Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's Twilight Time Again

There's a 'New Moon' rising for vampire romance and midnight screenings are expected to sell out
By Jacob Bennett
Posted November 18, 2009 at midnight

Sure, there were dozens of teenagers at the theater last year when Kendall Paul went to see the first "Twilight" movie.

But Paul, 38, of Evansville noticed not everyone at the theater was near the age bracket of Bella Swan, the teen heroine of Stephenie Meyer's wildly popular series of books. Bella explores a forbidden romance with Edward Cullen, the cute vampire who may not be able to resist drinking her blood.

"I just thought it was interesting, you're walking in there and there are a lot of teenagers, and a lot of people there my age, too, who were obviously not there with their kids," said Paul, the executive director of the Vanderburgh Humane Society. "(The story) has struck such a chord for so many people, it's going to last for a while. I think it'll resonate for a long time."

The story might be striking different chords for fans like Paul, who relate to the story through a broader range of experiences, than for the teens and tweens who either will have to wait until the weekend or stay up way past bedtime tonight to see the second big-screen installment, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." The film opens at midnight on an ever-increasing number of screens at Showplace Cinemas East and Stadium 16.

Mick Stieler, the general manager for Showplace Cinemas, said he expects to sell out all 18 screens at Showplace East.

Both theaters also are showing the original "Twilight" film at 9 tonight.

The series' mix of fantastic elements and complicated relationships is a hook for all ages, including Jayde Loper, 12, a sixth-grader at Lincoln Trail Elementary School in Lamar, Ind.

"Most of my friends, what they like are the vampires, they have crushes on them," she said. "Some of them like the werewolves. Some of them just like Bella. I think she's more mature than she seems. I think that's kind of interesting. I think they like how Bella falls in love with Edward. Some of them can relate to Bella because she's clumsy and some of them are clumsy. She's not perfect, no one is perfect."

The story's forbidden romance has echoes of Romeo and Juliet, although Bella also is courted by her close friend/werewolf Jacob Black, who has his own loyal fan following. Paul and Jayde were both firmly members of Team Edward, but Laurel Szorcsik, 12, a sixth-grader at St. Benedict Cathedral School, couldn't bring herself to choose.

That's very Bella of her.

Paul said those conflicts can remind older viewers of their own teen angst.

"It gives them a chance to be nostalgic about a time when they were young and making decisions," Paul said.

For the story's youngest fans, it gives clues as to what adventures, hardships and relationships might lay ahead (minus the creatures of the night).

"It makes me think of stuff you have to face in life," Szorcsik said. "It's not going to go too well. It's going to make you go through stuff you haven't felt or done yet, but it's probably going to come up in life."

That's some pretty heavy stuff, and one reason why Paul hasn't yet let her daughter Addison, 11, read the books.

"Plus, I don't need to have a crush on the same character my 11-year-old daughter does," she said.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pour some sugar on me while you still can

By Jacob Bennett

If this sugar shortage is a real thing, I owe you an apology.

I just put, like, eight packets of sugar in a medium coffee. Plus some half and half. And this was just a light blend; don’t ask how much sweet stuff I use for the rich blends at CafĂ© Du Monde.

But if U.S. food companies are telling the truth, someday there could be no sugar tonight in my coffee (or in my tea): A few weeks ago the companies wrote a letter to the U.S. Agriculture Secretary warning that the country could “run out of sugar.”

I get most of my info from Kristi Lee at the “Bob & Tom” news desk, but the Wall Street Journal also wrote about this. Apparently, the food companies want the U.S. government to ease import quotas that artificially inflate blah blah blah disrupted trading patterns blah blah tariffs blah zzzzz…

Sorry. Needed more coffee to wake me up.

The Journal said one company has already raised prices on Kaiser rolls, hamburgers and hot dogs, all of which include sugar. On the bright side, at least now we know one ingredient in hot dogs. I mean besides hog wiener.

During my five minutes of research while borrowing Panera Bread’s Internet, as I also flirted with my waitress--in hopes she would one day give me some sugar--it sounded like there might be enough sweetener for the U.S., if we would just allow it into the country. But it also sounded like they may already be out of sugar in India. And I saw a movie once where giant mutant ants with the power to brainwash humans conquered a sugar refinery in the Everglades…if that’s happening again, that could also put a dent in our sugar supply.

Maybe, just to be safe, we should cut back on sugar. Maybe the next time I have a medium coffee, I could try just seven packets. I read somewhere, perhaps the Washington Post or bobandtom.com, Americans eat too much sugar anyway—22 teaspoons per day. That’s way more than the nine teaspoons men should ingest; women are only supposed to get six.

Yet more proof that boys go to Mars to get more candy bars; girls go to Jupiter to get more stupider.

Ahem. Don’t tell my waitress I said that.

So at this rate of sugar consumption, we’ll get all those diseases sugar can cause, such as tooth decay, obesity, blah blah blah diabetes, blah blah early death, blah zzzz…

Sorry. Coffee me.

All I’m saying is, let’s be careful. If we do all get sick, we definitely don’t want to be out of sugar.

What would we take a spoonful of to help the medicine go down?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Life proceeds at Swift pace for 17-year-old country singer

By Jacob Bennett
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Evansville Courier & Press
Photo by Andrew Orth

Taylor Swift said many artists get a couple of days to soak in their first victories at the CMT Music Awards.

She had eight hours.

The next day she had to take her high school junior year final exams.

"You've got to get back to reality, I guess," said Swift, the 17-year-old budding star whose song "Tim McGraw" won the award for breakthrough video.

"They haven't given me the results yet. I'm sure I passed."

That's because she studied hard on the bus, in hotel rooms, and at airports, as she traveled to festivals, radio appearances and concerts opening for the likes of George Strait.

Now she's on tour with Brad Paisley, the chart-topping singer-songwriter-picker-grinner who was here in 2005 with Sugarland and Sara Evans. Paisley headlines a show tonight at Roberts Stadium.

In addition to Swift, this time Paisley brings former "American Idol" contestant Kellie Pickler and Jack Ingram, a longtime underground country musician who has lately been making a mainstream push -- he's the guy who covered Hinder's rock ballad "Lips of an Angel." He opened here last year for Sheryl Crow.

Swift said she's keeping the promise she made two weeks ago at the CMT Awards: She's bringing the belt buckle-shaped trophy for her customary post-show signing.

She said she doesn't usually get nervous, but there was someone at the after party who made her feel awe -- Jon Bon Jovi.

"He told me that he liked my music and I just about fell over," she said. "I've never known a world without Jon Bon Jovi. Think about it. I was born in 1989. He's a serious icon. I've always looked up to him for his writing, for his performing, for being the first rock star that smiled."

One star she hasn't met is Tim McGraw, the namesake of her breakthrough hit. "I would probably just say, 'Hey, it's nice to meet you,' and see who brought up the song first."

Between tour dates, Swift is about to start squeezing in recording sessions for her second album. She's written 40 songs that will be under consideration, she said. More of them are upbeat than, say, current single "Teardrops on My Guitar," but not all of them.

"My favorite thing to write about is loneliness and sadness," she said. "There's definitely a taste of that on there."

She's going to miss out on her senior year, but she went to high school for two years before leaving this year. She said she went to two proms and made lots of friends, so she got a good taste of the experience.

"I'm not walking away from something that's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. "I hope things continue to go the way that they have."

Dierks Bentley: Grill for the Thrill headliner competes at a higher level

Courtesy The Green Room PR
Country singer Dierks Bentley will perform Saturday night at Roberts Stadium.

By Jacob Bennett
August 9, 2007
Evansville Courier & Press

Three years after his first gig in Evansville, Dierks Bentley is back as a headliner riding a string of top-10 hits, and he still thinks of himself as an underdog.

Wait ... what?

"We're underdogs all over again because we're headlining our own shows and competing against Rascal Flatts and Kenny (Chesney) and (Toby) Keith and (Brad) Paisley," Bentley said. "We've kind of got the underdog status again, and we're working hard to change it."

Bentley is capping off this year's Grill for the Thrill celebration with a Saturday night show at Roberts Stadium, a co-headlining engagement with Gary Allan, a critical favorite and chart topper.

Bentley was just waking up and grabbing some coffee on his tour bus in Sweet Home, Ore., when he phoned to talk about the show.

His first headlining tour comes at a time when critics say country music leans toward pop rock. Although he's had a pretty much uninterrupted run at the top of the charts since "What Was I Thinkin'" debuted in 2003, Bentley could have placed himself above that criticism by pointing out his collaborations with bluegrass artists such as the Del McCoury Band. But he didn't.

"People who complain about Merle Haggard not being on the radio are really living in a different day and age," he said.

"Everyone has their own take on what country means, and all I can do is concentrate on what we do and try to reflect what I think it means.

"For us, it's trying to take some of that old spirit of the gods like Johnny Cash and do it in a contemporary, modern, younger way. That's all we worry about."

That sound includes loud bass, steel guitars and bluegrass influences.

Bentley said he will be in the studio in September to record for his next album. As he tries to stand out in a crowd of country's biggest stars, he will be guided by advice from members of the Del McCoury Band, who are still picking after more than 40 years.

"One thing I learned from those guys was don't try to compete with anyone or trash anyone," Bentley said.

"Your only competition should be the instrument in your hand."

Carlin brings observational bite to Victory

By Jacob Bennett
Evansville Courier & Press
September 16, 2005

Some people wring their hands when they think about the end of the world. George Carlin roots for it.

"The message is, this is a hopeless deal; it's funny, and I watch it for the humor," said Carlin, 68, on the phone this week from his home in California.

"It's out of balance. The world's like that, and the country's like that. It's not a sin to know that and say that. But I just kind of stay separate from the drama and just kind of talk about it the way I see it."

The decline of the human species has kept Carlin busy for almost 50 years now, from the "Tonight" show with Jack Paar to dozens of comedy shows a year to memorable turns in movies such as "Dogma" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back."

And he's not slowing. He's stopping in Evansville on Sunday as he gears up for his 13th HBO special, "Life Is Worth Losing," which will air live Nov. 5. The paperback version of his latest bestseller, "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?," which was banned from Wal-Mart shelves last year, will hit stores next month.

You probably won't agree with everything said by the guy whose "Seven Dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine helped the U.S. Supreme Court figure out what is too indecent for broadcast. But he doesn't really want you to.

"People should come to their own conclusions, and I should be one of the people they're allowed to hear in informing their own conclusions," Carlin said.

"I would think they would want to fall somewhere between what a person like myself would say and what they're told to do. People are told what to do, what to buy, what to think and what to feel, what to believe. It's better if they hear more than one version."

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina proved Carlin's contention that Republicans in government have gotten rid of the "welfare state" to the detriment of their ability to help citizens in need, especially such as those in New Orleans who were too poor to flee.

"How can you cut FEMA's budget when you keep telling people, `It's a yellow alert,' `It's an orange alert,' and `Increased chatter; we're hearing al-Qaida chatter?'" Carlin said.

"If that's not a federal emergency that needs to be managed, Federal Emergency Management Agency, then there ain't any others.

"This guy (former FEMA director) Mike Brown was recommended by an old college buddy who said, `He's a good guy.' `OK, let's put him in there.' It's amateur night; it's just amateur night."

Once Carlin's latest HBO show is done, he'll go through the 2,800 files in his computer and start putting together another special, piece by piece. He has enough source material: Humans don't realize they're destroying their own habitat and "circling the drain."

"The planet lives through everything," Carlin said.

"It'll be fine. We'll be gone. That's OK, too.

"It's just another species. The dinosaurs had it once."

Ronnie Milsap was planning to study law; Ray Charles had other advice

By Jacob Bennett
Evansville Courier & Press
Photo courtesy of Splash! Photography
Thursday, August 23, 2007

In the early 1980s, Ronnie Milsap's record label encouraged him to tilt his country songs toward pop. The result was 40 No. 1 country singles, which puts Milsap behind only George Strait and Conway Twitty.

It was a spectacular string of success for a talented piano player who, because of congenital blindness, had been encouraged to pursue a more stable profession than music. Milsap hasn't had a No. 1 hit in a few years, but he's still recording and still doing what he loves even more than that — performing live.

He's scheduled to play shows Friday and Saturday at Casino Aztar.

He called the Courier & Press last week to talk about having too many hits to play at once, recording with Elvis Presley and how Ray Charles changed his life.

Q: When you play two shows in a town, do you change the set lists up?
I do change them up. A lot of times, we will make a set list, we'll talk about it before the show, and sometimes two or three songs into it we tear the set list up because somebody makes a request. We've got 40 No. 1 songs, and we cannot play them all. We've devised a couple of medleys. They're very inclusive. It plays a couple of minutes of one song and it backs up into a couple of minutes of another song.

Q: Do people ever request songs the band doesn't know?
There have been a couple of those. There was one I eventually got to playing, "The Future Is Not What It Used to Be." (When fans request an obscure song), they may not get the whole band, but I can play it at the piano.

Q: When you're having a record-breaking streak of chart success, do you realize it at the time?
It's kind of like Chet Atkins told me one time. I asked, "How in the world did you plan on all those dates out on the road and produce 30 artists and be the executive head of RCA here in Nashville?" He said, "Ronnie, I honestly didn't even think about it. I just did it."
Even if you just look at the schedule, it looks so overwhelming.

Q: This week is the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death. You recorded with him, didn't you?
I never, ever thought in my lifetime I would get to meet Elvis; he was just the voice in my radio speakers that was just magic. I wound up in Memphis (in 1969) and he wanted me to play on the sessions. He thanked me for hitting that high note on "Kentucky Rain." He wanted some thunder, so I used that left hand of the piano to create that thunder. He pretty much wanted what he wanted on the sessions, and we did it.

It was interesting to be around him because he was the voice of my generation. I got to find out what a sweet, very generous, down-to-earth guy that he really was. It was just like you and I talking right now. He died way too early.
There have been so many people like that that have come through your life. I was told it would be impossible for a blind guy to make it in the music business: "You'll wind up out on the street; you'll fail; you'll be a liability to the state."
When I was 20 I got into a concert and I got to meet Ray Charles in his dressing room. I said, "I love music but I'm on scholarship to study law." He said, "Well, play me something."
There was a piano in the dressing room. I said, "You're the high priest. You're my hero," I played him these three songs. He said, "Well, you can be a lawyer if you want to. But there's a lot of music in your heart. And if I were you I would follow what my heart tells me to do." From then I really started to find a way to make a living in the music business.

Q: You said your record company encouraged you to chase pop success. Which is more pop: country music then or now?
There are folks that have gone way beyond anything that I did. There are some country artists that are pushing the edge of the difference between country and pop music.
You can stay inside the country format today and sell multiplatinum. There was a time when you could not do that. I think every generation speaks for itself and they should. They should have the chance to speak for themselves.
I think there are a lot of good artists that are really setting the woods on fire.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

That's What I Said: Top 10 Episodes of "The Office"

Clearly I put my brainpower to lofty pursuits. In honor of the new fifth-season DVD, I was trying to determine my 10 favorite episodes of "The Office." It was really hard, but this was what I came up with.

1. "The Injury"--Dwight with a concussion, Michael with a foot burned on a George Foreman grill (in bed). The scene where they take Dwight to Meredith's van, and then the ride to the hospital, made me laugh as much as anything ever.

2. "Business School"--Michael's speech is great, the bat is great, and I almost cry every time I watch Michael visit Pam's art show.

3. "Beach Games"--funny episode, but the thing that gets me is Pam walking across the hot coals, and then her big speech.

4. "Office Olympics"--the games are classic ("Flonkerton"), and Michael's buyers' remorse after he buys the condo is classic: "Nobody cares about your stupid beet farm."

5. "Branch Wars"--probably the least realistic good episode of the series, but nothing beats Michael, Dwight and Jim in fake mustaches. Michael is so goofy in this episode, too--love the phone calls he makes to Utica to lure Karen's top salesman, and then when he tries to trade Toby for Stanley ("He's smart, and you can train him...Yech, I can't do it, that was a bluff. Toby is the worst").

6. "Dunder Mifflin Infinity"--two of the best stories of the series--Dwight's John Henry-esque race against the Web site (Angela even breaks his heart at the end!), plus Michael and Dwight trying to win back customers with gift baskets, the perfect gift (except cash baskets).

7. "Casino Night"--Mostly because of Toby's list of reasons why they shouldn't invite a Boy Scout troop to casino night.

8. "The Inititiation"--the deleted scenes actually knock this one into the top 10. Love Ryan's pretend speech to his mom about his 10-year plan as he's walking through the pasture after Dwight abandons him on the farm. Also, the best deleted scene of all time: Michael and Stanley sitting outside together on Pretzel Day.

9. "The Client"--Michael getting drunk with Tim Meadows, then going in with the killer sales pitch = amazing. I believe this is also the one where they act out Michael's screenplay.

10. Ugh, tough call here. I'm gonna go "The Negotiation," where Dwight saves Jim from Roy, and where Michael shares an uncomfortable ride to New York with Toby and Darryl ("It's been a weird day..."). This one barely edges out "Drug Testing," because of Dwight's speech about his ancestors as he resigns after Michael talks him into helping him cheat on his drug test (that was also a great conversation: "Yes, in a cup. We're not animals, Dwight"). Another contender was "Email Surveillance" and the karaoke scene at the end.

My honorable mentions: three episodes of Season 1 ("Health Care," "Basketball," "Hot Girl"), "Sexual Harrassment," "Blood Drive," maaaaybe "Lecture Circuit, Pt. 1," but I need to see it again. Suggestions from facebook included "Diversity Day," "The Dundies" and "Booze Cruise" came up several times.

So, really, this was a top-20 list, a tribute to how good it's been over the years. As my friend Angie put it, "I love this show and all that it is. But at this point I will give you all that I have if you would just get my husband to stop saying 'That's what she said.'"

Friday, May 01, 2009

Dragon-taming drifter seeks cubicle work

By Jacob Bennett

I just can't click "send."

I've been staring at this cover letter for an hour now, desperately wanting to be done so I can get back to my busy schedule of taking online quizzes to determine which plastic army man I am (“bazooka guy”) and brainstorming names for fantasy football teams (“Legal In Sweden,” “Infant Sorrow,” “Dos Equis Guy”).

But unlike the Dos Equis Guy, who could disarm you with his looks or his hands, I’m terrified of sending this correspondence onto its journey into the ether. I would be perfect for this job, and getting it could literally change my life--leading to more money and new, preferably attractive office friends. But if this letter contains so much as a misplaced comma, that’ll put a period on the whole deal.

When there are so many other people like me, out of work and living off your generosity, I can’t afford to blow a good deal.

According to Chicagobusiness.com, the Chicago Tribune recently laid off another 20 percent of its staff, despite just hiring a spokeswoman, who declined to comment.

The few places that are hiring post ads like this:
Are You The Next Great Writer/ Blogger /Journalist Of Your Generation! - (100 Positions Open).

And on job.com, if you search the media/arts section, you get results for “sandwich artist.”

Ah, well, unemployment has its perks: three days in New Orleans, three weeks in Florida, two big chores done at once (cleaning the house and washing the car—get it?).

I’ve finally got time to write that terrible novel that’s been knocking around in my head, and I often did so at a bar on the Florida shore.

The bartender recognized me. “What kind of job do you have that you can just hang out in a bar on the beach all day?”

“I’m unemployed.”

“Me too! I’m a realtor. This guy over here’s laid off too.”

Good times. To keep them rolling, I might go to Vegas next week, if everyone would hurry up and tell me they’re not interested.

But Mom says that’s crazy, that I should just go ahead and get me a job that pays well and has steady hours, full benefits and the opportunity to advance.

I’ll get right on that — maybe they’re hiring down at the Unicorn Farm.

If so, I’ve got just the cover letter.

It uses anecdotes to demonstrate my awesomeness, such as the time I had to get an astronaut on the horn moments before liftoff and the time I tamed a wild dragon and rode it into battle to save some orphans from an army of mutant wildebeests. It also includes references.

I bugged ex-co-workers to read over the letter for the 50th time, just to make sure I didn't miss anything. We tweaked the beginning, middle and end, but each fix brings a potential mistake that could move me one step closer to living in a van down by the river.

But my homeys said the letter looks OK, and I think it looks OK, so I’m just gonna slap on the salutation and send it along. With any luck, I’ll be up to my ears in benefits and discounted unicorn meat.

Deep breath, here goes…click.

Aw, geez.

I hope I spelled her name right.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Unemployment's not cake; frogs aren't dinosaurs

By Jacob Bennett

If this gig in Louisville didn’t work out, the horizon would be as bleak as the surface of the moon.

I’d been cool hand Luke for the first couple of weeks since I’d lost my job, especially since I got three interviews right away.But now it had been a month. I was feeling fragile as a glass menagerie, and this was the last gentleman caller unafraid of my pleurisy.

If they didn’t want me, I would have to give back my house and move in with my parents and die homeless and penniless and 20 pounds overweight, and no one would ever love me.

For a life so full of new possibility, I was out of possibilities. I was fighting with 11 million unemployed people for what little was left.

It’s a helpless feeling when nobody needs the part you make, or wants the food you bake. The mailman still brings the bills. I learned to cut costs: layer up, thermostat down. Cable off. Don’t eat out unless it’s on a co-worker with survivor’s guilt. There's always more shampoo in the bottle.

I needed my savings to buy time. I always say, when life hands you lemons, change everything about yourself. So I turned down one job because the drive was too much and the pay was too little. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I probably would have rejected another job that paid decent but wasn’t what I wanted to do. I never had to make that choice, because that offer never came.

I wanted to work in Hawaii or Nashville or one place in Indy, just because they asked for my favorite movie quote (I ended my cover letter with "good talk, son," but almost went with "Nice try, Lao Che").

But even before my day job quit me, Kentucky beckoned. And since the Playboy Mansion wasn’t looking for a pool boy, this last prospect in Louisville was the kind of thing I wanted to try. After two interviews and a personality test and some ACT-type questions, I didn’t want to leave without a job.

I also wanted the answer to this question:
Frog: dinosaur :: whale : ___
a. mouse
b. fish
c. bird
d. snake

I think I put fish, but I can’t defend the answer. I googled it just now, and nobody else knows either. But I digress.

Another lesson came the day they said they’d make their decision: staring at the phone doesn’t make it ring any faster.

But it can be worth the wait. I’m back on a payroll, before the Indiana Department of Workforce Development could process my first claim. Thanks for the help, guys.

Not that I’m complaining. Every day I take the Gene Snyder Freeway or Preston Highway or Breckenridge Lane or one of those roads I used take back in the day on trips to Louisville, always on the way to something awesome.

First, I had to drive back to Indiana to knot some loose ends. As I traveled the highway through downtown Louisville, the river was murky and the sky was gray. But that one tall building and that other tall building and that one hotel were all lit up in the night, just like this side of the moon.

Maybe the answer is mouse.