Review: Book Club on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD

Available now on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Much of the buzz for Book Club was around its all-star cast; Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen are each screen icons in their own right. Audiences their age are often underserved, and made to watch icons like Keaton and company play supporting roles, if any. This film changes that.

All four Book Club leads tend to play a “type.” Diane Keaton plays clever, menswear-clad women who are anxious about their next step in life. From 9 to 5 to Grace and Frankie, Jane Fonda is usually an independent businesswoman with penchant for sarcasm. Candice Bergen’s characters wield power, like with her iconic role in Murphy Brown. Mary Steenburgen plays fun wives who want to spice things up, even going as far as to play the role of herself (alongside real-life husband Ted Danson) on Curb Your Enthusiasm

Book Club is aware these actresses are typecast, and the film begins with each lead playing that up. Diane (Keaton) is a widow unsure of her future, the no-nonsense Vivian (Fonda) owns a hotel, Sharon is a stoic federal judge (Bergen) and Carol (Steenburgen) wants to reignite the flame with her husband.  Throughout the journey of the film, each goes under a metamorphosis. As a result, the movie subverts viewers’ expectations in the best of ways. 

This happens when the four ladies start reading the Fifty Shades trilogy. As the pages turn, their sex lives heat up. Diane falls for a hot pilot, Vivian reconnects with “the one that got away,” Sharon joins Bumble and hooks up in a car, and Carol spikes her husband’s drink with Viagra. 

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Diane has the meatiest scenes, as she not only has a new lover, but two overbearing daughters. The usually effervescent Alicia Silverstone plays the very worried Jill, who insists Diane give up her life with friends in California… to move into a basement in Arizona. Jill and her sister make cringeworthy, ageist comments until Keaton delivers an epic, highlight-reel-worthy monologue that puts the problematic pair in their place. 

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Part of the genius of Book Club is that it is accessible across generations. My baby boomer parents were instantly on board with the film, having lived through these ladies’ storied careers. Being a millennial, it was my chance to see talents like this tackle something as “now” as Fifty Shades of Grey. It was especially exciting to see Keaton again, since she has kept a lower profile in the 2010s. I loved watching my family’s copy of First Wives Club growing up. Being part of the Netflix generation, I mostly know Fonda from Grace and Frankie, and her hilarious work on that show was a large part of the appeal of seeing Book Club. She didn’t disappoint. 

Aesthetically, the film is a series of glamour shots of its beautiful cast and sprawling Los Angeles scenery. The Blu-ray features a gorgeous 1080p visual that was free from any distortion or artifacts, and the lossless audio track sounded great on our surround sound system. 

As notorious as Hollywood is for ageism, it is a breath of fresh air when major studios get things right. Book Club gives Keaton, Fonda, Bergen, and Steenburgen a mainstream platform to tackle issues unique to their age group. That’s a beautiful thing, and something I’d love to see more of — specifically in a sequel to this hilarious, inclusive rom-com. 

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Packaging

The Book Club combo pack comes packaged in a protective o-sleeve that slips off to reveal a standard Blu-ray case. Inside is a redeemable digital copy slip, a DVD disc, and the Blu-ray disc. 


Special Features

“It All Started With A Book” — 10 minute video

The film’s co-writer Erin Simms reveals she was inspired to write the film after co-writer and director Bill Holderman sent his mother the Fifty Shades trilogy. Simms was inspired to do the same. Their mothers ended up inspiring the four lead characters. This special feature is an educational summary of the film’s development process, compared to average movie EPKs that are basically fluff pieces. 

“Casting Book Club” — 13 minute video

Simms and Holderman reveal that the film was written for Diane Keaton, and Keaton says she recognized it was written in her “voice.” The cast and crew explain how similar the characters are to the actresses themselves.

“Location, Location, Location” — 9 minute video
The filmmakers explain why they chose Los Angeles as the setting; it’s always sunny, and full of life year round. The actors got to shoot close to home and appreciated that perk. The Ivy let the film shoot outside due to Jane Fonda giving the restaurant’s manager one look.

“A New Chapter” — 9 minute video

Keaton, Fonda, Bergen and Steenburgen reflect on the unique opportunity to celebrate women “of a certain age” on screen. They talk about how the characters are not in competition, and lift each other up while promoting sex positivity. Fonda describes Book Club as giving a “cultural face” to older women.

“Living in the Moment” — 3 minute video

American Idol finalist, Broadway star and gay icon Katharine McPhee takes us through the recording process of her Book Club theme song “Living in the Moment” with her fiancée, legendary producer David Foster. 

13 Deleted and Alternate Scenes — 11 minute video

These are mostly snippets you can understand being cut for time. The highlight is a funny TSA scene used in the trailer, but cut from the movie itself. 

Book Club is Highly Recommended


My favorite Diane Keaton movie is First Wives Club. What’s yours? Tweet me! @DerekPlease

Review: The Legend of Georgia McBride at the Guthrie in Minneapolis

Playwright Matthew Lopez’s superb work had his audience in rapture

Photo by Dan Norman

Photo by Dan Norman

Playing on the McGuire Proscenium Stage inside Guthrie Theater — a mammoth and iconic live arts complex overlooking the Mississippi River — The Legend of Georgia McBride is a deftly written LGBTQIA+ play with a lot of laughs to be had and lessons to be taught.

The show revolves around Casey, a down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator with a newly pregnant wife named Jo. When he loses his King of Rock gig, veteran drag queen Tracy comes in to save the day — by forcing Casey into drag for a hilariously unrehearsed Edith Piaf number. Through a series of live montages, the audience watches months go by as Casey develops his drag identity, Georgia McBride. Eventually Georgia becomes a local fixture that draws huge crowds. All the while, Casey keeps his this identity hidden from Jo. 

Photo by Dan Norman

Photo by Dan Norman

The dual role of Casey and Georgia is played by Jayson Speters, a skilled comedic actor who plays big for big laughs. The role is very demanding, and Speters more than rises to the occasion with his all-in, enthusiastic turn. Speters also has several quick changes on stage in which he strips down to only his briefs; these chiseled, shirtless moments brought an eye candy element to McBride, much like the Pit Crew on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Another great performance comes from actress Chaz Hodges as Jo. Hodges grounds Speter’s intentionally over-the-top performance with her low-key, affecting dramatic delivery. The result is brilliant chemistry between their characters Casey and Jo. The audience gets the sense the couple truly completes each other.

Photo by Dan Norman

Photo by Dan Norman

Casey is a straight man, and the show uses that to tackle cultural appropriation. Through a powerful monologue from rival drag queen Rexy, played by actor Arturo Soria, playwright Matthew Lopez does a beautiful job explaining the rich history of drag in the LGBT community. Soria also plays a second role as Jason, the looming landlord of Casey and Jo.

Actor Cameron Folmar plays Tracy, drag mother to the titular queen. Folmar’s Tracy is the show’s greatest performance. Tracy is not only a wisecracking drag queen (dressed in a gown featuring President of the United States Donald Trump’s gaping mouth, no less), but a stern dose of a realism for the younger and somewhat naive Casey.

Guthrie veteran Jim Lichtscheidl plays Eddie, owner of the seaside venue the characters perform at. Eddie announces the drag performances, gradually becoming more and more charismatic before fully getting into drag for the finale. Lichtscheidl has over 30 Guthrie shows to his credit. 

Visual storytelling comes thanks to costume designer Patrick Holt (also known as Tempest DuJour from Season 7 of Drag Race). Holt’s work is like another character in the show, and pops out against the intentionally minimalistic sets. The outfits often feature outrageous reveals that would make Sasha Velour proud. Two standout pieces include summer outfits deep seated in American iconography.

Photo by Dan Norman

Photo by Dan Norman

McBride is a mix of comedy and drama, balanced perfectly. Jokes landed and tearjerking moments had us wishing we brought Kleenex. The two-hour show flowed well, and its lack of an intermission felt like a wise decision. Part of that sleek flow was due to McBride’s interesting, dynamic staging; director Jeffrey Meanza transitioned setups in a visually pleasing manner.

The show culminated in a grand finale that was everything anyone would want from a play about drag queens — complete with the country version of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” It had the audience on their feet. Everyone left the Guthrie with a grin. 


What’s your favorite play or musical? Reach out on social! Click the buttons below.

A Countdown of My 60 Favorite Madonna Songs

From controversial choices to popular picks, this is a look inside my lifelong Madonna fandom.

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August 16, 2018 marks the 60th birthday of Madonna, an artist who changed my life and shaped my upbringing as a gay man. The difference she's made in the LGBTQIA+ community cannot be quantified. From spreading awareness and reducing stigma around HIV/AIDS, to creating the Raising Malawi organization to benefit the African country of Malawi, her impact goes far beyond pop music.

Still, the Queen of Pop has an vast and vivacious catalog of hits and album tracks, and these are my sixty favorites. From songs that defined her legacy, to forgotten gems, I hope you'll enjoy this celebration of her music.


60. "Gang Bang"
Less a song than a visceral ride through Madonna’s psyche after her divorce from Guy Ritchie. It's so explicit that it couldn't even be edited to appear on the "clean" edition of the MDNA album.

59. "Over and Over"
Easily written off as a frothy filler track, the song’s lyrics explore Madonna’s can-do spirit, which cannot be broken. 

58. "Hey You"
An inspiring climate change anthem released for Live Earth. Simple and uplifting, this sweet-hearted song was wrongfully panned by critics. 

57. "American Life"

“Madonna attempts rapping” was the headline from this banger, but the real headline should have been her brilliant, scathing take on fame and George W. Bush’s post-9/11 America. Its banned and retracted original music video is one of Madonna's most profound artistic statements ever.

56. "Burning Up"
The quintessential "young Madonna" song. It's entirely fueled by the personality that made her the biggest star in the world, and led to her being dubbed "the female Michael Jackson" from the start of her career.

55. "Where’s The Party"
Just a fun song. You can't help but groove along.

54. "Don’t Stop"
This is such a low-key song... but when you're in its grasp, it's inescapable. I had this on repeat a couple summers ago.

53. "Spanish Lesson"
This pick will make a lot of serious Madonna fans roll their eyes - but to me, this is one of her most fun '00s tracks. A flirty, bubblegum pop moment with clever verse lyrics and a big chorus. 

52. "Take A Bow"
Madonna produced this with legendary R&B singer-songwriter Babyface, who later went on to collaborate with Barbra Streisand on her 2014 Partners album. Fittingly, Apple Music compares "Take A Bow" to a big Streisand ballad. 

51. "Deeper and Deeper"
One of the most unexpected and exciting moments of experiencing the Rebel Heart Tour live was hearing Madonna take on this '90s jam in a style faithful to the studio version. 

50. "Gambler"
Never released on a studio album or greatest hits collection, this forgotten Madonna hit remains beloved by woke fans.

49. "Secret"

48. "Die Another Day"
In my world, this is the best James Bond movie song of all time. 

47. "I’m Addicted"
The sputtering, trippy song that inspired the title of Madonna's MDNA album. The production on this one is insane. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall while Madonna and co. produced this. Or any song, really.

46. "Lucky Star"
The premiere bubblegum pop song, "Lucky Star" remains fresh and fun.

45. "Give It 2 Me"
While it was absolutely the wrong choice to follow-up "4 Minutes" as the second single from Hard Candy, "Give It 2 Me" stuns with its Pharrell-assisted beat and occasionally silly lyrics. Madonna fans were quick to call out P for reusing the drums in the 2013 song of the summer "Blurred Lines (feat. T.I. & Pharrell)" by Robin Thicke

44. "Amazing"
One of the best deep cuts that makes Music the wonderful album it is.

43. "Some Girls"
Another glittering moment from the misunderstood MDNA, this William Orbit collaboration is the sonic equivalent to a sputtering laser light show. Lyrically, Madonna presents a sassier take on her Millennial pop star competition with this one. 

42. "4 Minutes (feat. Justin Timberlake & Timbaland)"

A giant dance song with over 100 audio tracks used in its composition, “4 Minutes (feat. Justin Timberlake & Timbaland)” reminds me of listening to Hard Candy in a car full of high school friends.

41. "Fighting Spirit"
A Confessions On A Dance Floor box set bonus track that feels like it should have made the standard edition of the album. It's just that good. Listen if you haven't.

40. "Justify My Love"

39. "It’s So Cool"
This sarcastic bop is a look at Madonna’s cynical side, and a deluxe bonus track from her 2009 greatest hits album Celebration

38. "Nobody Knows Me"
The Re-Invention Tour performance of this is so brilliant:

37. "Celebration"

36. "Future Lovers"
One of the first songs that helped me accept myself as a gay man. 

35. "Unapologetic Bitch"
Another hit that got away.

34. "Papa Don’t Preach"
I remember first hearing this as a kid, and finding the subject matter scandalous.

33. "Live To Tell"

32. "Spanish Eyes"
I remember listening to the full Like A Prayer album for the first time on vinyl, and falling in love with this song.

31. "Human Nature"
As a huge Britney Spears fan, my first experience with this song was watching the Sticky & Sweet Tour performance of it where Britney appears in the video backdrops. 

30. Bitch I’m Madonna (feat. Nicki Minaj)
A crazy sendoff to ageist haters, this mammoth dance track also features one of Nicki Minaj's best rap verses ever. My favorite memory of this song is watching Madonna's insane performance of it on The Tonight Show.

29. "Revolver (feat. Lil Wayne)"
If marketed properly, this could have been a major US hit. Lil Wayne was at the top of his game at the time, and this song is a slice of pop perfection.

28. "Voices"
Part of what makes Hard Candy such an underrated album.

27. "Joan of Arc"
Madonna at her most vulnerable.

26. "I Love New York"
This first appeared as a rock & roll bonus track on the I'm Going to Tell You A Secret CD, before being rerecorded as a dance song for the Confessions On A Dancefloor album. 

25. "Girl Gone Wild"

24. "Love Song"
A lot of people don't know that Madonna collaborated with Prince on her 1989 album Like A Prayer. This is because his guitar work on "Like A Prayer," "Keep It Together" and "Act of Contrition," and vocals on "Love Song" are uncredited. Michigan native Madonna spoke about the chilly Minnesota winter experience recording "Love Song" at Paisley Park:

We were friends and talked about working together, so I went to Minneapolis to write some stuff with him, but the only thing I really dug was ‘Love Song.’ We ended up writing it long-distance, because I had to be in LA and he couldn’t leave Minneapolis, and quite frankly I couldn’t stand Minneapolis. When I went there, it was like 20 degrees below zero, and it was really desolate. I was miserable and I couldn’t write or work under those circumstances.
— Madonna

23. "Candy Shop"
Maybe it’s the bubbly drums, maybe it’s the fact she’s performed this non-single on her last three world tours. Who knows? It’s a major grower. Thanks, Pharrell!

22. "Rebel Heart"
A confessional, upbeat song that maps the journey Madonna had to take to become the Queen of Pop she is today. Inspired me to get my first tattoo, which was the Rebel Heart album logo. The demo version of this song has a catchy vocal hook in the background that repeats throughout. 

21. "Me Against the Music" - Britney Spears (feat. Madonna)
Madonna does the unthinkable: guest stars on a song. This track was complete when Britney played it for her, Madonna offered to make it a duet. The result is a wild meeting of the minds of two of pop music’s all-time greatest stars. I remember watching the MTV “Making the Video” special on MTV, and freaking out when I realized the VCR didn't record it properly.

20. "Material Girl"
This was the first '80s Madonna song I fell in love with.

19. "Love Profusion"
Featuring profound lyrics and experimental production, this song captures what it must feel like to be in the honeymoon phase of a relationship with Madonna.

18. "Open Your Heart"
Catchy, catchy, catchy. 

17. "Express Yourself"

"Look it up" - Madonna

"Look it up" - Madonna

16. "Like A Virgin"
I can't help but think of this iconic moment:

Photo: Billboard

Photo: Billboard

15. "Isaac"
This song has a raw power which cannot be denied.

14. "Sorry"
A dance floor stomper that beautifully picks up where "Hung Up" left off; it's no wonder its music video does the same.

13. "Love Spent"
On an album filled with references to her divorce from Guy Ritchie, this multi-faceted song stands out as her definitive statement on the subject. The abrupt transition midway through makes way for an almost entirely new song, and feels like an epiphany. 

12. "Holy Water"
A percolating pop banger that feels dangerous and lyrically provides an updated, distilled version of her career-long focus on Catholicism. The Rebel Heart Tour performance of this is worth the cost of the Blu-ray set alone. 

11. "Beautiful Stranger"
Described by Apple Music as “one of her brighter, deeper singles ever,” and I couldn’t agree more. This was the first Madonna song I was obsessed with in real time when it came out.

10. "The Power of Good-Bye"
It took me a while to mature to the point where I could fully appreciate this song. It's a gorgeous, supremely well-written song.

9. "Ray of Light"
Over 5 minutes of pure, enlightened pop bliss.

8. "Like A Prayer"
Controversial and powerful, this iconic pop power ballad reigns supreme as #1 on the majority of mainstream writers’ top Madonna songs lists, and I can see why. 

7. "Oh Father"

Madonna has explored her mother’s death throughout the years, but no other work is more candid or haunting than this largely overlooked ballad. Sia has a wonderful cover of this, too.

6. "Hung Up"

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You’d think the prominent ABBA sample would define the song, but Madonna’s superpowers ensure the track would be solid without it. 

5. "Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You"

The type of maturity and depth critics claim they want to hear in modern Madonna music, but seemingly ignore.

4. "Don’t Tell Me"

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Uses country music elements to speak to her biggest detractors, middle America, in a send off that is both powerful and universal. 

3. "Frozen"

A still from the haunting music video.

A still from the haunting music video.

No other cut on “Ray of Light” showed more artistic growth than “Frozen,” an extremely atmospheric song that analyzes depression. 

2. "Vogue"

Madonna with beloved backup singer  Niki Harris .

Madonna with beloved backup singer Niki Harris.

A historic track that sounds fresh today, “Vogue” effortlessly changed the world by starting conversations and offering the general public a glimpse into queer culture. 

1. "Music"

The Queen of Pop defines music itself in the ultimate ode to the dance floor experience. I had full-body chills during her Super Bowl performance of this.


What's your favorite Madonna song? Tweet me! @DerekPlease on Twitter.

Watch: Madonna Releases Met Gala 2018 Performance Recording

As a special gift to fans on her 60th birthday, the Queen of Pop dropped the professional recording of her May 7, 2018 performance. 

Source: YouTube

Source: YouTube

Every Madonna fan can relate to the phrase "playing the long game," as official video releases from today's birthday girl often take months or years to come to fruition. In fact, some of her most tantalizing tapes from decades past exist only on VHS, or are locked away in Hollywood vaults. Three months, then, wasn't so long to wait for this gorgeously edited official version of Madonna's May 7, 2018 Met Gala performance.

The theme of Anna Wintour's 2018 Met Gala was Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. Since Madonna has explored her Catholic upbringing and the Church's aesthetic across almost her entire career, she was the obvious and rightful performer choice. 

The 13-minute video clip was produced by NCR Films, the production company of Nathan Rissman. Rissman is a frequent Madonna collaborator; he directed her Rebel Heart Tour and Sticky & Sweet Tour films, "Give It 2 Me" and "Miles Away" music videos, and 2008 documentary I Am Because We Are, written by Madonna about the AIDS pandemic in the African country of Malawi.

"Madonna - Met Gala 2018" is edited in a style reminiscent of her recent MDNA Tour and Rebel Heart Tour video releases. This fast-paced, multilayered video editing style tends to divide fans, but I enjoy how it so conveys the excitement of physically attending a Madonna show. The editor in question, Danny Tull, has edited nearly every Madonna video release since her 2006 The Confessions Tour film.

Her performance consists of three songs; the choir-assisted "Like A Prayer," the brand new song "Beautiful Game," and a striking cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," in the style popularized by Jeff Buckley. Madonna's voice is strong, clear and dynamic throughout. It might be one of her best live audio recordings to date. 

She also published a statement on Instagram explaining the surprise video release:

In celebration of my birthday🎂🎉💕 , and as a “thank you” for all your donations on my Birthday Fundraiser, I wanted to share a very special performance from this year’s Met Gala 🎉🎂💕🙏🏻🇲🇼 🎼
Check out on my YouTube page and enjoy entire performance! #celebrate #raisingmalawi #homeofhope #metgala #likeaprayer #blessed 🙏🏼 @ncrfilms @dannytull
— @Madonna on Instagram

You can donate to Madonna's birthday fundraiser here. Every dollar raised will go directly to meals, schools, uniforms and healthcare for children in Malawi. Ripple will match every dollar donated to this campaign!

Whatever you think of Madonna or her video editing style, please take a moment to reflect on her art and legacy so far, as we celebrate her 60th birthday today. "Where's the Party"? Everywhere!


Tell me how you are celebrating #Madonna60
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Vinyl: Cher Album "Dancing Queen" Continues the ABBA Resurgence

The living legend promises to deliver us the pure fun we desperately need.

Photo: Machado Cicala

Photo: Machado Cicala

Music tends to reflect the time it's released in, and thus the current offerings dominating the Billboard Hot 100 seem to be divisive, unoriginal, and a little melancholy.

Pop icon Cher is back to once again shake things up with what may possibly be her most fun album in decades, Dancing Queen. Produced by "Believe" producer Mark Taylor, Cher's 10-track collection of ABBA covers is all-killer, no filler; each of the songs she picked can be found on the Swedish pop group's iconic ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits LP.

Cher's first Dancing Queen single, "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" is already evidence enough that the Goddess of Pop wants the album to be a dancefloor-ready escape from the hard times we're living in.

I’ve always liked Abba and saw the original Mamma Mia musical on Broadway three times. After filming ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,’ I was reminded again of what great and timeless songs they wrote and started thinking ‘why not do an album of their music?’ The songs were harder to sing than I imagined but I’m so happy with how the music came out. I’m really excited for people to hear it. It’s a perfect time.
— Cher

Indeed the ABBA resurgence is in full swing after the global success of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the announcement of this Cher LP, and the fact that ABBA is releasing two new songs at the end of 2018.

While I can't wait to hear Dancing Queen, the album's digital and CD release date of September 28 is not too far away. And while vinyl details are scarce, the wax edition is listed for pre-order on Amazon with a release date of November 6.

Tracklisting

1. Dancing Queen
2. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
3. The Name Of The Game
4. SOS
5. Waterloo
6. Mamma Mia
7. Chiquitita
8. Fernando
9. The Winner Takes It All
10. One Of Us

Pre-add or pre-order on your favorite digital service here

Pre-order the CD on Amazon here

Pre-order the vinyl on Amazon here


What's your favorite Cher song? Tweet me! @DerekPlease