January 2014

So, January is, like, over.

I was looking at my list of New Years Resolutions and felt pretty good that I’ve been making progress on some of them. Just the other night I finished the 20th chapter of the book I’m writing. (There are likely 5-8 more chapters to go, and then it needed heavy revising because right now it is epically lacking in the description department.) I’m almost done reading another book. (I’ll need to do a book post soon, as I’ve read 3 or 4 books in the past few weeks and have some opinions about them.) I saw a couple movies. And, yeah…

One thing I really need to work on is seeing more of my friends. I live so close to a lot of really great people, but I hardly see anyone anymore. One of my BFFs from middle school and I are determined to see each other once a month and so far we have been able to keep that up for the past year. It’s just really great playing catch up with her because we’re genuinely invested in each other’s lives. I love hearing her work stories and she’s really great about listening to what’s happening in my life. We’re each other’s cheerleaders and it’s nice knowing I have someone in my corner who really knows me. (There’s always much more going on with me/in my head than I ever let on to 95% of the people in my life. I have a hard time letting people in. It’s not a great attribute, but I’m trying to let myself be more vulnerable. It’s hard.)

But some of my other friends, who literally live mere blocks away, I haven’t seen in months. I’m going out to lunch with one of them tomorrow. It’s just really hard to make time for people when I barely have time for myself. I’m gone from 9-7 Monday through Friday and then I try to have Sunday free for laundry and working on my book. That really only leaves Saturday.

If I’m being totally honest, I really wish I had a whole weekend just to myself. That is super selfish of me to say, but I am exhausted. It’s been really cold these past few weeks, right? Well… since I walk dogs all day for my job, I’m out in that cold pretty much a majority of the day. It’s very taxing. I am constantly going in between extreme hot and cold (people have their apartments at 80 degrees… and then when I have to take their poor little dogs outside into 10-25 degree weather. I’m surprised the dogs still tolerate me). My nose has been running for weeks. My legs and nose are always cold. It’s kind of miserable. I love the dogs I walk (I LOVE THEM), but my body hates me right now and I don’t blame her. It is damn near impossible to get out of bed in the morning. But I do it because bills need to be paid.

But I’m cold and tired all the time. And I wish I could be warm and rested. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

My eyes are twitching as I write this, so I think I’ll end this post and head to bed. (or, let’s be real, watch the Season 2 finale of Girls and then head to bed. Yes, I started watching Girls. And you can be damn sure I have a ton of opinions about that show…)

I hope your 2014 is off to a good start!

The weekend before Christmas, my favorite theater buddy and I were trying to decide what Broadway show to go see. She had just seen a couple plays that week, so it was decided we should go see a musical. We opted to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

We chose wisely.

Beautiful chronicles the beginning of Carole King’s songwriting career through her performance at Carnegie Hall after her hugely successful album “Tapestry” won several Grammys. We watched Carole blossom from a beyond talented 16-yr-old to a mid-30s mother of two who somehow managed to write and co-write some of the most popular pop songs in our nation’s history.

Even if you didn’t grow up during the early years of Carole King’s career, you know her songs. Beautiful uses them as a musical timeline to show how King went from “It Might As Well Rain Until September” to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” to “It’s Too Late” to “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” King wrote a number of songs with her ex-husband, Gerry Goffin, and it was an emotional rollercoaster seeing their romantic and working relationships rise and then tumble down.

During their time at the record label, King and Goffin befriended another songwriting team, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. Though they had a little bit of rivalry to see whose songs stayed at the top of the charts the longest, it was fun to see the pairs supporting each other at work and outside the office.

My parents listened to a lot of Carole King music when I was growing up and I knew she had (co-)written a lot of songs for other artists, but it is nothing short of amazing when you look at the track list for the show. Every song is a toe-tapper. My friend and I had standing room tickets and for the first half of the show, it felt like our own little dance party up in the mezzanine. (For the second act, the ushers seated us in the orchestra… so that was awesome.) I would watch other people in the audience every time the intro to a song played. All the songs are so recognizable and it was fun to see people gasp at the familiar tune and nod their head, as if they were remembering a significant moment in their life where that song played a part. I don’t really remember the first time I heard any of these songs, but the older people in the crowd probably do. It was neat to get to share that with them, even from afar.

The only person in the cast who I had seen on stage before was the man who played Barry Mann – Jarrod Spector. (I saw him in Jersey Boys when it opened in Chicago.) He was awesome, of course. But, the person who really holds the show on her shoulders is Jessie Mueller. Mueller plays Carole King and she plays her to perfection. Her singing voice is not an exact replica of King’s, but it’s pretty damn close and exquisitely captures the tangible emotions of all the songs. King’s music career started off happy and upbeat, (co-)writing love songs and catchy tunes you can never get out of your head. But, as her relationship with her husband grew apart and she branched out on her own, King’s music became more than soulful – it became soul-bearing. Her lyrics punch you in the feels in the best way possible and are still anthems for women everywhere.

There aren’t any huge dance numbers. (Well, Little Eva and the ensemble do do “The Locomotion…”) And some of the performances are simply people singing into a microphone either at a stand or a piano. These songs don’t need huge production value like other musicals. They do help drive the story, but the music and lyrics provide the substance rather than lavish costumes and intricate choreography. It’s not a boring show by any means, but it is one where you need to be ready to appreciate the understatedness of it all. Carole King was not a flashy woman (at least that’s what I gathered from the show…), but her music definitely lit up the charts and that stage.

I really enjoyed this show. Jukebox musicals, when done properly, are a lot of fun. I knew Carole’s music, but now I feel like I know her. And she’s Beautiful.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is currently in previews and opens on January 12, 2014. It’s playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on 43rd St in New York, NY.

I went and saw Her yesterday and I didn’t know it when I purchased my ticket, but it was exactly the movie I needed to see in that moment.

I remember watching the trailer a few months ago and thinking that I would probably love the movie. I was right. I loved it. How could you not? Written and directed by Spike Jonze… starring Joaquin Phoenix. Already a recipe for cinematic success in my eyes.

What a heartbreaking and hopeful film that has moments of pure joy and soul-crushing sadness. It’s nominated in the Comedy/Musical film categories for the Golden Globes and I guess I see why it was pigeonholed as such. There weren’t many quality laugh riot comedies out this year, so shoving art films like Her into the Comedy category because it has more of a chance there than in the Drama category up against 12 Years a Slave. Because let’s be real, even if you consider Her a drama, it’s not the kind of DRAMA that 12 Years a Slave is.

But I digress.

Her. (some slight plot spoilers, but nothing super specific)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot, Her takes place in the future where people are even more connected to their phones/computers/operating systems than we are in the present. Joaquin’s character, Theodore Twombly, is in the middle of a lengthy divorce and he’s a bit anti-social and a little glum. He’s very good at his job (“writing” handwritten letters for people via a program that types up what he says in a font that looks like people’s handwriting) and is friendly with his workplace’s receptionist (Chris Pratt!) and his neighbor/college friend Amy (Amy Adams!!!), but he’s still a little lost. Theodore downloads the latest operating system (OS1) to help organize his life a bit, but he ends up having a more personal relationship with his OS. His OS’s name is Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson… and her voice acting was PERFECT for this film, holy hell) and little by little, he falls for her. Samantha is a constant companion that provides support and enriches Theodore’s life. With her friendship (and then some…), Theodore becomes a much happier guy. He smiles. He laughs. He lives life. The cool thing is, is that being in a relationship with an OS system is not unheard of or frowned upon by the whole of society. Yes, there are some people who look down on Theodore for dating his OS, but human/OS interaction is commonplace and mostly accepted.

The movie takes a sharper turn toward the dramatic when Theodore and Samantha talk about the extent of their relationship and how he is not the only person Samantha is in contact with. There are scenes that deal with the physical limitations of being in a relationship with a bodiless entity. I know this film is obviously a work of fiction, but it does raise some awesome questions about whether something along these lines could actually happen sometime in the future. People already walk around with their heads down and cellphone in hand all day, everyday. The movie shows the same thing, but the characters also wear these ear buds so that they may communicate directly with their OS. It’s completely okay to look like you’re talking to yourself.

But that’s the thing – even though all these people are with their OSs, they still are alone. So much communication was going on, but with whom? A computer program. And while that was working for awhile, human/human interaction was still a necessary entity.

Joaquin Phoenix has been one of my favorite actors for a long while and I have seen almost all of his films. I am continually impressed by his acting skills and how he really is able to wear all of his characters’ emotions right there on his wholly expressive face. His eyes are mesmerizing and it is damn near impossible to not react to whatever it is his character is feeling (or trying to hide). The vulnerability Phoenix is able to bring to his characters, especially those like Theodore, is so real. He’s so talented at allowing us to see his characters very private moments/feelings. You feel like you’re intruding one something you shouldn’t see, but at the same time I always feel really grateful for being allowed to see everything he’s feeling. If we can’t be in his head in the moment, it’s a real pleasure to understand those feelings (even if they aren’t the most pleasant ones) because of how Phoenix is able to just have/be the proper emotion. Watching Theodore be happy made me happy. Watching Theodore fall apart made my heart hurt. I wanted to hug Theodore a lot. He looked like he could use a good hug.

Amy Adams is also a delight. Though her character was not in the film for very long, her presence was always welcome and she was the one who voiced the importance of being happy and living life because life is short and we only get one of them. Her character is a documentary filmmaker and dressed in a manner that most people would call “frumpy,” but that I refer to as “hella comfortable.” She wasn’t dolled up. In fact, no one was.

The costumes and makeup for this film were GENIUS. Though the film takes place in the future, it was shot in a very muted way and everyone’s wardrobe looked really retro. All the guys wore high-waisted pants and (mostly) tucked-in shirts. Some of the women had mod dresses on, while others wore pants. No one teetered around in towering heels or slinky skin-tight anything. The lack of shine and perfection really allowed the characters’ interactions and the words of the script to stand out.

This muted reality was also very much reflected in the production design and cinematography. Instead of bold colors and harsh lighting, the movie had a softer feel to it. (Almost as if we were watching something that looked like someone got a little too filter-happy while using Instagram.) The muted earth and jewel tones that were used instead of primary colors (coupled with un-jarring camera movements and editing) gave the film a pleasant, near dream-like quality. Nothing was really in your face. It was lovely.

What a great, thought-provoking film. It really made me wonder where technology is headed and how it will (or won’t) affect communication among people. How happy can an OS really make you? Is being in a relationship with an OS a viable option for people who might lack interpersonal skills but still want the benefits of being loved by someone/something?

I mean, think about it… nowadays there are so many ways to meet people online without ever having to meet them in person. (Or, you can meet someone online and then meet him/her in person. Or you can just meet someone in person… that is a thing that still happens. So I’m told.) I honestly think the kind of OS/person relationship played out in the movie is something that will actually happen in the (near) future. I get the appeal, but I also see the downsides to it, because this film told that story so beautifully.

Thank you, Spike Jonze. Thank you Joaquin Phoenix. Thank you, Scarlett Johansson.

God, I love well-made movies.