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August 29, 2009

The NY Times is 100% correct

So, don’t listen to me when I tell you to get to Lenox to see Shakespeare & Co.‘s production of Twelfth Night. Listen to the NY Times, which just gave it a rave review.

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August 23, 2009

Why aren’t old games fun?

My nephew Joel Weinberger wonders why computer games we loved when they were new, ten or so years later aren’t as much fun to play. If Doom was a great game in 1993, why isn’t it still a great game? (To refresh your memory, you can play the first level of Doom online here.)

It seems to me that it’s particularly games that simulate the spatial world that suffer from this sort of aging. I find it remarkable and a little embarrassing that Doom had me crouching in my chair in fear, and got startle reactions out of me. Now my body hardly responds to it at all, although it’s still pretty much fun to play through. It seems that when Doom came out, it was so much better than the preceding run-and-gun games that my body treated it as if it were one step away from real. Contemporary games (say, the latest F.E.A.R., or Bioshock, or Dead Space) are orders of magnitude more photorealistic, but they don’t get me crouching any lower or startling any higher. It’s as if the brain has a Constant of Realism that invests the current highest-end simulation with the same maximal amount of attachment.

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August 22, 2009

Mind-blowing card trick

This is from Martin Gardner’s upcoming book (!), as reported in WordWays:

Take any nine cards from a deck. Any nine. Shuffle as much as you want.

Divide them into three piles of three, face down. Pick up any pile, look at the bottom card, and remember it.

Assemble the three piles, putting the pile you chose on top (all still face down).

Spell the number of the card you remembered. For each letter, deal one card off the top of the deck, face down. So, if it were a three of clubs, you’d spell T-H-R-E-E, resulting in a pile of five cards. If it’s a face card, spell out its name.

Put the remaining cards on top of the pile. So, if it were the three of clubs, you’d put the four remaining cards in your hand down on top of the five on the table. Pick up all nine.

Now spell “OF” the same way, putting down two cards and putting the remaining seven on top.

Now spell the suit (e.g., C-L-U-B-S) the same way. Again put the remaining cards on top.

Spell “MAGIC” the same way. Turn the “C” card over. It’ll be the one you’re remembering.

This trick was invented by Jim Steinmeyer

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August 6, 2009

Go see Twelfth Night

My family has gone to Shakespeare & Co. productions every summer for almost 30 years. We have taken the kids since they were nursing. Over the years, I’ve blogged about various plays we’ve seen, usually very positively. Shakespeare & Co. do lively stagings, with clear diction and no desire to have us sit still while watching A Classic. They are always entertaining and frequently moving.

We saw Twelfth Night this afternoon. It is the funniest production I think I’ve seen them do. If you are in or near western Massachusetts, I urge you to go. You will LYAO.

It was directed by Jonathan Croy, who we’ve enjoyed as an actor since seeing him as Bottom in A Midsummer’s Night Dream a few decades ago. He had us crying with laughter in the Pyramus and Thisbe play within a play, and we’ve seen him in just about everything he’s been in since. His direction of Twelfth Night is brilliant. Mainly it’s hilarious. But it was also at times quite moving. He finds every laugh, many bawdy, some hammy, and some perhaps not in the original — but Shakespeare would have approved, for, as always with Shakespeare & Co., this is not the broccoli Shakespeare you’re required to eat for your own good. This is delicious, hearty, deeply satisfying Shakespeare you can’t wait to get another helping of. This is Shakespeare after Shakespeare’s own heart.

Afterward, we went to a free lecture by Kevin Coleman, who heads the company’s educational program. His talk was informal, full of anecdotes. But by the end of the hour, he had made his point: Stop teaching Shakespeare in the schools. Instead, we should have students play Shakespeare. But not just put on performances after memorizing the lines.

He demonstrated one technique he uses. Students in pairs run up to a basketball hoop (he thinks Shakespeare should be taught on a playground, to convey the sense of play) dribbling an imaginary ball; one kid passes the ball and the other shoots a nothing-but-net shot, and then they high-five or otherwise exult. Next, he gives one kid in each pair a single line from a random Shakespeare play. They run up to the hoop. The one with the line speaks it loudly but flatly — “passing” it — and the other kid delivers the line to the audience. The combination of bodily movement and the fact that the line doesn’t have to be memorized gets the kids to find the heart of the line. This is way better than having kids read a play at home and then call on them to read a line from a page.

Kevin says that he then has them do entire scenes, each player being fed all the lines by a partner, without having read the play first. The players therefore can look at each other as they say the lines, rather than look at the script. They find the rhythm, the meaning, and the feeling. At Kevin’s lecture, we did the one line version, and the results were impressive. I could see it working for an entire play.

Kevin also argued against the “translation” process most teachers and Shakespeare books use, by which we ask students to re-express Shakespeare’s words in their own language. This seems like a way for students to appropriate the text, but it also strips out the beauty and resonance of the language. His example was the line when Romeo first sees Juliet: “What lady is that, which doth enrich the hand of yonder knight?” When, with good intentions, teachers ask students to re-express that line, it comes out something like “Who’s the girl?” or “What’s the name of the fox?” Sure, that’s what Romeo is asking, but the translation loses everything. Shakespeare’s language gets turned into “French fries,” Kevin says.

Anyway, go see Twelfth Night.

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August 1, 2009

has Shark Week jumped the shark?

The Discovery Channel thought I’d be interested enough in “Shark Week” to open an email from them about it. Apparently I was, but only in a meta way. Twenty-four years after Jaws, do we still find sharks so threatening that they get their own week of TV? Sure, they’re killing machines, but so are ant-eaters. Sure, they very very occasionally kill one of our own species, but so do woodpeckers, and death by woodpecker is way more grisly, not to mention time-consuming.

Besides, it’s Cold Cereal Week on Top Chef, so I’ll be otherwise engaged.

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On a more literary note, I just finished Richard Price’s Lush Life. Price is one of my favorites — great at characters, sentences, social worlds, and bruised moralities. Lush Life has the form of a police procedural, although in some ways it’s an anti-procedural. (I say no more, lest I venture into the spoilers realm.) My only disappointment with it is that Price he doesn’t go as deep into some of his characters as others; he often excels as a writer about race, but this novel the main white characters felt more surely drawn than the main black ones. Still, I really enjoyed it.


July 9, 2009

Brad Sucks latest album for free — and Brad still gets paid!

NOTE: The 50 copies are gone. Took about an hour.

I’m trying an experiment with a business model I like to call a reverse referral fee. Here’s how it works…

You click on a link that lets you download a copy of Brad Sucks’ latest album, Out of It. The album of wonderful music is yours for free in every sense. (Share it! Please!) But, I’m going to pay Brad for each copy downloaded, at a bulk rate he and I have agreed on.

This offer is good for the first fifty people who download it. After that, you can buy a copy on your own. Of course, Brad also makes his music available for free (in every sense), but don’t you want to support a truly webby, big-hearted musician who’s giving us his talent free of copyright, studios, and DRM? Doncha?

So, if you want to be one of the fifty, click here for your free-to-you-but-not-to-me copy of Brad Sucks’ Out of It.

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May 28, 2009

May 22, 2009

New Chuck Norris jokes

After reading Chuck Norris’ two columns against hate crimes legislation (1 2) —the “Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act…could not only criminalize opinions (an unconstitutional act) but also provide elevated protection to pedophiles” — and Media Matters’ response, I think it’s time for a new round of Chuck Norris jokes:

Chuck Norris can crush facts with his bare opinions.

Chuck Norris doesn’t have to leap to conclusions. He just sits there and conclusions leap to him.

Chuck Norris thinks homosexuality is a choice, but his oiled, bare chest isn’t so sure.

You think those jokes are lame? Me too. But that’s why Chuck Norris gave us comment sections…

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May 19, 2009

“The Daily Show”: a fanboy’s notes from the audience

Our thoughtful and inventive children gave us tickets to “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” for Chanukah. Yesterday was the day.

We had an easy ride from Boston to NYC on the MegaBus, which was clean and on time. But, although they promised free wifi, it was actually wifi-free once we left Boston. (Word order makes such a difference!) Nevertheless, for $15 each way per person, it’s hard to muster a good head of complaint.

We stayed at the Blakely Hotel, which was excellent, especially since they let us put four in a room. The rate included a continental breakfast. Put a few of those together on a plate and you’ve got yourself a breakfast.

We spent the morning and early afternoon walking around lower Manhattan, then subwayed up to the Museum of Natural History — oh those bones still amaze, plus, unlike today’s fancy-dancy science centers, you can actually learn stuff there — and then walked through Central Park to the Daily Show studios on 11th Ave., between 51st and 52nd.

When you get the tickets (an email), you’re told that the line starts to form at 3:30. So, some of us got there at 2:30. Sure enough, there were ten people ahead of us already. At 5:15, they actually let you into the building. So, it’s a looong time on line, or, as some of you say, in line. While you are waiting, you are read a long proclamation of restrictions: No large bags, no weapons, no drugs, no food, no gum. All phones off. Be prepared to go through the metal detector. Show your drivers license. (No one under 18 is allowed in.) No twittering or blogging, especially since your electronic devices have to be switched off. No flash photos. Don’t ask Jon to hug you, kiss you, sign autographs, or “anything else creepy.” There are bathrooms downstairs, but once they let you in, they will not let you out.

Once we seated, there was another hour of waiting, much of it with punkish rock music blaring, not quite loudly enough to drown out the 18 year olds behind us who thought they were very witty indeed. After a while, the warm-up comedian came out. No set jokes, just audience interaction. The audience seemed to love him. He was a little too much of a humiliate-the-audience sort of guy for my taste, but I’m old and easily made to squirm.

Then Jon Stewart came out and took questions. Because the show was running late — during rehearsals they discovered some of the material, “how you say, sucked,” JS explained, and it had to be rewritten — he only took four or five questions, which he used for riffing. When someone responded that it was his first time in the city, JS explained why NYC “is a city that works” compared to DC, which irrationally has four “Eighth Streets,” and therefore is a “shithole.” (As you might imagine, it was way funnier in JS’s hands). Some kid started to ask whether he should go to the funeral of his best-friend’s fiance’s dad, and JS cut him off and said, “Yes! You go to the funeral” even though you don’t know the dead guy, because your best friend asked you to. And you try not to make the funeral all about you. It was moral-stance-as-humor, which we love JS for (and, I suppose, some hate him for).

Anyway, JS’s warm-up was great. He’s smart, funny, and a mensch, which is why we came down from Boston to see him.

The show was pretty good, but you can judge for yourself here. I loved the opening segment, about Obama at Notre Dame. The Wyatt Cenac at-desk interview was pretty funny, but I am not his biggest fan; our kids loved it.

While waiting, we had speculated about who the guest would be. Might it be Will Ferrell, who was in town for SNL and has a movie opening? Might it be Joss Whedon, simply because we love him? How about Dick Cheney, and if so, would it be appropriate for me to yell “War criminal!” from the audience? As it turned out, the guest was Indianapolis 500 driver Sarah Fisher.

By the way, throughout the taping, it was odd to hear JS swear. I think it actually works better with the bleeps; the swear are jarring. At least until we get used to them.

At the end, Stephen Colbert came on the monitor and they chit-chatted. It went on for an unusually long time, and it was only after JS said something like, “Ok, let’s do this,” that we realized that they were really just chit-chatting; the official, on-air promo started after that. It was actually pretty charming. When Colbert said what he’d done that weekend, it took JS’s prompting to get him to say that not only had he received an honorary degree, the university named a building after his father, who had been a provost (or something) there; Colbert’s reticence to brag was, of course, at odds with his persona.

Then it was over. We walked to 9th Ave, twittered for vegetarian restaurant suggestions, and ended up having a terrific meal at Zen Palate. Then, onto the MegaBush for a 2AM arrival.

Was it worth doing? Absolutely. We all love the show. If anything, we admire JS more than ever. It’s a long wait, and you are merely a prop for the show, but there Jon Stewart was, right in front of us! Being all Jon Stewart-y!

Our one regret: At the very beginning, JS made some comment about something weird happening in the audience. We always wonder what he’s going on when he makes these audiences references. But we couldn’t see what weird thing had happened! Nooooo! [Tags: ]


May 14, 2009

Google Wonderwheels

kevin bacon wonderwheel

Let the games begin.

(Wonderwheels are a new browsing option available when doing a Google search. When you do a search, click on “Show Options” and then on “Wonderwheel.”)

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