Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'movies'

A Father’s Journey | “Menashe” at LAJFF

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed May 03, 2017 @ 7:41 pm PDT

MenasheIf you don’t know it by now, my daughter is a Yiddish scholar. Seriously. She’s about to head out to UW-Madison to get an MS and PhD in History, specializing in the Yiddish culture of Southern California. My wife, wanting to keep up with her, signed up for a Yiddish Class through American Jewish University (FB). As part of that class, we all (that is, my wife and daughter, myself, and my cousin and her daughter (who is now staying with us)) went to Beverly Hills to see the West Coast Premiere of Menashe, a movie shown in Yiddish with English subtitles, which was being shown as part of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (FB).

Menashe is an extremely interesting movie. It tells the fictionalized-but-based-on-fact story of Menashe Lustig, a man in an extremely insular Chasidic community in New York whose wife died almost a year ago. The strictures of the community require that the children be raised in a two-parent household. As a result, Menashe’s only son has been sent to live with his uncle and his wife, something Menashe doesn’t like. The film is the story of Menashe trying to get his son to live with him, and the various trials and tribulations involved. These are not only religious issues, but financial ones as the community is extremely poor.

The film itself was an interesting view into a community that one would never normally see. The actors in the film were mostly people who had left the community, and supposedly their portrayal (other than the variety of Yiddish dialects) was pretty spot on. I found the language to be more a poetic background to the subtitles; it enhanced the authenticity of the story being told (as if you were the fly on the wall, or the worm in the lettuce).  At times the pace dragged a bit (but not as bad as the recent Jackie), but on the whole it was a very interesting film. It explored the issue from the viewpoint of someone who wanted to remain in the community, as opposed to someone who felt the only way to deal with the community issues was to escape it (something I recall seeing in another recent film about the Chasidic community, which I can’t recall the name of right now).

 

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Be Careful What You Wish For

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Mar 29, 2017 @ 11:27 am PDT

Over the weekend, I read an interesting article in the LA Times about how studios are currently shuffling leadership around as they attempt to adjust to the declining revenues of films in theatres. The explanation that was given was that the business model of the film industry is changing. The only “successful” movies on the big screen are the blockbuster tentpoles; the previous mid-market movies just are not succeeding in the theatres (although they do well on the smaller screen). The other “success” are the very low budget movies, but it is easy to make money on those with a modest success.

Well, duh.

This is a clear demonstration of being careful what you wish for, combined with not understanding the market. First, we have been pushing the quality of televisions up and up. We had HD, and UHD, and 4K, and even more. So for stories that are more slice of life, non-special effects, stories, why do I need to go to the theatre to see them. Further, I think filmmakers and actors are discovering that the 2-3 hour movie is limiting, and a story can be told with more depth of character as a 10 episode limited miniseries (which is also why you’re seeing more sequelitis).

So what will succeed?

Blockbusters work for a number of reasons: first, you need the big screen for the spectacle, the sound, and most importantly, the shared experience. If you are watching something where the mood of the audience will feed into the reaction, it works better when you watch surrounded by people.

What else? One word: Live.

Broadway musicals are growing because the live experience is different every time, it is a shared experience, and it is something that cannot be duplicated in the living room. “Live on Film”, such as the limited one-or-two time broadcasts of shows, can also be successful because of the limits. Live is why professional sports remain successful: the shared live experience is unique, and time sensitive.

Could this be why many big name studies have gotten into the Broadway show business?

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The Oscar Screwup: Bad Design and Narcissism

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Feb 27, 2017 @ 6:25 pm PDT

Last night was the Oscars, and if you saw it (as I did), you saw the screwup where the movie La La Land was announced as the Best Picture winner, and then there was an “ummm, we made a mistake”, and Moonlight was announced as the real Best Picture winner.  You may have even heard how it happened: Price-Waterhouse (now PWC), thanks to the LA Times releasing the names of the winner back in 1940, now handles things with the utmost secrecy: two people tabulate the results, they prepare two identical sequences sets of envelopes, and one is on either side of the stage to cover wherever the speaker enters from. They handed one envelope for Best Actress just before Best Picture, and somehow when the speakers entered from the other side, they were also handed Best Actress instead of Best Picture. The rest, as they say, is history.

What is unanswered is why this happened?

The real reason appears to be: Bad Design. According to the LA Times, a new envelope design — red with the category embossed on the front in gold lettering — could have been a factor. This year, a new company was used to print the envelope. Previous envelopes were gold, affixed with large ecru labels stating the categories in a proprietary typeface that provided contrast and legibility. This year’s new cards, with the  lower contrast gold printing on red envelopes, could have been hard to read in the lighting backstage. I’ve seen similar problems with logos in the past: Wells Fargo Bank is particularly bad, with yellow text on a red background (which makes it difficult to see on a sign). Bank of America had a similar design problem: after their merger with a NC bank,  they had a good logo with red and blue lettering, but they put it on a red background.

Of course, this being the US in 2017, there is also a fake reason: Narcissism. According to Donald Trump, the it was Hollywood’s obsession with attacking him that contributed to the botched best picture announcement. Yeah. Right.

Then again, Gene Spafford opined a different reason: “Warren’s mistake is understandable. La La Land won the majority vote. Moonlight won the Oscar Electoral College vote.”

In other news, Elon Musk says he is sending two well-paying private customers to the moon and back next year. To paraphrase another friend on FB: Can we get him to send four administration officials on a one-way trip instead. Pretty please?

[ETA: PS: The solution is easy: QR codes and apps. On each award card, print a QR code with the category. Put that code on the envelope as well. When stuffing the envelope, use an app that requires scanning both and gives an error if they aren’t the same (e.g., ensuring right card in the right envelope). Award night, the director of the show uses an app to indicate the current award being given out (he knows this because he or she has to cue the graphics). When handing the card to the presenter, they scan the code on the envelope. If it doesn’t match the award being given, an error is given. Plus, this gives an audit trail, something PWC would love.]

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The Best Reparation Is Not Doing It Again | Allegiance Musical Broadcast

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 19, 2017 @ 9:23 pm PDT

Allegiance Musical BroadcastAs you may recall, I’ve been trying to predict shows that will be going on tour. One show I’ve really been interested in is Allegiance (FB), the Broadway musical that George Takei (FB) has been involved with about the Japanese Internment during WWII. The trade papers said a tour would materialize; but the show’s website doesn’t indicate one. I’ve always expected that a tour, if it materialized, would show up at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) — or that the Ahmanson, recognizing the Japanese community in Los Angeles, might mount a local production. But the Ahmanson hasn’t announced their season yet, and the good folks behind the Broadway show felt the message was important enough to rebroadcast the musical. You see, these producers did something very intelligent. They recorded the musical about a month after it opened, and arranged to have it broadcast around the country, one time, a number of months after it closed. Through my various Broadway RSS and other feeds, I learned that they were arranging a rebroadcast this weekend — and so to hedge my bets in case it didn’t materialize on the stage, I got tickets.

What I didn’t realize, of course, was the significance of the day of the rebroadcast. Today is the 75th anniversary of the signing of the order that sent Japanese Americans to the internment camps. It is also in a time where there is an intense fear that a segment of our current population is dangerous just because of their religion, even when that segment are longtime American citizens. That makes the message of this show even more timely. Franklin Roosevelt, who was the President who signed the order, said the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Then he gave into the fear, put US citizens into internment camps, tore away their livelihoods and homes, and regarded them as suspicious just because of their looks or their origins. It was wrong. It was unconstitutional. It was unthinkable. It must never never never happen again. And yet…. we have a large segment of our population living in fear of people because of their looks, their religion or their origin.

I’m an Engineer, but I have a confession to make. A good, compelling story does make my eyes water. Many deep Broadway shows do that — I love theatre because of its ability to tell a story and draw out the emotion. By the end of Allegiance, my jaw was quivering and I was find it hard to hold it together. That is a measure of how powerful this story is; how important it is to tell it. I can’t say to go see the show at your local theatre — alas Allegiance closed after a very short run on Broadway for whatever reason (well, the critics hated it, but what do they know). I can say to friend Allegiance‘s Facebook page so that you can find out if they ever broadcast it again. I can say you must encourage local theatres to do it, but I’m not sure it is licensed yet. We can clamor for a small tour, or push the Ahmanson or East/West to mount it. But I personally feel that this is something that must be seen, and that the critics often have problems with dark, different, and difficult material, only to appreciate it later. Remember: they hate Carrie when it first came out; now it is a great parable about bullying.

I left Allegiance appreciating the power of theatre. That is a good thing.

I guess I should tell you the story of Allegiance, which has a book by Marc Acito (FB),  Jay Kuo (FB), and Lorenzo Thione (FB), and music and lyrics by Jay Kuo (FB). According to Wikipedia, the genesis of the show was a chance meeting in the fall of 2008 of George Takei and his husband, Brad, who were seated next to Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. They met again at another show, had some conversations, and this led to the notion of a musical based roughly on George’s experiences as a child in the internment camps.  I’ll also note you can find a more detailed version on the show webpage or wikipedia. In short, the show tells the story of the Kimura family from Salinas: the grandfather (Ojii-chan), the father (Tatsuo Kimura), and the two children: Sam and Kei. It starts with Sam, who is a WWII veteran, learning that his sister Kei has died. This opens us into the story and how the rift between them was created. We see the family running a farm and having an American life, and then the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. In short order, based on an agreement between the government and the Japanese American Citizens League, led by Mike Masaoka, internment orders go out, and Japanese on the Pacific coast are ordered to camps. The Kimura family has to sell all but what they can carry, and they are taken by force to a camp, Heart Mountain, in the wilds of Wyoming. We learn of life in the camp through a series of scenes, and get to meet two characters in particular: Lt. Hannah Campbell, a nurse at the camp, and Frankie Suzuki, another internee at the camp. Campbell is drawn to Sammy; Frankie to Kei. As time passes, the JACL convinces the government to let Japanese Americans serve in the armed force, in a segregated unit, for suicide missions. A questionnaire goes out that includes loyalty questions so that only loyal Japanese Americans can serve. Tatsuo refuses to answer yes to those questions, and gets hauled away to Tule Mountain. Sammy volunteers to serve (against his father’s wishes), and goes on to be one of the few survivors from that batallion. Frankie, on the other hand, resists; when drafted, he organizes resistance in the camp and is arrested. The creates the wedge that drives the story to its conclusion. I’ll let you read the synopsis for more, but you get the drift.

Given we’re in the era of identifying “fake news”, I’ll note that Wikipedia relates that the show does conflate experiences across different camps for dramatic effect, and adds a bit more military oversight than existed at Heart Mountain.

At this point in a writeup, I’d normally move into a discussion of the direction and performance. But this was a broadcast of a Broadway show, and I’d like to digress to explore that for a graph or two. Going in, I was torn. Recording a Broadway show can have some distinct advantages: it can preserve a performance for posterity; it can also make a show available in many places where this level of theater does not occur — and thus can spread the word about the power of theatre. On the other hand, it could supplant the live production, result in the undercompensation of the actors performing in the recording, and deny work to actors who might work in the local versions of the show. Coming out, I had a different view: the recording allowed on to see the performances up close and personal, in a way that wouldn’t be possible even from the orchestra seats. But it also disconnected the audience from the “big picture”; you never got the scope of the breadth of the stage or the grandeur of the choreography and movement.  The audience feedback was also very different, due to the awareness that there were no actors on stage. Unlike a show, where there is constant applause and feedback, this audience was silent, even at the end. Audience reaction is vital not only for the show but for other audience members, and I felt the different. I also felt the difference with the lack of an intermission and a playbill. In the end, I think seeing the broadcast only made me want to see it live even more.

Next: The Theatre. We saw this at the AMC Promenade theatre in Woodland Hills, which is one of the few survivors in a dying mall. The original auditorium had significant projection problems (double images) that they couldn’t correct before the show. They moved us to a different auditorium (same size, but different arrangement), which created some seating confusion but fixed most projection problems. There was still the problem of bleed-over bass from the auditorium next to us, and there was a sound synchronization problem during much of the first act. Some of this was beyond the theatre’s control, and despite the problems, they managed it well (plus they gave us passes as compensation for the problems). I think we’ll try them again. I’ll note that our show was sold out (130-some-odd seats).

Now, on to the performances, under the direction of Stafford Arima (FB). As you can tell, I was moved and astounded by all the lead performers — the projection allowed us to see things up close that we might never see from the audience. As it is hard to single them out (especially without a Playbill — if you want the Broadway experience, Fathom Events (FB) you should provide that!), let me just start by listing the leads:  George Takei (FB) [Sam Kimura (older), Ojii-chan]; Telly Leung (FB) [Sammy Kimura]; Lea Salonga (FB) [Kei Kimura]; Katie Rose Clarke  [Hannah Campbell]; Michael K. Lee  (FB) [Frankie Suzuki]; Christòpheren Nomura (FB) [Tatsuo Kimura]; and Greg Watanabe (FB) [Mike Masaoka]. With respect to their performances, I was particularly taken with the facial expressions of both Clarke and Salonga, who were just spectacular. I’d only seen Takei perform where everyone else has seen him before, and his performance here just blew me away. He was wasted at the navagation console :-). I’m always impressed by Salonga’s voice, but both Leung and Lee did great jobs as well. All and all, spectacular performances.

In small roles and ensemble parts were: Aaron J. Albano (FB) [Tom Maruyama, Ensemble]; Marcus Choi (FB) [Johnny Goto, Ensemble]; Janelle Toyomi Dote (FB) [Mrs. Maruyama, Executor, Ensemble]; Dan Horn (FB) [Recruiting Officer, Private Evans, Big Band Singer, The Victory Trio, Ensemble]; Darren Lee (FB) [Dr. Tanaka, Ben Masaoka, Ensemble]; Kevin Munhall [Federal Agent, Private Knight, Tule Lake Guard, The Victory Trio, Ensemble]; Rumi Oyama (FB) [Mrs. Tanaka; Ensemble]; Shea Renne [Betsy Tanaka, Ensemble]; Momoko Sugai (FB) [Peggy Maruyama, Ensemble]; Autumn Ogawa [Ensemble]; Elena Wang (FB) [Nan Goto, Ensemble]; Scott Watanabe (FB) [Mr. Maruyama, Ensemble]; Cary Tedder [Ensemble]; and Scott Wise (FB) [Grocer, Director Dillon, Photographer, The Victory Trio, Ensemble].  With the way this was filmed, it was harder to single out particular ensemble members and smaller characters, but I enjoyed the characters overall. Particularly notable was the actress playing the older Japanese woman — I’m guessing it was Rumi Oyama, but it could have been Janelle Dote.

I am not listing the standbys, understudies, and swings as I normally do, because the show has closed and we had the cast on the film. You can find the full list here, together with the list of musicians.

The choreography was by Andrew Palermo (FB), who did an excellent job. I particularly enjoyed not only the large dance numbers but the Japanese movement as well. The movement during the Hiroshima scene was particularly chilling. The Playbill page does not give credit for the musical direction or the conducting. Orchestrations were by Lynne Shankel. Check the Playbill page for information on the dance captains, assistant dance captains, and all the associate and assistant choreographers and directors.

One disadvantage of the theatrical projection is that one cannot get the full impact of the scenic design and other production aspects. Yet another reason to go see it live. In general, the scenic design and projections worked well to establish a sense of place; given the broadcast aspects, it was hard to get a sense of sound and lights. Costumes, makeup, and hair was excellent. Here are the production credits: Donyale Werle [Scenic Design]; Alejo Vietti (FB) [Costume Design]; Howell Binkley (FB) [Lighting Design]; Darrel Maloney [Projection Design]; Kai Harada [Sound Designer]; Charles G. LaPointe [Wig and Hair Design]; Joe Dulude II [Make-up Design];  Peter Wolf  [Production Stage Manager]; and Brian Bogin [Stage Manager].

One last closing note: The production was also notable for the attention to casting asians in asian roles. I’ve commented on this before with shows like Waterfall and The King and I. I still bemoan the fact that there were sufficient Japanese actors to be able to cast closer to role-appropriate (a common problem), and I also bemoan the fact that many asian actors can only find roles in things like this, or onsie-twosie in shows. We need to remember that unless the story requires a particular ethnicity, cast color and race blind.

For the theatrical credits, I must turn to IMDB, so look here for all the cinematography credits and such.

We can only hope that Fathom Events (FB) broadcasts this again.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) in the middle, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. Now we just need to see what the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) will do.

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An Inspiration For Us All – “Hidden Figures”

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jan 10, 2017 @ 9:04 pm PDT

Hidden Figures (Movie)I bet you expected my first review of 2017 to be a theatre review. Alas, January is a really bad month for theatre, as the holidays are a bad time for rehearsals. There wasn’t that much of interest out there, and our first live show (Zanna Don’t) is next Saturday. So we opted instead to see the movie we had wanted to see on Christmas: Hidden Figures.

Here’s the short and sweet of it: Go see this movie. Take your daughters. Take your sons. Take your friend’s daughters. Take your friend’s sons. This is a movie that will give us the next generation of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. More importantly, this movie will give us the next generation of WOMEN and MINORITY scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. Trust me, we need them. Do you know how many men it takes to equal one smart woman engineer?

Hidden Figures tells the true story of the first computers. To explain, in the 1940s and 1950s, before we had computing machines, the position of “computer” was someone who computed and did mathematical computations. The computers in this case were a collection of African-American women mathematicians at NACA, later NASA. They were the women who did the math and calculations that enabled NASA to put a man in orbit. They were the first programmers. They were the first women engineers.

I’m not going to go into the plot in great detail. That’s one advantage of a movie review over a theatre review. I will say that the performances were excellent. I will also say that this is a movie that should be accessible by anyone 10 or older. Perhaps a little bad language, but that’s about it.

I had only a few minor quibbles with the movie, the worst being that it is FORTRAN, not Fortran. But then again, the folks writing this probably weren’t born when FORTRAN was used heavily (whereas my first programming language was FORTRAN IV (WATFIV)). I also wasn’t sure about the use of the Selectric typewriter, but Wikipedia proved me wrong (it was introduced in 1961).

This movie will be shown for years to inspire women in STEM fields, and that’s a great thing.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: January starts with a Southern California Games Day, followed by Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) on January 16. January 21 is open. January ends with Claudio Quest at the Chance Theatre (FB) on January 28. February 2017 gets back to being busy: with Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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The President’s Wife

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Dec 26, 2016 @ 4:01 pm PDT

Jackie (Movie)As is our holiday tradition, we went to go see a movie on Christmas. Our daughter was joining us, so we had to find something acceptable to all three of our. The first choice, Hidden Figures, was not yet in general release as was only at the overpriced Arclight theatres. We ended up seeing Jackie at the Laemmle Town Center in Encino.

Jackie tells the story of Jacqueline Kennedy right around the time of the assassination of her husband, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, framed by a reporter supposedly interviewing her about her last days in the White House.

I found the story…. ponderous. You didn’t learn that much about her, you didn’t learn that much about him, you didn’t learn that much about the Johnsons, you only briefly saw the kids reactions. In fact, the entire movie seemed to be watching Jackie’s reaction to all of this, wondering what her legacy would be, and planning the President’s funeral.

There needed to be more. There needed to be insight — real insight — into their relationship. We know the very early days of Jackie from Grey Gardens. We know her end as a recluse widow of Aristotle Onassis. But who and what was the real woman? That we don’t see. Portman’s Jackie is stiff and cold; one wonders what the President saw in her other than glamour.

This is not to say I didn’t like the movie — it was good. It just wasn’t one I’d go out of the way to see again.

It did raise a few interesting questions, such as the whole White House transition. Having to pack and move out in the middle of grief — just the whole transition process of packing your family in the White House environment — is fascinating. However, this was only touched upon, not explored in depth.

We did discuss afterwards who was the first Presidential wife to really re-embrace a political and active role. The first, of course, we Eleanor Roosevelt. But after that? Bess Truman? Mamie Eisenhower? Jackie Kennedy? Lady Bird Johnson? Pat Nixon? Betty Ford? Rosayln Carter? Nancy Reagan? Barbara Bush? Hillary Clinton? Laura Bush? Michelle Obama?

I think the only ones who really had that identity absent their husbands, post Eleanor, were Hillary and Michelle. The rest were more minor causes. Where will Melania fit in the pantheon of First Ladies? Will she embrace or shy away from the role? Hard to say.

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Theater vs Theatre

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Dec 25, 2016 @ 1:55 pm PDT

I just went to find a show and get tickets online for my annual Christmas movie. It was a royal pain. The theater (my spelling for movie palaces) websites were slow and painful, and it was difficult to find prices. When I could, they were ridiculously expensive for movies. Reserved seating at AMC was ~16 with service charges; Arclight was~17 plus charges. We ended up at a Laemmle with general seating for $13 per ticket with service charges.

I contrast this with the small theatre I attend. Going through Goldstar, I can see great shows for under $15 a ticket, often even less with the comp train. Even paying full price, I’m only a little more and I get to see live entertainment. Movies are the same performance whether I see it in the theatre, or on my TV screen at home.

Tell me again why I should go out to the movies? I’m starting to see few benefits for doing so, vs. just waiting for scripted dramas at watching it at home. The shared experience? Puh-leeze. Nothing the audience does changes the performance or the energy on the screen. If I want the shared experience, I’ll go to a live show where I can actually impact the actors.

The big screen? Again, puh-leeze. I can have an equivalently large screen, with equal resolution, and no people talking or walking in front of me, plus I can pause the show to go to the bathroom. Tell me again why I should see a movie in a theater, considering the hassle and the price.

It has gotten to the point where, when I go see a movie once a year, I’m reminded of why I only see a movie once a year.

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Is History Just an Opinion? | “Denial”

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Oct 10, 2016 @ 4:02 pm PDT

denialuserpic=moviesIs history what you believe it to be? If you honestly believe that history happened a particular way, does that make it true? Is it acceptable to always slant history a certain way to support a particular argument? Do the facts define history, irrespective of what anyone says history to be?

Sounds like some questions relevant to this political silly season of 2016. Is it?

There was a man who said that particular historical events never happened. He said that others happened in a particular way that supported his view of reality. This man quoted numerous historical sources, and interpreted the evidence in such a way as to build a case to support his views and his arguments. Never mind that the facts and historians across the globe said otherwise. He truly believed that what everyone else knew as reality never happened, and was so ensconced in that belief that he could not see the facts.

However, there was a courageous woman who took him — and other similar believers on. She she called him out for his lies and his falsification. She believed that facts define what is true, not opinion, and a confluence of the facts is irrefutable evidence.

Again, sounds like someone this presidential year.

But the man in question didn’t like being called out for his lies and falsifications. He felt it was hurting his reputation, and was impacting his ability to conduct business deals. He wanted to take her down; he took this personally. He sued her for libel in court, and forced her to prove that he was lying.

Again, sounds familiar if you saw Sunday night’s debate. Only I’m not talking about Decision 2016. The man in question is David Irving (and no, I’m not linking to his website),  and the woman in question is Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. The trial did happen: Irving sued Lipstadt in British Court for Libel, based on her writings about Irving in her book “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory“. Lipstadt subsequently wrote a book about her experiences with the trial, “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier” (recently rereleased). This book was adapted into a screenplay, which is hitting the big screens this month as “Denial“.

Now, back when I was in college, I knew Dr. Lipstadt. I was a Math/Computer Science major, and we had this requirement called the Breadth Requirement. This meant we had to take courses out of our area in order to graduation. I discovered Jewish Studies was an option for Humanities. Dr. Lipstadt, who was a professor at UCLA in the Jewish Studies Department at the time, taught a number of Jewish Studies courses. As a result, I took a number of courses from her on subjects such as Zionism and Antisemitism (turning in papers printed via nroff on the Diablo 1620 in the CS Department). I’ve been in touch with her off and on since then. When Dr. Lipstadt began to talk about this movie on her Facebook wall, my interest was piqued. I was just coming off two years as president of my synagogue men’s club, and I thought this would be a great event. So I found a date, coordinated a meeting, and picked up a copy of the book so I could prepare some discussion questions. Yesterday afternoon I lead a group of 19 down to the AMC Woodland Hills for the afternoon showing.

The movie tells essentially the story that is in the book: the setup of the conflict, receipt of the lawsuit, preparation of the case, the trial, and the aftermath. It is in many ways an extreme condensation of the book — the book covers the preparation for the trial in extreme detail (and you can see all that detail at the Holocaust Denial on Trial website, which has add the details and the trial transcipts, among other resources), and provides details for almost every day of the trial. Yet such condensation is required in the process of making the film. For those seeing the film, there is one important fact noted in the republished book’s foreward: Every word in the trial scenes is verbatim. The screenwriters did not modify those words, because to do so would be to go against the spirit of the movie.

Looking at the movie as a movie, I thought it was very good (and so did everyone else in my group). It provided sufficient context to the book, presented the discovery in an engaging way, and captured the conflicts of the trial — and the difficulties that Dr. Lipstadt faced in having to stay quiet — well. It provided just enough information on the British legal system for American viewers to understand the context. As a live theatre goer, I noticed the cinematography, and I thought it did a very good job of building the mood, especially in the scenes related to Auschwitz. It wasn’t maudlin; it didn’t well on the specifics and the cruelties of the Holocaust. The focus was the trial.

However, as I watched the movie (with the book fresh in my head), I couldn’t help but notice what was missing. The movie gave the impression that the trial was centered around Auschwitz and Irving’s claims thereabout. The discovery process of the case was much more extensive, looking at all of Irving’s writings and the historical areas they covered. When in the movie they enter the courtroom and see rows and rows of binders on the walls, those aren’t just Irving’s diaries. Those are all of the material that was discovered for the trial. The screenwriter also omitted a number of critical aspects of British court (likely for the sake of time and story): that all materials discovered are shared, and that there are to be no “surprises” during the trial. Further, it didn’t note that if Irving lost the trial, he became financial responsible for all of Dr. Lipstadt’s court costs. It also didn’t note the questions related to Penguin UK’s involvement in the trial.

With respect to the trial itself, there were numerous areas that, again, were condensed out for the sake of the cinematic demonstration. There were numerous aspects of Auschwitz that were hinted at in the movie, but were much more extensive during the trial, such as the ramp to the “delousing room” and the specifics of why Leichter’s analysis of the concrete was flawed. There were aspects of the construction of the facilities. Then there were other areas that were omitted entirely, such as Irving’s claims about the Eastern Front and the massacres of Jews there.

Again, I understand the cinematic need for the omissions. There was one omission that was more problematic to me. A key emphasis of the book is the notion of confluence of history — the notion that factual history arises from facts from multiple sources and multiple datapoints all pointing to the same conclusion. This was Irving’s fatal flaw: he drew facts from one or two sources, interpreting them as he would, and ignoring numerous other sources that contradicted him. That’s not what a historian does. Once examines as many sources as possible, and where the facts lead you are the truth. This notion of confluence of history is extremely important this election season; just this weekend we had a candidate claiming that a particular behavior wasn’t representative, when the confluence of facts pointed to the opposite conclusion. This same candidate identified a few examples about their opponent and claimed it demonstrated a significant pattern when, again, that conclusion wasn’t supported by a confluence of the facts.

However, the movie did leave the audience with an extremely important point, which was also the moral (so to speak) of the book: History is not just what we say it is. One cannot say: this is how I honestly remember things, this is what I believe, and therefore it is true. Having honest antisemitic beliefs, and believing that the Holocaust never happened does not change the reality that it happened. That is such an important point to make this fall, where we have entire political parties insisting that history happened one particular way to support their point of view, completely ignoring the fact that the confluence of the evidence says otherwise.

The performances in the movie were uniformly strong. Timothy Spall, who to me was Wormwood from Harry Potter but whom others recall better as Churchill in The Kings Speech, does innocent evil so well. Rachel Weitz did a great job becoming Dr. Lipstadt — she got the vocal mannerisms down well, although her look didn’t quite fit my memory. The performance was excellent. Tom Wilkinson was strong as Richard Rampton, the lead Barrister on the case, with great support from Andrew Scott as Anthony Julius, the lead solicitor.

This being a movie, I’m not going to list all the credits as I do with a theatre production; you can see them all on the IMDB page.

Note that the underlying topic of the movie: antisemitism (always, as Dr. Lipstadt taught, written without the hyphen), is still far too prevalent. You’ll see it in comments on the book and on the movie. You’re seeing it in this political campaign, from the memes retweeted by the Trump campaign (Pepe the Frog was recently designed as a hate symbol by the ADL, and there was Trump’s earlier tweet) to the most recent debate, with the repeated references to Sydney Blumenthal. These are what are called “dog whistles” — silent signals that most people don’t recognize, but that white nationalists pick up to indicate messages to them. The denial of history — the bending of facts to make a particular point — is so timely this political season.

One other interesting comparison. One incident show in the movie, which was related in the book as well, concerns how Irving demonstrated he was not a racist. Quoting from the book:

Irving assured the reporter, Kate Kelland, that he could demonstrate he was not a racist by the fact that his “domestic staff” had included a Barbadian, a Punjabi, a Sri Lankan, and a Pakistani. They were “all very attractive girls with very nice breasts”.

Shades of a certain presidential candidates and comments made on a bus.

“Denial” is a movie I strongly recommend to all. It is in limited release now, expanding some on October 14, and going nationwide on October 22. See it. Learn from it. Get the book and visit the website and learn more.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB).  The Chromolume 2017 season looks particularly good: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:  Next weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood).

Allan Sherman Tribute Show at TASInterrupting this recap for a word from a sponsor: Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom is open to the community, and is a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood. Please tell your friends about it. I’m Past President of MoTAS, and I really want this to be a success. Click on the flyer to the right for more information. It should be a really funny night.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), although I doubt if we’ll have time for any shows. November will bring Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. We still have some open weekends in there I may book. We close out the year, in December, with the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. See here for the Indiegogo. Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

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