Tuesday, March 27, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Hunger Games"


I remember going to see the movie Grease with some friends from school during the summer of 1978 — I was fifteen years old. This now iconic movie told an engaging story of teenage love, set during the late 1950s. The prim and proper Sandy Olsson, played by then-pop star Olivia Newton-John, meets local delinquent, Danny Zuko, played by then-upcoming mega star, John Travolta. The odds certainly didn't seem in their favor. Yet despite the disapproval of Sandy's friends, The Pink Ladies and Danny's "greaser" buddies, it was their destiny to be together. Ah, true teenage love prevailed.
 
 
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Writer and director John Hughes mined pure box office gold throughout the 1980s. He attracted countless movie-goers, eager to plunk down big bucks  to see his string  of such   quirky and romantic  high  school-themed blockbusters  as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink — making actress Molly Ringwald THE universally recognized "girl next door." And for Ringwald's numerous onscreen characters in the '80s, true teenage love always prevailed.

In the 1990s there were less compelling and less memorable films such as  Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead and Can't Hardly Wait that were also aimed toward high school audiences. Yet despite the diminishing likable qualities of some  of the main characters portrayed in these more recent efforts, the underlying message remained the same — true teenage love prevails.

But even the '90s were a long time ago. And given the influence of current music-types, glorifying a lifestyle of blastin' caps in biatches asses while gitin' a 'drank on' all up in 'da club, graphically violent video games, TV shows promoting the awesomeness of teenage pregnancy (Aw, mom — Ashley, Jasmine and Megan got to have babies — why can't I? You NEVER let me have any fun!) and the deep, complex storylines of the seemingly endless slew of Vampire-related epic sagas on book shelves and the big screen, today's younger audience is simply too intellectually advanced to accept the corny teen flicks from the past. They demand more sophisticated stories...

Published in 2008, Suzanne Collins' novel, The Hunger Games, has generated enormous international sales. And according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the much-anticipated film adaptation of the book  took  in an  astounding $155 million during its March 2012 opening weekend.

An eleven-year-old friend of mine recently was elated to purchase a print copy of The Hunger Games at a school book fair as it has become a recommended, sophisticated read for elementary school-age kids. "It's about children fighting each other to the death on a reality TV show," she enthusiastically reported upon bringing the book home from school. "Hmm," I said to myself.

Amazon Reader Book Review
The setting of a dystopian society wherein children are pitted against one another to the death in an annual melee ABSOLUTELY BEGS for a strong moral message. A message of humanity, hope, compassion, the darkness AND the lightness in each person, forgiveness, sacrifice, redemption... And the call is completely unanswered. There is no moral message that comes through, not for the characters and not for the readers.  -Dana Leigh

Ironically, the movie version of The Hunger Games arrived in theaters just two weeks later. All I knew for certain was that the film was receiving rave pre-release reviews and the book maintained an impressive Five Star Amazon review. Given her passion for this story, I offered to take my young friend to see the film on opening weekend.

Lenny Kravitz as Cinna
Directed by Gary Ross, the film stars Jennifer Lawrence as the perceived heroine, Katniss, along with Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Katniss' teenage love interest and fellow rival in this televised, real-life, fight-to-the-death competition. The support cast includes  Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, an alcoholic Kurt Cobain look-alike mentor and former Hunger Games champion, Lenny Kravitz as the RuPaul-meets-O.J. Simpson-looking trainer, Cinna (pronounced, Sin-ah), Elizabeth Banks as the talent scout/PR agent, Effie Trinket, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the go-to guy behind-the-scenes,  Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, the "Ryan Seacrest" of the Hunger Games show, and Donald Sutherland as Coriolanus Snow, the dastardly president of the Rocky Horror-meets-Whoville nation of Panem (also referred to as "The Capitol"). It's a stellar ensemble to be sure.

Anonymous blog post:
The citizens of the Capitol are Lady Gaga's little monster wanabes, as all the people wear outfits that are crazy and over the top: loud colours, extreme make up, body modifications and skin coloring. So basically picture a city full of Lady Gagas walking down the street and you get an idea.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Cobain
The perceived heroine, Katniss,  volunteers to take the place of her younger sister who was initially chosen in the annual lottery to represent Panem's District 12 in the 74th Hunger Games competition. Given  her brave and selfless sacrifice, some  have come to  view  the book/film as possessing a (very) deep Christ-like message. However, I believe that  my friend quite accurately and succinctly summed up the story days earlier when she told me, "It's about children fighting each other to the death on a reality TV show."

Following the necessary contestant grooming and training process, the grand and glorious competition ensues in an American Idol-meets-Survivor at The Super Bowl atmosphere.

Now, help me out. Exactly who am I supposed to be cheering for? Is it one of those  teens who oddly are vilified for brutally murdering other teens in their fight for survival, or is it one (or both) of the two  kids who also are brutally murdering other kids, but who are being portrayed sympathetically because they're just two wacky teenagers in love?


Hey kids - you too now can
duplicate the flava of your
fave Hunger Games
murder accomplices!
It's bad enough that teenage bullying and school shootings have risen to epidemic proportions in recent years. Now we have a super groovy and sexy saga to further inspire teen violence. Yeah, I know — I'm just the out-of-touch "old guy" who lacks the sophistication required to grasp such a complex message. But I already can see the headlines... Dateline: Anytown, USA  — Four teens brutally beaten and savagely murdered in Hunger Games-style attack.

* For the scoop on The Hunger Games-related product marketing campaign, see Monica Corcoran's March 23, 2012 New York Times feature.

And I further agree with Roger Ebert in his Chicago Sun-Times opinion that the film ran much too long. In fact, an hour or more of this epic easily could have ended up on the cutting room floor without compromising the complex storyline. Heck, after sitting for nearly two and a half hours, even my young friend was complaining that her "butt had gone numb!"

In sum: The Hunger Games  —  Well-written? Certainly. Well-cast? Yes. Well-marketed? Double "heck yes" to the 10th power. Rock solid performances? Of course. Visually appealing? Absolutely. So what's the problem?

As we were leaving the theater, my young friend immediately inquired, "Well, what did you think?" I replied, "Uh, what did you think?" "I know it's only about kids killing innocent kids, but I just love it!" she enthusiastically confessed. "I don't know why I love it. I just do!" Hmm, out of the mouths of babes. Well, at least true teenage love still prevailed. "May the odds be forever in our favor."

-Christopher Long
(March 2012)


Author Christopher Long's latest book
is available NOW on Amazon





Thursday, March 22, 2012

CLASSIC CAR SHOW (Melbourne, FL 3/17/12)

 
They converged upon a huge, wide open field near the 
International Airport in
Melbourne, Florida — hundreds 
of collectors and enthusiasts alike. On a day when so many others 
would be gorging themselves with corned beef and cabbage and guzzling barrels of green beer, these folks came together for a different type of celebration.
 
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I'll be honest, I couldn't tell you the difference between a spark plug and a piston if my life depended on it. However, I do have a personal passion for the art and craftsmanship of classic cars as well as the fascinating history that they represent. And on this warm, sunny spring day, there was no shortage of amazing, vintage vehicles or owners, thrilled to share their stories as well as the history behind their prized autos.

Although I'm certainly not qualified to school anyone in this area, I am a true fan — a fan with a phone-cam, eager to report a little of what I saw. Here are just a few of the classics that caught my eye:

TOO COOL:
Simply put, this 1969 Pontiac is just too cool!


My fourteen-year-old buddy,
Michael "Mad Dog" Wilson,
fell in love with this 1970 Plymouth.


In the early '70s, Buicks were just
about the baddest ride around.
(This 1971 Boattail Coupe proves it.)
And it's still the sexiest rear end I've ever seen!


You had to admire this 1934 Roadster.


This 1964 Corvair is the crowning jewel of
Chuck Long's multi-classic car collection.
(And it took top honors in the Junior II category)


KID IN A CADDY STORE:
Made of 18,000 tons of solid steel,
this 1957 Cadillac is a real "man's" car!


I could have sworn that the interior
of this 1965 Fleetwood was original.
According to owner Ray Anderson, I was right!


This 1968 Cadillac convertible
was in impeccable condition.


An immaculate 1970 Cadillac convertible.
If I could have driven off in the car of my choice,
THIS would have been the one!


Another beauty.
(1972 Cadillac convertible)
 
 
The Brady Bunch never had a wagon like this!
(1976 Cadillac)


STANGS:
Sure, they look great, but it's the personal stories
behind these classics that I find particularly fascinating.
The aforementioned 1967 Mustang convertible


For me, 1969 marked the end
of the "classic" Mustang era.


VETTES:
The 1957 Roadster (above) as well as the
1958 model (below) were both breathtaking.
 


"Back in Black"
This 1962 Vette was a real beauty.


This 1963 Vette is about as cool as it gets.


OLDEST:


A meticulously restored 1911 Ford.

 
A wonderfully UN-restored 1912 Franklin.


See 1924 Ford (below).
Get the scoop (below)


TRULY UNIQUE:
Although they say, "seeing is believing,"
this 1957 Isetta is simply UN-believable!


This 1958 Bubble Car reminded me
of a motorized sidecar -- amazing!


It's a car...
It's a boat...
It's a 1966 Amphicar!


As a kid, the 1949 Willys
was Chuck Long's dream car.
(In the 2000s he finally owned one!)


Kudos to the Antique Automobile Club of Cape Canaveral for staging such an incredible event.

-Christopher Long
(March 2012)


*Author Christopher Long's latest book,
is available NOW on Amazon!
 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

CONCERT REVIEW: The Moody Blues (3/14/12)

THE MOODY BLUES
Maxwell C. King Center
Melbourne, FL (3/14/12)

As a music fan
turning fifty this
year, I'm old enough
to  have lived during
"The Summer
of Love," yet I was
young enough at
the time not to
have a "clouded"
memory of the era.
 
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An  estimated 100,000  hippies converged on San Francisco for "The Summer of Love" while The Six Day War ensued and the Vietnam War escalated. The Johnson administration was ramping down and the Nixon era was revving up. Groundbreaking TV shows such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Newlywed Game  and Spider-Man  all made their debut in 1967. At the movies, Dustin Hoffman became a household name with his starring breakout role in The Graduate, and Sidney Poitier scored two box office hits with Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and To Sir, with Love. BTW, my personal cinematic fave, The Jungle Book, also arrived in theaters in 1967. Musical boundaries were being erased and unchartered waters were being explored in 1967 as  The Beatles dropped Sgt. Pepper, The Who  "sold out," Jimi Hendrix  got "experienced" and a twenty-year-old kid from London quietly released his  debut record to little fanfare —  however, within just a couple of years, David Bowie would become a true rock icon.

And it was in 1967 when a struggling, mid-level British rock combo called The Moody Blues released its sophomore LP. After experiencing a near total personnel overhaul, the fledgling band was moving away from its R&B roots in 1967 and developing a more unique and experimental sound — incorporating an orchestra into its increasingly intricate arrangements. The end result was the now legendary concept record, Days of Future Passed. And in 2012, The Moody Blues have embarked on a world tour to commemorate the 45th anniversary of this groundbreaking achievement.

With original keyboardist Mike Pinder having left the band under dubious circumstances in the late '70s and flautist Ray Thomas'  retirement in 2002, remaining semi-original guitarist Justin Hayward  and bassist John Lodge  along with  founding  drummer  Graeme Edge  have  continued  to  carry the torch, keeping the Moody Blues grand musical tradition alive (and well) for the last decade.

The predominantly 50-60-something King Center audience cheered like tweenagers at a Bieber meet-and-greet as Hayward, Lodge and Edge took the stage at approximately 8:10PM.


Photo: MoodyBluesToday.com
Kicking off the show with "Gemini Dream" and "The Voice" — a double dose from the 1981, chart-topping Long Distance Voyager record, the band delivered a high-energy, two-hour performance featuring such signature "must play" biggies as "Your Wildest Dreams," "Isn't Life Strange," "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)," and "Question" as well as "Tuesday Afternoon" and "Nights in White Satin"  — a pair from the aforementioned Days of Future Passed.


Whereas every great rock band needs a "Roger Daltrey," a "John Entwistle" is equally important. While Hayward presents a (very) laid back, Perry Como-meets-rock and roll onstage persona (I saw him blink, twice), Lodge remains full of rock star swagger and energy — exuding charisma as he worked the stage — winking and wiggling, dancing and prancing, much to the delight of his adoring fans. And although Edge's onstage role initially appeared limited to merely that of a second-chair drummer, he miraculously sprung to life following the intermission when he commandeered the mic, center-stage, and led the band through an outrageously fun and quite spirited version of the 1969 fan favorite, "Higher and Higher." The Moody Blues concert seemingly had become "The Graeme Edge Show" — and it was awesome!

Make no mistake, despite their ages (Hayward - 65,  Lodge - 66 and Edge - 70) and the fact that their music has been around longer than some of their fans have been alive, this was no lounge-type presentation. In fact, with their state-of-the-art concert lighting, humongous, rear-stage HD-like video screen and generous use of obligatory rock  and roll  fog / smoke machines, this show looked as impressive as probably any arena headliner currently on the road. As for the audio, simply put, the band sounded studio-perfect. And given that the show took place at such a world-class venue as The King Center, only further enhanced the experience.

But these days the touring version of the band includes seven onstage musicians. And therein lies the delightful bonus of The Moody Blues' live show — the impeccable musicianship, energy and charm of the support cast. Drummer Gordon Marshall has assumed first-chair duty with the band for a couple of lengthy runs during the last twenty years, and as a newcomer, acknowledged session player / producer Alan Hewitt makes for a perfect fit on keyboards. But there's nothing like the tried and true chick factor to make a rock show sizzle, and keyboardist / guitarist / vocalist Julie Ragins  and flautist / vocalist Norda Mullen both proved to be true shining stars in their own right as well as complementing the ensemble.

Outstanding job, kids! Let's get together and do it again sometime — SOON!

-Christopher Long
(March 2012)
 
Author Christopher Long's latest book
is now available on Amazon
 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ST. PATTY'S DAY (My Reasons to Celebrate!)

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Ah, St. Patty's Day. A festive occasion when people who barely can claim even a wee hint of Irish heritage, wear silly get-ups and listen to music that they'd never otherwise listen to in a million years while guzzling green beer 'til they pass out, face down in a pool of vomit. Yes, what a "party," indeed. It would be amusing if it weren't so gosh-darn sad. I'm not Irish. I don't pretend to be. However, I still have many reasons to celebrate this personally memorable holiday. 
_________________________


 
EIGHT YEARS SOBER
March 17, 2004: I was DJ-ing a St. Patty's day event at a bar called Siggy's, located in Palm Bay, Florida. Greg & Brian was the house band that night —  a  piano/drum/vocal duo known more for their drunken onstage shenanigans than for recreating classic frat house party anthems. I'd been wrestling with a personal alcohol demon for many years and as a result, I was an easy target for the marksmanship of the duo's drummer, Brian Arnold who successfully encouraged me to join him in a holiday shot. As I felt the burn of the unknown, green concoction sliding down my throat, I noticed that I was surrounded by a host of drunken characters whose behavior I now found to be offensive. The "light" had suddenly gone on. "This is stupid," I said to myself. I'd somehow been miraculously freed from the bondage of alcohol — and I was never turning back. In fact, I've not had a drink since. It was that simple. I don't believe that getting sober makes me a better person than someone who drinks, but it has certainly enhanced my quality of life, about ten fold!
 
BLOG ANNIVERSARY
It was in March 2010 that I debuted this blog site. Two years ago this week, I was still living on MySpace and honestly, I hardly  had any idea what a blog was or the potential value in having a well-done presentation. All I knew was that my future business partner, Chris Dillon told me that it was something I needed. At first, I used this blog simply as a means of promoting my various upcoming personal appearances — after all, my debut book had just been released and I was on a national book tour. Besides, I knew nobody was coming here, so quality content wasn't terribly important to me. Then, just a few months later, I discovered that my blog was actually receiving thousands of visits! I quickly stepped up my game and began sharing personal stories and offering content based on a variety of topics ranging from faith and fashion to pop culture and politics. Before I knew it, my "little" blog was blowing up. Be sure that I'm certainly not giving The Huffington Post any competition, but two years later, I continue to be amazed and honored to have such a loyal and (still) growing audience. Thanks everybody!
 
THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH
It was also about this time two years ago when I was introduced to East Coast Christian Center. Located in Merritt Island, Florida, the sign outside of ECCC says it all — "A Life-Giving Church that Lasts." Upon discovering ECCC, I quickly learned that being a Christian isn't about religion, it's about relationship — a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In short, I don't know where I'd be, or if I'd be anywhere for that matter had my dear friend Paul Peters not invited me to this church in the spring of 2010. I offer a detailed account of my ECCC experience in the pages of my latest book, C'MON! - My Story of Rock, Ruin and Revelation.

 
WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT...
The last thing I was looking for a year ago was a girlfriend. At the time, I was deep into studying the New Testament and I was completely locking in with the Apostle Paul regarding the virtues of being single. In fact, for the first time, I was actually enjoying not having any crazy women around to complicate my life. Then, I was approached last St. Patty's Day by a woman at one of my personal appearances. From out of nowhere, this "outspoken" New York chick walks up and gets right in my face. "Your magazine sucks!" she immediately blurted, referring to one of the publications to which I was connected. I was so taken aback by her directness and honesty that I quickly grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into a quiet back room where we could further discuss her concerns in private. I soon learned that this woman, who finally introduced herself to me as Michelle, had a professional writing background and she proceeded to clearly and quite articulately explain why my magazine "sucked." And she was right.

I still don't quite know what happened. One minute she was berating me, and the next thing I know, it's 3AM and we were still hanging out, talking. The rest is history.

We seemingly have little in common. For starters, Michelle LOVES to dance, whereas I believe that dancing is only for lobotomy survivors. Michelle is also so passionate about baseball that she can recite nearly every New York Yankee statistic since 1803, while I was unaware that Steve Garvey had retired. I prefer to handle difficult situations calmly and rationally. Conversely, Michelle is likely to pull a 250-pound trucker through the window of his rig at a traffic light for cutting her off while en route to a PTA meeting. Michelle also finds superstar soccer player David Beckham to be a total hottie — okay, so maybe we do agree on that one. 

In all seriousness, we actually do have quite a bit in common. We're both into thrifting, discovering new restaurants and quirky chick flicks. We've attended frequent church services  and numerous concert events together  this past year as well as enjoying fabulous getaway trips to NYC and Daytona last summer.

I certainly wasn't looking for a girlfriend last St. Patty's Day. But as they say, "when you least expect it — expect it." And I'm pleased as punch that we're celebrating a special anniversary this week.

March Madness, to be sure!

-Christopher Long
(March 2012)


Author Christopher Long's latest
is available NOW on Amazon