Sunday, February 26, 2012

Why Do I Still Watch the Oscars?

That is a tough question to answer. The show is long, boring, and predictable. The winners are typically a foregone conclusion. I don't particularly care how people are dressed - it is much more entertaining to catch up on that the day after when Joan Rivers tears into the stars who did not live up to her standards.

 And yet, I tune in every year. Of course, for me, tune in means watch part of it and have it on while I fall asleep. Part of my motivation to tune in stems from my fascination with the film industry in general. I have always been interested in how a movie is produced. I watch the making-of extras and love movies that have movie making as the subject. The other motivation is simply the spectacle of the event. I've never attended the event, but it looks like quite a study in logistics.

I enjoy the Oscars, but I do not select the movies I see based on whether or not they are Oscar bait. I part with my hard earned dollars when the movie interests me and is relatively well received by critics. Last year, Bridesmaids stole the show. And while it is wonderful that it garnered nominations for supporting actress and screenplay, it is a shame that the movie (which was on many critics' top ten lists) did not get a nod for best picture. I have seen a few of the other best picture contenders and none of them was as enjoyable or encouraged repeat viewing the way Bridesmaids did.

But I'll be watching tonight to see Billy Crystal do his schtick and see the stars put on their best gracious loser face. I will probably switch to Food Network during the speeches and the commercials.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Revisiting a Favorite

Gilmore Girls was known mostly for the banter between mother Lorelei (Lauren Graham) and daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel), but when I recently re-watched a classic episode I was reminded that the fun was also spread amongst the supporting cast. "Raincoats and Recipes" was the last episode of the fourth season and was the culmination of the Luke/Lorelei connection that had been brewing since the show's very first episode.

 There is a school of thought that subscribes to the belief that once a show's central relationship is realized and the sexual tension is lost that the show has jumped the proverbial shark. I disagree with that notion for a couple of reasons. First, it is often just as difficult to find reasons to keep two characters apart as it is to successfully write them together. Second, if the showrunners and writers are talented, then the relationship can be just as fun to watch as the build up to the inevitable get together.

Graham and Scott Patterson did a fantastic and unfortunately mostly underrated job of making Lorelei and Luke a perfect match. In "Raincoats" they both bubble with the excitement of finally admitting their feelings for one another.

And yet, despite that major storyline and Rory and Dean's relationship going to the next level, there are great things happening with all the characters. The ensemble cast provides a lot of the comic relief in the episode and demonstrated that the show struck a good balance between the main characters and the supporting cast. One of the best lines was from Babette who says to Luke, "I think Kirk  wants you to go upstairs and make love to him." This followed Kirk making obvious gestures that he and Lulu were heading to bed because Luke was tasked with coming to the rescue if Kirk had a night terror. Goofy perhaps, but still fun.

Gilmore Girls ran for seven seasons and, with the exception of  parts of seasons six and seven, excellently balanced the family drama with the goings on of the eccentric townspeople. I miss having a show on air that prompts such a genuine smile.

An ancillary benefit of re-watching some episodes is that I am getting my money's worth on these boxed sets that I purchased at full price but are now frequently on sale for fifteen bucks.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Get Ready to Rumble

When West Side Story debuted on Broadway in 1957, it broke the mold that had long driven the themes of Broadway musicals. Up to that point, musicals were typically romps that, even though they contained conflict, were upbeat and ended on a happy note. West Side Story, by exploring racism and the effects of violence, paved the way for contemporary musicals from Hair to Rent and beyond.

It is within this context that the current touring production of West Side Story holds great power. The young love of Tony and Maria and the difficulty of realizing it in the racist environment of 1950s New York City is as timeless as Romeo and Juliet, the play on which West Side Story is loosely based. At times, the racism is jarring, and yet it serves as reminder that though the world may have evolved, the racism that existed in the 1950s has not disappeared and it is imperative to remember its negative effects.

Evy Ortiz and Ross Lekites
Many elements of the production reveal its age, not only the time period in which it is set, but the time in which it was written. This is strongly illustrated right off the bat as the main conflict between the Sharks and the Jets is set up only through dance. The entire prologue scene passes with no lyrics or dialogue, and because of this the audience immediately knows that this musical is different.
The music and lyrics of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim always perfectly match the tone of the scene. Bernstein's music is harsh and pulsing during the fight scenes and quiet, melodic, and full of longing when Tony and Maria express their feelings for one another. Most pleasing to the ears and eyes is "Somewhere" in which the whole company takes the stage and the lighting transitions through several bright hues. "Somewhere" which follows the flighty "I Feel Pretty" are perfectly timed in the show to give the audience a break from the intensity of the rumble that has just wrought severe consequences.

Ross Lekites as Tony and Evy Ortiz as Maria do a commendable job portraying the innocence and excitement of young love. Both actors have strong voices and expressive faces, but it is the rest of the company that handles the heavy lifting when it comes to the dancing. It is unbelievable what legs can do when attached to the body of a trained dancer. The ensemble deserves great credit for bringing the emotions alive through movement.

 So while this show does not end on a note that encourages repeat viewing, West Side Story is nonetheless a well done production that deserves attention both for the strength of the performances and the power of the music.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Count Me In for 'Bringing In the Darlings'

Josh Ritter gives plenty of love to his fans, and that appreciation is shown not only in the genuine thanks he gives at every performance but also in his actions. Ritter's next album cannot come soon enough for fans, myself included, so it was so wonderful to learn that he'll release a six song EP on February 21st. Not only that, but you can stream the song "Why" right now over at Paste, which also has a short write up on the EP's creation. I clicked play immediately.

Striking in its' simplicity,"Why" is a small song about big things. The song is quiet, with only an acoustic guitar as accompaniment to Ritter's smooth voice, but the stripped down nature of the song allows for the meaning to push through. There is nothing covering it up. Interpretation of a song's meaning can be tricky business. I have always firmly believed that the interpretation is up to the individual listener. Songs, just like all forms of art, mean different things to different people. "Why" strikes me as one without a hidden meaning or underlying message. Rather, the lyrics are perfect in their straightforwardness. In particular, "Why spend your only life waiting/to do what you know you can do?" wonderfully illustrates the meaning of the song: Go for it, why wait? Can it be that simple? I think it can, and that is what makes it a great song.

So head to iTunes on February 21st or pre-order it now on Ritter's site and support this great artist. Don't wait!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Smash - Perhaps Not the Best Name for this Show

The trailer for Smash is flashy and NBC is marketing it as the second coming, but upon viewing the full pilot, Smash is a lesson in managing expectations. Arguably, pilots are often awkward and so full of exposition that it can be difficult to connect with the characters. But there should be a glimmer of hope, or there will be nothing to bring anyone back for the second episode. It cannot be a good sign that the only consistent thought that kept popping up during my viewing was "someone needs to unwrap that chunky scarf from Debra Messing's skinny neck before I reach through the screen and yank it off myself!"

The show's premise, the creation of an original Broadway musical, is intriguing. Unfortunately, the show does not focus on what would be the interesting aspects of bringing a show from an idea to a fully staged musical. Smash is being promoted as a the story of Katharine McPhee's Karen and Megan Hilty's Ivy competing for a dream role in a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, but a surprisingly little amount of time is spent with those characters. Instead, there are subplots surrounding adoption, Angelica Huston's divorce, and old grudges.

Megan Hilty and Katherine McPhee
It's a shame that more time isn't spent on McPhee and Hilty because their arc of striving to live out their dream certainly seems to be the most promising aspect of the show. Both actors bring out the ingĂ©nue quality that the show, and the musical within the show, desperately needs. In addition, they are supremely gifted musical performers with voices that bring down the house. Hilty is able to make us believe Ivy is happy to be demoing the garish baseball number "The National Pastime."  A task that, after listening to the ridiculous lyrics and watching the predictable staging, would seem to be impossible.

Messing  and Christian Borle do not believably portray songwriters. Their delivery seems stilted at best, and, at times, downright awkward. The introduction of Angelica Huston's Eileen, though necessary to the plot because she wants to produce the show, went too far into her personal life by diving into her messy divorce and felt like an unnecessary addition. That plot line, along with the Messing character's adoption storyline, serve as proof that the show needs to find focus. It will be difficult to pull along all the disparate storylines that were introduced in the pilot. Here's hoping Smash's writers let Karen and Ivy take center stage.