Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wicked Fun

So the wife really, really, really wanted to go see the musical "Wicked" at the Pantages theater here in L.A. Tickets ranged anywhere from $90 to $300, which I guess is standard these days for a Broadway caliber show. Prices are awfully steep these days, but I guess it's better that the artists and people responsible for the show get the money, rather than scalpers.

Still, we are not made of that kind of money. So the wife tells me that they have a lottery 2 1/2 hours prior to every show. This is apparently a long broadway tradition, where you put your name in a bin and get a chance to win two of 26 available front row seats for $25 each.

I've been going to this lottery on my own, an average of once or twice a week, since the Christmas holidays. It's been fun watching people win great seats, but alas, always ending for me with disappointment and a cold walk back to the car.

Well this last Tuesday night as I drove home from work I didn't even have the lottery on my mind as I glanced down Hollywood Blvd. from Vine St. It was almost lottery time, and there was hardly anyone there! I nearly got killed cutting across two lanes of traffic, but I parked and headed over.

The line nearly doubled by the time I dropped my name in the bin, but there were still far less people than usual. I figured my odds were about 1 in 5. Once again, the lady on the mike did her shpeal and started calling out winners. She always implored people to clap for each other. "It's good karma!" was her mantra.

This lady of course has no idea what the real meaning of "karma" is. I've been to India and had it explained to me several times by various people. The American version of "karma" is - do something good and good things happen to you, and vice versa.

The original Hindi conceit, is that everything in the universe has it's place - and a disruption of that order is bad karma. In other words, if you are born a window washer, good karma is to remain a window washer and maybe even be good at it. But if you are a bad window washer, that's still A LOT better than trying to be something else - like a successful businessman. Rewards don't come in this life, they come in the next one. Don't try to better yourself outside of your station, that is bad karma.

Every time I had been through the lottery, I had clapped dutifully for the winners. Tonight I was cold, and wasn't clapping. Inwardly I was still happy for most of the people who got tickets; I say most because I thought the lady who showed up with one minute to spare and had to park in the loading zone really DID NOT deserve to be the fourth name called.

But outwardly I remained stoic and hoped it would at least be over quickly. The last names were called, and I sullenly started to turn away. A voice cried out "Are you serious?" It was a man, ALREADY IN LINE with his wife who had been picked earlier, and he said he didn't need more tickets. There was another chance!

The lottery lady dipped into the drum once more. She butchered my last name, but it was still unmistakable.

I won!

The phone call to my wife was one of the happiest I can remember making in a long while.

And the show was absolutely phenomenal.

I did feel pangs of guilt at my lack of clapping for previous winners that night, but it sparked a discussion in my brain about "karma" and such.

My first impulse is to subscribe to the American version of universal order. I want control. I want to help so that I can be helped. But more and more I realize that doing something good, or keeping positive in the face of negativity - should be done for it's own sake. Not because I will be rewarded for it.

The full western version of "karma" is pretty downright selfish.

I can go along with the first part, and the first part alone - do something good.

Then I think I'll take a good chunk of the eastern definition. (I am such a cafeteria spiritualist! Picking and choosing what I like!) I find a lot more inner peace if I recognize that I simply don't have control over all of what happens in my life.

When other people were picked, I was for the most part genuinely happy for them. But I was also selfish at the same time, wishing that I had one. This is okay, and really, very human. As Forrest Gump says "It's a little of both" it's fate, and it's what you make of it.

Incidentally, the show kind of related to all this too. It was an amazing grown up story of the Wizard of Oz, told from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.
It examined, in a very powerful and emotional way, what being "wicked" really is. And how the very best and worst of us is shaped from our life experiences and our own perspectives.

That who we are is defined BOTH by what we experience, and what we DO with that experience.

I laughed, I cried, I only kissed $50 goodbye.

A phenomenal cast, incredible sets and costumes. Top notch singing and dancing. This hetero male musical lover was in absolute heaven. Oh yeah, and the wife loved it too. I look forward to taking my daughter when she's about 12 or 13. I have no doubt this show WILL be around then; it's that good. One of the best musicals I've ever seen.

There's nothing in it that is inappropriate for younger kids, a tiny bit of raunch and no violence to speak of; but I really think pre-adolescents and up will get the full thrust of the story and the powerful emotion behind it. If you fit into this demographic currently, it's an absolute must see!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

No Country for Old Legends

Managed to squeeze in two of my wish list movies (see post below, two down) before the end of the year so here is my new official top ten.

Hot Fuzz
Pirates of the Caribbean 3
Harry Potter 5
I Am Legend
The Simpson's Movie

So Bourne Ultimatum gets bumped down to the honorable mention or 11th spot.

Loved "I Am Legend", as it harkened back to one of my all time favorite movies - Cast Away (the one with Tom Hanks alone on an island.) It's a classic story, losing everything and finding redemption somehow. Plus it had zombies!

Zombies, you say? Why they've been overdone to death. True, but this movie is loosely based on the original 1954 novel "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson. A book that was most influential in spawning the "zombie" genre in movies. While this flick deviates substantially from Matheson's story, it is compelling, and ultimately bittersweet stuff. Especially effective are the "Lost" style flashbacks to life before armageddon, showing Smith's doomed family and his efforts to save them. Will Smith again proves why he is a movie star, in the grand tradition of " the every man" such as Gable and Ford. Excellent movie.

The other movie I caught, ultimately stays off this list because it is more of a "film". "No Country for Old Men" is one of the best motion pictures I have seen in years. Like the best of the Cohen brothers work, it transcends and blurs the film/movie line, and also delivers the very best of both genres.

For the first 3/4 of the story, it's a movie. A heart racing suspense and gore filled thriller. But a quiet subtext, delicately introduced in the movie's intro, and threaded throughout, grows and grows until it consumes the last half hour of the film. Climactically, after showing us lots of graphic violence and shocking encounters - the directors masterfully use the art of NOT showing what should be the action centerpiece of the movie, to deliver a powerful emotional punch and pathos, and yes a message.

Like the movie "Unforgiven" (the western with Clint Eastwood that won a ton of academy awards) this movie is ultimately a film in the REAL world of violence. We recoil in our seats at one unshakable (though not violent) image in the last five minutes, and we realize, we have been entertained by something that is both gruesome and banal. Real evil. Not pretty, not sexy, and sometimes inevitable.

Great movie, great film. Disturbing AND enthralling.

A powerful film that will stay with me for a long time. And confirms in my mind that the Cohen brothers, as pretentious as they can be sometimes, are probably the greatest film makers of this generation.

By the way, also caught Superbad and Hairspray on DVD. Loved them both. Hairspray is a GREAT musical, and I love musicals. Pretty much suitable for everyone. Superbad is HIGHLY offensive, and at the same time a wonderful and very moral film. Judd Apatow, the producer on this one - director on other similar raunch-fests, has a real knack for shocking and disgusting us (while of course making us sickos laugh our butts off too) and then sucker-punching us with sweetness and ultimately uplifting and very real feeling bittersweet romance. That's right, he's the master of the gross out chick flick.