Posts Tagged ‘T’

Tidelands (2018)

April 23, 2019

I remember when we studied the Odyssey in middle school. It was 1997 and I was in an English class where we read a lot of books that completely and utterly left me spellbound. Part of it was that we spent a lot of time in class actually reading the books in a cozy little classroom and stopping to analyze things every so often. Our teacher made sure we understood the books completely and did so in a fun, accessible way. It was the kind of class that increased people’s joy of reading which is just as important as teaching reading comprehension. When it came to the Odyssey, I was incredibly interested. Myths and legends have always been a thing for me (see my Into the Woods review) and there is just something iconic about the Greek mythology on display in Homer’s texts. While the Iliad is a story about heroes and villains and warfare, the Odyssey is basically a primer on what nasty creatures lingered out in the wide world as the Greeks knew it. Odysseus confronts and uses his might and his mind to counter or avoid many horrible monsters and crafty dangers on his way home.

Among those nasties, were the sirens. A lot of people who do not remember much from that book still remember the sirens. People remember the sirens because they are used as an allegory or a literary allusion so many times in pop culture or as commentary on real life. Sirens are often depicted as beautiful, ethereal women who have such good voices that they draw people in. The truth of the matter is that the sirens are actually ugly creatures who use their beautiful voices to lure sailing ships, making them crash into unseen rocks that surround their island. I am sure you have heard people “um actually” about these women’s ugliness. I never really thought that they should have been depicted as ugly. If they really were beautiful but evil, that would fit with the ‘all that glitters is not gold’ message that people need to hear. For me, it was the same thing as people talking about Satan’s ‘true face’. If he is beautiful and evil, it teaches people not to automatically trust physical beauty. Take that even further and maybe the sirens do not need to be evil. Maybe they cannot help themselves or they are just being pragmatic. Food for thought.

This is an Australian produced show so I had never seen any of the actors before. I will say that the acting is pretty good. It reminded me of the Shannara Chronicles or Riverdale a bit which is not an insult. The production is very slick. I really loved the lighting in particular. They did some excellent subtle modeling with light that can be rare in television. I really liked the production and character design as well. They did a really good job of differentiating between humans and ‘tidelanders’ without it being too outlandish. It is more likely that non-human creatures would adapt to our world instead of continuing to be so flashy with their otherness. They would know that our society does not reward otherness. They also do it a lot with different accents which makes me think of Keel’s Men in Black descriptions. People are more willing to excuse weirdness if they can simply write it off as ‘being foreign’. Special effects are used sparingly which is good because CGI is expensive and risky in television.

The story is pretty neat. The show is ostensibly a crime drama with some supernatural elements. It reminds me of the early seasons of Haven. Similarly, it is set in a seaside fishing town where the community is tight and everybody knows everybody else. The whole town works like a well-oiled machine. I lived in a small town once and I remember that extreme interconnectedness. It was very foreign to a city-born guy like me. Still, just like anywhere else there are a lot of secrets and danger for those trying to uncover those secrets. Beyond the crime drama, there is a lot of personal drama and mystery as we explore those secrets. The supernatural elements are brought in bit by bit so that the show can still focus on more human character development and connections. I am three episodes in and I am pretty fascinated about where this goes next. There are only five episodes left in the only available season so far.

Overall, I liked the show. The air of mystery is great at enticing me to keep watching so that I get some more answers. The pacing is really good as I never felt like the show was dragging or lingering on anything too long but it was not going too fast either. I was also impressed with the casual depictions of LGBTQ+ in the show. There will be a day where I do not have to be surprised by it but it definitely pleased me that it was done in a casual matter-of-fact way. It is refreshing to see. As it is Netflix, there is quite a bit of casual nudity as well.

(Written on 4/20/19)

Tales of Hoffmann (2008)

April 23, 2018

In 2005, I was on my way to graduating from college. The last thing I had to do was complete an internship somewhere in the field of Stage Management. I returned to my hometown of Baltimore and luckily got an internship at the now-defunct Baltimore Opera Company as a production assistant. It was an eye-opening experience because I had never really worked in opera. Everything was bigger than anything I had done before. The second of two shows I ended up working on was a show called Tales of Hoffmann. It is a French opera about a German poet. In pre-production, I was given the task of researching the show. This is called dramaturgy and it is something often done by big enough companies so they can know the ins and outs of a show before mounting their own version. Basically, I was providing as much information as possible so that the director could connect with the source material. That may have been one of my favorite weeks as it was actually my job to read German fantasy and write down my thoughts on it. I am not sure that my research came to anything but I will likely never forget it.

Spoiler Warning: Since I am going to be reviewing an opera for the first time, I have decided that I am not going light on spoilers. In opera, you often know the story before you attend. Knowing the end of the journey does not detract from the joy of it with opera. At least, that’s my opinion. The beautiful music and the staging are the main points of actually watching an opera.

As a side note, I was going to watch the 1951 film version of this show but I could not obtain it in time because I pussyfooted around. So instead, I picked the first professional-looking production I could find on YouTube with English subtitles. That means instead of two hours, I was up against a show that was closer to three hours. That’s perfectly fine with me. The music of the opera was made by Jacques Offenbach who was terrified because he had a vision of his own death. He felt that he would die before its completion and he was correct as he died with the manuscript in his hand four months before it opened. This matched the dark subject matter of the opera itself but he did not write it. Instead, the opera’s libretto (or lyrics and story) were written by Jules Barbier based on three tales by ETA Hoffmann. Barbier had already written the opera version of Hamlet so he was a great pick to adapt a non-musical author into a more epic artform. His dark prose and poetry mixed well with Offenbach’s dark yet lively music.

For the overarching story of the opera follows.  Hoffmann is a writer and the Muse wants to get her claws fully into him so she can get him to focus solely on writing and so she poses as his best friend. In the meantime, Hoffmann is to get together with Stella, a prima donna and is waiting for her at a tavern. The villain, Lindorf, convinces Hoffmann to tell stories while he waits. After telling the story of a dwarf named Kleinzach, Lindorf coaxes him to tell stories of past loves. He first tells the story of how he fell in love with a girl named Olympia, not realizing that she was a mechanical doll. Second, he tells the story of how he fell in love with Antonia, the daughter of an opera singer who has a condition where she will die if she sings. Third, he tells the story of how he fell in love with Giulietta, a courtesan who is planning to try to steal Hoffmann’s reflection. In the end, a now drunk Hoffmann forswears all women, realizing how love has done him wrong over and over. The Muse reveals herself and swears her love for Hoffmann and he gives himself to her service. Stella leaves the tavern with Lindorf.

As you can see from my quick rundown, the story is beautifully weird and dark. One of the ideas of the show is that the villain of each story and Lindorf are all incarnations of the same nemesis. In all of his incarnations, this nemesis seeks to take Hoffmann’s love away from him. The other idea is that all three women (Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta) are all aspects of Stella.  Since Stella is a prima donna (opera superstar) she is a courtesan, singer, and a prop all in one. What I find interesting about all of this is that Hoffmann does not really win. He loses three loves and forgoes his chance at the fourth. He never sees that he lost previously because he was sabotaged.  Also, the man who sabotages him always completely gets away with it. While Hoffmann decides to quit in order to break the cycle, finding a way to truly defeat Nemesis would be the traditional approach to the story. Speaking of the nemesis, he is a pure villain who never gets his comeuppance. I find that absolutely amazing and kind of refreshing. Even when the hero is a bit of a dope, you still expect him or her to win but not in this case. Well, he does decide to focus on his writing so he does not exactly lose either.

As for the production I watched, the orchestra did a fantastic job and really captured the craziness Offenbach composed.  While the subject matter can be dark and weird, there is also a lot of sweetness to the music. The performers clearly put everything they had into this production. Marc Laho is lovably goofy as Hoffmann and I found myself alternately really rooting for him and pitying him. Stella Doufexis has such a beautifully sweet voice as The Muse posing as Hoffmann’s friend Nicklausse and she has such expressive eyes. The baritone of Nicolas Cavallier is perfect for the many incarnations of Nemesis as he makes it clear that he is a villain. He also does a really good job of showing how much he enjoys being a villain and his evil laugh was especially good. The three women who play the past loves are each fun in their own way. The set is rather minimalist but I loved the way it shifted around to fit the needs of the scene.  It made everything flow a little better between each of the five acts.  I was also thankful for the nude bodysuits rather than actual nudity (it can be surprisingly cold on stage). I definitely would recommend this particular production but I would encourage you to go out and find a production to see live if you can.

 

Top 11 Romantic Comedies

April 23, 2016


11 Jerry Maguire

Jerry Maguire was a powerhouse when it came out. It stars Tom Cruise when he was at the height of his pre-freakout part of his career. So far it was also the height of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s career and the movie even got him an Academy Award. The one is probably the most critically acclaimed movie on this list and it won or was nominated for a lot of awards. It has a great cast with Cruise, Gooding Jr., Jerry O’Connell and a great villain in Jay Mohr. A lot of the movie is focused on the title character trying to regain his honor and his career after a huge professional setback. There is plenty of romance, though. Unfortunately, a lot of this movie has been heavily quoted and the movie’s tropes have become very cliche. At the time, it felt pretty original. As a warning, it has some pretty graphic sex scenes in it that I was not allowed to watch when this first came out. Other than that, it’s a pretty fun movie.


10 Alex and Emma

Go figure that a romantic comedy movie about a writer would be on this list. I guess I have always identified with writers. Also, a big part of this is a deadline which I think we are all far too familiar with. Now, I’ve never really been one for writing romance but the main character is a writer played by Luke Wilson who enlists Kate Hudson to help him work through his latest book. So we get them working on the book and that is juxtaposed with scenes from the book. The two stories contrast and fit together and we get to see a lot of the growing chemistry between Kate and Luke. This was only the second romantic comedy I saw that more or less had a male lead. Of course, Luke is the guy who must change to get the girl he needs instead of the one he wants. It’s a cute little movie that has a bunch of interesting twists to it.


9 Coming to America

Most of you have probably seen this movie already. It’s often in rotation several times a year on Comedy Central and it was a big hit around the time of Trading Places. It comes from the brighter part of Eddie Murphy’s career when he regularly picked better movies and was not yet a caricature of himself. Ok, I am mostly kidding because Eddie Murphy often gets a bad rap even though he has made some great or at least fun films along with a string of bad ones. This is the tale of an African prince who journeys to America to figure out his path in life and to try and find a wife. The movie is surprisingly subtle for both the times and for Eddie Murphy. There is an interesting fish out of water story mixed with a story about a man hiding what he is for benevolent reasons. The movie is funny but not at the expense of the story moving forward. It ends up being a pretty sweet movie with a tight little love story.


8 Shakespeare in Love

I love the plays of William Shakespeare. My early days in theater were spent doing a lot of Shakespeare plays and they were so fun to do creatively. This movie was a massive hit when it came out, it was nominated for and won a lot of awards and for good reason. I love anything that humanizes Shakespeare. I don’t like ‘updating’ classic literature as much as I like when that literature is brought to life. Romeo and Juliet is arguably one of Shakespeare’s worst plays but mostly because people misinterpret it. It is a play about the excitement of lust and new love and the insanity it can cause. This is the backdrop of the movie, a romance set in an obviously romanticized Elizabethan era while Romeo and Juliet is being made. Almost everybody is somebody you could read about in a history book but they feel like a real person. They didn’t whitewash Shakespeare’s real history either at least not much. As I get older, I have learned to really embrace the ending as a happy one.


7 Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Now hold on, don’t leave right away. I promise I won’t go int the porno part of this movie if you don’t want me too. It’s enough to know that this one is about two broke roommates who decide to make a cheap porno spoof to pay their bills. There is a lot of wackiness involved and you get a lot of sexual humor and humor based on the awkwardness that we feel around sexual humor. It has a cast of supporting characters who are zany but human and it’s really fun to see them all interact. However, above it all is a story about two people who have known each other a long time. Two friends who explore whether they might be more in a very interesting set of circumstances. Like a lot of Kevin Smith’s movies, I went in expecting a silly stoner comedy and I came away with something that felt really interesting. Who says friends can’t become a couple? (Fair warning there is some nudity in this one)


6 Catch and Release

So I watched this movie initially because of Kevin Smith’s involvement. It certainly did not hurt that the movie also stars Jennifer Garner who I had liked in Daredevil and Timothy Oliphant who I had enjoyed in Die Hard 4.
This was probably the first or close to first romantic comedy that I watched on my own recognizance. I will give you a heads up here, this one looks weird on paper. It starts with Jennifer Garner’s fiance dying on a fly fishing trip and then goes from there. The relationship between Garner and Oliphant is pretty funny and interesting to watch as there is a strange dynamic from the start. On top of that, there is a B-plot where Kevin Smith romances a single mother with a kid. The two stories are fun to watch separately but watching them interact is even better. I know this one is kind of an obscure pull but I really enjoyed it.


5 Chasing Amy

Alright yes, three movies in a row on this list have Kevin Smith involved but it is a known fact that I am a big Kevin Smith fan. More than any other movie, this was the one that broke Smith into the mainstream studio system. For this movie, we delve into the exciting world of comic books which is a topic near and dear to my heart. Two of the main characters make comic books for a living and you know Kevin Smith has been in the industry because everything about that feels right. The movie is a little bit of a product of its time. There is a flamboyantly gay black man in a time when there were a few of those sorts of characters in Hollywood. Kevin Smith is so great at dialogue that even the more cliched characters come off as real and likable. The main part of this movie is that Ben Affleck plays a guy who ends up dating a lesbian. While some people thought it was a little crass at the time, I think it was a little ahead of its time in depicting the unpredictability of the Kinsey scale. Of course, that’s just my opinion.


4 Groundhog Day

This is technically the only science fiction movie on this list. I would also classify this as a dark comedy while most of the rest of these movies are at least a little bit lighter. Bill Murray is a comedy legend and is very funny as a man who is trying to decide what is important. The universe makes him repeat the same day over and over again until he achieves what he is supposed to. Andie McDowell is a great romantic lead. She is cute, funny and appropriately skeptical as a formerly grump starts to become a romantic. Another strength of the movie is that it has a great ensemble of character actors who interact really well with Bill Murray. I feel like the movie is about discovering that love is not checking things off a list but is more about realizing how to make a real human connection. I am sure most people reading this have already seen the movie but it is worth checking out if you have not.


3 Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I was totally blindsided by this movie. While I had heard that it was a good movie and that it was worth seeing, I had no idea how good it could be. I actually watched this movie for the first time this week so it is the freshest in my mind. Ten minutes in and I was definitely hooked. The cast is fantastic as it has Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand and a whole bunch of great actors in smaller parts. I especially love Kristen Bell and the meta references to Veronica Mars which was one of my favorite shows of all time. Segel shows why he was able to rock it in The Muppets as he is the star and the writer of the movie. Frankly, more of this movie is about break ups rather than new relationships. Everything really clicks together and there are a lot of moments where I felt like the movie had really shown what had been in my heart during my most awkward moments. It may have the best message at the end of all the movies on this list. (Fair warning there is a lot of nudity in this one)


2 Love, Actually

This movie is a Christmas tradition for my family. My mom actually owns three copies of it on DVD. This movie is actually pretty atypical in structure for a romantic comedy. There is a huge cast of characters that make up a whopping nine couples who the audience gets to follow. At times, the movie seems to employ just about every actor in England which is the setting for most of the movie. A couple movies like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Day later tried to use this formula to zero success. Love, Actually is a really charming movie. There is a bitter, sardonic edge to a lot of the humor that makes it feel emotionally true even if some of the plots are contrived. I am trying to spoil as little as possible with this list but it is important to note that not all of the stories have happy endings. Not all of the stories and couples are even very likable but the movie as a whole is very cathartic and is always a good watch.


1 Trainwreck

I have talked about this movie previously in this blog, shortly after I saw it in theaters. Amy Schumer is a great comedian who works very blue and also works very dark. She manages to make a lot of that subject matter way funnier than it should be. There is also something to the cadence of her voice that is just inherently funny to me. Combine that with the great, befuddled straight man in Bill Hader and you’ve got a beautiful match. The movie uses a lot of modern romcom tropes and dumb comedy tropes but it manages to strip them down and make them feel more real. There’s real drama and at the end of it, both people in the relationship have changed their lives for the better in a deeply transformative way. It’s really ugly to watch but it’s beautiful too and I feel better for having watched it.

Top 11 “Iconic” Movies of My Childhood

April 23, 2015

Top 11

Here is a list of the some of the movies that guided my childhood and informed my preferences later in life even to this day.  I was born in December of 1982 so do the math where I haven’t and realize that I was probably irrevocably altered by Tim Burton for better or worse.

Top 11 “Iconic” Films of My Childhood

11 The Goonies (1985)

This one is thick with so much eighties nostalgia that if you sliced it, it would bleed such radical blood. The movie is an adventure movie where a bunch of kids and some teenagers search for pirate treasure which is pretty awesome. It was even more awesome when I was a kid. The kids stuck together no matter what and they struggled to keep the faith of their mission. Forget Mikey, I always liked Data as the awkward inventor type. That’s mostly how I felt as a kid. I even liked to wear a long jacket a lot like he did. Even back then the movie felt kind of wistful and slow in places. While it is inspiring, the “our time” speech feels kind of sad as well.

10 Star Trek IV (1986)

I remember being a Star Trek fan long before I was a Star Wars fan. I don’t remember who introduced me to the series but by third grade my friends and I were poring over technical drawings. I never really cared too much about how the ships were put together. I cared more about what the plans said about what life on the ship was like. In my opinion, Star Trek IV is the most enjoyable out of the original six. Sure the crew had aged quite a bit by this point but it’s so interesting to see a future society interact with a more contemporary society. It’s also the funniest Star Trek movie (Generations is actually a close second). I often hear or read about this movie being demaned as the “Dumb Whale Movie” but it’s way more memorable than most of the other movies.

9 Clueless (1995)

This was a surprise hit in my family about the time when I was thirteen. The movie is so good at being a parody of nineties culture that it’s easy to miss that there’s actually a pretty introspective message to it all. Besides, it’s the closest I’ll probably ever get to reading Emma. I think this movie is the first time that I felt safe watching and enjoying a “girl” movie, a distinction that is getting harder and harder to make. It was rare that I watched and enjoyed a movie with so little explosions but Clueless is funny and the characters are relateable. Well, they’re not as relateable now but they were when I was a young teenager.

8 Crybaby (1990)

Any list of movies I enjoyed in my childhood has to include a movie from my hometown of Baltimore. I’m Baltimore through and through and wherever I’ve been, I have always had the city deep in my heart. Not only that but John Waters has always spoken to the weird, geeky and sometimes dark side of me that is fun to explore. The first exposure I had to his movies were a few glimpsed scenes of Serial Mom before it was shut off. Crybaby is the story of a love story amidst the battle between the Squares and the Drapes, a local motorcycle gang. All of this takes place in the suburbs and rural areas ouside of Baltimore. This movie helped prepare me for how cliquish school would get. It’s also way, way better than Grease.

7 Back to the Future II (1989)

The Back to the Future series is awesome. The team up of Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox made for screen chemistry that was off the charts. The first movie was good but I actually prefer the sequels as they up the stakes considerably without dilluting the product. I struggled to decide whether I should put 2 or 3 in this spot but I opted for 2 for several reasons. 1) Where else are you going to find a movie where Michael J. Fox plays three different characters while somebody does a Crispin Glover impression? 2) The future sequence is great because it’s completely optimistic and not a crumbling, post-apocalyptic mess. 3) It is the most science fiction heavy of the series and introduced alternate universe theories to mainstream pop culture. On top of all of that, it’s a great mix of funny and dark and inspiring.

6 Jurassic Park (1993)

I was pretty sure as a young boy that liking dinosaurs was just a fact of life for young boys. I mean, all of the television, toys and theme parks seemed to tell me so. Jurrasic Park was a no-brainer and I’m sure that’s what Amblin and Universal were thinking. Of course, that movie could have ended up being a cash grab but they chose some good source material and injected a lot of heart into it. I remember watching the movie for the dinosaurs but loving it for the people. The cast is amazing and the special effects hold up so much better than some of the cgi monstrosities that showed up just a few years later. Even Jeff Goldblum looked good in this one even though he’s usually kind of a cartoon character.

5 Beetlejuice (1988)

Tim Burton was always pretty much the patron saint of all of the somewhat gothy, geeky and misunderstood kids of the world. For everyone else he was probably an entertaining director who had some hits and some misses but was financially successful. I was always in the first group and Tim Burton’s style of weirdness definitely resonated with me in ways that I felt my friends couldn’t understand. Now, Beetlejuice isn’t exactly a brilliant film but it’s a whole lot of fun. It was the first time where I saw horror movie material used for comedy instead. At this point, Tim Burton’s art direction was still very new and exciting and it feels like there were more hits than misses. It didn’t hurt that Delia Dietz was one of my dream girls.

4 Ghostbusters (1984)

Again, a supernatural comedy/adventure movie that took what should have been scary and made it hilarious. The movie took Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis at the height of their careers. Bill Murray is especially on point as a snarky asshole with a heart of gold. Of course, the three hapless scientists (and later also the awesome Winston) are up against a world of ghost trouble and an elder god. The comedy, effects and story still hold up even when a lot of other eighties movies look completely dated (like The Goonies). The movie actually has some tense and scary moments but most of it is really fun. I was two when this came out so I definitely saw it a little later on VHS but in my late teens I finally got to see it in a movie theater.

3 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

I worshipped Indiana Jones when I was a kid. I even got my folks to buy me an official Indiana Jones leather jacket and fedora. Thankfully for everyone involved, they did not buy me a whip because I would probably still be wearing an eyepatch. Indiana Jones was the ultimate hero for me. I was a smart kid but I disliked team sports but I loved being physically active. I could imagine myself swinging through temples and dealing with bad guys while using my brains to sort out ancient mysteries. I also never liked snakes either. I chose the third movie for this list because it is my favorite of the series. To me the movie is immensely helped by the addition of River Phoenix as young Indy and Sean Connery as Henry Jones Sr. The first movie feels like it drags a little in places and the second one has an insufferable female lead.

2 The Addams Family (1991)

Just like my early exposure to Tim Burton movies, this movie spoke to not only how different I felt but my desire to be different. It made it ok to “wave my freak flag high” which is what any geeky kid interested in the darker side of fiction probably wanted at the time. I was most taken at the time with young Wednesday Addams (another fictional character I had a crush on). She seems bored with what other people were interested in and had her own passions that she embraced. That’s exactly how I felt. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate one of the best casts any movie has ever had. Raul Julia and Angelica Huston in particular are captivating. It all makes me nostalgic for a television show that I never watched in the first place.

1 Batman (1989)

This was the alpha and omega of my childhood. This is the movie that spawned my interest in comic books which in turn led me to walking several miles to blow my allowance at the local comic book shop. Of course, it didn’t do that right away. Before this, the only Batman I had seen was Adam West who was goofy and looked like he’d have trouble fighting a plastic bag. I didn’t understand that the Batman television show was intentionally awful and that finally somebody had convinced Hollywood to do Batman somewhat seriously. All I understood was that Batman was kicking butt and his costume looked awesome and this was so awesome. I still love the tone, the dialogue, the pacing and the cast on this one. This is the best of the original four Batman movies and set the bar high for Joker portrayals on film. It’s also the only movie on this list that I actually saw in theaters, most of the others I saw on VHS months or years after their release. For that reason and many others, this movie will always be magical to me.


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