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2.22.10 My Top Ten RIGHT NOW


1. MUSICAL A Little Night Music

The near three hours of this musical are pure delight and over too soon, filled with incredible wit and humor of the plight of humans in love. With stripped down orchestrations, Sondheim’s all-waltz score is still as sumptuous as you remember it, but now with the added bonus of truly highlighting the ridiculous intelligence of his lyrics. Angela Lansbury brings aged beauty to the role of Madame Arnfeld and while I did not see Catherine Zeta-Jones perform, her understudy was capable and enchanting. With Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night for inspiration, this musical is a near-perfect work (except for the terrifying film version) that allows you to even gloss over the very odd 11th-hour number “Miller’s Son” because while it doesn’t entirely fit into the show, it’s sheer beauty excuses it completely. There is absolutely no reason to miss this piece… A+

2. EXHIBITION Slash – Paper Under the Knife

Rarely has paper been this unbelievably fascinating. Occupying two large galleries in the newly renovated Museum of Design, the works are a range of forms, some sculptural, some intricate cutouts hung on the wall. My favorite was a series of vignettes, perfectly lit and filled with hand drawn fantastical images, gruesome and whimsical. The site specific “INRUSH” was a gorgeous tangle of paper that curled from the floor up to the ceiling, nestled in a small window in the corner of the gallery, allowing the blue winter light to enhance the intricate design. This exhibition has even overtaken the entrance to the museum where waves of paper and a large ship ripped apart by the sea descend from the ceiling. You can even glimpse the arms and legs of the shipwrecked among the white waves. An impressive exhibition of handmade wonder… A-

3. PLAY The Miracle Worker

This play lulled me into a placid lack of interest in what was occurring on stage. The story of Helen Keller is of course fascinating in its own right, but this particular production seemed to be doing a lot of legwork to make it lively. Performed in the round, the set pieces awkwardly came down from the ceiling, meaning that tables and chairs are in a fixed position, forcing the actors to stay on unmovable marks. Added to this was awkward pacing in which scenes didn’t really stop and blackouts weren’t quite complete. It’s a straightforward play, there’s no need to pretend its more modern than that. Allison Pill is good enough as Annie Sullivan, filled with bite and snap. Abigail Breslin excellently groans, kicks and screams in what is a very physically demanding role. But it’s all lost to a very oddly directed show… C

4. BOOK Shutter Island

While the rest of the world talks about the movie, I shall talk about the book. It’s an excellent page-turner in which the end of every chapter forced me to read the next instantly. Lehane’s style is intelligent and quick, his prose making every twist and turn feel amazingly fresh despite the fact that all the clues were so obvious from page one. More impressively, without skipping a beat of the intrigue and meandering narrative, Lehan injects large questions about pharmacology over therapy and more generally how we deal with the insane, pulling together striking similarities to the experiments conducted by the Nazis. It’s not just your average book about the criminally insane… A-

5. ALBUM Wild Young Hearts Noisettes

Take a listen to “Don’t Upset the Rhythm” and you’ll be hooked into the sound of this excellent London-based indie rock group. It’s bouncy, fun, punk, pop and soul all rolled into one addictive sound. The title tracks is a rockin’ ode to summer love playing back and forth between a Motown groove and guitar anthem with a dash of Elton John-esque piano riffs thrown in. But this band is more than just poppy fun, clearly heard on the quiet beauty of “Atticus,” allowing the odd and commanding voice of Shingai Shoniwa to shine. Buy the whole album; you will want to listen to it in full over and over again… A

6. MOVIE Dear John

I would love to pretend that I’m above the heartstring pulling that has become synonymous with the works of Nicholas Sparks, both in book and movie form. But alas, I am human, and I have a heart that cannot help but completely break even while I stand back and laugh at how formulaic it has all become. In this particular case, there’s a bit of a twist. While it’s a story of love over too quickly, this love runs a bit differently and you might find your tears falling for different and more winning reasons. At the hands of the reliably cheesy Lasse Hallström, this movie thankfully finds greater depth and provides an emotional performance from Channing Tatum that proves the kid can act. I dare you not to cry… B

7. ALBUM Recollection k. d. lang

I’ve honestly not paid much attention to this career, so a retrospective was like a crash course in realizing that I had actually heard much of this music before, and it’s honestly quite lovely. Of course there’s “Constant Craving,” which after all this time holds up excellently. It all comes down to her voice, crystal clear and distinctive, powerful but able to bend into such heartbroken beauty, especially on the slow build of “The Air That I Breathe” and my favorite Cole Porter classic, “So In Love.” Her work with Roy Orbison and Jane Siberry are splendid, demonstrating that despite her unique quality, she can blend seamlessly into a duet. It’s the perfect encapsulation for the casual fan and complete-ist alike… A-

8. MOVIE The Blind Side

If this can be an Oscar contender, we might need to rethink this whole ten nominees concept. Serving up Lifetime-style feel-good crap about white people saving black people, this film is shockingly inept at even telling an interesting story. Despite my lack of love for Precious, at least that film had a point of view and attempted to bring to light human atrocities by creating a layered character whereas Mike Oher is portrayed as a can-do-no-wrong giant that just happens to have unluckily been born in the ghetto. Sandra Bullock’s performance is decent, but not enough to distract from all the other bad choices being made around her. Seriously, why is America embracing this trash… D

9. ALBUM The Bridge Melanie Fiona

Continuing along this theme of ladies doing a little throwback work, Melanie Fiona is a welcome addition. Sampling from oldies and soul classics, she creates a unique blend of the ‘60s with modern R&B that makes music go down nice and easy. “Bang Bang” has an excellent sexy groove, certainly a produced sound but with a great horn section and percussion it actually feels a bit more authentic. Check out “Monday Morning” with its faster paced doo-wop sound and intelligent nod to Motown songwriting. And then there’s “Ay Yo,” a song that I can listen to over and over again, but with its reggae inflections belongs on a completely different album. An excellent first effort that hopefully will be honed more succinctly on the next one… B

10. MOVIE A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)

Another piece influenced by Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, this Woody Allen pic is not exactly great. While one can always expect his characters to be bogged down in neuroses, this time around the characters seem inhumanely plagued by them. Mary Steenburgen is the bright spot among a lot of navel gazing at how men never seem to know what they have until they’ve lost it. I like to believe that all Woody Allen is worth watching on some level, but there’s not a whole lot going on here to make me ever want to return for a second viewing… C

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