Movie Review: Lady Macbeth (2016)


Title: Lady Macbeth
Release Date: 28 April 2017
Director: William Oldroyd
Production Company: Sixty-Six Pictures
Summary/Review:

I basically chose to watch this movie because I’ve become obsessed with the acting of Florence Pugh.  And Pugh’s acting is the main reason that this movie is worth watching at all. Despite the title, this movie has nothing to do with Shakespeare’s Scottish play, and in fact is based on a 19th-century Russian novella.  The film is set in the North East of England in the 1860s where Katherine (Pugh) is sold into a loveless marriage with a cruel older man, Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton).

Not permitted to leave the house, Katherine feels trapped.  She finally finds liberation when her husband and father-in-law both go away, and she begins a fling with a servant, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis).  After that, Katherine takes matters into her own hands and things get … messy (there’s the reason why the movie is called Lady Macbeth).  Like I said, Pugh’s performance, is great but this movie feels like half-a-dozen indie movies I saw back in the 1990s but doesn’t have anything new to say.  There are several Black supporting characters and the movie may be saying something about Katherine’s privilege as a white woman, but I think the actual intent of this movie is to feel compassion for Katherine.  Which I don’t.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: The Exiles (1961)


Title: The Exiles
Release Date: July 13, 1961
Director: Kent Mackenzie
Production Company: Contemporary Films
Summary/Review:

In the early 1960s, when Native people were still routinely the villains of Hollywood Westerns, this independent film captured a day in the life of young adult Native Americans who have left their reservations for life in Los Angeles.  The movie was filmed on location in the Bunker Hill district of the city before shiny office tours replaced derelict Victorian houses, although there are some elements still recognizable today such as the Angels Flight incline railway and the Grand Central Market.

The film is kind of a hangout movie with no real plot.  The documentary-style movie follows several Native people as they socialize, drink, and finish the evening with a drum circle on top of a hill overlooking the city. In short, it’s pretty much how any group of 20-somethings might spend a  Friday night, with elements of Native tradition setting it apart from other forms of contemporary youth culture. It really feels like a remarkable document of a time and place and an honest movie at a time when Hollywood specialized in artifice.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Black Girl (1966)


Title:La noire de…
Release Date: 1966
Director: Ousmane Sembène
Production Company: Filmi Domirev | Les Actualités Françaises
Summary/Review:

This film was made a few years after Senegal gained its independence from France and is considered one of the first feature films created by people from sub-Saharan Africa.  It explores the themes of lingering colonialism and imperialism through the story of a young woman named Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop).  She leaves her impoverished village near Dakar to work for a French couple in their apartment on the French Riviera.

While she expects to care for their children, Diouana is surprised that the woman, known only as Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek), makes her do all the household chores and cooking. In flashbacks, we learn that Diouana worked as a nanny for the couple when they were living in Dakar and that Madame was treated her much more generously.  Over time Diouana feels trapped in the apartment, not allowed to explore the French village where they live, and falls into a depression with tragic consequences.  The final scene is a haunting image of how colonizers will always be haunted by their past, especially if they fail to make reconciliation.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Next Stop Wonderland (1998)


Title: Next Stop Wonderland
Release Date: August 21, 1998
Director: Brad Anderson
Production Company: Robbins Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Next Stop Wonderland was released almost simultaneously with my move to Boston in 1998.  I remember walking across the Longfellow Bridge to Kendall Square Cinemas and then seeing that same great view of the city from the bridge in the opening shot of the movie.  The movie makes great use of Boston area locales, including MBTA subway trains, the New England Aquarium, and The Burren pub in Somerville which was my local watering hole for many years.  Almost all movies set in Boston involve mobsters, fanatic sports fans, and/or academics, so it’s great to have Next Stop Wonderland as Boston’s only romantic comedy.

So, I’m predisposed to enjoy this movie for many nostalgic reasons, but rewatching it for the first time in many years I also feel that it is just a really good romantic comedy.  The movie tells the parallel stories of two characters, Erin Castleton (90s indie movie queen Hope Davis) and Alan Monteiro (Alan Gelfant).  Erin is a registered nurse who’s live in boyfriend Sean (Philip Seymour Hoffman between The Big Lebowski and Boogie Nights but not a huge star yet) leaves her at the beginning of the movie and whose mother places a personal ad in Erin’s name leading to a series of comically bad dates. Alan is a working class son of a plumber going to college to study marine biology and volunteering at the New England Aquarium in his spare time.

The movie has a slice-of-feel to it as the two leads go about their everyday lives while dealing with inappropriate relationships. Erin is briefly drawn to a Brazilian patient (José Zúñiga) while Alan is drawn in by advances of a younger student in his class (Cara Buono, looking very different than on Stranger Things).  A number of quirky, comical things happen along the way involving things ranging from kidnapped ballonfish to misattributed Ralph Waldo Emerson quotations.

SPOILER: Erin and Alan finally do meet at the end of the film, which is kind of expected.  What is an unexpected is that the ending is ambiguous.  They may fall in love, they may just be friends, or they may not ever meet again.  What I like about this movie on this watching is that it is really an introvert’s romance.  Both characters express a contentment with being alone that you don’t often see in the movies.  This could be another reason why this is one of my favorite movies of all-time.

Rating: ****

Recent Movie Marathon: The Green Knight (2021)


Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title: The Green Knight
Release Date: July 30, 2021
Director: David Lowery
Production Company: Ley Line Entertainment | Bron Creative | Wild Atlantic Pictures | Sailor Bear
Summary/Review: Film can be a lot of things but it is primarily a visual medium.  The Green Knight is a visual feast that uses the language of cinema to adapt poetry from the 14th century. It has all the magic and mystery of ancient tale with the techniques of modern cinema. And while a serious story, it possibly features humorous allusions to Monty Python and Ylvis.  While I enjoy movies of various styles, there are some that complain that contemporary movies are too fast-paced.  For them, this is a treat, a slow-paced film with room to breathe and ratchet up the tension (albeit not so slow-paced as to feature a character eating a pie for 10 minutes).

Gawain (Dev Patel) is the nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris), who aspires to be a knight, but spends much of his time in alehouses and brothels.  On Christmas Day, he’s invited to sit beside the King and Queen (Kate Dickie) at a feast that is interrupted by the arrival of The Green Knight (Ralph Ineson).  Gawain rashly takes up the Green Knight’s challenge which requires him to journey northward to the Green Chapel to face the Green Knight again on the following Christmas.

The bulk of the movie is Gawain’s journey and the adventures he has along the way.  Patel is great in the lead role of young man who aspires to be courageous but doubts he has it in him.  Alicia Vikander plays a dual role as Gawain’s commoner lover Essel and as the Lady of the manor where Gawain stops on his journey, and if I didn’t know it beforehand I wouldn’t have realized they were same actor.  Joel Edgerton plays a key role as the Lord of the manor.

I’ve always enjoyed the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ever since I first read it in a Medieval Literature course in college.  It was also the theme of the very first Christmas Revels I ever attended in 1996 in Washington, D.C. It’s great to see the story gain new life in such a stunning medium.  This is definitely a movie I will need to watch again on the big screen.

Rating: ****1/2

Recent Movie Marathon: Together Together (2021)


Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title: Together Together
Release Date: April 23, 2021
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Production Company: Wild Idea | Stay Gold Features | Haven Entertainment | Kindred Spirit
Summary/Review:

Matt (Ed Helms) is single and in his mid-40s and very much wants to be a father.  He chooses Anna (Patti Harrison) to the be the surrogate to carry his baby to term.  The movie explores the 9 months of pregnancy for these two characters as they go to doctor’s checkups, therapy sessions, and getting to know one another better.  They form a friendship but also learn where to set boundaries in their relationship.

A lot of the humor in this movie relies on the awkwardness of their situation and moments that make you just cringe.  At times I hated this movie, and found Helms’ character particularly insufferable.  But I ultimately also found it insightful and rather touching.  It’s a strange movie that feels honest and human beneath a layer of artifice.  So I guess I’m right in the middle on how I feel about this movie.

Rating: ***

Recent Movie Marathon: tick, tick… BOOM! (2021)


Happy New Year! I’m kicking off 2022 by watching and reviewing a bunch of movies from 2021.

Title: tick, tick… BOOM!
Release Date: November 12, 2021
Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Production Company: Imagine Entertainment | 5000 Broadway Productions
Summary/Review:

tick, tick… BOOM! is a biopic about Jonathan Larson done in the style of a Jonathan Larson musical, and based on Larson’s own “rock monologue” produced on-stage in 1992.  Andrew Garfield plays the lead role, cleverly renamed as “Jon,” as an ambitious playwright/composer  trying to get his sci-fi musical Superbia produced in 1990, but running into brick walls.  The title tick, tick…BOOM! refers to Jon’s upcoming 30th birthday and his feeling that he’s running out time to make it big in musical theater.  We in the audience know that the real Larson was running out of time as he would tragically die at the age of 35 just before his hit musical Rent made its Off-Broadway debut.

Garfield’s performance is full of charisma and anxiety, and he does not shy away from portraying how Jon’s monomaniacal focus can make him be quite a douche to his girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) and best friend Michael (Robin de Jesús). But he never becomes unsympathetic.  In addition to a strong cast, there are a number of cameos by Broadway luminaries, including the original cast of Rent. The music is strong overall, similar in style to the music of Rent, so if you like one you’ll like the other.  The song “Why,” where Jon reflects on his childhood memories with Michael while playing piano in an empty Delacorte Theatre slayed me.

I saw a Rent ages and ages ago and really liked it at the time.  I knew a bit about Larson, but this movie – even if its partially fictionalized – gives me a better appreciation for him as a person and his work.  The director of this movie is Lin-Manuel Miranda, who I’m beginning to realize owes a lot to Larson.  It’s all the more sad that Larson never got to enjoy the same kind of success and admiration that Miranda is experiencing now.

Rating:  ****

Classic Movie Review: Ordet (1955)


TitleOrdet (The Word)
Release Date: 10 January 1955
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Production Company: A/S Palladium
Summary/ReviewOrdet is a challenging movie to watch and a difficult one to review.  I could say I liked it but I’m not sure that word encapsulates my feelings accurately.  The film is a slow and austere examination of religious belief.

The story focuses on the family and community of Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg), a widowed farmer in Denmark in 1925.  His eldest son Mikkel (Emil Hass Christensen) has abandoned religion but is married to the pious Inger (Birgitte Federspiel), and they are expecting their third child.  Inger’s troubled labor is central to the film’s plot.  The youngest son Anders (Cay Kristiansen) wishes to marry a neighbor, Anne (Gerda Nielsen).  But her father, Peter the Tailor (Ejner Federspiel), forbids the marriage because he lives by a more orthodox code of Christianity and doesn’t think Morten and his family are faithful enough.  Finally, there is the middle child Johannes who is under the delusion that he is Jesus Christ.

As I noted, this is a slow-moving film and a serious one.  It is a character study that explores the reactions of the characters to the challenges they face over the course of the film.  I feel I’ll have to watch it again to have a hope of “getting it” but it was definitely a thought-provoking film on the first viewing.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Gertrud (1964)


Title: Gertrud
Release Date: 19 December 1964
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Production Company: Palladium
Summary/Review: Carl Theodor Dreyer, Danish director of the classic silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, completed his career with this film, adapted from a play The film betrays its stage origins with several long drawing room conversations.  In fact, Gertrud is famous for its long takes of up to ten minutes.

The titular Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode) is a former opera singer who announces early on in the film that she wants to divorce her husband Gustav (Bendt Rothe), a politician who is on the verge of being appointed as a cabinet minister.  She reviews her life and her future in ponderously long conversations with Gustav, her young lover Erland (Baard Owe),  and an ex-lover Gabriel (Ebbe Rode).

I’ve never found it especially profound for an actor to speak in flat tones while staring off into the distance, but it’s especially tedious when it’s done for nearly two hours.  Fortunately, I’m not alone in my dislike of this movie.  It was booed when released at Cannes, and an early reviewer stated “Not a film, but a two-hour study of sofas and pianos.” I guess this one of those movies that might be affecting to some, but I am not among them.

Rating: **1/2

Hamilton and other theatrical productions I have seen


On Thursday night, I took my daughter to see Hamilton at the Providence Performing Arts Center (there’s a nice review from The Providence Journal). We’d watched the filmed version of Hamilton on Disney+ and listened to the cast recording countless times but this was the first time we attended a live performance.  It was nice to get the wide view from the First Dress Circle where we could see the intricate choreography of the ensemble cast.  I was also impressed with the lighting design.  And it was interesting to see the different takes the actors had on the characters from the original cast.  Not related to the show, the Providence Performing Arts Center is a lovely theater although a bit short on leg room.

Anyhow, it got be thinking of what other theatrical productions I’d seen in my life.  So I brainstormed a list with the help of some old ticket stubs I’ve collected.

Broadway

  • Annie (early 1980s) at the Alvin Theatre – I remember getting autographs from the young cast members outside the theater although those weren’t saved. Sarah Jessica Parker might’ve been in the cast at the time.
  • Barnum (early 1980s) at the St. James Theatre – A musical about the life of P.T. Barnum long before The Greatest Showman. I remember being impressed by a woman purportedly supposed to be George Washington’s nurse singing a bluesy tune.  Also, jugglers and acrobats performed in the audience before the show.
  • Peter Pan (early 1980s) – A revival of the 1954 musical starring Sandy Duncan.  She flew out over the audience at the end of the show.
  • Lost in Yonkers (December 29, 1992) at Richard Rogers Theatre – A nostalgic comedy-drama by Neil Simon. Didi Conn played the main role replacing Mercedes Ruehl, much to the disgruntlement of my sister.
  • Jelly Roll (January 10, 1995) at 47th Street Theatre – A biographical musical about jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton.  I remember that it was performed by the second cast much to the disgruntlement of the guy behind me.
  • A Funny Thing Happened on Way to the Forum (March 19, 1997) at St. James Theatre – Whoopi Goldberg starred in the lead role that previously had been reserved for a man.
  • Once Upon a Mattress (March 19, 1997) at Broadhurst Theater -Sarah Jessica Parker was definitely in this show.
  • The Lion King (January 22, 2000) at New Amsterdam Theatre – Some friends convinced me to get SRO tickets for this show although I was resistant to Disney musicals at that point in my life.  I ended up liking it.
  • Monty Python’s Spamalot (November 19, 2005) at Shubert Theatre – As a long time fan of Monty Python and Tim Curry, I was eager to so this show and was severely disappointed.  Maybe because the cast felt like they were phoning it in the whole time?

Off-Broadway

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (early 1980s) at Radio City Music Hall – This production was made long before Disney movies were routinely adapted into Broadway musicals.  My dad took us to this show because he felt we needed to see something at the great Radio City Music Hall.
  • The Fantasticks (January 1995) at Sullivan Street Playhouse – Saw world’s longest-running musical when it was in the 35th year of its 42-year run. It was great.

West End

  • The Mousetrap (February 28, 1998) at St Martin’s Theatre – Since I’d seen the world’s longest-running musical in New York I had to see the world’s longest-running play of any kind in London.  This is a famous Agatha Christie murder mystery.
  • An Inspector Calls (February 28, 1998) at the Royal Theatre  – The second show I saw on the same night that featured people impersonating police officers.  This one was a satire of Edwardian society.

Touring Productions

  • Les Miserables (August 2, 1990) at National Theatre – The summer I went to a high school program at Georgetown University, I learned that big, bold, Broadway musicals are good actually.
  • 42nd Street (February 7, 1993) at Chrysler Hall – Part of a series of shows my Mom and I went to see when I was in college.
  • Last of the Red Hot Lovers (May 9, 1993) at Chrysler Hall – This production starred Don Knotts and Barbara Eden!
  • Camelot (October 24, 1993) at Chrysler Hall – I’ve loved Camelot since watching the filmed version of the 1982 revival so I was eager to see a live performance. Robert Goulet, who played Lancelot in the original production, starred is King Arthur.  This was a bit of a waste of his big voice since Arthur’s part was written for a lesser singer, but it was still fun and inspiring.
  • Rent (August 26, 1997) at National Theatre – The musical that brought a 1990s sensibility to Broadway.  I saw this with some friends in Washington and then listened to the cast recording for the next year.

Repertory, Community, and College Theaters, etc. 

  • Fiddler on the Roof (late 1980s) – My childhood parish had a community theater called the St. Catherine Players, although the performers weren’t generally members of the congregation.  Anyhow, I first saw this terrific musical about Jewish people in Russia in the basement of a Roman Catholic church.
  • Broadway Bound (August 1990) at Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse – This is the third in a trilogy of Neil Simon’s plays after Brighton Beach Memoirs and Biloxi Blues (which I only saw as movies).
  • Antigone (August 1990) at Tisbury Amphitheater – This was a modernized take of the Sophocles’ play performed in a lovely wooded setting on Martha’s Vineyard.
  • All the King’s Men (Autumn 1991) at William and Mary Theatre – Robert Penn Warren’s fictionalized story of Huey Long was set to music by Randy Newman.
  • Once Upon a Mattress (October 16, 1992) at William and Mary Theatre – I saw this on a bad date.
  • Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat at Matthew Whaley School – Sometime, I some group perform this at a public school in Williamsburg.  It was good, I recall.
  • Godspell (April 1993) at St. Bede’s Catholic Church Parish Hall – The Catholic/Episcopal Covenant Players performed this at William & Mary.
  • Night Sky (November 19, 1993) at William and Mary Theatre – A play in which the protagonist suffers from aphasia after an accident.  This was part of a much better date to celebrate my birthday.
  • Working (April 1994?) at The Fellowship Hall at the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church – Another Covenant Players production of a musical by Studs Terkel.
  • Into the Woods (January 20, 1994) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – The Sinfonicron Light Opera Company performed this Stephen Sondheim musical.  I remember feeling it was mean-spirited and feeling very depressed after watching it.  I’d probably like it better if I was in a better mind.
  • Helene (April 14, 1995) at William and Mary Theatre – I know this has something to do with Greek mythology, but I have no recollection what it was about.
  • Junebug/Jack (September 9, 1995) at The Arts Center Theatre – Another show I don’t clearly remember but it looks like something I would like.
  • Jim Crow Gotta Go (April 13, 1996) at William and Mary Theatre – I think that this was a touring production based on oral history experiences of people in a Southern town during the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Walk Together Children (1996) – This was a production that took its inspiration from Jim Crow Gotta Go to specifically focus on the stories of people in Williamsburg.  My good friend and housemate worked on producing this show.
  • Crazy For You (October 17, 1997) at William and Mary Theatre – A romantic comedy musical with Gershwin brothers songs that I thought was funnier than my date did.  But it was still a good date.
  • Angels in America: Part One (April 18, 1998) at William and Mary Theatre – A production of Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking drama about the AIDS crisis in the gay community was still controversial in Williamsburg 23 years ago
  • Jesus Christ Superstar (May 11, 2000) at Turtle Lane Playhouse – The main thing I remember about this production is that they made Mary Magdalene look like Monica Lewinski.
  • Blue Man Group – “Tubes” (September 8, 2000) at The Charles Playhouse – Got to see this show free-of-charge for participants of the Boston -> New York AIDSRide.  A Blue Man spat a piece of chewed-up Toblerone in my hand.  It was gross.
  • Miss Folk America (May 19, 2001) at Somerville Theatre – A comedy about the Boston area folk scene starring some of our favorite singer/songwriters at the time as fictional versions of themselves.  Extremely niche.
  • Nixon’s Nixon (March 2002) at Huntington Theatre – I volunteered as an usher and got to watch this comic drama of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on the last night of Nixon’s presidency.
  • Blithe Spirit (February 19, 2004) at Walpole Footlighters – A colleague of Susan’s was involved in this production of the Noël Coward comedy.
  • The Birthday Party  (March 2004) at American Repertory Theatre – A very strange and very uncomfortable Harold Pinter play with the set’s furniture slowly being pushed into the center of the stage.
  • The Sweetest Swing in Baseball (2006?) at Cyclorama – A woman artist adopts the persona of Darryl Strawberry and becomes a success painting pictures of chickens.  Surprisingly it works.
  • Pippin (September 21, 2018) at Footlight Club -I’d long loved the music from this show but it wasn’t quite expected.
  • The Haunted Life (March 23, 2019) at Merrimack Repertory Theatre – An adaptation of a autobiographical Jack Kerouac novel about growing up in Lowell.

Shakespeare

  • Macbeth (Summer 1992) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – This was part of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival.  The star of the show also taught a theater course I took at William & Mary that summer.
  • Twelfth Night (February 25, 1993) at William and Mary Theatre – I played Sir Toby Belch in a high school production of Twelfth Night, so I love this comedy, but I don’t remember this William & Mary production at all.
  • Richard III (July 22, 1995) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – Another Virginia Shakespeare Festival production.
  • Measure for Measure (July 28, 1998) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – The main thing I remember about this Virginia Shakespeare Festival production is that they emphasized style over substance and I really hated it.  Also, music by the Gipsy Kings.
  • Twelfth Night (Summer 2001) at Boston Common – The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of Shakespeare on the Common set Twelfth Night in the early-60s JFK/Camelot era.
  • Macbeth (2003) at Boston Common – Another Commonwealth Shakespeare Company production that moved the Scottish tragedy to Juan Perón’s Argentina.  Memorably, the three witches remained on stage for the entire show, pulling strings in the background.
  • Hamlet (2005) at Boston Common – In this production, the Danish prince had a swimming pool, I think?

Opera, Light Opera, Ballet, etc.

  • Romeo and Juliet (October 20, 1991) at Chrysler Hall – This was the first ballet I ever saw performed by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.  However, the main thing I remember about this performance is that my sister mistook a Navy officer in his dress uniform for an usher.  Welcome to Norfolk!
  • Patience (January 19, 1995) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – Another Sinfonicron Light Opera Company performance.  This made me realize that I really don’t like Gilbert & Sullivan
  • La Boheme (January 21, 1997) at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall – Having seen Rent, I saw the original with my Mom. Mimi has a strong voice for someone with consumption.
  • The Magic Flute (1997?) at Harrison Opera House – My first opera, also in Norfolk.
  • The Nutcracker (December 30, 2005) at The Opera House – Amazingly, I’ve only seen this ballet once, performed by Boston Ballet.  Maybe next Christmas?
  • Semele (September 28, 2006) at New York State Theatre – This was an adaptation of an oratorio by Handel that made the main character in Marilyn Monroe.
  • Urban Nutcracker (December 16, 2006) at John Hancock Hall – Another Christmas classic I need to see again.
  • Madama Butterfly (April 22, 2007) at New York State Theatre – A treat from my mother that I saw with Susan in the last months before we became parents.
  • Così fan tutte (March 24, 2018) at Metropolitan Opera House – My first show at the Met set the Mozart opera in a Coney Island-style beach resort. Broadway star Kelli O’Hara made a nice transition to opera.

I’ll add more if I remember them.