The Color Purple Musical - Fox Theatre

color_purple.jpgMy wife and I have been making the most of my unexpected return from Kuwait, and last night we saw the musical version of "The Color Purple" at the Fox Theatre. The Alice Walker book is a personal favorite, so my hopes were definitely tempered by reservations about how a book with so many richly drawn characters and such a dramatic personal journey for the protagonist would be successfully condensed into a two-act performance.

The short answer is, it was not. The sets and costumes were beautiful, most of the songs hit just the right pitch, and the performances were generally quite good (Felicia Fields steals the show as Sophia). But the novel portrays nearly the entire life of its protagonist, Celie, from the depths of pain and despair at the hands of her abusive father and husband, to the peaks of joy and relief when she declares her independence and when she is reunited with loved ones. The overly-condensed tale told in the musical version severely flattens this emotional range, in sometimes unnatural ways. The character redemption and reunions which provide the dramatic climax and catharsis in the book are quite jarring in the musical, and simply do not ring true. This dislodges the suspension of disbelief necessary to fully submerge into the depths of Celie's journey.

The musical might be more enjoyable for those who have not read the book, although I question whether one can make sense of the plot at all without that gap-filling knowledge. I liked the music, I loved the set production, and Felicia Fields' performance was almost worth the money itself. And it is impossible not to appreciate any evening spent at the Fox. But the strongest feeling I got from the night was the urge to pull the book out and relive the genuine experience of Alice Walker's creation.

Dar and Civ4

mybetterselfThough I was a bit harsh on Dar Williams' latest album when I discussed it last fall, I have definitely started to come around to it. Between my daily commute to work and my weekly drive to Atlanta, I am in the car between five and ten hours every week. So I have plenty of time to listen repeatedly to an album (and maybe soon, to one of The Great Courses). The familiarity that comes with repetition has inspired another look at an album I initially found disappointing.

My Better Self still does not live up to the consistent greatness of Dar's best album, Mortal City, but it has enough smatterings of the old Dar to make repeated listenings worthwhile. The opening track, "Teen For God," does not rise to the level of "Alleluia" or "The Christians and the Pagans," but at least it is in that ballpark. And "Empire" is definitely one of the better political folk songs of recent years.

I've also finally decided to give her credit for her cover of Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere." At first I was disappointed to see so many covers, when Dar's poetry is usually the main event. But after all, my favorite song she sings is a cover of The Kinks' "Better Things," so credit where credit is due. The Neil Young original is better, but I won't deny singing along to Dar's version.

Strangely enough, my favorite song on the album is one which has gone largely unmentioned in most reviews I've read of the album: "Beautiful Enemy." I love the upbeat tempo and the oh-so-Dar playfulness with words, seen in the written lyrics and heard in the quirky vocalizations:

Oh, my enemy, beautiful enemy
Hail to your vast hegemony
You're not innocent
I'm not innocent
No one's innocent

civ4Speaking of vast hegemonies, I have been spending way too much free time playing Civilization IV. I bought it in January while I was at Fort Lee, hoping it'd be a nice distraction in the evenings. Unfortunately, my laptop did not have sufficient graphic power to run the game, and I did not get a chance to install it on my desktop until this last week. Man, it is a great, great game.

I have played every version in the series, dating back to a copy of the original that a friend made for me (he had to make me a copy of the manual too, since the copy protection scheme required you to identify which symbol appeared on a particular page of the manual before you could play). And this is the best of the series, which is saying a whole lot considering the quality of the earlier games. Every aspect of the game is improved, from diplomacy to combat, scientific research to resource allocation, and it has never looked or sounded better.

Hopefully I will tire of it soon so that I can return to my real life.

Jim Dedman's Movie

Congratulations to Jim Dedman on shooting the last scene of principal photography in the film he wrote. I've been following along on his site and am excited to see how it turns out. A pretty inspiring little story of a guy pursuing a dream. Jim, I mean. I have no idea what the movie is about.

At Least It's an Ethos

lebowski.jpgYou know that one obsession you have, the one that constantly surprises people when they found out, but that you refuse on principle to be embarassed about? If you don't have one (or... uh... several), you should. And for all of my friends who look at me funny when I say "you're like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie," well... I'm not alone:

A cult gives its members license to feel superior to the rest of the universe, and so does a cult movie: it confers hipness on those who grok what the mainstream audience can't. Joel and Ethan Coen's 1998 hyperintellectual stoner noir bowling comedy "The Big Lebowski," starring Jeff Bridges as Jeff (The Dude) Lebowski, has the requisite exclusivity of a cult classic: it bombed at the box office; it was met with shrugs by many critics who had arguably overpraised the Coen brothers' Academy Award-winning "Fargo" (1996); and it has amassed an obsessive following on cable and video and by word of mouth. Nowadays, quoting its intricate, absurdist, often riotously profane dialogue earns you coolness points in widely disparate circles. Some would even say that the cult of "The Big Lebowski" is going mainstream.

Fantastic. There is hope for humanity after all. David Edelstein evens makes an effort to summarize the "plot" of the film, a noble task. And for those who still think a straight-laced Ivy League Army boy like myself can't possibly like this movie so much, you're wrong:

He added: "The Lebowski festival is the tip of the iceberg. It's remarkable how many people from different walks of life see this movie again and again. Not just potheads. There was a Wall Street guy I met who'd drop a `Lebowski' line into job interviews and if the person didn't pick up on it he wouldn't be hired. I met this commander of a military base. He said they watch the movie down there in the missile silo two or three times a week."

It makes one feel safer already.

Sure does. After all, "sometimes there's a man, sometimes, there's a man. Well, I lost my train of thought here. But... aw, hell. I've done introduced it enough."

(Also check out the Big Lebowski random quote generator).

Azerbaijani Music

One of the most unintentionally funny e-mails I've received in a long time:

Azerbaijan International magazine is so pleased to announce that 5 hours of uninterrupted Classical Music from Azerbaijan will be featured on Princeton University Radio on Monday morning, August 23, 2003, from 6 am to 11 am Eastern Standard Time (East Coast USA).

No offense intended for the three of you predisposed toward such music.

This is a First

khwan.gifFrom time to time I sell a bunch of DVDs on eBay or half.com, usually movies I thought I'd watch more often than I actually do. Now that I've become so infatuated with Netflix, it makes more sense for me to just upgrade to a bigger monthly plan and sell the movies I don't watch more than once every few months. Often they are movies I received through a Columbia House membership, through which I get DVDs at ~$8 each. So even though I am selling them used, I usually make a small profit. Sometimes I just turn around and spend it on other DVDs; this time it is going to pay off the credit card bill for the couple dozen boxes of books I ordered last month.

Anyhow, today, for the first time, I sold a DVD to a Thai supermodel. A Pearl Jam concert DVD no less. Tis a truly bizarre world.

Hair

I wonder if my continuing love of the soundtracks to Hair (two of my favorite CDs for over 7 years!) is a sign of admirable, nonconformist eccentricity, or complete and utter hopelessness.

We starve, look at one another short of breath,
Walking proudly in our winter coats,
Wearing smells from laboratories,
Facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasy,
Listening for the new told lies
With supreme visions of lonely tunes.

Somewhere, inside something, there is a rush of greatness.
Who knows what stands in front of our lives;
I fashion my future on films in space.
Silence tells me secretly everything, everything.

I report, you decide.

HairHair

Underrated Films

Via Alex Knapp, here's a listed of the Top 50 Underappreciated Recent Films. I've seen 20 on the list (which leaves many to add to my Netflix queue), and several of my favorite movies are on the list: Wonder Boys, Rushmore and The Big Lebowski. The #1 film, the animated Iron Giant, is also fantastic.

Single Favorite Recording of All Time

Here's another fun game we can all play on a slow Friday afternoon. Name your single favorite recording of a song. It can also be your favorite song overall, but need not be. It can be a studio version, a live recording, an original or a cover.

Mine is Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road", track one, disc one of "Live 1975-1985."

Top 20 Movies of the Last 20 Years

Piggybacking on Dan Drezner and the Crescat Sententia folks, here's my list of the top 20 films of the last 20 years:

1. Twelve Monkeys
2. Glory
3. Goodfellas
4. Schindler's List
5. Rushmore
6. Moulin Rouge
7. Platoon
8. Shawshank Redemption
9. Lord of the Rings
10. The Game
11. Grave of the Fireflies
12. Leon
13. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
14. High Fidelity
15. Ran
16. Shakespeare in Love
17. Donnie Darko
18. Big Lebowski
19. Amelie
20. Fight Club

24

I know I'm like two years behind, but now that I've seen the first 20 episodes of 24's first season, I have a few things to say:

1. I hate Palmer's wife. I hope something bad happens to her.

2. These CTU field agents sure are good at getting killed. None of them seem to last more than 15 minutes.

3. Great, great television. I always liked Kiefer Sutherland (ever since Stand By Me), so it's been a pleasure to see such strong, consistent work from him.

Quick Plug for Howie

My favorite musician, Howie Day, came out with his second album a couple weeks back, titled Stop All The World Now. I've listened to his first album hundreds of times, so it's a little weird to hear new stuff from him. Still, any Howie is good Howie, and I can't wait to carve this new album into my brain with repeated listenings.

OH! I also just downloaded my first song from the iTunes music store. Howie's "Madrigals" from the Madrigals EP... great stuff.

iTunes

This is the coolest damn thing I ever saw. I can't believe it took the record business this long to [allow Apple to] create it.

24

I've viewed the first 8 episodes from the first season of 24 and am aching for the next discs to arrive from Netflix. Absolutely stunning television, particularly when viewed episode after episode without commercials. Now I'm quite prepared to say that it's better than The Sopranos, but it's still damn good. Highly recommended to any who missed it during its broadcast run.

Sunday Comics

I've always loved the Sunday comics, and now my friends over at Begging to Differ have set up the online equivalent. Go check it out:

BTD Sunday Comics

Personally, I thought Dead Air was hilarious.

Oh, Before I Go

Oliver Willis has a list of his best and worst Americans of all time, and it suggests a knowledge of history unbefitting someone of his age and intelligence. It reminds me of an essay I wrote after being invited to apply to be a Presidential Scholar during my senior year of high school (I won, likely due to the fact that they take a male and female student from every state, and I was applying from Utah). The prompt was to pick three people from history to dine with; here are my opening paragraphs:

Three people? I can do that. I would invite James Madison, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Lennon. Yes, they are all American. There is actually a good reason for this. I want three people who speak the same language as I: English. I would love to invite Albert Camus or Fyodor Dosteovsky, but who could understand them? One thing a leader must always take into consideration is the ability to communicate. It would be a rather boring dinner party if I invited Aristotle, Leo Tolstoy, and Baruch Spinoza. These were all great men, but no one would be able to talk to each other. That is not my idea of an educational evening.

So, I picked three Americans. I could have picked an Englishman, but for the topics I wish to discuss, Americans will serve best. James Madison was the easiest choice for me...

Leave aside the amateurish writing, cliches, arrogant literalism, and your own opinions of the men in question, and see how long it takes to spot the planet-sized error I missed (as did the selection committee). I first realized it while discussing the selections of my fellow Scholars at our ceremony in D.C. What can I say? I was 17.

OK, now I'm really going on hiatus. For real. Bye.

Zinn in Concert

Pearl Jam, my favorite band, has very generously been releasing official bootlegs of all it's shows. While listening to the marathon July 11 show (in an effort to play every song in their repertoire, they had three shows in Boston, and played an extra pre-show acoustic set on the July 11), I came upon this shout out during "Down":

This is for Howard Zinn.

Uh huh. Turns out the lyrics include "You can't be neutral on a moving train," the title of one of Zinn's books. I've never read anything by Zinn, but have to admit quite a bit of skepticism. Anyone have anything to say about him? (I know you do!)

The Moviegoer

I finished watching the Kurosawa documentary yesterday, and it was quite good. He lived an interesting life, particularly in his later years when box-office failures and shifting Japanese culture left him dependent on international benefactors (in both the Soviet Union and America) to finance his films (and the resulting bitterness is evident in his later films). It also made clear just how direct Kurosawa's influence was on American films (Westerns in particular), with interviews of James Coburn (The Magnificent Seven) and Clint Eastwood (A Fistful of Dollars).

I don't often see films in the theatre, but my girlfriend and I went yesterday and saw The Whale Rider, a film set among the Maori people, indigenous to New Zealand. It was a stunning film, with one of the best performances by a young actress that I've ever seen. Highly recommended.

Soundtracks

These past few days I've been listening to the soundtracks of The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, and The Big Lebowksi. Those are three of my favorite films, and I always knew that one of the things I really enjoyed was the music. But it was not until I started listening to the soundtracks themselves that I realized just how brilliant the music selections were. I can't listen to Nico's "These Days" without seeing Margo and Richie's reunion, The Faces' "Ooh La La" without seeing Max and Miss Fisher dancing, or Kenny Rogers' "Just Dropped In" without seeing the Dude in Gutterballs.

That's some powerful music.

Netflix

If there are any other Netflix members out there, here are some disturbing statistics about making it harder for members who rent a lot of movies to get the movies on their list. I'm pissed. (Thanks to my classmate Kelly for the link, via Slashdot)

LOTR: TTT

For someone who didn't even read the books until after the movies started coming out, I have to admit to now being a bit of a Lord of the Rings fanatic. The soundtrack to the first film is this exam period's designated study music, and I'm itching to read the trilogy again this summer. I also happen to be a huge movie fan and DVD buff, so when I heard that the Two Towers extended edition would have 43 minutes of additional footage, and that much of it would involve Treebeard (who really got shafted in the theatrical release), I was quite pleased.

/geektalk

The Wait is Over

At last!

Cat Stevens back in studio

But wait, it's not quite as exciting at second glance:

The singer, who changed his name after converting to Islam, has re-recorded his 1971 song Peace Train - his first English language recording since 1978.

Isn't that a rather strange thing to do? I doubt the song will sound any better after 25 years... probably worse in fact. Unless he gets Dolly Parton to duet... that'd be something.

Amazon.com

OK, I've got a $40 gift card to spend on Amazon.com. What should I buy?

Current favorite, picking up a leather(ette) bound edition of LOTR for $12.50.

Those Who Feel Small

For those who feel insignificant and powerless with such grand and terrible things brewing in the world, read Arthur O'Shaughnessy's Ode aloud and make yourself be heard:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams; --
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

Click here for the poem in its entirety.

Dali in Prison?

Sometimes the world is a truly strange place. Here's a UPI story about a half-million dollar Salvador Dali painting displayed at New York's Riker's Island jail for almost 40 years, until (surprise, surprise) it was stolen. I sure hope no inmate has it hung in his cell a la The Shawshank Redemption.