Friday, August 22, 2014

Heathers: The Musical (or, Randi Posts A Lot of Musical Reviews at the Same Time)

As anyone who is currently within a ten mile radius of me at this very moment can tell, I really really love theater. Musicals, plays, whatever. So in an effort to incorporate that more and try to do something besides fandom-centered posts because I've kind of had it with fandom life at this particular moment. So here's the first in a series! I'm sure there will be at least 20, most of which you can probably watch on youtube!
Not this one though. At least not yet.

So Heathers. This was playing across the hallway from me when I went to go see Avenue Q in New York in April, so I thought I might check it out too.

Although this show has already closed (and never made it to Broadway), it was actually one of the most promising new shows that has come in a while. I'm usually a fan of original content, and although Heathers does not exactly fall into that category, this feels so much more original than half of the stuff playing up the street right now.

Based on the movie of the same name, Heathers incorporates a pop score of all original songs that are in turns funny, dark, sweet, and scary, with the storyline to match. Veronica Sawyer: geeky, outcast, beautiful, and whipsmart has an unfortunately low social status at the start her senior of highschool. And if you want to change that, you could do no better than to get in with the Heathers, a group of three girls who are all named (wait for it) Heather. They are everything. Of course, Veronica uses her excellent forgery skills to get a makeover from aforementioned Heathers and is of course, instantly more popular. Then there's JD, this kid with this awesome trench coat (props to the costume shop, like dang, that thing is awesome) who has instant chemistry with Veronica. They seem perfect for each other, cute slushie love song included.

Of course, he's also a murdering psychopath. And the targets? You guessed it, the Heathers (and their on again off again football player boyfriends). Creepy villain love song with dinosaur references included.

The storyline, while surreal what with all the murders, is actually a startling and accurate portrait of high school. Take it from someone who is still there, Heathers nails the anxiety, the fears, and the ridiculous confines of the social ladder.

The music is all fantastic. I especially love Candy Store, Dead Girl Walking, Freeze Your Brain, Lifeboat, Fight For Me, and Seventeen, but there really isn't a skipable song on the cast album. The character solos cut to the core of the broken and twisted characters that inhabit the show, and the ensemble numbers shine. There isn't a weak singer in the whole cast.

The original cast of the musical is just perfect as well. Barrett Willbert Weed as Veronica is an absolute revelation. Her singing compliments the music perfectly. Jessica Keenan-Wynn, Elle McLemore, and Alice Lee are picture perfect as the Heaters, and their trio, Candy Store, is one of the best songs in the show. Ryan McCartan plays JD perfectly. You're not supposed to like him, but you're also supposed to fall in love with him. It's interesting to see how he interprets arguable one of the most interesting characters in the show. Extra points also go to Katie Ladner, who plays Veronica's oft-bullied best friend Martha. Her big solo, Kindergarten Boyfriend is absolutely stand out, and she kills it in performance.

It's not a surprise that Heathers, both movie and musical, have developed a cult following. There isn't a bad a song in the musical, but it could use some workshopping all the same. Some of the musical numbers are just a tad bit too long, and there should be a little more time devoted the titular Heathers while they are still together. But you can't deny the pure, crazy, and funny entertainment value inherent in a show this absolutely crazy.

-Randi

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Movie You Didn't Know You Wanted

A foreword: This summer has been relatively boring on the movie front. I think I've been to the movies a total of twice this past summer (for Maleficent, and Days of Future Past, whose review are written, but not published because all the time sometimes I'm not a good writer.
But I've been pretty un-amused with Michael Bay movies, retreads of Greek mythology, and... I mean, I can't even remember any of the movies released in the last three months, and for me, that's pretty unusual. Really unusual.
And then Guardians of the Galaxy doesn't so much open the door, it kicks it down with a bunch of lasers and dry ice and probably something cheesy from the '70s that you secretly really love playing in the background.
The whole concept of making a Guardians of the Galaxy just seemed like such a whacky thing to do from the beginning, but therein lies it's genius.
When you think of Marvel movies, you probably see Spiderman, your Avengers crew and their various solo movies, and Hugh Jackman without a shirt.
And even though Marvel Studios only owns the Avengers out of those listed, those are still Marvel movies.
Here's what you don't think of when you see Marvel on the marquee: crazy cyborgs, that guy from Pushing Daisies so unrecognizable that you have to look at the IMDB page to tell it's him, Vin Diesel pulling another Iron Giant, and a totally cheesy, totally awesome soundtrack.
Guardians is B-movie brother to the Marvel family, and there's not a better way to have it.
The best way to explain to people that this is not just the Avengers rehashed is that the Avengers take care of Earth. The Guardians take care of pretty much everything else. And they crack a lot of jokes while doing it.
Going in, I definitely wasn't too sure of how this was going to turn out. I hadn't read ANY Guardians comics, had heard little of them except that there was a talking raccoon with a machine gun and an anthropomorphic tree. However, Marvel has managed to make a lot of good movies with a lot of heart, and actually let directors have more artistic license with a movie than the average blockbuster.
So in steps James Gunn, with the weirdest cast of characters Marvel has ever put together, an awe-inspiring special effects team, and a wise cracking script full of heart and emotion and 10cc songs.
And it works. Oh man, does it work.
With it's A-Team, Marvel has trekked into darker territory, i.e. Tony Stark's ptsd, Cap's long lost best friend is now a killer on the wrong side of the fence, Thor's mom is dead and Odin probably is too. So with Guardians they get a chance to go a little lighter, have some fun again, and make a movie funnier than all three Iron Men combined (I know, you don't have to scold me in the comments, I'm just trying to hold your interest).
Chris Pratt was absolutely the perfect choice to play Peter Quill, a sort of Malcolm Reynolds with a funny bone and a mix tape he can't bear to part with (more later on that). He calls himself Starlord because nobody else will. He's the perfect mix of funny, action hero, guy with six pack that is in the Marvel movie out of obligation, and heart for the film. And he does the comedy impossible: he's a funny straight man.
Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista are great as Gamora and Drax respectively, creating dynamic characters where they could have easily just phoned in it, get paid, and go home. Saldana is especially awesome during the combat scenes she gets, which thank goodness, are often. I've always thought JJ Abrams was missing out by letting everyone but Uhura, Saldana's other big sci-fi role, kick some butt in the Star Trek movies.
Man, I won't even get into Bradley Cooper as Rocket and Vin Diesel as Groot. The latter of which pulls another Iron Giant, saying few words and stealing the entire movie.
Anyway, just go see it. Treat yo self.
You didn't think I wasn't gonna make a Parks and Rec joke right?
-Randi



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Which I Discuss Thor 2 (While Mostly Flailing Over Tom Hiddleston)

EDIT: So a lot of my posts haven't been going through because of Internet problems, so expect a small flurry of slightly out of date stuff today, like the snow flurry outside my window this morning. In April. In the South. I was not amused.

-Bullet list. Or else we're not gonna get anywhere.
-For the record, and I'm totally biased, Thor is my favorite Avenger. Always has been, always will be.
-So this movie was definitely pretty high up on the list of "I'm going to watch this immediately and cry even if there's nothing sad".
-And thankfully, despite some flaws which I will pick at, it lived up to my expectations.
-My biggest concern for this particular expedition was Loki, as it usually is. How are they gonna deal with the fact that he almost destroyed Earth last summer? Will this create more Shakespearean drama? Does Tom Hiddleston still get to steal scenes if Loki is imprisoned? The answer is yes. And it works wonderfully. This is definitely a movie more about Loki, which is not to say that it's not about others too. Everybody gets a little more character development this time around. But it is a Loki world, and we're merely living in it.
-Love triangle? Kind of. No spoilers, but I was a fan of how it was handled. Don't worry, there's no catfighting between Sif and Jane, our two lady leads.
-Well, Kat Denning's hilarious Darcy doesn't count as a lady lead, but in terms of show stealing, she's up there with Hiddleston. The movie can be pretty dark, but Darcy and a few well chosen cameos keep it funny when it needs to be.
-Character death. Be warned.
-Hemsworth lends credibility to a role that pretty much anyone else would've played statically. He gets better with every movie.
-Special effects. I had issues. First of all, what looks to be a hasty post-filming 3D conversion darkened the colors in the 2-D version most of you probably went to see. Sometimes it's a little hard to tell what's going on. I really wish studios would stop doing that to make a bigger profit, it's getting annoying and detracts from the movie itself.
-No, but I really enjoyed it, and did cry (for the record, there were actual sad things in this movie, it wasn't just me being a total sap). Some will mostly likely have problems with all the rawr-elves-and-laser-beams-and-high-fantasy-elements, but I found this totally bonkers approach awesome for the movie. If this happens in Cap 2, I'll be less thrilled, but hey, it works for Asgard.

-Randi

Friday, April 4, 2014

In Which Captain America Knocks My Socks Off

So I had a wonderful birthday yesterday, which included good food and a trip to the movies for some good ole fashioned patriotism.

Captain America at a glance is one of the more bland of not only the Avengers, but Marvel's super hero universe altogether. We've got Norse gods, eccentric billionaires that are way funnier than Batman, a talking raccoon with a machine gun, even a guy who eats planets (I'm not kidding).

So to have a movie that finally makes you take Cap seriously is pretty great. A lot of stuff has been tweaked, i.e. we switched out the red white and blue pajamas for something that actually looks like a secret agent who loves patriotism.

But Cap himself still holds to the same moral code evident in his first solo movie and the Avengers. And in this particular installment, that often means some clashes with S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) over freedom vs. safety and some very post 9/11 political intrigue.

This was not the aforementioned good ole fashioned patriotism one would expect from a Captain America film. But that's okay.

The story is a perfect blend of political thriller, character piece, and action blockbuster. For every dark moment (of which there are many), there's a joke. For every explosion, there is a quiet dramatic scene that builds wonderfully on these already familiar characters.

Oh, and the characters in this movie are awesome. We've got Chris Evans back in the titular role, and there is nobody better for it. His Cap finally gets a little sass and perfectly conveys the everyman sensibility and morality of Steve Rogers without coming off as pretentious or annoying. Scarlett Johannsssoooonnn (I'm not even gonna try anymore) is spectacular as Russian assassin Black Widow, and has great chemistry with Chris Evans. But this movie also proves that any excuses for lack of a Widow movie are absolutely invalid. Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders are back as Nick Fury and Maria Hill respectively. My earlier qualm with very little screen time for Hill still stands, however awesome her scenes are. But Fury gets quite a lot of material in this film, something I've been waiting for, and it's handled very well.
Then we've got Anthony Mackie as Falcon, who also needs a little more screen time, but makes an impression with what he's got. It's a great role, played very well, with lots of humor and empathy. And of all people, Robert Redford joins us briefly in this installment as a twisted politician. He fares well as one of the movie's many villains, although his is shrouded in a bit more ambiguity than say, the Winter Soldier's.
By the way, I won't spoil anything. But the villain in this movie is one of Cap's greatest, for reasons other than his combat skills, which are impressive to say the least.
The action sequences in the film are cool too. There aren't a whole lot of set pieces until the flash bang boom final fight. There's a particularly cool car chase...thing with Nick Fury, and anytime Falcon gets a chance to show off is completely awesome. And Black Widow gets a lot of time to kick butt and fire off one liners.
The plot twists in here are particularly potent and game changing. This movie is probably a tonal shift point for the entire Avengers universe, what with some of the revelations. It's going to be really interesting to see how they continue from this point.

I was a little disappointed by one really minor detail, which is Coulson. I know we've got Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I'm terribly behind on, but shouldn't they at least have mentioned his death? Especially since he was such a big Cap fan? I don't know, I feel like they really gloss over that little detail.

So obviously, I was really impressed by this movie. It was the perfect combination of Marvel's previous lighter movies with just enough of the darkness of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. Do I want all of Marvel's movies to be like this? No. But this one was pretty sweet after the high fantasy/sci-fi of Thor 2, and the comedy action of Iron Man. You get a little bit of everything if you're invested in these movies as I am, and that's pretty genius.

-Randi

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Extroversion of St. Vincent

If you didn't know any better, you'd think St. Vincent had just had emergency surgery a la Alexander McQueen prior to walking on stage. She's got on a white dress that's spattered with red something across the front, like she's pulled her heart out for you. When you listen to the album, it makes a lot of sense.

St. Vincent, a.k.a Annie Clark, has managed to do what a lot of musicians find impossible: Concocted music that resonates very personally with a lot of people without giving away anything from her personal life. This strange kind of anonymity is vastly fascinating, and leaves her music completely open for someone to fill with interpretations and all kinds of good stuff. It's pretty close to a miracle.

Whereas her last solo effort, Strange Mercy, was all inner workings and pent-up aggression and emotion. The eponymous new album currently playing through my speakers, is indeed the aforementioned heart on a plate, hence the bloody dresses. 

So that being said, the world created on this fourth record is pretty amazing.The jittery heat of Rattlesnake, the Prince meets Billy Joel meets cult leader bounce of Birth In Reverse, and the softness of I Prefer Your Love and Prince Johnny are just a few of standouts on a standout album. I really can't name a favorite song. They're all deliciously different while still making a cohesive sound, something also nearly impossible to do.

Clark's formidable guitar skills are on display in this album too. The jammy riffs on Birth In Reverse, the Zeppelin style riffing on Huey Newton and Bring Me Your Loves, (Yes, that Huey Newton, but also no, not THE Huey Newton. I'll get to that later) are awesome. Her pop sensibility comes out on tracks like Regret and Psychopath as well. There's a little taste of everything that makes St. Vincent so great on this album.

But it's also unlike anything she's ever done before. A little bit more extroverted, as she's described it. There's a lot of groovy, dance-able beats, another thing Clark expressed interest in working on with this album. Her collaboration with Talking Heads member David Byrne has had some influence as well, evident on the robotic funk of super groovy lead single Digital Witness.

The whole album work well as a unit too, something I'm having a harder time finding as artists go for a more single-oriented approach. There's a story here, whatever it is, which brings me back to my first point: This album is for you to fill with thoughts. Even though we know that Rattlesnake was based on a real life walk  in the desert gone wrong, Huey Newton is about an Ambien-induced hallucination while doctors were trying to give Clark sleep medication on tour in which she hallucinated THAT Huey Newton, and that I Prefer Your Love is about her mom's near-death experience, that doesn't take precedence when you're listening. This album is for you to populate, St. Vincent's just given you the outline. Which isn't to say that it's not incredibly detailed. It's a very fun listen on the surface, but the deeper you dig through the lyrics and orchestrations, the more you find.

This album works in so many ways, which is why it already gets my vote for favorite album of the year. 



Best lyric: Don't mistake my affection/For another spit and penny style redemption. (Prince Johnny)

St. Vincent is now available and streaming on Spotify.

-Randi

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Which I Answer Important Questions (Not Really)



1. Batfleck?
I know a lot of people might be finding it hard to forgive and forget Daredevil, but Affleck has since become an Academy Award winning director and talented actor. I'm not quite sure how to feel about it, but I'm definitely willing to give it a shot. Back in the day, every fanboy with a blog absolutely crucified Heath Ledger as the Joker, and then he turned out to be one of the best portrayals of ANY villain on film. I have reservations (I also have a hard time forgetting and forgiving Daredevil), but hey, things have changed.

Do you even do book reviews anymore?
Yeah, but I most do them over on Goodreads, and most of the time they're pretty short. So I don't post a lot of them here. But yeah, definitely. I'm muddling through Allegient by Veronica Roth, which I am A) pretty sure I spelled wrong and B) am not really liking thus far.

Frozen?
Oh it was so cute! And it was cool that it was about a sister relationship as opposed to a romantic one. Idina Menzel is still the queen, Kristen Bell was great, and Jonathon Groff needed more than fifty seconds of singing. The animation was gorgeous too. I will say that I feel like it's a bit over-hyped but hey, it was still pretty great.



 DC or Marvel?
I have a sort of complicated answer to that question. I prefer Marvel's heroes to DC's, but DC's villains to Marvel. But there are two exceptions on both ends: Wonder Woman and Loki. Marvel's heroes are flawed, which makes them infinitely interesting and able to do different kinds of tones and stories without seeming out of place or weirdly out of character. But DC's villains definitely deal with more psychological elements and seem somewhat more dangerous than some of the mustache twirling that goes on with Marvel villains (Loki admittedly included).

What about the wizard rock thing?
I've currently written some instrumental things but I'm working on some cool things to release soon.

 Gal Gadot?
I'm just excited that we're FINALLY GETTING A WONDER WOMAN MOVIE LIKE WHOA. Do I wish she had a bigger body type? Yeah, I kinda do. But I also like that she's Israeli and has seen service in the military. I'm sure she can pull of the physicality come shoot time. Acting? I haven't seen her in anything, so I can't say, but I'm excited!

Friendly reminders?
There is life outside your apartment, and if someone asks if you're a god,  you say yes!

Cosplay???
This year: The Riddler (Arkham City), Rogue (newest incarnation), Ramona Flowers, Fili from the Hobbit (I've got a Kili and a Smaug and a Bilbo too, don't fret).

Best comic book currently running?
Hawkeye. If you're not won over by Pizza Dog, you are probably not a human being or had your heart surgically removed at birth.

Swiggity Swag?
The Nightmare stag.

This has gotten too lengthy. I'm gonna quit now.

-Randi




Monday, January 13, 2014

In Which I Predict The Oscars

So this is my thing. Whereas some people collect stamps, pimp out their Dungeons and Dragons characters, re-design their house, or otherwise do something useful, it seems I have found a talent in predicting an awards show that doesn't really matter and is often quite infuriating. But it's fun to do it, so why not?

While watching last night's Golden Globes, I found that most of my predictions were just slightly off (I called more acting wins for 12 Years a Slave that Dallas Buyer's Club). So my whole "I was 100 percent accurate last year" brag might soon be going down the toilet, but it's still worth a shot.

Small reminder that we don't even have any nominees yet. Once we do, I'll revise this post or maybe make another one.

BEST PICTURE
I'm seeing 12 Years A Slave vs. Gravity, but I'd bet money, albeit a small amount on 12 Years. Steve McQueen has thus far not made much of a splash with the Academy, but this movie pretty much blew everybody away with it's accurate and brutal depiction of slavery in Lousiana. Gravity however was not only very well recieved critically, but also a special effects tour de force from a well loved director that also made all the monies at the box office. It's a tight race this year. The only possible upset is American Hustle.

Best Actor
Chiwetel Ejiofor is so far the forerunner, but you could see LEONARDO DICAPRIO FINALLY GET HIS OSCAR, but this might not be a thing because Wolf of Wall Street's explicit and excessive scenes, which to be fair, was the point the movie was trying to make. If it's not Leo or Chiwetel, definitely Oscar Issac for Inside Llewyn Davis (WHICH I HAVE STILL NOT SEEN AND THIS MAKES ME IRRATIONALLY ANGRY). Also, I know that fact that it came out in April kind of kills it's Oscar chances, but I'm hoping Chadwick Boseman from "42" might get a nom.

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett has been the forerunner ever since she played a downtrodden socialite in Blue Jasmine, but Amy Adams also might get away with this one. And if it's not either of them, it will be Sandra Bullock for (an absolutely stunning performance in) Gravity, or Judi Dench for Philomena.

Best Supporting Actress
It looks like Jennifer Lawrence might win yet another award, but I'm honestly not too enthralled with that, because American Hustle wasn't even that good, and pales in comparison to Lupita N'yongo's performance in 12 Years A Slave (and y'all know I love Jennifer. It's just that she played this samek kind of character last year in Silver Linings Playbook too). Side note: I don't know if this would in leading actress, but Scarlett Johansson just might garner a nomination for her voice acting in Spike Jonze's "her", where she plays an operating system that (understandably) Joaquin Pheonix falls in love with. It's next on my to-watch list.

Best Supporting Actor
This one is definitely a toss up. You've got Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave, Jared Leto playing a trasgendered person in Dallas Buyer's Club, Bradley Cooper in American Hustle (One of the best performances in a mediocre movie all about good performances),  and some others.

Best Song
Probably "Let It Go" from Frozen. It's basically Idina Menzel's lost Wicked track, a fresh version of Defying Gravity for a new generation. Although U2's song for Mandela might sneak in, especially due to their long partnership and Mandela's recent death. I would also like to see if Inside Llewyn Davis can get past the guidelines for Best Song, but considering that it won't, it's more than likely it won't even get the nomination.


Best Score
I'm hoping for The Book Thief to pick up something (ANYTHING), and it's soundtrack is John Williams at his non-blockbuster best. Soft, moving, and still listenable. Hans Zimmer for 12 Years a Slave or the soundtrack to All Is Lost are other possible contenders.

Best Special Effects
PACIFIC RIM PLEASE PLEASE, but on the other hand, Gravity won this year for it's groundbreaking (ahahahaha) zero gravity work, so this one is pretty much a shut out.

Best Original Screenplay/Adapted Screenplay
This one is a pretty tight two way as well, with 'her' and Inside Llewyn Davis being my top two. The academy always likes to give this one to the slightly offbeat movies that probably won't win any acting awards. That being sad, the guidelines on these things are so confusing that I'll just put in the best shots here.Wolf of Wallstreet and American Hustle could probably get in too.

Best Directing
Again, it's McQueen vs. Cuaron (sorry, my accent marks aren't working with me today). Although I'm a little more inclined towards Gravity simply because it was a much technically harder movie to make that still packs an emotional punch, whereas 12 Years A Slave called for a lot more emotion and some pretty excruciating scenes. Both have excellent merits.

So that's it for now, if I didn't mention something or you think I'm dead wrong, please let me know, because this looks to be a year of upsets.

-Randi