Saturday, March 12, 2016

Steven Wilson at the Beacon

As the time remaining at TSMC counts down from months to weeks to days now, I find myself striving to enjoy every precious moment of living in the heart of NYC. For me at this stage in my short life, it's not really about going to shows or hanging out in Times Square (although I will have one last stroll through it before I go) but rather having people I care about share my space with me and using it as a convenient departure point to plan fun activities.

It took me a couple days to recover from the 24-hour Best Picture Showcase, but the following Thursday Katie M came over and we finally watched Interstellar. Puck joined us for the second half, right after the crew went through the wormhole. I still think it's a stunning cinematic achievement even though it overreaches in many aspects. But it's better to aim high and come up short than to settle for mediocrity.

Rebecca joined me and Puck last Friday evening for my first attempt at making quesadillas (successful, I think) and we watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E., followed by Pulp Fiction. But the real excitement was the following night when I took Jen to see Steven Wilson at the Beacon Theater.

Ordinarily, I get concert tickets months in advance but it happened that this one snuck up on me. I saw an email from the Beacon in my inbox on Tuesday and there were still great seats available and they were very reasonably priced so I bought two, figuring I could find someone to go. Fortunately Jen was available, which was great because I introduced her to Steven Wilson just a few weeks ago while we were playing cards. So I was very excited to see the show with her, even though I'd seen him perform only nine months prior with Puck at Playstation Theater in Times Square.

Before the show started, the PA voice announced that, for the first time in 20 years of touring, Steven had almost completely lost his voice due to illness. For a second I wondered if they were going to cancel and reschedule the show, as happened with the Diana Krall concert that Katie B and I attended two years ago, also at the Beacon. But it turned out that he had his backup singer, Ninet Tayeb, in the house and she would sing some of his parts, sharing duties with the lead guitarist.

So the show went on, and we counted ourselves fortunate indeed to see a show that few people will ever get to see. Ninet sang the lead on the song "Hand Cannot Erase" and I loved how she did it in two octaves, something Steven can't do. Steven introduced the song "Routine" by saying he considers it one of the most depressing songs ever written, comparing it to specific songs by The Cure ("One Hundred Years") and another by Joy Division (whose lead singer committed suicide, in case you didn't know). And Ninet just killed that solo version of "Routine" - it was already my favorite track on the album but now it's stuck in my head all the time.

If you don't know the song, here's a link to a Live Nation concert performance by Steven and the band (unfortunately, not including Ninet live, but her part is recorded). Here is a link to the animated video that is projected during the song.

The first half of the show was pretty close to what I saw last year, except for Ninet's involvement. In the second half the band performed songs from his EP "4 1/2" just released this year and some of it was instrumental but also included Ninet's reworking of "Don't Hate Me" from the older P-Tree album "Stupid Dream" and a powerful rendition of "Sleep Together" to wrap the set.

The first encore was something I'd seen on YouTube - they did an acoustic tribute to David Bowie by singing "Space Oddity" (although for our show Steven just played guitar leaving Ninet to solo). The only real disappointment for me was that they didn't do the two songs from his previous full album, "The Raven That Refused to Sing," both of which are accompanied by videos - "The Watchmaker" and the signature title track. Instead he closed with a popular P-Tree song, "The Sound of Muzak," which he didn't sing at all but asked the audience to sing for him and we all obliged as best we could.

Sunday I finally got to reconnect with Piper, whom I haven't seen since last autumn. We've been trying to meet up but she's been sick a lot this year. We met at the arch in Washington Square Park and went for Vietnamese food at Saigon Market near Union Square. We had a good long conversation over fried spring rolls, pho and curry pork - although the waiter mysteriously absconded with the spicy condiments from our table.

Monday night I met up with Chrissy at Tortaria, a taco place Kristina took me to when we used to do yoga across the street. We talked about a project she wants to take on for Open Love NY, so I gave her some feedback and advice on that. Then we went to a free play reading of "The Ash Tree Spinners" by the Shotz! crew, the first of four being held in the lounge of the Daryl Roth Theaters just off Union Square. It was a thought-provoking musical play about the the Fates of Greek mythology - Clotho, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, who measures it out; and Atropos, who cuts it off.

Afterwards we meandered our way back to TSMC to drop off some things and then walked all the way up to 90th Street where she showed me her building's roof and the breathtaking views on a perfectly cool and breezy night. Since it was late, I said goodnight and took a subway back home.

Wednesday Katie M came over and we had a long talk - so long that we couldn't watch any of the lengthy movies in our queue, so we watched An Education instead. This little film was Oscar nominated for Best Picture in 2010 (losing to The Hurt Locker) and also garnered a Best Actress nomination for Carey Mulligan, one of my favorite actors. It was a charming movie, but I actually thought some of the deleted scenes should have been edited and worked into the final cut.

Last night Jen came over and we finished our game of 10-card Gin we left in progress - she beat me again 352-218. So we started playing her version of 500 Rummy, which is new to me, while watching The Talking Heads concert film, Stop Making Sense. I've only just watched this for the first time this week and I was blown away so I've been listening to a lot of their music in the past few days. And finally tonight Rebecca came over again to join me and Puck in watching her recent favorite film, Crimson Peak, and my movie pick, Glory, which I felt any fan of composer James Horner needed to watch.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Oscar Weekend 2016

It was once again a wonderful Oscar time this past weekend, something I've looked forward to every year since 2011. That was the first year that Piper and I attended the 24-hour AMC Best Picture Showcase, which I've attended every year since. It's also the fourth year in a row I've hosted an Oscar viewing party, which has grown to become the biggest TSMC event every year.

This year my friend Rebecca attended the marathon with me; it was her first time at the event so I prepped her as best I could. This was the 10th anniversary of the event itself, but I was rather disappointed in the way it was presented. There were no trivia prizes or any kind of banter between movies, and the breakfast was poorly planned compared to years past. It's as if they lost all the great people who have run it before and all that institutional knowledge about doing the event has been replaced by cold efficiency (since they were extremely precise in their show schedule).

As usual, here's my recap of the eight nominated movies and my thoughts about them:

Brooklyn (10:30 am) - I'm lucky that I didn't watch any previews of this charming little movie because I realized later they give away too much about the story. This was, quite simply, one of the best pure love stories I've seen in a long time. The writing and performances were delightful and it was refreshingly free from melodrama and contrived tragedy. This is a movie that I'd like to have in my collection to watch over and again.

The Big Short (12:46 pm) - At the end of this movie, there's a postscript that counts the cost of the events depicted in the movie: trillions of dollars in value lost, millions left homeless and millions unemployed. I was one of those who lost their jobs because of the financial crisis. So the story of this global event was compelling stuff, driving home the scope of the disaster as seen through the eyes of those who saw it coming. As a movie, it kind of reminded me of Oliver Stone's Wall Street, but this was a real and much larger story.

Room (3:20 pm) - We walked in a little late for this movie because we took a break at TSMC so I was a little confused that there didn't seem to be an explanation for the first part of the movie. Of course, it is revealed over time. Brie Larson may have won her Oscar, but I think Jacob Tremblay should have gotten a Supporting Actor nomination. I got a little choked up when he asks for a haircut to help his mom, and when she gives the hair back to him. What a masterpiece of storytelling.

The Revenant (6:25 pm) - We once again walked in a little late on this one because we went across the street to Five Guys Burgers and Fries, bringing the food in with us. Thankfully, we aren't squeamish people when it comes to eating during a movie as gory as this one, plus we'd both seen it before I think. Upon second viewing, I was actually a little less impressed than the first, which was the opposite reaction I had to Mad Max. It is still obviously a gorgeous and meticulously crafted movie and I admire the fortitude it took to make it. But at its core, I feel that it lacks heart in that I don't care as much about the characters as I did with some of the other movies.

Spotlight (9:30 pm) - The surprise winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this movie is All the President's Men for a new generation. As a former journalist, I am in awe of the work portrayed by the Boston Globe reporters depicted in the film. I think my lone disappointment was that it didn't seem to play up the resistance from the community and the Catholic Church as much as I would have expected, but maybe that was the most authentic portrayal.

Mad Max: Fury Road (12 am) - My second viewing of this movie allowed me to acclimate myself to the relentless and high-octane action sequences that overwhelmed me when I watched it the first time with Lytle last summer. I was able to more fully appreciate the nuances of the characters and the story, plus marvel at the production elements that swept through Sunday night's awards. I've never seen any of the original Mad Max movies, but I've been an admirer of director George Miller since The Witches of Eastwick and the Babe movies. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Bridge of Spies (2:25 am) - This movie was like Catch Me If You Can crossed with JFK but with less pizzazz and hardly any humor. I certainly found it the least entertaining of all the movies in the marathon, although still a superior movie overall compared to the dreck that is found in theaters year-round. I mean, the story is basically a little courtroom action followed by a seemingly endless series of negotiation meetings. In other words, all men, all talk, very little action (except for a plane crash where we know the outcome).

The Martian (5:10 am) - This was a nice little sci-fi movie, heavy on the science, reminding me of Robert Zemekeis' Contact. I thought the humor was a little heavy-handed and the disco soundtrack seemed an odd choice. For a rescue mission, I thought it was a little lacking in emotion, but perhaps the book was better in that respect. I liked the twists and turns of the plot, but at the same time, I was constantly thinking the Star Wars line, "I've got a bad feeling about this." It's also hard to get emotionally invested in a movie when it's clear from the outset that there's one objective (to rescue the stranded astronaut) and there's really not much suspense whether that will ultimately happen or not.

I got home at about 7:30 am Sunday morning and started my beef shortribs cooking in the slow cooker before joining Puck in bed briefly before they woke up a couple hours later. I slept until about 3:30 pm and then Puck and I started getting ready for the party.

My co-host Liz came over at 7 with her Bridge of sPies (chicken pot pie), Crystal (Spot)Light, and Martian-mallow Krispie treats, made with brown butter and sea salt. I had two tubs of Mad Max: Fury (Rocky) Road ice cream in the freezer, plus plenty of Land-O-Lakes whipped cream.

I made my The Big Short(Rib) tacos, a Radish-mint (Revenant) salad, and Stuffed MushROOMs. Josh brought the Brooklyn Lager and Victoria brought a bottle of #OscarsSoWhite wine. We were all set for the big show!

This year I added a new prize category called the Surprise Prize, a $15 Regal Cinemas gift card for anyone who correctly picked a winner that no one else also picked - that went to Katie B for picking Bear Story in the Best Animated Short Film category. Liz and Puck also had surprise picks for Best Supporting Actor and Best Picture respectively, but Katie's pick was first.

I did pretty badly this year because I thought The Revenant would do better than it did, and I didn't anticipate that Mad Max would sweep the technical categories the way it did. Katie M was the grand prize winner of a $50 AMC Theaters gift card with 16 of 24 correct picks. Michelle was second with 15, and Victoria and Liz tied with 14 each - they all got consolation prizes of DVD movies.

Carolyn and I tied with 13 each. It's probably my worst Oscar ballot in many years, but I still had a great time. Movies are great, but enjoying them with friends is what makes a love of movies really special!