Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad
a kate west recommendation
AMC Network

Vince Gilligan (a creative force behind "The X-Files" and "The Lone Gunmen") has created a daring new drama. "Breaking Bad" concerns a high school Chemistry teacher with terminal lung cancer. In order to leave his family (and especially his disabled son) with the best possible nest egg, he decides to put his chemical brain to work concocting the purest crystal meth the DEA has ever seen.

Bryan Cranston ("Malcolm in the Middle") plays the modest strait-laced teacher brilliantly, desperately driven down the road by fate towards becoming the town's next kingpin. Cranston has always done heart-wrenching drama extraordinarily well (as evidenced by a role in "The X-Files" when he was a man with an exploding brain) and can obviously do nuanced and broad comedy. The man can do practically anything.

With "viewer discretion" warnings galore, this show shocks and pulls no punches (blood, gore, murder, drugs and cancer), although the bleeped swearing is a bit odd. But absolutely worth a look to see one of the current best performances on television. Plus, hooray for filming television shows in widescreen!

Vince Gilligan

Adam Bernstein

Series Cast
Aaron Paul ... Jesse Pinkman (8 episodes, 2008)
Bryan Cranston ... Walter White / ... (5 episodes, 2007-2008)
Steven Michael Quezada ... Gomez (5 episodes, 2008)
Carmen Serano ... Carmen (4 episodes, 2008)
Raymond Cruz ... Tuco (3 episodes)
Anna Gunn ... Skyler White (2 episodes, 2008)
Dean Norris ... Hank (2 episodes, 2008)
Betsy Brandt ... Marie (2 episodes, 2008)
RJ Mitte ... Walter White Jr. (2 episodes, 2008)
Maximino Arciniega ... Krazy 8 (2 episodes, 2008)
David House ... Dr. Delcavoli (2 episodes, 2008)
John Koyama ... Emilio (2 episodes, 2008)
Charles Baker ... Skinny Pete (2 episodes)
Jesus Jr. ... No Doze (2 episodes) Read more!

Modern Exposure

a kate west reflection

What IS it with our modern generation and everyone's constant need to over share? I know I sound old when I say this, but back in my day, we never told each other every single detail of our lives. None of this minute-to-minute update of life's minutia, sexual exploits, bathroom habits, every single damn thing each of us is thinking every single second. I don't need to know all that and neither does the rest of the world. What happened to privacy, decorum, tact and just plain class? Kids these days demand screaming attention in order to validate their existence and are uncomfortable with the more reserved. Isn't one of life's mysteries the actual mystery? And do I even have to complain about people on their cellphones? Private is now public apparently. Maybe this is an American problem and Europeans are grown ups and Americans are children. I often think so.

In any case, no wonder we exalt celebrities and people get famous simply for being famous and not for contributing significantly to society. We are fascinated with the fishbowl culture of needing to know everything about their private lives. Is it because it makes us feel better or are we just nosy? Believe it or not, I know next to nothing about several nameless super celebs apparently in the news lately - I don't watch FOX News or read PEOPLE and am told that I can't help knowing about it since that knowledge is everywhere, but honest to God, since I'm not looking for it or talking about it, I've missed it. Hooray for me.

Granted I watch too much television (but at least not the commercials). So I need to get back to reading. And avoiding the fishbowl. Yes, I will keep blogging (oh hush)!

p.s. And while I'm in the mood, can I once again complain about television characters mentioning other television characters from shows on the same network? Tacky boo. Oh and is it just me, or is it enough already with self-congratulating, self-absorbed Hollywooders and their insider everything (Oscars especially)? Ugh.

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Peace Corps

Peace Corps Blog
a kate west recommendation

Check out my blog here:

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Live from the MET

The Metropolitan Opera
a kate west recommendation

Great news for opera lovers! You've always wanted to see the Met in New York but haven't had the time or the money? Now you can see it at a theater near you in High Definition spectacular vividness. Check your local listings and don't ruin it by buying popcorn. Thank you, New York! We heart you.

Tickets at

Sneak peek here:
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Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd
The Demon Barber of
Fleet Street
a kate west review
DreamWorks & Warner Bros.

Pairing quirky film director Tim Burton (“Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” Nightmare Before Christmas”) with Stephen Sondheim's darkly bloody musical "Sweeney Todd" seems like the perfect macabre fit. And for the most part, the movie works fairly well. But there are a few lapses. Primarily, much of the main cast do not come from Broadway or sing professionally. As theatrical genius Sondheim creates complex, discordant scores, this presents a bit of a challenge.

Johnny Depp is Sweeney Todd (formerly Benjamin Barker), a long-suffering British barber, whose wife and child were cruelly stolen from him by the envious Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). He returns to London years later to wreak revenge and falls in with his mad match Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). The Greek-like tragedy unfolds more and more bleakly as the story goes on and Burton knows quite well how to provide a somber and terrifying mood in spite of some musical shortcomings.

Depp takes on this musical challenge gamely, and is a black demonic Todd, indeed. Although his voice is less Broadway and more pop, it works for him and his wretchedly tortured misery pervades all nicely. Weak link Helena Bonham Carter on the other hand, is grossly miscast. She sings pathetically weakly (“The Worst Pies in London” and “A Little Priest”) and her subtle performance does not fit the grotesquely extreme character of Mrs. Lovett, the psychopathic meat pie maker (Broadway fans will remember Angela Lansbury bawdily booming her little heart out). She looks nightmarish enough, but needs to be much bigger in order to posses the role of someone who can so strongly influence the demon barber of Fleet Street. After all, she needs to convince Todd to butcher people for pies (not that he needs much convincing in his crazed state).

The supporting roles are all fine, such as Alan Rickman’s brooding and lecherous Judge Turpin and audiences unanimously delight in Sacha Baron Cohen’s outrageous rival barber Signor Adolfo Pirelli. The young and rambunctious barber’s assistant Tobias Ragg, earnestly played by Ed Sanders, is a special highlight of the film (sweetly singing of Pirelli’s magical elixir and “Nothing’s Going to Harm You” in devotion to Lovett). Jayne Wisener is all right, if a little wispy and airy, as Todd’s lost daughter Johanna (“Green Finch and Linnet Bird”) as is her love, Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower). Timothy Spall is a properly slimy henchman to the Judge as Beadle Bamford.

Musical theater purists may protest some of the necessary cinematic changes, such as cutting the operatic opening number which sets the tone for the stage show and basically narrates the story in the grand old fashioned style of ancient tragedy. But since the film medium is one of narration in itself, we don’t need such heralding. The rest of the tunes are intact, including Depp’s eerie introductory “London”, the weirdly delightful “By the Sea” Mrs. Lovett sings to Todd, in foolish hope of a normal life. The makeup, costumes and set are quintessential Burton and most of the acting is quite strong. Again, the main problem is the inconsistent singing.

The constant blood and gore absolutely define Todd’s character as do the dire consequences of one’s action. Abject life and death lessons are to be learned here. If you approach the film as a specific adaptation of a certain work, of Burton’s version of a Sondheim story, it can work for you. Go with someone unfamiliar with the musical, without prejudice, so you can see it with fresh absurdist eyes. No plot giveaways here, just prepare yourself for deep tunnels of horror.

Directed by

Tim Burton

Produced by
Richard Zanuck
Walter F. Parkes
Laurie MacDonald
John Logan

Written by
John Logan
Christopher Bond (story)

Music by
Stephen Sondheim
Hugh Wheeler

Dariusz Wolski

Editing by
Chris Lebenzon

Johnny Depp ... Sweeney Todd
Helena Bonham Carter ... Mrs. Lovett
Alan Rickman ... Judge Turpin
Timothy Spall ... Beadle Bamford
Sacha Baron Cohen ... Signor Adolfo Pirelli
Jayne Wisener ... Johanna
Jamie Campbell Bower ... Anthony Hope
Laura Michelle Kelly ... Beggar Woman
Ed Sanders ... Tobias Ragg
Anthony Head ... Ballad Ghost
Peter Bowles ... Ballad Ghost

The Original Score:
Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979 Original Broadway Cast) Read more!

A Tuna Christmas

A Tuna Christmas
a kate west review
written by Jaston Williams,
Joe Sears & Ed Howard
directed by Stan Zimmerman
at Theatre Asylum
6320 Santa Monica Blvd.,
Hollywood 90038 (west of Vine)
contact (323) 960-7753 OR

running December 6, 2007 - January 6, 2008; tix $25-$50

Twenty-two Texans celebrate Christmas. Sounds like the punch line of a joke. But it's actually part of the well-known Greater Tuna trilogy of characters centered around Tuna, Texas, created by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard. Currently playing in Hollywood, "A Tuna Christmas" is the most suitable Tuna incarnation this holiday season.

Former Groundlings company members Patrick Bristow (from "Showgirls" and "Ellen") and Mindy Sterling (from "Austin Powers") are the sole two cast members, playing all roles (check out the world renowned comedy sketch/improv troupe on Their obvious background in character work serves them well in this multi-character show. Patrick Bristow especially has many real and poignant moments embodying what might have been routine southern characters in less capable hands. He doesn't just "do" characters, he actually becomes the person he portrays and does an amazing turn reflecting an entire history in just a few lines. And he manages to make them unique and interesting each time. He is truly a joy to watch.

The creators Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard have built practically a whole franchise around these quirky Texans and while the writing is good, Director Stan Zimmerman can stand to cut some scenes down, as they tend to run a bit long. The story centers around an annual yard display contest, with each townsperson vying for the perfect holiday light set up. A mysterious Christmas Phantom gums up the work, causing mischief and consternation among the populace. The show begins with two Disc Jockeys, Arles (Sterling) and Thurston (Bristow), introducing some tidbits about the town and bringing in the odd and end villager, such as Didi (Sterling) who sells used guns for a living. Sterling also showcases Petey, an earnest humanitarian, weary of taking in every Yuletide pet castoff.

Bristow's best character is Bertha, mother to three unruly children, including delinquent Stanley (Sterling). She tries to make a nice holiday for her family while keeping peace with her crazy neighbors, not an easy feat with the rich eccentric Vera (Sterling) taking pot shots at her and loveable wily Aunt Pearl (also Bristow) defying local law. Bertha is heartbreakingly and endearingly deserving of a nice man to take care of her after her lowlife husband disappoints her time and again. Bristow's swaggering Sheriff Givens is quite amusing as well, as are the slightly trashy but fun waitresses Helen and Inita (Sterling and Bristow) forced to work the holidays at the local diner.

Bristow and Sterling clearly find joy in recreating slices of Texan life and in working so intimately together. Their countless costume changes, characters and accents are impressive to watch, as are the many gender-bending forays. It's an entertaining show, but again, runs a bit long. It is definitely a different kind of holiday show though, and worth a look to see these consummate professionals at work. So come back soon y'all, ya hear? Read more!

Winter Wonderettes

Winter Wonderettes
The New 60's Holiday Musical!
a kate west review
written & directed by Roger Bean
at El Portal Forum Theatre
5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood 91601
running Wed-Sun; EXTENDED through January 5th!

Good news, or rather marvelous news: The Marvelous Wonderettes, the charming quartet of 1950's and 60's singing girlfriends, are back for a sequel. And just in time to spread some holiday cheer. This time the girls have been hired by Harper's Hardware to provide cute little entertainment for the employee holiday party, only halfway through the performance we all get handed some surprising news (no, you'll just have to wait and see for yourselves). Similar to the original show, "The Marvelous Wonderettes", where the girls sang for their high school prom and then for a special ten year reunion, these Wonderettes also argue and bond over frothy tunes in two acts.

Jill Van Velzer is Cindy Lou, the more promiscuous of the bunch, Misty Cotton is Missy, the now happily married member of the crew, Bets Malone is Suzy, the ever-pregnant, sweetly daft one and Betty Jean, the practical one, is portrayed by the marvelous understudy Lowe Taylor. All girls work together well and harmonize beautifully to such fun numbers as "Santa Baby", "Jingle Bell Rock", "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "What are you Doing New Year's Eve?", "Winter Wonderland", their favorite high school Chipmunks chant of course and even some international numbers. Writer/Director Roger Bean and Musical Director Brian Baker keep the songs lively and more or less relevant to the story line, in keeping with Wonderettes tradition.

Set Designer Victoria Profitt gives us enormous wrapped boxes, a pretty tree and even some mistletoe. The girls themselves interact with audience members just as mischievously as the last time and once again, be warned about sitting in the front rows. It's all in good fun, however, and awfully entertaining. We feel part of the girls' holiday and what could be more fun than sharing the holiday spirit with a Wonderette? Although both Wonderettes shows have rather thin plots, the fantastic costumes (thank you Ann Closs-Farley) and immense likeability and obvious vocal talent of the girls more than make up for it, especially when we are already in the December mood.

One more word to the wise: due to their immense popularity and cult following, many shows are now sold out. So try to see them now before they head off to their impressive Off-Broadway debut. (But don't worry, if you miss out, you can still buy some "Wonder Wear" on their website). Congratulations girls and Go Chipmunks!

Previous review here: Read more!