Views on pop culture through my eyes

IMG_0944Thanks for being a part of this journey for me. I have been writing this blog for 6 years now. In that time, I have written 253 blog posts. They have been seen all around the world, from the United Kingdom to France — all the way to Ecuador. In total, over 50 different countries have visited my blog. That is definitely something to celebrate.

The past year has been an interesting one for me. I have experienced incredible highs — like getting married to my partner. And experienced some lows too having lost my Mom this past year. Then add on all the craziness in the world with all the violence, poverty, and the era of a reality TV president. Life can be overwhelming sometimes. I hope my writing shows that I love life, and want to inspire people to live their lives openly and honestly.

So here are a few of the highlights from the last year. Hard to believe it is almost a year since the massacre in Orlando. The world seems crazier than ever at this point. LGBT rights are still under fire from people who would love to get rid of all of us, and take back marriage equality. So I am glad to see there is a #Resist March happening in early June across the country.

Real men still wear Speedos. I am happy to see a new company called Sluggers out of Australia making some waves in America. I had to ask the question “Are You a Speedo Guy?”. It is time that guys have some option other than boring board shorts.

I got to go to some fun concerts in the past year. I hope I was able to share that joy with my readers. Everything from the triumphant returns of the Dixie Chicks and Gwen Stefani to Boyz II Men and Keith Urban. Plus I even wondered what shows from the past I would have gone to also.

Family played a big part in the past year too. My Dad celebrated his 90th birthday and had a big party in his honor. We also paid tribute to my Mom who passed away after a long illness last fall. I think both of my parents for all their love and support through the years.

I asked the question “Can we be objective” when it comes to arts and entertainment? So much of what we like or don’t like is influenced by our past experiences. I have often said I liked something only because I liked a person’s previous movie, album, etc.

Those are just a few of the highlights for the past year. Thanks for reading. I look forward to many more years of the “Kilt Man” blog.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

As a fan of both music and television, it is not always easy to come up with a winning formula that benefits both mediums. You have had so many reality singing competitions, and a few fabulous duds like “Cop Rock.” But here is my list of the shows that got it right:

Reality Shows

American Bandstand (1952–1989)
Dick Clark was the host for most of the run and is credited with it’s success. You had acts of the day performing, plus good looking young people dancing to the songs too. Who didn’t want to be there?

Soul Train (1971–2006)
Don Cornelius was the host that most people are familiar with (1971–1993). This show focused mostly on soul and R&B performers but disco, jazz, funk and hip hop made their way on it too. Who didn’t want to strut their stuff in the Soul Train Line?

American Idol (2002–2016)
The greatest singing competition show that ever existed in my opinion. It has changed the face of popular entertainment forever, and brought singers and performers we are still enjoying today. They just announced this week it is coming back for the 2017-2018 season on ABC.

Solid Gold (1980–1988)
Dionne Warwick and Marilyn McCoo are the hosts that I remember the most. If you grew up in the 80’s you remember this show fondly. It had a dance troupe, the Solid Gold Dancers, who would dance to the Top Ten tunes of the week. It was tacky, but it was fun.

Dramas

Nashville (2012–current)
This series focuses on the performers, song-writers and music industry people in Music City. The two main stars are Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere. It is basically a good old fashioned soap opera with music. Not a musical, but a drama. There have been concert specials of the stars showcasing their very real musical chops.

Smash (2012–2013)
This behind the scenes look at the making of a Broadway musical never really found it’s way to great success. But those that watched it loved it for what it was: a celebration of Broadway — it’s music and stars. Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty starred as the 2 women who wanted to play Marilyn Monroe in a musical entitled “Bombshell.” Along the way, there was plenty of drama and some great numbers as well as some ridiculous story lines too.

Glee (2009-2015)
This fun show followed the students in a Glee Club at McKinley High School. These kids were all misfits in their own ways… but they found power and success in the music. The early seasons were very successful and they were able to spin off a series of successful albums, singles and concert tours too. Some of the numbers were sung in character, while others were performance numbers. They also created some great mash-ups, where they took 2 or more songs and smashed them together into one great medley.

Empire (2015–current)
This show is Fox’s current hit drama about the going’s on in the world of hip-hop. It follows the Lyon family, ex’s Cookie and Lucious, and their 3 sons Jamal, Andre and Hakeem. Lucious is hip-hop royalty and 2 of his sons are performers, while the third is behind the scenes. The music is executive produced by Timbaland. The soundtrack from Season 1 debuted on the charts at #1, beating out Madonna’s last album.

Special Mention

So You Think You Can Dance (2005–current)
OK, so it is not a music show per se, but a dance show. But music is a big part of the routines, and I have discovered plenty of new music by watching this show. Plus they have had performances by up and coming musical acts too.

So have I missed any? I would love to hear from you.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

 

Idina Menzel in Concert
Friday, April 14, 2017
Greek Theatre

Idina. World Tour 2017

Songs performed: Queen of Swords, Small World, Seasons of Love, Don’t Rain on My Parade, The Way We Were, Everybody Knows, Cake, Black Dog, I’m Not That Girl, Perfect Story, Wind Beneath My Wings, Defying Gravity, I Do, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Rock Steady, No Day But Today, Dear Prudence, Do You Want to Build A Snowman?, For Good, Let It Go, I’ll Be Seeing You, I See You

Idina-MenzelComments: Idina Menzel, star of stage and screen, opened the 2017 season at the Greek Theatre. It was the latest stop on her “Idina.” World Tour.

I knew Idina from her Broadway shows — Rent and Wicked. Plus, of course, her work on Disney’s “Frozen.” Not to mention her turn on Fox’s “Glee” and the remake of “Beaches” from earlier this year. So yes, I am familiar with her powerhouse vocals. Plus her acting chops too. Her recent pop albums though, never heard anything from them.

The show started around 8:40 PM with Idina and her band playing “Queen of Swords” from her recent album “Idina.” Idina even played banged on some drums during one of the instrumental breaks of the song.

Her star-making roles in “Rent” and “Wicked” provided some of the highlights of the night. “Seasons of Love” was performed in a more upbeat version than the original, and the audience was encouraged to sing along. “No Day But Today” was also an audience participation number about the importance of living life and not taking anything for granted.

The numbers from “Wicked” she sang were “Defying Gravity,” “I’m Not That Girl” and “For Good” (which she sang a capella). And yes, she can hit those high notes on “Defying Gravity.” I saw “Wicked” in Dallas last year, and my thought was the woman playing Elphaba was not as good as Idina (but who is?).

She paid tribute to various artists throughout the night with inspired cover versions: Barbra Streisand (“Don’t Rain on My Parade”/”The Way We Were”), Aretha Franklin (“Rock Steady”), Bette Midler (“Wind Beneath My Wings”), Simon and Garfunkel (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), the Beatles (“Dear Prudence”) and even Led Zeppelin (“Black Dog” during the middle part of the new song “Cake”).

Idina shared that she is in love, and that she is going to be getting married soon. The new song “Cake” is for her fiancé. The chorus goes “One man’s poison is another man’s cake.” What does that say about Taye Diggs — Her first husband and the father of her child?

Idina acknowledged how she can be a contradiction. She knows she has a lot of young fans from “Wicked” and “Frozen.” But then again, she is a Jewish girl from NY whose middle-aged gay fans want to see her be the “sassy diva” and drop a few f-bombs. Which she did a few times during the night.

The stage was sort of simple, with a staircase near the back of the stage. Plus curtains with lights and videos screens on the back too. She had air blowing on her for “Wind Beneath My Wings” with a flying shawl around her (which she later ripped up during another number). She joked how things were lo-tech. Like how she had to move her stool around the stage, how it didn’t ascend through the floor or come down from the ceiling and fly around like some other divas.

She came across as very relatable and friendly. During “Let It Go,” she invited young kids to come up on stage with her and sing the song — mostly girls, but a couple of boys too. Some of the kids were very shy and didn’t want to sing. She dismissed the kids before the end of the song, as she had yet to hit the high notes that the song requires.

The new songs were all enjoyable. “Cake” had a bit of reggae rock vibe. While “Everybody Knows” was a dance song. The closing song for the night was “I See You” (another new song) which she dedicated to her fans (with images from them playing on the screens behind her).

Her band was compromised of top-notch musicians, and included a cellist and a violinist too. They were all given time to shine, including her backing vocalist (who helped out on “Rock Steady”).

Thanks to Idina and her band for a great time. She is a classy lady with a big voice — ready and willing to take on a movie role, a lead in a Broadway musical or just performing as her fun, lovable self for an adoring crowd.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Spring Reviews Part 2

Welcome back to the blog. It’s time again for my reviews of different entertainment options. Part 1 concentrated on music. Part 2 includes movies, DVDs and TV shows. What have I been watching recently? Read on.

Movies

Hidden Figures
This is the untold story of the women who were behind the NASA astronauts launch into space. It follows 3 African American women who were human computers. They were good at math, and were instrumental in the success of the space program. It is a very inspiring story. Go see it. Grade: A

Elle
Isabelle Huppert plays the title character. She won a Golden Globe for it (plus got nominated for an Oscar). She is good, but the movie itself is not that great. A schlocky tale of a woman who is raped by someone she knows, and acts almost as if nothing happened. Plus trying to figure out who raped her when she isn’t dealing with her job, her family, her ex and current lover. In French, with subtitles. Grade: C+

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage
Vin Diesel returns as the title character in this action sequel. Xander is a secret agent, who favors extreme sports and unconventional methods of working. The movie has plenty of action: car chases, shoot outs, brawls, even motorcycles on the water. Not much difference between this and the Fast and Furious franchise at this point. So you get a multicultural cast, exotic locales, and sex appeal. I enjoyed it for what it was. A good popcorn movie. Grade: B-

Loving
“Loving” is the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who challenged the laws against interracial marriage in VA. Interesting and moving story with good performances. Grade: A-

Fences
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis star in this film adaptation of the August Wilson play. It concerns a working class garbage man who is married with children. He is not an easy man to love or get along with. He treats those around him at arm’s length. The performances are great, even if at times it feels like a filmed play (which it is). Grade: A-

Hacksaw Ridge
Mel Gibson directs and Andrew Garfield stars in this true-life tale of Desmond Doss. He is a conscientious objector during WWII, and serves as a medic during the battle at Hacksaw Ridge. He wants to serve, but will not carry a gun. The first half has Desmond in training and falling in love, the second part is on the battlefield where he saved 75 men. The movie is nominated for best actor, director and picture. It’s an old-fashioned war movie, that reminds us that hero’s come in all types of shapes and sizes. Grade: B+

Jackie
Natalie Portman stars as first lady Jackie Kennedy in this biopic. It follows Jackie during the week after her husband is assassinated. How do you compose yourself after experiencing something so tragic and so public? How do you move forward? I am surprised that this did not get a Best Picture nomination. Her performance may earn her the Best Actress award. Go see it. Grade: A

DVDs

The Purge: Election Year
The third movie in the “Purge” series. It fairs better than the second one, but it is still not as good as the first one. It concerns protecting a presidential candidate who wants to get rid of the annual Purge (the night where all crime including murder is legal). Grade: C+

The Lobster
Colin Farrell stars in this very strange, and at times, disturbing movie. In the not so distant future, everyone must be mated. If you are without a mate, you are turned into an animal. The title comes from the animal that Farrell’s character picks to turn into. At first, he is in some sort of government facility. Then he escapes and ends up in the woods. The first part of the movie I liked, the second half just got very weird and violent. Grade: C

Captain Fantastic
Viggo Mortensen (in his Oscar-nominated performance) stars as a father who is raising his brood of 6 kids off the grid in the Pacific Northwest. The family has to go out into the real world after a family tragedy. This movie raises a number of questions: what constitutes family? What is the best way to raise your kids? There are a few comedic moments in this movie. It becomes a bit of a road trip/fish out of water tale as the family leaves the forest for the city. I enjoyed it. Grade: A-

Ghostbusters
Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig headline the cast of this all-female reboot. The cast is game, too bad they spent more on special effects than they did on jokes. The script and the director definitely let the ladies down. Includes guest appearances from the original stars too. Grade: C

Mechanic Resurrection
Jason Statham returns as the hitman for hire. Jessica Alba costars as his love interest. Jason must get back in the game and perform 3 hits before he can get out of the business and get his life back. Pretty forgettable movie, though I did like the one scene with the pool on the high-rise. Grade: C-

 

TV

Beaches
Another unnecessary remake. I liked it, but the original was better. The original movie has a special place in my heart. It was the movie Rasheed and I saw on our 2nd date. I even have a VHS copy of it. Grade: C+

Riverdale
I enjoyed “Riverdale” on the CW last week. An update of the Archie comics, the show played like a mix of 90210, Gossip Girl and a bit of Twin Peaks. It will be interesting to see how the season progresses. Grade: B+

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading. Please sound off in the comments, if you disagree or agree with my take on things.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Spring Reviews Part 1

Welcome back to the blog. It’s time again for my reviews of different entertainment options. What have I been listening to and watching recently? Read on.

CDs

Basia “It’s That Girl Again” Back from her 90’s hey day, comes Basia. The only latin pop contemporary jazz artist to come from Poland that I know of! She doesn’t mess with her formula too much, which is a good thing. It was good hear from an old friend again. Grade: B+

Kenny Chesney “Hemingway’s Whiskey” Kenny is a very consistent performer for me. He’s got his successful formula, and he is good at it. So you get the party songs along with some ballads thrown in and some island references too. Includes his duet with Grace Potter on “You and Tequila.” Grade: B

Miranda Lambert “The Weight of These Wings” This is her first project since her public split from Blake Shelton. It is a double album, that is one of her most personal. It doesn’t really have a good radio single from it, but there is still plenty to like. It gets better with each listen. Grade: A-

Kylie Minogue “The Abbey Road Sessions” Basically it is Kylie unplugged. So you get reworked versions of Kylie’s hits and album cuts with all new arrangements. So yes, there are lots of strings on here. I really like this album. Pop artists like Kylie don’t seem to get the respect they deserve. Definitely worth a listen. You can tell she is a good pop singer when you strip away her production. Not something you can say about a lot of today’s pop stars. Grade: B+

Mary J. Blige “My Life II — The Journey Continues (Act I)” Mary J. Blige brings forth a sequel to her “My Life” album. Beyonce, Drake and Nas help out, but it’s her voice and charisma that shine through. She does a remake of “Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus and Chaka Khan. But my favorite is a song called “25/8.” Where she sings about a love she wants more than 24/7. Another consistently good album from the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Grade: B

DNCE “Swaay” Another Jonas bother takes flight, this time it’s Joe Jonas. Joe sings lead in this 4-person group. He tried a solo album before, but that never took off. The EP of 4 songs, includes the smash hit single “Cake by the Ocean” as well as the hit “Toothbrush.” Worth a listen. Grade: B

Alex Newell “Power” An alumni of “Glee,” Alex first came to prominence on the “Glee Project” before taking on the role of Unique on the ground-breaking Fox drama. He is channeling 90’s dance divas on his first EP. The songs will get you moving. Grade: B

Bryan Adams “Get Up” The Canadian rocker is back with his latest collection. And it is produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO. You get some rockabilly, some ballads, and a few acoustic versions of some of the new songs. I enjoyed it. Highlights include: “You Belong to Me” and “We Did It All.” Grade: A-

Blake Shelton “Startin’ Fires” One of Blake’s earlier albums. A nice mix of songs including the #1 smash “She Wouldn’t Be Gone.” Also includes a duet with Miranda Lambert before they got married on “Bare Skin Rug” that highlights their chemistry. Grade: B

Tim McGraw “Two Lanes of Freedom” One of country’s most consistent performers, Tim delivers another solid collection. Includes the hit “Highway Don’t Care” with Keith Urban and Taylor Swift. Grade: B

Diana Ross “The Definitive Collection” I decided to pick up this collection after seeing Miss Ross in concert last summer. I was reminded of her incredible song catalog at the show, and this is a great collection of her biggest hits including “Endless Love” and “Upside Down.” Grade: A

Ed Sheeran “Divide” Ed is back with his latest album. And he has gone to number one on the singles chart with “Shape of You” as well as number 1 for the album also. He does his white-boy hip-hop on a few songs; plus brings in some celtic textures, latin rhythms and world music on a few numbers too. It is a nice welcome back from one of today’s hottest talents. Grade: A-

Little Big Town “The Breaker” The country vocal quartet is back in the country lane after a detour into pop with last year’s “Wanderlust.” You have their trademark vocal harmonies on a nice collection of songs including “Better Man” (written for them by Taylor Swift). Other highlights include: “Happy People” and “We Went to the Beach.” Grade: A-

Mariah Carey “Me. I Am Mariah. The Elusive Chanteuse” Mariah’s most recent studio album, has a nice mix of ballads and uptempo songs. Plus some special guest appearances including R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige on the deluxe edition. Includes the hit “#Beautiful” with Miguel. Grade: B+

Jason Mraz “Love Is a Four Letter Word” Jason is in love. This is a pleasant album. RB Lite is what I would call it. Includes the hit “I Won’t Give Up.” Grade: B-

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading. Please sound off in the comments, if you disagree or agree with my take on things.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

 

 

As a huge live music fan, this is a fun topic for me to talk about. All the performances mentioned happened in my lifetime. I am sure it would have been great to see Elvis or the Beatles during their heydays too, but I am not so familiar with their tours or performances. So that is why they are not included here. So in no particular order, here are performances I wish I had seen in person:

Blondie’s “The Hunter” tour
One of my all-time favorite groups, this was the last tour before they broke up in the 80’s… I think they even broke up during this tour. They were coming off a string of commercially successful albums (Parallel Lines, Eat to the Beat, AutoAmerican, “Call Me”); and this was the most successful version of the band as far as the lineup of the members. This tour played the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.

Bee Gee’s “Spirits Having Flown” tour
They had just come off the successful “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, and this was their first album since that breakthrough. This album had hits too: Tragedy, Love You Inside Out and Too Much Heaven. This tour stopped at Dodger Stadium.

Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” tour
Donna was also celebrating back to back hit albums at this point. She had shown the world how great a live performer she was on the “Live and More” album. The tour for this fantastic double album I am sure was amazing. This tour stopped at the Hollywood Bowl.

Madonna’s “The Virgin Tour”
The first tour from the material girl. Tickets sold out so fast… I wasn’t able to get any. These would be the smallest venues she would ever play on a regular tour. And she has been at it for over 30 years now. It was just her, 2 backup dancers and the band, but you could tell from her performance this was someone to be taken seriously… with how she commanded the stage. This tour stopped at the Universal Amphitheatre and the Pacific Amphitheatre too.

Madonna’s “The Girlie Show”
Madonna was on the outs in the US during this tour. There had been a backlash after the Sex book and the “Erotica” album. There were a couple of US dates on this tour, but most of it was outside of the US. It would have been excellent to be there. No Los Angeles area performances.

Live Aid
The bi-coastal concerts to benefit hunger relief in Africa. Simultaneous concerts in both Philadelphia and London, this was the TV event of 1985. Anyone who is anyone was on this show: Queen, Madonna, Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and so much more. It would have been great to say you saw part of it in person.

Luther Vandross
One of the greatest soul singers of the last century — he was one of those people who could sing practically anything. I never followed his career that closely… so I can’t single out a single tour from him. But when he died, I regretted never having the chance to see him perform live. Performed Hollywood Bowl, Universal and more in Los Angeles area.

Diana Ross “Concert in Central Park”
I remember seeing this performance on TV… the day with the rain and the makeup show too. Diana was a true trouper and definitely made sure the show went on. I have seen Diana a few times at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, but that show would have been fun to be at.

So that’s my list. What performers and tours did you miss? I would love to hear from you.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Sixties Icons Still Relevant

Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey in Concert
Friday, February 17, 2017
Fred Kavli Theatre — Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza

Songs performed: Blowing in the Wind, Puff the Magic Dragon, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Leavin’ on a Jet Plane, Don’t Laugh at Me, Impeachable, If I Had a Hammer, This Land is Your Land, Goodnight Irene (and more)

peterandpaul-websiteComments: Two-thirds of the legendary folk-rock trio Peter, Paul and Mary (Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey) performed for a near capacity crowd in Thousand Oaks. Mary Travers was the third member and she died in 2009. The group came out of the New York folk rock scene of the 1960s. They went on to have major chart hits, and sell out concert tours for years to come.

Growing up I heard a lot of PPM’s music. My Mom was a huge fan of theirs. She used to play their music on albums, cassettes and then CDs. Plus she would sing and play the songs on guitar also. So when I saw that the two remaining members of the group where going on tour, I knew I had to be there to honor my mother’s memory (My Mom died on October 25, 2016).

The show was just the 2 guys and their guitars. Plus they added some tambourine to some songs also. They sang songs from their long career: Puff the Magic Dragon, Leavin’ on a Jet Plane, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer, Blowin’ in the Wind and This Land is Your Land. It was a group sing-along for the big hits. As those were songs that everyone there seemed to know and love.

I love the fact that the group is still socially conscious. After all, this is the group that was at the March on Washington in 1963 w/ Martin Luther King. They protested the Vietnam War and for immigrant rights. They sang a song called “Don’t’ Laugh at Me” which Peter Yarrow has successfully placed in 20,000 schools. It is a song about tolerance, acceptance, and an end to bullying in schools. It includes references to different races, religions, disabilities and LGBT people too.

The two guys (Peter and Noel) each took turns performing solo material in the 2nd half of the concert. Noel (aka Paul) sang a song slamming President Trump called “Impeachable” to the tune of Nat King Cole’s ‘Unforgettable.” It went over very well with the crowd. Peter also sang against the current administration in his solo segment. His crusade was against what he sees as a bully in chief.

Noel’s voice is holding up better than Peter’s voice. But I appreciate the passion that they put into their performance. They had some witty repartee between them as they have had over the years during their concerts. I saw them as a trio a number of times with my parents. I did get teary eyed a few times during the night. But I was happy that I could be there and to share it with my husband. I know my Mom was there in spirit.

Thanks to Peter and Paul for sharing their artistry and their message of social justice with the crowd. I loved the fact that when we were leaving the parking garage a group of young people (in their 20’s) got out of their car and were dancing to “If I Had a Hammer.” It gives me hope about the future.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

 

Oscar Predictions 2017

 

I am a movie fan — pure and simple. I have even been known to take movie vacations, where I catch up on movies and see one every day. One of my favorite things is predicting who will win at the Academy Awards. It is not just about whether a performance was better than others, but you have to factor in such things as have they won before, are they or the movie too popular, have they been overlooked before, and so on. This is one of the most open fields in years. Here are my picks for the Top Six Awards.8035

Best Actor (Casey Affleck “Manchester by the Sea,” Andrew Garfield “Hacksaw Ridge,” Ryan Gosling “La La Land,” Viggo Mortensen “Captain Fantastic,” Denzel Washington “Fences”) You have one previous nominee (Viggo Mortensen) and one 2-time winner (Denzel Washington). The rest are first-time nominees. Viggo’s movie was not so well seen. “La La Land” may be seen as too light for some. That leaves Casey, Denzel and Andrew. Casey Affleck has the momentum — he is coming into his own. But then again, Denzel is a possibility too. Final choice: Casey Affleck

Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert “Elle,” Ruth Negga “Loving,” Natalie Portman “Jackie,” Emma Stone “La La Land,” Meryl Streep “Florence Foster Jenkins”) You have 2 former Oscar winners: Portman and Streep. Streep is out, she will not win a 4th time. I found “Elle” a bit of a Lifetime movie w/ more sex. Plus it in French. That leaves Negga and Stone. Stone could ride the momentum with “La La Land” and win. Plus, they like ingénues in this category. But Portman is a formidable competitor. Final choice: Emma Stone

Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali “Moonlight,” Jeff Bridges “Hell or High Water,” Lucas Hedges “Manchester by the Sea,” Dev Patel “Lion,” Michael Shannon “Nocturnal Animals”) Only 1 previous winner: Jeff Bridges. Ali has made quite an impression with a small role in an independent film. This is a tough category. Hedges is young, and will have another chance. Shannon has been nominated before, but not won. Final Choice: Mahershala Ali

Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis “Fences,” Naomie Harris “Moonlight,” Nicole Kidman “Lion,” Octavia Spencer “Hidden Figures,” Michelle Williams “Manchester by the Sea”) You have previous winners here: Nicole Kidman and Octavia Spencer. Michelle Williams role is pretty small. I think it is between Viola and Naomie. Viola is higher profile, having lost before when she was supposedly a sure thing for “The Help.” Plus she is on a hit TV show too. Final choice: Viola Davis

Best Director (Damien Chazelle “La La Land,” Mel Gibson “Hacksaw Ridge,” Barry Jenkins “Moonlight,” Kenneth Lonergan “Manchester by the Sea,” Denis Villeneuve “Arrival”) One previous Oscar winner: Mel Gibson. Kenneth has been nominated before but for writing. For me, it is between Kenneth Lonergan and Damien Chazelle. I am picking Chazelle: he’s only had 2 features and both have been critical and commercial hits. Plus extra pointing for bringing the modern musical back. I am sure a lot of actors can’t wait to work for him. Final choice: Damien Chazelle

Best Picture (Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight) What an interesting batch of films! I picked “Hell or High Water” as my personal favorite from last year. Sci-fi doesn’t tend to play well here, so “Arrival” is out. “Fences” is good, but it felt like a filmed play, and it was. “Lion” moved me to tears. “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight” are depressing, but well done. “Hacksaw Ridge” is lucky just to be nominated. “Hidden Figures” is rising at the right time, and it just won the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Best Ensemble. I think it is between “Hidden Figures” and “La La Land.” We need a movie we can all rally behind. Final choice: La La Land

Those are my picks. If you think differently, then please sound off in the comments. And if you win big in an Oscar pool, please let me know too.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

 

 

Winter Reviews 2017

So what have I been enjoying this past fall and winter as far as entertainment? Read on to read my latest reviews of DVDs, movies and CDs. AS always comments are kindly welcomed.

DVDs

Kylie Minogue “Kiss Me Once — Live from the Sse Hydro”
This concert movie was filmed on Kylie’s last tour in Scotland. It has all of the hits, plus the costume and set changes we have come to expect from her. Not to mention cute male dancers. Grade: A-

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
A smart and funny teen movie. An outcast forms a unique friendship with a girl dying from cancer. Earl is his best friend that he makes homemade movies with that spoof classic movies. It is very well written and acted. See it! Grade: A-

The Night Before
Seth Rogen stars along with Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Joseph is a widower who hangs out with his 2 buddies on the night before Christmas. They decide that it is going to be the last time. There are some chuckles along the way, but not as funny as you think it would be. Grade: C+

99 Homes
This was a very good movie. It’s about the housing crisis, and it’s effect on one young man and his boss. I preferred this movie over “The Big Short” which was good a bit overrated to me. Michael Shannon is a shrewd real estate man, and Andrew Garfield is the man who gets evicted by him. He ends up working for him, and seeing the other side of things. Grade: A-

Legend
Tom Hardy stars as twin gangsters, Ronald and Reginald Kray. One is straight and the other is gay. They terrorized London in the 1960s. Not as good as I had hoped it would be, but if you are a Tom Hardy fan, worth a look. Grade: B-

Concussion
Will Smith stars in the real life story of Dr. Bennet Omalu. He took on the NFL, after a series of players starting going crazy because of all the concussions they had suffered during their years in the game. Definitely a must see, even if you are not into sports. Grade: A-

Joy
Jennifer Lawrence shines in this story inspired by the inventor of the Miracle Mop. Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper co-star. It shows all the hard work and determination it takes to start a business. Grade: B+

45 Years
This drama stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as a couple on the verge of their 45th wedding anniversary celebration. The husband’s former lover’s body is found in the ice, frozen in an accident 50 years before. This is the event that sets the story in motion. Were they meant to be or did the husband really want to marry the girl that died? Good performances, but overall it was sort of dull. Grade: C+

Eye in the Sky
Helen Mirren heads the cast of this timely drama. She plays a military officer who is in charge of a mission to take out some bad guys in Africa. She is in contact with world leaders and military higher-ups in the British and American governments. The question is should they fire on a house, when there is a chance that the blast will kill a little girl who is near by? What loss of life is acceptable? Should the greater good be taken into account? There are no easy answers in the war on terror. Grade: B

Albums

Lady GaGa “Joanne” Lady GaGa returns with her 4th pop album. Lead single “Perfect Illusion” has failed to take off. It is definitely not the album I expected from her. Very uncommercial, and boring in parts. Mark Ronson produced most of it. The one stand out track for me is “Million Reasons” — a country tune if ever I heard one. Other tracks are sort of 70’s rock inspired. I still love her, but she should realize she is dance artist. Grade: C

Barry Gibb “In the Now” Only the 2nd solo album from the last living Bee Gee. Barry is in fine form, and it sounds like he had fun making this album. He had some help from his sons. I prefer this to recent albums from Lady GaGa and Birtney Spears. Grade: A-

Britney Spears “Glory” Britney is back with her 9th album, featuring lead single “Make Me…” (with G-Eazy). Some decent songs, but at 17 songs on the Deluxe Edition, it doesn’t keep my interest. Most of the songs are sort of mid-tempo dance pop. And not exactly top-notch song-writing either. I am missing the high-energy songs of “Circus” and “Femme Fatale.” Grade: C+

Nick Jonas “Last Year Was Complicated” Nick’s 2nd (or 3rd solo album if you count the one with the Administration) follows the same sort of white-boy pop-rock-soul of the last collection. Except this time he doesn’t have a runaway smash like “Jealous.” Overall, I think it is a better album. Includes the Top Twenty hit with Tove Lo — “Close.” Grade: B

Pentatonix “A Pentatonix Christmas” The a Capella group’s third Christmas album features more reworked classics as well as a couple of new tunes too. Manhattan Transfer is one of the guests. Grade: A-

Kenny Chesney “Cosmic Hallelujah” Kenny’s latest album includes the first 2 singles “Noise” as well as his duet with Pink “Setting the World on Fire.” His albums are always solid, and contain songs you will like after only one listen. Nothing ground breaking here for me, but still enjoyable. Grade: B+

Michael Bublé “Nobody But Me” Another consistent performer who is sticking with his formula: some original tunes, some jazz standards, and a few updates of old pop songs also. All of them have his trademark vocals on them. I like it, but am thinking he should try some different next time. Grade: B

“La La Land” Original Soundtrack  This soundtrack to the modern musical that is one of the top Oscar contenders is a fun souvenir for the movie. It is very jazz oriented, gets your toes tapping and you heart strings going too. If you loved the movie, you need to get this too. Grade: A-

“Moana” Original Soundtrack  This soundtrack to Disney’s latest animated hit, contains all the songs sung in the movie, as well as the orchestral compositions too. Plus bonus tracks also, like pop versions of the 2 main character’s theme songs. Grade: B

Eric Church “Mr. Misunderstood” I am late to the party with this guy. I would see him on country award shows and enjoy his performances. He comes across as a bit of a mix of rebel outlaw and everyday working man. Highlights include “Record Year” and “Kill a Word”. Grade: B

Rascal Flatts “The Greatest Gift of All” This is their first full-length Christmas album. They take the songs you know and perform them in new arrangements. I not so sure about the slow version of “Deck the Halls” though. I do like the a capella parts and it is good to hear the other guys’ voices than just the lead singer. Grade: B

Movies

The Girl on the Train
Emily Blunt stars as the title character. She thinks she sees a woman being murdered from her view on the train. Based on the international bestselling novel, this movie wants to be this year’s Gone Girl. So did she really see a murder, or did she do it herself because she was jealous of the woman? I liked it, but didn’t love it. A good lead performance, but not as shocking as it claimed to be. Grade: B-

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
From J.K. Rowling, this is another wizarding world that centers on magic zooligist Newt Scamander. He has a briefcase that contains magical creatures, that get loose in New York City. Eddie Redmayne stars as the main character. Very special effects heavy, I think it misses the heart of the Harry Potter movies. And I am a big fan of those movies and books. I don’t see how this is going to be a 5 movie series. Grade: C+

Moana
From the creators of Frozen and Zootopia, comes Disney’s latest animated movie: Moana. Moana is a Polynesian girl that must team with a demi-god (voiced by Dwight Johnson) to save her island. Great songs, comedy, action. I enjoyed it very much. Lin-Manual Miranda (Hamilton) had a hand in the song-writing. Grade: A

Moonlight
From director Barry Jenkins, comes the tale of Chiron, a black gay man who is growing up in Miami. The film is divided into 3 sections: childhood, teens and adulthood — with different actors taking on the same role as the movie unfolds. The first 2 sections of the movie were moving to me. It’s the third chapter I had a problem with. I wanted more for the character than what I saw on screen. So ultimately I was a bit disappointed. Good performances overall. Grade: B-

Manchester by the Sea
This drama from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan stars Casey Affleck as a working class guy who has to pick up the pieces once his brother dies suddenly. That includes making funeral arrangements and dealing with his teenage nephew (Lucas Hedges). His character must also face what went wrong with his own life and marriage. Already a major awards contender, it is a movie that shows the messy challenges in everyday life. Grade: A-

Arrival
Amy Adams plays the main character in this science-fiction drama. It concerns aliens coming to earth, and Amy is the lead person that is helping to communicate with the aliens. Jeremy Renner costars as a fellow scientist. There are parts of this movie I liked, but overall, it was just OK to me. More of a thinking sci-fi movie, than an action one. Grade: C+

Lion
One of the surprises in the awards season for me. This movie is sure to tug at your heartstrings. It concerns an Indian boy that gets lost on a train in India. He is not able to get back to his family. He is adopted by a family from Australia and moves there. As an adult, he takes up the task to find his family that he lost. You will be moved by this tale of family (both biological and adopted). Grade: A

A Monster Calls
This fantasy drama centers on a boy who has an active imagination. He imagines a great tree monster that is voiced by Liam Neeson. This monster is very tall, with arms and legs made of twisting branches. The boy is struggling at school with bullying as well as dealing with his Mom in the hospital, and his grandmother taking over raising him for the time being. The look of the movie is very cool, and has some great fantasy sequences. Grade: B+

That’s all for now. Please sound off in the comments. I would love to hear from you. Thanks for reading.

 

As a life-long live music fan, I always look forward to which of my favorite music stars will be coming in concert soon. Have I seen them a few times before, or are they someone I will be seeing for the first time? Do they have a long catalog of hits, or are they just starting out? Here’s who I look forward to seeing on stage in 2017:

Ariana Grande
She’s had a few successful years with “My Everything” and “Dangerous Woman.” She has the vocal chops for sure, and her personality is starting to show more. Plus she kills it every time I see her perform on TV.

Lady GaGa
It’s time to get back to her day job. After a few detours (Cheek to Cheek with Tony Bennett and American Horror Story: Hotel), she is back with her new album “Joanne.” I have seen her first 2 tours, it will be fun to see her again. She is definitely one talented, multi-faceted woman. Plus she is headlining the Super Bowl half-time show this year.

Bruno Mars
After a break of a few years, Bruno is back with “24 K Magic.” So far the single is just OK to me, but he always kills it with his live performances. And he has a decent amount of hits too, so even if the new songs suck, we’ll get “Uptown Funk.”

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
Mr. and Mrs. McGraw head back out for a big arena tour in 2017. Tim has continued to record and tour regularly. Faith hasn’t done much since her album “Fireflies” in 2005. Not sure the reason why, but I welcome her back. I saw them on an earlier version of the “Soul to Soul” tour and it was a great show.

Alicia Keys
She will be touring in support of her new album “Here.” I previously saw her on the “Diary of Alicia Keys” and “As I Am” tours. I started to watch “The Voice” again because of her and Miley. She has such a wonderful spirit and I love her energy. And she gives her all to the performance. The album is just OK, but I still love her.

Sting
The veteran artist is back with his first rock album (“57th & 9th”) in a long time. He’s been making the rounds with appearances on everything from “The Voice” to the “American Music Awards.” With more and more singers dying young these days, I say catch him while you can.

Justin Beiber
He is still riding high off his album “Purpose” and it’s string of hit singles. Plus he got some big love in the form of some Grammy nominations this year in major categories. Plus from what I have seen he really puts himself out there in his shows. Catch him on his stadium tour this summer.

New Kids on the Block
Their chart-topping days are long behind them, but they can still fill arenas. They have found a successful formula and are sticking to it. They put themselves as the headliners on a bill with a couple of other retro acts, and the tickets keep selling. This year’s The Total Package Tour includes Paula Abdul and Boyz II Men.

Ed Sheeran
No tour has been announced yet for him, but if there is one I am sure it is going to be huge. He just released two new singles from his upcoming album “Divide” and they both debuted into the Top Ten (one even went to #1). I have seen clips of his concerts online, and he is an amazing performer. I would definitely go to see him.

Lionel Richie and Mariah Carey
The two superstars are teaming up for Lionel’s “All the Hits” Tour. This show is playing on my birthday at the Hollywood Bowl, so I already have my ticket. Mariah needs to redeem herself after the New Year’s Eve fiasco. I haven’t seen Lionel since he opened for Tina Turner on her farewell tour. It should be fun.

So that’s my concert wish list for 2017. Did I mention your favorite? Who do you want to see live and in person at your local concert venue? Sound off in the comments below.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

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