Wednesday, January 30, 2013
The festival commenced on Jan 25th with a pair of one acts, followed by a series of 10 minute plays on Saturday afternoon, and concluding that night with another 10 minute play and two more one acts.
Held in the Epic Center in downtown Kalamazoo, the black box theatre was packed from wall to wall with people. Sometimes theatre is criticized for being pretentious or elitist, and sometimes it is, but the TKNP couldn't have felt more organic. Instead of feeling like a production, it felt like being a part of a giant writing workshop.
In an effort to encourage the contributing artists to make changes to their plays, the actors read from scripts that were, in some cases, printed out within hours of being read. No lines to memorize, not much in the way of costumes, and the set design was a whisker above minimalist. The lack of production value gave a folksy atmosphere that was a much appreciated break from the whole suit and tie affair that so often encompasses a night of theatre.
Following each performance the audience was encouraged to stay for a half hour talkback with the playwrights, mediated by Ed Menta, theatre professor at Kalamazoo College, and Steve Feffer of WMU. The talkbacks were used as an opportunity for the writers to learn what worked and what was less effective in their plays. Some interesting opinions were aired, but Menta and Feffer kept things going smoothly.
With an admission fee of zero dollars, you get exactly what you pay for. Or rather, you don't lose anything. Why not go downtown, eat a nice dinner, drink a few glasses of good wine, and spend a few hours watching some plays. The TKNP is the perfect excuse to have a good time, and it would be hard not to.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
In documentaries, as in life, things don't always go as planned. “The Queen of Versailles” begins with David Siegel, founder and owner of Westgate Resorts, the largest time share company in the world. He and his wife Jackie are in the process of building the largest single family home in the United States, which they have designed in the image of the palace of Versailles.
On a technical level, the film is mediocre. The cameras are sometimes shaky and amateur, but is a small price to pay for such an intimate perspective of the Siegel family and the real life conflicts they find themselves in.
In a series of dramatic twists the family finds it's fortune in jeopardy, and the struggles that emerge between Jackie, David, and his business have all the drama of a Chekhov play, and all the tension of an episode of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour”. “The Queen of Versailles” follows the decline of the American equivalent of royalty through a stunningly profound examination of the stock market crash of 2008.
Despite being a non-fiction piece, “The Queen of Versailles” could have just as easily been written by a team of first class scriptwriters. The Palace of Versailles previous occupant went from the top to the bottom, as David Siegel does in the 100 minute run time. This historical connection makes for a compelling storyline, put into an exciting historical context.
Sometimes Jackie, David's second wife, is easy to laugh at. She appears to be an out of touch aristocrat when she asks the rent a car representative about a chauffeur. But at other times she shows herself to be an intelligent, determined woman who cares very much about her children and her family. When their marriage goes from richer to poorer it is Jackie, not David who goes to the greatest lengths to keep their family together.
By personalizing (I hate to use the phrase) “one per-centers” the film almost asks for pity unto a man who climbed to the very top of the mountain only to fall off the peak. While at the same time sometimes painfully exposes weaknesses and faults that transcend class lines. In an age when the public tweets for a revolution, it is easy to forget that no one lives without a struggle. “The Queen of Versailles” exposes consequences to the dark side of achieving the American dream.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
This. Is. Awesome. Here I was minding my own business on my computer and then this little video comes across my screen, and my life was never the same. In blissful ignorance I lived my life thinking giraffes were long-necked leaf eaters who roamed the savannah. But after seeing this I don't know if going on Safari is such a good idea.
It's not that I'm surprised they fight, all animals fight. I don't get teary eyed when the stealthy crocodile gets his jaws around the gazelle quietly drinking from the lake on those BBC documentaries narrated by Richard Attenborough. But this is just dirty!
I didn't know Giraffes were allowed to attend the Cobra Kai dojo. The way they flail their necks into the others knees, like some freakish car lot sales gimmick.
It's clear to me now that giraffes are not the peaceful, gentle giants I thought they were. The first thing that came to mind when I watched this the first time was the scene in the Karate Kid where poor Ralph Macchio gets his leg swept by the guy from Cobra Kai.
To assume makes an ass of u and me, but I don't think these giraffes give a damn about your assumptions. They'll kick your ass six ways to Thursday, so don't get in their way.
Jon Caramanica is no stranger to the state of affairs in the rap world. As the music editor of Vibe magazine, a bi-monthly publication dedicated to rap, hip-hop, and R&B, Mr Caramancia has witnessed the rise of many a young rapper.
In an article published January 17th, 2013, in the New York Times arts and culture section, he turns his attention to Harlem based rapper Rakim Mayers, better known as A$AP Rocky.
The A$AP acronym Rocky adopted stands for; Always Strive and Prosper, Assassinating Snitches and Police, or Acronym Symbolizing any Purpose, depending on who you ask. The ambiguity surrounding his moniker is a reflection of his own pioneering style, from the thinly veiled double-entendres in “Cockiness” to the the Marty Mcfly references in “Back to the Future”.
A$AP prefers “how words sound rather than what they say”. Even so, he exhibits a mastery of language, exemplified in his latest album, “Long.Live.A$AP”. Being his first major label release, A$AP has made the leap from releasing obscure mix tapes online to becoming one of the most promising young rappers in the game.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
For a musical, Les Miserables attracted a lot of attention to itself for a very long time. Premiering on Christmas day, underpaid teens across the country were mopping theater floors flooded with tears. Who wouldn't be crying after 157 minutes of sitting?
Les Miserables needed to decide what it wanted to be. It hyped itself as a musical, but with actors instead of singers. Janitors clean, writers write, and actors act. It's what they're best at, actually. Actors can take a script and bring it to life, but in a musical the script is a lyric sheet. It seems that if the entire movie needs to be sung, that singers should be the ones doing it.
Not to take anything away from the performances of Hathaway and Jackman, both of which exceeded my, albeit low, expectations. Even Russel Crow gave a valiant effort, but there's no point to using actors if the camera is just going to be trained on their mouths while they sing, no matter how attractive or famous they are.
Victor Hugo didn't write a musical; he wrote a very dense and very long book. Which was then adapted into a musical for stage, and then again into a movie. The problem is, film is a completely different medium than the stage, and director Tom Hooper didn't incorporate nearly enough creative camerawork to keep it exciting. The shots were long, slow, and as a result the movie was too.
There's nothing inherently wrong with adaptations. If Lord of the Rings has taught us anything it is that great epic books can be great epic movies too. Great epic movies with all star casts win Oscars. However, Le Mis lacks the core elements of cinema that make it such an entertaining medium.
At least when watching it on stage the audience gets an intermission to stretch their legs. The singing wasn't phenomenal, but it was good enough for Hollywood. The acting was first class, but poor cinematography made it difficult to appreciate. In five years Le Mis the film will disappear into the obscurity, while both the book and musical will retain their rightful place in history.
Monday, January 14, 2013
For a musical Les Miserables attracted a lot of attention to itself for a very long time. I sat in the packed theater with my Aunt on Christmas Day and watched her wipe streams of tears from her eyes for forty-five minutes. I couldn't blame her though, it is a tragic story. The characters are well developed and have compelling stories to tell. And the all star cast delivers professional performances. In fact lately I've enjoyed watching several videos of people crying in the after seeing it. (actually crying.)
Les Miserables needed to decide what it wanted to be, it hyped itself as a musical, but with actors instead of singers. Janitors clean, writers write, and actors act. It's what their best at, actually. Actors can take a script and bring it to life, but in a musical the script is also a lyric sheet. If the entire movie is going to be sung, it is my preference that it were sung by singers.
Not to take anything away from the performances of Hatheway and Jackman both of which exceeded my expectations. Even Russel Crow gave a valiant effort, but if you're going to use actors, let them act! But there's no point to using actors if the camera is just going to be trained on their mouths while they sing. I was almost physically uncomfortable being on a two minute shot of Fantine falling from grace.
Constantly I was getting bored of seeing the same people doing the same thing for such a long time. At least on stage you get an intermission to stretch your legs. The slow camerawork results in a slow movie.
Victor Hugo didn't write a musical, he wrote a very dense and very long epic. If Lord of the Rings has taught us anything it is that great epic stories can be great epic movies. Great epic movies with all star casts deserve Oscars. However, historical fiction love story adapted to a stage musical and then into film don't.
If you like tragedy, go see it, you'll leave in tears. If you like musicals, go see it, you'll leave whistling the soundtrack. If you like movies, you might be disappointed, and leaving the theater with the feeling that a hole has been burned in your pocket.