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Sunday in the Park

It sounds rather frivolous to say part of my job is to watch films and plays and award shows — and even some bad television — to research what and who would be good to bring to Our Town to entertain us. Sometimes, truth be told, I just watch as a diversion.

And then there is our strange family dynamic, that started a least a decade ago, when my kids were teenagers. That would be our manic rush to see the five nominated films before the Oscars and when we’re really crazy, the top nominated actors that are in films other than those top five. Once, I remember my daughter, who was busy in college at the time, behind me and her brother in terms of films seen. In a 36-hour period leading up to the awards show, she mapped out the movies at a variety of theaters around the Salt Lake Valley and ran around from popcorn counter to popcorn counter until an hour before the ceremony and she had finally watched all the top films.

You might think this is crazy behavior. And you would be partially right. But my rule of parenting was always anything that gave us a common language that wasn’t violent or emotionally hurtful or dangerous was fair game as a bonding tool. This also included having a favorite dinner meal for breakfast, say, reheating take-out Chinese food or last night’s lasagna.

I don’t remember if we ever bet on who the winners would be, but I do remember heated discussions about why certain actors should be elevated or excluded. Jenny, who had a few years off with a small child and didn’t see a movie, has once again jumped back in the theatre seat. She recently viewed "Babel," a nominated film starring Brad Pitt. Though I haven’t seen the film, she says her current argument against it is there are too few hot guys in films and making Brad Pitt not look hot is really a crime against us all. I’m eager to see if I agree.

Before the nominations were announced, my current movie buddy of choice and I stole an afternoon and saw "Dream Girls," which, though nominated for numerous awards, was not nominated for best film. And I’m OK with that. The film was great fun but the storyline was thin and so were some of the performances. Taking Broadway shows and trying to make them into smash films is a tricky business at best. Still, Jennifer Hudson’s tour de force performance is worth every minute and the price of admission.

Since the announcements I managed a double, a rather film festival-like behavior, and saw both the "Pursuit of Happyness" and "The Queen" in one day. Both are nominated for best film. "Pursuit" is sweet but again, thin on plot. Will Smith, who is rumored to be looking at a home here, puts on a terrific performance and his son, wow, amazing. But to date, the most impressive film from start to finish, is "The Queen" with Helen Mirren, who has already picked up a fistful of awards for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth The Current. The film follows the few days following the death of Princess Diana and the Royal Family’s response to that tragedy. Everyone in this film is so incredibly believable. Interspersed with the fiction, is actual footage of Diana and news reports of her death and the enormous public outpouring of grief in the days that follow, which lend a kind of documentary quality to the film, not unlike "Bobby." Helen Mirren simply inhabits the space known as The Queen. She frumps herself up and at the same time lends an understanding to a very private woman who inherited a lifelong job entirely too young and has watched the expectations of her position change dramatically in her lifetime.

Juxtaposed with the film viewing was a business trip to New York where we managed to fit three Broadway shows into four days. Winners of a mantle full of Tony Awards, "Drowsy Chaperone," which is very sweet and "The Jersey Boys," the story of Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons. But the best show we saw is the new, still slightly underground smash, "Spring Awakening." A friend had recently seen the show and insisted on arranging tickets for this already-sold-out musical. I can’t really explain the plot without giving away the show, but don’t go reading a plot summary and think you get it. The incredibly hip music by Duncan Shiek, set against the repressive late 1800s in Germany, would seem to be jarring, and it is a bit. So are the sets and the lights and the techniques used. And they all work. Seeing German girls in frumpy shapeless dresses rock out to the refrain, "We’ve all got our junk and my junk is you" is wacky and wonderful. Look for this musical to pick up the next round of Tony’s come June.

I was asked recently to look into bringing a former "American Idol" winner to perform in town, so I did my homework. Before the Grammy’s, Carrie Underwood was commanding $200,000. Since then, I understand her price is up to $300,000. So wow, and good for her. And no, that isn’t a price playground we can go to.

So I keep up my research. This week I plan to try and fit in both "The Departed," though my friend says it is very violent and I’ll just need to get past all that, and "Volver," which stars Penelope Cruz and is supposed be a star turn for her. I am also in the middle of the new Paul Auster novel, "Travels in the Scriptorium," which is stark and strange and captivating.

It’s that time of year, that mid-season despite-what-the-groundhog-didn’t-see point, when a good book or film or show pushes us back into thinking about issues greater than ourselves. So treat yourself in the days ahead, steal an afternoon and see a film nominated for any award so you feel part of that dialogue. Or burrow into a chair with a book beside a fire and leave your surroundings in both time and place. Traveling to different cultures and getting inside somebody else’s head is what exploring art is all about. It costs next to nothing to do and you can indulge yourself any ol’ winter’s day, even Sunday in the Park&


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