Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Act One (A few words about the play)

          Movies, TV Shows and live theater by now you know I love them all so when one comes along and features a story about showbiz you can count on me to see it. That brings me to the PBS airing of Live from Lincoln Center’s performance of Act One. When I Wikipedia the synapsis I was intrigued by the story about playwright Moss Hart and how he broke into the business that is The Theater. 

       The show was on Broadway in spring of 2014 and received 5 Tony Nominations. One was for featured actor and one of my favorite people to watch (since discovering him on Wings) Tony Shalhoub. Mr. Shalhoub actually played a handful of roles including the narrator/playwright as an adult, his own father and real life producer, writer, George S Kaufman. Each character was as different as the last and a joy to watch (Between the quick costume changes and crazy blocking it’s a wonder he made it through the show each night). Santino Fontana played Moss Hart as a young man whose love for theater started when his Aunt Kate gave him a retelling of each play she saw. Fontana (who I learned afterwards is the voice of Prince Hans of Frozen) was excellent running up and down stairs, moving through different doorways and sparring with Shalhoub.

       Speaking of those stairs the show won a Tony for its outstanding scenic design by Beowulf  Boritt  and after seeing the set I know why. How do I write a description about a stage with many well made parts? First there were the layers, rooms on top of rooms. A revolving portion with sections including two home sets and a theatrical office. And those stairs, how the actors didn’t get confused as to which room they were supposed to be in at any given time and didn’t literally break a leg I’ll never know.

   Directed and written (from Moss Harts autobiography) by James Lapine, the production also starred Andrea Martin as Aunt Kate/Beatrice Kaufman/Frieda Fishbein, Mimi Lieber as Moss Hart’s mother, Will LeBow as Jed Harris/Augustus Piton/Alexander Woollcott/Slimowitz and the rest of the cast were amazing to watch.

    Until this play the only thing I knew about Moss Hart was as the writer of the play You Can’t Take it with You but now I feel like a know so much more and appreciate what I have learned by watching Act One, a wonderful, sweet play about a playwright and what it takes to make your dreams come true.

Monday, October 26, 2015

(First encounter with) The Martian

Even though at times it would be difficult The Martian makes the idea of being the only human on an entire planet look like paradise to someone who is not a fan of people and crowds.

Mark Watney played by Matt Damon is a botanist who gets left behind when his commander and fellow astronauts have to quickly abandon Mars. Now completely isolated from the rest of the universe he must find a way back to Earth. He works with what he knows about the planet and the objects they brought with them to develop new techniques to survive. Some of the things he has to do are disgusting and unusual and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do what he did, but it is amazing to watch.

Directed by Ridley Scott the film itself is beautiful to watch. From beginning to end the viewer is taken on a dangerous trip. When Mark goes outside we see just how desolate the planet is and at times become frighten for his life. When he has to travel cross the taren there is nothing but sand and empty space. Back on Earth we watch and hold our breathes as NASA scrambles to help their lost man.

Without giving anything away there is a scene near the end that is like a stunning ribbon dance among the stars.

Although he is alone most of the time Matt Damon isn’t the only actor in this movie. Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena and Kate Mara also star and the Screenplay was written by Drew Goddard based on the book by Andy Weir.

After seeing what life on Mars might be like I don't think I want to live there but if they ever find a way to get there quicker it seems like a good place to visit and I would love to be a "space pirate"

Much like the 1995 film Apollo 13, The Martian is an epic and heroic sci-fi adventure (with specks of humor) for all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

True life flash fiction-An Occurrence at Dippikill

There was a long cabin camp in the middle of a popular mountain range in Northern New York. A beautiful place surrounded by a forest full of wildlife. It was 30 years ago this past summer when the head of the company my father worked for decided to take those who worked for him and their families on a trip as a thank you for good work. I was 5 or 6 and my memory is a little iffy but when my parents, older sister and I got to the cabin you knew you were someplace special. All the beds were upstairs and there was a large kitchen and living space down. During the day the men would chop wood and the term “spaghetti arms “was born. It was yelled by spectators at the men who couldn’t quite spilt straight or missed the logs all together. At night there was a bonfire, it was at this time that the younger me discovered the beauty of fire the way the smell stayed on your clothes as you went to bed and how if you set the end of a poking stick on fire and quickly blew it out you could write your name with the smoke in the night sky. All were having a great time, that is until later that night when suddenly my dad and a couple of his fellow co-workers came running out of the woods. The story goes they took a couple of canoes to a nearby river to do some fishing, well you know when a group of men fish they also drink and lost track of time. Unexpectedly they heard a noise in the darkness a “Woo Woo” sound. These men lived and worked in a city and this was not a sound they ever heard. They jumped out of the boats as quickly as possible and ran for their lives. They were wet, cold and out of breathe when they returned with no idea about what they left back in the dark woods.

A few months later I was lying in a hospital bed recovering from open heart surgery when my grandmother came for a visit. Like all who came to cheer me up she brought a present. It was a grey, fuzzy looking stuffed animal with big feet, short arms held up in the air and with two double A batteries it made a mechanical unrecognizable noise and tiny lights blinked for eyes. I named him Charlie Woo Woo, he got his very own hospital bracelet and to this day sits in my childhood room as a reminder of the trip in which my dad was chased out of the woods by an unknown creature of the night.





Friday, September 18, 2015

The Civil War: A film by Ken Burns-A review 25 years in the making

I was 10 at the time this originally aired and it would be a few years later when I turned 14 while on a school trip to Gettysburg in which I finally realized the importance of & became fascinated by The Civil War. I have waited 25 years to see this documentary series by Ken Burns and it was well worth the wait.

From day 1 (April 12th) year 1 (1861) Mr. Burns takes the viewer into the events that lead to and during this truly American war. Somehow he was able to move seamlessly from battle to battle. At times the events overlapped each other but he kept the viewer on track and without any confusion. Seeing the photos, hearing the voice overs as they quoted the actual words of a handful of those who were there is a remarkable thing to watch. To hear the events from these “voices” helped me learn about each experience and feel for all involved.

There was McClellan and Meade who commanded the Army of the Potomac (off and on) during the first three years of the war and we learned that there may have been times when they should have advance instead of retreat. There was Longstreet, Stuart, Pickett and Stonewall Jackson, Lee’s right hand guy who died of an illness at a field hospital after being shot, all Generals of Virginia, all good men by their own accords. By the final years of the war Sherman, Grant and Lee would face off on multiple crucial battles of the war. ---For me this wouldn’t be a Civil War lesson without Chamberlain
   who left his job as a professor at Bowdoin College to lead the men of The 20th Maine. I wondered how this documentary would "treat" the Battle of Gettysburg and it did not disappoint. I have loved Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain since I went on a class trip to see the movie Gettysburg and saw Jeff Daniels portrayal of him. I have been back to the battlefield 
 a couple more times  and each time is as captivating as the last. I agree with the guy who said in the episode (and I paraphrase) if I could go back to any time it would be to watch President Lincoln give The Gettysburg Address in person. I should add if the TARDIS ever appears in my backyard I know when The Doctor is taking me first. -- Ken Burns and the viewer follow these men and others including Sam Watkins, Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Mary Chestnut and President Lincoln and Davis as they lived, fought and died at Manassas, Antinum, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Petersburg, Cold Harbor, The Wilderness and too many more to name. On April 9th 1865 Grant and Lee met one last time in the home parlor of Wilmer McLean at Appomattox Court House VA where Lee would surrender his army after four long years of fighting. Voiced by Garrison Keillor we even got to hear from Walt Wittman and Morgan Freeman brought the words of Fredrick Douglas to life, by doing so I learned new things about each man. Each episode is narrated by writer/historian David McCullough. Other historians to help us along this trip through time are Barbara J. Fields, Ed Bearss and Stephen B. Oates. We also got to hear from writer Shelby Foote (November 17, 1916-June 27, 2005) who seemed truly passionate about the war and when he spoke and gave us the history behind the story I just took it all in.

 The best thing about watching now (2015) is that with everything online I can look up what I just learned about these people & read the letters that I heard on the documentary. Letters by men who I had not known about before. For example the first episode ended with a beautiful letter written by Major Sullivan Ballou to his wife, Sarah. A week later he was killed at Manassas. If you haven't yet you should "google" him and read it for yourself.

This may be odd to “say’ but I was on the edge of my seat for the entire week, every moment of each episode was important to learn and incredible to watch.

The Civil War was bloody, horrific and one of the worst time periods in of nation’s history. The Film by Ken Burns is sad, beautiful and a great piece of art.  Even 25 years later it’s worth another look at, I know I want to watch again. In the end I wish I could learn every story of every man, woman and child who lived in the time of The Civil War

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Falling Skies 2011-2015

For five seasons during the summer months the 2ed Mass fought bravely against alien attackers known as The Espheni. This group of men, women and even children were at the front line of combat as they tried to save earth and to restore normalcy to its human inhabitants. Tom Mason (Noah Wyle, the reason I started and continued to watch) a college history professor before the war, took his three sons, Hal (Drew Roy), Ben (Connor Jessup) and Matt (Maxim Knight) and became their leader and a force to be reckon with. Mason along with Col. Weaver (Will Patton) transformed the people they found along the way into soldiers and each did what they could to fight and survive. Whether it was a group of skitters or Overlords they bled and died for each other.

Tom Mason who lost his wife, pre-series was the heart and soul of the 2ed Mass. He did his best to keep everything and everyone under control.

Hal, his oldest son, always by his side and defended his father whenever someone disagreed with Tom’s tactics.

Ben, the middle one, who went missing early on in the war only for the aliens to make him more like them by implanting spikes down his spine and forced him to work for them. Tom found him early in the first season and quickly learned that they could communicate with The Espheni through the spikes.

Matt, the youngest who just wanted to help his father and learned everything he could along the way.

Col.  Dan Weaver, was Tom’s number two go to guy. We all cried when he found his daughter only to lose her after being partly turned into a skitter.

Anne (Moon Bloodgood) who was a pediatrician before the war lost her husband and son pre-series became the 2ed Mass doctor. Fell in love and married Tom then became pregnant and gave birth to a half human half alien girl, Lexi, who had a growth spurt only to die while helping her father destroy Espheni space “headqueters”

John Pope (Colin Cunningham) who was never a team player and whose dislike of Tom would be his downfall

Maggie (Sarah Carter), kickass loner who fell for Hal

And (my favorite) Cochise (Doug Jones), a commander of the alien species known as The Volm. A separate group of aliens who are fighting the Espheni alongside the humans. A great help and friend to Tom

There were others, of course, who came and went throughout the series and all just as good as the last. Even when they were separated they found new ways to continue the fight knowing that they would be reunited and stronger then before. Falling Skies was a wonderful show with a great cast and I looked forward to it and enjoyed every moment each season. I raise my glass for one final toast and goodbye to the 2ed Mass., they were all heroes, the best of the best in humanity and we shall never forget them.  


Friday, August 7, 2015

Southpaw-A touching, satisfying (and for me unexpected) story

From Ranging Bull and Rocky to more recent Cinderella Man and The Fighter boxing movies have always pulled on the heartstrings of movie audiences (and Oscar voters). Me on the other hand prefer baseball or even golf flicks, and really aren’t ALL sports movies the same (A man or woman trying to prove his/her worth to self, loved ones and the sport). Then an actor I admire made a film in which he plays a boxer and being the person I am I had to see it.

Directed by Antoine Fuqua and Written by Kurt Sutter Southpaw is that film. The wonderful, amazing and not bad to look at Jake Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope a successful boxer, whose name comes with its own catchphrases and is on top of his game until tragically hits his small close nit family. Now Billy must find a way to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move on with his life.

At the center of Southpaw is a story about the love and devotion between a father and his young daughter but there is a little bit more. There is love between a husband and wife, anger of a young girl who cares so much for her dad and just wants him in her life and frustration for that dad who doesn’t know how to cope and what to do next. While watching this film I didn’t expect to feel so much emotion for these characters (I was surprised when I cried). Newcomer (from broadways Mitilda) Oona Laurence plays Leila Billy’s daughter who just wants to support him during his fights. The scenes (one in particular where she is becomes so mad at him that things get physical) between Laurence and Gyllenhaal are so genuine and beautiful they put you right into the middle of the story. As for Gyllenhaal himself, well you know you are watching a good performance when the actor seems to disappear and all you can see and care about is the character (Seeing Billy still in pain from head to toe the morning after a fight helped me understand what these guys go through for their career).

In fact every scene felt raw and real. While watching the first fight scene I got a little dizzy and realized why I’m not a boxing fan. By the time the final fight came along it was as if I was watching a horror movie as I hid my eyes and watched through my fingers, there is a P.O.V shot from Billy that had me ducking (with him) behind the seat in front of me. Then there is there music, I’m sure each hip-hop song was chosen particular for the scene it accompany ( I admit I got into the rhythm of the music) and although it’s hard to hear (because the viewer rarely does and I will pay closer attention next time) I’m sure the late James Horner’s music made the film better.

The film also stars Forest Whitaker as Tick Wills a former boxing trainer turned local gym owner, Rachel McAdams as Maureen Billy’s longtime supportive wife, 50 Cent as Jordan Mains Billy’s boxing promoter and Miguel Gomez as Miguel Escobar a boxer as good as Billy. All are great and make the film the perfect piece of art that it is.

 I wasn’t expecting to like the movie but do to the director, cast and crew’s credit I really enjoyed each second of every frame, although I don’t think I will be watching another boxing film anytime soon (I’ve seen enough bloody faces) unless of course Jake Gyllenhaal makes a sequel to Southpaw.





Thursday, August 6, 2015

My love affair with Jon Stewart (as host of The Daily Show)

I became a fan of Mr. Stewart during his short lived 90s MTV talk show called...The Jon Stewart Show. In 1999 when he became host of The Daily Show, I had just started college and was a long way from home and needed some cheering up. A year later the nation knew who to turn to at our time of crisis, thus Indecision 2000 was born. Since then the show helped us get through a lot, including the most stressful times of our modern history known as The Bush Years. We laughed, we cried, we got to learn a lot about Jon like who his friends are, his gremaphobia, how he hates it when someone eats pizza with a fork and knife and loved his many bad impressions. I don't think I would have made it through without him. As a student I even saw his live act when he came to perform at SUNY Fredonia and opened his act by asking “Where the hell am I” while smoking (afterwards I added make Jon Stewart laugh to my list of goals in life) .

On a personal note…
The year was 2002 when I made the trip to NYC to see a taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It was my second time in the big apple and first (and only time) to watch “live” a show I had watched every day since its premiere and I was so excited. You see it took me (someone who hates talking on the phone) a couple of tries before I was able to get a date on which I could actually attend and how I convinced my sister to come with/take me I’ll never know but when we got off the train and were surrounded by tall buildings I knew I wouldn’t want to leave.

We didn’t have to be at the studio until 5pm so we had the day to walk around and had a quick bit to eat in a nearby park before we had to get in line. It was hot for late June so standing in a line of people for an hour before the show started was not easy even when an ice cream truck stopped by. When we finally entered the studio I remember thinking how small it looked compared to on TV but the closer the production team lead us to our seats the happier I got, there was Jon’s desk and the purple couch for his guest. I’m not sure how long we waited but when the warm up guy was over there was the man himself. There was a quick Q&A with him and I don’t remember any questions but wish I could have come up with a good one at the time. When the 1st segment started so did the laughter and I didn’t stop till the closing credits (I swear there are times during the episode you can hear me laugh and during the credits there is a quick shot of the audience and I’m sure that’s me and my sister sitting along the railing) Although it was a rare episode without a correspondent we did get to see Paul Sorvino as he was promoting the Hey Arnold! Movie. When it was over I walked as slowly as I could out of the studio taking it all in and wanting to remember every minute.
It was the best day of my life so far (only one life event could be better and when it happens I’ll tell you about it)

Every segment of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was a joy to watch from Produce Pete with Steve Carell, Even Stepvhens, Out at the Movies, Dollars and Cents, Back in Black with Lewis Black or a conversation with any of the correspondent from all over the world (mostly by green screen) or talking about Women’s issues with Kristen Schaal, African American issues with Larry Wilmore or British issues with John Oliver. In the end whether he was interviewing comedian friends or The President he always knew how to act, what questions to ask and read every book he was given. The show won’t be the same without Jon Stewart and it shouldn’t be but I will still watch. Good Night and Good Luck to him as he moves into farm life and with whatever he does next