Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sondheim Saturday - Losing My Mind from Follies

Follies is my favorite of all Sondheim's plays. I consider seeing the 2011 Broadway revival with Bernadette Peters and Jan Maxwell one of the best , if not outright best, theatrical experiences I've had.

It's such a beautiful, sad, haunting piece. Who else but the genius Sondheim could write such an exquisite and poignant piece about disappointment. His characters are all haunted by their past, mired in memories and in an emotional free fall. Yet they are transfixing and above all distinctly human.

The play has so many songs that became standards from "Broadway Baby" to "Too Many Mornings" to "I'm Still Here". Yet the one I feel deep in my heart is "Losing My Mind'. Someone's whole life story is told beautifully and emphatically in a few minutes. Here's Peters' haunting version from that revival I witnessed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Jane Eyre - Fassbender and Wasikowska Edition

Fassy and Mia in love

With news coming that Michael Fassbender is getting Marion Cotillard as his Lady Macbeth and Cary Fukunaga directing a movie with Idris Elba let's revisit their 2011 masterpiece.

How is the 2011 Jane Eyre not a bigger film in the culture? It received good reviews but seems to have vanished after a short run in theaters despite the presence of rising stars (at the time) and megawatt talents Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska.

I can't claim that it's the best version of Jane Eyre because I haven't seen them all. But it stands on its own as a beautiful, lyrical, emotional cinematic telling of a great love story with 2 very compelling lead characters. And those 2 characters are vividly brought to life by 2 fantastic actors.

I will share 3 scenes here. Needless to say major spoilers coming your way:

How was she able to let go? Fassbender at his sexiest and most intense.

While Fassbender, of course, smolders this scene is all Mia's. Watch her find her strength through her broken heart and go from desperate to happy. All through the spirit in the character shines through and you understand why Rochester fell for her.

And now the finale :

Tell me you are not shaking from all this intensity!!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Sexpot - Matthias Schoenaerts

Matthias Schoenaerts

Have you seen Rust and Bone? Sex on a stick. And he's going to be in a lot of movies soon. He seems to have cornered the market on the smoldering dangerous guy that will romance the "great actress". In addition to Marion Cotillard he will be seen next year playing with Michelle Williams and Carey Mulligan. Sounds great to me!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sondheim Saturday : Side by Side from Company

The Master himself

Every Saturday I'll feature the genius of musical heater Steven Sondheim. For our first edition here is "Side by Side" the opening song from the 2nd act from 1971 masterpiece "Company". It won the Tony for Best Musical and was revived several times including most recently an acclaimed production in 2006.

Adrian Lester as Bobby

This version of the song is from 1996 Donmar Theater production in London staged by Sam Mendes. It features the first Bobby of color, Adrian Lester. At the time it was both hailed and reviled as a "modern" interpretation. Not for casting a black man but for the other florishes that Mendes added. It doesn't look so revolutionary 17 years later but still works. Unfortunately I could not embed so head over to youtube to watch. It's very good.

What is your favorite production of Company? Tell all in the comments.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Nicole Kidman : Back on Botox

Look at these pictures. She's back on it. Look at the mirror, Nicole. You don't look like yourself. Stop it. Other actresses your age are making it work. Find out what they are doing and do it. We want you looking your best on screen, and this is not it.

More on Blue Jasmine

Cate, Sally and Andrew

Now that we've got how great Cate is out of the way, here are a few other thoughts on Blue Jasmine :

- The movie is zippy and fast and at just over an hour and half reaches its conclusion quickly. A definite advantage in this age of the over-long movie.

- This is a fantastic ensemble. Sally Hawkins shines brightly all earthiness and brittle edges. Andrew Dice Clay is a revelation and carries the heart of the movie, his is arguably the only "good" character. Bobby Cannavale does his usual shouty Pacino thing but then surprises in a very raw and emotional scene. Even Peter Sarsgaard does the best he can with an underwritten part.

- Yes it's n obvious riff on Streetcar Named Desire, but it's also much more. Only takes the premise and builds other layers and tell what I thought was an original story. Cate's performance is certainly different than her Blanche; more modern and on full throttle from beginning to end as opposed to the crescendo building emotional breakdown that was her Blanche.

- Question to Woody; who says "make love" in 2013? OK maybe Jasmine since she puts on airs but then Sarsgaard's character says it too. It sounds so fake.

- Also what is up with the learning the computer sub-plot? What is Jasmine exactly learning? It looks like she has a laptop and I assume she has at least used it a couple of times. So confusing Woody.

- Sally Hawkins has a very cute and endearing moment early on : she courtesies when she meets Alec Baldwin.

- Also cute Alden Ehrenreich. More of him please, Hollywood.

Alden not in character but still cute

- The scene with Jasmine babysitting her nephews at Chuck e Cheese and dolling out life lessons while sipping her wine is fantastic. It is without a doubt Cate's Oscar clip. The most quoted bit is "There's only so much trauma a person can withstand before they take to the streets and start screaming". I really like the bit where she advises them to be kind to the service industry ending with "Tip big, boys".
"Tip big, boys"
Along with Stories We Tell, Before Midnight and The Spectacular Now Cate and Woody made summer movie going bearable.

The Color Purple - It's All About Sofia

The Color Purple has always been about Sofia for me. She was the character who hit me the most and who stayed very vivid in my memory. If the movie is about the 2 biggest "-isms" of our time; racism and sexism, then Celie's story is all sexism and Sofia's most heartbreaking arc is about racism.

I love this shot from Sofia's first scene and introduction to the audience. Look at her. She's so full of life, love, hope, joy and most of all undeniable spirit. You know instantly that this is someone who's ready to take on the world. Even Mister's complete contempt doesn't bring her down. All of this will be chipped away from Sofia, little by little through the system, circumstances, and just because she was born who she is at the time and place she lived. Makes you want to scream at the injustice of it all. But first we get to savour the promise that lies in this shot.

"You told Harpo to beat me??!!"

Oprah Winfrey - as if there is another -is everything in this role. Watch her confront Celie in the famous "You told Harpo to beat me? " scene. In less than 2 minutes she tells her life story which is the story of all the Purple women including Miss Celie. But she also shows us her resilience and determination. It's the opposite of Celie's " I don't know how to fight, I know how to survive". Here she does what people like her do all the time; she opens Celie's eyes and leads to realize that she doesn't have to accept what's coming her way. If only knowing how to fight is enough.

And here it is; Sofia's ultimate defeat. Her giving in to Miss Millie which goes against everything we know about her. I still remember the first time I watched this, at home, on video. I broke down at Sofia's first encounter with Miss Millie's. Oh my how her spirit - the most beautiful thing about her - was broken. I cried and cried and couldn't stop even after the movie was over. Some 25 years later this memory is so vivid and alive with me. I still want to scream at the world; at that injustice.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Love Letter to Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett is my favorite actor. I can't get enough of watching her.So you can imagine my joy when I heard that not only is she in Woody Allen's latest but in fact gives a performance for the ages and completely dominates the movie. She has been away for a long time and small parts in The Hobbit and Hanna do not count. I'm glad she's back full throttle in this and upcoming movies with Todd Haynes, David Mamet and George Clooney. She's even playing the evil stepmother in the new Cinderella and might pop up in Terrence Malick's next.

I've seen Blue Jasmine 3 times now. And each time I've watched with my jaw dropped to the floor the whole time at the beautiful and precise marvel that is Cate's performance. I couldn't have it said better myself so I am quoting Mick LaSalle's review for the San Francisco Chronicle.

"But when we're talking about "Blue Jasmine," we're really talking about Blanchett, who - and this is no exaggeration - gives one of the greatest screen performances of the past 10 years. To say that she is Oscar worthy would not do her justice, not when we remember what actually wins Oscars. Blanchett's performance is one for the books.
First of all, there's the technical precision of it. Aided immeasurably by Gretchen Davis' makeup and Suzy Benziger's costume design, she is often playing some degree of chemical impairment - the nature and degree of which are always perfectly clear.
In terms of emotion, it's best to keep in mind that Jasmine's story, though told out of sequence, has a sequence nonetheless, one inhabited by Blanchett with preternatural intuition and nuance. We see that Jasmine was weak to begin with. And later, we see the guilt, the disgrace, the pain, the self-delusion, not as emotions in sequence, but as elements ever-present and threatening to bubble to the surface, threatening the magnificent facade. The facade itself is a splendid creation, paper-thin and yet seductive, the manners and references suggestive of all the good things money can buy - and has bought.
Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine" is beyond brilliant, beyond analysis. This is jaw-dropping work, what we go to the movies hoping to see, and we do. Every few years."

It's not a review, its a love letter. I whole heartedly agree. I'll leave with the fashion girl Cate, she was a vision in Balenciaga at the New York premiere.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Spectacular "Spectacular Now"

It's been a dearth of good movies this summer. Last year while sitting through The Dark Knight Rises and being completely bored, I vowed never to see another superhero movie. I know I'm not going to miss anything, it's always the same story. I kept to that vow all summer which unfortunately meant that I didn't get to see much. However I'm grateful for Stories We Tell, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine and now The Spectacular Now.

What a breath of fresh air this movie is. It is not groundbreaking or terribly original. It's just a really well told story with real human beings who have interesting emotional lives. The movie tells the story of  ne'er do well high schooler (Miles Teller) with serious alcohol abuse problems and major daddy issues and his unexpected romance with a shy, earnest and very smart classmate (Shailene Woodley). It's smart enough to build a world of interesting characters around these two that include their families, friends, exes and co-workers. every last character is not a cliche.

Teller is fantastic as he guides the audience to knowing his character from the party boy to the destructive angry guy that lurks beneath. Woodley gives such an endearing performance, very lived in and honest that made me think of a few people I know, it seemed like she wasn't acting at all . In fact both are natural and unaffected. The ensemble is almost uniformly good, from Jennifer Jason Leigh to Mary Elizabeth Winstead to Brie Larson to Andre Royo ( hi Bubbles from The Wire) to Bob Odenkirk. The only one who didn't convince me was Kyle Chandler. I don't want to give away why because it's a plot point.

A lot of references have been made about how this movie to a throwback to good teenage movies like Say Anything and John Hughes' oeuvre. However what I liked about the script is its concentration on character - yes these two are teenagers about the script, by 500 Days of Summer's Michael H Weber and Scott Neustadter, doesn't want to make any points about being young. It just tells this particular story. Kudos also to the director James Ponsoldt for keeping this unhurried and open with a lot of long takes that allow the viewer to appreciate the natural performances.

Go see it. Now.