Monday, March 12, 2018

Never Judge a Book by its Movie

I know movie adaptations are awful. I know that you cannot take hundreds of pages of innermost thoughts and feelings and melt all that down into two hours of visual information. I know all of this. But what I don’t know is how you can take a multimillion dollar special effects laden extravaganza based on a classic science fiction book such as A Wrinkle in Time and just throw up all over it. Why bother using the source material if you are going to dumb it down to the masses in such a way as to render the entire point of the book absolutely meaningless? Oh, I’m angry. I’m so fucking angry.

First off, let’s talk casting. Instead of three old biddies in New England, they subbed in three multi-ethnic drag queens of various ages. Fun! Instead of an all white family, its racially diverse, which opened the story to a wider audience. Great! But can someone please for the love of God and all his angels explain to me why you can make the cast the color of the rainbow, but you can’t make Calvin’s hair red? SERIOUSLY. My love of redheads started with that book. Calvin was my first crush and his vivid red hair was definitely part of my imagination. Would it have been so hard to find a bottle of Manic Panic? Oprah had metallic eyebrows for fuck’s sake. Reese Witherspoon turned into a flying artichoke. But Calvin couldn’t have red hair? That’s bullshit.

Second, when even my kids notice how bad the directing was, you know you have made some poor choices. The entire movie is a series of close ups and extreme close ups. I can draw, from memory, the exact dimensions of Storm Reid’s nose. There were big CGI shots of alien planets, but no sense of scope. Ava Devernay was hyper focused on the spectacle but didn't know how to focus on what made the book special. 

Third, the screenwriters obviously didn’t know what to do with the story as it was told in the book. They took out entire chapters worth of story only to add in empty set pieces. For me, the book was always about Meg realizing that she has to love herself and her faults, that she can’t rely on others for her happiness, and that strength comes from within. The movie was about being a warrior of light. What does that mean? Damned if I know. But it sounds good in commercials.  

Fourth, the had the worst villain name in the history of cinema. The IT. Say it out loud. The big bad in the book is simply IT. My best guess is that the evil clown is so well known that the screenwriter felt that calling the darkness that takes over the world IT would invoke King instead of L’Engle. Fine, I will grudgingly accept that. What I will not accept is “The IT.” Call it The Darkness. Call it The Happiest Sadist (a description in the book I didn’t understand for years.) Call it Camazots after the planet where the final third of the story takes place. But don’t call it “The IT.” That just sounds stupid.

Fifth, the average movie goer is smarter than a pumpkin. Not all of them, but most. So I would really like if the movie treated the viewers as if we had half a brain. The book has chemistry, physics, higher mathematics, and Shakespeare. The movie has a giant action adventure set piece that defied all laws of logic, physics, gravity, tone, character, and plot. Given a choice between a scene of dialogue and (gasp) acting, the director chose overworked CGI every time. The movie also never bothers to explain a tesseract. It is only the central McGuffin and the freaking title of the movie.  I would have happily skipped almost all of Oprah's self-help guru nonsense word salad for a cogent explanation of a tesseract. (This is even more egregious because there was a shot of this scene in the previews!)

Sixth, the Exposition Fairy called and she wants her wings back. Kids can’t remember what day they have gym on a four-day rotating schedule, but they can remember something that happened to another kid FOUR years ago and commemorate it with a nasty note? Also, whomever had a six-year old listening to news radio in the middle of the night while it randomly discussed a non-celebrity scientist going missing certainly deserves a Razzie for exposition so clunky it clanged. We don’t need THREE back-to-back scenes telling us that Meg’s dad is missing. We ARE NOT PUMPKINS. We have brain cells, not seeds. Allows us to use them!

Seventh, the quotations. One character in the book speaks only in quotations. In the movie, she does and doesn’t depending on the needs of the script and a very lazy screenwriter. For a few months, I amused myself on Facebook by using Hamilton lyrics for every update and I could always find a line that fit. So it pissed me off that when they did quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, they used the weakest quote in his arsenal. There are billions of lines of poetry and literature and plays and quotations in the world. And the screenwriter switched Goethe for Chris Tucker???  Jesus wept.

Eighth, speaking of Jesus, where did all the religious Christian allegory go? Oh right, we can pray to God (to win a football game), we can thank God (for winning the football game), but we can’t incorporate God into a movie unless it stars Kirk Cameron. Got it, my bad.

Ninth, the problem with Calvin. Not only did they take away his red hair, they took away his balls. Calvin isn’t set decoration. He isn’t ornamental. He is integral to the plot. He is the one who explains, who communicates, who listens. He’s the Giles of this particular band of Scoobies. The Mrs don’t give all the gifts to Meg. That’s dumb. They had one for each child. And his gift helps save Mr. Murry. He almost saves Charles Wallace! He doesn’t just stand in the background and nod at people – he does stuff! And if they couldn’t figure out what to do with him, then he should have shared the same fate as Sandy and Dennys. 
And finally, we clearly have a winner in the Battle of the Actors Named Chris. Did anyone go through space and time looking for Hemsworth? Thor disappeared from Earth and no one noticed. Pratt? We put him on a starship to nowhere and let him die on it. Evans? Nope. He isn’t even the hottest Chris in the Marvel universe. Chris Pine is the only Chris that people will literally do anything for in every single movie. All Hail King Chris.  

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Rest of the Best

I watched the final five candidates for Best Picture yesterday. As always, if you want an actual review, ask a movie critic.

Dunkirk ­– One day, someone will explain to me the absolute manic devotion of white males of a certain age to WWII. The war ended 74 years ago! There have been lots of wars since then (unfortunately) and lots of other stories to tell about lots of other things. But every goddamn year, we get another goddamned WWII movie. Enough. Considering how little dialogue was actually in the movie and how little plot, I wish Nolan had fully committed to his theory of making a movie based entirely on visuals and music and eliminated dialogue entirely or had subtitles. I also think he and Tom Hardy should just fuck already because Nolan obviously has a hard on for Hardy’s eyes. Why else does he once again make a movie that all but covers up Tom Hardy’s face and filters his voice.

The Darkest Hour – Gary Oldman only did this movie because he lured famed makeup artist Kazuhiro  Tsuji out of retirement. If Oldman wins, and Tsuji doesn’t, then Oldman should absolutely hand his Oscar over, post haste. It was absolutely the best makeup I have ever seen in film. Hands down. Oldman was completely unrecognizable as himself and totally and completely Winston Churchill. That was the whole point of the movie, really. They could have told any story from any point in Churchill’s career, and the only thing really holding it up was the makeup and acting. It certainly wasn’t the lighting. Apparently overhead lighting was outlawed during the war. Only small desk lamps or whatever light filtered in through windows. (Please don’t tell me about London turned off its lights at night to avoid bombing. This wasn’t that. This was “setting a mood” and it was ridiculous. )

Call Me By Your Name – This was the most honest acting I’ve ever seen. It was also as if the actors didn’t realize they were acting at all. I was constantly surprised by the line readings and by how they handled every scene. It was very intimate and disarming. Slightly problematic was the concept of consent and watching sex scenes between a supposed 17 yr old and a 27 year old, but I liked that the movie didn’t have a label. No one was gay or straight or bi. They were just who they were. I also think it did wonders for Italian tourism.

The Post – This was a perfectly respectable movie with perfectly respectable acting in a mediocre script. Spoiler, the Washington Post wins. And while I have watched movies with obvious outcomes before (Titanic, for example), there was no real sense of suspense. There was also some questionable dialect work. Was Tom Hanks supposed to be from Boston? Every few scenes, he’d remember to throw on an accent. This movie is a textbook account of white male Oscar voting. Meryl Streep? Check. Tom Hanks? Check. Steven Spielberg? Check. A plot that makes liberals look good and politicians look bad? Check.

Get Out – This movie did NOT fuck around. You know how in most movies, when the young blood ingenue starts getting scared, she doesn’t really try to kill her assailant, but mostly run from him? Not this movie. Chris was out for blood the minute he realized what was happening. But Jesus, his apartment was the most over decorated room I have ever seen. I met my husband when we were 24. His apartment had the bare minimum of cast-off furniture, no art, one massive television, and linens straight from Target. Every male apartment I have ever been in was about the same, plus or minus some crappy posters on the wall. Chris had beautifully framed art, a complete living room set, a complete bedroom set, and everything was color coordinated in pleasant hues of greys and blacks and blues. Bull. Shit. Also, who starts a transplant without having both the donor and the receiver in the room? A terrible surgeon, that’s who.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Envelope, Please . . . .

I love the movies. I don’t go as often as I’d like and honestly, the number of movies released per year v. the number I actually watch is depressing, but come Oscar season, I am all in.

For the last few years, I try to see all those movies nominated for best picture, and if possible, all the ones that cover the acting categories as well. I am not a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Sciences and nobody gives a shit who I think should win and why, but I still like being knowledgeable about my choices. I have been watching the Oscars since I was a child and will watch them until I am dead. I love them unreservedly.

This year, I once again embarked on my quest with Bubbles in tow. I see most of my movies with my partner-in-crime and we have very similar tastes. The best part is that we can see all the movies over two days! Two very long Saturdays, four or five movies per day! Its awesome. This past weekend was our first day and I was going to write a basic series of reviews, but then I realized that if you want a thoughtful, reserved review by a critic with a background in film, then I will direct you to the poorly-named Drew McWeeney over at His name may be awful, but his reviews are terrific. However, if you want to know the weird and odd things I thought about the movies, then bombs away.

Three things – First, I do not speak for Bubbles. The opinions expressed therein are my own. Second, I still have several movies to watch. Third, spoilers abound. SPOILERS ABOUND!

Movies I Stopped Watching:

Mudbound (best cinematography and best supporting actress) – I tried. I really did. I made it 45 minutes into the movie before I gave up. It was depressing, dark, and dismal and checked every box of things I dread in movies: overt racism, everyone in the South is dirty and sweaty, obvious plot “twists”, hateful characters, WW II, and the constant use of the n- word. I want to be more enlightened and enjoy the film as a film but the oppressive sense of dread in the first third meant the rest of the movie was only going to get so very much worse. Pass. (However, from what I saw, this movie was absolutely deserving of the cinematography award because the lighting told a story that dialogue could never convey.)

Roman J. Israel, Esq. – (best actor) ­– They should have just given Denzel the best actor Oscar last year and been done with it. I lasted 24 minutes before I turned this nonsense off. I couldn’t figure out the year, setting, plot, character motivation, or anything else in this ugly, flat movie.  

Random Movies in Random Categories:

The Big Sick (best original screenplay) – Cute, but the least romantic rom-com I’ve ever seen.

I, Tonya (best actress and best supporting actress)  – I expected light and airy, I got down and dirty. Allison Janney is so bad she’s good.

Blade Runner 2049 (best cinematography) – It’s pretty, but empty. Watch it on mute to get the visuals. You won’t miss the plot as it barely exists. Honestly, the best thing about this movie is Ryan Gosling’s coat.

Beauty and the Beast (best costuming) – Sure, the costumes were gorgeous – when they were first created for the original animated film. But rending something from 2D to 3D doesn’t do it for me in terms of calling it the “best of” anything.

Baby Driver (film editing) ­­­– The movie is dumb as hell, but it is well edited. I’ll give it that.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (music – original score, sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects) – Does anyone even notice the music in Star Wars movies unless it is some version of the original pieces made new? Or the editing/mixing?

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol II (visual effects) – If you like visual effects that scream LOOK AT ME, then sure. But its all just so much green screened noise.

Kong: Skull Island (visual effects) – The punctuation in these movies is killing me. Anyway, I actually think the F/X here were much more organic than the other choices. Doesn’t make it a good movie though, not by a long shot.

Best Pictures:

The Phantom Thread – As soon as the heroine was seen gathering mushrooms, you knew what she was eventually going to do with them. While I admit that his agreeing to be poisoned came out of left field, I don’t really understand why he would agree. Yes, he loved her more when he needed her caregiving, but how many times were they going to cycle through sick/well/happy/unhappy before they both tired of the game? I also would have preferred more scenes with Woocock’s sister (Jesus, what a name!). Her internal monologues were probably fierce.

Lady Bird – Can I have an entire movie about gay Danny, please? Or the salty nun? Or the depressed priest? Can I have any movie other than the one I watched? I am all for women winning the best director award, but not this woman and not for this movie.

Three Billboards – WTF! Ok, so I have a lot of problems with this movie. In what universe does a woman FIRE BOMB a police station and there is zero follow up? Yes, she was given an alibi by a bystander (and seriously, WHY would he do that since it is so obvious to everyone in the movie that she is the culprit?), but it isn’t a very good one and is very easily checked. In fact, during the entire movie, characters just keep getting away with the most insane stuff. Throw a guy out a window? No worries. Ok. Set fire to all the billboards? Sure! Its not like anyone does any actual investigation. A man stood in a burning building and didn't notice the heat! If that's the level of intelligence of the men in blue, then no wonder no one found her daughter’s killer – they couldn’t find their assholes with both hands and a mirror. (P.S. - Dear Hollywood, police stations don't close down at night like the post office. I live in Smalltown USA and even we have two cops on duty 24/7. Sincerely, The Real World.)  

The Shape of Water – Who fills a bathtub all the way to the very top? You are going to get water everywhere. Every scene, whether someone just got in or just got out, the damn bathtub was filled to the very top. Very cinematic, not very practical. Also, towels do not create airtight seals. You cannot flood a bathroom to the ceiling by stuffing a few towels into a wooden door. Again, very cinematic, but not very practical. My biggest problem though, was the one line of dialogue that completely and utterly telegraphed the ending. Can we at least try to be subtle about her scars? Nope. Its way better to shoehorn in an explanation that tells you everything you need to know. Ugh. Show, don’t tell!

I will try to post my reviews of the rest of the top contenders on Sunday before the show.  

Monday, February 12, 2018

Fosse! Fosse! Fosse!

My daughter has been doing competitive dance for the last few years. The first competition was quite an eye opener. There are point scores, best in each category, division, and even judges’ awards.  Everywhere you look, there are girls in enough makeup to make a drag queen jealous and enough glitter, sparkles, and bling that sunglasses are required indoors. My daughter, who may wear Chapstick on a good day has become an expert at wearing false eyelashes. It’s all very overwhelming. It is not, however, Dance Moms. Put that out of your head. These girls practice one dance, with one costume for months at a time. They don’t have suitcases that turn into fully-lit makeup mirrors. Instead, most of them have the family suitcase outfitted with some contraption made out of PVC pipe to hold all their clothes. They have teachers who love them and emphasizes substance over style.  The parents support one another. At least that is what it’s like at her dance school. I can’t speak for others.

Last year, the costumes at competition were very risqué. Lots and lots of nudes, cut outs, and S&M wear - for tweens. I watched a child perform an exquisite ballet to Amazing Grace while wearing a vibrant red costume with nude patches over her genitals. The under-ten set embraced cut outs to show off their abs, but mostly just showed off their rib cages. This year, the costumes were very different. Gone were all the straps, leather, and nude patches that made the dancers look like the world’s tiniest people performing the world’s oldest profession. This year's overall theme seemed to be stripped instead of stripper. Instead of elaborate costumes in bright colors, we saw a lot of sack clothes in muted earth tones. Buns were out, braids were in. There were still lots of outfits you could consider pajamas, but instead of lingerie, they were closer to night gowns. One entire category of modern dance looked like the girls were acting out scenes from a play set during the 1930s Dust Bowl. Who knew they made so many shades of dirt brown? Flesh tone was also a big hit. I saw girls practicing in what could best be described as a nude bikini with nude mesh over top and was curious to see the rest of their costume. Turns out, there was no “rest” of the costume. That WAS the costume! With prop canes! I’m so bummed I missed that performance because I was dying to know what song required canes but not clothing? Our girls, in comparison looked like Mormons. They wore layers - nude leotards, nude tights, then fishnets, then their costumes. In terms of dance wear, they were dressed for winter in New Hampshire while the rest of the teams were on Spring Break in the Bahamas.  

The music was similarly stripped down. There were so many muzak versions of songs that I wondered if I was trapped in the world’s loudest elevator. Every song has one instrument and one vocal. Or no vocals and all instrumental. I spent half my time desperately trying to name that tune because the venue had no wi-fi so I couldn’t use Spotify to save myself from going crazy. Did you know that there are slow, instrumental versions of Depeche Mode? I wish I didn't. 

The worst part of competition is not watching my kid dance and get judged, which is super difficult, but keeping my eyes averted in the open dressing rooms. I obviously don’t want to see any part of anyone I didn’t help bring into this world, but its not that easy. I reached down to get my phone out of my purse, and when I sat back up, I was eye-to-thong with a dancer from the next company over. I heard the unmistakable sound of tape ripping and looked up in time to try not to see a teenager taping her breasts down. With masking tape! She held them up while two others taped them down and dear God, you know that stung when she had to rip it off later.

I know that judging is subjective and that its all relative to how many kids in each category and a host of other factors. So I’m not even going to touch upon that. What I do find most perplexing are the songs and themes chosen by the dance instructors. Last year, there was a song about drowned brides and another about dead babies. This year, we got a song about murder (complete with the onstage death), dead dolls, a funeral, zombies, and, I kid you not, an anti-Korean war song with a prop Army coat! There was a relatively brilliant song about depression where the major emotions all wore bright colored body suits and the rest of the team all wore black. There was a showstopper about the backstabbing inherent in a royal court that had the kids literally flinging themselves at each other and then there was the dance that won the crowd award. Reader, I was NOT happy with that last one.

The song was Can’t Stop the Feeling. Fucking Justin Timberlake! Again! The theme was “Night at the Museum” wherein a janitor starts playing that dreaded song and all the statues come to life. Each dancer had on a different costume. There was a Wonder Woman, a Blonde Ambition-era Madonna, Elvis, etc. (There was also a waitress, which I found odd, but I digress.) But I didn’t understand why the black girl was dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Why not let the black girl be Tina Turner or Whitney Houston or any number of famous black women performers? In fact, why make any of the girls into men? Couldn’t the song celebrate strong women of all colors? Did it need an Elvis or a Michael Jackson? Does anyone really think Prince is rising from the dead to dance to Justin Timberlake? Now, its possible that after three days of competition, I was just tired and cranky and hungry so that I was more annoyed than usual, but I think my point is fair. (Also, what museum was he IN, anyway?)

Overall, I’m glad the weekend is over. I watched roughly 24 hours of dancing over the course of 48 hours and my brain was turning into mush. My butt hurt from sitting, my ears hurt from the music, and my head was pounding from watching people spin over and over and over again. Thank God I have six weeks to recover before the next one and I can only applaud those parents who do this every single weekend and thank both the olds gods and the new that I am not one of them.

Monday, February 5, 2018

I've Got This Feeling Inside My Bones

I cannot stand Justin Timberlake. My reasons are far ranging and many. Last night, I complained about him on Facebook and Etsy requested a blog post about it. So, in no particular order, the top ten reasons I hate Justin Timberlake:

1 – His voice. He sings at a pitch that only dogs can hear. When his balls drop and he can sing a register below castrato, let me know and I’ll give him a listen. Until that time, please tell him that his version of sexy has been marked return to sender. He can’t bring back what he never had. Also, Can’t Stop the Feeling is an ear worm of a song, but that doesn’t make it good.

2 – Britney. She cheated on him, he cheated on her, whatever, but it all happened 15 years ago so would he please STOP invoking her name in interviews. He has been in the spotlight a long time – he knows that when he mentions her, it becomes the pull quote.  You are now a grown ass man with a family – she is a respected performer with mental health issues. Take her name outta your mouth! Don’t sing about her, don’t make videos about her, don’t make fun of her, and don’t talk about her.

3 – His wedding photos. Yes, I clearly said “his” not “theirs” because based on the photos they chose to release on the cover of the most popular entertainment magazine in the country, the wedding was all about him. Their official photo had her seated on the floor, her dress puddled up around her, her flowers casually held in one hand – looking all the world like a bored bridesmaid taking a breather after a long day. What is Justin doing? Jumping like a tuxedoed monkey on a trampoline. His feet are at her eye level. If you moved his photo more to the left, and hers more to the right, he would be perched on her shoulders, hands outstretched, screaming “me me me.” Sit. DOWN. Stand next to your wife, not above her.

4 – His acting career. He can’t act. No. Please don’t argue. Go back and watch any one of movies. He telegraphs every move he is about to make in advance. You can practically see him practicing the words in his head before he says them. His eyes are always blank. He is overshadowed by every other actor in his scenes. He is always Justin Timberlake. It is why he is so good on SNL and so awful anywhere else – he works so hard at being himself that he can’t possible figure out how to be anyone else.

5 – How he treats his wife. I actually have nothing against Jessica Biel. She has to live with that dumb bastard, so all the power to her, but I’ve never seen a husband step on a wife so much in interviews. The drill is simple: when a celebrity husband and wife walk the red carpet, the attention is supposed to be focused on whichever one has a project to promote. If the carpet is for her, then he is supposed to be quiet and supportive and vice versa. Not JT. He makes every carpet about him. She was nominated for her first ever Golden Globe this year. That’s a big deal to actors. So what did he do? He released news about new album two days before the award show. Guess what happened? Every interview became about him and his music instead of her and her acting. He could have released that information the day AFTER the Globes. It still would have received plenty of media coverage. But no, he had to take her spotlight and shine it on himself. He had to put her in his shadow because his ego can’t stand being in hers. When she has photo calls, he jumps around in the background making bunny ears with his fingers and all sorts of juvenile nonsense. That poor woman.

6 – His thirst. While I obviously cannot stand his music, others do not agree and he has been nominated for and won several major awards. And let me tell you, he works for those nominations. He promoted that damn Trolls movie so far in advance that by the time it came out, the target audience of toddlers had graduated college. When The Social Network was in theaters, it received many Best Ensemble awards. He was one of many and his performance as Sean Parker was basically him just playing an asshole, which is hardly out of his comfort zone. Yet he strutted through those press screenings as if he were the male lead. He actively campaigned for award nominations. The entire movie was about a bunch of dicks arguing over who was the biggest dick of them all and Justin was basically holding a thumb, but that didn’t stop him from thinking he had a chance in that particular pissing contest.  

7 – He (allegedly) cheats. A man who cheats on a woman is dead to me.

8 – Super Bowl 52. The big game was played in Minnesota, home to the dearly departed Prince - a legendary performer who has gone on record stating that he believed artist holograms are demonic. Rumor had it that Justin was going to play “with” Prince via hologram until that information leaked and Prince fans went batshit. Instead, he included a video projection of Prince and sang along. Toe-may-toe. Toe-mah-toe. Prince had more sexy in his elfin toes than JT has in his whole friggin’ body. Prince knew who he was. He didn’t change his aesthetic with his albums like SOMONE who performed during the half-time show. Man of the woods my left butt cheek! Justin Timberlake is the target audience for glamping. He is only capable of eating artisanal meats and cruelty-free marshmallows. The fact that his carefully distressed, quasi-camouflage outfit was head-to-toe couture only makes his lack of irony even more pronounced. While the crowd seemed to enjoy the performance, the Twitterverse proved via video clips that the paid performers on the floor were enthusiastically clapping along while the rest of the stadium remained oddly quiet.

9  - His hair. He is a human Chia pet. No amount of straightener is going to make me forget that he has a glorious head full of pre-Ralphaelite curls.   

10 -  Nipplegate -  Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson’s bodice exposing her breast and pierced nipple for half a second during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. It was the most DVR’d moment in history as people rewound it over and over again in order to properly see what was so indecent. That moment basically led to the rise of YouTube and almost broke the Internet. But let’s be clear. HE ripped HER clothing. HE exposed HER breast. HE made the mistake in removing both layers of her clothing when he was only supposed to remove one. HE did it. Which performer was forced to apologize for the incident, though? Janet Jackson. Which one was fined for indecency? Janet Jackson. Which performer had their music blacklisted? Janet Jackson. Which performer was banned from the Grammy Awards that year? Janet Jackson. But which performer actually made the mistake? Justin Fucking Timberlake. Which performer walked away completely unscathed? Justin Fucking Timberlake. Only one performer saw their career almost come to an end and it was the victim! What exactly did she do wrong? Hire the wrong seamstress? She didn’t rip it off herself. That was the ONE time he should have jumped up to say “ me me me.” That was the ONE time he was supposed to step in front of a woman and speak. That was the ONE time he needed to act. The ONE time he needed to whet his thirst for attention by telling every media outlet, talk show host, and magazine that the mistake was his and his alone. But he didn’t. He said nothing. He did nothing. Don’t tell me that he supports the Times Up initiative. His actions toward her and the media circus that surrounded that performance showed exactly who he was. And as Maya Angelou famously stated, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Friday, January 26, 2018

It's Still Magic Even If You Know How It's Done

Ursula Le Guin died this week and many people mourned her. She was a writer of science fiction, the old school stuff that changed people’s lives. I have to admit that I never read her books.

But I thought I’d take this opportunity to write the eulogy for the author whose works I have read.

For some people, the beach is their place of refuge. Their happy place. They post countdowns all winter long about the first day of summer and then post endless photos of toes in the sand, kids frolicking in the waves, drinks with little umbrellas in hand. Bubbles is one of those who loves the beach. Others are more specific in their locations. Etsy loves Saranac Lake in upstate New York. Rorey considers Sudbury, Vermont her personal slice of paradise. For my husband, driving a boat around Lake Wallenpapupack in the Pocono mountains is his idea of heaven on earth. One October, before the docks were pulled in, he spent hours racing around the flat glass surface, ears red with cold, going as fast as the motor would allow. Rain or shine, flat calm or full chop, he just loves being out on that lake. Some people love being on a mountain skiing, or walking the streets of Paris, or a million other places that calms their soul.

I love going to Anhk-Morpork. I know where the best pubs are, the best curry, and which shops are the most fashionable. I know that dragons really do make terrible Hogswatch gifts, so I support the efforts of the Sunshine Sanctuary (and, of course, the Lady Sybil Free Hospital).  I know to fear the Summoning Dark as well as The Shades and to pray to the goddess Anoia when my cutlery gets stuck in drawers. It is a city that never sleeps, eats whatever is put in front of it (even CMOT Dibbler’s sausage-inna-bun which only the very brave or the very drunk should attempt) , and has a river that you can walk across, but to me, it’s home. And I can never go there again.

You see, the Discworld, and all the cities and continents within, such as Ankh-Morpork, were created by Sir Terry Pratchett. He died on March 12, 2015.

He left behind the Discworld – a series of 42 books, all about a flat disc-shaped world, carried on the back of four elephants (it used to be five, but one fell and when it landed, it split the continents and its bones turned to gold). The elephants stand on the back of a giant turtle named A’Tuin. Unseen University is the greatest academic institution in the land and the Librarian is an orangutan who always know the exact book you need. Many of the Discworld books fall into categories. Some are stand-alone stories, some follow the paths of the Lancre witches, others follow the lowly watchman Sam Vimes through his eventual rise to becoming the Duke of Ankh (but he really hates wearing the ducal tights and especially the hat with the feather.) Death talks in all caps, rides a horse named Binky, and could murder a curry. There are books about gods, monsters, and those who fall in between. There is a huge cast of characters, one major locations, several minor ones, and all form an interconnected world where politics, race relations, good and evil, all come together to tell a story.

And now its gone. There are no more stories to tell.

I started reading his books about 20 years ago. They fall into the category of fantasy, but they are far closer to Douglas Adams in tone than J.R.R. Tolkien. I don’t know a single other soul who reads them, but in England, he was a best-selling author. He died, much too young, at 66 of early onset Alzheimer’s. His unfinished works were destroyed by steamroller, per his instructions. His daughter, a writer in her own right, made it crystal clear that the Discworld was the work of her father and that she would not be continuing the series.

So, imagine, that Saranac Lake is closed or Vermont has been, um, overrun by ice zombies. Imagine that no boats are allowed on the lake and there are no more visits to the beach. You will always have pictures and memories, but you will never get to go there again. Never get to immerse yourself in everything that you love about it. Every year, I got to go to the Discworld and make new friends, have no adventures, learn new details about the city and its denizens. Whereas I started as a tourist, I became a local. I know what happened when Mr. Hong chose to build the Three Jolly Luck restaurant on the site of a former fish-god temple and what happened when he opened on the night of a full moon and a lunar eclipse at the winter solstice. I know how to play Thud, both the troll and the dwarf side, and I know that Leonard of Quirm is more a prisoner in mind than body. And I know I’ll never, ever get to visit with him again.

J.K. Rowling gets much credit for how she was able to layer the cast and plot of the Harry Potter series. The vanishing cabinet is first mentioned as a blink and you’ll miss it gag in Chamber of Secrets, but becomes an integral part of Half-Blood Prince. In Deathly Hallows, a random collection of characters are overheard meeting in a desolate wood and even though none of the characters are main ones, we can easily feel the pain of Ted Tonks, Dean Thomas, and Griphook because we had met them before. While the chapter mostly is used as an exposition drop for our main characters to learn what is happening in the wizarding world, it is also an example of Rowling’s skill. She didn’t just know how to set off Checkhov’s gun, she knew how to build the firearm from scratch and hand-poured the bullets.

Pratchett was the same. Characters dipped in and out of the books so that the stories never felt isolated from one another. I actively dislike books where characters have no family, no friends, no coworkers and exist in a bubble of only the few people necessary to the plot. Life doesn’t work like that and neither did the Discworld.

The Discworld reflected our world. There was a Scone of Stone instead of a Stone of Scone, though both were stolen. There was a book about Australia, one about rugby, and even one that riffed on Shakespeare. When I am sick, or busy (or during those very weird few months when I was highly medicated and couldn’t follow a recipe, let alone a plot) I could disappear into the Discworld and be at peace. I would open the latest book, read it cover to cover, then flip it back to front and start all over again, once, twice, thrice until I practically had it memorized. I still check Amazon hoping that a magical final book will be revealed, that I’ll get one last visit to my home away from home, so that this time, I can really soak in all the details. Sir Terry Pratchett will be greatly missed by his family, obviously, but also by the millions of fans who raced to the bookstores to purchase his newest novel and lose themselves in the magical world that he created.    

At last, Sir Terry, we must walk together.

Terry took Death's arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

The End.[77]

Friday, January 12, 2018

Do You Hear the People Sing?

The first show I ever saw on Broadway was Cats. It was an excellent starter show for an 80s tween. When the sirens came on, startling the “cats” onstage, I almost went through the roof. Though, to be honest, it isn’t that good of a show. You either have to be really high or really young to really enjoy a show filled with people in actual, legitimate catsuits. I can’t imagine sitting through it stone cold sober now, but at 12? It had me at “meow.”

I know people hate musicals. That the very idea of someone just randomly bursting into song while everyone around them acts like this is perfectly natural is too bizarre to be believed. I get it. But I love them unreservedly.

From Cats, I graduated to more mature fare. I spent all of high school in thrall of both Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. I had an airbrushed jean jacket with the face of the Phantom on the back that I wore with pride. Not irony. PRIDE. I still think sitting through three hours of what my husband refers to as “ that show about the French revolution where everyone dies” is my idea of heaven. I am not such a snob that I think a touring production is automatically lesser than one in New York City. I saw a Thenardier in Boston who brought down the house and a Marius in Philadelphia who broke my heart. There is something about hearing those striking chords and seeing that giant red flag fly that just destroys me each and every time.

(But, after multiple viewing, I have come up with a few questions about the plot. First, after Valjean agrees to take care of Cosette, he asks Javert for three days to care of the situation. What on earth is he expecting to do in that little time? Kill her? Adopt her off to yet someone else? It probably took him three days just to find Cosette, let alone set up a new life for the kid. Second, why didn’t Thenardier recognize Valjean in the sewers? And third, if Marius sings about all his friends being dead and Cosette sings about living a lonely existence with no one but her father – then who are all the people at their wedding? And what on earth did Marius tell her to get her to agree to get married without her father in attendance? Anyway, back to the blog.)

I was lucky, living on Long Island, the theater was LIRR ride away. Back in the day, you could go to a booth on Times Square and try to get tickets to any show that day for cheap. Now, it’s a huge storefront and it’s all very professional, but back then, you felt like you were really in on a secret. Or at least I did. One day, I was able to get tickets to Miss Saigon. I called my mom on a pay phone and she actually left work early and hopped on a train to meet me in the city. Even more shocking, when she found me, she was happily eating a black and white cookie she had picked up from a random bakery. I could not have been more shocked if she had stopped for a bump of coke.

Think back to all the movies you have seen in your life. Thousands, right? And some have been great, some good, some terrible, but how many created indelible memories, moments that you will take with you to your grave? I have had those moments at the theater.

The moment the gunshot rings out in Miss Saigon.

The moment the witch takes flight in Wicked.

The moment in Once when she doesn’t tell him that she loves him.  

To me, that’s the power of a musical. It can create a moment so visceral, so real, that you feel like you are completely alone, but can only truly be experienced with two thousand complete strangers. I’ve seen show stopping numbers that made me want to get out of my seat and dance. I haven’t seen many shows, a few dozen, tops, but the ones I have seen resonate. Not all. I’ve seen some crappy shows, ones that had unmemorable music or actors, and I will never see a production of Annie again as long as I shall live, but the good ones that are always touring, or the revivals that keep popping back up again, those shows have legs for a reason. It’s because they can take you out of your life, your body, even, and transport you to another world where you can sing about racist puppets, telekinetic children, suicide, AIDS, murder, religion, or any number of odd things and it all makes perfect sense.

(Though some shows age better than others. Go watch West Side Story and try not to cringe. I listened to Rent recently and realized that Benny, advocate of fair housing prices and new business is not exactly a villain and that maybe the people singing about not paying rent in the most expensive city in the world may be the actual villains instead.)    

You don’t even necessarily have to see it in a theater to love a musical. I know its almost blasphemy to say a movie is better than the original production (much like saying a book is better than a movie), but let’s be clear – Grease is the word for a reason. It is a cultural touchstone – to this day, you can still see Pink Ladies on Halloween. And Sandy’s carnival ensemble, while completely impractical for anything excluding cat burglary, is iconic. “Tell me about it, stud.” Come one, just reading that, you know exactly how long to pause at that comma. And I bet every single person reading this blog has seen The Sound of Music at least once. You all know who tried to put Baby in a corner and why the Reverend doesn’t believe in dancing. And if you say you don’t, then you are my husband, who for some reason, seemed to have been raised in void of 80s and 90s pop culture.

I have so many more shows to see. Hamilton, obviously. I mean, I could sell my car for good seats, but then I’m not sure how I’d pay for my divorce. Both my kids are obsessed with In the Heights, but the only production I can find this year is playing three states away on a weekend when we are already triple booked (yet, I’m still trying to figure out how to make it work.) And while Dear Evan Hansen looks phenomenal, I’m not sure I can deal with two hours of that particular subject matter. For now, I’ll see whatever I can that come to Philly and raise my kids on a steady diet of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Lloyd Webber and hope for the best.