Monday, August 8, 2016

Cast Album Discoveries: 110 in the Shade

I've been doing a thing where I choose 10 different cast recordings for shows I don't know, add the first song from each to a playlist, and listen to that playlist until I'm ready to swap out some of the songs for the next one in the show. It lets me evaluate each song on its own without everything kind of blending together without dialogue to separate it out.

I just finished getting all the way through my first show for this project (though a second is coming up soon, as I only have two songs left). It was the 1963 musical 110 in the Shade. Most of the musicals I added to this list are very new, but this was a slightly older one I wanted to include. I'll post the Wikipedia plot synopsis here:

Based on Nash's 1954 play The Rainmaker, it focuses on Lizzie Curry, a spinster living on a ranch in the American southwest, and her relationships with local sheriff File, a cautious divorcé who fears being hurt again, and charismatic con man Bill Starbuck, posing as a rainmaker who promises the locals he can bring relief to the drought-stricken area.

The music is by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, best known for The Fantasticks, a musical I like very much. I didn't actually know this was by them until just now, so that was a fun little surprise.

I listened to the original Broadway cast starring Inga Swenson, Robert Horton, and Stephen Douglass. There is a 2007 revival starring Audra McDonald, but that version is not on Spotify, so I listened to the original. Here were my top five favorite songs from the album.

5. A Man and a Woman. There were a lot of songs in this show I was kind of indifferent to, and this is down closer to that spectrum, but I liked it enough that it made it into my top 5. It's a very pretty, sad song about lost love and possible future hope, and is definitely worth a listen for anyone who likes more traditional Broadway ballads.

4. Love, Don't Turn Away. If I'd listened to this show while I was first compiling my Unrequited Love Showtunes CDs, I would've had a great time with it. Of the two songs the show has in this vein, this is the more lighthearted one, a cheerful ditty about all the love she has to share. It's sweet and fun.

3. You're Not Foolin' Me. This song reminds me a lot of The Music Man. It could absolutely have been a song sung between Marian and Harold Hill, and I like it a lot. Both characters call each other out on the lies they're trying to live, and it becomes a great spirited duet between two strong characters.

2. Old Maid. Oh, man. While "Love, Don't Turn Away" is a sweet and fun song about hoping for love, this song is devastating in its hopelessness. The more operatic feel of classic Broadway musicals really suits this song, as it lends an air of theatrical tragedy to it rather than modern teenage angst. The verse about visiting extended family as "poor Aunt Lizzie" is truly heartbreaking.

1. Rain Song. This was the first song in the show that really gripped me, and it stayed one of my favorite. It's the song where Starbuck convinces the town that he can bring them rain within 24 hours if they pay him $100. For another comparison to The Music Man, this is this show's "76 Trombones," starting off with a cool, slinky jazz section and building to a religious revival feel as the whole town starts singing about the expected rain.

Any of you out there familiar with this show? If so, what are your favorite songs?

Friday, August 5, 2016

New Year's Resolution: August Check-In

I didn't even write this last month, so let's look at it over the past couple months and see how I've been doing. It's been an intensely busy and often stressful summer -- I've been challenged in... a lot of ways at work (all good things I needed to push myself to learn, but challenges are... well, challenging) and it hasn't always left me with much motivation to do anything else. So how am I doing on my resolutions so far, now that we're a little past the halfway mark?

Blogging Goal: Publish at least one blog (besides this one).
Well, I didn't publish that one in July, so that's kind of awkward. But I did post a separate one, which was kind of my goal. I put effort into writing an actual blog. That's a big deal. So I'm going to give myself a 10/10, because it was the first non-check-in blog I'd written since March. This month, I have lots of blog ideas rattling around in my head -- one of which will have already been published by the time this posts -- so I'm going to try to take advantage of that and aim for four blog posts this month. Roughly one a week. I have enough mental material to make it happen. It's just a matter of sitting down and pounding them out.

Health Goal: Get into the habit of taking my depression meds.
Well, no. This has been a tough one this month. I got a new phone and haven't yet set my new meds reminder, and I'm in that terrible place where when I'm feeling good I stupidly decide I don't need them and when I'm feeling bad I stupidly decide they won't help anyway and, honestly, I went to the doctor like four months ago and haven't taken them regularly enough to know if they do anything. Big fat 0 for this one. On the plus side of health in general, I am moving more frequently, thanks to Pokemon Go... but that wasn't my health goal for this month. I have to be smarter about that, so I'm going to make taking my depression meds my goal again because that's such a simple thing that I get so dumb about.

Movie Goal: Watch two movies at the theater in June.
Totally done! I've been averaging about a movie a week with MoviePass the last month or two, which is good. 10/10. I'd like to bump that up because every time I go see a movie, I think, "Oh, hey, turns out this is really relaxing for me. I need to do this more often." So I'm going to make a very weirdly specific goal. I want to go see a movie every time I plan to go see a movie. Too frequently I'll make plans and then chicken out at the last minute, and I know deep down that it'd be good for me if I just went for it. So no more chickening out. Not in August.

God Goal: Daily Bible study and prayer.
Wow, big progress in silly goals and no progress in this. 0/10. COME ON, HANNAH. LET'S DO THIS AGAIN.

Friends Goal: Send three faraway friends an encouraging message.
Yeah, I didn't so great on this. I think I might've done this spread out over both months, so let's say 5/10. This weekend I'll be off visiting some of those faraway friends, though, so I'm going to make a weirdly specific goal -- I'm going to be as present as I can for that weekend. It'll be at the end of a long week going into another long week, and I know it'll be tempting to fade away and introvert out. But I hardly ever see these people (one of them is someone I've been friends with for YEARS but will be meeting for the first time in real life!) so I want to make sure I take full advantage of my friend time and it will make me happier if I don't wimp out.

In June, I scored 24.5/50, and this month I'm at 25/50. That is slow but steady progress. I seriously want to fix this awful trend of me consistently scoring a zero in my God goals, though. We'll see if I can boost that up at least to a 1.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Movies This Month: July 2016

A feature I used to do back in the day and, hey, if I'm looking for things to blog about, this is a decent one. Here are all the new-to-me movies I watched in July and even mini-er versions of my mini reviews of them. Star ratings are out of 5.

The Railway Man (2013) - What started as a fairly generic little romance became actually a very moving story about revenge and forgiveness. It just could have been a lot more with less awkward framing. 3 stars.

How to Steal 2 Million (2011) - This is one of those movies that I kind of feel bad rating so low on my Flickchart, because it's actually a decent little crime movie, but nothing about it really stands out to me. 2 stars.

Beasts of No Nation (2015) - Oh, this is brutal. So difficult to watch but so engrossing and well-done. 4.5 stars.

I've Loved You So Long (2008) - Every so often a drama comes along where every scene is just interesting to watch because the characters are so engaging, they're acted so well, and the interactions ring so true. This is one of those movies. 4 stars.

Finding Dory (2016) - It was a fun ride and probably the best a sequel for Finding Nemo was likely to be, but it still wasn't good enough to justify its own existence. 3.5 stars.

Don Juan DeMarco (1994) - This movie was very reminiscent of The Fisher King, one of my favorite movies, but this one isn't nearly as good. The magic the movie is trying to capture just doesn't come through. 1 star.

Monsters (2010) - Impressive little film, but a worthy scriptwriter could have moved it up to being a very good one. 3 stars.

Maggie's Plan (2015) - It's hard to think of a recent movie that left less of an impression on me than this one. 1 star.

Paris, Texas (1984) - This was a really interesting movie and I'm glad I finally buckled down and watched it. My only complaint is that I wasn't quite sold on the ending. 3.5 stars.

The Secret Life of Pets (2016) - This movie was a massive disappointment. It could have been so great and then it sabotaged itself. 1.5 stars.

When I Walk (2013) - I like the meta-narrative here, of someone trying to make what they know will be their last movie before they fully lose their vision, but the idea of that narrative is unfortunately more interesting than the movie itself. I wish the film was better than this, but it's much flatter than the premise promises. 2.5 stars.

She Loves Me (2016) - It's a sweet little romantic comedy but at best it's a good production of a half-baked show. 2.5 stars.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) - There is a LOT going on in this movie, with a lot of characters and subtext to keep track of. It definitely left me feeling like there is a lot more beneath the surface. This is one that's going to take me awhile to process. 3.5 stars.

The Zen of Bennett (2012) - This is an awkward documentary in that it doesn't seem to be putting any effort in to actually giving us a glimpse of its subject's life or personality. I wish they'd focused more heavily on the music and left the rest alone. 2 stars.

What did you watch in July? Have you seen any of these?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Top 100: Rent

The Top 100 is a blog series where I rewatch and rerank the movies that were in my Flickchart top 100 at the beginning of the challenge. I'm watching them in a random order to be as unbiased as possible in terms of reranking.

It's been... a long time since I did one of these blogs. Frankly, that was because part of me was worried to rewatch this movie -- my original #44, Rent. I was a devout Rent-head as a late teen, early 20-something, and I still enjoy so much of the music, but in the back of my mind I kind of had an inkling that this was going to fall out of favor on a rewatch. But then I reminded myself that I thought the same thing about Beauty and the Beast and it ended up actually climbing two spots, so who knows?

Rent was the 2005 movie adaptation of one of Broadway's most-loved musicals. Its creator, Jonathan Larson, died tragically from a brain aneurysm on opening night, so he never got to see how much his show meant to so many people. It latched onto something in the culture and put that on stage with music, and it became a massive hit. The movie version came out nine years after the Broadway version hit and, with the exception of Tracie Thoms as Joanne and Rosario Dawson as Mimi, the entire Broadway cast reprised their roles.

It tells the year-long story (or possibly two years, I am always slightly confused by the chronology) of a group of broke friends in New York in 1989-1990. It's an eclectic group: a 19-year-old exotic dancer, a songwriter starved for great ideas, a philosophical hacker and his drag queen lover, an aspiring filmmaker still getting over a breakup, his flighty activist ex, and the down-to-earth woman she left him for. We also see glimpses of their former comrade who has married into money and now is firmly on "the other side," as far as they're concerned. Half the characters have AIDS, two of them are or were drug abusers, all of them have some great songs.

Before we get into the full review, here's my live-blogging take on it. As always, spoilers ahead!

  • Today I'll be watching Rent... seven months after my last Top 100 rewatch. It's time to get this show on the road again!
  • It's been awhile since I watched the movie... I have no idea if it'll grab hold of me the way it has in the past.
  • Turning off the subtitles. I know all the lyrics already and they're actually distracting me.
  • This movie is very visually dark. I can't even tell what's happening in this opening scene with Collins getting beaten up.
  • Wait, that's their only source of heat in NYC in December, and they just throw it out the window? That seems like a bad idea.
  • "Think twice before you pooh-pooh it." One of the most hilariously awful lyrics in all of musical theaterdom.
  • ...Am I at the stage of my life where I sympathize most with Benny?
  • I forgot they use "One Song Glory" to do Roger's back story. I think that works really well, actually.
  • The subtle actions happening throughout "Light My Candle" are almost impossible to distinguish because it's so visually dark. :-/
  • So far I'm not blown away, but my favorite songs are yet to come. We'll see if they rope me in more.
  • Rosario Dawson's "Out Tonight" is one of the highlights so far, for sure. She really captures the restlessness in the whole show.
  • The sound mixing in "Another Day" is weird.
  • I love the harmonies in "I'll Cover You."
  • That's such a touching moment when Roger realizes Mimi has AIDS too.
  • I forgot about the extremely uncomfortable setting for "Take Me Or Leave Me."
  • Whoa, hold up, Mimi and Benny had a thing "two years ago"? So when she was 17 and he was quite a bit more than 17? Not OK, Benny.
  • The movie figured out what to do with "Without You." The most boring song in the show becomes something very lovely.
  • Oh, man, that shot of Angel and Collins in the hospital bed. Heartbreaking.
  • "And sure enough, next year they'd be mass producing them..." But they've known Angel less than a year. This timeline is off.
  • Still think Jesse L. Martin's "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" is stunning. The rest of the movie no longer holds up, but, man, that scene.
  • "I'd be happy to die for a taste of what Angel had" - way to turn someone's tragic death into an opportunity to whine about your love life.
  • LOL, that dude just gave Roger money on the street but he wasn't even playing anything, just looking mopey with a guitar.
  • I forgot that Collins' happy ending is him just blatantly stealing money.

My initial thought was that this wasn't going to have quite the same impact that it did on me 5-10 years ago when I first fell in love with the show and then the movie came out. My initial thought was right. I still think nearly all of these songs are good on their own, and a few of them are even meaningful within the context of the movie, but I found, to my surprise, I didn't connect with any of these characters anymore. Roger is self-righteous and mopey, Mark is constantly indignant about basic adult things like having to pay rent and get a job, and, well, let's not forget that Maureen is the worst person ever and Joanne deserves so much better.

Collins and Angel are easily the most likable characters. Of all the people who could be indignant about the deal life's handed them, they cope with it the best. There's a reason everyone rallies around Angel's funeral toward the end -- Angel was possibly the only one who showed any compassion for anyone else. Everyone else is too wildly self-obsessed, too busy interpreting the line "No day like today" as "I shouldn't have to do anything I don't want to do." If anyone but Angel (and maybe Collins) had died at the end, would anyone have positive things to say about how they had impacted the world around them? No, probably not.

I'm not surprised that this worldview shifted for me. Even back when I loved Rent, I kind of sensed that I might grow out of it eventually. I will say, while the movie (and, I'm sure, the show) doesn't hold as well together narratively as well it used to, I still love the music. These are some incredible songs. And these are good performers performing them. The songs just primarily work best outside of the context of the show, with the exceptions of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" and "Will I?" and, to a lesser extent, "One Song Glory," all of which actually benefit from the plot in a way most of the others do not.

As a string of interesting songs, huge thumbs up. Everyone should buy the soundtrack. As a whole... not as successful. Certainly not successful enough to stay in my top 100.

So I guess let's kick it out.

vs. Harry and the Hendersons (1987) - An easy first choice. Rent takes this one. "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" is better than anything Harry and the Hendersons has to offer.

vs. The Artist (2011) - The Artist is a bit higher than it really should be. I admired it more than I liked it. It was bold and interesting but failed to really make an impact on me emotionally. While Rent doesn't make quite as big an impact on me as it used it, I still found moments of it very moving. Rent wins.

vs. Garden State (2004) - Another movie that is probably too high. I saw Garden State ages ago and it would probably drop significantly if I rewatched it. Rent is fortunate it ran up against this one. Last time, my third-choice movie was Whiplash, and I don't know if Rent would have won against Whiplash. It does here, though.

vs. Se7en (1995) - All right, here's where it stops. Ten years ago, Rent would win this easily (and clearly did when I began my Flickchart), but now I'd rank it below. The Rent soundtrack still goes above Se7en, but we're not ranking soundtracks versus movies, so Se7en wins and bumps Rent down to #156.

vs. Horrible Bosses (2011) - ...Well, this is kind of awkward. I don't know which to pick. Both have high highs and some pretty draggy lows. I think Rent has fewer draggy lows, thanks to its music, so I guess it goes above Horrible Bosses for now. I'm not sure that's the right choice, but it's where it goes.

vs. The Cabin in the Woods (2012) - One of the most amazingly creative movies I've ever seen. Sorry, Rent, you are going down to #194.

vs. 28 Days Later... (2002) - We're getting quite a lot of horror movies pitted against Rent. I think a lot of 28 Days Later's strength is in its first 20 minutes or so, which are spectacular, but not quite as spectacular as Rent's best moments. Rent wins.

vs. Seven Psychopaths (2012) - I'm one of the few people I know who preferred this to In Bruges. I think it's funnier, more profound, and has better acting. It's also funnier, more profound, and has better acting than Rent, which now drops to #203.

vs. Conspiracy Theory (1997) - This was one of the earliest thrillers I remember watching with my dad when I first started getting seriously into movies, and I still think it's a lot of fun, but I think I have to give the point to Rent here.

vs. Sabrina (1995) - Oh, this is a tough call for me. I love the remake of Sabrina. I haven't seen it in awhile, but I suspect that if I were to rewatch this today, it'd still have the same impact on me, whereas Rent definitely diminished. I think because of that I am going to give Sabrina the point.

This drops Rent from #44 to #205, which feels about right. I can't drop it too far out of the top of my movies. I loved it so much 10 years ago, and even if I don't connect with the characters anymore, there's still the matter of how incredible the music is. Seriously, people. Buy the soundtrack. Buy it now. And then learn all the words to "La Vie Boheme" and feel cool.

It's time to choose my next movie from The Top 100, which I will be writing about definitely no earlier than July 20, but probably significantly later. Did you see how long it took me to do this one? Anyway, next time's Top 100 movie is my original #21, West Side Story (1961). Rewatch it along with me or watch it for the first time and you can chime in with your comments when I finally get around to reviewing it.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

New Year's Resolution: June Check-In

So... I did slightly better than last month. Which is good, because last month was miserable and made me miserable and I was like, "I CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS, YES, I CAN," so I tried and made a tiny difference. So let's check in.

Blogging Goal: Publish at least one blog (besides this one) in May.
Well, obviously I didn't do that, but I started two of them. I just never finished them. But that is better than I've been doing, so I'm going to give myself 5/10. Writing half a post is half as good as writing and publishing a post, so I WILL TAKE those five points and make the same goal again - one blog besides this one for June. Maybe I'll finish one of those blogs I started writing before.

Health Goal: Get into the habit of taking my depression meds.
I did so much better on this this month than last month. I'd say about 7/10 frequency. Now if I do this for another month they might actually be in my system long enough to make a difference, so I'm going to keep working on taking my meds every day and maybe there'll be a difference in next month's check-in.

Movie Goal: See one movie a week with MoviePass.
Such good intentions, such failure. I only saw one, and, in fact, this was my lowest movie-watching month in a long time. 2.5/10. Let me slightly alter this for next month because this is silly. Watch two movies at the theater in June. There.

God Goal: Daily Bible study and prayer.
I made a little progress in all my other goals, but nothing here. 0/10. Gross. I want to push this one to the top of my priority list because I really do think this is a big deal, so I'm going to yet again, make this my goal for June.

Friends Goal: Send an encouraging message to three faraway friends.
I DID THIS ONE. 10/10 for the first time all year. And I liked this, so I'm keeping it as my goal again this month. Send three faraway friends an encouraging message.

After a score of 9/50 for all of April, May is a bit of a boost. I got 24.5/50. That is almost halfway there. That is a HUGE jump up. That is excellent, but I'm going to keep my goals small this upcoming month so as to not rock the both. I especially want to focus on the God goal, since I've been doing so, so badly on that, and the health goal, since I'm afraid I'll get out of sync and stop taking meds again and undo all the progress.

Let's tackle June and hope it's another step forward.

Friday, May 13, 2016

New Year's Resolution: May Check-In

It’s almost halfway through May and I haven’t written this… partly I just really haven’t wanted to because I failed miserably in April. Let’s look at what my goals were last month, shall we?

Blogging Goal: Publish at least three April blogs.
Nope. Didn’t do this. I suppose technically I posted one at least when I posted my April check in, so I guess I’ll give myself a 3/10, but overall I just did not use my spare time wisely. We’re going to try again. I only have a few weeks left in May, but I’d like to publish at least one blog (besides this one) in May.

Health Goal: Get into the habit of taking my depression meds.
Nope. Didn’t do this. Like, at all. 0/10. And when depression started kicking me in the face this month, all I could think was, “Well, I’m not taking my meds and I’m not scheduling therapist visits, so I guess this is what I deserve,” which is not a particularly helpful method of thinking. So we’re going to adjust that and try again. Start taking my depression meds, dang it. 

Movie Goal: Use my MoviePass to see at least one movie a week.
Nope. I saw one. So… 3/10. And I’m actually watching a decent amount of movies otherwise, so I’m going to try this goal again. Persistence! See one movie a week with MoviePass. I already watched one last week, so that’s one down, three to go!

God Goal: Daily Bible study and prayer.
Wanna guess how this one went? Yeah, nothing. 0/10. This is my goal again. I feel like anything else I work on here is just going to be patching holes unless I can get into a regular God habit again, period.

Friends Goal: Have a one-on-one conversation with five faraway friends.
Yeah, I don’t know how to rank this one. On the plus side, I DID have a few conversations with faraway friends… but that was really only because I got to see them in person. I also had a few weeks where I felt so overwhelmed with loneliness for my faraway friends that I cut all contact off with them entirely because it made me too sad to talk to them. So that’s useful. I almost want to take off points for that because I undid anything I was trying to do. So we’ll compromise and give me a 3/10. I like this goal, though, and I feel it’s achievable, but I’m going to simplify it in case my jerkbrain goes crazy at me again this month. Send an encouraging message to three faraway friends. There. I should be able to do that.

April was rough, folks. 9/10. I seem to be doing worse every month, which is... not helpful, and pretty discouraging. But right now I’m going go to go get started on my blogging goal, because I CAN DO THAT RIGHT NOW RIGHT THIS MINUTE, and I can do medication and Bible study tonight, and I can message someone I care about to let them know I love them, and if I do all that I’ll already be doing better than I did last month. Right now my threshold is so low that I can do just about anything and boost it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

New Year's Resolutions: April Check-In

Time to check in and see how my goals are doing, as well as make some new ones for the month.

Blogging goal: Get two blog posts written and published during March. I NAILED this one. I had a sudden burst of things to say and managed not three blog posts this month, but five. Whoo! Clear 10/10. I don't want to overextend myself in April, so I'm going to keep a similar goal: publish at least three April blogs.

Health goal: Take care of lingering physical problems. Specifically, arthritis and depression. This is the goal I'm proudest of attaining, since these were both giant things hanging over my head. 10/10. Now, however, while I went to a doctor about depression, I'm having real trouble taking my medication regularly. So my goal for April is simple: get into the habit of taking my depression meds. I'll be setting alarms. I'd also like to gym this month and stay away from fast food but I've got a chunk of time mid-month when I'm going to be out of town, and those other two goals will be tougher to stick to then, so I'm not making them official goals.

Movie goal: Watch Bridge of Spies. Hahaha... Of course, the simplest goal I have was the one I failed most. 0/10. I think rather than just renew that failed goal, I want to return to a more pressing one. I've hardly used my MoviePass at all this past month. So my goal is to use my MoviePass to see at least one movie a week. Simple, and I can do it.

God goal: Daily Bible study and prayer. Wow, why do I suck at this so much? I did this a couple times, so I suppose 1/10, but wow. I need to step it up. This is my goal again because I think it's important and totally achievable.

Friends goal: Contact the ladies on my reconnection list. Yup. A big fat 0/10. Again. I'm not sure why I'm sucking so much at this either. But we're revamping. Since the official ordered plan for reconnecting is not working for me, I'd just like to have a one on one conversation with five far away friends. That is something I know I can do.

The few things I accomplished this month were BIG accomplishments, but they kind of took over my life and I only scored 11/50 which is, I think, my lowest score yet. Gross. The last two items are really where I've consistently failed the most, so I want to focus a bit more this month on getting those done.

Hoping for a healthier, happier month than March was for me.