Archive for the ‘Movies, TV and Theater’ Category

credit: Paul Bransom

credit: Paul Bransom

I love love love BBC radio plays (recently heard Copenhagen by Michael Frayn) and lo and behold: a grand, jubilant, and charming version of The Wind in the Willows, read by British actors and set to the BBC radio orchestra. Fantastic, a new take on an old classic!

Click here for the link. Enjoy!

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IMG_5287“When I was a boy I wished I could fly. Out the window and over the trees….then loop the loop and up to the stars. Eventually of course, we dream other dreams. We change. We grow up. It always happens. Nothing is foreverThat’s the rule. Everything ends. And so our story begins…”

Lisa and I had the thrill of catching Peter and the Starcatcher at the Brooks Atkinson theater the day it closed (we braved the cold to put our names in the ticket lottery–without success–but yay for lottery loser tickets!) Other than that the plot has something to do with Peter Pan and that the show has received rave reviews and not a few Tonys, we had no idea what to expect. Would it be a homage? A play? A musical?

As it turns out, it’s a bit of everything.

Better yet, it’s a play for children and adults in touch with their inner child. While the dialogue and the jokes zip along faster than the Wasp (commandeered by pirates, of course) in hot pursuit of the S.S. Neverland, the set and “special effects” are magically low-tech. At the start of the show, we are asked to imagine “a grown cat in flight”, but it’s not long before our imaginations are rewarded by an ordinary length of rope that morphs into a tiny cabin porthole, narrow passageways, flapping saloon doors, whatever the scene calls for, really. It was like playing pretend and having only the stuff in your garage to make your creativity soar.

The cast was flawless as well, playing their roles with panache and then melding back into the company (a precisely, synchronous unit) to bulk out two very different crews, a gang of pirates, a jungle tribe, and transformed mermaids. (Did we mention there’s only one female in the whole cast? Those mermaids, not a pretty sight.) Still, standouts include Molly, an intelligent, competitive Starcatcher-in-training who befriends three orphan boys, Mrs. Bumbrake, her fussy but neglectful nanny (played by a man, a la British pantomime), and the comic duo of Black Stache and Smee.

Like the best children’s books, this play (which is based on the book Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson) speaks to adults and kids on different levels. We were struck by the melancholy take on the Peter Pan theme–of those who grow up and the ones who don’t–especially because we’d just reread Code Name Verity, where Peter Pan has a role to play as well.

Even as the last pieces of what will become the Peter Pan mythology fall into place, the ending is bittersweet. After an adventurous, transformative journey of self-discovery and identity (literally, Peter doesn’t even get a name until the end of Act 1!), it’s the adults who determine Peter and Molly’s futures in the end. And though it’s not what they’d choose, it’s one they must and do accept, whereas I wanted their story to continue straight on till morning. But we were warned: Everything ends. New stories begin.

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The good news: The Book Thief, one of my favorite books (despite its depressing-ness), is now a play.

The bad news: it’s playing in Chicago. Sans TARDIS, I can only hope it’s coming soon to Boston.

And speaking of books made into plays…did you know that Number the Stars is now a musical? Seriously. I can’t imagine any of those characters bursting into song, but maybe it’s less weird when they’re all singing together.

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I’ve been meaning to write a real blog post for awhile, but time, schedules and my brain will not cooperate. Instead, I’ve curated some news that’s just…odd. Starting with the most gulp-worthy:

The Quileute Reservation copes with tourists brought by “Twilight,” from High Country News’ latest edition. It’s behind a paywall, but bookstores out west carry the magazine, and the title really says it all…

Next up in the less scary department, we have more modernized book covers. They’re just like the ones I blogged about before, except blurrier (the watery look does wonders for windswept clothing/hair).

And finally, something I can wholeheartedly endorse: chocolate Dalek cakes!

I think it’s time to plan a Doctor Who feast a la The Great Redwall Feast.

These cakes will go perfectly with my new disappearing TARDIS mug…now all I need is a Dalek to offer me tea.

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The Avengers opened yesterday with great fanfare. Because it is a Joss Whedon project, I’ll admit to being just a bit more interested than usual. From what I gathered, superheroes (and their egos) must cooperate to save the world as we know it because the plot hinges on an advanced weapon (a blue box, but not the blue box) of unthinkable doom called the tesseract…

Calling Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which, anyone? Maybe Thor, the Avenger of the Legolas blond hair, was in cahoots with the Mrses, and it’s thanks to the Norse god of inclement weather that A Wrinkle in Time begins as famously as it does: it was a dark and stormy night.

Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which are already cast in the Agent Nick Fury (aka the man in charge) role, but which kidlit characters across two dimensions would you unite to don the cape and take down the forces of evil? (more…)

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Is anyone else weirded out by the lack of food-scarfing in The Hunger Games movie? We see Katniss devour a roll in District 12 and some meat in the arena, but what happened to wolfing down the succulent Capitol fare? We even get a nice view of the train feast, yet Katniss just stares, starry-eyed, and never picks up a plate. Those eating scenes are some of the most powerful ones in the book–all that gluttony to contrast the Districts’ starvation diet. The language is so visceral, it’s practically tailor-made for film. What a waste…

The whole movie felt kind of remote. So much of the book relies on Katniss’ internal dialogue. Without that, we’re left with a laconic heroine who’s more cold-blooded than the Katniss in the book. Book-Katniss has the subtlety of a war hammer. Movie-Katniss is a fan of eye-narrowing and Downton Abbey style significant looks.

Ah well. The movie got Haymitch right, and the Capitol fashion is creepily extravagant (Seneca Crane’s beard!). Plus I liked watching Crane’s team manipulate the arena from the control room. It adds the extra layer of discomfort by making us complicit in the reality TV/twisted entertainment.

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A genuine Dr. Seuss letter

Every year, it seems, I send fewer and fewer handwritten letters. My output this past holiday season was abysmal, few enough to be counted on the fingers of one hand. So I was delighted to find the blog Letters of Note, which might be just the inspiration I need to take pen to paper.

The blog is self-described as posting “correspondence deserving of a wider audience” and includes scans of original letters, many of which were written by children’s authors. Here’s a quick sampling:

Harper Lee‘s heartfelt advice to a young fan of To Kill a Mockingbird

Douglas Adams‘ hilarious (and rather desperate) attempt to get Hitchhiker’s Guide made into a movie

J.R.R. Tolkien‘s letters to his sons, complete with illustrations

…and more from Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss and Peanuts creator Charles Schulz

Bonus: for anyone who’s read Amelia Lost, here’s a copy of Amelia‘s “reluctance to marry” letter.

Extra bonus: read all about Dalek blueprints on official BBC Doctor Who letterhead!

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The murine market is more than crowded these days, but that didn’t keep Richard Peck from bringing something new to the table. In a weird Downton Abbey meets Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers meets gentrified mice sort of way, Peck’s newest book, Secrets at Sea, fits nicely into the mousasphere while riffing on our current fascination with English aristocrats.

Sisters Helena, Louise, and Beatrice, and their younger brother Lamont, travel across the Atlantic by ocean liner (even though mice hate water!) because, as downstairs Cranstons, their fates are intertwined with that of their family’s. Their human family, that is. As the human Cranstons have decided to try England in order to Give Olive Her Chance (alas, only three eligible titled men on board!), this voyage also turns out to be the sisters’ chance to find their futures as well. (Indeed, dynasties have been decided on such voyages.)

While Helena is not as cold or haughty as Lady Mary, she, too, is the eldest of three sisters and therefore, quite bossy and a worrier. However, instead of entails and prospects, Helena’s concerns are cats, water, and how she will keep her family together.

Louise prefers the company of her human-Olive’s pretty younger sister Camilla Cranston-over her actual family, simple-minded Beatrice is smitten by Nigel the steward, and young Lamont idolizes Nigel right down to ‘is Lundunner accent to the point of joining with the crew. Even though mice hate water, as you know.

Throw in a collection of significant looks (usually of disapproval, but Beatrice’s judicious appearance takes the cake at the Royal Reception), an imperative old Duchess who might as well be Maggie Smith in mouse form, and the choice between working class Nigel of the handsome whiskers and Lord Peter, Mouse Equerry of the aristocratic ears, and you start to see the similarities. Plus, Peck employs the best-laid puns of mice and cats in Helena’s pitch-perfect narrative…so put that in your pipe and smoke it, Downton! As for the actual story, like Downton, Secrets at Sea is not about plot so much as it’s about wit and charm and deliciously superfluous details that make for transporting drama.

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(Note: this is a joint post by Jen and Lisa)

Review: Tricia’s Michigan, a documentary from Polivision Productions (source of review copy: free online streaming provided by the producers)

The famous keeping quilt

Tricia’s Michigan opens with a leisurely drive through Union City, Michigan, a tiny village with two major claims to fame: it was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, and it’s the place that author/illustrator Patricia Polacco calls home.

Anyone who’s read Polacco’s books (Pink and Say; The Keeping Quilt) knows that the stories are often inspired by Polacco’s family history and the history of Union City, where she grew up. Most of us will never get the chance to tour Polacco’s childhood home, so Tricia’s Michigan does the next best thing by bringing us there with an immersive documentary.


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Fellow fans of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, fear not: the movie is good. Really good. As someone who loves the book, I was relieved that the movie kept the mystery, themes and emotions of Brian Selznick‘s original. As someone who just likes movies, I was impressed by the acting and artistry. It’s worth seeing Hugo in 3D. The eye-popping visuals felt organic to the film, rather than something used as a cheap gimmick.

Best of all, the movie stayed true to the general feel of the book, alternating between spoken and stunning, wordless scenes. It wasn’t slavishly loyal to the source material either—it took extra time with some side characters and scenes of everyday life in the train station, so that I felt completely immersed in Hugo’s world. And it pays its respects to Méliès, of course. So whether you like movies, movie history or the sheer enjoyment of a great story, Hugo should fit the bill.

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