Saturday, July 21, 2018

Zion National Park

Since I was already in Southern Utah for the Shakespeare Festival, I decided to take the scenic way home through Zion National Park.  This is one of my very favorite places because my family took a lot of road trips here when I was young and I have so many happy memories.  It has been a while since I have been here so I spent several hours wandering around.  It was really wonderful!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Summer Reading: Beneath a Scarlet Sky

When I began reading Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan, the next selection on my summer reading list, I was waiting for an outdoor concert to begin and a random woman sat down next to me to tell me how much she and her book club loved the book. She absolutely gushed about it so I was very eager to continue reading. It tells the true story of seventeen year old Pino Lello, a typical young man living in Milan during World War II who loves jazz, fast cars, and girls. As the bombing of Milan escalates, Pino is sent to a monastery high in the Alps for safety and he begins leading Jews through the mountains on treacherous journeys to elude the Nazis. When he reaches the age of conscription, his parents, hoping to keep him relatively safe, convince him to join the German army. He eventually becomes the driver and interpreter for General Hans Leyers which puts him in a position to observe the goings-on of the Nazis. He is recruited as a spy for the resistance and risks his life on many occasions to ultimately become a hero. I really wanted to like Pino's story but the manner in which it is told is rather bland. Sullivan tells us, in very simple declarative sentences, what happens rather than shows us and one event happens after another without a lot of dramatic tension or suspense. Even though this is purported to be a true story, much of what happens seems to be the result of a series of improbable coincidences. Pino just happens to be in the right place at the right time to meet many of the most important members of the Gestapo, as well as Mussolini himself, and he just happens to witness the major events that happen in Italy during the war. It strains credibility at times (it actually reminded me a little bit of the movie Forrest Gump which I dislike for the same reason). Pino also has a lot of abilities which manifest themselves just when they are needed, such as when he is able to maneuver the general's car away from a plane dive bombing it after recently learning to drive. What I did really enjoy was learning about the Italian experience during the war. Even after reading countless fiction and nonfiction books about World War II, I had little knowledge about the major events during the German occupation of Italy. After hearing such a glowing recommendation I was a little bit disappointed in this selection but that might mean others will enjoy it more than I did.

Note:  Have you read Beneath a Scarlet Sky?  What did you think?  I hear there is a movie in the works starring Tom Holland.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Utah Shakespeare Festival 2018

This week I drove to Cedar City for my annual trip to the Utah Shakespeare Festival.  I was able to see three plays this year and I enjoyed all of them.  Tuesday night I saw The Merchant of Venice, one of my very favorite Shakespeare plays, and I thought this production was very powerful.  There were some very interesting casting choices, including having two women play traditionally male roles.  Bassanio (Wayne T. Carr) asks his friend Antonio (Leslie Brott) for 3,000 ducats to woo Portia (Tarah Flanagan).  Antonio doesn't have the money but, knowing that he has three ships on their way to port, he borrows the money from Shylock (Lisa Wolpe), a Jewish moneylender.  Bassanio is successful in his quest for Portia's hand in marriage, in some highly amusing scenes involving other suitors, but Antonio's ships are lost and he must pay the bond to Shylock which is a pound of flesh.  Portia, feeling responsible for the situation, pleads for mercy but when Shylock refuses she finds a loophole which saves Antonio and condemns Shylock.  My sympathy is always with Shylock and this production really emphasizes the cruelty towards him, at one point one character even knocks him down.  His daughter Jessica (Aidaa Peerzada) is portrayed as feeling guilty about converting to Christianity and I loved the scenes where she recites Jewish prayers.  Wolpe is absolutely brilliant in the role, especially in the "Do we not bleed?" speech!  I also really enjoyed Josh Innerst as Gratiano, Jamil Zraikat as the Prince of Morocco, and Geoffrey Kent as the Prince of Arragon because they infused a bit of levity into an otherwise somber piece.
Wednesday afternoon I saw the hilarious comedy The Foreigner.  I have seen this play several times and I very much enjoyed this production.   Sgt. Froggy LaSeuer (Chris Mixon) brings his painfully shy friend Charlie Baker (Michael Doherty) to stay at a boarding house in Georgia run by Betty Meeks (Colleen Baum) while he is on maneuvers there.  Froggy tells the inhabitants that Charlie is a foreigner who cannot speak English to save him from having to make conversation.  Because everyone believes that he can't understand them, he overhears all of their secrets to great comedic effect.  Doherty is absolutely hysterical in this very physical role!  I laughed and laughed when Ellard (Rob Riordan) tries to teach him English and again when he is asked to tell a story in his native language.  Seriously, I couldn't breathe!  Wednesday evening I saw The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Sir John Falstaff (John Ahlin reprising the role after playing it in Hanry IV Part Two) is down and out and has come to Windsor to woo two wealthy women, Mistress Page (Stephanie Lambourn) and Mistress Ford (Tarah Flanagan).  He sends them both the same letter so they conspire to get revenge on him, and fool their husbands, in some absolutely hilarious scenes.  Meanwhile, Mistress Ford's daughter, Mistress Anne (Cailen Fu), has three suitors pursing her (Lance Rasmussen, Michael Elich, and Ty Fanning).  Both Mistress Ford and Mistress Page as well as the three suitors use Mistress Quickley (Leslie Brott) to deliver notes and chaos ensues.  I usually do not like it when the source material is changed but this production takes place in the early 1900s and uses popular songs from that era to emphasize plot details and I thought that was very effective.  I also really liked how they introduce the dramatis personae at the beginning of the play.  It is extremely clever!  Mistress Quickly is portrayed as more of the town busybody and she is hilarious.  Elich is completely over the top as one of the suitors, especially when he is preparing for the duel.  Ahlin is an absolute master of physical comedy and I laughed out loud when he is placed in a laundry basket, when he has to dress as a woman, and when he dresses as stag to meet Mistress Ford.  It is a really fun production.
I had so much fun at the festival this year!  I always enjoy the plays but I really come for the tarts!  I had quite a few of them!

Note:  I am beyond excited for next year because two of my favorites will be performed, Hamlet and Macbeth.  I can't wait!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tag

In all honesty, Tag is the kind of movie that I would never see if left to my own devices because I am not a fan of these type of comedies.  However, I feel like I haven't spent very much time with my niece this summer and, when I suggested to her that we see a movie together, she mentioned Tag or Uncle Drew.  I picked the lesser of two evils.  Ha ha!   I actually ended up liking it more than I thought I would.  A group of childhood friends, Hogan Malloy (Ed Helms), Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), Randy "Chilli" Cilliano (Jake Johnson), Kevin Sable (Hannibal Buress), and Jerry Pierce (Jeremy Renner), have been playing a game of tag during the month of May for the past 30 years.  Jerry has never once been tagged during the entire game so when Hogan finds out that he is getting married, and will therefore be at specific location at a specific time,  he recruits the other three in a wild plot to finally get him.  The story, based on a real-life group of friends, is compelling and the message about friendship is incredibly heartwarming.  The action sequences are especially fun to watch because the characters go to extraordinary lengths to catch each other, particularly during chases through a golf course and an apartment building.  All of the performances are great but I really enjoyed Isla Fisher (who plays Hogan's incredibly competitive wife) because she is so over the top and Buress whose deadpan delivery is hilarious.  While I did laugh a lot at this movie, I didn't really appreciate the crude humor which exists for no other reason than for shock value.  I think this movie has enough going for it without having to resort to raunchy gimmicks (it was a little bit awkward watching this with my seventeen-year-old niece).  However, if you like these sort of comedies, this one is pretty good.

Note:  It was nice to see footage of the real friends going to great lengths to tag each other and I laughed and laughed during the cover of a Crash Test Dummies song during the credits.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Big

Yesterday I saw Big, the next selection in the TCM Big Screen Classics series, and it was a lot of fun.  I remember seeing this movie on the big screen during its first release and, since that was 30 years ago, it was incredibly nostalgic (and it made me feel old).  Thirteen year old Josh Baskin (David Moscow) asks a fortune telling arcade machine called Zoltar Speaks to make him big after being denied admission to a carnival ride in front of the girl he likes.  Overnight he is transformed into a 30 year old man (now played by Tom Hanks).  When his Mom (Mercedes Reuhl) doesn't believe him, he seeks out his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton).  They try to find the arcade machine but the information won't be available for six weeks.  In the meantime, Josh goes to New York, finds a job at a toy company, and gets a girlfriend (Elizabeth Perkins).  When he and Billy find the arcade machine, will he want to be a kid again?  Most people seeing this movie for the first time might find the story to be a bit improbable with lots of plot holes but it is just so charming and what makes it work is the delightful performance of Tom Hanks.  He exhibits a wide-eyed wonder at every new experience and he replicates Moscow's awkward mannerisms to perfection.  I especially enjoyed the interactions between Hanks and Rushton because they both seem like thirteen year old boys, especially in the scene with the silly string.  I also really enjoyed the interactions between Hanks and Perkins, especially when they have the sleepover in the bunk beds and whenever he gets that goofy grin on his face.  I was happily reminded of why Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors to this day!  This movie will be screened again on Wednesday (go here for tickets) and I highly recommend it for some nostalgic fun!

Note:  My favorite scene in the movie is when Josh and the CEO of the toy company he works for (Ben Loggia) play "Heart and Soul" and "Chopsticks" on a foot operated piano at FAO Schwartz.  I remember being so disappointed when I first visited the famous toy story on a trip to New York and discovered that the piano on display was much smaller than the one specially made for the movie!
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