Thursday, October 30, 2014

American Beauty

My advice: if you want to keep your blog current, don't travel. It can really mess with your updating schedule. But I do think my visit home was worth a blog entry coming in super long and super late! Tomorrow, we leave for another trip, so I thought I would update before it becomes impossible. 

I'll start where I left off, on Monday, October 13th. Simon hopped on a plane to Texas that morning for a work trial, and later that evening, I returned to the Sundance Sunset to watch a filmed live theatrical production of A Streetcar Named Desire. This version of the play was put on by the National Theatre Company at the Young Vic in London, and starred Gillian Anderson, Ben Foster and Vanessa Kirby. I was not familiar with the play beforehand, but I like Anderson and Foster as actors, and I love live theater, so I thought I would check it out.


I loved the way the play was filmed. There were stationary and moving cameras surrounding the stage, which helped me feel like I was there watching the play with the audience. However, I was not the biggest fan of the play's story, and the production was about three hours long. I'm glad that I have finally seen the play, as it is a classic, but I doubt I'll seek it out again. I will definitely seek out other National Theatre Live productions, though, since I can't travel to London on the regular just for the theater.


Tuesday night, I went to a double-header at UCB Franklin. My pre-show entertainment was this ridiculously gorgeous sunset, which seriously looked a million times more stunning in person. 


First up was the taping of the Doug Loves Movies podcast, with guests Matt Jones (Badger from Breaking Bad), Haley Joel Osment (sees dead people), Matt Belknap and Matt Mira


It wasn't my favorite DLM ever, but it certainly had its moments, and I enjoyed both Haley Joel Osment's enthusiasm for film and Matt Jones' jokes. 

Following DLM was Put Your Hands Together, a weekly stand-up show that I had never been to before. When Simon is out of town, I like to audit new events/shows/ experiences to see if they are something he'd be interested in, and this show is an example of that kind of audit. Unfortunately, I did not find it to be a very good show, though the regular hosts being out of town may have had something to do with that. Being in the front row when someone is flopping at standup is my least favorite thing, ever. 

Wednesday, I stayed in. But Thursday night, I walked down to LACMA for the first Live Read of the season, and for one of my favorite films. 


American Beauty came out when I was 14 years old, and it was profoundly influential on me and my interest in film. I must have watched my VHS copy dozens of times, because as the actors read it on stage, I knew all of the words before they were spoken. In the movie, Kevin Spacey is Lester Burnham, a mild-mannered middle-aged man who has lost his enthusiasm for life. His wife Carolyn is a type A personality with lots of emotional issues, and his teenage daughter is dissatisfied with nearly everything in her life. I think all of these flawed characters, along with an incredibly tight script by Alan Ball and memorable cinematography, made this movie stand out sharply in contrast to others I had seen up to that point in my life. Of course, it didn't just appeal to me - it won five Academy Awards, and for good reason. 


For Reitman's live read, the casting was not as inspired as I might have hoped. He decided to cast the whole read with actors from his most recent film effort, Men, Women and Children, which is not a strategy he has ever employed before. He actually did a read for American Beauty a couple of years ago at TIFF, and had Bryan Cranston reading for Lester, and that sounded like it was amazing

But for the LACMA edition, he had Adam Sandler reading the part of Lester. Now, I have a few problems with Adam Sandler, but the man can act when given the right material. However, I do not think he was a great fit for this part, and that wasn't even really his fault. The whole time he read, I was thinking about how Kevin Spacey was literally the best possible choice for the role. Kevin Spacey won an Oscar for this role. Kevin Spacey inhabited Lester Burnham so fully, I could not really accept someone else just reading the lines. Even if that someone is Adam Sandler.  

Aside from Sandler, the cast was excellent. Rosemarie DeWitt read for Annette Bening's character Carolyn, and though she did not "sell-this-house-to-day" in the proper cadence, she was really manic and funny. Dean Norris made the Colonel's character a little less somber than Chris Cooper's version, but that's not a bad thing. Other cast members included Kaitlyn Dever as Jane (originally Thora Birch), Olivia Crocicchia as Angela (originally Mena Suvari), Travis Tope as Ricky (originally Wes Bentley), and Phil LaMarr as Buddy (originally Peter Gallagher). They all brought something different to their respective parts. Here is a review of the read, if you are interested in reading more about it. Simon was really bummed to miss this one, but he will be around for next month's read of Diner, a movie that neither of us have seen before. 

Friday was uneventful for me, but Saturday night was promising. I had seen on Twitter that UCB was holding a test show at their new theater with improv teams JV and Shitty Jobs. Since I was eager to check out the new space, and had nothing else going on, I headed over to the theater to get in line. 


When I arrived, the line wasn't too bad, but soon it stretched out behind me. I doubt everyone got in. 


I managed to get a front row seat, so I had a great view. We were welcomed by the theater's very funny artistic director Mike Still as a "friends & family" audience for this somewhat secret show, and then JV took the stage. 


After they did a set, Shitty Jobs came out for the second half of the show. 


They didn't confine themselves to the gigantic stage for long; after just a few minutes, half of the cast was on the stairs and the balcony interacting with the other half of the cast on stage.


Those guys are a lot of fun to watch. We don't often go to their show because it's always been at 11pm on a Sunday night, but with adding the new venue, they have moved some showtimes around, and now Shitty Jobs will be at 9:30pm instead. I think we'll go a lot more often. 

So, what are my first impressions of the new theater? The building looks gigantic, especially when compared to UCB Franklin. There's a cafe, lounge area, classrooms, and various other spaces for UCB's growing needs. I really like all of that, and look forward to sitting in the lounge area to write when we get back from vacation next week. But I am a wee bit apprehensive about the performance space itself. 


It's huge, with high ceilings, comfortable (yet still cramped) seats and an enormous stage, which will be great for shows with large casts like ASSSSCAT. Everyone can spread out and run around and not worry about hitting someone in the audience. But despite its size, it has less total seats than the Franklin location, and a lot more space between the audience and the stage. 


Overall, the theater seems a lot less intimate. That is less than optimal for shows with small casts, like Hot Sauce, which is moving there starting next month. I love the slightly claustrophobic effect of UCB Franklin, since you never feel far from the performers, but I can see this theater having a much different feel. Of course, going to one show there is not a good way to judge the space, and I am keeping an open mind. I am psyched to go back for more shows as soon as we get back from our Texas trip next weekend, and then Simon will get a chance to see the place for the first time!

After doing my part to help break in UCB Sunset, I drove over to UCB Franklin for the Extreme Gaming Championship. Apparently, so did Mike Still, who was on stage as Virtual Boy with hosts Zach Woods and Thomas Middleditch.  


While Thomas had some technical difficulties, the show was fantastic, thanks in no small part to Zach Woods. He is not an avid video gamer, so his contributions in a show about video games were particularly hilarious. 


The next day was my last day sans Simon, and I didn't do much with it other than go back to UCB Franklin for the panel show Shut Up, I Hate You, with hosts Kate Spencer and Anthony King and guests Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, Mary Holland and Gil Ozeri. 


The next afternoon, I picked Simon up at the airport, and we went to get lunch together. I missed him!


Later that night, we walked over to LACMA to see Birdman, the new movie starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. 


Visually, it was absolutely stunning, and I would recommend seeing it for the cinematography alone. The story isn't terribly compelling, but I did love Keaton & Norton in their respective roles. Simon really loved the movie, ranking it as his favorite of the year. 


Tuesday, Simon worked and then afterward, we drove to the Fonda in Hollywood to see one of our favorite live bands, White Denim


Sadly, the venue was not even close to capacity despite the fact that these guys are a force of nature when they play. It absolutely baffles me that they are not more popular. They are a perfect example of the fact that quality is not always rewarded. But the smaller crowd did allow us to get a good view of the stage. 


About twelve hours after the show, I was on a plane bound for Philly. Christmas seemed like a long ways away, so I decided to visit home for a few days. Mom picked me up at the airport, then we picked up Foo and had dinner at the Exeter Diner. 


I stayed in my mom's guest room, and was surprised by this awesome basket of goodies that she put together for me. Better than a hotel!


The next morning, we went to the Tom Cat Cafe for breakfast, did some shopping, and spent some time catching up. And a couple of ladies at Ulta did my makeup better than I could ever dream of doing it - I had to take a photo for posterity. 

 
I need to pick up the foundation they used on me ASAP, I felt so pretty! Though now I can't stop staring at how uneven my eyes look in this picture. 

Later that night, Mom made dinner and we sat around talking. The next day, we ran some more errands, I spotted Pam from the office in Mom's dining room,


and then I borrowed Mom's car to visit my bff in Maryland. 

Somehow, I have no photos from this portion of the trip, but I can assure you that we spent hours talking, she made an amazing dinner and homemade pumpkin pie, and I got to see her adorable daughter and sweet husband. Such a nice evening! 

On Saturday, I returned to Mom's to hang out with her and Amanda. We ended up at the Ugly Oyster for dinner, which was tasty. 


and then afterward, Amanda and I went out for the night.


We started our evening at Bowl Grille, where we met up with Jakki and Matt and some other friends to watch our friend George's band play. As a side note, I find it kind of hilarious that I can get better pictures of professional musicians, actors and improvisers than I can of my friend's band. 


After an hour or so, we followed our friends to a party at another friend's house. It was a good sized get together of a bunch of people I haven't seen in years, so I had a few beers and socialized. In California, I don't know as many people, so it was nice to see familiar faces for once. 

The next day, Amanda and I met Dad and Laura for breakfast at the Breakfast Hut. It was great to see them, but we need to break our habit of meeting them there, since the food is meh. Later that afternoon, we drove to my grandparents house. 


My grandma made us pot pie


because she knows I love it. Our pregnant cousin Sara showed up, along with her boyfriend Cody, to eat some pot pie and show us her baby bump. She's due in February, and I can't wait to meet baby Luke!

At home, the three of us sisters were reunited for the first time since June.  I love them so much! Wish they lived here with us. 

 
Early on Monday, Mom took me to the airport & I caught a flight back to the West Coast. It was a good trip, but it's nice to be home. While I was away, Simon was busy with school stuff, but he also hung out with his friend Dale and went to see a Middleditch & Schwartz show with his friend Tom. 

Monday night, we saw the Improvised Shakespeare Company at Largo, which is a new venue for them in LA (and since they don't allow pictures, you will just have to use your imagination). As always, they were incredible, and "Henry, The Fifth Element" was a brilliant audience title suggestion. I just realized that one of my favorite improvisers from that show does some stuff at UCB, so we will be checking that out soon. 

The rest of the week has been pretty standard stuff. Simon has had work to do, we've been getting ready for our trip to Texas, and yesterday, we took the cats to the vet because one of them won't stop peeing on everything. Fun times! Hopefully, that will stop ASAP. If you made it this far, congratulations! I wasn't sure that I would. Talk to you soon!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Whiplash

Hey! Hope all is well, wherever you are. Simon's in Texas for a week, which is a bummer for both of us. But the best news of the past week is about him. Yesterday was his Improv 101 class graduation show!


He's been taking the class on Sunday afternoons since August, and his class had their graduation show on Sunday morning. Since it is a large class, they were split into two teams to do the show. The team calling themselves "Astigmatism" went on first. 


About twenty minutes later, Simon's team "Party at Reagan's House" followed. 


Because it's an intro class, most of their scenes are just two people. 


Though you could probably tell it was a class show, due to a bit of hesitation between scenes, the shows were both funny & Simon was (as I expected) a highlight. 


Though he said afterward that his nerves hit him onstage, I could not tell at all from the audience. 


I am so happy that he decided to take this class - he has enjoyed it, and is already planning to take 201 next year. 


The last couple of weeks have been eventful. Last Friday morning, we drove up to San Francisco. We wanted to visit April & Tony, and then go to a Conor Oberst concert at The Fillmore on Saturday night. We had no troubles getting away from Los Angeles, and didn't hit any traffic, so we arrived in SF around 3:30pm. 


We were supposed to meet April at her office for a tour around 5pm, so we decided to stop and get a beer around the corner at The Beer Hall to kill some time.


They had the newest Game of Thrones beer, Vahlar Morghulis, on tap, so we each had one of those. We tried it back in July at Comic Con and absolutely loved it, so I am glad it is now available for purchase. Definitely try it out if you see it on tap near you!

After our beers, we walked over to April's workplace and met up with her for a tour. Her workplace is different from any other working environment I have ever seen. It's an open floor plan with few walls, they serve employee meals, and they have beer on tap. So basically, you never have to leave work. Not sure if that is good or bad, but April absolutely loves it. After our tour, we headed back to April & Tony's apartment to catch up and relax for a bit. Once Tony was available, we walked around the neighborhood looking for a place to get dinner. 


It took a bit of work, but we eventually found a Mexican food place that had a short wait, and we all had tacos. Then we headed back to the apartment. 


Climbing the hill back to their apartment always makes me feel terrible, but I think I seriously almost died this time. It is a very steep hill. 

The next day, we walked to get some breakfast


and then walked down to the wharf to check out the Musée Mécanique, a free museum filled with old, working video games. 


They had stuff from the 20's and 30's alongside Tekken 3 and air hockey. 


We got five dollars worth of quarters and went crazy. 


After we had our fill of games, we walked down the Embarcadero to Pier 23, a bar with a beer garden along the water. 


We had a few beers, trying our best to stay out of the unusually hot San Francisco sun. After a couple hours, we got an Uber back to Tony & April's apartment to pick up our stuff and head over to Hotel Tomo in Japantown. Since we were going to a concert late that night and had to leave early the next morning, we decided to stay at a hotel near the venue. 


It was a really cute anime-themed hotel, with a nice view and comfortable bed. We'd definitely stay there again. 


After we checked in and dropped off our stuff, we all walked a few blocks to Fat Angel, an intriguing gastropub that April found on Yelp.


We didn't know it walking in, but it was the perfect place for the four of us to spend a few hours hanging out, drinking beer and eating food. They had a delicious cheese plate, 


and an eclectic draft and bottled beer list.


We only get to see April and Tony a few times a year, max, so it's always awesome to have a chance to catch up. The four of us had a lovely evening, and a few hours later, we said our goodbyes and parted ways. April and Tony headed home, while Simon and I went back to the hotel for a couple hours before the show. Since the headliner wasn't going on until 11pm and we are old, we decided to rest up beforehand.

Around 10pm, we walked a few blocks to the unassuming entrance of The Fillmore. You would not know it was there without the ticket takers hanging outside the front door. Once we were in, we walked up a set of stairs that opened to the back of the venue, and we caught the end of the second opening act. Finally, around quarter after 11, Conor Oberst and his band took the stage. 


Since he is my favorite artist, we have seen him a bunch of times over the years, and this was the first of three concerts we'd see of his in four days. Though we had some crowd issues, and it wasn't over until the early hours of Sunday, it was a good show. I am also really happy we got a chance to check out a historic San Francisco music institution.

We only got to grab a few hours of sleep before waking up early to hit the road back to LA. Simon had his last improv class that afternoon, so we had to be back by 3pm. We made it with over an hour to spare, and he went to class while I relaxed on the couch for a bit. Then, I went to pick him up from class to head to our second Conor show, a John Prine/Conor Oberst double-billed concert at the Greek Theater. 


Conor went on after 11pm in San Francisco, but his start time at the Greek was 7pm, as he was co-headling the date with John Prine. So he started right on time and played for an hour and a half. Most were songs we'd heard the night before, but he played some different ones as well. 


John Prine was next up, and though we didn't know many of his songs, he was a good match for Conor's style. 

Monday night, we walked over to LACMA to see a movie I've been hearing about since January called Whiplash. It opened at the Sundance Film Festival and people absolutely loved it, so I was very excited to finally get the chance to see it. 


All I can say is... wow. It was amazing. Simon and I were both floored by how good it was. I'm not going to get into detail about the plot, because I think you are better off going in with limited knowledge, but it's about a young jazz drummer and his teacher.

There was a Q&A afterward with most of the cast, including Miles Teller & J.K. Simmons, as well as the young writer/director Damien Chazelle. I am confident we heard some future award winners talking about their parts in this film that night.


It won't be in wide release for a few weeks at the earliest, but if you love music or movies, I insist that you find a theater to see this film. It was so very good. I  am honestly thinking about seeing it again.

Tuesday night, I met Simon downtown to get some dinner at Yard House in LA Live.


After dinner, we walked to the Grammy Museum for a third and final Conor Oberst show. I had my reasons for getting tickets to each show. For this one, it's because the Grammy museum has a tiny, 200 seat venue where artists give performances that the museum tapes and keeps in its archives. I knew I'd never be able to see him in a similarly sized venue again, and tickets were only $20, so I jumped on them. Definitely worth it.


As with many excellent things in LA, photography was forbidden, but I snapped this before the show.


The theater was very cozy, and we were in the fourth row from the front. For the next thirty to forty minutes, Conor was interviewed by a guy from the museum, and then the band played a ten song set after the interview. Despite his extensive back catalogue, most of the material was from his newest album. Though he did play our wedding song, which was really nice! I'm really excited that I found out about this venue, and not just because it was so intimate for one of my favorite artists. Other bands play there all the time, and now I know to look out for other bands that we like playing the small space. 

After a few very full days in a row, we spent Wednesday and Thursday night at home. Friday, we went to a new-to-us movie theater, the Sundance Sunset, to see The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her/Him. The films, starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, are stories about a failing marriage where one movie is told from the perspective of her character, and the other is from the perspective of his. A combined version was released last month, but I was interested in seeing the originals, and we live in the perfect city for limited release things like that. And since Jessica Chastain and her co-star Jess Weixler were doing a Q&A after the Friday showing, we decided to go to that one.


The movies were interesting, if not groundbreaking, and the Q&A was great. You can usually tell when an actor is doing promo for something because they are forced to versus when they are excited to, and Chastain was obviously genuinely eager to talk about the movie, which she also produced. She spent a lot of time talking about how important it is to have better roles for women in films, and she is in a position to make that happen, which is excellent.

Saturday, Simon did some schoolwork and later than evening, we went to ASSSSCAT. Kumail Nanjiani, a comedian/actor who Simon & I both like, was the guest monologist.


The cast of improvisers was solid, and the show was ridiculously funny. 


Which brings us to yesterday. We had Simon's improv show in the morning, and then my favorite UCB show Hot Sauce later that night on the very same stage. 


And if you think improv is a big part of our lives now... UCB is about to open a new location just a couple miles away from the current one. They'll be keeping the original location open, so there will be approximately double the amount of shows there are now. Which will be crazy. We are anxiously awaiting the schedule for the new venue!

That's all for now, folks. I have some things planned for the next week while Simon is in Texas, and then a couple days after he gets back, I am coming home for a bit! I am also trying to plan a combined NYC/Reading Christmastime trip... we'll see how that goes. Love you guys, and I will see you soon!