Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cast Album Discoveries: The Toxic Avenger

In my first grouping of 10 cast recordings to listen to as part of this project, this was the only one that I just didn't like at all. With music and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan, The Toxic Avenger has a really dismal cast recording, with forgettable music and obvious, lowest-common-denominator lyrics. They're clearly trying to do something like the self-aware (and very funny) Evil Dead musical, but it all falls flat here, with incredibly predictable tunes that hinge entirely on having a third-grade sense of humor. (I've just looked up the writers of this musical and it turns out they also collaborated to write Memphis, which I don't know well but which has... won Tonys and stuff for being great. So apparently they do have some talent, it's just not on display here.)

The show is based on the 1984 movie, which I have never seen, and tells the story of a nerdy scientist trying to clean up the toxic waste from his state. He ultimately gets dumped into a vat of said toxic waste and develop superpowers. He falls in love, unseats a government conspiracy, and everything worked out.

As I said, though, this cast album is bad. I was looking forward to it because I often love campy sci fi stories, but these songs were so awful I was able to speed listen through this because after just one or two listens to a song, I could practically sing it back to you because they were so unoriginal there weren't any surprises.

Because of how unlikable this cast album is, I couldn't come up with a top five, but there is one song in the show that isn't as terrible as the rest. The one piece of "that's all right" in a pile of crap is the song "You Tore My Heart Out," whose lyrics are still pretty sloppy but not distractingly bad, and the melody is actually quite pretty. As a whole, however, the cast album is a mess and not worth listening to. At all. And I'm glad I never have to listen to it again.

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?