[livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball and I left for NYC on Friday, returning late last night. He was the instigator, saying he really wanted to see Pippin, and after watching the Tony awards video (which you can see on that link right there ^^ ), I had to agree it was worth seeing on Broadway. So, in for a penny in for a pound, we also made plans for Kinky Boots, another Tony winner this year.

We had our next-door teenaged neighbour watch Rover for us, which worked out quite well, compared with boarding for the weekend- R. likes her routines, and our neighbour certainly likes Rover! (And now I notice that Rover has to sniff their door when she comes back from her walks... I think this may have something to do with bacon on the weekend...)

We got to Pearson and discovered our noon-time United flight had been postponed three hours. Well, indefinitely. Well, we might be able to rebook onto the next flight in three hours maybe. Instead of following the gate agent's instructions, I found us another United agent who instead put us and one lucky other guy onto an Air Canada flight at 3pm, and standby for an earlier flight. So the three of us trooped out of the ground-level prop-plane area to our waiting gate, and crossed our fingers, because 3pm was going to make it tight for us to get into the city and to our hotel and to Pippin. dan did his thing and got us from an unlikely standby to a much more likely standby flight- and lo, all three of us got lucky. And found ourselves on the ground at Laguardia just after 2pm. And we made it to our hotel in Hell's Kitchen, Midtown, in fine time.

At the end of this trip, I'm quite appreciative for the chance to run off and do things like this. We both really love Manhattan. We were idly talking about how great it would be to live there; perhaps when we both retire; perhaps for a short period on one of dan's sabbaticals. If this works, it will certainly involve a lot of planning- and being flexible, perhaps more so than with the flight rearrangements...

This was a full, but not overly full, trip.

We stayed in Hells Kitchen, the first time either of us had spent much time on the West Side. It was quite convenient to Broadway, our hotel was comfortable, and there were many good restaurants, including an eponymous Mexican restaurant "Hell's Kitchen" which had amazing fish.

Pippin was eye-poppingly neat. The acrobatics were the most awe-inspiring I've ever seen (see ^^ video). The first act is easily in my short list of favourite first acts of any musical. (Whatever that list is; I haven't given it serious thought except that the first act of "Sunday in the Park with George" is currently at the top. But I digress.) The story feels like it sort of unwinds in the second act. I hadn't seen the show before and wasn't prepared for a bit of storytelling where a certain amount of plot seems to be un-done in order to tell a completely different story in the second act- the story felt stapled together, and the main character AND the main actor started to grate on me a bit. I see from the wikipedia page that it could have been smoother in the second act. But the Leading Player/"Ringleader" character was wonderful throughout, including the very end where she offers Pippin a suitably glorious finale for his life aspirations. All in all, seeing this was my favourite part of the trip.

We had left Saturday mostly unscheduled, with an idea to get half-price tickets for an evening show, and a plan to see my Aunt who lives in Manhattan in the mid-afternoon. d. and I negotiated this one pretty well, also; I was going to see my Aunt while d. went downtown to buy us tickets. She accepted my sending his regrets about not seeing her, even though in advance she had said she would be very offended if he decided not to see her. Anyway, she and I got to visit, she got to show off her local Whole Foods and get me a mid-afternoon snack, and d. got to stay the hell away and do some clothes shopping downtown while ostensibly "on a line" getting us tickets at the TKTS booth.

But I get ahead of myself: In the morning we went to the Guggenheim. The main exhibit was by James Turrell, a Quaker artist and architect who works with light and shadow. In addition to designing a Quaker meeting house in Austin Texas, he's done other arts installations that have felt Quakerly to me, inviting contemplation and inner stillness. His big new work turned the seventy-five foot tall spiral atrium into ... Well, sort of the inside of a mood lamp, with gorgeous curves and subtle slow colour changes. Some 50 people laid back in the atrium looking upward at the colours. It felt meditative to me, even with the occasional conversation nearby. Though: it didn't feel like Quaker Meeting, not by a long shot. But it was at least as meditative as I could hope for in a crowd of New York tourists. I'm not sure what Frank Lloyd Wright would have thought about what they did to his atrium, but I'm grateful for the chance to see the exhibit.

There were also some great abstract art from the Guggenheim's collections, from between World War One and Two- including some great dadaist work, and some great Miró and Klee. These would have been a fine stand-alone reason to visit the museum.

And then we hit the Armory for "WS", a retelling of Snow White by Paul McCarthy. This, like the Turrell, was large-scale, covering the stadium-sized Armory (we once went to an art-sales show there, which took many hours to get through). Unlike the Turrell, it was loud, edgy, and quite profane, and I'm quite surprised they weren't sued by Walt Disney's estate. Every staff person we asked what they thought of it, said they couldn't wait for it to finish- which it was to do the day we saw it. In retrospect, I would have been fine if it had closed just before we were there.

After we met up after my Aunt, d. and I walked down to the High Line, the multi-mile linear park which used to be an elevated train-line. I wanted to like it, as a floating-park-in-midair. But there were too many people, too many rope barriers telling us what was off limits, and too few comfortable benches. All it needed was a roof and it would feel like the train- in the end I think it didn't escape far enough from that which it once was. I hope that it can gradually shift into something more than that, over the decades. Maybe a few exits into adjoining buildings? That would be spiff.

Dan's ticket find for the evening was "Phantom of the Opera", which neither of us had seen, though 20 years ago I listened to the CD quite a lot. Now in its 25th year, it was exactly like the CD, not a note different from what I remembered. And the music, instead of being a fond reminisce, sort of felt late-80s cheezy. Upsides? The costuming was great- particularly, I loved the spectacle of the masquerade ball. I guess it's good to finally see this; just as later this month I'm finally seeing Cats (in Toronto). I hope I like Cats more.

On Sunday, we walked to the Hudson River Park, just a few blocks from the hotel. Now this, this is how to redevelop an urban park. It was less manicured, more varied, and most importantly, not cramped. There was also free kayak instruction and consequently lots of people *in kayaks on the Hudson*. Which felt a bit weird to me, since I always considered the water there to be too dodgy to do anything with. For that matter, the ducks we saw next to the water looked a bit scruffy.

We did quite a lot of walking: after the Hudson park, across midtown to Central Park, lunch near Lincoln Center, and back down Broadway and down to 42nd street to see Kinky Boots. Which was great fun, and deserved their Tony wins. I might buy the album; it felt like a Cindy Lauper CD but in drag. (Which is possibly the same thing).

And then we retrieved our luggage and headed for Newark airport for our evening flight home. And we returned to Rover in our house, which was the best return ever.

Last nigh we saw "Proof" at kwlt - they did a really good job with a difficult play. Local Math fans (or foes) - go! http://www.kwlt.org/Proof.197.0.html

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Acting Up Stage Toronto had a recent run of "Caroline, or Change," written by Tony Kushner. The Globe and Mail gave it 4 stars and a number of blurbs said it's the best theater of the last year. Last year New York Magazine called it one of the "greatest musicals of all time", the only so chosen of the 21st century to appear on every panelists' short list.

So, hm. I wish I thought it was that good.

The story follows a young boy (modeled on Kushner) who lives in Lousiana in 1963. His Jewish family employs an African-American maid, Caroline. The title refers to all sorts of change: the coins in the boy's pocket (which cause drama as his step-mother decides Caroline should keep them rather than give them back to the boy), the political seismic shifts washing across the United States (including the Southern Freedom marches, the assassination of JFK, and the Vietnam War), the changes in social status of Caroline's high-school friend Rose, and against all of these, how Caroline feels the same as ever.

It is a powerful show; and there are notes of genius- the music is beautiful; the players are spot-on (except for one thing I'll note below); the magic of playing the Washing Machine, Radio, and Dryer as soul-singers is wonderful; and the Moon, played by a woman in a diva-like hat, occasionally gave me shivers.

In the end, the biggest problem I had was that it feels exactly like there's only one three-dimensional character, the boy Noah (who grows up to be the playwright). I think with a bit of tweaking to the book, this could be the amazing show for me that other people seemed to find it.

I think the ONLY fault in the production was sort of funny: a song about the moon talks about how her light shone, and the song rhymes shone with alone; but the Canadian pronunciation of "shone" is the same as the name "Shawn", and sure enough that's how it was sung. Um, yeah.

But anyway, it reminds me how difficult it is to change, especially when not changing has lots of comfortable attractions.
Last night, Laurie Anderson gave a concert at the Perimeter Institute. Much to my surprise, I was able to go [1] and so I offer this brief review.

I guess the atrium of the Perimeter Institute has improved a bit since the first concert I saw there, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, which featured very uncomfortable lawn chairs. This, this concert had real hard-back chairs. Not that I got to sit on one- I had a standing-room ticket, upstairs. Mezzanine. The whole 2nd floor was open, and there were only 40 standing-room tickets, so we each got a fair bit of space to ourselves.

Pluses: Unobstructed view: at the beginning I was standing less than 10 feet from Laurie Anderson. Straight up.
Minuses: We weren't allowed to lean on the glass railing, which I kept forgetting. And the top of a performer's head turns out to not be as exciting as seeing the front of her face. Also, I saw her glance upward once and realized it might actually be disconcerting to have audience perched just over-top of oneself.

So I moved back to 20 feet away, where I stayed for the rest of the show. It wasn't bad, even standing, and there was lots of room for me to sit on the floor, which I did for a while.

The acoustics were fine; possibly slightly less amplified, but that wasn't a problem. Fortunately, I also didn't find there were any annoying echoes in the big space.

The concert was 90 minutes. She started with her signature pitch-bended electric violin (which in the late 70's was a "tape bow violin"- with recorded magnetic tape as the bow, and a magnetic tape head as the bridge; though I don't expect that's still how it works). She alternated between instrumental-only pieces, some which I liked quite a lot, and spoken-word over instrumental and keyboard loops. Some of her spoken-word was pitch-bended into her trademark growling bass voice, which she has called audio drag or "the Voice of Authority." That voice matched her appearance- she was dressed up way butch, with spiky hair, a thin tie and dark suit, though the Voice didn't really say things of much authority- and she had a perfectly commanding presence with her own voice.

Lighting was quite dark: there were mood lights of various primary colours, and candles on the stage. She told stories. Very modern stories, simply told, many of them compelling, though I didn't feel like they hung together as a whole (more on that at the end). This is apparently the start of a new tour, "Another Day in America," which started last week in Calgary, and we were lucky enough to be the second city on the tour. I imagine it will evolve as it goes.

She spoke about the National Defense Authorization Act which Obama just signed on New Years Eve, which allows indefinite detention without trial of American citizens in military prisons. She noted that this piece of law centers on a redefinition of "battleground" to include all of the United States. And what does it mean to choose to bring the battleground to one's home? "We've been waiting a couple hundred years for the enemy to show up, and since they never did, we decided maybe it’s us."

She spoke about how annoyed Darwin had been with peacocks- "what could possibly be fittest about a giant bright blue tail?" and jumps to how the Catholic church has been afraid of science- and what if the Church was most afraid that we'd find many worlds, with other popes? Which pope would be the real pope? Perhaps one with the brightest, bluest tail?

She told about visiting one of the many tent-cities in the US which started during the housing crisis, which collectively have housed thousands of Americans over the last years. I have to say I thought she'd veered to the fictional, but google and wikipedia tell me the camp she visited is exactly as described.

Her beloved rat-terrier Lolabelle died this spring, on Palm Sunday; she told how the Tibetian Book of the Dead says when a living being dies, it will spend 49 days in a place called the Bardo, before it is reincarnated. And Lolabelle died 49 days before Anderson's birthday. She goes on to say that when Lolabelle went blind a few years ago, Anderson began teaching her to play the piano, and to paint; and then she shared a dozen of Lolabelle's paintings, and a video of her playing the keyboard (wagging, and barking in joy as she did so).

The last time I saw her, in Ithaca in 2006, she had just spent time as NASA's first (and last) Artist in Residence. She also had stories about Lolabelle, one which has stuck with me, about a walk in the woods when a hawk dive-bombs them and the dog realizes there's 180 degrees of the world she had never imagined could be dangerous- which turns into a parallel story about the US post-9/11. Really sharp stuff.

So, on the whole. I wish this concert had tied together more. I could feel the authority with which she was speaking, and maybe it's up to the listener to pull things together, but the way it was structured, I didn't find myself able to do so during the concert. Perhaps some of that pulling together can happen when I'm in Quaker Meeting this weekend.

I'm quite glad the PI was able to get her here- they have been trying for years. Perhaps she will be back! I would not mind that, no.

[1] So, how I got a ticket. If you are allergic to twitter, you won't want to read this. Just sayin'.

I found out about the concert from someone tweeting about it on Monday. I tweeted an "Aw, how come I just found out about this sold-out show?" After a bit of whinging to friends, I forgot about it. I had a faint hope to show up at the venue and see if there were unclaimed tickets.

But on Wednesday evening, I checked twitter and noticed somebody I didn't know had specifically sent me a message asking if I needed a ticket. I replied, but it had been 6 hours after he had asked, and he had also gotten re-tweeted by the Perimeter when he previously if anybody needed a ticket. ... and yet, somehow, nobody had; all of his friends who would have jumped at the chance lived in Toronto or New York or elsewhere. So Thursday morning, he came to my office and sold me his ticket at-cost! How cool is that?
Last weekend, I got to see Hugo, the new Scorsese movie, and I wanted to report that it is just as good as the reviews say. The basic story is simple enough: around 1930, an orphaned boy lives in a Paris train station, risks capture by the station-master, makes a friend, and tries to find a message he believes was left by his deceased father. Woven in is the history of moving pictures by magician/inventor Georges Méliès, who built the first film studio in the world and produced hundreds of films (including the 1902 "A Trip to the Moon").

It is a fairy tale, with a light magic-realistic touch, balanced by an amazing amount of "this really happened" (which you'll have to go learn yourself; it isn't brought up in the movie). Or, ask me about it if you don't mind spoilers.

The plot has some nuance, which I appreciated, though the acting could have used a lighter touch- everyone was capable in their roles, but nearly all of the characters felt cartoonish at times.

The train station, clock works, movie studio (walled in glass to let in light- apparently historically accurate) and Paris street scenes are all gorgeous. Visually, I loved it. This is the first movie I've seen where the 3d truly enhances the art, rather than feeling to me like a gimmick. (I saw and liked Avatar, and I won't argue with somebody who felt this way about Avatar- but I'm a "gears, steam, and clockwork" kind of guy, rather than "blue alien jungle". TMI? [hush!])

What else to say? I don't think it passes the Bechdel Movie Test- there are various scenes of women talking to each other about men. I wonder if this was different in the original novel or a Scorsese touch. Oh- perhaps I'm wrong- a women talks to a girl (and boy, but mostly the girl) about how wonderful it had been to be an actress; that might count.

Anyhow, I am glad I saw this in the theatre.
So, 20 days ago, dan and I went to see Peter Gabriel play the Molson Amphitheatre near Toronto.

I haven't followed his music very closely for the last few albums, but I have listened to enough Peter Gabriel over the years that I didn't want to miss this opportunity. Thanks to my friend Justin who scored the tickets, we got excellent seats; about 10 or so rows from the stage.

He played with the "New Blood Orchestra," half made of a touring company, half local musicians. Mostly, rearranging for orchestra worked [1]. Particularly, I liked the arrangements for "San Jacinto," "Mercy Street," and "Blood of Eden." I wanted to like "Solsbury Hill" and "Boy in the Bubble" more than I did but they seemed too pared down. And "In Your Eyes" had silly Audience Choreography (as did "Biko", which was annoying because Gabriel was all Social Conscience and the audience was all Play the Damn Song Already).



My overall impression of Gabriel as performer is: consummate professional. It looked like he had done this every day of his life, which he almost has. He was also clearly suffering from a bad sore throat: he was constantly downing a gulp of tea, then a shot of honey. And you could tell where the throat problems came from: gulp of tea, shot of honey, plaintive scream in nearly every song... I had never realized how much his songs have wails in them until dan asked if every one of them did. Not quite, but.



His lights show was fairly cool: very bright LED boards behind the stage, plus a curtain the width of the stage and 20 feet tall, also LEDs, often with video.

One light trick I had never seen before that we both liked: in the second act, he picked up something reflective from the stage, and it was sitting over top of a spot-light. He then swept the light around the audience; it looked for all the world like fire from his hand.

There was a downpour during the first act. The outermost 1/5 of the seats were open to the air. Gabriel apologized; he said on one concerts that week, the moment they had mentioned the word "water" in "Washing of the Water", the skies opened up.

Neither dan nor I had been to the amphitheatre before. I would go to a big concert there again- getting out was remarkably quick, and it was late enough that the 401 was quite speedy on the way home.




And then dan was off to Italy, and while he was gone, I went to see DJ Tiesto, whose podcast I listen to. He's a Dutch DJ, and I'm perplexed why he wound up in our little town: he went from Chicago, to our town for two nights, then Quebec City, and Ottawa (for Canada Day), then Las Vegas for the 4th of July weekend. Then Ibeza for a week. :) But whatever, he came and sold out two shows of about 300 people (versus n-thousand each for Chicago and Quebec City...).

I haven't been inside a dance club in, like, forever.

They confiscated my pen at the door, because they thought I might throw it at someone. I was like, "..." and they said I could get it back at the end if I really wanted to. (and so I did (pick it up again, not throw it)).

The doors opened at 10:00, I showed up at 10:30, Tiesto started playing at 11:45, and I left around 1:30 when I realized I had heard all of the songs I would recognize. And the next day was still a work day.



It was fun, and I probably don't need to do that again for a while. :)



Hope you like the photos, in lieu of earth-shaking incisive content. I would have done better with reviews had I not waited two weeks. Oh well.

[1] Gabriel's set list, which I found somewhere on the net:
"Heroes" (David Bowie cover)
Wallflower
Apres Moi (Regina Spektor cover)
The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon cover)
My Body Is a Cage (Arcade Fire cover)
Father, Son
Darkness
Washing of the Water
Biko
# Intermission
San Jacinto
Digging in the Dirt
Signal to Noise
Downside Up
Mercy Street
The Rhythm of the Heat
Blood of Eden
Intruder
Red Rain
Solsbury Hill
# Encore:
In Your Eyes
Don't Give Up
The Nest That Sailed the Sky

[2] Bigger copies of these photos are on flickr. I couldn't be bothered to link each one individually. :)
I have been in a writing lull over the last month. I've spent a bunch of free time immersed in that game; I've been thinking about work at other free times, solving problems in my head; I've been thinking about Quaker Meeting and making plans for Quaker-related travel; and while dan was away, I had a cold for a week that made me fairly low-brain.

Then, the cold got better two Sundays ago, and I went to Quaker Meeting and felt absolutely wonderful, and spent the afternoon bouncing around, writing journal posts in my head, only to see them disappear when I sat down at the end of the evening, just as the cold symptoms came back again for the night. So, oh well.

But the last two weeks have been pretty good. I went to a Vote Mob [1], voted early in the national election, went to a birthday party, a pub dinner with programmer friends, and we had friends over for tea and cookies. I think I finally kicked the cold, despite some very rainy and windy weather. And I finished what I needed to do at work, for the start of the new term on Monday, despite a fairly impressive set of potential problems with infrastructure upgrades which have largely been ameliorated. And that is all I will say about work.

Last Wednesday was the start of Open Ears music festival, which is more low-oomph than prior years. It's held every other year, and it's how dan and I have seen Pamela Z, Negativland and Patricia O'Callighan, and DJ Spooky, among other highlights. I hope they can get their act together for 2013; Open Ears has been one of the great things about living around here.

This time the only out-of-town performers I was really excited about was the Princeton Laptop Orchestra; and their concert didn't really do it for me.

So far, the best pieces were by Penderecki String Quartet (with DJ P Love). The Quartet are always excellent, even if I don't like what they play. This time they played Different Trains by Steve Reich, and it totally blew the recording away. The mix was different; you heard less of the recorded voices, and a much more lively violin-against-steam-whistle that just sounded awesome. They also played a piece composed during the CBC Strike (of 2005?) by Nicole Lizee, called "this will not be televised", which at one point, sampled the most famous riff from the middle of Duran Duran/"Rio", and cracked dan and me up.

Last night I saw Tanya Tagaq Trio, who are made up of a percussionist, a violinist, and Tanya Taqaq, an Inuit throat singer. This is not easily described. I'm glad I went. She has toured with Bjork, and I can see the mutual attractions. Many of the sounds she made were ones I didn't know the human body could safely produce. They closed with a set of traditional Inuit throat-singing, between Tanya and a female cousin, which was amazingly intimate and sort of kind of like this, though dialed up in intensity quite a bit.

There are two remaining concerts I'm interested in: Blue Dot tonight, and Da Capo tomorrow afternoon. However, we have our friend Lee-Ellen visiting from Ithaca, and I'd rather see her than the concerts!

[1] Vote mob: if you're outside Canuckistan you've probably not heard the term. And fellow Canadians are probably sick and tired of hearing it. In short: a month ago and at a school not very far from here, students decided to Stick it to The Man via YouTube, to counter the claim that "young people don't vote," and there have now been a few dozen youtube-video-driven events along the lines of Flash Mobs, though none I've seen have had amazing music or amazing dancing or amazing anything. Just lots of energy. Being part of the local campus one was... um, sort of silly. But I got to run through mud puddles, which turned out to be fun.
Friday evening, I popped down to Toronto for a cabaret/theatre/concert production of Spin by Evalyn Perry. I wasn't sure what to expect; I knew it involved spoken word, singing, and music played upon a bicycle. I was nudged into going by my friend John, who came all the way from Minneapolis for this show. I know Evalyn from Quaker circles; last summer, she was one of the evening plenary presenters at the 1,000-person FGC Gathering. She does a political/musical show that's bitingly clever and often requires more than one listen to pick up all the threads...

In retrospect, I wish this production was extended for another week, so I could nudged more people into going- this afternoon was the last performance (a matinee added at the last minute because it was selling out).

The themes were, broadly, the story of Annie Londonderry, the first woman to bicycle around the world at the very end of the 19th century; the joined history of bicycling and feminism; Evalyn's personal story of being a cyclist and artist; and notes on the City of Toronto's mixed appreciation for bicycles.

I *had* thought that the music-played-upon-a-physical-bicycle would be less effective than it was. Her co-performer, Brad Hart, used drum sticks, his hands, and parts of the bicycle, which was wired for amplification, and attached to a looping device. I spent maybe 5 minutes distractedly studying how it worked- they even tuned different spokes to different pitches- but then I could just let go and listen to the music he was making with Evalyn (and Anna Friz, who did on-stage mixing and singing).

Evalyn produced a CD of the songs in the concert; this morning I drove to Guelph, and I appreciated the irony of driving while listening to a CD all about bicycling.

The Globe and Mail gave it 3 out of 4 stars. And she has a cover article in the weekly Xtra paper, which is a good recap of the show, actually.

So- Thanks Evalyn! And thanks, John, for nudging me to come!
[back-dated]

I wasn't going to bother reviewing this, but in part I wanted to record that I don't always like the concerts I go to...

We went to see Pendrecki String Quartet sharing a concert with "Ebony Tower Trio", a jazz group including Glen Buhr, the new director of NUMUS. d. and I conclude that Buhr is much more interested in playing his own pieces than Jesse Stewart was, which is a shame; we used to like NUMUS concerts. This opened and closed with pieces of Buhr's composition, as well as the next-to-closing piece.

Much of the audience seemed to like them, though the house (the old King Street Theatre) was barely half full.

The second piece was a setting of Poe's "The Raven" to string quartet, read by the trio's singer, who made really odd gestures throughout. It was preceded by 15 or so minutes of exposition by the composer, who nearly went line-by-line through the piece, having the players demonstrate the musical phrasing. (For goodness sakes- this isn't a workshop!) She said "I don't know what I should say about this part, but..." and went on to do so, for minutes.

There was a Beethoven piece, Grosse Fugue, which was described as being excised from his Quartet No. 13 in B♭ major upon its premiere, when the audience applauded the preceding movements but not the conclusion. I can see why. It seemed as if it were strung together from the bits and pieces of a dozen other fugues. I was really amused for the first five minutes. And it went from "OK, he's playing with us" to "why is this still going?" I'm intrigued that wikipedia says it's considered among Beethoven's greatest achievements. Maybe it was that we were already coloured by the first pieces. It was technically very good, as far as I could tell.

And there's no law I need to like all Beethoven.

Fortunately.

And the first half concluded with an instrumental Radiohead piece, "Like Spinning Plates." Which I sort of liked, but not as much as the studio version.

The second half started with Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues, done by the trio. The vandals took the handles, alright. More odd gestures and expressions from the lead singer.

The string quartet played one piece I really liked: String Quartet by Erkki-Swen Tüür, a modern Estonian composer who was apparently a popular Estonian rock-star in the 80s.

And, after the closing Glen Buhr pieces, they did a collective encore with Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne", which was, um, under-rehearsed.

Sigh.
I just got a package in the mail, from Cat and Girl. I am now the owner of the original sketch/ink artwork for Birds of America and this makes me really happy.

Meet the Robinsons is a really charming science-fiction movie, sort of a cross between "Up," "Back to the Future," and "The Addams Family." I now have the DVD, and it stands up to a 2nd viewing, which I wasn't sure of since I first saw it on a tiny airplane seat-back screen with crappy headphones. But yeah. Recommended.

I'm busy, and that feels good, and not like burnout.

Yesterday I co-led a visioning session in the Quaker Meeting, and we accomplished a lot in 90 minutes. The theme was the needs of each of us and all of us together; what should we focus our attentions on in the Meeting. The conversation included a number of areas we've needed to talk about more, if we're going to be a strong community. I see this as a very good step. It was draining but also energizing. Ya know?

Today at work, I had three items on my plate I really wanted to get done, and I did. And then I went to the gym, which was a much better use of that 45 minutes than staying at work.

And then dan and I went home for dinner, and dan dropped me off on his way to chorus rehearsal, and I did an evening of Quaker work with 6 people I like a lot. 90 minutes later, I was very much ready to come home again, but not feeling burned out or stressed. Even though I have 9 new things on my to-do list.

Inception

Sunday, 29 August 2010 10:57 pm
I liked it. Not as much as Paprika, possibly not as much as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Probably 8 or 8.5 out of 10. It could have been a 9 if they'd spent more time with the Architect and turning realities upside down (psychologically, as well as physically); psychological freefall as well as the physical in the second half. [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball says it could've used some David Mamet- the hotel bar scene felt to him like they were going in the direction of The Spanish Prisoner.

They did blow stuff up good, in the second half; it was fun, but they could've trimmed that down 20ish minutes without any loss.

So, yeah. Worth seeing, possibly worth seeing on the big screen if you like your stuff blown up big...
We heard The Shaw Festival was putting on The Women this year, so we re-rented the film last week. (The George Cukor/Clare Boothe Luce version, not the 2008 mess, of which no more will be said).

The story is of Mary Haines, a New York socialite in the late '30s, confident in her marriage, progressive about women's rights, and it turns out, a pretty awful judge of character. Her friends mostly are conniving busybodies, her husband's been cheating on her for months, and she has nobody to turn to but her mother, who tells her to sweep the affair under the rug. She instead takes her "friends'" advice, confront the Other Woman (played by Joan Crawford) and her husband. She ends up on a train to Reno, the only place to get a 6-week divorce, and are soon followed there by her friends, who have highs and lows of their own. Back in New York, two years later, the plot culminates in a big party with a cut-throat battle royale, and formerly naive Mary comes out wiser, and apparently the only one not spattered with mud.

On the one hand, it's a morality play, asking serious questions about whether women spend all their time cutting each other down, and whether modern society was all that modern after all. On the other hand it's a campy bitch-fest with some of the best one-liners of any film I've seen.

So, yes. Highly recommended. (We are possibly having a re-play party in early October; remind me if you're interested and I haven't mentioned it)...

---

On Sunday, we saw the Shaw Festival version. On the balance, it was well done, but it lacked the chemistry in the (all-star) movie. The sets were amazing (and the stage-pieces swooped around the stage, in and out of the light, in a very satisfying way) but I can conclude that I liked the movie better.

The accents were jarringly off- they occasionally managed "NYC flapper" but often the accents seemed out of place, which was disappointing.

One of the aspects that I thought I didn't like about the film actually turned out to be lacking in the stage-show: Mary's relationship with her pre-teen daughter, who is played in the film as fairly melodramatic or even mawkish. In the stage-show, she stands more on her own, isn't very hammy at all, but also doesn't have the intense connection with her mother that was so striking in the film, especially after Mary goes through with the divorce. Before seeing the stage-show, I would have said she over-played the character; afterward, I think she was an essential partner for the main character.

Both versions do a good job with Mary and her own mother, who is "pleased that she's finally needed again" to help Mary figure out how to cope. There are slight differences in pacing between the two, and the ending of the stage show is ambiguous, but both were fine in those respects.

The stage version was stylish, and the lines still had as much zing, but the actresses didn't have the stage-presence of the movie-stars, sadly enough. So this is one of the rare occasions when I was happier with the film than with the stage-show.

---

[livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball rented a batch of Pre-Hayes Code movies, (specfically: Forbidden Hollywood Volume 2). We watched one of the other Norma Shearer films, "A Free Soul". It had many "WTF?" moments, and it wasn't a "greatest of all time" film by any stretch, but it was fun, and one of the better early talkie movies I've seen. Apparently it was fairly scandalous for its time; showing an unmarried woman spending nights with her lover; part of the loose morals that the Hayes Code successfully censored for the following decades.
I just got out of Exit Through the Gift Shop, a movie about graffiti street-art, and a well done mockumentary.

Supposedly, it started as an amateur videographer's quest to film the biggest street artists, and as the project spiraled, then turned into a documentary about Thierry Guetta, the videographer, now known as "Mr. Brainwash" and his rise to commercial success making pop/street art with an army of illustrators hired through Craigslist. How he copied all of the strategies of the people he filmed, and finding great commercial success despite having no talent of his own. How the "real" artists are left wondering whether the joke was entirely on them. The punchline interviews at the end when they bitterly distanced themselves from their supposed friend, seeming a bit petty, and trying to make sense of how he made millions with his ripoffs (and a lot of their hard work).

My only complaint was that it got slow at the 1-hour mark, though they picked it up a bit when the supposed videographer filmed Banksy installing a protest against Guantanamo Bay prison inside Disneyland. Which did happen.

Indeed, lots of the events in the movie did happen- only many of them were engineered for the movie. Financed somehow, and with some actor to play Thierry Guetta.
City of Glass was the first Paul Auster I was introduced to, in college. I loved it; he packed so much into such a short novel.

Last month (or was it March! Yikes!) I borrowed this from [livejournal.com profile] amarylliss: City of Glass, the Graphic Novel.

I was intrigued and even slightly horrified at how could someone do such a thing? But [livejournal.com profile] amarylliss gave it a thumbs-up, and sent it home with me, and I have to say, it is successful.

The Guardian does an excellent job reviewing it. I am lazy and it is late, so I will let you read that.

I liked it; I liked the visual motifs (the childhood drawings do indeed pack more of a punch with each repetition) and Quinn's story was adapted to visuals quite well.

But when I finished, it felt... lacking something.

The novel is told by a nameless narrator, telling the story of Daniel Quinn, a writer, who is mistaken for a private eye named Paul Auster, whose identity he takes. He proceeds to meet the real novelist Paul Auster in the novel, discussing Auster's work on reinterpreting Cervantes' Don Juan to find out who the real narrator of the story was. This layering could feel trite, and fortunately neither version of the novel feel this way for me; but there was a quality to the text-only version, where the only way to untangle the layers was through mentally visualizing them, that is different when you see Daniel Quinn sitting across from Paul Auster (who looks just like his dust-jacket).

The project was conceived by Art Spiegelman, who also wrote the introduction. I'm curious whether the "Neon Lit" project stalled out at two books; the #2 in the series didn't really appeal to me.
[where did this post go? I thought it got posted last night, but here it is in the unsaved cache. Fortunately!]

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is a breezy read through the world of American Chinese food. The main takeaway (sorry) is how the American Chinese food experience is so... actually... American. She examines nearly every facet you might imagine, and many I have never considered (those awful "soy sauce" packets without any soy at all: where do they get made?)

In the end, I was entertained, though I skimmed here and there. Will this become a cinema verité documentary? Maybe. Should you read this? Maybe.

So, what did I learn?

General Tso is a real figure from history. In China, he was a General known for his military prowess, a sort of William Tecumseh Sherman of Hunan Province. However, in China nobody eats his chicken. The most famous recipes from the part of the province he comes from are actually with dog meat.

Ms. Lee follows the exodus of workers illegally leaving Fuzhou, a region in southeastern China in the province of Fujian; which she says for the past two decades has been the source of the vast majority of Chinese restaurant workers in the US. She follows one man's travels over-land, on a barely sea-worthy ship, to the shores of New York City and then to jail for a number of years, then eventually freedom in the US. She spends a while discussing restaurant workers, how they have made new lives in big cities (the impression she gave was what a large fraction start in New York City), and some of them have fanned out to settle across the country, buying restaurants in tiny towns and trying to make a go of it.

And in the process she more or less explains how it came to pass that there are 43,000 Chinese restaurants in the US; more than McDonald's, Burger Kings, and KFCs combined.

She has an obsession with fortune cookies. That obsession led her to visits to San Francisco, China, Japan, and back to her back yard in New York City, explaining the history of who currently writes the fortunes, who invented the style of cookie (they were Japanese) and how they became a so-called Chinese tradition. She even gets into the history of the fortunes, visiting the Japanese shrine which originally folded a fortune into a cookie.

She might have the best job in the world, given her interests. The New York Times has flown her world-wide to produce these stories; she even gets a chapter out of "what is the best Chinese restaurant in the world?" Which involved yet still more travel, to try world-wide Chinese restaurants which are neither traditional Chinese nor cheap Americana. I will give her credit for determining criteria for choosing the best, not an easy task, but I don't feel enlightened from the reading of the experience.

She visits "the lost Chinese Jews of Kaifeng," a destination during the Jewish diaspora, and site of a synagogue from 1163 until the 1860s. There are a small number of Jews still living there. She asks the oldest living resident of the old epicenter of Jewish life in Kaifang why American Jews like Chinese food so much. "With a glint in her eye, she slapped the wooden table. She knew. I leaned in. This was the insight for which I had travelled thousands of miles, walked along a highway at midnight, and scoured alleyways. Her Buddhist koan-like response was profound in its simplicity: 'Because Chinese food tastes good.'"

The most interesting chapter for me was the history of the delivery restaurant in New York City. She says before the 80s, there were basically no delivery restaurants, period. Anywhere. One enterprising Chinese restaurant figured out the formula, and within a few years, the entire restaurant culture had changed. (The last time I was in Manhattan, I had a diner deliver to my hotel. Which, in the end, I should thank that Chinese restaurant for. Even if in the process, innumerable apartment owners may have been thoroughly teed off by sheaves and stacks of restaurant menus left in their lobby...)

This is not a cohesive review, for which I am sorry. But I have an excuse: [livejournal.com profile] melted_snowball has taken my copy of the book. Perhaps I will take it back to revise the review later.
Just got in from a production of Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard.

If you're local, a recommendation to go see it tomorrow or Saturday.

To start with the minuses: it felt too long by 20 minutes. It was 3 hours with a 15-minute intermission. The first act dragged, and not from the material- the pacing felt like they were sloooowwwwiiing down. The players, wisely I think, didn't try to put on English accents, but I kept having to remind myself we were in 19th Century (or modern) Derbyshire, England. The closing 20 minutes included a piece of music with a soft-pop singer in it, which totally jarred me out of believing in the time-period.

The pluses: the play itself is really good. The plot is complicated, and quite talky. Broad brush-strokes: it covers entropy, the second law of thermodynamics, fractals, whole piles of classical poetry, free will, determinism, romanticism versus classicism, love, madness...

I'm glad I read the wikipedia page beforehand, because many classical references were well above my head (the name Arcadia, for example; Thomasina the 13-year-old genius understands her Latin; and shares a moment with her tutor that is completely lost by her mother; I think there's a theme of "what exactly is going on with the tutor" that gets a bit more play with more knowledge of the references.) I hope you'll forgive me not explaining the bulk of the plot- the wikipedia page does a good job, at least.

There was a lot of dry humour. The setting is elaborate, set in the country house of a lord (or his descendants). For most of the play, scenes alternate between the 19th and 20th century. It's centered on a huge desk, where peoples' effects stay put as the stage resets flips between "then" and "now". This choice is understated in the first act; and then in the second, it feels intentionally "sloppier": a character leaves his laptop; one person pours a glass of wine in the 19th century and it is drunk by another in the 20th. There is a boy, Gus, who is mute and is played by the same actor (in the same clothes) playing Augustus, the brother of Thomasina.

For the last few scenes action is mixed with both time-periods at the same time. By the second act you get a good feeling for the characters' personalities, and seeing them around the same table, arguing in counterpoint, works well.

The actors are fairly good, for the most part. I was impressed by the woman playing Thomasina. Overall they were fairly good, but not polished- the indignant cuckolded poet and his friend the Captain felt particularly weak to me, which is a shame, because if they had been stronger, their pathos would've played a stronger counterpoint to the dry wit.

It was well-attended, at least; though I think 2/3 of the audience were highschoolers. (I watched a group of six try and decide where to sit; they acted exactly like starlings flocking, circling, settling, then taking off again to another bunch of seats. They did that, like, 4 times.) Also, the girls who were cooing after Gus (during the show! every time he smiled!) were a bit much.

I will need to close here, as it's after midnight. I think some time I would like to see this done professionally. And, possibly to seek out more Tom Stoppard plays; I've only seen "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead". (And I've seen both "Brazil" and "Shakespeare in Love", though neither left me very favourably disposed).

Oh- and I think the way I wound up seeing it was neat; I ran into [livejournal.com profile] thingo, he invited me for tonight's show, I said I'd never heard of it, sounds great, then I discovered it was the night for the monthly Perl Mongers meeting. We were talking about it in IRC, and a small pile of folks said "actually, I'd go see that." So some of us did (and some of us bailed! Slackers! ...kidding). Go, go, coding poets!
Thursday night, d. and I went to see Almodóvar’s latest. I hadn't read many reviews, and none of the ones I read give away the... middle, but I think it's worth the reveal.

If you liked Women on the Verge, you should see this. There is a film-in-a-film which has a delightfully wrong homage - (there's a bed on fire; and barbiturates in the gazpacho; and... you just can't do that. Can you?) or as The New York Times review puts it:

"the director’s pastiche of his early, funny work becomes, in the context of this somber new film, a poignant reflection on aging and loss. To catch a glimpse of “Women” in the mirror of “Embraces” is to see how cinematic images can be both tangible and ghostly."

Much of the film is in flashback to 1992-1994, a full 14 years before the film's "present". [A self-indulgent side-note: I'm struck by how much happens in that 14 years- and it's a bit spooky to overlay the plot over top of my life, to see elements I would just consider "modern" in the 1994 shots and realize no, they were modern 14 years ago. Getting old here, folks.]

Things start with bright and cheerful casual relationships, a writer who changed his name and lost his eyesight, a close assistant and her son; in flashback, Almodóvar tells the back story of the principals, unspooling what might be a murder mystery. It can't be film noir if it's shot in bright primary colors, can it? But noirish it is; and fairly grim for a portion. Until Almodóvar upsets the apple-cart with the first glimpse of Women on the Verge. (In the theatre, dan and I were the only people who were laughing out loud. Which felt pretty damn weird!)

I will be thinking about this film for a while. It digests slowly. There are themes of piecing together ones past; re-editing a badly told story into something beautiful; recovering destroyed photographs from their shreds; reclaiming one's whole identity from pieces that had been buried and considered dead. An Almodóvar trope: self-reinvention and becoming more true to oneself.

Loss. Aging.

And beautiful images of Spain, which I haven't visited, and really would like to.
A Cohen brothers movie; not quite as dark a comedy as Fargo. Set in Minneapolis, but a Jewish suburb, not small-town. The story is, at face, a retelling of the Old Testament book of Job, the trials of a God-fearing man.

So, yeah, God seems to be testing Larry Gopnik, a nebbishy academic. Wife leaves him; his kids don't respect him; he challenges a student who tries bribing him and appears to be losing tenure as a result of anonymous defamatory letters; his brother has awful medical and legal problems. Through all this, Larry tries doing the Right Thing. To bad effect.

But Larry is the architect of (some of) his trials as much as anyone. He's a serious man, but he's also oblivious to his surroundings, which led to a bit of a psychological "Mr. Magoo" effect.

On the upside, the three rabbis he goes to for help were very funny. And the ending, which I won't spoil, was very well done. Overall, it works, though it feels like a less than stellar success.

I give it a minor recommendation. I might see it again, though I expect a bunch of other Cohen brothers movies I haven't seen will take precedence.

Hm, I should see O Brother again.

This and That

Sunday, 13 December 2009 07:45 pm
Last night I went to see my friends Jason (aka [livejournal.com profile] mrwhistlebear) and Karen perform at the Registry Theatre, as Gaedelica (named from a Gaelic book of poetry, Carmina Gadelica). They are both quite talented. One of their pieces was an original arrangement of The Huron Carol, which I hope they record. Great job guys!

They were followed by a Celtic band, Rant Maggie Rant, which I knew nothing about, other than the evening theme was "Celtic" and "Christmas music". If you know me well, you might know this pairing might make me apprehensive. It did, but I'm glad I stuck around. The Registry Theatre was packed to the gills; they were turning people away when I got there (20 minutes before the show). The band was talented, very energetic, and their two lead singers were attractive, too. One sort of looked like a slightly more fey version of Sting. The other singer made me want to start wearing vests- he wore his well- black vest, black dress shirt, purple tie, gray slacks. Porkpie hat.

And home by 10:30.
--

This weekend's main project was cleaning my home office floor. I rented a carpet vac, followed the instructions, and hey, the carpet is clean! ...-er, at least. I'm worried about the off-gassing- my last attempt to clean carpet in this house resulted in a severe reaction from dan, and while it didn't smell like anything yesterday, today there was something like new-car smell, so I went over it again with the vac with just water instead of soap. And there was a distressing amount of dirt picked up the second time around, as well. I suppose this is a cost of dog ownership. Yeah. I'm blaming the dog. She's the main reason we still have one room with carpet- it would make her unhappy if we took it out, because she uses it as her towel when she comes in from the rain and snow (after she's already been dried off).
--

Also yesterday I made fudge for today's Christmas Desert Potluck at Quaker Meeting. I was, once again, apprehensive (it's been years since I've made fudge), but it got a number of accolades, including people coming around asking who made it, so I'm happy. Meeting was good, too.
--

My desk is a disaster area. I haven't gotten back on top of the scattered papers since getting back from two weekends away, and we're reaching critical density. Ack.

At least the house is otherwise clean. Except for the furniture from my office which I moved out to clean the floor. Hm, I guess I should put that back when the floor's dry, or dan will be surprised.
--

Dan comes home on Tuesday! Yay!

--
I finally upgraded my laptop to Snow Leopard; the "family pack" DVD has been sitting on my desk since dan did his upgrade. It wasn't as painless as I'd hoped, because when I last swapped drives, I apparently used the wrong default partition map (Apple Partition Map instead of GUID) so Snow Leopard said I had to wipe the drive. So I babysat a reformat/recopy/upgrade (in the process discovering that my backup was not, in fact, bootable as I had thought; whoops.)

Apple did an excellent thing with this release, by the way- I was still running 10.4, and the upgrade DVD jumped me up to 10.6. They didn't have to make it this easy, and in Windows and Linux, I would be looking at either a sequential two-step upgrade, or wiping the disk and reinstalling my software and data; both probably a more fault-prone process than whatever Apple had to do to make this upgrade work in one step.

And I like Snow Leopard.

(Although, chatting with dan in iChat, we discovered the graphic for :-P looks like a big smile-and-tongue, which is just wrong. I don't know if it was that way in 10.4, but NOW IT IS WRONG.)

Ahem.

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