Saturday, April 9, 2011

NO STRINGS, GOOD TIMES: A few thoughts on the NY Phil's production of Company, which I quite liked:
  • Because most of the performers are actors first and singers second, the book scenes actually worked better than the songs in many instances. This was particularly the case with Colbert, who knocked his comic scene out of the park (he plays the guy who has his wife, played by Martha Plimpton here, demonstrate "kara-tay" on him), but whose chunk of "Sorry/Grateful" was merely OK.
  • However, two of the cast members known primarily for theatre work disappointed in their songs. I'm guessing that "Another Hundred People" is murderously hard to sing, but Anika Noni Rose seemed hoarse, and while her rendition was technically better, I preferred the passion Angel Desai brought to it in the revival a few years back. Patti Lupone did her thing as Joanne, particularly in "Ladies Who Lunch," which didn't do much for me--I found it over-enunciated and over-done, even though that mode kind of fits the song. That said, both of them got extended ovations from the audience at the song's end.
  • Interestingly, even though it was only a semi-staged concert performance, the production included "Tick Tock," an instrumental dance number centered around a love scene between Bobby and April (played here by Christina Hendricks, though she doesn't dance it). This benefits Hendricks, not just because it gets her less clad (yes, there's a negligee involved), but giving her character another scene, and it's nice to see her playing something far more reminiscent of where she is at the start of "Our Mrs. Reynolds" than Joan Harris. She also gets to sing, and acquits herself decently.
  • Because of where he's cast, Craig Bierko is largely wasted--his one "big moment" is a book scene in Act II that has not aged well (those who know the show can easily identify). He does what he can with the scene, but it's still one of the false notes in the show.
  • Although she largely disappears in Act II (again, because of the structure of the show), Katie Finneran is the MVP of Act I, with her rendition of "Getting Married Today" and the subsequent book scene, which is really funny and effectively serves as a turning point for Robert.
  • NPH has a hard job to do as Bobby--while he's the lead, he only carries three numbers in the show, and mostly has to function as a reactor to his friends. That said, it all comes down to "Being Alive." Most Bobbys treat it as a vocal showpiece, full of vibrato and big glory notes. NPH doesn't have that kind of voice, so he plays it differently--emphasizing the acting. The lyrics are repeated twice, with slight lyrical variations--the first time through, NPH chooses to read them cynically and bitterly, but progressing till he hits something, and there's a change until at the end, it's all about hope and joy. As Sondheim put it--the song "starts as a complaint but becomes a prayer"--and NPH nails that, making him quite worthy.
If you're a fan of Sondheim and/or NPH, the video will be worth seeking out, in part because the production will likely iron out kinks (best takes of numbers will be used and the sound mix will be balanced, I expect, eliminating the problem that sometimes happened with the orchestra being so large and effective as to swallow a performer's voice), but even on its own merits.
PUT THOSE GUNS DOWN! ATTICA! ATTICA!  Sidney Lumet, director of American film classics including 12 Angry Men (his first film), Dog Day Afternoon, SerpicoThe Verdict and Network, passed away this morning at the age of 86. While other directors like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese presented a stylized New York City, it was Lumet (and Spike Lee) whose films always felt like the real New York.

In a retrospective on the occasion of his 2005 honorary Oscar (he lost all five for which he competed), Manohla Dargis called him "one of the last of the great movie moralists," noting:
Mr. Lumet has remained stubbornly engaged with the world... his films express both the dramatist's concern with human struggles and a social scientist's interest in society and social change. Few American filmmakers capture the dirty gleam of enamel-paint walls, the chipped wood-veneer and naked light-bulb ugliness of institutions as persuasively as Mr. Lumet. He has been doing his part to sustain Hollywood's great humanist tradition.

Friday, April 8, 2011

IS THIS GOING TO BE A MONTHLY FEATURE? In April's installment of People Involved In American Idol Who Respond To Me On Twitter, it's executive producer Nigel Lythgoe! First, I tweeted the following in response to his post-Pia lament, which he re-tweeted to his ~60K followers:
Then have the judges make clear who deserves to leave. RT @dizzyfeet I am still shocked and sad about last night's #AmericanIdol result.
To which he then added:
RT @adambonin: Then have the judges make clear who deserves to leave. [IT IS NOT ABOUT THE JUDGES OPINION IT'S ABOUT YOURS!! U R NOT SHEEP!]
Which suggests the question, which I asked him: then why have judges at all? No reply yet, but at least he's leaving my mom out of it.
NO LONGER BEING MANNY:  With an extended PED-related suspension being the other option, Manny Ramirez has announced his retirement from baseball.  His career statistics are extraordinary; his personality even more so.

I hope that by the time he's eligible, the Hall of Fame voters will have worked out a fair process by which hitters of the PED era can be properly honored in context with induction; there is no doubt in my mind that Ramirez belongs there, however large the asterisk or disclaimer needs to be.
COMEDY TONIGHT? I've rarely seen a pair of movies both released the same weekend get as critically savaged as this weekend's pairing of Your Highness and Arthur, both of which apparently waste folks who can be funny and likable (and have Academy Awards, in some instances) on complete messes--one featuring a character who the Times describes as being stuck in "a locked room at the Zooey Deschanel Institute for the Cute and Quirky," and the other featuring Zooey Deschanel. If I opt for a film this weekend (I have a fairly full calendar already), it'll likely be Hanna, featuring Saorise Ronan in a role that sure as heck seems like an audition reel to play Katniss Everdeen. There's also Soul Surfer, with a strangely starry cast (Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, and Carrie Underwood), and the latest installment in "Adorable Animal Babies In Imax 3-D!" Anyone intrigued by any of these, or are you going to hold out for next weekend, when Rio and Scre4m square off for your moviegoing dollar?
CAMPAIGN PROMISES THEY WILL LIVE UP TO: The Oregon State House of Representatives has a message for us.
FRIDAY ALOTT5MA GRAMMAR RODEO BONUS ADULT EDITION: If only because Glen Weldon, book critic/comics blogger for NPR and one-fifth of Pop Culture Happy Hour, tweeted these remarks on Wednesday, and I thought I would share:
Just spent 15 minutes in pitched taxonomical debate w/friend over whether [DUDE WE KNOW] is a dick, a cock or a prick. Because words matter.

Our conclusions: Obnoxious + Insulting = Dick. Obnoxious + Dumb = Cock. Obnoxious + Arrogant = Prick. (Clip and save for your records.)
ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO: Via Friend of the Blog, Legitimate Journalist Dan McQuade:
Have youse ever done one on the phrase "to pick up"? Here's my dilemma: The other day I was walking to brunch and was going to meet my friend on the way, then continue on to the brunch place. I was about to say I'd pick her up... but we'd be walking, so I didn't. But then I thought about it: If the phrase was shortened from "pick you up along the way," then I think it still works. Right? I'd be using "pick up" in the same way as "pick-up basketball" (you pick people up at the court to play). But maybe I'm wrong. I need to look it up in the OED, I guess, but I haven't been to the library in a while.
So: can you use the phrase "pick up" when a vehicle is not involved? If no, then what's the right verb?

Survey says!  77% say "yes."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN LOVE ME AND LEAVE ME TO DIE?  So, I was all set to herald the return of Constantine Maroulis (!!) to American Idol, and focus my comments on the oddness of the Iggy Pop performance -- only the possibly-drunk Michael Buble "Call Me Irresponsible" comes close -- but then came the results.

THE TARGET AREA IS ONLY TWO METERS WIDE: Some of the new clubs they're using as The Masters this year, wow.
THE EQUIVALENT OF BUTLER HAVING WON MONDAY NIGHT: In a stunning upset, Esquire online readers have voted 30 Rock's Katrina Bowden their choice as Sexiest Woman Alive. Bowden was a 10 seed, and an underdog in every round, beating Padma Lakshmi, Kim Kardashian, Emmy Rossum, Dianna Agron and Lea Michele, and Megan Fox, before pulling the ultimate Cinderella story and upsetting #1 overall seed and defending champion Brooklyn Decker in the finals. There's no One Shining Moment, but she does have an acceptance speech.
THEY COULD HAVE USED THIS IN THAT NIGHT SHYAMALAN-PRODUCED MOVIE FROM LAST YEAR THAT NO ONE SAW: Where to stand on an elevator to maximize everyone's personal space.
I'M ASKING HIM TO CHANGE HIS WAYS: It's Sing Whatever The Hell You Want (Again) Week on Idol, and Kim and I are here.

Adam: I had a weird feeling at the end of tonight's Idol, Kim. Everyone was more-or-less competent, except for a few ill-advised notes from Casey perhaps, but the overall effect of the show was so dispiriting. It felt like a karaoke night, with no one singing with particular passion, or a song that was particularly meaningful to the singer, and certainly without any of the kind of personal artistry we've come to expect on the show in recent years. Really, Kim, is there a great contemporary artist coming from this?

Kim: You know my views on the show, Adam. The point isn’t to find a great contemporary artist. It’s to sell music on iTunes, and commercial time on Fox. From that standpoint, I think this is a pretty successful season. There isn’t a frontrunner (or even an obvious final 3), and the number of people who are truly outclassed by their fellow competitors is pretty small for a final 9. But you’re right: when the most creative thing that happens on rock-and-roll night is that Casey sings with a stand-up bass, it’s clear that the addition of the professional producers has taken away both the need and the opportunity for the contestants to innovate. There were plenty of performances that I enjoyed tonight (and only a few that I hated), but none that really sent me over the moon.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

GENIUS IS WHAT THAT WAS: On the one hand, Survivor-wise, yes.  On the other hand, no.

BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO IS PISSED: The Grammys have dropped 31 categories for next year. Notable consolidations:
  • Most categories that previously had a gender divide (pop vocal, R&B vocal, country vocal) now have a single category. Rock and R&B vocal performances are no longer separated between individals and duo/group, though country and pop retain that distinction. R&B gets hit the hardest, going from 8 categories to 4.
  • A fair number of the "instrumentals" categories have been eliminated--no more "pop instrumental performance" or "rock instrumental" performance.
  • Much squishing together of categories that used to be separate--"hard rock" and "metal," "banda" and "norteno," "regional Mexican" and "Tejano," "latin pop" and "latin rock, alternative, or urban," "traditional blues" and "contemporary blues," "traditional world music" and "contemporary world music," "traditional folk" and "contemporary folk," and "Hawaiian," "Native American," and "Zydeco or cajun" are now all "regional roots music."
  • Substantial retooling of the "gospel" category, giving Contemporary Christian Music clearer categorization and its own song award.
When looking at those looking for the G to finish their EGOT, not sure how much this affects them unless Al Pacino finally decides to cut his metal album or Maggie Smith pursues a sideline singing R&B. The traditional EGOT categories like spoken word album and the various score categories are pretty much untouched (save "children's spoken word," which is consolidated with "children's music album"). The Grammys have needed to cut down on categories for a long time now, and this seems a fair way to do it.
THE LITTLE THINGS YOU DO TOGETHER, BUT VIA SKYPE: As this article reveals, the cast of this weekend's Company will not all be in one place for rehearsal till opening day, and the cast and crew have taken some interesting measures to get ready, including learning dancing moves through iPhone videos, Skype, and other methods. Makes me grateful that I'm not seeing it till Saturday matinee, after they've gelled. But more important to much of our audience, it does confirm that the show is being filmed for movie theatre broadcast in June, with (I assume) a DVD and live recording to follow.
"I will tell you one thing," he said. "And that is our show next year is our last year of the show." Though Baldwin has made no secret of the fact that he plans to leave 30 Rock in 2012, this was the first time we've heard that the show itself would close up shop, too. But Baldwin says it's a done deal that Fey will be leaving. "Our contracts are expired [in 2012], and Tina is gonna have a big career directing films and writing. She's going to be the next Elaine May. She'll be great." Tina Fey's reps declined to comment.
added: Poniewozik says don't panic. "I tend to treat this kind of news like deaths on 24: I need to see a wound to the head, and preferably a burned body, before I believe it. Katie Couric will, someday, not be CBS' anchor' Vieira will, someday, not host Today; 30 Rock will, someday, go off the air. But I don't consider any a done deal until they're done deals—that goes double for anyone's claim, more than a year in advance, that a certain show is ending. The Sopranos and other shows taught us how these deadlines can move. Alec Baldwin? Well, let's just say, he's an excellent actor, and he says stuff sometimes."
SHUT UP. WE DIDN'T LOSE VIETNAM. IT WAS A TIE! Kevin Kline does a thoughtful interview with Sam Adams about his past roles, and it's a fine jumping-off point for a discussion as to what his second-best role  has been. (Seriously, is there disagreement about the f-f-f-first?) I'd likely go with The Ice Storm, but if you wanted to go comic with Soapdish or Dave I won't fault you. I just wish he worked more, because he's so damn good ... though, really, Wild Wild West?
I DON'T MIND THEM COMING HERE AND WASTING ALL MY TIME: In May, The Cars are releasing their first new album in twenty-four years. Now, The Cars were a fine band who put together a terrific body of work in the 1970s and 1980s. More than that, if you told me that the new track, Sad Like This, was a B-Side to something off Heartbeat City, I wouldn't have doubted it for a moment. Given that -- and setting aside the perfectly reasonable pursuit of money -- is there something they didn't accomplish musically that merits a new album?

N.B.: Here's a second track, Blue Tip, which again sounds precisely like vintage The Cars.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

THIS BLOG ALREADY HAS A FAVORITE PRINCE, AND HIS NAME IS PRINCE: I'm just wondering -- other than opening up space for live commentary that day, are folks expecting us to provide continuing coverage of The Most Important Wedding In The History Of Weddings (Other Than His Parents') over these remaining weeks? Nothing about it has interested me yet, and I'm wondering if I'm an anomaly.
ALSO, WHEN YOU ARE INSIDE THE MIND OF BOB NEWHART: Choire Sicha explains when men may wear a button-down shirt.
GOTTA BE FRESH: Stephen Colbert, the Roots and some special guests sing "Friday." Yes, the first special guest made me smile.
STREAKS ON THE CHINA NEVER MATTERED BEFORE: Forget about last night: name your favorite butlers and Butlers, real or fictional.

Monday, April 4, 2011

MAYBE YOU'D LIKE TO SEE A REAL MAN: Philadelphia's Rocky statute has been yarn-bombed in pink, part of a local guerrilla knitting movement known as Crochet Guevara.
ALOTT5MA SPECIAL BONUS MONDAY GRAMMAR RODEO: I feel like I owe you a legitimate one after Friday's hijinks (and also to verify that the previous two+ months were not merely a set-up for a joke), and it comes by way of Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big To Fail, his inside story of how everyone involved in the Wall Street financial crisis was interrupted from a fabulous vacation at some point or other (and what model of black car each is driven in) (coming next month to HBO), though it does contain at least some detail as to what actually happened and why.

Anyway, at page 264 we see this sentence:
[Fuld] spent ten minutes again imploring Paulson to call Christopher Cox at the SEC to press him to instate a short-selling ban, to announce an investigation -- anything that would give him an opportunity to recover.
Instate. Well, that sounds odd, and my first thought was that this was some kind of wretched back-formation of "reinistate" that someone had made up.  But, apparently, it's real -- or, it was real at some point.

According to Merriam-Webster, instate does predate reinstate, having first been seen in 1603 (and meaning "invest, endow, bestow, confer"), though it is considered obsolete today. The OED dates it to 1613 (Thomas Heywood's Silver Age, "Faire Danaes sonne instated in my throne") and Samuel Pepys's 1667 Diary ("He will enstate the King of Spain in the kingdom of Portugall"), with the term meaning "To put (a person) into a certain state or condition; to place in a certain position; to install, establish. " while also suggesting it's somewhat obsolete.

So, "instate."  Do you use it, will you use it, or should we just let this verb sleep?  There is a poll.\

Poll results: It's not real (60%0, I may try it now (26%), I already use it (13%).
I FEEL LIKE A DEFECTIVE TYPEWRITER:  In the Too Old To Play A Teenager Hall of Fame, Stockard Channing in Grease and 90210's Gabrielle Carteris are first-ballot, no-doubt inner sanctum inductees.  Those two, and many other contenders, are slideshowed here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

DEPENDING ON YOUR PERSPECTIVE, IT'S EITHER FORTUNATE OR UNFORTUNATE THAT THE MOVIE WAS NOT MADE UP ENTIRELY OF ONES AND ZEROES: Based on requests received via Twitter and Facebook, there's desire for a thread to discuss Source Code, which I really liked for the first 80% and am not sure how I felt about the end, which seemed to me to be a case of the movie wanting to have its cake (following the "rules" set up earlier in the film) and eat it too (to have a happy ending). And even though I didn't recognize the voice that has a small but important cameo, it was a nice tribute to a prior work that's a clear influence on the film. Comments will be a spoiler zone, so tread carefully.
UP NEXT - SCHMENDRICK!  A reader asks: are there other cultures/languages which have a word meaning the same thing that mensch does in Yiddish?