Saturday, December 27, 2014

Into the Woods...The Time is Now!

I have to admit Into the Woods is one of my favorite musicals. It's probably right up there with Sweeney Todd. Both are Stephen Sondheim musicals and both are what I'd call on the more dark and disturbing side.

Now when I heard that they were making Into the Woods into a movie with Rob Marshall at the helm I was very skeptical in my option the man killed Chicago and to this day I refuse to watch it. I also had some concerns over the casting. Not so much Meryl Streep(although her last musical movie performance left little to desire) but Johnny Depp as the wolf, bothered me only because I felt he was put into the movie bc Marshall had previously worked with him on POTC On Stranger Tides and bc he was the lead in Sweeney Todd..something about the casting felt off. Although the decision to recast Little Red as a girl who's a little older did in my option work very well. Normally she's played by a young 20 something.

But I love this show and I love the music. It's just beautiful and in some cases so tongue and cheek (Agony) it's hard not to love it. So I settled in for my first movie in a new state.

First off the set design and costumes were amazing. I know they were on a sound stage but I felt like they were in the woods. And I have to say the casting turned out to be spot on. I really do see an Oscar nomination coming to Streep for her performance of the witch. And what I think worked so well was the music for the part originally played by Bernadette Peters fit Streep's vocal range so well she truly sounded wonderful. And she owned that role. It's hard not to want and see the witch as Peters, but this is not the stage version and Peters and Streep are in two different acting categories it wouldn't be fair to want a Peters performance. I loved every moment Streep was on the screen. And when she's singing to Rupenzel (Stay with Me) the emotion and feeling Streep gave was incredible. You find yourself sympathizing for this woman who in all honesty is as selfish as the rest of the characters. You see weakness if only for a split second you see vulnerability and it's beautiful.

I have seen several productions of Into the Woods and in all them Jack has been my least favorite. I have never really liked his song Giants in the Sky and have always found the kid who's cast as Jack to be annoying and in need of a good smack in the back of the head. But the kid they cast Daniel Huttlestone was great. I loved his voice and for the first time I really enjoyed Giants in the Sky. He didn't come off as this annoying little kid, he was more of a little shit who loved adventure..wanted to please his mother(Tracy Ullman who in the end could never really find the happiness she wanted despite her new riches) and got too greedy causing the entire kingdom to suffer for it. And I loved every minute of it.

Another shock was Chris Pine as Cinderella's Prince. WHO KNEW HE COULD SING!!! And because it's Chris Pine he's version of Agony is out of the world hysterical and ridiculous and everything I want in my Prince Charming. (Agony is sung great and acted even better by both princes)

Now because it's Disney some of the more adult themes were played down, some of the deaths were implied, but they did for the most part stick to the stage version. I was glad to see they didn't cut out or change any of Little Reds stuff with the wolf..although unpleasant to think about predators and our children, it's an important plot point for the Baker in his ability to grow and change while on his journey.

If you are not a musical person )and I understand sitting though a musical can be rough at times) trust me when I say like Sweeney Todd this is not your typical musical. Yes there is singing but there are no look everyone made it to the town meeting so we can learn to dance numbers. It's fun and different and a little dark. I was disappointed the Agony reprise was not in the film as it's as funny as the first with both Princes board with marriage and looking for the two sleeping princesses in the woods(Snow White/Sleeping Beauty) but the movie is not ruined without it. I'd say what was taken out the act one finale and some others did not hurt the film. The only people who will miss them are those who know the show.

Don't be surprised to see a few of these actors Emily Blunt, Streep and others on the red carpet for the Oscars. I can see Oscar nominations in their future. So if you have some free time go see Into the Woods and you'll be Happily Ever After!    

Friday, September 5, 2014

700 Sundays

I can't say I have the best relationship with my father, or that my family and I and I are so close I can recall so many memories of great family gatherings. Sadly that's not that case in my life. However, I can't even imagine knowing that I only got spend 700 Sundays with my father. 700 Sundays, in all honestly that's not that much and for actor/comedian Billy Crystal that's exactly what he got, 700 Sundays with is dad before tragedy hit and everything changed.

I had heard about Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays, his one man show in passing, hearing it was about his family and the time he spent with his father, but I never really thought about it. I mean 700 seemed like a lot and it never occurred to me there was something there beyond the laughter that made the man who he was. It wasn't until I saw his show was nominated for an Emmy this year. It didn't win (should have in my opinion) and one night as I had gotten home from work, late once again I need something to do something to watch and since all the shows were reruns and I need a laugh I looked to see if I could find different.

I hadn't started looking for it. I was looking for Artifact the documentary on Thirty Seconds of Mars, but HBO didn't have that, but there it was sticking out at me and a light bulb just went off and before I new it I was sitting back and watching 700 Sundays. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't even know what it was about and I didn't expect the show to start in a house with Crystal narrating. But I figured it could only get better.

It didn't take long before it got better. Crystal came out on stage and I quickly understood why he was inside a home, it was the background of his show, the setting of his childhood, where he started his career and got his first laughs. The show really talks about how Crystal's family all those wacky relatives, his mom his dad and some great famous jazz artist shaped him. People like Billie Holiday who took little billy to his first movie. And Louis Armstrong who had Seder dinner with them and was asked by  his grandmother if he'd ever tried just hacking it up. All these people made him who he was.

But in the middle of all that greatness and there are some great moments in this show, moments that make you laugh so hard you cry and choke especially being Jewish I can relate to many of the situations and issues he dealt with because hey every Jewish family has a few nuts. But really at the heart of this who show is his father and there it was right there in front of me the real meaning of 700 Sundays. Billy Crystal lost his dad when he was 15 years old. He died of a heart attack while out with his mother bowling one night, after having an argument with Billy over of all things a girl. Something so trivial and yet so normal for a 15 year old to fight about with his parents. Yet because that fight and the words that came out of Crystals mouth to his dad would be the last he ever spoke to him they'd weigh heavy on him for a very long time. And it all made sense at that moment 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal only got 700 Sundays with his dad no more no less.

We don't count the times we spend with our parents. We don't even think about it. When we're younger we want nothing more to be with our parents. They are our hero's they can do no wrong and we worship the ground the walk on. The make us laugh, they fix out cuts and bruises and they are the only ones who understand out pain. They fight the monsters under the bed and in the closest and keep us safe. We never see them struggle or worry. We just see them as perfect. Then one day out of nowhere it's like a totally new person takes over. Our parents are no longer cool, they no longer understand what we are all about and they are keeping us from discovering the world. We don't see them as protecting us just smothering us and we resent them.

For many we never go through what Crystal did and we should be grateful. We might have divorced parents, or friends who have lost parents but we've never personally lost a parent and out rebellious teenage acts are laughed at and made up for as young adults when we once again find our parents not so bad. But at that moment in the show when Crystal is talking about losing his dad I realized he'd only gotten 700 Sundays with him. I've gotten more than that with my dad, they might not have been wonderful or even memorable but I got them and still have them and perhaps that's the point. Crystal was close with his family and his father was someone special a father who encouraged and helped his sons become who they wanted to be. I wish my father was like that. Someone who encouraged and supported me like that. But for Crystal in those 700 Sundays no matter how short they were they were filled with happy memories and lessons learned.

I guess that's what I took away from his show. Don't regret what you don't have. Embrace what you do and make the most out of life. You never know when something will happen to completely throw you off course. Crystal got 700 Sundays with his dad. Many of use will get many more. Even if it's just a simple phone call or lunch make an effort to be there be present and when you have kids be the rock they need and the support system to encourage them to go after their dreams.

I highly recommend 700 Sundays. It's a must see.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Rio 2: A True Family Adventure

I'm lucky to be apart of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program here in Galesburg and that means I finally have someone to go with to all those kids movies. So the other weekend I took my little to see Rio 2. We both liked the first one and decided it would be a nice rainy day activity. 

The movie finds Blu(Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel(Anne Hathaway) are parents, living happily in the confines of Rio with their friends. It starts on New Years eve and in typical fashion Blu is hyper-concerned over the care of his little ones. It seems all those who volunteered to watch their kids have made their way to the fiesta and the kids have been left with the last bird around, who has been tied to a fire work and about to be shot into the air. 

This is just the beginning of what seems to be Jewel's biggest issue with living in the City. It seems Blu has in a work domesticated his children or in a sense turned them into pets. They eat human food, listen to ipods and even watch tv. But when Jewel hears about the discovery of a Blue Macaw family living on the Amazon. This leads to Jewel and the family to fly from Rio to the Amazon to find if the rumor's true. 

Like with most kids movies there's a lot to love and laugh about. There's danger and bad guys as Nigel(Jemaine Clement) and his new sidekick Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth) the frog who's in love with him. Both are looking for Blu and to end his world and you'll just have to see the movie to see what happen.

Over all the movie was very cute and the music was great with Jamie Fox and Will-I Am taking most of the vocal leads. It's also a great story about earth conservation and saving out rain forests and the importance of keeping our natural resources in check. So outside of the kid friendliness of the movie it's also a great learning tool about the environment.   

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

American Horror Story (One Witchy Mess)

I like many people were very excited for another season of American Horror Story.  What could be better than this years season taking place in New Orleans and involved witches and voodoo!  The show actually shot on location in New Orleans, a place that is rooted with a ton of history both living and dead yet 90 percent of the show was inside the school. A lost opportunity in my opinion.

Before the show even started its third season there was tons of chatter about how amazing it was going to be, how this was the best season yet. A story line filled with magic and mystery and sassy all in the style of AHS! Perhaps the hype was just too much, creating a false idea of what I thought was going to clearly and easily be the best show on television and the best season yet!

I will say the season started off very strong. The first episode was creepy and interesting and I was really excited to see where this was going. You have witches, voodoo priestess and a feud. You mix that in with a witch hunter and some new witch students with some very interesting unrefined witchy powers. But at least my interest did not stay peeked and in fact more questions were raised.

For one the whole story line with Kyle and Zoey. That seemed so forced. She met him once and well hello her little issue with sex would make any relationship impossible, yet she seemed to think he would be her knight in shinning armor making all her issues go away, however he had to die in order for her to have any really physical relationship. Kyle's whole back story was very limited yet they opened the door to a past that was dark and creepy and they never went down that road or provided any clarity.

I do have to say the story line with Kathy Bates as Madame Delhine LaLaurie was very entertaining and very interesting, but it sort of felt thrown in and added little to no plot propulsion.

The plot just seemed to not go anywhere and although I kept turing in in the hope things would really take off it just fell flat and short. I am interested to see who's asked back for the forth season and what the story maybe, but I think we have to call this years AHS Coven a mulligan and move on in the hopes next season will be beyond amazing.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


First off I'd like to say I'm not a fan of amusement parks such as Sea World and zoos. Although I have been to zoos in my life I have always struggled with the idea of animals behind cages and not being able to fully live in their own natural habitat. So when I heard there was a documentary that exposed Sea World and their nasty little secrete about the Orcas and the number of incidents surrounding their aggressive behavior.

Blackfish tells the story of Tillikum the biggest Orca Whale in captivity weighing in at 12-thousand pounds. This guy is massive and his strength and girth is very visible from the moment you see him.

To truly understand Tillikum issues you have to go all the way back to the moment he was captured back in the 70's for a park called Sea Land in British Columbia. Tillikum was 2 years old when he was ripped from his mother and is family unit and taken into captivity at Sea Land. Sea Land had no business what so ever being in business. Sea Land trainers even referred to the habitat as a swimming pool with whales. Tillikum's issues started the moment he was dropped into this small pool with two female Orca's. Tillikum's first trainer decided the best way to train the new Orca was to pair him with one of the older females. The problem was when Tillikum didn't perform as instructed the trainer would withhold food from him and the female. This lead the female to get extremely aggressive with Tillikum raking her teeth across his body causing cuts and scratches all over. Tillikum was abused from day one and all three whales where forced into a small inclose with no light for hours and hours unless they were out performing.  It was at Sea Land the first attack by Tillikum happen. When a trainer's foot slipped into the pool and Tillikum grabbed on. The two other female whales followed suit and as the trainer screamed for help witnesses said she was heard screaming "I don't want to die." It was reported that no one knew for sure which whale actually took ahold of the trainer's foot and the blame fell on the two females. Shortly after the incident Sea Land closed and Sea World was more than happy to snatch Tillikum up.

Tillikum made his way to Sea World and trainers who worked with him and a number of other Orca's say they were never told the truth behind the first attack at Sea Land and were in fact told it was the females who instigated the attack.  This was the beginning of a new chapter for Tillikum and it wouldn't be the last time his aggression would come back and cause issue. But in truth Tillikum isn't the only Sea World Orca to attack someone. Other trainers have had their legs snatched and dragged down to the bottom of the pool. There is video of trainers being body slammed by the giant creatures. In fact one incident caught on tape show a trainer riding a whale as another whale comes out of nowhere and throws his body on top if the trainer. A former Sea World trainer said the only thing keeping that trainers body together was his wetsuit and today his body is put together by a ton of hardware. But that incident that video was never shown to new trainers. They were never warned something like this could happen.

This documentary is heart breaking. Tillikum was basically bought for breading purposes. There are two births highlighted in the film. When Orcas have calf's, mom and baby are inseparable. This behavior didn't work for Sea World and was in fact found to be a distraction. So the babies were taken from the mothers and given to other parks. Watching the mothers cry out for their young was unbearable to watch. Orca behavior is extremely similar to human behavior, in fact Orca whales live the same life span as human beings. The film points out Sea World trained their staff to tell visitors that these creatures lives for 25-30 years in the wild, but in captivity they live longer because they have access to veterinarians. This is not true and Orca researchers will tell you this is a bold face lie.

Like most kids I though swimming with the Dolphins and Whales would be the coolest job ever. But I was always under the impression he trainers had to have degrees in marine biology and understand the behavior or such animals. Turns out that's not so much the case at Sea World. I can not speak to other places since this file focused on Sea World. But apparently to be a trainer at Sea World all the skills you need is a great ability to swim, be physically fit and have a personality that can entertain the masses. So basically anyone can train these giant animals regardless of your background.

As I watched this film it struck me. This a great case for nature verses nurture. These animals are caged in spaces that are too small. They have no where to go. In the case of Tillikum, form the time he was introduced to humans he was beaten up and treated like he was just a tool to make money. It's no wonder there were several cases where he lashed out.

After the incident in 2010 where Tillikum attacked and killed his trainer, Tillikum is kept in isolation. You can see video of him alone and depressed. It's almost as if he don't have the will to live. According to Sea World, Tillikum is still performing and gets to interact with the other Orcas. Who know much of that is true.  It seems that when ever there's an incident in which a Sea World Orca is involved the problem is never the animal, but the fault of the trainer. The truth is both are to blame. You have people who love these animals and have deep connections with them, but they have no business getting into the water with them. They know nothing of the species and how the function and how the respond to issues. And you have the corporation who only sees dollar signs and doesn't seem to really care who gets hurt in the pursuit of money.

Places like Sea World have no business being in business. It makes me wonder how safe are the whales and dolphins at the Shedd in Chicago or the other nationally recognized aquariums around the world.  I can only hope this move opens the eyes of world and we stop using these animals as entertainment. I'm all for rescue and sanctuaries but this is a clear example of exploitation.

So do yourself a favor and check it out. It's really and eye opening experience.      

Friday, January 10, 2014

Comic Television

It seems with the increasing popularity of superhero (not that they weren't always cool and popular) and the major success of the Batman and Avengers movies it was only a matter of time before comic books would find their way onto the small screen. This of course makes me rather happy and when the CW last season announced they'd be showing a show called "Arrow" based on the Green Arrow comic book I was very very happy. Couple this is ABC's announcement of Marvel's Agent's of S-H-I-E-L-D this girl was one happy camper.

Now let me be clear I am not going to compare and contrast the shows, because frankly they're two different beast and it's hard to compare D.C to Marvel they're two way different styles, but I will tell you this, I honestly find "Arrow" to be the better show. I am a big Joss Whedon fan, but maybe I was hoping for the wittyness and darkness of the "Buffy" and "Angel" series or even the sarcasm of "Firefly" but I find the show is missing some major Joss flare, and it honestly could by my inability to connect with the characters or even actors playing said characters. Although the two British/Scottish science geeks do have some redeeming qualities.

So at this point some of you may have stopped reading because you think I'm crazy and S-H-I-L-E-D is the best T-V show since the invention of the sitcom, but for the rest who are still with me thanks and lets move on. "Arrow," now I will be the first to admit my knowledge of the Green Arrow origin and story was limited. I'm a Dark Night girl so besides his help with the Justice League I really wasn't sure what I was getting into. Clearly the tv show is based on the characters, and is not word for word or scene for scene right out of the comic and that's okay because it gives the show it's own identity hence calling it "Arrow" and not Green Arrow.

This show really has come into its own in the second season. The first season was a great introduction to characters and plot twist and turns, but as Oliver Queen/Arrow played by the rather impressive Stephen Amell started to grow and change and figure out who he wanted to be as a superhero so did the show.

For anyone who's never see "Arrow" the story takes place in Star City and like most comic book cities this one has major issues. We meet Billionaire Oliver Queen, but since he's been stranded on a island in the middle of nowhere for 5 years you really don't know it's him. So long story short, Queen makes his way off the island and back to Stat City and adopts his alter ego who with the help of his fathers secret notebook takes out who he believes are some of the most corrupt people in Star City. This such as life don't exactly go to plan and people closes to Oliver revile their true purpose and those actions lead to a major shift in character and plot for the vigilante.

Okay that's just a quick overview frankly there's way too much to get into it all. But it's the way the story is told. You find yourself feeling for these characters and almost falling in love with them. The cast of "Arrow" was cast beautifully and as you watch these fictional characters on tv you get this feeling that the people playing them are as close in real life as they are in the realm of fiction.

Stephen Amell, I'd never heard of him prior to Arrow and in my opinion I couldn't see anyone else in that role. Outside of Amell's ability to make a one dimensional comic book character come to life almost as seamlessly as Christian Bale's ability to bring Batman to life. Amell's ability to bring Oliver Queen/Arrow to life is not an easy task, he's asking die hard Green Arrow fans to trust his interpretation and set away from what they know. He has done this so well that I truly don't think I could see him as anything but the Arrow and Oliver Queen. On a side not if your not a fan of his on Facebook you should because he is one of the most down to earth guys ever who truly seems humbled by the fans that make his job possible, so check him out!!

The rest of the cast is wonderful and as this second season continues more and more characters start to develop into something you'd never expect and for anyone who knows the comics you'll appreciate the way the way the know characters are tied into the current adaption. Also there are several tie in relating to the D.C world that won't disappoint.

The second season starts again next Wednesday January 15 on the CW. You'll want to check out local listings for times. If you've never seen the show do yourself a favor and start watching!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

American Hustle

Okay I know it's been forever and a day since I've blogged, but I'm back or at least I hope I can post more in 2014 than in the past year or so.

With that being said, lets jump right in with those Oscar buzzing movies that everyone is talking about and anticipating to take the golden statue in March. Since I've move to Galesburg my pool of movies is limited unless I go to Peoria and that's about 45 min to an hour away so my Oscar list maybe lighter than usual.

I did, however, take the time Christmas Eve to see American Hustle directed by David O. Russel, staring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradly Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Jeremy Renner.
I went into this moving understanding if was a grifter movie and it looked like it would be fun to watch.
This movie is way more than a grifter movie, but as the same time it's a wonderful and clever grifter movie. (For anyone who doesn't know what I mean when I say grifter...its a con-artist.) The movie follows the lives of Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) who after seeing his father getting taken by every crooked businessman in the City decided he'd be doing the taking from now on. That leads Irving to a life of cons and when he meets Sydney Prosser(Adams) his con business takes off, that is until he tries to take Richi Dimaso for a ride.

Dimaso, played by Cooper turns out of be working for the feds and that's when the whole movie really starts to take off with an ending you'll never see coming. Jennifer Lawrence is a scene steelier as Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Irving's wife. Lawrence is a wonder to watch as a dysfunctional mother and wife, but what comes out of her mouth will make you laugh every time.

The move also features Jeremy Renner who plays New Jersey Mayor, Carmine Polito a name working to bring his City back to life. But Polito mistakenly gets involved in Irving's con. As Irving and Carmine's relationship becomes one of friendship Irving struggles with his plan to expose Carmine as a crooked politician, seeing that the work he was doing was truly in the best interest of his constituents.

I'd like to tell you it all works out in the end and there's a happy ending for everyone, but the reality is this is a grifter movie and the only ones who walk away with a happy ending are the ones controlling the game.

Christian Bale once again give an award winning performance and in typical Bales fashion he transformed himself into Irving Rosenfeld. From the moment he hits the screen he's almost unrecognizable, and I found myself rooting for his character. Bale is up for a Golden Globe and there could be a good chance he'll walk away with the Globe and find himself in the race for another Oscar come this spring.

Amy Adam in my opinion grows with every film she makes. With American Hustle she was giving a task to play not one but two people and create two different lives for both allowing the view to understand the different and motivation behind both characters. She is truly a wonder to watch and in a movie where she finds herself on screen with Bale and Cooper she truly held her own.  Adam too finds herself up for a Golden Globe.

Bradly Cooper also finds himself nominated for a Globe, a nomination that in my opinion is totally deserved. Cooper proved in this performance that he is a force to be reckoned with and he's more than silly rolls like the A-Team and the Hang Over. Cooper who gained praise for his role in Silver linings Playbook, proved that he's in fact not a one trick pony and can take on the serious and semi-funny rolls and can be successful.

Also nominated for a Golden Globe is Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russel for Best Director.

There's no telling if anyone of these actors will walk away with a Globe on Sunday January 12, but there's a good chance at least one will. Even if they don't win for anything their nominated for, the movie American Hustle is a great film. It's funny and smart and has a great soundtrack to boot. So if you have time check out American Hustle you won't be disappointed.

Until our next movie date!
Alexis Cory