I’ve gathered up some bits of wisdom of late that I’d like to share.
First up, how to…
…Figure out what streaming service a particular show is on
Netflix, Apple TV, Disney+, Prime, Crave, Tubi, CBC Gem… It’s nuts. So many services! I don’t subscribe to them all, but enough to make it hard to remember what’s where.
It’s even more confusing for Canadians, since US media will tell us a show is on a service we don’t have in this country (Hulu, Peacock, HBO+)—but that doesn’t always mean we can’t get it on a service we do have. Even more confusing, just because it’s on an American version of a service we have (like Netflix or Prime) doesn’t mean it’s also on the Canadian one. Could be on some other service entirely here.
This is why I love the JustWatch app. You select the streaming services you have access to and it serves up what’s on each. You can set up a Watchlist of every TV show or movie you’re currently watching, or plan to watch, and have one-page look of everything you’re currently caring about. You can mark off episodes or movies as you watch them. It will notify you when new episodes or a new season become available. And it has a pretty good recommendation engine if you need more to watch.
Of course, you can also use it to look up some show you’ve heard about, to find out if it is available to you at all, and if so, where.
…Watch Poker Face
Solid as I generally find the JustWatch app to be, one thing it doesn’t quite get is conventional cable. Particularly when it behaves unconventionally.
I’ve already written about how the stress of fast-moving Queen + Adam Lambert tickets led me to invest (sure, let’s call it that) in VIP tickets this time around. It was mainly for the better seats, but Jean wondered what else was included.
Not sure, I responded. Some kind of separate entry. Maybe a keychain or something.
Jean says I need a new post to replace the sad one. So, how about them Oscars, eh? (This is a topic Jean will find boring, but I assume that’s a preferable feeling.)
I have the PVR set to record the Academy Awards (plus the News at 11:00 pm that will, in fact, be the Academy Awards, continuing into overtime). But I do plan to watch the opening live. Because this:
Can you say squeee!!! (Even though the news has brought out the Adam Lambert haters. Get over yourselves!)
But, I can’t say how much of the rest I’ll watch live, since there are only some categories I’m interested in. And the show does go kind of late for a school night.
Unlike the actual awards, I’ll start here. No clear front runner this year! I don’t really expect Bohemian Rhapsody to take it, though if it did, I would be quite tickled. Can’t honestly argue that it deserves the honor, though. While I still think a lot of the criticism of it was on a weak foundation (that it should have aspired to documentary realism or portrayed Freddie in the way that individual imagined him to be), it remains true that some of the dialogue was clunky, and a number of the scenes were cliche (Freddie walks off in the rain, alone…[where is he going? Does he even have a wallet?]). It would deserve a Most Entertaining Picture award, but this is supposed to be Best Picture.
Of the remaining contenders, I’ve seen four. Black Panther was a very smart superhero movie, and probably what I’d like to see win if not BoRhap.A Star Is Born hasn’t done too well this award season. I liked it, but it didn’t hit me emotionally the way it seems to have other people. BlacKkKlansman would be a real dark horse win, as most seem to admire it more than love it—me too, I suppose (though it was pretty entertaining, also). And Roma? A real contender, they say, but too slow and low on plot for me. Of the ones I’ve seen, I’d rank it last in order of preference.
(And they do vote on Best Picture by ranked ballot, did you know that? Makes predictions even trickier, as people’s second and third choices can come into play.)
Of the ones I haven’t seen, it’s not due to lack of opportunity. Vice? Why would I see a movie about Dick Cheney? Green Book—actually, I’d probably like that one, and likely will see it at some point. It does sound rather Driving Miss Daisy, though, so I can see why it’s a controversial front-runner. And The Favourite? Is directed by the same person who directed The Lobster, which is not a selling point for me. The Lobster was creative and sort of compelling, but so disturbing! Too disturbing. And The Favourite is sitting at 94% with critics but only 65% with audiences. I remain leery of it.
And that was Rami Malek. So yes, he’s the favorite, and I would be disappointed if he didn’t win. He was so good in the role! And he gives the most gracious acceptance speeches, right up there with Alanis Morissette and Jared Leto.
I don’t really care about the other acting nominations—I do think it would be nice for Glenn Close to finally get recognized, but I haven’t seen The Wife—so moving on to the key category of…
Admittedly, sound was one of the better aspects of Roma, with this surround thing happening that was something of an unprecedented experience. (But most people will see the movie on Netflix and miss all that.)
But Bohemian Rhapsody, people—that was one fine, fine-sounding film. Those were fantastic mixes of Queen songs, and they also did a great job of incorporating audience sounds (and making sure we could hear the dialogue)! I think it deserves this one.
Bohemian Rhapsody is also up for Sound Editing, but I’m not quite so sure what that is…
It’s also up for Film Editing, and I do know what that is, but also don’t feel qualified to comment on whether it merits that honor. (Though the American Cinema Editors thought it did, for what that’s worth.)
But getting back to sound…
It’s got to be “Shallow” from A Star IsBorn, right? And that’s fine with me. I don’t know any of the other songs, but I really like this one. Apart from Queen + Adam Lambert, the Lady Gaga / Bradley Cooper performance of it is the musical moment I’m most looking forward to.
And poor Mr. Cooper was snubbed for…
Which most people think will go to Alfonso Cuaron for Roma. But I think it should be Spike Lee, for BlacKkKlansman. Because I liked that movie more, and because it’s absurd that Spike Lee hasn’t even been nominated until now!
Looking for anything else I at all care about…
I only saw one of them, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but it was good, and is considered a leading contender. I’d be fine with that.
This weekend we might go see all the nominated…
films, but until or if that happens, I of course have no opinion here.
Well, that leaves a lot of Categories of Indifference. It would likely be wise to turn elsewhere after the Queen performance, and let the PVR pile up some footage that I could fast-forward through as required.
In the meantime, I shall distract myself with Adam Lambert’s new song, to be released tonight at midnight. (Bite me, haters.)
I was on vacation in Seattle, and awake before Jean was, for some reason, when I got an email about a pre-sale for a Who concert in Toronto nearly a year later. Buying a concert ticket on a tablet while on vacation isn’t the ideal scenario, but I had the time, so I figured I might as well see what I could get.
As anyone who’s tried it knows, buying tickets from Ticketmaster is a roll of the dice. Who knows what seats it will cough up for your consideration, and at what price, at any given time?
But this time the dice landed landed on: Floor seats! In the front centre section! And at the normal price, no VIP / resale nonsense!
Stunned, I started the checkout process…
Only to lose the connection partway as the flaky hotel wifi conked out.
Cue the swearing. (Quiet swearing, as Jean was still sleeping.)
The KW Symphony recently presented “Sing-Along Musicals”! I got tickets even though Jean is not so big on “singing along”. When I saw the program, I wasn’t so sure how much of that I would be doing, either. South Pacific? Oklahoma? The King and I? Those are some old-timey musicals! Did I even know any of the songs from those?
Turns out I did, at least somewhat. “I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Outta my Hair” has not always been a shampoo jingle, it turns out. Oklahoma includes “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”, “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”, “ I Can’t Say No”, and “People Will Say We’re in Love”. The King and I has “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, “Getting to Know You”, and “Shall We Dance”. And they projected the lyrics, so you didn’t need those memorized.
The second half got a bit more modern, with “Defying Gravity” (done as a solo, mind you), selections from The Sound of Music, and a surprise encore of “Let It Go” from Frozen. The whole evening was fun, the concert featuring a youth choir, two talented young singers leading the sing-along (when they weren’t solo-ing), and young dancers making an appearance during some numbers. Conductor John Morris Russell, of the Cincinnati Pops, was lively as usual. So Jean enjoyed it also.
It got me thinking, though: What would be my picks if programming a sing-along musicals concert? Excluding any musicals based on the works of great rock and pop artists (such as We Will Rock You, Tommy, American Idiot, Mamma Mia, and Jersey Boys), because that would be cheating. And I guess that also excludes Moulin Rouge, though kudos to Baz Luhrmann for truly re-imagining all those pop songs in that music.
But merely having mentioned Moulin Rouge, I can now include this Virtue and Moir dance video, right?
First up, musicals with multiple great numbers in them, so we could do a bit of a singalong medley with those. In no particular order…
Among all the Black Friday / Cyber Monday coverage this week, I read about the very handy camelcamelcamel.com website (this link will bring you to the Canadian site, but you can pick another country from there). Here you can paste in a URL of an Amazon item, and see just how much that item’s price has ranged in the last six months. Here’s what I got for that QAL blu-ray:
Showing that not only had it at times been more than $145, I had indeed purchased it at a historic low price.
Clearly a handy tool if you’re wondering just how good a current Amazon sale price is. (Turns out I should have bought that toaster oven at $203 Friday; that’s just $4 above its historic low and now it’s at $230. Meh.)
Just because I haven’t been blogging lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about stuff…
Not writing about news is good news
I’ve actually started a number of posts about current events, but it all gets so depressing. And it changes so fast.
Like after Charlottesville, I was going to write a thing about how Canadians could join the Sleeping Giant twitter campaign to discourage companies from advertising on the alt-right Rebel Media website. But within days, The Rebel seemed to be sort of falling apart anyway, and it no longer seemed, maybe, the best way to spend one’s limited amount of time for activism.
“We have a chipmunk living behind our TV cabinets”, I wrote to our catsitter.
That was mid-July, and it had already been around for a couple weeks. Nearing September, the chipmunk was still with us.
Yes, they’re cute. But they’re still rodents.
It seemed to have a developed a routine of leaving its hiding place mid-morning to drink water from the cats’ bowls (handily kept right near the TV cabinets) and scrounge for food—which it was clearly doing successfully, given its longevity.
[Something I just learned from “Interesting facts about chipmunks: “Chipmunks are diurnal. In other words, they only come out during the daytime. The reason is not because they are blind at night, but because everything is too dark for their main defense system—their eyes—to work to their advantage.” Would explain why I never saw it in the evening.]
The chipmunk became increasingly brazen, stopping to give me a look to determine that I still appeared unable to catch (it was right; there is no catching a chipmunk!) before scurrying up the stairs to see what treasures could be found on the main floor. The cats occasionally decided to give chase, but more often just watched it, bemused.
The chipmunk was too big to be caught in mouse traps, too small to set off the squirrel trap, which we’d find untripped, bait missing. (“Great,” I said. “Now we’re purposefully feeding it.”)
We’d leave windows open a crack, but it showed no interest in exiting.
Maybe we need a rat trap, Jean suggested.
Before going that lethal route, we tried one more live trap, this one apparently designed for chipmunks: The Havahart Model #1025.
It took three days, but it actually worked: Chipmunk out for its rounds, almost immediately entered the trap, and… Trap door shut!
Chipmunk not happy.
I was a little freaked out by the success, especially as the little thing was making a terrible ruckus trying to bang its way out. Then I got it together enough to throw a pillow case over the trap (that’s supposed to calm the animal), and cary it out and over to the park, where I released it into the woods.
Herein ends your unrequested lesson in how to get a chipmunk out of your house. Now if only we could locate its entry point, so it can’t find its way back in…
Beyond the Lights or under the radar?
It was nominated for an Oscar and won some BET and critic’s awards, but I’m not sure how many people have heard of the movie Beyond the Lights. I was sort of looking out for it when it was released in 2015, but if it came around, it didn’t stay long.
I saw it recently as a DVD loaner from the library (it’s also on US Netflix). It’s about a young black woman, Noni, whose latest single is a big hit and whose first album is hotly anticipated. But after an award-winning night, she goes off alone and stands on the balcony of her fancy hotel room, thinking about jumping. She’s rescued by the young black officer on duty to protect her. They really seem to connect…
So yes, this is a romance, but better-written than most. Their challenges as a couple—the paparazzi, parental disapproval on both sides, conflicting career aspirations (the police officer also has political ambitions)—seem believable, not just plot contrivances. That Noni has a stage mom is a bit of cliche, but the character isn’t just a cartoon villain. The movie also offers a critique of the highly sexualized way young women are marketed in the music industry. (The film was written and directed by a woman, Gina Prince-Bythewood.) The actors are good, and lead Gugu Mbatha-Raw does have a lovely voice.
So if this sounds like your kind of thing, I think you’ll enjoy it. (And if not, like Jean, you’ll likely still admit it’s a decent film.)
Also recommended—but I assume most people have heard of this movie—the “still in theatres” The Big Sick. Making comedy out of the unfunny matters of race and illness.
Amazon pricing: Maybe it’s a game?
So back in November, the first-ever official live Queen + Adam Lambert blu-ray was released, initially sold only from a Japanese website. I most definitely wanted this thing, but when I did the conversion from Yen, it was $120 Canadian for the single disc + CD, plus shipping from Japan, which seemed… pricey, given that your average blu-ray is about $20.
So I waited for it to be available from Amazon as an import, whereupon it was listed for… $145. This was not going in the right direction. I kept checking it periodically, but the price remained stubbornly high, and nowhere else (including ebay) seemed to offer anything better.
Then one day Amazon emailed me to inform me that the price had dropped. Which it had… To $101.
I was considering that, but wasn’t yet convinced.
Then a little over a week ago, I had a random look Friday at lunch time and… It was $48.
So, fine, I ordered it. (And despite them telling me that by not choosing Prime, I’d have to wait til Thursday to get it, it arrived on Monday, Prime time!)
But the thing is, when I looked at the price again later that very same day—when I happened to be logged in as Jean—it was $62.
And right now, for both of me and Jean, it’s $67.
I’ve heard that Amazon has these sophisticated pricing algorithms that causes pricing to vary at any given time based on your past purchasing habits.
Which makes me wonder: Did I cave too soon? If I had kept checking at random times and days, would I have eventually acquired this item at $25?
And does this mean that all Amazon items are cheaper for me at lunchtime? Or on Fridays? Or have I ruined both now by going through with a purchase at that time and day?
And what’s up with the wildly different prices on the same piece of clothing at different sizes?
One dress, but each of its four sizes is a different price with a $140 range!
Anyway. The blu-ray is a gorgeous thing, with the best video and sound I’ve ever seen and heard on recorded Queen + Adam Lambert material. So I’m happy with it, even if the camera operator doesn’t always know when it’s important to focus on Adam (like, when he’s getting on his bike, and riding!).
Netflix: Giving us the sitcom revivals we didn’t know we needed
I don’t know that the world was clamoring for a remake of the Bonnie Franklin-starring 70s / 80s sitcom One Day at a Time, but Netflix has gifted it with one anyway. I was surprised to see how high it appeared on lists of best Netflix originals, so I decided to check it out.
What has it retained from the original? Well, there’s still a single Mom living in an apartment with her two teenage children, and a building supervisor named Schneider. Also, the same theme song, only re-recorded in a cooler version.
With its live studio audience and typical sitcom wisecracks flying, the series initially lulls you into thinking it will be super-light entertainment. But though it never gets too heavy, almost every episode touches on serious and often timely subjects: Dealing with PTSD. The challenges veterans have getting help from the VA. Figuring out your sexual identity. Raising boys in the age of online porn. Crackdowns on undocumented immigrants. Pay equity. Affirmative action.
(Hey, I somehow circled back to news, sort of.)
It wasn’t the sort of addictive thing that I had to keep watching, but I enjoyed every episode and grew quite fond of the characters. Despite that list of Serious Issues, it is a comedy, and a funny one. I was sad to see the end of Season 1. Fortunately, it has been renewed for a second season.
We took a week off in July in lieu of the one originally planned in June, when Jean’s work commitments meant he couldn’t get away. We had to go to Toronto on Tuesday, July 18 anyway, because we had tickets to a Queen + Adam Lambert concert. We built the rest of the vacation around that.
The city can look purty
We’d first thought of going to Québec City after Toronto, but that’s a really popular destination this time of year. Finding a hotel was a challenge, and we started to think it would just be unpleasant with so many people crowded into the Old Town there. We switched over to Kingston, which is much less of a drive, so thought of adding a day in Toronto.
But Toronto is also a very popular destination this time of year. And while we could have stayed at our hotel an extra night, the price for that extra night jumped dramatically. (And this was for a hotel room that was probably the smallest we’ve ever had in Canada. Mind, the hotel itself—the Strathcona—was very conveniently located downtown, though something of a nightmare to drive to and expensive to park at.) So, we decided to stick with just two days in “The 6”.
At night also
We took some time while there to visit my sister and brother-in-law in their lovely new apartment. That didn’t leave much time for doing Toronto “stuff”. Mainly, during the day, we walked around various neighbourhoods: The Harbourfront area, the Distillery District (highlight: visiting the Soma chocolate store), Kensington Market.
Unofficial poster. Seems to be one of these for each stop.
You see this warning sign? This show has strobe lights, it has lasers, it has smoke, it has explosions. You name it, this show has it. You’re allergic to any of these things? I suggest you go home now.
It was the first time I’d had to go through a metal detector at an Air Canada Centre concert, but all the ACC staff (like the one quoted above) were really very cheery and nice, helping everyone out to ensure we all got through quickly and safely. This was a relief to Jean, who’d been worried on seeing the lineup when arrived. As was the fact that we had no problem getting his camera in (only “professional” cameras were banned, but what is that?).
We sat next to a woman from Newfoundland, a fan of Queen but especially of Adam Lambert, who’d flown up special for the concert. (Jean shared that we’d flown all the way to Berlin for our Adam Lambert concert.) Her husband was in town with her, but not at the show, which caused Jean to give me a look. Well, he couldn’t very well abandon me on our 25th wedding anniversary night, could he?
Our view was from here—and it actually wasn’t bad. Though Jean complained that they played more to the other half of the room.
And truly, it was a really great show. Would have been a shame if he missed it.
The staging, the lights, the effects
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen better. Before the show started, we could tell the stage was in a guitar shape, but were having trouble figuring out how things (like the projection screens) were laid out… Then the show began with this huge robot hand smashing through the screen, then looking out, then raising it with both hands to reveal the band playing “We Will Rock You.” Awesome!
Other highlights included Adam Lambert literally rising from the floor to sing the exquisite “Who Wants to Live Forever”; the stunning laser show; the effect of a simple disco ball in a stadium; the interesting, multi-level video background for Brian May’s solo (built around the Queen logo, deconstructed); and the stunning amount of confetti at the end.
Dynamite with a laser beam! Source: ror0roror0ro at https://www.instagram.com/p/BWthmNKDLlL/
That’s a lotta confetti! Source: lauracjthistle at https://www.instagram.com/p/BWtkqdOFbbQ/
Of course I love all the songs. But the band also performs them so well—without vocal modulators or click tracks. And, the sound mixing at the ACC was quite good. So I could hear Adam Lambert’s impeccable, incredible vocal flourishes on songs like “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Somebody to Love,” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” And the band’s excellent harmonies on songs like “I Want It All”.
One great band
The drum battle between Roger Taylor and new recruit (from Queen Extravaganza) Tyler Warren was fun. And the guitar solo—which I’d been dreading a bit, having found it somewhat long and dull at their last concert—was fantastic. It was shorter, for one, and all built around familiar melodies (at least to a Queen fan) from “Lost Horizon” and “Brighton Rock”. Kudos.
All the feels
The set list is designed to take you on an emotional journey. You start with the powerful adrenaline rush of a snippet of “We Will Rock You,” followed by the powerhouses “Hammer to Fall” and “Stone Cold Crazy.”
There is then a gradual segue to the fun and frothy part of the evening, introduced by Adam Lambert singing “Killer Queen” atop the head of Frank the robot, while wearing a hot pink suit. (“Gayest suit ever!” he proclaimed.) Included at the juncture was an Adam Lambert single, “Two Fux,” along with “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Bicycle Race,” wherein Adam rode around on a pink, flower-laded tricycle.
Adam’s groiny interpretation of Fat Bottomed Girls
But they really amped up to 11 on “Get Down, Make Love,” a welcome addition on this tour. The whole backdrop for this song was red, dripping, sexy imagery, which Lambert only enhanced with his orgasmic vocal prowess.
“Was it good for you?” he asked. (Umm, excuse me, I’ll be in my bunk.)
But Adam wasn’t the only significant contributor to this portion of the evening. Roger Taylor took lead vocals on another recent set addition, “I’m in Love with My Car,” a song that really shouldn’t be sexy, but somehow is, the way he sings it.
Brian May? Well, he introduced the poignant part of the evening, moving to the front of the stage to sing “Love of My Life,” accompanying himself on accoustic guitar. The effects here were a sea of cell phone lights, which was just beautiful. And though I knew that video Freddie Mercury would make an appearance near the end, the way they did that, with Freddie seeming to stand right beside Brian, I couldn’t help tearing up.
Stars in the cell phone firmament. Source: a_jm_v, https://www.instagram.com/p/BWtmDWGFpq-/
Through “Somebody to Love”, and “Under Pressure,” and “Radio Ga Ga,” [aside that I’m not listing every song they played], the band managed to create a more intimate feel in this large space.
So close you could touch them. (Not really.)
Of course, the ending was triumphant. I liked how they rejigged “Bohemian Rhapsody.” They included the usually skipped “Is this the real life?” introduction, with Adam taking lead vocals. He also sang both verses, instead of sharing those with video Freddie. Of course, the operatic part is still from the original video. Freddie just appears at the very end, trading off lines with Adam.
The crowd was really great (as I usually find with Toronto). I thought we’d spend most of the concert sitting, but no, they were up for standing for probably three-quarters of the show. Brian May’s birthday was the following day, when there was no concert, so we got the fun of singing “Happy birthday” to him, after he honoured us with a selfie stick photo (posted here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw6i-QMjSuY). At the end, Adam thought Brian should wear his crown (though that proved a bit of a problem, as it was sized for Adam’s bigger head).
(This is turning an epic post, but why stop now.) The evening before the concert, we’d originally hoped to dine at Canoe, but it was summerlicious time in Toronto (that is, specially priced meals at certain restaurants), which meant that Canoe was fully booked for two weeks. (And that likely happened on the first day summerlicious reservations were open.)
So, we went to Richmond Station, a new restaurant for us, even though we couldn’t get in til 8:30 pm. We’d read that they offered surprise, multi-course “chef’s menus”, but that wasn’t mentioned on their printed menu. Jean asked about it, though, and they confirmed that it was on offer, and the head chef was in that day, so it should be a good one.
They also asked us if we had any special occasion, and Jean mumbled something about, no, we’re just here for a darn Queen concert, but I piped about it being our 25th wedding anniversary the next day. That was good, because it resulted in a complimentary glass of bubbly each, to go along with our half-liter of (delicious) Oregon Pinot Noir that we thought should be generally food friendly.
The bubbly with our first course, oyster and trout tartar
What a nice meal we had there. All courses—eight of them—were prepared with care and delicious. The service was attentive. Our late start meant that we had a waiter switchover near the end, but that was handled very well. Tables were close together, so it was a bit loud, but that somehow didn’t bother us. And the whole thing was like, $200? Which seemed a great deal for a meal of this caliber in Toronto.
Beef tartar is not a thing I normally eat, but theirs was flavored very well. There was a small charcuterie plate. This amazingly light zucchini tempura. A set of two salads: one beet, one tomato, both great. [I feel like there might have been sweetbreads in here somewhere also?] Seared salmon with great vegetables. A smoky sirloin beef with potatoes (the smoke made it special).
It was all topped off by a very special dessert of ice cream, peanut butter, and hazelnut.
Before the concert on Tuesday, we went to our reliable Ki, where they once again did a really nice job of their “modern Japanese” food and excellent service.
A lot of grim things are happening in the world, the sun was awol for much of January, and I succumbed to one of the season’s cold viruses last week. (And now Jean is complaining of chills.)
But hey, instead complaining at length about all that, I’ll list a few things that made me happy in the past few weeks.
1. KW Glee: Redux
Two years ago we were blown away by a KW Glee (show choir) + KW Symphony concert. This year they did it again. There’s just deep entertainment value in watching a huge group of talented, enthusiastic, and attractive young people sing and dance to popular songs, in costume, while accompanied by a full orchestra.
Last time I had mentioned that I didn’t know a lot of the songs performed—they were too current for me. This time they rectified that with a set from various eras. To the point where I felt kind of bad that they were played so little of of their own generation’s music, though there was one Imagine Dragons song and one by David Guetta / Sia, both very powerful performances.
The youth choir’s 80s attire during one segment, some of which looked like it actually dated from that time. The “Frankie Say Relax” T-shirt was my favourite.
Remember the 80s? These kids don’t, but they’re dressing the part anyway.
The youth boys running scared during “Ghostbusters” only to be have the youth girls toughly emerge, declaring that they were “Bad”.
The use of sign language during “Imagine”—very touching, somehow.
The terrific soul singer who performed “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)”. (It is great that so many of the participants get to try a lead, but with some of them, you do wish for more than one song!)
The reprise of “Hallelujah” that blew everyone away last time, performed by the same quartet, back from university for the occasion.
A Spotify playlist of their set list!
2. The Good Place
Holy motherforking shirtballs, The Good Place was good.
This is a half-hour, 13-episode, network TV show starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, debuted this year to very little notice—Jean’s the only other person I know who watches it.
But it’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen. And I’m loathe to even say that much about it, as it was so much fun to go along for the ride. And it’s so full of twists! Also, hilarious! Week to week, it was the show I found myself looking forward to most.
I will give the premise. Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a not-so-stellar human being while alive, is surprised to find herself in “the good place” (yeah, that one) after she dies. They have somehow mixed her up with some good Eleanor! How does she stay in the good place?
Look, I know there’s too much good TV, no one can keep with it all. So I won’t say you must watch The Good Place. I will just point out that if you do, it might make you happy. And that at 13 22-minute episodes, it’s less time-consuming that many series. And that despite mediocre ratings, it has already been renewed for season 2, so you don’t have to worry about being left hanging.
And by the way, Jean won another photo contest recently. (Not with this photo. Just thought I’d mention it now.)
While there, we went to Sandra Shamas’ one-woman show about “climbing mount menopause”. Despite that intro and the predominantly female audience, it wasn’t all about the hormonal challenges of being over 50. She covered a gamut of topics from her life.
Having recently dealt with a series of similar plumbing issues, we could relate to the mix of disgust and determination in which she handled the events that started when she flushed her toilet and it “came up my bathtub”. I took (hypothetical) heart in her discovery—having failed to make herself lesbian (“turns out it’s not a choice!”)—via dating apps, that plenty of 20-something men will seek the attention of women in their 50s. (She can’t bring herself to take advantage. “Does your mother know what you’re up to?”)
I wonder if I, too, will soon be entering my “ranting” years. (“I always talked to myself. Now I do it in public. And I’m angry!”) And it was hard not to be inspired by how she made it through a serious ice storm two years ago: “I was without hydro for 8 days. But I was never without power.”
My opinion of this year’s top music? That I probably didn’t hear most of it. Last year, under Adam Lambert’s Spotify / Twitter guidance, I actually heard a fair amount of the top 40. This year Adam had other priorities (tours, movies, TV shows), so I reverted to more typical behaviour for someone my age, and listened more to older stuff.
Still, some audio releases of 2016 managed to grab my attention.
The Hamilton Mixtape
We went to New York this year, but did not see Hamilton, the Broadway musical. I tried for tickets, but without really knowing much about the play, other than that it was super-p0pular. We did see the New York Library exhibit about Alexander Hamilton’s life, however, and it certainly was a colourful. So on my return, I finally listened the musical soundtrack, and really liked it. I definitely got into the story line, and a lot of the songs are just catchy. They’re not all hip-hop, but I liked those ones, too, generally.
So The Hamilton Mixtape, a collection of covers, re-imaginings, and out-takes from the musical, was the only album I got my hands on the day it came out. It did not disappoint. It just highlights why this story of someone from so long ago resonates today.
Favorite track: “It’s Quiet Uptown” by Kelly Clarkson, though it always makes me weepie
It actually took me a few listens to really get into the original E*MO*TION album, but I had no such trouble with Side B. Why these particular tracks didn’t make the original cut is a mystery, as they seem as strong as those.
Favourite track: “The One”
The Queen Extravaganza: A Night at the Apollo Hammersmith Live
The Queen Extravaganza are the officially sanctioned Queen tribute band, and on this outing they tackle the entirety of A Night at the Opera—something the original band never did. The do an impressive job of it. And then we get some other Queen hits.
What’s particularly striking about this band, though, is just how much singer Marc Martel sounds like Freddie Mercury. You’d occasionally swear this is a new recording by him, which is a mix of awesome and weird. The album is not available for streaming, but must be acquired from Pledge Music.
Favourite track: “The Prophet’s Song”. I dare you to not be impressed by it.
It didn’t occur to me to compile a list of particularly good podcasts, but I did spend part of the Christmas break working through Wired’s recommendations. Good list, though I have concluded I’m not really a fan of fiction podcasts, even if well done.
Easy, because I only finished one (not enough road trips this year): Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. This book has been well-reviewed and I can assure you, it’s deserved. His life is fascinating, and he tells it well.
Trevor Noah was born in South Africa, during the Apartheid era, of a black mother and a white father. Their relationship was illegal; hence, “born a crime”. He spent much of his early childhood indoors. When out with either of his parents, a ruse was necessary. He’d walk with a lighter-skinned friend of his mother’s, and his mother pretended to be maid. He walked across the street from his father.
Apartheid ending just changed the complications of figuring out where he fit in.
Though it’s his life story (and does not include the tale of how he became a successful comedian in South Africa, and ultimately star of The Daily Show), his mother is the real star here. What amazing woman, to be so strong and independent in a society that gave her no training or support for being so.
Noah does narrate the book himself (unabridged) and does a great job of it. It’s fun hearing him read out the various African languages and to get the proper pronunciation of everything. It wasn’t a very easy life, but as comedians will, he pulls many funny moments out of it nonetheless. One of the best things I heard this year.