Rainy Day Movie: Tomorrowland

 “Rainy Day” really doesn’t begin to cover the weather that hit Texas yesterday (and the preceding week) more like “walls of water falling from the sky” with some white lightning thrown in. My apartment was thankfully unaffected, but I really don’t handle storms well so I made the very questionable decision of leaving my house yesterday to go to the Alamo on South Lamar because there wouldn’t be windows. I hadn’t had any real desire to see Tomorrowlandbut it was a pretty great pick me up.

It felt like an old-school Disney movie, like the ones that would be on really late at night on the Disney Channel and mixed live action with animation in a clunky but still wonderful way, and are more than slightly preachy about believing in yourself and despite the darkness around you. Substitute animation with CGI in that sentence and that’s a perfect description of this movie.

Thomas Robinson as a young George Clooney 

But it’s more than just comforting, the action is well  paced and shot and the cast all seems to be having a ton of fun. I don’t want to go into the plot too much, it’s actually very fun to watch it unfold, but it was a lot more thought-provoking than I was expecting. Hugh Laurie makes an appearance as the menacing Governor Nicks, and gives a great monologue about how addicted to outrage and despair we’ve all come to be. It’s so easy to ask what’s wrong in the world, but this movie is a great reminder to ask the next question, “How do we fix it?”

It’s also a great riff on the disparity between the early 60s idea of what the future would be vs. what we have now. (What’s the point of a jet pack anyway? – Fun!)

 Also the girls are great, and kick ass and are full humans who hold their own with Clooney, so that’s pretty cool.

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The Shakespeare Project: Henry VI, Part I

 So, you know how in the last couple of posts in this series, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much i was enjoying the histories after all my hand wringing about how bored I am by battle scenes. Well, that fear caught up with me in Henry VI, Part I. Apparently, according to the excellent introduction in the Royal Shakespeare Company edition I bought at Book People, it was written after parts two and three, which were very popular as a sort of prequel. And as with many pieces of art created to capitalize on the popularity of a compelling story, it falls short.

I confess, again, that much of my trouble following this could come from my own ignorance of the history, but part of the point of these plays was supposed to be to teach people (an extremely biased version of) that history. And mostly I kept wanting to yell at all of young Henry’s advisers to get over themselves and beat the French. Then again, maybe that’s what I was supposed to be doing. I know we’re headed into the War of the Roses now, but I think I prefer the version based mostly on witchcraft from The White Queen.

Janet Suzman as Joan of Arc, and Donald Sinden as Richard of York, in an RSC production of Henry VI in  1963

Now for the real confession – I somehow didn’t know that Joan of Arc was involved with a war with England. I was very surprised when she showed up on the character list for this play. Somehow I went all my life just knowing that she said she talked to God and got burned at the stake for it. I knew she wore armor but I never gave a second thought as to why. That being said, the way that Shakespeare belittles her and nearly constantly implies she was sleeping with the Dauphin and all of his knights was pretty gross, even if some of the wordplay was pretty good.

Also, I’m interested to see where he takes the characters of Margaret of Anjou and this Suffolk person. I’m sure I should know more about them, but again the long dead monarchs of England are pretty much only interesting to me when they are being played by pretty RADA grads on PBS. But I guess the fact that I’m intrigued means he did a good job of writing a cliffhanger to this first installment. On to the next I suppose…

Rainy Day Movie: Far From the Madding Crowd

 It’s been raining so much this week it’s actually possible to forget that I live in Texas, but as this mini-monsoon season is overlapping with my pre-summer semester break, I’m not mad. And it gave me an excuse to hole-up at the Alamo Drafthouse yesterday afternoon to enjoy what I think may become one of my favorite movies. I’ve never read Thomas Hardy novel (in fact I’ve somehow never read any Hardy. Jules gave me a brief recap of Jude the Obscure once that put me off the whole idea of him, but I’m definitely reconsidering that now), so I didn’t know where all the twists and turns of the plot were going (and they go some truly unexpected places). But there’s no real suspense here, more like uncertainty. Just like life.

 One of my perpetual favorites, Carey Mulligan, plays Bathsheba Everdene, who is an independent woman in a society that doesn’t want her to be. She’s courted by the charming local shepherd Gabriel Oak (played by Matthias Schoenaerts – who I recognized from Rust & Bone where he also broods well), boring but earnest Mr. Booldwood (Michael Sheen – who broke my f-ing heart here), and swishingly charming soldier Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). But mostly she wants to run her farm well and independently. And although she encounters struggles, the story doesn’t seem to punish her for this independence in the way that most 19th century narratives of “headstrong women to are tough to tame” usually do. Her misery, when it comes, because of course it comes, is the result of her actions, but she knows this. And that’s what was really refreshing and wonderful about this film (and I assume the book), Bathsheba is a strong person, but also a real  person who is stubborn, but not just comically so, strong but also vulnerable to the pull of pretty face (and I mean, come on, it’s a very  pretty face), and able to laugh at herself and take herself seriously at the same time.

This could have devolved into melodrama, the plot certainly does, but the actors are all living their characters so fully that I stayed with them until the end. Also, the English country side will never not be beautiful to me:

Weekly Adventure: All The Way at the Zach Theatre

After a week of a lot of writing and e-mailing and a couple of frantic moments where I was sure that my Database Management project would never work (it totally does and you should check it out here, if you’re ever looking for a podcast to listen to) I have finished my first year of grad school, which doesn’t seem real at all. (But that may just be because I’m catching up on a sleep deficit…)

Anyway, to celebrate Miró and I went to see All The Way at the Zach Theatre last night. I was first aware of this play (written by Robert Schenkkan), because it won all of the Tony’s last year, including one for leading man Byran Cranston, and because it’s now going to be a HBO miniseries. So I was really excited to see it on the wall of the Zach Theatre months ago as I was riding down South Lamar.

For the most part I was not disappointed. The play follows LBJ from the day after he takes the oath of office until election night in 1964, which means that we get a glimpse into the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination, the very beginnings of what will become the disaster of our involvement in Vietnam, and most notably the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I’ve always thought of this as the “LBJ Play” and it definitely is, but what was so refreshing was the way that Schenkkan shows all the different constituencies that Johnson was dealing with and trying to placate. He doesn’t pull any punches and I feel like I actually understand this moment in political history better now than I ever have before, because he was able to interweave the timelines in a way that I don’t think ever were in any history class.

Miró and I talked a lot at the end about how dirty it makes politics look, how personal loyalties and convictions always at some point get put on the table as collateral or sacrifice. And that’s heartbreaking, and there’s a lot of heartbreak in this show, there are just enough moments where LBJ, played wonderfully here by Steve Vinovich who was Cranston’s understudy in the New York run and looks eerily like the real life man he’s portraying, shows his real insecurity, vulnerability and compassion, that you root for him.

I’m reading Henry VI, Pt. I right now for my Shakespeare Project, and I kept thinking how much this felt like a “history play” for an American mythic figure. Meaning, it was attempting to show us something about our current moment and how we got here, so many of the speeches from the politicians sounded exactly like debates we are having today about different prejudices/freedoms (and some of the same) and it was important to be reminded that this is all connected to our history.

This was especially true during the most moving sequence, a funeral scene for murdered Civil Rights worker James Chaney, that gets interrupted by CORE organizer David Dennis (Delante G. Keys) delivering an incredibly powerful monologue about how he is tired for black men being murdered by white men, that had me sobbing and shaking in my chair.

There are about 5 more stories from the show that I wanted to go home and Google to make sure they were true (they were…), but I don’t want to ramble on. If you’re in town (or this show opens up in your town) you should definitely go.

The show runs through May 10th, at the Topfer Theatre at Zach 1510 Toomey Rd.