Two pop culture addicts' snarky musings…

So yeah, it’s been a while. And that headline is super lame, but I’ve never been great at those. I do feel bad we’ve been leaving this blog to collect dust, but I do plan to try harder to update it on a more regular basis. Also, I’m thinking about adding vlogging to the mix, so if there are any readers out there and you’d like to suggest a topic, please feel free! And now, my review/trip down memory lane on the Christmas classic, “The Nutcracker.”

With about ten days left until December 25, it‘s very safe to say we are smack dab in the middle of the Christmas season. And with every holiday, we each have our own memories to accompany it. Mine? Seeing “The Nutcracker” with my dad seated only a few rows from the stage. Being so close I could hear the sound of their feet as they landed and I turned to my dad to whisper excitedly, “I can hear their feet thump!”

 
It’s a memory that has made The Nutcracker a personal Christmas favorite, the 1980s version we taped once when it was on TV taking place next to A Muppet Christmas Carol and the Rankin and Bass classics as a viewing tradition, though I think it’s because of this memory that I love it so much, not simply for the ballet itself.  I’ll admit, however, that my family and I don’t watch it every year and it wasn’t until I found three different productions for my free viewing pleasure on Comcasts’s OnDemand that I rediscovered my love.

 
Ovation, a channel I have never heard of before but I believe focuses on dance, has an annual tradition of letting its viewers choose its favorite version of the ballet before airing the winning show on Christmas Eve. This year the three versions are the 2009 Ben Wright-directed production, which according to Wikipedia follows closely to the original ballet from 1859 and took a lot of its costuming and set decoration from the available notes of the original. It also broke “A Hard Nut’s” multi-year streak last year when it won as the viewer’s favorite.  It’s the nod to the history that I think I enjoy most about this version. The dancing is gorgeous, especially by Miyako Yoshida as the Sugarplum Fairy, and I’m actually glad they took out Mother Ginger and the children. That was always an odd moment for me.


The second version is Matthew Bourne’s “Nutcracker!” an alternate version of the story. Bourne is probably most famously known for his reinventions of classic ballets, specifically “Swan Lake,” and his decision to make the swans male. His version of The Nutcracker takes Clara’s journey to a new level of self-discovery as rather than a magical tour through a candy-filled land, the heroine spends most of the ballet trying to get to the Nutcracker Prince, who has fallen for the sensual Princess Sugar. The entire second act takes place in Sweetieland, where different confectionary treats go for the wedding of the prince and princess, is an allegory for sexual awakening, one that Clara enters not by doing the deed, but by sneaking in therefore leaving her innocence intact, but altered. This production is  breath of fresh air into what could be considered a stale story in a selective crowd-pleasing dance genre. The choreography, especially at the start where instead of a Christmas party at a rich family’s home is at a black and white orphanage where Clara and the man who plays the Nutcracker are orphans celebrating Christmas under the mean and watchful eye of the proprietors. The choreography in this opening section is fresh yet classic and the dancers immerse themselves in their roles as children.

 

 
The third is a 1999 version from the Berlin State Ballet that starts with Clara as a little girl whose mother is kidnapped and she goes to live with rich  and supposedly cruel relatives. They treat her well, except for the bratty daughter and son (which was reminiscent to me of the daughter and son in Bourne’s version) but they aren’t overtly mean. The Nutcracker given to Clara by the magician, who is not the uncle in this version (I think) reminds her of her traumatic childhood. This new addition to the storyline adds a new dance where, upon entering the dreamland, Clara finds her mother who dances with the magician. I was confused as to Clara’s relationship with him because she seemed instantly drawn to him at the Christmas party though I couldn’t figure out if it was supposed to be because he was so mysterious or if there was some romantic attachment. That was sort of cleared up when Clara seemingly brought him together with her mother, but the entire added storyline confused me.  The dancing was superb and I couldn’t help but notice that the entire troupe had extremely long legs and the choreography highlighted it with large leaps, sweeping leg moves and a lot of standing on their toes for the ballerinas (I apologize for my lack of jargon knowledge). What I found an interesting change was that the dances of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier, as well as their pas de deux, was given to Clara and the Nutcracker. The dancers did it brilliantly, however, so the change wasn’t that jarring.

 

 

If you’d like to check out more videos or even vote (the contest is open until the 18th) you can go here to Ovation’s website.
To be honest it doesn’t matter which version I watch or which one you end up watching, for me it is the memory of sitting in that darkened theater next to my father, in awe of every graceful movement and completely in love with dance.

Hello there poor, poor neglected blog and followers! It’s been a while, eh? I apologize for the pair of us, we both had some things in our real lives going on that distracted us from our less-than-usual updating schedule. But fear not! We have not forgotten you, if there are still any of you left out there. I know I have a few things like reviews of the Sims Medieval game, the new Harry Potter movie, the new seasons of Warehouse 13 and Rizzoli and Isles as well as the series premiere of Alphas that I want to share with you and I want to say Mel has a few things up her sleeves, but I don’t want to put any words in her mouth.

However, Mel and I have been talking (well, Mel’s been talking, I’ve been agreeing because let’s face it, she’s the brains of this operation) and there is the possibility of our blog going in a new direction in the hopes that it will help us keep up with regular posts rather than the sporadic and sometimes very random, stuff we’ve brought you in the past.

So, sit tight and keep an eye out!

Whenever I’m asked what my favorite movie or album or musical is, I usually answer with something along the lines that it changes all the time, but my favorite of the week is…However, once I really got to thinking about it, if there is one musical that could be categorized as a favorite, one that I know all the words and have loved for a very long time, it would have to be the legendary “Les Miserables.”

While the story is quite complex, it can be told in a few simple sentences (at least, that is what I will try to attempt). It focuses on Jean Valjean, a man who spent 19 years in jail (five for stealing bread, 14 for trying to escape) he struggles with becoming a good man when the world around him refuses to give him the chance. Eventually he becomes the mayor of a small town and aids a woman named Fantine, who has been reduced to selling herself on the streets to support her daughter. Valjean ends up taking care of the daughter, Cosette while trying to stay ahead of his past in the form of Inspector Javert. Cosette falls in love with a young revolutionary, Marius, just before the Paris Uprising of 1892 (there is more to the story, but that would give it all away).

My earliest memory of this musical was my ninth grade French class, when we took a field trip to see a production of it. I don’t remember much of the actual performance, but I do remember falling in love with the story and the characters. And soon after that I was a proud owner of the VHS of the 10th anniversary concert staring some of the 1985 original cast, including Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean and Michael Ball as Marius. Looking back, Philip Quast stood out the most as Inspector Javert. I remember rewinding his solos to watch them over and over again. I was obsessed with it for a time and then, as most do, it faded to the background as more exciting and shiny things took my interest.

It wasn’t until the other week, when PBS aired the 25th anniversary concert that I remember how much I loved this musical and realized that it could be called my absolute favorite. This time around the lead role of Jean Valjean was played by relative newcomer Alfie Boe and Javert by Norm Lewis (who I loved at King Triton in “The Little Mermaid” musical). In a surprising casting choice, Nick Jonas was cast as Marius, opposite Ramin Karimloo as Enjrolas, the leader of the revolution and Katie Hall as Cossette. Samatha Banks also shone as Eponine, the girl who is unashamedly in love with Marius and the role that Lea Salonga (Fantine in this production) portrayed 15 years ago.

The entire cast was perfection; every song was filled with emotion and Alfie Boe certainly cemented his place as one of the best Valjeans ever to perform. The choice to cast the youngest Jonas brother has been hotly debated and while he was the weakest singer in the cast, that is no poor compliment. Given time and training, however, he could be a great Broadway performer.

The highlight of the entire concert came at the end, when the original cast came onstage and sung an encore of the rousing first act closer, “One Day More,” followed by a quartet version of “Let Him Live,” sung by Boe, John Owen-Jones from the 25th Anniversary touring production, Simon Bowman from the current London cast. You could see on every face on stage that this was truly a momentous occasion, not only for them but for every person in that stadium.

I believe the reason this musical has lasted so long is because it speaks to something inside of all of us, the part that wants us to make our own destinies instead of accepting what government or society thrusts upon this. And it is that theme of freedom from oppression that is even more so relevant in today’s world where countries are toppling leaders and actually living the words.

Everything about this concert has made it the new standard of “Les Miserables” performances and I cannot wait to see what happens at the next milestone concert.

It’s Oscar time! Think Colin Firth like thoughts everyone and follow along for some delightfully snarky commentary by me on the blog and Sarah on the twitter feed conveniently located in the sidebar 😉

8:36 – even though I feel like I’m five, I am laughing hysterically at these ridiculous skits.

8:37 – Ann Hathaway kind of looks like Princess Leia in that dress…but in a good way.

8:39 – For the record, she SHOULD be nominated for Love & Other Drugs.

8:41 – Why has that thought about Toy Story never occurred to me? Where is the dad?

8:43 – It’s so crazy that the Titanic music still gives me chills.

8:45 – Woot! I’m 1/1 on my nominees predictions!

8:47 – 2/2 baby! And Inception so should have more nominations that it does so this was well deserved.

8:55 – Such a hard choice between Hailee and Melissa. Both were so good!

8:56 – Kirk Douglas is an adorable old man.

9:02 – I don’t get that joke, Justin. Please explain…

9:05 – Toy Story 3 have a well deserved lock on this category, but How to Train Your Dragon was a beautiful movie.

9:13 – I love all these throw back clips they’re showing. It’s interesting.

9:14 – Duh, Aaron Sorkin is genius, plain and simple.

9:16 – Stop playing over them already. We’re only 45 minutes in and the speeches haven’t been that long.

9:17 – For the record, I’ve only gotten one wrong so far. This is a rarity that I am going to savor.

9:25 – Wow do I love you Anne Hathaway.

9:25: Really? We don’t even get one night without a Charlie Sheen reference?

9:27 – Damn, I got that one wrong. You let me down, Javier.

9:32 – *Does happy dance of Christian Bale devotion*

9:41 – Whomever did the production design and video editing for this show tonight did a bangarang job. It’s so pretty.

9:43 – While The Social Network score was amazing and made the movie, Daft Punk was so cheated.

9:47 – Dude I am kicking ass and taking names on these tonight. Only two wrong so far!

9:49 – Why is everyone hating on my Tron? I mean, it was visually and sound-wise stunning. I loved Inception, but throw them a bone.

9:59 – So glad Alice won for costumes. It just wouldn’t have been as good without those amazing costumes.

10:02 – Um, hi, Mr. President.

10:02 – I heart Kevin Spacey something fierce.

10:06 – Swoon, Zachary Levi

10:12 – I’m such a Jake Gyllenhaal junkie. He’s so pretty and underrated.

10:17 – BEST.HARRY.POTTER.SPOOF.EVER

10:30 – Jude Law does such bad things to me. It’s so dirty…

10:40 – And my disdain for Jennifer Hudson grows…

10:45 – I gotta say, I like Country Strong was a better song.

10:47 – I can’t believe I got this one right. Cheers to Randy!

10:48 – I concur Randy. We coulda had a Cher performance if that had been the case.

10:49 – Well, hello, Celine, my love and singing a song written by Charlie Chaplin. So good.

11:01 – Oh, Anne. You had me until the shiny blue dress.

11:03 – I loved The King’s Speech, but David Fincher should be standing on that stage.

11:12 – Jeff Bridges was epic in True Grit. Go see it. Now.

11:14 – Winter’s Bone was wicked boring, but Jennifer Lawrence was unbelievable in it.

11:16 – Frickin’ Natalie Portman

11:20 – Is it just me or did all these red dresses look better on the red carpet?

11:23 – *Thinks Colin Firth winning thoughts*

11:25 – *Does happy dance of Colin Firth love*

11:32 Dear Steven Spielberg, please make a movie with Anne Hathaway soon, k? thxbye

11:36 – So well deserved. Brava, Academy, for getting it right.

11:37 – Final count? 18/23 right. Woohoo!

 

A most excellent Oscars. I might even go so far as to say the best in my short 25 years. Mad props and love to Anne and James! Night, all.

By the time the Oscars air next weekend I will have seen only one of the ten movies nominated for best picture, so take this next statement with a grain of salt. “The King’s Speech” is the most-worthy of all its acting and most its technical nominations out of all ten.

The film tells of the start of King George VI’s reign who not only had to deal with a kingdom his birthplace never intended him to inherit, but a stammer that made public speaking nearly impossible. More importantly, it focuses on the king’s (Colin Firth) strange friendship with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who helps him realize the man and king he was meant to become.

As you know, I have seen a lot of films in my lifetime, not as many as some, but quite a few. And so I feel I can say with confidence that this was the first film that I did not have one single complaint to be found. I hesitate to call it perfect, however, because I know that every film has its flaws and I fear I was blinded by the sheer magnitude of the story and the brilliance of the performances to see them.

Both Rush and Firth are nominated for their roles, and if they do not win the Oscars this coming Sunday, I will truly have lost all hope for Hollywood. Both men completely immerse themselves into these characters, these men, and you cannot see any of the actors in their performances. Firth said in an interview that he came away from this movie with a huge perspective on people who stammer. He added that if they work half as hard to control their speech impediment as much as he did to create one, then they are truly remarkable people.

Their friendship is natural and easy, you can see why the king trusted this man so much just as clearly as you can see how Logue wanted to know the man behind the title.  Perhaps the best example of the actors’ command of their roles as well as the beauty of the storytelling comes in the pivotal moment at the end of the film, when King George must make his first wartime speech. It is truly one of the most spellbinding moments in cinematic history and on the surface it looks like just two men in a sound booth. It is, of course, so much more than that and every gesture, ever word, Firth and Rush convey the countless layers that moment was built upon. Helen Bonham Carter is also nominated for her role as Queen Elizabeth and while it was a well-deserved nomination and a very well-acted role, I think the sheer power of the two male performances was so great it overshadowed the rest of the cast.

Like I said in the beginning of this column, this movie deserves to win the majority of the twelve nominations it deserves. I have no doubt that all three acting nominations, directing, writing and best picture nominations are looking good for wins. However, in some of the technical awards I am a little less confident. I have to point out all my comparisons are based on the trailers for most of the other movies.

Though the movie is up against “Black Swan” and “Inception” for cinematography (which deals with such things as framing and lighting), I think it has a good chance of wining since every single shot in “The King’s Speech” was absolutely breathtaking. For editing it is up against “Black Swan” and “127,” among others, and I think those two have the best chance of beating it out, and while the costumes were gorgeous, it is up against “Alice in Wonderland,” (which I have seen several times) and since “Wonderland” is the closet thing to an extravagant costume piece in the nominations, I’m betting on it to win. Period costume pieces almost always win.
The music and sound categories can be tricky, though I would think “The King’s Speech” has a better chance at wining for Best Score as it is up against three action movies in the sound mixing category and those are usually favorites to win.

So while I may not have seen every single film nominated for the Oscars (that’s all on Mel and I applaud her for it), the one I did get a chance to see most definitely deserved every single nomination.

As you may or may not have noticed from our blog and our twitter rampages, your faithful blog hostess’ are more than slightly addicted to British television shows. In light of the recent influx of American remakes of British hits, we felt a little compare and contrast might be in order as well as a few musings on why we can’t just watch the original.

“Britain and America are two nations divided by the same language.” ~ attributed to Oscar Wilde

In the past decade, there have been more than a handful of American remakes of British hits that have taken off in America – the most successful of which is American Idol. We took the solid smash Pop Idol and beefed it up America style to be a television black hole that has kept people glued to their television sets for months every spring for nearly a decade. We had our fair share of reality competitions pre-Idol, but the unprecedented popularity of Simon Fuller’s creation set forth a snowballing chain of reality competition shows that might otherwise never have been born. Not sure whether to so say ‘thanks’ or get pitchforks and torches for that contribution…

The next recent smash, rumored to be headed for a possible series finale at the end of its current season, is The Office. Ricky Gervais created and starred in the version aired in Britain in 2001. The show ran for just two 6 episode seasons, though it made an impression big enough to spawn not only the American version, but half of a dozen other international versions as well. Currently in its eighth season (possibly final) season, the American version of The Office did what Americans do best: take a good thing and beat every ounce of profitability by making it even more obnoxious than the original. I say this from a place of love because I am a HUGE fan of this show, but really, no Steve Carrell = no show. Let’s send it off into that great green room in the sky with the exit of Michael Scott and move on to something else.

Cast of Showtime's Shameless

One of my favorite British guilty pleasure shows, and arguably the one that really hooked me on Brit TV in the first place, is the quirky, ironic, crazy comedy Shameless. Ok, truth: I started watching the British version right after I discovered James McAvoy and promptly stopped watching once he left the show halfway through season two. It doesn’t impugn the quality or character of the show; I’m just keepin’ it real. The American version of Shameless just started a few weeks ago on Showtime (Sunday, 10pm) starring William H. Macy (I’ll save my epic love for ever did that casting job at another time because KUDOS) as the drunk, lazy father to a blended bunch of maladjusted children headed by the lovely and talented (and surprisingly edgy) Emmy Rossseum. Comparing these two versions of the show actually illustrates a fundamental cultural difference between our two worlds: irony is completely lost on Americans. If the producers of the Showtime version had tried to directly translate this show for an American audience, it would barely have lasted one night because the sheer absurdity of the British version would turn even the most cultured viewer off. So they added a little Chicago grit, sprinkled in a considerable helping of gratuitous sex (which is saying something because people get laid A LOT in the original), and slowed the story down to a speed even the most hung over late night TV watcher can handle. Detrimental to the essence of the show? Nah, but if I had to pick between them, I’d go with the Showtime version if only to watch the idiotic son-in-law from Reba smoke pot and hit people.

The two most recent additions to this influx of remakes (other than Shameless), MTV’s Skins and SyFy’s Being Human, translated into this world with a bite and bang (pun intended). I can’t speak to the quality or lack there of or anything in between of either version of Skins. What I will say is this: our remarkable innately American ability to demand sex in our programming while maintaining a prudish moral stance has gotten to an exhausting and useless point. This is just a step up from my generation’s naughty late night MTV show Undressed. Here’s a little food for thought: if you don’t want your kids watching teenagers having sex start by not letting them watch MTV in the first place. Moving along…

Top: US Being Human Cast, Bottom: UK Being Human Cast

Part of me wishes I would have let sleeping wolves lie and not watched the British version of Being Human – because I like it better than the American version and I was not prepared for that. I mean, we have Buffy, Angel, Vampire Diaries, True Blood and a whole other slew of fangtastic television shows; how could theirs possibly be better? Oh, but it is. Not so much better that I don’t still follow the American version, but enough so that I can say if I had to choose it would be no contest. One thing American supernatural shows tend to do across the board is drown in their own mythology. The point of Being Human is that these characters have moved beyond lore and are trying to be, well, human. I have to give the new show props for trying to not be so much a copy of the original show, but another parallel situation involving different characters and a different culture. My only worry in the few episodes that have aired thus far is that it may be headed down the JJ Abrams rabbit hole of overly complicated and soul-sucking mythological detail. Pray to the Buffy gods that they get wise up before we end up with a Halloween version of Lost.

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better…

So what else are we in the process of importing? I’ll hit the highlights.

Being Erica: Ok, so technically this isn’t a British show – this is a Canadian show. Yet we still feel the need to have our own version. Being Erica is the endearing, unique tale of Erica Strange and her exploits in a method of mystical therapy where she gets to relive pivotal moments of her life. Currently set in Toronto, the show airs on SoapNET in the US. However, with SoapNET’s imminent demise, ABC (sister channel to SoapNET) announced they are working on a US version of the show, written by Once & Again scribe Maggie Friedman. While I appreciate the sensibility she will bring to the project, should we start down this slippery slope with Canadians too? After all, they’re just like us, but with health care and better breeding. I’ll watch under protest, but I just don’t see anyone being as perfect at being Erica as Erin Karpluk.

Torchwood: If you want to hear all about this one, check out Sarah’s previous blog here. I don’t watch and couldn’t even begin to do this debate justice.

You Talk Funny, but I Love You Anyway…

Two shows in my British repertoire have endured without crossing the Atlantic: Primeval and Merlin. I write this section both as a love letter and as a warning to any American producers who might be thinking about taking over either of these shows. There are a thousand versions of the Arthur legend on TV, in movies, in novels, etc, which is probably why there isn’t a need for this to have a US version. For one thing, it takes place in Britain, so what’s the point of remaking a show for an American audience with British actors (or American actors with bad accents)? Plus, BBC and Showtime are already working on another version of the myth to be broadcast on Showtime later this year. The other accented love of my life is Primeval, which is basically Land of the Lost meets Fringe. Partially because it has a HUGE budget due to the large amounts of CGI in each episode and partly because of the massive suspension of disbelief required to follow along (no one else outside of the UK knows about the anomalies and they only ever appear in and around London…right), I think it’s pretty safe to assume it will stay a British morsel for good. Not to mention there does not exist an American version of Andrew-Lee Potts. Yum.

Anything anyone wants to add to my tirade? What are your favorite shows from the land of crumpets? Any you’d love to see brought over?

The day that Gleeks all over had been waiting for finally arrived: Super Bowl Sunday. That’s right, the Super Bowl. And it wasn’t because they had a pool set up between the Packers and the Steelers, no. It was because after the football game came something much better: a super-special episode of “Glee.”
Now, in the past two years of being a fan of this show, I have learned to be cautious of the magical super-special episodes, mainly because while they have one or two of blow-your-mind moments, they are for the most part not that great.
Last Sunday’s episode, however, broke that pattern. This episode reminded me, and everyone who watches the show, what this show is about. It’s about friendship, sticking up for them because it’s the right thing to do, not because it will make you look cool or not. And most importantly, about being true to yourself.
Granted, this episode had its disappointments just as every episode of the show does, but for the most part it finally felt like “Glee” was back.
Last Sunday’s episode focused on the fracturing within the football team due to their constant bullying of the members also in the glee club, as well as member Karofsky being the reason  Kurt (Chris Colfer) had to transfer to a school with a strictly-enforced no-bullying rule.
When the fighting actually costs the team a game, the coach decides to force the entire team to join the glee club for one week in able to remind them they are a team and need to be united.
This leads to one of the most epic performances in “Glee” history: a mash-up of the Michael Jackson classic “Thriller” and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Heads Will Roll.” The performance also aids to one of the best acting performances of the night by Max Adler, who brings the closeted-gay, homophobic football player Dave Karofsky to life.

The cast of "Glee" performs "Thriller/Heads Will Roll"

We finally got to see the potential of what a good guy Karofsky could be, if he just stopped being afraid of who he is. And, as with the entire bullying arc focusing on Karfosky, Kurt and Kurt’s potential beau Blaine Anderson (Darren Criss), it was a moment for the kids watching the show who are struggling with their sexuality or just being comfortable with themselves, if they just let go of their fears they had the chance to be truly happy.
This episode also lead to a lot of character development with other characters, such as Finn Hudson (Corey Monteith),  and we finally got to see him be a leader in both groups, and helped in bringing them together, and some nice scenes with his ex-girlfriend Quinn (Diana Argon). But it was an even bigger character moment for Finn’s former best friend, Puck (Mark Salling), who has been in the background most of this season. In truth it was him who brought back the football team when they decided they didn’t want to embarrass themselves by performing the “Thriller” mashup at the halftime of the most important football game of the year.
When the show started two years ago, Puck was just like Karofsky: he picked on the geeks, he cared only about what others thought of him and he thought the glee club was a joke. But in the past few episodes, he has shown exactly how much he has grown: he loves glee club and doesn’t care who knows it, he’s protective of the people he used to pick on and he’s realizing his former habits aren’t good ones.
While every fan will have their favorite and their least favorite moments in this episode, there is one thing we can all agree on: “Glee” is finally back.

Tag Cloud