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.)