Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Fast and The Furious Week: 2 Sequel... No, That Doesn't Work...

Sequels are hard. I mean, you have to capture the spirit of the original while at the same time moving on to new and exciting chapters in the lives of the characters. And in a movie like the Fast and The Furious, how do you do a sequel to this movie, now that the heisters have al been heisted out and our hero, Brian O’Connor has let the bad guy go? (But didn’t fire angrily in the sky while on his back. You don’t go full Point Break.) 

It’s actually pretty easy, you bring back Dominic, played by the now household name Vin Diesel, for one last heist as he repays the debt to the police officer who let him go.

Or, if Vin Diesel has decided he isn’t doing sequels and wants to hang out with Dame Judi Dench, you write out every other character and give Brian another convict to hang out with and race fancy cars.

In the time since we last left our hero, he’s been fired from the force (duh…) and now makes a living in the underground racing circuit. However, when another bad guy is using cars to run drugs, Carter Verone (Cole Hauser doing his best James Bond Villain impression), the police and the FBI once again turn to Brian O’Conner, the only man in the world who can drive a car, to take him down. Presumably because it worked so well in the first movie. Realizing that he needs backup, he turns to an old friend Rome (Tyreese Gibson) who he abandoned when it was his turn to go to jail, so they can team up and take down the evil drug lord. Oh, and Eva Mendes is in it as another undercover cop who’s there to… wear tight dresses? I never really got why she was in this movie, to be honest with you. She was really close to the bad guy, so how much more evidence did they need? Did they need him to threaten more cops with rats and hot buckets?

I’m going to start this with pointing out that this is the weakest part of the Fast and the Furious Franchise. (Yes, I know we have Tokyo Drift coming up… more on that tomorrow.) But this is a sad attempt to recapture the magic from the first movie without really talking too much about the first movie. Instead of heists there are drugs. Instead of Vin Diesel, we get Tyreese Gibson, who is a great actor in his own right, but lacks the complexity of Vin Diesel’s Dominic. Basically it boils down to: Why didn’t you help me out? when dealing with Paul Walker.

Then there’s the fact that the police are essentially incompetent murders in this, basically willing to sell out Brian and Rome so they can make the quick bust on this guy that they have more than enough evidence to bring down. Eva Mendes is running with them, but spends most of her time off screen, popping up to complicate the plot and maybe ask where her loyalties lie. (Of course, she’s an honest cop, as she isn’t down with the whole “shooting the guy in the head” plan.)

No, where this movie fails is with the Brian/Rome relationship. Don’t get me wrong, the two actors have an incredible chemistry, and I could watch them play off each other all day. Honestly, their friendship was the most realistic thing, with hidden in-jokes, light ribbing, and even a drag down fight after seeing each other after a while. (It’s a guy thing.) The problem is that Rome is essentially a “hey we couldn’t get Vin Diesel back so here’s the next best thing” type character. I wanted to see them take it in a different direction. 

Of course there are still fast cars and the whole thing ends by showing as many souped up cars as possible. and that’s the real reason we tune into the movies, anyway, because of zoom zoom. 

Essentially, this is the most sequel-like movie in the entire franchise, which is why this one doesn’t fascinate me as much. But it’s essential as we take on our next five movies. 

Coming up tomorrow: the Fast and the Furious Franchise fast forwards into the future. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Fast and The Furious Week: Point Break, With More Cars!

I’ve always been kind of fascinated with the Fast and Furious movie series, as a movie lover, as a writer, and as a guy that just generally enjoys watching fast cars drive around. And sometimes turn into robots. And then doesn’t last too long. And doesn’t involve a protracted argument for statutory rape. That being said, why hasn’t Fast and the Furious crossed over with Transformers yet? Seriously? I can’t be the only one who has thought about this.

Regardless, I’ve always been fascinated with this franchise. It came out in 2001 and was pretty much a fun summer movie that involved fast cars and all the PG-13 violence and sex that just allowed their target audience to get in without adult supervision. Then it spawned a sequel where literally only one star - the star made famous by the movie - came back. Then another sequel came out, and literally NO ONE returned. It didn’t even focus on the same thing: fast cars with a bit of heisting on the side. Then everyone came back for four more movies, including one character who was killed off and came back, and former WWE Champion and Tooth Fairy, Dwayne Johnson.

Quick note, I’m going to be making a lot of jokes here, but one I won’t joke about is Paul Walker. Everything I heard is that he was a classy guy, and when he was killed it was coming from a charity event. RIP, man. I’m going to make fun of some stuff, but rest assured, I respect what you did here.

But think of another franchise that has lost literally EVERY cast member, and then gained them back and arose, phoenix like, from the ashes of a franchise that everyone said was pretty much done after the second episode. And keep it somewhat interesting? As a film lover, this just… there’s no other word for it. It just intrigues me. And Iv’e never seen them. I didn’t avoid them, I just sort of skipped the first one, then by the time the Rock was kick-punching his way through Vin Diesel, I was too far off to understand he complicated plot of race car driving while looking as cool as possible while heisting and living life a quarter mile at a time. (Which is actually kind of a sweet story.)

The Fast and the Furious, the first chapter in the franchise, introduces us to Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), trying to infiltrate a group of racers who might possibly be performing daring heists, led by Dominic (Vin Diesel). Also on this crew is young Jesse who screams “I’m going to die” pretty much five seconds after he’s introduced, Jordana Brewster as the hot sister that Brian is going to fall for, and Vince, some dude who of course suspects Brian of being a cop from day one. You see, the FBI and the Police REALLY want to stop these heists because the truck drivers, tired of having cars steal their precious cargo, are going to start arming themselves, and rather than, you know, trying anything else, they put Brian deep undercover, then proceed to not listen to literally his every word as he falls more and more in with the criminal element.

Think Point Break with less Keanu Reeves and more flashy cars instead of skydiving tricks. 

The first movie is interesting, as it…

Naw, it’s pretty much exactly Point Break. 

Anyway, the first movie is interesting as it frames the story clearly as behaving in the grey area that doesn’t adhere to constructs of right or wrong. Brian, clearly wanting to do what is right, does want to stop the thieves mostly because he wants to stop to further violence that is going to occur by the escalation of violence. The cops are pretty much useless, working for their own agenda, and at one point ignoring Brian when he says that they don’t have the proper evidence to move on the original crew, then blaming him when things go wrong. Then, they pretty much vanish for the rest of the film as it shifts focus to Dominic’s crew.

Dominic and his crew, however, live by a strict code, and Brian has to learn to accept that. Rather than just driving in and racing, then being accepted, he has to learn this code. In fact, it is this code that allows him to turn on the police at the end (spoilers for a movie that came out 14 years ago. We’ve had two Spidermen and three Batmen since then) and let Dominic go, fulfilling his debt from earlier in the movie having finally brought him a “10 second car” (or, a car that can cross the finish line in 10 seconds, in the parlance of the movie.) But it’s an interesting mix of philosophies, both movies exist within these spheres that have codes of honor, and Brian has to sit in the middle of it, trying to stop further violence any way possible. 

Some of it is actually Shakespearean. Most evident of this is the scene in which Dominic talks about winning. This is a flat out monologue given to the audience, it’s almost a Shakespearean aside. Dominic will be a tragic figure, having already fallen once, he would rather die that fall again, and this pride of his does him in, and at one point even costs him his “right hand man” (who literally has his right hand mangled.) It is not until he is able to rise above his pride that he is able to escape to a place that he can finally be free.

While I joke that this is a “heist zoom zoom movie” it’s actually a movie about relationships. Dominic wants to be the head of a family, and this is most evident in the scenes where they are sitting down to dinner. It’s a quiet moment, buried in CGI shots of how the cars get juiced up to go even faster.

As an entry, it’s an interesting one, and very disjointed in the way it plays with the idea of family and codes, but suffers from the fact that characters just tend to vanish at the proper moment. Also, the way Vince decides immediately that Brian, ordering the terrible tuna fish, is not on the level, is WAY too random, and pretty much put in so that the close member of the crew can pull him in while alienating the loose cannon. Fortunately with Dominic getting away and Brian having pretty much let a murderer and their get away (even with his newfound code) there can be a sequel!

2morrow… we get 2Fast AND 2Furious, minus all the other cast members.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Report 52 Project: The Global War on Morris

They say you should never judge a book by its cover. “They” whoever the nebulous “they” are can say that all they want, but at the end of the day you’re going to look at the cover and if it’s really appealing, you're going to go out and buy it. It’s just that simple. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. The person sitting next to you has done it. Which is why I wasn’t surprised when, on a cold day in December, I drifted over to a book called The Global War on Morris by Steve Israel. (Yes, the sitting congressman. No, I didn’t realize it at the time. No, still not really pushing my politics on anyone.)  I read the back and was immediately hooked.

The Global War on Morris is a book about… well, a global war. On Morris. If only it were that simple. The book is about a married, bored, pharmaceutical sales representative that gets wrapped up in a web of terrorism, late night hotel room visits, baseball, and a very angry computer named NICK. Morris doesn’t want a lot out of life, he wants to get home, watch baseball, order some Chinese food, and sit lifelessly on the couch with his wife. He does’t want to make waves. Ok, so occasionally he wants to flirt with the pretty receptionist at one of the offices he frequents. This flirtation eventually leads to Morris being on everyones radar, getting wrapped up in a terrorist conspiracy involving a terrorist cell in Florida, and eventually catching the eye of NICK and Vice President Cheney.

Yeah. It’s that kind of novel. 

The first thing that struck me about the book is just how funny it was. Even the scenes of Morris, sitting at home trying to watch the Mets, were full of fun, little observations. And a book that includes a terrorist cell has some deft writing to do if it’s going to be really enjoyable. A nice touch points out that weary terrorist Hassan will kill the American infidels, but until then, he will keep them dry has he works from his towel shack in a fancy hotel. 

The plotting in this novel also works a very interesting act as well. I’ve mentioned many times that yes, Morris is a man that doesn’t like to make waves. That would seem to keep him far away from the terror watch list… after all, what kind of man who’s life’s greatest ambition is to stay below the radar would end with him gathering the attention of one of the funniest, and sadly underused character in the novel, supercomputer NICK? The plot requires a series of connections, some of them very thin, but believable. For instance, NICK first notices Morris because of his illicit flirtings (and maybe a bit more) with cute receptionist, who had previously been on a date with a known drug smuggler. NICK puts these together, “pings” Morris, who is then pinged again when his daughter is arrested, etc. These connections are weaved very well, and it’s interesting to see how they are all pulled off. 

Sadly, though, that leads to the most glaring disappointment of this novel, the ending. I’m going to keep it spoiler-free, mostly because the ending is interesting at least, but all of the comedy, deft plotting, and all around fun of the novel is quickly sucked out when Morris is finally caught up to by various agencies that are out to get him. One of the funnier recurring gags are the sheer number of agencies just not talking to each other, and the resulting chaos. But it is almost as if Israel wanted to rush through the ending, rather than taking time to wrap up these stories. 

I was also saddened to see NICK, the computer, be used so little by the end of it. A great concept - chapters are written as NICK is given information, making little observations here and there, and then suddenly, NICK just goes away. 

Israel also uses a large amount of his experience on the hill to take shots at Former Vice President Cheney and George W. Bush. I felt overall these scenes were a bit “meh” and about 5 years too late. There was some comedy to be mined from all of this (and some of the Cheney scenes were actually really funny) but more could have been done to preserve the comedy that had been built up until these moments brought the book to a grinding halt. Overall not terrible, just wildly out of place in 2015. (the book was published in 2014. I’m not THAT behind in my book reading. Ok, I am.)

None of this should take away from the fact that the book is genuinely funny, and difficult to put down. I read it in almost one sitting, actually laughing out loud at a lot of parts. Again, Israel throws a lot of stuff into the little details, such as agency incompetence or just the fact that we don’t know who we are dealing with at all times. Overall, it’s an interesting experience. I may have to go back and read the book again, just so I can pick up on all the little details stuffed into its pages. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes England: Much Ado About Love's Labour's Won!

            So there I was, watching the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford Upon Avon put on Love’s Labour’s Won, more commonly known as Much Ado About Nothing

            I struggled for a while on how I was going to start this post. Then I realized that the best way to do it was to jump right into it, because, I star Bardolator that I am, who has willingly sat through more Shakespeare productions than I can count, was now sitting in the Bard’s HOMETOWN watching the acting company DEDICATED TO HIS WORK, putting on a performance of my FAVORITE play of the Bard.

            Essentially I was in William Shakespeare Nerd Heaven.

            A quick bit of background that we’ll get into more detail next week (spoilers), but to help you out this week. William Shakespeare was born, grew up, and had a house in Stratford Upon Avon, but his theatre, the Globe, was located in London. Which means he was a commuter, going to London to put on performances and fall in love with Gwyneth Paltrow, but the RSC Theatre was placed in his hometown. So, this was still the closest I was going to get to William Shakespeare without a time machine, and The Doctor and the TARDIS doesn’t seem to be heading my way any time, nor does Doc Brown in his Delorean. Also, something something phone booth Excellent Adventure.

            Also, the big debate: Love’s Labour’s Won vs. Much Ado About Nothing. So, William Shakespeare wrote a comedy called Love’s Labour’s Lost, which is all about several princes that take a manly vow of chastity while deciding to pursue their studies, and naturally they meet the loves of their lives because Shakespeare invented all 1980’s sitcom plots. The story ends, unlike many of his romance/comedies WITHOUT a marriage. So, for a while a lot of people thought that there was a “lost” play in which they returned, more hijinks ensued, and then marriage. Some people thought that Much Ado About Nothing was the sequel, and it got a weird name. Others don’t care, and just want Joss Whedon to do another black and white adaptation.  However, Much Ado About Nothing is sometimes called Love’s Labour’s Won. The RSC, because they’re cool like that, simply paired the two up together and set them during World War 1 because England is acknowledging the 100 year anniversary since World War 1.

            As I’ve mentioned before when I reviewed Joss Whedon’s black and white version, Love’s Labour’s Won tells the story of a group of soldiers returning from War. (in this version. World War 1.)  They settle into the home of the wealthy Leonato, when the young Claudio falls in love with Hero. Don Pedro, Claudio’s… leader? General? It varies. Convinces her to fall in love, and as they pass the time they try to set up Benedict and Beatrice, two former lovers who are at a “merry war” with each other. At some point Don John, the Prince’s brother decides to intervene, but everything gets wrapped up in about half an act or so.

            Quick note: I get some pushback a little bit because I throw in the idea that this is one of his lighter plays, because towards the middle, through Don John’s boredom, he tries to wreck the marriage of Hero and Claudio by tricking him. And it is a pretty rough scene. But I’d like to point out that the whole “Hero is a cheating whore” scene lasts about five minutes, long enough for the Friar to say, “yo, something’s not right.” I stand by my assertion that ultimately, this s a bunch of bored people doing things to alleviate the boredom.  No sword fights, no real stakes, other than the brief mention that Hero and Claudio may not live happily ever after, and hey.. what’s a few brief death threats against friends?

            As I’ve said, this show was set in during World War 1, which I felt added some gravity to the situation. One of the issues with doing Much Ado/Love’s Won is the fact that these are very rich people doing very rich things, and essentially dealing in parties.  The characters are fun, but sometimes they’re difficult to relate, even though in the end, it’s the dumbest, poorest dude that ends up saving the day. No one’s bad behavior is punished… Hero marries Claudio and is waved off as “oops, my bad” and even Don John who’s motivations range from “cause I want to” because “Shakespeare must have been all out of motivations for the day” doesn’t get punished until, as Benedict calls it, “tomorrow.” But setting it during World War 1, these aren’t just rich people, these are soldiers that have seen enough.

            This does help solve the problem I mentioned earlier, too, by making Don John more than just a one-note villain, but by giving him a limp and the indication that he was wounded while the others were spared. The actor playing him was amazing, and brought some depth to a problematic character.

            Of course, no production of Much Ado/Love’s Won could be complete without mentioning Benedict and Beatrice. The love story of Claudio and Hero and their whole plot is pretty much to the side while watching, quite frankly, a very modern war of the words between the two. They nailed it. Because it was World War 1, Beatrice was played as more of a “new woman” being the only woman in the cast to wear pants. But the two actors who played the parts clearly  had clearly fallen into their roles wonderfully, and you got the impression that it was two people that had known each other. I mentioned earlier that they don’t really have sword fighting or a lot of action in this play: these are the scenes that make it up. Loved them in the roles, and I could have watched them spar for hours.

            The only detriment to the entire production, sadly, was one of my favorite scenes. In the play, Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio decide to trick Benedict and Beatrice into falling in love. These are typically some of the most comic scenes in the play, with the actors hiding on the stage in plain view, and it being evident to the audience what is going on. In this version, they decided to have Benedict hide early, then mug for the audience while the signature song “Sigh No More” was being played. I’ve heard a ton of versions of this song… jaunty from David Tennant and Catherine Noble.  A jazzier version in Joss  Whedon’s version. I’ve heard it more traditional. I’ve heard it fast, I’ve heard it slow.  And this version when with a slower, more somber version, which is fine. But to have Benedict hide behind the curtain and make faces… that took me out of the play a little bit. Fortunately it was made up later, involving a Christmas Tree.

            So, if I were you, I’d go see this version. What? It’s in Stratford Upon Avon and you CAN’T go see it? That’s where you’re incorrect, my friends. This AND Love’s Labour’s Lost are playing via the Globe Theatre on the Screen project. So, this is playing across the country in the next couple of weeks. So… here’s an early review. Go to your local multiplex and see if it’s playing! Then stick around for that new version of Cinderella. That’s not bad either.

            Next week: Bad Shakespeare TRAINS with Shakespeare!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush.

     So,  I was going to write a loving tribute to Terry Pratchett for today's post. It was going to talk about his work, his influence, his quotes, and ultimately, what he meant to me as a writer. I got about halfway through, before I realized, I don't think he would have wanted that. I think the greatest tribute to the man is for you to put down this blog today and pick up one of his books. There's 40 alone in the Discworld series. Go read one of them. Soak in what the man had to say. Look at how he personifies Death. He wouldn't want us dwelling, he'd want us living.

    Instead of a full blog post today, I'm going to post one of my favorite quotes from him. It had nothing to do with the many quotes about life and death that have been going around. No, this is simpler, and something I'd like you all to focus on today.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Report 52 Project: The Death Cure by James Dashner (Spoilers!)

Endings are hard. Have you really told your story? Have you finished everything you want to say? Are you going to leave the story open or are you going to close everything off with the wave of your hand? I guess that’s why we have so many instances of the “end” of something letting us down. Or in the case of so many superhero stories, not really ending it and rebooting it for another day. In some cases, three times in 10 years.

I’m looking at YOU Batman and Spider-Man.

So, it is with that in mind that read The Death Cure, perhaps the best named but sadly, weakest of the Maze Runner Trilogy books (not counting the prequels. Yes. I’m getting to those. No. Not next week.)

Like it’s predecessor, The Death Cure picks up following the events of The Scorch Trials with Thomas locked up in a windowless white room slowing going mad as he awaits his fate. He’s cut off all telepathic communication with Theresa following the events of the Scorch Trials and her perceived betrayals. He is then removed from the room and is offered a chance to regain his memories but he’ll be cut off telepathically from Theresa and Aris. Also, as a stroke of bad luck, it turns out that as part of the variables not everyone was immune to the Flare, so sadly, poor Newt is now going to die. Then some stuff happens. More stuff happens. Eventually we will find out that there was a resistance to WICKED called the Right Arm (for reasons that are never made clear) and Gally who murdered Chuck in the first book has joined them. Then more stuff happens. Eventually, it’s back into the Maze for a few pages. 

I didn’t dislike this book, I still think the concept is really cool. A Flare pretty much destroys the Earth. A disease is released (spoiler: eventually you find out that it’s released intentionally). People live, stakes are high, testing is done. The problem is that I kind of felt like the conversation between the writer and the publisher went a little like this.

“Hey, love this Maze Runner thing. How much material do you have?”

“I don’t know. Maybe four or five books.”

“Ah.. you see, trilogies are REALLY hot right now.”

“So... you want a trilogy?”

“Bingo! Just cram what you’ve got into the end.”

The Death Cure is more of a mishmash of ideas that, and because I read this on a Kindle I’m not 100% percent certain about, but it felt this way, was way longer than the other books. The pacing clearly starts to break down at the end of The Scorch Trials, and then the rest of this book is just sort of like “the greatest hits of what James Dashner wanted to write, but didn’t.”

There’s the fact that Newt is not immune, and taken away. They spend time In Denver, which supposedly is a clean city, but is slowly succumbing to the Flare. There’s the whole Right Arm and Gally situation, which is VERY interesting, but only takes up a few pages. A group fighting the combined world’s governments? We don’t think this is interesting? There’s the storyline where Theresa escapes with some people, but... to where? She just sort of meanders out of the book so she can (spoiler) make her big sacrifice at the end and redeem herself. There’s the Immunes being slowly kidnapped... then put back into the maze as a way of keeping them safe. 

There’s easily two half books contained within the Death Cure, and I wanted to read them, not have them put off to the special wonderful mini-book that I’m sure may be coming out. James Dashner spends a lot of time coming up with this fantastic dystopian world that has recognizable elements and isn’t left vague... it’s frightening and realistic all at the same time. And there are some great concepts, particularly the revolution, which I talk about more in this review than is mentioned in the book itself. 

The book and the story ends (spoilers again... I can’t talk about this without talking about the ending) the immunes being sent into a new area (a new “Glade” if you will) to rebuild society, and the whole thing turning out to be a setup from WICKED. Which also negates almost the entire need for the Right Arm subplot, since they’re trying to stop - what - them from just giving up?

The best moment of the book is Newt. No longer immune, the once important leader and “glue” of the group is removed, and is slowly succumbing to the effects of the Flare. The stakes are raised further when it is revealed that Thomas, holding the cure to the Flare in his brain, will have to be sacrificed. There’s a tension that I wish could have been explored more, especially with the way that Thomas feels responsible for Newt’s condition, including his limp, when it’s revealed as to why he has that as well. 

The really funny thing is that with all the Young Adult Movie adaptions coming out, the adaptors of this movie have said that they will not be splitting the movie into two parts, such as done with Hunger Games and eventually, Divergent. Which is sad, because this did require some splitting, and expansion of some excellent ideas. I really wish Dashner had gotten the opportunity to finish them. This needed more. Maybe some of my questions will be addressed in the prequels? I hope so. It’s an interesting concept that needed the extra time to be fleshed out.

So, I’m recommending you read this trilogy, but I’m also recommending that someone, somewhere, come up with a good ending at some point to a book series.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes England: All About Shakespeare!

So, let’s talk about Shakespeare.

The name of this blog is, of course Bad Shakespeare. You read it on the top. I’m a huge fan of the man, and yes, his writings. Yes, they were his writings, despite the various conspiracy theories that continue to persist despite all evidence to the contrary. And I was on a trip that focused on seeing primarily things involved with the theatre. So, we were in the land of Shakespeare, a scant few miles (or kilometers... damn metric system) away from William Shakespeare’s birthplace.... so yeah, I guess we did a few Shakespearean things while we were there.

What do you want to hear about first? The Globe? Shakespeare’s Birthplace? The Royal Shakespeare Company? Stratford Upon Avon? The 45 minute lecture we got from a tour guide about Shakespeare’s Daughter’s house? Anne Hathaway’s Cottage? The many, many jokes about Catwoman we made on the way to Anne Hathway’s Cottage? Bubbles, the Shakespearean Cat? The Royal Shakespeare Company Training session we did? Love’s Labour’s Won? OH, THERE WAS SO MUCH SHAKESPEARE!

Firstly, this won’t be contained in one post. I tend to go over, but I like to keep each post to around 1000 words. When I start to talk about our Shakespeare adventures, it’s probably going to be closer to around 2 billion words. (Conservative estimate.) 

Secondly, it’s my blog so I’m going to start where I darn well please. If you want to choose, then you start a blog, then go to England on a theatre tour with Rick Davis, then you have all these amazing adventures. 

I’m going to start with Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Not Stratford Upon Avon, where he was born, but the actual cottage in which Shakespeare was born. We’ll get to Stratford and it’s killer swans in a future post.

To answer some of your questions... yes. Shakespeare’s birthplace is a very touristy place. I mean, Stratford is nice, and a very quaint little village about two hours away from London. (one if you get the bus driver that took us back at night.) But at first glance, there’s nothing really remarkable about the city itself. It’s a small town, there’s that river next to it, and it has various shops, tourist spots, and swans. Lots and lots of swans. 

But all signs point to this small cottage in the middle of town, surrounded by a museum full of all things Shakespeare. It’s not a big exhibit... the most interesting thing is the original copy of the First Folio that sits in the center of the whole thing. Then there’s various references to just about everything Shakespeare has ever done or given credit to, which includes Hamburger Hamlet, which, if I were running it, would have the slogan, “Our prices are insane... or are they?” 

Once you get through the museum which contains a lot of Shakespearean facts, including stuff about his birth, marriage, the birth (and death) of his kids, the real main event takes you outside, briefly, into the beautiful England weather in December (re: cold and rainy, with the occasional burst of sun) and into this beautiful garden. Or... would be beautiful if it weren’t the winter. I’m guessing. But in the middle of this garden is a path, that leads you to this cottage that’s straight out of 18th century England.

Which make sense. This is the old Shakespeare place. The place. Where he was born.

Now, before I go any further, this is a life goal of mine, to visit the place where the bard was born. I think Rick Davis said it best: you can see Shakespeare’s plays in this place. (Keep in mind that grades have been posted, so I don’t have to suck up quite as much. He’s just that awesome of a person.) And he is right. The big thing that people get wrong when discussing Shakespeare is how could the son of a poor Englishman with no formal schooling be aware of any of the stuff that Shakespeare writes about. The answer is... well, for starters he’s not poor. He was actually kind of wealthy. Shakespeare didn’t have to write for food, he had to write because he was a writer. And the town itself is a character that Shakespeare manages to incorporate into his writings.

But that’s a post for the town. Let’ get back to the house.

Now, the house stands out - there’s old architecture throughout England, but none so old architectury (is that a word? I’m going to let it pass) as this tiny little house. And as with anything, it’s important to remember that Shakespeare was very successful in his time, but hasn’t quite reached the point that he was being studied and worshipped the way that he is today. (Had he known, he probably would have cleared up that whole “is the Ghost real” thing in Hamlet and he probably wouldn’t have written Titus Andronicus. Just throwing that out there.)

No, a lot of the house has been restored as a result of some dude named “Charles Dickens” who decided, “hey... William Shakespeare was pretty famous. Let’s restore his birthplace.” Yes, it’s odd to think that one of England’s most prolific writers was such a fan of another one of England’s most prolific writers that he had to restore his birthplace. So, the house is restored in some ways, so it’s not as if it was perfectly preserved from the first day that William Shakespeare showed up on this Earth and presumably cried his first sonnet.

Quick side note: They had a guest book from one of the first showings of the birthplace. On this is an actual page signed by... You guessed it... Charles Dickens. Mr Christmas Carol Himself!

But the house oozes history and Shakespeare. There are tour guides, as is to be expected with any historical location. What this place has, though, are two actors that sit in one of the rooms upstairs and can perform a scene from any Shakespearean play, on command. ON. COMMAND. So, for instance, we asked for a scene from Love’s Labour’s Won (Or Much Ado About Nothing) to be performed for us... they not only did a scene, but a song from the production. 

One of the debates we had were whether or not the “house shakes with the words of Shakespeare” as Professor Davis put it. I mean, at the end of the day it’s just a house... wood and stone. But for me, it was a spiritual experience. This is a house that birthed one of the greatest writers ever. And I don’t mean just the fact that he was born in the house, as so many people were of his generation. I mean he took his first steps, he developed an interest in writing there. When he decided he was going to be a writer, where was he? When he wrote his first inevitable thing that all writers write that’s silly and we throw it out (mine was about dragons)... what was it? What inspired it? Landmarks are funny... how much do they really influence us? How much do they have a say in how we view a person or a place? In this case, it didn’t really change too much for me... I love Shakespeare for his words and his turn of phrase. But to be able to reach out and be in the same space as the man... it meant a lot to me. It filled me with confidence. It energized me. 

Coming up next week: We review Love’s Labour’s Won... World War 1 Style!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bad Shakespeare reviews Kimmy!

 I don’t talk a lot about television on this blog. A lot of it is because I’m a Graduate Student who primarily works at night, so most of my television viewing is narrowly defined to episodes of The Amazing World of Gumball and television shows that aired a while ago that everyone says that I should probably we watching. Like House of Cards. Which is a great show, but if I write about it, at some point I’ll have to admit that I don’t really know what’s going on. 

However, this past week we had a snowstorm in here in Northern Virginia. And I don’t know if you know what snow is like in Northern Virginia, we don’t get a lot of it. Which means from the time the first flake falls, we go into lockdown mode, schools get shut down, we raid the grocery stores, and the only law is that whoever has the biggest SUV that they have no idea how to drive wins. No looting, but that’s only because people are too afraid to go out into the ice. 

I have to fortune of having two of my jobs cancel, and since it had just snowed and it was cold and I didn’t really feel like “venturing out” (I’m much more of an indoor boy) I decided to sit down and check out what the magic of Netflix was willing to provide to me. By that I mean old episodes of Futurama, but then I saw they had a new show recommended to me because I also like 30 Rock called The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Oh, I’m going to call it Unbreakable from this point on, because that’s a long title and while I’m usually about upping my word count, I’m not typing that a bunch of times. Try not to confuse it with the last great movie produced by M. Night Sham....Shayma... the Sixth Sense Guy. 

The show is about a young woman named Kimmy Schmidt  (Ellie Kemper, the only real reason to watch the Office in the last season) who was kidnapped when she was 15 and forced to live in a doomsday bunker with four other women, freed, had the news story autotuned, and on a trip to New York has decided to stay there to make something of herself. Yeah, I know, sounds like a laugh riot, but the show actually manages to be a laugh riot. Along the way she gets a job being the nanny for a woman who is played by Jane Krakowski who is totally not playing her 30 Rock Character Jenna Mulroney but ANOTHER out of touch rich blonde woman. She also finds a place to live with her gay best friend roommate, the hilariously named Titus Andromedon (Tituss Burgess) and boozing landlord Lillian, played by Carol Kane. 

What I really like about the show is that this could easily be a dour drama about a young woman finding herself, wallowing in self-pity at having 15 years of her life taken away by a dark event. I mean... kidnapping isn’t really funny, as Horrible Bosses 2 taught us all those many months ago. And Doomsday Cults, while having the ability to be funny, typically aren’t sources of wacky comedy. But what works about this show is the fact that Kimmy isn’t about trying to mine her time as a “Mole Woman” for fame or money.... she looks at the events as a dark time in her past, and wants to make the next couple of years her best. 

The show manages to avoid a lot of the random things that could easily take it down. For instance, it constantly addresses the fact that Kimmy has lived in this bunker and hasn’t really experienced the past 15 years of pop culture. But the show doesn’t rely too heavily on this gag, with only a few moments where she has come kind of shock. (The best being when she tells Titus that one day he’ll sing with Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.) And it could play off their time in the bunker a lot darker, but rather, focuses on the fact that they made the best of the bad situation, going on fake “dates” in one hilarious scene, or coming down with “Hulkamania” as part of their illnesses. 

I guess that is what drove me to watch the first season of the show all in one sitting: the fact that it was optimistic, no matter what the setback. The show, for outlandish as it can be, is at least is aware that these things take time. Titus, wanting to be up on Broadway, doesn’t just do it in a few seconds, and is very aware of his zany personality. But the show, even when dealing with these darker issues, is a reminder that at times we all have to take a step back, and remember to find the good in the bad, even if it is the worst thing in the world. Another great line from Kimmy, very early on, “The worst thing that ever happened to me happened in my front yard” as she tries to justify moving to New York City. This is a very subtle moment, but it’s a reminder that we often find just about any excuse to not take risks. Here’s a woman who had her life taken away from her and had every excuse to coast from this point on. But she wants to make the most of it.

Before I end this review, I really have to talk about the theme song. The theme song is what I had mentioned before... the autotuned first few moments of the first episode, where the neighbor who witnessed the women being rescued gives his interview. This is just hilarious. Firstly, it’s catchy. Secondly, it’s a nice little commentary on how we, as a society, tend to make light of everything. Thirdly... it’s pretty damn catchy. I know I said this twice, but you underestimate how catchy this can be. Fourthly, when you think about it, it’s a nice metaphor for the series in general... the something bad happens. Then someone makes the best out of it.

Like I said, at 13 episodes running about 25 minutes each, this takes up a nice afternoon. Like, the Length of a Hobbit extended edition or something. Or time you were going to spend doing something less important than watching this show. But give it a shot. After the first few episodes, you’re probably going to be hooked.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Book Report 52: Selina Baker Book 2 Cover Reveal

Back when I started the whole “Book Report 52 Project” my goal was pretty simple: make myself read 52 books this year. I like to read. I haven’t been reading that much, dedicating much of my time to the fact that I live in the future, where we can stream just about any television series or movie directly to our computer machines as much as possible. And I say this as someone who has a device that can download almost any book to it immediately, unless it happens to be a book that I really need for class.

On that note, who ever sat down and said, “Wow, I haven’t watched all the episodes of Wings, let me binge on those.”? But that’s another post for another day.

Moving on.

The reaction, however, has been awesome to the max. People have commented on what I’ve written, they responded, they’ve shared it, they’ve taken my book recommendations... it’s been pretty awesome. Which brings me to the to the post I did for Into the Night, by Suzanne Rigdon, one of the first Book Report 52 posts. Turns out, Suzanne contacted me regarding the second book!

I took a class with Suzanne during this wacky time I call “graduate school.” That’s how I first found out about the book, and why I decided to put it into my review rotation, because it’s a unique experience to review a book that someone you know has written. And when I say “I took a class with her” I mean just that. I knew her for a semester, so I figure there probably won’t be any characters based on me until at least book 3, and in that case it will probably just a random character who spouts Doctor Who references every couple of pages. 

Anyway, I ended that with the happy frustration that it ended in a cliffhanger, and my comments that, “Wow, it would be really, really, really cool to know what happens next.” Naturally, no great writer is really going to tell you what they’re working on next or let loose any spoilers. But she did contact me to let me know that she had no intention of pulling a George R.R. Martin is actually working on the book now! It is going to be released in November (published by Spence City Books.)

In FACT, she’s even gone so far as to let me share the cover and the first official synopsis with you, the readers of Bad Shakespeare. Spoilers for the last book to follow, so if you haven’t read it yet you probably should.

Official Synopsis for Wake in Darkness, Book 2 in the Selina Baker series:

In the chaos after her enemy’s murder, fledgling vampire Selina Baker and her maker, James, flee to Washington D.C. to be under the protection of the Queen’s sister, Aurora. With the throne open for the first time in over a century, local vampires launch a campaign to win the valued seat—using some very unsavory powers to get what they want. Selina is caught between terrible alternatives, unsure who to trust as the safety of her past is torn away. She must struggle to survive the battle lines drawn between the vampire factions, while figuring out her growing confusion over her feelings for James.

There you have it. The next official Chapter in the Selina Baker Series. The only thing better would be if we have the cover available. Wait? We do? Then here’s the cover!

So tune in, ladies, gentlemen, and 2000 year old vampires, to the next exciting edition of this series!

Want to follow Suzanne Rigdon? You can find her on Twitter @SuzyRigdon! She blogs right here! I encourage to you follows her on both! (I wasn't slick enough to link her Twitter directly in the text. You've vexed me this time, Blogger…)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes England: Golem

There were a lot of heated opinions on the productions my intrepid group of theatre classmates saw while we were in London, as a group, doing London things amongst our production watching. As I’ve mentioned plenty of times on the blog (and as is important to mention as many times as possible) our opinions meant diddly-squat, we had to back up our critiques with cold, hard facts, and present WHY they were good. WHY they were bad? WHY we disliked them? WHY was everyone else wrong when they didn’t love Knights of the Burning Pestle?

There was no other production that confused and terrified us so much as the final production we saw while in London, Golem. I bring up the last one now mostly because it’s been in the news as it transfers from it’s comfy location in the Young Vic to the West End. And I think it bears some serious analysis at this point. I’m not sure when I was going to discuss this one, because this one is so weird. Even at this point, almost a month later, I’m still not sure I can say I liked it. And, as Professor Davis would point out that is a controversial statement, maybe that’s a good thing. 

And I liked Birdman. So I like weird. 

Golem tells the story of a timid young man named Robert who buys a fantastical creation called a Golem (hence the title, I guess). While the Golem initially is reactionary and helps Robert in his life, it eventually takes over, telling him how to dress, how to do his job, who to date, and the production slowly morphs into a cautionary tale about how our over dependence on technology will eventually take away our individuality and creativity. 

He said, typing this on a computer before he shares it on his blog which has a strong Facebook and Twitter presence. 

The other weird thing about this production... and you’ll notice I’ve been saying “production”.. is the way its being presented. There aren’t any sets per se, rather the actors interact with productions on a screen behind them, in some instances moving screens around the stage. So, on the one level you have a production about a man and his over dependence on technology, being presented in a way that is over dependent on technology. As one person pointed out, one projector dies and suddenly we’re all going home for the night with a refund. It’s very “meta” as the hip young kids would say.

So... is this a play?

That’s not really for me to decided in a 1,000 word write up filled with robot jokes most of the time. It had elements of cinema tied in with absurdist productions, and some musical elements. We certainly saw some other productions that had a lot of technology... I haven’t talked about Curious Incident of the Dog at Night Time yet, which literally looked like a Holodeck from Star Trek in its presentation. Certainly there are other productions where, if something went wrong, we’d be in the dark. But this is an odd melding of pre-recorded images along with people interacting with them. 

The thing is, the more I think about it, the interaction with the pre-recorded cinema scenes added to the overall message about the over-reliance of technology. The costumes were very outlandish, and there were only a few actors playing several characters. And the thing is this could have been broken down and they could have presented it without the cinema-type trappings. But by presenting this very much in the only place and time that it could be presented - with a giant movie screen - it calls attention to the fact that it NEEDS technology to move forward while at the same time calling out to the fact that technology can really start to bring us down. 

When we were asked for our gut reaction about this in our final classroom session/final dinner, there were those mixed reactions. A lot of people hated it. A lot of people didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to think... when it got to me my turn I simply said, “what did we just watch?” But I also noted that the acting was the strongest we’ve ever seen. Mostly because, as each character starts to lose parts of their individuality to Golem, they start to slide from wacky, lovable characters to something much more sinister. They start to lose their humanity. The most poignant scene for me is the scene where our narrator and Robert’s sister, Annie, tries to start a punk band. They can’t quite get their hand movements right as they strive to fight the power. As all characters slowly start to give into Golem (which, by the way, gets upgraded three times in the course of the production... still a little bit slower than an iPhone.) they get more and more in sync. Until the end, when they are in sync, but now lifeless.

Like I said, a deep psychological piece. Once that I think is more aware of what it is trying to say than we were originally convinced when we first sat down to watch it.

I think I’m starting to convince myself that I liked it. Controversially, of course.