Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Amazing Race 21 Episode 8: Russian Cab Drivers Rule!

I love Russian cab drivers and I loved this episode of The Amazing Race. These Moscow cabbies should have their own show. Trey and Lexie's guy was such a character: clashing pink shirt and checked tie and jacket, cigarette dangling from his mouth. And then the Chippendales' driver was a hoot, too, leisurely getting coffee and pastry--and a cigarette, of course--as James and Jaymes were pushing him, "We're in a race, let's go!" The Sri Lankans' driver was sort of cute too, admonishing them that he knew where they were going as the loud girls panicked behind him.

In addition to the most memorable Amazing Race cabbies ever, there was a lot of drama and action and heart in this week's episode. The Fabulous Beekman Boys have more lives than a roomful of cats. Last weeks they joined with Team World Domination as they were trailed several hours behind the other four teams because of a delayed flight. The boys were unable to complete the synchronized swimming task and had to take a four-hour penalty. But they were saved because James and Abba lost their possessions and Abba's passport. In yet another twist, leg 7 was a non-elimination round and they had the whole leg to retrieve the passport. The Long-Haired Guys were also lucky that this episode continued in the same city so they wouldn't need the document to get out of the country.

So not only did we have the usual tension of roadblocks and detours, but there was the tension between the Beekmans and the Rockers. Could the latter could find the passport before the Beekmans' four hour penalty ended. Oh yeah and the Rockers had a Speed Bump as well.

We also witnessed the reversion of Team World Domination to their old arrogant ways (at least on Ryan's part). Last week Ryan and Abby were all lovey-dovey and singing Kumbaya with the Beekmans as they cheered them on at the pool and then Josh helped Abby finished the lock and key challenge. There were hugs and kisses and everything was winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Then Ryan returned to his alpha male jerk mold at the Time Zone challenge. He thought he had the whole thing nailed and even got up with his backpack after he turned in his test the first time. It was so good to see him get shot down by the overacting professor ("Wrong! The next round!") and have to take the test 20 more times. I think the professor saw his big opportunity to become a star on American TV and exaggerated his sternness ("Ah, Team Vorld Domination, I vill cruch you like ant!"), but I didn't love him as much as I did the cab drivers.

Several hours later, the Beekmans breezed through the time zones. Brent figured it out right away, making up for his lack of swimming ability the night before. Then they had fun at the costume cocktail party while everyone else was sweating their guts out at the military dance doing seated kicks and coffee grinders. They managed to survive to take fifth place and James and Abba were eliminated. We never did find out what their speed bump was, except it involved driving around in a limo with a Russian Orthodox priest.

The previews for next week show Team World Domination stuck on a delayed flight--AGAIN!--and a double U-turn. Here's a cool prediction. What if Abby and Ryan get stuck several hours behind everybody else, nobody U-turns the Beekmans because they aren't seen as a threat, and they wind up being in the final four.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NY Stage Actors in Lincoln

It was wonderful to see Lincoln last night at the Union Square multiplex, not only because it was a great film and will probably win a bunch of Oscars, but also because I have read so many Lincoln books over the past few years. It felt like I knew the people and the era intimately, as if I were living then, or at least had a feel for what it may have been like to live in Washington as everyone's world was turned upside down and inside out by the Civil War. Rather than attempt to encompass all of Lincoln's life or even his time in the White House (as Gore Vidal did in his novel and the TV mini-series), screenwriter Tony Kushner and director Steven Spielberg zero in on a few weeks in 1865 as Lincoln pushes the Amendment to end slavery through the House of Representatives.

My only problem was the occasional "weight-of-history" scenes which felt too much like they were imposed on the action. One example is the scene between Lincoln and Mrs. Keckley (Gloria Reuben), Mary's dressmaker and companion. "What do you see as the future of your people," Lincoln asks her. I doubt if such a conversation ever took place and it seems like a writer's invention to scream at us "Important things are happening here, you people of 2012!"

I predict it will win Best Picture and Spielberg will get his second Best Director Oscar. Kushner will probably get an Adapted Screenplay award, a making him one of the few authors to win a Pulitzer, Tony, and Oscar (I think Alfred Uhry is the only other one). Daniel Day Lewis is a lock for Best Actor and Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field are strong contenders for supporting Oscars. Hal Holbrook had a very nice couple of scenes as power broker Preston Blair.

Another bonus for me was the strong presence of the NY theater community in the cast. There were many actors in supporting role whom I've seen and reviewed in numerous Broadway and Off-Broadway productions. I had just seen one actor (Byron Jennings) in The 27th Man at the Public just a few days earlier and another (David Strathairn) I had seen in The Heiress the previous week. Many of my favorite stage actors had prominent and featured roles incl. Elizabeth Marvel, Bill Camp, S. Epatha Merkersen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Stephen Spinella, Julie White, Dakin Matthew, Coleman Domingo, Jared Harris, Adam Driver, Boris McGiver, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Christopher Evan Welch (who was just in The Master also).

There were problems with the experience. The Union Square has those rocking chairs which lean back. The person behind me must have had extremely long legs because he kept kicking the back of my chair. It wasn't a constant barrage of violent assaults, but it was just often enough to be annoying. I did turn around once to stare at him and that worked for a while, but there were a few slight taps afterwards. My senses were bombarded from the opposite direction as well. In the row in front of me and few seats to my right, a woman was looking at her I phone, checking her Facebook status, for long intervals during the film.The light from her phone was very distracting. There were numerous admonition to turn off cell phones and not to text during the film. I think she must have thought "As long as I'm not talking or texting during the movie, I'm not bothering anyone." I really should have said something, but I didn't want to cause a scene. But it still bothers me. I mean, didn't this woman know she would be seeing a long, serious film with few battle scenes?  If you're so bored by history that you just have to look at your Iphone pictures, why even go to the movie? Next time I will gently say, "Please turn off your phone, the light and your FaceBook updates are taking me out of the 19th century, you moron."    
To continue with the Lincoln saturation, I have ordered used DVDs of two TV mini-series on our 16th president: Carl Sandburg's Lincoln starring Hal Holbrook and Sada Thompson from 1974 and Gore Vidal's Lincoln with Sam Waterston and Mary Tyler Moore from 1988. I've already seen Raymond Massey in Abe Lincoln in Illinois and Henry Fonda in Young Abe Lincoln. I will blog about the differences.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

High and Low Culture: Comics and Opera in Upstate NY

Last weekend I ran the gamut from high culture to low within 24 hours. On Saturday, we went to the high-definition screening of the operatic version of The Tempest from the Metropolitan Opera to the Time and Space Limited Theatre in Hudson, NY. Sunday, I drove to the Albany Holiday Inn to attend the Albany Comic Con (I missed this year's huge Comic Con at the Javits Center in Manhattan). I was probably the only person to have attended both events. Though the audiences did not overlap, they both were enthusiastic and part of a niche. Opera and comics do not appeal to the masses, but their supporters are devoted.

Based on Shakespeare's play, The Tempest featured fascinating staging by Robert LePage who sets this tale of the banished Prospero in La Scala, the famous Milan Opera House. You'll recall that Propsero was originally the Duke of Milan before his treacherous brother casts him out to sea. The broadcasts give you such an intimate experience of the performance. When we have gone in person, we're always way up in the second or third tier. I also love the broadcasts from the National Theatre of Great Britain, since not every show they feature is gong to make it to Broadway. It's like taking a trip to London without the expensive airfare.

Time and Space Limited is a charming little space in Hudson that features off-beat and independent films as well as art exhibitions.

Costumed patrons at the Albany Comic Con
The Comic Con was just as intimate, taking place in the small Holiday Inn off the highway in Albany. I limited myself to spending only about $30. One dealer had an enormous selection of nice Silver Age stuff. We chatted a bit and he said he would email me about his next sale at his house. I asked if he had a website or was on Facebook or Twitter. He replied had none of those social media outlets since he was so busy with studying to become a nurse. He had a coverless Tales to Astonish with a nice Giant-Man and the Wasp story as well as a Steve Ditko-drawn Hulk in which the Green Goliath battles with the Humanoid creation of the big-brained Leader on a runaway railcar. Giant Man and the Wasp are an overlooked pair. They were founding members of the Avengers and were left out of the big movie version. But there are rumors the Wasp will appear in the upcoming Iron Man 3. Without Giant Man, the Wasp won't be as interesting. She was kind of a sexist stereotype of a flighty female, but her romantic byplay with Giant Man made them the Nick and Nora Charles of comics. The obnoxious and arrogant Sub-Mariner later took over their spot and they were relegated to only appearing in The Avengers. At least each of the Justice League had their own feature in DC Comics.

Here's a list of the comics I bought in Albany. Another interesting find was The Spectre #8, the penultimate in the series. The Spectre was a DC supernatural spirit who lives inside the body a tough policeman. The Spectre first appeared in the 1940s, then faded away. He came back in the late 1960s and the artists applied psychedelic colors and design popular then to depict his ghostly adventures. It was sort of a safe LSD trip for little kids.

Action 371, 409
Captain America 108
Fantastic Four 267, 283
The Flash 159
Marvel Double Feature 5
Marvel Tales 131
Spectre 8
Superman 252 (100 page spectacular)
Tales of the Unexpected 71
Tales to Astonish 63
Wonder Woman 186
World's Finest 123

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Amazing Race 21: Episodes 6 and 7: Bye, Bye Beekman?

The Beekman Boys try to get synchronized.
You never know what's going to happen on the Amazing Race. The last two episodes have provided more highs and lows than in recent memory. I do love it when you never know who's going to win. Last season, Dave and Rachel won nearly every leg despite their being that year's Bickersons and it was pretty clear they were going to take the big prize. Now the lead keeps switching between Team World Domination, the Long Hairs, the Texas kids, and the loud Sri Lankan twins. And just when you think you have a team all figured out, they switch personalities on you. For example, last week sweet and innocent Trey and Lexie from Texas turned into accomplices in near larceny when they failed to tell James and Abba the rockers that the Sri Lankans had found their money on the floor of the travel agency in Bangladesh. I'd like to think that's something I wouldn't do, that I'd say, "Hey did anyone lose all their money?" But in the heat of competition, who knows?

To further add to the moral confusion, Team World Domination whom I had decried as too competitive in previous blog posts, turned into nice people this week by staying to cheer on the Beekman Boys as they attempted the synchronized swimming challenge in Moscow.

But let's go back to where we left off in the last blog (I've had a real life since then, thanks very much.) At the starting line in Bangladesh, the teams are given instructions to fly to Istanbul and they all head for a travel agency. How do they decide when to go right to the airport and when to go to a travel agency? It's here that James and Abba drop their money and the Sri Lankans don't exactly steal it, but they do pick it up after it has fallen on the floor. Heinous behavior. Once I did find a wad of cash on the floor of a bar. There was no one else around, so my friends and I said "Free drinks!" It was the 1980s when people did that kind of thing. But this is entirely different. I was not on TV! So James and Abba go begging for money in one of the poorest countries in the world and discover having a film crew following you around makes panhandling relatively easy, especially in the financial district.

Once in Istanbul, teams have to take a ferry ride to the Asian side of the Bosporus (Vicky Edyie gets preposterous on the Bosporpus!--Bette Midler reference) and chose between getting a massage and carrying bagels on their heads.

If you had a choice between a relaxing in a Turkish bath while muscular masseurs soothed your body or carrying a huge tray of bagels on your head while trying to find three different addresses in a foreign language in the sweaty Istanbul streets, which would you do? I'd take the former in heartbeat even if I were in a race around the world for $1 million. But our beloved Beekman Boys and the Monster Truck couple chose the latter while everyone else went for the massage. I guess they thought it would be quicker than lolling in a sauna with suds and steam. It turned out to be a race for last between them.

The Beekmans and Monster Truck got to the next challenge dead last within minutes of each other (even though Josh and Brent had the super difficult Speed Bump of eating two ice cream cones--twice since they went to the wrong location the first time.) At the last minute, Josh got out and directed traffic to clear out a jam and they just made it. Mr. and Mrs. Monster Truck were eliminated, though the big, middle-aged husband showed some graceful dance moves.

In this week'e episode, teams had to fly to Moscow, which you wouldn't think would be that much of a schlep from Istanbul, but there was no such thing as a direct flight. The Beekmans and Team World Domination were on a delayed flight and got stuck in Frankfurt until the next morning, several hours behind the other four teams. All looked hopeless for these two teams who agreed to travel together, but they have one possibility for salvation and they don't even know it. James and Abba, who were in fourth place, left all their stuff in their taxi and cannot check in unless they have their passports. (Remember that happened to Zev and Justin on Season 15?) In what looks like an Amazing Race first, we have a cliffhanger and were not told who would finish fourth, fifth and sixth when it was not a two-part leg. The episode stops with James and Abba having to find their taxi and the Beekmans and Team World Domination at the swimming challenge.

The preview for next week seems to indicate that everyone stays in Moscow and Abby and Ryan are still in it since they are doing some kind of test challenge. I would hate to see Josh and Brent get eliminated because of a lack of choreographed swimming skills. It would be kind of ironic since Josh's drag persona was named Aquadisiac. I just finished his second memoir The Bucolic Plague and identified with him since I have a house in upstate NY too (but I never did drag.)  Either way, at least they will be in eight episodes, which added to their FBBs on the Cooking Channel adds to their media saturation.

Maybe it will be another non-elimination round, maybe James and Abba will get the boot. We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Thoughts

I just got back from voting and it was exciting to see the long lines at my Queens, NY polling place. Fortunately, everything went relatively smoothly and I was able to fill out my ballot and scan it within a half-hour. I guess I'm one of the lucky ones. Just this weekend we were watching MSNBC and there were stories of chaos and confusion in Ohio and Florida, two states where the Republican governors are seeking to suppress and curtail early voting. What a coincidence that these are two of the most vital states for either candidates and if Obama or Romney loses either or both, they lose the election.

Side note: I made up for the non-stop political coverage over the weekend by indulging in a reality TV orgy on Monday night. Thanks to DVR I watched The Amazing Race, The Fabulous Beekman Boys, Project Runway All-Stars, and for a dose of scripted sitcom, The Big Bang Theory (that's really the only sitcom I watch these days, I am on the fence about The New Normal).

Strangely, a lot of anti-Obama SuperPAC TV commercials were running in the upstate NY area during Saturday Night Live. Kind of strange because NY is not in play, but solidly for Obama. They probably have spent the money on airtime already and need to use it or lose it. One commercial makes the case that Obama has not helped the economy and it's time for a change. It doesn't even mention Romney, just this nice-looking white woman talking to the camera about how she voted for Obama before and things are just awful, so the implication is it's OK to vote for Romney, he'll fix everything, and he can't be any worse. It's this fantasy they are selling. The economy is improving, it is getting better, but if Mittens gets in, corporations will run rampant, regulations will be softened, and we'll all be working at Walmart. We'll see what happens tonight.