‘Water by the Spoonful’ causes tears by the bucketful

Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Pulitzer Prize winning play “Water by the Spoonful” just wrapped up production here at UW Tacoma. The performance was spectacular.

In particular, junior Lucas Gomez’s interpretation of Elliot Ortiz was captivating. Throughout the play, Elliot fights with his birth mother over past and present familial deaths, all while hiding a dark secret from his service as a Marine in Iraq. You could really feel the visceral anger and hurt in Gomez’s acting.

If you’re not familiar with the “Spoonful,” it can seem confusing due to the two different, yet equally prominent storylines — online chat room conversations and real time occasions with the Ortiz family.  However, by intermission, everything came together seamlessly in an epiphanic moment. The strings that tie the play together create a whole-picture vibe that lends itself to the realness of the story.

Each and every actor pulled you into the show, enough to want to respond to their wondering questions and painful testaments. The Cherry Parkes’ Broadcast Studio Theatre, was the perfect home for this play. The intimate set up better allowed for the actors to bring you into their lives as a member rather than viewer.

“Spoonful” was written to be real, which definitely works in its favor. It’s not soap opera dramatic, nor is it obnoxiously hopeful. It’s real life that each and every person can relate to in one way or another. It leaves you questioning your life, and what others had to go through. It leaves you happily mindless, with your brain doubtlessly replaying some of the most intense moments over again.

One instance of this was during a moving monologue by Writing Studies professor Walt Moore. His portrayal of FOUNTAINHEAD, a crack addict in denial, summarizes his upper class life to the existing chatroom members was astounding — especially when he is immediately shut down for his pompous attitude.

Having a faculty member audition and cast in “Spoonful” was a big step in the right direction for UW Tacoma’s ever-growing and diverse theatre community. Moore’s philosophy on acting alongside students was one future auditionees should follow.

“I feel like I am an equal with everyone else in the performance,” said Moore. “My experience is leaving my faculty label at the door.”

I’m no acting aficionado, but the cast also did a remarkable job at maintaining the reality of this tragic, funny and heartwarming story.  There is a friendliness and familiarity amongst the cast, as well as believable hurt and betrayal that lends itself to the realistic feel of “Spoonful.”

Overall, UW Tacoma’s production of “Water by the Spoonful” was a hit, performed exceptionally well by UW Tacoma affiliates and community actors. I would implore you to attend any coming UW Tacoma productions — you won’t regret it.

Review: ‘The Neon Demon’ — the ending is a saving grace

While “The Neon Demon” succeeds at stellar cinematography, it lacks in just about everything else.

“The Neon Demon,” a 2016 movie, has graced its presence upon me almost a year after its release. While the aesthetics dazzle, the only way you’ll get through the dialogue is by taking prescription medications.

In all fairness, the camera shots amaze — if you watch as a film critic. As an person watching for entertainment? Blah.

Thankfully, I can at least say I lived a peaceful 20 years before I saw the movie that left me physically angry that I wasted a painful 118 minutes of my life.

From director Nicolas Winding Refn, the movie’s trailer presents “The Neon Demon” as one of the best movies of the year. Unfortunately, the producers took clips out of context to form the trailer in an attempt to mask the main idea behind the film: “let’s see how many edgy camera shots the audience will sit through before running out of the theater screaming.”

To launch her aspiring model career, main character Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles. Upon arrival, an agent tells her that she’s a star. A large portion of the plot then shifts into other models hating her for her natural beauty that apparently nobody else has. She’s never had plastic surgery or dyed her hair. But the movie stalls — that’s the entire plot.

She then gets sucked into this seemingly drug-induced world of models who become psychotic killers — don’t worry we’ll get to that part. They hate her because she quickly rises to success after little to no work while they have tried to claw their way to a modeling career for years without quite making the cut.

Jesse starts out as a naive yet daring girl but rapidly turns into the vainest character in the film. Jessie always had a creepy vibe to her character. She says, “You know what my mother used to call me? Dangerous. ‘You’re a dangerous girl.’ She was right. I am dangerous.”

All mothers I know groom their children to manipulate and bask in danger — seems realistic.

Maybe this movie tries to say something deeper — like don’t expect a lot from a random movie you find on Amazon. In all seriousness, it makes sense. Jesse constantly says that “beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” When she says “Beauty’s the only thing,” I believe she  references the movie’s lack of plot and decent camera shots.

Am I stretching to find a meaning? Probably. However, you would search for meaning too if you’d just wasted two precious hours of your life.

After some seemingly human encounters with normal people instead of crazed models, you get hopeful that the film will get better. Spoiler — it doesn’t. At one time I shared your naivety and hopefulness for improvement. If we’re completely honest, I sat through this movie so you wouldn’t have to (you’re welcome).

Jesse ends up living with a hairdresser named Ruby, the only person that’s sort of her “friend.” However, she’s not really looking out for Jesse. I wouldn’t want to spoil what interesting encounter leads to this conclusion, but Ruby’s definitely not normal — let’s just leave it at that.

The models get tired of Jesse’s vanity and suddenly they’re running through a creepy old mansion with knives. And … scene!

The ending blatantly tests the audience. I’m pretty sure this horror movie remains in this genre because it could literally bore the audience to death. And by bore I mean it keeps enough attention so you think it’s getting good, and then sorely lets you down time and time again — like that ex that just won’t go away.

The wrap up for this movie contains one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. Let’s just say some cannibalism took place. That’s saying something seeing as I consider myself somewhat of a horror aficionado.

“The Neon Demon” shouldn’t stain Fanning’s career, she’s actually very talented. It’s regrettable that one of her first movies included … well, this.

I understand what Nicolas Winding Refn attempted to do. I really do. Maybe it’s my fault for watching an artsy horror movie. But in all fairness, the trailer definitely draws you in. In actuality, they spent so much time trying to act cool and indie that they forgot to write the plot.

Rating: 1/5

Pros

 

  • Elle Fanning performs great.
  • Visually nice camera shots.

 

Cons

  • A generally underwhelming experience.
  • Nonsensical plot.
  • Seems over-directed (like the director was trying to show off).
  • Blatant disregard for viewers’ time.
  • Comparing models to monsters. Super original.

Review: ‘Madam Secretary:’ A new take on political dramas

The 2014 series “Madam Secretary” shakes up everything you thought you knew about political dramas. Instead of thriller-like plot lines and corruption running rampant, we see a realistic yet interesting and wholesome show.

The series starts with Elizabeth McCord — played by Téa Leoni — being recruited for the Secretary of State position by the current president — played by Keith Carradine. McCord is an ex-CIA agent turned university professor and horse farmer. President Conrad Dalton worked closely with Elizabeth when she worked with the CIA, which is why he appointed her to the position.

This show is very different from all the other political dramas we’ve been flooded with in recent years. Elizabeth McCord isn’t political. She has no personal ambition to the presidency or any other higher political office, but she is a bright and very well-connected politician.

The directors of “Madam Secretary” do a wonderful job at taking very difficult and troubling situations and making them palatable for a larger viewership. We get an example of this in the pilot episode, when two young men are trapped in a foreign prison. Elizabeth tries to get the president on board with her plan to save the young men. However, the administration refuses to use a non-traditional approach to save them. McCord uses back channels and calls in favors from old friends in order to save the men, even though she got a slap on the wrist from the presidential administration.

The show articulates the balance it takes to care for children, maintain a healthy marriage and keep a social life, all while being a powerful political figure. Instead of being completely government focused, “Madam Secretary” takes you down a lovely path of the realistic (enough) life of a female political official.

Some criticisms of this 2014 TV Guide Award nominee for “favorite new show” argue that Elizabeth is simply too well connected. Many of the Secretary’s solutions to various international problems include asking the help of powerful people she just happened to go to college with, or a friend, or a parent of one of her children’s friends that happens to have the necessary connection or power to solve the issue.

However, someone in Elizabeth McCord’s position would have to be very well connected. In addition to this, Elizabeth has an innate ability to charm anyone. She has created many allies and benevolent associates that she can later call on.

In the pilot episode, McCord says that she’s “never met a situation where [she didn’t] have a choice in the matter,” which could very well be the show’s slogan. Elizabeth McCord only plays by the “rules” if they work in the situation. She often innovates and thinks outside the box in order to find a solution that no one else could possibly think of.

“Madam Secretary” is a fabulous combination between a Hallmark movie and a slightly less corrupt “House of Cards.” Lovers of politics, family life and drama will without a doubt binge watch this show.

Now if we could only get a season four!

Rating 5/5

Pros:

  • Shows balance between work and home life.
  • Strong and charming female protagonist.
  • Easy to understand political jargon.

Cons:

  • Only three seasons (some questions may go unanswered).

Review: ‘The Edge of 17’: The perfect depiction of high school

“The Edge of 17” is likely the most surprising movie of the year. What looks like just another teen chick flick turns out to be a deep and moving film. It didn’t make many waves when it came to theaters in 2016, but “The Edge of 17” has lately gotten stellar reviews from all types of moviegoers.

This movie tells the story of Nadine Franklin, a high school junior who’s life starts falling apart after her lifelong best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother, Darian. The rest of the movie shows Nadine’s struggles with feelings of inadequacy from living in her brother’s shadow as well as typical high school drama.

What is so phenomenal about this movie is the realistic yet heartbreaking situations that Nadine is put in. “The Edge of 17” should be such a sad movie. However, with exceedingly talented actors like Woody Harrelson and Hailee Steinfeld, this movie ends up, somehow, almost being a comedy.

Each character has their own niche and full personality, which adds generously to the authenticity of the film. Harrelson’s character, Mr. Bruner, is a good example of how the characters develop and grow throughout the story. Despite his lack of screen time, he ends up developing into a completely different person than what was shown in the body of the movie. Erwin, Nadine’s friend, also turns out to have much more going on than what I originally assumed.

Nadine’s story is tied up in her dealing with depression, which is subtly discussed throughout the story. After hitting rock bottom, she told her brother that she felt like she was “floating outside of [her] body, looking down at [her]self and […] hat[ing]what [she] [saw].” To the viewer who takes things literally, it may seem like the movie simplifies depression and anxiety. Nadine’s situation is actually a realistic scenario — she ends up with a good guy who loves her and treats her well and she ends up repairing relationships that were damaged by what she was going through.

What is so realistic about the ending of “The Edge of 17” is that you’re left with the question of whether Nadine continue to “hate what she sees” or if she is finally happy. The movie depicts her as being mostly happy by the end.

“The Edge of 17” wraps so many genres into one fabulous movie. Fans of indie films, teen flicks, comedy and more will no doubt be obsessed with this impeccably done movie.

Rating: 5/5

 

Pros:

  • Relatable and Realistic
  • The whole family will love this movie
  • Depicts teen years in a very unique way
  • Discusses mental health

 

Cons:

  • Nadine can be seen as very unnecessarily dramatic