Concert Review: A music school parody

Many times, in a studio class at music school, your peers are invited to comment on your performance. While this  encourages active listening and the ability to offer and receive criticism, the comments of fellow students frequently didn’t offer anything new, or that the teacher couldn’t say better. 

And mostly, you got confusion, and conflicting ideas, either contradicting your own preferences or another peer’s thoughts. My favorite peer comment, after a performance of mine: “Raise your stand. You look overly tall.” 

Perhaps your experience was better than mine; but even if it was, you can probably recall some hopeless peer comments and recognize the comedic potential for parody here. 

Last night, I went to a concert with the Seattle Chamber Music Society. I heard 4 groups of people play their hearts out, and what a wonderful job they did. It’s unsurprising; they’re all absolutely the bee’s knees, top of their game. But during the last piece, a Brahms Piano Trio with James Ehnes, my all time top favorite violinist ever… I remembered my studio classes. For your entertainment, here are some of the comments that group could have received from a room of their peers. Keep in mind, it was a spectacular performance and this is a parody. 

 

James, you’re so still Have more fun! Move around a bit!

Paul, hold stiller, your motions are distracting.

 

Guys, for real, don’t move your feet. 

I loved the way even your feet got involved when you got ready for big beats.

 

Alessio, I couldn’t hear you enough. Don’t forget you’re behind the cello. 

The piano was too loud, it covered up the cello in the tender moments.

 

Ummm like around measure 200, you nearly ran out of bow, so like, watch your bow distribution because like, Brahms? he’s like the hardest to not sound like you’re running out of breath. I mean, like, you really have to plan ahead, and like, not waste an inch? Yeah, so watch out for that. 

 

So, I didn’t love your choice of mute. Have you considered using a wooden one? I’ve found it offers a warmer tone than the rubber ones you’re using. 

 

I wondered how you’d handle the Presto non assai vs. Allegro Molto tempi. (tut) I think you played them both at exactly the same tempo. You should get together, and choose a metronome speed  and then practice with the metronome, until you have that all ironed out.

Review: Spiderman: Far From Home

[Warning: spoilers in abundance ahead!]

My friends and I went to see Spiderman: Far From Home yesterday.  The trailers showed me Peter Parker ignoring Nick Fury’s calls so he could go on a class trip and try to Make A Move on MJ; the trip involves a monstrous creature attacking various sites in Europe, while a mysterious caped fellow fights it with magical green smoke.

Thus far the trailer – but the real story and intrigue of Far From Home is a movie-within-a-movie about objective reality and how it can be framed or obscured.

Post-Endgame, post “Blip” (when half the population disappeared for 5 years, then returned as if no time had passed), Peter Parker’s hoping to take the summer off from Avenger duties so he can process his grief over Tony Stark’s death, as well as act on his crush in Venice and Paris.  Fury summons him to help fight the new threat of Elementals (“cyclones with faces,” which manifest in earth, water, air, or fire in their attacks), giving him Tony’s bequest of EDITH: a pair of glasses that grant access to an AI controlling Stark Enterprises databases and drones.  Uncertain of his place in a post-Tony world, Peter gives them to Quentin Beck, seeming fighter of Elementals from another dimension.EDITH glasses.jpg

Unfortunately, Beck is not what he seems.  As Aldrich Killian resented Tony in Iron Man III, as Adrian Toomes resented both Tony and the Department of Damage Control in Spiderman: Homecoming, so Quentin Beck and his crew of former Stark Industries

B.A.R.F

Binarily Augmented Retro-Framing: a disrespectful acronym from a disrespectful employer, I guess

employees resent Tony’s lack of appreciation for their intelligence and their labors.  Beck had developed the holographic projection technology Tony used solely for therapy, while maligning it and failing to understand or present its power and possibilities to the world.

It turns out that holographic projections can create the illusion of an “Avengers level” monster, as well as project a magical caped crusader to conquer it with green swirls of smoke.  Beck’s crew find it ridiculous that a mysterious fellow in a cape has more attention and clout than a number of scientists and engineers, but figure that they can use the power of visual illusion to craft their narrative, getting their revenge on Tony by proxy in the process: they’ll claim EDITH for their own, and kill Peter, along with any other inconvenient witnesses.

EDITH’s weaponized droids do a whole lot of damage to London before Peter is able to break them, reclaim control of EDITH, and witness Beck getting killed by a stray drone shot.  The dust settles, Peter and MJ kiss, things return to normal.

Except.

Beck died, but his crew haven’t.  They choreographed the cyclone monsters, and use footage from Beck’s final minutes to set Peter up – framed for Beck’s death and the drone attacks on London, and named on the news.  Good-bye, secret identity, and hello, trying to disseminate the truth when people believe the fake news they heard first.classmates

This is a fitting cap to all the moments throughout the film of characters trying to discern the truth: Ned telling Betty about what he saw on the news or the internet; Brad jumping to conclusions about what Peter’s up to, snapping a picture for evidence; Peter trying to communicate with Fury in a secure environment, only to be slammed into a bunch of holographic nightmares that taunt him with vertigo, MJ in danger, and Tony Stark’s desiccated corpse.

Watching these illusions and framed tales unfold as though they’re real, on a screen that can only ever show pictures, not reality: there’s something delicious about it.  Of course it is happening inside your head, dear viewer, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

One wonders how it felt to be a moviemaker working on a film wherein illusionists are crafting, choreographing, and displaying their fight scene to the world.  The filmmakers get their paycheck and whatever satisfaction comes from their creative work; what does Beck’s crew get, other than revenge and some slight satisfaction in filling a fraction of the gap Tony Stark left?  How long before the group would dissolve in in-fighting, or before they’d all pack up their scientific progress for Hollywood?

Perhaps we’ll find out in whatever Spiderman film comes next, as this group remains at large.  In the meantime, Far From Home was an interesting and amusing follow-up to Spiderman: Homecoming, and a necessary step back in scope from Endgame.  Watching it again should prove rewarding, if only to anticipate Beck’s moves (or to analyze how Fury behaves when he isn’t actually himself).  That said, the movie will probably provoke further thought than that, considering the extent to which visual and aural manipulation goes on in the external world.  The shadow of Orwellian oversight, the specter of Big Brother, and the threat of history being rewritten are familiar menaces, but no less foreboding for it.

Review: Late Night

Between Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, and the promise of late-night-TV laughter, Late Night seemed like a must-see movie for me.  Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, long-time host of a late-night show which has been on the decline for years.  Kaling plays Molly Patel, who is hired onto Katherine’s writing staff because she’s female rather than on account of her skill or experience in writing comedy.

Molly’s presence happens to bolster Katherine’s reputation at a crucial moment; however, Katherine is not able to shift gears on the show in quite the way she needs to, at least at first.  Having made a niche for herself as an intelligent woman who demands excellence in herself, her monologues, and her show’s guests, she struggles to be more accessible without scorning her guests or audience: she spurns the concept of solely interviewing attractive celebrities, or capitalizing on the virality of cute animals on social media.

talk show
(N.B. that this sort of thing is my sole experience with late night television.  I am one of those who only bothers with Colbert, Corden, Fallon, Kimmel, Meyers, et al. once they’ve already been shared on my news feeds multiple times, generally alongside an MCU actor, Justin Timberlake, or clouded leopard cubs.)

As part of her efforts on the writing team, Molly re-watches Katherine’s old shows – partly from real appreciation, partly to gauge her rhythm, her strengths, and what worked on the old shows that stopped working since.  She notes one sketch she’d connected with at a much younger age: Katherine’s take on life with depression, which made it seem okay that she, Molly, was experiencing similar feelings.

This Brene Brown approach of authenticity-via-vulnerability becomes one of Katherine’s methods for re-engaging her audience: to discuss her real self, even when that means addressing a scandal from years past, when Katherine’s husband was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  That authenticity (recognized and bolstered by Molly) wins both Katherine and Molly their continued employment.

Like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I think Late Night missed its chance to be tighter, snappier, and funnier.  Surely a room with so many comedic writers should be buzzing and zinging with jokes and one-liners, even if they ultimately get cut from Katherine’s monologues.  One of the funniest moments, for my money, was Molly quoting Yeats as she looks at the door to her new workplace (Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams), before the sad-trombone moment of getting hit by someone’s bag of fast food trash.

you are 6

It’s still an amusing film overall, poking lots of little fingers at while male privilege and those who are out-of-touch with current events. Katherine makes a point to a reporter partway through that comedy is a rare meritocracy – that funny people can succeed as comedians, no matter where they come from.  Given this claim, I don’t think we ever get any real unpacking of why she spent so long working solely with white men, buuut she stops doing that: the movie ends with Molly having ushered in a slew of new hires, many of them people of color and several of them female (but without having displaced the white male faces we recognize from before).  Presumably this more-diverse writing staff has more avenues to appeal to and entertain a wider variety of people; certainly it’s based on Mindy Kaling’s own experience with The Office.

Though it could have had more concentrated hilarity, Late Night was a worthwhile watch for me due to Emma Thompson (cold-hearted boss to bemused Boomer to lonesome Emmy winner to playful entertainer to penitent wife) and Mindy Kaling (earnestly insistent as ever on clinging to one’s seat at the table, speaking one’s mind, and learning from past mistakes).  Let me know if it earns the honor of your time.

Review of sorts: A Month in the Country

I’m currently staying with my friend the Mead, in the final few weeks before her family raises their tentpoles to head south and east.  This time lends itself to a bit of reflection on the times one’s had, the times one might have had, and what all might be lying ahead – both generally speaking, and where one’s bookshelf is concerned.

Our conversation, amid two years’ worth of catching-up, jumped from what we’ve read and enjoyed, to what waits on the TBR list, to books that were pretentious or unnecessarily depressing, to promising new possibilities.  My friend recommended a few titles to me, including this one by JL Carr.

I didn’t read the blurb on the back and had to unfold for myself that the narrator, Tom Birkin, back in England after fighting in World War I, has been hired by a church in Yorkshire to painstakingly uncover a medieval mural that had been whitewashed over some five centuries back.  His benefactress had also, by way of putting it in her will, hired a fellow to come make a diligent effort to search for her ancestor’s remains; according to records, said ancestor had been excommunicated and thus buried outside the churchyard.  

So Birkin spends the summer at work, on a scaffold amid limestone ashlar, hassocks, balusters, and an inscribed catafalque.

Telling you anything further about the plot feels like a sort of betrayal – not because I am afraid of spoiling the story for you, per se, but because the story is so much more than the sum of those discrete events.

There’s a few lines running throughout which could be pulled taut, to become lines of tension or of humor: a Londoner amid northern folk, Anglican Church versus nonconformist Chapel (and their different approaches to purchasing organs), Birkin’s financial straits, and changing relationships (friendship or romantic alike).

Birkin understands the significance and meaning of this sacred mural, even if the battles of Ypres and ensuing shell-shock have driven out his own belief in God, and looks on the painted figures doomed to hell with a bit more sympathy than the less-compelling righteous heading for heaven.

The period of clearing centuries of grime off a painting (and what a painting, what costly materials were used, what a master composed it!) provides some rest as he is engaged in his work, smooths out the twitch and stammer he was left by the war, and reminds him of the possibility of love in this northern community.

And, at such a time, for a few of us there will always be a tugging at the heart—knowing a precious moment had gone and we not there. We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours for ever—the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on belfry floor, a remembered voice, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.

It’s a quiet little book, threaded with the melancholy of autumn’s backward glance.

The first breath of autumn was in the air, a prodigal feeling, a feeling of wanting, taking, and keeping before it is too late.

Review: Poetry in Michigan in Poetry

It seems strange to me, how many of these poems wind around death: by drowning, by black ice, a riot, drowning, shipwreck, drowning.

I suppose I still drive with the casual recklessness of one still too young to feel properly mortal,
and moreover, have not frequented rivers or lakes as much as one might,
and as such,
I have never regarded Michigan as, chiefly, the place that might well kill me.

Ten out of ten people die, after all:
in Texas, or Finland, or deep corners of close communities in Greece,
no matter how long that last death takes

(though that IS, perhaps, the matter, when black ice kills an undergrad –
perhaps the loud clear silences of grief float to the top,
the cream of all our poetic impulses)

– anyway, though Death surrounds us all and always,
it’s always seemed gentler here than otherwhere:
the nation’s, the world’s
earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes,
flash floods deeper than a broken sump pump’s 4 inches of water,
and calling Belfor to rid you of boxes
buried in your basement 20 years or more.

Of course the water can kill you
(Flint, anyone?  that
is what you call ironic)

but don’t forget that,
generally,
it enables you to live, first.

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

This book has been on my to-read list for ages, and got bumped up a few spots by the creation of the Hulu miniseries – not that I necessarily want to watch the show, you understand, but because I want to be familiar with the story should it come up indiscussion.

I ripped through nearly 400 pages in a day, which indicates handmaids talethat my brain is getting up to former speeds, or it’s a very compelling book, or both.  Atwood’s prose is verbal titanium: light, swift, easy to comprehend; but strong, sturdy, full of ideas to unpack.

I’d seen it called dystopian, science fiction, or speculative fiction, and wondered about that; the book cover I’d seen most often seemed to depict a white mouse in a red dress in a castle, which didn’t seem to fit any such categories.  But, in fact, it is a woman required to wear red clothing and a vision-obscuring white hat, passing the wall where the day’s political dead are hung on hooks as an example (though these, thankfully, are not shown on the cover as well).

The book’s premise: the American birthrate had fallen below replacement level, due to both the usual suspects (birth control, abortion, infertility, disease) and some unusual ones (genetic deformities, stillbirths, and miscarriages brought on by the combined effects of nuclear waste, biochemical weapons, toxic dumping, pesticide, etc.).  Against such a backdrop, a cultish cabal of right-wing theonomists (or something like) assassinates the President and Congress, wresting control amid the resulting martial law; they quickly illegalize women holding either jobs or property; and women young and healthy enough to bear children are captured and herded into “re-education centers,” before being assigned to families of sufficiently high rank but sufficiently few offspring.

The protagonist – known by the patronymic “Offred” as she cannot use her real name in Fred, “the Commander’s” household – reveals her earlier life in snatches: her mother had raised her alone, Moira was her best friend, she’d been a man’s mistress and later his wife, they had a daughter; one day she lost her job and access to her bank account; she and Luke attempted to flee (from Boston or thereabouts) to Canada, at which point she was captured and brought to the Red Center; and throughout her time as a handmaid, she wonders where Luke might be, simultaneously believing that he’s escaped and that he’s dead.

Day-to-day existence involves guarding her tongue around everyone, as other handmaids might be spying for the Guardians or Eyes; buying household supplies using pictograms, since women aren’t allowed to read; checking the wall to see if Luke’s body has been hooked on it; periodically reading the words Nolite te bastardes carborundorum where they are carved into the bottom of her wardrobe; and literally lying in the lap of Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, while the Commander copulates with her – thus acting as Serena Joy’s ‘handmaid.’   Kind of like the Biblical story of Jacob, Rachel, and Rachel’s maid Bilhah, except several degrees creepier.  Handmaids who successfully conceive, come to term, and bear a healthy child (a rarity) are given more respect and privileges, if not the freedom that existed before Gilead: the (municipality? region? country? I don’t believe this is made clear) that has been created in the wake of the United States.

I expected the book to be nothing but an attack: an attack on Christians; an attack on traditional values; a story that, above all, insisted that women not be subject to the original nature of their own bodies; a defense of ‘reproductive freedom’ that condemned anyone who wanted to get pregnant and bear children.

Some might still read it that way.  The Biblical quotations used (and how they are twisted) have surely misled many people who know nothing else about Christianity or the Bible to believe that the whole faith hates women and seeks only to cast and keep them down.  There are surely people who think the Sons of Jacob enact what Christians believe, and sadly there are enough different denominations out there that for a handful of people, it might be true.  But I expect that most Christians find The Handmaid’s Tale as outrageous and terrifying a world as any secular reader.

To my eyes, as written, this story is not an attack on pregnancy or motherhood per se; some of the most moving parts of the novel are those moments where Offred remembers her husband and her child.  She wants her former freedoms, yes, but she also wants to be held, to be known, to be loved.  She wants to see how big her 8-year-old has gotten, wants to mother her instead of whatever stranger has claimed that privilege.  Meanwhile, there comes a point where Offred plays the Commander’s mistress rather than a mere vessel for his seed.  What does he want with her?  A kiss (like she means it); to look over now-forbidden magazines; to see her in now-forbidden clothing; and most hilariously, to play games of Scrabble.  He wants company, and has to creep about after midnight to get it: a sad state for the men, too, if not anywhere as horrifying as mandated rape.

The story Offred shares is what she and the other handmaids undergo.  What she is not in a position to share is how exactly it got that way.  Who started this unChristlike initiative?  If the birthrate is what actually matters, why entrust the begetting solely to the higher-ranking but less fertile men?  Who demanded this amount of power, backing it up with a private military force with lots and lots of guns?  How extensive is Gilead, and how long could it possibly last before the biggest revolution in history occurs?

As in any dystopia, the power behind the curtain is shadowy at best.  Presumably the TV series will provide answers, carefully chosen to resemble current political figures more closely.  All we can know from reading the book is that Gilead cannot last, except in the studies of later scholars who themselves study the handmaid’s tale.

Review: Loving Vincent

My roommate and I went to see Loving Vincent at the Michigan Theater yesternight.  I’d heard about it on Tumblr – that some enterprising folks had labored to make a movie about Vincent van Gogh where every frame of the action was a painting: 65,000 frames in all, either based directly on van Gogh’s pieces or in imitation of his style, to a rich and striking effect.

The animation of it – stroke by stroke changing, flickering, the whole scene rippling and shifting – was more remarkable than the storyline initially.  The postman’s son, Armand Roulin, is charged by his father to deliver one last letter (recently discovered, a year after Vincent’s death) to Vincent’s brother Theo.  Armand goes in reluctance, remarking on van Gogh’s peculiarities and how he wasn’t so close to the man as his father was.  He consults Père Tanguy, who informs him that Theo died shortly after Vincent, and suggests that Armand consult Vincent’s doctor – a close friend to his patient – to learn the address of Theo’s widow.

armand

Armand as painted by van Gogh, and as played by Douglas Booth

As Armand goes from his father to Tanguy, talking to Dr. Gachet’s housekeeper, to the innkeeper’s daughter, to the boatman by the river, to Dr. Gachet, and still others, he learns more and more about Vincent: his personality, his habits, the melancholy that hung over him, the brother he loved, the financial worries they shared, and the circumstances of his death.  These perspectives sometimes conflict (“You can’t trust any gossip from the Gachet household,” then “I suppose that’s what the Ravoux girl told you?” and, later, “You’ve been talking to Dr. Mazery, haven’t you”), but in Armand’s search for the truth, sifting through opinions and hearsay and unofficial reports, he finds his own appreciation of and love for Vincent.

The conflicting reports – Vincent was completely calm; he was cured; how could he experience such abrupt shifts within 6 weeks; don’t you know that melancholy can cause rapid shifts in 6 hours; suicidal people don’t shoot themselves in the stomach; normal people don’t cut off their ears; the angle indicates he received this stomach wound from someone else; well, he told me he’d shot himself – turn Armand’s errand into a bit of a crime scene investigation, but without losing sight of the human players involved.

The framing is straightforward but intriguing in its revelation of different lights on the subject: the boatman reckons van Gogh and the doctor’s daughter were close, closer than the doctor wanted.  Others thought the doctor, an aspiring artist, envious of Vincent’s skill.  Several characters refer to a huge fight between Vincent and Dr. Gachet, which preceded Vincent’s death by a couple weeks, before the doctor himself reveals what horrible thing he’d said.

These bits of exposition, or flashbacks depicting the story as the bystanders relate it, were painted in black and white, in a more realistic style, setting them apart from Armand’s journey.  When the letter finally reaches Theo’s widow, Armand receives a copy of one of Vincent’s earlier letters to encourage him on his own path.

It is a beautiful film, especially rewarding to those who recognize The Zouave, The Night Café, The Yellow House, The Sower at Sunset, Wheatfield with Crows, and the many other works used in the storyboard.  The facts of the matter – that Vincent’s youth was hallmarked by failure, that his prolific work did not sell in his lifetime, that he struggled with poverty and mental illness, that he died at 37 – are never hidden, and as presented, they made me cry a lot.  But rather than focusing solely on the blue and grey of van Gogh’s life, the movie is awash in shades of amber, saffron, and goldenrod: contemplative and hopeful at the last.

Reactions: Thor: Ragnarok

This (again) is not a review so much as a collection of reactions – in bullet point form, because there’s nothing like shooting my thoughts out into the wild.  Assume spoilers are ahead, if you’re the sort of person who fears that sort of thing.

  • For a film called Ragnarok, whose trailer had huge dramatic shots of Hela crushing Mjolnir, fire over Asgard, and lots of fighting in general, this was a colorful, light-hearted movie.  
  • Pretty 80s.  Sakaar made me think of Ready Player One for some reason, as did theGrandmaster Grandmaster, despite the fact that no egg-hunting of any sort was involved.
  • A+ use of “The Immigrant Song.”
  • Thor and Loki were both goofier than I expected.  I keep getting surprised by how effective tasers are against the god of thunder (and the god of mischief, to boot)
  • Likewise, it’s odd to me that Dr. Strange’s reflexes are fast enough to surprise them. 
  • Loki playing Odin and watching plays about himself makes perfect sense, while simultaneously confusing the part of me that expects more gravitas of him.  Maybe that is my fault for expecting the consummate Slytherin where I should be braced for the Weasley Twins.
  • On the other hand: surely the Weasley twins would never be ashamed of “Get help” if it continued to work.
  • Karl Urban and BTCC’s accents always make me laugh so hard, because what are you?  
  • Hela’s pretty one-note, but she’s more interesting than the Destroyer, Laufey, Malekith, Algrim, or Surtur.  Not as interesting as Loki, I guess.
  • I looooved Korg, who was apparently played by the director.  Something about motion capture + straightforward delivery + his voice = instant hilarity.
  • Valkryrie’s arc was very satisfying to me.  The old battles and painful defeats, the escape to a life of drudgery, the heavy drinking, the decision to face death on her feet: all this was conveyed so neatly.  
  • I cackled at the idea of Odin being left in an old folks home.  
  • I don’t like the concept of leaving actresses out just because you don’t feel like paying them…but…I was relieved Jane was gone.  Farewell, Utter Lack Of Chemistry Foster.
  • The Grandmaster is a good time.  
  • Fenris is just a big puppy?!  I couldn’t suspend my disbelief and see him as a huge wolf.  He just looked like a puppy on a tiny-scaled set.
  • Mjolnir being a mere focus of power reminded me of silent, wandless magic.  Thor going all lightning-punchy was amazing, but it reminded me of nothing so much as Pikachu.

    Thor lightning.png

    I choose you!

  • Thor swearing with Midgardian curse words struck me as…impoverished, really.  Why would you say “I want to get the hell out of here!” when you used to say things like “Know this, son of Coul” and “This mortal form has grown weak!  I need sustenance!” and “Do I look to be in a gaming mood?”  Presumably this was part of the “less grim, more fun!” action plan, but…semi-archaic verbiage IS fun.   
  • I was amused to see Tessa Thompson’s Scrapper 142/Valkyrie described as ‘Thor’s love interest’ in articles thereafter, because I didn’t get any such vibe.  But he knows her enough and respects her enough that any further development would be more believable than anything with Jane Foster, so I’m all for that.


In short: good times!  Now, if only it didn’t take 37 hours to watch all 17 of the movies involved in this universe.