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Fall-Winter Reviews 2018

So what have I been enjoying as far as entertainment the last few months? Read on for my reviews of CDs, TV shows, movies and DVDs.

 

CDs

Boney James — Honestly
I recently saw him as part of a Smooth Jazz line-up at the Hollywood Bowl. This collection shows why he is he the star he is. It is pleasant collection for a Sunday afternoon. Grade: B

GLEE — The Music — The Quarterback
This is the music that accompanied the episode that dealt with the death of cast member, Cory Monteith. As such, it is batch of sad songs including “Seasons of Love” from RENT and “I’ll Stand by You” from the Pretenders. As usual, the cast does a great job on the songs. Grade: B-

Ariana Grande — Sweetner
After 2 hit-packed albums, Ariana takes a bit of a left turn for me. I have enjoyed the first single “No Tears Left to Cry” but the rest of the album is just fair. Her vocals are great, the songs not so much. Pretty forgettable as far as I am concerned. The only other song I like is “Borderline.” Grade: C

Carrie Underwood — Cry Pretty
Carrie’s latest is being called her most personal album yet. She helped pen almost all of the tracks, but it doesn’t sound much different than most of her albums. She’s got a winning formula and she is sticking to it. Country pop, country rock, some ballads, even a few sort-of message songs like “The Bullet” and “Love Wins.” Grade: B+

Idina Menzel — idina.
Idina, best known for “Frozen”, “Rent” and “Wicked” — shows that she is an artist to be taken seriously. She sounds fantastic and the selection of songs she picked for the project are tailor made to her strengths. She sings about self-empowerment, love and loss, and family. I am impressed with her. Grade: A-

Josh Groban — Bridges
After his last album of Broadway songs, Josh returns to fine form on his latest collection. All the songs have lavish orchestral arrangements. He sings songs in English, French and Spanish. Special guests include Sarah McLachlan and . It also includes a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Highlights include: Granted, River and Won’t Look Back. Grade: A-

Imagine Dragons — Smoke + Mirrors
This is their 2nd album that includes the semi-hit “I Bet My Life.” I wsn’t that impressed with that song — But their first and third albums made me want to check out this one. There are definitely a lot of songs, as the super deluxe version has 21 songs on it. Stand outs for me are “Friction” and “It Comes Back to You.” Grade: B

Blondie — Pollinator
I am a long-time fan of this group, but it took me awhile to get into this album. Special guests include: Joan Jett and Sia. Favorite tracks include: “Fun” and “Gravity.” Ultimately it is likable, but forgettable. They have done better. Grade: C+

Cher — Dancing Queen
Following on the heels of her performance in “Mamma Mia 2” comes this ABBA covers album. Cher is in fine form covering ABBA’s greatest hits. Her versions are just as fun as the originals. I could see this being the start of a series for her — covering dance era classics or diva classics in her own style. I am enjoying this! Grade: A-

Josh Groban — Stages Live
This is the live version of Josh’s “Stages” album — in which he covered his favorite songs from Broadway musicals. The arrangements are not that different than the studio versions. It is still nice to hear a real singer with real musicians. Kelly Clarkson and Audra McDonald (separately) duet with him on 2 songs. Grade: B

“A Star is Born” Soundtrack
Lady GaGa and Bradley Cooper share the mic on the soundtrack to the hit motion picture. Cooper has a decent voice on his blues-rock tunes. It includes snippets of dialogue that I could have done without (And that you want to skip on repeated listenings). GaGa is the one who shines most on this collection though. Her voice sounds amazing, and she really sells the emotion with the songs. Grade: A-

Basia — Butterflies
No one does what Basia does. She is definitely in her own lane. Her latest is another solid collection of latin jazz pop numbers. It will take you back to her earlier albums — and that is good thing. Grade: B

Josh Groban — Noel (Deluxe)
There are 6 new tracks added on to Josh’s 2007 Christmas album. It includes a duet with Tony Bennett. More holiday classics and “Believe” from the movie “Polar Express.” Grade: B

Gwen Stefani — You Make It Feel Like Christmas (Deluxe)
Gwen adds 5 new songs to her Christmas album from last year. She co-wrote 2 of the new songs. Grade: B

Miley Cyrus — Can’t Be Tamed
This album bombed for her when it came out. I am finally getting around to hearing it. It is all dance pop with lots of autotune. She also includes a remake of Poison’s “Every Rose Has a Thorn.” One songs even sounds like a Kesha rip-off. Some of the songs are growing on me. But she has definitely done better. Grade: C+

TV Shows

The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 1)
This show based on the book of the same name — definitely lived up to it’s hype. In a not-so-distant future, most women are barren and must have others carry their children. The society is male dominated, and the leaders wives watch their husbands have sex with the handmaid’s while the wife holds them down. Starring Elizabeth Moss of Mad Men. It was a very engrossing drama. Grade: A

Movies

BlackKKlansman
The latest from director Spike Lee is the fascinating true story of a black police officer who infiltrates the KKK in Colorado during the 1970’s. John David Washington (Denzel’s son) stars as Ron Stallworth. Adam Driver is his fellow detective who he sends in his place in face-to-face meetings. Spike ties the events that happened into what is happening today with the current political situation. Painful to watch at times, but very poignant, it is definitely a movie that needs to be discussed. Grade: A-

Crazy Rich Asians
Based on the best-selling book, this movie tells the story of Nick and Rachel. Nick takes Rachel to Singapore to meet his family — little does she know what she is getting into. They are one of the richest families in Asia. There is some comedic moments, but it was more of a family drama to me. It reminded me of an Asian “Dynasty”. There are lots of interesting characters to develop. I can see how it is a trilogy. I liked it, but wasn’t wowed by it. We’ll see how the story progresses. Grade: B-

A Simple Favor
If you like twisty thrillers like “Gone Girl”, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” or “Single White Female” this one if for you. Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, an aspiring mommy vlogger who starts a friendship with Emily (Blake Lively), another mom from the school. Emily is everything Stephanie isn’t — she’s glamorous, sexy and seems to have it all (money, looks, hot husband and beautiful house). Emily asks Stephanie for a simple favor — to pick her son up after school. Emily goes missing, and this is what sets the rest of the story into motion. There are lots of twists and turns and the actresses seem like they are having a great time. I enjoyed it. Grade: B+

First Man
This is the story of Neil Armstrong — the first man to set foot on the moon. This is the latest movie from Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle and reunites him with his La La Land star — Ryan Gosling (who plays Armstrong). Claire Foy plays his wife Janet. It details the struggles with the space program and their defeats before the historic Apollo 11 mission. It also delves into the Armstrong’s personal lives including the death of their daughter at age 2. The space flight scenes are shown being very claustrophobic and scary. It was an interesting portrait into the man behind the myth. Grade: B+

The Hate U Give
Based on the best-selling book of the same name, this movie should be required viewing for everyone. It’s story, though fiction, is ripped from the headlines of today. A young woman named Starr is the sole witness when her friend Khalil is brutally murdered at the hands of a white police officer. Starr is living in 2 worlds, she goes to school at a private school that is mostly white, while living in a neighborhood that is mostly black. Amandla Stenberg gives a fantastic performance as Starr. And the supporting cast including Regina Hall and Common are also terrific. There are so many levels to this movie — the importance of family, community, dealing with daily life struggles and having a voice when society says you shouldn’t have one. I cannot recommend it enough! GO SEE IT! Grade: A

Beautiful Boy
Steve Carell and Timothée Chamalet star as father and son in this fact-based movie. It deals with the son’s descent into drug addiction, specifically crystal meth. There are stints in rehab, followed by glimmers of hope, followed by relapses. How does a kid from a good family get into such a mess? And how do you help someone who can’t help themselves? The movie shows the havoc that addiction causes on the individual and those in their family too. Both leads give great performances. Grade: A-

The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Based on the characters from the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” books, this movie wants to extend the franchise. It stars Claire Foy (Netflix’s The Crown) as Lisbeth Salander. Unfortunately, she is stuck in a convoluted story involving her long-long sister, and a plot to gain control of some doomsday technology. This movie is one huge disappointment. There are a few nice action sequences, but they gave them all away in the trailer. I didn’t like it at all. Skip it! Grade: C-

DVDs

Paddington 2
This cute sequel offers more misadventures of Paddington the Bear. Hugh Grant stars as his nemesis — a has-been actor that frames the bear for a robbery —sending Paddington to jail. I liked it. Grade; B

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
This movie tells the true story of Oscar-winner Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and her much younger lover, Peter (Jamie Bell). Gloria is a washed up has-been when she meets and falls for an up and coming actor named Peter. This movie follows their on and off-again romance over the course of 2 years — from England to NYC and LA too. It was an interesting story, and one I wasn’t familiar with. Check it out. Grade: A-

Game of Thrones (Season 3)
Season 3 has the family Stark spread out and fighting to regain the throne. As always, great production design and exotic locations. Not to mention all the interesting characters — even if it is hard to keep them straight at times. Grade: A-

Tom of Finland
This biopic tells the story of famed gay illustrator Tom of Finland. He survived fighting in WW II, and then tried to find his place in society — despite feeling different (like a lot of gay people). His success ultimately happened because of people in California — And he was able to see it with his own eyes upon his visits to the country. Grade: B-

That’s’ all for now. What have you been enjoying as far as entertainment? I would love to hear from you. Please sound off in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

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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Dierks Bentley: Live & in Concert

Dierks Bentley in Concert
October 13, 2018
Hollywood Bowl

Special guests: Hot Country Knights, Lanco, Brothers Osborne

Mountain High Tour

Merchandise purchased: T-shirt

Songs performed: The Mountain, I Hold On, Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go), Somewhere on a Beach, Woman Amen, Black, Burning Man, Up on the Ridge, 5-1-5-0, Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident), Riser, Different for Girls, Am I the Only One, Come a Little Closer, Say You Do, Thousand Miles From Nowhere (with Dwight Yoakam), Fast as You (with Dwight Yoakam), Living, What Was I Thinkin’, Sideways, Drunk on a Plane

Comments: Dierks Bentley closed his Mountain High tour out at the Hollywood Bowl. It was a triumphant end to his latest trek behind his 9th studio album “The Mountain.” The album was written and recorded in Colorado, and that locale helped to inspire him with the songwriting on it.

This was the 4th time that I had seen Dierks. Last time I saw him I was a bit underwhelmed with him. He wasn’t up to snuff for me. I felt he was going through the motions. But his albums have been consistently good as far as I am concerned. So once I heard the new album, I knew I had to be there.

He’s upped his game with his production. The stage had a raised part on the back and sides, plus a huge video screen behind also. Plus the lighting was good, and helped with the overall enjoyment of the show. There was only 1 guest star that night: Dwight Yoakam. This is someone who inspired him, and one of his first concerts her went to. He sang 2 songs with him. Plus the guys from Lanco and Brothers Osborne also sang with Dierks too.

I was happy that he sang “Up on the Ridge” — the title cut from his bluegrass album of the same name. That is one of his best albums. And he sang a few of his inspirational songs too like “Riser” and “I Hold On”. “Riser” was dedicated to one of his fans who was battling cancer.

Deirks even made his way to small stage about a third of the way up. This is the same stage that I have seen other stars use over the years (Shania Twain and Michael Bolton to name a few). He drank a beer with one guy from the audience, plus played a couple of songs there.

He has a couple of songs that are about drinking and getting laid (Somewhere on a Beach, Drunk on a Plane), but he has added a few songs showing some sensitivity to women (Woman Amen and Different for Girls). I was hoping that Elle King would have joined him on the 2nd one, but it wasn’t to be.

For the finale, Dierks appeared on top of the lights in a flight captain outfit. Then the lights moved up and down to simulate that he was riding an airplane that was flying. It was a cool effect.

The first opening act for the night was Hot Country Knights. This was supposedly the best 90’s country cover band around. They came out with their mullets and hair spray. It was king of jokey and phony…. The music was just OK, and the jokes were sort of lame. It turns out that Dierks was in the group, as he pulled off his disguise as they were exiting the stage.

Next up was Lanco — who released their debut album earlier this year. They were a decent country rock group. And last on the opening ticket were the Brothers Osborne — 2 brothers whose music is reminiscent of country rock rebels like Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. They even had a song that celebrated marijuana.

Thanks to Dierks and his band for bringing the songs and the spectacle. Keep up the great work.

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.

Ed Sheeran: Star Rising

Ed Sheeran in concert
Saturday, August 18, 2018
Rose Bowl

North American Stadium Tour 2018

Special guests: Anne-Marie, Snow Patrol

Songs performed: Alarm, 2002, Perfect, Trigger, Rockabye (Clean Bandit cover), FRIENDS (Anne-Marie); Berlin, Crack the Shutters, Open Your Eyes, Empress, Run, Shut Your Eyes, Heal Me, Chasing Cars, Just Say Yes (Snow Patrol); Castle on the Hill, Eraser, The A Team, Don’t / New Man, Dive, Bloodstream, Happier, Tenerife Sea, Galway Girl, Feeling Good / I See Fire, Thinking Out Loud, One / Photograph, Perfect, Nancy Mulligan, Sing, Shape of You, You Need Me, I Don’t Need You

Comments: Ed Sheeran played the Rose Bowl last weekend for a triumphant stop on his world tour. Since his debut in 2011, he has made an amazing ascent — and he is now one of the biggest stars in the world.

What is interesting about Ed is how varied his influences are, and how many genres he is good at. He appeared to be a folk singer when he came out with “The A Team”. Since then, he has shown us he is a balladeer, a dance-pop singer (who could challenge Justin Timberlake), an alt-rocker, and an aspiring hip-hop artist too. All sides of Ed were brought together in this concert. What’s amazing is that he only has 3 studio albums to his credit: + (Plus), x (Multiply) and / (Divide).

Ed started the show off at 9 PM with “Castle on the Hill” — one of 2 songs that served as lead singles off the latest album. I had seen clips of him performing before, and knew to expect that he performs alone with help from a looper (a tool for creating music loops).

The stage itself was pretty great. It looked like a giant carnival/circus backdrop. With small video screens vertically on the stage itself, intermixed with lights. Plus a huge video backdrop and 2 large video screens about 5 stories tall on either side of it too. You have to have something that looks great from far away — when you are playing to a crowd of 70,000.

Ed played various guitars throughout the night — acoustic and electric. Plus he drank tons of bottled water. I am sure it gets hot under the lights.
He is very personable and relatable. He hoped to win over 2 groups that night: the boyfriends (those whose girlfriend’s like Ed’s music but not them) and the super dad (those that brought their kids to the show). He said that his Dad was a super Dad and took him to shows as a kid.

It was interesting to me that their were as many kids in the audience… he comes across as a nice guy. But there are dark sides to his songs — with references to sex, drugs and booze.

I loved the lighting for the show. There were lots of blues and reds used during the night. And then there were some full color and tabloid-like shots used during the song “Galway Girl.”

He combined a couple of songs into mini medleys. One of the highlights for the night was the medley of “Feeling Good” (Nina Simone cover) with his own “I See Fire.”

The crowd had great energy that night and were dancing and singing along all night. It was amazing that he commanded the crowd the way that he did. He was definitely on fire that night. Highlights for the night included “Don’t/New Man”, “Sing”, “Living Out Loud,” “Bloodstream”, “Perfect” and “Shape of You.”

The show was opened by 2 acts. First up was Anne-Marie. She is a dance-pop singer who has written with Ed. I recognized 2 of her songs. She had a decent voice. Next up was Snow Patrol. They had hired Ed as an opening act for one of their tours and he was repaying the favor. They were good, but I only knew the one song “Chasing Cars”.

Thanks to Ed for an amazing concert. I was so happy to finally see 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.

Summer 2018 Reviews 2

Here are my takes on CDs, movies, TV shows and more from the past few months.

CDs

Shawn Mendes — Shawn Mendes
Shawn is back with his 3rd major release. He won me over with his last album. This one is just fair to me. The first single “In My Blood” has grown on me. This is a more R&B tinged album than the predecessor. I am not sure I like that direction for him. I could hear Nick Jonas on some of the songs, but for me, it is not quite working for Shawn. Maybe it will grow on me. Grade: C

Sugarland — Bigger
Sugarland is back. After a few years apart and various solo projects — the duo of Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles is back with more music. They have some songwriting help from Taylor Swift on one song. I find that this one is on constant repeat for me. Catchy songs and beautiful melodies. I am loving it. Grade: A-

Eric Church — The Outsiders
This is the 2nd album I have from him. The first being “Mr. Misunderstood.” He’s got the country rock rebel thing down. Highlights include the title track as well as “Roller Coaster Ride” and ‘That’s Damn Rock & Roll.” Not sure what to make of the “Prelude: Princess of Darkness” — a long spoken word intro into another song. Grade: B

LeAnn Rimes — Lady & Gentlemen
LeAnn takes on the songs of male artists on her 10th studio album. She covers songs from Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard among others. Her voice sounds great as always. Vince Gill is one of the co-producers on the album. I like it. Grade: A-

Lisa Stansfield — Seven+
This is the remix album for “Seven.” Out of the 16 tracks, there are only 7 songs. So, there are multiple remixes for some of the songs. It is nice collection of silky smooth dance songs. There is a retro-soul feel to the production. And her voice sounds great as always. Lisa is coming to the US this fall, on her first tour in many years. I hope I can go! Grade: B

Toni Braxton & Babyface — Love, Marriage & Divorce
They have collaborated many times over the course of their careers, but this is the first time they have done a duets project. This is a concept album for sure. They are both given space to shine — Babyface has 1 solo song, to Toni’s 2. It is mostly slow to mid-tempo stuff, but there is one all-out dance number “Heart Attack.” I enjoyed it. Grade: B+

Kenny Chesney — Songs for the Saints
Sonically, this is a bit of a sequel to “Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates” which Kenny released in 2007. He was inspired by the hurricanes that hit the Caribbean islands this past year. It is a thoughtful, introspective collection of songs that celebrates life on the islands. It is more acoustic ,mid-tempo, folksy guitar songs than arena rockers. It does include one sure-fire hit “Get Along” — a feel-good anthem for these divisive times. Special guests include Ziggy Marley and Jimmy Buffett. Grade: A-

Boyz II Men — Collide
Boyz II Men mix things up some on this collection from 2014. It is strange collection of sorts — as the Boyz try their hands at modern pop, reggae, EDM, retro-soul and more on the album. They use Autotune on a few numbers, which I find really strange — they are good live singers and don’t need it. It is definitely eclectic — some of it works, some of it doesn’t. But I appreciate trying something different. Grade: C+

Movies

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
This is the 5th movie in the Jurassic Park franchise. Three years after the events of the last movie, the island is about to be destroyed by a volcano. Should the dinosaurs be rescued? A team comes in to help relocate them to another island. Instead, the dinosaurs are put on the auction blog to the highest bidders. The best I can say is that the movie is just OK at best. We’ve seen a lot of this before. And now I found myself not caring. Better luck next time. Grade: C+

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
This documentary about Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rodgers) is sure to be nominated for Best Documentary at next year’s ceremony. It tells how a selfless, caring man, became the star of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” on PBS. He was able to talk to and relate to kids like no one else can. He covered such heavy topics as death, divorce and diversity. I found myself tearing up a few times in the movie. In this day and age, we could use more Mr. Rogers in this world. I cannot recommend it enough! Grade: A

Incredibles 2
Fourteen years after the last movie, we catch up again the Incredible Family. Dad (Mr. Incredible) is a stay-at-home Dad, while his wife Elasti-Girl is out saving the world and trying to rehabilitate the image of superheroes. Baby Jack-Jack is discovering he has super powers and daughter Violet is showing an interest in boys. Samuel Jackson is again the voice of their pal Frozone. I had fun. Grade: A-

Ant-Man and the Wasp
The latest Marvel movie brings back Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. This time he is joined by Evangeline Lilly as the Wasp. There are 2 main story lines: finding Hank Pym’s wife (and Wasp’s Mom) in the Quantum Realm as well as fighting a new baddie named Ghost. Overall, it was just OK for me. There are a few cute moments. But at this point, I am experiencing a bit of superhero overload this year. And the villain was pretty boring too. Better luck next time. Grade: C

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Ten years after the first one, we get the sequel. It is as much a prequel as a sequel. Sophie is just about to open the hotel that her mother (Donna) was developing. Plus, Sophie finds out she is pregnant. There are flashbacks to her mother (Donna) as she was meeting and romancing the 3 guys who are the baby daddies (Sam, Harry and Bill). Then we get to see the old gang arrive for the hotel opening on the island. This time they go deeper into the ABBA song catalog with tracks like “Angel Eyes” and “I Kissed the Teacher.” Plus, you get some return favorites like “Mamma Mia,” “Dancing Queen” and “Fernando” (sung by Cher and Andy Garcia). Overall, I was just OK on this movie. It is not as fun or inspired as the first one. And (spoiler alert) I hated that they built the movie around the idea that Donna had died in the time that had passed. Lily James is no Meryl Streep, and Meryl’s screen absence from most of the movie is deeply felt. Wait for video. Grade: C

Mission Impossible: Fallout
This is the 6th movie in Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible franchise. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is on a new mission to stop the sale of some plutonium cores to some bad guys who want to destroy the world. The globe-hopping story is filled with fantastic action sequences — on the streets, on the tops of buildings and in the skies too. Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett and Henry Cavill co-star. It is one of the better MI films and definitely something to see on the big screen. I recommend it. Grade: B+

Christopher Robin
Disney offers up this live-action fantasy film about a grown-up Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) and the animals from the 100 acre woods (Winnie the Pooh and friends). Christopher Robin has to leave the animals behind to go to boarding school. As an adult who is having struggles at work, the animals come back into his life — and remind him of what is really important in life. I liked the sequences with Pooh, Eyore, Piglet, Rabbit and Kanga the best. The humans not as much. I think the story could have been better. The movie wants to be Paddington, but it is not. Be sure to check out “Goodbye Christopher Robin” from last year — a drama about the creator A.A. Milne. That is a better movie. Grade: B-

DVD (or Streaming)

Loving Vincent
The life and mysterious death of Vincent Van Gogh are explored in this Oscar-nominated experimental animated movie. The whole movie is told through re-creations of some of his most famous paintings. Each of the film’s frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same techniques as Van Gogh. This movie was definitely beautiful to look at. And the story is interesting too of a talented genius who only achieved success after his death. Grade: A-

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The sequel to 2015’s “The Force Awakens.” Considering how overrated that movie was, it is not surprising that this one is better. Rey is trying to lure Luke Skywalker back into the fight against the Empire. General Leia is trying to lead the Rebels despite a series of setbacks. Great special effects as always, the movie is too long by 30-45 minutes. Parts of it seem like ads for toys to me. I am ready to see a Star Wars without Luke/Leia/Solo. Grade: B-

All the Money in the World
Directed by Ridley Scott, and famous for having re-cast Kevin Spacey’s part with Christopher Plummer. This movie tells the story of the kidnapping and search for J. Paul Getty’s grandson — Paul. Michelle Williams is the boy’s mother and Mark Wahlberg is one of J. Paul’s employees — a negotiator and former CIA guy — who helps with the investigation. Plummer plays J. Paul Getty. An interesting true story that highlights the life of a very rich and complicated man. Grade: A-

The Disaster Artist
This is the true story of the movie — The Room. That movie is considered one of the worst movies of all time. James Franco stars as Tommy Wisseau (the star) and directs himself and his brother (Dave) as Tommy’s friend and co-star, Greg. James Franco goes all-in with his performance — is he retarded, delusional, or just crazy? Tommy was able to finance and produce his passion project — which has become a hit (if not the critical success he wanted) on the midnight screening circuit. You don’t have to have seen “The Room” to like or get this movie. Definitely worth watching. Grade: A-

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
This is the story of the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, and the 2 women who inspired his creation. It starts in the 20’s as he was a psychology professor, with his wife helping him out in the classroom. They hire a beautiful student, named Olive, as a research assistant. The 3 of them end up having a polyamorous relationship. And they continue their relationship through different trials with society. His relationship with the 2 women, plus his experience with creating the lie detector and DISC theory on relationships, helped him in his creation of the now-iconic super hero. It was an interesting story with good performances. Grade: B+

Stronger
This is the true story of Jeff Bauman, who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Jake Gyllenhaal portrays the working-class man who lost his legs, and becomes a local hero and a face of “Boston Strong” during his rehabilitation process. Tatiana Maslany co-stars as his girlfriend. Jeff has to contend with the physical challenges, as well as the emotional challenges of being a sudden celebrity because of a terrorist attack. Gyllenhall gives another award-worthy performance. This movie speaks to the strength of the human spirit. Grade: A-

TV

13 Reasons Why (Season 2)
The ground-breaking show is back. Season 2 focuses on the trial against the high school brought by Hannah’s parents. There are also many issues and loose ends with Hannah’s classmates. You will learn about them over the course of the season. Hannah herself appears to Clay as a ghost. What I love about the show is it’s daring to talk about tough subjects. It is one of the most of-the-moment shows that I know. And it is a show that you need to talk about. I was skeptical at first too, but I enjoyed season 2 very much. Grade: B+

Queer Eye
This is the reboot of the series from early 2000’s — originally called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” This Netflix show is basically a feel-good make-over show. The Fab 5 (Antoni, Tan, Karamo, Bobby, Jonathon) head out to make-over selected individuals — mostly guys. They did their first female make-over this season (which is season 2 already). Along the way, they help to break stereotypes and build bridges with the world at large. Worth watching. Grade: B+

The Kissing Booth
Netflix is getting into the romantic-comedy business. This teen movie has been getting a lot of press, so I decided to check it out. A teen girl (Elle) finds out that her crush is really into her. Complicating matters is the fact that the crush (Noah) is the brother of her best friend, Lee. Noah and Elle end up sharing a secret kiss at the kissing booth at the school fundraiser. The movie wants to be a modern take on a John Hughes movie — they even include Molly Ringwald in a supporting role and even play “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” during the prom sequence. It gets by on the likability of the cast (Joey King, Joel Courtney and Jacob Eloridi). I do think that Elle picked the wrong brother. She should have picked Lee. I liked this movie OK, the script definitely could have been better. But parts of it are cute and work — thanks again to the cast. Grade: C+

Books

Everybody Lies (Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are) — Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
Stephens-Davidowitz has written a timely book about the data gathered from Google and other big data sources. It covers everything from the 2016 election and unemployment numbers to abortion and sexual habits/preferences to predicting good baseball players. And it ends with ethical questions about how should we use the big data that we have access to. An interesting and informative read for these chaotic times. Grade: A-

That’s it for now. As always, comments are kindly welcomed. Thanks for reading.

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.

Charlie Wilson: R&B Icon

Charlie Wilson in Concert
Friday, August 3, 2018
Hollywood Bowl

With the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins, conductor

Special guest: The O’Jays

Songs performed: Ship Ahoy, Time To Get Down, What Am I Waiting For, Livin’ for the Weekend, Forever Mine, Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love), I Love Music, Back Stabbers, Love Train, Used Ta Be My Girl, For the Love of Money (The O-Jays); Party Train, Early In the Morning, Beautiful, Good Times (Everybody), There Goes My Baby, Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me), Humpin’; Charlie, Last Name Wilson; Chills, Yearning for Your Love, I Wanna Be Your Man, You Are, I’m Blessed, Outstanding (Charlie Wilson)

Comments: Charlie Wilson, formerly of the Gap Band, brought his signature voice and flair for showmanship to the Bowl last weekend for a couple of shows. He showed that you can’t keep a good man down. After a string of hits in the 80’s with his band, he ended up losing it all to drugs and being homeless in the 90’s. Now sober for 26 years, he came out ready-to-party and claim his rightful throne as an R&B icon.

The evening started with the Gap Band’s “Party Train.” His band members were dancing and playing in all black outfits with neon colors for accents. Pus he was joined by 4 female backup dancers too. It was a great way to get the evening started. And he had everyone on their feet dancing to the funk classic.

The evening was a mix of hits from the Gap Band, and his R&B hits from the 2000’s. I knew the Gap Band songs, but his solo stuff I was not so familiar with. Of the solo songs, “There Goes My Baby” and “I’m Blessed” were my favorites for the night.

He definitely looked like he was having a great time on stage, which is always good for the audience. He was grateful to be on stage. At one point, he asked the crowd to stand up if this was their first Charlie Wilson concert, and half the crowd stood up. During the middle of the show, there was a few routines that highlighted the lights on his jacket and pants, as well as on those of the band/dancers. It was a cool effect to see the lights moving around while the rest of the lights were down.

I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to hear “You Dropped the Bomb on Me” — as the lights came on at the end without him having sung it. I still had a great time and danced more at this show than other recent concerts. I was very impressed with his vocals and his performance.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, the O’Jays, opened the show, with an hour-long set. I was reminded how many great songs they had: Love Train, I Love Music, Used Ta Be My Girl, and For the Love of Money among them. They may be up there in age (there are 2 of the originals left) but they gave it their all and put on a good show. They said they were celebrating 59 years as a band.

Thanks to Uncle Charlie and the O’Jays for a great night of music and dancing.

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.

 

Michael McDonald and Friends — Still Rockin’

Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins and Christopher Cross in Concert
Friday, July 13, 2018
Hollywood Bowl

Featuring the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins conductor

Songs performed: All Right, Never Be the Same, Sailing, Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do), Ride Like the Wind (Christopher Cross); Danny’s Song, Return to Pooh Corner, This Is It, Celebrate Me Home, Conviction of the Heart, I’m Alright, Danger Zone, Footloose (Kenny Loggins); Sweet Freedom, I Keep Forgettin’, Just Strong Enough, On My Own, I Can Let Go Now, Minute by Minute, What a Fool Believes, Takin’ It to the Streets (Michael McDonald)

Comments: Three stars of so-called Yacht Rock came together for 2 shows at the Hollywood Bowl. This soft-rock (or West Coast sound) draws on pop, soul, smooth jazz and, of course, rock. Common characteristics include high-quality production, clean vocals, and a focus on light, catchy melodies.

I have seen Christopher Cross 3x times over the years at the Colors of Christmas concerts. I have seen Michael McDonald 2x — once at the Colors of Christmas, and once with Hall & Oates. I had never seen Kenny before this show — but I have always liked his songs.

Christopher Cross opened the show with a short, but enjoyable, set. He displayed some nice guitar work on some of the songs. He was joined by Michael McDonald for a rocking version of “Ride Like the Wind.” The Orchestra helped to fill out the sound on this, and other, songs throughout the night.

Next up was Kenny Loggins — aka the King of the 1980’s soundtracks. He started his set with a song from his Loggins & Messina days — “Danny’s Song.” He continued his singer-songwriter vibe with “Return to Pooh Corner”. “Celebrate Me Home” has become an anthem for him — and had the crowd singing along. He brought out Michael McDonald to duet with him on “This Is It” — a Grammy-winning song that they co-wrote together. He closed out his set with 3 of his big soundtrack songs: I’m Alright (from Caddyshack), Danger Zone (from Top Gun) and Footloose (from the movie of the same name). Footloose had the crowd on their feet dancing and singing along. You can’t sit still during that number!

The evening’s closer was Michael McDonald — the soulful singer who started off in the Doobie Brothers. He was the only one who performed a new song that night — Just Strong Enough. It was a bluesy-slow burn of a song — that I ended up liking. More big hits including his own “I Keep Forgettin” plus “On my Own” (his duet with Patti LaBelle, which was performed with his backup singer) followed. Three big songs from the Doobies catalog closed out the night. He brought back Kenny Loggins and Christopher Cross for the last 2 numbers. And they took turns on the lead vocals too. The orchestra left after “What a Fool Believes”, and Michael’s band came back for the encore of “Takin’ It to the Streets.”

Of the 3 vocalists, Michael McDonald had the best vocals of the night. I could see him taking on the Great American Songbook or leaning more in a jazz direction. Kenny is showing his age some (Hey, he’s 70). But I admire their artistry and I appreciated the chance to see them all in the same show.

Thanks to Christopher, Kenny and Michael for an enjoyable trip down memory lane.

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

Jennifer Hudson: Diva Rising

Jennifer Hudson in Concert
Saturday, July 7, 2018
Hollywood Bowl

With the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins, conductor

Songs performed: Dreamgirls (Theme), Love You I Do, Trouble, We Gon’ Fight, Spotlight, Where You At, Burden Down, Hallelujah, It’s Your World/Uptown Funk, Golden Slumbers, Saving All My Love for You, And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going, Never Enough, Dreamgirls (Theme)

Comments: Oscar- and Grammy-winner Jennifer Hudson made her Hollywood Bowl debut last weekend with 2 shows. It was a master class in showmanship and vocal virtuosity. The show was bookended by the main theme from “Dreamgirls” — the award-winning movie musical from 2006 that was her breakthrough. She was joined on onstage by her backing band, 3 backup singers she dubbed the Hudsonettes (including former Idol contestant George Huff), as well as 10 dancers.

Jennifer is one of those artists who doesn’t come in concert very often. I only remember her coming to town once — on a tour with Robin Thicke. So, when I heard she was coming to town, I knew I had to be there. She was one of my favorites on season 3 of American Idol — only to be eliminated in 7th place.

She covered all 3 of her studio albums “Jennifer Hudson,” “I Remember Me” and “J HUD.” Plus she had inspired covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love for You” — one of her biggest inspirations.

Dressed in a shimmery silver dress, Jennifer gave us the full diva concert we were wanting and expecting. She commanded the stage like the star she is. She seemed humbled at the idea of playing the Hollywood Bowl. It was a place she had dreamed about performing — and here she was doing it. She asked for the house lights to be turned on, so she could take it all in. Management seemed to ignore the request, but she asked again later in the show and they obliged.

Besides the dancers, there were also smoke and laser effects that were used throughout the night. I heard someone complain on the way out that she didn’t need such things. I agree — but she is such a force of nature that she deserves a big production. And the production details never let you forget that her voice was the real star of the show.

She showed her versatility — from Broadway to gospel — from dance songs to ballads — she proved she could do it all. And she did it all with style and flair. During “It’s Your World” she came down into the audience. The song added in some bits of “Uptown Funk” — as Jennifer danced her way across the Bowl floor. She wanted to see your best dance moves.

She sang “Golden Slumbers” (a Beatles cover) from the animated movie “Sing”. The Whitney Houston cover led into her big “Dreamgirls” song — “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” Interestingly, she only sang an abbreviated version of the song. She eliminated the quieter parts of the song and just delivered the meat. Those roof-shattering and glass-breaking high notes that come in the second half. It was an amazing vocal. She really has quite the gift. I was thoroughly impressed!

She ended the show with her take on “Never Enough” from “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack. She was dressed in a long red dress with extremely long train — such that it had to be carried out by 10 people.

The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, under the conduction of Thomas Wilkins, opened the show with a 30-minute set of orchestral tunes, including one Latin dance number. Thanks to all for an amazing concert!

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.

Goodbye to The Fosters and Nashville

Two TV shows that I have watched since their debuts are going (or already gone) off the air this year. One I will be sad about and one I will be happy about. Let’s get to the good one first.

Der-Cast-Von-Nashville-In-Der-Sechsten-Staffelfosters-ending-spinoff-freeform“The Fosters” premiered on June 3, 2013 on ABC Family (now Freeform). It was created by Peter Paige (Queer as Folk) and Bradley Bredeweg. It concerned an interracial lesbian couple raising 5 kids, one biological and 4 adopted. The white mom (Stefanie) is a cop who works with her ex-husband (Mike). Her wife is a biracial black woman (Lena) who is an administrator at the school that the kids attend.

This is a family that I fell in love with. Callie and her brother Jude first came to the house as foster kids. Brandon is the oldest son, and biological son of Stephanie and Mike. Mariana and Jesus are the adopted twins that came to the house as young kids.

Over the course of 5 seasons, there was a lot that happened to this family. Callie and Jude came with a lot of baggage; and then there was the drama with trying to adopt the kids. Then Brandon and Callie had a forbidden romance. Jesus had a serious brain injury. Mariana had relationship troubles and was juggling multiple guys. Brandon was going to an exclusive music school until he messed it up. Jude came out as gay and had boy troubles too. The adults had their share of issues too: relationship struggles, struggles with careers and aging parents.

There are so many issues that got covered on this show: LGBT issues (gay marriage, gay teens, transsexual rights); public education (charter schools versus public schools); immigration, teen prostitution; the challenges of the foster care system; cheating (in school and relationships), drug addiction, guns at school, and more!

At the end of it all, this was a family that was always there for each other. I am happy that the story is going to continue with Callie and Mariana in the new show coming in 2019 — Good Trouble. And it looks like most of the family is going to be dropping by from time to time. Be sure to catch up with “The Fosters” on Netflix.

Which brings us to the bad — Nashville. Nashville premiered on October 10, 2012. It ran for 4 seasons on ABC; and 2 seasons on CMT. It was created by Academy Award winner Callie Khouri.

It was centered on the rivalry between a country superstar (Connie Britton) and a young country-pop upstart (Hayden Panettiere). Plus, there were other characters who were adjacent to them who also worked in or were trying to be in the country music business.

I have to admit I am happy this show is going off. It is a train wreck. And I have been hate-watching it this entire last season. I don’t like any of the storylines. The first 3 seasons of this show were good. The show started to have some issues in Season 4, then it was cancelled by ABC. But it was picked up by CMT — but it was never as good as it was on ABC. Then they went and killed off the Connie Britton character. And it was all downhill from there.

The thing that has kept me watching has been my love of the characters and the music. At the end of the day, it was a soap opera. And they definitely played up those elements in Seasons 2-4. There used to be great original music in each episode too. They even sold soundtracks to the show and made a few concert tours and specials too.

I loved the fact that there was a gay country star portrayed on the series (even if he was only one of the supporting characters). And I loved the dynamic between the 2 main females. Their characters ended up becoming friends over the course of the series. And there were some cute guys on the show too. And wonderful songs and performances. Too bad it didn’t last.

Farewell, and good riddance, Nashville — you over-stayed your welcome!

So, what do you think? Are you going to miss The Fosters and Nashville? Sound off in comments. Thanks for reading.

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.

Go-Go’s Still Got the Beat

Go-Go’s in Concert
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
Hollywood Bowl

July 4th Fireworks Spectacular
with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Thomas Wilkins, conductor

Special guest: The U.S. Air Force Band of the Golden West

Go-gosSongs performed: This Town, Vacation, How Much More, Tonite, Automatic Rainy Day, Mad About You, Lust to Love, Here You Are, Cool Places, Cool Jerk, Skidmarks on My Heart, Get Up and Go, The Whole World Lost Its Head, Our Lips Are Sealed, Head Over Heels, We Got the Beat

Comments: Celebrating 40 years as a band — The Go-Go’s — headlined a series of shows at the Hollywood Bowl in honor of Independence Day. Two years ago, the band bid farewell to touring with a show at the nearby Greek Theatre. Back then, Kathy Valentine was out of the group. She is now back in the group, but drummer Gina Shock had to sit out the current shows this time due to recent surgery. So, the fans didn’t get the full band as promised by the advertisements.

This was my 10th time seeing the band over the years — starting in 1982 at the same venue. I have seen the band approximately every 3.5 years in those 36 years. So, it is safe to say that I am a big fan.

Besides it being the 40th anniversary of the band, the band’s songs are the basis for a new Broadway musical — “Head Over Heels.” It does not tell the story of the Go-Go’s, but just uses their songs to tell the love story in the show.

Fans got treated to songs from their 4 studio albums, plus 1 song from their “Return to the Valley of the Go-Go’s” collection and 1 solo song each from Belinda Carlisle (Mad About You) and Jane Wiedlin (Cool Places, her duet with Sparks). The band’s sound has settled into a sort-of grungy power-pop —reflecting their early punk roots on the LA music scene.

I appreciate that Jane Wiedlin had a dress that said RESIST across it. The band even changed the lyrics of “The Whole World Lost Its Head” to reflect the challenging times we are living in.

During half of the songs, the Orchestra played along with the band filling out their sound. And there were even a few orchestral break-downs during a couple of the numbers, adding to the fun of the night.

This was not your typical Go-Go’s audience at the shows either. Most times you see them, people are on their feet for the entire show — dancing and singing along. Maybe, it’s because we are all older now, but that was not the case this time. So, there were periods of dancing, mostly with the more popular songs in their song catalog.

Near the end of the show, the band gave us the 1-2 punch of “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Head Over Heels” before leaving the stage for the fireworks. Then the Orchestra took over and gave us the traditional patriotic tunes as the fireworks were set off. The Go-Go’s returned for a rollicking, fully-orchestrated take on “We Got the Beat” that made the crowd go wild.

There was a local marching band that came out and marched around the perimeter of the front section before the band came back out. It looked dramatic — but in reality, they weren’t really used to their full extent.

Belinda was not in her best voice that night (at least for me), but the band played with so much enthusiasm and passion that they more than made up for it. I do hope that they record some more music together (maybe a remix album or a Christmas album). So hopefully in 3 years, I will be seeing the full group on their latest “farewell” tour. Thanks to the ladies and the LA Phil for a great evening. You’ve still got the beat!

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.

 

 

 

Summer Reviews 2018 Vol. 1

So what has been catching my fancy as far as entertainment? Read on for my latest take on movies, DVDs, CDs, TV shows and more.

Movies

Tully
Charlize Theron stars as overwhelmed mom in this comedy-drama from director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody. Theron plays Marlo who is just about to give birth to her third child. She is overworked and overwhelmed like many women are. Her brother suggests they get a night nanny to help them with the baby. In comes Tully, played by Mackenzie Davis. She is a young, free-spirited woman here to help Marlo through the difficult time she is having. Things do get better for awhile… but the movie takes some interesting turns as it comes to its conclusion. It definitely gets a bit weird and strange. Theron is all in — in her performance. Grade: B-

Avengers: Infinity War
The third Avengers movie has the team combating the biggest and most powerful villain yet — Thanos. All of your favorite characters are here: Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Spiderman, Black Panther and more. Plus the Guardians of the Galaxy also are part of the story. Thanos is in search of the Infinity Stones, which are scattered throughout the galaxy. Each stone he gets makes him more powerful. The movie ends on a bit of a sad note, as this is the first of 2 movies. We’ll have to see if everyone survives or not. I enjoyed this more than the last Avengers movie, but the first one, is still my favorite of the 3. Grade: B

RBG
RBG is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice. This is a documentary about her life. It tells of her humble upbringing, and her days as one of the few female law students in school. The movie recounts her pioneering cases in the 70’s that she argued before the Supreme Court — paving the way for women’s rights. Plus her stint on the Supreme Court starting in 1993 under President Clinton. We also find out about her personal life with her husband and children too. It is fascinating look at a woman who fights for what she believes in. Grade: A

Book Club
Four old friends (Jane Fonda, Candace Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Dianne Keaton) in a book club decide to start reading “Fifty Shades of Grey.” This light-hearted romantic comedy shows how it affects the ladies lives and their relationships. There are jokes about getting old and getting laid — not everything hits. But it is still an enjoyable movie. You will want to spend time with these women. Grade: B

DVDs (or streaming)

I am Not Your Negro
This documentary is based on the writings and interviews with James Baldwin. He talks about being a black man in the US and the struggles that come with it. The film also shows all the struggles that we are currently experiencing in this country with race. It is sad how little seems to have changed in the last 50-60 years. Grade: A-

Game of Thrones — Season 2
The Stark family is on a mission to avenge the death of the patriarch in Season 1. Everyone is scattered among the 7 kingdoms, dealing with trying to get by in the age of King Joffery. There are battles and drama a plenty. Plus, we start to see what the dragons are all about too. Grade: A-

It
This is the 2017 version of the Steve King novel. It takes a few cues from “Stranger Things.” You have a bunch of young kids, in the 80’s, this time being hunted by a killer clown versus an alien from the upside down. The kids come together as a bunch of misfits to help rid the town of this menace. There are some nice scares, and special effects. I enjoyed it. Grade: B

Victoria & Abdul
This movie details the extraordinary friendship between Queen Victoria and Abdul, an Indian immigrant who starts as her servant and becomes her mentor as time moves on. Judi Dench plays the Queen. It is an interesting story, with great performances. Grade: B+

Strike a Pose
This documentary catches up with the dancers from Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour — 25 years later. They were also featured in the “Truth or Dare” movie that was a behind the scenes look at the tour. Definitely a must see for Madonna fans. It was interesting to see how they have aged and what they are up to now. And to revisit how big a deal it was to see such openness and honesty with being gay back in the 90’s. Grade: A-

GaGa: Five Foot Two
Lady GaGa gives us a behind the scenes glimpse into her life. It covers the period of her recording the “Joanne” album, it’s promotion, as well as more intimate scenes with her family and her doctor visits. It culminates with her headlining the Super Bowl Halftime show in 2017. We see the real person behind the music — warts and all. I loved the topless chat with her stylists by her pool. The little monsters will love it. Grade: B+

Princess Cyd
This movie tells the story of Cyd — a teenager who goes to live with her aunt for a summer. While there she finds out about her mother, and falls for a local girl that works at a coffee house. What I found refreshing about it was how the aunt just let Cyd find her way, and did not judge her. It also touched on the power of the written word as the aunt was a writer and so were many of her friends. It was a refreshing take on a coming of age story. Grade: A-

Barbra — The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic!
Available for streaming on Netflix, this video is the last concert tour for Barbra Streisand. It was filmed in December 2016 in Miami. She delivers a set that is strong on memories from her 6 decade career. It includes a duet with Jamie Foxx on “Climb Every Mountain” as well as “Jingle Bells” from her first Christmas album. Her voice is not as strong as it once was, but she is still a compelling performer. Grade: B-

CDs

Tim McGraw — Emotional Traffic
Tim is in fine form on his 11th studio album. He always seems to find a good mix of party tunes and ballads. It includes a duet with his wife on “One Part, Two Part” as well as duet with Ne-Yo. Stand-out tracks include: “Felt Good on My Lips” and “Right Back Atcha Babe.” I do wish he would mix it up sometime — but that doesn’t happen here. It safe, and enjoyable. Grade: B

Pentatonix — PTX Presents: Top Pop, Vol. 1
The latest from the a capella group finds them covering a bunch of today’s top hits including “Despecito” (Justin Beiber, Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi), “Perfect” (Ed Sheeran), “New Rules” (Dua Lipa) and more. The arrangements are nice, if not ground-breaking. Likeable, and forgettable at the same time. Grade: C+

Keith Urban — Graffiti U
Keith is continuing to push the boundaries with country and pop on his latest album. It includes the first single and timely anthem, “Female”, as well as his collaboration with Julia Michaels on “Coming Home.” He explores reggae sounds on “My Wave” as well as some EDM sounds on “Drop Top.” I could have done without the little 2 song intros. They don’t add anything to the mix. Same goes for the outro on “Steal My Thunder.” Overall, though, it is a solid effort. Grade: B

Jennifer Hudson — JHUD
This is Jennifer’s third album. This time she mixes it up. It is mostly R&B tinged dance music. Special guest include: TI, Iggy Azalea, Timbaland and R. Kelly. Her voice is amazing as always. I’m not so sure she has found her direction yet with her recording career. Grade: B-

Kylie Minogue — Golden
Kylie’s 14th album has a little bit of a country vibe going on — on several tracks including the first single “Dancing.” But it is still Kylie doing what Kylie does best — which is dance pop. Enjoyable, if not ground-breaking. Grade: B+

Dierks Bentley — The Mountain
This is Dierks’ 9th album. It features duets with Brothers Osbourne (who are touring with him this year) and Brandi Carlile. The sound is a mix of bluegrass and country rock. Thankfully it is a bit of a step forward for him. The last few projects it felt as if he was coasting to me. It includes the first single “Woman, Amen” — a tribute to the woman in his life. Grade: A-

Imagine Dragons — Night Visions
Their third album won me over. So now I am going back and getting some of their older work. This is the first album and features the hits: Radioactive, It’s Time and Demons. This one I would label more alternative than the third one. I got the Deluxe version and at 18 songs, it is a little on the long side. But overall it is a good collection and shows promise. Grade: B

TV

Champions
From Mindy Kaling, comes a new comedy on NBC. It concerns a little Indian boy, who dreams of being a Broadway star. He ends up living with his biological dad and his uncle in New York. So you have the culture clash between white and Indian. Add in the fact that the kid is gay too. And that the brothers work in a gym named “Champions.” I tried the first couple of episodes, and it was just OK at best. I wouldn’t bet on it to last. Grade: C

For the People
This drama from Shonda Rhimes, use her formula of pretty people in the workplace — this time focusing on lawyers. The show is set in NY, and features people both on the defense and the prosecution. So 1-2 stories are told each episode, from both sides of the equation. Racial diverse casting, with mostly newcomers — with some TV vets (Hope Davis, Ben Rappaport) in plum roles. Grade: B

Roseanne
She is back, and so is the rest of the cast too. Say what you want about Roseanne Barr, but Roseanne Connor is very relatable. And the show is still funny too. Struggles with paying bills, healthcare, and raising kids — are all universal themes. And then she is adding in some hot button topics like gender non-conforming kids, and Muslim neighbors too. I am enjoying the reboot. Grade: A- (Editor’s Note: This review was written before the show was cancelled).

Pose
The latest drama from Ryan Murphy details the ball scene of the late 80’s and 90’s in NYC. This is the scene where LGBT people of color came together to compete as “houses” (groups) of dancers. This is the scene where Madonna’s “Vogue” came out of. There are many transgendered performers in the cast. It is interesting to see how these people often came from nothing and made their lights shine once they were in the spotlight. Grade: B

Books

13 Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
I had to check this out, as I really enjoyed the Netflix series. The book is just as good. The story details the 13 reasons why teenager Hannah killed herself. It is told to Clay (a classmate and potential love interest) through a series of cassette tapes that Hannah made. It touches on topics such as self-esteem, rape culture, body shaming and more. It definitely makes you think about your actions. I highly recommend it. Grade: A

Arcade (Drew Nellins Smith)
Mr. Smith writes about growing up gay in the 1990’s. It’s billed as fiction, but it was inspired by his real life. He becomes obsessed with going to an adult arcade on the edge of town. That’s the place you can buy DVDs, sex toys and watch porn movies on monitors in little rooms. He describes the people and situations he encounters there. I liked it at first, but then got tired of it. The man in the story didn’t learn or grow — he was doing the same thing over the course of the entire novel. And it doesn’t really have much of a story structure — just 1-4 page antidotes — for each “chapter.” Grade: C-

Plays

West Side Story
We saw this at a local production on Mother’s Day weekend. The story and songs still hold up. There were a few contemporary touches added to the show: gun violence and migration were touched upon. The male lead was not as strong as the female lead. I can’t complain too much, I enjoyed it. Grade: B

School of Rock
From Andrew Lloyd Webber comes the Broadway adaptation of the Jack Black-starring movie. So you have a lovable loser, who fakes his way into being a teacher at a high-end kid’s school. There he teaches his kids how to rock — with his end game being for them to perform as his back-up band in a battle of the bands. The kids were amazing and played their own instruments as well as sang their own vocals. There were a few stand-out numbers including “Stick it to the Man”. I had fun. Grade: B

Thanks for reading. Please sound off in the comments — if you agree or disagree with my views. 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.

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