Tuesday, July 30, 2019

"Moulin Rouge" at the Al Hirschfeld Theater

Content warnings: gun use, suicidal ideation, terminal illness

"Moulin Rouge" is a show about an idealistic but penniless Bohemian sent to convince a courtesan to support a play who falls in love with her. The courtesan initially thinks he is the rich duke who is her latest client. When she is discovered with the artist, she convinces the duke they were practicing to demonstrate a show she wants him to patronize. Needless to say heartbreak and such follow as they try to not fall in love and put on this play that is starting to reflect the triangle they are engaged in. It is a jukebox musical turned up to eleven with songs remixed, re-jiggered and cut together. 
There is nothing subtle about this show, not the elephant, the windmill, the multitude of chandeliers, the lights or the sound. The pace is frenetic for most of it. And it is a great party for much of it. 
The cast is wonderful. It is a Broadway show where ear protection might not go amiss. There is great choreography and I personally think whoever had to work however many song clearances this show requires deserves special mention.
I saw a review quote outside the theater that mentioned the pace and thought, well that is a quote that tells me little. The pace is notable, it is not a relaxing show, it is a fun show to watch, even when things don't go well for everyone. 

Now, those who haven't seen the movie should stop reading now. And anyone who wants to be surprised. 

I don't usually post spoilers in reviews, however the changes are notable and it's hard to talk about them without being specific. In general if you liked the movie I think the musical just goes a little further. But if there are concerns, some changes have hopefully addressed those. If you hated the movie, hate mashup songs more than jukebox musicals, that's still what this is, so this show is still not for you. 

The basics of the movie remain the same. Latrec is not digitally shortened here, but the actor (who does not appear disabled, though I admit Latrec's specific injuries are hopefully much rarer these days) uses a cane and is referred to as short. 
The stakes are amplified. And Satine does sleep with the duke (which does mean the loss of one particular song from the movie - overall, there are more songs and song snippets added than lost though). The duke is not only supporting the show, but buying the club, and his opinion, all the employees. Satine is aware she is dying, and also made aware that the duke has been known to take specific revenge when his jealousy is roused. Instead of the Orpheus and Eurydice inspired breakup, Christian threatens his own life on stage, forcing Satine to break out their love song to make him stop. But she still dies in his arms. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

RWA 2019

It was a historic year. It was a step towards the progress of who we want to be. RWA went back to New York this year. New York is a fun, if expensive locale. 
Being there as a steering committee member, a chapter board member, and a chapter contest chair, meant I felt like many people. There were storms on Monday so Day of YA had a more leisurely start as one of our guests had their flight cancelled. Lisa Cron and Jennifer E. Smith spoke. There was an agent panel and a debut author panel. And we have out awards. 
Wednesday I went to the RWA AGM and a lot of people had concerns about chapter requirements. I also went to marketing things and the Diversity Listening session. Some great points were made about things RWA could work on, direction that chapters could use, and additions that could be made. Obviously sessions like that are self selecting, no one not interested in fixing things was there, but it is helpful. 
Thursday we had the PRO retreat and with the help of my committee (seriously, you guys, you don't want to know what I would have named our theme) we had a great list of topics and guests. We had the luncheon for the final Golden Heart crew. 
In addition to the chance to see some friends at new signings, or their first signings, and a few more workshops, and a lot of hanging in the bar, I also went to see "Moulin Rouge" which I will talk about separately. 
I spent a lot of time internally debating going to the RITAs. It's a flawed system, but since a few folks had gotten nominated, it was also potentially the year we might see history. And so I decided to go. They brought in trailblazers like Sandra Kitt and Radclyffe to talk. And we got to see two Black winners, and a South Asian winner. It was progress. We still have work to do. I still wouldn't point anyone to the list of finalists as representative of the past year in fiction and that means there is more to do. 
On the final day I helped at the registration desk, which I knew would mostly be answering questions. I heard the new plan for the Literacy signing meant it didn't feel like a madhouse, which thank goodness. 
Of course, now that I am back home, I can only think of all the people I didn't quite get a chance to chat with. But as I often try to remind myself, it is the best problem to have not getting to hang with all your faves. 
I ran into one friend right by the bathrooms on the final day and she kindly diverted right to a couch so we could chat. 
I want this for everyone. I want RWA to be a place where we all find more people than we can reasonably cram into a week. So that's what I'll keep working towards. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Three Interesting Things

1. Some YA dystopian authors reflect on the current concentration camp situation
2. I confess, I am not over "Old Town Road" yet, (which fiven I lived through the endless weeks of "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" dominating the charts to the point where it was years before I could hear the song again is interesting, but this look at all the things that led us to this moment is fascinating. Also, Lil Nas X does have other songs, and so far I find them similarly catchy and crossovery in different ways. 
3. This look into H&M and the family of the model involved in the sweatshirt controversy is fascinating as it looks at how even companies that think they are pretty far down the line on diversity can still have issues, and ways they can try to see and solve them sooner, and also how the models and such involved are often in tight spot.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

"The Farewell"

"The Farewell" is a movie about a Chinese American family that returns to China for a quickly planned wedding that is actually an excuse to gather the family as the matriarch has a terminal cancer diagnosis. The family has decided not to tell Nai Nai (as most of them call her) so she thinks they are all just there for the wedding. 
The movie looks at families, at lies, and at how when your family lives apart it feels like so much has changed every time you come back. I found it wonderful even if there were things I wish I had answers to, it is a love letter to families and the lies we tell to keep our loved ones from worrying. 
I saw a snippet of one review that called it an absurd premise, and I want to address that specifically. Personally, my family called me to tell me my grandfather died after his funeral. I was off in college, they figured it would be tough for me to get home, so just easier to let me focus on college and let me know later. 
I watched the Lorraine Hansberry documentary and yes, I was upset when I got to the part where her estranged husband and her doctor decided that telling her about her stomach cancer would only upset her, so they just didn't. (Also, it's a great documentary. If you prefer your non-fiction in book, Imani Perry, who also appears in the documentary, has Looking for Lorraine.)
So, there's these real life examples. Second, the movie addresses this. They tell the old story about the wife who tells her husband to soften the blow when telling her the cat died while she was away. They show lots of the little lies we routinely tell family because arguing long distance that you really don't need a hat never succeeds, so you just say, of course I'm wearing a hat. And when Billi asks Nai Nai what those sounds are (and they are the hospital announcements) she says oh, nothing. Throughout the movie the small lies we tell our family members, I'm fine, of course I quit smoking, and so on, come up. If you drank every time someone lied to a family member in this movie, it would be unsafe. 
But that's what I found so affecting and real about this movie. Yes, I'm American or individualistic enough that I can't imagine doing this. Yes, a doctor lying to their patient is now illegal in the US. But have I smiled and told my family everything was fine when I was worried about a job or various other things but didn't want to burden them with my worries? Of course I have. (Oh and if my family is reading, I am fine, and I am of course only talking about things that happened a really long time ago. Please don't worry.)
And in the end "The Farewell" does what a lot of stories do, takes something that depending on your background may seem unusual, places it squarely in the middle of a family event that is familiar across cultures. In the end it is about family members who love each other and don't want anyone to worry more than they have to. Nothing about that seems absurd to me. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Veronica Mars - The Spoiler Version

One of my formative mystery series was Robert B. Parker's Spencer series. Things in that version of Boston were bad. There were rich people, cops who were good and bad, a thriving mob, and a lot of grey. What noir mostly teaches you is that everyone is out for themselves, that you celebrate the small moments of justice because they are rare. And that often the people you thought you were helping have bigger secrets of their own to protect. 
It's hard to keep friends, it's hard to gain family. And even if you do, friends and family become a thing they can use against you. 
When we first met Veronica Mars her mom had disappeared, her best friend had been murdered, and she been roofied and assaulted. She had lost friends and social status. She didn't always do the right thing, but you understood that she was focused on writing wrongs. Wallace called her a marshmallow. Meg told her she might want to think about forgiveness. This came up again and again. Veronica is bad at forgiving. 
In mystery, as in many long running series, stasis is the enemy. No one is safe, not even the spouses. It sounds braggy to say I watched the whole series expecting one of the three credited cast members to die. I confess, I felt pretty sure for much of it that it would be Keith. That is until the wedding actually happened. People often mock the guaranteed happy or optimistic ending in romance. But part of the reason I think so many genre readers crave it is that moments of happiness in so much of the rest of fiction are harbingers of doom. I've watched fictional spouse die a day after the case was solved enough that I knew. The second the wedding finished I braced myself. 
One of the things noir and Neptune often do is not just give you red herrings, but there are so many legitimately bad people, each operating on their own set of rules, that the question isn't who is the baddie, it's how many can you stop?
I made it through the first three seasons of "Veronica Mars" only having loyalty to Veronica. I wanted her to find love and happiness, but learned early on, along with Veronica that it was fleeting. Your first love may dump you in case you're related. Your next might be using you to make his escape. And after that people over and over may never quite be what they seem. So I loved Logan when Veronica did, and thought she should dump him when she did. 
Military hero Logan, been seeing a therapist Logan, I was okay with Veronica marrying him. And God I hate Neptune for taking him away from her. Yes, Veronica is a marshmallow maybe, but gooey is not a state she gets to rest in. And it's hard to make friends who don't understand why you have to consider their possible murder status. Veronica has known the world was full of evildoers for quite some time. That the people you like and admire are just as likely to be untrustworthy. But it's hard to make friends like that. It's hard to love like that. Which is why it's more heartbreaking when it's taken away. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Veronica Mars Messed Up My Weekend Plans

I mean, sure, I hadn't quite figured out how I was going to watch and do everything I had planned for next week but dropping a season while I am waiting for a water taxi is just not cool. Except it is.
The irony is that one of the things I like about Hulu's programming is that in most cases they drop it on a weekly schedule. I am less likely to binge, the person who hasn't even finished "Shrill".
But this I watched. Not all at once partly because I do like sleep and partly because as much as I like TV, I like people to and had some plans over the weekend. 
So the show. One critic I saw mentioned so many reboots try to start right where the show left off. Sure the age of the actors affected the choices here but things have moved forward in Neptune. You know, except for still being a corrupt cesspool. Oh also, it's a show about adults now. There's sex, there's swearing, there's more overt racism, and there's bombings and beheadings. I mean sure, this was a show with rape and murder as the overarching storyline of it's first season, but it definitely feels like a show on a different channel. Also, in the prior seasons, most of our scenes involved a member of the Mars family. The camera follows more people here, we get scenes without the Mars family more often. Neptune is still a town of grey, the nuance, the world where it seems like justice is elusive and everyone over or underreacts. Except of course, it seems more normal there. Neptune wasn't predictive it was reflective. 
I love Veronica even when she does things I think are just a little much. (Not the tasing. I love the tasing.) At its core Veronica Mars the show has always been about a world stacked against people, and the small attempts that can be made to get some form of justice, even as you know the ones with the power will top the balance again. And even though our main characters are no longer teenagers, the show still respects teenagers, well - some of them, as people. 
The show is imperfect, and gosh could I really do without prison rape and suicide jokes made by the people I'm rooting for. The issues of representation and treatment of characters of color in the prior seasons remain largely unchanged here. But I am glad to have it back, glad to revisit Neptune, glad to have the chance to laugh, shudder, and have my heart be stomped on. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Three Interesting Things

1. This medium post by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein talks about the effects of seeing violent policing during protest on children, and asks that the astronomy community reconsider the planned placement of the TMT on Mauna Kea.  
2. This humor column imagines if people spoke about other professions the way they speak of writing
3. We used to get the Northwest Current delivered to our house growing up.  It was hyperlocal, in ways the Washington Post wasn't.  I still miss the days of hyperlocal blogs, the ones that remain have either broadened their focus, or slowed their posting. Journalism is changing rapidly and I don't have the answer, but the Current did a useful thing for a long time and will be missed. This look at it's history and it's downfall is fascinating. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

B&T - Books and Theater

So, because I am a person who likes connections, I am going to try to come up with a few books that I think share some thematic resonance with plays I see. Since last week I saw "Ann", we will start with that. 
Ellen Emerson White's The President's Daughter - thematic connection - female politician - This is a YA contemporary that I read as a teen.  It is from the perspective, as the title suggests of the daughter of the first female president, and the various changes and issues associated with that.  There is some smooching. 
Casey Mcquiston's Red White and Royal Blue - thematic connection - Texas female politician - I've talked about this book before, it's a college aged contemporary about a child of a female president, although this time the son, and there is much more than smooching with a certain prince. 
Aminah Mae Safi's Tell Me How You Really Feel - thematic connection - difficult woman - Also YA contemporary, it involves an enemies to lovers (although more, she mostly hates me but I can't help my terrible crush anyway, wait maybe not totally hate) with two high school seniors who, it seems by the dedication were inspired by Paris and Rory from the "Gilmore Girls".  

Monday, July 15, 2019

"Ann" at Arena Stage

Content warnings: Now dated language regarding certain ethnicities, erratic workplace depictions, discussions of sexual assault and child abuse, and a joke about Arkansas that I imagine Arkansans are quite tired of. 
I saw a preview night of "Ann". It is a one woman show about Ann Richards, one time governor of Texas that covers her ride to governor and some of the work she did after. 
It includes some of her relationship with her family, her coworkers, and Bill Clinton. There is some discussion of her stance on reproductive rights, sensible gun control, welfare reform, and even coverage of a stay of execution. 
I think whether you learn anything new about Ann Richards is a function of what you knew going in. I confess I don't know that I specifically knew she was what we often call a difficult boss, but to wasn't surprising. The show attempts to look at her nonstop pace as something that infiltrated all areas, and tries to also show that she was a great grandmother, and a caring but tough parent. Some of the issues get more time, her welfare reform is barely mentioned and she states going to school in California as a kid just made her racism float clean away. In fairness, I am pretty sure that's what Ann thought and so it is entirely true to the character. 
Overall, it was interesting and kudos to Jayne Atkinson, while there is an intermission, it's a long time on stage. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Three Interesting Things

1.  With recognition that there are many things that may to me - child reader of Born Free and other such things seem like common knowledge, and not to others, here is how lion prides work.  Just to clarify, no one is saying "The Lion King" can't exist or be enjoyed, just that knowing it is not a reliable source on lions is helpful.  (I have also never encountered a singing bug.  Which I would be into.  Just saying.  Singing bugs are definitely better and non-singing bugs.) 
2. This discussion with George Takei looks at how Americans have always tried to change the language around the concentration camps we make here, to make them seem less terrible. 
3. Moira Donegan talked about how a generation after Title IX we are seeing the fruits of it with things like the dominant women's soccer team. My girls high school has an alumnae award for athletes and even those who have gone on to be doctors and other leaders have talked about the skills for teamwork towards a common goal that sports provided.  Winning athletes is a small part of the rewards we have seen.  Oh also, pay them.  Pay the women.   

Monday, July 08, 2019

Code Switch's The Original Welfare Queen

Code Switch's episode about The Original 'Welfare Queen' is fascinating for a number of reasons.  It's always fascinating to do a deep dive into the story behind someone who became an avatar for something, the echoes of which are still felt today.  As a white-passing multi-racial person who has thoughts about the way the census has traditionally allowed folks to identify themselves, the idea that Linda Taylor was listed at one point as white, and another as Hawaiian, that part of the story about her was that she was planning a vacation to Hawaii struck a chord.  When my grandmother in Hawaii died, I had to think about how to frame this for my co-workers.  I was of course going to take several days off of work to attend her funeral.  Obviously, I wasn't going to spend an entire day traveling across the country only to fly out one day later, I was going to take this sad excuse to reconnect with family that I rarely get to see.  But yeah, I knew that folks were going to be like, uh-huh, sure, your grandmother died and you're going on a Hawaiian vacation.  Because we forget that people live in these places that signal vacation to so many.  
None of this is to say that Linda Taylor was a great person, or that she deserves more sympathy.  As the episode makes clear, she was not a great person, and she was using a lot of people and did a lot of not great things.  She probably was not using her trip to connect with family for good reasons.  But again, this part of her story, along with the implication that she was a representative example of the poor people using welfare, were examples of how we make use of certain assumptions to mislead people.  Of course the easiest way to fix welfare would be to raise the minimum wage. Or change welfare to universal basic income.  But it's much more fun to otherize folks on welfare and convince people that only users need welfare.  
And of course, as the episode points out, even the good stories, are often smoothed out for public consumption.  

Friday, July 05, 2019

Revisiting "ER" - Again With This

And then I got to episode 5. Yeah, the thing I had suppressed about "ER" was its generally crappy treatment (no pun intended) of sexually transmitted infections. They generally happen to sluts, girls who like sex and are demonstrably unchoosy in their partners. Their male partners get them because they have made bad decisions, lured in by the siren. I remembered the horrible HIPAA violation episode much later in the series, also involving a male doctor who got involved with a female patient. I had forgotten that a variation of this played out with Carter in the first season, where a girl with sexy poison ivy apparently felt so magically cured by Carter she wanted to test the healing of her sensitive parts right away. 
Also in episode 5, Doug shows up at a patient's home in a move I'm sure I found caring the first time around and now find a little concerning. 
Overall the series is still wonderful. The echoes of how fast every show with medical stuff is now is all over film and TV. But wow, time and perspective don't always make everything better. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Three Interesting Things

1. The Onion has some tips for civility in discussing child prisons
2. Sue Bird wrote a piece about watching your girlfriend compete and discovering the President has something to say about it. (Warning: Title contains some starred language.)
3. The "Be More Chill" cast did a Tiny Desk concert.  

Monday, July 01, 2019

Books - A Second Quarter Round Up

April to June had some travel (which is both good and bad for my reading - airports and airplanes, yay, jetlag boo) and my deeply ingrained sense that there is no new TV once it gets light in the evenings (even though yes, TV does not really work like that now) and so I must entertain myself with books.  With an attempt to not just pick the next in the series for some of the first quarter picks, here we are.  
The Hungry Hearts anthology - edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond has some great stories all set in a fictional town with a great batch of restaurants and food.  The stories range from sweet love stories, to ghosts and mobs and murder.  It will make you hungry and show how food is such a great connecting force. 
Elizabeth Acevedo's With the Fire on High - was an excellent audio read.  (I have it in other forms too, but the audio is awesome).  It's a story about a teen mom, but it also isn't.  Emoni is a teen mom, and that fact permeates everything she does, but it is is many ways a story about figuring out the options available to you in this world be they new courses, or new cute students.  
Olga Bicos' Perfect Timing - was a re-read for me.  A Twitter convo had me digging it out.  The book is romantic suspense, and does some odd things, including an alien subplot I had entirely forgotten.  But the plane discussions are as awesome as I had remembered, and the reunited so we can solve this case but of course never getting back together, okay, fine, maybe kind of, was also as good as I remembered. 
Blair Braverman's Welcome to the Goddamn Icecube is a travel memoir, looking at journeys to cold places.  But it was an interesting reminder of how so many travel memoirs are about folks who get to travel without worry.  Not always an easy read, but Braverman's frankness about the challenges of facing those moments where you know nothing has happened to you yet, but it might, and how tough that can be to communicate to others, made it a memoir that seemed truer to me than some others I have read. 
Hudson Lin's Fly With Me is a great novella about flight attendants who become more than friends.  
Jessie Mihalik's Polaris Rising was recommended to me several times before I finally decided to give it a shot.  Sci-fi is often far more interested in the bits of climate or the operation of space doors than I am.  Polaris Rising is for me, a delightful on the run, maybe my fellow prisoner wants to help me escape not just this ship, but the even bigger group chasing me story that just happens to involve interplanetary escape.  It was great.  I have marked the arrival of the next story on my book calendar.  
Nisha Sharma's My So-Called Bollywood Life was a fun story about a girl who is just trying to get through senior year being co-president of the film club with her ex, no boys, no distractions, but of course there is a boy, and well.  It was pointed out to me later that it bears some similarities to Sandhya Menon's From Twinkle With Love, which I also read and enjoyed and had not really noticed the similarities.  So if you like one, the other is likely your kind of thing too.  
Anna Zabo's Syncopation is a new band member joining after another leaves following a video being posted online making it look like the lead singer is violent.  It involves some kink and everything about the two characters love of music as they learned to appreciate each other was really wonderful.