Regarding The Castle Theatre, Penny & Sparrow, and Delta Rae

A few years ago I discovered a cool video with a great song called Bottom Of the River.  I tracked down the artists to find they were a young band out of North Carolina called Delta Rae.  I followed them casually for a few years while listening to their music intermittently.

A few weeks ago I saw through a Facebook post that Delta Rae would soon perform at The Castle Theatre, a local venue located in Bloomington, IL.  Though I’d heard fantastic things about The Castle from friends, I’d never personally visited.  I decided I’d probably never have a chance to see Delta Rae again, so I immediately bought two tickets for reserved seats.

Last night (November 30th, 2016) marked what I believe to be their second stop on the Winter Acoustic Tour.  My wife and I could not be more glad we attended their show.

First, let me offer a few words about The Castle.  I have to be honest, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the staff.  The Castle had some very large men working, but they were all incredibly polite and friendly.  Granted, I wouldn’t want to get on their bad side because some of them were the size of small mountains, but they went out of their way to make us feel welcome and even showed us to our reserved seats (which turned out to be stools).  The Castle itself is a historic theatre, and while its age showed, it also oozed charm.  We had front row balcony seats, and though the stools weren’t terribly comfortable, we had a straight view of the stage that couldn’t be beaten.  We definitely plan to visit The Castle again.  If you live in the BloNo area, make a point to take in a show.

You can check out their upcoming shows HERE.

The opening act featured a duo called Penny & Sparrow.  Truthfully – I’d never heard of the guys.  They got up on the stage wearing ugly Christmas sweaters.  One of them had nothing more than a microphone.  The other wielded a guitar with his microphone.  That was it.  No lights.  No props.  Just two microphones and one guitar.  Furthermore, these guys, frankly, did not exactly exude performers, musicians, or entertainers at first glance.  They looked a lot like guys who might be sitting in a booth next to me at a coffee shop.  Well, the minute they started singing, they proved they were supremely talented.  Their voices were powerful, they harmonized seamlessly, and their songs were absolutely beautiful.  It became apparent very soon that their tempo and pace moved slowly, but the lyrics and the melody haunted my wife and me, and I mean that as a compliment.  As a final unexpected act, between songs, they had the audience rolling.  These two men were hilarious.  They said they were best friends, and they way they bantered with each other and the audience, I believe it.  They played off of each other as only real friends can.  It proved really fun to have your soul wrenched during the music and then find yourself laughing uncontrollably when they addressed us.  Get ready for some serious deadpan when you see them.  Make no mistake, you definitely need to see them.  My wife and I immediately downloaded their album on the way home.  We found that we much prefer their “live” sound compared to their recordings.  Again, that’s meant as a compliment.

Oh, and their Christmas music?  (Don’t forget the sweaters.)  Their Christmas songs were a true pleasure.  They even have a new album aptly titled Christmas Songs.

You can visit Penny & Sparrow HERE.

As for Delta Rae – they were amazing.  The folks can flat-out sing.  Though their performance was far more “produced” than Penny & Sparrow with lights, blowing fans, and multiple instruments, those things did not overshadow their magnificent voices.  In fact, my favorite song of the night, O Come O Come Emmanuel, did not utilize a single instrument and showcased the true beauty of their voices.  While they played some of their more popular songs such as Bottom Of the River, they also performed some unexpected works including a little snippet of I Want To Dance With Somebody.  Though they were a little more stiff than Penny & Sparrow and lacked some of their opening act’s spontaneity, Delta Rae absolutely entertained the audience, and, in my case, even awed.  To have such talent – such virtuosity with instruments along with flawless voices – they were inspiring.

I also want to add that this show occurred on a cold, Wednesday night.  The Castle wasn’t even half full.  My wife and I were but a handful of people in the balcony.  I can’t imagine what runs through a band’s mind, especially one that is nationally known, to look out and see an already cozy venue only half full.  But you know what?  To Delta Rae’s credit, they performed as though thousands watched.  Though low-key, even a little awkward, between songs, these talented men and women were explosive when singing and playing.  They practically crackled with energy.  I’m not saying they were slamming into walls and smashing guitars, I’m saying they were clearly giving it everything they had.  I appreciated that kind of passion, respect, and work ethic regarding their art, their performance, and their audience.

You can visit Delta Rae HERE.

If you have a chance to see Delta Rae, along with Penny & Sparrow, I completely recommend you do so.  My wife and I had a wonderful experience with these bands.  They made us completely forget we had work the next morning.  We were absolutely content to listen to them for as long as they wanted to play.

Here’s a little picture I took with my phone.  I wasn’t sure if it was proper etiquette or not, but I wanted a physical memory, you know?

My deep thanks to The Castle, Penny & Sparrow, and Delta Rae for a delightful night.

delta-rae

A Review of Netflix’s Luke Cage

In the beginning, Netflix’s Luke Cage is a phenomenal watch.  Mike Colter is carrying the show, but he’s getting amazing support from Mahershala Ali as Cornell Stokes, Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard, Theo Rossi as “Shades” Alvarez, and Simone Missick as Misty Knight.  We have Cage as an escaped, bulletproof convict on the run, Cornell as a crime lord loyal to Harlem, Mariah as a crooked politician also trying to keep Harlem relevant, Shades as an ambassador to Cornell on behalf of a mysterious “Diamondback,” and Misty trying to keep an eye on each and every one of them as an officer of the law.

As you’ve already heard from those far wiser, the entire premise of a “bulletproof black man” has never been more relevant.  Cage has a heart of gold.  He wants to do the right thing.  He needs to do the right thing.  Colter emits an innate sense of nobility.  In fact, let’s be honest – Mike Colter is Luke Cage.  He’s got the size, the build, the look, and the personality.  He’s also got the undeniable, understated charisma the character has utilized for the past ten years or so.  I think maybe more than any other Marvel actor, Colter fully embodies the character he is playing.

And while the first several episodes are not perfect, they are so entertaining to watch!  Colter’s simmering hero, Ali’s unpredictable temperament, Woodard’s brilliant scheming, Rossi’s utter coolness, and Missick’s authenticity kept the show rolling forward with each actor shining in every scene.

Sure, it’s got some problems in the beginning.  Cliches abound.  The dialogue can sometimes make you cringe.  The story isn’t necessarily fresh when compared even to Cage’s fellow Defender, Daredevil.  But, though the story isn’t fresh, the show most certainly is.  Virtually every actor in this series is a person of color.  I’ve never seen such a diverse cast!  I love that Netflix had the bravery to treat Luke Cage’s world respectfully, authentically, and hired the right actors to enrich it even more.  In my mind, Luke Cage is groundbreaking in that regard.

Unfortunately, bad things can happen to great intentions, and the bad thing happened in Episode 7 that detracted and ultimately ruined the entire series.

(SPOILER’S AHEAD)

When Ali’s Cottonmouth died, the show effectively ended.  It became painfully obvious that Ali could not be replaced as a vital component of Luke Cage, and when he left the show, it suffered.  The actors previously mentioned worked in perfect harmony with each other to create a mood, an atmosphere, a vibe on the show that simply no longer worked without Ali’s Cottonmouth.

Soon after Cottonmouth’s demise, Diamondback appears, and that’s when Luke Cage became almost unwatchable.  In fact, had it not been for Rosario Dawson doing her best to keep the show aloft, I may have completely thrown in the towel.

Without Cottonmouth, each and every character lost his or her way.  The show lost its way.  Diamondback introduced every terrible trope and cliche imaginable.  For example, he uses alien tech from “the incident” to mimic Cage’s strength, though it never explains how he acquired the technology nor how he has enough prowess to adapt it.  Diamondback also uses the alien tech to create “magic” bullets capable of piercing Cage’s skin. Oh, and for good measure, he’s Luke Cage’s heretofore unknown half-brother.  You know what, let’s go ahead and make him spout passages from the Bible as well, because, you know, why not?  Super suit at the end of the series?  Sure thing, even if it does look ridiculous.  And that’s just the beginning, folks.

Furthermore, Diamondback has no investment in Harlem, not like the other main characters, and so when he arrives spouting crazy and using super bullets, the other characters have no choice but to sink to his level.  It’s no longer about their personal stories and how they each must coexist within Harlem, now it’s about dealing with a “super villain” who lives up to just about every awful stereotype you can imagine.

Cage became wishy-washy with an unnecessary backstory way too similar to Wolverine’s.  Misty Knight became a complete contradiction.  Dillard became a nutjob.  And Shades.  Cool, smart, composed Shades.  When with Cottonmouth, Shades was the voice of reason.  He kept Cottonmouth calm, reminding him that Diamondback wouldn’t like Cottonmouth disturbing the natural order of the streets too much.  But when Diamondback actually shows up, he does nothing to make us believe Shades would ever follow such a juvenile lunatic, nor does he match the intellect and competency Shades previously described.

I think Luke Cage went about six episodes too long.  Ending on episode 7 or 8, using Cottonmouth’s murder as the season’s climax, would have been a good idea.  Introducing Diamondback completely altered the soul of the show and, ultimately, ruined it.

Image result for luke cage netflix

A Review of Netflix’s Easy

My wife and I were between shows, so when I saw the addition of Easy to Netflix and read the description, I thought we’d try it, especially because it’s only eight episodes and less than thirty minutes per episode.

It’s an anthology series with the city of Chicago as the common setting of the characters.  Each episode, for the most part, focuses on different people.  Some of these men and women bleed into other characters’ stories, some appear only once.  Some are married, some are lovers, some are family, and some aren’t initially connected at all.

This show is absolutely character and relationship driven.  I personally found the complexities of the relationships authentic, and that’s where much of the comedy derives. People, especially couples, are strange, and this show has no fear exploring the characters’ singularities.

Because each installment ends on an ambiguous note, I think short story lovers will particularly enjoy Easy.  There is a great deal of interpretation required.  In fact, each episode is very much like a short story in that characters are introduced quickly, conflicts arise, change occurs, and then the plot is mostly, if not always clearly, concluded.  And though lots of information is conveyed in a brief amount of time, the episodes always feel evenly paced, organic, and patient.

I particularly appreciated how honest many of the scenes felt.  To some of them my wife and I could very much relate, others made us gasp in horror.  All of it felt well within the realm of possibility, even if not always our reality.  The characters in Easy are very real … I’m willing to bet you know a few of them.

It’s not all perfect, though.  I haven’t researched how much of this show is scripted and how much is improvisation, but there were many times when the actors rambled and seemed unsure of what they were supposed to say next.  If they were going for a realistic, conversational tone, they missed the mark.  When this occurred the actors appeared as though they either didn’t know what they should say next, or that they were trying too hard to convey that they didn’t know what to say next.

Easy is poorly rated on Netflix, which I don’t understand.  I rate it very highly.  The emotional resonance, character authenticity, humor, and loosely related episodes drew me in and kept me interested.

Just be aware that some of the episodes get a little naughty, especially the Orlando Bloom piece.  Put the kids to bed before you make it Easy.

Image result for easy poster netflix

Do You Have a Child In Elementary School? I Have a Request.

I make this request every year, so prepare yourself because I’m about to sound super pretentious, which is way more more than my usual pretentious …

It’s around this time of year that I notice, online, the parents of elementary students discussing teachers they hope their child will get.  Now, I won’t pretend to lie to you — my wife and I have definite opinions about who we hope our children will get, too.

Here’s the thing: I’m a teacher and I’m married to a teacher. We can tell you it hurts when there’s a chance we can have someone’s child and they say they hope their child gets someone else.  Of course, the parent may not mean anything malicious by it, but it’s still hard not to take it personally.

But it can actually get worse.  When a parent’s child gets a particular teacher and publicly states they wish they’d gotten a different teacher — yikes.  That can open a wound that stays fresh all year long. I know teachers are supposed to be above such reproach, but we’re only human.

Anytime something is said on Facebook, Twitter, etc., there is always the potential for it to get back to the teacher in question.

Do I blame you if you’re upset about getting a teacher you didn’t want your child to have?  Absolutely not!  We all have opinions about such things.  I’m just asking that you keep it off social media.  The Internet is already such a breeding ground for misinterpretations and misunderstandings, no need to add to the mix, right?

So, as a teacher, I’m asking you, the parent, to help set the tone for a great new school year.  Even if you don’t like the teacher your child gets, let’s avoid publicly stating you wish you’d gotten someone else.  It will save everyone hurt feelings and lingering resentment.

Okay, I’m switching off “super pretentious” and now going back to “regular pretentious.”  Thanks for reading.

Wonder Woman – Leaving the Boys Behind

So you heard me gush about the Justice League trailer yesterday, and then I saw something that appears even better – Wonder Woman.  If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, prepare to be impressed …

“Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.” Doesn’t the tag line say it all?  We’ve waited a long time for a Wonder Woman movie, but if this trailer is any indication, it was worth it.  Here are a few reasons why Wonder Woman is now the movie I’m most excited to see …

One detail that people may not realize about Wonder Woman is that her origin and story is heavily infused with Greek mythology.  Her mother is literally Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.  Yes, those Amazons.  There are different iterations of Wonder Woman’s creation, but Zeus played a role in them all.  The fact that they name-drop Zeus in the trailer tells me that they are not shying away from this vital, and rich, aspect of Wonder Woman’s character.  And seriously, those magic lasso scenes?  Awesome.  They are going for it!

I am also shocked they are planting her firmly in the middle of World War I.  Batman v Superman certified she hasn’t been seen as Wonder Woman in 100 years, which, by my estimation, means the war scenes in this trailer must be the Great War.  Do you know the courage this takes?  First of all, a comic book movie featuring a female lead has not exactly proven a successful endeavor, but to also make it a period piece?  I love it.  The Wonder Woman team has no fear, and that’s exactly what you need to make a great Wonder Woman movie.

Speaking of no fear, Wonder Woman is one of the most powerful entities on the planet.  She’s a warrior-born, the best of a warrior race.  I love the battle scenes in this trailer because they put that on full display.  She takes on a battalion of enemy soldiers using mortars and machine guns with her sword and shield!  That moment of her climbing the ladder from the trenches … mesmerizing.  You don’t get much cooler than that.

Let’s face it – there’s a lot riding on this movie.  Not only does it need to make money to secure a sequel, to bolster the shared universe they’re trying to build, and to recoup their expenditures, but it also needs to fulfill an incredible void in the super hero cinematic world.  Little girls need more than just Black Widow (who is awesome, of course).  Wonder Woman is an icon on par with Batman and Superman, and little girls need her.  They need a hero with whom they can relate, who can inspire them, who can show them that they don’t need to stand behind or next to the boys — they can take the lead and leave the boys behind!  Compared to the male-dominated movies of the last fifteen years, this will be a breath of fresh air.  And let’s face it — boys could stand to see a tough, self-reliant, intelligent woman on screen who isn’t there merely to serve as a love interest or sex object.

Finally, the majesty.  The cinematography of this movie looks majestic.  Gal Gadot emits a regal aura.  Her costume absolutely looks like the garb of an Amazonian princess.  The colors are rich.  The scenes are epic.

Plainly stated, it looks beautiful and feels full of heart.  “Power.  Grace. Wisdom.  Wonder.”  Absolutely.

 

 

5 Reasons I’m Excited About That Justice League Trailer

Yesterday fans rejoiced as the first sneak peek arrived pertaining to the Justice League movie.  In case you somehow missed it …

 

I’m a 40 year old die-hard DC fan, so you knew I’d love it.  I won’t even pretend to be objective about things.

Here are 5 reasons I’m delirious with excitement …

1.  The Look –  I love that the costumes are all very distinct from each other, yet, when seen together, they mesh perfectly.  It’s so important that Batman’s costume looks plausible next to the Flash’s, and I believe they’ve accomplished this perfectly.  Yes, it’s true that some of the costumes are radical departures from the source material, yet in this new shared DC Universe, they are consistent and cohesive with what’s already been established.  Best of all, they appear as though a comic book has come to life without looking “campy” or overdone.  In fact, other than the Flash, I think all of the costumes are fairly restrained.  Is the Flash’s look a bit too much?  Maybe, but I have a feeling it’s going to be the result of Barry Allen’s technical prowess displayed in the trailer.  Remember, he has to deal with incredible friction and debris as he runs.  The comics rely on an “aura” to protect him as he runs, but the movie counterpart may not be so fortunate …

 

2.  The Theme –  Man Of Steel established a theme that was also on full display during Batman v Superman – loneliness.  Batman is forever the orphan.  Superman suffers alienation due to his extraterrestrial origin and his resulting abilities.  Wonder Woman has chosen to leave mankind behind for over one hundred years.  Heck, in the new trailer, the Flash comes right out and says that he needs friends.  I think it’s fitting that the Justice League movie seems to be as much about uniting and overcoming loneliness as it is about an overwhelming threat.  It is by no accident that Batman is the one on the recruitment drive.  Though he touts himself as the ultimate loner, he actually has a rich history of trying to construct a surrogate family.  Plus, it builds off of the end of Batman v Superman.  Batman wants to honor Superman by bringing heroes together to continue what Superman started and defend humanity.

 

3.  The Tone –  While I loved Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, I’m the first to admit that they were serious, perhaps even dark, movies.  Other than Perry White and Alfred, nobody cracked wise very often.  Of course, we have to keep in mind that neither Superman nor Batman are known for their one-liners.  With the Justice League trailer, the tone certainly feels epic, but it also feels substantially lighter.  Not a comedy, of course, but willing to offer a bit of levity every now and again.  Truthfully, even Shakespeare realized the importance of throwing in a chuckle or two for the audience.  I think it’s great that Bruce Wayne had some of the most entertaining lines.  The fish comment to Aquaman, the exchange with Wonder Woman – Bruce seems a man more willing to enjoy himself.  But, obviously, Barry Allen steals the trailer.  To fans of DC, Barry Allen is the light of the DC Universe.  He’s a good man with a good heart.  He tries to do the right thing.  He does not take himself too seriously, and though he’s not outright funny, he’s willing to look at the lighter side of things.  The Flash is greatly needed in this shared DC Cinematic Universe, as the trailer clearly establishes.  His impact is immediate.

 

4.  The Actors –  My wife, who is in no way invested in these characters, actually commented today about how Gal Gadot seems perfect to play Wonder Woman.  Besides her obvious beauty and the fact she served in the Israeli army, she seems to possess an air of royalty befitting the character.  Ben Affleck has the sheer size of Bruce Wayne, but he also encompasses the anger, arrogance, kindness, and intelligence of the character.  Jason Momoa’s take on Aquaman seems perfect and I personally love the direction he’s taking the  king of the seas – he’s a true force of nature.  Ray Fisher clearly shows the man under the metal with Cyborg, which is key to the character.  We didn’t see much of him, but I can’t wait to see more.  Truthfully, Ezra Miller had the greatest feat to accomplish in my mind.  The world loves Grant Gustin’s Flash, as it should.  In his few moments of the trailer, Miller depicts an equally likable Barry Allen.  His Allen seems far more erratic and twitchy, but just as endearing and charismatic.  Though Gustin has had far more time to establish himself, Miller seems to have captured the genuine goodness of Barry Allen.  I love how Miller is constantly looking around as he talks.  Remember that the Flash can live between the gaps of a second.  As he looks away while speaking, I think Miller is establishing that he’s thinking about a great many other things as he’s trying to carry on a conversation.  This take on relativity will be really fun to explore.

 

5.  The Potential – Leaving Superman out of this trailer seemed a wise decision.  The ending of Batman v Superman obviously leaves a great many things to reconcile, and I’m hoping Justice League not only addresses the looming threat of Darkseid, but also the unresolved Superman story line.  Allowing the Justice League to thrive without the ultimate ace in the hole (Superman) is the perfect way for these new heroes to prove their mettle to the audience and, consequently, garner interest in their solo adventures.  Forcing them to work together without the aid of Superman will allow for great conflict and chemistry.  Plus, when Superman returns, as you know he will, there is potential for him to even once again feel alienated as the team is already established and he must play catch-up.

There is no doubt that Marvel has clearly won the world over with their comic book movies and wrote the book on sharing a universe for their icons.  And while I wish DC and Warner Brothers had gotten their act together sooner, it may be a blessing in disguise.  By taking their time and making sure the right people are involved, they appear to be swinging for the fences with each outing.  Personally, I am ecstatic for what the future holds.  But remember, like I said earlier, I’m a lifetime DC fanboy and am in no way objective about these characters.

 

 

How To Contact Your Central Illinios Legislators Concerning Elementary PARCC Tests

I wrote an article called “Elementary PARCC Testing: Stand Up For Your Children” a few days ago that seemed to resonate with parents of young children in particular, so I thought I’d share with you the means to contact your local legislators if you’d like to voice an opinion concerning the PARCC.

Of course, my issue is that my eight year old will be required to take the PARCC exam to prove her college readiness while the high school students are not mandated to take the test any longer because, according to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois officials determined it wasted too much class time.  I think it also wastes too much class time at the elementary level, especially because the elementary students are already taking the MAP exam three times a year.  Don’t you agree the MAP exams should provide the state with more than enough data concerning your elementary student?

You can visit the Regional Office of Education #17 website by clicking HERE  for a complete list of your legislators’ contact information.  Bear in mind that they only provide street addresses, but I believe hand written (or typed) letters carry greater weight than an email.  They illustrate stronger resolve.

If you’re like me and feel that the ISBE is doing a disservice to our elementary students by making them continue the PARCC while the high school students do not, please contact your local legislators.  As always, I urge you to do so politely, respectfully, and articulately, but assertively nonetheless.  As a high school teacher, I absolutely believe in the power of public education and I have no doubt that the vast majority of teachers and administrators want the best for our students.  Sometimes, though, things get a little complicated for teachers and administrators and it’s up to the parents of children to enact change at the legislative level.  Please join me in doing just that.

ROE List