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Neil Patrick Harris: Autobiography vs. Oscar Gig

I’m guessing I will never be one of those timely Oscar bloggers who gets herself syndicated on BlogHer by being the first aficionado to comment knowledgeably on the ill-advised green-card joke by Sean Penn, or the facial hair on Matthew McConaughey, or the prevalence of baby pink amongst red carpet finery. Predictably, life got in the way this week, and Hubbibi was sick, and nobody had energy, and winter’s a-draggin’ (and a dragon), and making observations about Hollywood’s Big Night took a backseat.

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Who wore the baby pink best? I vote for Zoe Saldana, who looks amazing with (as my Grandma Sue would have said) “a bit more meat on her bones” after giving birth to twins.

BUT! Em and I did attend the yoga-pant social event of the year, a.k.a. Karissa’s Oscar Party, and it was a sparkling success as always. Luscious and creatively-named snacks, fun and newly-streamlined trivia, awesome company (including requisite baby to pass around), and Karissa’s new game: the silly-but-challenging Guess Which Celeb’s Cleavage Is Affixed To My Chest game! Since all the guests were women, we could all appreciate the satirical side. (I only guessed right a small handful out of about twenty, but enjoyed the priceless conversational sound bites that came out of it.)

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I’ve included some pics of snacks. Sorry, no cleavage-upon-cleavage.
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Tied for the prize!
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Get it? S’more??

 

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Here’s our contribution, tied for the prize! (Food by me, name inspiration by Em, butter tart flag by my Hubbibi.)

The main reason I wanted to see the Oscars this year, besides getting to attend The Party, was not because I knew the nominees well or was particularly rooting for any of them. It was because of the host, Neil Patrick Harris. I was rooting for NPH, particularly because I just finished reading his autobiography – and that means I know him. We’re not just buddies… we’re like THIS.

If you like Neil Patrick Harris for any reason, you should read his autobiography.

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It’s written in the second person (“you”), set up as a choose-your-own-adventure book. (I quickly remembered why I never read many choose-your-own-adventure books as a kid – not just because I always chose the adventures that got me dead really quickly, but also because I can’t stand missing things. After choosing some NPH-style adventures, I eventually combed through the book to make sure I’d read ALL the things. Note: I was rewarded for this.)

For the record, I never watched Doogie Howser. I’ve never had a crush on NPH. It was a combination of Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog, Prop 8 – The Musical, and How I Met Your Mother that made me a fan.

Having read his autobiography, I’m simply… a bigger fan. (As well as his dear chum.) While reading, I realized that:

  • Neil and I have the same deep love for words, especially intricate song lyrics;
  • We are both Rentheads (although I suppose Neil, having actually starred in Rent, has an edge on me) and Sondheim enthusiasts (although I suppose Neil, having actually starred in Assassins, has an edge on me);
  • If needed, we could have a conversation together in sign language;
  • We have both been to Costa Rica and France and Germany and stuff;
  • NPH is way humbler than one would expect;
  • He gets star-struck by other celebrities just like any plebe;
  • He’s generous enough to share recipes, cocktail secrets, and magic tricks with his readers;
  • He writes in a way that is less laugh-out-loud funny (although there were definitely a few guffaws) and more heartwarmingly sincere. Amazed at, and grateful for, his good fortune. Just as nice a guy as you’d like to think he is.
  • It’s also great that, in the second-person context of the book, we readers get to marry David Burtka. Because that guy is sensational.

Now then. People are saying Neil bombed as host of the 2015 Oscars. Well, some are, and some aren’t, and there were certain moments some say were his worst and others say were his best.

Personally, although I can see where some complaints are coming from, I enjoyed his work at the Oscars. I especially enjoyed it because, like I said, we’re buds, so I totally understand NPH and his motivations.

For example. Some said the big mysterious Oscar Predictions gag (where he had his own very specific predictions in a highly-visible lockbox, to be opened – and magically correct! – at the end of the show) was boring. I do think the lead-up could have been briefer. But I know why he did it – two reasons, actually.

One is his deep love for magic. My guess is, there was not a lot of opportunity for him to display his expert magicianship, but he couldn’t not have ANY tricks, so this one had to be elaborate. The concept was David Copperfield-esque, even if the tone was jokey.

The other reason is that, as a theatre person, he needs to wrap things up properly. He’s an award-winning Tony host who has sung closing numbers composed during the show to include the winners. Of course he needed to have an act to “sum it all up and blow it all wide open” (to quote the musical credited with making him gay), while also respecting viewers’ need to go to bed, already. It was good to have a recap.

His little Birdman bit, where he ended up onstage in his undies, was a must – I imagine – for someone who is a theatre guy first. I can practically guarantee that he’s actually had that dream about performing in tightie-whities or less. (Plus he’s starred in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, so many racy dreams have become reality for him.)

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People are criticizing his mispronunciation of names (he flubbed several, but apparently only one was deliberate). Yes, it doesn’t look good – but could you do better? My feeling is that he was, in spite of all his stage experience, really nervous doing the Oscars. The Broadway world of the Tonys and the TV world of the Emmys are both home for him – but the silver-screen world, not so much. It’s a bigger and tougher audience. Plus, huge pressure for being “the guy who hosts awards shows,” not to mention stepping into the shoes of the much-loved Ellen. It would be easy to mess up a few names, even (or especially) if you’d practiced.

Possibly his most controversial joke was my favourite one: “Love that dress… It takes a lot of balls to wear a dress like that.”

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Such a perfect double-entendre – and even kind of a compliment. People got all snarky because the dress was worn by Dana Perry, who had just won for the documentary short “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” and dedicated the Oscar to her son who had died of suicide.

But let me be frank here. The Oscar movies this year, and the ceremony too, were full of the brutal pain of real people – suicide, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, racism, addiction, ALS, bereavement, depression, you name it. As a devoted parent, Neil has undoubtedly thought about how painful it would be to lose a child. I’m certain he weighed his quip before making it. Furthermore, if a host’s job is not to lighten the mood, then what is it? There’s supposed to be laughter and happiness on Oscar night. (I mean, she’d just WON an Academy Award.) And as humans, we need to mix humour with our grief, or we’ll never make it through life. It was not a nasty joke. Folks need to lighten up a bit. (For the record, Dana Perry herself is reported to have laughed at the comment.)

Finally, let me state that anyone who says the opening number wasn’t awesome is just being a curmudgeon. It had the sparkling rhymes, the choreography, the cameos by two of my favourite performers (Anna Kendrick and Jack Black).

The song included some criticism of Hollywood’s excesses and vices, but also the awe and appreciation to temper it. Some say Neil’s enthusiasm on the theme of “Moving Pictures” was insincere. I feel confident in saying that it wasn’t. If there’s one thing I now know about NPH – that I perhaps wasn’t expecting – it’s that he is full of wonder. He is not a jaded, spoiled star. Wonderment pops up over and over in his book, along with grit and zest and friendship and love.

To sum up, it’s a good read, and it made the Oscars more fun to watch.

{Hey, Neil, my boon companion, if you’re reading this, I’m ready with my code word. Let’s go get a taco. We can even bring the kids.}

And to oblige those (all three) of you who are going, “Hey, Dilovely, where are the extra Oscars??”, here are my humble picks, ridiculously late:

  • Best dress: Lupita Nyong’o. It’s kind of a cliché to say it, now that the dress has been dramatically stolen and recovered, but it was the dress that made me say “Wow.”

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  • Best Worst dress: Jennifer Lopez. Not that the dress was that bad, but I’m of the opinion that people should never match their gown to their skin. Then it just looks like nudity gone horribly wrong. BUT, the inside-boob V-neck did help me glean whose cleavage was affixed to my own chest.

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  • Best Suit: the midnight blue velvet one. On Neil, of course.

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  • Best Fountain of Youth: Wes Anderson. Seriously, that guy looks like he’s 20. How can he have been making award-winning movies for almost two decades?
  • Best Worst Song: “Everything Is Awesome,” from the Lego Movie. It’s a very fun song, but compare it to a ballad written by a father diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to say goodbye to his family, and then compare it to “Glory,” the winning song from Selma, and… it just looks pretty dumb.
  • Best Sport(s): John Travolta and Idina Menzel. This year, she got to ridiculously mispronounce his name, and he got to pronounce hers right. It was cute.
  • Best Speech: that’s a tough one. Patricia Arquette scoring feminist points, J.K. Simmons crediting his wife with everything, Graham Moore encouraging troubled teens to “stay weird, stay different,” or Eddie Redmayne being adorably overwhelmed? So hard to choose.

So there you have it, folks. Congrats to all, hope you enjoyed the show, g’night!

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Bonus video: One of the best opening numbers ever.

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BANG Double Feature Review: The Imitation Game + Into The Woods

Dilovely had herself TWO MOVIE DATES over the holidays, y’all. Both are still kinda recent (released in Canada on Christmas Day, only two weeks ago!), so I figured I could still say a few words. After all, it’s been ages since I reviewed a movie. (It’s the lack of frequency and/or freshness. That is to say, for example, that by the time I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, it had been in theatres for ages and was on its way out.)

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Into the Woods I saw with a friend and two of my siblings (plus the third in spirit!), one week after it came out. I had been really stoked to see it because A) yay musicals! and B) double yay Sondheim! and C) Anna Kendrick Meryl Streep Emily Blunt Johnny Depp Chris Pine and company, you know?

Let’s start with B), the brilliant Stephen Sondheim, cliché-defying composer of 23 musicals, including Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (made into a movie by Tim Burton in 2007). His work has been criticized for being un-hummable. He does use unpredictable timing, melodies, and key signatures a lot of the time – which can be fun and/or confusing – but let’s be clear: he can also nail a memorable, sweeping refrain to bring tears to your eyes.

We had varying degrees of Sondheimism in attendance: my brother Ben was Props guy for a production of Into the Woods at his university years ago; my sister Emily has been a Sondheim junkie for a long time (since the era when she would pirate soundtracks from the library onto cassette tapes) and I’d wager she has memorized the lyrics of at least a dozen of his musicals, including this one. I, on the other hand, am an odd kind of Sondheim fan – I’ve known every word of Assassins for many years; I saw Sweeney Todd on stage; I did a project about Sondheim in university, learning many interesting things about the man and his music; but I was only acquainted with about 1/3 of the songs of Into the Woods.

I was actually in an ideal position to enjoy this particular film. I had the advantage of being familiar with Sondheim’s rapid-fire, overlapping lyrical techniques, as well as the most common melodic themes – but I didn’t really know anything about the story itself, other than that it interweaves lore from a bunch of different fairy tales. Thus, I could simply relish listening to Sondheim’s dazzling rhymes unfolding, without being weirded out by his unconventional style AND without being distracted by comparing every vocal nuance to a pre-memorized soundtrack (as I did with Les Mis). I felt that the editing made it possible to understand what was going on, even during fast, complex sections of lyrics.

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Also, I could watch the story happen without knowing what to expect. I felt like a kid, spellbound by a dramatic tale that might go anywhere.  The story is unusual and interesting, the locations are beautiful and real, the singing is top-notch, and the effects, banal as it sounds, really bring the plot to life. We all enjoyed it thoroughly, feeling it must be just what Sondheim wanted when freed from the constraints of the stage.

I also appreciated that, as always, Sondheim put his critical thinking skills to work when he created this story, spoofing or overturning stereotypical prince and princess characters. (I have several posts brewing about princesses.)

In case you’re wondering, my favourite songs/scenes were “Agony” (a sentiment shared by iTunes customers, apparently) for the melodramatic comedy, “On the Steps of the Palace” for sheer lyrics-based delight, and “Your Fault” for the singing (and editing) agility. They nailed ’em.

We did all wonder what it would be like to see this movie without prior knowledge. According to one friend, it was “really strange but really good,” which makes sense. Obviously people are agreeing with this – despite music that is not as conventionally catchy as, say, Les Misérables or ChicagoInto the Woods tickets, along with the soundtrack album, are still selling like hotcakes. It makes me happy that current moviegoers are open to this, and to movie musicals in general. That means more musicals to come, for all of us!

For more on my intermittently obsessive relationship with musicals, please click here.

And to hear a memorable, sweeping Sondheim refrain, please click here.

(I heard recently that seeing hyperlinks in the middle of an article, even if you don’t click on it, seriously disrupts one’s reading experience. I’m pretty sure it’s true. Henceforth, I’m putting my links separately.)

And now, on to The Imitation Game. An altogether different sort of film.

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I went to see this one with my Hubbibi just a few days after it opened, having only seen the trailer, and knowing little about Enigma, the supposedly unbreakable encoding machine used by the Germans during World War II.

I did not know anything else about the plot or about Turing’s life, other than that he’s the genius known as the father of digital computing, and that he was gay. (Not a spoiler – it’s made known early on.) Oh, and I knew that Enigma was eventually solved and the Allies won the war.

Here’s what I can tell you without revealing any other plot points:

  • The movie manages to be suspenseful and heart-pounding at times, even though we know the outcome of the codebreaking efforts and the war. It also has a surprising number of chuckle-out-loud moments, and several that make you want to cry, for different reasons. (I didn’t cry, but I could have. The tears hovered in my chest for the whole film.)
  • After reading a novel called “Enigma” many years ago, then watching this movie in 2014, then watching the documentary “Codebreaker” (which I recommend, if you’re interested), I still didn’t understand what made Enigma so hard (how is it different from simple letter substitution?) until I found this sentence at plus.maths.org: “What made the Enigma machine so special was the fact that every time a letter was pressed, the movable parts of the machine would change position so that the next time the same letter was pressed, it would most likely be enciphered as something different.” OH. Now the movie makes sense.
  • Keira Knightley’s role as Joan Clarke, the only female cryptanalyst to work on Enigma with the men, is memorable and incredibly satisfying to watch. I’d like to see a movie all about her.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch impressed me. Perhaps the most because he is playing a character with great similarities to his Sherlock from the BBC series (genius, arrogant, socially odd), and yet his portrayal is not the same at all. His accolades are well-deserved. And I can’t think of a weak link in the supporting cast.
  • The only aspect I found a bit feeble was the structuring of the story, flashback-style, around Turing’s interview with Detective Nock. It was compelling at the beginning, but it kind of fizzled. And then they had to drop it before the final scenes anyway. But I guess these days a linear story doesn’t cut it. (Except in movie musicals with many overlapping plot lines; see above.)

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If you’ve already seen the movie or know lots about Alan Turing – or don’t care about spoilers – I can also tell you the discussion topics that Sean and I chewed over after the movie:

  • It’s mind-blowing that Bletchley Park (central site of the Government Code and Cypher School, where all this codebreaking took place) wasn’t declassified until the 1970s – and some people who worked there maintain secrecy about it to this day. During the war, even high-up military officials didn’t know that the intelligence was coming to them via Enigma (an imaginary MI6 spy codenamed “Boniface” got the credit). Codebreakers never told their own spouses, even long after the war was over.
  • This also means that Alan Turing, whose own work literally made it possible to win the war, was never formally recognized for his monumental contribution. He could never tell that nasty-face Commander Denniston: “HA! See?? I TOLD YOU IT WOULD WORK.” Which must have rankled.
  • Even more mind-blowing (though sadly inevitable at the time) is the fact that the British government not only failed to honour Turing for his work, it criminalized him for his homosexuality. He opted for chemical castration (in the form of synthetic estrogen) over prison, in the hopes of continuing his work – not knowing it would wreak havoc on his mind as well as his libido.
  • Therefore, even though his death from cyanide poisoning at age 41 was chalked up to suicide, in my mind, he was killed by his own government, whose members didn’t know they basically owed him their existence. It could hardly be more tragically unfair.
  • Interestingly, it seems that on December 24th, 2013, the Queen issued a posthumous “Royal Pardon” for Alan Turing. How nice. No offense to the Queen, since I don’t think there exists a posthumous “Royal Acknowledgement of Heinous Injustice and Subsequent Begging for Forgiveness,” but a royal pardon does seem a bit thin. Not to mention grossly overdue.
  • Alan Turing did amazing things with his unique gifts while he was alive, and could have done many more of them if he had lived longer. Doesn’t it make you wonder how many great, world-changing minds and ideas have been quashed by people’s fears and prejudices? How much further we might have come by now, as a species, if we hadn’t been spending so much time and energy squelching humans because they were gay/black/women/etc. – and how many victims of prejudice had brilliant brains being wasted in obscurity?
  • It is also interesting to consider which individual humans in the world have truly changed the course of history. If Alan Turing hadn’t lived, the Allies might have lost, and the world might be extremely different right now. Which other historical figures – or present-day people – have had (or will have!) such impact? Discuss.

We also talked quite a bit about War then vs. War now, but that’s for another blog post.

So, to sum up: see Into the Woods for fun and singing; see The Imitation Game for heartstring-pulling and brain stimulation. I highly recommend each, but I wouldn’t try both in one day.

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