The worst pies in London

December 26, 2008

I don’t really think of myself as a prissy Sondheim purist, but I didn’t care for the movie version of Sweeney Todd. Director Tim Burton seemed to hack the heart right out of the musical.

What really bothered me was the fact that nobody seemed consistently capable of acting while singing, or doing their individual equivalents of singing. In my experience, you can get away with not singing very well in a Sondheim musical, but if you can’t act a song, you are deeply, deeply screwed, as is your audience. And while there is no scenario in which it would be fair to Helena Bonham Carter to compare her to Angela Lansbury or Patti LuPone, she’s who Burton cast as Mrs. Lovett, so compare her I must.

Her reedy singing voice would almost be excusable if she’d brought an ounce of life or wit to the performance, but she was in full powdery corpse mode, which bore a striking resemblance to laziness. Johnny Depp’s voice was a bit better, but I grew weary of him scooping his way into every held note, which, combined with persistent flatness, made him sound like the lead singer from a B-list ’80s alternative band. Don’t get me wrong; I loved those bands. They were the soundtrack of my college years. But I don’t want to hear them singing Sondheim any more than I want to suffer through the Kiri Te Kanawa West Side Story ever again.

What really, really bugged me was how the intricacy of Sondheim’s language was slurred away by the vocal shortcomings of Bonham Carter and Depp. “A Little Priest,” one of the best and most bracing duets in musical theater, was painful to watch, drained of energy and wit for the sake of that blue-filtered style that Burton imposed on just about everything.

Look, Burton does what he does, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve loved as many of his movies as I’ve hated, and I haven’t been indifferent to any of them, which isn’t a bad track record for any director. But this was just plain awful.


Death Kitty!

May 20, 2008

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition takes a look at the two-day, 300-screen run of the live-action Death Note movie. It will definitely be interesting to see the results of this programming experiment. (Here’s Viz’s press release on the event, and here’s the event site from Fathom, which will shout at you if you let it.)

Now, if Sex and the City does well at the box office and film executives decide that women like going to movies, what are the chances of a similar blitz for the live-action adaptation of Nana? (In all seriousness, I really hate these obnoxious “can women drive commercial success at the cinema” think pieces that crop up every time a Sex and the City or Devil Wears Prada or Enchanted promises to make more than a dollar, because the answer has been a resounding yes every time. The only summer movie I’m excited about is Mamma Mia, because what healthy person with the capacity for joy doesn’t want to see Meryl Streep sing ABBA songs?)

Oh, and just because someone at NPR likely wanted to unnerve me on the way into work, they also ran a short piece about Hello Kitty’s new role as tourism ambassador.

If Hello Kitty is unable to complete her term as tourism ambassador, she will be replaced by her runner-up.


Phone rings, door chimes…

February 19, 2008

They don’t do it as often as I’d like, but I do appreciate how PBS tries to keep me in productions of Stephen Sondheim musicals. Thanks to them, I’ve seen Sweeney Todd with Angela Lansbury, Sunday in the Park with George with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, Into the Woods with Peters and Joanna Gleason, a lovely production of A Little Night Music by the New York City Opera (which doesn’t seem to be available on DVD, unfortunately), and Passion, which I only made it through part of but appreciated the opportunity to decide I didn’t care for it all the same.

Tomorrow, they’re airing a filming of the recent revival of Company, staged by the brilliant John Doyle. I had the good fortune to see Doyle’s Broadway revival of Sweeney, starring Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris, and aside from being knocked to the street in crosswalk in front of Rockefeller Center by stroller people on the way back to the hotel, it was one of the finest evenings of theatre I’ve ever enjoyed. (I think Doyle should do Night Music next. A character already plays the cello on stage, and those lieder singers can certainly double up as a mini-orchestra.)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a professional staging of Company, so I’m really looking forward to it. In fact, I think I’ve only ever seen a college production with a cast culled mostly from the opera program, which is… not how I would have gone. In my opinion, you can get away with not being able to sing or dance in a Sondheim musical, but an inability to act is absolutely fatal.

And there’s a new staging of Sunday coming to Broadway. The director is profiled in this piece in The New York Times. Since Peters and Patankin are such distinct performers, I’ll be interested to see the response to Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, as it will say something about how dependent the piece is on star charisma.


Friday rambling

December 14, 2007

How I get in the holiday spirit: I substitute “killer bees” for key lyrics in many beloved Christmas carols. It works in almost all of them.

Commercials I really hate: Okay, I get it, T.J. Maxx. There’s something pumped into the ventilation system at your stores that turns people into insufferable bargain braggarts. Consider me warned.

Oh, and I can’t forget Jared, the Galleria of Jewelry, the bauble outlet of choice for viciously competitive people who weigh love based on brand names.

Future shop: ICv2 runs through some upcoming releases from DC, including the single-volume Shirley from Kaoru (Emma) Mori. If I didn’t already own the entire run in one form or another, I’d also have my eye on the Starman Omnibus, one of my favorite super-hero titles ever. (Okay, writer James Robinson had a tendency to give his pet villainess, the Mist, the full Dark Mary Sue treatment to make her seem threatening, but it was great all the same, and the later issues give you the opportunity to see why many people liked Ralph and Sue Dibny.)

Not dead yet: The fifth volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse) is much better than the fourth, which cheers me. (Again, the fourth was still very good manga, just not what I’d come to expect from the generally stellar series.)

Sir, it’s too good, at least? Mely notes that Stephen Sondheim has given his thumbs-up to Tim Burton’s movie version of Sweeney Todd, which has apparently been nominated for Golden Globe awards before it’s even opened in cinemas. (I’ve always found the Golden Globes to be the least persuasive of movie award programs.) I’m unconvinced. I love Sondheim, and I think he’s brilliant, but he has shown a worrying tendency to roll over for celebrities in the past. (I mean, he rewrote the lyrics to “Send in the Clowns” for Barbra Streisand. I know it’s his song, and he can do what he likes with it, but that song is one of the perfect gems of the musical canon.)


Buckeye country

November 26, 2007

I had big plans for reading and writing over the Thanksgiving holiday, but I got sidetracked by an unusually active visit to family in Columbus. (These visits usually involve moving from couch to couch between random snack consumption, but we kept going places and doing things. I’m not complaining.)

First up was a touring production of Spamalot, which was amusing if not life-changing. By pure coincidence, I happened to be there on the same night as Mark Evanier, so I’ll just point to his description of the evening. (No matter how many Thanksgiving holidays I spend in Columbus, I always manage to forget that the Mid-Ohio Con is going on at the same time. It doesn’t really seem like the kind of convention I’d enjoy, to be honest.)

We had dinner before the show at Thai Taste. If you’re in Columbus and you like Thai food, GO. If you like pomegranate martinis and Thai food, GO OFTEN.

A large group of us hit a matinee of Enchanted on Saturday. I’m normally very pro-musical, though this movie wasn’t really on my radar before a niece or two expressed their profound interest in seeing it. A lot of reviews have described it as subversive, though I think they might have mistakenly identified cleverness. The real world that’s juxtaposed to the cartoon landscape isn’t really any more realistic, and there’s a weirdly retro vibe to everything. (It’s still reaffirming conventional relationships as much as any other Disney princess musical, so I’m not sure where the progressive, edgy underpinnings are supposed to be.) Amy Adams is spectacular, though. I’m getting sick of seeing the finest actresses of a certain generation (Michelle Pfeiffer, Meryl Streep, and, in this case, Susan Sarandon) reduced to playing vicious, oppressive harridans who hate youth even as they covet it, to be honest. And Patrick Dempsey’s appeal is entirely lost on me, apparently. He’s just grumpy.

That evening was spent at a hockey game, of all places. As far as interesting, fast-paced sports to watch, I’d rank hockey fairly highly, though I’m never going to be the target audience for any of them. And there was interesting people-watching to be done, especially if you sat there and looked for parallels to comic fandom in the puck head set. (There was this guy in front of us who was maniacally, microscopically attentive throughout and seemed utterly miserable to this casual observer, but everyone has his or her own idea of fun, I suppose.)

I did manage to work in a visit to The Laughing Ogre, one of my favorite comic shops in the entire world. Maybe it was just because I was outnumbered by staff three to one, but they were tremendously helpful and friendly and readily admitted that none of them were really big manga experts though they were happy to look stuff up for me. See how that works?

And while I did get some reading done, this week’s Flipped will still be a day late because I’m lazy and tired.


Death, pie and divas

October 25, 2007

I’m a lazy TV viewer. I don’t really have much in the way of appointment programming, and why should I when I can turn on the TV at any hour of the day and find an episode from the Law and Order franchise? But I have fallen hard for Pushing Daisies (ABC). Given that it’s like a live-action fusion of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and Antique Bakery, how could I not? Here are ten reasons I love it:

1. The structure. Like many of my favorite manga series, the show has a strong premise (a guy can raise the dead briefly without consequence, or permanently if he’s willing to allow something else to die in the resurrected creature’s stead), a predominantly episodic format, and enough strong subplots to round out the hour.

2. The dialogue. “Just because I keep a bottle of vodka in my freezer doesn’t mean I have to drink it. Oh, wait… Yes, it does.”

3. The setting. There should be more entertainments set in pie shops. When things like pears in a gruyere crust can come up organically in conversation, I am happy.

4. The premise. They deal with dead people. I have no resistance to this.

5. The ensemble. Not only is each member of the cast solid in his or her own right, they have terrific chemistry, no matter how you mix and match them. The writers manage to juggle everyone’s subplots well too, so you get a good dose of everyone in each episode.

6. The look. Everything is as color-saturated and artificial as a splashy movie musical from back in the day, and it’s really comforting to me. Also, I feel strangely flattered that they spent so much money on design instead of just taking a camcorder into some PA’s aunt’s apartment.

7. The narration. Oh, Jim Dale… I thought I would be reduced to obsessively replaying my Harry Potter audio books if I wanted to enjoy your gentle, witty readings. I’ll still do that anyways, but you’re pitch-perfect once again.

8. The tone. There’s an overall sunniness to things that’s appealing, but it might become too much if there weren’t darker undercurrents. There’s balance, which is always appreciated.

9. It feels like a musical. Beyond having major Broadway talent like Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen (Little Shop of Horrors) Greene, the show feels like it could burst into song at any moment. I’m glad it doesn’t, but I love that vibe. (And I really love that it had a quick scene of Chenoweth and Greene belting out “Birdhouse in Your Soul” as they drove along in a paneled station wagon. Get out of my head, show!)

10. Chenoweth: I know I sound like the most stereotypical Broadway-loving homosexual in the world, but she is just peerlessly fabulous, partly because I find her a little frightening. Her performances always combine manic energy and unpredictable comedy with this kind of spooky precision that gives everything more force without making it seem artificial. She’s impossible, in other words, and I’m so glad she finally has a TV role that’s worthy of her.


The Monday randomizer

October 15, 2007

I didn’t get around to putting together a Flipped column for this week. I read lots of horror manga, but I ended up being too paralyzed with fear to write about any of it! (Okay, the truth is I had a day-job event and a delightful houseguest. Sue me.)

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I also made oatmeal cookies, and after considerable scientific research and extensive comparison, I’ve decided that they just taste better with dried cranberries in them. Sorry, raisins, you dried fruit of the average palate. (I’ve never made them with dried blueberries or, dare I suggest it, dried cherries, so Craisins could be bumped off of the throne any week now.)

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Not long ago, I was pondering ‘tween-friendly musicals like Legally Blonde, and MTV was kind enough to broadcast a taped performance of the show. It was pretty awful, so of course I watched all of it. Aside from “Gay or European,” the songs were incredibly uninspired, and the performances were really competent but not quirky in the ways they needed to be to really sell the resolutely so-so material. The audience for the performance ate it up, though, cheering on cue like the center of the basketball team just walked on stage.

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I knew I wasn’t the only person who found the “Poor, Poor Tigra” stuff creepy, but there’s something incredibly reassuring about seeing that it also bothered Graeme McMillan. Not that I want him to be bothered, obviously, but you know what I mean.

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“This is the worst column ever by the way Chris. I’m going to build an underground railroad just to get you out of this column. To help you escape.”

— From Part 2 of Chris Mautner’s interview with Tom Spurgeon over at Blog@Newsarama.

It’s not true at all, obviously. If you want to see Spurgeon in action as a critic, he thoughtfully provides more comics reviews in a single weekend post than I seem to manage to write in a year. Not that I’m feeling inadequate or anything.

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Still on the subject of reviews I enjoyed reading, check out Katherine Dacey-Tsuei’s look at With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child over at Manga Recon.