Theater Masks

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

End of Year Sum Up of entertainment

Last year, around this time, Caitie got me to form a spreadsheet to keep track of books read and movies seen. I set a goal - 25 books over the year (about two a month) and 100 movies watched. I'm happy to say I reached both goals successfully - barely, but I did it!.  So, here are the six best books I read and the ten best movies I saw.  Keep in mind, these just happen to be things I experienced this year (in the case of both, not necessarily for the first time either), but still my favorites in each category. These are in no particular order.

BOOKS

1. The Golem and the Jinni - a really interesting read with a great story that made me feel like I was reading a story from when I was a kid with an adult twist. I'm looking forward to more from this author.

2. The Princess Bride - yes, it's older, but it's one of my favorite books of all time and will be reread several more times.

3. Speak/The Impossible Knife of Memory - during the summer we went to LeakyCon and got to hear Laurie Halse Anderson speak. The woman is incredible, and her writing matches her personality. Her books are deep, moving, and extremely intelligent. Both of these were fantastic - definitely worth picking up.

4. The Magician's Land - We also got to see Lev Grossman at Leakycon. I loved the first two books. This third one was strange, for sure. The first half tells one story which he basically drops to finish the series in the second half. The first half is okay, but the second half is an epic and excellent conclusion to the series.

5. The Blade Itself: The First Law Series - first book in the series. I found Joe Abercrombie through a series of short stories and decided to try his novels. The book is very well written and, while not necessarily paced the best (it takes a while to get going), it's a very enjoyable read. I'm currently partway through the second book in the series.

MOVIES
1. Her - an incredibly thought-provoking sci-fi movie from last year. Brilliant story-telling with great performances.

2. Twelve Angry Men - it's a classic I've seen several times before, but it's always gripping and, incredibly, edge of your seat tense.

3. North by Northwest - another classic I've seen before, but, like the last movie, very tense and brilliantly acted. When I have the patience for Hitchcock, this is one of my favorites.

4. 22 Jump Street - surprisingly, just as funny as the original. We laughed through the whole film - definitely a classic in the making.  I hope there's a 23 Jump Street coming...

5. 12 Years a Slave - it took us till halfway through the year to watch this, but holy crap did it deserve that best movie Oscar!

6. 1776 - A yearly ritual for me and a perpetual favorite movie.

7. The World's End - surprisingly very funny (not the biggest fan of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz) - I really enjoyed this. WTF!

8. Big Hero Six - Disney's still got it! Baladaladalala

9, Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part One - For the third movie in a series, based on half a book, it was surprisingly gripping and smart. Looking forward to the last movie in the series.

10. Into the Woods - best movie of the year for me. Best movie musical in probably the last half century (barring Chicago). Absolutely worth seeing and I hope it doesn't get forgotten come Oscar time. Of course, I'm biased because, well, it's one of my favorite musicals of all time, but it could so easily have been so bad - and it wasn't. I dare you to watch Agony and not crack up. I dare you to watch James Corden during the "No More" moment and not tear up. I dare you not to love Meryl Streep and I dare you not to be thrilled during The Last Moment or not get chills during Stay With Me. I could go on, but it is a FANTASTIC movie. Totally worth seeing.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Into the Woods!

I've been a little heavy lately, so time to get back to entertainment (the situation in the American government and education system gets worse daily, and commening on it all the time, while undeniably important, is just too damn depressing to do on what's meant to be an entertainment oriented blog).

Earlier last week I received an email that I won tickets to an advanced screening of Into the Woods. Now, let me be clear. I've been eagerly waiting to see this movie since it was announced well over a year ago. I was counting down to Christmas day until we could go see it. Getting to see it early was a huge treat for me, and let me say, the movie did not disappoint in the least.  To anyone who knows me, they'll know this is not something I say lightly or, well, ever, about a new movie: it easily is one of my favorite movies of all time.

Meryl Streep disappears completely into the role of the witch. She's fascinating to watch - you can't take your eyes off her when she's on screen. Her voice has improved tremendously since Mamma Mia. She has some great line readings that I feel truly make her performance Oscar worthy. Stay With Me and Last Midnight are definite highlights of the movie, and I feel I need to watch them both again to get much of the nuances in her performance. She is brilliant in this role, plain and simple. 

An aside: I just read an article where Sondheim said she was destined to play the role because Streep is an anagram of Peters (as in Bernadette, who played the witch in the original cast). Literally - only Sondheim.

Back to the movie.

Chris Pine is the MVP of this cast. Seriously - he steals every single scene he's in. Agony is literally the funniest three minutes of screen time I can remember seeing in any movie since Borat. Some people might find it ridiculous, but the scene is brilliantly staged and deserves the roaring laughter it got in my theater (and, I might add, the only full out applause the movie got until the end). I know he won't get it, but he deserves a best supporting nod for this film.

James Cordon is a natural, meaning you can't see him act. He just feels so right in his role as the Baker.

Emily Blunt makes for a strong Baker's Wife. I'll admit I couldn't get Joanna Gleason's performance out of my mind for her, but she is more than suitable for the role. Her Moments in the Woods is excellent, even if I feel the end is a bit unnecessarily padded (on stage, it was done for applause, in the movie it feels like about fifteen seconds of dead space - sorry about the pun).

Anna Kendrick is similarly great as Cinderella, though again Kim Crosby's performance and line readings reverberated throughout. This doesn't mean Kendrick was bad casting, she was wonderful, but she didn't erase the performance from the original cast in quite the way Streep or Pine were able to.

The rest of the cast is very strong as well - there really isn't a weak link amongst them. 
The cut songs were missed (especially the second Agony but more because of how great the first one was). No More is only there instrumentally. They couldn't have done the song as it's written given the way the movie is done, and arguments can be made for its inclusion, but I think it worked really well the way that it was done here as it is. 

There is a surprise for Sondheim fans at the first night of the ball (I think it was the first night). Not telling what it is, but it made my wife and I grin like fools. 

The only thing I would really criticize is the change-over between acts. That's always tough in stage to screen adaptions, and I don't think they quite pulled it off here. The end of act one/opening of act two are played instrumentally, but the scene in the show where the witch comes into the baker's house to tell them about the giant is really missed. When the action of act two gets going (when they face the giant for the first time), characters literally just APPEAR - they're just -- THERE. It's strange. 

That's a minor point, though. Marshall's direction is mostly pitch perfect (again, sorry) throughout. He makes some fascinating choices, and even the small amounts of cleaning up to earn the PG rating aren't all that distracting. 

That said, I'd love to know where the song written for Streep was supposed to be - and what it sounds like. Guess I have to wait for the DVD on that one.

It really is a fantastic movie. I was grinning through most of the first act's material, and choked up a bit at the end. It's certainly something I plan to see again. 

Rob Marshall definitely knew what he was doing with this one.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Comment on the country I live in

I am a very disappointed and upset American.

I grew up believing America was "the land of the free and home of the brave." As a teacher for the past twelve and a half years I've stood while my students recite the pledge: "...with liberty and justice for all."

Last year, I stopped saying the pledge because I didn't believe liberty for all exists in a world where LGBT people are not allowed to get married.

This year, while that situation has improved (though is still not truly equal in liberty, it IS better and getting steadily, inevitably better), I no longer believe in justice for all either.

Eric Garner did not have justice served when he was choked to death by a policeman with no impetus.  He did not have justice when that police officer was not indicted.

Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, apparently without inciting the policeman who killed him to shoot. Whether or not the police officer was justified in killing, he absolutely should have been indicted in the case.

I read a statistic that in 2013, out of 160,000 cases brought before a grand jury, only ELEVEN were not indicted. How could the Michael Brown case, which at the very minimum had conflicting witness testimony, NOT be brought to trial?  How could the Eric Garner case, where we have a man strangled to death on the street ON VIDEO, not be brought to trial?

And what about Tamir Rice, the kid in Cleveland shot with a toy gun in hand?  The police wouldn't even allow a nearby nurse to come help him and prevent his death. Where is the justice there?

Something is very wrong in the country I live in. The right to marry should, must, and will be allowed everywhere in the country. Saying otherwise is ignorant and shows a clear bias (probably caused by religion, though I don't want to get into that now). The right to have cops "protect and serve" us, and be brought up on charges when they act "above the law" should be a no-brainer. I'm disappointed and disheartened that what I'm seeing on the news is the opposite.

There is really something wrong in this country, and I hope things get better before they get any worse.