Monday, September 29, 2008

Grand Avenue Festival: Downtown Los Angeles

As diverse as Los Angeles is, I often find myself drifting out of my neighborhood to find the things I really want to do, which honestly, it's really fair to my own little piece of Los Angeles. It's just that I've lived there for 18 years, and to be honest, you just sometimes forget what's there.

But there is a certain charm to living on the cusp of the ghetto, right smack dab in the middle of the city. I live two blocks away from my alma mater, USC, and just five minutes from the Staples Center and downtown, and I often ignore both for the lure of either the Hollywood Hills or the west side.

That's not doing my little part of town justice. Just around the corner is the California Science Center, the IMAX, the Coliseum, the Museum of Natural History and the Rose Garden. Down Figueroa are too many restaurants to count, and further down the street you have the Staples Center, the Nokia theatre, and the lure of historic downtown with the gorgeous Disney Philharmonic, the Ahmanson Theater, the MOCA, among other sights to see.

At least this weekend I was reminded that as a city, LA pretty much rocks. I went to the Grand Avenue Festival, which takes place in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, and features free admission and tickets to the Philharmonic, MOCA, the great theaters, and lots of other little things that are there to remind you how awesome Los Angeles can be.

One of my favorite things to do is go to MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art, stare a picture and go 'I don't get it'. I don't know why I love to do it, but I do. Because then I get all confused by what art is, and yet even though I stand in a room full of weird ass statues and a picture of a guy jerking off, I still find something that I like. That speaks to me.

Okay, so the big display of a bunch of fake trees didn't do that much for me but at least I can say I got to see... the bunch of fake trees. Fascinating.

The festival itself would have been a lot more enjoyable if I wasn't so exhausted, but there was some fun things to do if you had the energy. Bands, workshops, and even a huge group lesson of the electric slide. To which I say to you people: We need a cooler group dance that everyone has to learn. Because that one was lame even when it was invented.

more images here

Gina Carano resurfaces for October 4th Fight

Gina Carano
Get more pictures like this from SHERDOG.COM

EliteXC's big Showtime fight on October 4th is coming closer, and while Kimbo Slice is the big headlines, many American Gladiator and MMA fans alike will be turning an eye to Gina Carano as well, who is set to fight against Up-and-comer Kelly Kobold on the same card.

This may be one of you last chances to see Gina in action for a while. While American Gladiators is coming back, Showtime has moved to purchased the struggling ELITEXC and if that happens, there is a very good possibility that a competition clause could be brought up that could keep the brunette fighter from making a return appearance on competing network NBC.

Of course that's all still in the works; the real question at the moment is whether or not Gina, who has struggled with making weight in the past, will finally do what she has to in order to keep her weight down. Her opponent has wasted no opportunity to talk smack against Gina, so expect the fight to be a knock-down-balls-bustin' event. Particularly if the rumors are true and this is a set up for a championship bout later next year against Chris 'Cyborg'.

She looked great at the open workout exhibition though. Below is a promo for the Showtime fight. Can I be shallow and say, hi, Gina! Been a while, and you still look great! Go kick some ass.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I, Chihuahua - Beverly Hills Chihuahua Screening & Meet-up

I will be the first to admit it. I am a proud owner of a yappy, ankle-biting, size-complex-having, brown rat-lookin' chihuahua.

Believe me, it was a shock for me too, when I first found myself an owner of a breed I had for the longest time sworn against. 'They're not dogs!' I would say fervently. I would point to our family German Shephard Indio and say, 'That's the kind of dog I'm going to have forever. A big dog. I can take on runs and walks and won't have to worry about stepping on!''

Don't ask me how it happened, but four years ago I ate my words when I fell in love with a little bitty thing no bigger than a newborn kitten, a gift from my grandmother, who lived in Chihuahua, Mexico at the time. A fitting present, I would think.

Thalia was a handful from day one. A small, rambunctious little thing, she was fiercely loyal and extremely capable of getting into trouble. Her penchant for pawing at heels meant she got stepped on once or twice, and when she was four months old, she broke her leg running down the stairs. Because her bones were as thin as matchsticks. A two thousand dollar operation later, she had the world's tiniest screw in her leg, and the world's biggest cast.

Now, I love my dog to death, but she does have her problems. She was spoiled as a puppy, and now trying to keep her from begging for food with her large brown eyes has led to a weight problem, because people don't know how to say no, even when I ask nicely not to feed the dog (and I indulge her sometimes too, I'm ashamed to admit). She barks maniacly at strangers who come into the house, and has been known to nip if someone reaches down at her. She has no undercoat, so I have to buy little coats and shirts and all that foofy stuff I used to claim I hated, just to keep the shivering girl warm. I can't take her on runs, she actually runs from the leash when she sees it, and if I want to go for a walk with her, I need to be sure to bring my backpack, to load her into when her feet get sluggish or her little ex-broken leg starts to ache. After a four hundred dollar training class, she knows 'heel', 'sit' and barely knows 'stay', and that's as far as she goes.

But I came to realize something very early on. Despite my prejudices and Thalia's size, that little yapper is all dog. And she's also my best friend. She's at my side every night and on weekends, she goes everywhere with me she's allowed to go. Malls, friend's houses, lunches, bike rides, and everywhere else. There's a plus to having a rat-sized little yapper. She can go nearly anywhere.

So I have a new appreciation for the breed of Chihuahuas, and although I kinda groaned with the rest of the populace when I saw the trailer for the new 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua' movie, I had to admit, I kinda wanted to see it. Just to see what it was about. You know. Not lame at all.

Then I heard about a special screening taking place, in which, as a promo event, chihuahua owners and their dogs were invited to watch the movie for free. "Self?" I said, "This may be the chance you're looking for to check this movie out, and not look like a total geek. Just a crazy dog lady. You can handle that!" So I RSVPed plus two, because this was, after all a kids movie, and there needs to be an excuse to be there, other than the crazy dog lady thing. I dragged a friend into it, and then my trump card: my god-daughter, who at the age of 9, is the perfect excuse-er... age, to watch this film.

Thalia poor thing, endured much for the event. She was bathed, and then endured twenty minutes of torture as two adult, full grown women tried to hold down a seven pound chihuahua who hates having her nails clipped. Then it was into a spiffy little black and white dress ("I loathe you", her expressive eyes conveyed), and with a shiny new collar, we were off to the first public screening of 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua'.

Neither I nor Thalia have ever seen so many chihuahuas in our life. There were chihuahuas in booties, in top hats, in designer couture gowns. There were chihuahuas in a wagon, six in all, sitting quite peacefully. There was a chihuahua named Kobe, dressed in a Laker's jacket, trying to scram from the place and it's overwhelmy femmy feel ("Kobe! Get back here!" yelled his distraught owner, navigating through the chihuahuas decked out in feather boas and moving over a chihuahua-sized red carpet).

It was a heck of a lot of chihuahuas.

Thalia, round-eyed and insecure, spent the majority of the wait time settled on my shoulder, holding on tight with her little paws and looking around. In the theater, she was draped over and under with my USC sweater, and settled into it for an hour and a half of loud noises and occasional yaps as the movie began.

You know? It's actually better than you'd think. I really enjoyed the movie. The story itself, is surprisingly sweet, and the trailer? misleading.

The plot itself is simple: a vain little Beverly Hills bred chihuahua named Chloe (Drew Barrymore), owned by a doting cosmetic mogul (Jamie Lee Curtis), finds itself lost in Mexico City, when her irresponsible vain petsitter (niece of said mogul, Piper Perabo) leaves her in her hotel room and the puppy is dog-napped. Aided by a reluctant ex-K-9 German Shephard (Andy Garcia) who can't seem to get the cop out of his system, she tries to find her way home, but the dog-nappers have figured out she's worth a fortune and send a doberman after her. Meanwhile, the bereft niece teams up with the mogul's landscaper and his little chihuahua mix Papi (voiced by a hilarious George Lopez) to help find the little doggie and bring her home.

The voice actors are spot-on, the characters are cute but not grating. The movie is very well aware of the fact that it's bringing you a movie about talking animals, and supplies the cheese accordingly, but adds a surprising amount of depth as well, particularly for a kid's film. A lot of this is thanks to Andy Garcia's German Shepherd, who is just the right touch of wry and jaded to balance the cute.

Not quite 'Homeward Bound' or 'Babe', but definately worth checking out.

ETA: more pictures from the event are here, and a really thorough review of the film (which I really agree with) is here.

Tina Fey Brings the (Politically) Funny Back to SNL

In conclusion, I invite the media to grow a pair, and if you can't, I will lend you mine.
- Amy Poehler as Hilary Clinton, SNL

Saturday Night Live can be hit or miss with me, but this week's season premiere opener was the best in years. Not much in sketch comedy has made me want to simulatenously laugh and cry, but Tina Fey and Amy Poehler broke my brain a little with this scathingly honest depiction of the double standards presented with views of VP Republican candiate Sara Palin and ex-presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton.

No editorial notes here, this clip says it all.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

9 to 5: The Musical @ the Ahmanson Theatre w/ Dolly Parton

Is this because I'm a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot? - Frank Hart, 9 to 5
My songs are like kids, and as I get older, I want them to support me." - Dolly Parton

My mother was a working gal in the seventies. She hasn't said much about those days, but even now, I think we can safely say that '9 to 5 was the quintessential office movie way before we got 'Office Space'. It was more than a movie about empowerment, more than a satire on the working world, but it became an instant classic, with a message that speaks to every generation of woman (and men) who get to see it.

And you know what? It's also damn funny. Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton were pitch perfect as working girls stuck in unique ruts, brought down by the ultimate man, Frank Hart, the sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot.

Needless to say, when I, the ultimate musical theatre junkie and lifelong fan of Dolly Parton, heard that not only was there a musical in the works, but that Dolly Parton was writing the music, Patricia Resnick (the screenplay writer) was writing the book, and Megan Hilty (favorite Glinda ever), Allison Janney, and Stephanie J. Block were in talks to star as Doralee, Violet and Judy respectively, I nearly flipped my lid. Quite publicly. To an almost embarrassing degree.

Luckily, I'm not the only gal thrilled to see this play finally come to fruition. When word got out, I was able to gather quite a little crowd for our September 9th playdate: my mother, my sisters, and my friends. Altogether, we had the back row in the Orchestra section, for what we imagined would be the second week of production.

As the date grew closer, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that production had actually been pushed back, and as luck would have it, our tickets were now falling on opening night. This filled me with a geeky sort of delight, because I've never actually been to an opening night of any really big play. As a Los Angeles girl, most of our theatre comes by way of national tours, small independants or big productions of Broadway Tested Powerhouses ala Wicked. To have 9 to 5 work out their kinks with us before it went to New York was kind of an oddly enthralling honor, and one I didn't expect to have.

The excitement only got grew when we got to our seats and I got a better look at the cast. In addition to the three ladies, there was Andy Karl (aka the UPS guy from Legally Blonde: The Musical), and Ann Harada, the original Christmas Eve from Avenue Q (who I got to see in London, where she re-originated the role). The thing I dared not hope for was a surprise visit from Dolly Parton. It was opening night, a given that she'd be there, but usually those kind of stars stay out of the way on nights like this.
Not Dolly. Five minutes before the show started the audience erupted with a roar, when the original Backwoods Barbie strolled up to the front of the orchrestra, grabbed a mike, and introduced the show. There were a few hiccups left to work out, she informed us, and promised us a few minutes of improv and gabbery if we ended up with an unexpected stall. This got my entire row hoping for technical difficulties almost immediately.

The audience was psyched, the theater was dark, and then the musical started.

Before we go into it, let me just say that we DID have a technical glitch, and as promised, Dolly went up front, grabbed a mike, and proceded to not only gab the hell out of herself, but sing a couple of songs: 9 to 5, and I Will Always Love You. Despite the stage manager's best intentions, cameras were flashing everywhere, and a few lucky people even came video camera prepared:

She was, as usual, amazing, and made a half hour wait for technical bugs to be fixed seemed like a thrilling, special surprise. Her willingness to mingle with the audience and her genuine gratefulness that we were all there was just another reason why the lady is a superstar.

But back to the musical itself:

In a nutshell? Not bad. There definately needs to be some kinks worked out (but that's what these out-of-town previews are for), and the opening 9 to 5 musical number has been tweaked to the point of non-recognition (perhaps it's not the smartest idea to have the musical start with a GUY singing 'tumble out of bed and I stumble through the kitchen'), but once the musical got going? Pure gold.

There was a lot cribbed from the script - most of the one-liners are in there, which can be a catch-22, and the storyline is changed only a bit. What is changed isn't, in my opinion, helping the story much (Violet gets a love interest, Roz becomes more than a flunkie and a full-on stalker), but there's a reason the story is so successful. It just works.

Megan Hilty is PITCH perfect as Doralee - she takes Dolly Parton's inspiration and steps it up a notch, with a flawless voice, and the double D fake boobs to prove it. Her rendition of 'Backwoods Barbie' was showstopping, and she delivers Dolly's quips and sardonic notes with a twang that is so damned sincere you're hardpressed not to believe it's really Dolly, twenty years younger.

Stephanie J. Block, in the 'straight man' Judy role, does what she does well, belts out tunes like nobody's business. Her transformation from lonely divorcee to proud single woman is fun to watch, particularly in her part of the pot-fantasies, where she sassily cha-chas around Frank Hart and then shoots him twice. Her song with her ex-husband (Get Out And Stay Out) was a little .... melodramatic for my tastes, I would have preferred something more joyful and faster in a 'Check out how Awesome I am without You' vein than the somber 'Get out and stay out but everytime you try to leave I'm going to stop you to belt out another angsty chorus' song, but she performed it well.

Out of the three, Allison Janney struggled the most. Not a surprise: she's a film and tv actress, not a musical broadway star. But she's Allison Janney, which means even when she struggles? She's the best. Her range was not what the girls' were and as a result, her slower songs lacked the same punch. This is particularly glaring in her ballad with her love interest Joe, in which they discuss taking a chance on love (Let Love Grow) as if they're discussing who went to the bathroom five minutes ago. Despite that, when she got going, and let the nerves go, she just had a blast. Her number 'One of the guys', in which Violet envisions being CEO of the company and finally joining the boys club, was pure fun, and she was at her best when she was playing ringleader in the musical numbers, such as the 'showing Judy the ropes' number 'Around Here' and silly pot fantasy 'Potion Notion'.

Marc Kudisch (who reminded me a LOT of Billy Campbell), was scene stealing as Franklin Hart. His song Mundania, in which he is literally hanging from the ceilng in padlocks and chains, was hilarious and riveting.

The climax itself was the weakest selling point. It seemed to wrap up TOO quickly, which worked in context for the movie but not so much for the play. The act 1 finale 'Shine Like the Sun' had much more punch, and a much better fade, but that didn't mean that as soon as the curtain closed, I wasn't on my feet whistling and cheering. The show did what it was supposed to do. It made you laugh, it made you stomp your feet, and the actresses, when given the opportunity, really allowed you to channel the excitement of the moment, particularly when they finally hog tie Mr. Hart like you've been wanting them to do since the opening number.

I heartily recommend the show. Since I saw the first showing, you might see a tightened up, tweaked up version, and if that's the case? You're in for a real treat.