Sunday, April 9, 2017

Groundhog Day the musical


Last week I saw Groundhog Day, the Broadway musical. It was hard not to compare it to the brilliant movie and accept it on its own terms. They did a good job executing the premise, and it was generally fun. The lead was very good. He didn't imitate Bill Murray, whose arrogant performance was tinged with a sad sense of failure. This actor added the cocky assurance of a self-satisfied handsome man, and seemed a little meaner, which worked very well. The female lead was not so great. She didn't have the charm of Andie McDowell and seemed like a generic girl character. You didn't care if they got together or not.

The music itself was ordinary with no memorable or rousing numbers and the voices were solid but not special. With the exception of the man who played the insurance salesman, when he sang his solo I was moved by the song and the quality of his voice.

I'm glad I saw it though. Like I said, it was fun.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Puzzle from January

I did this very challenging 750-piece puzzle in January. VERY challenging and satisfying.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Amy Schumer, The Leather Special

I didn't think Amy Schumer's The Leather Special was that funny, and at times it was annoying. I totally love her and was excited to watch, but was disappointed. Her perspective is great and this special did not lessen my appreciation of her. Looking forward to the next project.

The Eighties

The multi-episode CNN documentary series The Eighties kind of depressed me. It made me feel so old. The eighties was my coming of age decade, and it was weird to see it presented sort of as a historical relic. The episodes focused on television, Reagan's presidency, AIDS, nuclear disarmament, technology, music, and wall street excesses and deregulation. It was fascinating and I wanted more details on every single segment. Looking back it seemed like a more innocent and homier time, but I guess that is "the ruinous work of nostalgia".

Being There

I was nervous to watch the beloved Being There which I hadn't seen in decades. I was afraid it wouldn't hold up. It does have a slightly dated feel, but it is lovely and engaging and funny and absolutely does hold up. Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener, or Chauncy Gardener, is painfully endearing. His clueless egolessness... And the running gag about they way others project expectations on his simplicity doesn't get draining. I was kind of uncomfortable with the romantic/sexual relationship in the movie, but tried to just accept it.

Jen Kirkman Just Keep Livin'

I thought Jen Kirkman's special, Just Keep Livin' was mostly annoying. Nothing really made me laugh and her personality grated on me. She seems like someone at a party who thinks they are far more entertaining than they actually are and everyone has to smile and give them the attention they need.

Mike Birbiglia: Thank God for Jokes

Mike Birbiglia's new Netflix special, Thank God for Jokes, is enjoyable. I really loved his earlier special. This one didn't seem quite as tight, but I like his perspective and there is something affable and pleasant about him that I enjoy. Looking forward to more from him.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

A couple of weeks ago I watched all episodes of The People vs OJ Simpson, and the entire time I was wishing I had just read the book instead. I like Toobin's style and his detail, and the TV version seemed miscast to me. I seriously thought John Travolta was playing for laughs and had to ask my brother if it was supposed to be funny. Cuba Gooding Jr. did not convey the style of arrogance that I remember OJ projecting at the time, and in his strongest emotional moments he seemed merely petulant. David Schwimmer spent the entire series with the same idiotic expression on his face.

Race and racial tension are a crucial part of the story, and the TV show did a good job of centralizing it. But I don't think it contextualized it as well as it could have. Scenes of people arguing on the streets, and newscasters expressing fears about riots helped convey the way this case tapped into so many nerves, but it still seemed TV-movie-ish, and fell flat for me.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Moonlight

It's hard to write about Moonlight. From the very first moment through the last there is a particular tension, the omnipresence of fear. The film style was amazing. Captivating. Suffocating. Beautiful.

Moonllight is the story of a child/teenager/man who is exceptionally quiet, deeply ill at ease, and profoundly lonely. His environment in the projects in Miami is both empty and overflowing. Empty of avenues of escape, of opportunities to explore, of forms of relief. Largely empty of love. But it overflows with a rhythm of community life that unfortunately pulses with suffering and potential violence. Little/Chione/Black experiences a few key moments of connection, that perhaps because of their rarity, seem to accentuate and amplify his isolation. But in these moments you see his character breathe, and it's the most beautiful thing in the world.

Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark

I like Trevor Noah. The clips I've seen from The Daily Show are good. But Afraid of the Dark fell a little flat for me. His perspective is wonderful, conveying the insignificance of white American lives and highlighting our arrogance and our reliance on stereotypes. He is brilliant at enacting various racial, ethnic, and national stereotypes in a way that exposes our hypocrisy. He is also a master of accents and a very good impersonator. But his timing is off and some of his bits just took too long to get to the punch line, and once they did you already knew what it would be. I particularly felt this way in the section that imagined a conversation between Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. I knew exactly how it would land. My favorite part was his Russian accent and his jokes about the fear it inspires in others.

Selma

I'm glad I watched Selma, because I was only vaguely aware of this significant march and the events surrounding it. But I didn't think it was that great a movie. I would have preferred a documentary. This had a biopic feel, and I never like biopics (exception: Before Night Falls). There is always something forced about them as they try to dramatize events and relationships to give a movie-like experience. The story itself is incredible, I just would have rather have watched a documentary about it.

Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters was terrible. Total schlock. Not one funny moment. I felt stupid for renting it (I might actually have bought it). I thought it would be entertaining because I love the actresses in it and thought there would at least be a couple of hysterical moments that would make it worthwhile. Boy was I wrong.

The Civil War

A couple of weeks ago I watched all nine episodes (11 hours!) of Ken Burns' The Civil War. This sprawling documentary is breathtaking. Richly informative and detailed, it is also has a powerful and consistent emotional core, always coming back to the brutality of slavery, the horror of war, the daily struggle with deprivation. It focusses very much on battles and military strategy, which is only so interesting to me, but these come to life through the characters -- McClullen and Grant and Lee as generals, and the intimate and descriptive letters of several soldiers.

Some things that stayed with me: how religious American society was at that time; the writings of Frederick Douglas; Lincoln's oratory and determination; the violent carnage; the oddity of people being loyal to their state (Lee didn't care about secession or slavery, he cared about remaining loyal to Virginia); the sheer numbers of dead and wounded; the technological and social advancements that developed quickly out of necessity; the evocative and so effective way still photography was used (I watched it in HD)...

Commonwealth

Ann Patchett's Commonwealth is deeply lovely. The story of broken families and a blended family, it focusses on the relationships between the siblings and step siblings, and is remarkable in the compassion the characters have toward each other. Patchett wrote each character with love, and it is surprising, refreshing, how good a novel can be without a villain or significant conflict. There is some conflict, and a painful tragedy at the heart of Commonwealth, and that pain is made sharper by the innocence and forgiveness of everyone in the book. Some of the scenes, such as the party in the first chapter, the children visiting in Virginia, the gathering in the Hamptons, are so well conveyed that I was at times just amazed at the damn good writing.

I Am Not Your Negro

I had heard a few people mention how amazing I Am Not Your Negro is, but hadn't heard details about it or read any reviews. I was expecting a biographical documentary about James Baldwin. Instead, I Am Not Your Negro brings to life 20 pages Baldwin had been working on about the lives and deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers. The narration (by Samuel L Jackson) is a reflection on racism in the 60s and 70s, but images and footage of violence from the civil rights era are juxtaposed with images and footage of recent instances of police brutality and murder. The violence that is used to enforce racial oppression is like a crackling fire throughout the documentary. The silence in the theater was tense and mesmerized, and when Martin Luther King Jr was murdered I and others gasped. Even though of course we knew he was murdered, the filmmaker did such a marvelous job of conveying the conflicts of that era and the narrative of the fierce fight for justice, that King's death hit us in the stomach in a freshly powerful way. From that moment until the end of the film tears were running down my cheeks and you could hear others crying. When it ended, even though just a movie, everyone burst into applause. I actually wanted to stand up and give it an ovation. We all sat stunned and shaken during the credits, no one quite ready to put on their coat and return to the rest of their lives.




Curb Your Enthusiasm

After watching Seinfeld, a turned to Curb Your Enthusiasm, a show that I watched more recently (last four years?). Like Seinfeld it totally holds up.

Larry David's persona and the shenanigans driven by his neurosis and self-absorption are both hysterical and fascinating. The supporting cast is perfect, the way they complement or foil or encourage him.

The only thing, as brilliant as Curb is, it's not a great "binge" show. There is a lot of yelling and the cadence of the show, if you're watching one after another after another, can be abrasive and grating. But one or two on their own is very entertaining. Smart, slightly mean-spirited, awkward comedy.

Seinfeld

Last month I watched the entire nine seasons of Seinfeld. I hadn't seen it in about a decade I think. I wasn't sure if it would hold up.

It totally did!! Very funny, consistently funny. It was enjoyable watching an old school sitcom, where there isn't any character development or too much of an larger narrative arc. The combination of broad physical humor with New York style neurosis works perfectly. I saw my own anxieties in some of the absurdities of the characters' annoying little concerns. The acting and the chemistry between the four of them is really just so fun. Great show.

My Seinfeld Year

While immersed in reruns of Seinfeld, I read Fred Stoller's short Kindle memoir, My Seinfeld Year, about working on the show. He writes in a straightforward, somewhat complaining way, and I couldn't tell at times if he was saying things for laughs or if he was serious. If serious, he came across as a little too bitter and self-pitying. I really like the loser-ish aspect of his on screen persona, but didn't think it worked so well in writing. I was interested in the different anecdotes about working on the show, and was a bit disappointed, although not at all surprised, to learn that Larry David is an asshole.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Fargo


A couple of weeks ago I watched Fargo. It's been so long since I first saw this amazing movie and it totally holds up. Funny, strange, intense, bleak. Excellent performances.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Randy Rainbow at Birdland

The other night I got to see the talented and charismatic Randy Rainbow at Birdland.

This year -- I mean last year -- I was tightly wound around the election, and his video parodies were such a welcome relief from the frightening insanity. I was first introduced to him on facebook during the early debate season, when he did a serious of "GOP dropout" videos. So hilarious. I was hooked and eagerly looked forward to each installment. Every video I watched at least five times.

At Birdland he screened and performed along with some of these. It was fun, but also kind of moving to be in an audience watching these. Kind of like a sense of community.

The evening also featured a number of singers whose performances complemented the videos.

I will say one thing -- the entire election season when I enjoying Randy Rainbow's videos I never for a second thought Trump would actually be elected. Back then (so long ago, our halcyon days), it was fun to laugh at the big ridiculous jackass and the surreal debates. But now that he has won it feels different. I think that was some of the energy in the room, seeing these videos in retrospect created a kind of sadness for our country. It was good and important to be among like-minded people. But disconcerting realizing how much of the country supports such ugliness.

Anyway, looking forward to more Randy Rainbow parodies after 1/20.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Gosford Park

The other night I watched Gosford Park, a sort of old-fashioned, Agatha-Christie styled movie directed by Robert Altman. It was a little confusing because in the first 10 minutes you are introduced to about 25 characters who all mumble in English accents.

The relationships and conflicts seem pretty cliche, and the lack of emotional response to the murder at the center of the plot was a bit forced. The final revelation at the end was not as dramatic or interesting as it might have been.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Flight

The other night I watched Flight, a movie starring Denzel Washington as hard partying commercial airline pilot who manages to land a plane under the most intense conditions. He remained calm during this incredibly intense and frightening incident and is seen as a hero. However, aspects of his life surrounding the flight lead to an investigation, and from this point on I was uncertain what direction the movie was going in -- was this going to be a conspiracy movie? a movie about terrorism? a movie about personal redemption? Well, only one of those was correct.

I liked Flight. It kept me interested, and most of the performances were solid (John Goodman was atrocious though -- totally overacted in a badly-written two-dimensional part).

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Puzzles: 2016


Here are the puzzles I did in the fall of 2016. I guess theres a cat theme. These were all 500 or 550 pieces. The one with the fire place was the hardest.

Puzzles: some from former years


I decided I want to add puzzles to this blog. This post is a bunch of puzzles I've done in recent years.

An Alice in Wonderland (500 pieces); a tooniverse (550 pieces); a special one of a childhood photo (500 pieces); a Wizard of Oz (500 pieces); and a Charlie Harper (550 pieces, I think); a French painting (500 pieces); another tooniverse (550 pieces), and 1,000 piece poker cards puzzle -- the image is of the box, but I did eventually finish it.

I like doing 1,000 piece ones the most, but the cats make it difficult.