Best of 2008

And now for the Best of 2008:

Best Amateur Theatrical Production: Into the Woods at the Waterloo Community Playhouse and Gypsy at Theater Cedar Rapids. But, you already knew that.

Best Professional Theatrical Production: Touring production of Sweeney Todd (the John Doyle staging). The way that was staged is just absolutely brilliant. I should gush about that sometime.

Best Live Performance That Wasn’t Theater: Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza. It was kinda like a circus, but without animals. Under a big top with jugglers, trapeeze artists, tight rope walkers, clowns that aren’t scary. Also, it had great music.

Best Film: Milk

Book Read (fiction): Hero by Perry Moore. Really was the best novel I read and it was published in 2007. But I would recommend it to people and I found it to be a great coming-of-age story with an interesting plot and characters with real problems and depth.

Book (non-fiction): Night of the Gun by David Carr. He didn’t invent his memoir and it was a rather interesting book to read. It had some flaws, but overall it was good. Also, that came out in August.

Song Heard: “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy as performed by Patti LuPone.

Internet Video: Does Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog count? If not, the “Nine People’s Favorite Thing” video was excellent.

TV Show: Mad Men.

Quote: “So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.” -David Mamet on Jeremy Piven leaving Speed-the-Plow

Musical Discovered: [title of show], although I have the music from In the Heights stuck in my head right now.

Band Discovered: Tie: ThouShaltNot and The Dresden Dolls (thank you, Jacklin)

Album Listened to: Tie: 2005 Revival of Sweeney Todd and 2008 Revival of Gypsy. I’m not saying that because of the common thread of Patti LuPone and Stephen Sondheim.

Surprise: Demi Lovato. Despite her being tied down to Disney, her music is actually pretty good. She wrote a song about getting back together, not about breaking up and how much I fucking hate you (granted, she can’t even sing “kiss me, like you mean it” in the Disney Channel music video of “Get Back”). The best song on her album is written completely by her (“Trainwreck”).

Entree in Iowa: That wasn’t prepared by my mother? Meaty Mushroom Burger at Hamburger Mary’s in Cedar Rapids. It happens to be good regardless of if you get a beef patty or a veggie patty.

Entree Outside of Iowa: Goat Cheese Ravioli at the Green Zebra in Chicago. Best damn thing ever.

Dessert: Creme Brulee at Brio in Rockford, Illinois. Someone actually got it right.

Moment: I really can’t pick one. I had some really great moments in my life this year.

Here’s to a great year in 2009. I have no resolutions.

Worst of 2008

As 2008 draws to an end, I’m going to look back on what was the worst of 2008 this year.

Film of 2008 Seen: 27 Dresses

Film of Previous Years Seen: Death at a Funeral, which I found to be significantly worse than 27 Dresses. It did have music by Murray Gold, who writes the music for Doctor Who, though.

Song Heard: I’m not sure what it’s entitled, but I heard this song that rhymed “realize” and “real eyes”. This is why I either listen to my iPod or NPR when I’m driving.

Novel: Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer. I’m not saying this because it probably appears as though I have a beef with her and the Twilight novels, but this truly was the worst novel I read this year. Anti-climatic plot, lack of explanation of things and overall, poorly written. I have to give her some props for managing to really upset some of the fans with this book. Oh, the other novels I read that were bad were just blander than an Associated Press story.

Non-fiction Book: I didn’t read any non-fiction books published in 2008 that were bad, in fact I didn’t read any non-fiction books that were bad. How about A Million Little Pieces by James Frey since it’s not really non-fiction?

Meal: Vegetables at a chain restaurant named Texas Roadhouse. Although, being a vegetarian and eating at that place is not really a good idea.

Musical Discovered: Hmm…I am coming up with nothing. I actually sat down and listened to the entire High School Musical soundtrack, but I’m not sure if that classifies as a musical.

TV Show You Watched: The Hills. I watched it to try to get in touch with my peers and after watching it I went into my room and listened to classical music while reading Waiting for Godot to purge myself.

Band Discovered: How about most of the one’s that performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? I’m excluding Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel’s performance that I missed, and that guy that Rick Rolls.

Surprise: Furry pets are annoying.

Podcast: I downloaded this podcast to help me learn Spanish and it was from Ireland and therefore I ended up listening to Irish people speak Spanish. Not that helpful.

Website: Gawker, but only due to how addictive it is.

Moment: The floods. Although my house wasn’t damaged/destroyed by the floods, I know a lot of people affected by their place of work being flooded. In short, I was in a neurotic overdrive.

Coming tomorrow, the best of 2008!

Ugh

Yes, Shrek: The Musical and Tarzan: The Musical do exist. Trust me, I read the scathing reviews. If Tarzan doesn’t exist, then a bunch of theater critics went on a really bad acid trip in 2006.

Finding Nemo: The Musical was never on Broadway, it’s simply a show at Walt Disney World.

No, I didn’t like Cars, but I loved Ratatouille and WALL-E.

Review: Milk

Due to the fact that very few films of worth/notariaty come to my city, my mother and I hopped in the car and went down to Cedar Rapids to see Milk.

This film, is by far, the best one that I have seen this year. Which says something, because Wall-E was excellent.

Milk is a biopic from Gus Van Sant that follows Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first openly gay elected official in America, from 1970 until 1978, when he was assassinated. If you are not familiar with the fate of Harvey Milk at the beginning of the film, you shortly find out within the first few minutes of the film with a clip from the day that both Milk and Mayor Mascone (Victor Garber) were assassinated.

The film starts out in a subway station in New York City in 1970. Harvey, the clean-cut insurance salesman, meets hippie Scott Smith (James Franco) shortly before his fortieth birthday. At the suggestion of Scott, they get up and go to San Francisco, where Harvey, the bearded hippie, opens a camera store.

This is in 1972, when The Castro was just beginning to become the gay mecca it is now. Before this point, it was a predominately Irish-American neighborhood. The police rough up the gays, and Harvey decides that something must be done. His first attempt to be elected supervisor fails and he goes back to the drawing board. The next election rolls around and Harvey is seen once again as clean-cut, but this time in a three piece suit. Second election and he loses, but meets a young hoodlum from Phoenix named Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch). Harvey’s third attempt to be elected is to be a state Representative, which he loses.

His persistent nature with politics is deeply admirable, but destroys not only his relationship with Scott, but also with Jack Lira (Diego Luna), whom he meets after Scott leaves him.

In 1977, instead of Scott running the election, Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill) is brought in to help run the campaign, which aids in the bringing in of multiple endorsements from newspapers. At the same time, Anita Bryant is on her crusade to take away rights from gays. Harvey is elected as a supervisor, along with conservative Dan White (Josh Brolin). Milk attempts to befriend White in an attempt to gain his support for a citywide gay rights ordinance. However, Harvey backs down with his support to prevent a psychiatric hospital from opening in White’s neighborhood, which causes the White to ultimately become Milk’s key opponent. Harvey also leads an opposition to Proposition 6, a referrendum that would have prevented homosexuals and their allies from teaching in California Public Schools. This is defeated, White resigns, tries to get his position back, and then the already known ending occurs.

The film covers eight years of history in a little more than two hours, yet never drags and keeps on moving. The delightful thing about the script is not just that it keeps chugging along while giving us the life of an incredible man along with a history lesson, but that it also seems real. While most biopics end up feeling like poorly done reenactments on E! The True Hollywood Story, Van Sant and writer Dustin Lance Black have given us a film that draws us in and makes us feel a part of it all.

All of the actors give phenomenal performances in the film, playing the people as people; not caricatures of the people. But Penn and Brolin give exceptionally intriguing performances.

As Milk, Penn gives a compelling powerful performance of a man that is not played out to be larger than life. Penn manages to show the sympathetic, playful, kind, and passionately angry sides of the individual he portrays.

As White, Brolin portrays Milk and Moscone’s assassin in an undeniably interesting way. He portrays Dan White as a troubled individual that I actually found myself pitying at one point. It is implied that there is something bothering that character, but it is never revealed (very nice and mysterious might I add). White is not portrayed as down right evil, nor is he played as an over-the-top hysterical clown. But as an individual.

Throughout the film, it is repeated that you have to give them hope. This film does just that with the telling of a hopeful yet tragic story of an individual. One has to wonder what Harvey Milk himself would think about the legacy he has left on not just the gay rights movement, but also America.

If you live in Eastern Iowa, I highly recommend that you get in your car and fight Mother Nature to see Milk at the Wehrenberg Galaxy in Cedar Rapids as it ceases running on Christmas day. If you live elsewhere, I highly recommend that you see this film as it captures an interesting moment in history with grace and ease.

So Movies Make Good Musicals?

Do you remember how last year I was very thrilled that the Waterloo Community Playhouse announced that they were doing Into the Woods, and I used an icon that said “Squee!” on it?

Well, in today’s Waterloo Courier (now you understand why I went looking for a copy of today’s Courier), there is an article announcing the summer musical at WCP.

It’s High School Musical.

I would first like to thank the Courier for placing this announcement in a logical place, which was in the Arts and Home and Garden section next to the article on Waterloo Community Playhouse’s upcoming production of It’s A Wonderful Life. This makes much more sense than putting it in the Opinion section, like they did last year.

Second of all, I won’t deny that I groan at the mention of this musical; I’ve tried to sit through the Disney Channel film and I can’t. In fact, several of my friends that have suffered through the film have informed me that I once summed up the dance moves in the film into three dance moves.

But please note that I used the word “film” in those preceding sentences.

I am hoping that because it is done by WCP that the show will at least be a moderately enjoyable show. They were able to do that with Cats and Footloose; I don’t see why they can’t do that with High School Musical.

Because it is not done by Disney, and there are probably very talented teenagers/young adults in the area to play the lead roles, the show may lose quite a bit of it’s corniness in the upcoming production.

Not to mention, the show will probably attract a younger crowd and sell lots of tickets.

The show is going to run in July. I don’t know when in July; the article doesn’t say.

They are doing Leaving Iowa, which is a charming comedy. However, I will not be living in Iowa at that point in time.

The Jeremy Piven Mercury Poisoning Drama Continues

Well, E! News happens to have the worst coverage of this incident I have ever seen. Normally, I only endure that program because my sister watches it, but I volunatrilly watched it last night. Their coverage was like this:

Jeremy Piven has mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi. Has to quit the Broadway show he’s in. These two guys named Norbert Leo Butz and William H. Macy are taking over. BRADGELINA!!!!!!!!!.

Why is this disappointing? Well, for starters, they didn’t mention the awesome David Mamet quote. They mention it on their website, where they do a "leave Jeremy Piven alone" deal, but not on the actual TV show. I mean, they don’t even care about his poor co-stars. I feel sorry for Elizabeth Moss and Raúl Esparza because he’s leaving two months before the show ends (although, in the article on said topic in today’s Times, it states that he’s been feeling tired since the show started. Clearly, he hasn’t heard that 80-year-old Estelle Parsons is kicking ass in August: Osage County, two blocks south at the Music Box Theater).

*sigh*

Well, gossip websites (okay, I haven’t been on Perezhiton.com, but there are others…) and the New York Post are pretty much saying that this is bullshit.

I repeat my previous statement, but I’m going to add on the producers and director.

Why Forced Comedy Doesn’t Work

There are several things that I dislike about film, television and theater. Poop jokes and fart jokes are at the top of that list because I can’t think of anything more sophomoric in nature. But with that same grouping is forced comedy.

You’re probably sitting there wondering what I mean by this. For the purposes of this discussion, I mean, the playing up of a joke for laughs or the insertion of a line in the script to try to get laughs.

There are some exceptions to this definition. Both productions of Rocky Horror Show that I’ve seen at Theatre Cedar Rapids have had improved lines, usually by the narrator, but they were delivered in a rather natural way. Rocky Horror Show is also filled with moments of breaking the fourth wall, which can make these ad-libs a bit forgivable.

But I was thinking about this as I was eating at IHOP with my mother last night (I ate french toast at 5 PM, because I am that awesome). The main reason why I hate farces is because so much of the humor is forced in the script. You have so many of the elements to create the zaniness that initiates laughter (mistaken identities, multiple doors, etc.). So much of it feels unnatural and sadly, too many actors in productions of farces I’ve seen feel this need to ham it up for laughs.

I have been accused hating comedies in the past. This is not true and it is not just because, as I like to point out, my favorite musical, Company, states in it’s full title that it is a musical comedy. I fell in love with The Producers when I was eleven and have learned humorous life lessons from Avenue Q. The soundtrack for Curtains never ceases to amuse me.

But my appreciation for comedies extends beyond musical comedies. For a long time, I’ve loved the plays of Neil Simon for a very simple reason: there is a realistic side to them. The situation in his well-known Odd Couple is one that there is a slight chance of happening. There is a natural humor to the shows, because most people don’t force jokes in real life.

This might also be why I don’t enjoy school theater. Teenagers feel this overwhelming desire to make people laugh. All too often, this can kill a show because the script wasn’t written that way. I attended a school play earlier this year where the actors were playing it up for laughs so much, that I didn’t laugh that much. The one time I did laugh it was at a line about reviewing a show before seeing it, to which I laughed heartily. This was because the actor delivering the line said it as if it was a common practice for the character. However, I ended up being the only person laughing at this line and received glares from several audience members.

But whenever the actors tried to force laughter from audience members, the show felt rehearsed and stale. Theater should feel fresh and new, as if the events are something occurring for the first time in the life of the characters.

Which is a huge problem with so many productions of farces I’ve seen. A certain door is supposed to open and hit that character at a certain point. That bra is supposed to flung across the stage and hit a certain character in the face at that moment. And the sexual innuendo? Let’s play it up to the point it’s not even innuendo.

But I have an even larger beef with improv and ad libing. I once auditioned to do improv for my speech team, and the two individuals I was paired with were trying so hard to make the coach laugh, that they were drowning out me playing a frantic wife who’s husband had just had her arm cut off by a serial killer clown. I turned to the two and, in character, told them to shut up so my husband wouldn’t die. Improv is used for kicks and those doing improv try to do it for laughs. Some do it rather skillfully (in Cedar Falls, the Half-Masted 3.2 group is rather good at this), but too many go belly up like a man slipping on a banana peel.

And as for ad libing? If you think that you should add a line not in the script for kicks, don’t. It can kill the show simply because it doesn’t fit. Like a poop joke in a dark comedy from the 1940s. And it may be glaringly obvious even to those not familiar with the work, eventually killing the experience to all in the audience. It can also drag out the show, whether stage or film, because people have to keep working with your shtick. And even on the screen, it can seem obvious that an individual is adding lines simply for laughs (see: Horton Hears a Who).

I would like to think that perhaps people in comedies would learn that by just saying things naturally, not emphasizing the punch line, they would be funnier. But, it sadly seems as though the use of telling a story that happens to be humorous is dying, just like the laughter in the theaters and living rooms.