Archive for June, 2014

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One of the more memorable moments of 2007’s Juno comes at the close of the film’s first act, when our titular protagonists arrives at a clinic to undergo an abortion procedure, walks past a classmate chanting “All Babies Want to Get Borned” and is so unnerved by the idea of fingernails in utero and pie-smelling junk that she abandons her plans and commits to carrying her unborn child to term.

Without necessarily trying to be, that scene is quite indicative of how the subject of abortion is predominantly treated by Hollywood, which despite it’s lingering image by the conservative right as a lurid cesspool of progressive liberal villainy is overwhelmingly pro-life (this point has been made more articulately by other writers, such as Amy Nicholson).

Juno MacGuff is an edgy, wise-cracking character cooked up by an elaborately tattooed former-stipper, but when faced with the moral dilemma of ending the life growing inside her she chooses the physical discomfort and social exile that comes from a teen pregnancy: a decision increasingly uncommon to that of her off-screen peers.

Which is what makes Obvious Child so interesting, in that it is so ordinary. Aspiring comedienne Donna Stern (Parks and Rec’s Jenny Slate) gets dumped by a philandering boyfriend and rebounds via a drunken tryst with Max (The Office’s Jake Lacy), resulting in an unplanned pregnancy. No worries, there’s a Planned Parenthood nearby.

The internal conflict that results from Donna’s little biological miracle is not the moral quandaries of life and death. Instead, it’s the fear of a painful procedure, the anxiety over whether or not to tell Max about her pregnancy, the angst of disappointing her parents and the financial implications, since Donna is a Williamsburg millennial with student loans.

That’s the drama. The fun comes from the cringe-worthy honesty of Jenny Slate’s ebullient comedy style, manifested in occasional stage routines that include frank discussions of gender, culture and sexuality and girl-talk with bestie Nellie (Gaby Hoffman, playing a very Gaby Hoffman-type character).

It’s a perfect showcase for Slate, who has existed just outside the spotlight since her brief stint on Saturday Night Live (she infamously dropped an accidental F-bomb during her debut appearance and was politely shown the door at the end of the season).

And despite it’s cast of characters, Obvious Child is very much a one-woman show, placing a heavy burden on Slate’s shoulders to deliver the funny. Best of all, she succeeds.

Grade: A-

*Obvious Child opens in Salt Lake City theaters on Friday, June 27.

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*This review was originally posted during coverage of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Director David Wain’s latest ensemble satire is to romantic comedies what Scary Movie was to the horror genre. The story follows the romance of Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, she the small business owner and he the corporate robot poised to drive her out of business until their paths cross and they fall in love. Lending support is an expansive cast that includes Ed Helms, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Christopher Meloni, Jason Mantzoukas and cameos from just about every actor who has appeared in a critically acclaimed TV comedy over the last five years.

Wain’s surreal comedic tone is ever-present, and the increasingly absurdist shenanigans are undeniably hilarious, but in gleefully dwelling in the tropes of a genre deemed “cheesy” and “lame” They Came Together can’t help but get a little bit of cheese on its own fingers. The framing structure, which sees Rudd and Poehler telling their “how did you meet” story on a double date sets the rules of the game early on but ultimately turns into the kind of repetitive joke that delivers diminishing returns.

They Came Together is a very funny film, with hysterical moments a-plenty. But it is unlikely to reach the same lasting cult status as some of Wain et al’s other collaborations.

Grade: B

*They Came Together opens in theaters on Friday, June 27.

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Jersey Boys film

Different storytelling mediums have their advantages and disadvantages, obviously. Live theater is an intimate affair, giving the audience a story they can reach out and touch while film trades it’s two-dimensionality for a larger production scale freed from the confines of a dimly-lit stage.

Peculiar, then, is the way director Clint Eastwood chooses to approach his adaptation of Jersey Boys, one of the most celebrated and long-running musicals on Broadway. The film seems hesitant to shirk off its restraints and explore the big wide world, instead cramming its characters into small spaces and spending the bulk of its running time on one stage or another.

While that approach is much more realism-minded than the pseudo-fantasy elements of a ‘Chicago,’ ‘Music Man’ or ‘West Side Story’ (that is to say the singing is actually “singing”), it can also be a little lifeless, like a dramatized bizzaro-installment of an E! True Hollywood Story.

Instead of a being pulled into a world of song, the audience is given an experience akin to reading the Frankie Valli Wikipedia page while a great soundtrack plays in the background.

‘Jersey Boys’ follows the creation of the Four Seasons from their humble beginnings as petty criminals-cum-crooners in Newark, New Jersey through their rise to fame as the band that might’ve been The Beatles if The Beatles had never shown up.

The film uses fourth-wall piercing testimonials to advance the story, bouncing from the perspective of one band mate to another – though we never hear directly from front-man Valli (née Castelluccio). As can be expected, the band forms, the band struggles, the band catches a break, the band basks in success, then jealousies, infidelities and poor financial management before crumbling only to come back together for a group hug and a literal song and dance.

I’ve never seen the stage production of ‘Jersey Boys’ so I can’t speak to how faithfully or unfaithfully director Clint Eastwood hewed to the source material. What I didn’t expect was how gloomy Eastwood’s film is, shot with the same unsaturated lens as J. Edgar and punctuated only sporadically by moments of musical levity.

And speaking of J. Edgar, Eastwood again makes use of woefully unconvincing old-age makeup to launch his core cast a few decades into the future at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The geriatric version of John Lloyd Young’s Frankie Valli is particularly egregious, with his doughy and sagging flesh barely clinging to his face. The scene, albeit brief, is indicative of the larger film, which paints a portrait in dull grey of a group responsible for some of the most colorful and toe-tappiest tunes of the 60s and 70s.

At this point it’s assumed that any big name musical act went through its dark periods, and yet the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons doesn’t quite reach the same emotional depths of, say, ‘Ray’ or ‘Walk The Line’, resulting in a biopic that waxes melodramatic and never quite justifies its own existence.

But the music is great, with the core cast – wisely populated by unknowns – delivering fitting tributes to the iconic band. The script runs through the hits while also shining the spotlight on some lesser known gems, resulting in a movie that will likely be forgotten before the next marquee change but will inspire new Spotify playlists that live on.

Grade: B- 

*Jersey Boys opens nationwide on Friday, June 20  

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Bikram Yoga

I started doing Yoga during my last semester of college, when my scholarship demanded that I register for a full-time course load despite only needing six credits to graduate. That spring also saw me enrolling in group guitar and choir, and taking an hour to swim laps between classes. While not the most traditionally academic period of my life, is was a pretty good way to spend 15 weeks.

At the time, I was working as the editor of my college newspaper and the yoga did wonders for my stress levels (former colleagues may read this and think “that was the LESS stressed version?”). Since graduating I’ve tried to keep up with yoga, to varying levels of success.

But I’ve never done Bikram Yoga, or “Hot” Yoga, so-named because it is practiced in a room that is uncomfortably stifling. Bikram apologists will tell you all about the physical, mental and emotional benefits to this practice but I’ve always been a little nervous to try, as I don’t really handle heat well and because holding a pose is hard enough without the added challenge of practicing inside a wet sauna.

After the relative ease of last month’s Sushi class, it seemed like the right time to challenge myself. I found a Bikram studio in Salt Lake City’s Sugarhouse neighborhood and invited my friend Claire along for the ride.

Claire and I met in college as the result of an increasingly overlapping Venn diagram of mutual friends. Her neighbor Natalie married my roommate Ben and later on her cousin Meredith married my other roommate David.

Truth be told, I’ve found that approximately 90 percent of the population of Utah either knows Claire personally or is connected to her through one or two degrees of separation. You honestly can’t take her anywhere.

Bikram Yoga

She’s ok.

For our adventure we checked in at Bikram Yoga SLC, where the nice women at the reception desk assumed we were married and signed us up for the $20 introductory package, which is basically a 10-day all-you-can-sweat pass. We were told to take it easy at first, as the initial detoxification of Bikram Yoga could result in feelings of dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, night sweats, loose and bloody stool and in some cases death (I may have misheard the later entries in that list. My eyes kind of glazed over as they rattled on).

We found a nice spot along the back wall where I could surreptitiously take photographs without being noticed and learn from the example of our fellow classmates, as our instructor said she would not be demonstrating the poses. As I said, I’ve been doing regular yoga for a while now but I admit to having difficulty remembering which name applies to which contortion. Call me a noob but I just can’t keep my Ardha Candrāsanas straight from my Pādahastāsanas.

Bikram Yoga

Before we even started moving I had already transformed into the Swamp Thing. From the second I entered the 105-degree-farenheit room (with 40% humidity) I could feel my otherwise dry and coarse country-boy skin being replaced by an omnipresent and slippery sheen of moisture.

And I’m not talking about summer-afternoon-at-the-ballpark sweating, I’m talking about every square centimeter of your being covered in a dripping deluge of perspiration. By the time I was granted a sweet, sweet release into the comparatively frigid summer air outside I could not have been more thoroughly saturated if I had bathed in seawater.

The practice lasted 90 minutes, a full half hour longer than my typical twice-weekly class, during which my body underwent a blend of sensations that I imagine is akin to that of steamed broccoli. My head felt light, my skin tingled, my energy levels spiked and crashed and my breathing felt wet and heavy. It ended with the glorious sensation of a chilled towel, followed by a sprint into the air conditioned bathroom for an ice cold shower.

Properly pampered, and dangerously dehydrated, we skipped over to the nearest Jamba Juice to conduct our interview over some fruit and coconut water smoothies.

Jamba Juice

Wood’s Stock: Who are you and what do you do?

Claire Adams: My name is Claire. I live in Sugarhouse. You want to know my occupation?

WS: Whatever you feel answers the question “Who are you and what do you do?”

CA: I work with health care data for my day job and I try to survive things like yoga in the night. And it was a close call.

WS: How are you feeling right now?

CA: I feel really good. I don’t know if it’s because of the stark contrast between what I was in and where I am now.

WS: Then how were you feeling 30 minutes ago?

CA: I was pretty warm and honestly, during it I felt a little lightheaded and at that point I realized I needed to take it easy. It’s not worth passing out in class to get the pose right. I’ve done yoga before, even heated yoga, but this surpassed my experience so I always like to put myself in new positions to see how I take it.

Bikram Yoga

WS: What surprised you, what was different than your expectations?

CA: It was a lot hotter and more humid than I remember and longer. I feel like they kind of trap you in there for a long time.

WS: Paint me a word picture. What is hot yoga? What is it you did, and they did, and they did to you and you did to yourself?

CA: We started by putting a towel on our yoga mats. I thought ‘I don’t need a towel, I can handle this’

WS: And you were wrong?

CA: I was very wrong. Even when I have done a little bit of hot yoga before it’s just nice and warm, maybe you need to wipe your forehead off, but this, I looked down at my mat at the end and there was a body imprint of sweat. So that’s the end, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The teacher guided us through our routine and we started out with a breathing exercise, which, I was already a little lightheaded by the end of that. Like, you’re blowing out all your CO2 and your body is about to pass out to compensate for that. Then we moved into balancing poses and we did do actually my favorite yoga pose.

WS: Which one is that?

CA: Eagle pose, where you cross your arms and then you wrap your leg around and twist down and kind of hover there. You’re very focused and balanced. So that was a highlight. I didn’t feel like I was as effective because I was so sticky. I couldn’t wrap my leg around how I wanted to.

Then we started cooling down by doing some stretches on the floor and those kind of dragged out. I was like ‘all right, we’ve been cooling down for a long time here.’ I’ll tell you what, at the very end with that cold towel, it had to have some kind of chemical in there. Did you put it on your face?

Bikram Yoga

WS: I put it on my face. Well, first I wrung it out on my chest and that was like ecstasy. I seriously would have killed someone for that sensation. Then I put it on my face. But that was my next question, what did you think of the cold towel?

CA: It was amazing. I was thinking as it was sitting there ‘I hope they put that in the refrigerator or the freezer or something.’

WS: As they were passing them out?

CA: Yeah

WS: I reached out and poked it and just thought “Ohhhhhh yes, it’s cold.”

CA: Yeah, that was a little piece of heaven at the end there.

WS: Did you weigh yourself in the bathroom after?

CA: I didn’t, was there a scale?

WS: It’s been a while since I’ve weighed myself, but I was 10 pounds less then I should be. Ten.

CA: When was the last time you weighed yourself?

WS: Well, I’m usually pretty consistent at 175 so I probably weighed myself like a month ago. But I’ve been 175 for years, and I was 165 after yoga. But it was a digital scale, maybe my usual analog scale rounds up.

CA: Interesting, I wish I would’ve done that.

WS: So let’s talk about you a little bit. Let’s talk about extroversion because you’re the most extroverted human being I think I’ve ever met in my life.

CA: Realy? Because I feel like people misunderstand me in that sense.

WS: Tell me why I’m wrong.

CA: First of all, I’d like you to define extroversion and introversion.

WS: From what I understand, it is not whether a person is shy. That’s a common misconception. It has to do with how a person gathers and spends their energy. So an extroverted person becomes energized by being around people. An introverted person spends energy to be around people, so they’re exhausted by being around people.

So you steal my energy. You get more and more amped as I get less and less social. But would you say that does not describe you?

CA: Using that definition, I would say you’re probably pretty right. I do feel like I get energy when I’m around people and if there’s something to feed off of that’s when I feel…

WS: “Feed off of” is a good word for it. You’re feeding off me, that’s what you’re feeding off of, as I wither and die.

CA: Is it kind of like a parasitic relationship here?

WS: Yes.

CA: It can’t by symbiotic or anything?

WS: No, it’s definitely parasitic. It’s one-way.

CA: So in that sense I would say I’m very extroverted. And when I am alone, don’t get me wrong I do value some alone time, but that’s when I feel lonely. Life is not worth living unless there are people around.

WS: I disagree completely. People are monsters. Do you think you could ever live alone?

CA: I don’t know. I think I could. I think it would be a very different phase of my life. For the last year, year and a half I was in grad school studying and a lot of my classes where at night. All my roommates worked during the day time and it was kind of a strange time. Our schedules were opposite and I had to really…

WS: Use your words Claire, don’t bottle it in. You had to really what?

CA: I really valued my time with people and I guess I found things to fill it, I trained for a triathlon, I stayed to the schedule because a) I had time and b) I was terrified I would drown. So I spent the time doing that. In that sense I really kind of learned a lot about myself and kind of filled my time with things that were valuable.

It’s kind of a double edged sword. Spending time with people, I think, is never time wasted. I think spending time, just with people, making sure people are happy, that’s never time wasted. As a result, if you do spend time there you need to do laundry, or I should be reading, kind of developing yourself. We are 20s and 30s, a very pivotal time when you really develop who you are and habits that will carry throughout your life and your mind is still sharp, it’s still growing and learning and I think it’s really the time to cram it.

WS: Well I probably misspoke by saying you’re the “most” extroverted person I’ve ever met. I had a friend who literally couldn’t buy groceries by herself. She’d call me to go to the grocery store with her because she couldn’t even run errands alone. So you’re not that bad.

CA: After I threw my New Year’s Eve pig roast, we cleaned up and the next day I can’t even explain, I sat on the couch in a daze and I was like ‘what just happened to me.’ It took a long time for me to even be able to throw a party again because when I throw parties I can’t just go ‘oh, let’s get together and do this.’ If I throw a party, we’re going to make it different, we’re going to make it so people want to come, not these lame Game Nights. I hate that. Any good party has fireworks and good people.

So that was New Year’s Eve, what was it, 2012-2013? When you say New Year’s Eve is it…?

WS: New Year’s Eve is the year prior,  so it would be…

CA: 2012

WS: Well no, I take that back because whenever people talk about New Year’s Eve, like New Year’s Eve 2014, that would’ve been this most recent one, not the one that’s coming up.

CA: So it would’ve been New Year’s Eve 2013.

WS: Yup. Would you recommend hot yoga to others?

Bikram Yoga

CA: I would. I mean, here’s the thing. You’ve got to formulate an opinion on all the holistic type things. Until you experience it you can’t be for or against it. So I would say, definitely great experience, see where you stand, a lot of it I think is psychological, so if you feel good after, do it.

WS: Would you do it again?

CA: I would do it again.

WS: You have the ability to go for the next 9 days for free.

CA: I have the opportunity, to get the full detoxifying experience. I love yoga and I would go again, I don’t think I’d go every day to hot yoga because I think it’s a little, honestly unless you’re drinking a gallon of water I would say it’s probably not the best thing to do every single day, but that’s my own opinion. Do what you can but always listen to your own body.

WS: I really don’t know if I would go back. If I do go back I’ll remember to bring a change of everything because I’ve never felt more disgusting in my life as I did afterward.

CA: That’s true.

WS: Anything you need to promote?

CA: Like what kinds of things are you talking about?

WS: Whatever you want the readers of Wood’s Stock to know about. A new book? Is your album dropping? Have you discovered a website you think is tits?

CA: I would like to promote Radio Lab. It is one of my favorites and I think you can learn a lot from it.

WS: Is it a podcast?

CA: It’s a podcast. My favorite one actually is called The Good Show and it goes through, from a biological perspective, altruism and why people are good and then it ends with game theory, which is always a good thing.

WS: Always

CA: I love it. I can’t get enough of that stuff.

WS: Are you on twitter?

CA: I am, but I never post.

WS: What’s your handle?

CA: What does that mean?

WS: Yeah, you’re not a tweeter. What is your tweet-name. You’re @-what?

CA: (reaches into purse for phone)

WS: You don’t even know?

CA: I think it’s @Cladams104, but let me verify here.

WS: It’s on my business card. That’s something you gotta know.

CA: Twitter is just another thing to keep track of. I’m one QuizUp so if anyone wants to challenge me.

WS: Nerd.

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Utah Pride Parade

Utah’s Pride Festival rolled into downtown Salt Lake City this weekend and once again, organizers could not have asked for better weather. That’s great for attendees but not so great for pictures, so I (again) apologize for how washed out some of these look.

Utah Pride Parade

This year’s grand marshalls were the three couples who challenged Utah’s amendment 3, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Federal Judge Robert Shelby ruled in the couples’ favor in December, beginning a 17-day period when same-sex marriages were legal in the state, before a stay of Shelby’s ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court pending appeal.

The three couples were joined at the head of the parade by some of the Utahns that were married during that 17-day period, many of whom carried signs listing their wedding date and how long they had been together.

Utah Pride Parade

A Boy Scout Troop was also present to serve as color guard.

Utah Pride Parade

 

Two separate groups of members from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints participated in the event: Mormons building bridges, which is consistently the largest entry in the parade,

Utah Pride Parade

as well as Mormons for Equality

Utah Pride Parade

Utah Pride Parade

Both SLC mayors were present: Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker

Utah Pride Parade

and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.

Utah Pride Parade

University of Utah, Westminster College and Weber State University all had floats in the parade, and WSU President Charles Wight sported a purple and white headdress for his school’s entry. (Rear left of photo above).

Utah Pride Parade

A small group of protesters was present at the start of the parade. This man was actually pretty game, standing in the center of the street while the MCs read of his list of persons destined for hell, with parade attendees cheering at the various descriptors they self-associate with. He was then hugged by a small group of parade-goers.

Utah Pride Parade

These colorful balloon blossoms were a very popular feature this year.

Utah Pride Parade

Utah Pride Parade

Utah Pride Parade

Utah Pride Parade

This group performed “Keep It Gay” from the Producers. I wasn’t able to get him in the frame but they made sure to have a singing, dancing, rainbow flag-waving Hitler as part of their entry.

Utah Pride Parade

Utah Pride Parade

Flag twirlers from West High School

Utah Pride Parade

QUAC – The Queer Utah Aquatic Club

Utah Pride Parade     Utah Pride Parade

The final entry consisted of the largest flag I’ve ever seen (I’d wager it stretched from one intersection to the other, but I couldn’t get high enough to see) and accumulated donated money thrown from the watching crowds as it passed by.

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Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise’s last action extravaganza, 2013’s Oblivion, drew a mixed bag of reactions, drawing praise for its mood and visuals while being hit with demerits for the way its plot borrowed gingerly from a host of other, more established, sci-fi franchises.

So when the “Live. Die. Repeat.” marketing machine began revving up for Cruise’s latest, Edge of Tomorrow, you could almost hear the sound of the nation’s critics sharpening their pencils and jotting down every “Groundhog Day” pun they could think of.

Yes, we’ve seen these kind of time-loop shenanigans before and yes, combat exoskeletons are a staple of science fiction (see Aliens, Elysium, The Matrix, Avatar). But Edge of Tomorrow is more than just another cinematic Frankenstein’s Monster.

By pairing the always-game Cruise with the light-handed practical effects mastery of director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) EoT succeeds as an eye-popping summer smash that bounces with an unburdened and unimposing sense of fun.

Cruise stars as Private Cage, a demoted military officer who is flung to the front lines of a major military offensive after a display of cowardice. An alien race has crashed on earth, wiping out most of Europe, but the allied human resistance are betting big that a major surge of technology-enhanced soldiers can obliterate their enemy for good.

The attack goes poorly, with the alien “Mimics” apparently aware of the humans’ plans, resulting in a frantic and chaotic scene of death and destruction in which Cage is quickly dispatched by a squirming extra-terrestrial. Only instead of going gently into that good night, Cage awakens back at the military base, in hand-cuffs, seemingly repeating the eve of the invasion.

Cage’s immortality is quickly explained as he finds a partner in the form of Emily Blunt’s Rita, who experienced a similar phenomenon before rising the ranks as the war’s most decorated soldier. Rita helps Cage hone his skills as a warrior-seer while also working with him to identify the enemy’s weakness that will end the war once and for all.

The repetitions are handled deftly, with Liman knowing precisely when and how long to play a repeat for laughs and when to slow things down to allow forward momentum in the plot. The story also cleverly hides the extent of Cage’s experience, leaving the viewer unsure at times whether he is living a moment for the first time or painting by numbers.

Most impressive is Liman’s restraint with computer effects, opting whenever possible to outfit his stars in what must be horrendously bulky contraptions to run around and squabble in the mud. Obviously with a human-alien war there’s only so much the real world allows, but the moments of digital trickery are earned and more often used as a supplement to actual steel, sweat and flesh.

Where EoT fails, unfortunately, is its ending, which trades in on the goodwill built up by 90 minutes of creative storytelling to leave a glaring plot hole in the name of a group hug and a pretty pink bow. It’s not necessarily a bad, or even unexpected, finale, but a more daring choice would have elevated the film even further above the mold.

Grade: B

*Edge of Tomorrow opens nationwide on Friday, June 6

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