My Week in Culture: Of Princes, Carousels, and Idris Elba’s Voice

I know I owe y’all pictures from Istanbul and a food post at some point, but this will have to tide you over for the moment.

The first part of this week was mainly spent watching the local news report on the sever flooding in the Houston area.  This was very reminiscent of Tropical Storm Allison, and less than a year after the Memorial Day floods on 2015, so the local stations were pretty much on Flood-Watch 24/7.  The main difference is that this time it was actually reported OUTSIDE of Houston.  I don’t know if you remember, but when TS Allison hit in June of 2001, the worst of the flooding occurred on the same weekend that convicted terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed.  If you didn’t live in the immediate Houston environs, you might not have heard a peep about the catastrophic conditions in Houston.

This time, I actually saw national and international news stories about the flooding.  Yay?  There are times when it feels like Houston is totally off of the radar for the rest of the country and world, never mind that we are the 4th largest city in the nation.  I hate that when we do make the news, it takes something like this to remind people that we exist.

Perhaps the biggest cultural news of the week is the death of Prince, musical genius and master of persona.  The outpouring of grief that we saw occur worldwide shows just how much he influenced popular music and popular culture.  I also think there is an element of purity when it comes to Prince.  Michael and Whitney’s legacies were at times overshadowed by their personal demons and drama.  With Prince, we are allowed to mourn someone who meant so much to us without the asterisk(*) that is their personal legacy.  We are allowed to revel in his weirdness, because for so many people it helped us embrace our own oddity.  

His musicianship was damn near unparalleled.  His technique was divine.  His music is joy.  It is seduction.  It is a cry against the forces that try to make you beholden to powerful.  His lyrics oscillate between the profane and the sanctified, a modern day Song of Solomon speaking to the earthy nature of love and it’s ability to connect us to something higher, purer.  

He was arrogant, yes.  But it was an arrogance born of fighting his way to power, and for standing up for his rights as an artist, to make the music he wanted to make with no interference.   He made his music his way, and people reacted from a purely emotional place, be it love or hate.  When Justin Timberlake sang about ‘bringing sexy back’, Prince’s reply was “For whoever is claiming that they are bringing sexy back, sexy never left!”  So all of you youngsters that throw around words like ‘legend’ and ‘icon’ when talking about folks like Bieber and Kanye?  Have several seats.  Or, to quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

As one last aside, in my own personal headcanon, Prince and Maggie Smith would meet up on the regular to have tea and throw shade at foolish people.

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So 2016 has claimed one of our geniuses, yet again.  There are days when I can’t wait to be done with this year.

 

The rest of my week was significantly less depressing.  I rounded out my Thursday with the dress rehearsal for HGO’s ‘Carousel’, a musical that I had never seen.  My friend N works at HGO, and she was kind enough to invite us along.  

The production values were, as always, fantastic.  Huge shout-out to N and the rest of the costume shop, because the costuming was lovely (and the SHOES!).  The opening scenes with the carnival attractions and the titular carousel were just lovely.  And there was only a tiny bit of an internal SQUEE! When they name checked Florence when they were talking about the design of the carousel.

Carousel landscape
Carousel in Florence

As for the story itself, I don’t think I’m spoiling too much when I tell you that the actual title should be ‘Carousel:  Billy and Julie Make Very Poor Life Choices’.  But I suppose most dramatic entertainment wouldn’t exist if the characters had an ounce of common sense amongst themselves.  BIlly and Julie, you see, give up their jobs and futures to have a whirlwind romance.  Once the reality of life sets in, i.e. love don’t pay the rent, you see their relationship falter in the midst of resentment and fear.

I have to say that while there are problematic elements (‘Smack your daughter and go to Heaven’), there were some refreshing elements as well.  When one character admits that her husband hit her, the plucky best friend asks, “Well, did you hit him back?”  

The cast was wonderful.  The young women playing Julie and Carrie have wonderful friendship chemistry, which was a delight to watch.  The supporting cast was wonderful as well, especially the gentlemen playing Enoch and Jigger.  The highlight, though, was getting to see Duncan Rock as Billy Bigelow.  Ever since this production was announced, N has been telling us all about the hunky Australian baritone.  And let’s just say that she wasn’t exaggerating his looks.  Add that to his amazing voice, and well, let’s just say ‘hubba hubba’.

Certainly not how I'd always pictured an opera singer.
Certainly not how I’d always pictured an opera singer.

 

On Friday, I ventured out to see the latest big-screen adaptation of ‘The Jungle Book’, directed by Jon Favreau.  I have to admit that I’ve read much of the source material, and thanks to my then two-year-old nephew(Hi T!), I watched the original Disney film every day for a month the summer before college.  So I went into the theater with a bit of trepidation.  Warning:  slight spoilers ahead.

Which was, for the most part, blown away within the first ten minutes.  The CGI was remarkably well done, giving the various landscapes an incredibly realistic rendition.  The jungles were dark and lush and just that little bit creepy.  The rocky area where the wolf pack lived showed the dust and mechanics of how rocks actually behave.  The mud glistened and moved like mud does.  It was entirely enchanting.

As for the animals, it is amazing to me how far we have come in special effects when it comes to actually duplicating the movements of animals.  When ‘The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe’ came out a few years back, I remember my first reaction upon seeing Aslan was ‘Wow, that’s a really tame lion to just stand there like that’.  And they have done as well or better with the bulk of the animals in this film.  From the way that the wolves’ fur moves in the breeze to the way that Shere Khan and Bagheera move when running and leaping, they have done an amazing job making the audience feel like they are watching really well trained live animals.

As for the voice acting, let me just say that Idris Elba completely owns his character.  I loved George Sanders’ take on the tiger back in the animated film, but Idris Elba brings that sense of menace and barely restrained power that Shere Khan really deserves.  You truly fear for Mowgli, Bagheera, and Baloo, because this Shere Khan means business.  

Ben Kingsley does a wonderful job as Bagheera.  He is very reminiscent of Sebastian Cabot’s take on the character, only a little less humorous, though it works well for this version.  Scarlett Johannson does a great job with Kaa, who is just as menacing as Shere Khan in this movie.  The sheer size of the snake had me shivering cringing, especially the scene where Mowgli first sees evidence of just how large she is.  *shudder*  Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito were fantastic, and I got a little misty when I heard Gary Shandling’s voice in his final role.

I have to say, the two slight disappointments are probably more the result of the original voice work being so very, very strong.  We’ll start with King Louie.  I have to admit that as much as I love Christopher Walken, this casting made me very nervous.  Louis Prima was just so very iconic as the original King Louie, that I knew that he’d be almost impossible to top.  Also, the original portrayal had some problematic undertones that were a product of their times.  Having a character that was an ape voiced by a white man imitating a black musician puts your teeth on edge these days, especially when viewed through the lens of Hollywood’s whitewashing problem.  Favreau made the decision, then, to move Louie away from that swinging musician caricature to the Italian mafioso one.  It was Walken channeling Brando, if you will.  It was still entertaining, but really, they traded one cultural stereotype for another.

The biggest disappointment, again, comes from the fact that nobody can top Phil Harris.  Bill Murray makes an admirable attempt to make Baloo his,  but…  There is a reason why ‘Bare Necessities’ is one of the most iconic Disney songs.  Phil Harris’s voice and singing are iconic.  He WAS Baloo.  He WAS Little John.  He WAS Thomas O’Malley the alley cat.  Whoever took this part had yeoman’s work to even try to come close to his original performance.  Murray did better than most would have.  But…

Even with those slight disappointments, I really liked this adaptation.  It was visually stunning, the voice acting was for the most part fantastic, and our young Mowgli, Neel Sethi, is just adorable.  They made some conscious decisions in the plot to tighten it up and give it more structure, which worked very well.  All in all, I highly recommend it.  Also, the elephants were amazing. 🙂

So that’s all for this week.  I don’t know if this will become a regular feature–not all of my weeks are so very cultured 🙂  Captain America:  Civil War comes out in a couple of weeks, so when I’ve managed to revive myself from the emotional horror-story that it promises to be, I’ll probably put up a review for it as well.  Until next time, stay geeky!

 

response to “My Week in Culture: Of Princes, Carousels, and Idris Elba’s Voice” 1

  1. We were so thankful not to flood this time around. Things got dicey around 5am,but thankfully, the water receded later in the day. It’s heartbreaking to continue to see the flooding year after year. Sometimes it’s in the same place, and sometimes its a new place to face the beast. Its still makes me so rageful that people continue to die. They still drive into the flood waters.

    As for The Jungle Book, I want to go see it. The voice work and CGI sounds amazing. I always said the next time we get a black cat, we’re naming it Bagheera :). Thank you again for the awesome review.

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