Monday, March 11, 2019

Assignment #6: Criticizing a Critic

Keeping it Real in Soaps

Carolyn Hinsey, soap opera journalist - photo from daytimeconfidential.com

Carolyn Hinsey is a journalist who got her start at the Chicago Tribune in 1981, learning the newspaper business from the ground up (starting in sales and promotion), and then moving to the New York Daily News in 1985, where she honed her writing skills.  In 1992, she became a columnist, and later editor, at Soap Opera Digest. While there, she also still wrote about soap operas for the New York Daily News, and later at the now-defunct Soap Opera Weekly (where she was also an editor), and at In Touch Magazine. She's been at Soap Opera Digest (AKA SOD) since 1992, except for a brief 2 years period where she had to leave to work at In Touch Magazine (when there was a conflict).  Many of us who follow the soaps look forward to her column and read it every week. She writes really well and is often very funny.


Besides writing for magazines, she also wrote a book, "Afternoon Delight: Why Soaps Still Matter" (2011), and played herself in the web soap "Tainted Dreams." Hinsey has the distinction of being one of only a handful of well-known soap opera critics, along with Lynda Hersch, Michael Fairman and Michael LoganVideo

Former Soap Opera Digest Editor Stephanie Sloane, Carolyn Hinsey and Soap critic Michael Logan at the 34th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards - photo from photoshelter.com

To be an honest or opinionated critic means that you will have many fans, but you will also have many people who hate you because they disagree strongly with you.  Fans of any kind can be very passionate. Soap opera fans have a well-earned reputation for being a little unhinged.  Hinsey has very strong opinions. I don't always agree with 100% of what she says, but I always enjoy reading her column, nonetheless. Although Hinsey is critical of the shows' writing, she is careful never to single out any particular person - either writers, producers nor actors. She writes for a soap opera magazine, and thus has to be careful not to alienate the actors, the shows, or the people running them, for fear of losing access.

Carolyn Hinsey with soap opera vet Roger Howarth - photo from https://daytimeconfidential.com

One of the things that Hinsey values in the soaps is the use of older characters, or fan favorites.  Sometimes they're not used as much as the younger actors or the newer characters.  Fans are used to watching the same characters for many years, so they know them well. It works better if the soap writers, when they introduce a new character, find a way to tie that person to the existing characters or families on the show.  It's also helpful if they write the character really well to make them interesting, and then give us plenty of time to get to know him/her, before introducing more new characters.  In the past, whenever writers have introduced a lot of new characters at once (or a whole family), it hasn't worked. One example of this is the Eckert family that "General Hospital" introduced in 1991. Within a year, they had killed off the father, and we never heard from the mother again. They kept around the more interesting characters for a few more years. Even worse, it was the great Gloria Monty who was in charge of this fiasco. She had previously revolutionized GH (and other soaps from that influence) with her ideas.

Bill and Sly Eckert - photo from general-hospital.fandom.com

Because soap operas have made many cuts to their budgets in the past 25 years, the drop in production values sometimes affects the story.  The casts are still large, but instead of having most of them on contract, many are only on "recurring" status, so they can only work certain number of days per week. This means that when they have a wedding or other event, only a small part of the cast is there. This makes the story less realistic because weddings usually have large crowds (soap opera weddings used to have almost everyone attend).  The sets are also smaller and often a character's house set will only have a living room, which, again, makes it less realistic because we only see them there.  Soap operas need bedrooms!  These type of problems are pointed out by Hinsey in an entertaining and effective way.

Bold & Beautiful - Ridge & Brooke's wedding - photo from soaps.sheknows.com

Soap operas used to be written in a more character-driven fashion, but now they're more story-driven. This leads to problems because they have characters who act in way that are unbelievable, just to suit the story. For instance, if they have a serial killer or other villain, and they want to drag the story out for awhile, they have to make the police and other heroes seem really stupid.  This happens quite often on all of the soaps, unfortunately. It's been happening lately with the Ryan/Kevin serial killer story on "General Hospital."  It's been happening with the police on "Days of Our Lives" as well.

Clueless Cops Rafe and Hope from DOOL - photo from tvfanatic.com

I've been reading SOD since the 1980's, when I first started watching "General Hospital" and then added many other soaps. Now I only watch one regularly ("The Bold & The Beautiful"), but I still keep up on what's going on in all of the soaps, and who's who. SOD helps me me with that, both the online and offline version. In fact, not only do I pay for a paper subscription, but I also pay for an online subscription via Zinio because I used it for my site (and the paper copy is often late). Hinsey is about my age, so she and I both have a long history of watching daytime TV. I've only been writing about them for my site since the 1990's, though. I can only hope that one day I'll be half as good of a writer as she is.

Carolyn Hinsey's latest column from Soap Opera Digest
You can find Carolyn Hinsey's column, "It's Only My Opinion," in the pages of Soap Opera Digest. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Assignment #5: Movie Review

"The Last Laugh" Is Chuckleworthy for the Olds

poster for the movie from IMDB.com

I really enjoyed this movie, which stars Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss as a couple of retired show business guys who go on one last road trip. I wasn't sure what to expect, quite frankly, because so few comedy movies and TV shows that I've seen recently are funny.  They usually have gross-out scenes for the 13-year-olds to enjoy, or they have weird, quirky characters that are absurd, but not funny. The characters in this movie are very real, yet they're funny. They tell lots of jokes because it's about comedians. Trailer

Chase and Micucchi; pic from lylesmoviefiles.com

Al Hart (Chase) is a retired manager of comedians - he doesn't want to be retired, but he has no more clients, and his granddaughter is pressuring him not to live alone anymore, due to a few accidents he's had. He reluctantly goes to a retirement home, where he sees Buddy Green (Dreyfuss), an old comedian that he once represented.  Chase and Dreyfuss have great chemistry, which makes this movie work. I was surprised that Dreyfuss played the comedian, and not Chase, since Dreyfuss has always been an actor, not a comedian, and Chase is most well-known for his comedy. However, Dreyfuss is a great actor, and he was hilarious in this role.  Chase is more serious than usual in this role, but you will recognize the dopey behavior that he's displayed in comedy roles of the past, such as the clueless dad in the "National Lampoon's Vacation" movies.

Chase, McDowell, director Greg Pritikin, Wallace and Kind; photo from Zimbio.com

The movie has a nice blend of comedy and sweetness that's rare in most movies. Usually the filmmakers go overboard with silliness, or the movie is overly sentimental, but this one has a nice balance. I was also worried that it might have a sad ending, since it's about widowers that are close to the end of their lives, but it really doesn't. I found the ending to be completely satisfying.
Dreyfuss, McDowell and Chase on the road from hollywoodreporter.com
Hart convinces Green that he needs to go back to being a stand-up comic. 50 years earlier, Green quit to become a podiatrist, just before he was supposed to appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show."  He's been content with his successful business and family life, but it's also clear that he missed being on the stage.  Green and Hart travel to different towns, where Green tries out his act. It's fun to see how his confidence grows and his act gets more professional.  Hart promises Green that he can get him on "The Tonight Show."  (who's 20 years younger than either of these guys) plays a free spirit that Hart meets along the way.  , whom you may recognize from "The Big Bang Theory" or "Another Period," plays Hart's granddaughter.  There are some great cameos by real stand-up comics and , as well as veteran comic actor .

Dreyfuss as Green, performing on TV - photo from IMDB.com

There were only a few things that I didn't like: they kept mispronouncing "Tijuana" for some reason; the film's version of Lubbock was nothing like the actual city; and there's a strange fantasy sequence that came out of nowhere. These are minor flaws, though.

Chase as Hart, having a psychadelic experience - photo from IMDB.com

I noticed many bad reviews of the movie, which surprised me. I think that if you're over 50, you'll appreciate this movie a lot more.  I'm glad that Netflix has realized that it's not just Millennials that binge their streaming content. Watch it now!

Hart and Green, relaxing by the pool - photo from parade.com

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Assignment #4: Tech Review

Comparing Virtual Personal Assistants

SIRI on an iPhone

I'm comparing some of the AI personal assistants and their smart speakers. SIRI has been around since 2011 for Apple users; you can use SIRI on the iPhone, iWatch, iPad, et al. I don't use most Apple products, so I've never used SIRI, but there have been many jokes online, and on TV, about SIRI, for a long time (especially with regards to her getting things wrong). I assume that SIRI has improved in the past 8 years. However, there are still complaints about her accuracy. Video

Amazon Echo Dot with decorative case (photo from Amazon.com)

When I first heard about Alexa and the Amazon Echo, I didn't really understand the appeal. I scoffed, "If I want to look up some information, I can just do that on my phone or computer. I'm not so lazy that I need to ask Alexa to do that."  However, this past Christmas, I decided to get a cheap one (the Echo Dot, which looks like a hockey puck) as a stocking stuffer for my husband. It was on sale, and I figured it would be amusing, at the very least, and we could probably play some music on it.

Picture of Android phone and others


I set up the Echo Dot ahead of time, so that he could use it instantly. It required that I first download the Alexa app on my Android phone and sync to it via Bluetooth. That took me a few minutes, but it wasn't terribly difficult. Once I did that, I realized that I could use Alexa on my phone and really didn't need the Echo at all. The main advantage of the smart speaker seems to be that it has better quality sound for music you play. Also, if you have multiple speakers, you can put them in different rooms of your house. That would certainly be an advantage if you want to use Alexa in a different room (such as listening to music before bedtime). Also, if your spouse doesn't have the best hearing, you can have Alexa call him/her to dinner (or relay any kind of needed message) without having to yell or go to the other room.  Lastly, to use Alexa on my phone, I had to make sure the Alexa app was up and running, and I had to press the speaker button. There might be a way around that, though.  The Echo Dot is supposed to be plugged in and always on, unless you tell Alexa to turn it off. No need to press any button.

When we first used the Alexa, it was kind of fun. We asked it silly questions, used it to play music, and tested its accuracy in questions and searches.  Well, it's not all that accurate, and it does play a lot of songs, for the most part (2 million if you have Amazon Prime, or 40 million if you sign up for Amazon Unlimited). However, when we tried to find more obscure older songs on the Amazon Prime Music, we could only find a few.  I don't want to have to pay for the Amazon Unlimited Music, although it would certainly be worth it if you used Alexa a lot.

The worst part about Alexa is that you can't search Google for answers, and Alexa doesn't have nearly as much knowledge as Google.  You see, Google has Google Assistant.  The different companies don't share. I guess Alexa has its own knowledge base, but it's not as good. That was disappointing.

Different devices that use Alexa (photo from mashable.com)


What I found most useful about Alexa was that I could tell it to add items to my grocery list, or to my Amazon shopping cart. It has access to all of my digital books and could read them to me (I didn't try that feature out). I'm not sure if I could print from there, but at least I could probably email or text myself the grocery list. Or, I could find the list on Amazon from my computer and then print it. I think this is very handy.  The most useful features require more money, though. That is, if you want Alexa to turn your lights on and off, or change your thermostat, you have to buy other equipment for that. I would really love to do that. I don't NEED to do it, though. Alexa is a fun toy, and pretty useful, but it's not life-changing. Video

We sent the Alexa back because we started reading about problems it has with privacy.  Also, when we asked Alexa straight out, "Do you record everything we say?" it did not give a definitive answer. Instead, it gave a corporate CYA reply that basically said, I only send information back to Amazon when you wake me up. So, it sends everything we say if Alexa is working...assuming she recognized the wake word properly.  That was not reassuring at all. Now, personally, I'm not a very private person. I put practically everything in my blogs, on social media, and on my website. My husband is a bit more private than I am, though, so he didn't like the risks with Alexa.  Fortunately, Amazon is very good about returns, so that wasn't a problem.

I do still have the Alexa app on my phone, though, and I may continue to use it. If I did use an external speaker for Alexa, I would probably order a speaker with better quality sound for playing music.  I wish that Alexa would be a little more useful on my phone, though. For instance, you can't tell Alexa to open another app, such as Chrome or Facebook. I had trouble when sending a text or email. For example, I had trouble texting to my SIL Eileen, whom I text quite often. She's in my contacts twice because she has two different smart phones (one that her husband uses).  When I asked Alexa to send her a text, it would always ask me which number I wanted to text to (even though I mostly only use the one). It should learn easier than that. I should be able to say, "send a text to the last Eileen I texted". Although Alexa supposedly tries to learn your speech, we often had to repeat our requests.  At one point, when a song was being played, we had to repeat the "stop" command quite a bit before it finally stopped playing the song.

I've rarely used Google Assistant on my phone, but with the Android you CAN dictate, and it will type what you say in a note or email, which can be very useful. All of the virtual assistants can do that, to varying degrees. The few times I tried to ask it something, it only understood me about 50% of the time. However, I will say that it works best if there is no background noise. From visiting their website, I can tell that Google Assistant works similarly to SIRI and Alexa in most ways. You can hook it up with additional equipment to have it turn your lights or thermostat off and on. Video


screenshot of Cortana on my Windows 10 laptop

After trying out Alexa, I realized, "Hey, I've had an AI personal assistant all long - Cortana on Windows!"  I usually find the Cortana search box annoying, so I turned it off entirely. However, I turned it back on again, to test it and see if I liked it as an AI. Of course, it will have the same privacy risks as Alexa, but it's also a lot easier to turn off. From what I can tell, its accuracy was not all that great. For instance, when I try to look myself or my husband up on the search (it uses Bing, being a Microsoft product), it never spelled or pronounced our last name correctly. There should be a way to correct it in those cases. Cortana is most helpful for opening programs or for looking up things on Bing (but you will need to type it if the words you're using have an unusual spelling).  Now, all of these AI's do have a beginning training session, where it's supposed to learn your voice, but I found Alexa much easier to train than Cortana.

cartoon about Siri, Alexa and Cortana


One helpful thing about Cortana is that you don't have to have your sound turned on for it to work (as long as your microphone is on). You can also just type your query in the search bar.  Just like Alexa, Cortana can't type what you dictate into Word or some other program (you would need another program, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, for that). However, it can do a lot to help you operate your computer or other device hands-free, such as opening programs, searching on Bing, turning your WiFi off and on, making an appointment, making a phone call (if you have a Windows phone), etc. It seems to have more functions than Alexa on my phone. Video

One more helpful thing about Cortana.  I've discovered that if you use particular browser add-ons, you can adjust Cortana so that it will open Google (or your preferred search engine) in Firefox or Chrome, instead of Bing in Internet Explorer.  This makes Cortana a lot more valuable to those of us who prefer other web browsers and search engines.

Unfortunately, not one of these devices will play the music that I have on my iTunes, on my computer. I'd probably need SIRI for that, and it would probably only play the ones on the cloud, plus your songs from Apple Music (if you subscribe).

If you want to just use ONE AI personal assistant...Well, it will probably depend on which type of phone, tablet or computer you have. If you can choose, I would suggest Cortana, even though it is a little tougher to set up and doesn't always understand how to spell names. If you're a Windows user, you already have it. Video

cartoon about phone virtual assistants

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Assignment #3: Lifestyles or Popular Culture Review

My Fave GF Eateries in Little Rock!

Little Rock restaurant signs - made with Collage Maker
 
We journey to Little Rock at least 3-4 times per year. I have to eat Gluten-Free (GF) because I have Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity as well as allergies to wheat, rye, barley and avocado. I use Google or the Find Me Gluten Free app to find GF restaurants. We like to eat out a lot, especially when we travel. I've been riding around the country and sampling restaurants for the past 40 years; my husband even longer (I've only known about my problems with gluten for the past 20 years).

  Gluten Free sign from https://www.123rf.com

WARNING!!

Please be aware that if you're very sensitive to gluten, you have a severe allergy, or you have Celiac, that you're taking a big risk any time you eat out, anywhere.  There is ALWAYS a chance of cross-contamination.  If you tell them that you have Celiac or you're allergic, they may tell you that they can't guarantee that it will be completely safe.  All right, now that's over. Back to Little Rock!

Cache Restaurant

 My Cache meal from July, 2018

 We usually stay downtown, near the Riverfront, so we've been going to Cache (pronounced like "catch") for years. You can check out their menu. Some of their food is really good, and some is mediocre, but that can vary depending on your visit. Like most of the places I'm reviewing here, they're a bit expensive (an entree will cost anywhere between $20 and $48, with one at $115). However, the portions are fairly large.  It's not that I love expensive food, so much; but I believe that most expensive or "fine dining" restaurants are more likely to cook from scratch and be more knowledgable about the ingredients in their food. Also, it's been my experience that their waitstaff tends to know more about the food, and about food in general. They know that this is part of their job requirements.  Also, restaurants in larger cities cater to a larger population of diners, so they're more likely to have customers that might have allergies or food intolerances. A smart restauranteur will prepare for any kind of food preference, intolerance or trend.

My Cache bread from July, 2018

One of the things I love about Cache is that they have GF corn bread (similar to an English muffin) that they serve you with the food if you ask for it. Also, they have a late-night menu of mostly-fried foods that includes GF fried alligator, calimari and more.  (They'll serve it to you at other times if you ask, too.) It's very good, and GF fried-anything is difficult to find at any restaurant.  I'm also supposed to be eating low-carb because I'm diabetic, so I typically avoid eating the fried food, and I usually only eat half of the muffin, but I'm very grateful that this good GF food exists. They also have a fun bar upstairs that sometimes has a small band. In general, they have great salads, appetizers and main dishes. I seem to recall that one of their waiters told me that their chef or owner had to eat GF, too, so that's why they're more aware of it and can easily accommodate you. They have a great location right on President Clinton Avenue. They change their menu often, so I can't recommend a particular dish at the moment. I urge you to give them a try.

Samantha's Tap Room and Wood Grill

My wood-grilled tacos from Samantha's, October 2018

Another favorite restaurant in the Riverfront area is Samantha's, on Main Street. We only recently discovered this place, but it's really good. It might be the best restaurant in Little Rock. We've only eaten there twice, but we both loved it (and we're a bit picky).  The first time, we were in town around 4pm (we had just flown in from somewhere), and we just wanted somewhere quick to eat. It was one of the few places open in the afternoon, so we took a chance.  We are so glad now that we did! 

Unique salt and pepper cups from Samantha's, July 2018

 I really like their ambiance as well.  For instance, they have obviously taken great care to have cool-looking flatware, salt and pepper shakers, etc. We had a really interesting grey-haired waiter last time. He seemed like someone who would be right at home in an old New Orleans restaurant/bar. He was a very funny "character," and yet also a good waiter.  The food is exceptional. They have a wide range of food, so you can eat light or get something cheaper like a burger. I love their grilled tacos.  They mark the GF foods on their menu, which is handy. I also liked the Chilean sea bass. It wasn't the best I ever had in my life, but it was quite good, especially for a land-locked state (it's not like you're going to find a Nobu in Arkansas). If you have just one meal in Little Rock, this should be your choice. The word is out, though, so make sure you make your "rezzy" in advance because they fill up quickly every weekend.

Heritage Grill Steak and Fin

My cheeseburger and fries (no bun) from Heritage Grill, January 2019
 
The restaurant in the Marriott, Heritage Grill, is also very good. They're better than your average hotel chain restaurant.  We have often stopped there for a late night snack.  Skip their breakfast buffet because it's not very good and *certainly* not worth the price.  Their regular lunch and dinner menu is excellent, however. Even their burgers and fries are outstanding (they're very large, though, so you might want to share). They don't mark GF foods on their menu, but they're good at going back to the kitchen to ask what's safe for me to eat.  They change their menu often. Now, I know why restaurants do this, but it's disappointing when you find something you really like, and then you come back and it's gone.  But you should be able to find something delicious there, regardless. We've never been disappointed. I love staying at the Marriott, too, but they tend to have expensive rooms.  Besides the food, they make excellent cocktails as well.

Dugan's Pub 

Dugan's steak salad from January 2019

Speaking of cocktails, we enjoy Dugan's Pub. They have decent food and are a little more reasonably-priced than the other places mentioned here (most of their food is under $10).  They have many great snacks, sandwiches, burgers, traditional Irish food, steaks and more. In the past few years, they have started marking their GF foods on the menu, which makes it more convenient for people like me.  I like all of their dishes. Their steaks are outstanding, and so is the steak salad. If you see their pan-fried brussels sprouts on the menu, make sure to order them because they're to die for.  We're not heavy drinkers, but my husband loves the Irish beer - Smithwick's - that they have on tap. If it's cold outside, I enjoy their Dreamy Winter Delight, which is hot chocolate with Bailey's and Amaretto (don't forget the extra whipped cream!).  They also have a yummy Dreamsicle drink (like the Creamsicles we ate growing up) that's good in hotter weather. (Yes, these are more like desserts than alcoholic beverages!)

Delicious hot chocolate drink from Dugan's, October 2018

Besides being a good sports bar, Dugan's also has great live bands some nights, and Wednesday is karaoke night (If you're in town on Friday nights, though, check out the karaoke at Damgoode Pizza down the street). If all that isn't enough, they also own the nice deli next door, Stratton's, which serves breakfast and lunch, as well as having a little upscale convenience store (with some great GF foods).

Wasabi 

My filet mignon meal from Wasabi's, January 2019

If you like ethnic food, there is plenty of that around the Little Rock area. We like to go to the Japanese restaurant Wasabi, which is a stone's throw from the Marriott. I'm not a sushi fan like my husband, so I order the filet mignon, which is cooked hibachi-style. You have to tell them that you must eat GF, so that they can be extra-careful.  It comes with grilled veggies and rice, and even their fried rice can be made GF. You can ask for GF soy sauce as well.  Don't get the soup or salad that comes with because they are not GF. Their delicious YumYum sauce is also not GF, unfortunately.  Of course, most sushi is GF, but don't order the California roll because the crab is usually imitation crab, which has wheat in it.

Brave New Restaurant 

My homemade peach ice cream from Brave New Restaurant, April 2018

For special occasions, we usually take Lyft over to my favorite restaurant in Little Rock, Brave New Restaurant. It's a bit further down the river.  They have a great view, and you can sit outside when the weather's nice. It's very pretty.  This is fine dining at its best. They cater very well to us GF eaters.  They even usually have GF crackers, baked fresh from Dempsey Bakery (a tasty GF bakery in Little Rock).  My husband and I love all of the food at Brave New Restaurant. I have yet to get anything there that was less than wonderful. They also make their own ice cream (which is delicious!) and coffee. Last time we went there, it had been raining. We saw this beautiful double rainbow that went from the downtown skyline to the river next to it. Photos don't do it justice!

rainbow over Brave New Restaurant patio, August 2018

All of these Little Rock restaurants have a full bar, so you can order some fantastic wines to go with your food (or other beverages as you prefer). Bon Appétit!

Me with wine at Samantha's, October 2018

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Assignment #2: Television Review

Good Suspense Drama "I Am the Night" on TNT



This six-episode drama series, set in the 1960's, started this week. It's a very good suspense thriller. Loosely based on the autobiography of Fauna Hodel, there are two main protagonists in the story. One of them is a washed-up L.A. reporter, Jay, who likes cocaine a little too much. Chris Pine ("Star Trek") is fantastic in this role. A Korean War vet, Jay is desperate to get a big story that will put him back on top again.  The other lead, Pat (played by India Eisley), appears to be a very light-skinned black teenager in Nevada.  She finds out that her entire past is a lie.  Eisley ("The Secret Life of the American Teenager") is very sympathetic and does a fine job.  The actress who plays her mother, Golden Brooks, is also outstanding (Those who have followed her career for the past 20 years aren't going to be surprised by her talent). Trailer

Golden Brooks as Jimmy Lee from IMDB

The story is loosely based on Fauna Hodel's book, "One Day She'll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel". The real Hodel passed away in 2017, but she was involved with this production.

 Spoilers!!! Don't read this section if you don't want to be spoiled!

  In the first episode, Pat learns that she's not really black, her real name is Fauna, and the abusive, drunk Jimmy Lee (Brooks) is not really her mother.  Her grandfather, George Hodel, is a rich doctor in L.A. who had wild sex parties and was a suspect in the famous Black Dahlia murder.  All of that really happened. 

Jefferson Mays as creepy gyno Hodel - pic from meaww.com

In real life, George Hodel (who lived in this very weird L.A. mansion) was also suspected in the murder of his secretary. He was investigated by police after they caught him via wiretap talking about the murders. He fled the country before they could arrest him, and the murder was never solved. His son (whom he abused) later confirmed that he was the killer and that he may have also been one of the other serial killers during that time that were never caught.

Pine and Eisley - pic from IGN

 In the show, Jay gets a call from Jimmy Lee, telling him that he was on the right track when he wrote about Hodel in an article. This spurs him to do more investigating.

Eisley - pic from Vulture.com

Fauna flees Sparks, Nevada to visit her grandfather, who wants to meet her. Things don't go as planned, of course. She meets Jay, and the two of them play detective to find out if Hodel killed actress Elizabeth Short (AKA The Black Dahlia), who was found murdered and dismembered. Stage vet Jefferson Mays is suitably scary as creepy gynocologist Hodel.

END OF SPOILERS! Keep reading after this...

"I Am the Night" has a film noir feel, for the most part. You may find that parts of it are a bit slow. It's possible that this story would have made a better film than a miniseries, and they just had too much time fill. I didn't find the pace unbearable to watch, though. Also, they do a very good job of making everything look like the 1940's time period (as far as I can tell). Episode Two Preview

Pine and Eisley - pic from SlashFilm

 Pine and Eisley have smooth chemistry.  The series also teams Chris Pine with his "Wonder Woman" director Patty Jenkins, whose husband Sam Jenkins wrote this wonderful TV miniseries. Connie Nielsen (who played Diana's mother, Queen Hippolyta) has a small role as Hodel's wife.  Pine demonstrated in this compilation character that he's much more than just a pretty face (in fact, he's not very "pretty" in this show). I look forward to watching the rest of the limited series, as well as Pine's return in the next "Wonder Woman" movie.

Chris Pine, not looking fine, from TV Guide

The show airs Mondays on TNT. You can watch it on their website or on Amazon Prime

I Am the Night Header from Wikipedia

Animated GIFs from loading.io. Read More Reviews by Suzanne and others at The TV MegaSite!

Pine and Eisley - pic from IMDB

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Assignment #1 - Music Review

Race for the Grammy 2019: Best Musical Theater Album

Grammy collage made using https://www.befunky.com

There are 84 different Grammy Award categories, so I chose the one that I know the most about, the Best Musical Theater Album. This has been a Grammy category since 1958, when the awards first started.

I've loved musical theater for as long as I can remember.  My family -- mom and three brothers -- all loved musical theater.  We listened to (and sang along with) the albums from "Sound of Music," "West Side Story," "1776" and many others. When I was a little older, I would go to the library and check out records of the shows, and record them to tape at home, so I could listen to them over and over, and sing with them. I also would check out the scores and read the plays.

In the chorus of my high school musical "Fiddler on the Roof"

This started my love for music, and especially for singing soprano. I was involved in the musicals in high school, and I've sung many of the songs for fun.  I don't have as much time any more to listen to newer musicals, so some of these are completely new to me (although I do watch the Tony Awards every year). To write this review, I read about each musical and listened to the songs.

There are 5 musicals nominated for a Grammy this year.  They changed the rules so that other musical theater shows can be nominated, not just those on Broadway.

Here are the nominees:

poster for "A Band's Visit"

1) “The Band’s Visit” — Etai Benson, Adam Kantor, Katrina Lenk & Ari’el Stachel, principal soloists; Dean Sharenow & David Yazbek, producers; David Yazbek, composer & lyricist
(Original Broadway Cast)

This is a completely new musical that opened at the end of 2017 on Broadway starring Tony Shalhoub, Katrina Lenk, and John Cariani. This one was not familiar to me. I enjoyed the music, which is influenced heavily by Middle-Eastern music. Based on an obscure Israeli film of the same name, the story is about an Egyptian police band that gets lost on their way to a performance in Israel and gets stuck in a small desert town.

It's a very interesting story, with heart and romance.  Unlike many musicals, it just takes place in one small town, for one day. It's an intimate story for a Broadway musical.  The music of the show is unique, yet accessible to the modern ear.

The show won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.  It will probably win the Grammy, too, because the Tony winners often go on to win the Grammy. It's the only one nominated that's not a revival or remake of some kind.  Buy the soundtrack here! CD, Amazon download or  iTunes

Videos: Omar Sharif   Something's Different   Papi Hears the Ocean/Haled's Song About Love

 

2) “Carousel” — Renee Fleming, Alexander Gemignani, Joshua Henry, Lindsay Mendez & Jessie Mueller, principal soloists; Steven Epstein, producer (Richard Rodgers, composer; Oscar Hammerstein II, lyricist) (2018 Broadway Cast)

It's a dark story about a rough carnival barker who falls for a young mill worker after they both lose their jobs. He participates in a robbery to provide for his wife and unborn child, but it ends in his death. Heaven gives him a chance to make things right.  Buy it here: CD, Amazon download or iTunes

This is a revival of the 1945 Broadway musical, the second by legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein (their first was "Oklahoma").  The music is simply beautiful (although the story, and some of the lyrics, are very dated) and holds together a tragic story. It's filled with classic songs like "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "If I Loved You."  Joshua Henry plays the lead role of Billy and sings wonderfully, as does Jessie Mueller as Julie. Famous opera singer Renee Fleming plays Nettie. Lindsay Mendez won a Tony award as Carrie. I really enjoyed watching and listening to them on YouTube.
If the Grammy Award truly went to the best music and singing, I think this show should win over all the others. I just think it's very unlikely that it will win.

Videos: If I Loved You   Soliloquy   Blow High, Blow Low    Mister Snow 
Listen to the Original Album  Watch the 1956 Film


poster for “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert”

3) “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” — Sara Bareilles, Alice Cooper, Ben Daniels, Brandon
Victor Dixon, John Legend, Erik Grönwall, Jin Ha, Norm Lewis & Jason Tam, principal soloists; Harvey Mason, Jr., producer (Andrew Lloyd-Webber, composer; Tim Rice, lyricist) (Original Television Cast)

Thanks to the new rules, an NBC TV production made the final nominations for this category. I watched this when it aired, last April. I grew up listening to the original "Jesus Christ Superstar" record, and later the movie version, so I know it very well.  I thought the recent TV production was enjoyable, but I'm not sure it deserves to win the Grammy. For one thing, I think John Legend was horribly cast as Jesus. His type of singing is not appropriate for the role. He's a pop singer who sings up in his falsetto a lot. Jesus is usually played by a good rock tenor who can sing full voice in the upper register. I found his songs (particularly "Gethsemane," which usually gives me goose bumps) to be disappointing. Also, he's a singer, not an actor, and I think that really showed in this production. (Not that this should matter in the Grammy Awards) Sara Bareilles, who's been nominated before for a Grammy, was excellent, as was Brandon Victor Dixon (a great Broadway singer) and the rest of the cast. I really loved seeing Alice Cooper as King Herod. He seems made for that role.

Videos: Superstar  Everything's Allright  Peter's Denial  I Don't Know How to Love Him    

The critics really loved this broadcast. It may be the upset in this race that steals the Grammy away from the Broadway shows. Buy the DVD, or CD, Amazon download or iTunes 

 poster for "My Fair Lady"

4) “My Fair Lady” — Lauren Ambrose, Norbert Leo Butz & Harry Hadden-Paton, principal soloists; Andre Bishop, Van Dean, Hattie K. Jutagir, David Lai, Adam Siegel & Ted Sperling, producers (Frederick Loewe, composer; Alan Jay Lerner, lyricist) (2018 Broadway Cast)

Based on the George Bernard Shaw play "Pygmalion," the show is about how a professor, Henry Higgins, bets his friend Colonel Pickering that he can take any woman (in this case a "gutter snipe" who sells flowers) and transform them into a lady. Buy the music here! CD, Amazon download or iTunes

This is another one of my favorite musicals. We did this one in high school, so I know it very well.  I remember seeing this group perform at the Tonys last year, and Lauren Ambrose (Eliza)'s singing didn't impress me . She's good, but nowhere in the league of the other singers nominated.   Although he's not mentioned here, Jordan Donica sang wonderfully as Freddy Eynsford-Hill in the once-popular ballad "On the Street Where You Live."  As much as I enjoy this show and its music, I don't think it has any chance of winning. In fact, I would say it's the least likely to win.

Videos: The Rain in Spain  I Could Have Danced All Night  Wouldn't It Be Loverly  Medley

poster for "Once On This Island"

5) “Once On This Island” — Phillip Boykin, Merle Dandridge, Quentin Earl Darrington, Hailey Kilgore, Kenita R. Miller, Alex Newell, Isaac Cole Powell & Lea Salonga, principal soloists; Lynn Ahrens, Hunter Arnold, Ken Davenport, Stephen Flaherty & Elliot Scheiner, producers (Stephen Flaherty, composer; Lynn Ahrens, lyricist) (New Broadway Cast)

Ti Moune, a peasant girl, rescues a wealthy boy, Daniel, and falls in love with him. The island gods make a bet about which is stronger, love or death. Ti Moune pursues Daniel, despite their different stations, but she can't win him and ends up dying rather than seeing him killed. The gods turn her into a tree, "that grows so strong and so tall, it breaks the wall that separates the societies and ultimately unites them." Buy the CD, download the album on Amazon or on iTunes.

I'd never heard of this one before, but it did win a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical (it was originally staged in 1990). It has a lot of energy and beautiful songs. At times, the music reminds me of "The Little Mermaid," which makes sense because it's loosely based on that tale. The singers are outstanding. I would love to see it in person someday. However, it's only a one-act play, and I don't think it will win the Grammy against the steep competition. If I had to choose, I would say it's the third or fourth most likely to win (but it's very unlikely.)

Videos:  Broadway.com Medley  Tonys Medley  Waiting for Life  Human Heart    

These are all great shows, and I urge you to listen to or watch them on YouTube, or download the soundtracks.  Don't forget to watch the Grammy Awards on CBS Sunday, Feb. 10 at 8 PM ET / 5 PM PT.

Listen to most of the Grammy-nominated songs on Spotify or Apple Music.

Shows nominated for a Tony in 2018