Wednesday, 27 June 2012

'...where trouble melts like lemon-drops...'

In this video Israel Kamakawiwo'oloe sings "Somewhere over the rainbow".  I was fortunate enough to catch this on television a while back, and each time I re-watch it I admire his very special voice - and feel soothed by it.

I'm pleased to see that the recording is available for purchase via the link provided by the uploading site.

I've added this portion of the Wikipedia article about him, as it provides insight into his character and music: this man is much more than the laid-back overweight man that he may appear to be:
Kamakawiwoʻole was known for promoting Hawaiian rights and Hawaiian independence, both through his lyrics, which often stated the case for independence directly, and his life. His song Hawai'i '78 demonstrates the beliefs and hopes that he had for the people of Hawai’i: the life of this land is the life of the people, and that to care for the land (malama 'āina) is to care for the Hawaiian culture.[7] The state motto of Hawai'i is a recurring line in the song and encompasses the meaning of Iz's message: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono (proclaimed by King Kamehameha III when Hawai'i regained sovereignty in 1843. Roughly translated: The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness).
Throughout his life, Kamakawiwoʻole suffered from severe obesity resulting from compulsive overeating, and at one point weighed 757 pounds (343 kg; 54.1 st) standing 6-foot-2-inch (1.88m) tall. He endured several hospitalizations because of health problems caused by his obesity. Beset with respiratory, heart and other medical problems, he died at the age of 38 in Queen's Medical Center at 12:18 a.m. on June 26, 1997. Kamakawiwoʻole is survived by his widow, Marlene Kamakawiwoʻole, and their daughter, Ceslie-Ann "Wehi".

The Hawaii state flag flew at half-staff on July 10, 1997, the day of Kamakawiwoʻole's funeral. His koa wood coffin lay in state at the state capitol building in Honolulu. He was the third person in Hawaiian history to be awarded this honor, and the only one who was not a government official. Approximately ten thousand people attended the funeral. Thousands of fans gathered as his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Mākua Beach on July 12, 1997.

The funeral and the scattering of Kamakawiwoʻole's ashes were featured in the official music video of "Over the Rainbow" released posthumously by Mountain Apple Company; as of October 2012, the video as featured on YouTube has garnered over 75.4 million views.
Note: click through to the Wikipedia article itself for a more complete list of the article's references

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Harry Potter, Wizard ~

The Harry Potter films must be among the most popular in existence right now, but I have only watched them recently.  For the benefit of others like myself who have avoided them this long I offer this brief overview:

When we are first introduced to young Harry in the first movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", he is a young boy living in dire circumstances: his parents died when he was a baby and he lives with relatives who barely tolerate him, and indeed take every opportunity to persecute him.  He is a pleasantly ordinary looking boy, but unexpected and sometimes alarming things happen around him, so some of their annoyance is understandable!  It is impossible to be surprised when he learns he has magical powers.  Just how magical his powers are, or what his peril is, for that matter, unfolds throughout the movies.  He gets 'rescued' from his awful relations and carried off to Hogwarts, a school for young wizards and witches set in remote and stunningly beautiful countryside.  

There he makes friends with classmates who are just as unlikely as he is: red-haired Ron Weasley, who takes fright so easily and tends to trail behind, and fair haired Hermione Granger, who is extremely bright and seems to know most things - out of books anyway, and has a knack for logic.  She often manages to gets them out of trouble.  They make a good foil for each other, sharing good times and bad, arguing and experimenting as children do, and we follow their progress through their years at the school, one movie at a time.  And of course they actually do grow up during the sequence of the films.  The first movie has a good deal of quirky humour in it, rather in the nature of all the best pantomimes.  Content becomes more sombre as the children get older. 

Throughout the movies the danger to Harry increases, forcing the trio into a series of adventures in which they have to solve riddles and overcome human as well as magical obstacles which seem likely to overpower them at any moment.  Fortunately they have powerful allies, but even with these things are often not what they seem.  The story-lines are complex and the action fast-paced.  There is a lot more to these movies than wizards, wands, and troublesome children! 

I came to watch these movies reluctantly: quite against my natural inclination I was persuaded to watch the beginning of the first movie before going off to do something else which was important at the time.  Then, some weeks later, having wondered whatever did happen next, I made the effort to sit down and watch the whole thing.  It was a short step from there to watching the next one and the next one, until I had watched all eight! 

On the whole I strongly resist anything that is wildly popular, being suspicious of what might be merely a fad.  Well, I have to set that aside for this lot and say I agree with the masses: this is thoroughly entertaining stuff!  

It is violent though, and becomes more so as the series progresses.  For this reason I would not recommend it for children even though they are the intended audience - unless I was sure that the children in question were capable of managing that sort of content.  If I'd seen them when I was a child I would have been scared rigid and subject to nightmares for long afterwards.  

Now that I'm middle aged I'm rather less easily bowled over but still found them very full-on, compelling though - very, and with thought-provoking content.  Author J. K. Rowling is a clever thinker and writer!  

The three young people who play the main characters, Harry Potter, played by Daniel Radcliffe, Ron Weasley, by Rupert Grint, and Hermione Granger, by Emma Watson, all give wholehearted performances which add a lively chemistry to the trio.  The other youthful characters, such as Neville Longbottom, Draco Malfoy and Luna Lovegood also contribute memorably.  

Of the adults Professors McGonagall and Snape, wonderfully played by Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman were favourites; along with quirky characters such as Mrs Weasley, Ron's mother, played by Julie Walters; Hagrid, played by Robbie Coltraine; and Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody, played by Brendon Gleeson, to name a few.  And one must give an honourable mention of grandfatherly arch-wizard, Professor Dumbledore, played by Michael Gambon!

Admirable as all these are, I award the bouquet for the most compelling and memorable character portrayal to Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape.  For me his was the most interesting character of the whole series.  He immediately took my attention when he first came into the story and held it throughout the series, so that I was not surprised at the strange part he played in the final unfolding of the drama at the end of the last movie.  I didn't guess what that was however.  One senses in Snape loneliness, deep suffering, and many secrets, all firmly held in with an outer severity in which he suffers neither fools nor disobedience - impressive! 

With less opportunity for character development is the alarming portrayal of the ferocious and deathly Lord Voldemort, by Ralph Fiennes.  This characterisation makes it hard to remember him as the softly spoken and quietly glamorous young senator in a favourite movie, "Maid in Manhattan" in which he played opposite Jennifer Lopez

Curiously, the last movie, which is the darkest and most violent of the lot, is the one that I found the most satisfying.  I thought it had the most integrity as a story, and represents a very skilful drawing together of a lot of different threads.

Even if you're not that excited by the notion of watching films featuring children wrestling with magic, the series is worth watching for the spectacular locations, astonishing sets, and skilful costume design and make-up artistry.  The special effects are something else again.  In one of the less spectacular but nonetheless seamless pieces of photographic magic I'm still puzzling as to how the giant Hagrid, could have been played by an actor who is six foot and one inch tall. (He adds "... in all directions, unfortunately!")  He says only that he had to be shot from below.  Well, I don't think it can have been quite as simple as all that, because...

Hmm, lots to see in all that.  I will be watching them again and I'm sure I'll pick up lots more detail next time around!

Reviews, story lines and more trailers can be found via the links below.

The series, with links to the IMDb site, is:

American Idol finale disappoints ~

Over the last couple of years I've written quite a few posts about American Idol, which have reflected my enjoyment of the show.  Usually it has been very enjoyable, so in the light of fair comment I must say that although I was delighted that Phillip Phillips won the contest, I was disappointed in the finale as a whole.  In other years these have been variable, some more enjoyable than others, but this is the first one that I have simply sat through in order to see the outcome.  In fact I got a headache - and Rewi went to sleep!  On the whole it seemed raucous, and somehow rather dark.

As I have a policy of keeping a fairly positive tone I will keep my critique brief: the young singers who have come up through the competition are so talented and fresh and many of their performances have been uplifting; in the finale most of the performances given by guests simply didn't match that standard.  With some exceptions, much of the music and costumes seemed clichéd and not at all what I wanted to watch.  Further to that, most women simply shouldn't perform in body suits and high heels - they just don't look good.  The only two women I've seen who can carry off these sorts of outfits are Jennifer Lopez and Janet Jackson, and they're exceptional anyway!  And ah, black leather bikinis look simply terrible on anyone!  

One performance I was glad to see was of the top ten contestants 'singing the phone book'.  This was a tribute to Randy Jackson, one of the judges: after an especially good performance he often declares that the contestant "could sing the phone book".  The song was clever and a lot of fun with each of the contestants adding their own signature vocals!

From the look of what's on YouTube these days, Fox appears to be clamping down on the sharing of Am Idol content.  This is disappointing as it's not always available on their own site, and you'd think it would be first class free publicity for them.  After all it's the enthusiasm of fans that keeps these shows in business year after year. 

So, what to do now that this year's contest is over?  Await Phillip's forthcoming album, that's what!