My first contribution to the Sony Reader Test Drive is up!
Rather than a review of the hardware, it's a review of one of the category romance novels I acquired along with the hardware -- Medusa's Master by Cindy Dees, in the Silhouette Romantic Suspense line. [No, not that kind of Medusa; in this book, the Medusas are an all-female Spec Ops group within the US armed forces -- and Dees is the right kind of former military herself, so the action reads as convincing.]
See the review via the link, or visit Smart Bitches, Trashy Books at its main page for ongoing windows into the romance world. (They don't bite, really they don't! Except sometimes by mutual consent, I suppose.)
My first contribution to the Sony Reader Test Drive is up!
Macbeth (Angus Bowmer theater)
Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred shillings. This was mystifyingly, stunningly off-key, and darned near un-listenable. Watchable, yes -- listenable, no. Someone apparently confused "loud" with "convincingly intense", such that (a) virtually every line was shouted to a degree that shut down most efforts at characterization, and (b) my parents, who regularlyuse the Festival's offered assisted-listening headsets, found themselves constantly adjusting the volume to avoid having their eardrums blasted during the really loud bits. I have to blame the director for the wooden performances, as these actors have been far, far better in other shows (this year's Macbeth was last year's Othello, in a production that may have been the single best Shakespeare performance I've seen in 35 years, not excluding the Denzel Washington Julius Caesar on Broadway awhile back). I'm astonished; the high school production of Macbeth I saw last fall shines by comparison -- which should be taken as a genuine compliment to the student cast, and a sharp wakeup call to the OSF production.
Paradise Lost (Bowmer)
Not the Milton story, but a play by Clifford Odets dating to 1935, about an extended family coping with the Depression in general and the collapse of the characters' various business endeavors in specific. The Festival's extended selection process is such that the show must have been chosen about two years ago, and accidentally became much more timely as the production process advanced. It's well acted and technically executed, but where a number of my fellow tour-goers found it compelling, I just couldn't get interested in the characters and have some issues with the script.
Don Quixote (Elizabethan stage)
I have not read the Cervantes novel (and curiously, couldn't find a copy in either the Tudor Guild or the local general bookstore), but this adaptation was amusing and cleverly executed, if a trifle rambling at times. Then again, that's a criticism I've heard leveled at the original, and here the production is livened by liberal use of animal puppets, a vintage tricycle masquerading as a donkey, and much other amusing stage business. (My father notes that Rocinante's front half was played by an Equity actor, whereas Rocinante's rear half apparently hasn't earned his Equity card yet.) Light as air-popped popcorn, but good fun for all that.
Much Ado About Nothing (Elizabethan stage)
An excellent production, nominally costumed and set-designed as a mid-20th-century Tuscan garden piece but otherwise mostly traditional in language and execution, including uniformly excellent diction and line-delivery. Highlights are a properly authoritative Dogberry and an amazing feat of stunt acting by Benedick during the Big Eavesdropping Sequence that must be seen to be believed (and is too cleverly sprung for me to spoil it here). Suffice to say that if you land front row seats for this show, be prepared for the unexpected.
Herewith the heads-up for Seattlefolk: after this world-premiere production finishes its Ashland run, it's coming to Seattle Rep for a month (Nov. 18 to Dec. 19). Reserve your tickets as soon as the box office will allow it. This play is dense, intense, occasionally brutally graphic, and an absolute must-see for Shakespeare buffs, British-history buffs, and theater buffs in general -- but should be nearly as compelling even for general audiences. Anthony Heald as "Shag" (William Shakespeare) is wrangling with prime minister Robert Cecil (Jonathan Haugen) over a propaganda piece Cecil wants written about the 1605 "Gunpowder Plot". Four of the six-member ensemble (Haugen among them) triple and quadruple roles as plotters, members of the King's Men, King James himself, and various others; there's also a subplot involving Shag's relationship with daughter Judith, whose twin died at age 11. Allusions to modern situations (Guantanamo Bay, anyone?) are clearly intended but never intrusive, and playwright Bill Cain weaves a relentlessly paced script. Ashland audiences of late are much too quick to offer standing ovations, but this got the fastest standing ovation I've ever seen -- and deservedly so. [One caveat: this is compelling drama, but its view of the Gunpowder Plot is not necessarily reliable history. Then again, neither are Shakespeare's own history plays....]
( And it's long, so we'll put it behind a cut-tag.... )
Went to see Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince -- not in one of the big megaplexes, but at one of our small local independents, a few of which are now getting the big films in first run. No stadium seating, no rocking seats, no cup holders in the arm rests . . . but the matinee ticket, a bag of fresh-popped popcorn, and a soft drink together barely cracked $10.
As for the film itself: I enjoyed it, though I wasn't precisely blown away. Then again, this is not exactly a film that *tries* to blow you away; more than any of the other Potter films to date, this is not an action/adventure movie. This is a character piece, with surprisingly focused arcs and not a lot of diversion from the primary plot(s). Consensus is right; our three principals have improved their acting skills immensely over the life of the franchise, and it shows. The one place where the tight focus on character -- as opposed to spectacle -- arguably hurts the picture is the climax, in which the Harry/Snape duel badly needed more fireworks in both the pyrotechnic and emotional realms.
It's going to be interesting to look at the series of films as a whole once both parts of Deathly Hallows have hit screens. Corporate franchise-building notwithstanding, I don't think there's ever been or will be another ensemble acting epic done on so large a scale.
Meanwhile on the home front, I've been working my way through the library's Season 4 set of new-run Doctor Who. [Also need to get in this week and pick up a reserve copy of Sarah Jane Adventures: Season 1.] Just hit "The Unicorn and the Wasp" over the weekend, and was vastly amused and impressed by the homage to Agatha Christie (it wouldn't surprise me if they managed to work every one of her titles into the dialogue). It reminded me of the Davison-era serial "Black Orchid", and strikes me as one of the few occasions where the new series has really gotten into the spirit of the original run.
Which prompts an LJ-tech question for the groupmind: it's easy to get into individual journal archives and see what one person was posting in, say, May of 2008. But is there a way to easily flash back to one's friends page from a specified day or month, short of hopping back a page at a time through umpty-thousand posts?
Ever since she announced she'd sold the series, I've been waiting for the chance to read Seanan McGuire's first novel, Rosemary and Rue (DAW Books, $7.99, due out Sept. 1st). As luck would have it, I got my hands on an advance copy Tuesday evening, and it promptly jumped the seventeen other things on my to-be-read list.
Herewith the recommendation: go forth and pre-order. (Or find Seanan at ComicCon and
see if you too can score an ARCface the zombie apcalypse".)
( Now let me tell you why.... )
I went on a spur-of-the-moment outing this afternoon.
I was already out and about, my critique group having broken up earlier than usual, and had seen a note on one of my local email lists just before heading out the door promoting an event called Trek in the Park. Just as various local acting companies stage Shakespeare plays in local parks over the summer, a new troupe had worked up a live version of the original-series Star Trek episode "Amok Time".
They drew a good-sized audience -- I'd guesstimate the crowd at maybe 200, give or take -- and put on a thoroughly credible show. On one hand, this isn't Equity-level theater by any means, and nobody gets a lot of stage time in a 48-minute play with an ensemble cast. But the performances were sincere and generally effective, with good work in particular on Spock and T'Pau. The technical work was nicely done, with good use of original music and audio and an excellent makeup job on Spock. And the fight choreography was extremely well done.
The audience, clearly very familiar with the material, tended to undercut some of the intensity of the original episode. I hesitate to call the frequent laughter inappropriate, because it's hard to suppress amusement at some of the innately cheesier or more dated aspects of the original series at this late date -- and the actors, though they're playing the material entirely straight, were clearly prepared for this sort of reaction. But I think the staging is sturdy enough that, given the chance, they can get much closer to that intensity than they were allowed to do in the opening performance I saw.
I hope they get the chance, and I definitely recommend the outing to anyone in reasonable commuting distance. The production will run again tomorrow (as I post this) and again on Saturday and Sunday for two more weekends, in Portland's Woodlawn Park (near NE 13th & Dekum streets).
Let's be clear here: I don't normally succumb to talking-animal movies. I have skipped all of the Ice Ages, ventured nowhere near Madagascar, stayed well away from Happy Feet, and ignored the entire string of insects and arachnids (ants, bugs, bees, what-have-you) that have infested theaters over the last couple of years. [All right, so I did see Chicken Run, but if memory serves, that one had almost no standup comedians in the major roles.]
The trailers for Kung Fu Panda looked surprisingly tempting. It looked as if the writers had actually paid some attention to martial arts folklore, for one thing. And I was picking up some cautiously optimistic buzz. And I had Monday afternoon mostly free....
I'm not sure it's a classic, exactly. But it is an extremely well-made, straightforward, and beautifully self-contained movie, and it may just be the first Dreamworks animated project to really capture and bottle the old-school Disney storytelling spirit.
Two things really stand out as making the movie work. One is the worldbuilding. The story opens by showing us the city where Po, our title character, lives -- and that setting remains important throughout the movie. Indeed, the film's most critical turning point comes in a scene between Po and his "father", involving no kung fu action at all. The second is the character chemistry, most especially between Po (voiced by Jack Black) and Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), but also throughout the cast. Hoffman in particular makes Master Shifu a fascinating and distinctive character . . . and what's more, the script gives him a character arc that is, if anything, even more powerful than our hero's. You just do not see characterization that deep in feature animation -- but it's here, and it's persuasive.
Even more impressive, the script is smart enough to mostly underplay the morality-fable aspects of the story, while being equally careful not to make the comedy go too far over the top. Both elements are kept to just the level needed to serve the story without dominating it, which helps keep the tone consistent throughout. Thus we get a fantastic extended combat sequence between Po and Shifu involving the last of a bowl of dumplings -- and an equally fantastic extended combat sequence in which the legendary Furious Five animal masters go toe to toe with the utterly ruthless Tai Lung for much higher stakes.
Again, I don't know that I'd call this a classic; for all its excellent qualities, it feels more good-natured than anything else. And yet, as I was musing about what I'd seen over the closing credits, it occurred to me where else I'd seen just this kind of chemistry and unselfconscious goodwill in an animated ensemble . . . it's the same resonance that's there in the earliest and best of the Disney Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Stay through the end credits for the small Easter egg at the tail end, and see if you don't agree with me.
A fascinating and largely unexpected evening Saturday night at the theater; thanks to davidlevine having unexpectedly had two surplus tickets, my mother and I had the chance to see the second-night performance of The Ghosts of Celilo. This is a brand new stage musical (though there's ten years of work on the part of its creators behind it) based on local history, specifically events leading up to the inundation of what was previously Celilo Falls, a key Indian salmon fishing site in the western part of the Columbia River Gorge.
( It's a complicated subject and a fascinating show.... )
And was, rather to my surprise, impressed.
Despite the fact that this was made under the Warner Bros. umbrella, what we have here is a spiritual heir to the classic "Disney repertory" tradition of family films. And if its cast isn't quite as self-assured or its script quite as polished as that of, say, Candleshoe or Bedknobs & Broomsticks, this is nonetheless a remarkable movie, and one that deserves to do well.
( Now that I think of it.... )
The bottom line? While the script treats Nancy's history with a certain degree of playfulness, structurally and thematically the film is loyal to the Nancy Drew tradition. Cheerfully recommended for all Teen Sleuth Junkies™. for smart ten-year-olds of both sexes (give or take a couple of years), and for anyone in search of a genuinely family-friendly movie that treats both its viewers and its characters with intelligence and respect.
A few of the folks in the gallery have known me long enough to recall that my musical preferences are generally describable as . . . obscure, running strongly toward '50s/'60s folk, show tunes, Muppets, and certain old-school corners of country, with a few nods toward the pop end of rock & roll. [And of course there's filk, out of the SF/F community, but that's largely covered under the folk umbrella.]
Boy, are they about to be surprised....
See, I got a shiny new CD in the mail Friday. Stars Fall Home is the second album from Seanan McGuire, aka cadhla -- and it is very, very cool indeed. It is also about three orders of magnitude more straight-ahead alternative sound than twilight2000 (who probably has the best idea of my usual tastes of anyone here) would have expected me to pre-order in a hundred years.
( It's a little tricky to pin down just exactly what Seanan's musical niche is.... )
Those who've followed my book-reviewing career will know that I don't often apply unreserved superlatives. I am going to apply one now: Seanan McGuire is the single most amazingly skilled songwriter I have ever encountered, and a first-rate singer into the bargain. If you are even remotely a fan of folk, folk-rock, or good female singers in general, then you want Stars Fall Home, available here while supplies last. If you know a radio DJ whose playlist isn't corporate-controlled, that DJ needs a copy. Forget American Idol, ignore America's Got Talent, don't bother with Rock Star: [insert group here]. This is as good as it gets.
....to comment here on one of my most satisfying entertainment purchases for the summer. No, not the movie tickets to Superman Returns or Dead Man's Chest (the first was Weird; the second was swashbuckling).
No, not the theater tickets either (there having been no forgetting involved).
No, this almost-too-late consumer alert is intended to make you run right out to your local Internet and acquire your minimum annual nutritional requirement of zombies, ghosts, wood-sprites, and other relentlessly introspective natural, unnatural, and supernatural creatures. You need a copy of Seanan McGuire's Pretty Little Dead Girl, and you need it now (before she closes out the online order form).
( Full review under the cut.... )
Most years, the annual Shakespeare Festival pilgrimage is a family event. This time, however, I was on my own, and as a result I went exploring among the Ashland restaurant scene in search of new and interesting places to eat. I found a couple, and as I have a foodie or two in the gallery, I figure I ought to indulge in a bit of additional reportage.
( If food be the music of love, read on.... )
The two shows we saw on Saturday were a study in contrasts. As I observed to others in the tour group in one of the post-play discussion sessions, it felt rather like an illustration of basic physics principles relating to the conservation of energy.
The matinee was Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, ( Read more... )
By contrast, the evening's Cyrano de Bergerac, on the outdoor stage, ( Read more... )
Back yesterday from the annual pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; as usual, Ashland was gorgeous, the plays were intriguing (if not always successful), and the company -- a group assembled by the Whitman College Alumni Association (see whitman_alumni) -- engaging.
Per usual, the group saw five plays in three days; this year's roster included Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale and Two Gentlemen of Verona, Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, a version of Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, and the recent David Edgar adaptation of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. In order to avoid epic-length post(s), I'm going to divide up comments on the plays (and a couple of very good dinners at new/newer Ashland dining spots) into several rocks.
Friday evening's play was The Winter's Tale --( Read more... )
Having scored a pass to a preview screening earlier in the week, I am just back from seeing My Super Ex-Girlfriend (you may well have seen trailers with Superman Returns and/or Dead Man's Chest), in which we observe the consequences when architectural-design geek Matt Saunders (Luke Wilson) accidentally meets, dates, beds, and then quite understandably dumps Jenny "G-Girl" Johnson (Uma Thurman), who has serious control issues.....
On one hand, I was not blown away. ( On the other, this is not nearly as awful as one might expect . . . . )
( Lengthy comments beneath the cut to spare the non-foodies: )