I’ve been busy today, so I’ll just share one tidbit that’s been rolling around in my head: Barbra Streisand is thinking about playing Mama Rose in a new movie version of Gypsy. She might have the pipes, but I’m not sure I could see her in the role. Then again, I couldn’t see Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Tyne Daily, Bette Midler, or any of the other ones as Mama Rose either. What do you think?
“So Long… for So Little”. And thus my daughter summed up our annual Christmas movie, “Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows, Part 1”. I agree with her assessment, for it captures well the essence of the problem.
I’m not going to go over the details of the story. If you care about Harry Potter, you’ve probably read the book (and likely seen the movie by now). If you don’t care about Harry Potter, by now you won’t be going to see this movie anyway. But suffice it to say that the story is part of the problem. Not the substance of the story, for it does its job of moving the Harry Potter story towards its final end. Rather, the problem is the length. Rowling suffered from sequelitis—each subsequent part got longer and longer and threw more into the story. Contrast the succinctness of the first book with the last. The screenwriters, when faced with the voluminous Volume 7, had two choices: preserve the story as closely as possible to satisfy the fan community, or trim-trim-trim to get a story that could be old in a reasonable time. If this had been live theatre, they would have had a dramaturge to have them tell the story effectively. But they chose the former option and hewed closer to the book. As such, the story had such length they had to split it into two movies, and they crammed so much into the first movie it was well over two hours. For all that length, the audience never got a good resolution. It didn’t leave me wanting more.
There were other problems as well. The first thing I noticed was the obviously catering to the 3D market. There were so many scenes that seemed to be filmed in such as way as to look spectacular in 3D, but come off as just tiresome in 2D. There was also far too much emphasis on the special effects. I found myself contrasting HP7.1 with yesterday’s movie, “The King’s Speech”. Whereas King’s Speechfocused on the story with no obvious special effects, HP7.1 seemed to focus on the effects just for the sake of the effects. This could be why it has made much more money, but it’s all eye candy surrounding a lack of substance.
One word about “the scene”. You know the one: where Harry and Hermione kiss, seemingly naked. It has generated quite a bit of controversy. My opinion that it worked fine in the context: it’s goal was to goad a character into action, and it did what it was meant to do. So it wasn’t in the book. Deal.
I am pleased to see the growth in acting abilities of the three principal actors. All have grown in skill (and we’ve seen Daniel Radcliffe on Broadway), but this was really Emma Watson’s movie. As I noted in my earlier review, a good aspect of a story is character grown. We don’t see it from Harry; he’s just reacting. We don’t see it that much from Ron. But we see Hermione grow in strength and nuance, and it was well played and well acted. It was also interesting to note the overlap in actors between this movie and The King’s Speech: in particular, Helena Bonham Carter and Timothy Spall. Take a look here for the full cast list.
We can look forward, if you call it that, to Part 2 of this in July 2011.
Theatre Notes. We saw this at the Pacific Winnetka, and Pacific is the parent chain to Arclight. The differences were astounding. Pacific had 5 minutes of commercials before the previews. The volume was loud enough to be painful. The projector bulb kept varying intensity, and the print and previews were showing signs of wear. The Arclight had none of these problems. Does that justify an extra few dollars. Perhaps.
Previews. This movie had five previews, none of which impressed me. “Season of the Witch” was a horror film, and in general I’m not a fan of those. Both “Green Hornet” and “Green Lantern” will be popular with those that love the superhero/comic genre, and will make a lot of money, but seemed to be too much action/special effects for me. “Kung Fu Panda 2 and “Yogi Bear” seemed to be aimed at the younger family audience with enough fart jokes for the teens—and thus drew no interest from me. So Hollywood was 0 for 5 this time. I think I’m spoiled by live theatre.
The Wrap Up. So that is likely it for my reviewing for 2010, unless I squeeze in something next week. In total, we saw 42 live theatre productions, 7 staged readings of episodes of “Meeting of Minds” (#2, #8, #10, #13, #19, #23, #24), 3 movies, 2 dance shows, and one Drum Corps show. The live theatre productions were “Lost in Yonkers”, “Camelot”, “The Andrews Brothers”, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, “Ray Bradbury’s Wisdom 2116”, “The Story of My Life”, “On Golden Pond”, “See What I Wanna See”, “Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris”, “Damn Yankees”, “12 Angry Men”, “Little Shop of Horrors”, “The 39 Steps”, “The Wedding Singer”, “South Pacific”, “Dog Sees God”, “It’s Top Secret”, “The Rocky Horror Show”, “In The Heights”, “Grace and Glorie”, “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot”, “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella”, “The Lieutenant of Inishmore”, “Young Frankenstein: The Musical”, “Seussical: The Musical”, “[title of show]”, “Speech and Debate”, “Side Man”, “U.S.S. Pinefore”, “Free Man of Color”, “The Glass Menagerie”, “Leap of Faith”, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “FDR”, “Happy Days: The Musical”, “Varney the Vampire”, “Bell, Book, and Candle”, “Amadeus”, “The Wild Party”, “Harps and Angels”, “Uptown, Downtown” and “Next to Normal”. The movies were “It’s Complicated”, “The King’s Speech” and this movie. The dance shows were Celebrate Dance 2010 and VNHS “Momentum”
That was a lot. I hope you enjoyed reading the reviews as much as I have enjoyed writing them. Celebrate 2011 by going to see something: a live theatre production, a dance, a concert, or a movie. Share your opinions about what you see. I look forward to reading them.
Yesterday, while my wife and daughter went to the Pantages to see West Side Story (more on that later), I went to go see “The Kings Speech” at the Arclight Hollywood. Before I go into the movie, a few words about the theatre itself. Arclight is an interesting chain. They do reserved seating for showings, and do not seat people after the movie has started. They do no advertising, either before a show starts or in the trailer reel. They only run about 3 previews. For this, you pay a bit more (and they validated parking). They also have the usher actually welcome you to the showing, remind you personally to shut off electronic devices, etc. All in all, it was very nice execution for a movie theatre; something you no longer see these days. The theatre I was at was an Arclight multiplex next to the original Cinerama dome, which they program as well. Although my movie wasn’t in the dome (“True Grit” was), it was nice to walk around the dome and get the sense of history.
Anyway, as to the movie itself. The movie tells a real-life story of the ascension of King George VI (a period that was also covered well in the musical “Only a Kingdom” that we saw at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1998). Whereas the musical focused on the love story of Edward (a/k/a David) (King Edward VIII) and Wallis Simpson and how that love led him to give up the crown, this movie focuses on his brother Albert (King George VI). Albert’s problem was that he stammered so much that he was an ineffectual public speaker. This wouldn’t have been a problem if he had been a commoner, but he was 2nd in line to the throne, and royals are expected to speak. The movie tells the story of how he overcame the speech difficulty with the help of a speech therapist (Lionel Logue), and how the king and the commoner became friends. It also tells the parallel story of the death of King George V, the turbulent period of King Edward VIII’s brief rule, and the ascension of King George VI as Great Britain entered into World War II.
This was a story I hadn’t known before, and I found it quite interesting. It made for a good drama, because it had that key element that makes a successful story: character growth. At least in the main characters, we saw significant growth from beginning to end: we saw how Albert (George VI) grew from a nervous public speaker into a confident king; we also saw Lionel grow from a gruff coach into a friend that respected Albert. Other characters saw less growth (Edward) or were more charactures (Wallis Simpson, Churchill). But that was only a minor problem.
The acting in this production was top-notch. The leads were Colin Firth as Albert (King George VI); Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother); and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue. All three were perfection in their roles and a delight to watch. Other signficant actors were Guy Pearce as Edward (King Edward VIII) and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill. You can find a full cast listing here.
“The King’s Speech” was directed by Tom Hooper, with cinametography by Danny Cohen. Most of the time, when I see a movie, I notice the cinemetography and how the camera angles add or detract from the story. I must complement the director and the cinemetography here for I didn’t notice the distinctly cinematic aspects at all. They told the story in such a way that the story came first, and the production tricks blended into the background. This is great storytelling.
“The King’s Speech” was rated “R”, primarily for the use of curse words as Edward overcomes his speaking difficulty. That was an idiotic rating for this unique historical story. Ignore the rating and go see this movie, be it in a theatre or in the comfort of your home.
Previews. There were three previews at this show. The first was for “Frankie and Alice”, which looks to be a tour de force for Halle Berry—a strong performance drama that likely won’t do well at the box office. The second was for “The Rite”, a horror film about exorcism that looks completely uninteresting. The third preview was for “The Company Men”, a recession-drama about a man who loses his job and has to refind himself. This last one looks interesting, but I don’t think it is interesting enough to get myself to a movie theatre for.
West Side Story. Oh, and as for “West Side Story”: I’m glad I didn’t see it. According to my family, the trick of having the Jets speak in English and the Sharks in Spanish didn’t work, and made the story disjointed. Although the dancing was good, the leads of Tony and Maria weren’t of professional quality. The only complementary word about an actor I heard was for the actress playing Anita and the actor playing Doc. This basically agrees with the scathing Los Angeles Times review, which is well worth reading if you are a fan of bad reviews. On the whole, I think I made the right choice.
Upcoming Movies: Today is Christmas, and I’m Jewish. Yup, that means we should be seeing a movie today. Most likely, we’ll be at the Pacific Winnetka 21 finally seeing “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1”. There’s a slight possibility we might see “Tangled” instead, but I’d put that at <10%. Nothing else is the least bit interesting.
Today’s LA Times contained an excellent article on our skewed values: To the MPAA ratings board, ‘The King’s Speech’ is just as bad as ‘Saw 3D’. In this article, the MPAA is taken to task for giving an R rating to a movie about how a cheeky Australian speech therapist helped King George VI conquer a terrible stammer… because he utters a few curse words, while giving the same R rating to the latest Saw installment, “Saw 3D”. The author feels this equates gratuitous violence to swearing:
To call the decision crazy and unhinged would be to let the MPAA off too lightly. Its ratings decisions, which frown on almost any sort of sex, frontal nudity or bad language but have allowed increasing amounts of violence over the years, are horribly out of touch with mainstream America, where families everywhere are disturbed by the amount of violence freely portrayed in movies, video games and hip-hop music.
Here’s what the director had to say:
“What I take away from that decision is that violence and torture is OK, but bad language isn’t. I can’t think of a single film I’ve ever seen where the swear words had haunted me forever, the way a scene of violence or torture has, yet the ratings board only worries about the bad language.”
Now, consider this. There is a movie at the Telluride Film Festival called “127 Hours”. This is a movie that is making some audiences sick. The problem is not horror, but real-life, amplified. “127 Hours” stars James Franco as Aron Ralston, who in 2003 was trapped by a falling chockstone in an isolated gully in Utah’s wilderness. Having told no one where he was headed and hiking with scant supplies, Ralston knew that if he didn’t free himself he would perish from starvation, dehydration or exposure. Five days into his ordeal, Ralston figured out that if he broke the two bones in his right forearm, he would be able to use a dull multi-tool to saw through the flesh, muscles and tendons that bound him to a certain death. The amputation is filmed in a realistic, documentary style, with the camera sometimes mere inches from Franco’s body. The director employs a variety of sound effects during the amputation, amplifying the bone breaks with a gun shot and the nerve-cutting with an electronic vibration. I’m sure we know what this will be rated.
Me? Cut me out of the violence. This is why I prefer the stage. Give me the quarts of fake blood from the Lt. on Inishmore.
Can you say “no”, as in “No bloody way, no”. Warner Bros. is thinking of remaking the Wizard of Oz. Quoting from the article:
One project, called “Oz,” currently lives at Warner’s New Line label. It’s being produced by Temple Hill, which is behind a little franchise called “Twilight,” and has a script written by Darren Lemke, a writer on the upcoming “Shrek Forever After.”
A second “Wizard of Oz” project, set up at Warners proper, skews a little darker — it’s written by “A History of Violence” screenwriter Josh Olson and focuses on a granddaughter of Dorothy who returns to Oz to fight evil. “Clash of the Titans” producer Basil Iwanyk and his Thunder Road Pictures are behind that one. (“Spawn” creator Todd MacFarlane is potentially involved in a producerial capacity, to give you some idea of the tone.)
Now, I’m not saying “The Wizard of Oz”, or related properties, shouldn’t be remade. The film version of the musical “The Wiz” was a reasonable idea, although executed completely wrong. A non-musical version of Greg Maguire’s Oz-themed books, “Wicked”, “Son of a Witch”, or “A Lion Among Men” could be quite good. Even adapting the musical “Wicked”, as long as it wasn’t just a filmed stage version, might even work.
But not these ideas, or these proponents. I have no confidence, especially returning to Oz to fight evil. Trust me, “Alice” is succeeding not because it is a fairy-tale property, but because it is a fantasic envisioning. But then again, who am I to talk? People are flocking to Avatar, even though it is just a retelling of Pochahantis.
It’s a quiet Sunday — the calm before I return to work tomorrow. I’ve been trying to think about what to write about.
I thought about writing about “Wait, Wait – The NPR News quiz”, which has been the subject of an interesting article on CNN and even provided a news quiz about 2009 to the LA Times. But I couldn’t connect that to anything.
I thought about writing about theatre, always a good subject, triggered by a post by Charles McNulty, the LA Times Theatre Critic, about why “Nine” didn’t work on the big screen. It’s an interesting analysis, and exposes well the difference between stage and screen. But again, nothing good to tie it to.
I thought about writing about computer security, triggered by an article in the NY Times about how Cybersecurity is the hot job. The problem, of course, is they are looking for people that know how to stop attackers, not people who know how to engineer less complex and more secure systems.
But in the end, none of these stories made we want to devote a full entry to them. So I decided not to write about them. I hope I succeeded.
“It’s Complicated”* tells the story of Jane and Jake Adler. Jane (Meryl Streep) is the mother of three grown kids (Luke (Hunter Parrish), Lauren (Caitlin Fitzgerald), and Gabby (Zoe Kazan)). Ten years ago, Jane divorced Jake (Alec Baldwin, and now owns a thriving Santa Barbara bakery/restaurant and has an amicable relationship with him. Jake has since remarried the much younger Agnes (Lake Bell), and is now step-father to the six-year-old Pedro. However, when Jane and Jake find themselves out of town for their son’s college graduation, an innocent meal together turns into the unimaginable – an affair. This both bothers Jane, for she is now in the role of the other woman, and delights her, as a fifty-ish woman seen as attractive and sexual. Caught in the middle of their renewed romance is Adam (Steve Martin), an architect hired to remodel Jane’s kitchen. Healing from a divorce of his own, Adam starts to fall for Jane, but soon realizes he’s become part of a love triangle. Also caught up in the affair is Harley (John Krasinski), Lauren’s fiancee, who sees Jake and Jane one day at a hotel.
[* description modified from the one provided by Yahoo Movies]
There are a number of ways to look at this movie, especially as it is felt in some reviews as a “chick flick”. In many ways it is: there are loads of jokes and comments about divorce and older women that put into the genre that includes “The First Wives Club”. At the showing we attended there were a large number of women in the audience. As the various chick-flick punch lines came out, you could here audience eat it up, for there was a very distinct change in pitch of the laughter. It was quite interesting to listen too.
Setting aside the chick-flick aspects, the story itself was pretty funny. There are a number of laugh-out-loud scenes (including one, alas, that had me laughing so hard it triggered the headache). The cast worked quite well together, and you can really see why a number of these folks had such a long career as they have had (I’m thinking of Streep and Martin). We have so few members of the acting community that fall into the star category these days for the range of their talents, and these two are clearly in that category. The other lead, Alec Baldwin, was also surprisingly good. I haven’t seen him before in films, and (as I don’t watch “30 Rock”) rarely have seen him on TV, but he has great comic timing and charm. The other actor I want to single out is Hunter Parrish: this is a young man who has done excellent work in TV (“Weeds”), stage (“Spring Awakening”), and now film. I think he will grow into someone well worth watching.
As someone who turns 50 in less than a month, I also found this movie refreshing in its treatment of women of my generation. Meryl Streep was born in 1949, making her 61. The film didn’t try to airbrush her youth: on the screen you saw the wrinkles and the crows feet of a life well spent. Yet the film portrayed her as not hindered by her age, as someone beautiful and sexual and desirable. This is a good thing — there is beauty in women of all ages that must be recognized. This film does that quite successfully. Further, then men lusting after her were no spring chickens either: Steve Martin is 65, and Alec Baldwin is 52. The movie makers didn’t go the easy route and have the ex-husband competing with a much younger man: they had the courage to make the ex-husband compete with an older man. A very good thing to see.
Was this movie “high art”? No. This is clearly a fun relationship flick… one of the types of stories (the movie was written and directed by Nancy Meyers) that works well on screen and will work well on the TV screen (and hell, might make a good sitcom). You want “high art”, go see “Invictus”. But this movie was fun, and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.
As for the previews: Again, nothing much to write home about. “Extraordinary Measures” (which has been advertised to death on TV) looks like a movie of the week. DisneyNature’s “Oceans” is a nature-flick. “Leap Year” looks like another movie aimed at the couples audience with its story about a girl trying to propose to one man while falling for another. “The Bounty Hunter” is yet another relationship movie: bounty hunter hired to retrieve his ex-wife, and soon both are on the run. “Babies” seems to tell the stories of four babies, but I can’t see a real plotline there. None of these trailers made me lust after any of these movies.
This afternoon, a little bit later than usual, we went out to see our annual Christmas picture. We originally thought we were going to go see “Nine”, but the reviews on it were lukewarm (plus, from what I understand, they cut out young Guido) that we decided on something else. Other possibilities includes “Avatar” (although six_gun_samurai summarized it best as “Dances with Wolves in Outer Space”), “It’s Complicated”, or “The Princess and the Frog”, and “Up In The Air”. We decided on “Up In The Air” because of the show time and the good word of mouth it was getting. We may still see some of the other candidates before I return to work.
“Up In The Air” (henceforth, UITA) stars George Clooney as a man whose job it is to fly from place to place and fire people, to provide the human connection to (so to speak) cushion the blow. He has a side effort of talking about how people have too many connections, be they “stuff” or people. He prides himself on having no connections, other than a casual friends-with-benefits connection with another frequent traveler (Vera Farmiga). His only goal in life is to reach 10M frequent flyer miles. Into his company comes Natalie (Anna Kendrick) who convinces his boss (Jason Bateman) to move to a VTC setup. Will this work? Will Clooney’s character find a connection?
I found UITA to be… interesting. I didn’t walk out going “that was a great movie”. But I also didn’t find myself watching the cinematography. I got caught up in the story and the acting, which is actually the sign of a good movie. The story was interesting, and I recognized the life of a flyer. However, it didn’t have the ending I expected. It certainly isn’t one of those touchy-feeley uplifting movies (there would have probably been a happy ending with “It’s Complicated”).
This is a movie that has a definate resonance in today’s world of downsized companies. People see themselves in the position of the downsized person, and perhaps this movie is succeeding because we don’t want the people that live for the downsizing to be happy. But inside of yourself, you do, for this movie humanizes them as well. Perhaps this is the dichotomy that makes this movie interesting.
Clooney played his normal suave self — I’m not sure if he can play much else, but he is sure good at it. Farmiga was good, especially in the wedding scenes. Kendrick came off as that green newbie who thinks their idea is the best thing since sliced bread, and it was interesting to see her growth.
As for the upcoming trailers: Not that much was of interest. Let’s see. There was “From Paris With Love”, “Shutter Island”, “Date Night”, and “The Lovely Bones”. Nothing I want to see.