John Travolta (Edna Turnblad) and Nikki Blonsky (Tracy Turnblad) in Hairspray.
Last week Josh and I went to a preview screening of Hairspray, the film version of the Broadway musical based on John Waters's classic film. (Not many movies have a genesis like that, right? Divine to Harvey Fierstein to John Travolta in a fat suit in a big summer movie? But I digress.)
The film mostly follows the Broadway plot: we follow a chubby-yet-spunky teenage girl in 1960s Baltimore who wants to dance on an unsegregated TV show. (The movie takes a few liberties with the Broadway plot, including a major change to the Broadway ending; I won't spoil it here, but perhaps after the movie debuts we'll revisit the plot changes.)
Nikki Blonsky, plucked from obscurity to play Tracy Turnblad, the film's hero, does her job well. She maneuvers the opening number smoothly, which takes some adjusting to for those who have seen the Broadway production. Tracy's mother, Edna, played by John Travola, is more of a stumbling block. Travolta takes on a faux-Baltimore accent that comes and goes and is never convincing. Travolta wears his fat suit but forgets to bring the sass and strength that made other Edna Turnblads so much fun in the original film and on stage.
There are plenty of stars in this Hairspray. James Marsden, perhaps best known for his role as Cyclops in the X-Men films, plays Corny Collins, the host of the TV show Tracy longs to infiltrate. James dances, sings, and shows his pearly whites with abandon and is one of the surprise treats of the movie. Michelle Pfeiffer plays a racist diva, but we're reminded that, as we learned in Grease 2, the poor thing can't sing. (Also, we hereby vote "Miss Baltimore Crabs" the song most in need of cutting from the Hairspray oeuvre, but maybe that's just us.)
Amanda Bynes is fun, if a bit underused, as Tracy's best friend, Penny. Christopher Walken plays Tracy's father, and hams it up in his big romantic number with Travolta ("You're Timeless To Me") in full blubber suit regalia. Queen Latifa is again a dependable movie musical star (with her post-Chicago breast reduction on display here) as Motormouth Maybelle, turning in a wholly respectable performance.
Allison Janney has what amounts to a cameo role as Amanda Bynes's ultra-conservative mom, Mrs. Pingleton. She gets the biggest laugh of the movie, though, when she grounds her daughter for unladylike behavior and splashes holy water at her daughter saying, "Devil child, devil child!" It's the kind of comedic turn we haven't seen her do since the cult classic Drop Dead Gorgeous.
The bottom line is that Hairspray, despite a few foibles, is a lot of fun. It's got great energy, and the music and choreography are in great form here.
Last week, while on a brief vacation to visit my family in Minneapolis, I read Anderson Cooper's book Dispatches From The Edge. I had first read an excerpt of the book in Vanity Fair more than a year ago when Anderson did double duty as cover boy.
After reading the Vanity Fair excerpt I thought the book would explore more of Anderson's personal life, but instead it focuses much more on his years covering wars in Iraq and Bosnia, the tsunami in Sri Lanka, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and civil war and starvation in Niger and greater Africa.
Anderson's past is woven throughout the book in a flashback format that works fairly well. Amidst the stories from his travels and reporting we hear about Anderson's privileged upbringing in New York City as a descendant of the Vanderbilt family, about his father's death at an early age, his brother's suicide, and his early years as a reporter gunning to go wherever the story is, danger be damned.
Anderson's background as a TV reporter works well here as his story unfolds in easy to digest segments, as if they were a part of one of his television shows. (Anderson is also a regular contributor to Details, and his prose style is much the same here: emotive and direct.) Though the language can at times be a little over the top, as is frequent with television reporters, it's easy to move beyond that and invest in the story.
It would have been easy to make this a dry, boring read, but the book turns out to be a page-turner, informative yet interesting. Another great boon is getting to hear honest opinions from Anderson on the stories he's covering, telling us what he's thinking while he's reporting from around the globe. (He has no kind words, for example, for some members of Congress and for the president during Hurricane Katrina.)
Notably absent here, of course, is any mention of romantic interests or intrigues. It's widely speculated that Anderson is gay and unwilling or uninterested in coming out. However, gay or not, Anderson seems to show us a reporter's life thrust forward from grief: after his father's early death and brother's suicide, Anderson is something of a workaholic who feels he has nothing to lose when signing up for dangerous assignments. It would have been interesting to hear about how Anderson's life as a globe-trotting reporter has affected his romantic relationships, assuming that he has had them, but it seems we'll have to wait for another book for that.
In the meantime, Anderson has written a book worth picking up, providing perspective on his reports from abroad and even a bit on himself.
Josh and I have been Jay Brannan fans since we saw the movie Shortbus (and met a few of its stars) and fell for the film's song "Soda Shop", performed by Jay. (The video of Jay singing the song has since been seen more than a million times on YouTube.)
Now Jay has released an L.P. on iTunes called "Unmastered" and two of its tracks ("Half-Boyfriend" and "Body's a Temple") have been burning it up on my iPod for the last couple weeks.
Below check out Jay performing "Half-Boyfriend." (The song starts two minutes in.)
If you need a little more Jay Brannan, check out the video for "Body's A Temple."