February 22, 2017

Seven Magic Mountains outside of Las Vegas

Seven Magic Mountains

If you need a break from the casino culture on the Las Vegas Strip, consider a short trip outside of the city to view a special art exhibit, the Seven Magic Mountains by Swiss sculptor, Ugo Rondinone. The seven 30-foot brightly-colored totems are made up of large stacked boulders that give one the feeling of a psychedelic Stonehenge.
Ten miles south of Las Vegas, the art installation is near Jean Dry Lake and Interstate 15. The Mojave Desert becomes a free art museum with a short drive outside of Las Vegas well worth the trouble.
The installation opened on May 11, 2016 and will be viewable until May 11, 2018.

My niece, Maye and me

You can order Seven Magic Mountain prints by Gianfranco Gorgoni or “mini mountain” stone sculptures by Ugo Rondinone at:
http://sevenmagicmountains.com

Victoria on PBS

After watching The Crown on Netflix, I dove into the world of Victoria on PBS. Initially the Victoria production suffered in comparison, the first two episodes seeming a bit snoozy to me, but once Albert arrives in his red boots and military uniform, the drama takes off.

Don’t get me wrong, Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne and the queen’s first confidante is engaging, but the suggested emotional connection between the Prime Minister and Victoria seems to be a dramatic contrivance. The show is really about the wonderful happenstance that an arranged royal marriage could still contain romance and genuine sexual heat. Actor Tom Hughes as the serious but dashing German-born Prince Albert seems straight out of a fairy tale.

Some of the side characters (Victoria’s maid and other serving staff) have compelling story lines, but the true heart of Victoria is the queen herself, marvelously embodied by Jenny Coleman. At one point she wishes to be just an ordinary woman and not the monarch of multitudes of citizens. The tug of war between Victoria’s regal responsibilities and her personal wishes provides the drama in this series created by Daisy Goodwin, formerly an executive producer of The Apprentice and the author of a book entitled Victoria on which the current series is based.

Upcoming episodes in Season 1 show her holding firm against her husband and advisors, so I look forward to seeing her go from young queen to seasoned sovereign.

If you need car chases, guns and a fast pace to be entertained, this is definitely not your show. Victoria shines with splendid cinematography, impressive costumes, first-rate acting and well-crafted script-writing.
The series has already been renewed for a second season which is not surprising since Queen Victoria ruled for 63 years.

The Old Man by thriller penman Thomas Perry

Author Thomas Perry has knocked another thriller out of the park with The Old Man. Dan Chase, seems to be a retired man quietly living out his life in Vermont with two big black dogs. Little do the neighbors know that he is being hunted by military intelligence operatives from two countries. Having been accused by the Army of failing to transfer twenty million dollars to insurgents in Libya thirty-some years ago, forces are at play to discover his secret identity, retrieve the funds and eliminate him. This “old man” has kept his mental and physical abilities razor sharp as he eludes his pursuers and keeps those around him from harm.
Perry writes with muscular clarity and an urgency that pulls the reader from chapter to chapter.
Despite having worked as a park maintenance man, a commercial fisherman, a university administrator and teacher plus been a writer and producer for prime time network television shows, Perry has had time to write 23 novels. Winner of the coveted Edgar award for The Butcher’s Boy and voted one of NPR’s 100 Killer Thrillers-Best Thrillers Ever for Metzer’s Dog, he also created the Jane Whitefield crime series. Mr. Perry, please keep writing!

Dark Matter: Mind-bending book

Block out some time if you start Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, a science fiction tour de force that is set in Chicago. Book maven, Jenny Riddle suggested this mind-bending novel and it immediately grabbed me from the first chapter to the last. The prose is straightforward with major sections of dialogue so this is a quick read.  Chicagoans will recognize some of the settings: Logan Square, the Lake Michigan shoreline and the industrial South Side.

Although this is inventive science fiction, it is also a meditation on the choices we make in life, the trade-offs, the career pursuits and the importance of family. Throw in a dollop of wonky science talk and you have a thriller that seems current yet eternal in some of its themes.

Previous books by author Crouch have been made into the 2015 tv series Wayward Pines and the current tv show, Good Behavior on TNT starring Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey fame.

The cover design with the multiple images of the words Dark Matter will annoy your eyes initially, but get half-way through the novel and the graphics will seem perfect for this inventive book.

BET’s Being Mary Jane on Netflix

I had heard good buzz on BET’s (Black Entertainment Television) tv series, Being Mary Jane and just found it on Netflix. I needed a break from my crime show viewing and this show was the perfect antidote.
Created by Mara Brock Akil and starring the adorable Gabrielle Union, this earthy, sexy show has its share of comedy and drama. Union plays Mary Jane Paul, a successful tv show personality who lives in a beautiful house, wears designer clothing and drives a hot car, but family and romantic problems continue to mar her seemingly perfect life. Her extended family treats her like their personal ATM and she seems attracted to handsome, yet selfish and sometimes cheating men.

This program is mildly reminiscent of the late 90’s tv series, Ally McBeal, especially in its spunky heroine and in its use of engaging contemporary music throughout the show.

As a blast from the past, action-actor Richard Roundtree plays Mary Jane’s compassionate father.

When I need a break from the rigors of the day, visiting Mary Jane’s world is a charming respite.
Seasons 1 through 3 are on Netflix; Season 4 is currently on BET.

Harold Prince: Superlative Director/Producer

Producer/Director Harold Prince turns 89 this week. His remarkable career spans from being assistant stage manager on Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam in 1950 to directing a revue of songs from his hit shows in 2015.

A partial list of his Broadway endeavors looks like a history of musical theater: The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, West Side Story, She Loves Me, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Candide, Sweeney Todd, Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Kiss of the Spider Woman and Showboat plus countless others.
I have a tiny little connection to him. Harold Prince was being publicly interviewed in Chicago by theater writer Jonathan Abarbanel. My musical Fat Tuesday was then showing at the old Theater Building Chicago. Our stage set was where the conversation took place in front of a rapt audience.
I had the opportunity to give Mr. Prince a hand-written invitation to attend the Pump Room that evening where I was currently performing.
He sent me a lovely letter back expressing his regrets at not being able to attend the Pump Room since he was flying out later that day. He was most gracious in thanking me for the invitation and expressed fond memories of other visits to this famous supper club. As busy as he was, his courtesy and attention to detail was demonstrated in this kind reply to my note.
Happy Birthday Harold. You are indeed a Prince!

La La Land: Oscar-worthy

I finally had the opportunity to see La La Land this past week. In short, I was delighted from start to finish. Imagine my surprise when the two men who accompanied me to the cinema proclaimed this to be “a terrible movie” and “boring,” respectively.
Another friend disliked the opening sequence with a traffic jam resulting in people getting out of their cars and singing and dancing.
As for me, I loved the opening for quickly putting the viewer into the world of Hollywood where every other person seems to be grasping for a toe hold into the world of entertainment. Although they may get to sing, dance, act, write, direct or design for TV and movies, all of these people have to keep on scrambling to pay bills and keep their cars running. The scene also has the principal characters “meeting cute” with an angry flipped finger at one another.

The use of bright colors throughout the movie whether it be with clothing, furniture, signage or scenery absolutely delighted my eyes. The score was tuneful and lyrics well-crafted. The song “City of Stars” is still going through my head. The orchestration found so many different ways of presenting the simple but potent melodies. The script dialogue is reminiscent of the rapid bantering of 1930’s screwball comedies.

Now a word about the stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. She can actually sing pretty expressively. Gosling’s singing is serviceable, but I was really impressed with his ability to simulate playing the piano really well. He reportedly sang and played piano, guitar, bass and cello in a group in 2009 so he came to the film with some musical skills. His dancing is pretty impressive, too, especially since he is six feet tall and gracefully manages his long legs. Stone and Gosling were cast for their box office names and their acting chops, but their musical and dancing skills are most entertaining.

One of the men who dissed the movie did sheepishly note the large number of Oscar nominations for this “terrible movie.” Let me compare this to the political climate. We definitely see the world through our own filters, be it for movie-watching or political opinions. Some of us just have better taste!

Nobel tv series on Netflix

Netflix continues to feature foreign tv series for those who want to see what the world is watching. Nobel is an engaging series on Norway’s military involvement in Afghanistan. We follow Erling Riiser, a special forces soldier working in this troubled region. His wife, Johanne works in Norway’s foreign service so we get to see the different threads feeding into the conflict. Business interests, regional feuds, the status of women and diplomacy all figure into this complex mix.

The title refers to the annual Nobel Prize and the Nobel female descendant who helps choose who is honored. As the series unfolds, we keep shifting our opinions about who is behaving honorably and who is letting greed and expediency determine their behavior.

Tuva Novotny as Erling comes off as a modern day Viking as he literally “soldiers on.” His friend Jon Petter Hals (admirably portrayed by Anders Danielsen Lie) loses his legs in combat, and we observe his painful recovery back in Norway. The program may make you more sympathetic to our vets who have lost limbs in foreign combat.

If you’d like to know more about Norwegian politics and its involvement in Afghanistan, Nobel might be the well-made drama for you.

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in Bright Lights Doc on HBO

If you love Hollywood lore, the documentary Bright Lights featuring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds will touch you deeply.
Originally scheduled to be released in March 2017 on HBO, the project directed by Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom was sped up and released on Jan. 7, 2017 to coincide with the day-apart deaths of the famous mother and daughter.
In the footage, Reynolds appears to be a celebrity mother who was aware of the effect of her career on that of her children. Her relationship with daughter Carrie is warm and caring as you see them living next to one another in the same compound. Fisher demonstrates her incisive wit, her eclectic decorating taste and surprisingly good vocal skills. Her brother Todd also comes off as a good guy and proud of his mother. You just may laugh, cry and smile while watching this gentle slice of life program about two ladies who are part of cinema history.

setlist.fm – the setlist wiki

By hazard, I found the most interesting web site for fans of live music. Setlist.fm brags that they feature over 2 1/2 million set lists, almost 136,000 artists and over 200,000 venues.
While the emphasis is more on compiling concert set lists of contemporary pop musicians, a quick perusal of the site finds artists of many different genres: country, classical, folk, heavy metal, surf punk, rock and many more.
Want to know what Billy Joel played at Wrigley Field in August 2016? A brief search gives you his play list as well as his encores. What did the classical pianist Lang Lang play at the United Nations in October 2014? Two songs by Sting. Long dead artists are also represented.  As an example, there are several pages of Frank Sinatra concert playlists from 1939 to his last concert in Palm Springs on February 1995.
Not only is this site fantastic for music aficionados but it is a wonderful resource for musicians who do tribute shows.
Check out your favorite entertainers on setlist.fm and you can almost imagine attending their shows.
It appears that concert information can be submitted by audience members, much like the wikipedia model. Why not jot down the set list at your next live concert. You too can be a participant in setlist.fm.  Is this not a cool site?