operate under the digital philosophy of what I wouldn’t want my mother to hear, I shouldn’t say online. I see circles becoming a crutch where co-eds think they’re posting safely to friends only to get a voicemail from home asking what they meant on Tuesday at 12:30 when they said they were “too schwasted to function.”

What is truly Google’s strong point is it’s own size. As more and more people join the Gmail universe and load their smartphones with the wide array of google products the idea of one-stop shopping becomes appealing. Think of G+, then, as the Walmart of the World Wide Web.

Ultimately, Google’s arrival is enormously underwhelming. In it’s effort to differentiate from the big boy on campus Google has created a program that is aesthetically ugly and simple to a fault. Looking at my Facebook page, without scrolling I see 6 posts from friends, including videos, photos and text. A glance at my G+ shows 2. Icons are too large, photos too bulky, and the lump effect is a web page that does not capture the attention.

Where Google ultimately fails, however, is its attempt to be all things in one. One apologist wrote about the “revolutionary” way in which Google’s circles can be utilized to make a user’s account a blog, social network page, twitter feed, email, even Christmas card to mommy. It’s a nice theory, but I like that Wood’s Stock has it’s own look, one that I control and not what some suits in Silicon Valley have work shopped for me and everyone else.

As the movie Social Network points out, Facebook is meant to make digital the entire spectrum of social life, to effectively allow us to “reside” on the internet. G+, in it’s effort to be more than just another facebook has abandoned this philosophy and has gutted out the emotional experience in lieu of pure, vulcan, logic and efficiency.

Direct messaging is bulky and nearly non-existent. A sense of identity is all but abolished. Instead of the intuitive “liking” a posts, we have “+1-ing” which is as robotic as it is grammatical nonsense. When I like something, I like to “like” it. I don’t know what “+1” means and I’m still not entirely sure what it does.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. You can unveil all the tricky new software you want but with social networking the program is not the product, the people are. Facebook reigns supreme because of sheer number of users. When/if the day domes that all 503 of my friends migrate to Google I will as well because if Mark Zuckerberg has proven anything, it’s that people will use whatever everyone else is using. With Google being the challenger, the burden of proof lies with them. It is not enough to be simply good, it must be better. And simply, Google is not. F

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Last week, my brilliant photographer-extraordinaire sister of Illumine Photography graciously allowed me to tag along on one of her photo shoots. We’ve talked about doing this before but could never quite make it work while I lived in Logan. In theory I was supposed to shoot video with my Canon but we both kind of forgot about that until we were already on our way home. Next time.

I had never really worked with gear before. Most of my photography falls in the category of novice recreation to novice photojournalism, the latter of which does not allow for digital manipulation or fancy set ups. To really go n00b on you, I only own a kit lens for my little Cannon Rebel, but as we men say all through our lives it’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it.

The model was a friend of Mandie’s. She is, as you will gather from the pictures, a flag twirler and I was under explicit instructions from my sister not to fall in love with her.

We headed out to the salt flats which are, despite their barrenness and unpleasant smell, one of Utah’s coolest features — and a frequent Hollywood favorite for movie sets. The weather was good and hot and sunny, just like we we wanted it, with these great clouds rolling through in the background.

Throw in a dose of the dilapidated ruins of the Great Saltair and we had plenty to do.

I often ask myself what the difference is between my work and the true professionals. Obviously, they have years of experience that shows in their work both in the shooting and editing process but there has to be something, I would say, that I’m lacking that makes my pictures so obviously amateur. The answer is lighting. Look at the above two pictures, I like them both but the difference is that for the second shot I had a mounted light that was digitally calibrated to my shutter. The sky is bluer, the clouds look awesome, and yet there’s still that flare from the sun peeking in through the doorframe. Just like J.J. Abrams, I’m a sucker for flare.

Two awesome things. #1. Colorful graffiti

#2. Dead trains.

Check out the rest on Facebook. Tell me what you like/don’t like. This is the first of, hopefully, many.

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Like many of my fellow Americans, I became hooked by latest singing-competition-sensation “The Voice” on NBC.

This surprised me most of all, as I effectively abandoned the Reality genre of television years ago. The last time I watched “Idol” (I mean really, watched) was to cheer for rocker Constantine and THAT was even before the endless parade of would-be Idol knockoffs started poking up (Hey, I have an idea, let’s just do American Idol, but with Dancers! or Chefs! or Celebrities doing…something!)

How surprising it was to see that not only did Voice make a viable challenge to Idol, but it actually made good television. Being better than Idol is only the least of Voice’s victories (a low bar, in my opinion) but here’s the reasons why it has me believing again.

1. The judges matter

In Idol, the judges are designed as some sort of Yin to the singer’s Yang, offering biting rebukes and criticism that is, much like themselves, utterly pointless. Simon Cowell is a good judge of talent and his remarks are often spot on. Yet the opinion of these industry experts means nothing in selecting a winner. Instead a horde of 13-year-olds go on a texting spree and thus year after year the same pop-rock, radio ready, hack jobs get the top prize.

Not so in Voice. The “coaches” select their team and play a greater role in shepharding them to the final showdown than the voting public who, to reiterate, knows nothing about actual Talent. From the original 32 contestants the public doesn’t even have a say until it’s whittled down to 16 and up until the final crown the public votes are matched equally with the Coaches educated opinion.

2. Talent

Idol starts with a circus and ends with a clown. The first half of the season is spent rifling through sad, sad individuals to find the diamonds in the rough and comes off feeling more like exploitation than entertainment. (see: William Hung’s “She Bangs”)

Voice draws from a pool of individuals who have already made some headway in the music industry. Whether they have experience on Broadway or are cutesy singer-songwriters that have made a small local splash, these are all people who have attempted, to varrying degrees of success, to make it in the business and actually know a thing or two about a) songwriting and b) performing. To whit: the winner is crowned based on their performance of an original song.

3. Blake Shelton

When all is said and done, Voice isn’t about the contestants, it’s about the coaches and no one was a better, more endearing papa bear than big Blake. Adam and Cee Lo (forget you Christina, you narcissistic hack) did better than I expected but Blake really took the “coach” title to heart and developed a familial protective vibe for his team. His post-performance critiques were the most constructive and his praise the most sincere. “I’m glad I know you” and “I can effect the most change with Xenia.” I’m not a country music fan but in one short season I am a Blake Shelton fan.

3. High Stakes

In Idol we watch at a snails pace as the horde of carbon copies are picked off ONE AT A FREAKING TIME over the course of what feels like ages. In Voice, the competition is structured single-elimination tournament style where each week half, yes HALF, of the prior episodes singers are sent packing.

Those high stakes lend a tension and, more importantly, a momentum that keeps you invested week after week.

4. Duets

Yes, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was a disaster and the cutesy-twins were the most Idol-esque competitors in the competition. Still, the inclusion of duet acts on the Voice added a nice variety to the otherwise top 40 Kareoke-fest and the head-to-head matchups made for some of the most memorable moments (for good or ill) of the competition.

5. Positivity

One of the main reasons I gave up on reality TV was that it started to make me feel sad about society. Even the Amazing Race, the golden child of outlast-style reality competitions, makes full use of temper tantrums and breakdowns in its promotional material. Celebrity Apprentice is all about watching B*-fights between Gary Busey and Star Jones and of course Idol, where we drudge the barrel of society and cast the biggest spotlight we can on peoples failures.

If you made a drinking game out of negativity on the voice you would come away stone cold sober. The entire show focuses on the come-back-kid awe-shucksness of human achievement and its rare to hear anything but outright glowing remarks from the judges. When improvement is needed, they offer advice but always from a respectful and congratulatory vein.

6. Dia Frampton

So pretty. Sooooooo pretty. I follow her on Twitter.

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