Thursday, December 31, 2009

We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for Auld 2009.

As one decade ends and a new one begins, I actually find it hard to go back and review all the life I've lived in the past 10 years. Mostly, I'm just happy to still be alive and kickin'. I'm glad to be at a start of a new decade. It's fun to think of the new adventures that may await us rather than to worry away about how something else is ending. In 2000 I was 20, not yet out of college, knowing very little about myself or the world around me. Now I'm 30, and while the world around me still presents a lot of mystery, I have a much better understanding of myself and where I want to be heading. So on this last day of the last year of this past decade, I want to say a huge thank you to my family and friends and assorted partners in crime for sharing this journey of life with me the past 10 years. The love and support and laughter you have offered are what I remember most. I love you!

In more general terms, I think it's been a decade of technology, and a decade of fear. A decade of war, and a decade of hope. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same, so I assume that in the next decade, life will go on in the world much as it always has - barring a 2012 cataclysm, an alien invasion or the Rise of the Machines. All of which I guess could happen! But y2K was a total bust 10 years ago, so don't go painting your "End Of The World!" crazy-person poster just yet.

2009 had some great opportunities for me. I'm glad that I made a long list of resolutions of things to do at the beginning of this year and wrote them down and referred back to them. I managed to do a lot of them, even if some remain unattended (tennis lessons, i swear i will get to you in 2010!). But I said I'd read at least 12 books and I wound up reading about 18 or 19, along with a dozen plays. I said I'd see 12 Broadway shows, and I did that too. I aimed for seeing friends in 12 non-Broadway shows, and overshot that goal by more than double. I went skydiving. I took a vacation by myself out of the country (which i WILL finishing writing about in 2010!) I was in a play. I wrote a play. I wrote at least 12 blog entries per month. I ran my second marathon under my goal time. I did this and I paid all my bills on time and kept my apartment on my own thanks to a steady day job. So I did pretty good in accomplishing the things I set out to do. I look forward to going even further in 2010.

So thanks for a good solid year, 2009! And thanks, 2000's, for all the new creature comforts like blackberries, reality tv, dvr's to record reality TV, the internet, HDTV, ipods and of course the slap chop and the snuggie that the world got to experience these past 10 years. Thank you to wonderful organizations that I've worked with including (but not limited to) the Nitestar Program and the Children's Tumor Foundation. Thank you to Squaresoft/SquareEnix for the several Final Fantasy video games I really enjoyed playing. Thanks for an Obama victory and the success of In The Heights. Thanks but no thanks to 2 terms of the Bush Administration, the fear-mongering that it imposed upon our nation and the world, the extreme fundamentalism and sensationalism that continues to hold far too much sway in the world, and of course those commercials I loathe with every fiber of my being. You gotta take the good with the bad I guess. Nothing's perfect. We can always hope to improve.

In the next ten years, I'd like to see some cures for the diseases and genetic conditions that affect so many people throughout the world. I expect to see some equal rights for gay people, some universal health coverage here in the States and hopefully some effing flying electric cars. It's time, folks. Also, it might be nice if the Knicks had a roster that could bring us home a championship as well.

Personally, in ten years I hope to have started a family, found creative success and saved some money (to pay for the family I've hopefully started). Also I really want to meet Rafael Nadal somewhere along the way. I hope to have ten more years of long New Year's Resolution Lists filled with my hopes and dreams and goals, and scratches across all of them to mark their achievement. I hope that for all of you as well, along with good health and prosperity. Raise a glass and toast the new decade! Cheers!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Shorecrest Vs. Shorewood: A Youtube Delight

If you are looking for something to get you in a bouncy festive holiday state-of-mind for New Years, might I suggest the following two videos. I saw them on the Rachel Maddow show a couple days ago and knew they needed to be reposted. They were created by the AV clubs from Shorecrest and Shorewood High Schools, two rival schools with too much time on their hands in the best way possible (and such similar names it's almost too good to be believed).

The first one is produced by the Shorecrest video department. The info connected to the video tells us it is "directed by Nathan Kartchner and Cody Will-Braton, James Huffman as creative consultant Director of photography and Steadicam operation by Kollin O'Dannel. Thank you everyone for your support and cooperation. Sign up for Trent Mitchell's Video production class!!!!!!!! " And seriously? Sign up for that class. Their single tracking shot production of "Hey Ya!" through the halls of the school is massively impressive. By the time they get to shaking it like a polaroid picture, I challenge you not to have a gigantic smile plastered on your face.

The Shorecrest AV Club then challenged their school-rival Shorewood (as one naturally would) to have their AV Club come up with something better. I dare say Shorewood rose to the challenge. Check out their rendition of "You Make My Dreams Come True" by Hall & Oates. I know what you're thinking: Hall & Oates over Outkast. Normally, I'd agree with you. However, they shot this thing in REVERSE! The kids are all actually running around backwards and mouthing the words phonetically backwards so that when they play the video backwards and the audio forwards it all magically syncs up. And again it's one take!! From their info connected to the video they simply say "When Shorecrest challenged Shorewood to make a Lipdub video they didn't know what they were getting themselves into. Ideas are already floating around for our next video, sign up to Mr. Ballew's Video Production classes to take a key part in it."

Mr. Ballew and Mr. Michell have to be kings of their respective schools right now. I really don't see how either of them are gonna top Shorewood's reverse video, but healthy competition can really spark some ingenuity. I look forward to Shorecrest's response to Shorecrest, and Shorewood's response to the response of the response. Forget those SAT's kids! Bring me some more music videos!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Impractical Calculus

I was on the train yesterday and the dude standing in front of me was reading a book called "CALCULUS for the Practical Man." I thought this was the most ludicrous book title I'd ever seen. I mean is there calculus for the practical woman? What about calculus for impractical people? Was there a whole series of calculus books out there for all different kinds of people? (Turns out there is not. It was a series of books but it was about different areas of mathematics all meant for Practical People. All other types of people are left out of it. There is, of course, Calculus for Dummies as well.)

I did a little research on about this book for the Practical Man, and I found out that this is a book that's been around since 1931! It's description goes like this: This book on simplified calculus is one of a series designed by the author and publisher for the reader with an interest in the meaning and simpler technique of mathematical science, and for those who wish to obtain a practical mastery of some of the more usual and directly useful branches of the science without the aid of a teacher.

The description is much longer than that, but trust me you'd get bored reading it (i sure did). Even if I didn't think it was weird to write a math book for Practical Men, what makes this dude reading it consider himself to be a Practical Man? He's a good-looking dude, but his jacket is way too light and not seasonally-appropriate. That seems impractical in handling the winter weather. He seems to have a pretty girlfriend standing next to him who is properly dressed in a bright red winter coat, so he gets bonus points for having a practically-dressed partner. But seriously? I think the book he's reading is a little out of his league. And how is that book train-reading? He should be reading one of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, or The Lovely Bones. or The Lost Symbol. Or Catcher In The Rye, if he wants to be all old school about it. Right now I'm reading World War Z and loving it. But not a book about Calculus! How can he focus on that? I judge him Impractical! This book will do nothing for him! Perhaps he should consider reading "Fake Calculus for Subway Posers" instead. Just a suggestion,

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Grown-Up Christmas Playlist

As we continue our steady pace toward Christmas. there is much fun to be had with tree- trimming, holiday parties, office parties, present-wrapping sessions and family gatherings (hopefully there's also some time for each of us to sit with a cup of nog and relax in front of the tree). At all of these times, it's good to have a solid Christmas playlist of songs to get you in the Holiday Spirit. Christmas albums are huge product in the music industry this time of year, so you've got a lot of covers of standard carols from which to choose for your set list. You've got your standards from Brenda Lee and Bing Crosby. You've got your Judy Garland-as-Debbie Downer version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." You've got everything from your Chimpunks Song to Mariah's "All I Want For Christmas is you." Along with that, you've got your old school religious fare that have been covered by pretty much every major artist out there. Although these SHOULD be enough, I wanted to suggest a few much-loved but possibly overlooked songs, that add some odd-ball charm to any yuletide itunes library. Here are 10 songs you shouldn't forget this year:

1. "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" - John Denver & The Muppets. The whole Denver/Muppets Album is a treat, but if I had to choose one song that stands out for me, it's this one because of the classic exchange between Gonzo and Piggy. Piggy is alarmed that the group demands "Piggy Pudding." but Gonzo assures her it is Figgy Pudding, made with figs (...and bacon.)

2. "Put A Little Love In Your Heart" - Performend by Annie Lennox and Al Green. End Theme from SCROOGED! A movie that I have not seen on TV nearly enough this Holiday Season. There are other versions of this song, but this one is the one to go for, in my opinion. It cannot be denied, and should not be forgotten at Christmastime!

3. "Christmas Vacation" - Performed by Mavis Staples. Another Classic Xmas song from a Classic Xmas Movie. Hip Hip Hooray for Christmas Vacation! I remember as kids, my cousins and I totally dug the opening animation to this movie and watched it over and over and over again, listening to this song. The rest of this movie is pretty damn funny too. :)

4. "Dominic, The Donkey" - written by Ray Allen, Sam Saltzberg, and Lou Monte, sung by Monte. The song describes a donkey who helps Santa Claus bring presents to children in Italy. Is it a novelty song? Is it onl loved by Italians? Is it somehow poking fun at Italians? I don't care. I love it. When Santa visits his paisons, with Dominic he'll be.Because the reindeer cannot climb the hills of Italy.

5. "12 Pains Of Christmas" By Bob Rivers & Others. This IS certainly a novelty song. I enjoy it because Christmastime, as lovely as it is, is filled with tons of crap that fills us all with lots of anxiety. I also like that as the song goes on the "carollers" stop naming the pains and start complaining about them when it's their time to sing. She's a witch! I hate her! Oh, I don't even KNOW half these people! It never gets old for me.

6. "What's This?" - Performed by Jack Skellington, The Nightmare Before Xmas. Part Halloween Movie, Part Christmas movie. This song is all about the wonder and joy of discovering winter and holiday cheer. It's delightful.

7. "All Alone For Christmas" Performed by Darlene Love. This song is from the Home Alone 2 Soundtrack. I don't believe I've ever seen Home Alone 2, even as a child. I do remember waking up one December morning when I was just a kid, and the song playing on the radio was All Alone For Christmas and I was like "what's this from?" and the radio lady told me it was from Home Alone 2. I still have no interest in seeing the movie, but I do have affection for the song.

8. "Christmas Wrapping" Performed by The Waitresses. This song (along with Last Christmas, by Wham) is the quintessential 80's Christmas tune. Oh sure, there's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" but I like the randomness of this song much better than Band Aid's offering to the Christmas Cannon. I think it's the saxophone that really makes the song.

9. "One More Sleep Til Christmas" - Kermit The Frog & Others. Muppet Christmas Carol is another great Xmas Album from the Muppets. You can't go wrong with One More Sleep Til Christmas. But you could also enjoy "It Feels Like Christmas." "Marley and Marley" and perhaps if you like to torture yourself emotionally during the Holidays (and who among us doesn't?) You could treat yourself to Michael Caine dueting on "When Love Is Gone."

10. "You're A Mean One. Mr. Grinch" Performed by Thurl Ravenscroft, not Boris Karloff - don't be fooled! He only did the narration. This is as classic as they come, but you might forget it as a Christmas Song, because it doesn't really mention Christmas. But all us Grinches out there need an anthem and this is it! The lyrics from Dr. Seuss can't be beat.

Honorable Mention: "The Snow Miser Song/The Heat Miser Song" from A Year Without Santa Claus. This song feels like it goes on for like 10 minutes. That's probably a result of it being two songs back to back. It's a catchy tune, though! If you're a fan of AYWOSC, then you are probably a fan of Heat Miser and/or Cold Miser. Depends on whether you prefer a White Christmas or a Green Christmas. You prolly think the other Miser is "too much."

A FINAL NOTE: My favorite Christmas Song is "Holly Jolly Christmas" as sung by Burl Ives. This is probably because it's the "happy ending song" from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, which is also my favorite Christmas TV Special. HJC is my favorite of the songs in that special, but it's hardly the only good one. You've got "There's Always Tomorrow," "We're A Couple of Misfits" and "The Island of Misfit Toys."

Enjoy your carols, everyone! And oh by golly, have a holly jolly Christmas this year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

SYTYCD - FINALE WEEK, Krumping Towards Ecstacy

Greetings All! Another SYTYCD season has come to a conclusion - this one a bit hastier than most. I talked last week about how odd this season has been, and the (too soon) Finale this week continued in that head-scratching tradition. The final performance show featured NINE dances (the top 3 guys each partnering with the top 3 girls equals nine routines!) but for the first time in forever it's NOT two hours long. They've shoved it all into one hour. Why? Because Gordon Ramsey is teaching us how to cook dinner LIVE AT 9PM. I don't eat dinner at 9pm, nor do I have a tv in my kitchen so this whole project to me seems a little ill-conceived.

Seriously, what is Fox thinking? Because the show was only an hour long we get no rehearsal footage, no solos, no same-sex dances and no interviews between Cat and the finalists about their journeys this season. I call bullshit. Give the Finale the attention it deserves, Network!

The only thing that redeemed this travesty of TV scheduling was that finally all the dances were kinda awesome. All season the routines were a little wonky, and then last night it seemed the gloves came off (along with most of the costumes. It was as if the costume department saw the order for 18 costumes for just six dancers this week and said "screw that, all the guys can go shirtless!") and the choreographers and dancers all really threw down. A brief recap of all the routines:

Kathryn and Ryan - Samba, choreo. by Jason Gilkison. If this show was So You Think You're A Chiseled Bad Ass MoFo, Ryan would certainly win. He's shirtless and shaking everything is mama gave him HARD in this routine. Dude is solid muscle, which helps if you have to flip a girl up over your head and catch her on your back as Ryan does in this routine. Kathryn is looking great too and moves well. Although the judges heap praise on her, I actually thought she looked a little off-balance at the beginning. I give the effort a solid B+.

Ellenore and Jakob - Broadway, choreo. by Tyce Diorio. The music is "I Gotcha" from Fosse and the costume and style reflect what you'd think of Fosse. Tyce's Broadway routines can be very hit or miss from me but this one hits. Ellenore and Jakob rule as partners. This one is fun and sexy and sharp. This one gets an A.

Ashleigh and Russell - lyrical jazz, choreo. by Sonya. I totally dug this routine. Ashleigh is Russell's guardian angel and i think the movement is just beautiful. The judges really focus the attention on Russell, who indeed is great, but I thought Ashleigh was very very strong as well. I'm glad these two got to dance together after last week's injury. I give this an A+.

Ellenore and Ryan - jazz, choreo. by Gary Stuart. I didn't really go for this routine on first viewing, but going back to it again today, I really liked it. It was intentionally robotic, which Nigel didn't care for, but Mary Murphy and I appreciated for its weirdness. It didn't really feel like Jazz though. This routine probably didn't inspire a lot of votes, but still I would give it an A- for execution and commitment.

Ashleigh and Jakob - foxtrot, choreo. by Jean-Marc. Ashleigh and Jakob make a great dance couple and they once again look great doing this. Foxtrot isn't the awesomest of dance styles to pull from the house, but I thought Ashleigh and Jacob did a solid job and always dance beautifully together. Their partnership was a real highlight from top 20 down to top 10. Grade: A-.

Ellenore and Russell - Paso Doble, choreo. by Jason Gilkison. This was good, but I've seen better Paso Doble's on this show. Possibly on this season? Russell is not really the driving force he needs to be, which Ellenore compensates for by being a fiery wraith of a dance partner in an awesome dress that works for the occasion. It would've almost been boring without her added spark and she really saves the dance for me. Solid B+ effort, but not as good as some of the other numbers already tonight.

Kathryn and Jakob - Contempo, choreo. by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. For this one we're dancing to a Michael Buble cover of "At This Moment." I don't get the appeal of Buble, just like I don't get the appeal of Hannah Montana, but I know people like his style The dance itself is totally awesome. It gets the encore presentation of the week. Adam calls it a total game changer, which means after witnessing this dance, Joe Lieberman has embraced Health Care Reform, Bin Laden turned himself into the authorities, The NY Senate reconvened to vote in favor of Gay Marriage and Michele Bachman freely admitted herself to a mental institution. If not, at least their dance was the best of the night for a well-earned A+.

Ryan and Ashleigh - Contempo, choreo. by Travis Wall. The marrieds dance together and I don't want to hear massive backlash from the public because someone voted hard enough to keep them in and it was probably YOU. The dance between them is a beautifully tender experience as you can tell they are genuinely happy to have made it as far as they possibly could, while probably internally conceding that neither of them could actually win the title. Ryan's not as good as Ashleigh in the routine, and Nigel's right that she has better dance chemistry with Jakob, but it's still fun to watch. For that I say, A-.

Russell and Kathryn - Hip Hop, choreo. by Tabitha and Napolean. This is totally in Russell's wheel house and he does not disappoint. Kathryn throws down really well too. It's acrobatic and hard hitting and all the little things work. She's up on his shoulders. She's throwing him around. It's really good. Since it's the last competitive performance of the season, it's nice to end on a Grade A performance like this one.

So overall there was a very very solid show crammed into this hour. We didn't have time to really breathe (or blink even) for the entire hour. but the performance level was high and I expected to see a few of this week's performances get encores in the finale. This week's dances didn't do anything to sway my opinion of how the final six would shake out. 6. Ryan 5. Ellenore 4. Russell 3. Ashleigh 2. Kathryn 1. Jakob. feel like if Katherine had a separate Final Four week, she'd have been able to rally the underdog vote and win it all. Even with Nigel telling her on Tuesday how she'd been his favorite for weeks, I didn't think it'd be enough.

This brings us to the LIVE* Finale (* -33% taped footage.)! We're gonna see several favorite dances from throughout the season, several pointless musical filler performances, an extend commercial for Avatar during the show and a music video for margarine during the commercials. Also the contestants will be getting whittled down from 6 to 1. So exciting! The first group number is a new Top 20 dance which is only top 19, i think so that the one alternate kid who replaced Billy (Elliot/Jamie) Bell could participate next season instead. It was a really cool number the non-finalists all danced around awesomely and then revealed the top 6 against a giant red backdop as if they were glam-rock X-Men. (For The Record if they were X-Men: Ryan is Colossus, Ashleigh is Jean Grey, Ellenore is Jubilee, Russell is Bishop, Jakob is Iceman and Kathryn is Kitty Pryde. Legacy would've been Wolverine... sigh.) After we get done with that they recap eveything from last night I aleady recapped and then get to the favorite dances. Lemme just tell you all the routines that got Encores:

Meet the Top 20: Hip Hop with Legacy, Kevin and Russell
Top 10 Wk: Jakob and Ellenore, Sonya Tayeh's "Tore My Heart" Contempo
Meet the Top 20: Tappa Tappa Tappa with Philip, Bianca and Peter
Finale: An Original Jive Choreographed and Performed by Ashleigh and Ryan
Finale: Kathryn and Jakob, Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden's "At This Moment" Contempo
Top 18 Wk: Nathan and Mollee, Nakul Dev Mahajan's "Bollywood Prince"
Top 8 Wk: Legacy and Ellenore, Travis Wall's "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" Contempo
Top 16 Wk: Russell and Noelle, Sean Cheesman's Frog Prince African Jazz
Meet the Top 20: Contempo with Arianna, Channing, Jakob, and Nathan.
Finale: Russell and Kathryn, Tabitha & Napolean's Hip Hop
Meet The Top 20: Top 20 Wade and Amanda Robson "Bar Scene" Number

If we take a quick look at these selections, do we notice a trend? 4 of 11 Dances from before the Official Start of Competition and 3 of 11 Dances from the night before. One of the remaining dances was new, leaving only 3 dances to represent the rest of the ENTIRE COMPETITION. That's not good. That means there were several weeks where apparently nothing memorable happened. In my opinion, the Tappa Tappa number and the original jive shouldn't have been included in the finale. The Tappa was not that good the first time around, and was worse last night. And there was no need for a ballroom number between the Marrieds. They got their moment together the night before. Instead, they should've given the nods to Kathryn and Ryan's Cha Cha from Top 8 and anything from Ashleigh and Jakob's time together (I personally enjoyed the Cane Dance from Top 16, but they were all really good.)

We also got some "special" performances throughout the night:
*Leona Lewis sang horribly in front of a jumobo screen commercial for Avatar.
*The Groovaloo's hip hop danced.
*Adam Lambert sang "Whataya Want From Me" wearing a grey suit with some weird extra black material on his right shoulder. I hope that it wasn't an upcoming Project Runway challenge to design an outfit for Lambert to wear on the SYTYCD Finale, because if that was the winning design, the upcoming season of P.Runway is in serious trouble.
*Mary J. Blige sang "I am." in front of other images of herself on the big screen.
*Jennifer Lopez came in on a giant high heel shoe, telephoned Santa and then sang and danced to "Louboutins," nearly exhausting herself.

All of these performances could've been skipped and nobody would've cared. The Groovaloo's and MJB were pleasant, but unnecessary. J-Lo was fun and bizarro in her now-usual way. Lambert didn't kiss anyone. Leona Lewis was just TERRIBLE. It saddens me to say that, because I usually like her vocals, but they were WAY off during the show. Pitchy doesn't begin to cover it. And the giant Avatar commercial in the background was tacky - even by Fox standards. It's annoying to think we might've gotten more dances if these "special" performances weren't there.

So now to the real business of who won. Well JUUUUST as we approached the first elimination, the whole effing system broke down. And I don't mean my DVR for once. I mean the show itself. Let me set the scene: Cat's in the process of calling everyone out on stage when her mic cuts. She makes her way to center stage, and she's just standing there all alone. The theme music plays. Someone (turns out it's Nigel) is yelling offscreen. Then three of the six dancers come on looking flustered, and some techie finally comes out with a hand mic for Cat. TRAINWRECK. Still, Cat walks away from it unscathed and is ready to move forward. On with the show! Just one little problem: half the finalists are still missing! But wait, here they come! Sort of... Ellenore and Ryan take the stage and they're helping Russell, who appears to be injured and in tears. What the hell happened backstage? "I messed my leg up," he says to Cat as a matter of not really explaining. But he's crying so what do you do? Cat reasonably asks if he's seen the doctor and Russell says that he has. But it looks like he totally can't walk on his own. Thank goodness Colossus is there to haul him around the stage. Surely none of the other finalists would be strong enough.

Realizing there's nothing else to be done but get on with it, Cat announces who las landed in sixth place...

And it's Ryan. No surprise there, but it's a bit awkward because Ryan is the only thing propping up Russell right now. Cat keeps everybody where they are and positions herself next to Ryan and they do their best to stay focused on his goodbye and not on Russell's injury. They do a tight shot of their heads so we at home can pretend that Russell is crying merely inches away from Ryan and Cat. She throws it to Ryan's video journey, where we learn that Ryan's been very muscular and just a wee bit weepy throughout his time on the show. He wasn't always the best soloist but he was great at partnering and did some good routines. When the clip show is done, it looks like Russell's been taken offstage, with the other dancers who are still in the competition. Cat handled the whole thing like a total pro and it's shit like this which would've sent lesser reality hosts totally off the deep end, Deely didn't panic and ske kept the show rolling. This is why she needs a Reality Host nomnation and win from the Emmys. She makes the whole show so much better than it would otherwise be. So for your consideration, Cat Deely, Ladies & Gentlemen!

We now resume our regularly scheduled elimination of the contestants...

in fifth place was Ashleigh. Damn, my whole ranking is now thrown off. I thought she'd be higher on the list, but she wasn't gonna win, so I guess it doesn't totally matter. She and her husband got the unique experience of taking the season-long journey together. She had a great partnership with Jakob. She made it to the final without even dancing in Top 8! So you can imagine that she feels very thankful for making it to the end.

In fourth place is our lovely Ellenore. Cat called her "one of the most original, wonderful characters we've ever had on the show." It's totally true. She danced two of the best routines of the season and she was a delight the whole way through. She never really got a ton of voter love, but she always impressed with me with her commitment and technique. Rock on, lady.

In third place came Kathryn. I was a little surprised that she wasn't top 2. As I said before, if she had another week, she probably could've made up the difference in the vote. She had many great performances throughout the season with Legacy and she was also great with Nathan, Ryan, Russell and Jakob. She was the dark horse, and while she didn't make it to the top of the rankings, she was certainly a great dancer and competitor.

It came down to Jakob and Russell. They ae very different dancers and it's neat that they were both at the top at the end, but...

Jakob took second place. I was a little sad for him. I thought he was the best dancer this season. He was really incredible. I'm sure he has a great dance future ahead of him. At least they did a clip package for both he and Russell before they announced the results. Usually whoever comes in second gets totally screwed out of any acknowledgement on this show. This change felt like an improvement. Jacob jete'd his heart out all season and was just as worthy of the title. I hope he stays in the SYTYCD Family in future seasons.

RUSSELL WINS! I thought he had it in him. I honestly forgot to really consider him as Kathryn came on so strong and Jakob was so continually impressive. Russell's krump is AMAZING though and his solos always showed how talented he was in his own dance genre while the routines showed how versatile he was. Dude just has a loveable personality to boot. Good on you, Russell, for taking the title. I only wish the network hadn't mismanaged your season so badly. You and your fellow dancers deserved better. But enjoy the spoils of winning and I will look for you and Kathryn in the Adam Shankman-produced Oscars this year!

So that's it for this season! I know this recap was VERY long, but if you've been reading them all along, I hope you enjoyed it. I really think this wasn't a bad season, it was just treated badly.The problems I had with this season had nothing to do with the dancers who I thought were a really dynamic top 20. I had a big problem with the set and lighting design detracting from the actual dance, but I felt like the camera work started to adjust to it in recent weeks. I had a problem with some of the routines, but I think giving the choreographers some time off to pursue other projects in between seasons will be good. I had a HUGE problem with how Fox scheduled the show, but hopefully they will just keep it to a summer schedule and it can be a big fish in a small pond, instead of getting roughed up by Baseball in October. I love that Travis and Sonya came into their own this season, but I want Mia Michaels back among their ranks. Cat continues to only get better and better at hosting this show, even as the situations around her get crazier and crazier. Give that woman a raise. And a well earned vacation. And an Emmy.

See you in 2010, SYTYCD! Hopefully with Billy (Elliot/Jamie) Bell and Natalie. Remember Natalie? She auditioned for Seasons 4 and 5 and was cut FOR NO GOOD REASON! Please bring her back! PLEASE!

Good Movies You Want To See With Me This Holiday Season

Holiday Season inevitably brings with it Movie Award Season. This is when the roughly 2,356 film organizations across the country determine what was actually worth seeing from the past year of cinema. Thanks to all the top 10 lists that have come out, I now know where to focus my attention in the run up to Oscar Night. Luckily a lot of these movies are still playing - or just about to be released. Let me know if you're interested in going to see any of the following movies with me over the Holiday Break. I will be off from work and looking to take in as much film as possible!
A Serious Man
A Single Man
An Education
Crazy Heart
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Hurt Locker (still somehow playing a few times each week!)
It's Complicated
Up In the Air
The Whte Ribbon
The Young Victoria

It's a long list of movies, but if I keep at it, I should have a lot of them crossed off by Oscar Night. Holler at me if you want a movie date!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

SYTYCD Top 8 - For The Love Of Ashleigh

If I gathered all my means (all my means)
In a pile beside me (in a pile),
It wouldn't help to fill my dreams (fill my dreams)
- Many votes for Ashleigh.
Money cannot buy me---
Buy for me the votes for Ashleigh.
I'm not the kind of guy who falls in love with Ashleigh.

I have to say, 2 minutes into Tuesday's night's performance episode, I was ready to declare this season a huge disappointment. I don't think it's been the complete failure that was the long-delayed LA-based edition of Project Runway, but I think it's clear that having back to back seasons of SYTYCD was ill-advised. There have been too many problems. It hasn't been a smooth ride at all. Tuesday's big issue was that Ashleigh was injured and not able to dance. She wasn't outright eliminated by her dislocated shoulder, but the chances of her surviving on just the voting public's love of her past performances seemed ridiculously slim. Add her injury to Noelle's previous injury, and Billy (Elliot/Jamie) Bell's illness, plus Mia's departure from the show and we've been dealing with a lot of losses. Combine those losses with the fact that we're skipping a whole week of eliminations because we've run out of Fall Season to work with (while earlier we slogged through 3 whole weeks unneccessarily focused just on the Vegas rounds), the fact we couldn't vote for the first two rounds of Top 20 performances because of post-season baseball and the fact that the choreographers just seem burnt out on all the routines they've been cranking out since last June and it seems like the best thing this show could do is go to bed for a LOOONG winter's nap. We really don't need two seasons a year. One summer season is enough to make me happy.

Getting back to this week, I had come to really enjoy Ashleigh and I was sad for her. I originally thought she was one of the weakest girls in the competition, who got in mostly so the show could have it's first married couple as contestants. Since the start of Top 20, she's really grown on me. I think she's been a part of some of the best routines of the season and her partnership with Jakob has been great. It sucked that she was not going to be dancing with Russell, and that instead, Russell had to dance with some random choreographers' assistants. He did the best he could, but you could really feel Ashleigh's absence in his Hip Hop and Bollywood numbers. They would've KILLED both routines. I know it! Ryan took the opportunity during his own solo performance to beg for votes on his wife's behalf. I actually voted for Ashleigh several times Tuesday night, but I considered her a total goner.

As for the rest of the night, Mollee got partnered with Jakob and they danced a Viennese Waltz, which I thought was good and then a Broadway routine that I thought was weak for Mollee. The Judges heaped tons of praise on Mollee anyway, but it didn't work for me. They danced to this weird mega-mix of Easy Street from Annie and i just didn't think she hit any of it sharp enough. Jakob of course was fantastic. As for the others: Legacy/Ellenore did a really exciting Contempo routine from Travis, Kathryn/Ryan had a Disco routine that I thought was a bit stiff, but then the followed it up with a fantastic Cha Cha that gets this week's encore presentation.

Kathryn is really working off of the Jeanine playbook to secure her victory. But last year, J had an additional week to underdog her way past Brandon. I don't know is she has quite enough Show-mentum at this point to really climb past Jakob and take the title.

This week, I'm not giving Russell the Numfar Dance of Shame Award because it wasn't fair that he didn't have his proper partner in either routine. Therefore I must single out Legacy/Ellenore's NappyTabs Hip Hop number which was just weird. it was not their usual bag. No real stories or relationships. It was just weird. I couldn't connect with it. Sorry, kids. I usually love you both, but this one went nowhere.

So going into Wednesday, I was not pleased with where things had gone and was ready to say good-bye to Ashleigh under the lamest of circumstances. BUT THEN! Something crazy happened which made me love the season again. Ashleigh was SAFE! She wasn't even bottom two! And Ryan made it too! The marrieds can dance in the finale! This is pleasing to me. Mollee wound up getting the axe for the girls, and while I do think had all things been even, it would've been her week to go, it has to really suck to know that you were less popular in your routines this week than the girl who didn't even dance at all! I mean, DAMN. Mollee was a cool young dancer. I didn't see all the "GROWTH!!" the judges kept seeing in her with each passing minute of the show, but she was good and you could tell it meant a lot to her.

I was very upset at the elimination of Legacy. He had some hit or miss routines this week and last, but I thought his solos were outstanding and I really thought he'd make it to top 6. Plus his parents looked so sad! If there had been a three-way struggle for top male dancer next week between Legacy, Jakob and Russell that would've been cool. But he went almost as far as he could possibly go and I have a feeling he'll be well-showcased in the Finale and on the tour, so I'll try not to be too sad about his early dismissal.

I have no idea who will take home the title next week. It's much harder to predict with six contestants left instead of four. I mean Ashleigh made top 4 without even dancing, so I really think it could just come down to who has the most exciting routines next week. But if I had to take a stab at how the final elimination will go, I'd say:

6. Ryan
5. Ellenore
4. Russell
3. Ashleigh
2. Kathryn
1. Jakob

But really, I could see any of them sneaking in to win it all (except maybe Ryan. I'm pretty sure he won't win.) I'll see you all and Adam Lambert next week for the grand finale!

When Jesus Is My Porsche, A Constant Friend Is He

Here's the thing; I'm no good with song lyrics. I don't know how people learn them. I don't have a brain for them at all. I could listen to a song 100 times on my ipod. If you turned it off and asked me to tell you the next verse of that song, I couldn't do it. Forget about Don't Forget The Lyrics. I never learned them in the first place.

I have slightly better luck with showtunes than songs on the radio, mostly because I've seen them performed and the visual of it being on stage or screen helps me commit it to memory. Reading the lyrics over and over again also helps but comes with no guarantees. Even with an album like American Idiot which I've loved and listed to for years AND read the lyrics in the booklet many times, I could not tell you half the words to those song. I can sing along while the song is playing in the background, but take the training wheels off and give me a non-vocal track and I'd be completely lost. I always marvel when it seems someone has memorized a song (especially hip hop) simply by listening to it repeatedly. How do people DO that? It's just not possible for me.

It is, however, rather easy for me to remember the WRONG lyrics to songs. Certain lyrics I make up get caught in my head for weeks at a time. The title of this post is a good example of that. Lauryn Hill's "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" from Sister Act 2 shuffled it's way onto my ipod from the depths of my music library in late November. Since then I've been singing "When Jeeeeeesus iiiiiiis my Porsche." to myself non-stop. That same line. Over and over again. It's exhausting. I hadn't thought of that song in forever but then it showed up, and the made-up lyric planted itself back in the forefront of my mind. What's it gonna take to dislodge it and send it back to irrelevance? I'll have to think of another nonsense lyric to take it's place.

And this brings me to my current dilemma. There are many many songs to which I've altered the lyrics in my head, but mercifully I don't actively think about them until I hear the song again. Right now the mother of all made up lyrics is somewhere in my memory, but I can't actively recall what it is. Part of my brain is fighting hard to unearth it in an attempt to knock "Porsche" from its perch. Another part of my brain is desperately working to keep it hidden and not let me consciously think of the song or the words I altered. That part knows if I let myself think of it, it could stick there clear til March and whatever the words are they're SO DUMB - much dumber than Porsche - that I can't subject myself to my own idiocy that way. I have to avoid remembering at all costs! The harder I resist though, the harder i can feel the memory making it's way to the surface. It's like a force of nature - how can I resist? Should I give up and just actively try to think of the song and let the lyrics take up space in my brain? Will trying to force it to happen effectively stop it from happening? Shall I try to pull off some kind of reverse psychology coup d'etat on myself?

Something's gotta give because all this back and forth is seriously slowing down the processing center of my brain. I keep finding myself walking toward places and forgetting what I was hoping to do there, or starting sentences and trailing off when I don't know where I was going with the thought. All because too much of my brain is occupied with this back and forth over trying not to remember fake song lyrics!

...maybe I can save myself though, or at least buy myself some time and mental relief. I just remembered how I once changed the lyrics from On My Own to reflect my then-obsession with Teri Hatcher. "And when I lose my way i close my eyes, and Teri's found me." Maybe I can cycle that through my head for a while and the Porsche line will go away and my brain won't be so intent on remembering the big kahuna of dumb lyrics. Yes, the worst made up lyrics are much more stupid than the Teri ones. Something need to stay buried! Yes, that will do... please brain. Don't remember the lyrics.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Reality TV Winner Takes It All

It's that time of year again when all the Fall Reality Shows crown their season winner. It started right before Thanksgiving when Project Runway finally let us know that who won the season 6 finale that was filmed around 18 months ago. Meana Irina stood tall among all her competitors! This wasn't a great first season for the show on Lifetime - plus if there was ever a season that deserved a reunion show, it's this one. Since the actual competition happened so long ago, it would've been nice to get a little "Where are they now?" about some of the contestants, like Ra'mon or Epperson.

I'm sure Top Model also crowned a new winner, although blessedly I was able to divorce myself from that show this year, so I can't be totally sure. Tyra might have just eliminated everyone in the finale, to emphasize her point that in life, "short bitches never win." That probably would've made for a better finale than anything else they came up with. She could just do the winning photo shoot for Teen Marie Claire or whatever magazine is the winning prize by herself which I'm sure she'd prefer anyway.

This week we get treated to a new winning team on Amazing Race, a new Biggest Loser AND a new Top Chef. Meghan and Cheyne won Amazing Race Sunday night and while the result was not surprising (since they won seven out of twelve legs of the race this season including the last four) I thought it was satisfying. Some people thought this season was a little dull, but I thought it was well-cast and the finale was very exciting. Some of the tasks along the way weren't the most thrilling (travel to the top of the world's tallest building by elevator to... take a clue out of a box and come back down! At least make them take the STAIRS!) but this was still a good season with a deserving winning team. Next season I'd like to see the teams doing more fun and exciting tasks from city to city instead of just arduous ones. Mentally and physically challenging tasks are great, but I'd like to see a little more adrenaline involved this spring. Let's race!!!

I'm not sure who will win Biggest Loser tonight, but I'm guessing it's one of the guys. Both of them still had a lot of weight left to lose and could pull big weight loss numbers tonight. It will be harder for the girls to match them in total percent of body weight lost, but the past few years the girls (especially whoever is on the pink team) have been able to stay the most focused while training at home and pulled out the upset victories. I love to see a good underdog Biggest Loser, so hopefully one of the ladies dug deep and can take the title home.

Over on Top Chef, it's Kevin vs. Brother Michael vs, Brother Bryan. I hope that Kevin or Bryan come out victorious, which should pretty much seal the deal for Michael. This show tends to have winners I don't enjoy personality-wise. I'm sure their food is the best, but I can't taste, it so it does nothing to win me over. I watched this season of Top Chef less than I could've, but more than I intended. Fun fact: no one other than the final four contestants managed to win an Elimination Challenge all season. That's some pretty impressive consistency coming from the Top 4. I'm sure the food at the finale will all look delicious and I'll be mad I don't get to eat any of it.

Still on the horizon for next week are the finales of Survivor and So You Think You Can Dance. Both of whom still have more active contestants than they know what to do with and not enough weeks to eliminate them in an orderly fashion before Christmas rolls around. I'm not so surprised about Survivor which plays by it's own rules, adds more and more contestants each year, and will probably just stage some kind of shocking quadruple elimination tribal council on Sunday to get things back on track. So You Think You Can Dance seems the bigger head-scratcher to me. Are they really going to go into the Finale with six dancers? That's weird. In retrospect it must seem like not such a great decision to have spent THREE WEEKS on the Vegas Callbacks, eh Fox? I have to say, this fall season for one of my fav reality competitions was not a big success. The dancers were cool and talented, but the choreographers seemed a little artistically spent coming off of the normal summer season, and we had no Mia Michaels routines in the Top 20. I'm not sure how it did in the ratings, but I think I'll just take my SYTYCD in the summer months, thank you very much. I'll be happy when the show passes the Fox Reality Baton back to its big brother, American Idol, in January.

And that about does it! The best thing about these shows is that if you are disappointed in the winner, the whole thing starts over really quickly again (as soon as January for some), so you don't have to linger on the results for too long. Often it's difficult to name the winner from the previous season while you're watching the current one. You hope that these winners carry the experience of winning with them for a lifetime, because the actual title they hold usually only lasts for around 3-4 months. The Reality Winner takes it all, until they have to give it back again. Or they go on yet another reality show. Whichever comes first.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tennis Tour '09 Epilogue: Rafa Wins!!

As I mentioned last week, the ATP Tour Finals were held in London and Rafa didn't do so well. I figured he'd be on his way back to Mallorca to eat cookies for Christmas, but I forgot that before he could go on vacation he still had to play the Davis Cup Final, since Spain has been kicking ass all season and Rafa loves to play for his country.

And wouldn't you know it, Spain won! Rafa got two great wins in what turned out to be a total rout of Czech Republic: 5-0. Rafa started things off right by beating Tomas Berdych 7-5 6-0 6-2 to give Spain a 1-0 lead. Then David Ferrer had a crazy comeback to beat Radek Stepanek in five sets, 1-6 2-6 6-4 6-4 8-6, to take the second rubber (as the Davis Cup matches are called). Following that, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco beat Tomas Berdych and Radek in straight sets, 7-6 (9-7), 7-5, 6-2 to seal the victory for Spain. Rafa returned Sunday for a 6-3 6-4 win over Jan Hajek, and Ferrer did clean up with a 6-4 6-2 win against Lukas Dlouhy. "The Spanish Armada," as the team has been nicknamed, played extremely well this weekend, They successfully defended their title from 2008, making it the first successful title defense at David Cup in ten years.

This is a much better coda to Rafa's tennis year than going 0-3 in London. Knowing how much Davis Cup and his Armada teammates mean to him, I'm glad that Rafa was able to return to top form and help bring it home for Spain.

NOW he gets to rest and recuperate (and train) for when the tour starts again... in about 5 weeks? Shortest off-season ever. See you there, Rafa!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rainbow Disconnection

"Someday we'll find it. The rainbow connection. The lovers. The dreamers. And me." - Kermit The Frog.

This was the picture on HuffPo today and it made me smile a wistful smile and think of this song.

After nearly 6 months of delays, and a debate on the floor today that lasted almost three hours, the NY State Senate rejected a bill that would have made NY the sixth state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. The State Senate had never debated the issue on the floor before today, though the State Assembly has passed such measures before in past years. I watched many of the speeches via webcast today and they were quite passionate and moving. Still at the end of the debate, the final vote was 24-38. Eight Democrats voted "no" - Addabbo, Aubertine, Diaz Sr., Huntley, C. Kruger, Monserrate, Onorato, Stachowski - while not a single Republican voted "yes." Representation in Queens really failed their constituencies today. I've got you in my sights, Onarato! I've said this before and I will say it again. There is a large LGBT community in Astoria, LIC and surrounding neighborhoods. For you to vote as a Legislator to deny civil rights - to people FOR WHOM YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO ADVOCATE - and say that they are citizens with lesser options because of who they are, is totally deplorable. I am disgusted by your actions and look forward to the day when you are no longer my state senator. I hope you live to feel great personal shame over your actions and either use future votes to correct what you've done, or just get voted out of office for good. The fight for those of us who believe in marriage equality will go on. We will continue to make our voices heard and our stories known.

Here's a rundown of how everyone in the Senate voted. Along with some comments from Senators as they voted. If you do not know who your senator is PLEASE FIND OUT THE NAME OF YOUR SENATOR. Just enter your address here!

Adams - Yes. "Hoping New York State comes out of the closet and understands that all Americans deserve the right to marry and love…this is about love."
Addabbo - No. (Note: Addabbo took $8,000 from Empire State Pride Agenda while he struggled with his relection campaign. Shameless. Thanks for sharing that fun fact, JG.)
Alesi - No.
Aubertine - No.
Bonacic - No.
Breslin - Yes.
DeFrancisco - No
Diaz Sr. - No. (Diaz Sr. said a bunch of things against gay marriage but - where i got this list - did not mention it.)
Dilan - Yes.
Duane - Yes. (refuted some of the things Diaz Sr. said)
Espada Jr. - Yes. "Yes to this bill and to as many do-overs as we need to bring it home."
Farley - No.
Flanagan - No.
Foley - Yes.
Fuschillo - No.
Golden - No.
Griffo - No.
Hannon - No.
Hassell-Thompson - Yes.
Huntley - No.
C. Johnson. Yes.
O. Johnson. - No.
Klein - Yes.
L. Krueger - Yes.
C. Kruger - No.
Lanza - No.
Larkin - No.
Lavalle - No.
Leibell - No.
Libous - No.
Little - No.
Marcellino - No.
Maziarz - No.
McDonald - No.
Monserrate - No.
Montgomery - Yes.
Morahan - No.
Nozzolio - No.
Onorato - No.
Oppenheimer - Yes.
Padavan - No.
Parker - Yes. "This is the right thing to do, and we should do it now. I proudly vote 'aye'."
Perkins - Yes.
Razenhofer - No.
Robach - No.
Saland - No.
Sampson - Yes.
Savino - Yes.
Schneiderman - Yes.
Serrano - Yes.
Seward - No.
Skelos - No.
Smith - Yes.
Squadron - Yes.
Stachowski - No.
Stavisky - Yes.
Stewart-Cousins - Yes.
Thompson - Yes.
Valesky - Yes.
Volker - No.
Winner - No.
Young - No.

SYTYCD Top 10 - Just The 10 Of Us (Until There Were 8)

This show is a race and Jakob can win it, 'cause he's learnin' the rules of the game. If he can stay on the ball, take it minute by minute, he just might make the hall of fame. What can I say? He's doin' it the best he can!

Hopefully someone out there enjoys a good sitcom TV theme song reference as much as I do.

Top 10 week was a very good - if not slightly odd - SYTYCD viewing experience. Because Obama gave an important speech on Afghanistan, my DVR said the show started at 8:30pm and was going to last until 11pm. It wasn't really accurate, it ostarted 8:45 and only went until 10:45-ish. Still, it just seemed really LONG - 10 routines and 10 solos in total is a lot of dancing to watch. Almost all of the routines were very very good, and one of them was the best of the season by far. Overall, I was very happy with the quality of dance as we were heading into America's First Vote That Meant Something.

The weirdest things about Tuesday's Performance Night Show was that there were no intros to any of the numbers. Cat was just like "give it up for Noelle and Ryan doing a Tabitha and Napolean hip hop routine!" and bam! Noelle is walking out on stage and they are just dancing. It was disconcerting, but I kinda liked not being told what to expect - just as a change of pace. I think with less dancers next week, they will go probably go back to the dance intros. Sometimes for the non-literal dances, it's easier to connect if someone explains the concept and dance style ahead of time.

The new couples were Ryan/Noelle, Legacy/Ashleigh, Nathan/Kathryn, Jakob/Ellenore and Russell/Mollee. They were all interesting pairings. We didn't get to see any "pulling names out of a hat footage, but I guess we can assume that happened and that the Producers didn't just decide the couples this week. But really, who knows? I wouldn't be that surprised or upset to learn that there's some backstage producer manipulation on this show. Nothing so serious as vote tampering, but this week's couples didn't feel so random, you know?

To briefly recap, Ryan/Noelle were not quite hitting it with the NappyTabs hip hop, but had a strong 2nd routine with a smooth waltz. Legacy/Ashleigh had a difficult contemporary number followed by a bizarre hip hop which I'll go into in further detail momentarily. Nathan/Kathryn had a solid Broadway number followed by an awkard rumba, Jakob/Ellenore had a fantastic quick step follwed by a Sonya jazz routine that was the high point of the season. And finally, Russell and Molly had a very good lyric jazz routine followed by a strong jive (choreo'ed by Anya and Pasha! Still my favorite contestants after all these seasons!). So there was a lot of really good, and only a very little bad which made the elimination very tricky to call. My gut said Noelle and Nathan and I was right, but it was hard because they are all very good, so it could've been just as easily anyone else.

But before i get to that. The encore presentation. This routine is just killer. Jakob and Ellenore compliment each other so well and they are both really into Sonya's style. I've watched this routine probably 10 times now and there is just so much detail, you can see something new everytime. FINALLY a dance on the new stage really REALLY connects. I was so excited for them! I think this routine, followed up by an incredible solo, really marked Jakob as a heavy favorite to win the whole competition. It's still very early though! Anything can happen when America is voting!

Along with several great routines, there were also a bunch of really great solos. If you can find Russell's and Legacy's solos frim Top 10 week on youtube, you should check them out immediately. . They show off some amazing moves. I couldn't find high quality clips to link to for the blogpost though.

As much as it pains me, I have to give the Numfar Dance of Shame Award to Legacy and Ashleigh this week. It's totally not their fault. Dave Scott choreographed it, and he did them no favors. It was some vampire story, but Legacy was wearing this vampire cape that even Count Chokula would think was too tacky cartoonish, that it couldn't be taken seriously. The routine had Legacy doing no real tricks and Ashleigh's hip hop skills that we've seen put to good use in other numbers was really ignored. So we weren't left with much. The judges blasted the choreographer for the lack of difficulty at this stage of the game, and they NEVER speak out against the choreographers, so you know something was up. Anyhow, this was really the one bad number of the night. It was too bad it had to be performed by two of my favorite dancers.

But fear not! Legacy and Ashleigh were both safe from elimination! The bottom 2 boys and the bottom 2 girls were Nathan vs. Ryan and Kathryn vs. Noelle. I think America got this one right on both counts and Noelle and Nathan were sent home. It was a tough call because all four of them really are strong competitors. I just think that ultimately Nathan is the least mature dancer of the top 10 (though he's got bucketloads of talent) and that Noelle connected the least with her dances this week (though I think she has some of the best female solos in the history of the show). Top 8 is gonna be an even tougher cut than top 10! I mean, if I had to venture a guess, I'd say Ryan and Mollee get cut next week, but you can never tell who will benefit from the luck of the draw regarding partnership, dance genre and choreographer. All that factors into who gets the most votes week to week.

The quality of the dancing has really picked up there past two weeks and I hope it continues straight through to the Finale. I want more stand out pieces like Sonya's "Tore My Heart" this week. Also, I have to give a shout out to the League of Extraordinary Dancers who put on a phenominal routine during the results show tonight. There was some flip sequences in there that had to be seen to be believed. I really enjoyed it.

Best of luck to you, Nathan and Noelle. Enjoy the tour! You did great! See the rest of you here next week for the Elite 8!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Roman Holiday - Part Four, The Truth Behind The 39 Steps and More

I promise to finish the story of my 4-day trip to Rome by the end of the year. That's my goal!

Okay, so last time I checked in I had left the Vatican Museums and was making my way to Piazza San Pietro. On my way there I note that the clouds are coming in strong again. They are not storm clouds though. They are huge fluffy clouds. And they seem to be hella low in the sky. What is going on with these Italian clouds? They look like you could just reach out of the sky and grab them. Are we at a higher altitude than in New York? It doesn't feel like the air is thinner. Hmm.

Anyway Piazza San Pietro is beautiful and very crowded. When I arrive there is this really long line and I can't immediately tell to where it is leading. I then realize this is the line to get into St. Peter's Basilica. It's so long! It's stretching around the outer ring of the piazza! There's a moment when I'm entering the Piazza when I can cut most of the line and no one would notice. It's just little old me. Nobody would notice this one extra body in a sea of walking tours. But then maybe God would be angry with me for cutting the line to get into these religious locations? I mean, especially in the face of all the lucky breaks I've been catching at every turn on this trip. I decided to be good and go to the end of the line after taking a walk around the inside of the Piazza. There's an amazing amount to take in all around you. Beautiful fountains and statues abound. There was a huge area in front of the entrance to the Basilica that was set up for what I'm assuming would be a giant outdoor service on Sunday. It was all quite lovely, and I take a moment to appreciate how lucky I am to be able to make this trip and take all of it in.

Then I got on line to get into the Basilica. Aaaaaand I waited. But even though the line was very long it moved along at a pretty brisk pace. Free admission will do that for you. Most people took the time on line to put on layers of clothing since you have to be all respectable-like heading into the Basilica. No bare shoulders or flip flops up in here!

The Basilica is gorgeous. Really a total marvel of architecture and art. I'm not an expert on either of things so I don't really know what to say except everywhere you look is something awe-inspiring and creepy-beautiful in that way that's right in Catholicism's wheelhouse. The Pieta is there too and it's cool, but it's behind glass and lots of people crowd around it and you can't really get a good picture of it without throwing a couple elbows and that just didn't seem like the spirit of the occasion to me. The thing I dug most about the Basilica was the ceiling which was beautiful and seemed to go on forever. On the way to the top your eye caught on all these magnificent statues of angels and saints carved into the columns and other other architectural aspects of the building I can't readily identify. But I wandered around in there for a while. Mostly, people tried to take pictures of everything they saw, running around the place like they were inside the Chocolate Room inside Willy Wonka's Factory. But there was this one area that was reserved specifically for prayer and you couldn't take any pictures or talk while you were there. I enjoyed sitting in the quiet for a moment and saying a prayer for mom. It was a really sweet moment.

Eventually I wandered my way back to the front of the Basilica, took a few more pictures and heading back down to Piazza San Pietro and then headed out of Vatican City. Right outside of the piazza is tons of tourist trappy places to eat. I wasn't super-hungry after the Papal Pizza, but I was needing a gelati fix and everywhere I passed was price gouging my delicious treat. I would wait for the right Gelati Shop to come my way. There were still some very important sites to see on the day's agenda - including the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon and they were not exactly just up the block from Vatican City, but I wanted to take in as much of the city as possible so I skipped the return trip on the subway and travelled on foot back toward Ancient Rome with the Spanish Steps as my next big landmark to visit.

I passed by the Castel Sant'Angelo on my way back to the Tiber River. This place is supposed to be important in the Dan Brown book Angels and Demons or The Celestine Prophecy or whatever it is he writes. I've never read his books. Gosh what's the name of the really popular book he wrote... i know I can think of it.,, Davinci Code! That's it! Go me. Anyway this castle plays some part in one of those books, and it was lovely to look at from the outside, I just wasn't in the mood to see more art at that point. I wanted to walk outside! What was interesting about walking by the castle was the guy I bumped into. He was French and lost, so of course he asks me for directions cause I totally looked like I knew where I was going right? Totally a man on a mission.

Anyway he comes up to me all:

Frenchie (thick accent): Scussi, blah-blah-blah-French-Words-I-Don't-Know.
Me: (in appropriated Italian accent) Parla inglese?
Frenchie: (in perfect English) You speak English
Me: (in total New Yorker drawl) Yeah.

He goes on to tell me he's lost and can't figure out where we are on the map. This is one of the few times where I actually DO know where we are because we were halfway between the Ponte Sant'Angelo and the Ponte Umberto. He was very pleased to get some course correction. Then he asked me how things were in America, if people were happy and if the economy was good. I wasn't entirely sure how to answer that question. I mean, "no" wouldn't have been an entirely off the mark response, but it seemed a little too general at the same time. We walked together to the next bridge (at which point he wound up at the embassy where he was to rendezvous with his wife, and I continued along the river until I got to Ponte Cavour which I thought was a fair crossing point to be close to the Spanish Steps. It was interesting talking to someone for more than a few sentences who was not a food service person. It had almost been a whole day since I really had a conversation with anybody who was not bringing me pizza, or wine or gelati.

So I thought once I got over Ponte Cavour it would be smooth sailing and I'd fine the Spanish Steps. Wrong! While trying to head North East, I totally overshot The Steps and walked way out of my way to Piazza Del Popolo. This was not a disappointment, because Piazza Del Popolo was totally cool. It was a giant open space with the requisite obelisk and fountain at the center, but there was also some kind of sports fitness expo going on in the Piazza that day. So there was a lot of hustle and bustle. In the NE corner of the Piazza you can start going up these stairs and find yourself on what turns into the Viale Gabriela D'Annunzio. And you can climb for awhile and see a great view of Rome. It wasn't the Spanish Steps I was looking for, but it was beautiful. I came back down again though, and walked back on the Via Del Baubino. After consulting my map many times, I believed if I walked south on this road long enough I would hit the Spanish Steps, which I should say that by this point I started to mentally refer to them as the 39 Steps. It's a Hitchcock thing. I took a few more exasperating wrong turns and could not believe how a giant staircase carved into the side of a big hill can be so hard to locate. But then I made one right turn and there it was! It was such a crowded area! Just like Trevi Fountain the night before! I can't tell you happy I was to make it to the 39 steps after so many walking detours all throughout Rome. The one thing I wanted to before I began my ascent up the 39 Steps was a nice big strawberry gelati. Yum yum yum! But as I looked around, I swear I could not find one gelati stand around me. Even at rip-off prices! I become convinced that I need the gelati to walk up the 39 Steps. This is how I always envisioned it! Sitting high up on the steps looking out toward the setting sun while eating ice cream!

So I walk down the street thinking I'll have to come across a snack bar eventually. But there's nothing. I'm walking down what I believe to be Via Dei Condotti, and it was all these high end clothing stores. No gelati whatsoever! I kept going further and further away. My panic and desperation grew. It had taken me so long to get to the 39 steps and now I was willfully removing myself from their vicinity. I kept casting nervous glances over my shoulder as if I would turn around and find it was no longer in view. Lost to me forever! Finally -FINALLY! - I found a snack bar with gelati. I walked for almost 10 minutes away from the steps though, I'm not joking. I got myself a heaping serving of strawberry gelati and hurried back in the direction of the steps. I was hurrying because I was afraid I would eat it before I got back to the steps, and the whole point of my gelati quest was to have it while I was ascending the steps! So finally I make it back there and start climbing. I mean, it's not like it's thousands of steps that stretch into the sky, but it's still a really cool location. Some people seem to like to hang out on the steps of the post office at 34th St and 8th Ave in NYC and of course the Gossip Girls like to sit on the steps of the Met, but this is much better than those places. I climb about 2/3's of the way up and sit myself down on some unoccupied step and enjoy the view and people watch. It dawns on me that I haven't seen a lot of people fighting or complaining while I've been in Rome. People seem to be either very chill, or happy or lovey dovey. The gypsies of course are all dramatically shameful, but outside of them, things are a lot less stressful than in NYC. What's there secret? Is it all the gelati that gets consumed? Perhaps that is the secret lesson of the 39 Steps. Eat your gelati, enjoy the view and don't freak out so much. Having gained newfound perspective on my life, I finish off my cone, complete my ascent to the top of the Steps. Another dream fulfilled!

Atop the Spanish Steps there is a church called the Trinita dei Monti. Oh, I loved this church! It's kinda small and unassuming and it's another one where they expressly tell you that you cannot take pictures inside. It's a shame though, because here I found my favorite painting from the whole trip. It's Domenico Corvi's painting of the Archangel St. Michael. I can't find a reproduction of it anywhere. If you find it. please let me know. I could stare at it forever. I'm not really sure why. [Note: I just looked online again and I found one image of it, but it's got a copyright logo over it! boo! I must track this person down and get an unmarked version of this image. It's really my favorite.] So I bask in the glory of the painting for a while. Sit in the pews and say another prayer, and then exit the church and go back to the 39 Steps.

I am very pleased that, despite my lack of navigational prowess I was able to find my way to the 39 Steps. It was a very fulfilling experience and it filled me with confidence that before the day was through, I'd be able to find that other very elusive Italian Icon: The Pantheon!

Coming Soon! - Part Five, The Pantheon, Dinnertime, And the end to Saturday! (Finally!)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Congratulations.. Davydenko?

Against extremely long odds. Nikolay Davydenko won the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London today. This seems nearly impossible because the tournament only hosts the top 8 male players in the world, of which Davydenko is ranked 7th (he was seeded 6th as Andy Roddick was no. 6 but out with injury). Ahead of Nikolay in the rankings were FedEx, Rafa, Choker, Murray and DelPo, and behind him were Gonzo and Soderling.

Davydenko lost to Djokovic in their opening Group B match earlier this week, but then he beat Rafa and then Soderling to advance. In the semifinals, he finally got the better of Federer, who had beaten Davydenko in their previous 12 meetings.To say Fed should've had the mental edge in that match is a massive understatement. But Davydenko played really strong in the semifinals to beat Fed 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, and in the finals to beat DelPo 6-3, 6-4 ,and he deserved the year-end title. Perhaps it shouldn't come as so much of a shock, since Davydenko actually made it to the Final match last year too, but the guys ranked above him had been so strong coming in, it's impressive he was able to string together so many back to back victories. It's a good indicator that next season the players ranked 4-8 are gonna be putting a lot more pressure on the guys who'd previously been sitting pretty as 1-4.

Poor, Rafa. He didn't win a match all tournament. 0-3 in round robin play. Dude's tired. He needs to go home, scarf down some chocolate chip cookies (and don't act like I'm making it up. I happen to know he's fond of them) and then dive back into to training for next season. He's a little mentally and physically out of it right now. But he's still my guy. I'll always root for him above all others. Have a good off-season Rafa! I look forward to blogging about your winning aways come January 2010. Vamos!

SYTYCD Top 12 - Can Can They Make It To The Tour?

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend, y'all. I hope everyone had a good time with family and friends and food. In the waning hours of this 4 day weekend, it's time to catch up on last week's SYTYCD before a new episode is soon upon this. This was an important week, because here's where we decide the Top 10 and who goes on the tour. And by "we" I ultimately mean the judges - but we tell them which 3 couples are up for elimination! Sure, there are two spots on the tour for an alternate guy and girl dancer, but the producers don't necessarily pick the last couple eliminated. I wouldn't be surprised if Nigel put one of the tappers back into the mix for the tour.

So Tuesday night, there are 6 couples and 2 hours of show, which initially made me cringe in fear at how much filler this would mean, but then beautiful Cat Deely let us know each couple would dance twice, reducing the filler to a minimum as we cram 12 dances into the show. Awesome.

The dancing this week was very good overall, with only 3 or 4 dances really not working for me. It seemed like the dancers recognized this would be the end of their initial partnerships and thusly gave it a little extra oomph behind the routines. Jakob and Ashleigh had another really strong week together in both routines. Legacy and Kathryn were also good in both dances. I'm giving the encore this week to Legacy and Kathryn for their Jazz routine, because I thought that was really sexy and fun.

Russell and Noelle, Ellenore and Ryan and Victor and Karen were stronger in one dance over the other. Mollee and Nathan didn't really connect with either dance. First, they had a weird hip hop routine about Alexander Bell creating the telephone. Meh. It didn't work. And they also did a can can routine from Tyce that Nigel accurately described as "twee."

Still, I was most worried for Karen and Victor who had both already lost two partners each and had just a horrible hip hop showing set to "Moving Mountains" by Usher, that had them literally acting as if they were moving mountains. Laurie Ann Gibson, what were you thinking? This bizarre routine was sloppy and low in energy and it really deserves this week's award as the Numfar Dance of Shame.

So Karen, Mollee and Ellenore were in the bottom for the girls and Victor, Nathan and Ryan were there for the guys. Apparently, I'm not a good judge of the solos, because I rarely see what the judges see, but they just love Mollee and Nathan and are content to punt their eventual ouster to a week when the voting public can shoulder all the blame. So it's goodbye to Karen and Victor, who were so close to the top 10, and yet so far.

Next week we get to see new couples chosen at random. I'm curious to see who Mollee and Nathan randomly draw from the hat. They both read as so young and several of the dancers are almost 10 years older than they are. It should be interesting. I'll see you there!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quiz Show Cheat Sheet - Know Your O: A Quiz For Champions

A couple weekends ago, on a rainy afternoon, I decided to make up one of those how well do you know so-and-so quizzes on Facebook. For some unknown reason, I decided to make it almost impossible to get the right answers. What was I thinking? Did I want my friends to feel intimidated into not taking it, or just feel bad once they were done? I don't know. I went back and made an easier quiz, so people had a fair shot at a passing grade. If you failed the easy quiz and answered that I like Stargate over Star Trek, that's on your head. You don't know me! Anyway, here are the answers to the Impossible Quiz along with explanations of the right answers.

1) We'll start easy: Who's Owen's Favorite Tennis Player of All Time?
a) Andre Agassi
b) Roger Federer
c) Rafael Nadal (correct)
d) Martina Hingis
e) Jimmy Connors

This is a dead give away. I am in no way quiet about my love for Rafa. I like all the other players on this list just fine. Connors and Aggie especially. But Rafa's my guy. Plus I reference him later on in the quiz so it should be a no-brainier.

2) Which of these sounds does Owen hate the most?
a) the whip crack sound of the subway breaking system
b) the cries of a spoiled child mid-tantrum
c) the banshee wail of a school bus engine (correct)
d) armpit fart noises
e) pulse-pounding bass on a car stereo

And on Question 2 I'm already making it hella difficult for everyone. In truth, I hate ALL these things, so now it's really just a matter of gaging which one i hate the MOST. The sound of a school bus engine for some reason just fills me with dread. I was always late for the bus as a kid and hearing the wail of the bus as it charged down the street and I raced after it, just left a psychological scar. Every time I see a school bus now, I'm relieved I never have to ride in one again.

3) What's Owen's Favorite Color?
a) Pepsi Blue!
b) Superman Blue! (correct)
c) Tennis Court Blue!
d) Royal Blue!
e) Green.

This is me being silly, since the first four options are essentially the same color. I like superheroes the best, so that gets the nod here.

4) Owen's Drink of Choice?
a) Red Wine
b) Root Beer
c) Chocolate Coquito
d) Milkshake (correct)
e) Grape Juice

I love milkshakes and I drink them as often as possible. They are unhealthy, but delicious. Thank goodness I spend most of my year running insane distances so I burn off all the excess calories. I like all those other drinks as well, but milk-based beverages are my favorite. I drink 4 or 5 glasses of milk a day.

5) In Owen's fantasy where he & Rafa Nadal are friends, what's his fav part?
a) when Owen saves Rafa from a psycho fan's attack
b) when they lounge around & eat choc.chip cookies (correct)
c) when Owen and Rafa's mom cook Rafa pasta dinner
d) when Owen travels with Rafa to all the Grand Slams
e) when Rafa thanks O in his US Open victory speech

These are all components of my extended Rafa-as-BFF fantasy world, but rather than wanting to have sex with him, I ultimately just want to sit in lounge chairs on the beach at sunset and share a plate of chocolate chip cookies and milk. Oh, I can see it so perfectly in my head! If only...

6) What was Owen's first Broadway Musical Experience?
a) Cats
b) Phantom of The Opera
c) Les Miserables
d) Into The Woods (correct)
e) Rent

I went to see Into The Woods in 4th grade twice. once with my family and once on a school field trip. I recall that Gorbachev was in town and it made traffic very difficult. We sang "You better not shout, You better not cry! 'Cause he's a Commie and he'll shoot you in the eye! Gorbachev is coming to town!" It was Christmas season, after all. I love Into The Woods. I've never seen Cats or Phantom. Les Mis I saw in High School and Rent I saw in college.

7) What's Owen's Favorite Video Game Series?
a) Final Fantasy (correct)
b) Kingdom Hearts
c) The Legend Of Zelda
d) The Sims
e) Grand Theft Auto

This is another toughie, because I really really enjoy Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, and Link from Zelda is one of my all-time favorite characters, but in terms of hours played, neither of those come close to my investment in the Final Fantasy series. I'm sure I spent hundreds of hours playing the original NES game. and there are currently eleven other 12 main games in the series, of which I've played through... 8 of them? Final Fantasy IV, VII, IX and XII are my favorites. I've been waiting achingly for XIII to come out on the PS3. Square Enix says it will come to the US in the first half of 2010, but I've been burned by their release date promises before...

8) What Nitestar Character Did Owen Most Hate Playing During His Tenure there?
a) Michael in the Lo Show (parents ignored him)
b) Nelson in the Junior High Show (bullied)
c) Joshua in the Junior High Show (HIV+)
d) The gay date-raped kid in the IPV Show (Marcus?)
e) Sean in the High School Show (chlamydia) (correct)

This is more of a niche question, but hands down, it's Sean. I had to play him all the time and I never really liked him. My distaste for him only grew as the seasons past and by the end of the third season, Sean's problem wasn't so much chlamydia as it was self-loathing. I had the loveliest of scene partners throughout my tenure, but if I never have to fake whisper in a library scene again, it will be too soon.

9) Owen's college a capella group was called:
a) The New Group
b) Desperate Measures
c) The Spirits
d) Quasimodal (correct)
e) Cardinal Sinners

Quasi! The oldest co-ed a capella group at Wes. The New Group was the other co-ed a capella group. Desperate Measures was a comedy a capella group. The Spirits are the all-male group and the Sinners are the all female group. Go Wes! I love my Quasis.

10) What is Owen's Favorite Pizza Topping?
a) sausage
b) pineapple (correct)
c) black olive
d) pepperoni
e) chocolate

I love pineapple pizza. My freshman year roommate at Wes didn't get along, but he did introduce me to the joys of pineapple pizza and for that I will be able forever grateful.

11) What High School show did Owen quit out of dissatisfaction with his role?
a) Music Man
b) Guys & Dolls
c) 42nd Street
d) Pirates of Penzance
e) West Side Story (correct)

I was like, Pepe, or something. I wasn't feeling it. I'd been in the chorus of West Side Story the summer before, and didn't feel like spending another 5 months in the chorus. It was big drama at the time, as all things are in high school. But all these years later, I'm still glad I didn't do it.

12) Owen loves lions. His Favorite Fictional Lion Character Is:
a) Aslan (correct)
b) King Moonracer
c) Gado the Lion
d) Braveheart Lion
e) Lion-O

These are all worthy lions, but Aslan is the king. He's pretty much literally JESUS!

13) Which of these has never been a proper nickname for Owen:
a) Owen The Man
b) Orko (correct)
c) Oboe
d) O-Zone
e) O-Face

OTM and O-Zone are from college, Oboe is from elementary school and O-Face came around in my mid-20's. Orko, while a cool name that starts with O, has never been a nickname.

14) Owen's least favorite food?
a) mushrooms (fungus!)
b) eggplant (gross!)
c) cotton candy (hatefully sweet!)
d) asparagus (vile weed!) (correct)
e) liver (stinky!)

Asparagus might not be the worst food on the planet, but I certainly hate it the most. The smell the consistency, the taste - i think it's all just awful. If you like it, please by all means have all that you want. Have seconds and take my portion! But please don't expect to me to it if you serve it to me. Not gonna happen.

15) Owen's Favorite Theme Park Ride?
a) El Toro
b) The Haunted Mansion
c) Loch Ness Monster
d) Space Mountain
e) Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (correct)

Another trick question in a series of tricky trick questions! El Toro is now my favorite rollercoaster but my favorite THEME PARK RIDE overall is Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I just love it. They no longer have it in Disney World (which is why I hold a vendetta against the Winne The Pooh ride which replaced it) but it still exists in Disneyland and when i went to visit LA last summer I took a day trip to Disneyland specifically so I could go on it. It was worth it. I love it.

So there you have it. 15 questions. 15 answers. 15 somewhat-convoluted explanations. Advanced knowledge of O.