Tag Archives: Theatre

From Japan to France to New York: movies and a play

THE MIKADO was the second time Durham Savoyards have done Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous show since I moved up here (there’s a limited number of shows so this is inevitable) and the lesser of the two (TYG agreed). The cast were in fine form, particularly the Southern-accented actor playing the arrogant, venal Pooh-Bah as a Boss Hogg type, and the play is great. However to get away from doing the story (involving an executioner, the heir to the Japanese throne and the old battle-axe he’s supposed to marry) as yellow-face they tried an unconventional approach: Koko is staging a fashion show, the models rebel and dress in the clothes of their choice, then decide to put on a show of their own, which happens to be The Mikado. That might have worked if they’d explained it in the program; as they didn’t (I believe it was in the publicity, but as I know I’m going I never read that stuff) I couldn’t figure out a lot of what was going on like the actors frequently (and obviously faking) struggling for lines. Still worth going to, but I’m more excited about Patience (one of my favorites) coming next year. “It’s a great insult to offer a Pooh-Bah money — but I swallow the insult.”

MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S (1969) has a lonely French bachelor reluctantly spend the evening with a friend and the man’s girlfriend Maud (Francoise Fabian, above). Maud is sexually liberated and obviously interested in luring the protagonist into bed; he’s a devout Catholic so instead they wind up having Deep Thoughts about love, sex and religion until daylight. Eric Rohmer’s direction makes this talk-fest surprisingly easy to watch: the actors body language, the sets and the camera work make it more visually interesting than, say, My Dinner With Andre. The intellectual discussion, however, wasn’t interesting at all (it reminds me of the journal Cahiers du Cinema‘s complaint that French films are all pretentious talk and no action) and I gave up midway through. As I was equally unimpressed the last time I tried Rohmer, I suspect he’s not my cup of tea.“Pursuing women no more estranges a man from god than pursuing mathematics.”

NERO WOLFE (1979) stars Thayer David as Rex Stout’s legendary detective (like a lot of older mystery characters, I’m not sure if he’s a legend to younger generations or just forgotten), who’d rather eat gourmet food or grow his prize orchids than actually put his brain to work on a case. In this TV movie (based on Stout’s The Doorbell Rang), a wealthy realtor (Anne Baxter) tells Wolfe and leg man Archie (Tom Mason) that the FBI have been harassing her since she gave away hundreds of copies of a book criticizing the agency (which lord knows, did lots that deserved criticism). Wolfe is reluctant to take on an adversary that powerful, but he could use the fat fee he’s offered … It’s a good yarn (and nice to see TV actually skeptical of the feds, instead of the tongue-bathing of recent shows such as Quantico) and David (best known for Dark Shadows) is really good as the cantankerous Wolfe. Unfortunately he died so this 1977 pilot sat on the shelf for two years, then we got a competent but not as satisfying William Conrad as Wolfe in the eventual series. Brooke Adams plays a woman in the case. “To watch Nero Wolfe pour a beer is a demonstration of precision; to see him drink it is an exercise in patience.”

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Satan, the British Empire, a strange plane flight and Galileo: movies, TV and a play

The original BEDAZZLED (1967) stars Dudley Moore as a short-order cook desperately in love with waitress Eleanor Bron to the point he sells his soul to Satan (Peter Cook, Moore’s colleague in Beyond the Fringe) in return for seven wishes he can use to make her his. Moore’s Stanley makes a much better schlub than Brendan Fraser in the remake, and Peter Cook’s Satan is just awesome — no Miltonian grandeur here, as he himself admits his role in God’s design forces him to engage in petty, spiteful stunts, and he’s blithely willing to stab Stanley in the back. I also like that Bron is quite average-looking, which it makes it feel more like love than just looks. Then again, Stanley’s comfortable with having his dream girl mindwiped and personality changed with the multiple wishes, which is creepier than I found it first run; there’s also an amazingly gratuitous rape joke mid movie. I still like the film a lot, but YMMV. “What rotten sins I’ve got working for me — I suppose it’s the wages.”

Reading David Cannadine’s Ornamentalism prompted me to watch ISLAND IN THE SUN (1957) in which the island colony’s British administrators and white planter ruling class struggle to adapt to a black majority that wants a seat at the table (it’s interesting that even with the Empire in decline, the issue is representation in the island parliament rather than independence). The politics, however, takes a back seat to the colorful Caribbean settings and the soap opera plots, most of which involve race mingling: Can salesclerk Dorothy Dandridge and a white author forge a lasting love? Will black activist Harry Belafonte succumb to wealthy Joan Fontaine? Can planter’s kids Joan Collins and James Mason deal with learning they’re Tragic Mulattoes? I have an odd fondness for this kind of 1950s soaper, but I wouldn’t say it was any good — and I could have done without Mason’s casual spousal rape (which is promptly forgotten about as it’s no big deal). Michael Rennie plays a womanizing veteran. “Have you ever heard of a book called Crime and Punishment?”

I didn’t realize MANIFEST wrapped up its season with sixteen episodes or I’d have reviewed it sooner. The premise is that Flight 828 disappeared five years ago, then miraculously showed up, with no awareness of the time gap. What happened? What are the mysterious “callings” guiding them to help others? Can they pick up their lives when everyone they knew has moved on? And what is the government’s interest in 828?

This works best dealing with the personal drama (the cast is good) and the mystery, less well on the government conspiracy and not at all on the crazy “Xers” who want to kill them all as muties or witches or something. While the payoff may not be worth it, I do hope the show returns. “Right, why wouldn’t I look for them using a crayon drawing?”

Playmakers Theatre did a spectacular job staging Bertold Brecht’s LIFE OF GALILEO and the cast was certainly solid. Unfortunately the play has nothing to say about freedom of thought or Religion vs. Reason that I haven’t heard a hundred times before, and I know how Galileo’s struggle with the church turns out so this really did nothing for us. “To hell with the pearl — I want a healthy oyster!”

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Senseless death, an angel and a yellow submarine: a play, movies and TV

This month’s production from Playmakers Repertory Company was the premiere of JUMP, a drama in which two sisters and their father gather to dispose of mom’s things after her death from cancer, and knit together their frayed relationship. Only one of the sisters keeps going up to the nearby bridge and thinking what it would feel like to jump … This didn’t quite work for me, mostly because the big twist was quite obvious (though I didn’t get the details exactly right). Well executed, though, and a good looking set. “This is a strange place to vape.

JINDABYNE (2006) is an Aussie film based on one of the Raymnond Carver short stories adapted into Short Cuts, wherein Gabriel Byrne goes on a fishing trip with his buddies, only to discover an Aboriginal woman floating dead in the water. They do not, however, think that’s a reason to cut short the trip, which completely freaks out Byrne’s wife Laura Linney when she learns about it. This was better than Short Cuts but multiple distractions during the morning worked against me really getting into it (one break from the screen turned into several short breaks). It would double-bill well with River’s Edge in which a group of callous teens similarly discover a corpse. “So who appointed you the chief of political correctness?”

I was never a fan of the 1980s series HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, in which Michael Landon played Jonathan, an angel earning his wings alongside mortal sidekick Mark (Victor French). Its particular style of heartwarming wasn’t to my taste, though I can see why some people found it satisfying comfort food; comforting enough it ran five seasons, second only to Touched by an Angel as far as angelic TV series go. I watched the sixth season episode Reunion though because a local friend, Hope Alexander Willis, has a supporting role as the wife of a PR guy. I’m not sure I’d have recognized Hope’s face, but I definitely tell it’s the same voice. The story itself involves Jonathan working to bring off Mark’s high school reunion, thereby helping leading man Lloyd Bochner accept he’s aged into character acting and recapture a lost love. However because that’s one of several happy endings at the reunion, I found this less focused than the few episodes I’ve watched before. “It just shows how things we think are unimportant at the time can matter the world to someone.”

THE YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968) was one of LeAnn’s Christmas gifts to me, wherein the malevolent Blue Meanies invade the utopian musical undersea realm of Pepperland with an army of apple bonkers, snapping-turtle Turks, killer clowns and the deadly flying glove. One man escapes in the eponymous vessel that brought the founders to Pepperland. Flying it to Liverpool, he finds a brooding Ringo (“Next to me, Eleanor Rigby lived a gay, mad life.”) and enlists the Beatles to liberate Pepperland. But can they survive their travels through the Sea of Time, the Sea of Holes and the foothills of the Headlands?

This film reminds me a lot of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in that the designers just don’t seem to quit, constantly throwing in little visual details and touches to scenes that are already stunning. Delightful to look at, whimsical in story, it’s a thorough charmer. I’ve always been surprised the Beatles’ didn’t speak their parts (they sing, of course), as bringing them together in the studio proved impossible (on the commentary track, one of the production team says they stumbled across the voice for George one night in a bar). Definitely worth seeing, if you haven’t already. “Would you believe me if I told you I was being followed by a yellow submarine?”

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Scooby Doo, thieves and Robin Hood: two movies, one play

SCOOBY DOO: Mask of the Blue Falcon (2013) takes place at San Diego Comicon parody (the in-joke costumes are a sight to see) where the big event will be an early screening of the new Blue Falcon and Dynomutt movie re-imagining the corny 1960s show as a grim Dark Knight (why yes, the Batman analogy is intentional). But now Blue Falcon’s archfoe Mr. Hyde (Shaggy: “He’s the monster that taught us to be afraid of monsters.”) seems determined to kill the project — could it be the actor from the TV show? The star of the movie who wants to get back to Serious Films? This is fun, though it makes me wonder if there’s any serious Dynomutt fanbase or if he just survives from being tied to Scooby-Doo. I also wonder if one of the voice actors deliberately made his obnoxious security head sound like Paul Lynde, a comic actor who did a lot of voices for Hanna-Barbera. “I have 22 turtlenecks, all the same color — I recognize patterns.”

RIFIFI (1955) lives up to its billing as one of the great heist films. A tough hood fresh out of prison gets an offer to participate in a smash-and-grab job on a Parisian jewelry store, but suggests that cracking the store’s safe, while completely impossible, would offer a much higher ration of risk to reward. Unfortunately there’s a crime boss who discovers what’s going down and decides to horn in … A first rate film, great looking (I think it must have been location shooting) and completely absorbing. “I liked you — I really liked you — but you know the rules.”

LeAnn bought us season tickets to the Playmakers theater as an anniversary present; while we missed the first show in August, we caught this month’s production, SHERWOOD: The Legend of Robin Hood at the end of September. This retelling of how Robin grew from a shallow child of privilege into a champion of the poor (“All of us in this country are traveling together.”) reworks the familiar adventures with a lot of fun and humor, and the staging positively flaunts that they’re doing epic adventure on a small budget. Marion gets a larger role than usual (she’s the master archer) and King John is constantly quoting Shakespeare, though nothing from Shakespeare’s Prince John. A fun start to our year of viewing. “‘Manners maketh man’ — that’s what my grandmother said right before they lopped off her head”

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