February Favorites

February 2015 Favorites

Our shortest month of the year seemed to pass even faster than usual, didn’t it? It was also a REALLY cold month for us: record lows across the board and the coldest February we’ve had in decades, with some broken outstanding records lasting over a century before being broken this year. Here are a few things I enjoyed during this cold, short time.

TELEVISION

You know I love TV. I was raised on television and it was getting so bad that I gave up TV for Lent last year. Because of that, I basically stopped watching most shows I had been watching every week and haven’t caught up since. (I still need to watch the last season of Legend of Korra!) Because I have this new void in my TV schedule, I decided to fill it with new shows rather than with something productive. The shows I’ve been liking with the new TV season are:

  • Agent Carter

    Tuesdays at 9 PM EST on ABC

    My FAVORITE new show this year, I cannot recommend it more if you like humor, action, good relationship-building between characters, Marvel, plain folk heroes (vs. superheroes), and good TV in general. The writing is great, the acting is good, and I want them to renew this show desperately. Season 1 was amazing.

  • Fresh Off the Boat

    Tuesdays at 8 PM EST on ABC

    Basically, every Asian person and any person who knows an Asian person has been watching this show, sometimes out of guilty obligation. Don’t worry, I understand. But you know why it’s good, besides the really funny writing? Two words for you: 90s nostalgia. We are a generation with a heavy case of 90s nostalgia, and this show captures so many of the things we loved about our 90s childhoods really well.
    (And also, the show is just legitimately really funny.)

  • The Flash 

    Tuesdays at 8 PM EST on CW

    Do I love Grant Gustin? Yes, yes I do. He’s a cutie. But in an age where too many studios are trying to cash in on “darker, grittier” superheroes (even though not every superhero is meant to be like Batman and in fact are not supposed to be dark or gritty), it’s nice to have a regular guy superhero with a show that just makes me happy. I’m invested in Barry Allen, I want to know what Dr. Harrison Wells’s deal is, and I care about these characters a lot. It’s really fun seeing how they write the villains every week, too.

  • Gotham

    Mondays at 8 PM EST on Fox

    Sometimes, though, a town like Gotham can only be portrayed for what is is: dark and gritty and broken. I have really been enjoying exploring Gotham and its inhabitants, many of whom are characters that we know from the Batman stories. (Also, I adore the young actor who plays child Bruce Wayne. He’s great.) The writing is really good in the pacing, within the episode and from one to the next.

Smithsonian Visits

Even though I have now lived in the DC metro area for nearly a decade now, I haven’t really visited the Smithsonian institutions properly! My first visit to the zoo didn’t even include seeing animals and I only saw the Natural History Museum for the first time on my anniversary. But then I got to see the Natural History Museum again at my first Instameet! And I visited the National Gallery of Art this weekend for a photo adventure with some of my friends from the short film I worked on a short while back.

A Degas sculpture

I’m going to go back one of these days and really take in the art. I am also going to make a stronger, conscious effort to visit al these Smithsonian galleries and museums because they are FREE to visit and just such an amazing resource. I should be taking advantage of the fact that I have free access to the biggest museum system in the world.

Walking concourse between the west and east buildings at the National Gallery of Art

Watching Musical Theater [at Warner Theatre]

I’ve had the chance to watch  not one but TWO musicals at the Warner Theatre. Prior to this month, I had never been to this theater. I saw 50 Shades! The Musical Parody, which was a romp for sure. I also saw Anything Goes!, which is more of a traditional (and I mean traditional in the sense that Cole Porter wrote the songs) musical. I’ll be doing a write-up of that soon, but I really loved it. Being at the Warner Theatre this past month has reignited my love for musical theater and really made me miss doing choreography and singing along with a chorus.

Our view for 50 Shades! the Musical Parody. Check out that gilding!

IGDC

I’ve just discovered the #igdc community on Instagram (InstaGram DC) and discoverd so many great photographers in the DC area, many of whom I was able to meet at my first ever Instameet. It’s been so nice to see these amazing photos on my Instagram feed as I slowly allow Instagram to be a social network that I use to follow more than just my friends. Plus, I’m learning so much about DC and the beauty it has to offer.

Follow @igdc on Instagram to see a daily featured photo and check out the #igdc hashtag as well!

Photobooths

I am such a sucker for photobooths. We have them at a lot of events in the DC area and I have gotten to the point where I have some standards now. Lazy photobooths (which I’ll still do and have fun with) will consist of a hung up cloth of some sort and someone taking photos for you. MAYBE they’ll throw in some props. We have a lot of companies in the area that set up booths, have a lot of props, and the lighting in the booth is actually really nice. I saw maybe the best photobooth I’ve seen yet in DC this week. It was amazing because they had so many awesome props for our DC-themed party! I was overwhelmed by the options, so we had no choice but to duck into the booth multiple times.

Shenanigans in this photobooth were the highlight of that party. Each frame tells a weird story XD

Family Group Chats

My extended family + my mom are all in China, so they use WeChat religiously. (Maybe a little too much.) (Definitely a little too much.) For Chinese New Year (holla at me, fellow sheep!), they started a giant group chat to include me, my mom, my dad, my mom’s 2 sisters, their daughters, my cousin-in-law (?), and my uncle. I had to mute it because they’re so active, but it’s nice to be in touch with my family on the other side of the world.

A struggle for me to keep up with because I still read Chinese slowly

 

The Oscars

It’s my favorite award show for a reason. I love the Oscars and I wrote a lengthy post telling you so, complete with a link to my live tweets. 2014 was a great year for movies so the Oscars are a great time to look back and kind of say “Wow, great job Hollywood”. Do they really need that affirmation? Nah. But they give it to themselves every year and we help.

Trivia Crack

The football does not treat me well. Everyone else: we coo’.

 

This is the only game app I currently have on my phone. I don’t really like having games on my phone because I try to keep the unproductive activity to a minimum. (Since I already waste more time on my phone than I’d like.) HOWEVER I do love trivia. I used to like playing QuizUp, which was great for proving how much Disney trivia I knew. But as my friends shifted from QuizUp to Trivia Crack, and I learned very late why my brother was always asking me random trivia questions, I had to indulge my trivia nerd. I used to be on a bar trivia team but we’ve been forced into retirement because of different circumstances. (Moving, our statewide trivia league ditching the bar we went to anyway, etc.

Even though Trivia Crack madness has been winding down, I did like it a lot this past month. It has been forcing me to scrape around my brain for accurate sports knowledge, but no one is challenging me on Trivia Crack and I’m starting to feel like that friend who is always starting new games. My bad!

Are you ready for March? How was your February?

Cinderella (2015)

My first early screening of the year was for Disney’s latest live-action adaptation, Cinderella.

I’ll be honest with you: I was not that excited for this movie. We’ve seen a few live-action Disney fairy tales and they haven’t done very well. And while Maleficent was a villain backstory, I couldn’t discern any actual new twists, and well, I own the original 1950 animated movie so I know the story? What is this new movie bringing to the table besides Cate Blanchett and a bunch of other actors that I don’t actually know very well.

ALSO, I’m not going to lie, I was a little salty about how bright blue the new dress is. Cindy’s dress was this silvery white that looked just barely blue in the light. It’s a beautiful dress, don’t get me wrong, but I just felt miffed by the color.

That is not a silvery blue. That’s an in your face, blue-as-blue-can-be kind of blue. Still pretty.

Also why does the shoe look so weird and polygonal? It just didn’t bode well for the movie, for me.

Sigh… Not sure what to expect from Disney live action adaptations anymore, but I tried to go into it with an open mind… and a themed DisneyBound of course!

Bored Prince Charming at the ball

Bored Prince Charming at the ball

Now, on to the actual review.

You know what’s kind of awkward… is when the movie ends and people want to know how it is. But they phrase it like this:

“Did you like the movie?”
“Well-”
“I loved it, it was amazing right??”

No. I did not think it was amazing, I’m sorry. I found it, basically, exactly as underwhelming as I thought it would be. That being said, I think I went into it with the expectations that this was a movie for adults. It’s not that it’s a movie for children, per se, but it’s also not quite a movie for adult Disney fans either…

Let me back it up and talk some of the things I liked about this new adaptation:

  • Costuming was exquisite. Seriously, it was pretty glorious. My cavorite costume of the  film is Lady Tremaine’s first that we see in the film, with a spectacular black and gold color scheme. Most of her later costumes have green, and I don’t like green, especially wearing it, but I loved this first costume.

    PLUS THAT HAT. Oh man, dream outfit. I would wear this. Complete with a grumpy cat.

  • Set design was beautiful. Oh man, it was really gorgeous. When Anastasia and Drizella are making fun of Cinderella’s house, it totally baffles me because uh, the house is beautiful. The Prince’s castle? Wow.
  • Action scenes are best in live-action. The scene where Cinderella is fleeing the castle as the clock strikes twelve is well-done in live-action. That kind of tension-building doesn’t come across as well in most animations, so this was done pretty well.
  • Scoring was also done really nicely. Although I will talk through some of my issues with it in a bit.

Essentially, my takeaway from this movie was that it took the fairy tale feeling that was conveyed by the animated 1950 films and translated that fairy tale magic through the aesthetics. Gilded everything, soft sunlit scenes. The movie was so nice to look at. But beyond that, I really found it lacking a lot.

Let me talk about the music really quickly. I was pretty dismayed that the songs from the 1950 movie weren’t used in this film, even in the scoring. The only song I recognized from the original soundtrack was when Lily James briefly sang “Sing Sweet Nightingale”. By briefly, I literally mean she sang the line “Sing sweet, nightingale” once while doing her chores. I didn’t hear the motif throughout the rest of that scene. I did not hear “So This is Love” as a motif in scenes with Richard Madden. I did not hear “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” at any point. And no “Bippidi Boppidi Boo” for our fairy godmother scene.

I didn’t love the casting of Helena Bonham Carter for the fairy godmother. It added to the confusion of what this movie was trying to be. After all, it wasn’t trying to be a super faithful live-action recreation because Helena’s fairy godmother is nothing like the matronly wise old woman archetype that we had in 1950. She is also not likely popular among children. So she’s cast in this film for adults and yet her role was so campy that I don’t understand what the larger goal was for this casting choice. And when you have so little screentime but are so heavily advertised (kind of like Johnny Depp in Into the Woods) you have to make THE MOST out of it and I just felt that her performance, much like many of the non-Blanchett performances, fell flat.

In fact, that was my major problem with the entire film. Overall, it seemed like it was aiming to just be a highly romanticized period film with some magic. But I felt so overwhelmingly uncharmed by it. What was it trying to be? It was not a faithful adaptation of the original animated movie, as it needed to do something original. (Didn’t love those twists, but I’ll talk about those in my spoilers.) It wasn’t innocent and light enough to be a children’s movie, but it was too campy to be an adult movie.

I definitely had an issue with the dialogue. Most of it was cringe-worthy. It was not natural, maybe because of this lofty romantic fuzzy daydream vision they were going for? BUT THEN explain Helena Bonham Carter’s character? The goofy fairy godmother? Goofier than Whitney Houston’s. I mean, she’s HBC. We know what to expect from her, and she deliver that, but it seemed so out of place in this film.

Awkward meet-cute…

 

You know, let’s go back to talking about the actors for a minute. Cate Blanchett can do no wrong, but they gave her such odd lines to work with. Lady Tremaine as a character is just kind of cruel because she can be. They weakened that in this film, and I don’t understand why they did this. She did what she could, but even she couldn’t salvage the awkward dialogue. There’s nothing WRONG with the actors in this film, but the performances were just all so flat and lacked depth. Richard Madden? Lily James? YAWN. I do find casting Richard Madden as Prince Charming odd. He’s not handsome in the conventional Disney way of casting men who look young and dashing and charming? He’s more handsome in that John Stamos way, if that makes sense? It seemed odd. He was also one of the more expressive actors in the movie, and that’s saying something. The stepsisters were comical, as they’re supposed to be, but were they actually much more animated than everyone else or did they just seem so much more lively relative to their costars? True, their funny moments were pretty funny. The comic nature of how ridiculous the sisters are was maintained in this movie, thank goodness. Those two made the most of their time on screen.

Oh, but Cate Blanchett really was brilliant. Truly an amazing actress, and the little things sh did really reminded me of some of the great actresses that have graced the silver screen. She already is in their company. Amazing.

I’m going to cut to a trailer before I rip into this some more, but I’m going to rip into this some more after the trailer:

Cinderella is out in theaters March 13. Spoilers to follow: Continue reading

Frozen Fever (2015)

I was able to see an early screening of Disney’s newest live-action adaption, Cinderella, last night, my first screening of 2015!

But I’ll level with you: I think a lot of Disney fans were more excited for Disney’s newest animated short than for their newest live-action adaptation. From what I’d seen in my travels through the Disney fandom, Frozen fans were barely hibernating when they were able to spring back up in excitement!

Can I be a bit more honest with you? I was not excited. I was WAY over the hype for Frozen before the movie was even released. The soundtrack was fantastic, yes. Was it a good movie? Sure. But was it hyped beyond belief to the point where most Disnerds are a bit sick of it? YUP.

That being said, “Frozen Fever” was really cute!

Yes, there were some echoes of the original movie that were eye-roll-worthy. (“After all, a cold never bothered me anyway.” UGH, Elsa, no.) And some of the animation seemed recycled:

Pretty sure they just inserted Elsa into the scene of Anna waking up on coronation day? The lighting on Elsa seemed a bit off.

But it all worked to remind you that FROZEN HAPPENED, in case you forgot. They rode bicycles in the hall…

Notice that Anna is holding her favorite food: a SANDWICH!

and even Oaken and a portable sauna make an appearance, among other nods to the movie:

Hoo hoo, medicine!

 

The premise is that it’s Anna’s first birthday post-events of Frozen and Elsa wants to make everything PERFECT to make up for being a cold ice queen for all of Anna’s life.

Of course, hijnks ensue because, well… think about the title. Also, it’s a Disney short; when AREN’T there hijinks?

It was definitely cute and fun and REALLY, I mean really, reinforced the idea of sisterly love. Elsa makes a lot of very grand gestures for her sister in this movie for Anna’s birthday, so if you’re not used to seeing grand gestures of platonic love, you’re going to be a bit confused. It’s okay, it’s super sweet and thoughtful. I mean, it includes this adorable/awkward family portrait:

I’m going to cut to the trailer now before I spoil too much. Even though I’m really sick of Frozen (and the folks in the theater were REAL sick of it), this was still a fun short to watch. Short and sweet. Definitely good for fans of Frozen and still a treat for Disney fans otherwise.

“Frozen Fever” and Cinderella will be out in theaters March 13th.

Continue reading

50 Shades! The Musical Parody [review]

I really never thought this would happen. If you hadn’t seen my Tumblr pre-Lenten hiatus, I am quite anti-Fifty Shades of Grey, especially the book. I don’t need to tell you why, you already know.

My friend Annie got free tickets to go see 50 Shades! The Musical Parody. I knew it was going to be a parody, but at the same time, I mean… this was going to be a raunchy show, ya know? I wasn’t really feeling it, but somehow even though I was very unenthusiastic when Annie invited me, I heard myself answering “Yah?” when she asked if I was going to go with her.

Oops, I guess I’m now watching a Fifty Shades musical parody at the Warner Theatre?

Well, first we went to the grand opening of Melt Shop, a new grilled cheese joint in Farragut. Everything was 50% off on grand opening night, but I didn’t know that we were going to have dinner beforehand so I had already eaten.

Also I don’t like cheese, much less grilled cheese. So I just got myself a loaded tater tots (minus the cheese) and an Oreo milkshake. (You know what grinds my gears? Thick milkshakes that are served with standard aka small straws. Especially when said thick milkshakes also have Oreo chunks in them. It was tasty but dang, my cheeks hurt from trying to get it through that tiny straw!) The tots were good but the restaurant is teeny so I mostly ate my food standing up.

Anyway, onto the show.

In short, it was really hilarious and well done. Are you surprised? I sure was. I mean, I went into this eyes rolled, fully prepared for a total suckfest. But it was basically the perfect musical parody of this crazy phenomenon.

Inner goddess with repressed housewife Carol

A narrator starts us off, informing us that the show lasts 69 minutes including intermission heh heh heh. (Eye roll.) We opened with 3 character we don’t see in the books or movie: 3 housewives holding a book club. This story device sets the tone for the rest of the show pretty well. Each act starts with slapping and moaning sounds that just turns out to be the housewives doing random housework when the lights come up. There’s a lonely housewife who has been left with her five cats by her husband, just wants to read Martha Stewart’s Soup for One for book club and is, of course, tragically vanilla in the bedroom department. These ladies work as the story within which FSOG is the inner story. (They are the doughnut, if you will, and FSOG is the doughnut hole.)

From the original New York cast

Casting for Christian Grey was spot-on. Instead of a certified hottie-tottie, we had a…….. rounder man. And I loved that! Because Christian Grey’s actions and words are really bizarre and creepy, but I guess they seem more excusable when a hot guy says them? NAH our Christian exposed Christian Grey for being the complete and utter weirdo that he is. And it was perfect. He was pretty great onstage, although his voice wasn’t too strong, and I laughed my butt off.

Don’t fret, eye candy seekers. We had plenty to look at on stage. In the background were 2 ab-licious dudes and a bodacious babe in fishnets. One of the ab-licious dudes played Elliot Grey, Christian’s brother? He was pretty scrumptious. I really liked their involvement in the show because they were really fun, added a lot of great musical theater flair to the whole production (they had more of the complex choreography) and they added this extra meta-awareness of how we objectify the human body. At one point, each of them carried a painting over their faces and rotated around to mimic Anastasia walking down a long hallway. It was a silly scene but I liked it a lot.

In-house eyecandy (Photo from @mattgalexander, he’s the fella on the right)

Also, can I say I loved the character of Jose so much? I can’t say too much more except that he was easily THE most fun character of the entire show. Hilarious without becoming a caricature.

I think that what this musical did really well, besides accurately lampooning the ridiculousness that is FSOG, was give each character depth without resorting to stereotypes. The closest was our repressed housewife who, of course, had 5 cats and came roaring out from her vanilla bedroom ideals. Still, she was genuinely funny.

I thought I was going to hate this but I actually loved it. I highly recommend it, even if you hate FSOG as I do.
But don’t go see it with your parents.

87th Academy Awards

Ahhh the Oscars. The only awards show that I care about in any industry. I look forward to them all year long!

This year, I made a true effort to watch more of the Best Picture nominees although I still missed several. (Hey, there have been years where I’ve seen NONE of the Best Picture nominees.) Of course, that didn’t stop me from having opinions based on other folks’ reviews of those movies. (Boyhood? I was very surprised at how much buzz it was getting considering how much critics disliked it when it was released.)

I’m not professing to be any sort of film expert or critic. I’m an enthusiast at most, and I read a lot of what other folks think. So I had leanings for which movies and people were going to win awards.

Going into the awards, I was already a bit surprised by a few things. Of course, the Lego Movie snub was pretty surprising. I was also surprised that Interstellar got so little love outside of visual effects and sound work. I have zero idea how sound mixing and editing are judged (or even what the precise difference is… between the two?) but I was counting on Interstellar to win visual effects. I mean, it was such an accurate portrayal of cosmic phenomenon that have never been seen that 2 academic paper were written based on the work in the movie. But I did expect more nominations for Chris Nolan’s latest.

I didn’t watch the red carpet, because it’s just not a priority to me what everyone is wearing. I do have to say something though: These interviewers are awful. They are not very charismatic, and you’d think that was the only real job requirement? Interviewers are supposed to be charismatic and easy to talk to? But I felt so uncomfortable watching, the actors looked VERY uncomfortable, the interviewers were very forced. Add this to the several incompetent interviews we’ve been seeing of late (e.g. calling Rashida Jones “tan” when she is, in fact, half-black) and I feel like no one would be upset if Hollywood just completely overhauled all of their red carpet interviewers. Can we do that please?

ONTO THE ACTUAL AWARDS SHOW.

Let’s talk about this year’s host, Neil Patrick Harris. Now, I love NPH, I truly do, with all my heart, I think he’s fantastic and wonderful in every way. That being said, he is not going to go down as one of the best Oscar hosts. What happened? He’s so charismatic usually, and we know he’s a great host for so many other awards shows. What happened while they were doing the writing for the Oscars this year? The show wasn’t terribly exciting for most people (I liked it) and so many of Neil’s jokes fell really flat. I was really saddened by how disappointed I was. Especially because I think that the jokes just didn’t plan very well? ESPECIALLY that stupid black briefcase gag. Why was that a thing. It would only have been redeemed if he had done some actual illusions (NPH is an actual magician and is often asked to incorporate magic tricks into his roles)  rather than lame “predictions”. I hated that running gag the most, it was the biggest flop by far and Neil was trying so hard to make it funny but even he seemed exasperated by it.

neil patrick harris animated GIF

He did lead with a fantastic musical opening number written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (aka the duo behind the Frozen soundtrack). Even though at this point, it’s not novel or exciting when NPH does a musical number, it was still a great number. I liked the homages paid to cinema and how creatively it was done. (I can’t help but think of 10-time host – Billy Crystal – who I remember put himself in movies when he last hosted in 2003. I remember it being 2003 because he donned a Legolas wig the year Return of the King was nominated.) I liked Anna Kendrick showing up in her Into the Woods Cinderella dress (and she was more animated on that stage than she was in the movie, in my opinion) although I think I actually winced when she sang a spoiler for Gone Girl. (“… spoiler alert.” – NPH) (NPH was in Gone Girl, just to clarify) I was really really confused about Jack Black joining in on the number (“Screen in your jeans!”) because I just don’t know what he has been doing lately? As in why he is relevant in 2014-2015 film culture? Anyway, it was a fun number.

I want to first do a shout-out for two folks who got their first wins. Every year, I am surprised by people whose names are so respected in the industry but somehow don’t have Oscars. In fact, we often hear their names at the Oscars and only realize when they win that they’ve just been nominated several times. (For example, when Christopher Plummer won his first Oscar, he became the oldest first-time recipient in Oscar history. Seriously!)

  1. Alejandro González Iñárritu, who was previously nominated 4 times, won 3 awards for Birdman. (Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture) Well-deserved, that movie was fantastic.
  2. Alexandre Desplat, who was previously nominated 6 times, won his first Best Original Score award for Grand Budapest Hotel. Strangely, he was actually nominated TWICE in this category this year; his second nomination was for The Imitation Game. I was stunned that this was his first win, considering how many stellar soundtrack’s he has done.

Also, can we talk about the amazing speeches that were given? Oscar movies are getting at very real issues and winners are using their speeches as a platform to say something real and not just thank their agents and the studios. To name a few memorable ones:

  • Patricia Arquette (Best Supporting Actress, Boyhood): feminism

    Which gave us this beautiful moment

  • Common & John Legend (Best Original Song, “Glory” from Selma): race and social justice
  • J.K. Simmons (Best Supporting Actor, Whiplash): loving and calling your parents
  • Graham Moore (Best Adapted Screenplay, The Imitation Game): gay right and suicide prevention
  • Eddie Redmayne (Best Actor, Theory of Everything): ALS
  • Julianne Moore (Best Actress, Still Alice): Alzheimers

It’s easy to be cynical and say that these speeches don’t change anything but you know what? It’s also easy for these folks to thank their agents and their parents and be on their merry ways. I, for one, am really pleased that they are using their speech time for a cause greater than themselves. Because at the end of the day, people’s parents and coworkers know that they were important to these winners; audience member and folks at home (like me!) don’t always know about the issues that the movies touch on. Especially with arthouse films that don’t receive a wide release, I think it’s crucial to drive the point of your film home if you are honored with an award.

OF COURSE I NEED TO SAY that it was a problem that a) we had so little racial diversity in our nominees this year (and even with our presenters) and b) that all of the Best Picture nominees that weren’t Selma were about a white man’s struggles. Most of these stories were really worth telling, but are others not? It was a problem. We need to address that and I hope that Hollywood and the Academy take note.

I had so many thoughts during the Oscars so, at Christine‘s prodding, I live-tweeted again this year. There were a lot of moments I couldn’t even capture through my live-tweeting, but I really enjoyed the Oscars this year. I’ve put together a little Storify with my Tweets in chronological order if you’re curious to see what kind of manic episode I was in last night.

Do you usually watch the Oscars?
Did you predict the winners correctly?
What were your favorite moments?