Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Archive for the month “September, 2013”

James Spader Returns in The Blacklist

The Blacklist - Season PilotLast week, I watched the series premiere of NBC’s The Blacklist – twice. I did so because it was an enthralling, fast-paced thriller that packed so much into one hour I felt as if I needed to view it again to make sure I caught everything. That, and it stars one of my all-time favorite actors, James Spader, who is exceptional as the show’s antihero, Raymond Reddington. Prior to this show, Spader’s most well-known role, and one for which he received three Emmy awards, was as Alan Shore on Boston Legal.

If the first episode of The Blacklist is any indication of the quality of what’s to come, then I think we’re in for a hell of a season. If you haven’t seen the first episode yet, make sure you do – you can check it out here. It has the makings of one of the most entertaining shows in quite some time, and it’s nice to see Spader back in top form.

Below is the show’s trailer, The Blacklist panel at San Diego’s Comic Con and the opening scene from the first episode:

Review – Evil Dead: The Musical

Evil Dead: The Musical is at The Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia from September 25-October 20, 2013.

Evil Dead: The Musical is at The Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia from September 25-October 20.

Evil Dead: The Musical, a show that made its debut in Toronto in 2003 and has had many successful productions around the world since, has just come to Philadelphia. It will be at The Prince Music Theater from September 25-October 20, 2013, so be sure to get your tickets now. I had the pleasure of seeing the musical last night, and I can confidently say that whether you’re a fan of the film franchise or someone who loves fun musicals infused with irreverent humor, Evil Dead: The Musical delivers.

When I approached the box office to get my ticket, I was asked if I’d like to sit in the “splatter zone.” After asking what she meant, the woman behind the glass partition explained that at the end of the show the first few rows get “blood” on them. While the fake blood washes out pretty easily, I decided to sit a few rows back. I must admit, at the end of the show, watching people get squirted, misted and splattered with blood was very amusing; a handful of them wore ponchos, while the others took it in stride.

Evil Dead The MusicalWhile waiting for the show to begin, I was treated to mix of classic 1980’s rock music – which I love – including, KISS, The Scorpions and Twisted Sister, among others. It was a great way to set the mood for a fun show based on a horror franchise born out of the same era. And the music was reflective of the jovial mood in the room. The fans were eagerly awaiting the dimming of the lights and the rising curtain.

The musical kicked off with a fun, infectious song, “Cabin in the Woods,” that did a great job of setting the tone for the show. It also provided the shows’ five central stars with the perfect opportunity to showcase their chemistry with one another and vocal prowess.

The next musical number, “Housewares Employee,” was easily my favorite. Ryan Ward, who plays the lead character, Ash, stole the show and this song illustrates why he was the perfect person for the role. He’s funny, has an impressive voice and can convincingly sing wonderfully absurd power ballads. What’s not to love?

Another fun song that stuck with me was “What The Fuck Was That.” After a character becomes possessed by the Evil Dead, Ash and Scott sing and, eventually, tango to this number. It made for a fun and humorous break in the action.

Other than Ash, my favorite character was Jake. This role was masterfully assumed by Daniel Williston, who did a terrific job both with his lines and body language. At one point, his ear piece came out, in the middle of a dance number, but he quickly tucked it into his pocket and kept dancing, undeterred. In addition to being light on his feet, Williston turned in an impressive vocal with “Good Old Reliable Jake” that conjured up visions of Meat Loaf. This song, along with the others I mentioned, make listening to the full album worth your while.

In case it’s not already abundantly clear, Evil Dead: The Musical is a lot of fun. If you live in Philadelphia and you’re looking for something unique and exciting to do, make sure to see the show. It’s a great tribute to the films that inspired it, as well as an impressive musical production.

Book Review: One Shot by Lee Child

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One Shot by Lee Child is the ninth Jack Reacher novel and the inspiration for the 2012 film, Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise. Like the movie, One Shot focuses on a violent crime and whether or not the man being accused of it is actually the perpetrator. As with the previous books in the series, Child does a fantastic job with developing the protagonist and having him intelligently overcome the odds. And, as always, I opted for the audiobook version of the book because of Dick Hill’s spectacular narration – he is the voice of Reacher. If you’re a fan of the series or a newcomer, this is a great thriller and, quite possibly, the best Jack Reacher novel up to this point. I highly recommend it.

Synopsis

Six shots. Five dead. One heartland city thrown into a state of terror. But within hours the cops have it solved: a slam-dunk case. Except for one thing. The accused man says: You got the wrong guy. Then he says: Get Reacher for me.

And sure enough, ex–military investigator Jack Reacher is coming. He knows this shooter—a trained military sniper who never should have missed a shot. Reacher is certain something is not right—and soon the slam-dunk case explodes.

Now Reacher is teamed with a beautiful young defense lawyer, moving closer to the unseen enemy who is pulling the strings. Reacher knows that no two opponents are created equal. This one has come to the heartland from his own kind of hell. And Reacher knows that the only way to take him down is to match his ruthlessness and cunning—and then beat him shot for shot.

Amazon Unveils New Kindle Fire HDX

Kindle Fire HDXYesterday, Amazon announced its new lineup of Kindle Fire tablets. In addition to upgrading last year’s 7″ Kindle Fire and lowering its introductory price to $139, Amazon unveiled the Kindle Fire HDX, which has a higher pixel density rate than Apple’s iPad – making for an ultra-high definition viewing experience. The 16 GB, Wi-Fi model with special offers costs $229 for the 7″ version, and the most expensive 8.9″ model – with a 64 GB hard drive and an optional 4G connection – will set you back $579.

As you’ll see from the features below, the Kindle Fire HDX is significantly lighter than its predecessor and it has an exciting new feature called the “Mayday” button. This feature provides you with on-screen support, whenever you want, from a Kindle Support representative. And while you can see the rep and he or she can remotely access your device with your permission, the representative can’t see you – so no need to worry if you’re hair is sticking up and you’re still in your bathrobe while you’re being helped.

Kindle Fire HDX Features

  • Exclusive 8.9″ HDX display (2560×1600) with unsurpassed pixel density (339 PPI) and perfect color accuracy (100% sRGB) for vivid, lifelike images that go beyond standard HD
  • Breakthrough ultra-light design—weighing just 13.2oz, it’s 34% lighter than the previous generation
  • Ultra-fast 2.2GHz quad-core processor—3x more powerful than previous generation—with 2GB of RAM and Adreno 330 GPU for fast, fluid gaming and video
  • Introducing the “Mayday” button—revolutionary, on-device tech support, exclusive to Kindle Fire HDX tablets. Connect for free to an Amazon expert 24×7, 365 days a year
  • 8MP rear-facing camera with LED flash for high-resolution photos and 1080p HD video, plus a front-facing 720p HD camera for Skype video calls and more
  • Stay productive on the go with ultra-fast web browsing, built-in OfficeSuite, plus e-mail and calendar support for Gmail, Outlook, and more
  • In addition to Free Two-Day Shipping, Prime members enjoy exclusive digital benefits, including the new ability to download Prime Instant Video titles to new Kindle Fire HDX tablets

Below is a letter from Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, that was posted to Amazon’s website the day of the announcement, as well as a video highlighting the “Mayday” feature. And stay tuned for my review of the device in the coming months.

Jeff Bezos - Kindle Fire HDXJeff Bezos’ Letter

Dear Customers,

It’s been just two years since we introduced Kindle Fire, and the team is innovating at unbelievable speed. Today, I’m excited to introduce you to the all-new Kindle Fire family.

These are powerhouse tablets. We added the latest graphics engine, doubled the memory, and tripled the processing power with the most advanced 2.2 GHz quad-core processor. Our HDX displays bring together exceptional pixel density (up to 339 ppi), perfect 100% sRGB color accuracy, improved brightness, and dynamic image contrast. You also get up to 11 hours of battery life—17 hours when you’re reading.

Even the largest new Kindle Fire—the 8.9″—is startlingly light. We re-imagined our design from scratch, with a new magnesium unibody and molded glass-nylon alloy. At just 13.2 ounces, it’s 34% lighter than the previous generation.

Kindle Fire HDX is packed with hundreds of updates, including new email, calendar, and productivity apps, X-Ray for Music, Second Screen, and—in addition to streaming—you can now download Prime Instant Videos and watch them offline.

indle Fire HDX also introduces the revolutionary new “Mayday” button. With a single tap, an Amazon expert will appear on your Fire HDX and can co-pilot you through any feature by drawing on your screen, walking you through how to do something yourself, or doing it for you—whatever works best. Mayday is available 24×7, 365 days a year, and it’s free.

Mayday is one of those things that really has to be seen—
check out our upcoming TV commercials.

In addition to all the above, we’re taking another step forward in our mission to make it possible for anyone to afford a Kindle Fire. The all-new Kindle Fire HD has the same display quality and processing speed of last year’s high-end models and comes in at the breakthrough price point of only $139.

We’ve worked hard to pack this much hardware, innovation, and customer obsession into these devices. We hope you enjoy the new Kindle Fires.

Thank you for being a customer,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO

P.S. Our industrial design team has invented what I think are the most ingenious covers—you can learn more about the new Origami covers here.

Author Interview: Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author whose debut novel, The Informationist, took the literary world by storm in 2011. Since then, she’s published two more novels starring the popular protagonist Vanessa Michael Munroe: The Innocent and The Doll. I had the pleasure of meeting Taylor at ThrillerFest VIII in July, and she was kind enough to grant me the interview below. I hope you enjoy it.

You grew up in a communal apocalyptic cult where, as a teenager, you entertained the children with stories. What inspired these stories and did you use them as a way to briefly “escape” your dire surroundings?

Imagination was very much an escape mechanism. We didn’t have access to the outside world, so basically no novels, no television, no outside music and very, very few pre-screened movies. We spent a lot of time doing mundane manual labor—washing laundry, cooking, taking care of younger children—or out on the streets begging and that often meant considerable hours getting to/from our begging spots with nothing to keep our minds engaged in-between. Telling stories turned me in into the de facto entertainment and that’s pretty much how it started.

You’ve said that your scholastic education stopped at the age of 12 when you were separated from your parents. Having met you and read your books, I can say, without a doubt, that you’re a very intelligent woman. How did you go about catching up on those lost years of learning after you broke free from the cult in your 20s?

For some things, I still haven’t. There’s a huge difference between intelligence and education and although I’m very fortunate that I have the ability to self-teach through absorption, there are some things that I’m resigned to never grasping. For example, since math for me stopped when I was around 11, I still struggle desperately with math concepts. Math is one of those things that you can’t just skip three years and pick up where you left off by reading a few books. Even though I understand everyday mathematical concepts well enough to, say, manage money, I’m so bad at math in general that even using a calculator I still have to add numbers three times just to be sure I get the same answer twice. I read a lot—I’ve read so many text books cover-to-cover—that in many subjects you could say I’m better read than many people who’ve gone to college. But it’s splotchy and not exactly an “education” in the strictest sense. I couldn’t put it on a resume. I’m still kind of screwed in that regard if this whole writing thing doesn’t work out.

Being a mother, I’m sure finding time to write must be hard. How do you overcome this challenge and do you set out to type a specific number of words every day?

I do have to juggle around their needs and there are times when this is easier said than done, but it’s far easier now than it used to be when they were pre-school and kindergarten ages.  There are also chunks of time, for example during research and promotion—which in my case often means having to travel—as well as key points when contributing to a manuscript in its journey through the production pipeline, that it’s just not possible for me to put new words on a page. My goal, when I’m actually writing, is 1000 words per day, 6 days per week. I don’t always hit it, but that’s the goal.

The Informationist

The Informationist, your debut novel, was a bestseller that was well received by the public and critics alike. How did it feel when James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, picked up the film rights? And will you play an active role in the development of the screenplay?

That was an incredibly surreal experience. I believe the exact words out of my mouth when my film agent gave me the news were, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I heard you right. Do you mean James Cameron as in “Titanic” James Cameron?” Whether or not The Informationist actually gets turned into a movie still remains to be seen. Last I heard he was working on Avatar 2, 3 AND 4. That’s a long wait. Generally speaking authors have no input on any aspect of movie making. There are exceptions—I expect if I wrote Twilight or Harry Potter things would be different—but I really respect James Cameron as a film maker and love what he’s done with the female characters in his films. I trust him and am just as eager as my fans to see what he does with Michael Munroe.

Do you draft an outline before sitting down to write a book or do you start with an idea and see where it takes you?

I’ve done it both ways. With The Informationist it was very much by the seat of my pants and it was probably more of a surprise to me how the story unfolded than it was for my readers. Vanessa Michael Munroe as a character was definitely a by-product of pantsing, because I certainly didn’t have her figured out before I started writing. But it also took me roughly three years to write The Informationist. Granted, it wasn’t my full-time job, but still. I do outline now.  This came about as a matter of desperation—I didn’t know if I could write another book, and I had to prove it to myself by first telling myself the story. But what I found from doing that was that I could write a whole lot faster when I knew what was happening before I actually began.

As it is now, because I work on such tight deadlines, I can’t afford to spend a month or more writing in one direction only to find out it didn’t work and have to go back and start again so I have turned into an outliner. I have heard of some authors making copious notes, writing out family histories for the characters and such, but I have never done that. My outlines are something closer to simply talking out the story to myself, a “tell don’t show” proposition that runs into about thirty pages. Once the writing begins, those thirty pages will turn into about 500 or so, which will be cut down to around 450 and that will turn into a 320-page book, give or take.

The Innocent - Taylor Stevens

My favorite book of yours is The Innocent because the subject matter was fascinating and it featured great emotional depth. Clearly, this was inspired by your experience growing up in a cult. Was writing this novel a cathartic experience for you? 

I actually get this question quite often and it always makes me smile. Drawing directly on my background wasn’t necessarily easy, but I’d long come to terms with and already made my peace with what happened growing up—I don’t think I could have produced the book otherwise. Mostly, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to showcase more of Vanessa Michael Munroe’s skill and badassery while at the same time offering readers access to a firsthand account of cult life that most thriller writers don’t have. If there was any part of the experience that was cathartic, it was in finally being able to give a voice to the hundreds and thousands of kids who were raised like me—to raise awareness of the issues and prejudices we face. There is so much misunderstanding and judgment against us simply because of where we were born and how we were raised, choices that were made by our parents, not us. Our story has been hijacked by the cult, by the media, by sociologists, by basically everyone. It was fantastically satisfying to finally have our story told from our point of view—not some twisted version put out for ratings and sensationalism.

What do you find most satisfying about being an author?

Every day I wake up grateful that I get to do what I do for a living. I consider each additional book to be a stay of execution which allows me, for one more year, to still get to plan my own schedule, spend hours alone in relative quiet, and be able to be available to my children whenever they need me. I’m completely ruined for real life. I don’t know that I could ever hold a corporate job—not that I couldn’t do the work, I just don’t think I could handle the lifestyle that comes with it.

Taylor Stevens - The Doll

In The Doll, you wrote the following line: 

“Munroe focused on the ground, processing. He’d given her what she needed to know, and she in turn had scattered seed that might lay fallow or might, if she was lucky, eventually sprout into saplings strong enough to split the hardened topsoil that kept him as the Doll Maker’s doer.”

As far as I’m concerned, you’re one of the most talented authors when it comes to metaphor usage and this sentence is a perfect example. Do you spend a lot of time coming up with these or do they organically flow out of your writing?

Wow, thanks for the compliment. I’m blushing. My understanding of grammar is still stuck in 5th grade and 5th grade was a long, long time ago so, if you asked me to explain what a metaphor is, I’d probably just give you a blank look. Most of what I write just comes from instinct, from trying to translate emotion and feeling into words that make sense to other people, and then attempting to craft those words with as little corniness and as few reading hiccups as possible.

What’s the most challenging part of writing for you? 

The initial draft, for sure. This is where the actual scenes are fleshed out, the characters are built, and the plot is intertwined. It’s torture. When it comes to the nitty-gritty: action sequences are the hardest, especially when they involve multiple characters. Conversations are the most fun and go the fastest—that’s when the characters get to come alive and their conflicts play against each other.

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Oscar Madison once said, “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” Do you identify with this sentiment or do you enjoy the writing process from start to finish?

Oh, yes, I absolutely identify with that sentiment. So many authors have been credited with that quote, and I’ve heard it used by so many friends, that I’m beginning to suspect it must be a universal truth among writers. Personally, I’m not really what I’d consider a “creative.” I’m far more comfortable with things like spreadsheets and data entry than crafting people and places and lifetimes out of nothing. It’s one thing to be able to make up a story with words, using broad brush strokes, and another entirely to bleed it out on paper in excruciating detail, so for me, developing the first layers of writing a book is incredibly difficult. Editing and re-writing after the initial creative work is finished is much easier and, since that’s the part of writing that makes a crappy story readable, that has worked out pretty well for me so far.

You just completed your fourth Vanessa Michael Munroe book, The Catch. What’s the story’s premise and in what countries is it taking place?

In The Catch, Munroe is headed back to Africa, this time to the north and east where she gets tangled up with a hijacked ship. Readers will have an opportunity to watch how she operates when she ends up in unfamiliar territory where she’s on her own and where she has no prior contacts or connections. And this time—unlike The Doll which entwined two timelines, two casts of characters, and two different plots—there is only one plot and one point of view. In The Catch, it’s pure Vanessa Michael Munroe, all the way.

 

Audible.com Listening Club – Reviewer of the Month

Audible.com Listening Club - Reviewer of the Month.

Audible.com Listening Club – Reviewer of the Month

Today, the Audible.com Listening Club named me its “Reviewer of the Month” for my blog post about Steven James’ audiobook, Placebo. I’m always honored to receive an award, and this is a great group. If you love audiobooks, make sure to check it out.

Movie Review – Evil Dead

Evil DeadEvil Dead is the most shocking, violent and bloody horror film I’ve ever seen. This 2013 reboot of the classic film franchise was produced by the original team behind the 1981 cult classic. I can’t compare Evil Dead to its predecessors because I don’t recall seeing any of them from start to finish, which is shocking since I’m an ardent fan of horror movies. Nonetheless, I can tell you with great confidence that this movie is only meant to be seen by those who don’t mind a lot of gore. If you have a weak stomach, steer clear of this one. However, if you’re game, what you’ll find here is a gritty horror film with excellent acting, terrific cinematography and a compelling narrative. I also enjoyed Evil Dead’s score. Whether it was a tender moment or an adrenaline-infused showdown, the music elevated the visuals and amplified the emotion in every scene. For horror fans with a strong stomach, I can’t recommend Evil Dead enough. It’s one of the most disturbing films I’ve ever seen, and also one of the most satisfying.

Book Review – The Blue Zone by Andrew Gross

The Blue ZoneToday, I finished listening to the audiobook version of Andrew Gross’ first solo novel, The Blue Zone. I’m a big fan of the books he co-wrote with James Patterson, especially Lifeguard and Judge and Jury, and I really enjoyed Gross’ latest book, No Way Back. Now I’m working my way through his solo work and decided to start with his bestselling debut thriller, The Blue Zone. I’m happy to report that it’s a gripping tale that surprised me with its biggest twist and kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering how the story would play out.

My only gripe is that in the first few chapters Benjamin Raab is referred to as “Mr. Raab” for what seemed like 100 times. Every time someone addressed this character, especially law enforcement, Gross felt the need to end each sentence of dialogue with the character saying “Mr. Raab.” For example, here are some sentences I made up to illustrate how “Mr. Raab” was used to death in the opening chapters’ dialogue:

“Where were you last night, Mr. Raab?”

“Oh, how interesting, Mr. Raab”

“Why don’t you just tell us the truth, Mr. Raab?”

“How many times do you think I can say ‘Mr. Raab,’ Mr. Raab?”

It drove me out of mind because it was obscenely redundant. When there are two people talking in a scene, it’s OK to mention each character’s name once, but that’s it. Anything more makes for an irritating read. Why not have the characters refer to him as “Ben” once in a while, or, better yet, not address him at all? What made it worse was the audiobook narrator, who was atrocious. Her shrill voice saying “Mr. Raab” made me want to throw my iPhone out the window. Needless to say, don’t listen to the audiobook version of The Blue Zone – go for the print or e-book version instead.

Now that I got that out of my system, let’s get to the good stuff. After getting past the redundant and sometimes superficial dialogue in the beginning of the book, Gross did a terrific job of developing the lead character, Kate. I liked the periodic breaks in the action where she went swimming and reflected on the chaos around her; these scenes, as well as the ones at her job and with her boyfriend, gave the character emotional depth and maturity.

The big twist that took place toward the end of the book was satisfying because I didn’t see it coming and it was believable. It also tested the characters’ limits and, in some cases, revealed true motives. I don’t want to go into further detail because it would spoil it for you.

Take my advice: Despite its initial flaws, The Blue Zone is a taut thriller by a talented author that’s worth the price of admission.

One of the nice features of the audiobook is it included an interview with the author at the end. Below are some highlights from the interview, as well as a synopsis of the book and a couple videos.

Andrew Gross on The Blue Zone

  • “At some point, I was waiting for another project from Jim [Patterson]. All of the books originated with his outline. And while I was waiting for maybe a week or two longer than I was comfortable with, I starting noodling an idea out that became the foundation of The Blue Zone. And it was also a very fast process where I worked a fairly extensive outline to it, submitted it to my agent and within, literally, four or five days we had a series of publishers looking at it and bidding on it. So, it was very difficult to turn that down.”
  • “It actually had its origins with a dinner party I went to up in West Chester where I met someone who, like the main character, Benjamin Raab, was a jewelry dealer, he was a gold dealer, and absolutely one of the more obnoxious people I ever met. Highly successful. Houses everywhere. His and her Ferraris. Ya know, over the top. And, I guess, about a month later I found out that it had all been a sham and that he was arrested for money laundering, which, at the time, I wasn’t particularly uncomfortable with hearing. But what it struck in me was the chord of how fragile our lives are and how easily not only is it brought down for an individual but for an entire family as well. So, it wasn’t a stretch after that to sort of think of what it would be like if that situation happened in our lives, and, so, that’s basically how The Blue Zone started.”
  • “The Witness Protection Program is interesting, but what I found more interesting was the terror of someone who is left behind, in this case, Kate, our protagonist. And, two, I guess the sense of betrayal one feels when you discover that your family, or your father in particular, isn’t the man you’ve always idolized and trusted your whole life, and I think that that is a terror that almost everyone can identify with. And when you have that stripped away, you strip away your entire emotional protection as well, and this is how Kate has to approach things in the book.”

Synopsis

Everything in Kate Raab’s life seems perfect. She has an amazing family, an invigorating job straight out of college, and a boyfriend she adores. Then a phone call changes everything. Her father, a successful businessman, a man she has always trusted and admired, is in trouble with the law. He’s innocent, he insists to his family, but the only way out, is this: his testimony against his accomplices and the immediate placement of his family deep inside the Witness Protection Program. He accepts, and everyone prepares to go into hiding—until one of them suddenly gets cold feet. In a flash, Kate’s perfect life is gone.

Now, a year later, her worst fears have happened. Kate’s father suddenly disappears—into what the WITSEC agency calls the Blue Zone—and someone very important to him is found brutally murdered. As Kate digs into her father’s life, the shocking truth she finds sets in motion a decades-old vendetta. With her family under watch, with the FBI untrustworthy, and her father’s menacing “friends” circling her with increasing intensity, Kate alone must set off on the life and death journey to find her father, and uncover the secrets someone will kill to keep buried.

Music Review – 15 Minutes by Barry Manilow

15 MinutesBarry Manilow’s 15 Minutes came out in 2011, and, at the time, it was his first album of original material in 10 years. It’s an excellent collection of music filled with dynamic vocals and infectious melodies. If you’re a Barry Manilow fan that enjoyed Here At The Mayflower, you’ll love it. It’s a concept album that follows the story of young man’s rise to fame and fall from grace.

15 Minutes kicks off with a 1-2-3 punch; the title track is a guitar-laden, country inspired, mid-tempo rocker that sets the tone for the album. The second track, “Work the Room,” is a funky song where Barry expertly raps the lyrics. If you’ve ever had to look for a job and go to a networking event, you’ll appreciate this song. “Bring On Tomorrow” rounds out the first three tracks, and it’s a classic Barry power ballad. Filled with beautiful lyrics, a gorgeous arrangement and soaring vocals, this track is one of the best on the album. Needless to say, I love it!

The fourth track, “Now It’s For Real,” is another guitar heavy track that finds the album’s main character realizing that he’s achieved the success he was after. Barry sounds like he had a lot of fun recording this song and it comes through in his impassioned vocal.

“Wine Song” gives the listener an inside view into how the young star’s life has changed. Now he’s surrounded by people who constantly tell him they love him and that he’s beautiful. This, along with the drinking and drugs, foreshadows what’s to come.

The next song is an interesting one because it’s a reworked track from Barry’s Trying To Get The Feeling album from the 1970s. This time around it’s called “He’s A Star,” and it’s a fun upbeat pop/rock song that fits this album perfectly.

The following two songs deal with relationships. “Written in Stone” focuses on the deteriorating romantic relationship that seemed so strong in “Bring on Tomorrow.” It shows that the young star has done a poor job in handling his new-found fame; and, in doing so, he has destroyed a relationship he held so dear. “Letter from a Fan/So Heavy, So High” starts off with a haunting vocal by Nataly Dawn as an obsessive fan, and she does an excellent job. This juxtaposed with Barry’s vocal about becoming tired of dealing with these kinds of fans, effectively shows two different points of view.

The brief track “Everybody’s Leavin,” segues into the following tracks. As everyone starts to desert the star, he literally says “Who Needs You” to those that once supported him and wonders if fame is worth the price in “Winner Go Down.”

“Slept through the End of The World” is a beautiful acoustic song that conjures up visions of a star that’s at the end of his rope. It’s where he comes to terms with the fact that he is no longer the star he once was because he didn’t handle fame the way he should have.

“Reflection” is a beautiful piano interlude that leads into “Trainwreck.” During this song, the performer realizes what went wrong and is ready to start over. He recognizes that what happened in the past is behind him, and he must move forward. This recognition culminates in the reprise of “15 Minutes” where he is determined to do things right this time around.

The album closes with the disco-infused “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right.” It’s a fun track that is reminiscent of “They Dance!” from “Here At The Mayflower.” It’s an infectious pop song that is bound to get stuck in your head.

Overall, 15 Minutes is a solid album. The majority of the songs are excellent, and the narrative is engaging. Barry’s voice is in good form, and the arrangements are top notch. If you’re a fan of Barry Manilow, or just good music, I highly recommend this album. You won’t be disappointed.

Below are live performances of a few of my favorite tracks from the album. Enjoy!

 

Andrew Gross’ No Way Back Coming To ABC

No Way BackThis week it was announced that ABC is working on a television adaptation of Andrew Gross’ latest thriller, No Way Back. The pilot has been scheduled and is being produced by Jessica Sharzer, one of the co-executive producers of FX’s American Horror Story, and Francie Calfo. As you know from my review of No Way Back, I thought it was a very good read, so I’m eager to see how it translates to the small screen. I’ll keep you posted on additional details as they become available.

 

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