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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Why I Liked But Didn’t Love The INTO THE WOODS Movie

Into-the-Woods-banner

The good news is that Into the Woods was the second highest grossing film on Christmas Day and it finished third overall for the weekend.

The bad news is that I didn’t love it.

Let me compare Into the Woods to a piece of chocolate cake. Right off, you may either love or hate it because  you might like or dislike chocolate, cake, or both. If you’ve never had chocolate cake before– this may be the most delicious thing you ever tasted. If you like chocolate cake– this may be satisfying; but if you love chocolate cake, this may be underwhelming or a complete disappointment. There are still others that will find– good or bad, dry or moist– they are just grateful to have a slice of cake.

For me, this version of ITW is missing key ingredients. Or to draw from the script– the potion is missing it’s hair as yellow as corn. It didn’t work for me.

The original Into the Woods clearly explores the price that comes with wishes, what is really happily ever after; and the importance of teaching children, wishes as children  and the hope that exists in children themselves. Much of this is lost or brushed aside in the film. Instead of a film using fairy tales to tell a bigger story, it’s just a film telling fairy tales with a slightly different ending.

The movie is beautifully filmed and features an outstanding cast. BUT– I found it visually too dark; and with the major plot changes, I was never drawn in or emotional involved.

I have some pretty strong opinions about this particular film because I’ve had a long personal attachment to the stage version of Into the Woods.

Poster for the original Broadway production of Into the Woods.

Poster for the original Broadway production of Into the Woods.

I saw the original 1987 Broadway production– twice, the 1988 first national tour, worked the theater where the second national tour began in Chicago (non-equity), saw the 2002 Broadway revival, designed the set and costumes for a local high school production; and have seen literally dozens of professional and amateur productions over the years.

The stage version of Into the Woods is visually a combination of light (colorful) and dark images, where the movie was visually dark from start to finish. The village and castle scenes in the movie all had a dingy, dirty feel as opposed to embodying color, light or any fairy tale magic. Emotionally, the movie is pretty much gray from start to finish. I didn’t feel the passion of the dreams and wishes from the major characters; which is problematic because it leaves no real reason for them to go into the woods to begin with. We never truly see even a glimpse of the happy ever after they are so desperate to achieve.

Even in the worst productions I’ve seen, no matter how badly acted or staged– I’ve always been moved by No One Is Alone. Except in the film. To borrow from another musical, I felt nothing.

Some might feel that it is to Disney and director Rob Marshall’s credit that they didn’t Disneyfy the look of the film. I see it as a missed opportunity to enhance the story. I really would have appreciated seeing some of the beauty and opulence of the castle, for example. Instead, it was dark and drab, as was the brief wedding imagery.

In adapting for the film, the writers chose to edit and whitewash the deeper, meaningful moments of the story. Combining that with the lack of passion, it left very little to get emotionally involved in.

Without Rapunzel’s demise, we lose the witch’s profound grief that propels her into a frenzied Last Midnight. Without a larger presence of the Baker’s Father (Mysterious Man, or not) and the cut song No More, we lose what is the cathartic moment that leads to the Baker’s return to his new family. As a result, the intensity and the pure, desperate passion is lost from characters’ motivations.

One of the early moments in the film set the tone for me. Jack’s Mother, played by the incredible Tracey Ullman, was directed to be purely a serviceable character on screen. (In the stage version, she is a warm, witty and lovable character.) I believe this was done to lessen the audiences’ attachment and thus, later in the film: the reaction to her death; which also seemed somewhat muddled. Jack didn’t seem terribly upset when he found out his mother was gone, nor did Little Red over her Granny. (And did it bother anyone else that Little Red suddenly looked like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz for the remainder of the picture?)

Cast of Disney's film, Into the Woods.

Cast of Disney’s film, Into the Woods.

The character of the Witch and Meryl Streep’s performance have to be looked at separately. First, I didn’t feel like the other characters really feared the Witch and her power as much as they saw her as a means to get what they wanted, or as an obstacle in doing so. Second, since the film chose to let Rapunzel ride off with the Prince, future unknown– instead of becoming a victim of the giant; it lessened the Witch’s loss. These two points affect the whole dynamic of the Witch’s antagonistic role in the story, as well as her motivations.

Meryl Streep, easily the greatest American actress of our time, fully embodied what the film set out to portray. Though I hoped for a much more powerful performance, Streep filled the bill the way the story has been adapted, perfectly. One thing I noticed, having listened to the soundtrack since; you don’t really grasp the incredible technique and emotion Streep brought to the character– vocally, in one viewing in a theater. Meryl Streep doesn’t just sing musical roles– her vocalization is a well-crafted extension of her character’s development and expression. Every word, phrase and guttural sound is perfection.

I liked the introduction of the blue moon to the story, opposed to just the passing midnights of the stage version. I thought it gave a clearer understanding of why the spell had to be broken now.

For me, the best and only perfect moment in the film was Agony. It was beautifully acted and staged. If the entire film had this energy and attention to detail, it could have been the best stage musical-to-film ever made.

Composer/Lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

Composer/Lyricist Stephen Sondheim.

I remember thinking about two-thirds of the way through: Where is all the music? A substantial amount was cut and occasionally reduced to underscoring. This is composer Stephen Sondheim’s baby. Though he and original book writer James Lapine were actively involved in the film, I feel they caved in to the studio pressures, too much, just to get this film made.

From all that I read leading up to the film’s release, Disney was concerned about the original version being too dark (plot-wise), too many main character deaths and wanted to make it more family-friendly. The result is a watered down story that still, in my opinion, is not a family movie.

Into the Woods, on screen, felt like it was too long. This is ironic since it was 20 minutes shorter than the stage version, not including an intermission. It was more than a little slow and disjointed at times.

I’m sure people completely unfamiliar with ITW will have a completely different reaction to the film. And that’s okay. I just hope it’s a positive experience. The very best thing that could come out of the film is that it might encourage a new audience for the stage version. The film versions of other more recent movie musicals have done a great service to building and keeping audience interest in live theatre.

I can only hope that this film will contribute to that trend.

My 2014 Blogging Year in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,700 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Beautiful Christmas: What It Means To Me

Christmas Eve Today

Christmas Eve Today

It was hot and uncomfortable where we sat, in folding chairs, on a dimly lit stage. We were all turned upstage, facing an old, out-of-tune piano. Our music teacher, Mrs. Blanchard, came in– carrying her usual load of music and instruments. She was followed by the scent of her trademark perfume, Tabu– choking us all, within minutes of her arrival.

She asked one of my classmates to help pass out the freshly mimeographed copies of the Christmas medley she’d put together for us to perform at our Christmas concert, in just a few weeks. Us, sing? In a concert? We were quite a motley crew. While most of us tried to sing, my friend Alex was busy trying to distract everyone. Always the class clown.

Mrs. Blanchard would try to ignore him. Often she’d grab him by the ear or the arm and make him sit on the bench next to her– which usually only made things worse.

She’d give him the evil eye and turn her back to us, facing the piano. Her long, manicured nails would click and clack on the keys of the piano as she would bang out the notes, trying to teach us harmony:

Spinning the dial from station to station,

We hear Christmas songs old,

And some that are new…

Mrs. Blanchard, would stop and look at us, usually grimacing; her painted on eyebrows raised. It was a look that put fear into us. A look, that would sometimes melt into a smile, sending audible sighs of relief around the room. At times, she reminded us of the witch in the Wizard of Oz; but we loved her and wanted to please her.

Somehow, we did managed to put on a Christmas concert that year. I played the drum for The Little Drummer Boy. And it was magical.

This picture says it all. (And I used to be cute.)

This picture says it all. (And I used to be cute.)

One year– I think it was kindergarten, I was a toy soldier. Years later, I played Joseph in the nativity. Christmas concerts, church cantatas and pageants were a big part of my growing up.

I can still remember believing in Santa and the anticipation of gifts on Christmas morning. I remember my sister and I sneaking into my parents’ closet— trying to steal a peak at our hidden gifts.

But, what I remember most about Christmas— was the lights. I still have vivid memories of seeing the amazing Christmas lights and giant Christmas cards that surrounded the Indiana War Memorial Plaza, in the heart of Indianapolis, with my parents.

I remember riding in the car, either coming home from Christmas shopping or visiting relatives– trying to look out the window and see all the Christmas lights along the way.

I remember pulling out boxes of old Christmas decorations with my Dad and spending hours— trying to untangle lights and replace burned out bulbs.

As a child, snow and Christmas lights were magic to me.

So there should be little wonder as to why I decorate as much as I do today.

Christmas is magical.

It’s the one time of year that it’s okay for us all to be kids again.

My wonderful Grandma.

My wonderful Grandma.

Every Christmas I feel especially close to my Grandmother, who passed away when I was a senior in college. She taught me so many things without really intending to, I imagine. She brought out a lot of my creativity through the many hours we spent baking and crafting together when I was young. My grandparents weren’t rich— but the Christmases we shared with them were always magical.

My parents were always careful to balance all the different aspects of the holidays, careful to keep the emphasis on the real reason for the season. We didn’t have a lot growing up– but we had everything.

To me, more than anything, Christmas is a feeling. Sometimes I feel it in my heart and sometimes in my gut. Sometimes it’s magical and sometimes it’s bittersweet. It’s a time to look ahead– and a time of remembrance.

My sister and I re-enacting the Nativity.

My sister and I re-enacting the Nativity.

Christmas is a time of wonder and awe– that the birth of an innocent child so many centuries ago, could ignite generation after generation with promise– and lead the world on a journey towards the eternal search for light and truth. The miracle of birth and rebirth.

Christmas is the time for us all to take a step back and view the world through the eyes and heart of a child. The eyes of innocence. The heart that can still believe. Where a world can still be guided by love and peace. A world where there is still hope. A world full of magic. A world where dreams and miracle can come true.

Christmas really is for children.

May this Christmas reawaken the child in all of us.

Beautiful Christmas: 321 Division Street – A Peek Inside

As promised, here are a few Christmas pictures inside our house. We’re currently celebrating the house’s 125th Anniversary.

I finally finished my Department 56 Christmas in the City village yesterday even though it was the first thing I started back in November. There are approximately 80 houses and 200 accessories.

I tried to include a variety of pictures featuring some of our 12 indoor trees.

A view of the man cave.

A view of the basement man cave.

A corner of our kitchen.

A corner of our kitchen.

The Foyer from the front door.

The Foyer from the front door.

The Department 56, Christmas in the City village.

The Department 56, Christmas in the City village.

Looking up at the Foyer Christmas Tree.

Looking up at the Foyer Christmas Tree.

The Foyer Christmas tree from the second floor.

The Foyer Christmas tree from the second floor.

The dining room, originally the second or family parlor.

The dining room, originally the second or family parlor.

The front parlor.

The front parlor.

The front parlor during the day.

The front parlor during the day.

Front Parlor- Night view.

Front Parlor- Night view.

Smaller Foyer tree by the front door.

Smaller Foyer tree by the front door.

Mercury Glass Ornaments in the front Parlor.

Mercury Glass Ornaments in the front Parlor.

Cherubs on the Foyer tree.

Cherubs on the Foyer tree.

Mantle decor.

Mantle decor.

 

Beautiful Christmas: 321 Division Street – A Look Outside

 

The front gate at 321 Division Street, December 2014.

The front gate at 321 Division Street, December 2014.

It’s the 125th Christmas here at 321 Division Street and no snow… yet. With Christmas only a few days away, I wanted to post some pictures to help you get in the holiday spirit.

Here’s what the house looks like on the outside, tomorrow I’ll share some pictures from the inside.

 

Just before sunset.

Just before sunset.

Front entrance before sunset.

Front entrance before sunset.

321 Division Street, from the front corner.

321 Division Street, from the front corner.

Christmas at 321 Division Street.

Christmas at 321 Division Street.

Wreath above the main entrance.

Wreath above the main entrance.

Garland and red bow drape the wrought iron fence surrounding the house.

Garland and red bow drape the wrought iron fence surrounding the house.

Colorful star in the side yard.

Colorful star in the side yard.

The porte cochere from the back.

The porte cochere from the back.

Trees in the yard form the front porch.

Trees in the yard from the front porch.

A view of the house from across the street.

A view of the house from across the street.

Color changing lollipops line the front walk.

Color changing lollipops line the front walk.

Trumpeting Angel.

Trumpeting Angel.

Window view.

Window view.

Large LED snowflake in the side window.

Large LED snowflake in the dining room window.

Glimpse inside from the porch.

Glimpse inside from the porch.

Front porch from the side.

Front porch from the side.

Savory Sweets for the Season

My first day of holiday baking. I wanted to share my new versions of a couple of favorites. Both are super easy to make.

Cranberry-Cashew Shortbread Cookies

Cranberry-Cashew Shortbread Cookies

Cranberry-Cashew Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen medium-sized cookies.

Here’s a recipe I adapted that is quite easy and decadent. It has a rich, refined taste that isn’t overly sweet. It makes a perfect dough for cookie cutters too.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut parchment paper to fit two large cookie sheets.

Ingredients

2 cups flour, sifted

2 sticks salted butter, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup finely chopped dried cranberries

1/4 cup finely chopped cashews

Using a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, then add vanilla. Add the sifted flour a little at a time until completely blended. Last, add the finely chopped cranberries and cashews. Remove from mixer and form into a ball and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. This helps to firm the dough for rolling and cutting into shapes.

Note: It’s important that your dried cranberries and cashews are chopped up fine so that the pieces don’t hinder your ability to cut cookies into shapes.

Take the chilled dough and place on a large sheet of parchment paper and flatten a bit with the palm of your hand. Place another sheet of parchment on top on the dough and roll out until about a quarter-inch thick.

Note: Using parchment paper is an easy mess-free alternative to rolling on a lightly floured surface. It also keeps the cookie dough from becoming too dry.

Use a flour-coated cookie cutter to cut shapes, placing them on the prepared cookie sheet.  After first shapes are cut, re-form the excess dough in a ball, flatten, roll and cut more shapes, repeat until dough is used up.

Note: You can also make the dough ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator until about 30 minutes before you’re ready to shape and bake.

Bake about ten minutes. Or only until the edges show slight signs of browning.

Let cool and enjoy!

 

Chocolate Peanut Clusters

Chocolate Peanut Clusters

Chocolate Peanut Clusters

Makes approximately 100 cluster pieces.

This recipe is a variation of the crock pot candy recipe that has been circulating. It’s really easy to make and highly addictive! The perfect treat for all those chocolate-peanut butter fanatics.

Set up your crock pot and set on low heat. Roll out parchment paper on your counter or on cookie sheets.

Ingredients

2 pounds white almond bark or Vanilla CandiQuik

1 package of milk chocolate chips (approx. 12 ounces)

1 package of semisweet chocolate chips (approx. 12 ounces)

32 ounces of dry roasted peanuts

1 package of peanut butter chips (like Reeses’ Baking Chips) added last

Dump all the ingredients except the peanut butter chips into the crock pot and let cook (melt) for about an hour without stirring. After an hour, stir briefly, to combine– every 10-15 minutes  for about another hour. Turn off the crock pot and just before you are ready to spoon out the clusters, add the bag of peanut butter chips and stir just enough to combine without completely melting the peanut butter chips. Don’t over stir at this point.

Drop spoonfuls on to the parchment, smaller or larger depending on the size you prefer. Let cool completely (to prevent sticking) before storing in a closed container.

I Was Framed! – Creating a Memory Wall

You’ve made some great memories over the years and would love to share them with others. Vacations, family events, great times with friends… and you even managed to get some great pictures of the occasions. Sure, it’s easy to store and look at them on your computer… share them on Facebook… maybe you even have an actual photo album. (Old school!) How often do you look at them though?

When we bought our house, there was a cinder block stairway going from the first floor to the basement– required when the house was briefly used as a restaurant. On of the first things we did was cover the walls with oak paneling and stain them. An improvement– but we still had these big empty walls.

So I started a memory wall.

IMG_8400

Looking down the stairway at our memory walls.

Our memory wall has old and new photos alike. Friends, family, vacations, our pets– are all featured on those walls now. We have a mass of photos– large and small- posed and candid snapshots intermingled.

It’s a giant collage of beautiful memories.

If you have the space, this could be the perfect way to relive happy memories– daily; every time you pass by.

Most people only display a few pictures in their home that aren’t art. If they are pictures of the kids or a family photo– then the tendency is to try and keep them updated with current photos, which isn’t always easy to do. Posed photos can be nice but don’t really represent you the way you really are. So why not create a wall you can add to– instead of taking down old photos and framing new ones?

This obviously isn’t a new idea. One of the reasons I did it, was because this type of collage was something commonly done in Victorian houses over a hundred years ago. So I thought– in keeping with the period of the house– we could build a fun, wall of memories over time.

Whether you have an old house or new; and whether you have a large space or perhaps just an empty wall at the end of a hallway– this might work for you.

Here are some ideas:

There are unlimited styles of frames to choose from.

There are unlimited styles of frames to choose from.

Frames. From the beginning, I planned to use all different sizes and types of frames. This makes it easy to shop for, and you only have to buy what you need at the time. If you want a more modern, contemporary or symmetrical look; you’re better off buying all the frames at once. Even if this means many of them will sit empty in a closet until they are ready to use. Stores change the frames they carry, frequently. You won’t likely be able to purchase more of the same exact frame in, say, five years.

I watch for sales and clearance throughout the year and have picked up some great deals– many 70-90% off. After the first of the year, I’ve noticed many stores will clearance frames– sometimes whole product lines. This holds true for both contemporary and classic-style frames.

Matted Photographs or Not? This is a matter of taste. I have a combination of matted photos and those that are not. Matted photographs can definitely create a richer or more uniform look, if that’s what you are going for. If you shop with this in mind, you can find some really nice frames with the mattes already included. You can also buy mattes in a variety of colors or have them custom made to your size and color specifications at a frame or hobby store.

Getting Your Prints and Enlargements. There are so many available options for printing and enlarging photographs today. The quality definitely varies from store to store. Many local stores let you order online but sometimes you can’t view what the cropped or enlarged photo will look like ahead of time. You can end up with an important part of the picture being cut out that you really wanted to keep. Different sizes will have a different amount of the original frame (not the entire original image)– few are full frame.

Many of the local drug and department stores don’t have people running the equipment that will know how to fix any problems that might come up. Many are completely automated. I ordered a print enlargement where they cut off half the subjects face. Another time, the quality of the black tones were blue; and the clerk wasn’t able to fix the problem and reprint it. Local places may be inexpensive but the quality can be hit or miss.

I prefer to use Shutterfly.com or Snapfish.com for the majority of my photo reproductions and enlargements. Both have frequent sales, sometimes free shipping, you can preview the photo ‘crop’; and the quality, in my experience, is always reliable. Service is usually quick too. (Within a week.)

If you have prints done locally, don’t be afraid to ask for help– or refuse them, if they are unacceptable. If it’s not what you expected, you don’t have to pay for them.

Framed photos ready to hang.

Framed photos ready to hang.

Framing Your Pictures. When you frame your pictures, make sure you clean both sides of the glass.

I open the frame, take out the backing and matte, if there is one. Clean the inside of the the glass, making sure there are no streaks and it’s wiped dry. Then, put the matte in (if you’re using one) followed by the picture. If you use a matte, make sure to line it up and tape it in place with an archive-safe tape so it won’t damage the photo over time. (Many of the transparent (magic) tapes qualify. Never use masking tape!) Put any filler (sometimes there’s cardboard) and the backing back on the photo, making sure the hanger is in the right direction, the picture fits snug; and seal the back. Flip the frame over and clean the glass. Many times there are stickers that leave adhesive on the surface that comes up easily with a little glass cleaner. If you have trouble, try Goof Off— but then you’ll still need to clean with glass cleaner because it leaves a film.

Arranging Your Wall. There’s no wrong or right way to display your photographs on your wall. Keep in mind, if you place them in rows, it’s probably a good idea to make sure your wall and picture line are straight. That is, unless you want a crooked row of pictures.

I hung pictures in groups leaving space to add more over time.

I hung pictures in groups leaving space to add more over time.

If you aren’t doing rows and want a more collage-style like I used, there are a couple things to consider. Laying out your photos this way is easier than placing them in rows. If you are starting a collection that you’ll want to add to over time– Try groupings of photos. Take into account the open spaces; leaving room for a framed photo between groups that you can fill in, when you are ready, at a later date. Translation: Don’t leave a space for a 5×7 frame if you think you’ll want to put an 8×10 there later. Don’t forget that the frame is larger than the print! You may need a 13×20 space for an 11×17 photo, or a framed and matted 8×10. Frames come in all different sizes, there is no real standard thickness to the frame itself. Because of this, I leave varying sized spaces between pictures as well.

I should also mention that if you want to tell a story with you framed photos– chronological order, for example; you need to plan this in your layout.

At the bottom of the stairs, I have a section dedicated to theatre.

At the bottom of the stairs, I have a section dedicated to theatre.

In my hall, I have groupings on three walls that have grown over time– but still have plenty of room to add more. I started with smaller grouping and just add one here and there when I’m ready. My collection is random so it’s easy to do. If I add pictures to the walls a couple times a year– I may add one to this wall and three to that wall. Seldom placed together (the new ones) to keep the randomness.

I hope that makes sense.

My hallway is one on my favorite places because it is filled with wonderful memories.

Guests always like to stop, even briefly, to glance at the photographs. It’s always fun to see if they can find themselves, if they are framed there too.