Justin Kurzel's Macbeth comes to US Screens
The Australian director and screenwriter Justin Kurzel premiered his Macbeth at Cannes in May and now brings it to the U. S. in time for the holidays. Following in the vein of Roman Polanski's 1971 film of the same name, it is a gritty retelling of Shakespeare's Scottish Play. And with two big name actors on board — Oscar nominated actor Michael Fassbender as the Thane and Oscar award-winning actress Marion Cotillard as the Queen — this new film is bound to create buzz around the eggnog bowl this season.
The cinematography is stunning! It was shot on location in Scotland and England, and captures the fair and foul weather that sweeps over those rugged landscapes. You can practically smell the Scottish highlands and English countryside in some sequences, and feel the gusty winds and rain pelting down in various outdoor scenes. And to add even more atmosphere and mystery, there's a wash of reddish light in pivotal frames that serves as a visual metaphor for the bloody tragedy in progress under the tyrant Macbeth.
This is Kurzel's first go at Shakespeare. But it's no accident that he's chosen Macbeth out of the canon. After all, his first film Snowtown (based on the true life story of the Snowtown murders), was a grisly but fascinating study of a serial murderer in Australia. It brought him much critical acclaim, and marked him as a rising star in the film world. Kurzel has an uncanny talent for creating menacing portraits of murderers on the big screen. And his new Macbeth is sure to cement his reputation. What's more, Kurzel has a modern-day spin—and diagnosis—for the Bard's deranged protagonist: post-traumatic stress disorder. No, the term hadn't been coined yet in 11th - century Scotland. But Macbeth certainly manifests many of the symptoms of this mental condition that is now widely accepted by the medical world, seriously researched, and treated.
Although Kurzel is faithful to Shakespeare's text, he takes creative license, now and then, to drive home his own vision. In fact, the film opens, not with the Weird Sisters gathering on the heath, but Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at a burial rite for a stillborn child. Whether it is their child remains unclear. But it clearly brings to the fore that the Macbeths are grieving over a child and later resonates with the witches' prediction that Macbeth will wear a barren crown. Kurzel threads the plot with more innovations: Duncan's brutal murder happens on screen and the Porter scene gets jettisoned, along with its wit and levity. In short, Kurzel gives you a relentlessly dark look at the ancient myth and forces you to confront its discomfiting elements through a new prism.
German actor Fassbender and French actress Cotillard have the right chemistry to bring Shakespeare's most famous power couple alive on screen. Fassbender is commanding as Macbeth, and Cotillard (Natalie Portman was originally slated for the role but bowed out when funding for a film she was directing came through) is well-matched as his ambitious wife. No, they don't come to this project with a background in Shakespearean acting and don't affect Scottish burrs to define their characters. And though their delivery of the verse (flavored with in their native accents) might not measure up to the polished thespians at the Royal Shakespeare Company, they surely pass muster with their cinematic chops here. The rest of the cast hold their own but it is definitely Fassbender and Cotillard who are the most mesmerizing on screen.
There's no question that Kurzel has scored with his new Shakespearean film. You might nitpick over some of his directorial choices at times, but his retooled Scottish Play gives a fresh pioneer spirit and badlands flavor to the classic.
Macbeth opens in selected theaters across the U.S. on December 4, 2015. Running time is 1 hour; 53 minutes. Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on preview filming on 11/23/15 Downtown Abbey's Final Season. . .
March 7, 2016- Update. You couldn't wish for a happier and more festive finale for a hit that was as much of a phenomenon for television as Hamilton has been for the theater. It left me in such a good mood that I'm not quite ready to look into the new and sure to be much darker House of Cards season
Yes, Lady Edith finally got married, thanks to Lady Mary who previously put the kabosh on it. And what a wedding! The only sad note was that Carsons could no longer perform per his own rigid standards. But not to worry. He remains semi-employed, cared for by his ever sensible wife, and his main butler's functions will now be handled by trembly hands brought back Barrows now worthy of the butler's post. Anna delivered a healthy baby, right in Lady Mary's bed, thus further showing the ever diminishing divide between upstairs and downstairs. The senior romances also blossomed, and the mother/daughter-in-law tensions over Lady Grantham's taking over the hospital ended. Sir Fellowes outdid himself in bringing everyone who ever appeared back for the wedding, which included Lady Rose and even Lady Grantham's American mom via a congratulary letter. Leave it to Tom to help Lady Mary's husband Henry find a career to satisfy his love of cars without the danger of racing them. And who better than the former chauffeur to partner with Henry. As for Tom's own non-existent love life, this too is taken care of by having Lady Edith's editor not only a wedding guest, but catching the bouquet. If this weren't the end, we'd see her and Tom walking down the aisle in the next episode.
And speaking of the next episode. . . Downton may be finished on the home screen but there's talk of a movie. Stay tuned!
February 21, 2016 Update: A mea culpa about my pevious comments. With the penultimate episode Sir Julian Fellowes got his mojo back. So much so, with so many wonderful moments (especially for Lady Mary and the Dowager) that I found myself wishing the episode would go on and on. . .and that somehow the next episode was the finale.
The dowager's stubborn, wrong-headed and, yes, tedious fight to keep the local hospital independent as it's always been comes on top of seeing Maggie Smith in a quite different role — as the crusty, complicated bag lady of the best picture/actress/director/adapted screenplay nominated The Lady In The Van. Smith is a theatrical treasure!
The glimpse of Lord Grantham once again clenching his stomach struck me as an ominous hint that there'll come a time when Lady Violet wished the local hospital were better equipped and staffed as it would be if she'd just stop fighting to keep it in the past.
The best of this week's continually evolving sub-plots revolves around the return of former housemaid Gwen (Rose Leslie) to Downton as an accomplished and happily married woman. She’s there because Rosamund (Samantha Bond) wants Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) to become a trustee of a college for women, for which Gwen’s husband is treasurer. The Crawleys don’t recognize Gwen, because obviously the only one who bothered to really look at and talk to all but key servants was Sybil. Gwen prefers to keep her Downton connection to herself, probably a combination of tact and lingering discomfort at finding herself a luncheon guest.
As it turns out, the jealous Barrow's vindictively letting that paricular cat out of the bag delights the Crawleys, giving Julian Fellowes another chance to show how much less insular these spoiled aristocrats have become over the years. It also results in a lovely opportunity to pay tribute to Lady Sybil who during Season 1 helped Gwen move out of service and into a job as a secretary. This opens the door to another tribute to a beloved but dead character, the love of Lady Mary's life (Dan Stevens) be far behind — perhaps when she finally settles on a new husband (a rather dull Matthew Goode who I liked a lot better in The Good Wife).
While Lily James's Lady Rose is still very much alive, she too is unlikely to get more than a mention as the season continues. You see, she's now the major female character, Natasha Rostova, in the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Andrew Davies of the Netflix binge hit House of Cards has managed to tell this epic saga in six episodes (probably because the huge cast and opulent costumes and scenery are too expensive for a longer binge fest).
I won't go into all Downton's other rather predictable plot threads that have been picked up. Suffice it to say that as the last episode ended with the Carson-Hughes wedding, this culminates in their return, apparently having survived the "full marriage" conundrum successfully. I can't say this episode left me in a "can't wait" state about any of this, but I remain committed to staying on board.
Downtown Abbey's Final Season
Dare I say it. So far, the farewell season is kind of boring. Even if I could binge on the whole season at once, I'd be unlikely to do so. An hour at a time is more than enough.
Still, I've committed too much time getting to know all these characters not to hang in there. Carson and Mrs. Hughes ARE finally married. No unpleasant surprises as at Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester's wedding, just Tom Branson arriving at the wedding breakfast apparently ready to become a fully committed member of the Grantham family. Besides stealing some of the thunder from the bride and groom (but happily not before Mr. Carson could make this poignant toast to his bride: "That a woman of such grace and charm should entrust her life’s happiness to my unworthy charge passeth all understanding."
Tom's arrival opens the door to questions about what this will do to Mary's job as the estate manager. I'm sure Julian Fellowes will, a usual, milk this for some clunky plot developments.
With Anna pregnant and a Harley Street doctor standing buy to help her carry the child to full term, and Edith taking charge of her magazine with the help of a new suitor, could Fellowes really give these consistent sad sack ladies a happy ending?
And how I can not stay the course for the full season to see how the no longer nasty Barrows fares in his search for a new job. His interview for a job with a somewhat demented lord of a once grand manor was a highlight of the last episode as it proved the design team can do delapidated as well as elegant and stately. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Barrows to find a partner and come up with an idea for another kind of work, maybe as a maitre de in a posh restaurant?
At any rate the clothes are gorgeous as ever.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me by Elyse Sommer
The shooting in this documentary, now available on DVD and for streaming via itunes and Netflic, is of course done by a camera trained on the leggy, raspy-voiced Broadway legend, also known to younger audiences as the mother of 30Rock's Alec Baldwin who's also one of the film's producers. It's a combination of tribute to Stritch by director Chiemi Karasawa and Stritch's own last hurrah in the limelight.
Her often recorded Stephen Sondheim song "I'm Still Here" applied during The three years that the film followed her around cinema vérité style began in 2011 as Stritch was preparing a cabaret show (Elaine Stritch Singin'Sondheim). Fortunately, the 89-year-old Stritch, is with us to sing "I'm Still Here" even after the DVD and streaming release of this no-holds-barred documentary. But it's clear that she allowed this often painfully intimate close-up to keep the flame of her legend burning. Given that she's a consummate entertainer who's most alive when in front of an audience, that unrestricted "shot me" invitation makes "being on" as much an addiction as alcohol once was. And watching her "being on" for the camera is also addictive.
Since the film's time frame includes Stritch's leaving her photo and memory stuffed apartment at the Carlyle Hotel to move back to her hometown in Michigan to be with relatives this is as much a poignant look at aging as a colorful theatrical memoir. The shots revealing that even the feisty Stritch is not immune to the assaults by Father Time see her struggling to remember lyrics, walking gingerly (she's had hip surgery) and have her eyes examined (those huge glasses are as much necessity as stylish trademark).
The camera jumps back and forth between Manhattan walks, rehearsal sessions, as well as various performances which have a mostly adoring audience wondering just how much of Sondhheim's never easy to remember lyrics she can handle. As that live audience is won over by the way she lets them in on her struggle, so will most of those watching this film be.
Karasaway uses snippets from archived performances (which includes her hit solo show Elaine Stritch at Liberty but doesn't reprise any of its content) and Stritch going through her collection of photographs and other memorabilia with her assistant to fill in the highlights of her eventful life and career. Her impact as a performer is memorably captured with her rehearsing "Ladies Who Lunch" which is interspersed with producer Hal Prince's astute sum"-up of her irresistible complexity with "she has the guts of a jailbird — but the convent girl is still there, always." Besides Prince, others like Cherry Jones, the late James Gandolfini and George C. Wolf who directed Elaine Stritch at Liberty provide talking head commentary. Happily, often overused documentary device is kept to a minimum
Stritch ruefully agrees with Bette Davis about old age not being for sissies. But she also approaches being on the brink of exiting the stage on which we all live as well as the many stages on which she has entertained, with her usual determination: "This is a time of my life when I'm going to behave like an elegant human being - or not." Here's hoping she'll continue to be around a while to practice her unique brand of elegance.
Live Sound of Music -NBC brings back made-for-tv musicals
According to Nielsen's ratings, some 18.5 million viewers tuned to NBC's live telecast of the 3-hour "Live" version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's beloved musical The Sound of Music. Clearly the powers that be at NBC weren't wrong to go up against memories of iconic Marias and Captain Von Trapps, and believe that there was an audience for a "live" TV musical despite regular revivals, the still available DVD with Julie Andrews and even sing-alongs.
Carrie Underwood had the needed new audience drawing appeal. But she's is unlikely to erase memories of the original stage Maria (Mary Martin) or Andrews, the movie Maria. Her singing isn't bad but it's hardly glorious and the last part of her name best describes the American Idol born star's acting. In fact, in a clever bit of casting, the most memorable and charismatic performance in this production was by Laura Benanti as Maria's rival, the glamorous older woman Elsa. You see Benanti, a recent high school graduate, made her Broadway stage debut in the 1998 revival when she realized the understudy's dream and took over for Rebecca Luker opposite Richard Chamberlain. Her acting and singing was impressive enough for me to see another Julie Andrews in the making (Review of 1998 production ). Now, a mature and sophisticated star who's lived up to my prediction she's made Elsa the most interesting to watch and listen to character.
Another reason that brought the home screens to life with music was Audra MacDonald as the Mother Superior. MacDonald's gorgeous voice did indeed "Climb Ev’ry Mountain" thrillingly.
As for Stephen Moyer's Captain Von Trapp, he was okay but unlikely to eclipse predecessars like Theodore Bikel and Chamberlain. Still, given that this Sound of Music was NBC's most successful evening since the last episode of Frasier in 2004 or the 2007 Golden Globe broadcast. It was also the first musical staged live for the home screen since the '50s, complete with lavish set and costume changes, live orchestra and everything timed to coordinate with the commercials.
Though I prefer my musicals live, I also yearn for more and better live for TV programming so maybe this Sound of Music will be a first step in this direction. it's a first of more and better such shows to come. half-century.
HBO's The Normal Heart by Elyse Sommer
The 2004 revival, was another gut wrencher despite the progress being made in treating and preventing AIDS and the progress in matters of acceptance and equality for Gay men and women. Yet, my third viewing, just a few seasons ago, still left me with tears for incredible number of lost lives— and with them the books, plays, ballets and musicals never written and other valuable work left undone.
What happened in the 1980s is a critical and still relevant slice of history and HBO should be commended for giving it the sort of star-studded production that will attract a large audience — most especially young gay men who think condoms are no longer a necessity who know little about the heroism of those who fought to obtain help for preventing the tragedy that was killing them daily from worsening.
That said Kramer is a polemicist and The Normal Heart is not history transformed into a poetic drama like Tony Kushner's Angels in America, also filmed by HBO. The HBO film adaptation does downplay the stridency of Kramer's alter ego Ned Weeks and makes it a more personal story by emphasizing the tenderness of his relationship with a doomed lover. However, director Ryan Murphy making, like the playwright, is an in-your-face, fearless schock master. Thus there's no attempt to soften the more horrendous details of the grim trajectory of AIDS, from the first appearance of the soon to multiply dark purple lesions to the horrendous pain, loss of bodily function control to the heartbreaking memorial services. The film also includes some of the more realistic sex scenes between men seen on any screen to date.
The reality of this play makes it hard for even the opportunities to offset the opportunity for a film to take the action to various locations to offset the impact of having living, breathing actors portray these people drawn from real life. Fortunately, the actors in this ensemble are so extraordinarily moving that even fourth time around, without live performances, and some over-indulgence in melodramatic close-ups, I was hooked almost instantly.
All are well known for their stage and screen work, several also appeared in the splendid 2011 Broadway revival. Mark Ruffalo brings rage, passion and pain to the role of Ed Weeks and Matt Bomer breaks your heart as Ed's lover. The Big Bang's Jim Parsons is remarkable in a reprise of his 2011 role as the loving and lovable Tommy Boatwright one of the main men in the activist group that eventually tosses Weeks out for the abrasiveness that they feel is harming their cause. He poignantly refers to his saving of the Rolodex cards of friends who die as "a collection of cardboard tombstones, bound together with a rubber band."
Joe Mantello, currently best known as a high profile stage director who played Weeks in that production now gives a powerhouse performance as Mickey Marcus. Julia Roberts may never be convincingly plain looking, but she is more than convincingly passionate as Dr. Emma Brookner whose frustration and anger about the government's lack of support for her research matches that of Weeks. There's a wonderful scene between her and Weeks when both step out of their abrasive personas long enough for him to get her out of her wheechair to attempt a dance.
For more details about the plot and past productions, see Review of the 2004 production and Review of the 2011 Broadway revival .
Following a list of the cast and character's of the HBOfilm: Mark Ruffalo (Ned Weeks), Matt Bomer (Felix Turner), Taylor Kitsch (Bruce Niles), Jim Parsons (Tommy Boatwright), Alfred Molina (Ben Weeks), Julia Roberts (Dr. Emma Brookner), Joe Mantello (Mickey Marcus), Jonathan Groff (Craig), Denis O’Hare (Hiram Keebler), Stephen Spinella (Sanford), Corey Stoll (John Bruno), Finn Wittrock (Albert) and B. D. Wong (Buzzy).
August: Osage County by Elyse Sommer -
With Tracy Letts, the play's author, writing the screenplay for the movie, deals with the stage-to-screen challenges quite effectively. The streamlined story remains essentially intact, despite some loss of nuance and character detail. The elements of the play that really matter are there and as good as ever, notably the no hold barred funeral dinner. Therefore, instead of going into a lot of detail about what it's about, here's a link Curtainup's coverage of the stage production: August: Osage County, the play .
Having the film include the expansive yet barren Oklahoma scene outside the Weston clan's home sidesteps the danger of a movie feeling too much like a filmed version of its source. The views and scenes on a seemingly endless ribbon of highway, at the local church and at the bus station make the background a motivating character rather than just a way to open things up.
Director John Wells, makes the most of a film's big advantage over a play: The close-up views of the actors' faces and set details available only to theater goers sitting in the front section of the orchestra, but to every audience member in a movie theater. That said, much as I enjoyed watching the film at last Monday's screening at the Paris Theater, nothing can quite compare to the thrill of seeing the Steppenwolf Company production at Broadway's Imperial Theatre.
The stage actors who originated the various Westons and members of their extended family were perfection. But as my second viewing of that production proved, they were not irreplacable. The new cast, with Estelle Parsons giving her interpretation of the unrelentingly appalling family matriarch, attested to this play being potent enough to be a gift not just to audiences hungry for involving, mature dramas but for a variety of actors as well.
Superb as the actors I saw on Broadway were, being well known and regarded by theater audiences doesn't translate into a box office bonanza. For a film to have a chance in the Oscar sweepstakes, it needs movie stars. Fortunately, the movie stars heading the film cast are Meryl Streep as the pill-popping, cancer stricken Violet Weston and Julia Roberts as the oldest and most contentious of the three daughters summoned to the homestead upon the disappearance of Violet's husband for whom that homestead (or, as it turns out, any place) is no longer endurable.
As the original actors made the three hours (plus 2 intermissions) of the Broadway production fly by, Streep and Roberts, as well as the rest of the film's ensemble, make you able to forget that the stage is probably the more natural habitat for Letts's drama (truth be told, melodrama) than the screen.
Streep, whose very name evokes visions of Oscar statuettes (she's won 3 and been nominated 17 times), can start making room on whatever shelf she keeps them on for a fourth one. She may be named Violet in this film, but there's nothing shrinking about Streeps take on her. She may be racked by pain, her beauty ravaged by cancer and substance abuse, but that pain and the regrets about her life have given an extra sharp razor's edge to her always sharp tongue. As noted in my review of the stage version, this makes for an ironic metaphor, given that it's mouth cancer Violet suffers from.
Though Streep's role is the showiest and most likely to nab the best actor Oscar, Letts considers daughter Barbara his protagonist. And Roberts makes an equally strong showing as the bitter and unhappy eldest daughter whose failing marriage and fraught relationship with her own daughter explodes during this family crisis. Forget about her Pretty Woman. No irresistible smile and glamour for her embittered, unhappy menopausal woman who is dangerously close to turning into her mother. But it's a powerhouse performance.
Standouts in the ensemble include Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch. Martindale as Violet's sister Mattie Fae comes on as warm but flighty, but her remarkable insensitivity to her prone to failure son, aptly called Little Charlie, matches her sister's unmotherly persona. It also adds another touch of melodrama to the family dynamic. Cumberbatch, who for many viewers as much of a star as Streep and Roberts (Sherlock Holmes, The Hobbitt, War Horse, Parade's End, etc.) is terrific as the awkward Charlie who's the secret boyfriend of middle daughter Ivy (a wonderfully understated Julianne Nicholson). His many fans will be pleased to hear that he even sings during one brief but memorable scene.
Chris Cooper, a consistently reliable actor, is an invaluable presence as Mattie Fae's husband and Little Charlie's loving father. The scene when he finally blows up over his wife's incomprehensible to him treatment of their son is another of the film's highlights.
Juliette Lewis captures the desperate hopefulness of third sister Karen's poor choices in men. Dermot Mulroney's Steve Heidebrecht, the much-married, lecherous smoothie who accompanies her from Florida to Oklahoma gets his just dues from the Native American Johanna Monevata who was hired by Beverly Weston to take care of Violet and the house before his departure. With the movie's move beyond the interior of the house, the weapon Johanna uses is now a shovel instead of a frying pan. The patriarch who sets this family reunion in motion, the role created by Tracy Letts' father (and taken over by John Cullum after his death), is now very ably played by Sam Shepherd.
August: Osage County, like so many plays, features three sisters and the effect of their pasts on their present and future lives. But its kinship e is less to Chekhov's Prozov sisters than Edward Albee's George and Martha and Tennessee Williams's Big Daddy and family. Like those plays and their film adaptations, this one is definitely not for anyone under sixteen. In fact, it's most likely to find its most responsive audience among those over thirty and not averse to unhappy endings.
Cast:Meryl Streep(Violet Weston),Julia Roberts (Barbara Fordham), Chris Cooper (Charlie Aiken), Margo Martindale(Mattie Fae Aiken), Benedict Cumberbatch("Little Charles" Atkins), Ewan McGregor (Bill Fordham), Sam Shepard (Beverly Weston), Juliette Lewis (Karen Weston), Abigail Breslin(Jean Fordham), Julianne Nicholson (Ivy Weston), Dermot Mulroney (Steve Heidebrecht), Misty Upham(Johnna Monevata), Will Coffey(Sheriff Deon Gilbeau).
Blue Jasmine - Woody Allen's homage to the poet of the Contemporary American theater, Tennessee Williams
Blue Jasmine is different from other Allen's films. For one thing it spends lesstime in his favorite city, New York, but takes place mostly in San Francisco. And yet it's very much an Allen film in that it rounds out a whole gallery of memorable but troubled female characters.
For anyone familiar with Streetcar Named Desire (and most people are, given the many productions and available DVDs that include the original with MarlonBrando and Vivien Leigh) this may seem like an adaptation more than an Allen original. Indeed, the film does does follow the basic story of a middle-aged beauty who's fallen on hard times and must, per one of Williams's most famous lines, "rely on the kindness of strangers." Nonetheless Blue Jasmine is a completely original enterprise that manages to evoke the characters and scenes from a classic play as well as the real life perpetrators and victims of the Bernad Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal.
Even without the link to one of the contemporary theater's most lauded and well-known plays, Blue Jasmine would be a treat for theater lovers since the cast features a number of actors with outstanding stage resumes; most notably Sally Hawkins, Bobby Canavale, Alec Baldwin, Peter Scarsgaard Michael Stuhlbarg
Sally Hawkins, who like the Australian Blanchett, speaks in a flawlessly American accent. More important, she's terrific as Ginger, the sister whose lower class life style and choice of men Jasmine disdains but whose cramped San Francisco apartment is this financially and emotionally bankrupt woman's temporary haven of last resort. Also outstanding is Bobby Canavale, one of the theater's dynamic and prominent young actors, as Ginger's current sexy but lower class boyfriend Chilli. He doesn't rape Jasmine as Stanley Kowalski does Blanche but there's plenty of hostility between them. Max Casella is well cast as one of Chilli's noisy pals, Michael Sthlbarg delightfully creepy as the dentist for whom Jasmine temporarily works to pay for the skills needed for a career more to her still deluded sense of being above the more humble jobs held by the people in her sister's world. of grandeur. This is as much a portrait of the class divide as that of a woman not just on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but in full-fledged over-the-top mode.
As the original white knight who caused Jasmine to drop out of college to become a trophy wife, Alec Baldwin embodies the slick personification of greed is good, and cheating as easy to do as knotting your expensive ties. Unlike the not very appealing Mitch who Blanche DuBois is willing to settle for, Jasmine lucks out by finding another rich and attractive man, this one played by Peter Saarsgard. The trouble is that Saarsgard's Dwight isn't a crook, but a man of honor and political ambition and only a madwoman would imagine that she wouldn't get tripped up by her false identity and pretenses. If the way this happens is a bit too contrived, so what, it's a mere quibble given the overall quality of the film.
Tales of the City
At 83 Olympia Dukakis is still an imposing presence on stage. However, her always somewhat raspy voice was strained in her recent appearance at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox as that survivor of survivors, Brecht's camp follower known as Mother Courage. ( Her performance, the fifth in this role, was somewhat disappointing so it was a welcome coincidence to be able to see her in one of her most memorable roles, as the mysterious San Francisco landlord in the 1993 mini series based on Amistead Maupin's Tales of the City. The 20th Anniversary edition from Acorn Media features six episodes on 2 disks. Besides its serendipidous arrival just as the Lenox Company's revival of Mother Courage and Her Children began its run, it also tied in with another Berkshire production, this one Southern Comfort a musical about a transgender community in Georgia at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield.
Dukakis is indeed terrific. She brings nuance, warmth and charm to the mysterious Anna Madrigal. It takes a bit to get used to the way the episodes jump back and forth between the large cast of fascinating characters. Large and small screen and live theater film buffs will be enchanged by an adorable young Laura Linney as the Ohio girl who visits San Francisco and stays to experience life in Mrs. Madrigal's boarding house that's decidedly different from life in Cleveland. Fellow residents include Acorn best selling Slings and Arrow star Paul Gross, as a gorgeous, pot-smoking young womanizer. Prestigious stage actors making brief appearances include Ian McKellen and Rod Steiger.
The name Michael Gabon above a title makes it a must see for any theater enthusiasts. And so, even if you're not one to regularly dip into the seemingly bottomless well of mystery series, you'll want to have a look at the series based on author George Simenon's Inspector Maigret novels. Gambon came aboard for the second round of the series that's available from Acorn Media.
Forget about lots of action and technological wizardly. This is Paris and its outlying villages with Maigret and his small, loyal staff solving murders using psychological and leisurely deliberation. The stories are awash in the atmosphere of long-ago Paris and rural French villages.
Gambon, with droll charm and great flair blends Maigret's intuitive detection style with a sympathetic and very Gallic sensibility.
Everybody seems to be talking about Smash which, after millions of dollars spent on ads and a marketing campaign that included access to viewings the pilot on line, finally aired its first segment on February 6th. The new series certainly provided plenty of fodder courtesy of the buzz-triggering folks (actors, script and song writers, not to mention director and producer) to ratchet up high expectation for Smash to become a more adult audience geared Glee and eventually turn its basic premise —- the inside look at the making of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe — into an actual Broadway musical.
But not to put that cart before the horse let's look at Smash in its current permutation — as a weekly TV show about show business that aims to be irresistible not just to Broadway Theater buffs to the couch potatoes who watch a lot of television but for whom live theater is an occasional experience which means they're going to miss a lot of the insider stuff sure to make it a must-see for a large but not large enough to make another behind the scenes story fly into the multi-season stratosphere. I'll therefore do as script Theresa Rebeck did, borrow from another cliche to sum up the first Smash episode with a caveat: Don't judge a series show by its initial installment!
Smash, like any first episode of a series is basically an introduction to everything to follow. In short, it's a set-up to establish who's who and what and the various plot thread s to propel us through the weekly episodes. And while the Smash creative team accomplished this goal quite proficiently it added up to a rather hop, skip and ump all over the place hour (actually closer to 40 minutes) that was somewhat too reminiscent of every backstage story staged or flmed to absorb even a theater and movie enthusiast like yours truly. Of course a cast that's literally a Who's Who of Hollywood, TV and Broadway and Off-Broadway was great fun. And with musical interludes by Hairspray's song writing duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman it looks as if the musical numbers will be fun, original and well integrated. In fact, the most original, enjoyable and, hopefully often used, directorial twist by Director Michael Mayer (who most recently helmed American Idiot) is to intersperse the auditioning wannabe stars' presentations to the fictional producer (a terrific Anelica Huston), astute but lecherous director (ack Davenport) and songwriting team (Debra Messing and Chrisian Borle) with a dreamlike vision of the full dress Broadway version.
It's easy to see that there wll be plenty of opportunities for guest appearances which will be welcome gigs for others besides this line-up of regular players: Debra Messing (Julia Houston), Jack Davenport (Derek Wills), Christian Borle (Tom Levitt), Megan Hilty (Ivy Lynn), Katharine McPhee (Karen Cartwright), Raza Jaffrey (Dev), Brian d’Arcy James (Frank), Jaime Cepero (Ellis) and Anjelica Huston (Eileen Rand). So, if you were a bit unerwhelmed, as I was, by this introductory episode, remember, some of the biggest hit serials like the similarly named but quite different Mash and Seinfeld, were not instant must-sees.
"There is a world elsewhere." So intones the Roman general Coriolanus in his famous speech to the plebeians who banish him from his city. In the new modern film adaptation of Shakespeare’s, Coriolanus, shot on location in Belgrade, Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut and stars in the eponymous role. And though you probably won’t shed a tear for its flinty protagonist, this film will hold your attention.
Since the Coriolanus myth is really about the grooming of a war-hero for a high public office. And what better time than now to see this dynamic on the big screen. John Logan's screenplay follows the original text but sometimes quite compellingly transposes portions of dialogue to talking heads on television shows.
A few caveats: The blood-drenched warfare requires a strong stomach and, anyone unfamiliar with the play would benefit from reading it before seeing this film. not only to better understand the conflict between the Volscians and Romans, but to better appreciate the subtleties of Shakespeare’s version and Logan’s modern innovations.
Ralph Fiennes gives contemporary verve to the surly patrician who lacks political instincts and his directing intelligently retools the story to appropriate modern war strategies and weaponry. The thematic preoccupation with names comes through powerfully. Apart from Fiennes’s star turn, Vanessa Redgraves’s Volumnia is stunningly austere and the best scenes revolve around the mother-son relationship. Gerard Butler’s Tullus Aufidius is spot on, and Jessica Chastain’s Virgilia is the epitome of domestic virtue.
Fiennes is probably not expecting his film to be a commercial hit, but with all these classically-trained actors on board, Shakespeare buffs should beat a path to the box office. Of course, you can wait to watch it at home on DVD or Netflix. But, honestly, this film, with its spectacular battle scenes, is best appreciated on the big screen.
Ultimately, Coriolanus is a thriller brimming with strident poetry and tirades. — Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan. Back to the Index of Topics
Private Romeo It is 16 years since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet sharpened the edge of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Now writer-director Alan Brown retools the old classic as a contemporary gay love story. And it is anything but out of character with the Bard’s drama of “forbidden love.”
The film is above all adventurous and daring. The action begins when the school’s faculty and most of the students leave the campus for a land navigation exercise. The eight cadets left behind are instructed to follow their ordinary routines. And there’s the rub. The cadets, who have been studying Romeo and Juliet in their English lit class, begin to re-enact scenes in the school’s dimly-lit corridors, stairwells, mess halls, and deserted basketball courts. And as they deftly tackle the iambic pentameter, they miraculously discover that the romantic myth can be midwife to their own suppressed desires and sexual identity.
Brown is not decorating Shakespeare’s drama but exploring it. The film makes the Renaissance tragedy resonate with our same-sex marriage era. Brown also updates the story by peppering in YouTube videos and lip-synched Indie rock music. Although conceived as a kind of social critique on the don’t-ask-don’t-tell military world, Private Romeo also serves as fertile commentary on personal freedom pitted against any rigid institution. In short, the film shows us that Shakespeare is the dramatist of no fixed abode, and that he’s forever re-inventing our culture and ourselves.
Seth Numrich (War Horse.The Merchant of Venice) and Matt Doyle (War Horse. Bye, Bye Birdie, >Spring Awakening) are ienchanting as the star-cross’d lovers, and Hale Appleman all but upstages them as the bawdy Mercutio, especially in his fantastic Queen Mab monologue. But when the genuine poignancy of the romance has to be expressed, it is Numrich’s Romeo and Doyle’s Juliet that will tug at your heartstrings.
Interestingly, there’s no full-blown tragedy in Private Romeo. Although Brown renders scenes from Romeo and Juliet pretty much verbatim, the shadow of death never seeps in. Mercutio survives, as do Romeo and Juliet. In lightening the tale Brown makes love, not death the center of his film's power. The buried message of the film is that Shakespeare’s language can be used as a catalyst to express the inexpressible. There is sad poetry that comes and goes here. But in its 98 fleeting minutes, Private Romeo can persuade you that our contemporary world is changing, and changing for the better.
Private Romeo opened on 2/10/12 at Cinema Village Theatre, 22 East 12th Street. Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press screening of 2/06/12 Back to the Index of Topics
Steven Spielberg's War Horse
If you've seen the play, comparisons are inevitable even though it's one of those apples and oranges situations. Both are works of art. The play qualifies as art via its imaginative and original approach to casting it's main character, Joey the horse, as a giant puppet. The result is a breathtaking stage spectacle. The film, on the other hand, exemplifies the art of old-fashioned, sweeping cinematography that no one does better than Steven Spielberg, especially if the characters are seen against the epic backdrop of war.
The First World War was certainly rife with horrendous carnage. That war to end all wars, like our more recent far longer than anticipated wars, began for questionable reasons. Its warriors included a million English horses sent to battle and suffering enormously (with only 62,000 coming back), Given that Murpurgo's timeless love story of a boy and his horse played out against the backdrop of that war, it was a natural to be dramatized for adults as well as children. The saga of one such noble horse serves as a potent metaphor for the madness of war. And Spielberg wrests every kernel of tear inducing heart tug from Albert and Joey's story. True to his way with presenting tragic events realistically but with upbeat endings, there's never a moment's doubt that despite the blood and suffering, Albert will keep his promise to reunite with Joey.
Spielberg's taste for corn is underscored by John Williams's treacly score, though this doesn't diminish the beauty of the visual images which owe much to the work of Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg's director of photography. The excellent cast add to the film's assets. Jeremy Irvine's Albert is especially noteworthy. But the stars of the movie are Joey and the other horses galloping their way into our hearts.
Superb as those real horses are, I was more moved by the puppet horses in the play. What's more despite the stunning bucolic vistas and crowded with man and horsepower war scenes, the more original and subtle staging of the play was more satisfying. And, while play and film have approximately the same run time, the stage version had me enthralled throughout but the film, like that terrible war, seemed to go on forever and ever.
War Horse is a family film but with its PG-13 rating limiting it to families with children at least 12 or 13-- and even for that age parents should be aware that the violence, though not as gory as some films, is extreme and unsettling. upsetting,
Production notes: War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production design by Rick Carter; costumes by Joanna Johnston; visual-effects supervisor, Ben Morris; Running time: 2 hours 26 minutes. Cast: Emily Watson (Rosie Narracott), David Thewlis (Lyons), Peter Mullan (Ted Narracott), Niels Arestrup (Grandfather), Tom Hiddleston (Captain Nicholls), Jeremy Irvine (Albert Narracott), Benedict Cumberbatch (Major Stewart), Toby Kebbell (Geordie Soldier), Celine Buckens (Emilie), Rainer Bock (Brandt) and Patrick Kennedy (Lieutenant Waverly).
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Anonymous reviewed by Deirdre Donovan
Anyone who has a serious interest in the authorship controversy of William Shakespeare’s work is likely to find Anonymous a sugary trifle. Directed by Roland Emmerich, from a script by John Orloff, its premise is that, Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. Unfortunately, the film abounds in capricious flights of fancy, anachronisms, and historical inaccuracies that undermine its conceit.
To be sure, renegades have been trying to topple Shakespeare of Stratford off his literary pedestal since 1785, the year that an Oxford scholar James Wilmot went in search of Shakespeare’s books, papers and found nothing of consequence. Although Wilmot never published his findings, his fellow researcher James Corton Cowell took Wilmot’s research and enthusiastically embarked on a lecture circuit, becoming the first advocate for Edward de Vere’s authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Indeed the manuscripts of Cowell’s lectures are still preserved in the University of London’s Senate House Library.
Orloff’s vision of Elizabethan England has a pleasant lyricism, which somewhat compensates for the flaws in the film. Indeed one can enjoy the quaint London atmosphere, be fascinated by the gilded treacheries of Elizabethan politics and romantic intrigues (Edward de Vere is speculated to be the lover of Queen Elizabeth here). In fact, Orloff gives us a colorful slice of the cut-throat literary world in the closing years of the 16th century. Visually (and aurally too), the film is magnificent. But its glitzy wrapping goes only so far.
In this film’s view, Edward de Vere wins out over Shakespeare of Stratford as the immortal author, largely because of his aristocratic “class.” Time and again, the film turns on the unspoken question: How could a commoner like Shakespeare, a glover’s son, pen masterpieces that bring to life a panorama of royalty, nobles, and their court life? The film’s rationale is that Edward de Vere could readily draw upon his real-life court experience and create convincing portraits of the high-born in Elizabethan society. We see in the film’s sequences how the protagonist is continually caught between a rock and a hard place, first as Queen Elizabeth’s lover and later on as a clandestine writer. And in the film’s most poignant moments, Ifans’s Oxford has the hell of anonymity etched in his face.
The speculative biographical conclusions reached in this enterprise are fun to watch in the unfolding, but one might find it hard to swallow its portraits of William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) and Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto). Shakespeare is portrayed as an illiterate actor, fake playwright, social climber, blackmailer, murderer, and whoremonger. And Ben Jonson is no more than a second-rate playwright, who’s sorely infected with the green-eyed monster jealousy. Both authors must be turning in their graves to see their venerable literary lives and achievements spun into mere Elizabethan chaff here.
Strangely, the best scenes in the film don’t belong to Ifans’ Edward de Vere or Vanessa Redgrave’s Queen Elizabeth but to two notable contemporary stage actors: Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance. Both are well-known Oxfordians, and their cameo appearances as Prologue and Condell in the film are terrific.
Ultimately, the film begs the question: Who does have the expertise to deal with such matters as the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays? And, following that inquiry, can Emmerich and Orloff deliver the literary goods without having a solid scholarly background in the subject? The Oxford position has been advocated over the years by the likes of Henry James, Malcolm X, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, Helen Keller, Orson Welles, and Mark Twain, to mention a few. But it’s still a slippery slope. And sharp-eared audience members will surely find some historical inaccuracies in Emmerich’s and Orloff’s Anonymous. Edward de Vere, after all, died in 1604, and “Shakespeare” has quite a few plays written after this date. And if one scours the film for other incongruous facts, there are plenty to be found.
In spite of the shortfalls, Emmerich and Orloff should not be taken to task for bringing the Shakespeare authorship argument to the big screen. This new film may not be solidly grounded in its scholarship, but it’s always entertaining. To those who really want to unravel this Shakespearean mystery, however, should hie thee to a bookstore and invest in James Shapiro’s celebrated book Contested Will. Nobody draws the battle lines better than this Columbian professor and scholar. Unlike the film, he never engages in overkill. He simply presents all the claimants to Shakespeare’s plays, states his own bias (he believes the man from Stratford penn.
Cast of charaters: Rhys Ifans (Earl of Oxford), Vanessa Redgrave (Queen Elizabeth I), Joely Richardson ( young Queen Elizabeth), David Thewlis (William Cecil), Savier Samuel (Earl of Southampton), Sebastian Armesto (Ben Jonson), Rafe Spall (William Shakespeare), Sam Reid (Earl of Essex), Jamie Campbell Bower (Young Earl of Oxford), Edward Hogg (Robert Cecil), Mark Rylance (Condell) and Derek Jacobi (Prologue). Running time: 2 hours; 15 minutes
© 2012-2014 Elyse Sommer.