Tuesday, January 11, 2022

PHIL ON FILM: "Hotel Transylvania: Transfomania"

 For my full review, click here.

Book Report: The Real Sherlock


More of a brief podcast than a full-figured audiobook, "The Real Sherlock" is a smattering of interviews and historical factoids about Arthur Conan Doyle, an enigmatic figure who seemed to resent his franchise's popularity, tried and failed to become a politician and spent much of his later life crusading for spirtualism.

The story also delves into his early years, as a medical student, doctor and soldier. A renaissance man who juggled several interests and pursued passions with the vigor and agility -- and often, the gullability -- of a child, Conan Doyle emerges as the polar opposite of Holmes. It's as though he created the grounded, logic-driven detective to complete his own psychological deficiencies.

The Audible book would have benefited from broader sourcing. Many of the interviews focus on worshipful family members and actors who have played Conan Doyle and Watson. Some impartial observations would have helped ground the piece. Author Lucinda Hawksley does deserve credit, at least, for including some of Conan Doyle's embarrassing escapades, such as the time in which he defiantly defended the veracity of the Cottingley Fairies, which were crudely faked supernatural photos that were later debunked.

Despite the silliness of some of his more outrageous beliefs, a measure of respect emerges for Conan Doyle's magical thinking and acting. He was a creator and a storyteller, given to whimsy and impulse. The world was better off for his presence.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Book Report: "The Picture of Dorian Gray"


The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oscar Wilde's horror story is a thin guise to bunch up and release his wry, cynical takes on life and love.

With little explanation or backstory, he tells a story of a man driven to insanity through vanity as a portrait shows his age and world-wariness as his own faith retains its youthful innocence and symmetry.

Symbolism abounds, but Wilde is more interested in flooding the zone with his sneaky little observations, which are rich with stinging truth.

The Audible version, narrated with sneaky verve by Russell Tovey, emphasizes Wilde's irreverence. 

An immensely funny book, it lacks dramatic impact but that doesn't much matter. The book flows well and always maintains its sense of mysterious intrigue. This is a fun book, and is filled with more one-liners than a vaudeville routine. A definite must-read.

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PHIL ON FILM: "The 355"

For my full review, click here.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "My Fair Lady"

"My Fair Lady" set the template for the makeover rom-com. In the cynical and cleverly-penned tale, social powerbrokers take a woman off the streets and teach her to fit into high society.

The musical has been sparking smiles and belly laughs from audiences since Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison dazzled audiences in the 1950s. The touring production stays true to the show's roots, resisting the urge to modernize the well-honed beats and one-liners.

The dedication to tradition will likely please musical die-hards, who have likely seen the show and the film it inspired several times, and want things just they way they've always been. On the downside, the lack of evolution exposes some of the story's threadbare faults. 

Rampant sexism and stereotypes inherent in the script haven't aged well, even when spun for comedic effect. Some of the particularly wince-inducing moments occur in the first act, when Henry buttonholes Eliza into a measure of indentured servitude.

The upshot is that Henry -- played with masterful precision by Laird Mackintosh -- is the buffoon who is sure he's the genius, and the unwitting butt of the social experiment he's conducting. 

The show picks up steam after a bit of a stumbling, low-energy start, when the throwaway jokes fade into the background as the stakes rise and the nuances in the characters' conflicts deepen.

Fueled by a powerhouse lead performance by Shereen Ahmed, the production comes into its own in the second act as it continues to pick up momentum toward its emotionally-charged climax. She's got a powerful voice and uses it to cast an enchanting spell. Ahmed's show-stopping singing ability brings her solos to life in concert-style crescendos that echo through the audience.

Mackintosh's workmanlike showing paces the show, thanks to captivating chemistry with Kevin Pariseau as Col. Pickering. Scene-swiping Adam Grupper, swooping in as Alfred Doolittle, is always good for a smile.

The most awe-inspiring facet of the show is the production design. Thanks to clockwork-like orchestration from behind-the-scenes prop masters and smooth blocking by cast members, the set transforms massively from scene to scene, with towering backdrops and set pieces emerging and disappearing to fulfill the needs of the moment.

The makeup team, working in concert with Ahmed's acting, also deserves credit for the impressive transformation of Eliza from street urchin to society princess.

The melancholy conclusion speaks to female and low economic class empowerment, sending off the audience on a note of watershed social justice epiphany. This is a comedy with something to say, and its messages haven't faded since the 1950s. There's little doubt Julie Andrews would smile if she saw her show in this cast's able hands.

 "My Fair Lady" plays at Centennial Hall through Jan. 9. Click here to buy tickets.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Book Report: "The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome"


The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of RomeThe History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Setting out to encapsulate thousands of years of foggy, fuzzy human history into a relatable, relevant and cohesive narrative is no simple task.

Susan Wise Bauer accomplishes her goal with ease and simplicity, parsing mythology, conflicting records into a rough stab at what actually happened is a juggling act, and the author is up to the challenge.

I learned a lot from the book, which provided some illuminating insights about human nature and its tendency to organize, unite and divide over the eons. Bauer also lends a feminist perspective to many well-worn stories, offering insight that sheds new interpretations on the boy's club of history.

John Lee's narration in the Audible edition lends a sense of importance and authority to the prose, granting it something of a real-life "Game of Thrones" feel.

A couple significant flaws stifle Bauer's work. Her attention to the Chinese empires seems uninspired and obligatory, and there is no mention whatsoever of what was going on in Africa or the Americas during the rise and falls of the Western empires on which she spends most of her focus. "The ancient world" didn't only exist in Eurasia. A simple retitling to something like "The History of the Western World" would have fixed the issue.

As a whole, the book thrives. The writing is solid and lively, the sourcing is commendable and the momentum rarely wanes. Bauer's book is an empiric conquest worthy of Alexander.

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