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.


Tyranny of the tween

October 2, 2007

If you’ve ever bemoaned the apparent demographic homogeneity of the manga selection at your local bookstore, you might find sympathy from an unexpected source: Broadway. This New York Times article looks at the Great White Way’s new target market of choice, the tween.

“Increasingly, though, some worry that the sugar-and-spice enthusiasm may be misplaced, because while teenagers and tweens may be helpful in creating a hit, they are far from enough to ensure one. For that, you still need grown-ups — lots of paying grown-ups — to want to come to a show.

“Indeed, the producers of these new shows, as well as those of the $10 million ‘Legally Blonde,’ say they are hoping for a general audience, teenagers and tweens included. ‘Repeat business among that group is a big deal and does help you,’ said Bob Boyett, a producer of ‘13.’ ‘But you have to go for a broad audience.’”

It’s not a perfect comparison, I know, given the vast differences in method of distribution (thousands of chain stores across the nation versus a couple of blocks in Manhattan). But I did find some of the points in common kind of interesting.

Oh, and I’m sure somebody’s already got one in development, but why is it taking so long for somebody to mount a musical version of Bring It On?


Off Broadway

September 3, 2007

My partner has XM Radio in his car, and it generally makes for amusing channel surfing. There are black clouds on the satellite radio horizon, though. The darkest is the On Broadway channel.

I’m a big musical geek, but man, is the On Broadway programming bad. With decades of likable music to add to the rotation, the On Broadway sadists seem focused entirely on the deservedly obscure, shows that bombed for reasons that become intuitively obvious when you hear parts of their score.

Equally irritating is their tendency to pick flop songs from good shows, numbers that you skip over while listening to the CD either because they aren’t up to the rest of the score’s standard or because they don’t really work in recorded form, relying on stage business. Middling orchestrations that serve well enough when a bunch of people are dancing don’t really make the cut for listeners who just want to stay awake while driving through southwestern Pennsylvania. But On Broadway loves them and plays them all the time.

Then there are the revival recordings of shows made famous by the original cast. Like Mandy Patankin and Bernadette Peters in Sunday in the Park with George? Hold on to those fond memories and change the channel quickly before you hear any of the version On Broadway is playing.

I really don’t know what their standards are. I suspect that they sit with a stack of CDs and try and find the numbers that would make you decide to sneak out to the bathroom if you were seeing the show live.


A song in my nerd heart

July 31, 2007

John Jakala’s discovery of the Bleach musical, beyond being conceptually delightful for its own sake, fills me with cross-nerd wishes. (I love musicals, too.) And I can’t think of a likelier source for an evening of song and dance than the works of Fumi Yoshinaga.

Her stories, particularly Antique Bakery and Flower of Life, are practically musicals already. They’re packed with intriguing characters with distinct voices, they shift in tone from ballad to patter, and they have a quirky improbability that would make for an easy transition from one form to another.

I can’t really think of a composer/lyricist right off hand. Sondheim seems too dark, though if he were in A Little Night Music mode, he might be just right. (Speaking of that, how come we have 7,000 revivals of Gypsy and none for Night Music? Is it because the lead in Night Music doesn’t really need to sing?) The creative team from Avenue Q might be closer to the mark, if they could tone down their satirical tendencies and accentuate their warmer, more humanist tendencies.

Of course, Kaoru Mori’s Emma is at an advantage, already having dancing girls. But surely there’s room on Broadway for both. And you could probably produce about four of Yoshinaga’s contemporary pieces for the cost of a costume epic like Emma.

And you could hardly go wrong with the work of Ai Yazawa. Paradise Kiss has “pop opera” written all over it, and Nana could draw in the Wicked crowd with its strong female friendships, but with a rock score.