Thursday, May 31, 2007

It needed more skating

I went to one of Broadway's latest movies-turned-legit productions tonight--Xanadu: On Broadway. I went in knowing that it would be ridiculous and hoping that it would be utterly enjoyable nonetheless. To start with the positive, I really liked the two leads. Kerry Butler (Shelly in Bat Boy: The Musical and Penny in Hairspray) has great comic timing and embraces the silliness in her role without going over the top. James Carpinello (Saturday Night Fever) isn't the world's greatest singer, but he was very charming and strong on his skates. Some of the directing and staging was very clever, and people who love the music from the movie will love much of it here, too. I also loved the fact that the finale includes a skating ringer who wears head-to-toe sparkles, skates rings around the cast, and is never seen in any other part of the show. The randomness is in keeping with the musical as a whole.

Unfortunately, not everything was quite so rosy. Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman provide the alleged comic relief. Despite the fact that most of the audience was howling at their broad, big, and over-the-top scenes (of which there were many), I would rather punch these two women in the face than sit through their bits again. Sadly, too, the show needed a great deal more actors on skates. Kerry Butler skates through most of the show, but James Carpinello only rolls around for a few songs. The rest of the cast laces up only for the underwhelming finale. There should have been not just one skating genius here but many, many extras skating laps around the stage amid disco lights and laser lights galore.

My qualified recommendation sums up like this: one of the people sitting next to me reeked of marijuana. I think a toke or two would probably make this whole affair a lot funnier.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Every weekend should be a long weekend

It was so good to have an extra day to play this weekend. The weather was perfect and I had just the right mix of lazy Netflix-watching time (Alpha Dog and a disturbing documentary about pedophiliac priests called Deliver Us From Evil) and time to catch up with friends. Caryn and Larry were in town for their five-year anniversary, and I got to crash romance-a-palooza for lunch with them on Saturday before they went to a matinee of Avenue Q. It's hard to believe they've been married five years already!

Melissa was in town for the weekend, and I got to have drinks with her and her boyfriend, Jim, on Sunday. I think it's been a full year since we've seen each other which is shameful. It was so much fun to see her again that I think I need a weekend out in Chicago sometime soon. Melissa knows what motivates me, so she promised we could order from Pockets while I'm there.

And, with my extra day of leisure, I got to catch up with Josh and Todd over lunch at Popovers.

Sadly, now I have to go back to work.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale

I started The Thirteenth Tale with fairly high expectations. I've had a thing for historical fiction lately, and this novel is all about a writer and her book-obsessed biographer. A book about books and the quiet stories that we can hear all around us if we only listen properly? Sounded perfect.

Unfortunately, Diane Setterfield, after a strong start, loses momentum half-way through. She's clearly trying to create a spooky atmosphere and sense of longing among her characters, but she lays it on a little thick and fails in evoking the eeriness she strives for. Margaret Lea, invited to write the biography of Britain's most reclusive best selling novelist, Vida Winter, is the protagonist for half of the book. When not playing amateur detective confirming Miss Winter's tale, she mostly fills the reader in on her own sorrow. The root of her sadness, though strongly tied to the book's themes, never rings quite true and left me unsatisfied.

The more compelling portion of the novel is Miss Winter's story. This story-within-the-story comes closest to achieving Setterfield's atmospheric goal, and is certainly the heart of the book. Miss Winter is one half of a pair of disturbed and neglected twins. Their once grand house is literally falling down around them while the mental illnesses and bizarre lifestyles of family members leaves them with only each other for comfort.

I wish Setterfield had trusted her readers a bit more. She spells things out unnecessarily and doesn't let the reader put the pieces together herself. Her mystery is not so complex as to require quite the level of handholding she provides. Ultimately, I enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale, but it didn't quite live up to its promise.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wondering if Gore will run again...

I just watched Al Gore on The Daily Show. I wish he had been this personable when he was running for president! His new book, The Assault on Reason looks really interesting (The New York Times review made it sound scorching), and I can only imagine how different this country would be if he had been recongnized as the winner in 2000. Like everyone else, I'm eager to find out if he'll run again this time around. I think he could actually kick some ass if he did: let Barack and Hillary beat each other up over the next nine months and then swoop in and snag the nomination.

Does anyone else think the Democrats are acting like a bunch of pussies?

I am so frustrated and disappointed that Congress is now putting forward an Iraq funding bill with no withdrawal dates included. I realize the Democratic majority is a very slim one, but I can't help but feel like they backed down pretty quickly. Bush has made an art out of ruling as though the country was his own General Lee and every political battle is a game of chicken. The Dems couldn't even pull a Ren MacCormack and get their shoelaces caught long enough to make their loss respectable.

And, frankly, I've had enough with non-binding measures. Do something that counts! A non-binding vote of no confidence on Gonzalez doesn't effect change anymore than rubber stamping the president's bullshit war spending does.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bridal Shower

Saturday was Pam's bridal shower--she looked pretty as a picture, and I was excited to give her the blanket I crocheted for her. And Caryn (looking more and more pregnant every time I see her!) did an amazing job as host as always. I worry that she's so focused on everything being perfect that she doesn't have any fun, but she really does put on a good event. Way to go, Caryn!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Rory's not going to war -- relax, everyone

Last night was the series finale of Gilmore Girls, which used to be one of the smartest shows on TV. For six seasons, the writing was as witty, clever, and pop-culture-referenced as anything else on the small screen. Unfortunately, the current season was so mediocre that when we finally got to the series ender, which should have tugged at my heart strings and gotten me all teary-eyed, I didn’t care half as much as I should have.

Stars Hollow used to be a place I wanted to visit, both virtually each week and in real life (if such a place actually existed, I would have happily made a road trip). By last night, though, the town’s folk were more annoying than entertaining and plot points were so over the top as to be silly even in this admittedly silly town. An entire graduation reenactment since the whole of the town couldn’t attend what was surely a boring ceremony? I don’t remember Taylor, Kirk, and Babbett showing up when Rory graduated from Chilton, so what’s the big to-do this time around?

Though the spirit of Lorelai and Rory’s relationship remained strong to the end, their recent banter left something to be desired. If anyone doesn’t believe me, just rewatch the final scene and pay special attention to Rory’s last few lines. It’s as if attending Yale has addled her brain. On the positive side, Luke’s verbalization about how important Lorelai’s happiness is to him was very sweet and a nice pay off to everyone who wanted to see them together all along.

As an aside, hats off to Liza Weil, who played Rory’s friend Paris. Her character should, by all rights, have been extremely annoying, but instead she remained entertaining through and through. She grew to be a surprise favorite of mine on this show.

I read in an interview with the very talented creator/exec producer/one-time show writer Amy Sherman-Palladino that she knew from the start how she wanted the series to end. Though this season’s mediocrity was surely never part of her plan, I wonder if the broad strokes were what she had in mind.

Modern Love: 50 True and Extraordinary Tales of Desire, Deceit, and Devotion

I began this book with an admittedly bad attitude. It’s our latest book club pick, and it’s not one I’d ever have ever chosen on my own. But, I told myself, discovering books you’d never pick on your own is one of the great joys of being in a book club. After all, I’m not sure I’d have read excellent novels like The Voyage of the Narwhal without a book club’s push. So, I tried to put my cynicism aside (fairly impossible, I found) and went into this with the best attitude I could muster.

Modern Love is a collection of essays that have appeared in the New York Times style section. My fear going in was that it would be 350 pages of sappy, how-we-fell-in-love stories. I’m happy to report that it’s not; I doubt I’d have finished it if that were all it offered. The compilation is organized around various stages of love (seeking it, having children, break-ups, etc.) and focuses mostly, though not exclusively, on romantic love. The structure forms a tidy organization, but I found myself skipping around so as to avoid the tedium of reading too many similarly themed pieces in a row. There are gems in this book, and it was nice to read Ayelet Waldman’s much ballyhooed piece, “Truly, Madly, Guiltily,” in which she admits that she loves her husband (Michael Chabon) more than their four children. The essay caused quite a stir when it originally appeared in the Times, and I hadn’t read it before. I’m late to the party, but it’s still nice to know what everyone was on about.

I didn’t like this book enough to really recommend it, but the essays are short and mostly good. It would make a good read for someone who knows her reading time will be short and/or often interrupted.

I’ll wait and see how the group’s discussion goes in a couple weeks, but I’m not anticipating a rousing conversation. I just don’t see how we could talk about any collection of essays with great fervor. We’ll constantly be reminding each other which essay it is we’re talking about. We won’t be able to discuss the author’s choices about language use, pacing, etc., because there are fifty authors here. That said, I’ll still try to put my cynicism aside. The group might surprise me with a great conversation, and a good discussion can help me really appreciate a book, even if it can’t make me like it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Double Header: Spidey and the Great White Way

Jen and I spent the better part of our Saturday at the movies. We took in a matinee of Spider-Man 3 first, and I won’t rehash the whole movie here since it seems like everyone in America already saw it last weekend. I will say this, though: obviously when you go into a super hero movie, you check your brain at the door to some extent—willing suspension of disbelief and all that. So, that said, it seems sort of silly to be nitpicking about what was realistic and what wasn’t. But wouldn’t the Sandman storyline be better told when Spidey goes to the Hamptons for a weekend getaway? I mean, what’s up with all the giant piles of sand at every construction site in Raimi’s version of NYC? One of the things I really enjoyed during the movie was recognizing locations around the city. He takes such care to show New York that his disregard for the city’s real flavor in this way seemed out of keeping.

I also thought (and the fact that I’m saying this probably proves that I’m not the movie’s key demographic) there were too many fight sequences. I felt like I was just watching the same thing over and over but with a different villain punching Spidey. The only one I really enjoyed was his fight with Harry in Harry’s mansion. The music made it almost too good.

And speaking of the music: did anyone else feel like they wandered into a spoof of The Mask during Peter’s jazz number? Ok, so he’s wearing a black spidey-suit instead of a yellow mask, but otherwise it felt pretty derivative.

Otherwise, I agreed with what most of you have said. Not enough character development and not enough Topher. It was a fun few hours but definitely the worst of the three Spider-Mans.

The second movie we saw was a theatre-based documentary called ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway. I’d actually seen this movie two years ago at the Tribeca Film Festival, and I guess the filmmakers have been looking for a distributor since then. It tracks the 2004 Broadway season, focusing on four new musicals: Avenue Q; Caroline, or Change; Taboo; and Wicked; beginning with the composing process, rehearsals, etc., and culminating with the Tonys. Director/producer Dori Berinstein hit the jackpot, since the Ave Q creative team and cast are maybe the most lovable people in the industry and managed to be the unlikely success story of the season. To be honest, I’m not sure how interesting this movie would be to anyone who isn’t a theatre-buff, but I really recommend it to anyone who is (Shannon, I’m looking at you). I love this movie and can’t wait for it to come out on DVD; when I saw it at the festival, Berinstein said she had approximately 400 hours of unused footage. I’m hoping a lot of that makes it into special features. In the meantime, I really want to go back and see Avenue Q again.

Friday, May 11, 2007

In a surprise move, Mitt Romney says something that doesn't make me vomit in my mouth

In last week's Republican primary debate, three presidential wannabes proudly raised their hands to say that they did not believe in evolution. The possibility (very slight though it is, according to polls) that we could have a president who denies the overwhelming evidence supporting (some crazy liberals may even go so far as to say "proving") evolution, is horrifying and scary.

Mitt Romney is quoted in the NYT today as saying the following, not so horrifying and scary thing: “In my opinion, the science class is where to teach evolution, or if there are other scientific thoughts that need to be discussed,” he said. “If we’re going to talk about more philosophical matters, like why it was created, and was there an intelligent designer behind it, that’s for the religion class or philosophy class or social studies class.”

Now, I'm no fan of Romney, and he doesn't really have a snowball's chance of winning. But it's nice to have at least one person on that side of the aisle advocating for evolution.

Of course, couple this with Giuliani's slow-in-coming but ultimately supportive stance on a woman's right to choose yesterday, and the conspiracy theorist in me comes out. Could the GOP, realizing they have no candidate who can cut it with the ultra-conservative evangelicals, be trying to lure unsuspecting Independents and Democrats into believing that another Republican president wouldn't be the worst possible outcome? I'm not fooled.

If you're looking for a quick read...

David Henry delivers his twins during a freak blizzard in 1964. His son, Paul is perfectly healthy; his daughter, Phoebe, has Down syndrome. In a split-second decision that haunts him for the rest of his life, David asks his nurse to take his daughter to an institution and tells his wife that their daughter died. Thus begins The Memory Keeper's Daughter, a highly readable book by Kim Edwards.

David's decision irrevocably changes not only his own life but also the lives of his wife, Norah, and his nurse, Caroline. In a single moment, they inherit futures they never envisioned where secrets are carefully kept and bind people together as much as they push them apart. David and Norah's relationship never recovers from the loss of their daughter, and their marriage is one of slow but sure deterioration. Caroline, meanwhile, recoils at the institutionalized life David instructs for his daughter. She spirits Phoebe away and raises her as her own, fighting against a society where anyone with Down syndrome is seen as a lost cause.

Edwards doesn't explore the characters' subtleties or the ambiguity of their decisions as much as she could. Her plot is ripe with opportunities for real complexity, but she often skims the surface of these characters rather than exposing the raw emotion that sustains their desires and heartaches. Even so, The Memory Keeper's Daughter is readable and provoking enough to be good, though not great.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Wonders of Bureaucracy

My computer woes continue. In the school's infinite wisdom, I've been denied the purchase order needed to have the Mac specialists come and fix my computer. Instead, I had to wait until today (3 1/2 days after I reported my problem) to have an IT guy come and look at my Mac. I'm frustrated that it's taken so long, but I'd get over it pretty quickly if he actually fixed it. Unfortunately, this joe knows nothing about Macs. But, since he's the designated Mr. Fix-it for my department, he had to be the one to come and look at it. After he admitted that he couldn't do anything, I asked if I could please now send it to the Mac hospital. In short? No. I have to now wait for him to contact the only person in our IT group to have a clue about Macs and see if he knows what to do. When he can't fix it, then I can send it away. Why couldn't the Mac guy come to look at my computer in the first place? Because of the wonders of bureaucracy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

John Hodgeman has never looked better

So yesterday, out of nowhere, my work computer decided to call it quits—sort of. My screen is all sorts of messed up, and though I can still work, it’s not so easy on my eyes. Since we’re one of the few CBS offices who use Macs, we get no support whatsoever from the school, and I have to send my computer away for up to four days to get it fixed. Of course, that’s four days AFTER the school’s bureaucracy finally gets around to issuing me a PO, without which Tekserve will not come and get my sad, tired, little computer. Boo.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Weekend Reading

Over the weekend I finished reading Julia Glass’s sophomore outing, The Whole World Over. Split between the arid desert of New Mexico and the urban sprawl of New York City, Glass creates two worlds inhabited by a loosely connected cast of characters who struggle to find their way through turbulent relationships, careers upheavals, and loss of many kinds. Most arresting and touching for me, was Saga; having lost much of her short term memory from a freak accident, she has intriguing and unique perspectives on events both large and small, which offers a fresh look at such well-traversed themes (the search for love, the challenges of marriage and child rearing, etc.).

Subtle clues throughout the book, published in 2006, tell us that the story actually takes place several years earlier (a gay New Yorker wishes he could take his stuffy visiting brother to Hedwig and the Angry Inch instead of the uber-popular The Producers, for instance). And, though not hailed as a “9/11” story, it comes as no surprise when that days events act as a catalyst for change and resolution among many of the characters. I wasn’t sure how I’d react to this element of the novel, since I’ve mostly avoided 9/11 movies and books. In part, I feel like many of them are manipulative (Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, especially), but I suppose I also subscribe to the “books/movies should be escapist” mentality, at least on this topic. Luckily, Glass’s take on the attacks felt both appropriate and genuine. She never tries to put us on the planes or in the towers; instead, she has her characters’ experiences mirror what most of us in NYC felt—shock, confusion, and worry about those we love. Her deft handling of both her characters and her plot devices should be applauded.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Iceman Cometh again...this time as Jim Tyrone

Jen and I took in the revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten last night at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. I hadn't seen the show before and wasn't particularly familiar with it, aside from of the familial/biographical themes O'Neill favors. The first act was slow--at least for me--but the second act packed a little more of the needed emotional punch. One of the evening's big disappointments for me, though, was the performance given by leading lady Eve Best. Though the reviews I'd read were mixed overall, Best garnered rave upon rave. I went in expecting to see a powerful, memorable, and nuanced performance. Best, instead, seemed to be playing 90% of her scenes to the back of the house. Here's a tip for Ms. Best: shrieking your lines does not make for nuance. I suspect she was trying to compensate for her slight frame, given the many, many references to her character's hulking size. Her physicality (much stomping and wide-spread legs) worked to some extent; in the end, though, she felt miscast. Bringing more star power to the stage was Kevin Spacey, who, while good, did not blow me away. Colm Meaney (best known for his Star Trek days) rounded out the trio with a very solid performance.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Is there a 12-step program for this?

I think I can officially call myself a book-buying addict. My pile of to-be-read books is probably somewhere between two and three feet tall and, in some cases, stretches back to books I purchased or received two-plus years ago. And yet, I cannot stop myself from buying more books. My most recent purchase: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon.

Last night Anne and I went to hear him speak, read, and be interviewed at the 92nd Street Y. I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Wonder Boys, and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (The Final Solution left me cold) and was excited to hear him talk about and read from his new novel, which introduces an alternate world history and takes place in a fictional Yiddish community in Alaska. He told a wonderful and detailed story about how this novel was indirectly inspired by the phrase book, Say It In Yiddish; he also talked about the tension he always feels between developing his characters and progressing his plot and his need to hole up in hotels and other away-from-home places to work most productively. And, in a great side note, he talked about receiving a phone call from Sam Raimi while out to dinner with his father in Kansas City, MO. Raimi called to ask him to work on the Spiderman 2 script and said simply, “Spidey needs you.”

After hearing him tell these stories and read an excerpt from The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, I knew I’d end up with the book in my collection sooner rather than later. Since the Y was sold out, Anne and I hoofed it six blocks to the nearest Barnes and Noble, which was ten minutes from closing. They’d already blocked off the entrance, and the security guard looked fairly disinterested in our Chabon craving, though he did ultimately let us in. After scouring the new releases section and “C” section of the fiction area, we realized that all the other Y attendees had beaten us to the punch and bought every last copy in the store. We were now women on a mission, though, and would not be defeated! Two avenues east was another Barnes and Noble, and we heard tell that there were still 40 copies left. We made our way (in the rain now) to that other store and finally got our hands on copies of the book. It was a wet and windy road, but this book junkie needed her fix.

Oh, and the mystery of Chabon’s name pronunciation is finally solved. For all those curious, it’s SHAY-ben.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Qualified movie recommendation

Last night I took in an advanced screening of Waitress. If you've heard anything about this movie, you probably know that the writer/director/co-star, Adrienne Shelly, was murdered before it ever came out. Apparently she was once the indie It Girl, and this movie may have been her introduction to wider fame and acclaim, had things not gone the awful way they did.

Irrespective of the sad behind-the-scenes story, here is my take on the movie. It's intentionally quirky with a capital "Q," and thematically similar to The Good Girl, though a little fluffier. Some of the dialogue is stilted and rings false, certain plot points are pretty obvious, and the ending was a little too pat for my personal tastes. Despite all that, though, the movie somehow charms. Though you have to, of course, credit Shelly for much of the movie's winsomeness, it's really Keri Russell who brings the movie home.

The supporting cast is a veritable who's who of folks you've seen on TV. Nathan Fillion was my favorite, and Andy Griffith as an old curmudgeon was great. Cheryl Hines has a little less to do and mostly just smiles her big gigantic smile throughout. And, in no great typecasting departure, Jeremy Sisto plays the guy you'd rather not know.

I'm not sure I'd recommend spending a full ten smackers on it, but it's worth a Netflix.

(No) Sex and the City

In my ongoing quest for love, I’ve recently realized that is like a bad boyfriend you can’t quite shake: he makes all these great promises, and in moments of weakness you see all his potential and forget all the times he’s disappointed you in the past; he’s there every time you feel alone, but you quickly realize that you’re the one doing all the work in the relationship; you think you’ve found someone with whom you’re compatible until you see him hanging out with Dr. Phil. Even though I know all of this, I keep going back for more.

All this is a prelude to this sad story: I recently signed up for one month on (a half-hearted attempt to break it off with match, I guess), and for the past week and a half or so I’ve been emailing with a normal sounding guy. I didn’t think he was going to be the love of my life based on our emails, but he seemed to have enough going for him that I’d give him a chance in person. Then yesterday he drops this bombshell; I asked what he did over the weekend and he said that he never does anything Friday nights or Saturdays because he observes the Sabbath. Then, in response to some Boston weekend/clam chowder comment, he tells me he keeps kosher. Riddle me this, Batman: How am I going to date someone who can’t go out on the weekend and has only a few restaurants where he’ll eat? As someone who advertises herself as non-religious, I’m really not looking for someone who devotes that much of his lifestyle to God. Am I alone in thinking that if he’s this religious he should let a girl know from the start?

To complete the cycle, I’ll probably leave lavalife and return to the disappointing arms of my man, match.