Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Theater Review: Newsies!

Location: Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ

Website: Official Paper Mill Playhouse site

Starring: Jeremy Jordan, Ben Fankhauser, Kara Lindsay, John Dossett, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Vincent Agnello, R.J. Fattori, Helen Anker

My Review: Like many red-blooded American women who fell into the 11-16 age range in 1992, I was a fan of the Disney movie musical Newsies. It was a lively, energetic story about a team of underdogs fighting injustice, with some catchy tunes and fun dance routines. The fact that it also starred a whole bunch of cute teenaged boys—led by a young Christian Bale, who now probably wouldn’t even admit to having been in the movie—didn’t hurt, either. It wasn’t a perfect movie, and by all counts was a box office flop, but it had charm and many people still remember it fondly. And some of those people make up the production team of Harvey Fierstein, Jack Feldman, and Alan Menken, who have turned Newsies the movie musical into Newsies! the stage musical.

Just like the movie, Newsies! tells the fictionalized true story of a group of underprivileged newsboys trying to make a living hawking newspapers on the streets of New York City in 1899. When the major paper publisher Joseph Pulitzer decides he’ll see more profit by raising—without warning—the distribution cost the newsies have to pay, he gets more than he bargained for. Led by the charismatic Jack Kelly, the newsies organize a union with newboys from every borough of the city and go on strike, refusing to sell any of Pulitzer’s papers until their distribution cost is brought back down. Aiding Jack in his cause are Davey, a newsie new to the job who acts as the brains of the operation, and Katherine, a reporter for a rival newspaper eager to write about real issues who strives to get the newsies’ cause on the front page.

While definitely entertaining, Newsies! is still a flawed production. Luckily, the flaws are mostly covered by the energy the cast brings. Whenever there was a musical number featuring the entire chorus of newsies (and there were several), each actor threw himself into it with such gusto that you almost felt exhausted on their behalf. Most of the dance routines were very acrobatic, so you couldn’t help but marvel at how many back flips an actor could turn and still easily join in singing.

Jeremy Jordan did well as strike leader Jack. He had enough strength and presence that it made sense that the other newsies would want to follow him into battle, but he managed to insert a vein of vulnerability that kept him from seeming like just some arrogant punk kid. As Jack’s reluctant right-hand-man Davey, Ben Fankhauser was alright, though at times came across so nebbishy nervous you had to wonder how he ever thought working as a newsboy would be the best way to earn extra money for his family. John Dossett as Pulitzer is painted a bit too broadly as a typical Disney villain, rather than just a greedy captain of industry who has no clue what it’s like to be one of his many underlings. Dossett does the best he can with the role, but the newly-added song Pulitzer performs about the joys of being rich and powerful is forgettable and unnecessary. I’m surprised that the producers didn’t add a handlebar moustache to his costume just so he could twirl it while cackling maniacally.

As far as the music for Newsies! goes, all the favorites from the movie are there (“Carrying the Banner,” “Santa Fe,” “Seize the Day,” “King of New York”), and in an effort to flesh out show, original composer Alan Menken was called upon to add some new musical numbers, which he does with mixed success. There’s the aforementioned song by Pulitzer, which is, well, for lack of a better word, stupid. Katherine the reporter gets to sing a song while she agonizes over writing her piece on the newsies, which is a nice comical piece. But the biggest clunker was the love song duet between Jack and Katherine, which brings me to the one really huge, glaring, neon problem with Newsies!: The shoehorned in love story.

In the movie version, the newspaper reporter is a man who becomes a father figure of sorts to the mostly orphaned group of newsies, and the closest thing to a love story is a very brief flirtation between Jack and Davey’s sister (who doesn’t exist in this new production). But somewhere, somehow in the development for the stage production, someone decided that what Newsies! really needed was a full-on romance (it didn’t) and that making the reporter a female and pairing her with Jack would happily serve that purpose (it doesn’t).

Putting aside how unnecessary a romantic relationship is in a story about underdogs making a stand, there’s the awkwardness of the unstated age difference to consider: Jack is all of 17 (which he states…in song) and Katherine is old enough to have a job as a reporter, which would put her somewhere well over 17 (right?). Why exactly is a working professional woman pining for a teenage boy? And why are we meant to see that as romantic? Perhaps the producers felt that since Newsies! is sparse on female roles, they would be alienating the female audience if they didn’t make one of the main characters a woman. But making her sort of inappropriately predatory was definitely not the way to go. And as far as I’m concerned, a couple dozen cute dancing boys should be more than enough to attract plenty of female audience members.

Bottom Line: Much like the movie it’s based on, Newsies! isn’t a perfect musical, but it is charming and entertaining. Fans of the movie will enjoy seeing the big musical numbers performed live, and newbies will enjoy the high-energy story about the little guy refusing to back down. Though with its eyes clearly focused on a move to Broadway, Newsies! would be wise to make the role of Katherine a male role again. Then all its lesser flaws may be forgiven. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Trailer Review: The Hunger Games

Release Date: March 23, 2012

Website: Official The Hunger Games site

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley

My Review: I admit it: I am an adult with no children who is totally in love with the young adult novel series, The Hunger Games. I would take this time to apologize to all the Twilight fans I’ve mocked over the past couple of years, except for one important thing: The Hunger Games is awesome, and Twilight is stupid.

The first story in a series of three, The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian near future where what remains of the U.S. is divided into separate Districts that are ruled over with an iron fist by the oppressive Capital. At one time in the past, the Districts banded together in an attempt to overthrow the Capital, and when they lost, unlucky District 13 was obliterated as a warning of what the Capital was capable of. As further punishment for the Districts’ insubordination, every year the Capital hosts the Hunger Games; a televised survival game where a randomly selected male and female child from each District is thrown into an arena and forced to fight to the death.

From District 12, 16-year-old Katniss takes the place of her selected younger sister, and enters the arena with fellow District member Peeta, the charming son of the District baker. Luckily, Katniss isn’t your average teenager; she’s an experienced hunter, smart and resourceful enough to live off the land, and willing to fight as hard as she has to in order to survive. She’s even smart enough to let the inevitable love triangle between her, Peeta, and her back-home hunting buddy Gale run a distant second to everything else she has going on (take that, Bella!).

The recently released trailer for The Hunger Games is really just a teaser, and doesn’t reveal much other than Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss running through a forest being bombarded by fireballs. But it’s enough to make me hopeful that the movie adaptation will capture the same suspenseful energy the book has, though I’m still concerned about how much Hollywood will sanitize the story and glamorize the lead players. In any case, it’s bound to be better than Twilight.

Would I Pay For It?: I knew as soon as I finished reading the book that I would pay to see the unavoidable movie that would come from it, though it’s going to be hard seeing anyone other than the version in my imagination playing Katniss. Because the version in my head is completely badass.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Theater Review: Death Takes a Holiday

Location: Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street, NY, NY

Website: Official Roundabout Theatre site

Starring: Kevin Earley, Jill Paice, Michael Siberry, Rebecca Luker, Matt Cavenaugh, Mara Davi, Don Stephenson, Max von Essen

My Review: Death Takes a Holiday would be a pretty good student production. Unfortunately, it’s a professional one that stars professional actors and charges professional ticket prices.

Based on a play and the 1934 movie of the same name, Death Takes a Holiday is a new musical playing in the current Roundabout Theatre season. Death, in the form of a handsome man, wants to take a break from collecting souls and see what it’s like to live as a mortal, so he invites himself to a summer weekend at Duke Lamberti’s Italian villa. The Duke agrees to play host to Death’s experiment, on the condition that none of the many guests staying at the villa will be taken by Death when he leaves. But when Death meets the Duke’s newly engaged daughter, Grazia, he instantly falls in love with her, and she finds herself smitten with him (despite her new fiancé also being in town for the weekend). Will Death keep his promise to the Duke, or will he take Grazia when the weekend is over? Will Grazia listen to her father’s warnings to stay away from the handsome stranger, or is there a force beyond her control drawing her to him? And most importantly, will anyone remember this musical once they’ve seen it?

Everything about Death Takes a Holiday is amateurish in the worst possible way. The plot plods at a snail’s pace, the characters a superficial and unsympathetic, the songs are tuneless and unmemorable, and the resolution to the whole thing is nonexistent. It so desperately wants to be a sweeping epic love story set to music—in the same vein as The Phantom of the Opera—but it never fleshes out it’s characters enough to make the audience care about them, and it never stops wink-winking at the fantastical story to be emotionally resonant. The entire two and a half hours is peppered with groan-worthy death puns (“I was scared to death!”) that you might chuckle at once if you were caught off guard, but when constantly revisited they only serve to remind you that the plot is totally unrealistic, so why should what happens really matter.

Perhaps the most unforgivable element of the production is how bad the music is. There are plenty of less-than-stellar musicals in existence, but if they manage to include one or two memorable songs, the audience will forgive them all the other shortcomings. Most of the songs in Death Takes a Holiday sound like stream of consciousness prattling set to music; the sort of noise someone who hates musical theater would make while mocking musical theater. The songs could have (and probably should have) easily been removed and replaced by straight dialog, but someone decided this production had to be a musical, despite the fact that it clearly works better as a play.

Bottom Line: There are so many more things wrong with Death Takes a Holiday, but I was bored enough while watching it that I really don’t feel like putting myself through it a second time while recalling all its failings. It may be the death of me! *rim shot* 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Theater Review: Royal Shakespeare Company’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Location: Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, New York, NY

Website: Official Lincoln Center Festival site

Starring: Dyfan Dwyfor, Mariah Gale, Jonjo O’Neill, Forbes Masson, Noma Dumezweni, Joseph Arkley

My Review: The Royal Shakespeare Company is probably on its way back home across the pond as I type this, but for a few brief weeks this summer they took up residence here in New York at the Park Avenue Armory, performing five of Shakespeare’s classic plays in repertory. As much as I would have liked to have seen all five, my bank account said I was allowed only one, so I went with the classical classic of all classics that ever classiced, Romeo and Juliet.

If I need to summarize Romeo and Juliet, then you either never took a high school English course, or you failed it miserably. In brief, Romeo and Juliet are teenagers from feuding families who meet at a party and instantly fall in love. Unfortunately, the fact that their families hate each other creates some difficulties in their relationship. So with the aid of a drama-loving nurse and a priest hoping to create peace between the families, they secretly marry, only to have Romeo kill Juliet’s cousin mere hours after their wedding, getting him banished from town. The priest hatches a plan that will allow Juliet to fake her death, making it possible for her to escape with Romeo, but when his message of this plan to Romeo goes astray, Romeo hears only that Juliet is dead. As only a lovesick teen would, he goes to her tomb and kills himself. Juliet awakens from her false death, sees Romeo dead, and kills herself. The fighting families mourn the loss of their children and vow to put their petty rivalry to rest. If you’ve ever seen a movie, watched a TV show, or read a book, you know this story already.

This instant familiarity could easily be the undoing of any production of Romeo and Juliet. It’s a 400-year old tale that’s been told over and over again in every available medium, so is it even possible to present it in a new and exciting way? If the RSC production is any indication, yes, it is (and adding fire could help).

Park Avenue Armory
Knowing that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, the RSC went minimalist with their production, with a cobblestone thrust stage acting as everything from an outdoor market square, to the inside of a castle, to an underground tomb. Rather then relying on fancy theatrics, they allowed the performances to be the attention-grabbers; a decision that worked brilliantly. Both Romeo (Dyfan Dwyfor) and Juliet (Mariah Gale) shone, and even managed to capture an element of the story that is so often forgotten: Romeo and Juliet are teenagers.

The actors themselves were obviously past their teen years, but they still managed to capture all the wonderful horribleness that is being a teen. Dressed in modern clothes while the rest of the cast was in Elizabethan garb already set them apart, making it clear that they were not of the same world as everyone else. Romeo mooned about, slouching in a hoodie, embodying all the reckless emotions that come with falling in love and experiencing adult feelings for the first time. Juliet was prone to bratty fits of temper and foot-stomping when she didn’t get her way, but wasn’t afraid to show her softer side when the time called for it. Some other reviewers complained about the use of these typical teen antics, but I found them to be a refreshing way to make it clear that Romeo and Juliet is ultimately a story about children.

As is so often the case with this play, Mercutio was a scene-stealer (played by Jonjo O’Neill). He only appeared in a handful of scenes, but reveled in playing the bawdy clown of the show, though his devotion to his best friend Romeo was clear so that his untimely death (400-year old spoiler?) was still tragic. Juliet’s nurse (Noma Dumezweni) was another highlight from the supporting cast, as she begins as Juliet’s confidant but eventually shows her duplicity when she sides with Juliet’s parents on forcing a marriage with the man of their choice. Dumezweni’s nurse was never cruel, but simply a woman who enjoyed the drama of a secret relationship, until she saw how it would negatively affect her employers and was forced to choose a side.

I saw one of the final performances of the RSC, and unfortunately, the production was plagued by mishaps. An unidentified beeping noise in the middle of the first act brought the play to a stop while it was fixed. Even more disruptive, at the dramatic peak of the second act when Romeo enters Juliet’s tomb, a torch bearing actual fire refused to be extinguished, so a stagehand had to appear to carry it offstage. But despite these issues, the cast remained professional, yet playful enough to wink at the audience and let us know that, yes, this kind of stuff can happen even during Shakespeare.

Bottom Line: Given the quality of the production they offered and the reception they received from a New York audience, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s first visit here was a success. Being able to breathe new life into Romeo and Juliet is a task not many could do, but the RSC made it look effortless. I hope they return again soon with some new perspective on other old favorites. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Movie Review: Bridesmaids

Rated: R

Website: Official Bridesmaids site

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Jon Hamm

My Review: I was lucky enough to attend an advance screening of the comedy Bridesmaids, so figured a brief step out of my hiatus to share my thoughts on it was in order. You are allowed to show your pleasure.

Bridesmaids wants very badly to be a female-centric comedy without delving into the realm of romantic comedies and being labeled with the unfairly tainted hallmark “chick flick.” Being produced by Apatow Productions and having Paul Feig as director is a step in the right direction, but the movie still lacks that certain something that would make it the next The 40-Year Old Virgin comedy sensation.

Annie (played by Kristen Wiig) is going through a bit of a rough patch in life. Her bakery business went under due to the recession, so she now works at a boring jewelry store job she got through one of her mother’s Alcoholic’s Anonymous contacts. She shares an apartment with a pair of very creepy British siblings. The closest thing she has to a real relationship is occasional sex with a guy who would prefer that she not spend the night (played by Jon Hamm, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for her). And to add the cherry to her crap-life sundae, her life-long best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting married and wants Annie to be her maid of honor. Wanting to be supportive, but in way over her head, Annie agrees, and is introduced to her fellow bridesmaids, including Helen (Rose Byrne), an overgrown mean girl who is hell-bent on using her rolodex of important contacts and her husband’s money to give Lillian the wedding of her dreams, thus muscling Annie out of the role of “best friend.”

While Bridesmaids tries hard to avoid typical romantic comedy tropes, I wish it had tried a little harder. While the bulk of the movie is about the women and their relationships with each other—the groom only has one line in the whole movie; “I do”—it can’t resist dipping into the familiar well a couple of times. In addition to the cattiness that bubbles up between Annie and Helen in their fight for Lillian, Annie is also presented with the classic dilemma of having to choose between two men: One is handsome, but treats her poorly, the other is kind of nerdy, but adores her. Whoever will she ride into the sunset with at the end?! (Hint: Exactly who you think she will.) There was plenty of comedy to mine in having an inept maid of honor try to make her best friend’s big day memorable, so having to shoehorn in a love triangle and rehash the stereotype that women would rather fight than be friends was disappointing.

Being an R-rated comedy in the Apatow family, Bridesmaids is rife with adult-only humor that you wouldn’t want your children (or possibly your parents) to see. The movie opens with a sequence of Annie having awkward sex with her disinterested fuck buddy, and the biggest gag involves a case of food poisoning that leads to massive uncontrollable vomiting and explosive diarrhea. The laughs are plentiful throughout most of the movie, but about midway through they start to feel kind of cheap. Sure it’s an adult comedy, so things are bound to be a bit raunchy, but most adults can find humor in things other than bad sex and bodily functions.

Though their times on Saturday Night Live overlapped very briefly, Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph make such a natural pair of best friends, you would think they’ve been working together for years. The fact that the uptight Helen thinks she even has a chance of coming in between them is almost laughable. But the real standout in Bridesmaids is Melissa McCarthy as Megan, the groom’s sister and one of Lillian’s bridesmaids. If, like me, you were a fan of her Sookie on Gilmore Girls, prepare to be shocked, as brash, bawdy, and vulgar Megan is the anti-Sookie. It would have been easy to stick her in the role of “token funny fat person,” so it was refreshing that she got to be genuinely funny (and kind of gross) with her weight having nothing to do with her comedy.

Bottom Line: Bridesmaids offers lots of laughs, and some heart, but there just isn’t enough there to make it a comedy that you’ll want to revisit again and again, or to pick you up when you need a laugh. If a movie ever manages to capture the true hilarity that can come from female relationships, leaving cattiness and overdone love complications out of the equation, I’ll happily be first in line to see it. But if they wanted to cast Jon Hamm as another casual sex partner, I’d be OK with that. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Going on Hiatus

For those of you who read my blog (all both of you), you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been slacking a bit in getting new posts published. This was due mainly to being busy with a big project I was working on at my day job, and the general laziness I sometimes fall victim to. But that was nothing compared to the blog slacking I’m about to do as I go on official hiatus.

In addition to my full-time job and the various other activities that fill my time, I’m now taking a paralegal certificate course in an effort to broaden my career aspects (since it’s no secret that the publishing/editing/writing field is struggling to stay alive). The course takes up a lot of my free time, so for the next few months I’m going to take a break from The Opinionated B, with the possibility of doing a post here or there if I come across something worth writing about.

So have a great spring, go see some theater, and eat lots of cake. And if you know of anyone in the NYC area looking for a paralegal with a background in editorial work, please let me know!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Theater Review: Gruesome Playground Injuries

Location: Second Stage Theatre, 305 West 43rd Street, New York, NY

Website: Official Second Stage Theatre site

Starring: Jennifer Carpenter, Pablo Schreiber

My Review: After seeing a show, I usually wait a day or two before writing about it so that I have some time to let it all sink in and form a somewhat thoughtful opinion on what I saw. Polarizing shows that generate a ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ response are easier to get to quicker, while I’ll procrastinate writing about those I have mixed feelings on for as long as I can stand it. It’s been a week since I saw Gruesome Playground Injuries, and I’m basically forcing myself to write about it before I forget everything that happened, which pretty much says everything about how I feel about the show.

The two-person play is the story of the bizarre friendship between Kayleen and Doug over the course of 30 years, told in out-of-order episodes from their life ranging from elementary school childhood to their late 30’s. When they first meet in the nurse’s office of the private school they both attend, Kayleen’s sullen and self-destructive ways immediately bond her to the constantly accident-prone Doug, and the two stumble (sometimes literally) into each other’s lives at lengthy-spaced intervals as they grow up.

Gruesome Playground Injuries is such a mixed bag, and every moment seems to fall slightly short of its aim. When it’s being darkly funny, it generates more of a smirk than an actual laugh. When it’s being touching and poignant, it tries too hard to avoid being mawkish that it misses on being resonant at all. Most of my reaction to the performance can best be broken down into a series of pros and cons:

Pro: The actors. When the entire cast consists of two people, having the wrong two people in those roles can destroy the play before the house lights have dimmed. Luckily, Gruesome Playground Injuries gets its casting exactly right. As Kayleen, Jennifer Carpenter (best known as foulmouthed Debra on Dexter) is perfectly acidic and thorny, but maintains a necessary thread of vulnerability. As Doug, Pablo Schreiber fluidly moves through the various facets of his character, from immature jokester, to Kayleen’s whipping boy, to empathetic friend, to tragic clown as the series of injuries Doug sustains during the course of the show gradually move away from being comic relief. The two actors play their characters at various ages, from eight to 38 and periods in between, and it was amazing at how good they were at portraying the childhood and teenage years without delving into exaggerated stereotypes.

Con: An unconvincing relationship. Kayleen and Doug are best friends. How do I know this? Because the play told me so. Unfortunately, it failed to make be believe it. I believed their awkwardly cute first meeting in the nurse’s office. I believed their stilted flirting and petty arguments as they grew older. But as they became adults and professions of life-long friendship were made, they lost me. It’s established that they don’t see, or even speak, to each other for stretches of years at a time. They conceal major life events from each other. And when they do eventually get together, they do little more than fight with each other. Friendships come in all shapes and sizes, but the one between Kayleen and Doug never felt completely formed or rang true for me, as I found it hard to believe that they really cared about each other all that much (making it hard for the audience to care about them all that much).

Pro: The scenery. Gruesome Playground Injuries is a play that doesn’t need a lot of props or elaborate scenery, so the minimalist Second Stage Theatre was a perfect fit. The stage floor is made of clear Plexiglas cubes, with a pair of shelves with boxy drawers on both sides where the actor’s quick-change costume components are stashed. For each scene a chair, bench, or bed is easily slid in from offstage, then quickly pushed out during the scene change, making the whole production run like a well-oiled machine.

Con: Abrupt ending. The play feels like its building toward something during its 80-minute run, but then it just ends. It wasn’t until the stage went completely dark and other audience members started clapping that I even realized it was over.

Pro: The title. Despite its various shortcomings, Gruesome Playground Injuries is one of the best titles for anything I’ve ever heard.

Bottom Line: A flawed play that is saved by its stellar performers, Gruesome Playground Injuries is nevertheless a play that sticks with you. But not because it’s so memorable or entertaining, but because it’s almost impossible to decide if you really liked it or not.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Theater Review: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Location: Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ

Website: Official Paper Mill Playhouse site

Starring: Ephie Aardema, Will Blum, Lyle Colby Mackston, Marla Mindelle, Olivia Oguma, Jerold E. Solomon, Ali Stroker, David Volin, Brandon Yanez

My Review: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is probably one of the most purely fun musicals to come around in the past few years (though it’s still trumped by Avenue Q in that capacity). It’s funny and lighthearted with just enough amount of pathos tossed in to prevent it from being completely unsubstantial. The characters are exaggerated, but still relatable, the story is comical, but not a farce, and the songs are simple and tuneful, but still clever and thoughtful.

Spelling Bee tells the story of six unique students (played by adult actors) competing in a middle school spelling bee. Each dreams of taking home the top prize, but must overcome their individual hurdles to do so. The bee is preceded over by one-time spelling champ Rona and the school’s disgruntled vice principal, and former convict Mitch is performing his community service as the comfort councilor who provides the ousted spellers with a sympathetic pat on the back and a juice box. The spellers relate their various spelling—and personal—woes in a series of songs, including helicoptering same-sex parents and an unfortunately timed erection.

All in all, it’s not an overly complicated show; there are no elaborate set changes, no complicated song and dance numbers, and no need for “serious” actors. Which means that Spelling Bee is the perfect show to let loose with, and each individual production has the potential to be completely unique. There’s even an audience participation element that can be played with by a cast that’s able to think on their feet (a handful of audience members are invited on stage to be participants in the bee).

Unfortunately, no one told the Paper Mill Playhouse that this was a show that they were free to toy around with. I was lucky enough to see Spelling Bee during its Broadway run and found it to be hilarious, and while I wasn’t expecting this new production to live up to those standards, I was still expecting a bit more than what I got. Everything that I saw on stage was very by the book, as if the cast was handed the script and warned about deviating from what was on the page. The resulting production was still amusing, but it could have been uproarious if the cast had just loosened up a bit.

It also didn’t help that they obviously had a stock pile of jokes and quips to be made about the audience participants, rather than improvising in the moment. Maybe this was a conscious decision by the director who felt the cast didn’t have the comedic chops for improv, or maybe it was a huge misstep, but either way, it was noticeable and resulted in a lot of jokes that fell flat.

Bottom Line: For theatergoers who like their musicals frothy and fun, with just a modicum of risqué, Spelling Bee is an ideal choice. Just pray that you get to see a cast that’s willing to play it a little faster and looser than this one.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Bet I Can Pick More 2011 Oscar Winners Than You

The nominees for the 2011 Academy Awards have been announced, and my first reaction is, “Can someone please explain the widespread love for Winter’s Bone to me?” I saw Winter’s Bone. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t find it to be all that, either. It was interesting to see a primarily overlooked section of America being portrayed, and the acting was pretty good, but in the end it just didn’t move me and it didn’t stick with me.

The nominees are a nice mixed bag of the expected (Black Swan and The King’s Speech both got a healthy dose of nods), surprises (Javier Bardem for Biutiful, the aforementioned Winter’s Bone nominations), and outrages (Christopher Nolan didn’t get a Directing nom?! No Mila Kunis for Supporting Actress?!). And on a personal note, if Time Warner Cable would get its act together and offer The Social Network On Demand, I’d totally watch it before the awards on February 27.

With limited knowledge and no expertise whatsoever, here are my winner predictions:

Best Picture
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

So we’re still doing the 10 nominees thing, eh? Well, I’m going to go ahead and whittle the race down to Black Swan, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network. I know The Social Network is considered the frontrunner, especially after its big Golden Globe win, but I’m guess The King’s Speech gets the Oscar. Oscar LOVES historical dramas. And this one is British! We Americans sure do love us some Brits!

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jessie Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

OK, I know that out of this list The King’s Speech is the only one I saw, and I’m always a bit clouded by my undying love for Colin Firth, but can’t we all agree that this is his race to lose?

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Well screw you, Julianne Moore! No, not really. I mean, I still like you, but somebody apparently decided you were the weak cog in The Kids Are All Right machine. This category is probably a race between Bening and Portman, and while Oscar tends to love seasoned actors who have been routinely overlooked (like Bening), the statue is more than likely going home with Portman.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffery Rush, The King's Speech

I haven’t even seen The Fighter, but Bale will probably win, and I pray that he still looks like coked-up Jesus when he goes onstage to accept.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

I really liked Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech because it was nice to see that she still has the acting chops to take on sedate, understated roles (we all know by now that she can tackle any number of kooky misfits in the various Tim Burton carnivals she appears in). But Melissa Leo is apparently great in The Fighter, and a lot of people seem to still be rooting for her from Frozen River a couple of years ago. But Hailee Steinfeld was apparently phenomenal in True Grit, and the Academy does like to honor remarkable child actors. But the five people who saw Animal Kingdom can’t shut up about Jacki Weaver. I’d put my money on Leo winning.

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David O. Russell, The Fighter
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David Fincher, The Social Network
Joel Coen/Ethan Coen, True Grit

This is probably between Aronofsky and Fincher. Fincher will probably win for being able to create a compelling story about a bunch of computer nerds. Though in my opinion, getting the masses to go see a movie about ballet is no small feat, either.

Best Screenplay — Adapted
Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Michael Arndt, Toy Story 3
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, True Grit
Debra Granik and Anne Roselini, Winter's Bone
Wouldn’t it be neat if Toy Story 3 won? It won’t, but it would be neat. Aaron Sorkin basically has this locked for both being a long-time beloved screenwriter and for, like Fincher, creating a compelling story about a bunch of computer nerds.

Best Screenplay — Original
Mike Leigh, Another Year
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, The Fighter
Christopher Nolan, Inception
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right
David Seidler, The King's Speech

I have a feeling this is the one category The Kids Are All Right could actually win. Or The King’s Speech will win, which is probably more likely.

Best Animated Feature
How to Train your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

If you haven’t learned by now that you never bet against Pixar, you never will.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Shenanigans: Happy 2011!

Years ago, when I was younger, starrier-eyed, and didn’t have to work full time, I would occasionally create these stupid, poorly illustrated stories in MS Paint depicting some ridiculous and/or inane event in my life that would really only be funny to me and maybe two other people. And I called this series of crudely depicted tales ‘Shenanigans.’ So seeing how this is a new year and this is my blog (ergo, I can do what I want with it), I’m tentatively reviving Shenanigans and, well, we’ll see how it goes.

In my first Shenanigans story, I will detail how I spent New Year’s Eve.

For those who know me personally, it’s no secret that I can be a bit antisocial and lazy about making plans. But I was determined to ring in 2011 with some semblance of celebration after the previous year’s New Year’s Eve left a lot to be desired.

I belong to an online listing that offers severely discounted tickets to various events and performances in the city, and they had a listing for a New Year’s Eve party for singles. This seemed like a good idea for several reasons.

So I proposed attending this party to my best friend, who agreed.

Unfortunately, being the idiot I can be sometimes, I failed to see the one big major downside to attending a party specifically for singles: Scores of creepy and poorly socialized people assuming that everyone else there is as desperate as they are for companionship.

Upon entering the club, everyone got a card with the name of one half of a famous couple on it. As an ice breaker game (ugh) you were supposed to find your “mate” in the crowd and win a prize of some sort. My identity was…Barbie.

I wasn’t particularly interested in seeking out Ken in the crowd, but more focused on having a few drinks, eating a few pigs in a blanket, and hanging out with some cool chicks. But this was not the case with the other party guests, and the rest of the night progressed something like this:

Gaggle of creepy dudes aside, it was still an improvement over my welcome to 2010. And no, I never did seek out Ken. Because what am I supposed to do with a guy who can’t bend his joints and whose nether region is as smooth as pigs in a blanket are awesome?

Oh, and kitty still wishes everyone a happy new year. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2011 Golden Globe Awards Post-Mortem

So was it just me, or were the Golden Globes sort of ‘meh’ this year? There were plenty of good movies and TV shows being honored, but everyone from the host to the nominees to the guests just seemed to not really care this year. I know America is famous for its apathy towards nearly everything, but if we can’t at least get a little pomp and ostentatious ceremony from our overly-coiffed celebrities, the terrorists win!

Second-time host Ricky Gervais delivered on his promise to pull no punches with his zingers, but a lot of them fell flat (not that anyone seemed to care too much). It felt like he was trying too hard to make the most of the time he had on stage, which was precious little, which makes me wonder why the producers bother the get hosts for these award ceremonies. With different presenters for all the categories and a handful of pre-taped bits and montages, is a host even necessary to keep everything tied together?

I didn’t score too badly on my winner predictions, but that’s mainly because I stuck to the big categories only and didn’t even bother to delve into the TV categories. Apparently The Social Network is going to be the front runner at the Academy Awards, so I should really get around to seeing it (which I totally will if Time Warner On Demand would get its act together).

You can see the full list of Golden Globe winners here, and here are some random thoughts/observations from the ceremony:

* Gervais’ trademark mean-spirited comments were hit or miss, but my favorite was his comment about how Sex and the City 2 should have at least received a nomination for whoever airbrushed the movie poster. The best part was the reaction shot of Chris Noth (there for being nominated on The Good Wife) cracking up.

* I watched the first season of Boardwalk Empire and liked it well enough, but did it and star Steve Buscemi deserve to beat out Mad Men, Jon Hamm, and Bryan Cranston in their respective categories? That would be a ‘no.’

* Can anyone explain why The Tourist and The Kids Are All Right are considered comedies (or musicals)?

* Annette Bening totally deserved to win for The Kids Are All Right and looked great in her age-appropriate dress. Now if she could just do something about that crazy troll-doll hair…

* Robert Downey, Jr. has to be one of the most well-adjusted former drug addict sex fiends ever.

* I laughed at winner Natalie Portman’s comment about how good an actor her fiancée is because “he totally wants to sleep with me!” Maybe she can do comedy after all. (No, I still won’t pay to see No Strings Attached.)

* I would love to fault the Hollywood Foreign Press for being Glee fans, since it’s a guilty-pleasure show, not an award-winner show, but then they went and gave an award to Chris Colfer, who is far and away the best thing about the whole show. And his legitimate shock and awe at winning was adorable. So keep on believin’, Hollywood Foreign Press, and hold on to that feeling.