Monday, January 2, 2017

Movie Review: Rogue One

I saw Rogue One today; not in 3-D because A) I am physically incapable of seeing 3-D anything and B) even if I was, Dog did not intend movies to be seen in 3-D. That’s called “theatre.”

As for the film, well, it was a lot of action but it took me a good twenty minutes to get the names and relationships squared away. I like the fact that it was multicultural; nice to know that a galaxy far, far, away isn’t also populated solely with white people with British accents.

The dialogue was a step up from George Lucas’s wooden scripting, and without giving spoilers, I was surprised by the body count.

Kudos to the CGI folks, not just for the effects but for the reanimation of Peter Cushing; I hope his estate got more than scale, and whoever dubbed his voice did a pretty good job (in the restoration of “Lawrence of Arabia,” rumor has it that Rich Little did Claude Rains; was he doing Gov. Tarkin here?).

On the whole it was fun and a good way to kill an afternoon, but I’m wondering if the folks at Lucasfilm are going to be peppering us with features to fill in small gaps in the story line. Next up: how Luke learned to drive. Anything to keep the franchise alive, I guess.

PS: Based on the previews of coming attractions, the screens in 2017 will be a lot of retreads, reboots, and sequels: “Spider-Man,” “The Mummy,” “Transformers,” “Wonder Woman,” and in a way, “Mrs. Miniver,” this time with Kenneth Branagh fighting on the beach of “Dunkirk” in France (except it’s really spelled “Dunkerque,” but I guess the studio didn’t want the 18-34 year-olds who slept through Modern European History to call it “Dunker-Cue.”)

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Summer Reading

Summer is a great time to read a good book.  There’s more daylight for sitting on the back porch with a cool libation forming little dark water rings on the coaster; at the beach you can relax in the shade of an umbrella while the waves lap at your ankles and the kids build sand castles or try out their surfer moves.  Or you can sit on a bench in the park in the middle of a busy city and tune out the world on your lunch break.  Books are great ways to take a summer vacation while staying right where you are.

Summer is not the time, however, to read something heavy.  Save Dr. Zhivago or Arrowsmith for sitting next to the fireplace next winter.  What you need is a good page-turner that defies you to put it down or make you curse when the LOW BATTERY symbol flashes on your Kindle.

The Fisher Boy CoverI’ve come across two such fun and intriguing reads by Stephen Anable.  First up is  The Fisher Boy, a detective story told by a most unlikely detective: Mark Winslow, a gay stand-up comic trying to make it during the high season in Provincetown on Cape Cod.  It’s a deftly-woven story written in fine detail that surrounds you with the feeling of being there.  The story moves at a quick but not hurried pace; it’s like he wants you to enjoy the view as we solve the mystery.  There are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing to the very end.  Oh, and you’ll learn a lot about the very interesting artists and denizens of the fabled P-town.

The next entry in the Mark Winslow series is A Pinchbeck Bride.  This A Pinchbeck Bride Covertime we’re in Boston exploring the historic sites and learning about some rather interesting if not repellent Back Bay blue bloods with a family history that sometimes seems more like the Charles Addams family instead of John or Samuel Adams.  Mark is volunteering as a docent and member of the board of the historic Mingo house when a grad student assistant is found delicately murdered in full Victorian regalia in the house.  There are lots of suspects with lots of alibis and insight into the rarefied air of the musty attics of family secrets.  Even if you don’t know Boston from downtown Longmont or a historical museum from the fun house at Coney Island, you will quickly feel at home and get to know these characters.

There’s a certain craft to writing a detective story that I’ve always envied, and Stephen Anable has it down to perfection.  I hope you take the time to take a look and take them along to wherever you go to enjoy a good read this summer.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Leap Too Far

Last night we saw a production of William Inge’s “Where’s Daddy?” marking the 50th anniversary of the play and the return to the play by Barbara Dana who was in the original cast on Broadway.  This was a good production — fine acting with Ms. Dana playing Mrs. Bigelow, the mother of the character she played on Broadway, and well-directed by Karen Carpenter — but in the end the play itself is a mess.  Inge was trying to get back into the good graces of the critics who had labeled him as hokey, a playwright whose time had passed, and out of tune with the modern times of the 1960’s.  He tried to write something that spoke to modern problems and even tried to be hip by including a black couple as neighbors and having a character actually say out loud, “Do you think I’m a homosexual?”

There are two stories in “Where’s Daddy?”: the young couple struggling with their marriage and the impending birth of their child, and the young father’s conflicted feelings about his adoptive father figure and his questioning about his own sexuality.  In previous works Inge has been able to meld stories like these together, but in this play it does not work.  Rather than meld, they collide.

“Where’s Daddy?” takes Inge into territories where he has only hinted at before, but rather than the subtlety that we’d seen in previous works, he takes leaps.

It was a leap too far.  The play ran two weeks and he never really tried for Broadway again.  He moved to California to teach playwriting and continued with his life-long battle with depression.  Seven years later he was dead by his own hand.

His suicide was not a direct result of the failure of “Where’s Daddy?”, but it is apparent from the time that he felt he had to please the critics, which is a dangerous and futile goal.  One thing I have always believed as a writer is that you must first write for the characters and yourself.  Nothing else matters because nothing else will be truer.

Monday, August 3, 2015

At The Movies

I went with Bob and the Old Professor yesterday afternoon to see Mr. Holmes with Ian McKellen as an aging Sherlock Holmes. I highly recommend it, but if you go, call the theatre and find out what time the feature actually starts.

We bought tickets for the 1:10 showing, but by the time we go through the ads, the previews of coming attractions which are so long why bother to see the actual film, and the warnings about what do to “in case of an emergency,” which is a polite way to tell you to duck and cover when the guy behind you with the AK-47 goes off, they finally got around to showing the film at 1:31.

Why don’t movie theatres come with a Mute button?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Live TV

I watched the first hour of Peter Pan Live last night, then switched over to Rachel Maddow where they had a whole different live TV show going on: feeds of demonstrations from Chicago, New York, and other places on behalf of Eric Garner and justice.

As for the attempt at theatre on TV on NBC, it was inoffensive.  Allison Williams has a very nice singing voice and she was able to carry off the illusion of being a boy on the verge of puberty, carrying on the tradition of having a woman play the role that goes back to Maude Adams.  She had the tough task of rising to the bar set by Mary Martin, but then the target audience for this performance had no idea who Mary Martin was.  I’m pretty sure even their parents weren’t around when she flew in the window.  From what I saw, Ms. Williams did a good job.

Casting Christopher Walken as Captain Hook was, as they say in the business, a bold move.  It’s harking back to his early days as a hoofer on Broadway (he was in the chorus of the 1964 Noel Coward musical High Spirits), and I’m sure he approached it with his trademark intensity.  But again he had to fill the pumps of the legendary Cyril Ritchard (who also played Mr. Darling in a bit of Freudian double-casting), and while Mr. Walken’s performance in the pirate production number was interesting to say the least, he came across as more menacing than flamboyantly vicious.  Even Dustin Hoffman in Hook had more fun.  Besides, what’s the point of playing Captain Hook if you can’t camp it up?

I guess I’m just a nostalgic curmudgeon, but I liked it better seeing it in grainy black and white on our old Magnavox TV-radio-phono console in the living room when I was eight.  It was more theatrical.  You knew you were watching theatre, and seeing the cables that made the kids fly added to the fun.  Last night it was more a distraction knowing that they were staging it for TV.

Switching over to watch the marches on the streets of America had their own theatrical quality.  This was real street theatre.  There’s something karmic about changing channels from one show about fighting the forces of evil set to music to another show set to chants of “I can’t breathe.”

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Noah Counting for Taste

The new epic film Noah starring Russell Crowe has been drawing fire from some religious quarters.

Noah has been the subject of controversy with some religious groups claiming the story has been inaccurately portrayed. That has prompted Paramount Pictures to add a disclaimer to its marketing material saying “artistic license has been taken” in telling the story.

Well, that’s what happens when you turn a work of fiction into a movie.  A lot of people — myself included — had some issues with the way Peter Jackson depicted The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit on film.  But a movie isn’t a book; they are two different ways of telling a tale, and if the source material is good enough, it will survive pretty much intact.

As it is, the biblical story of the flood has blockbuster movie written all over it, and it’s been the subject of movies since the silent era.  The only surprise here is that it wasn’t directed by James Cameron with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead.

But no one tells it better than Bill Cosby.  Maybe they should have filmed his version.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

One Way To Get Noticed

From Miami New Times, a local Miami artist makes his objections known to not being known.

Yesterday, art lovers around the world were shocked when someone strolled into the Pérez Art Museum Miami and destroyed a $1 million vase by Ai Weiwei.

Well, the story gets even more shocking. That’s because the vandal wasn’t a political objector or a random crazy person. He was a fellow artist.

The vandal is actually Maximo Caminero, a well-known local painter who has shown works at the Fountain Art Fair. He tells New Times that he destroyed the vase to make a point.

“I did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here,” he says. “They have spent so many millions now on international artists. It’s the same political situation over and over again. I’ve been here for 30 years and it’s always the same.”

According to a police report, a PAMM security guard saw Caminero pick up the vase yesterday afternoon. When she told him to put down the piece of art, he “threw and broke the vase on the floor in protest.”

Caminero then “spontaneously told [police] that he broke the vase in protest of local artists and that the museum only displayed international artists,” according to the report.

His chances of getting a one-man show at PAMM are officially shot to hell.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

And You Call Yourself a Theatre Person

The Oscar nominations are out, and once again I’ve batted 1,000: I have not seen any of the films nominated for Best Picture.

I think there was one year not too long ago that I didn’t even go to the movies in that calendar year.

It’s not that I have anything against the current crop of films; most of them look interesting and I’m sure that they are worth seeing.  But when I take into account the time and effort it takes to go to the local cineplex, find a parking place, get settled in, sit through endless previews of movies I wouldn’t watch if they were free, pay $5 for a box of popcorn that tastes like artificially buttered styrofoam, and then finally watch the movie, I’d rather wait until it’s on HBO.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m single and don’t have anyone to go with.  After all, going to the movies alone is a social stigma, and most people who go alone usually aren’t going to see movies like Saving Private Ryan; they’re going to see Shaving Ryan’s Privates and end up sitting in front of a guy in a trench coat (who hopefully isn’t as good a shot as the guy in Tampa).

So best wishes to the nominees.  See you in a year when it shows up in rotation on channel 301.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Effing Holidays, Sarah

Dan Savage reviews Sarah Palin’s new book Good Tidings and Great Joy.  He does not mince words, especially when she starts to complain about the War on Christmas.

I was never a “happy holidays” guy. Christmas was a big deal in my home growing up, and it’s a big deal in the home I share with Terry. December is Christmas. I’ve always wished people “merry Christmas” without really giving it a thought. Ho-ho-ho.

But that’s over now.

Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly and Fox News and the Family Research Council and the woman who allegedly punched another woman outside Walmart earlier this week for saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” managed to break me of the “merry Christmas” habit. I suspect I’m not alone. This constant bitching from the right about “happy holidays”—a perfectly lovely expression that embraces Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Pancha Ganapati, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Hanukkah, the Epiphany, Saint Nicholas’s Day, Hogmanay, Twelfth Night, and Kwanzaa—has made one thing clear. Not that there is now, or ever was, a war on Christmas. But that saying “merry Christmas” is an asshole move. Just as conservatives made patriotism toxic during the Vietnam War by conflating it with blind obedience to authority (“My country, right or wrong!”), modern conservatives have made “merry Christmas” toxic by associating it with Christian fundamentalism, religious intolerance, and the politics of imagined persecution.

Unfortunately, the war on Christmas is a game Palin and O’Reilly and Fox News and the Family Research Council can’t lose. The more they complain about people saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,” the fewer people will say “merry Christmas.” This will be held up as proof that the war on Christmas is real. But people like me aren’t replacing “merry Christmas” with “happy holidays” to be “politically correct,” as Palin insists in the introduction to her stupid book, we’re doing it because we don’t want people to think we’re assholes.

So happy fucking holidays to you, Sarah. I hope you choke on a cinnamon bun.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run some of these Christmas cookies over to the Jews across the street.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Play’s The Thing

miami1acts_home 06-28-13I’m sure you’re all anxious to hear how the play Ask Me Anything went last night at the Miami 1-Acts Festival at the New Theatre.

In short (and yes, it’s a short play), it went great.  The cast of Glenn Hutchinson as Steve, Jordan Hale as Martin, and Joel Kolker as Leo were masterfully directed by William Roudebush and gave the play dimensions and moments that were really amazing.

Last night was the first of two programs of short plays: the second batch goes tonight, and then on Sunday, both programs are presented back to back.  As with festivals of this kind where the audience sees a series of plays in rapid succession and all the actors from all the plays are sitting on the stage waiting for their play (and the order of presentation is selected by drawing numbers out of a hat), it was a quick and fluid evening with a lot of different styles of plays and topics.  I know I’m not exactly objective, but I think my cast did the best of all with polished and tuned performances, and it sounded like the audience thought so as well.

If you’re in the neighborhood, you’ll have one more chance to see it on Sunday, July 7 at 5:30 p.m. at the New Theatre, 1645 SW 107th Avenue, Miami.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

As Snowball noted in Friday Catblogging this morning, was there really a need to turn a 317-page book into three full films, the first one running almost three hours?

I’m going to reserve judgment on that until I see the last two installations of the telling of the tale of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, but if the first episode foretells the future, I’d say it will probably work.

I did not see the 3-D version because I don’t have 3-D vision in real life.  I’ll never know if it makes the experience any better, but I doubt it can improve the storytelling.  Fortunately, director Peter Jackson has a good story to work with, and thanks to his work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he has a great deal of respect for Tolkien’s work.  The difference is that in the case of the first series, he had to make some cuts to the original material, leaving out characters such as Tom Bombadil and shortening the end of the story that left out an important denouement.  In the case of The Hobbit, he felt the need to expand, including bringing in characters from the first series to provide background for the beginning of the tale and extending some episodes that on screen lasted a lot longer than it took Tolkien to tell them on paper.  (In fact, I’ll bet you can read the whole book in the the running time of the first installment.)  And the inclusion of some non-textual events such as the tale of the wizard Radagast the Brown, who spends far too much time communing with nature (and mushrooms), was an episode that could have easily been left out.

Mr. Jackson was fortunate that he had good talent to work with in the cast.  He was able to bring back Ian McKellen as Gandalf as well as Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Christopher Lee in their roles from LOTR, providing foreshadowing of events that will occur later on in Middle-earth (that viewers who have seen LOTR will know about, which means he was foreshadowing events that, in real time, have already happened.)  He also found in Martin Freeman an actor who could play Bilbo Baggins, the country squire hobbit turned burglar and adventurer, with the right balance of courage and trepidation.

The only unfortunate casting was the company of the dwarves, whom Mr. Jackson chose to portray as comical gypsies and bumblers rather than the refugees of a noble kingdom cast out of their land by the dragon Smaug.  Some of them seem to have been made up as if they wandered in from Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz.  It makes you wonder if Thorin, the leader of the band (played with smoldering dwarvish sex appeal by Richard Armitage), could have chosen a more serious band of compatriots.  (Although given the situation of the dwarf diaspora, it’s understandable.)

Because the film has been done in 3-D (along with IMAX and high-speed film versions), there are a lot of action scenes with lots of loud (and I mean LOUD) music and sound effects.  At one point I thought that a chase scene was more a pitch for a ride at a theme park than an actual advancement of the story, but then, that’s going to keep the franchise alive, I suppose.  And while I understand the need by filmmakers to go to the complete sensory absorption that 3-D and IMAX provide in order to sell tickets (and add the premium for the required viewing glasses), you had better have a good story to tell no matter whether it is in 3-D or not.  In the case of The Hobbit, the original story was written long before 3-D film was invented; in fact, talking movies were a novelty at the time of the book’s publication.  So the tale that Professor Tolkien began when he jotted down the sentence “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” on the margin of an examination paper he was grading survives in the telling, even if the embellishment turns that first line into a bit of narration a full ten minutes into the film.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Breaking the Fourth Wall

I watched Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom all the way through the first season, and by and large I enjoyed it as long as I kept in mind that I was watching TV and not a Ken Burns documentary.

Mr. Sorkin is a very good playwright and he has an amazing talent for writing dialogue and interwoven plot lines. For me the best parts of the show was where he was writing for the grown-ups: Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston. Jeff Daniels is one of America’s most underrated actors (I’ve been following his career for almost thirty years, going back to his days at Circle Rep in New York), and I will pay to watch Sam Waterston read the directions on the back of a bag of microwave popcorn. As for the goopy soap opera love interests between the kids, enh. His cast is attractive, appropriately diverse (although where are the openly gay characters?), but their antics are annoying to the point of wondering how the hell they got such good jobs working for a big cable news operation while still acting like horny teenagers.

Mr. Sorkin obviously has a political agenda, and he does as good a job as any agit-prop playwright of folding real events into a dramatic through-line. The only problem with that is that real-life events have the shelf life of a bottle of milk; in revival they become period pieces. But he’s writing this for TV, not Broadway, and in The Newsroom there are occasions when he does something that goes beyond the constraints of his make-believe world of ACN and talks directly to the audience. In theatre we call that “breaking the fourth wall.”

Breaking the Fourth Wall

I watched Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom all the way through the first season, and by and large I enjoyed it as long as I kept in mind that I was watching TV and not a Ken Burns documentary.

Mr. Sorkin is a very good playwright and he has an amazing talent for writing dialogue and interwoven plot lines. For me the best parts of the show was where he was writing for the grown-ups: Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston. Jeff Daniels is one of America’s most underrated actors (I’ve been following his career for almost thirty years, going back to his days at Circle Rep in New York), and I will pay to watch Sam Waterston read the directions on the back of a bag of microwave popcorn. As for the goopy soap opera love interests between the kids, enh. His cast is attractive, appropriately diverse (although where are the openly gay characters?), but their antics are annoying to the point of wondering how the hell they got such good jobs working for a big cable news operation while still acting like horny teenagers.

Mr. Sorkin obviously has a political agenda, and he does as good a job as any agit-prop playwright of folding real events into a dramatic through-line. The only problem with that is that real-life events have the shelf life of a bottle of milk; in revival they become period pieces. But he’s writing this for TV, not Broadway, and in The Newsroom there are occasions when he does something that goes beyond the constraints of his make-believe world of ACN and talks directly to the audience. In theatre we call that “breaking the fourth wall.”

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012