October 19, 2019

Deadwood on HBO, the series and the new movie

My father was a U. S. Attorney for 8 years and had to spend summers in Deadwood, South Dakota for federal court sessions. Our family benefited by spending weeks exploring the whole Black Hills area, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Hot Springs, Hill City with its coal train locomotive and horseback riding being some of the attractions.

The real draw for me on these trips was the town of Deadwood with its storied past as a gold rush town, a gambling mecca and the place where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered by the infamous Jack McCall.

Show creator of Deadwood, David Milch set the HBO series in the time period when the lawless town was literally being mined for profit and being dragged into the orbit of government and civilization.

The excellent cast of Deadwood reads like an impressive who’s who of future tv shows. Timothy Oliphant subsequently added Justified and Santa Clarita Diet to his resume. Anna Gunn as his school-teacher wife went on to play the beleaguered spouse in Breaking Bad. Ian McShane as the town underworld boss has been seen in American Gods, Ray Donovan and Game of Thrones. Mollie Parker went on to House of Cards and Goliath. Paula Malcomson played Katniss’ mother in the Hunger Games movies. Kim Dickens and Garret Dillahunt both have been in Fear the Walking Dead. William Sanderson as Mayor and hotel owner E. B. Farnum plays a quirky sheriff in True Blood. Titus Welliver has done stints in The Good Wife, Sons of Anarchy and Bosch. Seasoned actor Powers Booth has been recently seen in Nashville and Agents of S. H. I. E. L. D. Calamity Jane played by Robin Weigert recently popped up as a therapist on Big Little Lies. And I have not even touched upon the guest stars.

I make special note of Keith Carradine who is a wonder to behold as Wild Bill Hickok and Gerald McRaney as powerful bad guy, George Hurst.

The language is as raw as I remember. Four letter words and graphic scenes of sex and violence abound. This is unique dialogue that gives a nod to the time period and allows the characters to use the rough and raw words of whore houses, gambling dens and booze joints.

As you may have noticed, streaming services are revisiting series that still hold interest for viewers. In the case of Deadwood: The Movie (May 2019), David Milch picks up the story ten years after the end of the original series.

While I loved communing with these characters again and loose ends are indeed tied, the film was not of the same artistic quality of the series. By all means, watch this ground-breaking remarkable series as a newcomer or as a repeat customer. The Movie may be optional.

Just remember, aces and eights are the dead man’s poker hand. At least in Deadwood.

Les Misérables at Cadillac Palace Theater

Les Misérables is back for a brief run at the Cadillac Palace in a lovely Cameron Mackintosh production of the now classic musical.

1980 was the year of the Paris premiere, with a French libretto and score by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer and Jean-Marc Natel. With the original creators, James Fenton, Trevor Nunn and John Caird adapted the book and lyrics into English for a London production in 1985. The show made its Broadway debut in 1987. Audiences have been going to the theater world-wide to watch people be miserable in song ever since.

This production boasts scenery, lighting and costumes that are inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, the author of the French literary epic. The familiar score is ably sung by the cast.

Let me add a word on the vocal style. The cast members are basically using a hybrid of classical singing and Broadway belt which can sometimes be over-amplified and harsh sounding. This is the fashion of musical theater today however. Down the road, I would love to hear a production of Les Misérables with operatic performers using a bel canto approach.

Many people wrongly assume that the musical is set during the French Revolution which started in 1789. A guy named Napoleon ruled from 1804 to 1814. The play starts in 1815 and culminates in the June Rebellion of 1832 when many of the play’s characters are killed in a street conflagration. Boublil and Schonberg actually wrote an earlier musical called La Revolution Francaise which played in Paris in the early 1970s. My French history nerd persona is showing. Pardon me!

If you like or even love Les Misérables, this production would be a worthy use of your time and money. Through July 27, 2019.

Next up at the Cadillac Palace Theater are:
Come From Away, July 30 through August 18,
followed by The Band’s Visit, September 3 through 15.

www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/les-miserables/

Manet and Modern Beauty at the Art Institute of Chicago

You might think that yet another art show on a French Impressionist would be a missable event, but the Art Institute’s exhibit, Manet and Modern Beauty should change your mind.

It has been over 50 years since the AIC has done a solo show on Edouard Manet and the curators have wisely honed in on his later years. Ill health and less mobility may have caused him to turn to smaller canvases and more intimate subjects like feminine beauty with pastels and water colors joining his use of oils.

I loved a small transitional room featuring live plants, a lovely view of the green foliage outside of the museum and a wall of photos depicting Manet’s social network. Unbeknownst to me, female artist Berthe Morisot was his sister-in-law.

His letters on display are filled with delightful images of flowers, fruits and beautifully dressed women. We also get to see unfinished works that allow the viewer to get glimpses of his creative process. The exhibit is punctuated with his larger oil canvases as well. A final room of his flower paintings is like the dessert course to this satisfying artistic meal.

All children under 14 and Chicagoans under age 18 are admitted free. Illinois residents gain free admittance Thursdays from 5 pm to 8 pm when the museum is open later.

https://www.artic.edu/exhibitions/2822/manet-and-modern-beauty

Gone Bananas for the Yonanas

When my friend, Dale first told me about his new food machine, the Yonanas, How had I never heard anything about this ingenious gizmo that makes soft serve out of frozen fruit?

After thawing your chosen fruit for 7 to 10 minutes, you place them in a spout that funnels them past a spinning wheel with tiny teeth. Out comes a frozen treat that can be made without dairy, soy, egg, gluten or sugar. I have also frozen coconut milk in an ice cube tray to blend into the fruit mixtures. I tried putting cacao powder in the machine, but found that the chocolate did not mix well. Adding the powder after the soft serve is made is a far better option for a chocolate version.

The recipes vary from banana-centric to sorbets with mango, citrus, berries, peaches, cherries, pineapple or any fruit you can freeze. The machine comes with a handy recipe booklet and the variations appear endless.. This will be a godsend dessert option for those with dietary restrictions.

Topping choices are endless from chopped nuts to liqueurs to shredded and toasted coconut flakes. Trader Joe’s sells desiccated raspberries which make a delicious tangy and crunchy mix-in.

The Classic machine is easily disassembled and cleaned and does not take up much shelf space. A larger model called the Yonanas Elite is also available. I found my product for $39.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Pardon me while I turn on my Yonanas yet again.

yonanas.com

Pose on FX and Netflix

Show creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals have an unusual hit on their hands, a dramatic tv series about African-American and Latino gay and gender-bending individuals who take part in the New York Ballroom scene of the 1980s.

Men, dressed as women, compete for trophies in club fashion and beauty contests. Actor Billy Porter has created an indelible character as the emcee of these pageants. Competitors band together in different “houses” with “mothers” who head the households. AIDS and discrimination are scourges of this community in Season 1.

The world of real estate, Trump and high finance of the era also figures into the story as a buttoned-up businessman consorts with Angel, (heartbreakingly played by India Moore), a prostitute she-male who participates in this competitive underworld.

There are some tv regulars in the cast like Kate Mara (House of Cards, American Horror Story), Christopher Meloni, Kathryn Erbe and James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek), plus Sandra Bernhard in Season 2, but it is the lesser known actors that bring real heart to the show.

MJ Rodriguez as Blanca, the mother of the House of Evangelista and Dominique Jackson as Elektra, the rival mother of the House of Abundance have a love/hate relationship that keeps the viewer riveted. Damon Richards, an aspiring dancer (played by Ryan Jamaal Swain), is a homeless kid who becomes the first member of the House of Evenaglista.

Even though these are characters you have never seen on tv before, the writers, actors and directors instantly bring you into this rarified scene, if you are open to it. This might not be to everyone’s taste, but I for one love the over-the-top clothing as well as the raw emotion and high production values. Critics and a host of awards second that opinion.

Younger on Hulu and TV Land

My current guilty-pleasure tv jones is the comedy series, Younger, broadcast on TV Land but streaming now on Hulu.

The Broadway triple threat, Sutton Foster plays Liza Miller, a 40-year-old New Jersey mother who splits from her husband of two decades to create a new life for herself in Brooklyn. Trying to get a job in publishing as middle-aged mom, long out of the game, proves nigh impossible, so Miller creates a 26-year-old persona who promptly gets an entry level job at Empirical Publishing. Her demanding boss, Diana Trout played by the hilarious Miriam Shor has her schlepping coffee and dry-cleaning.

Her besties include Debi Mazar, an OWL (older wise lesbian) who lets her crash in her artsy loft apartment, and Kelsey Peters, a twenty-something co-worker at the publishing company played by Disney actress/singer Hilary Duff. The men in her life (besides the ex who just can’t let go), are the tall and handsome Peter Hermann cast as the middle-aged owner of the publishing house, Charles Brooks and Josh, a 26-year-old tattoo artist hipster played by the buff ink-decorated Nico Tortorella.

Her 40-year-old self frequently collides with her new mid-twenties life as she valiantly switches clothing, speech and demeanor to suit the situation. I learn something new about pop culture and slang with every episode. (What IS a meme?) Thanks to interesting side characters and a plot that keeps evolving, this is no one joke sit-com.

The episodes are 21 minutes long so binge-watching two or three episodes in a sitting is a little too easy. Season 6 was made available on Hulu June 12, 2019. You won’t always buy the improbable situations, but this is the perfect fluff when your brain cells don’t need too much of a work-out.

You might also get to see some theater-heavy guest stars like Kristin Chenoweth, Martha Plimpton, Christian Borle, Laura Benanti, Kathy Najimy, Camryn Manheim and Lois Smith.

Game of Thrones Withdrawal Lingers

Nine years ago, I tried to read The Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I was overwhelmed with strange names, places and vocabulary. In frustration, I threw the book down, yet continued to watch the HBO tv series with avidity.

In my current throes of Game of Thrones withdrawal, my brother-in-law suggested I try reading book one of the series again. Lo and behold, all of the main characters were now familiar to me so I no longer felt like I was reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Book one is actually a page-turner. As in any book versus movie adaptation, the prose allows you to get a deeper sense of character, motivations are clearer and the palette of people and place descriptions is much richer and wider. Book Two, A Clash of Kings awaits on my nightstand.

If you have deep pockets and are a rabid R. R. Martin fan, you may want to consider attending the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner, an annual benefit for the Chicago Public Library Foundation. For $1250, you will be invited to a dinner honoring Chicago authors with George R. R. Martin as the special guest, along with U of C poet/essayist Dr. Eve L. Ewing. An acclaimed Chicago author will be at every table.

This is one of the yearly highlights of literary Chicago. Plus, you just might get to meet Martin. He has a B. S. and M. S. from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism so this is a homecoming, of sorts for him.

A member of SongShop used to play Dungeons and Dragons with Martin, back in the day. The next time you see me, you can guess who this might be!

For now, reading the books is prolonging my obsession with this fantasy series. Let me hope that a Game of Thrones intervention won’t be necessary. Any ideas on the perfect novel antidote?

For information on the Literary Awards Dinner:
https://cplfoundation.org/events/carl-sandburg-literary-awards-dinner/

Crazy Rich Asians Book and Movie

Book clubs have been caught up in Kevin Kwan fever with his trilogy of novels, Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

Janet Maslin of the New York Times used the adjectives “snarky,,, wicked… funny” in her review. “Escapist” is the word I would use. Who doesn’t want to imagine what being a billionaire is like with private jet travel, unlimited shopping budgets and eye-poppingly lavish parties for one’s friends and family?

Rachel Chu unwittingly starts dating the fabulously wealthy heir to a Singapore fortune. She thought her boyfriend was merely a fellow middle class college professor in New York. A visit to his home country quickly makes it clear that his family and social set do not consider her “wealthy Asian” enough for their handsome financial prince.

After a successful run in theaters, Crazy Rich Asians, the movie, is currently streaming on several web platforms. The film does a decent job of capturing the humor and lightness of the first book making it the perfect weekend entertainment after a hard week at the salt mines. We get to see the Asian one percent frolic which gives another layer of escapist exoticism.

A literary devotee sniffed that the writing was not very good, but I say, that is not the point. A soap opera plot, interesting characters and a foreign setting are the selling points in both the three books and the one film. There will always be high demand for movies and novels that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Bring on the caramel corn and fizzy blush wine.

HBO – More than just Game of Thrones

Just when I was about to cancel my HBO subscription after the Game of Thrones final season, I discovered a few other worthy things to watch on this premium cable channel.

For those of you who have read one or more of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, HBO’s treatment of the first book in the series, My Brilliant Friend may be your small cup of espresso. The eight episode season, in Italian with English subtitles, depicts the friendship between Lila Cerullo and Lenu Greco, two young girls living in 1950s Naples. We get a snapshot of the entire Italian neighborhood including parents, children, teachers and business owners.
Rivalries between families, romantic attachments and even gender discrimination are seen through the eyes of Lenu as she manages her relationship with her brilliant but troubled friend, Lila, in this literate mini-series.

Even darker is the five episode series, Chernobyl which gives an account of the infamous 1986 nuclear reactor accident that occurred in the former Soviet Union. Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson give stellar performances as some of the professionals who try to discover what happened and what actions to take to limit damage to the area and its inhabitants.

The Soviet Union itself is the “bad guy” as officials try to cover up details, sacrifice workers knowing that radiation will kill them and search for the least politically damaging ways to contain the catastrophe.
This is a real life cautionary story that hardly seems 33 years old and has much to say about the current treatment of our environment today.

I give a guarded recommendation for Barry, a very dark comedy vehicle for the singular talents of Bill Hader (8 seasons on SNL) and Henry Winkler (the Fonz on Happy Days). Hader plays Barry Berkman, a contract killer who discovers a love of acting when he is tasked with murdering one of the acting students. Winkler is acting guru, Gene Cousineau who takes Barry under his wing. Stephen Root as Monroe Fuches, Barry’s murder pimp is outstanding, as is Sarah Goldberg as Barry’s actress girlfriend. Anthony Carrigan, he of the bald head and no eyebrows is hilarious as a Chechen crime lord wanna-be.

My reservations in heartily recommending this program stem from the amount of violence seen in every episode. This is the Three Stooges with lots of guns and bloodshed. If that does not put you off, this may be your gallows humor show for the acting alone.

HBO is trying to keep us watching and for now, it just may be succeeding.

PUR PFM4505 Stainless Steel Style Horizontal FM with Mineral Clear Filter

For years, I have had water delivered to our residence. The big jugs of purified H2O were a challenge to lift onto our dispenser, but I loved the taste of the water and the convenience of ready chilled clean-tasting liquid.

A PUR attachment on someone’s kitchen faucet got me thinking. How much money could I save if I switched to using the water from my own city tap?

Finding a poor selection of faucet models in brick and mortar shops, I turned to Amazon for purchase of the PUR PFM4505 Stainless Steel Style Horizontal FM with Mineral Clear Filter. My husband, who is decidedly not a plumber, was easily able to attach the device to our kitchen faucet.

Happily, the resulting PUR filtered water did not have the odd taste of regular city tap water.

The faucet attachment and 3 replacement filters were under $100 so we are well on our way to saving money on our monthly water delivery service.

Please read the companion article on Voss water bottles. Perhaps, like me, you may want to examine your water consumption and ways to make your behavior more green.