Gone: The Colbert Report

I don’t usually get misty when a television show ends. Most TV shows either die too soon or live on long after Fonzie jumped that shark. It’s a rare thing for a show to end at just the right time.

It wasn’t time for “The Colbert Report” to end. Sure, nine years is a respectable run and it’s not like the show was canceled. Stephen Colbert is ending The Report to take over David Letterman’s “Late Show” on CBS. It’s a bigger network, a wider audience, no doubt much more money.

But it’s such the wrong thing to do.

colbert-reportStephen Colbert, faux-conservative firebrand, egomaniac and lovable dunderhead was something rare and wonderful on television — a unique character on a show that made you laugh and made you think. Stephen Colbert, talk show host, is probably not going to be that different from Jimmy Fallon or any of the other late-night talk show hosts. Oh sure, he’ll come up with some funny bits and viral videos but who’s going to warn us about the dangers of bears, help us better know congressional districts, explain super-pacs, warn us about the people and movies that are destroying America, and give us The Word?

Of course, I shouldn’t sell Colbert short. I didn’t think The Report would work either when it was first announced. Stephen was arguably the funniest fake journalist on “The Daily Show,” but giving him a half-hour each night to pretend to be a fake conservative blowhard? How long could that last? And don’t we have enough real conservative blowhards? Do we really need a fake one? Do conservatives even get satire?

But I was wrong. “The Colbert Report” was consistently entertaining for nine years, often outperforming the show it sprang from. Oh, the finale was mostly lame — aside from the massive singalong — but few great shows have great finales. Remember “Seinfeld?”

So, farewell Stephen. Enjoy your break. Since I’m one of the few old souls who still watches Letterman, I’ll be there when you come back.

Prove me wrong again.

 

 

On Stage: A Christmas Story, The Musical

I suppose many people have a favorite Christmas movie. That film they try to watch every December when the holiday rolls around.

I used to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” for a few years until I got tired of it. I’ll usually stop for “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when I’m channel surfing.

One Christmas movie I’ve never sat through is “A Christmas Story.” It’s not that I haven’t had the chance. TBS has been known to run it on a 24-hour loop on Christmas Day. The 1983 family-friendly comedy about a young boy who dreams of a BB-gun under the Christmas tree just never held much appeal to me.

Colton Maurer and the company of "A Christmas Story."

Colton Maurer and the company of “A Christmas Story.”

Now the popular show, based on the writings of Jean Shepherd, has been set to music and taken to the stage. It’s now playing at the Fox Theatre.

Chris Carsten stars as Shepherd, who serves as narrator as he tells a story from his childhood to his radio audience. It’s the 1940s in a small town in Indiana and a young boy named Ralphie (played by Evan Gray and Coulton Maurer on alternating performances) just wants one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB gun.

His mother (Susannah Jones), teacher (Avital Asuleen) and even Santa (Andrew Berlin) argue against it, for fear he’ll “put his eye out.” The Old Man (Christopher Swan) is more concerned about proving his worth by winning a contest to care about Ralphie’s wishes.

“A Christmas Story, The Musical” is a cute, fun show that’s dripping with nostalgic Americana wrapped in holiday ribbon. The kids deal with bullies and double-dog dares; dad’s usually not home but he’s always there to fix the furnace or a flat tire; mom holds it all together. It was a time when a child would fear for his life if dad caught his cursing or fighting. Almost a different world.

I took along a friend who is a big fan of the movie and she assured me it followed along pretty faithfully (She also said she loved it and thought it was hilarious). I’d seen enough clips of the film to know what to expect. Every major scene was turned into a musical number — even the infamous leg lamp gets in the act (as you might expect, it involves a chorus-line kick step).

The musical highlight of the show was the “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” number featuring Asuleen and a number of talented tap-dancing kids.

“A Christmas Story” is a sweet, sentimental tale with a number of laughs. The songs aren’t particularly memorable but the cast and orchestra deliver them with heart. The sets and costumes are perfect for the time and place of the show. It’s a solid holiday entertainment.

“A Christmas Story, The Musical” runs through Jan. 4 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

At The Movies: The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

And with that, I am officially Tolkien’d out.

Oh, it’s been a fun ride for the most part. The characters were interesting; the set designs were massive; the battle scenes were massive; the dragon was cool; Gollum was creepy, oh — and the giant spiders — also creepy; the special effects were fantastic; and giant, talking trees long before Groot.

Sure, it went on too long and dragged in places — many, many places — but overall Peter Jackson made me care about Middle Earth far more than J.R.R. Tolkien ever did. I only made it one-third of the way through “The Hobbit” as a book and never bothered to pick up the rest of the series. I made it through all six movies — even the extended editions.

Still, I’m done. If I never see another Hobbit, Orc or people marching single file through the gorgeous scenery of New Zealand, I’ll be fine.

The-Hobbit-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-poster-9-691x1024Which brings us at long last to “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” the third movie in a series based on one book — a book that I’ve been assured by someone who read it all the way through didn’t need to be turned into a trilogy.

When last we left Middle Earth, hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf buddies have majorly upset Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose been living on a big pile of gold in what was formerly the dwarves’ castle.  Smaug flies out to set fire to nearby Laketown but is quickly dispatched so we can get on to The Battle of the Five Armies (although to be honest I only counted four).

With Smaug out of the way, dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) becomes obsessed with the dragon’s gold. When human and elf representatives show up wanting their share, Thorin refuses which sets the stage for battle. Meanwhile, the orcs who have been dogging Bilbo and company throughout the story have now arrived en masse to make it an even bigger fight.

Elsewhere, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has been setting things up for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy before making his way to the Lonely Mountain to help with the battle.

If you’ve stuck with the series until now then you know what to expect from this final chapter (I covered most of it in paragraph two). Hobbit 3 is much better than 1, about on par with 2, and a satisfying ending for the series. It’s more action-packed and there are some really thrilling action sequences.

It’s also the shortest of Jackson’s Tolkien movies, clocking in at a measly (for Jackson) 144 minutes. There are still plenty of scenes that go on too long but for the most part it moves briskly for a film in this series.

Ronnie, Laurie and Andrew’s Kansas City Christmas Spectacular

Part 3: Day at the Museum, Night at P.F. Chang’s

100_2311After one day and two nights on the plaza we were ready for something different. Laurie suggested the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art because, well, she’s classy like that. Since I had already been to the comic book store I had no further agenda. Art museum it is.

We had a pleasant breakfast — many of the kids had left — and were looking forward to an evening at the pool/hot tub without any distractions. When we went to schedule the van ride we were told the art museum didn’t open until noon (despite its website saying it opened at 10 a.m.). So we went to Crown Center to kill some time.

100_2320Crown Center was all decked out and we were able to get some nice photos. The shopping wasn’t much to speak of but we did spend quite a bit of time in the Crayola store. There was a large canvas there where The Artist was able to occupy his time while Laurie shopped.

After about an hour we had done all there was to do and it was getting crazy crowded anyway so we called the hotel and had them pick us up and drop us off at the museum.

 

100_2335The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art  is about as nice a museum as you’re going to find that doesn’t have dinosaurs. It has a mummy and some knights in armor and a giant Buddha and giant shuttlecocks and a room full of Impressionists’ paintings for The Wife. We spent a few hours wandering about and waiting on Laurie to catch up. Fortunately there are many benches there.

Caught the shuttle back to the hotel where we discovered water all over the floor next to the wet bar. Not our fault. Someone came up with a bunch of towels and mopped it all up but didn’t seem to concerned about where the water came from.

100_2339That night we walked back to the plaza for dinner at P.F. Chang’s. I was in the mood for Chinese and it looked like a nice place and I’d heard of it and had never been there and besides it was on the edge of the plaza closest to our hotel. The problem is Andrew can be picky and he doesn’t like sauce on things, but he does like egg rolls even if he makes a mess eating them. We got him the sweet-and-sour chicken with sauce on the side (in other words: no sauce) and that worked out well. Everything was delicious. Not eating lunch every day makes dinner much more tasty.

100_2314We returned to the hotel, which was now free of little ones, and decided to end our visit with a night at the pool. We got down to the lobby as a large, loud contingent of young adults showed up all dressed in suits and dresses. Wedding party or something. None of our concern.

Went to the pool and it was empty but there were four people in the hot tub. No big deal. We can be patient. We’ve waited three days, what’s another half-hour. A half-hour later the large, loud contingent of young adults we’d met earlier had now converged on the pool area. There were now 20 people in the hot tub (which should really only fit about six) and it was clear they were here for the long run.

We packed up our things and left. One nice young man did come out and apologize for his group, but hey, that’s the price you pay for trying to use public facilities. I would like to say we went back upstairs and there was something good on HBO, but we all know that’s a lie.

The next morning we packed it up and headed out. We stopped in Columbia for lunch at Shakespeare’s Pizza — the greatest pizza of all time. Went to one of their new locations and holy crap, that town has exploded with retail. I don’t recall any development in that area when I was a student there.

Lunch was delicious and we made it home with no problems. Laurie immediately began planning our trip for next year. And lo, a Christmas tradition is born.

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After a week back home, she’s now planning on going there monthly.

Ronnie, Laurie and Andrew’s Kansas City Christmas Spectacular

Part 2: City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style

The Cheapskate’s Rules for Vacationing:
1. Meals are expensive. Find a hotel with free breakfast. Fill up, skip lunch.

Our hotel had a very nice breakfast spread. More than made up for the weak happy hour spread. They even had an omelette bar. Unfortunately, they had a guy dishing out the bacon and sausages. I don’t need help piling on the bacon and sausages. But I guess that’s why the guy was there.

Sadly, they also had 16.5 million little kids running around the breakfast area. Why aren’t these kids in school? I don’t care if it is Saturday.

After breakfast we caught the shuttle back to the plaza. It was time for some Serious Shopping. I had no shopping to do. Andrew had no shopping to do. But someone in our party did. I should point out that Country Club Plaza has many, many stores — few of any interest. There’s a Barnes & Noble and a toy store called Zoom, but that’s it. Guess who had no interest in going to either of those stores? If you guessed the person who would be doing the shopping, you guessed right.

I didn't take any pictures of the shopping, so enjoy more pictures of the plaza at night.

I didn’t take any pictures of the shopping, so enjoy more pictures of the plaza at night.

I learned over the next 4+ hours that there are good stores and bad stores. Good stores always have comfortable chairs and couches for their customers. Bad stores do not. Beauty Brands is a bad store. A very, very bad store because we spent a long time in there with nowhere to sit. Do you know what they sell at Beauty Brands? Beauty products. You can’t even pretend to browse in a place like that if you have a Y chromosome.

Some of the good stores: Vera Bradley, West Elm, White House/Black Market. Other bad stores: Bath and Bodyworks; that place that sells overpriced Royals/Chiefs gear.

One surprising find was Pottery Barn Kids. Why are we going in here? Our kid is 23 years old. But hey, I just follow along. I was less than impressed until I came across the section that was Marvel/DC/Star Wars stuff — there were quilts and sheets and pillows and wall hangings and little wooden Marvel figures. They even had a Hawkeye, but you had to buy it in a set.

100_2294By 3:30 p.m. Laurie had bought all there was to buy and we decided to walk back to the hotel. Why we decided to walk the one time we had packages I do not know. I did know that we had roughly 90 minutes of daylight left and — according to google maps — I was a 13-minute walk away from Clint’s Comics. I used to go to Clint’s back in the ’80s. It was not in a pretty part of town which is why I wanted to get in and out before dark.

Clint’s hadn’t changed much. Large selection, lots of back issues, R-rated section in the back. I picked up a couple of comics and rushed back to the safety of the Embassy Suites. We went back to the plaza that night for dinner at an Irish pub because we can’t stay away from the Irish pubs. Mainly because Andrew loves the fish and chips.

Took in the lights once more and walked back to the hotel. On the minus side of Embassy Suites — they don’t offer free wi-fi in your room. On the one hand that’s good because vacation is a good time to get away from the constant lure of the Internet. On the other hand ohmigod I need the Internet! So I often found myself having to go downstairs to the business center for my fix. And to plan the outings for our final day.

Next: The outings for our final day

 

 

 

 

Ronnie, Laurie and Andrew’s Kansas City Christmas Spectacular

Part 1: But instead it just kept on raining

Sometimes you just have to get out of Dodge. Especially if Dodge in this case is St. Louis.

So The Wife comes to me and she says, “Let’s take a few days off and spend a long weekend in Kansas City. We can get a hotel by the plaza and enjoy the Christmas lights.”

“Does this involve Shakespeare or opera in some way?”

“No.”

“Then I’m in.”

“But there will be shopping. Lots of shopping.”

“It’s too late to back out, isn’t it?”

Now way back in the mid-1980s I spent two years living in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area (Grandview, to be exact) working for the Blue Valley Gazette (no longer in publication). There’s a downtown shopping district in Kansas City called the Country Club Plaza and every winter they deck it out in colored lights in honor of the holiday season. It’s lovely.

During those two years Laurie, who was in school in Columbia, would drive west to Kansas City for a weekend and we would walk around and take it all in. I would get her a nice hotel near the plaza because, you know, there wasn’t space in my one-room studio apartment and we weren’t married and…oh hell, I’m 52 years old, do I still need to lie about this?

Not the train we were going to take to K.C.

Not the train we were going to take to K.C.

Anyway, nostalgia came a knockin’ and we decided to take a break from the insanity all around us and go to the softer, gentler side of Missouri. The original plan was to take the train to Union Station and a cab to the Embassy Suites. The hotel had a shuttle that would take us to the plaza or anywhere else in a two-mile radius. Unfortunately, things got hectic and we didn’t get train tickets in time for the discount so we decided to drive instead.

Friday came and we packed our bags and I loaded up the Ipod with 4 hours worth of good Christmas music (as opposed to the Christmas music they play on Christmas radio stations) and we took off. In the rain. It rained and rained. Pretty much all the way to K.C.

The view from our balcony

The view from our balcony

To my surprise we found our way to the hotel with no problems. The Embassy Suites is a nice hotel with a unique look. We had a room that had a living room with a couch that folded out into Andrew’s bed, then a separate large bedroom. Free HBO. Sadly, there wasn’t a single decent thing on the four days we were in the hotel room. Also sadly, the remote in the bedroom didn’t work worth a darn. I finally called for a new one but some guy came up and played around with it and looked at me like I was a chump for not getting it to work. It worked, but not very well. You had to hold it at an angle and press buttons repeatedly. I spent what little time I had watching TV in the living room, where the remote worked much better. But if I wanted to watch TV in the living room, I would stay at home.

The hotel hosted a happy hour from 5:30-7:30 that offered free drinks and appetizers. The appetizers were pretzels and honey mustard, chips and salsa, and crackers and something that I thought was humus but wasn’t. It wasn’t really worth the wait and we didn’t bother with happy hour again until Sunday night.

If you’re wondering “why the wait?” — well, it seems the RRoy St. Louis Freebie Festival Imperative (question 24 in the F.A.Q. on the ABOUT page) also applies to Kansas City. Everyone — or in this case every 10-to-12-year-old girl who is into cheer or gymnastics — showed up at the Embassy Suites with their coaches and parents. The last time we stayed in Kansas City our hotel was hosting a science fiction convention — which was a far, far better happy accident than finding your hotel is overrun with cheer/gymnastics kids. So much for using the pool and hot tub.

I assumed when it said Embassy Suites On The Plaza that I would walk out the front door and be on the plaza. It was actually a couple blocks walk, which is nothing to champion walkers like the Roy family, but it’s cold in December and besides, free shuttle. We hitched a ride to the plaza which was lit up in all its glory, just like we remembered. Many of the shops were different but then it had been 30 years.

100_2295

First order of business was finding food. We settled for Jack Stack Barbecue because it was barbecue and we were in Kansas City and it looked decent and we were tired and hungry and it was right there. Thankfully the wait was not long. Laurie and I had The Big Pig sandwich (ham, pork, bacon, provolone cheese, mustard bbq sauce topped with an onion ring. With fries). It was delicious.

We then did a walkabout and took in all the sights and sounds before catching the shuttle back to the hotel. The shopping would come tomorrow.

Next: The Shopping

At the Movies: Exodus: Gods and Kings

I suppose it was inevitable that someone would want to remake “The Ten Commandments” with 21st century special effects technology.

After all, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 classic film was one of the first big screen special effects extravaganzas. And he left out half of the plagues.

So it’s past time for someone to tackle the subject matter again. Moses was arguably the Thor of his time (Although technically, given bloodline, he was more the Loki).

Directory Ridley Scott has reopened the biblical book of “Exodus” to give us his interpretation of the story of Moses and how he led the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery back in 1300 B.C.E. It’s big on spectacle, short on human emotion.

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Poster-7We open with Moses (Christian Bale) a general and the adopted son (and favorite) of the Pharaoh (John Turturro). The heir to the throne, however, is Ramesses (Joel Edgerton). It’s hard to get a read on the extent of brotherly love between Moses and Ramesses, as Scott doesn’t bother to really flesh out their relationship.

The Pharaoh dies and Ramesses takes over. Meanwhile the truth about Moses’ birth comes out and he is banished from Memphis. He wanders about and is eventually taken in by a family of shepherds where he spends the next nine years living a new life with a wife (María Valverde) and children.

Back in Egypt things aren’t getting any better for the Hebrew slaves and God has finally had enough. He meets up with Moses on a mountain and tells him to go back and free his people. He also tosses in some plagues to make things move quicker.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” is a visual marvel. From the towering statues in Memphis to the palace of the Pharaoh to the desert landscapes to the plagues of blood, frogs, locusts and more to the big face-off at the Red Sea — Scott delivers on the spectacle. And while I don’t remember a plague of alligators, they were a nice touch to set things off.

The actors are also fine, although it’s hard to think of John Turturro as a Pharaoh and sometimes it’s probably best not to hire well-known talent in minor roles. Am I really supposed to be sitting there wondering if that’s Sigourney Weaver under all that makeup? Kinda takes you out of the movie.

And while Scott is free to interpret scripture and present it as he sees fit, some of his choices didn’t work for me. I prefer my god to be an unseen, disembodied voice (preferably with the proper tone — like a Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones) and not some petulant child (Issac Andrews). I’d have a hard time worshipping — let alone taking orders from — the god of “Exodus.”

I also don’t care much for Moses the action hero. Moses should speak softly and carry a big stick, not bluster loudly while brandishing a sword.

But the film’s biggest failing is it just feels hollow. “Exodus” delivers an outline of a story, not a real story. The movie goes from one significant moment to the next without filling in the gaps that would give it heart and an emotional pull.

In short, if you’re only in it for the spectacle then “Exodus: Gods and Kings” delivers. If you want a more fully formed story to go with it, that might take a miracle.