Sunday, May 31, 2009

Boleros for the Disenchanted at the A.C.T. Theater

This was the second of our series of three plays that we bought as a package at the A.C.T. Theater in downtown San Francisco. I'm not a connoisseur of theater by any means, but we like to go a couple times a year, usually because I recognize the play's author.

Boleros for the Disenchanted was written by Jose Rivera, who penned the screenplay for The Motorcycle Diaries. Boleros is based on his parents' relationship. The story takes place in two acts. In Act I, we see how the young couple, Flora and Eusebio, meet and fall in love in Puerto Rico in the early 1950s. Act II then skips ahead to Alabama in the 90s and we see their lives after 40 years of marriage. The play is about love idealized, the fantasy version, and love in reality--the long term, sickness with the health, bad with the good kind of love.

Overall, it was pretty good. The acting was strong, and actors played different roles in Act I and Act II, adding another level of complexity and symbolism (for example, the actor who played the young Eusebio in Act I appears as a priest in Act II to read old Eusebio his last rites). The parallel structure of the two acts worked well, but seemed a little heavy-handed with the theme. Still, there's very little else I could criticize in the play.

Friday, May 22, 2009

TV On The Radio - Fox Theater

TV On The Radio is such a cool band to see live. Just a complete wall of sound. Which makes the Fox Theater the perfect place to see them. Newly renovated with a great sound system, you can pick out all the layers of a band like TVOTR. And I had one of the best spots in the house, on the rail at the front of the first raised section, basically 30 feet back at stage level, looking right over the mass of people on the floor.

This was my third show at the Fox (Fleet Foxes and The Black Keys). Hard to pick my favorite, but these guys are awesome all around. And it's one of those shows that makes you like the recorded albums even more.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

WONDER BOYS by Michael Chabon, [audiobook read by David Colacci]

This is the story of a Grady Tripp, a writer and professor at a Pittsburgh university who, after publishing one highly-lauded novel, now finds himself more than 2,500 pages into his second novel with no end in sight and no direction. Likewise, he floats through this novel, blown around like a pinwheel by characters with more drive (but no more sense) than himself—James Leer, a suicidal writing student who at a party shoots the chancellor’s dog and steals her husband’s prized and priceless Marilynn Monroe jacket, worn by the star on the day she married Joe DiMaggio; Terry Crabtree, his agent, a lover of cross-dressing men, regular-dressing men, and drinking; and Hannah Green, a student who rents a room from Grady and has a crush on him though, in one of his few sensible acts, Grady keeps away. Mix up all these misfits with a bunch of booze and weed, and you get a story that is a lovable mess of slapstick, desperation, complete chaos, and characters that you find yourself liking but constantly shaking your head at.

Chabon is a writer’s writer, and there’s probably nothing he’s more suited for writing about. It’s a joy to hear the sentences he constructs, and the characters and their complicated but believable relationships are great. I hesitated to get this one on audiobook, as I wanted to actually read it, but after hearing a few good reviews, I decided to try listening. David Colacci’s performance is fantastic, and his dry sense of humor fits Chabon’s style perfectly. All around a great collaboration and a sheer joy to listen to.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hyundai Commercial

Sitting around watching the NBA playoffs, I saw the Hyundai Genesis spot with a website to edit your own spot. I thought why not? I'm sitting here doing nothing. I could win a car, I think. Here's my spot.

NOTE: For some reason, when I used the embed tag they provided, it doesn't have the music I put on it, and it had an error in the tag which I had to fix. Geez. How not to do user-generated content.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

TYSON a James Toback film

Many people thing Mike Tyson is a psychopath, hands down. After all, this is a man who was convicted of and served three years for rape, then came back and bit Evander Hollyfield's ear off in a fight, and now sports a Maori facial tattoo. But what you see from this documentary is that there's a surprising amount of depth and, not as surprising, much conflict in Tyson's character.

Aside from interview and fight clips and archival footage, the only voice in the movie is Tyson's. He's telling his story, his side of things. The movie covers his coming of age in his rough Brooklyn neighborhood, his time in and out of juvenile detention centers, and then his relationship with trainer Cus D'Amato, who got Tyson off the streets, recognized the potential, and made Tyson a believer in himself. D'Amato is one of the few people who actually looked out for Tyson's best interests. Tyson tears up when he recalls that D'Amato was the one who told him, who actually bet him, that Tyson would become champion if he listened and did everything D'Amato told him to do.

Tyson's knockouts are stunning on the big screen, and the movie artfully brings them to life as it tells the story of his early career. Tyson talks about his rape conviction (which he still denies), why he bit Hollyfield's ear off, and the later, ugly days of his career.

But the best part of the movie is just listening to the man talk. The bizarre poetry of Mike Tyson's stream-of-consciousness is fascinating. His vocabulary is surprising, and his take on things is always unique. Tyson comes across as just laying it all out there. He's been judged his entire life. He has nothing to hide from anyone. He takes responsibility for everything he's ever done, and talks about how big a role fear has played in his life.

The film is not a defense of Tyson. It's an honest profile. A peek inside his complicated mind. For all those who have written Tyson off as a lunatic, they will find this film surprising. And they might be surprised to find themselves feeling some sympathy for Iron Mike.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations by Simon Rich

This is a very short but very funny collection of imagined scenes by a former Harvard Lampoon writer. These whimsical bits range from Abraham’s awkwardly quiet ride back to town with Isaac (who he almost just sacrificed), to the reaction of kids who are told for the first time that there are actually machines for computing the math problems they’ve been tortured figuring out by hand all these years, to ants trying one last time to dig that tunnel that’ll get them out of the farm (I know this is our eighth attempt and we keep hitting glass, but I have a good feeling about this one!). Some are better than others, but none take more than sixty seconds to read. I can think of much worse ways to spend my minutes.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Ridiculously cool.

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

Talk About a Badass

The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas by Davy Rothbart

Davy Rothbart is best known as the personable and fun-loving founder of Found Magazine. I once saw him during a speaking tour in which he and his brother criss-crossed the country in an old van, sharing their favorite found items that people had submitted to the magazine.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this thin collection of short stories. I figured they’d be weird and funny, but was surprised at how solid they were throughout. The language is simple, and the stories are quirky and surprising without being silly. There’s some real depth here, and Davy shows some chops. My favorite stories are the title story and “Elena,” about a boy’s infatuation with a Mexican prostitute.

The Murphy Stories by Mark Costello

I had the pleasure of taking Costello’s fiction writing class at the University of Illinois back in the mid-90s. He was a great teacher, and I wish I’d known at the time how masterful a writer he is. I came across his story, “Murphy’s Xmas,” included in the Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction (it was also included in The Best American Short Stories 1969). That story is the one which closes this 1973 collection.

The stories give snapshots of the life of Michael Murphy, a Midwestern Irish Catholic father, husband and drinker. Unfortunately, Murphy is most skillful at the latter. Each story gives us a glimpse into his life at various points, from his late teenage days to the death of his father, his strained relationship with his wife, several affairs and finally a heartbreaking Christmas where he realizes what he’s ruined.

The prose in this book borders on poetry. And as troubled a character as Murphy is, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him. As much as he creates his own problems, and as selfish as he sometimes is, there’s something very relatable in him. In 1994, Costello published a follow-up, Middle Murphy, which I look forward to reading next.