Thursday, June 30, 2016

Genius

Yesterday I saw the movie Genius and it seems as if I am the only person who liked it (aside from a few employees at the Broadway who gushed about it with me afterwards).  I guess you have to be an English teacher to enjoy this movie and, since I am one, I loved it.  It begins in 1929 when Max Perkins (Colin Firth), a long-time editor at Charles Scribner's Sons responsible for editing the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West), receives a giant manuscript and begins reading what will become Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law).  Thus begins a tumultuous relationship between the taciturn Perkins and the effervescent Wolfe, to the detriment of their other relationships, namely with Perkins' wife (Laura Linney) and children and Wolfe's patron and lover (Nicole Kidman).  The narrative focuses on their attempt to edit what would become Of Time and the River from an unwieldy 1,000 page manuscript in crates to an eventual best-seller.  This movie is probably a hard sell to most people but I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes where they walked through the city editing the book line by line.  I always tell my students that word choice is so important!  One of my favorite scenes is when Perkins takes a red pencil to the manuscript of A Farewell to Arms!  Can you imagine!  Hemingway uses so few adjectives that it is remarkable that someone could find something to remove!  Yes, I know that I am a nerd.  No one else in the theater drew in a breath at that moment.  Firth, Law, and Kidman give marvelous performances, especially Kidman as Wolfe's over the top and jealous lover.  (For some reason Linney just doesn't do it for me and she seemed rather bland).  I loved this movie, but at the end of the day, it is a movie about editing so take my recommendation with that in mind; however, if you enjoy movies about complicated relationships between interesting people you might like it.

Note:  My only criticism of this movie is that these bastions of American literature are all played by British and Australian actors.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dark Horse

Dark Horse is another little gem that I missed at Sundance this year.  Luckily the Broadway, my favorite art house theater in downtown SLC, screens most of the Sundance selections so I can eventually see all of the movies that I missed.  I saw Dark Horse last night and I loved this inspirational documentary of how a group of working-class people from a poor mining community in Wales bred a champion racehorse.  Jan Vokes, a barmaid at a local pub, decided that she wanted to breed a racehorse and enlisted the help of the pub's patrons to create a syndicate.  Every member contributed £10 a week and eventually 23 people owned a share in the horse.  Jan bought a mare that came in last in every race she ran and had a bad temperament then found a stallion with a stud fee of £3000.  She took a second job as a cleaner at a grocery store to pay the stud fee.  They raised the foal, which they named Dream Alliance, on an allotment in their village and then, when he was old enough, found the best trainer that they could afford.   Philip Hobbs agreed to train Dream Alliance because he was "street smart and scrappy" but ultimately didn't think he could win.  At Dream Alliance's first race, the syndicate only hoped that he would finish the race but were elated when he came in fourth place.  As he began winning, he started to garner national attention and became a symbol of hope for the entire village.  The members of the syndicate are absolutely endearing and often reduced me to tears in their interviews.  My favorite scene in the documentary is when the whole syndicate, including members with tattoos, piercings, missing teeth, and sandwiches wrapped in tin foil, went to the racetrack to see Dream Alliance in his first race and, wearing badges signifying that they were owners of a horse, mingled with the aristocracy.  This is a stand-up-and-cheer movie about achieving a goal that everyone says can't be accomplished and I highly recommend it.

Note:  Dark Horse won the 2016 Documentary Audience Award at Sundance.  Good stuff!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Patriotic Celebration at Sundance

I began and ended the week with Utah Symphony performances!  Not too shabby!  Last night I saw them perform at the Sundance Mountain Resort and it was absolutely wonderful.  It has been so hot in the valley this past week so it felt really good to be up in the mountains with a cool breeze and the smell of the pine trees.  I just love listening to music under the stars!  The orchestra performed several well known patriotic pieces by John Philip Sousa (which was a great way to start the Independence Day celebrations), including "The Liberty Bell Waltz" and "The Stars and Stripes Forever."  They also played the "Armed Forces Salute" and had members of each branch of the armed forces, past and present, stand when their theme was played.  This year the cutest little old lady stood for the Coast Guard.  I would love to know her story!  The orchestra also played a lovely rendition of "The Blue Danube Waltz" by Johann Strauss II which caused the cute couple sitting next to me to sigh!  Just for fun they played several songs from the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, including "March of the Resistance" and "Scherzo for X-Wings."  I love the music from that movie.  My favorite piece of the evening was the first movement from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (which they played at the Gallivan Plaza last Monday).  I certainly enjoyed listening to it again.  Have you been to a Utah Symphony performance lately?  It is the perfect way to spend a summer evening!  Go here for more information about upcoming performances.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Free State of Jones

Last night I went with my parents to see Free State of Jones which is an incredibly powerful movie about a rebellion against the Confederacy during the Civil War.  Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a medic in the Confederate army who becomes disillusioned after witnessing his nephew's death in battle.  He deserts in order to take his nephew's body home to Jones County, Mississippi and discovers that the Confederate army has been confiscating grain and livestock from the poor farmers in the area.  In one of my favorite scenes in the movie, he helps a widow and her daughters stand up to the soldiers, thereby placing a price on his head.  He is helped by a group of runaway slaves to escape into a swamp and is soon joined by other deserters.  Knight leads this ragtag group against the Confederate army, eventually taking control of a large area of Mississippi.  After the war, he tries to hold this coalition together to fight for the rights of the freed slaves during Reconstruction but the alliance is fragile.  Some of these scenes are very upsetting, such as when one of the freed slaves (Mahershala Ali) is lynched for registering voters and when the Ku Klux Klan burns down their church.  There is also a subplot involving the relationship between Knight and one of the freed slaves (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and a trial in the 1950s involving one of their descendants who was arrested for a racially impure marriage.  As I previously mentioned, this is a very difficult movie to watch at times but I found it to be incredibly compelling, especially since it is based on actual events.  McConaughey is outstanding as the charismatic leader, especially in the scenes where he rallies his group to action (I think McConaughey was a fire-and-brimstone preacher in another life).  I really enjoyed the use of Mathew Brady's iconic Civil War photographs interspersed throughout the movie to give historical context (something director Gary Ross also did very effectively in Seabiscuit).  The movie is quite long with a running time of 2:19 (the omission of the trial of Newton's great-grandson might have made it tighter) but I found Knight's story to be riveting.  I haven't been able to stop thinking about it and I highly recommend it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Summer Reading: Little Bee

Little Bee by Chris Cleave is a book that I desperately wanted to love (there is so much hype surrounding it and the topic is particularly salient at the moment) but, while I did love many parts, the story left me feeling flat at the end. Little Bee is a 16-year-old Nigerian refugee who has seen her entire village, including her family, brutally murdered and is seeking asylum in the UK. Sarah is a 30-something suburbanite mother who runs her own fashion magazine but feels like she is losing her journalistic integrity and that her marriage is in shambles. The lives of these protagonists converge for a brief moment under horrific circumstances on a beach in Nigeria and the story begins two years later when Little Bee seeks Sarah out to help her (with flashbacks that reference the events many, many times before revealing them). The narrative alternates between the two women but I enjoyed Little Bee's perspective much more than Sarah's. I found Little Bee to be incredibly sympathetic and her voice made me think differently about the refugees around the world. I had tears in my eyes every time she would search for a way to kill herself in a new environment just in case the bad men found her and I laughed as she thought of ways to describe first world problems to the imaginary girls back in her village. I found Sarah to be less likable because her behavior seems so random.  I could never figure out her motivation for anything (I think her affair with Lawrence would have made more sense if it had begun after the events on the beach), including her reason for helping Little Bee, and she wasn't entirely believable to me, especially in her interactions with her son Charlie (who refuses to wear anything other than his Batman costume). I am not sure how I feel about the ending because it seems rather ambiguous, as if Cleave's message is that there is nothing anyone can do to help refugees. I don't want to believe that! I liked this book (I would have liked it better had it been from Little Bee's perspective only) but I didn't love it and I certainly don't think it lives up to the blurb on the cover (a cryptic message that the book is so good that the publishers can't give away any of the details).

Note:  I do, however, still want to read Cleave's latest book Everyone Brave Is Forgiven.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Waitress on Broadway

The one musical that Esther really wanted to see, besides Hamilton of course, was Waitress.  I am so glad that she suggested it because I don't think I would have picked it if left to my own devices and I ended up loving it so much.  It is absolutely amazing with incredible music by Sara Bareilles and a powerful performance by Jessie Mueller, both of whom were nominated for a Tony.  The musical is based on the 2007 independent film of the same name and tells the story of how Jenna (Mueller) uses baking to cope with her dead-end job as a waitress and her unhappy marriage to Earl (Nick Cordero).  When she unexpectedly becomes pregnant and then begins an affair with her gynecologist (Drew Gehling), she feels as if her life is spiraling out of control and decides that her only hope is to enter a pie baking contest to use the prize money to begin a new life.  Whenever life gets to be too much for Jenna, everything around her freezes and she gives the audience the recipe for a pie that would help her situation, always beginning with, "Sugar. Butter. Flour."  In the end she realizes that the one ingredient missing from her pies is courage!  There are parts of the story that are so funny and parts that brought tears to my eyes.  The music is brilliant and I loved every single song.  My very favorite was "She Used to Be Mine" because Mueller performed it with so much passion (Did you see her perform it at the Tonys?) that I literally cried through the whole thing.  I loved the fact that the cast actually makes pies throughout the show and that they place them in large pie coolers (like you see at Village Inn) on both sides of the proscenium.  It is an amazing show and I am so glad that I got to see the original Broadway cast!

Note:  At intermission you could buy individual servings of pie in tiny Mason jars!  I got cookies and cream pie and Esther got Key lime pie.  So much fun!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

She Loves Me on Broadway

One of the shows that Esther and I were able to see while in NYC was the Broadway revival of She Loves Me.  Quite a few people from my HCT group saw it and loved it so I was really looking forward to it.  The setting is 1934 in Budapest at Maraczek's Parfumerie, a little shop with a group of eccentric clerks.  Two of the clerks, Georg Nowack (Zachary Levi) and Amalia Balish (Laura Benanti), bicker constantly in the shop but, of course, they are secretly corresponding with each other (This musical was the basis for the movies The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail).  Chaos ensues when they arrange to meet and Georg discovers that his "dear friend" is really his enemy at the shop.  This show is a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the songs "Tonight at Eight" and "Will He Like Me?" because they show both the male and female perspectives on getting ready for a date and I also really loved Levi's enthusiastic rendition of "She Loves Me."  I was actually quite star-struck by both Levi (from the TV show Chuck and the movie Tangled) and Jane Krakowski (from the TV show 30 Rock) who gives a marvelous performance as Ilona, one of the clerks. Laura Benanti has gotten quite a bit of buzz for her portrayal as Amalia but, in my opinion, Jane Krakowski steals the show as Ilona, especially in the big production number "Ilona" where she is pulled across the stage in the splits!  In addition to the great performances and fun musical numbers, the stage is absolutely spectacular and I was particularly struck by all of the different views and levels of the perfume shop. I loved how they changed the shop for the different seasons, especially for winter which Esther and I got to experience first-hand sitting on the second row! I really enjoyed this show.

Note: Esther and I decided to wait at the stage door after the show (a first for me) and we got to meet both Zachary Levi and Jane Krakowski.  Both of them signed my Playbill!  Jane Krakowski didn't stay out very long but Zachary Levi signed everyone's Playbill and posed for pictures with anyone who wanted one.  He was really cool!  He talked to me for a few minutes and some people around me asked me if I knew him because he seemed so friendly towards me! While we were waiting for autographs, Lin-Manuel Miranda drove by and shouted to us.  No big deal!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Beethoven, Mozart, & More at the Gallivan Plaza

I think it is a well established fact that I absolutely love attending performances outside in the summer.  There is just something about listening to music under the stars that I love and, when the Utah Symphony is involved, it is even better.  When that concert is free, it is an evening that is not to be missed!  Last night the Utah Symphony began a series of free community concerts (go here for more information) with a performance of classical favorites at the Gallivan Plaza downtown.  I loved every minute of this concert!  I brought a blanket and a picnic and, after a while, there was a lovely breeze so it was the perfect summer evening.  The orchestra played selections from Rossini, Faure, Handel, Tchaikovsky, and Gershwin which were wonderful.  After the intermission they played  the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (those first four instantly recognizable notes got the crowd going) and Mozart's Symphony No. 35, which was brilliant (I love Mozart).  There was a little girl in the audience near where I was sitting who dramatically conducted the entire concert (Associate Conductor Rei Hotada may have some competition) and it was awesome!  It was a lovely evening!

Note:  There are lots of free concerts scheduled at the Gallivan Plaza throughout the summer.  Go here for more information.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Back to NYC!

With Esther in Times Square.
I had only been home from NYC for a few days when my friend Esther sent me a text.  She wanted to do a quick theatre trip to NYC and did I want to go with her?  She works for JetBlue and I could use one of her buddy passes so the flights would cost very little.  I thought about it for 30 seconds and said yes!  I am always up for an adventure and I am a firm believer that you should take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.  Even though this was a quick trip, it was so much fun.  We took the red-eye in to JFK, wandered around Times Square with our bags trying to find a hotel and finally found one for an exorbitant price, visited Esther's friend and had our picture taken in a gigantic photo booth in the lobby of his building, saw She Loves Me and met Zachary Levi and Jane Krakowski, stayed up talking until 2:00 in the morning, saw Waitress and loved it, had burgers and cheesecake at both Junior's (twice) and Roxy's, missed our flight home because half the streets were closed (thanks President Obama), got on another flight and landed in Los Angeles at 3:00 in the morning, and took an uber from LA to Long Beach for a flight to SLC that was delayed for two hours for mechanical problems!  It was quite the adventure but the shows were so amazing that I would definitely do it all over again!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Maggie's Plan

Another favorite from the Sundance Film Festival that I wanted to see again is Maggie's Plan.  It is a typical offbeat Greta Gerwig comedy (I was talking about this film with someone I met in line at another screening at Sundance and he called it very "Gerwig-y") and it is hilarious.  Maggie (Gerwig) is in her mid-thirties and wants to have a baby on her own because she is tired of waiting for the right relationship to happen so she comes up with an elaborate plan.  She picks a friend from college (a hilarious Travis Fimmel) as a sperm donor and even plans the exact date to inseminate herself.  Then she meets John (Ethan Hawke), an angst-ridden anthropology professor who is trying to write a novel and is trapped in a combative marriage to Georgette (Julianne Moore), another eccentric anthropologist, and he disrupts her plan.  Three years later, after marrying John and having a baby, she realizes that she doesn't love him any more and comes up with yet another elaborate plan to reunite him with Georgette.  Of course, things go awry, with a funny twist at the end, and Maggie learns that you can't plan love.  Gerwig has brilliant comedic timing but she also plays Maggie with a sensitivity that makes us truly care about and empathize with her.  Hawke is getting typecast as a clueless and absentee father lately (see here and here) but he is just so great at it and his portrayal of John is highly amusing, especially when he tries to find a place to spend the night.  Moore is absolutely hilarious as Georgette with her Danish accent, tight bun, and ethnic clothing.  I laughed out loud just about every time she was on the screen.  Add Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader as Maggie's best friends and you have a comedy filled with zany characters that is perfect for a night out with friends.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Weiner

I tend to favor narrative films over documentaries but this year at the Sundance Film Festival I saw quite a few documentaries.  Without question, the best one was Weiner.  It was so compelling that I decided to see it again Thursday night and I found it to be just as entertaining, and disturbing, as I did upon the first viewing.  In 2013 disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner made a bid for the Democratic nomination in the New York mayoral race.  He allowed filmmakers Josh Kriegman, a former staffer, and Elyse Steinberg unprecedented access to his campaign which, in the beginning, was incredibly successful.  He was leading in the polls and drawing huge crowds to his events when another sexting scandal, similar to the one which forced his resignation from Congress, erupted.  The cameras kept rolling as the campaign imploded and it became clear to everyone, except Weiner himself, that the nomination was lost.  It is fascinating to watch the spin where every move is carefully choregraphed, especially when Weiner practices different inflections for the line, "...and for that I am profoundly sorry" and, when asked for a comment by his communications officer, he struggles to remember what he said in another interview.  There are also some disturbing elements (where you simply can't look away), particularly with regard to Weiner's wife Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton's top aides.  When the scandal first breaks there is a scene where Huma is visibly shaken and then Weiner asks the cameras to leave the room.  In the next scene she is standing at his side and speaking out in support of his campaign at a press conference.  It made me wonder what went on behind those closed doors.  In another scene, he is bullying her into accompanying him on election day and in the next scene he and his staff members are coming up with reasons why she is not with him.  One of the most interesting scenes is when Weiner watches a replay of his shouting match with political pundit Lawrence O'Donnell over and over while laughing hysterically and Huma leaves the room in tears.  It is a fascinating anatomy of a political scandal involving a a charismatic but deeply flawed individual and, I hate to admit it, but I certainly enjoyed watching it play out on the big screen.

Note:  Weiner won the 2016 Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.  Good stuff.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Summer Reading: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

When I published my summer reading list I had several people recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman so I was very eager to read it, despite the fact that fantasy is not a genre that I usually enjoy (although I did as a teenager). An unnamed narrator returns to his childhood home for a funeral and begins to remember long-suppressed events which happened forty years ago when he was a seven-year-old boy. As he walks to the farmhouse at the end of the land, he remembers himself as a lonely (no one comes to his birthday party) and fearful boy with distracted parents and a bratty younger sister who finds solace in the adventure stories he reads. He befriends his neighbor, a mysterious eleven-year-old girl named Lettie Hempstock, along with her mother and grandmother, and they inadvertently open a wormhole (literally) for a malevolent presence to enter his house. Lettie helps him summon a strength he didn't know he possessed to fight against this evil. As the narrator leaves Lettie's farmhouse, he once again forgets these horrific events and returns to his ordinary life. I have to admit that I really struggled while reading this because the events seemed so fantastical and, frankly, a little strange (Oh, what happened to the girl who loved A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle?). Now that I've finished it, however, I can't stop thinking about it. Once I rediscovered that girl who loved A Wrinkle In Time, I came to appreciate this novel as a metaphor for childhood and the magical worlds that children inhabit before they embrace the cold reality of adulthood. Imagery and symbolism abound (Gaiman's writing is truly beautiful) and the more I think about the elements in the story, the more I understand them, especially the ocean, the wormhole, and the giant flapping canvas monsters. I highly recommend this novel to help you remember what it was like to be a child. Just make sure you check underneath your bed before you start reading!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sing Street

For some reason the film Sing Street was never on my radar during Sundance this year but several of my friends have recently recommended it to me so I went to see it last night.  I absolutely loved it (and I can't believe that I didn't try to get a ticket at Sundance).  It is 1985 in Dublin and Conor Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has troubles at home because his parents are fighting and troubles at his new school because of a bully and a ruthless headmaster.  When he meets Raphina (Lucy Boynton), an aspiring model, he tries to impress her by asking her to be in a music video for his (non-existent) band.  When she accepts, he gathers together a group of misfits, forms a band, begins writing songs for her, and gets a gig playing at his school, thus changing his life forever.  It is definitely your basic feel-good movie about overcoming the odds but it is just so much fun!  The boys in the band are so endearing and I absolutely loved all of their video shoots, especially their costumes.  Conor takes inspiration for his personal style from John Taylor of Duran Duran, then Robert Smith of The Cure (my favorite look), and finally Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet and it is hilarious when he shows up at school all decked out after watching a particular music video (remember when MTV actually showed music videos?).  I laughed out loud when the members of band walked up to school in a line in slow-motion (a la Reservoir Dogs).  In fact, I laughed out loud many times.  I loved all of the 80s music and I also really loved the original music played by the band, especially "To Find You" and "Drive It Like You Stole It."  I loved this film (I may need to see it again) and I highly recommend it, especially to my Gen-Xers out there!

Note:  When I was in high school it seemed like everyone my parents' age was really nostalgic for music from the 60s.  I wondered, then, if my generation would be nostalgic for 80s music.  The answer, at least for me, is yes! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

On my last day in New York City I took the subway to Brooklyn to walk across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge.  It was absolutely freezing but it was amazing!
Later that day I boarded a plane to come home and I was a little bit sad to be leaving (little did I know that I would be back again in a few weeks).  I had such a wonderful time in New York City and I loved all of the shows I was able to see (Wicked, Hamilton, Finding Neverland, The Lion King, Les Miserables, and The Phantom of the Opera).  It was an amazing trip and I am so glad that I was able to go!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway

The Phantom of the Opera was the first musical I saw on Broadway during my first trip to New York City (many years ago) so seeing it on this trip felt like coming full circle.  I have always really loved this show (especially when the chandelier crashes into the stage) so I was looking forward it and this production certainly didn't disappoint.  Christine Daae was performed by the alternate, Rachel Zatcoff, and she was amazing.  I really loved her renditions of "Think of Me" and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again."  I absolutely loved the Phantom (Jeremy Stolle) and he gave me goosebumps during "The Music of the Night."  I always think that Christine should stay with the Phantom because Raoul will never make her feel the way the Phantom does but she always picks Raoul.  I, rather unusually, really liked Raoul (Jeremy Hays) in this production and I thought he had great chemistry with Zatcoff, especially in "All I Ask of You" (I usually feel sorry for the Phantom in that scene).  The entire cast was fantastic and I especially loved "Masquerade" which is always my favorite scene in the show because the choreography is so elaborate.  The Phantom of the Opera was my last show in New York City and I couldn't have picked a better one to end on.  Andrew Lloyd Webber's music is timeless!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Les Miserables on Broadway

No matter what my current obsession might be, Les Miserables will always be my sentimental favorite.  It is the first musical I fell in love with and, even though I have seen it more than twenty times (a conservative estimate), I still get goosebumps every time I hear those opening notes.  I hadn't planned on seeing it while I was in New York but I kept walking past the Imperial Theatre (which is, ironically, next to the Richard Rodgers Theatre) and I noticed that it will be closing in September.  I might not have another chance to see it on Broadway so I spontaneously bought a ticket for the matinee.  I am so glad I did because I loved every minute of this amazing production.  The staging was completely new (at least to me) without the turntable and I quite liked it (the only element I missed was when the barricade revolves on the turntable after the battle revealing Enjolras holding the flag upside down).  Many of the backdrops were Victor Hugo's original illustrations for the novel and they were incredibly effective.  The entire cast was amazing and they hit all of the highlights for me: Fantine (Alison Luff) in "I Dreamed a Dream," Javert (Hayden Tee) in "Stars," Valjean (John Owen-Jones) in "Bring Him Home," and Marius (Chris McCarrell) in "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables."  Of course my favorite moment was when Eponine (Brennyn Lark) sang "On My Own."  Lark gave one of the best performances of that song I have ever seen and I definitely had tears in my eyes (how I judge every production that I see).  Words cannot express how much I love this show and I am so happy that I got to see it one more time on Broadway!

Note:  I was sitting near a group of young girls who had never seen Les Miserables before and one of them screamed out loud when Gavroche was shot in "Little People."  It is such an emotional scene!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

NYSM2

Yesterday I took my nephew Sean, who is an aspiring magician, to see Now You See Me 2.  I absolutely loved the first movie and I think this one is just as good!  The Four Horsemen, Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and newcomer Lula May (Lizzy Caplan), resurface one year later when Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), a tech prodigy, threatens to expose them if they don't pull off one more thrilling heist for him. As you would expect there are many plot twist and many of the unanswered questions left from the first installment involving Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and the mysterious Eye are explained.  There are also many elaborate scenes involving magic and I especially enjoyed the sleight of hand as the Four Horsemen attempt to steal a computer chip from a high level security tech firm. Even with all of the plot twists and magic (for some of which you really need to suspend your disbelief), I really loved the hilarious interactions between the characters, especially in the scenes where Merritt and his evil twin brother Chase (also played by Woody Harrelson) try to hypnotize each other.  It is a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it.  If you are a fan of the first movie, I recommend this installment.

Note: I like Jesse Eisenberg is some roles better than others.  This is a great role for him (although I prefer his longer hair in the first movie).

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Seize the Day!

Before Hamilton, the show on the top of my must-see list was Newsies!  I had the opportunity to see it in Los Angeles last year over spring break and it was even better than I imagined!  When I got home from that trip, Broadway in Utah announced the 2015-2016 season and I learned that I would be able to see this incredible show again!  I liked it even better the second time!  Based on the Disney movie of the same name, Newsies tells the story of how Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro), along with his fellow "newsies" and a determined young reporter (Morgan Keene), stood up to Joseph Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) by going on strike when he raised the cost of the papers.  It is a high-energy show with absolutely dazzling choreography consisting of athletic leaps, jumps, and spins.  I loved it when all of the newsies (all amazing performers) danced in unison in the big production numbers "The World Will Know," "Seize the Day," "King of New York," and "Once and for All." I especially loved the song "The World Will Know" because it is so powerful and the cast sang it with such emotion.  I also really loved the set for this show.  There were three large towers which could be moved into different configurations representing apartment buildings and printing presses and they were covered with scrims which had newspapers and other backgrounds projected on them.  I loved it when the newsies danced on all three levels of the towers.  There were a lot of young people in the audience who responded with thunderous applause and cheering to every single number.  At intermission a large group sitting near me squealed with delight about how awesome it was.  It made me smile because I love seeing young people so passionate about the theatre.  Even though I was really tired after my long ordeal getting home from New York (more about that later), I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the amazing show and I highly recommend that you see it if you have the chance.  This run ends on Sunday but it is making a return to SLC in August.  Go here for tickets and information.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Summer Reading: Wolf Hall

I absolutely love historical fiction (the thicker the better!) so I was definitely looking forward to settling into Hilary Mantel's novel about the reign of King Henry VIII during the turbulent Reformation period. I have enjoyed other novels about this historical period (The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory is my favorite) and I thought telling the story from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, who rose from relative obscurity to become Henry VIII's most trusted advisor, was an interesting device. Alas, I have to admit that I struggled with Wolf Hall almost to the point of giving up several times. Honestly, did the judges for the Man Booker Prize read the same book that I did?  I actually have a theory that none of the judges understood what was going on and didn't want to admit it to each other so they declared it a masterpiece. I certainly did not view it as such! First, there is a bewildering number of characters and none of them have a distinct voice so it is extremely difficult to distinguish who is who.  This is further compounded by the fact that many characters have the same name (Mary Boleyn, Mary Shelton, Princess Mary) and by Mantel's frustrating use of the pronoun "he."  There were many times when I had to go back and reread passages just to figure out who was speaking. To me this is unnecessary obfuscation that could have been avoided by having Cromwell be a first-person narrator. Second, I had a difficult time following the chronology of the book because there are many flashbacks to Cromwell's boyhood with almost no transition. Again, I had to reread many passages.  Finally, nothing happens in this book!  It is all dialogue, dialogue, and more dialogue (which is not always a bad thing...if you know who is speaking). For a historical period full of sex, violence, and political intrigue I found Mantel's version to be absolutely boring. There is no drama, emotion, or suspense.  There is not even a climax at the end of the book because it just simply ends.  I think I continued to read because I was waiting for something, anything, to happen to tie together all of the disparate elements of this novel (I was thinking it would be the execution of Anne Boleyn or even Cromwell's own execution since he is not a first-person narrator) but it simply ends with Cromwell deciding to visit the Seymours at Wolf Hall. This novel was disappointing, to say the least, and I recommend that you read almost any other novel about the Tudors rather than this one.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Madame Tussauds

The actors who have portrayed 007 at Madame Tussaud's (Daniel Craig was at the front entrance).
Another really "touristy" thing I did while in New York is visit Madame Tussauds.  I just couldn't resist (and it was part of the New York pass).  I've been to the London one several times as well as the one in Las Vegas.  I had a lot of fun wandering around the exhibits in the morning before seeing a matinee.  Here are some of my favorites.
Anderson Cooper (I may or may not have a small crush on him).
Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan during happier times.
Pope Francis (I wonder how they got him to model for this?)
JFK and Jackie Kennedy
Mahatma Gandhi
Pope John Paul II
Mikhail Gorbachev
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
Director Steven Spielberg
Judy Garland as Dorothy
John Wayne
Charlie Chaplin
Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster 
The King of Pop (I stood in a long line to get this picture for Marilyn because she loves him).
Bob Marley and ???
Jimi Hendrix
Whitney Houston
Taylor Swift
Rihanna
Muhammad Ali

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Lion King on Broadway

The first time I saw the musical The Lion King, I was on a theatre trip to London so I thought it only fitting to see it again while on a theatre trip to New York!  That first time I was completely overcome by the animals marching down the aisles, especially the elephants, during the opening song "Circle of Life."  I was sitting next to an adorable little old lady who leaned into me and said, "I saw a tear in your eye!"  This time I was sitting near a group of young girls who were seeing it for the first time and and their reaction to the animals made me fall in love with this show all over again!  It is absolutely amazing how the actors transform themselves into the animals with puppets and prosthetics.  After a while you don't even see the actors any more!  The musical tells the well-known story of how the lion cub Simba learns how to be a king with music by Elton John and Tim Rice as well as traditional African music.  I had forgotten how much I loved the traditional music.  I had goosebumps when Mufasa (L. Steven Taylor) performed "They Live in You" and Nala (Chantel Riley) blew the roof off the Minskoff Theatre during "Shadowlands" (my favorite song in the show).  I really enjoyed Rafiki (played by the understudy, Thulisile Thusi) and her rendition of "He Lives in You" was another highlight.  As ever, I was so impressed with how the stampede in the gorge is staged.  It actually seems as if the antelope are running across the stage!  Of course, the scenes with Timon (Fred Berman) and Pumbaa (Ben Jeffrey) were a lot of fun, especially "Hakuna Matata."  My only complaint with this production is that I couldn't hear Scar (Gareth Saxe), Shenzi (Bonita Hamilton), Banzi (James Brown-Orleans) or Ed (Jaysin McCollum) very well so my mind wandered a bit during "Chow Down" and "Be Prepared."  Live theatre, and this show in particular, sometimes has the power to give you a child's sense of wonder for a few hours and I heard both children and adults squealing with delight during many musical numbers, especially the aforementioned animals in "Circle of Life" and the flying birds in "One By One."  I highly recommend seeing this show if you have the opportunity.  It was a lovely evening!

Note:  If you have the chance to see this show on Broadway, I highly suggest going next door to Junior's for cheesecake afterwards.  Some people in my group said that Roxy's had the best cheesecake in New York and one argued strongly in favor of the Carnegie Deli but Junior's definitely has my vote!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

One of the "touristy" things I wanted to do while in New York City was to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  I chose a wet and muggy day for this excursion but the weather did not detract from the grandeur of this amazing monument known as "Liberty Enlightening the World."  It is certainly easy to see why immigrants coming to America viewed it as a beacon of hope.  It is quite stunning!
Since it was raining I didn't stay very long on Liberty Island but I did get the audio guide and listened to it while I walked around the boardwalk.  I learned a lot of interesting tidbits, such as it took 21 years to build and it is 151 feet and 1 inch tall.
After about an hour on Liberty Island, I took the ferry to Ellis Island and the historian in me was completely overwhelmed!
It is amazing to me to think that over 12 million people came through Ellis Island looking for a better life in America. I started my visit with the documentary Island of Hope, Island of Tears, which was very interesting, and then I wandered through the exhibits.  Many of the exhibits that I remembered from my last visit (many years ago) had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy but I was still quite awed by the Registry Room.
I found Ellis Island to be fascinating and I highly recommend a visit.
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