Tuesday, July 26, 2005

We've seen the enemy

I watched M. Night Shyamalan's The Village over the weekend, and I wasn't going to write about it. But it's haunting me, a little.

Spoiler alert!!
Basically, I decided not to see this movie in the theater because a friend had gone to see it, and had told me that the whole "creatures in the woods" mystique was a hoax. Well, it came on HBO last weekend, and while I was glad that I hadn't seen it in the theater, I liked it so much that I started watching it. And I watched it through to the end. (If I hadn't known about the hoax, I might have been irritated by the ending. But since I DID know, I could watch it without getting too scared, and I could observe the performances very closely.)

Here's the skinny: The movie opens on the village, a rustic, idyllic pastoral community set in what appears to be the past. However, as the movie progresses, we learn that the villagers fear certain creatures (whom they refer to as "those we do not speak of") that lurk in the surrounding Covington Woods. Bryce Dallas Howard (who plays Ivy Elizabeth Walker, a daughter of one of the village elders) turns in a thoughtful performance as a young blind girl who discovers some of the village's secrets. She has a very unstrained delivery that I really like. Some of the lines in the script were a bit clunky, but she really pulled them off, and she did it without alot of the emoting that passes for acting these days. Adrien Brody plays Noah, a mentally challenged man, and he and Ivy have a special relationship. Joaquin Phoenix plays Lucius Hunt, Ivy's love interest. There is a wonderful scene between Lucius and Ivy on Ivy's porch, when the shy and quiet Lucius almost painfully confesses his feelings for Ivy. I thought this scene was wonderfully performed by both Phoenix and Howard.

Anyway, when Lucius and Ivy announce their plans to marry, the jealous Noah stabs Lucius. With this crime, the village begins to unravel. Village elders discuss the infection of the wound that is likely to finish Lucius off, and Ivy requests permission to cross the woods into "the towns," where life-saving medicines can be found. With great trepidation, her father convinces the elders to allow it, and he shows her the secret of the village.

The big secret is : there are no creatures. The creatures are simply village elders dressed up in elaborate costumes to keep people from the village from going into the towns. The villagers are living in modern-day times, and the elders are the architects of the entire community. (Apparently, each of the elders had someone they once loved who was murdered. They met by chance at a grief counseling center and decided to try and create their own utopia.) With this knowledge, Ivy crosses through the woods, gets the medicines, and brings them back to the village. (There are a few more complications, but that's the gist of it.)

What is fascinating to me about all of this is that it supports the premise that human nature cannot be controlled. Even in a strictly contained environment, the passions of man are unpredictable. The movie also made me think of that old adage, "We have seen the enemy, and he is us." The elders think they can separate from society, and therefore avoid senseless acts of crime/murder. But it is Noah, a member of their own society (who is, incidentally, the son of one of the village elders) who ends up committing a violent crime (the whole nature/nurture argument). Taken a step further, even the village elders themselves aren't so innocent, dressing up in Halloween costumes and tromping around, scaring the life out of everybody.

Though totally implausible (and rage-inducing, if you don't know the secret until the end of the movie), I thought the movie did encourage some interesting musings.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Through a glass darkly

I went by to check out the Mississippi Museum of Art's new exhibit, Mirror, Mirror: Portraits and Self-Portraits. I really enjoyed it. The exhibit, which is on display until October 9th, contains work by Renoir (a lithograph), Welty (some of her famous WPA photographs), Holligsworth (some wonderful self-portraits and portraits of his family members. There's one, of his father, that I found particularly compelling.), Warhol (the famous Marilyn, as well as a self-portrait), Picasso (The Faun, I believe), and Cassat (a delightful rendering of a girl in a hat), among others. There are lots of drawings, lithographs, and etchings displayed, as well as oils and photographs. I really enjoy studying self-portraits, because I like to see the artist the way he sees himself. Or what he (or she) wants us to think that self-perception is. Or even, perhaps how he (or she) wants to be seen. It is an interesting reflective way of creating art and observing art, I think.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 12 noon - 5p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults. For more information, call 601-960-1515.

Also, if you are not a member of of the museum's support group, I encourage you to join. Individual memberships can be purchased for $35, and benefits include free admission to the museum for one year, a subscription to the museum newsletter, invitations to special events, and free admission to participating museums in the Southeastern Museums Reciprocal Membership Program.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Open sesame . . .

and let me in to Aladdin's! I had lunch at this fairly new Jackson eatery last week, and it was wonderful!! Aladdin's is located on Lakeland Drive, right before the street dead-ends into Old Canton Road. (It's a stone's throw away from Cups and the Rainbow Co-Op.) On the menu: hummus, babganoush (an eggplant dip), falafel (a fried patty made of garbanzo beans and cracked wheat), tabbouleh (a parsley/tomato salad), kafta (ground beef skewers), gyros, Greek salads, and more. I have a Middle-Eastern heritage, and it was so refreshing to be able to go into a local restaurant and order some of the dishes I ate growing up.

First of all, I ordered the sampler platter, which includes hummus, babaganoush, tabbouleh, kafta, falafel, pita bread, and rice. The tabbouleh and the falafel were both wonderful. I prefer a little more lemon and garlic in my hummus, but I could still tell that what they were serving was pretty authentic. For me, the only real miss was the babaganoush. I guess everyone makes it differently, but the dip I remember had much more eggplant in it, and it had a less creamy taste. As well, we put more spices (and parsley, etc.) in our kafta when we made it at home. STILL, though, the food was absolutely wonderful, and extremely reasonable. And I LOVE the fact that their tea is flavored with mint. It's perfect for summertime, and it totally takes me back to my childhood. (Personally, I don't understand why more local restaurants don't serve minted tea. It is delicious, and so cooling in the summer months.) I finished it off with a piece of baklava, made on the premises.

Another great source for Middle-Eastern food (and ingredients, so you can make this stuff at home) is the Mediterranean Grocery and Cafe, located at 6554 Old Canton Road in Ridgeland. (It's located in the shopping center at the crux of Old Canton and County Line Road, practically behind the Car Care Clinic.) They carry the most wonderful assortment of products, and if they don't have what you're looking for, they will order it!

Upcoming events!

Jackson is hopping! Both New Stage Theatre and the Mississippi Opera recently released information about upcoming productions.

At New Stage (entire season):
Noises Off by Michael Frayn
Sept. 13 -25, 2005
(I love, love, love this script. Noises Off is a farce about a rather second-rate troupe of actors and their attempts to successfully produce a stage show. Personal problems between the actors and members of the technical staff end in an uproarious slapstick nightmare for the actors on stage. Audiences are treated, by turns, to views of what is happening on stage as the production slowly descends to almost hellish depths, as well as a peek at what is happening backstage to contribute to the theatrical mess. This show will be particularly hilarious to anyone who has ever participated in producing a live theatre show. DO NOT MISS THIS!!)

The Woman in Black by Stephen Mallatratt
Oct. 18-30, 2005
The story of a lawyer who hires an actor to help him tell a haunting story. (Attending the funeral of an elderly recluse, the lawyer glimpsed a woman in black, a character who terrifies the locals. Apparently, anyone who sees the woman in black dies shortly thereafter.)

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill by Lanie Robertson
Jan. 31 - Feb. 12, 2006
A muscial about the legendary Billie Holiday. (These types of shows seem to be cropping up more and more lately. Always, Patsy Cline; Idols of the King; etc. Alabama Shakespeare Festival produced this show a couple of seasons ago, but I unfortunately missed it.)

The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder
March 28 - April 9, 2006
Classic satire that tells the rather epic story of the Antrobus family. This one is on my must-see list for next year. I can't wait to see what they do with it.

Crowns by Regina Taylor
May 30 - June 11, 2006
A musical play that explores black history and identity as seen through the eyes of a young black woman. The title refers to hats that different personalities wear and how they perform historical and contemporary social functions.

Tickets for all mainstage productions usually hover in the neighborhood of $20, and season tickets can be purchased for anywhere from $60 (three plays) to $100 (five plays). Call the box office at 601-948-3531 ext. 222 for more information.

The first production of the Mississippi Opera will be La Traviata. (Woo-hoo!) A great favorite, the book explores the power of love to transcend social conventions. The production, done in collaboration with the University of Southern Mississippi, will be sung in Italian with English subtitles. In Jackson, the show will be presented at Thalia Mara Hall on Saturday, November 12, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will range from $10 to $55. Call 601-960-2300 for more information.

Magical adventures

Spoiler alert! I recently finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and it's definitely another winner from J.K. Rowling. I still can't believe that, single-handedly, she's managed to get kids to stay up until midnight just to buy a book. And the tome itself is around 600 pages. Let me repeat that. J.K. Rowling has found a way to get kids all over the world to stay up until midnight to read 600 pages. For that alone, she should be awarded some type of Nobel prize.

Anyway, the sixth installment in the Potter series is a great read. Voldemort and his cronies are now waging full-out war on the magical community, and some innocent Muggles are likely to get caught in the crossfire. Harry and Dumbledore begin an effort to stop the bloodshed, using Dumbledore's Pensieve to travel back in time and observe Voldemort during his formative years. They discover that Voldemort, in an effort to achieve immortality, has split his soul into seven pieces. Fragments of his soul are hidden in significant objects, and Voldemort can survive as long as at least one of these fragments remains undestroyed. Harry and Dumbledore begin searching for the objects that contain vestiges of Voldemort's soul.

In perhaps the most stirring development in book 6, Dumbledore is (apparently) killed. This creates a tension-filled set up for book 7, the final book in the series, as Harry now knows that he must confront Voldemort, and he has no one to protect him but himself. This is perhaps the most notable achievement in book 6 - the deft preparation for book 7. While still a great read in and of itself, book 6 creates an almost unbearable anticipation for the final installment in the story of the boy wizard.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Go big red!

I had a very surreal experience last night. I went to the first function of my 10-year high school reunion. Weird, weird, weird. But fun!

The 10-Year Clinton High School Reunion began with a casual event at Cascades Racquet Club. First of all, everybody looks almost exactly the same as they did in high school. I guess that ten years doesn't change us very much (at least outwardly) after all. Secondly, it was really nice to catch up with SO many people that I knew during their formative years. I was pleasantly surprised with how upbeat everyone was, and what a good time we all had talking with one another. We are supposed to have a picnic today (if we don't get rained out), and then the big bash tonight. Then, I suppose, I have tomorrow to recoup before returning to work next week. Sheesh.

I also feel compelled to write a short ode to summer tomatoes. A friend brought some to me last week that her father had grown, and then my neighbor brought some by that she had grown. An embarassment of riches!! I cut one up and ate it with salt and pepper while making dinner. Red, all the way through. And not a wimpy red. A dark jewel-like color. It was so juicy and flavorful. Nothing I buy commercially comes close to touching the quality of a homegrown tomato. (I have tried to make do with so many pale, mealy excuses. It's a tragedy, trying to eat a tomato in the winter.) If I'm brave one summer, I'll try growing my own. I also added one to a salad, and I used several to make pasta. (I still have two or three left!! Who knows what pleasures await?)

Friday, July 15, 2005

In like a Lion

A few nights ago, I caught Secondhand Lions, starring Michael Cain, Robert Duvall, and Haley Joel Osment, on television. Although the ending was a bit of a let-down, the actual meat of the movie was wonderful. (Of course, when you pair Duvall and Cain as two gun-toting retirees, you're bound to get something interesting.) Walter (played by Osment) has been deposited with grand-uncles Hub and Garth for a spell while his no-good mother reputedly goes to school. During his summer stay, Walter learns about the exciting past of his two rich uncles, coming to love them before summer's end.

I loved some of the conversations that the two brothers had over the course of the movie. In one instance, Garth buys a load of seeds from a traveling salesman. The uncles and nephew carefully prepare a plot, plant the seeds, and tend the young seedlings. At one point, when they are all out hoeing in the garden, Walter notices that all the seedlings look the same. He begins to ask what is planted in each row. Garth tells him that this row is beets, that row is peas, that row is bok choy. Walter points to a row on the end, saying, "That row looks right. What is that?" Garth tells him it's corn. The men then begin to realize that they have planted an entire garden full of corn. Much gnashing of teeth ensues.

I liked this movie because it was funny and there were some great performances in it. The ending was a little to sentimental for me, but most of the action leading up to that was quite entertaining. This would be a great family film. I don't remember much (if any) racy language, and any violence is pretty stylized in an old-Western sort of way.

A watched pot . . .

doesn't catch on fire. I just had to write about a new cookbook I've been working with alot lately - Barefoot in Paris. First of all, I really enjoy learning about cooking from Ina Garten. I bought The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook several years ago, and it has served me well. (We love the Indonesian Ginger Chicken, the guacamole, the oatmeal scones, and the homemade granola, among other recipes.) I also watch her show on the Food Network. I was unprepared, however, for how much I would love Barefoot in Paris. My husband and I took a trip to Paris a few years ago, our first trip overseas together. I LOVED the food, the people, everything about the city. This book has been a wonderful trip down memory lane for me. The brussel sprouts lardons are amazing. The chicken with croutons will make grown men beg. The beef bourguignon will not only fill you up, it will make you a better cook. (I must admit, I was worried when I set it on fire to burn the alcohol off. BUT everything went exactly as Ina said it would. And nothing blew up. I'm a culinary genius!!) If you are an avid cook, and you have not bought this cookbook, I encourage you to do so.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Community theatre vs. Professional theatre

On a board that I've been reading for a while, we've recently been discussing what reasonable expectations might be for both community and professional theatre. (This line of discussion was spurred by a very negative review of a recent community theatre production.) Some people have higher standards for community theatre than others, and some people think consumers should blindly support whatever level of artistic achievement is put before them. I thought it was an interesting line of thought, so I've posted my basic response to the board below:

"I have been lurking for a while now on this board, and I had to respond to the recent post regarding the negative review of Father of the Bride at Black Rose Theater. I have not been to see the show, so I can't speak to its quality, but I wanted to weigh in on other issues addressed by recent posts.

"First of all, I think that both recent postings have merit. All theatre productions, whether professional or community theatre, are being offered for public consumption. If a theatre wants to receive publicity about a show, and so attract a larger audience, the theatre should be equally willing to bear the brunt of any public criticism that may result. Whether the show is a gem or a clunker, people have a right to know what they are getting when they plunk down their $8. It does none of us in the local theatre community any good to hear mediocre (or even awful) productions praised to the skies in the name of "supporting theatre." By doing so, we are not supporting theatre, we are continuing to enable the local production of bad theatre.

"However, reviewers/critics also have a responsibility. If the production is a community theatre production, in which amateur (and often novice) actors will appear (and novice technicians participate), how can a reviewer attend the show and expect a professional-quality production? I admit that some community productions I've seen have been very good, but, let's face it folks, none of these people are getting paid. For the most part, the best performers and technicians, those who are working in the field professionally, work in professional theatres where they are paid for their services. (As a result, tickets to professional theatre productions are usually quite a bit more expensive than those to community theatre productions. To an extent, we are subsidizing the cost of professional talent when we buy our tickets.) It is unfair to expect professional theatre at community theatre prices.

"I guess all of this is just to say that most ticket buyers know that community theatre productions are often hit-or-miss. But when you are buying a ticket for, say, $5 or $10, what do you expect? (Although there are times, I admit, that I have been very pleasantly surprised by a community theatre performance.) Now, if you'd bought a $20 ticket at New Stage, I might understand it if you were upset when the production didn't meet your expectations. That might be something more substantial to grump about."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Kessler announces new season

Here's what's on tap for Kessler's 23rd season:

BLAST! - Sept. 20-21
A mix of brass, percussion, and visual performers

Chicago - Oct. 25-26
The old favorite about jazz killers-turned celebrities

Oklahoma! - Nov. 29-30
Classic, wholesome fare set in wide open spaces

The Will Rogers Follies - Feb. 1-2
A musical re-telling of one of America's homespun legends

Throughly Modern Millie - March 21-22
The 1920s tale of a Midwestern girl who finds her way in the Big Apple

My must-sees for this season will be Chicago, Oklahoma!, and Throughly Modern Millie. Tickets are on sale now, and prices range from $15 (upper balcony) to $56 (orchestra). Call 601-981-1847 to order (with season tickets netting a 10% discount).

Also, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery will be showcasing Always . . . Patsy Cline July 24-August 21. Preview-priced tickets are a mere $15, and regular-priced tickets are $35. They did this show at New Stage, and I missed it. (Shame, too, because a girl I graduated high school with, Shelly Fairchild, played Patsy in it. She's getting to be quite the woman about town herself. She recently appeared on David Letterman's show.)

Up-and-Coming Attractions

Thought I'd write a quick thumbs-up for the upcoming Fondren Theatre Workshop project, which will run July 14-17 at 7:00 p.m. at The Artery (3220 N. State Street, Jackson). The presentation will consist of staged readings of four short plays by local playwrights. I just turned in a story on it to the Jackson Free Press. By virtue of writing that piece, I got my hands on copies of all the scripts, and, for the most part, the writing is quite good. Interesting, inventive, and tight. Plays include The Mice, a black absurdist comedy; Writer's Cramp, a spoof of popular television, movies, and writing cliches; Fretless, an interesting Beckett-esque character piece; and What You Don't See, a collection of monologues for both men and women. Performances, I imagine, will be scaled down, as it is a reading rather than a full production. $5 admission, seating is limited. The number to call for more info is 601-982-2217, and, FYI, there are adult themes/language in some of the scripts.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Vanity, thy name is Margaret.

I just finished reading All is Vanity by Christina Schwarz. Wow. I picked it up because I loved Drowning Ruth, which is by the same author. This book isn't quite as much of a page-turner as Drowning Ruth, and I think it's primarily because the characters aren't quite as likable.

Margaret, a teacher who has quit her full-time job to write a novel, is lifelong friends with Letty, whose husband recently received a tony job at a very financially-secure museum. Margaret lacks focus and has made little progress on her novel. She feels like a failure, but even more, she dreads letting everyone know that she hasn't succeeded in her Hemingway-esque pursuit. Letty, on the other hand, is a sweet mother who is quickly caught up in the materialistic world of the very wealthy. On a whim, Margaret begins writing about her friend, work that is little more than a re-telling of thinly-veiled reality. As Letty begins to get in over her head, accumulating debt and encountering other financial problems, does Margaret ( her supposed friend) warn her? Does she help her get herself out of the mess she's gotten into? NO. Margaret encourages Letty's materialism so that she can keep "writing." The whole fiasco ends badly, of course.

I really ended up hating Margaret. She was so self-centered and conceited. And, the fact is, she couldn't write. But instead of finally admitting that to herself and throwing in the towel, she practically abused her poor friend so that she could put together what was, in the end, a very mediocre novel. Depressing.

We also finally saw Lost in Translation. I thought it was a great movie. It tells the story of two people, basically alone in a foreign-speaking country, who share a connection. Bill Murray did a great job of protraying a somewhat washed-up actor who is flying overseas to make commercials. Scarlett Johansson, a lonely newlywed with a busy husband, lounged around her hotel room in her underwear, looking out over the Tokyo skyline. The two happen to meet in the hotel bar, and they spend the week together, exploring the city and getting to know one another.

Perhaps it was because I went to that Welty lecture recently, but this movie kind-of reminded me of Welty. This movie is not epic. It is a small movie. But it also very delicately addresses the subject of confluence, convergence. Adrift in a sea of people who look different from you, speak a different language from you, can you make a connection? Can you share something with someone? Sofia Coppola's answer is yes.

This is Coppola's second feature-length work. (The Virgin Suicides was her first.) I look forward to seeing what she does next.