Archive for the ‘Blogs’ Category

A Star Is Born (2018)

April 22, 2019

I used to really love to sing when I was much younger. Although, “used to” is not exactly an accurate term to use here. I still love to sing but mostly on my own in my car or in the shower just because the music I am listening to moves me. Sometimes I will sing from memory when I am nervous or high strung. But I used to sing in front of people. For years I was in the chorus at school and I only slightly let the fact that I was placed in with the sopranos bother me. I was the only guy in the soprano section but I just soldiered on. Nobody teased me but ingrained gender bias is a difficult psychological obstacle for a young boy. Later, I joined the church choir and I was tentatively put in with the baritones. In order to secure that position, I started purposefully singing an octave lower so I was not moved to sing with the girls. Finally, the director had it and told me if I was not going to sing correctly, I should not sing. She told me this at a performance at a senior center. During the performance, I just stood there with my mouth closed. That was my last day in the church choir.

Still, even if I had soured on singing in a group, I still sometimes toyed with the idea of public singing. Now, I have not really ever told anybody this before but at some point, I had fantasies of being a singer for a rock band. I really love the energy and rhythm of rock and roll and I often cannot help but sing along to it. Now, I entertained these fantasies knowing full well that I do not have an amazing voice or the inclination to practice that skill. I also had (have) crippling stage fright that would have made being the frontman of a band either impossible or incredibly unenjoyable. Even so, I would listen to my albums and close my eyes and sing along. The only thing encouraging me is the observation that went around my childhood home since I can remember. I believe it was my mother who pointed out that there were a lot of rock and roll singers who did not have the best voices or trained musical talent. What made them great was that they poured their entire heart into singing and succeeded from pure charm and energy. It was encouraging at the time but I am happy where I ended up.

A quick note here: I have not seen the other versions of this movie yet so I have nothing to compare this movie to. Of course, the point of this movie is the music. From the jump, I loved the bluesy rock and country that Bradley Cooper plays. I am a sucker for riffing guitars and chugging bass and he does a good job of that performance I was talking about above. He might not be the most polished but he is putting his whole heart into the performance. In other scenes, he gives more of a refined performance so that you really believe that he is a professional musician. Lady Gaga is, of course, a great singer. She is a proven commodity in the recording industry and her growth from her beginnings really shows here. She sings big musical show numbers and intimate ballads with the same talent. She also sings some songs in her usual pop style. Her rendition of La Vie En Rose (a personal favorite song of mine) was especially mindblowing. There is definitely a gap in their talent levels but it was not nearly as wide as I thought it would be. In addition, all of the music is sung live which definitely gives it more of a dynamic and energetic feel. The music is co-written by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson.

I was completely surprised at how good of an actress Lady Gaga was. I had seen a bit of her in American Horror Story: Hotel but she spent much of the time looking gorgeous and aloof. Granted, I did not see a whole lot but she did not get much of a chance to really act. She immediately impressed me in this. She definitely proved to me (and obviously audiences and professional critics) that she has what it takes to play in the big leagues of Hollywood. Bradley Cooper has grown as an actor and he continues to be able to transform himself in each role. In some of my favorite movies, he is a gay man, a space raccoon, and an FBI agent. In this movie, he plays a character that I am very familiar with. He is a troubled asshole who is super charismatic. Sam Elliott is, of course, a great actor as well. He is great at playing that gruff, grumpy guy you cannot help but like. There were also surprising performances from Greg Grunberg, Dave Chapelle, and Andrew Dice Clay of all people.

Overall, I thought this was a really good movie. These sorts of dramas are not really my cup of tea but everybody puts in endearing performances. While it is not a happy movie, it is a movie about seeking hope and redemption. When you are dealing with alcoholics and addicts, hope and redemption are rare. You do not always get a happy ending but they are definitely worth fighting for. This is not a happy movie but it is definitely a ride worth taking. There is also a fantastic soundtrack full of some great songs. The genres of country, rock, and pop are all well-represented. If nothing else, check out the soundtrack for a total of 19 songs.

Advertisements

Repo the Genetic Opera (2008)

April 20, 2019

I originally watched the first few minutes of this movie about eight years ago. I have since mostly forgotten it and I had put off watching the rest of it despite hearing that it was really good. I do vividly remember the moments when I was watching it. I was sitting in a parking lot behind the theater I worked at after driving from Baltimore to Sussex, New Jersey. I was tired and I was wondering when I would run into my boss. After being back home during the holidays and the offseason, I was anxious about getting back to work after six weeks. The dark edge to the musical mixed with that anxiety about my future. I now know that I had my very first anxiety attack. I could not continue with the movie and I could hardly sit still. I felt like crap. This was actually my second missed opportunity to see the movie after not going to the theater to see it with my little brother. This will be my third attempt and I will not lie that I have been a little anxious about it but it in a good way. My medication keeps most of my anxiety attacks at bay now.

I really wanted to watch a horror-themed musical to go with my theme of “Music” this month. Horror is one of my favorite genres and I grew up being exposed to musicals. My philosophy is that Halloween is less of a one day holiday and is more something that exists year round. Any time I am feeling down, the supernatural is always there to cheer me up or scare me out of my bad mood. As an added bonus, most horror musicals are lighter than the darker, more serious horror movies. While I watch plenty of dark horror, I really love the funnier, goofier side of Halloween better. When I first heard the premise of this one, I knew I could not really take it seriously. This is just another reason why I love the Horror genre. It often has the most out there, crazy ideas. If you are going to get your mind blown, it will not be drama or comedy that does it. Even fantasy does not usually hold a candle to the weirdest ideas horror generates.

The first awesome part of the movie is the aesthetic. The movie starts with a comic book prologue which just dumps all of the exposition quickly so the viewer can just dive into the world. That comic book exposition comes back a few times in the movie to quickly update us on what happened in the past. The reality and look of the world hits you right away as a post-apocalyptic world should. I would describe the costuming and character design as part goth, part raver, and part Blade Runner. The makeup and hair are absolutely wild and interesting. Everything is dirty and scummy like a Halloween theme park. The CGI looks cheap but it actually works for this movie as a B movie giving tribute to B movies (sort of a B+ movie, maybe). From the jump, there is a lot of gore but it is good, old-fashioned horror movie gore. The lighting also all looks like it is out of a haunted house or, more appropriately, like a theater. It is harsh in a lot of places but looks interesting.

I really liked the music in this one. It really is an opera and pretty much all of the dialogue is sung. This can be a risky proposition if the casting has not been done correctly. The first good choice they made was casting Anthony Stewart Head because any Buffy fan knows that he can sing and sing well. His solo song was when I really first got into the movie for real. Paul Sorvino plays one of the evilest corporate CEOs in history and sings operatically in a beautiful way. His children are played by Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Kevin Ogilvie. They often sing horribly but I am sure they are meant to since they are all comic relief. A quick note here: Paris Hilton is not a bad singer when she is trying. Alexa PenaVega plays the movie’s protagonist, and she has a great young voice. The writer, Terrance Zdunich, plays a graverobber and it is easy to see why he was a fan favorite as he has such a beautiful voice. Sarah Brightman is probably the best singer (which probably makes sense as she is cast as a singer). Everything is backed by either electronica music or industrial guitars. The music is not very intrusive, making sure to give plenty of room to hear and understand the singing.

Overall, I loved this movie. It is really cheesy and goofy but I can see the appeal. A lot of the movie feels like the characters are in one big music video but that is an interesting aesthetic. Some of the music is not my jam but I feel like this was done on purpose for comic effect or to jar the listener. They proved that they can score the movie correctly and the good singers are really fun to listen to. The story is gruesome and dark but it has enough dark and dry comedy to keep it moving along without feeling too bad. It is definitely something worth seeing for horror and musical fans. At the same time, I can see why critics hated this movie. Also, do not be put off by the mention of Paris Hilton as she actually helped finance the movie because she believed in it and she is surprisingly talented.

(Written on 4/17/19)

Quality Control

April 19, 2019

Nearly ten years ago, I worked in live theater. I worked at a small regional theater in upstate New Jersey for five long years. When I left the theater, I had worked my way up from board technician to Assistant Technical Director to Technical Director. That title basically made me in charge of almost everything besides the acting. As a carpenter, I helped build the sets. As an electrician, I hung and focused the lights and did all of the wiring. As sound board operator, I played music and sound effects in time with the show. I was also a professional designer. I did the lighting design which meant that I picked colors and helped shape the look of the show. However, my all-time favorite job was as a sound designer. That meant that I spent long hours listening to music and sound effects, trying to figure out what would add to the soundscape of the show without taking away from it.


This is here because my teacher was a roadie for Steely Dan (among other bands)

To get to that position, I actually majored in theater. I majored in Stage Management at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. For those who can do the math, that means I spent nearly a decade living in New Jersey away from my beloved Maryland. When I got out of school, I decided I did not really want to be a stage manager. It had been all I wanted when I entered college but, as with most people, going off to university had changed me. It all came from taking Sound Design 101 early in my time there. I started to hang around the designers more and especially with the sound crew. I sat under the learning tree with the sound teacher, an old ex-roadie who was not technically a professor because he never got the appropriate degrees. When I got out, I wanted to create. I wanted to use my hands.

That teacher taught me a lot about music in ways that I never thought about it before. We sat and listened to records which is something I had rarely done before. With that crew, I did it almost every day. More than listening to music, we talked a lot about music and how we listen to it. This is when I truly learned how subjective music is. My teacher, my sensei, my mentor, he hated ABBA with a passion. I am not a huge fan but I like some of their upbeat tunes. He had a cleansing ceremony that had to be done to speakers that had played Abba. We listened to cheesy, goofy music and laughed our butts off. Our favorites were a recording of a kazoo orchestra and the legendary album Golden Throats. I actually later used Golden Throats as pre-show music to torture the audience. I got a compliment on it. I shuddered. Music truly is subjective.

But on to the story that I actually originally wanted to write about since everything above is a prelude to. When you do sound design, the most boring thing you have to do is quality control. It is tedious because it takes time and you really want to get the fun parts of adjusting levels and mixing sound and music. Now I understand that quality control is the most zen part of the job. To explain, quality control means listening to every sound effect and music track all the way through in order to make sure there is nothing in there that will be embarrassing later. My teacher called it “Checking for Sheep”. The story he told us to express the importance of this activity was interesting. He had once done a show with a long scene in the rain and so he had found the perfect ambient track of rain noises. Except he did not check the whole thing. So late in that scene, there was suddenly the plaintive cries of a herd of sheep standing in the rain. He was embarrassed.

So, remember to take your time. Remember to check your work because you do not want to blow it down the line. It may be tedious and it may be boring but it can save you. Also, in those zen moments of just sitting and taking things in, inspiration might strike. You may come up with brand new ideas to add to what you are doing. Patience is key.

(Written on 4/15/19)

Playlists

April 18, 2019

Over four months ago, my good friend Joe passed away in his sleep. As I had previously stated, one of the things that we shared was a love for music. Though we sometimes argued over what constituted “good” music, we agreed that music was good. One of the things he did was curate playlists on YouTube like people used to make mixtapes. This year I decided to start making my own playlists of my favorite music. I add to them from time to time but I also go on music binges trying to pump them up so I can put them on in the background sometimes. Below are three of them that I have worked on the most but I have so many more I want to create.


Rap


Pop Music


Hard Rock

So what do you think I am missing? What other playlists should I create?

(Written on 4/13/19)

The Nightmare Before Christmas

April 16, 2019

(SPOILER ALERT for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Go watch it and come back or read on at your own risk)

I am a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I have written about the movie several times before. Last year, during the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I started a tournament bracket for best Disney Animated film and I took Nightmare Before Christmas all the way to the finals and the movie won the whole thing. You can find those words in the First Round, Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals, and Finals. Basically, I talked about how I have dealt with both anxiety and depression in my life and how the movie mirrored a lot of moments in my life. I also talked about how Danny Elfman’s music was probably the best he will ever achieve in this movie. I also related how I had experienced my own job-based depression and I learned to better balance my life and work. I also finally found a job that I love doing which allows me to kick ass by day and be creative by night. I am almost always thinking about this movie in one way or another so I want to express some of that.

A thought I literally had last night as I was driving home from work was sparked by the lyrics of “Town Meeting Song”. The song suddenly resonated with me even more when I realized a few things. First, I feel like the song is mostly about cultural differences but I will set that aside for the moment. The song takes place about halfway through the movie and Jack has just arrived back from Christmas Town. He is bubbling over with excitement about this huge discovery that he has made. Then he tries to explain something that he does not fully understand himself. He talks too quickly and when his audience does not get it, he keeps plowing forward instead of going back to clarify. This is so relatable. The more excited I am, the more I tend to ramble and throw things out there. It is excitement through the lens of anxiety. When I have a moment to breathe and maybe write things out, I do so much better at explaining everything in a linear manner. Part of the real emotional conflict of the movie begins here.

Even if Jack explained himself better, his endeavor would probably still be doomed. Jack loves Christmas because it is a shiny new toy but he does not really understand it himself. He proves that in “Jack’s Obsession” when he experiments and tries experiments to dissect Christmas. As I got older, I grew to appreciate this scene better. Jack is trying too hard. Christmas is not world peace or famine relief. It is a holiday intended to be a simple and good time. Sometimes you just learn to enjoy things by taking a deep breath and a break and coming back to things later. I have solved a lot of my problems by letting my mind wander and coming back to things. A problem that had bested me previously was now something I easily dominated. Jack also isolates himself from everybody else in the town. Sometimes another perspective can help you figure out a problem. Another set of eyes could have been just what Jack needed.

Continuing along that line of thinking, I was trying to think of what Jack could have done to actually succeed at his mission in this movie. He clearly got the citizens of Halloween Town excited about the possibilities of Christmas but he was having trouble getting everybody to see his vision. At first, I thought that Jack should have taken the townspeople in small reconnaissance groups to actually show them Christmas Town. That way they would have actually seen and understood what Jack was telling them about. Then I realized how stupid that idea was. It is just spreading the problem around. The secondary conflict of this movie is between Jack’s vision of Christmas and the rest of the world’s vision of Christmas. In order for Jack to succeed, those two visions should be one. If he had actually stopped to talk with Santa Claus then he could have set up a cultural exchange between the two towns. Of course, that would have stopped him from having a huge life event that allowed him personal growth and allowed him to overcome the main conflict of the story.

Of course, he does not stop and talk to Santa Claus because he does not believe he needs to. I feel that this is because he has a confidence problem stemming from depression. Jack has been the King of Halloween for a long, long time. We are never told but I always thought it was probably since the advent of the holiday (whatever that means). He has gotten really good at his job which means that everybody is always looking to him for guidance and saying what a good job he is doing. Part of his depression is that he is disinterested in his job because he is too good at it. He discovers Christmas and is happy at a possible new challenge. However, he is still stuck in that mindset where he is the king of all he sees. So he dives into Christmas with overconfidence. Shaking loose from depression is not that easy and he literally crashes and burns. It is only when he accepts who he is and learns to not be complacent that he truly starts to find happiness.

So those are a few thoughts I have had recently and I hope they let you love this movie a little bit more. Please tell me what you think about The Nightmare Before Christmas or tell me why I am wrong about it being the best Disney movie.

 

(Written on 4/11/19)

Musical Gimmicks

April 15, 2019

WILPW

Obviously, music has been tied to professional wrestling for a long time. It started in the 1950s but really hit its stride in the seventies and eighties with the marriage of rock and wrestling. This basically amounted to music playing as performers entered the ring and when they won a match. Also, music was obviously used in promos and advertisements. Later, I heard stories about music videos that were produced for Smoky Mountain Wrestling to introduce new members of the roster. Music is a powerful force that can provide a lot of information through tone and lyrics in a short amount of time and minimal effort. Also, a performer’s entrance music fires the crowd up and lets them know who is showing up so they can cheer or boo appropriately. However, what I want to talk about today are professional wrestlers who are actually musical.

Though, I actually want to start with those gimmicks that were music adjacent but actually rarely showed much musical skill. As usual on these overviews, I will probably expose some gaps in my knowledge but enjoy the ride and educate me in the comments if you must. First in this group is the Honky Tonk Man. Honky was a master at making people hate him but he was also a guitar-wielding, Elvis-inspired performer. He hit more people with his guitar more than he ever played it. Speaking of hitting people with a guitar, there was also Jeff Jarrett. He was supposed to be a country music musician who wanted to use pro-wrestling as a platform to become a star as improbable as that sounds. He never sang a word and he broke hundreds of guitars throughout his career. Funny enough, his entrance song was sung by another wrestler Jesse James but the WWF never went anywhere with that. I also think of people like Jillian Hall who did a tone-deaf pop singer gimmick, squealing into a microphone to the delight of nobody.

But no, I am here to talk about those with actual skill. The first that I want to talk about is John Cena. Those who only know him as a meme or as a Hollywood personality might not know his past in the early 2000s. Back then, he changed from being a fairly normal guy into a white rapper gimmick. I am sure there are many who would be surprised to know that he was a very competent rapper. It started with him recording his entrance theme “Basic Thuganomics” and doing 8 Mile-esque rap battles on Smackdown. He was dubbed the Doctor of Thuganomics and then he recorded his album which included a lot of great tracks including the aforementioned “Word Life” and “Bad, Bad Man”. His rap career started to fade away as his gimmick evolved but he did record his now iconic theme song of “My Time is Now” which a lot of people might recognize from the popular John Cena meme. Every so often, he breaks out the rap and stretches those muscles. Just recently at Wrestlemania 35, he got back in his Doctor of Thuganomics gear and laid a rap down on Elias.

Who is Elias? Well, he is what happens if you take Jeff Jarrett’s gimmick and you actually give it to a talented musician. Elias started down in NXT as The Drifter Elias Samson. He was a drifting musician who played the guitar down to the ring and was booed for slowing down the action for an impromptu concert. Eventually, the songs he sang did their best to insult the crowd. He eventually moved up to the Raw roster where he continued to “drift” around, playing his guitar. Eventually, he proved himself to be a really talented pro-wrestler and a very talented musician. He sang a lot of impromptu songs to insult the audience and his opponents. Like Cena, he actually released an album Walk With Elias (which he claims is what WWE stands for). He continues to impress with his music but lately every time he tries to play he gets interrupted. He is getting more chances to show off his in-ring skill which is great.

Probably the most successful is Chris Jericho. He earned a reputation as an artist in the squared circle. He has constantly reinvented himself over and over to change with the times. However, all during his career, he was always a huge fan of heavy metal. He idolized all of the greats but his dream of professional wrestling came first. However, in a weird real-life twist on the Jeff Jarrett gimmick, his fame from being a WWE superstar started to get him attention from a lot of his idols in professional music. He started to make friends with a lot of these guys and they saw that he was as passionate about music as he was about pro-wrestling. He was not just some wannabe singer who might assemble a band as a vanity project. He wanted to be an actual heavy metal singer. He was able to put together a band named Fozzy which is still touring today. They have put out numerous albums and they play huge concerts and festivals all of the time. Now, he has been able to extend his pro-wrestling career by balancing it with his music career which will probably allow him to do both for as long as he wants.

There are plenty of people who sang their own entrance themes. Shawn Michaels re-recorded his theme song (“Sexy Boy”) with his vocals. R Truth raps his way down to the ring live, showing without a doubt that he has some skills. There was famously the West Texas Rednecks (a group in WCW) who sang a song called “Rap is Crap” which actually charted and was played on the radio. Tyler Breeze recorded a theme song which is an ode to his gimmick as a supermodel and an actual banging electronica song. Meanwhile, Mickie James has recorded two Country albums and is working on a third which is why she has been away from the ring for a while. I am sure this list will continue to expand as the years go by and the stars of pro-wrestling get better at diversifying their talents. We already have plenty of pro-wrestlers in Hollywood, why not some who get a Grammy eventually?

(Written on 4/10/19)

Legally Frisked

April 13, 2019

Before I get this post started, I need to say that I am a paralegal and by law, I cannot give legal advice. This post is merely to explain the law and does not constitute legal advice.  Check out the other posts in my Legally series in the archives.

Back in 2004, rapper Jay Z released probably one of his most famous tracks “99 Problems”. The song has been played endlessly for the last fifteen years and I have also heard it parodied and the hook used to create one-liner jokes. Obama even cracked a joke at Jay Z’s expense using the line “I have 99 Problems and now Jay Z is one”. The song is about all of the obstacles in Jay Z’s life (which he emphatically states that a woman is not one of them). He deals with fame, critics, racism, and people getting in his face among other things. He does not go on to name all 99 of his problems but he does tell the story of getting pulled over by a racist cop. This is actually based on an event that happened in 1994, way before he was famous for rapping, headphones, and being Beyonce’s husband. In all honesty, this is a quick little summary of a research paper written by Caleb Mason, a law professor at Southwestern University so I cannot take much of the credit.

Jay Z explains in the song how the incident went down. He was driving in his car with drugs in his trunk and, although it is not specifically claimed, probably a gun in the glove box. He hears a siren behind him and the telltale flashing lights of a police car are in his rearview mirror. Now, he knows he is in trouble because he has all of this illegal contraband and he is a black man in 1994. This is three years removed from the Rodney King beating and the LA Riots that followed. Not only is the LAPD proven to be racist, but they are also violent towards people of color. He gives himself two choices. He can stop and deal with it, knowing that if he does get arrested, he has some money to hire an attorney. The other choice would be to floor it and try and get away. Deciding that a police chase is too risky and too much of a hassle, he pulls over.

The cop sidles up to Jay Z’s car and asks him if he knows what he pulled him over for. Jay Z asks the cop if it is because he is young and black and dresses like a gangster. He asks the cop what the actual reason is. He assumes that he has been pulled over for Driving While Black and asks if he is under arrest. The cop says that he was driving 55 in a 54. Any experienced driver knows that a cop will not pull over somebody for driving one mile per hour over the speed limit. That is a joke. The cop asks Jay if he has a gun because he knows ‘a lot of you are”. Jay does not fall for the obvious ploy and points out that his license and registration are legit and asks if there is anything else. The cop asks to look around the car. Jay tells him that his glove box and trunk are locked and that he will need a warrant to search them. The cop, defeated, claims he is going to bring in a K-9 unit.

This segment of the song is in reference to notorious laws such as Stop and Frisk which were used along with racial profiling to harass black people for a long time. Thankfully, most of those laws have been abolished now. The main question here is “When can a traffic stop be used to search for drugs?” This is a Fourth Amendment question because that amendment guides law enforcement on search and seizure. The first important thing here is that Jay Z acted correctly in submitting to the police officer’s authority by pulling over. This preserved his 4th Amendment rights. He also correctly said that he didn’t know why the cop pulled him over, not giving the cop any more ammunition later in court. By law, the cop was within the rules to pull somebody over for going even one mile per hour above the speed limit even if that is suspect.

Jay Z’s first error is refusing to step out of the car when asked. That request is well within the rules laid out by the Fourth Amendment. Jay Z also basically gives the cop permission to search the vehicle, secure in the knowledge that the two bad spots are locked up. He did not have to give this consent. Usually, when cops ask for your consent for a search it is because they need it to continue. Also, no warrant is required to search a car during a traffic stop. Searches can happen if there is any probable cause and probable cause covers a lot of ground. Additionally, locking any part of your car will not prevent cops from legally searching it. They will just unlock it and continue. Finally, the cop calls in a dog whose search does not require probable cause and bypasses a lot of Fourth Amendment privacy concerns.

I hope that this educated you in a small part and that you learned a little from this trip into the law with me.

(Written on 4/7/19)

The King of Bards

April 12, 2019

The Tournament of the Grand Festival of Treania was an annual event in the Capital city of Kaliah. It was the most elite fighting tournament on the entirety of the Pekko Continent. It was a no holds barred contest where competitors were allowed all of their spells and all of their equipment. It was a particularly brutal competition but it was a great spectacle for the people and the winner earned a lot of prestige and quite a lot of gold from the winner’s purse. It was highly anticipated throughout the year and nobles and royals groomed and supported competitors and covered their expenses and entry fees. Those competitors were always of good breeding and were big names from around the world. Their benefactors were also the biggest names in the world.

This year, the competition would be fierce. The favorite was a bronze dragonborn fighter from Ieshon named Harkon. He wielded a magical sword that was suffused with the energy of lightning. There was also Roc, a half-goliath barbarian who had been ensorcelled by a mysterious countess from Vedel. There was Akilah Korinda, one of the princesses of Kofrain and a deadly assassin whose specialty was knives. A darkhorse was Lord Rosebriar who had proven himself to be an accomplished magic user who summoned infernal creatures to fight for him. People had only seen Ahlia Dark in one fight before but they saw that she fought alongside the ghost of her brother which was just within the rules of the competition. This group and all of the others were dangerous and well-funded. A lot of them were usually up to no good but at least during the Grand Festival, they were drawn away from their activities.

So, it was a surprise when a short, sandy-haired young man walked up to the competitor’s gate dressed in rags. He could not have been much taller than a pony’s back but he was definitely human or at least appeared to be. Historically, there had been short competitors so somebody like this man was not to be underestimated. It was his clothes and his accessories that had the guards scratching their head. They knocked on the door and summoned the majordomo out into the open. The young man was wearing shabby clothing and was carrying a lute over his shoulder. He had a cocky little grin on his face.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the majordomo said, more than a hint of condescension in her voice. “The musicians’ entrance is around on the other side. In the back.”

The blond man looked confused for a moment and then laughed. “Oh, you mean this?” He asked, fingers caressing his lute. “This is my weapon. I mean to compete.”

“Forgive me but there is an entry fee for this tournament,” the majordomo said. “I doubt you have it.”

The man tossed a pouch at the majordomo’s feet, it jingled. It was a big pouch. “I think that ought to cover it.”

“Who are you?” the majordomo said, a little surprised. She bent down and picked up the pouch and weighed it in her hand and then opened it to make sure.

“You can call me Jack,” the man said. “For now.”

“Well, ‘Jack’,” the majordomo said. “You also need to be endorsed by somebody of royal or noble blood.”

“I am,” Jack said with a shrug. “I was sent here by the King of Bards.”

“I’ve never heard of him,” the majordomo said.

“He and his court, which includes yours truly, have kept a low profile so far,” Jack said. “Now we want to change that. It starts with this tournament.”

“Well, this ought to be amusing,” The majordomo said with a laugh. She turned to one of the guards. “Go get the first alternate you can find and bring them here. We will be giving Mr. Jack a little qualifying match.”

They waited for a while and then a huge mountain of a man stepped out through the gate. He had a huge, two-handed war hammer and full plate armor. He sneered at Jack and readied himself by hoisting the hammer up into the air. He did not waste time with niceties and charged at Jack with a wordless battle cry. Jack yawned, swung his lute into place and strummed the instrument hard just before impact. There was a clap of thunder and the armored warrior went flying back through the gate, splintering it into pieces. A cleric ran over to the huge man and started to heal him. There was a signal that the man was down and out. The majordomo whistled and turned back to look at Jack with new interest.

“I’m thinking that we might be able to fit you into the tournament after all,” she said. “Let me check with the officials and get back to you.”

“So, should I just wait there then?” Jack asked.

“I think you’ve earned the right to come inside,” the majordomo said. “Find a spot to yourself and I’ll come and find you when I have an answer.”

“I’m at your service,” Jack said. “I’ll be waiting for you.”

(Written on 4/7/19)

Into the Woods (American Playhouse 1991)

April 10, 2019

I have always been a huge fan of folklore and fables. Grimm and Perault are iconic favorites of mine and I often seek out any adaptation of the work that I can get my hands on. There is a lot out there. I remember being read all of the stories and then reading them myself when I was old enough to read. Each of these stories has elements of fantasy, magic, and danger. Part of what sparked this interest was getting into Disney early on. Of course, the Disney versions were the safe versions. When I got a little older I discovered how dark the original stories really got. It makes sense as many of the stories were inspired by the famous Black Forest in Germany which is a huge, thick and dark forest. I was fascinated by the darkness mixed with the happily ever after, the light and the dark. Every fairytale felt kind of like Halloween in that way. Late in my college days, I actually took a literature class studying fairytales, again mostly focusing on Grimm and Perrault. I was interested to learn even more about different versions of each story and how they connected to each other. Like the connections between The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast, and the Tiger’s Bride. It remains fascinating and I like to see it riffed on in pop culture (see Once Upon a Time, Grimm, and Fables).

Fair warning, before seeing this movie I had already seen the 2014 Disney version starring Meryl Streep. I remember it fondly and I do listen to music from it now and then (mostly “Agony”). I thought it was a good movie but I remember people freaking out about it before it came out. I have known plenty of people who had a great love for the stage version. When I worked at a regional theater in New Jersey, I met quite a few people who had done the show either in high school or college. It seemed to be one of Sondheim’s more school-friendly shows as the subject matter is accessible and there are a lot of characters to get a lot of kids on stage. Later, I met a guy who was absolutely obsessed with the show because he had been in it and seen it so many times. He was the one who I witnessed worrying about the Disney version. Sometimes it can be tough for people to anticipate an adaptation of something they love. For me, it is exciting because I am not so strict on following the original story or format. From what I understood, the Disney version changed a lot from the original but kept a lot of the show’s spirit which I think is the most important part. Also, they got a good singing performance out of Meryl Streep which was in doubt after Mamma Mia.

The first thing I noticed was how the production values were beautiful. This makes sense as that is what I did for a living for a while. The sets kind of looked like a book where you flip open panels to see different scenes. There were a lot of things that seemed to be done poorly on purpose for comic effect. It felt like something you would see in stage versions of Monty Python sketches. A lot of credit to The American Playhouse which put on this production. The lighting and special effects are really beautiful. They did a good job of lighting the actors while also giving the show a dreamy, shadowy feel. This matches the comedy of the show. The show feels funnier than the movie version mostly because it involves actors playing to the audience and getting immediate feedback. One of the biggest production differences that made an immediate impact was the narrator. In the movie version, they had one of the characters as the narrator. Here, the Narrator is an omniscient character outside of the story so we get more from him. They also kept the Witch and the Mysterious Stranger separate which makes a bit more sense in the end.

The actors did a really great job as well. I would be remiss if I did not start out by paying homage to one of the great queens of stage musicals by mentioning Bernadette Peters. She has developed a reputation as a legend for good reason and she does justice to the role of The Witch, a great archetype from folktales. Though villainous, she has great comic timing. Tom Aldredge plays the Narrator and he has a great dry wit to him. I had to look him up at intermission because I thought he might be David Straitharn and that is definitely a compliment. Chip Zien plays The Baker and he is lovably goofy and pathetic. Joanna Gleason plays The Baker’s Wife who is a great foil for Zien and she has a beautiful singing voice. Chuck Wagner and Robert Westenberg play the two princes and they are just as goofy and vain as they should be. Danielle Ferland plays Little Red and she is great at being the petulant little brat. Ben Wright plays Jack well as a poor, simple young man with a kind heart.

Overall, I loved this production. While the Disney version was definitely good, they cut out a lot to fit in under a two hour running time and to simplify the story. It feels like they also cut out a lot of the really charming and funny parts. This version felt funnier. In turn, it made the dark parts of the show even darker but less depressing. That was my one complaint about the Disney version now that I think of it. This show felt like a lot more fun. I also felt that this version had rougher edges which were natural for a live performance. Still, that is what we love about live performances. I can now see exactly what people saw in this show.

 

(Written on 4/6/19)

Halestorm

April 9, 2019

I love the band Halestorm and this is just going to be me raving about them for a little bit. They are a hard rock outfit that got their name from their frontwoman Lzzy Hale. What drew me to the band is how pure and awesome Lzzy’s voice is and how much it gets me energized especially backed by a rock band. Her brother Arejay is on drums, Joe Hottinger is on guitar and Josh Smith is on bass guitar. They have four albums out but they also have a few cover albums that they put out so if you want a hard rock version of Bad Romance or Get Lucky, you’re in luck.


What Were You Expecting?

Expectations can be a vicious part of our everyday lives. Disappointment and vindication both come from expecting something and either getting it or not getting it. We can definitely build fantasies in our heads that can create a lot out of a little. In this song, “It was just one kiss”. One kiss can send a person’s mind reeling and get them making all sorts of plans. This is important now that we are finally learning to respect women (thanks #MeToo) as we need to examine our expectations and keep them reasonable. It is alright to wish and hope but you need to be realistic and communicate with the object of your affections.


Miss the Misery

I actually think about this song when I think of ending any relationship and it also makes me think of MBMBaM a lot. When we break up with somebody or we end any relationship with somebody we are close to, it hurts. However, every single time I find that I still miss it even if it was painful. It is important in those moments that we keep in mind that we do not miss that person. We miss the way that person made us feel. Positive or negative, they elicited passion inside of us. As the McElroys say, we have a hole in our lives shaped like that person who is now gone. It is something important to remember so that we do not quickly go back to somebody who is not healthy for us. Not to mention this is a real banger of a song.


Rock Show

This one is just a pure ode to rock in general and specifically to women in rock and women who are fans of rock. It is an anthem to the girl in the middle of the crowd who is getting high on the adrenaline of a good rock show. It also throws some love to the girl who dreams of becoming a rocker like Lzzy Hale. The dream is possible and worth having.


Mz. Hyde

This is actually the first song that I heard that led me to seek out the album “The Strange Case…” which is my favorite album so far and is probably the album that led to more mainstream play for the band. This song is about the duality of people. We change ourselves to suit different situations and we actually do it pretty easily. For example, I am totally different at work than I am with my friends. I am different again with my family. Even among different family members, I can shift the parts of my personality that I show. We do this to please people and to protect ourselves. Also, this is hands down my favorite of their songs.


I Am The Fire

I like a lot of songs like this. The song asks “Am I strong enough?” and then answers that with a resounding “hell yeah!”. These songs always get me pumped because they have so much energy. Lzzy’s wailing cries sound like a battle cry and it is hard not to respond to that. It reminds me of stuff like Dorothy’s “Missile”. In fact, Halestorm has a lot of these types of songs. “Freak Like Me”, “Daughters of Darkness”, “Bad Girl’s World”, and “Here’s To Us” just to name a few. Telling your audience that they can be just as badass as the band and that we are all in this together is a great message.


Vicious

Another song about being a badass. Halestorm is so good at that. “What doesn’t kill me, makes me vicious.” It is a great reminder not to mess with people because they might mess with you back. Be kind. If we are all kind then we can all party together.


Shatter Me

Yeah, this is just a bonus song because it only features Lzzy. It’s so good, though.

 

(Written on 4/5/19)


Adventures of a MathBrat

Random Things I Find Energy To Blog About

Boccob's Blessed Blog

A gaming blog with an emphasis on D&D 5e

wolfenoot.wordpress.com/

No Hate Only Snootboops

As Told By Carly

The Ramblings of a Geek Girl

kalpanaawrites

poetry, fiction, essays

Beyond the Flow

A Survivor's Philosophy of Life

Silvia Writes

Life is a story. Might as well write it.

An Artist’s Path

A space for creative seekers.

The Bloggess

Bizarre thoughts from author Jenny Lawson - Like Mother Teresa, only better.

Silence Killed The Dinosaurs

Comics, Stories, Dinosaurs, Cats

Daily (w)rite

For lovers of reading, writing, travel, humanity

The Empire of Carane

Where fiction comes to life

DMing With Charisma

Stories, Reviews and Opinions!

%d bloggers like this: