Archive for the 'Watching' Category

R & J, Adrienne Theater, Philadelphia PA

Monday, August 18th, 2008

R & J, an update of Romeo and Juliet set in an all-boys Catholic school, by Philadelphia’s Mauckingbird Theater Company, shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Four men, with some boxes, a book and a length of red fabric, bring Shakespeare’s famous love story to life. In the process, they show how universal is the story, which transcends time, sex, stage and location. Evan Jonigkeit is the student who plays Romeo, by turns wistful, hormonal, and brash. Conrad Ricamora, as the student in the role of Juliet, brings new depth and awareness to what could easily be a “damsel in distress” role. All four actors excel in the numerous roles they take on, infusing even the smaller roles with wit and emotion.

This interpretation is directed by Peter Reynolds from an adaptation by Joe Colarco, and at Philadelphia’s Adrienne theater through 24 August 2008. I highly recommend it; I am thinking and relishing the performance days later. I also highly recommend Fuji Mountain for dinner, and Capogiro Gelato, which has a good selection of local, seasonal flavors and ingredients; I chose black fig and pistachio.

Philadelphia Inquirer
, Philadelphia Weekly, City Paper, Edge Philadelphia, and PhillyMag.

New Video with Dancing Matt’s Singer

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

If you enjoyed the viral dance video, “Where in the Hell is Matt?” you’ll probably enjoy this new video featuring the same vocalist, Palbasha Siddique. If you still haven’t watched Matt dancing, please do so immediately. MinnPost’s Michael Metzgar sums it up well:

The “Matt” video features American video game designer Matt Harding doing a goofy little dance in spectacular settings around the world, often accompanied by the indigenous people of the 42 countries he visited. It struck a chord somehow, linking the world in silly, unabashed happiness. (emphasis mine)

I first found the Matt video through a link on a national news site. So I was pretty surprised to find that the vocalist for Matt’s video lives IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD. She’s visiting family in Bangladesh right now, competing in an American-Idol-esque competition.

The popularity of the Matt video spurred her to make “Maa”, about longing for home, with her band, Melange. The song is similar to, and the video reminiscent, of Matt’s. It’s set in and around downtown Minneapolis, so it has a lot of pleasant associations for me. In one shot, you can see the building G. Grod and I lived in when 4yo Drake was born.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Last weekend, my husband, G. Grod, and I went to the Guthrie Theater to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I wore a dress, heels, lipstick AND mascara. It was truly an event.

Joe Dowling directed, so we knew to expect a crowd-pleasing, rather than an intellectual, take on the material. The fairy costumes were appropriately ostentatious, but looked like leftover Cats costumes. The play had other similarly dated cultural references, not surprising given it’s a revival of a production Dowling did over a decade ago.

I find the Guthrie succeeds best on a small scale, rather than when it tries to emulate New York City. The fairy productions felt weighted down with effects and gimmicks, as well as by pedestrian musical numbers. But the smaller scenes, especially those of the players, were successful. The final scene featuring their play within a play went long, but was one of the funniest parts of the production.

I followed the play by reading the text. I savor the familiar lines, like Puck’s “Lord, what fools these mortals be,” and Lysander’s “The course of true love never did run smooth.” It is not a play in which it’s good to be a woman. Hippolyta does not seem nearly as eager as Theseus to wed, perhaps because he “won [her] love, doing [her] injuries.” Hermia must choose among death, marriage to a man she doesn’t love, or a nunnery. Helena is spurned by her former lover, who wishes to marry the unwilling Hermia. And Titania is bewitched by Puck and her husband Oberon into loving the foolish mortal Bottom, whom Puck has disguised as an ass. While the ending is replete with the weddings required for this to be a comedy, I didn’t enjoy this earlier play of Shakespeare’s as much as I do the later romances.

Jane Eyre, Guthrie Theater 03/25/08

Friday, March 28th, 2008

The Guthrie Theater’s recent run of Jane Eyre was so well received that the show was brought back, and is running through Sunday March 30. I didn’t attend the first run because of a middling review, but couldn’t resist the second run’s media blitz and high praise.

The production had many good things about it, especially the lead performances and chemistry between Stacia Rice as Jane and Sean Haberle as Rochester. Also strong were supporting performances by Charity Jones as Bertha and Barbara Bryne as Mrs. Fairfax. The latter character was so funny and significant that she stood out in this stage version as she has not yet done in the book, for me.

The Wurtele Thrust Stage of the new Guthrie was well utilized. The sets were spare, fitting for the severe settings of the story. My seat was high up and stage right, but the view was excellent. While I saw rather more of the back of Rochester’s head than I would have liked, Haberle has an impressive head of hair, and I got compensating views of Rice’s expressive face. I thought her severe hairline well suited to the character of Jane, until I saw her from the side and noticed the bump where the actress’s real hairline was covered. Unfortunately for me, this brought to mind a Ferengi, hardly a beneficial mental image during Jane Eyre.

And there, my praise ends. I understand that details of the story must be cut or compacted to get the audience home before midnight. I missed many of my favorite scenes, such as Jane in the red room. I was disappointed in the staging decisions of others; I would very much have liked for Jane to have thrown a ewer of water on Rochester in his burning bed, if only for the sight of Haberle in a wet nightshirt. And I questioned a few of the casting decisions. Adele was a pale, freckled redhead, as was Blanche Ingram. I thought Bronte’s imagery of Adele as a blue-eyed blond and Blanche as a dark-skinned brunette were strong influences in my experiences of their characters in the book.

All of those quibbles I might have forgiven, but others went too far for me. While the burr of northern England and Scotland was a good reminder of the story’s setting, the accents came and went. Worst of all was St. John Rivers, whose accent often seemed more French than Scottish. With his characterization, this reduced him to a clown, rather than a proud, headstrong man to be pitied. Diana and Mary were simpering and played for laughs, not the intelligent, dignified characters of the books. The greatest problem I had, though, was that Bronte’s strong, beautiful prose has been changed in several places, and for no good reason. Several of my favorite lines were changed, most notably St. John’s statement while he proposes to her that Jane is “formed for labour, not for love,” and Rochester’s exclamation when he realizes Jane has come back to him, “what sweet madness has seized me”.

I am left with the question of why adapt works for the stage and screen if it is necessary to remove so much that is good about them. Perhaps this was enjoyable to those who hadn’t read the book at all, or for a long time. Perhaps it will inspire people to seek out the book. Those are all fine things. But I’m coming to the conclusion, based on this and on the Masterpiece Austen adaptations, that I am not the target audience. I am too familiar and have too much affection for the source material to appreciate adaptations for themselves. And yet, I know I’ll continue to see them, if only for the brief moments that they bring to life wonderful parts of the books, like the humor in Jane Eyre that is so often overlooked in its reductive description as a dark, gothic tale.

The Muppet Show: Two Views

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Drake’s Aunt Sydney got him The Muppet Show dvds for his birthday. It has become one of his favorite things to watch in his TV time.

Here are some of Drake’s comments: Kermit lives in the O! No, Mom, it’s FUZZY Bear, not Fozzie! No, Mom, his name is Puppy Dog, not Rolf!

Me (to myself): Why are all the women wearing wigs? Why do all the stars look like they have dentures? Isn’t Connie Stevens a little old to be singing “Teenager in Love”? What made Sandy Duncan get famous? Which eye is her glass one? Who ARE most of these male guests: Charles Aznavour, Bruce Forsyth, Avery Schreiber? Why is this sketch set in a bar, and the star pretending to get drunk?

Perhaps Drake won’t grow up to be a critical cynic like his mom.

Top Chef Season 3 Episode 9, Restaurant Wars Part 2

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Spoilers ahead:

I was shocked, but not really, when Tre was told at the close of episode 9 to pack his knives. His team was cocky even in part 1, and thought they could coast into night 2. Team Quatre took the constructive criticism to heart (though perhaps Howie, not so much, choosing lamb and undercooking it), and worked well together, especially considering how contentious some of their past partnerships has been. I loved Joey’s comment that he knew Howie’s dish because it was undercooked meat.

In the quickfire, Casey choked. I felt bad for her team, especially Brian who’d gotten them such a lead. I laughed in delight to watch Sara and Hung. They were fast but accurate enough, and the challenge was especially suited to Hung’s spastic skills.

As the comments piled up, it became increasingly clear that Tre should go. He was the lead for the team but didn’t galvanize them. Instead, he his cockiness became complacency, like in the Barbecue episode, and his pride led to his fall. Both the salmon and the bread pudding looked and sounded terrible. And the rest of the team was complicit in their loss. They all thought they had it in the bag, they all coasted, but Tre took the fall. While he may have been the best chef left, he was cut for good reason, in my opinion. I had him picked to win, so it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out.

One thing is sure; I’m going to stop trying to guess who is getting cut next, and who will be TC at the end. I called Casey to leave because she was so teary in her sitting commentary shots. Apparently it was because she felt to guilty for letting a team down, again. I don’t think it’s going too far out on a limb to guess that Casey is not going to be Top Chef, though.

Bones: The Killer in the Concrete

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

Yet another episode of Bones that made me go “meh”. And I don’t even think it was because anyone cried. We fast-forwarded through several scenes. The music was overpowering, the sentiment full of schmaltz, and the mystery both complicated and uninteresting. Not enough banter, and I suspect that episodes about Bones’s parents = bad. Plus there was no Stephen Fry, who is batting a thousand for the eps he appears in. Coincidence? I think not.

The Glass Menagerie, Guthrie Theater

Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

Over the weekend I went with friends to The Glass Menagerie at the Guthrie Theater. While reviews have been good, my friends thought it was terrible. I’m not familiar with the play (more on that below), but it had some of the hallmarks that made me stop going to the Guthrie a while back–it felt homogenized, and overfull of sitcom-ish laughs. The Guthrie production was most effective in its use of one character at two ages, played by two actors, the elder of which is the narrator. These scenes were poignant. My friends liked the set, a small box of an apartment surrounded by dirty and decayed-looking scaffolds and cheap neon signs. I, on the other hand, longed for a more abstract set. I don’t go to a play for realism; if I want that I see a film.

As for the new theater itself, the views from the lobby are spectacular, but I don’t like that the lobby is not on the ground floor. This is counterintuitive, and makes “meet me in the lobby” ambiguous. I found the red interior of the proscenium stage a little too reminiscent of Target.

Embarrassing admission: When my friend told me we were seeing The Glass Menagerie, I thought I’d seen a television production before. I was mistaken–what I’d seen was A Doll’s House by Ibsen. I’d neither seen nor read anything by Williams before–yet another gap in my so-called liberal arts education that I’ll address on my own. So take my opinions for what they’re worth–I’m hardly part of the theater cognoscenti.

2006 Movie Challenge recap

Saturday, January 13th, 2007

I watched 58 movies in 2006, averaging nearly 5 a month. Apologies for no italics or links, but all are linked in the 2006 Movie Challenge category on the right. I saw only ten in theaters, but I enjoyed all of them. I was more selective this year about what films I saw in theaters, and this made them worth the effort and cost of childcare, movie snacks, and non-matinee prices:

Brokeback Mountain
Casino Royale
Good Night, and Good Luck
Lawrence of Arabia
New World, The
Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Thank You for Smoking
Walk the Line

Eighteen were from our home library, either on DVD or Tivo. I often skip over what we have unwatched at home in favor of something new from the library. As with books, I’m going to try and improve on the ratio, because there were fewer disappointments (Alfie, The Quiet Man, Sense & Sensibility) than delights (Happy Accidents, The Palm Beach Story, Triplets of Belleville, Wuthering Heights):

Alfie (1966)
Happy Accidents
Lady Eve, The
Palm Beach Story, The
Pride & Prejudice (1940)
Producers, The (1968)
Quiet Man, The
Ref, The
Sense & Sensibility
Spellbound (2002)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Triplets of Belleville
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
What’s Cooking
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Wuthering Heights (1939)

I borrowed thirty-two from the library, but only finished thirty of them, since I couldn’t stay awake for either Ong-Bak or Hero. There were a lot of disappointments here (13 Conversations About One Thing, The Family Stone, Junebug, Made, Nicholas Nickleby, Rumor Has It, Sky High, and The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill), especially compared to the few I thought were really good (The Constant Gardener and Inside Man). It’s further reason to be more selective about reserving items from the library. Just because they’re free doesn’t mean they’re worth my time.

13 Conversations about One Thing
40 Year-Old Virgin, The
Broken Flowers
Bruce Almighty
Constant Gardener, The
Family Stone, The
Fever Pitch (2005)
Graduate, The
Grizzly Man
Hustle & Flow
In Her Shoes
Inside Man
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Last Holiday
Lord of War
Matador, The
Mysterious Skin
Nicholas Nickleby
Rumor Has It
Sky High
Upside of Anger, The
Wedding Crashers
Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill


Monday, January 1st, 2007

#58 in my movie challenge, Spellbound, the documentary not the Hitchcock film, was my last movie of the year. I finished watching just after midnight. It focuses on the kids, and doesn’t take cheap shots at them or their parents. It shows them all as complex people and does a fair job at showing why spelling is important to each of the kids. While the variance in economic background of those who made it to the finals was wide, it narrowed significantly as the spellers moved to the finals.

I went to the state spelling bee in 7th grade. I can’t remember if I got beyond the first round, but I will always remember the word I missed: jacamar. It’s a type of bird.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Monday, January 1st, 2007

#57 in my movie challenge for the year was Wrath of Khan. My husband has joked that he married me even though I’d never seen this. Having befriended and dated geeks, though, I knew all the basic points. I was surprised to find Kirk’s “Khan!” not nearly as drawn out as it is in parody. Bad hair, bad wigs, bad costumes. Weirdly smooth pecs on Ricardo Montalban. Like many things geeks hold dear, its impact is not as strong for those of us who come to it later in life.

Not bad, but hardly epic.

Happy Accidents

Monday, January 1st, 2007

#56 in my movie challenge for the year was Happy Accidents, a weird indie mystery/romance from 2000. Marisa Tomei (who with red hair bears a startling resemblance to one of my friends from college) starts dating Vincent D’onofrio, who may or may not be from the future.

Funny, kooky and sweet.

Inside Man

Monday, January 1st, 2007

#55 in my movie challenge for the year was Spike Lee’s Inside Man. A solid thriller with a great cast, I found it oddly charming.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Monday, January 1st, 2007

#54 in my movie challenge was Anchorman. Will Ferrell is funny, but it is (again) Steve Carell who makes this movie worthwhile. The humor was of the bizarre, often painful kind, but there was enough wacky charm to make me like the movie, in spite of its excesses.

Bruce Almighty

Monday, January 1st, 2007

#53 in my movie challenge was Bruce Almighty. Borrowed from the library when I read that a sequel, Evan Almighty, will star Steve Carell, the only reason to watch this fairly awful movie.

The Ref

Monday, January 1st, 2007

#52 in my movie challenge for the year was The Ref. My husband G. Grod chose this Chrismas flick instead of a feel-good holiday classic like It’s a Wonderful Life or The Shop Around the Corner. A thief (Denis Leary) takes a bickering couple hostage on Christmas Eve. Life lessons are learned. Leary is funny, though a bit too nobly wise. I suspect he was trying to emulate Bogart in To Have and Have Not, as a good guy with flexible ethics and a drunk partner.

Funny enough.

(Weird fact about me: I’ve never seen It’s a Wonderful Life. As a child, I watched the Marlo Thomas remake, with Trapper John as her husband. Years later, when a friend described It’s a Wonderful Life, I realized I’d been watching a remake, then never got around to seeing the original.)

DVD recommendations

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

For fans of The Office (US), check out Undeclared. By Judd Apatow, who did Freaks and Geeks and The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, it’s a sitcom about a group of kids in their first year of college. The first few episodes have guest spots by Jenna Fisher and Amy Poehler. It’s funny in the same cringe-inducing, mouth agape way that The Office is. And Loudon Wainwright III is hilarious as Steven’s dad.

Feeling stressed or blue? Feeling like Hugh Laurie on House is just too mean? Then check out Jeeves and Wooster on DVD. The episodes are funny without being cruel, and are good restoratives for the soul. I found both the DVDs and short stories by Wodehouse recommended at Mental Multivitamin, and they’ve been happy additions to my life.

Casino Royale

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

# 51 in my movie challenge for the year. Yet another date night, and we managed to do both dinner and a movie, because the pizza at the newest Punch is ridiculously quick, and decent to boot. My husband G. Grod’s and my second date was Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan’s debut as Bond. It wasn’t great, but we’ve gone on these eleven years to have a pretty decent relationship in spite of merely OK movies on our first and second dates. (The first was Get Shorty.) But Casino Royale was something I wasn’t expecting: a very good Bond movie. It was fun to watch, it didn’t rely overmuch on gadgets, it had a nice homage to a classic Aston Martin, and it gave Judi Dench a good number of scenes in which to chew up the screen. Daniel Craig makes a very good Bond. He’s fit, he’s handsome, he’s a good actor. My only complaint is that he’s yet a bit long in the tooth to be playing the early-career Bond from this story. But I think it’s a problem inherent in the character. By the time an actor has enough panache to play the worldly Bond, they’re old enough that the three year gap between movies means for a quick obsolescence.

Oh, ouch. Craig is almost the exact same age as I am, even a few days younger. Then again, I’m just a midwestern American mother of two; I have no plans to appear as an action hero anytime soon.

The Matador

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

#50 in my movie challenge for the year was The Matador, with Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, and Hope Davis, who are all very good in this. It’s darkly funny, slightly strange, and good, but not great. Brosnan plays an aging assassin, and Kinnear is the nice guy who accidentally befriends him. It was enjoyable, and playfully subverted Brosnan’s more usual role of the distinguished leading man.

Mysterious Skin

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

#49 in my movie challenge for the year was Mysterious Skin, based on the novel by Scott Heim. I do movie and book challenges to remind myself of what’s important, and to show it’s possible to have small kids and still find time to read and watch movies. It’s not easy, and many things go undone (our house is messy; we’ve all but given up on our yard), but it can be done.

I liked but didn’t love the book when I read it last year, and I felt similarly about the movie. It was a good, faithful adaptation of the book. Joseph Gordon Levitt was mesmerizing in the role of Neil, a young, small-town hustler. There’s rough, graphic sex and child abuse in the movie, so this is not for the faint of heart. But it is a well-done indie that handles tough subjects well, and has strong performances.