Fandango

I generally don't buy movie tickets from Fandango, since I try to avoid paying a service charge on top of the ticket price. The only exception is when Terry and I really want to see a particular film in Manhattan on a weekend. Theaters sell out so often there that buying your tickets in advance is the only sure way to get in to see the movie that you want at the theater that you want.

I do however use Fandango to look up showtimes and theater locations. When I was looking up some info today I also discovered that Fandango's site itself is a lot more fun than it used to be ("used to be" meaning prior to June 2003, when I last lived in Manhattan and used the site a lot).

There are now all kinds of games to play (trivia, bowling, mah jongg, sudoku, spider solitaire, and lots more), and you can make a paper-bag puppet avatar. If you check it out, click here to see mine (or search for "MrsThorsen" from the ratings page) and rate it. I'm not sure what happens when my bag gets points, but if it's like the other games if I get enough points I think I win free movie tickets. I played a few of the other games, but didn't score anywhere near high enough to be a weekly ticket winner. Nevertheless, I had some fun playing different games for about an hour. I hadn't planned on spending so long on the site, but the games were fun.

And I admit that I did check out the movie premier celebrity photos and read a few of their fluff articles. Their website designers have done a decent job at making the site "sticky", meaning it gives visitors a lot of different reasons to look around the site. So Fandango makes money now even from people like me who don't like to buy tickets through them, since they charge advertisers for everyone who visits the site to play games or look up info, etc. That's fine with me since I enjoy the content, and their ads aren't horribly distracting. But I use Firefox and so have a pop-up blocker, I can't vouch for the obtrusiveness of ads if you're using an old browser and are subjected to popups, I don't know if Fandango has them or not.

Bottom Line: Fandango still has an irksome service charge that prevents me from buying tickets through them unless there is a good chance that the particular show I want to see will be otherwise sold out. But I'm glad that their site now has fun games and activities in addition to their movie theater and showtime listings.

Russell Brand

I hadn't heard of this guy before, but he was a guest of David Letterman tonight. I wasn't expecting much based on his appearance, but he was so witty! What a delightful guest, most are so boring. He was promoting the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" but they didn't show a clip, so I'm still not interested in seeing the film. But I was interested enough to read about him on Wikipedia.

The Weekly Standard

I just read the 3/24/08 issue of "The Weekly Standard" since I'm at my parents' new house and didn't feel like watching TV. I'd heard of this magazine before, but this was the first time I'd actually read it.

It's got a right-wing bias, but I can't exactly place it. One article takes President Bush's former speech writer to task for suggesting that those who don't agree with all of the President's social programs are lacking in virtue.

There was an article about some private girls' school in Hollywood. Technically it was a book review, but read like an article. It was a little unusual in that the tone of the whole thing was patronizing like it was a silly school but the conclusion was that it was a very good school that trained its students well.

There was a story about all the musicians through history who have declined White House invitations, and their reasons.

The cover story was incredulous that Barack Obama found so many supporters who didn't realize that every word out of his mouth about "change" is the same old stuff politicians have been spouting forever. Barack Obama quotes were shown side-by-side with quotes from other politicians and it was pretty striking how many others presented ideas the same way. But this is not news to me, I know it's the same-old-same-old which is why I don't bother paying attention.

There was one bit in the very beginning of that article that I found amusing--some bloggers had determined that the sentence "we are the ones we've been waiting for" couldn't be translated into French, with the discussion of why this is so; neither C'est nous qui nous avons attendu or Ceux qui nous attendons, c'est nous sounds right to the French ear. I didn't expect to ready anything quixotic like that, but it made me smile. Also, I didn't realize that Barack didn't come up with it-- it's the title of a book by Alice Walker published two years ago.

My overall impression of the magazine is neutral. While the choice of topics seems clearly partisan to me (for example there's an article about how labor unions are bankrupting or close to bankrupting several cities with their excessive pensions), the articles themselves are admirably factual. I was generally impressed that the views presented were reasonable and considerably less inflammatory than their headlines would suggest. While I'm generally sympathetic to conservative ideology (I'm in favor of small government, personal responsibility, states' rights, pro-life / anti-death, and income tax simplification), and I appreciate that at least someone was writing from a non-liberal perspective, I nevertheless didn't find the articles all that compelling.

Except for the parody page near the back, I thought that was hilarious: Candidates Heighten Search For 'Most Pathetic American'. It always bugs me when politicians truck some poor unfortunate (PU) across the country to sit at their speech so they can use them as a prop when they say, "Jane Doe can't pay her bills because of x, y, z" as the camera pans to the PU as the politician finishes, "but I think that's a tragedy and I propose a, b, and c to fix the problem." It does make me wonder how many staff people they've got on the job just hunting down someone with the exact problem the politician wants to speechify.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I'm neither going to subscribe to the magazine nor go out of my way to buy issues or read it at the library, but I will read it if I find it lying around somewhere like a doctor's office or subway car (or more likely, my parents' house), since it's at least more interesting to me than "Road and Track" or whatever those car ones are that doctors all seem to have.

Macbeth, starring Patrick Stewart

Terry and I got tickets to see Macbeth on the strength of the NY Times reviewer who said something like, "see this and understand why this play has been talked about for 400 years." We went in expecting to be wowed, and I must say that the performance exceeded even my extremely high expectation. We were both glad we paid extra for the "premium" seats, we were able to watch with no distractions.

I had completely forgotten the plot, I just remembered there were ghosts and witches. I kept thinking that someone got stabbed through a curtain, but when I saw Polonius was not on the cast list I knew that must have been Hamlet I was remembering. So I got to watch the play "fresh".

Shakespeare starts the plot rolling right away--I like that. Right away we get the prophecy, the next thing you know the king is dead. The Macbeths certainly weren't much for careful pre-meditation, this ain't "Ocean's Eleven", but they do pay the price for their lack of planning. On the other hand, it was a crime of opportunity, so it would have been more complicated had they waited.

Patrick Stewart plays Macbeth as an initially jovial soldier transformed by power and ambition into a mad tyrant. Terrifying in his madness--his unpredictability kept everyone around him tensed in fear. And this production doesn't spare the stage blood. I think the more realistic violence is a very effective way to prevent the viewer from keeping an emotional distance. Instead of just watching a fictional play set back in the past with castles, etc., the setting, costumes, props, acting, all give more of a feeling that you're watching a news special or documentary about the violence of a current regime. They don't change the language of course, everything is still technically in Scotland, but the costumes and setting evoke Stalinist Russia.

Having not seen or read the play recently, I did have to pay close attention to follow the language and figure out what was going on. But once I figured out that "the Macbeths are ruthless and ambitious" was the premise of the play, it was so well-acted it was easy to follow along.

Really, it was gripping. My eyes were glued to the stage, it was all both exciting and horrifying. One scene I didn't remember seeing before was the slaughter of Macduff's family. I think other productions leave that part out--there's no dialog after the family is warned that they are in danger. But actually seeing them kill the woman and children sets you up for the most emotionally powerful (in both Terry's and my opinion at any rate) moment in the play, Macduff's reaction when he is told of the massacre. At that point it doesn't "sound" like Shakespeare, it is the heartbreaking words straight from the heart of the bereaved. Michael Feast was brilliant in that scene.

The over-the-top go-see-it-now reviews are all true. Do it. If you are capable of enjoying a Shakespearean play, buy your ticket, go to New York, see the show with its current cast. You're not going to get tickets in the discount line. But if your budget dictates, it's still better to see it from the far reaches of the rear balcony than to miss it. Don't take the kids. It's brutal. That's why it's so effective. With beheadings and terrorists still commonplace around the world today, it's a sad reminder of how little humans have progressed in all these years.

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