Saturday, February 21, 2009

Play review: Phantom of the Opera,

The Phantom of the Opera is a decent play filled with pretty good songs. It's a little cheesy and 80s, especially the original London Cast recording with all the electric guitars, but I feel it holds up pretty well. But it's an interesting story in that it tackles a number of important themes, namely:

1. The struggle between the lower class in France versus the upper crust
2. The capacity for music to bind different people together
3. The superiority of attractive people.

Because at its heart, the entire point of The Phantom of the Opera is, when confronted with a romantic choice between a nerdy guy and an attractive and wealthy guy, go with the attractive guy.

In the 1800s in the Paris opera house, lots of plays are being presented. The star is the primadonna 'Carlotta,' who sings with a lot of trills and is a super pain to everyone around her because she's super famous despite being repellant.

Meanwhile, chorus girl Christine Daie (sp?) is receiving vocal lessons from a disembodied voice who turns out to be the Phantom of the Opera. Also there is Raoul, dashing adventurer with adventure hair. He likes Christine too, and apparently they were childhood friends? I think? There's a song.

Anyway, the Phantom makes his move one day and brings Christine down to his groovy sewer lair while singing about himself and how cool he is. Christine's kind of in a trance but she wakes up eventually and is grossed out by the Phantom when she unmasks him and finds out he has waffle iron face apparently. But he has a good voice (except in the movie version when he's Gerrard Butler) and treats her like a goddess, so she doesn't write him off just yet.

The Phantom decides he needs to step it up, wooing-wise, and he starts to make contact with the opera staff, demanding that Christine be given lead roles in plays and Carlotta be fired and then killed. This is stupid to opera house owners Firmin and Andre, who are the foppish 'comic relief.' They have a few really unnecessary songs, the worst of which is 'Prima Donna' which they sing to Carlotta about how great she is. It doesn't move the plot forward-it just takes up time.

Meanwhile, Raoul takes Christine cruising in his buggy and probably is using leave-in conditioner, so she falls in love with him and accepts his marriage proposal. However, she knows this will really tick the Phantom off, who has shown that he's obsessed with her to the point of overdoing it a bit, so she makes it secret. "Why is it secret?" says Raoul. "I'm Raoul, after all. I mean, look at me."

The Phantom crashes a big party at the opera house while dressed as a skeleton, and he announces he's written kind of a crappy play called "Don Juan Triumphant" or something. Christine is the lead role and they'd better put it on or else. Is this when he cuts the chandelier down? I think it is. He also might have killed a random guy with his 'punjab lasso.' But it's all for drama chick Christine. Would you do any different?

So Firmin and Andre and Raoul decide to do the play but only as a trap so they can capture and kill the Phantom. Why Raoul doesn't use his considerable wealth to just take Christine and move to Canada, I'm not sure. But so they put on the play and the Phantom arrives in it as Don Juan, and it turns out he's the one setting the trap for her. He takes her back down to his sewer apartment again while they sing the very good 'Past the Point of No Return,' which is the best song in the play.

Raoul and Christine's chorus girl friend, who in the movie by this point is wearing black leather adventure pants, head down to find her. Why Raoul wouldn't just give up on drama chick Christine, who clearly has way too much baggage, and just focus on the hot blonde chorus girl friend who seems like a very nice girl, is anyone's guess. But they get there and the Phantom puts a noose on Raoul. But Christine begs for his life so the Phantom says 'fine, screw it' and he disappears on his chair and leaves behind his mask and/or a rose for Christine.

The Phantom liked Christine for her voice and her talent and personality long before he ever met her face-to-face. Meanwhile, Raoul liked her based on her being a skimpily dressed French chorus girl. Life with shsllow Raoul will undoubtably be really boring and stupid, whereas life with the Phantom would have been a non-stop adventure of living in cool caves with candles and singing cool songs like "Point of No Return." Looks triumph over personality, and the hot guy comes out the winner. Yay.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Video Review: Uptown Girl

[Note: YouTube is telling me that 'embedding disabled by request' on this video, so just click the link and it should take you to the HD version.]

It's a busy night at "Gas," the fix-it shop owned and operated by Sir Billy Joel in the video for "Uptown Girl"-easily one of Joel's top 3 best songs and one of the 10 best songs of the entire 80s.

Fortunately, the video lives up to the quality of the song and casts the whole thing in a 50s kind of doo-wop 'let's dance and flirt' kind of thing. They could have gone a number of directions with this video-and remember this was the 80s so 99.9% of those videos would have involved atrocious acting and tons of hair gel-but they reeled it in.

So as the song starts, fellow Joel bandmates Stinky, Winky, Blinky and Pete (names subject to factual verification) are ratcheting along with the beat. And what a beat-it's a terrifically simple but incredibly effective melody that uses this great little chromatic scale that goes up and down. Instantly catchy.

So anyway, Joel is getting ready for a big date by means of running his hands through his hair and fussing with his clothes. He shows his friends a girlie magazine as they prance around the garage, and the guys all make the 'spirit fingers' move, which is a little disturbing.

Just then, the lovely Christie Brinkley drives up in a Rolls. This really gets the guys going, and they dance around the car and strike quite a few poses directly into the camera. Watch for the terrific 'oh oh oh oh oh-o' segment where they're cleaning off the car-it actually works with the music really well. I can't say enough good things about the song or the video.

Brinkley thinks this is pretty cool so she ges out of the car and plays kind of hard to get, which is kind of weird. If she didn't want to be 'got', then why get out of the car?

My mom always said that Christie Brinkely 'couldn't dance' in this video, and that it was embarassing. She said the same thing about Olivia Newton-John in Grease. For the record, I think both women are just fine at the dancing they do. Have you seen Xanadu? If not, why not?

Anyway, the song moves into the drum part and they rev up some motorcycles during this part-a genius move that I mentally insert into the song any time it's on the stereo.

Then some skinny kids do a really cool breakdance and the entire cast starts doing a little dance number thing that I can personally re-create, and often do. I'm available for parties and bar mitzvahs.

Joel and Brinkley ride off in the end on one of the motorcycles, and she lets her hair down. It's really cool. This is a classic video that makes me happy to be alive. It's pure fun, looks like it was a ton of fun to make, and proves conclusively that you don't have to be off-color or naughty to be entertaining and memorable.

Video Review: Stay the Night

Basically what we have in Chicago's classic video for the meaty 'Stay the Night' is a story of a woman who would basically rather kill a man than let him grope her.

Peter Cetera, employed in this video as a mechanic-slash-body shop guy, is in love with a woman who might be a transvestite. She/he's not that hot and definitely isn't worth the heck that he puts himself through to pursue he/she. We'll settle on 'she' for the purposes of this review.

But when PC gets too fresh with 'she' while embracing in his garage, she decks him with her purse, even though he's rebuked her to not hit him with an 'air-too-soo' which multiple listens by Hillary and me during the 1980s only revealed about 10 years too late to be the word 'attitude.' Anyway.

So she takes off in her car and Cetera pursues, hanging off the side of the car. And it actually looks like it's him doing it-how many Peter Cetera look-alike stunt men could there be?

When mystery girl does a maneuver that tosses him off the car, he's picked up by some band mates who are driving a pick-up. They know all the words to the song and sing along as Cetera pleads his case from the back of said truck.

They go off a jump and Cetera winds up on the hood of the girl's car, rather hilariously. He gets tossed off again-this time in front of some cops who are also members of Chicago (who isn't? There's like 500 people in the brass section alone).

There's a dream sequence wherein Cetera reminisces meeting the woman for the first time, apparently 20 minutes prior because she's wearing the same outfit, and they exchange some kind of words right around the 3:00 mark. If anyone knows what they're saying, leave it in the comments. As far as I can tell the woman says the word "beef" and PC replies "What?".

So he wakes up from the dream and the chase continues, with the cops trying to convey something to him, kind of caveman-like. They point at him then at her. Anyway, they eventually go off the same jump they went off earlier, only this time the jump is revealed to be a Stargate that transports people through space and time. Though it's broad daylight in LA when they go off the jump, it's midnight in an abandoned movie studio back lot when they land.

The truck explodes into a fiery fireball of fire, even though it's clearly empty and just parked in a stationary position. This does not kill the two occupants of the truck but does mortally wound Cetera, who was riding in the back, if you recall. A doctor-presumbly another band member-who is dressed like an 1860s-era steam train conductor, shakes his head while holding PC's hand, fearing the worst. As Cetera is loaded into an ambulance, still singing along with the song, the ambulance driver is revealed to be...that woman! Who knows what she will do to him know that she's basically killed him-maybe go spin donuts in a parking lot for a while and then drive the ambulance into Cetera's grandpa's rest home, killing off the rest of the Cetera clan just for spite.

It's kind of depressing now that I think about it.

Rethinking 2009

The backlash against my 'things people shouldn't still be doing in 2009' has been bracing. My wife in particular is not in favor of several of the things on the list, causing me to go back and re-think the list as submitted.

So I've thought about the list and I have decided to modify my opinion slightly. For some, these things are the simple pleasures in life. Watching a VHS...if the VCR doesn't eat it. Calling a pizza place and trying to communicate with an illiterate high school drop out who speaks 3 words of English...I can see how that would be more interesting than just using the website or texting in your order. If we are nothing but efficient, we will miss out on the spice of life.

So I submit that not everything on the list should have to be followed exactly. Let's take another look.

1. Watching VHS tapes: See above.
2. Writing personal checks for anything other than tithing. I will not budge a micropixel on this. Writing personal checks is worse than unleashing anthrax on a butterfly farm. It might be the worst way of conducting financial transcations ever conceived. Next...
3. Renting videos from Hollywood/Blockbuster. Redbox I can see, because it's cheap. I suppose if you didn't have Netflix and liked spending a lot on movies that are very likely to be checked out, this would be fun. Plus, Netflix doesn't have overpriced movie candy for sale, so, yeah.
4. Ordering a pizza by phone: See above.
5. Listening to music on CDs unless it's something someone burned for you and you haven't had time to rip the tracks yet. Won't budge much on this, either. CDs skip and are needlessly expensive and frustrating. But you get a booklet, and if that's important to you and you don't like the digital booklets that bands release, then this would be the route to go. Better than tapes, I guess.
6. Placing items on hold at the library via face-to-face: Sure, go ahead.
7. Doing your banking in person: No, this should not happen. You should only go to the bank if you are signing loan papers or you have a physical check you need to deposit. And even then you should only go through the drive-through. 99.9% of all banking can and should be done online.
8. Paying your bills using anything other than their websites or your bank's billpay feature. If you like buying stamps (shudder) and writing checks and wondering and hoping if your bill will travel through the mail safely and arrive on time, then OK.
9. Using a landline telephone unless it's either free or really cheap. This is tricky since I still know people who have a land line. But it's my understanding that it's bundled w/ their cable and/or internet bill and is thus like $10 a month. I think I have enough caveats in here that I can submit it without further comment.
10. Sending physical letters to people unless you're in some kind of caligraphy class and it's a project. Some people, my wife tells me, like to write hand-written letters because they feel it is more personal. I don't feel any more personal writing things down than typing them, but I will take a leap of faith and accept that this is true for some. Others enjoy churning their own butter, too, and shoeing their own horses, and treating cholera with a dose of hemlock and fairy's breath, to frighten the evil dwarves who live in your stomach into submission. If that's your thing, then go right ahead.
11. Buying anything in a store without checking Amazon or Ebay first. No reason not to do this, unless you like paying 2 to 4x too much for things.
12. Reading a physical newspaper. I can concede that this might be necessary, assuming you're starring in a play version of Citizen Kane.
13. Getting your news from any mainstream media news outlet. No.
14. Listen to music on the radio. If you like Coldplay, U2, and obnoxious commercials, go right ahead. I will not stop you.

I hope this clears everything up!

Nick and Norah review

Watched Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. This is basically a movie that was written, filmed, and produced for me and about 3 other people on the planet.

Not that it's that great-it's kind of annoying in parts due to the crudity of some of the dialogue and the general unlikeability of almost everyone in the entire cast except for Norah. There's also no plot whatsoever-it's just a bunch of teenagers driving around New York looking for a pretend band that's annoyingly called "Where's Fluffy?"

But the music-that's really the key. The soundtrack is completely non-stop, like American Graffiti, but it's all obscure indie songs, of which I had every single one on my iPod. It was non-stop great music the entire time. It was also funny because the George Michael character was this quiet guy who makes mix CDs for a girl he briefly dated who stopped dating him several months prior. (This is the way I successfully eventually married my wife.)

So to wrap up: great music, really annoying characters other than the delightful Norah. Everyone in the movie thinks they're about 300% cooler than anyone else just because they live in New York. What is it about living in big cities that makes people think they're really cool and therefore causes people to trend Democrat and believe in God less? Is it because they perceive big buildings to be cool and complicated and 'look what we can do?' or something? Do they really just think that living in a big city is the penultimate of the human experience? I guess...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Inkheart review

We saw Inheart the other night. I'd like to report that it was very good, but really just the premise was good. The rest had plot holes you could drive a planet through.

The main problem with the movie is that the rules of the magic power (being able to read a book and have the thing you're reading come to life) change all the time. Brendan Fraser spends 9 years looking for his wife because when he read 'Inkheart,' the bad guys came out of the book and she went in. So he wants to find the book again, and the book is really rare apparently, so that he can somehow 'read her out.'

Seems straightforward enough except towards the end-and I'm trying not to spoil too much here-it's apparent that just anything at all a "Silvertongue" reads will happen, even if they write it down themselves.

This loophole basically grants Silvertongues God-like powers over all of creation. If they don't like you then can just write 'then Bob's head exploded' and that would be that. They could write down 'then 10 trillion dollars rained from the sky' and it would happen. Cancer? 'Bob's cancer was miraculously cured, as was the entire planet's.' With one stroke of the pen you could wipe out every disease, every social problem, every error ever committed by anyone anywhere and could bring people back from the dead and travel through time and do whatever you wanted and it would work just because you willed it. So why doesn't Brendan Fraser just write down 'and then my wife came back' and save himself 9 years?

So if they'd applied some better rules to this formula, it might have worked. Like, it would have been funny for him to read things kind of silly, like a manual about how to fix exploding toilets or for some kind of embarassing thing like invisible pants or something. Oh well. I would draw something for this post but I'm pretty sure no one would want that.

Money money money

One thing I considered including on my 'things you shouldn't still be doing in 2009' list was 'using paper money.' But I've re-thought that a little bit, since I do still carry around some money, although not very much. Generally it's useful if I'm at school and want to grab a pop during a class break, or it's a good back-up currency if the debit card/credit card machine is down at a store, although that seems fairly unlikely in 2009. But until they install credit card readers on pop machines, I'll leave it off. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Well sure, but how decent is the stereo?

Photos? Really?

While getting my picture taken over the weekend at my local Walgreen's for my passport photo for my upcoming 2-week business trip to India, I noticed something unusual: people were picking up photos that had been printed out. Like, physical photos. I distantly remember photos, although it's been at least 10 years or so since I last actually took film in somewhere and paid someone to develop it. But nowadays if you want a photo for a frame that isn't a digital frame, you just print it out on some glossy paper yourself.

That got me thinking-what else is still occuring in 2009 that shouldn't be? To help answer this, I put together the following handy list. In 2009, people should no longer be:

1. Watching VHS tapes
2. Writing personal checks for anything other than tithing
3. Renting videos from Hollywood/Blockbuster. Redbox I can see, because it's cheap.
4. Ordering a pizza by phone
5. Listening to music on CDs unless it's something someone burned for you and you haven't had time to rip the tracks yet.
6. Placing items on hold at the library via face-to-face
7. Doing your banking in person
8. Paying your bills using anything other than their websites or your bank's billpay feature.
9. Using a landline telephone unless it's either free or really cheap. This is tricky since I still know people who have a land line. But it's my understanding that it's bundled w/ their cable and/or internet bill and is thus like $10 a month.
10. Sending physical letters to people unless you're in some kind of caligraphy class and it's a project.
11. Buying anything in a store without checking Amazon or Ebay first.
12. Reading a physical newspaper.
13. Getting your news from any mainstream media news outlet.
14. Listen to music on the radio.

That's all for now-what else can the rest of you name in the comments?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

1000 words

I came across this clip art picture the other day while putting together a Power Point presentation. I think it speaks for itself.

Ed DVD update

Pretty minor but it's good to know it's still in the works:


A succinct post from the always excellent Daniel Henninger in today's Wall Street Journal:

The whole congressional effort is an irrelevant sideshow; only the final spending number matters. The economics don't matter, because the real political purpose of the bill is to neutralize this issue until the economy recovers on its own. Much of its spending is a massive cash transfer to the party's union constituencies; a percentage of that cash will flow back into the 2010 congressional races. The bill in great part is a Trojan horse of Democratic policies not related to anyone's model of economic stimulus. Finally, if this bill's details are irrelevant to the presumed multiplier effect of an $800 billion Keynesian stimulus, GOP Sen. Susan Collins's good-faith participation in it looks rather foolish.

As they say, read the whole thing!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hello again, Hello

School is busy, and t-minus 60 days till little Madeleine Eden Hoopes (trademark, copyright 2009, all rights reserved). Life is bus-y.

And plus I haven't thought of anything interesting to say lately. But here is what we've mainly been up to:

1. Watching TV. Shows: Man vs Wild, Burn Notice, Lost, The Office, Battlestar Galactica, Psych, Monk, The This Old House Hour. We've weaned ourselves off the HGTV shows (for now). Jan is watching Heroes but I have almost totally quit Heroes given that the script is written by either sea monkeys or people with brain damage.

2. Awaiting money. We have a decent amount of money coming between my yearly salary bonus and our 2008 tax return. All of it is pretty much spent, though. We need to pay for Jan's kidney stone, some new carpet, my Spring 2009 tuition bill, and possibly a new bed since my other one is 8 years old and is falling apart.

3. Going to school. I'm in school. Jan is studying for her RN boards. Other than the liberal class I despise (only 2 more Saturdays to go), this semester rules. The other two classes are the bomb.

4. Rearranging furniture. My office has merged with Timmy/Zoe's room (dogs). Jan is busy as a bee getting ready for Maddie. Some friends and family have started donating to the cause-thank you to everyone for the baby clothes and toys we've received so far! Hillary also joined us to seek out a crib. We tracked down one we want and it finally arrived yesterday. The first baby shower is this weekend so we'll know much better where we stand, baby needs-wise, after that.

5. Disengaging from politics a little. There's not much that can be done to stop the 'spendulous' bill (as the conservative blogs have been calling it) from being passed. It sucks.

6. Church stuff. Busy in my calling as EQ secretary. We're preparing to visit the Draper temple at the end of the night. The pictures look cool.

D'oh, school is starting now. More to come! Not really! Maybe some drawings though...