Friday, May 31, 2013

Bee Terrific!

 (I can only assume Arvind is considering biting the trophy like Rafa would. Go for it, Arvind!)

Congrats to National Spelling Bee winner Arvind Mahankali, for taking home the trophy at the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee. His winning word was "knaidel," meaning "a small mass of leavened dough." WERK, ARVIND! Winning makes him the undisputed King of the Spelling Nerds, pockets him $30K and means he never ever has to study another vocab list again! VICTORY!

My homeboy Arvind is a 13-year-old from Queens, (NEW YOOOORK!!!) and was one of 11 out of 281 contenders to make it to the final round. This was not Arvind's first trip to the final round. He finished tied for ninth in 2010, tied for third in 2011 and in third place in 2012. How do you deal with that level of spelling pressure for so many years and keep coming back for more?? Arvind also got knocked out in consecutive years by words of German origin. You can hear the audience laugh a commiserating laugh when Arvind asks for the language of origin on knaidel. But he exorcised those demons, son! Now Arvind is free to study German in high school with no lingering sense of regret. Watch his "One Moment In Time" moment in the video below. He is racing with DESTINY! Also, do they rig the confetti cannons to sound like a swarm of bees? Is that like some insider spellers "alternate definition" humor? I don't know. Just enjoy your victory, Arvind! You've earned it!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rafa at Roland Garros: Quest For Crazy Eights - Round 1

(Rafa's all smiles as he moves on in the competition!)

Tennis action is underway at Roland Garros and Our Hero, Rafael Nadal, has continued his winning ways in the first round of competition. After dropping the first set to an extremely competitive 59th-ranked Daniel Brands, Rafa rebounded to win 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3. It's the first time Rafa lost the opening set in a first round match at Roland Garros. It's not the first time he faced an early challenge though. In 2011, John Isner took Rafa to 5 sets in the 1st round before Nadal won it 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. That's the only time Rafa played a 5-set match at the French Open! But just like in 2011, Nadal found a way to take control and get the job done. With this win, Nadal improved his career record at Roland Garros to 53-1,which is totally crazy.

Even though Nadal already owns a record 7 French Open titles, this year he bids to become the only man with 8 championships at ANY Grand Slam event. Wouldn't that be a fun distinction? Up next he'll play Martin Klizan from Slovakia in the second round. He's a lefty as well, so that should prove interesting, but Rafa should get passed him without much problem.

Elsewhere around the tournament 25 Americans were entered into the draw (15 men, 10 women) and 14 (4m, 10w) survived the first round - the most in 10 years. I hope the US players can continue to have a good showing. And of course we are all hoping Serena Williams extends the longest winning streak of her career by steamrolling over the rest of the field and claiming her first French Open title since 2002. It's long passed due for her to raise the trophy again. VAMOS!!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Digested Development: Reflections on Binge-Watching an Old Friend

(getting the family back together to see how they got pulled apart.)
Caution! Mild Spoilers Ahead! Minor Plot Points discussed!
Arrested Development Season 4 is sure to elicit a varied response from its vocal and passionate fan base. Having gorged myself on all 15 episodes this weekend, I believe Season 4 is a BIG meal - it's a lot to take in for one sitting - or even two sittings as I managed it over two days. Still I found it tasty and satisfying! If this is not exactly the AD we fans were used to, it certainly the AD Mitch Hurwitz and Co. had tried to prepare us for. The previous seasons of AD were all based around the various family members bouncing off each other and really being an ensemble. Here it's more like reading a Game of Thrones novel - where with each chapter there's a different POV character and we get see that character's choices and trials, while also intersecting with some if not all of the rest of the Bluths (interestingly enough, the Game of Thrones TV Show does not try to emulate this storytelling technique.) This point-of-view storytelling was done more for logistical reasons than artistic preference, as the ensemble cast are now all stars with busy schedules who couldn't all be together at once for an entire season of filming (and also Netflix probably couldn't afford to pay all of them to be in the full season of episodes. But ANYWAY...). So it's the same characters and the same type of storyline, but it's told a different style. If you really loved the old AD style, you might wind up slightly disappointed. 

I feel like season 4 is weird first, and really funny second. I was surprised at how much of a mystery the season turned out to be. The overarching question seems to be how did the family continue to spiral apart and why? Some of what we learn is BIZARRE, but still in line with Bluth-style lunacy. There are so many little mysteries that get uncovered throughout the season, mostly regarding how the family members all inadvertently play parts in each other stories. The show has always been a puzzle, but never drawn out to this extent. There were explanations or clarifications of events that happened in episodes 1 or 2 that came around in episodes 9 or 10 - which was like 4 hours of viewing later! There are payoffs. but attention must be PAID.
I think what they did is really ambitious, and it mostly all works.  For me, there are episodes where it feels like the writers don't try to offer any explanations AT ALL. The writers are content that it make sense later - and it does. But it makes some individual episodes feel a little... unwieldy? Aimless as its own outing? I had the hardest time with the episodes that focused on George Bluth Sr. (and sometimes his twin brother Oscar). Maybe the success of the individual episodes is based on how much you enjoy the character who is in the driver's seat and that's just a matter of personal choice. Overall for the season, I'd say some things fall a little flat, and others don't gel as quickly as maybe you'd think they would, but this is really long-form comedy and a lot of it was laugh out loud funny and really great. I'm very interested to watch it all again with an understanding of what was happening as it unfolded. The first time through, you're not in on all the jokes, but I feel like being on the inside will make things even more amusing. 
I love being able to spend more time with all of these characters. The AD universe has a deep roster of amazing supporting characters and many of them show up across the season, and new additions for Season 4 also work really well. The biggest surprise for me was how much of a key player Lucille 2 turned out to be. I would not be surprised to find out she wound up with more screen time than some of the actual Bluth family members. Liza Minnelli kills it, so I'm not complaining. I just remember there was talk on the interwebs when the season was first announced wondering IF Liza would be coming back, and it becomes very clear very early on that the storyline never could've worked without her being a solid presence.

I also felt Season 4 had a really ballsy conclusion. The entirety of Season 4 really is a set up for another Bluth story they want to tell. The family has spiraled apart and they have to be put back together. But who will do it? And how? And also there's a whole new mystery to be solved - an actual whodunit mystery! The ending of Season 3 was a totally satisfying end to a series, if there was nothing more to come from the story. The same cannot be said for Season 4. There HAS to be more. And since there is no actual deal in place for a movie or a Season 5, I think it took a lot of guts to end things as they did.

Here's hoping there's still money in the Banana Stand and we get more Bluths in the future! If not, I'd say the people in charge with all the money to make it happen would've made a huge mistake.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Rafa's Ready for Roland Garros! (me too!)

(stylish shoes, for play on the clay!)

If you're a Rafa Fan like me (and if you're not, the door is that way, may it hit you on the way out) then the first half of 2013 has been as much feast as the second half of 2012 was famine. Since returning to competitive play Rafa has reached the final of all 8 tournaments he's entered, wining 6 titles. In the past two weeks he's won in both Madrid and Rome in the lead up to Roland Garros. That totals 56 career titles. 41 clay titles. 24rd Masters 1000 title - a tour record he continues to increase.  Now Rafa is going for his 7th title of the season (the most he's won in a year since killer season in 2010) his 8th French Open and his 12th Major title. He's surpassed Ferrer in the ranking's to get back in 4th place in the tour rankings and has his eye on Federer, Murray and Djokovic for the top spot.He looks to be in excellent physical form and top mental shape at the best possible time. So what can stop him?

 (Madrid offers the hardest-to-bite trophy on Tour, but Rafa finds a way!)

WELL... there's always Novak. They got drawn into the same half so they could possibly meet in the semi's in stead of the final. Novak actually ended Rafa' win streak in Monte Carlo this year at 8 consecutive trophies, and it looked like that might portend a disappointing clay court run for Rafa this Spring. But since that time, Novak has kinda underperformed and Nadal has dominated. So who knows which Novak is gonna show up in Roland Garros? Nothing would make me happier than an early exit for Djokovic. He's obviously the player that stresses me out most facing Rafa. If he got upset in the early part of week 1 that would also mean he'd lose a bunch of ranking points from last year which would help Rafa (and Fed too) gain some ground on him (and the injured No. 2 Murray) in the points race. A man can dream! And maybe Grigor Dimitrov can help make that dream a reality.

(Rome is super-tasty delicious!)

I'm really excited about the start of the French Open. I think it will be an exciting two weeks of tennis and I hope Rafa can pull through for another Major title. On the women's side, I'm hoping Serena can avenge her shocking first round loss here last year with a title of her own. Whatever happens, we know Rafa will play every point the hardest he can and I'm sure we'll see some amazing shots and near-impossible gets. VAMOS!!!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spring Reality Round Up: Drag Race enters Monsoon Season!!

Congrats to Jinkx Monsoon, winner of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 5. Jinkx is that great combination of Creativity, Uniqueness Nerve and Talent that Ru is always touting. I was rooting for her ever since she played Little Edie in the Snatch Game episode and half of the other queens didn't even know who the hell that was. They all should've been eliminated on the spot. I mean, there is not having an in depth knowledge of gay history, and then there's not ever having heard of Grey Gardens, despite documentaries, books, movies and a Broadway musical. I mean, seriously. I thought there might be a point where she'd crack under the pressure of all the pageant queens who wanted her gone, but she only got stronger throughout the competition. As my girl Latrice Royale would say, "Get up. Look sickening and make them EAT IT!"

 Jinkx's win keeps Drag Race on a nice run of  satisfying winners following Sharon Needles last year and Raja before her in seasons 4 and 3. (I still think Tyra Sanchez in Season 2 was a cray cray win over Raven or JuJuBee.) Now it's Monsoon Season, and who isn't happy when it's raining men?

It's a satisfying conclusion to what turned out to be a fairly solid season. The cast favored a very pretty (fishy, if they must, but it's my least favorite term) cast, and I wish there were larger personalities (and some larger bodies too) in the mix. Too much of the season was dominated by the "feud" between Coco Montrese and Alyssa Edwards and it just wasn't that interesting, especially when it became clear neither was going to win the crown. Once they were  eliminated, there was room for the other queens to get a word in edge-wise. And Ru, as always, seemed really engaged in the process. I always believe Ru cares!

There was also this weird underlying battle over drag philosophy this season. The "pageant queens" really seemed to look down on the "comedy queens." Roxxxy Andrews, in particular seemed to think that if Queens were trying to be funny characters instead of gorgeous women, they were doing it wrong and that comedy was a less legitimate form of drag. Now, some of this complaining be attributed to Roxxxy's own insecurities which she herself admitted. But other queens seemed to agree and looked down on Jinkx and even Alaska on what they were doing. I think that attitude is completely crazy! Firstly it's crazy, because Ru is ultimately looking for an entertainer and a tour headliner - not just a pretty girl. She needs to be a drag SUPERSTAR, bitches! And that attitude also dismisses and ignores a very rich history of drag performance. Drag is not just one thing, or one school of thought. Luckily, Drag Race Veteran and Fan Favorite Pandora Boxx, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post that addresses just this issue, much better than I ever could. You should give it a read.

I think Jinkx is a really talented performer and an interesting creative guy outside of his grad persona. Anyone who walks around with an arsenal of Death Becomes Her quotes at the ready is aces in my book. Jinkx has already started creating new projects including The Vaudevillians that will be in NYC this summer. I'm excited to see what other projects come in the future. JINKX, YOU BETTA WERK!!!!

Spring Reality Round-Up: An Amazing Race!! (...with Ho-Hum Contestants)

(Where my teams at?)

Amazing Race finished up its 20-billionth season this past Sunday, and  I still love the concept of the show and while the challenges and locations are as respectively varied and beautiful as they've ever been (and now shot in glorious HD) the overall casting for this last go-around was really kind of blah, and didn't hold my attention week-to-week. The Hockey Dudes - Anthony and Bates - won pretty handily in the last leg, and truth be told they ran a solid enough race throughout and weren't jerks or morons... but I wasn't really HOPING they'd win either. There wasn't anyone in the final four group I was really pulling for. I don't know the exact recipe for what makes a team compelling and fun to root for but there are a couple things that I am drawn to in a team. I will list them below.

1) Two people who have a sense of adventure/ joy of exploration / competitive spirit.

2) Two people who, between them, can read a map and drive stick shift.

3) Two people who are NOT "newly dating" or "newly married" or "testing their relationship on the race." 

4) Two people with an interesting history or relationship dynamic which is not based on one constantly screaming at or demeaning the other.

5) Two people who are not afraid of water.

6) Something about them could potentially make them an underdog.

That's basically it! And Bates and Anthony even kinds fit that bill, but there weren't enough teams like that around them to really challenge them. Are there not enough people in the potential casting pool to find teams fitting this criteria? I've always felt that the drama of this show should come from two people trying to complete tasks together and trying to supporting each other through the stresses of racing around the world. So it's basically Team Vs. Killer Fatigue of Travel, even more than Team Vs. Team. I HATE when it becomes Team Member vs. Team Member. And what it feels like we get a lot of recently is one team member really wants to do The Race and the other one got dragged along because at least they'd make it to ONE new place and then they'd probably get to stop. Because if they REALLY wanted to do the Race, they'd know to learn stick shift first. And if they REALLY wanted to do it, they'd have to know they'll have to swim. Or, you know, RUN.  And CLIMB. And possibly JUMP. And READ clues. And TALK TO CAB DRIVERS. Some contestants seem so shocked when presented with these things along the way. Have they ever watched this show? I just feel like the show needs to find more people who really want to travel and compete and be together, than people who like the idea of being on tv or taking a vacation.

So thanks for some fun new locations, TAR, and for bringing me my weekly does of Phil Keoghan into my living room. I especially loved when they went to New Zealand. Just gorgeous. Let's see what mix of teams you have in store for us next time. Until that time, I'll think of that almost unbelievable moment when John and Jessica were eliminated with an Express Pack still in their pocket, and John's explanation for why he was cool with that was totally insane. OY VEY!

Well played, Tommy Haas!

(This trophy looks designed to easily fall off a mantle and kill somebody. German engineering!)

I know this happened a week ago and since that time, we have had a totally crazy and exciting Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid (Novak upset! Federer Upset! Ferrer so-close-and-yet-so-far against Nadal once again!) but I have to give props to my man Tommy Haas who won the BMW Open for the first time in his 10th attempt last Sunday, beating defending champ Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 7-6 (3). It win the first all-German final in Munich in 48 years! It's Haas' 4th title on home turf, after previously winning twice at Halle and once at Stuttgart. Persistence in this case has paid off! Respect must be paid!

This is Tommy's 14th ATP Tour title overall and I really respect his dedication to the game and is hunger and his fitness level at this late point in his career. He's pretty much the only person on tour who is older than me who is still competitive to win tournaments! When he retires, that will be it. It will all be young-uns. I have been following tennis for a very very long time...

But clearly he's still not done, so I don't have to completely freak out about it yet! Congrats Tommy! Keep up the good fight this season (unless you're playing Rafa, then you must lose)!

Friday, May 3, 2013

2013 Tony Nominations! 3 Surprises I Love!

(We got your nominees right here!!)

The Tony Nominations came out on Tuesday and overall I was very excited by the nominees. There are some really phenomenal performances and first-time nominees that deserve recognition. Now, not everyone I know has been super-thrilled with this Broadway season's offerings. I can kinda understand - there have been a few disappointments. While there were some very strong new musicals and musical revivals, we were missing a lot of break out straight plays. That's not to say there wasn't a lot of strong work being done, but last year we had "Clybourne Park" and "Other Desert Cities and "Peter and the Starcatcher" and "Venus In Fur" all of which were very buzz-worthy shows in their own right. There's nothing wrong with this year's crop, but despite some mild controversy over "Testament of Mary" and super-popularity of Tom Hanks in "Lucky Guy," the new productions of plays don't really force you to take notice that they're there. Similarly, there were some real head scratching misfires in the play revival category with "Glengarry, Glen Ross" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," both of which had high-wattage stars that just fell very flat. So it's been an uneven season overall. But we're not here to focus on that. It's the TONYS! And there's a lot to celebrate! There were some fun unexpected nominees as well! Here are my 3 favorite surprises of this year's Tony nominations:

(Stealing that extra bow!)

1) Bring It On and Christmas Story Get Best Musical Nods! Okay, so the race between who is actually going to win Best Musical is really going to be between "Matilda" and "Kinky Boots" - as it was long destined to be. It was up in the air, however, as to who the other nominees would be. It could've been super-popular "Motown" or the more recent and well-reviewed "Hands On A Hardbody," but instead Tony voters looked back a littler earlier in the season and chose to recognize "Bring It On" and "A Christmas Story." Obviously, I'm partial to Bring It On due to my friendship with LMM, so I'm thrilled to see his work recognized, but I actually think BIO is a really fun and exciting show with a strong score and featured a terrific ensemble. It's great that the production as a whole is recognized here, as well as Andy's extraordinary choreography in that category. And while I didn't get to see Christmas Story in its limited holiday run, everyone I know who saw it thought it was really great, and I'm happy for the writing team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, whose score from "Dogfight" I also really enjoyed this past year. Speaking of which, that leads me to....

(The lady in the middle is a first time nominee!)

2) All first-time nominees in the Original Score category! It's always fun to see fresh voices get recognized at the Tonys and this year everyone's here for the first time! Not only that, but 3 of the 4 are making their Broadway debut! Amanda Green, who worked with Trey Anastasio on Hands on a Hardbody, has other Broadway credits, but this is her first nomination. I got into a conversation with a friend over Facebook about whether or not it bothered people that all the original musical nominees this season are adapted from pre-existing material. It doesn't bother me this year, because all the musicals are good. And some of the people adapting this material into original musicals have won Tonys and Pulitzers in the past for completely original musicals. So it's not like it doesn't happen. But it's hard. Certainly, I lament the practice of trying to turn any and every non-musical movie into a musical stage show just to capitalize on it being a property already familiar to audiences. I wish people with money would instead invest in the musical theater writers who are trying to create something fresh and new instead of, you know, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days: The Musical! But I don't have a problem with adapting a story that's been told in one medium and translating it to another. There are a lot of movie-to-musical clunkers out there, but when it's done right, they should be celebrated! ENJOY GOOD THEATER, and don't worry if it's adapted from a book or a movie, I say! Artists should create what they are inspired to create, whether it's an original idea or a new spin on an old tale. I'm really excited for all these first time nominees and can't wait to see which one of them adds Tony Winner to their resume!

(Patina finds her light thanks to K.Pos)

3) Kenneth Posner vs. Kenneth Posner vs Kenneth Posner vs.... Hugh Vanstone. Kenneth Posner sure gets around town. He received THREE nominations for lighting design on three different musicals - Pippin, Cinderella and Kinky Boots. His work is stunning so there's no mistaking why he's in such high demand. But can he WIN? The only competition standing in his way is Hugh Vanstone, nominated for Matilda. Will Posner split his vote three ways, allowing Hugh to sneak in and take home the trophy?? How weird must it be to have 75% of the nominations locked up in your name and still maybe miss out? Obviously, Posner's not gonna be short on work regardless. Still I'll be very amused how this category plays out. As Jesse Tyler Ferguson deadpanned when he read out the nominations, "Good luck, Hugh..."

Congrats to all the nominees! And to all the cast members giving it their all on stage 8 times a week, even if they didn't get a nomination. Tony Season is an exciting time of year here in New York. If you're living here or just visiting NYC, go catch a new Broadway show before the Tonys! Then watch what happens at the ceremony on CBS Sunday June 9th!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hooray for May!! (And Rafa!!)

Ahh, May 1st. Finally some submissions I was working on have been sent to their respective places where they will likely be rejected -but whatever! I did my part by focusing on my writing and filling out the forms and polishing up the work to the best of my ability. Now I can come back and pay attention to my long neglected blog. The potential guilt of writing blog posts instead of working on my plays is no more, and the guilt of completely abandoning my blog is gone as well. Two guilt birds with one stone! Lovely! It's a sunny day! Spring is in the air! And since I don't suffer from allergies, at time moment all is good with the world.

One thing that I've missed these past few months has been praising Our Hero, Rafael Nadal. He's been having a truly Outstanding Season since coming back from his 7 month injury lay-off in 2012. Since his return he's played 6 tournaments, reached 6 Championship matches and won four tournaments - the most of anyone on tour this year - and has a fantastic record of 26-2. His one disappointment thus far has to be losing to Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Final, a tournament he's won for the past 8 years. I hate to see Djokovic get any mental edge over Rafa in the clay court season, but Rafa played well and should be ready to take it to him again if the meet up again in Madrid and possibly later on in Paris.

It's still an interesting toss up where Novak and Rafa could meet up in Paris. It seems mathematically likely that Nadal will still be ranked 5th overall thanks to his injury hiatus. Presuming Novak, Fed, Murray and Ferrer all play at Roland Garros, that means if Rafa's seeding isn't adjusted, he could meet Novak as early as the quarters! It's just too weird to think of Rafa as the No. 5 seed in a tournament he's won 7 times and where he is defending champion. Right now it seems unlikely, they will adjust the seedings for Nadal, but if he goes deep at both Madrid and Rome, I hope they seriously consider it. Have Novak keep the top seed, but then Nadal should be ranked No.2 at the other end of the draw. Give Rafa the respect he deserves! 

As a Nadal Super-Fan it's been so exciting and refreshing to see Rafa have so much success this year. I know we all continue to wish Our Hero the best in Madrid and Rome this month! VAMOS!