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).