December 25, 2005

It's not easy being green

Well today the SNU and I went to see something green, but it wasn't a tree. We were two of the few in DC who scored tickets to Wicked at the Kennedy Center. What's more appropriate for a Christmas Eve afternoon than watching a musical about flying witches?

Now let me preface this by saying that the musical is approximately 15% like the book of the same name written by Gregory Maguire. So if you've already read it, I suggest preparing yourself by reading the musical synposis first. Otherwise you'll be scratching your head, asking questions like, "Why isn't Fiyero blue?" Here's a list of the few similarities:

  • It's the story of what happened before Dorothy came to Oz.
  • There are characters who include Elphaba (the "wicked witch") and Galinda ("the good").
  • Elphaba and Galinda were schoolmates.
  • Elphaba has a love affair with a man named Fiyero.
  • Her sister, Nessarose, has a disability.
  • Elphaba has a book of spells called the Grimmerie, and uses it to create flying monkeys.
...and that's about it. Seriously. Yes, I know if you read the book you're confused. So was I. Luckily I had indeed read the synposis first, so I wouldn't be disappointed.

We had the joy of sitting in front of a grandmother and her two children, who were about the most poorly behaved theater patrons I've ever been around. Man, how I love matinees. *eye roll* Apparently these kids thought that the Kennedy Center was one giant snack bar, and that we would all appreciate them chewing, smacking, and opening packages throughout the show. Stupid rugrats.

But I digress. How was the show itself? Basically I liked about half of it.

The parts I enjoyed were those between the two leads. Galinda is the ditzy blonde with all the comic relief, but she has a pure heart that finds deep friendship with a certain green goddess. Elphaba is a woman who's led a tough life, but comes to realize all she's worth as she fights for social justice. The songs these two sing are the best ones ("Popular" and "Defying Gravity," in particular).

For this tour, Galinda is played by Kendra Kassebaum, who I had the pleasure of seeing last year in the Broadway show Assassins as Squeaky Frome (she was originally an understudy, but was full-time in the role by the time I saw it). In this show she was silly fun, and a real joy to watch. She was really able to showcase her talent more than I got to see in the previous show.

Now we were supposed to see Stephanie Block as Elphaba, whom the SNU and I had seen play Liza Minelli in the original cast of The Boy From Oz (Ironic, no?). But instead we saw her understudy, Maria Eberline. Fortunately, Eberline was a natural, and sang the hell out of her part. You could have fooled me that she didn't do that role every night!

Also of note in the cast was Jenna Leigh Green as Nessarose. She may not be a big star, but considering she played archnemesis Libby Chessler on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, she's huge in my book! Her part in this show is small, but I thought she was great. (I can't seem to find a pic I can download, but this is a good shot of her.)

The other thing that I really enjoyed was the sets/lighting. The overarching theme was clock wheels, like the center of the big dragon clock featured in the book. The lights are all sorts of fun colors, particularly the green that's the focus of the Emerald City. But the crowning moment is when Elphaba "flies" at the end of act 1. It's really not a big effect - she's up in the air, and a large piece of black fabric around her looks like a giant skirt. But it's the lighting shooting from every direction that really makes her appear to...well...defy gravity. It's hard to describe, but that one moment was nearly worth the price of admission.

What didn't I like? Well pretty much everything else. The choreography was cheesy and out of place (not to mention it's been done 1000 times before). The ensemble songs were dull and uninventive. At times it was like we were watching a rehash of Les Miserables. The costumes were a mish-mash of styles. Sure it's a fantasy world, but even in Oz you'd hope there was a Michael Kors or something.

And I wasn't too crazy about the secondary characters. The Wizard was wimpy, and Fiyero was about as passionate as Eeyore. But considering the material they had to work with, it's hard to blame them to heavily.

So all in all, is this show worth seeing? Yes. Go to see the great story that is the friendship of Elphaba and Galinda. Is it worth buying scalped tickets just to see it during a limited run when you could just as easily go to New York? No. Worth seeing, but also worth a wait. In the meantime you could always buy the Broadway soundtrack to catch the highlights. You can enjoy the stylings of Idina Menzel, or as I like to call her, Mrs. Taye Diggs.

Happy holidays, everyone!

December 17, 2005

All I want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas are two things.

First, I would like a baby panda. No, not a stuffed one. I want a real one...maybe one that looks like this guy. I will name him Butterstick.

Now I admit that seems a tad impractical. But my second wish isn't any easier to shop for. I would like two cowboys. Specifically those that are bicurious with a propensity for long "fishing trips."

OK, so I'm sure it's no surpise to you that I'm talking about Brokeback Mountain. The SNU and I caught it tonight, and let's just say it's so well done that I had to come home to tell you just that.

If you haven't heard the plot, basically it's the story of two cowboys who are hired to tend a sheep flock for a summer on Brokeback Mountain. The cold nights eventually force them together, and they suddenly feel lust take over. What follows is a burgeoning love story - in a place and time where that love is impossible. They don't have the words for how they feel, they just know that it's real. And while one pushes to take a risk and stay together, the other knows that society won't let them.

What follows is how the different paths each man takes both end in unhappiness. Marriage, children, affairs, divorce. You know from almost the first moment that this is one film about love that just isn't going to end happy.

The strength of the movie is definitely in the acting - Heath Ledger is absolutely uncanny as man-of-few-words Ennis, while Jake Gyllenhall is full of heated tension as a man who wants the one thing he can't have. There's also a surprising turn of good performances from the women playing their wives. Michelle Williams (of Dawson's Creek!) plays a wife who knows too much, while Anne Hathaway (I can't believe I saw the Princess Diaries' boobies!) is the opposite - a woman who ignores it all with cool detachment.

Now all that is great, no question. But the film is also visually stunning - the real-life mountains of Alberta stand-in as Wyoming. There is so much colorful beauty, it's a nice reminder that there are still a great many untouched landscapes on this continent.

And the direction is superb...because it's so understated. Ang Lee was the director who brought us the amazing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (featuring the gorgeous Michelle Yeoh), and then followed it up with royal stinker The Hulk (notable mostly for introducing us to that fine piece of meat, Eric Bana). This film cements him back as a man who has a great sense of letting a scene speak for itself. He's famous for giving almost no direction to actors, and in this case it's a huge payoff - he doesn't need to. Ledger is able to communicate more in a few simple grunts than Nic Cage does in two hours of babbling.

The final scenes of this movie are so very heart-wrenching. I wanted to cry, but it was so painful I became numb. It's all so very tragic...ugh, it hurts just to think about it.

So go see this movie. It's not a "gay movie." It's a film about love that's found in the most unexpected place, and how it fights to still exist.

I predict some serious Oscar haul this spring. Ledger will be fighting Phillip Seymour Hoffman tooth and nail for Best Actor. And I'm certain that Ang Lee and the film itself will be serious contenders.

If you do see the film, please comment here - I'm very interested to hear what you think.

In more humrous news, I think you'd enjoy seeing this little post about the changing hairstyles of Anne Hathaway in the movie!

December 14, 2005

The best strange award show of the year

As mentioned here by Sterfanie, the Golden Globe noms are out for this year.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Globes. On the one hand, they are awards given out by an obscure group (the Hollywood Foreign Press Association - HFPA), they divide their categories up in odd ways (like every supporting performance on TV is pitted against each other), and the awards often go to some real head-scratchers. But on the flip side, it's a real fun party, and when stars get drunk it can be a hilarious display. It's worth it just to watch Sharon Stone embarass herself.

And the nominees are...

No big surprises on the nominations, although I don't recall hearing previously that Woody Allen's film was a big deal. But I think this is a case where the HFPA loves him no matter what he does. Even if it involves sleeping with his underage...ick.

Conventional wisdom is that the main actress awards will go to Felicity Huffman and Reese Witherspoon. I think for the men it's more of a toss-up. I can see a showdown between Heath Ledger and Phillip Seymour Hoffman for drama. Best dramatic film will most likely go to Brokeback Mountain.

What's really laughable is that Walk the Line is in the "Musical or Comedy" categories. Are you kidding me? Yes, the film has music. But I wouldn't call it a musical, and it's so not a comedy. No matter, if it means that this film walks away with a bunch of awards, then that's fine with me.

On the TV front, it's good to see Eva Longoria finally getting a little recognition. I'd say she's easily the funniest woman on Desperate Housewives this season, although you know I love me some Marcia Cross. Just not Teri Hatcher again, please.

All 3 of my main dramas get nominations - Lost, Grey's Anatomy and Commander In Chief. Here's hoping the islanders walk away with this one.

The one disappointment for me was the supporting category, which is always a crapshoot when you lump together series, miniseries and TV movie actors. For the women, I'm all about Sandra Oh getting a nom, because she is pretty fabulous. But how can you deny that Chandra Wilson is the best actor on that show? If you didn't see her performing surgery while being very pregnant last week, you have not lived.

For the men, let's hope Naveen Andrews finally gets some kudos for Lost. I know that will make a certain woman in Wisconsin very happy.

December 13, 2005


You'll notice that on your right there is now a list of some of my favorite blogs and other links. I'm becoming a wee bit HTML-savvy.

There are other sites I go to daily, but ones that you could easily find, so I won't waste space here for them (i.e. CNN, Washington Post).

I'm always looking for new things to check out, so if you have any suggestions for your own favorite links, feel free to share them here!

December 12, 2005

Commercial rant

OK, so I know that this is a bevy of posts in one day. But I had a lot to catch up on, and the SNU was needling me to get with the program. After all, how will I ever have a blog quoted in the Washington Post Express like Sterfanie, if I don't make loads of wry commentary?

And so I return to my favorite thing to rant about...bad commercials.

My latest is without question the one for a cell phone - can't remember if it's Cingular or Sprint. Anyway, in it there's this dumb blond chick who extolls the virtue of her cell phone offering her the chance to delete a phone number from her phone list. Now seriously - have you EVER had a cell phone that didn't do that? This bitch is all, "I don't even know who he is any more. David who?" Seriously, I hate this girl. And it just furthers the stereotype of women who get completely wrapped up in men to the point that they forget themselves. Also, she has bad fashion sense.

I also hate that Fox has already started commercials for American Idol. And I hate that those commercials will not change and will be on TV every 15 minutes for the next month.

And while I'm at it (boy, I'm really on a roll here) have you seen that annoying Toys R Us (I refuse to write the "R" backwards) commercial where the guy is shaking boxes and keeps saying, "FURBY! FURBY!" He is a complete idiot, and should be taken to prison and put in a padded cell.

I'm sure I'll think of more, just give me time. It was a slow week for TV.

Auf wiedersehen, you crying pile of muslin!

And now, dahlings, I must tell you about one of my favorite shows, which just had its season premiere. So hit the catwalk in your best pair of Pradas - it's Project Runway! For the uninitiated, let me spell it out for you.

Runway features a group of actual fashion designers who haven't "hit it big." So they compete each week in challenges where they create a garment, which is judged, and someone is eliminated each week. The ultimate goal is for the top 3 finalists, who have the opportunity to show their collection during Fashion Week in New York City. And one of those finalists will win all sorts of things, including a boatload of $$$ to start his/her own line. The judges vary, but include stalwarts Michael Kors (fulfilling the bitchy queen quotient) and Nina Garcia of Elle (fulfilling the tough lady with accent quotient). It's all hosted by Heidi Klum (or should I call her Heidi Klum Seal?) with assistance from mentor/advisor Tim Gunn, the silver fox.

This season got off to a rollicking start, as they went through the usual American Idol-type casting calls in four cities, followed by a quick challenge to cut the wheat of 2 from the chaff of the 14 final contestants. They each had to design a garment made with yards of muslin - unbleached cotton. Anyone who's done theater set construction knows about muslin - it's popular to use as a background; you stretch it over a wooden frame, and it's easily painted.

Then came the first "real" challenge, which was divine - the designers were all invited to a party with Heidi, where they were then told they had to design an outfit with only the clothes on their backs. Delicious! The eventual outfits ranged from hot to sublime to tattered to trashy.

The eventual outcome (stop reading now if you don't want to be spoiled)...

...came down to the rags Andrae put together, the outdated rock-n-roll outfit of Kirsten, and Zulema's dress - which showed more ass than a gay porn star. At this point Andrae has a complete breakdown on stage. It was truly laughable - he's bawling his eyes out because...I don't know why. Seriously - does anyone know why? Was he exhausted? Were his jeans the ones given to him by his first lover? Was the shirt the same one his mother brought him home form the hospital as an infant in? Can I remember not to end a setence with a preposition? What for?

Anywho, eventually it was Kirsten that went, because she was unwilling to include her prized Hermes scarf in her design. Amateur. Nick used his little undies - how about that? (Speaking of which - Nick, me, and a changing room. I'm just saying.)

So all this is to say that Runway is a truly great show, and you have to tune in to watch it. You have not lived until you've heard Heidi say in her heavily-accented English, "You ahr eizer een or you ahr owt." Oh, and this season she is waaaaaay pregnant. So catch all the latest in maternity wear. I just know they're going to have a challenge where the models have to wear those fake pregnancy belly things, and the designers have to work around it. I picture one of those stick-thin beauties breaking in half as she walks the runway...

In other news, I'm now hooked on podcasts (thanks, SNU), and one of those (b-Talk) piqued my interest in America's Next Top Model. So I proceeded to watch 3 consecutive hours of reruns on VH1 as a result. And I enjoyed it. Bitches! Tyra is really pretty darn fabulous. Maybe all reality shows should be hosted by supermodels. Survivor...with Naomi Campbell! Go on The Amazing Race...with Rachel Hunter!

Go for the gold

Yes folks, that means that Oscar season has officially begun. There were certainly some early entries (like last month's Capote and Rent), but now is when it kicks into high gear. And as I do every year, I will make an attempt (in vain) to see every nominee possible. Why? Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment. Each year the Academy challenges me to see even more films than the year before, and I answer with a hearty, "HA! I can do it!" Then Oscar night rolls around and I'm lamenting how many I missed. *sigh* It's a tough road, but I feel as a gay man it is my duty.

So this past weekend, the Significant Non-Ursine (SNU) and I decided to at least get a jump on things and take in a couple movies, as the biggies aren't in full release yet. Our first was Walk the Line - a biopic of perpetually funeral-clad Johnny Cash. I'm not really sure what I expected; I've never been a country music fan, and Cash was always that old guy who showed up occasionally on Hee Haw when I was growing up. But I must say it was very compelling. Yes, in many ways it felt like I was watching last year's Ray all over again - the drug abuse, the womanizing, the crash followed by redemption. Yet this film was rooted in the incredible work of the two leads - Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

What's impressive is how well they both emulate their real-life counterparts, while adding their own touches. Witherspoon is especially impressive, probably because I still can't get her bubble-headed pink lady from Legally Blonde out of my head when I look at her. But they sing their own songs and everything - pretty darn well, I might add. On the whole I found the movie to be a bit long, but I was definitely glad I saw it.

This year's holiday present to make up for the loss of legions of Lord of the Rings fans is from the Chronicles of Narnia. The film is based on the second book in the series of seven, and the most popular - The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I won't retread the basic plot, as I'm sure you've heard it before.

So I went to see it with the SNU and Ms. Joyous. They liked a point. I however, loved it. Now I admit that I have a severe bias, because the Narnia books were a major facet in my life as a young reader. I've read them all a couple times, and this particular one even more (three times, I think).

The first thing one must do when watching the movie is to accept that C.S. Lewis wrote the book as part Christian allegory. It doesn't take a genius to figure out the Aslan = Jesus / Jadis = Satan metaphor. Betrayal, sacrifice, resurrection, etc.

What enchants me about the books (and the film) is the sense of fantasy and childhood wonder, which was Lewis' other major goal. The first time in the movie when young Lucy turns around and sees that she is no longer in the wardrobe but in an enchanted winter wonderland...well let's just say I'm glad I had a pile of napkins stuffed next to my Cherry Coke.

The real fun is the White Witch, played by Tilda Swinton. She comes off as a seductress war Amazon, clad in a ridiculously large gown, with dreadlocks intertwined, and an ice crown that appears to actually grow out of her head. She's just divine!

Also of note is James McAvoy as the faun, Mr. Tumnus. He's really adorable, and I confess that I may or may not have had naughty thoughts about him. What? He was half-naked with a hairy chest and an accent! That's my thing!

Setting aside those dirty musings, I thought it was great fun, and I do hope that the studio will greenlight the next film, which will be based on book 3 - Prince Caspian. (For those confused, the first book is a sort of prequel, called The Magician's Nephew.)

November 28, 2005

Two Schools

Catching up on a busy week with reviews of two very different schools.

The first is Hogwarts, the site of the fourth Harry Potter film - The Goblet of Fire. This is the first foray into PG-13 territory for the series, and rightfully so. The book is much bigger and much darker, and I'm happy to say the film is a great adaptation. There is a dark (and rather scary) confrontation with Voldemort, while the spectre of adolescence descends on the students. The funniest and most touching moments in the film come from these teenagers, as they stumble through love and other pitfalls. It's interesting to see how the actors are growing up (some are already hot - hello, Hermione!), and their acting chops have improved as well.

Unfortunately due to the book length some parts were inevitably cut. The first 20 minutes of the film zoom past at an alarming rate - covering at least 200 pages of text! So fans of Quidditch will be rather disappointed.

Meanwhile, this past weekend the SNU and I took a jaunt up to NYC (reminder to self - don't drive to NYC on a holiday weekend). After perusing our options at the TKTS booth, we opted to go see my first play on Broadway after years of musicals (shut up, I'm gay). The winner was "Doubt" at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

This play takes place at a Catholic school in 1960s New York. It features just four characters. A charismatic priest who may or may not have molested an African-American altar boy, the head nun/principal who is determined to bring him down, the novice nun who first noticed suspicious behavior, and the mother of the boy in question.

That's the premise, and the play is really quite simple. It brings about the question of who you choose to believe. You also witness the crisis of faith the nuns have, and the struggle a mother goes through in order to protect her child.

All four performances were stellar, and I loved the simplicity of the script. The whole thing wraps up in about 90 minutes with no intermission, and the audience never receives the true answer as to what happened.

This production won a bevy of Tony Awards this year, and rightfully so. It's one of the best plays I've seen in years. If you find yourself in New York, I highly recommend it!

November 19, 2005

Artistic Freedom

Last night the SNU and I went to our second helping of the modern dance subscription series at the Kennedy Center. This weekend features the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. For those unfamiliar with the company, let me sum it up. Years ago, Bill T. Jones (a tall wiry African-American virtuoso) met and began dancing as a duo with Arnie Zane (a short White Jewish force of nature). They fell in love and began a partnership in both love and dance. Later they both learned they had HIV, and in 1988 Zane died of AIDS. My favorite work of Jones' is "Still/Here", which was a collaborative project about terminal illness. Jones did workshops around the country with people who had cancer, AIDS, and other maladies, and turned their emotions and words into a fascinating evening-length work. It was later illuminated in a documentary by PBS' Bill Moyers.

The performance we saw was a new work (which premiered two months ago) called "Blind Date". This new evening-length work is a multi-media extravaganza, with several screens showing slides of definitions, morphing faces, and videos of the dancers. Meanwhile there was an actor speaking much of the text from the slides. There were also spotlights being wheeled around, and huge yellow ducks. Yes, that's right...ducks.

First let me say that I think the title doesn't work. For awhile I thought I had a handle on it - was it about how on a blind date you reveal basic facets of who you are to a complete stranger? But that theme seemed to devolve quickly.

Other themes emerged and were much clearer. The piece is clearly (in part) a meditation on war, and the part that religion plays in it. It is also about identity, and how society perceives us. It's about sex, and how that is dissected by politics and the Bible.

But most of all I believe that it's a response to a sort of challenge Jones received from a friend. The friend said he wanted to see "more rage on the stage." So the work Jones has created is full of rage - chaotic, desperate, passionate.

Unfortunately this piece has too much chaos - there were many times where far too much was happening at once, and as an audience member you could barely focus on even one thing. The cacophony of sound, light and movement became numbing. I also think that this type of rage isn't realistic. To me, rage is clear, directional with a unified purpose.

Yet amidst all this chaos, the ten dancers were beautiful to watch. Jones' style is fluid, loose and risk-taking. Dancers flung themselves to the floor, flopped around in bridge poses, or marched in organized lines. They ran to each other to be held in lifts. And they supported each other when someone would make a trust fall. (There was also a performer who bore an uncanny resemblance to Sayid, minus the chest hair.)

So overall I did enjoy the performance, mostly because the dancing was so excellent. But I would prefer to see the company in another work that has more unity of vision.

UPDATE - the Washington Post review is pretty spot-on.

525,600 Minutes

Through a little luck and a healthy dose of good connections, the SNU and I were invited to a special preview screening of Rent, the movie. We were accompanied by a couple work friends and Lady B.

In short, the film is fabulous but not perfect. Considering what a Herculean task it is to convert such a beloved rock opera into a screenplay, I'm very forgiving! We all left in tears (the good kind), and humming our favorite tunes.

The highlights:
  • any scene with Jesse L. Martin
  • Rosario Dawson performing the hell out of her role and helping me forget the truly awful Daphne Rubin-Vega from the original production
  • Wilson Jermaine Heredia portraying Angel with winking glee, particularly when "she" gets drunk
  • Santa Fe being performed in the most entertaining subway car ever
  • Maureen's hilarious performance art (watch the TVs)
  • La Vie Boheme
  • the fact that when two lesbians fight, it's often hot and passionate (think The L Word)
The lowlights:
  • Roger doing a Bon Jovi "Living on a Prayer" impression in pseudo-Santa Fe
  • a couple crucial scenes being cut, like Goodbye Love
  • not enough Taye Diggs (I know he's the villain, but he's so frickin' adorable)
All in all this is my first must-see film of the year. I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I'm sure I'll end up seeing it again!

November 13, 2005

Don't make fun of the man's lisp

Yesterday the SNU and I took in what was probably my first film to kick off Oscar season. We went to see Capote, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the title character.

In short, it was very good. Incredible acting throughout, stark wintry landscapes, and costumes that are appropriate to the time. Hoffman (whom I have a wee crush on) plays Capote with full-on lisp, always with a drink in hand. The film focuses on Capote's efforts over a four-year period to write In Cold Blood - the non-fiction account of the brutal killing of a Kansas family. By his side is childhood friend and research help Nelle Harper Lee, who just happens to write her own novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. She's played by the always wonderful Catherine Keener.

Expect this film to receive at least a couple Oscar nominations, possibly more. And go see it.

My rant for today is movies in which actors wear fat suits. They trivialize the real struggles of those who battle their weight. It's silly, insulting, and predictable. Man is fat and unloved, man loses weight, man gets the girl. (Or reverse the genders, same premise - remember Shallow Hal?) The latest crime in this horrific trend is Just Friends, which stars the always-annoying Ryan Reynolds. May it tank and go straight to video!

November 11, 2005

Fox is evil.

Note this email and reply from the SNU to me:


Fox is so f***ing stupid. It's their own damn fault the show is tanking. If it weren't for the baseball shuffle, it might have built an audience. Instead they cancel it because of poor performance after a multi-week hiatus.

Screw you, Fox. I hate you. If it weren't for the Simpsons, I'd never watch you at all!

-----Original Message-----
From: The SNU
Sent: Friday, November 11, 2005 2:57 PM
To: J-Lo
Subject: TRAGEDY

November 08, 2005

The salvation of comedy

Today my post is one part rave, one part plea.

If you're not watching Arrested Development - please start watching! NOW! Quite simply, it is the best comedy on television, and I would venture to say the saving grace of the sitcom format.

I'm so glad to see the return of this show. After the interminable baseball playoffs and World Series, Fox has finally deigned to broadcast actual programming. So Monday night brought back Arrested, and in back-to-back episodes, no less! It was so hilarious, the SNU and I were almost in tears a couple times. What's so good about this two-time Emmy award winner? Let me explain.

First, the caveat. This show is not the kind where you can watch whilst reading a magazine, slurping spaghetti and talking on the phone. It requires your attention and your commitment. And you will be rewarded...handsomely. It's intelligent, clever, and full of quick references that you'll miss if you blink. In many ways it reminds me of Lost.

Arrested is the story of the Bluth family - a crazy bunch of people with passable morals who are wealthy:
  • George Bluth, Sr. was recently put in jail for bad business dealings. He's currently out of prison on house arrest, but is constantly looking for a way out.
  • His wife, Lucille, never met a drink she didn't like. She's the poster woman for bad parenting.
  • Eldest son Michael is the supposedly sane one who controls the family finances during this tumultous period. But he has a weakness for pretty women, and continually second-guesses his own parenting skills.
  • Michael's son is George Michael, who is pretty much a geek trying to fit in. He has an unnatural crush on his first cousin, who may or may not be his biological first cousin.
  • Second son Gob (that's pronounced like the Biblical figure Job) is a part-time magician, overly dramatic, and pretty much an idiot. He recently discovered that he fathered a son many years ago.
  • Third in line is Lindsay, the spoiled, self-centered one. She's a hopeless flake, and moves from one cause to the next with alarming frequency. She's also got a libido that won't quit.
  • Her on-again, off-again husband is Tobias. He is a wannabe actor who acts so incredibly homosexual, you will be amazed. Former stand-by for the Blue Man Group.
  • Their daughter is Maeby. She's the blunt, outspoken, but often-overlooked member of the family. Last season she was inadvertantly given a job as a top Hollywood studio executive, which caused some hilarious moments.
  • The fourth and final Bluth child is Buster. He's a tad slow mentally, and still has a fixation on his mother. His hand was bitten off by a rogue seal, so he now has a hook. He also signed up for the Army, but is trying to get out of it.
  • Unrelated to the family but a real hoot is Lucille 2. She's a socialite friend of Lucille's, played by Liza Minelli. She had an all-too-brief affair with Buster in season 1.
Got all that? And that's just the start. Every episode has references to other episodes, which greatly reward the loyal viewer. And it's all narrated with droll wit by none other than Ron Howard (a.k.a. Opie, the big Hollywood director). He's much funnier than you'd expect!!!

So check it out, discuss, ask questions. Monday nights at 8 pm Eastern on Fox. Catch it! Rent earlier seasons! Enjoy!

November 04, 2005

Dance your cares away

Here is my review of a video that I watched this week, as well as a live dance concert that the SNU and I went to.

The film - Mad Hot Ballroom. This lovely documentary was filmed in the NYC public school system, where several schools have a program that teaches kids ballroom dancing for 6 weeks. This culminates in a city-wide competition, with the kids dancing things like the tango, swing, and the foxtrot.

I'm sure you can tell by the description that this is a crowd-pleaser, and it is. It highlights the power of arts education, and why it's so vital in our nation's schools. But it's really about more than the dancing - it's about the character changes in these kids. It's interspersed with interviews where you see how disturbingly grown-up these 10 year olds are. They know far too much about sex, marriage, drugs and death. So for them to have an outlet for fun, creativity and competition is so important.

But of course the dancing is fun as well. It reminded me of another great ballroom dancing flick that I own and watch when I'm feeling blue.


Meanwhile last night, the SNU and I saw our first of three subscriber performances to the dance series at the Kennedy Center. It featured the Jose Limon Dance Company.

I'm very interested in Limon from the research I did on him for a term paper in grad school. He was born in Mexico, and later studied under my favorite dance author, Doris Humphrey, who is pictured here:

Limon choreographed with a lot of powerful dramatic movement, strong arms, and lots of deep second-position bends. Pictured below is one of his most famous pieces, "The Moor's Pavane" - a retelling of Shakespeare's Othello using a handkerchief as an allegory. (Limon is dancing the part of Othello in the center, Iago is on the left, Emilia on the right, looking over the corpse of Desdemona.)

Aaaaanyway, the show last night was interesting. This review actually sums it up pretty nicely. First was a piece that seemed to highlight an austere religion - very similar to Humphrey's "The Shakers" (which I danced in back when I first met the SNU). Next was the quirky fun of "The Ubiquitous Elephant," which was full of richly drawn characters.

After that was Limon's tribute to Humphrey, and the company just performed a suite from it, which in of itself was quite long. The challenge is that the movement motifs that Limon borrows from his predecessor feel so dated and simplistic today. There were absolutely some exciting moments - like a leap into a jazz split (ouch), or the whirling conflagration of the ensemble towards the end. But on the whole it grew dull, and you could perceive the shift in the seats as the audience grew restless.

But the showpiece was the final one, a comission from Lar Lubovitch. I really love his work - he created two of my all-time favorite dances - "Fandango" and "Marimba." In this work ("Recordare") he was examining the rituals of the Mexican Day of the Dead - a celebration of the afterlife. It was colorful, inventive and fun. I think my favorite scenes were the one which featured a married couple facing death by meat cleaver, and the section when dancers spread marigold petals through a graveyard in quiet contemplation of death. This piece was just the right length, and a good way to end the show.

Next stop, the SNU and I will see the Bill T. Jones Dance Company in a couple weeks. I'll keep you posted.

(Now that you read that, aren't you shocked at how intellectual and cultured I am?)


November 03, 2005

The not-so Amazing Race

OK, so I've been pretty clear on this blog in the past that The Amazing Race (TAR) is in my world the best reality show on television. It has a frenetic pace, exotic locales, interesting views into human psychology, and an adorable kiwi host (Phil Keoghan formerly of New Zealand).

Over the first 7 seasons, it's certainly had its ups and downs. A run-down of those seasons:
  1. Raw, new, great personalities, a surprising ending.
  2. A couple nasty teams, but a couple that were absolute delight (Danny & Oswald)
  3. The ultimate season for me. Racers I loved with a passion (Ken & Gerard) or hated with equal venom (Flo).
  4. Plenty of fighting between teams, but an exciting season, which ended with a disappointing finish.
  5. Similar to season 3 with loves (Chip & Kim) and hates (Colin & Christie). Also the season where I went to a finale party in NYC and met some of the racers in person!
  6. A nosedive season which featured the worst couple ever (Jonathan & Victoria).
  7. A redemptive season with a return to many of the things that made this show so great.

And now I come to season 8 - Family Edition.

OK, first of all whomever came up with this idea should be shot. Why take a great concept and try to make it more family-friendly? It was already a good family show! Sure there was the occasional cussing racer, but it gets bleeped out, and it's not like kids don't hear it on the streets.

And the show is just not designed for families. Everything is being adjusted in unhappy ways. In previous seasons part of the drama is in teams finding how to get from point A to point B. This season the transportation is almost always spoon-fed, and they "miraculously" find those van-sized taxis everywhere.

What's worse are the stupid locations. Nowhere, Alabama. Backwater, Louisiana. Amishland, Pennsylvania. The last two episodes they finally left the US to see Panama and Costa Rica, although even in those places they are seeing very little of interest. ("Go to a BP gas station...")

And tasks involved are so easy it's insulting to the kid racers. ("Fill 20 oil lanterns and light them.") I understand that with the family version you can't have everything be overly physical, but come on.

But I slog through each week, watching more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. CBS had better get their butt in gear and deliver a good "regular" season after this, or my faith in good reality television will be dead. (I'll just sit at home watching my delightful The Mole DVDs, given to me by the lovely Em.)

Also this is a heads-up that I will actually be starting to talk about things other than TV. I enjoy other types of entertainment as well!

November 01, 2005

TiVo and cable

My previous post was a recap of my weekly TV habits, but it's specific to the major networks. What you didn't see there is the wonder of TiVo. He tapes all sorts of joyous things for me each week for my perusal later. The SNU gets a few nods as well, but TiVo just loves me more....because I use him constantly. Yes, I am an avowed TiVo whore. Like Miranda on Sex and the City. Oh, Miranda - the corners of my mind...

Here's a sample of the programs I usually come home to find saved for me:
  • The Golden Girls (at least 3x daily)
  • Designing Women
  • I Love Lucy
  • Are You Being Served? (British sitcom I love)
  • What Not to Wear
  • The Amazing Race (reruns on GSN)
  • Friends
  • Sex and the City

Which leads me to my rave of the week. As mentioned by LadyB, What Not to Wear is a truly fabulous show. I love the hosts - Clinton and Stacy rock! We've also spotted Clinton in person once while sipping beers at Fox & Hounds. I've learned much from the show - particularly about the fit of pants. I am no longer a pleated tapered trouser-wearin' fool.

Now keep in mind that I'm a complete sucker for makeover shows. I get this insane rush when I see a plain Jane turn into a work of art. In fact, I've often thought that if I had the $$$, I would start a cable channel that just showed makeover shows. Fashion makeovers, room makeovers, life get the idea. And the original show I would create would be something like Fashion Police - we'd do a makeover for someone walking on the street who really needs it. I can't tell you how many times I've walked by someone on the way to work and thought, "If I knew her, I'd totally write to What Not To Wear about her. That skirt makes her hips look huge!"

And now onto this week's rant. Newsflash to the networks - the era of the funny fat guy with the skinny pretty wife is o-vah! How many variations can there possibly be on the same theme? According to Jim, Still Standing, etc. The only one that has been funny in the last decade is King of Queens. And even that is getting old. Of course the real crime is that they try to make it believable. I'm sorry, but there is no way that Jim Belushi would ever score a date with Courtney Thorne-Smith. She would take one look at him and say, "Take a shower, nimrod."

Now don't get me wrong - I like a man with meat on his bones. A warm hug from a man of substance is to be treasured. But if the man is hopelessly heterosexual with bad clothes, beer breath, and bad jokes...he must be passed over.

So for January, I call upon the networks to look at their mid-season replacements, and ban all the King clones, and give me something fresh. But don't be stupid like Fox and bury it in your schedule (i.e. Arrested Development).

October 27, 2005

Welcome back!

I have decided after a long absence to reinvigorate ye ol' blog. Perhaps I've been inspired by my hubby's blog, which has really taken off, or that our group of grad school friends has its own lil' blog now. Oh, and the fall TV season is in full swing, so there is much to rant and rave about.

First let me let out some raves. As has been mentioned a long time ago, the big show in our house is Lost. If you haven't watched it - start! Or even better, rent/buy the first season on DVD. So many yummy extras. My favorite character is Sun - I think the actress who plays her (Yujin Kim) is just beautiful and astonishing.

Another favorite which I haven't mentioned in the past is Grey's Anatomy. Yes, I love Desperate Housewives. But so far this season it's been a tad subpar (except Marcia Cross, who continues to rock the free world). Meanwhile Grey's has gotten even better. Remember when ER was really great those first few seasons? It's like that, with less blood. My favorite character is definitely Dr. Bailey, furthering my obsession with strong African-American women. She's played by diminutive actress Chandra Wilson. The men are all adorable, but our favorite has to be George. He needs a hug. From me. Repeatedly.

As for new shows, the one I got hooked on this fall is Commander in Chief. It really sucked me in - how did that happen? Remember that awful Geena Davis sitcom? But seriously - this is a good show. Like the good seasons of The West Wing but more personal.

Now y'all know I love me some reality television. So what happened this season? It all sucks! Survivor is possibly the worst ever, and I'm not even watching it. (Bringing back two former players to give them a "second chance?" Lame.) Beloved favorite The Amazing Race came out with a "Family Edition" which features a plethora of unlikable personalities, lame challenges, and completely unexotic locales (example: find the country's largest office chair in nowhere, Alabama). I'm so disheartened. All I have to say is that the producers of TAR had better turn this ship around, or I'm done with CBS. (This summer's edition of Big Brother was remarkably interesting, so I have hope.)

And now onto my rant for this post. I will be talking about the weekly sob-fest known as Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Come on, you know you've watched it. Each week follows a set formula:

  1. Present non-wealthy family's tragic sob story, generally involving a dead relative.
  2. Family is sent on a vacation, while Ty sends them periodic videos of what's happening, and it's all completely fake and lame.
  3. Designers occasionally work on the house, but mostly act in even lamer set-up sketches.
  4. Family returns while a bevy of paid extras stand around and cheer.
  5. We see the whole house (which is always ridiculously nice, yet impractical), and the family weeps buckets. We also weep because the kitten - she is being choked.
  6. Lather, rinse, repeat.

What kills me about this is how unbelievably emotional the designers are. It's like they have all been force-fed estrogen in mass quantities. The biggest crybaby is this woman, but because she's usually pretty sincere, I'll forgive her. Next would be Paul, who is a complete girly-man when it comes to sad family situations. And then we have the woman that I like the least - she's relentlessly perky (and not in a good Paige Davis way), yet always is drowning in crocodile tears by the show's end.

And of course there's also Ty, who is like an extremely annoying Peter Pan. Extreme Makeover: Asshole Edition. I hate him with the passion of a thousand burning hot suns. Where is Amy Wynn when I need her???

My parting thought is how astonished I am by how much I watch on the major networks this season. If you had told me two years ago that I would be watching more ABC than NBC, I'd have said that Britney Spears must be President (please, don't let that happen). Here's the surprising rundown of my regular week on the non-cable networks:

ABC - 5 (DH, Grey's, Commander, Lost, Supernanny)

CBS - 1 (TAR)

NBC - 0*

Fox - 4 (Simpsons, King of the Hill, Arrested Development, Kitchen Confidential)

WB - 1 (Reba)

UPN - 1 (Everybody Hates Chris)

* The one exception is that I do watch Saturday Night Live pretty regularly, but as it's not part of the prime-time schedule, I didn't include it.

Well that's it for this post. I'll try to get back on here with more regularity. Please feel free to post comments, and do visit the wonderful SNU's blog.