Saturday, April 5, 2014

Noah Counting for Taste

The new epic film Noah starring Russell Crowe has been drawing fire from some religious quarters.

Noah has been the subject of controversy with some religious groups claiming the story has been inaccurately portrayed. That has prompted Paramount Pictures to add a disclaimer to its marketing material saying “artistic license has been taken” in telling the story.

Well, that’s what happens when you turn a work of fiction into a movie.  A lot of people — myself included — had some issues with the way Peter Jackson depicted The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit on film.  But a movie isn’t a book; they are two different ways of telling a tale, and if the source material is good enough, it will survive pretty much intact.

As it is, the biblical story of the flood has blockbuster movie written all over it, and it’s been the subject of movies since the silent era.  The only surprise here is that it wasn’t directed by James Cameron with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead.

But no one tells it better than Bill Cosby.  Maybe they should have filmed his version.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One Way To Get Noticed

From Miami New Times, a local Miami artist makes his objections known to not being known.

Yesterday, art lovers around the world were shocked when someone strolled into the Pérez Art Museum Miami and destroyed a $1 million vase by Ai Weiwei.

Well, the story gets even more shocking. That’s because the vandal wasn’t a political objector or a random crazy person. He was a fellow artist.

The vandal is actually Maximo Caminero, a well-known local painter who has shown works at the Fountain Art Fair. He tells New Times that he destroyed the vase to make a point.

“I did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here,” he says. “They have spent so many millions now on international artists. It’s the same political situation over and over again. I’ve been here for 30 years and it’s always the same.”

According to a police report, a PAMM security guard saw Caminero pick up the vase yesterday afternoon. When she told him to put down the piece of art, he “threw and broke the vase on the floor in protest.”

Caminero then “spontaneously told [police] that he broke the vase in protest of local artists and that the museum only displayed international artists,” according to the report.

His chances of getting a one-man show at PAMM are officially shot to hell.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

And You Call Yourself a Theatre Person

The Oscar nominations are out, and once again I’ve batted 1,000: I have not seen any of the films nominated for Best Picture.

I think there was one year not too long ago that I didn’t even go to the movies in that calendar year.

It’s not that I have anything against the current crop of films; most of them look interesting and I’m sure that they are worth seeing.  But when I take into account the time and effort it takes to go to the local cineplex, find a parking place, get settled in, sit through endless previews of movies I wouldn’t watch if they were free, pay $5 for a box of popcorn that tastes like artificially buttered styrofoam, and then finally watch the movie, I’d rather wait until it’s on HBO.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m single and don’t have anyone to go with.  After all, going to the movies alone is a social stigma, and most people who go alone usually aren’t going to see movies like Saving Private Ryan; they’re going to see Shaving Ryan’s Privates and end up sitting in front of a guy in a trench coat (who hopefully isn’t as good a shot as the guy in Tampa).

So best wishes to the nominees.  See you in a year when it shows up in rotation on channel 301.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Effing Holidays, Sarah

Dan Savage reviews Sarah Palin’s new book Good Tidings and Great Joy.  He does not mince words, especially when she starts to complain about the War on Christmas.

I was never a “happy holidays” guy. Christmas was a big deal in my home growing up, and it’s a big deal in the home I share with Terry. December is Christmas. I’ve always wished people “merry Christmas” without really giving it a thought. Ho-ho-ho.

But that’s over now.

Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly and Fox News and the Family Research Council and the woman who allegedly punched another woman outside Walmart earlier this week for saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” managed to break me of the “merry Christmas” habit. I suspect I’m not alone. This constant bitching from the right about “happy holidays”—a perfectly lovely expression that embraces Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Pancha Ganapati, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Hanukkah, the Epiphany, Saint Nicholas’s Day, Hogmanay, Twelfth Night, and Kwanzaa—has made one thing clear. Not that there is now, or ever was, a war on Christmas. But that saying “merry Christmas” is an asshole move. Just as conservatives made patriotism toxic during the Vietnam War by conflating it with blind obedience to authority (“My country, right or wrong!”), modern conservatives have made “merry Christmas” toxic by associating it with Christian fundamentalism, religious intolerance, and the politics of imagined persecution.

Unfortunately, the war on Christmas is a game Palin and O’Reilly and Fox News and the Family Research Council can’t lose. The more they complain about people saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,” the fewer people will say “merry Christmas.” This will be held up as proof that the war on Christmas is real. But people like me aren’t replacing “merry Christmas” with “happy holidays” to be “politically correct,” as Palin insists in the introduction to her stupid book, we’re doing it because we don’t want people to think we’re assholes.

So happy fucking holidays to you, Sarah. I hope you choke on a cinnamon bun.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run some of these Christmas cookies over to the Jews across the street.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Play’s The Thing

miami1acts_home 06-28-13I’m sure you’re all anxious to hear how the play Ask Me Anything went last night at the Miami 1-Acts Festival at the New Theatre.

In short (and yes, it’s a short play), it went great.  The cast of Glenn Hutchinson as Steve, Jordan Hale as Martin, and Joel Kolker as Leo were masterfully directed by William Roudebush and gave the play dimensions and moments that were really amazing.

Last night was the first of two programs of short plays: the second batch goes tonight, and then on Sunday, both programs are presented back to back.  As with festivals of this kind where the audience sees a series of plays in rapid succession and all the actors from all the plays are sitting on the stage waiting for their play (and the order of presentation is selected by drawing numbers out of a hat), it was a quick and fluid evening with a lot of different styles of plays and topics.  I know I’m not exactly objective, but I think my cast did the best of all with polished and tuned performances, and it sounded like the audience thought so as well.

If you’re in the neighborhood, you’ll have one more chance to see it on Sunday, July 7 at 5:30 p.m. at the New Theatre, 1645 SW 107th Avenue, Miami.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

As Snowball noted in Friday Catblogging this morning, was there really a need to turn a 317-page book into three full films, the first one running almost three hours?

I’m going to reserve judgment on that until I see the last two installations of the telling of the tale of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, but if the first episode foretells the future, I’d say it will probably work.

I did not see the 3-D version because I don’t have 3-D vision in real life.  I’ll never know if it makes the experience any better, but I doubt it can improve the storytelling.  Fortunately, director Peter Jackson has a good story to work with, and thanks to his work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he has a great deal of respect for Tolkien’s work.  The difference is that in the case of the first series, he had to make some cuts to the original material, leaving out characters such as Tom Bombadil and shortening the end of the story that left out an important denouement.  In the case of The Hobbit, he felt the need to expand, including bringing in characters from the first series to provide background for the beginning of the tale and extending some episodes that on screen lasted a lot longer than it took Tolkien to tell them on paper.  (In fact, I’ll bet you can read the whole book in the the running time of the first installment.)  And the inclusion of some non-textual events such as the tale of the wizard Radagast the Brown, who spends far too much time communing with nature (and mushrooms), was an episode that could have easily been left out.

Mr. Jackson was fortunate that he had good talent to work with in the cast.  He was able to bring back Ian McKellen as Gandalf as well as Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Christopher Lee in their roles from LOTR, providing foreshadowing of events that will occur later on in Middle-earth (that viewers who have seen LOTR will know about, which means he was foreshadowing events that, in real time, have already happened.)  He also found in Martin Freeman an actor who could play Bilbo Baggins, the country squire hobbit turned burglar and adventurer, with the right balance of courage and trepidation.

The only unfortunate casting was the company of the dwarves, whom Mr. Jackson chose to portray as comical gypsies and bumblers rather than the refugees of a noble kingdom cast out of their land by the dragon Smaug.  Some of them seem to have been made up as if they wandered in from Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz.  It makes you wonder if Thorin, the leader of the band (played with smoldering dwarvish sex appeal by Richard Armitage), could have chosen a more serious band of compatriots.  (Although given the situation of the dwarf diaspora, it’s understandable.)

Because the film has been done in 3-D (along with IMAX and high-speed film versions), there are a lot of action scenes with lots of loud (and I mean LOUD) music and sound effects.  At one point I thought that a chase scene was more a pitch for a ride at a theme park than an actual advancement of the story, but then, that’s going to keep the franchise alive, I suppose.  And while I understand the need by filmmakers to go to the complete sensory absorption that 3-D and IMAX provide in order to sell tickets (and add the premium for the required viewing glasses), you had better have a good story to tell no matter whether it is in 3-D or not.  In the case of The Hobbit, the original story was written long before 3-D film was invented; in fact, talking movies were a novelty at the time of the book’s publication.  So the tale that Professor Tolkien began when he jotted down the sentence “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” on the margin of an examination paper he was grading survives in the telling, even if the embellishment turns that first line into a bit of narration a full ten minutes into the film.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Breaking the Fourth Wall

I watched Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom all the way through the first season, and by and large I enjoyed it as long as I kept in mind that I was watching TV and not a Ken Burns documentary.

Mr. Sorkin is a very good playwright and he has an amazing talent for writing dialogue and interwoven plot lines. For me the best parts of the show was where he was writing for the grown-ups: Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston. Jeff Daniels is one of America’s most underrated actors (I’ve been following his career for almost thirty years, going back to his days at Circle Rep in New York), and I will pay to watch Sam Waterston read the directions on the back of a bag of microwave popcorn. As for the goopy soap opera love interests between the kids, enh. His cast is attractive, appropriately diverse (although where are the openly gay characters?), but their antics are annoying to the point of wondering how the hell they got such good jobs working for a big cable news operation while still acting like horny teenagers.

Mr. Sorkin obviously has a political agenda, and he does as good a job as any agit-prop playwright of folding real events into a dramatic through-line. The only problem with that is that real-life events have the shelf life of a bottle of milk; in revival they become period pieces. But he’s writing this for TV, not Broadway, and in The Newsroom there are occasions when he does something that goes beyond the constraints of his make-believe world of ACN and talks directly to the audience. In theatre we call that “breaking the fourth wall.”

Breaking the Fourth Wall

I watched Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom all the way through the first season, and by and large I enjoyed it as long as I kept in mind that I was watching TV and not a Ken Burns documentary.

Mr. Sorkin is a very good playwright and he has an amazing talent for writing dialogue and interwoven plot lines. For me the best parts of the show was where he was writing for the grown-ups: Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston. Jeff Daniels is one of America’s most underrated actors (I’ve been following his career for almost thirty years, going back to his days at Circle Rep in New York), and I will pay to watch Sam Waterston read the directions on the back of a bag of microwave popcorn. As for the goopy soap opera love interests between the kids, enh. His cast is attractive, appropriately diverse (although where are the openly gay characters?), but their antics are annoying to the point of wondering how the hell they got such good jobs working for a big cable news operation while still acting like horny teenagers.

Mr. Sorkin obviously has a political agenda, and he does as good a job as any agit-prop playwright of folding real events into a dramatic through-line. The only problem with that is that real-life events have the shelf life of a bottle of milk; in revival they become period pieces. But he’s writing this for TV, not Broadway, and in The Newsroom there are occasions when he does something that goes beyond the constraints of his make-believe world of ACN and talks directly to the audience. In theatre we call that “breaking the fourth wall.”

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Radio Rant

I got a fund-raising letter from the public radio station that plays classical music here in Miami. I wrote them back.

Dear Classical South Florida:

Thanks for the “Action Needed!” donation reminder. I listen to the station all day at work (6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) and in the car. I have donated in the past. But when finances got tight, I had to give it up. Now I could probably contribute a small amount, but I have made the decision not to based on the following points:

1. You play the same pieces over and over. I have heard “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” more times in the last year than I’d heard in all my life up until then. I love Gershwin’s music, too, but I’m actually getting tired of “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris,” which means you’ve basically taken the joy out of hearing them. It’s gotten to the point that when I hear a DJ announce a piece by a certain composer – Wagner, Richard Strauss, Copland, Gershwin, or Beethoven – I can bet what that piece will be, and if I had a dollar for every time I was right, I’d give it all to you. You’re a classical music source with hundreds of years and hundreds of pieces to choose from. Please use those vast resources and stop playing the Top 40. And don’t get me started on “Bolero.”

2. There’s a propensity for your playlist to include music from the Baroque era that specializes in screechy and high-pitched strings, usually in concert with each other that actually puts my teeth on edge. I realize Georg Philipp Telemann wrote a lot of music, but do you have to play all of it… ?

3. You moved Performance Today from noon to 7:00 p.m. Why? That program provides variety, information, and insight that made me pay attention. Instead, you replaced it with another two hours of jukebox classical music seemingly chosen at random to fit into the constraints.

4. Speaking of constraints, I realize that Classical South Florida is an outlet of Classical 24 and you have no more choice over what comes out from the network than the local TV station has over what comes to them during primetime; Classical South Florida hears the same music as Classical Sun Valley. I also realize that you have to meet time constraints such as finding enough music to fit in 54 minutes each hour, which would explain why you go with the shorter pieces. But they don’t have to be the same pieces over and over again.

5. As you know, South Florida went through the drought of no classical music on the radio when WTMI went off the air in 2001. We welcomed you to our area with open arms and I am very glad you’re here. But I also think you have squandered the opportunity to make an impact on both the music and educational world here. As a public station, you have an obligation to be more than just a repeater station for a network.

6. I’ve lived all over this country and listened to classical stations from Denver to Petoskey, Michigan; from commercial stations like the legendary KVOD to WQXR in New York. I grew up on Karl Haas’s “Adventures in Good Music” through the speakers of an AM radio on WJR in Detroit, and participated in the raucous pledge drives at Interlochen Public Radio where they actually had fun and made me want to listen to them beg for money. Each of those stations forged a personality that differentiated it from the other. Classical South Florida is trying desperately to forge an audience by acting as if it’s a local outlet when we know it is not. I realize there’s nothing to be done about that; you can’t forge a South Florida personality when your hosts are in Minneapolis. But you can do better than be just a Muzak feed that has all the variety of the buffet line at Golden Corral.

I’ll keep listening, and I’ll keep hoping to hear something new. But until I do, you’re not getting any financial support from me.

I will say this in their favor: I have yet to hear one of their hosts introduce “The Grand Canyon Suite” by “Fred Groff.”

Radio Rant

I got a fund-raising letter from the public radio station that plays classical music here in Miami. I wrote them back.

Dear Classical South Florida:

Thanks for the “Action Needed!” donation reminder. I listen to the station all day at work (6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) and in the car. I have donated in the past. But when finances got tight, I had to give it up. Now I could probably contribute a small amount, but I have made the decision not to based on the following points:

1. You play the same pieces over and over. I have heard “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” more times in the last year than I’d heard in all my life up until then. I love Gershwin’s music, too, but I’m actually getting tired of “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris,” which means you’ve basically taken the joy out of hearing them. It’s gotten to the point that when I hear a DJ announce a piece by a certain composer – Wagner, Richard Strauss, Copland, Gershwin, or Beethoven – I can bet what that piece will be, and if I had a dollar for every time I was right, I’d give it all to you. You’re a classical music source with hundreds of years and hundreds of pieces to choose from. Please use those vast resources and stop playing the Top 40. And don’t get me started on “Bolero.”

2. There’s a propensity for your playlist to include music from the Baroque era that specializes in screechy and high-pitched strings, usually in concert with each other that actually puts my teeth on edge. I realize Georg Philipp Telemann wrote a lot of music, but do you have to play all of it… ?

3. You moved Performance Today from noon to 7:00 p.m. Why? That program provides variety, information, and insight that made me pay attention. Instead, you replaced it with another two hours of jukebox classical music seemingly chosen at random to fit into the constraints.

4. Speaking of constraints, I realize that Classical South Florida is an outlet of Classical 24 and you have no more choice over what comes out from the network than the local TV station has over what comes to them during primetime; Classical South Florida hears the same music as Classical Sun Valley. I also realize that you have to meet time constraints such as finding enough music to fit in 54 minutes each hour, which would explain why you go with the shorter pieces. But they don’t have to be the same pieces over and over again.

5. As you know, South Florida went through the drought of no classical music on the radio when WTMI went off the air in 2001. We welcomed you to our area with open arms and I am very glad you’re here. But I also think you have squandered the opportunity to make an impact on both the music and educational world here. As a public station, you have an obligation to be more than just a repeater station for a network.

6. I’ve lived all over this country and listened to classical stations from Denver to Petoskey, Michigan; from commercial stations like the legendary KVOD to WQXR in New York. I grew up on Karl Haas’s “Adventures in Good Music” through the speakers of an AM radio on WJR in Detroit, and participated in the raucous pledge drives at Interlochen Public Radio where they actually had fun and made me want to listen to them beg for money. Each of those stations forged a personality that differentiated it from the other. Classical South Florida is trying desperately to forge an audience by acting as if it’s a local outlet when we know it is not. I realize there’s nothing to be done about that; you can’t forge a South Florida personality when your hosts are in Minneapolis. But you can do better than be just a Muzak feed that has all the variety of the buffet line at Golden Corral.

I’ll keep listening, and I’ll keep hoping to hear something new. But until I do, you’re not getting any financial support from me.

I will say this in their favor: I have yet to hear one of their hosts introduce “The Grand Canyon Suite” by “Fred Groff.”