And the Nominees Are 2016: Round 2

Merry Christmas everyone! I’ve been enjoying loafing around my parents’ house for the past week, so other than a fun family outing to see Star Wars it’s been mostly a week of catching up with some things on streaming, (and filling in some new nominees from the Critics’ Choice nominees.

Trumbo

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I’m a sucker for movies about The Movies and (as already discussed this awards season) I think it’s important in today’s, frankly terrifying, political climate to tell stories about what happens when we, as Americans, let our fear run things. So, I was basically the target audience for this biopic of Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), a screenwriter and Communist, who was blacklisted during the peak of the HUAC craziness. And, I liked it a lot. Cranston is amazing, at this point that almost goes without saying, but he does such a good job of evolving his performance over time and in reaction to what happens around him.

The supporting cast is also great. I was especially moved by Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird, a more radical member of the Hollywood Ten  (and a more tragic figure), and Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson, an actor who named names for the committee, something the movie handles very sensitively, which I wasn’t expecting. Also, Helen Mirren is deliciously evil as Hedda Hopper, a gossip columnist so over the top she looks like she just walked out of a Capitol scene in The Hunger Games, but she’s Helen Mirren so, of course, by the end even hopper felt like a full, complex (though flawed and fear driven) human.

This can be heavy handed and a bit preachy at times, but so could Trumbo himself.

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Wolf Hall 

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Another one we discussed on Method to the Madness , Wolf Hall is the epitome of great BBD (Boring British Drama). It’s a slow, lovely literary adaptation, covering the story of Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) and the upheaval of Henry VIII (Damien Lewis)’s reign. I admit that this didn’t stick in my brai as much as other miniseries covering similar subject matter have in the past, but I stand by my last post in praising Rylance. I think he’s probably one of the best living actors today, and I’m glad he’s been getting more film and TV work lately.

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Danny Collins

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Some movies com and go without me even realizing it, even though I’m almost always at the movies or wishing I could be at the movies, and Danny Collins was one of those. But the HFPA will always nominate Al Pacino whenever they can so I got the chance to chat up with this quiet little gem.

The story is simple, Pacino plays a coke head lounge singer who started out as an idealistic folk musician, who receives a letter than John Lennon sent him when he was young. It acts as a wake up call, and Collins snaps out of his over the top party life and travels to New Jersey (much to the chagrin of his manager/best friend played by the always charming Christopher Plummer) to spend time with his estranged son (the always compelling Bobby Cannavale).

It gets dangerously close to schmaltzy at times, but it’s at its heart an interesting take on an addiction story. Danny never hits a true rock bottom, because his success insulate him against that, but his problem does hold him back from true happiness and connection. He’s a good guy, but he’s scares to be as open as that requires. It’s much better than I expected and available on Amazon Prime. Worth a watch.

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Creed

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Confession, I’ve never seen the original Rocky all the way through. I know the whole story, and have seen the sequel where he goes to Russia on TV a bunch of times as a kid. But, I like Michael B. Jordan, and heard interesting things about Sylvester Stallone‘s performance in this (and it got nominations) so I went. If the original Rocky is this kind of mix of inspirational and yet subtle than I think I can safely say that I love it. I saw a review of Creed somewhere that described it as essentially an extended sports montage, and while I don’t think that’s completely fair, I did feel actually uplifted throughout most of this and I hat boxing so that’s a accomplishment. Jordan does a good job of creating his own character and Tessa Thompson (whom I have loved since her days on Veronica Mars) is lovely as his love interest. But Stallone was the most interesting factor to me. He’s an old man in this, it looks like he can barely move in some scenes, and it was a unique take on franchise maintenance to have the central strongman hero, step into the shoes of the comic relief/emotional guide. Also, that score will never stop being epic.

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

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 Miró and I discussed this one on our Summer Movie Special. I saw it over the summer and don’t have my old notebook on vacation with me so I don’t have my full notes on what I thought of this. Basically I liked it a lot. I think it managed to avoid cheap sentimentality despite being about a girl with cancer, but also respects the fact that at a certain point you have to let sentiment in. Because otherwise we aren’t human. It’s also a lovely look at being a teenage film nerd, which I, of course, loved.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Look, you already know whether this movie is for you or not, but if it is its magical. The plot is essentially A New Hope redux, with the great addition of a kick ass heroine – Rey, played by the revelation Daisy Ridley. Just as I hoped, the action zips along, the music is stirring and the relationships feel real. There are a couple of moments of real pathos (they there Harrison Ford), but not so many that it feels like they’re trying too hard.

I had forgotten how funny this universe can be, and the one liners here were pretty great. Especially those delivered by John Boyega.

Minor spoilers ahead: 

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I was also really happy to see that Poe (Oscar IsaacOscar Isaac) didn’t die at the beginning, because you can’t give me ten minutes of Oscar Isaac and then leave me with a jacket. I (maybe naively) have hope for Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)’s redemption. Can’t wait for episode 8.

Weekly Adventure: The Milk Carton Kids at The Paramount Theatre

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a Showtime documentary about a concert about the music from Inside Llewyn Davis (which is a Russian nesting doll of a description, but you should watch it.) It includes people who played in the movie (Oscar Isaac, Marcus Mumford, The Punch Brothers), legends (Patti Smith, Joan Baez) and a bunch of contemporary folk musicians I love (The Avett Brothers, Lake Street Dive, Gillian Welch), and a couple of lovely discoveries, including this scene:

And, much like Marcus Mumford and Ethan Cohen in that clip I found myself crying and a bit in awe of these two guys with their acoustic guitars. So I Googled them, and saw that they would be playing at The Paramount, so I splurged a little and bought myself a ticket.

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You can’t take pictures in the theater, but the inside is also really retro-pretty and the acoustics are great.

The opening act was a guitarist named Julian Lage. I’m not going to lie, when they introduced him as an instrumental, accoustic guitar player I was bracing myself for a sleepy experience, but he is so incredibly talented that I was riveted. (So much so that I bought his album World’s Fair, which is a big deal. Music without lyrics can be a really tough sell for my language obsessed brain.)

Then the Milk Carton Kids took the stage, and they were just as remarkable. Marcus Mumford says at a different point in the documentary that when these two guys open their mouths you can’t tell which one of them is singing, and that they make their guitars sing, and that is the best way I can find to describe their sound.

I think this song also shows how in tune with folk tradition they are. Their songs feel just as personal and political at the same time as any 1960s folk revivalist’s. They feel like troubadours, maybe because a lot of their songs are named after places (and they tell a bunch of stories about driving around in their mini-van.)

But they are also hilariously funny. They’re almost like an old timey comedy duo between shows. It reminded me of the best parts of listening to “A Prairie Home Companion” as a kid.

And I promise not all of their songs are beautiful lullabies (though it would be pretty close to perfect if they were), but they also have some fun upbeat bluegrassy tunes.

Overall it was a lovely evening, and I’m so happy I have their music in my life now.

And the Nominees Are 2016: Round 1

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…awards season! I’ve  seen a bunch of the SAG and Golden Globe nominees already, and have a pretty long break ahead of me to catch up on the rest.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

Love & Mercy 

love2band2bmercy2bposter Based on the trailer, and my knowledge of Brian Wilson’s mental illness I was really worried that this was going to be crushing, but it wasn’t. Paul Dano (Golden Globe nominee) and John Cusack were excellent at inhabiting Wilson’s fragile genius. And what’s great is that because of the strength and grace of Wilson’s second wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks), you don’t leave feeling weighed down by the sadness of what Wilson had to endure. At least I didn’t, at least one person who I talked to found this overwhelmingly sad, which makes sense given that he had to deal with child abuse, mental illness, addiction, manipulation, and over medication. But the central love story left me with the feeling that the world is filled with more love and mercy that we often remember.

(Side note: I think “God Only Knows” is one of those songs that I’m convinced was transmitted by angels or aliens or something. It’s supernaturally good.)

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The Martian

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 If you listen to my podcast, then you know I had a lot of trouble with the excruciating level of technical detail in this book. (It suffers from what I refer to as Moby Dick syndrome –  just tell. me. the. damn. story.) But, that’s exactly what the movie does. (Though, conversely, there is one time jump in the movie that I think leaves out entirely too much detail…but now I’m just being a Goldilocks.)

This is a good old fashioned, feel-good adventure story, it’s basically Robinson Crusoe without the racism. And it pulls that off beautifully.

In a really great way the effects, though handled well, don’t even really matter, this is a movie about characters and even the bit players (oh hey there, Donald Glover) are awesome. But let’s be real, you’re gonna love or hate this based on Matt Damon and he delivers. The movie doesn’t drag for a second and that is because he makes you care about Mark Watney (even if he is a nerdy UChicago smartass.)

Side Note: I also found it refreshing that they didn’t shoehorn in a romance for him, single people have just as much motivation to survive as married ones, but Hollywood doesn’t usually tell their stories well.

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mv5bnji5otq0mdqxm15bml5banbnxkftztgwmzcwnjmynte-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_ I take notes throughout the year on movies that I think will get nominations so that I’ll remember my impressions when I come to write this first post of awards season, but the Hollywood Foreign Press threw me for a loop by nominating actual broad comedies in the Comedy/Musical categories this year. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is great, but I didn’t take notes on Spy, because I didn’t think I would be writing about it. Thankfully, Miró and I did talk about it on our Summer Movies episode of MttM, so I can direct you all there for more thoughts on it.   But I will say I love Melissa McCarthy, and she and Rose Byrne had wonderful comic chemistry. It was delightful to see Miranda Hart in a Hollywood movie, and Jason Statham is excellent at self-parody.

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Trainwreck

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Now this one (also discussed in the above mentioned podcast episode) I could have sworn I took notes on, but they are nowhere to be found. Suffice to say, this movie is pretty great. And though I don’t always agree with everything Amy Schumer says/does, I love her unapologetic spirit and the mix of bawdiness and vulnerability in this movie is perfect. Judd Apatow basically makes movies about people that are stuck in extended adolescence that need to grow up. I love that with this movie they showed that is not a distinctly male experience. Also, Bill Hader, believable as a romantic lead. Who woulda thunk it?

Side Note: LeBron James, great as a sidekick.

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 Steve Jobs 

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Right up front – I love The Social NetworkI once got in a debate in my film criticism class senior year of college about why it definitely deserved to win Best Picture over The King’s Speech(I also had a couple of very tense conversations with very good friends about this subject. For the record, I like The King’s Speech.) So I wanted to love Steve Jobs, because Aaron Sorkin and technology and people walking through tight hallways discussing inventing the world I grew up in.

And…well…I think the acting was phenomenal. Michael Fassbender made me forget what the real Steve Jobs even looked like by completely inhabiting this brilliant asshole. Kate Winslet was wonderful as Joanna Hoffman, though she seemed to be Benjamin Buttoning in terms of her age and accent.The real standouts for me were Seth Rogen (as Steve Wozniak) and Jeff Daniels (as John Sculley) who both play people arguably better at their jobs than Jobs, but lacking in vision.

Although I know, from having been alive, the happy ending and living mythology that Jobs enjoyed in the 21st century the movie ends at the brink of that. And I found myself wondering more about the people Steve left in the wake of his ambition than the man himself. Though I really enjoyed the line Sorkin gives to him inn his rooftop scene of reconciliation with his daughter – “I was made badly.” Yes, it could be about a product, but despite his claims otherwise, in many ways Jobs was his own product. We talk about him like he was a genius, partly because he told us he was one. And he was really good at designing and selling a story.

This isn’t really about the movie, which is structurally interesting and emotionally complex, but I left with this nagging feeling in my gut. In the last product launch we’re shown clips of “Think Different” icons from MLK to Muhammad Ali, and it’s not a big leap to think that we’re supposed to put Jobs in that pantheon. But, genius he may have been, Jobs was selling us a product. He was a businessman not a revolutionary, and it makes my skin crawl a bit to see him treated as a prophet.

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ROOM

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The voice of this novel is so distinct that I was very worried when I heard they were adapting it into a movie. But then I saw that they had cast Brie Larson as Ma & I was in. And, I was right. Watiching this movie (like reading the book) is like getting repeatedly punched in the stomach. And it manages to both, hang on to the child’s eye story (through the almost luminescent Jacob Tremblay) by never leaving Jack’s side, and give me a fuller picture of Ma’s struggle to both provide what her child needs (safety, warmth, and fun) and a means to escape her captivity.

Actually seeing Sean Bridgers as ‘Old Nick,’ was a startling experience for me. I had turned him into a monster in my head while reading the book, (Because, of course, he is one) but seeing how remarkably normal he looks was a chilling reminder that evil, even building a hostage cell in your backyard level evil, comes in packages that can deceive us. Because he is a human, a terrible one, but a human and that’s fucking scary. (Also refreshing, they didn’t need to show us the rape scenes to make it clear that it was traumatic and awful.) This was a visceral experience for me, I cried a lot, and my heart raced, but it was worth it.

To end on a happier note, because the movie is ultimately hopeful- Joan Allen and (new to me) Tom McCamus were like rays of (tired) sunshine in this.

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Brooklyn

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OK, so this book is one of my all time favorites (written by my favorite living writer.) So, I was worried when this was being adapted, but then I saw the trailer, and it is amazing. Like, my mental image of Jim Farrell (Domnhall Gleeson) had brown hair, but other than that this basically exactly what I pictured.

And the movie itself, while obviously condensed, so perfectly captured the sweetness and melancholy of Eilis’s (Saorise Ronan) story of emigration from Ireland to Brooklyn in 1952. I’ve always loved this character because she feels like a real person that you don’t see often in books or movies. She’s careful without being boring and charming without being the life of the party. She’s something between a beauty queen and a wallflower, you know, like a real person.

Overall, the movie felt old fashioned, in a lovely way. Eilis meets her adorable love interest Tony (Emory Cohen) at a parish dance, but also in the way it is centered around an emotional story, which we don’t make big sweeping movies like this about that any more.

A family friend who we ran into at the theater called this a “woman’s movie” in a disparaging way. All I have to say to that is – it certainly is a movie about a woman, that takes the concerns of her life seriously and includes tragedy and love. And if that’s inherently dismissable to you, then I don’t know why you, then I don’t know why you’re reading this blog.

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Spotlight 

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I was so worried during the first 15 minutes of this movie, it had been so built up for me, and at first it felt so…slow isn’t the right word. Quiet might be better. Or conventional, maybe. The acting was good and the story important, but I just didn’t think it could live up to the hype. And then it did.

It felt slow, because this story unfolded slowly (as a character remarks early on – “the Church thinks in centuries,” well this scandal worked in decades.)

Tom McCarthy (director and co-writer) makes the interesting choice of starting in the past (in 1976) with a snapshot of a priest walking out of a police precinct and lingering on the face of a desk sergeant realizing that this is how it works. The movie is really exceptional in that, despite being about a salacious scandal, it never stoops to tabloid cliché. Although the scenes depicting victims telling their stories are emotional gut punches they are straight forward and allowed to stand on their own without underscoring or other cinematic emotional manipulation.

And it also does a good job of making it clear that though blame for the abuse ultimately lies with the priests everyone else was turning a blind eye. The movie is really about the influence of the church in a city like Boston, but I also think it illustrates that people don’t want to believe this story could be true. Despite (or maybe because of) truly remarkable performances from the whole ensemble (particularly Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and my fellow Northwestern alum Brian d’Arcy James), this is a truly uncomfortable movie, even when you know what they are going to find watching the magnitude be uncovered is so sickening and heartbreaking. But it also feels important. Part of what the Spotlight team did was keep the story on the front page for over a year, and this movie will hopefully help do that again.

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Bridge of Spies

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I can’t lie, I wasn’t going to see this before Mark Rylance started getting nominated for it. I’m not sure why, I love Steven Spielberg, especially in combination with Tom Hanks, but the trailers for this just didn’t grab me. (And let’s be real that is a dumb movie title. I’ve seen this and liked it, and still ton’t think I want to see something called “Bridge of Spies.”)

Remember last year when I complained about how Unbroken felt old fashioned and propagandistic? Well so did this, but in a way I can totally get behind. It can be hard to be an informed liberal and still be proud to be an American, but stories like this (‘inspired by true events’) help me to remember how. As Hanks’s character James Donovan puts it, what makes us American is “the rulebook” (aka the Constitution) not any one race, religion, etc. and that means we use it (and the 4th Amendment protections it provides) for everyone even those who don’t believe in it/we don’t trust. Because no matter how scared we are, we can’t forget who we are, which seems depressingly relevant today.

Enough pontificating – Rylance is great as Hanks’s suspected Soviet spy client and the two of them have a great energy as scene partners. Overall, it’s a little over-grey toned at points, but visually interesting. And I appreciated that this shows espionage to be a lot of walking around and cryptic conversations rather than jumping out of places. It’s like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy without Le Carré’s crushing cynicism, because this is Spielberg after all.

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A Very Murray Christmas

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What a delightful little trifle (I’ve never used that phrase before I don’t think, but it really felt apt here.) It’s frankly hilarious to me that Bill Murray got a SAG nomination for this, not that he isn’t great, he is the quirky, mopey, lovable old mean drunk he’s convinced us all he is in the last 15 years or so, but this just doesn’t feel like something that would even get submitted to awards committees, but I’m glad it was because I watched it while baking cookies and it struck the perfect chord of cheer, melancholy and nostalgia.

There’s a great old-timey feel to the whole thing, and like all good classic variety specials it is carried by the cameos: Chris Rock and George Clooney are charming, Jason Schwartzman and Rashida Jones are adorable, Miley Cyrus is clothed and crazy talented. But my favorites have to be Jenny Lewis and Maya Rudolph.

While the dream sequence is great campy, fun, my favorite moment is this sing-a-long of a melancholy Christmas classic:

Side note: This is no tied with The Bling Ring for my favorite Sophia Coppola movie.

(This post was crazy long. If you made it this far – thank you!)

Advent Music 2015

Thanks to the “On This Day” feature on Facebook I have been reminded in the last few weeks that in the past I’ve shared a Christmas Music list. And so I started to put one together for this year, but I didn’t want to repeat a bunch of songs I shared before. And because it’s been a strangely warm, but still dark “winter” down here in Texas, I’ve been listening to a lot of non-Christmas music, that still feels seasonally appropriate. So here’s a little mix of both.

You Are Not Alone – Mavis Staples

Love & Mercy – Brian Wilson

Wildewoman– Lucius

Her Mercy– Glen Hansard

I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm– Dean Martin

Winter Winds– Mumford and Song

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings– Barenaked Ladies feat. Sarah McLachlan

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas– Ella Fitzgerald

Joy to the World– Sufjan Stevens

Fairytale of New York– The Pogues feat. Kirsty McColl

This song came up in a TV show and a book I loved this year so it feels fitting way to end the list.

 

Merry Christmas!

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Weekly Adventure: Thanksgiving East Coast Adventures

So, it’s finals. And I didn’t really have time to fly home last week for Thanksgiving, but it’s been a rough semester and I needed a break, so I did.

After a long traffic jam/drive home from the airport on Wednesday, I made my Dad drive me to, Modern Apizza, the best thin crust in the world (in my correct opinion).

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Which kicked off a lovely 4 days of eating way too much, but being pretty happy about it. Thanksgiving itself was at my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Charlie’s house, we had a small group, but a lovely table.

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This is one of my favorite family picture ever, I’m just sad Garrett and Kate weren’t there to join us.

And, of course, there was my dad’s pie:

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On the Friday after, my mom and I and Nancy went to see Brooklyn, which is great, and I will blog about in a few weeks after it gets nominated for awards.

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Then that night I taught my parents how to use their Roku (my dad is now obsessed with Man in the High Castle, which I also like but find very hard to watch for more than an hour at a time.) And met Hanna for dinner at a new place in New Haven, Tarry Lodge, which is a Mario Batali restaurant. The food was good, but I’m not gonna lie, I was surprised to see a celebrity chef thinking of New Haven as a market.

On Saturday, my parents and I met our family friend Mary (or as I refer to her, my NYC godmother Baboo) for a trip to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

IMG_4189 I had read a lot about this place in my Historical Museums class. (Like a lot. Like every time an article would start talking about equal representation or a socially conscious museum it would cite the Tenement Museum.) We went on the “Irish Outsiders” tour, which told the story of a real Irish family (the Moores) who lived in the building in the 1860s. It was a German building, the Moores were not popular. The tour was story based and interactive, at times it felt a little forced but mostly it was engaging (our guide was wonderful) and thought provoking. I want to go back and go on the other tours. (And it would be pretty amazing to work at a place like that in the future.)

We then went for a great lunch at the Stanton Social, where I later learned on Instagram Retta also ate that day. Because my family and I are trendsetters clearly.

Then my Dad headed back to CT to take care of the dog (whom I didn’t manage to take any pictures of this trip, which is a travesty I will rectify over Christmas.) And Mary took my Mom and I to our new favorite New York place, The Campbell Apartment, which is in Grand Central, used to be an apartment, and is the prettiest place I’ve ever had a martini.

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Then my mom and I braved the rain (OK a light drizzle) and the odds (but for real though). To try to win tickets to Hamilton. (I feel like if you read this blog, you already know I love Hamilton, not because I’ve written about it, but because it’s a musical about American History, which basically means it was created for me. But also, it was created for every one. It is amazing.)

I feel like my mother’s comment on my Facebook picture sums up the experience the best:

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And though we didn’t win, we did get to witness this:

Though our view looked more like this:

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We’re going to try again when I’m home for Christmas. We even kept our special ten dollar bills.