February 4, 2017

Movie Review: Fences **

If you like August Wilson's plays, and you like seeing them enacted on the screen with little scene change and page after page after page of dialogue (I heard Viola Davis say that her first speech in the film was 35 pages long), you'll like the movie version of Fences.
I'm sure it's no secret which side of the fence I'm on here (pun intended).
August Wilson is too talky for me. There's little action. His work is all about getting into the psyche of the common man, which is fine, but I don't connect to his characters. Not because I'm a middle-class white woman, but because there's not usually anything likable or relateable or sympathetic or vulnerable about them; nothing to connect me to them.
I went to see the movie because of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Denzel, even though he's nominated for an Academy Award, isn't believable in this role. He sounds like an upper-class black guy trying to sound like a lower-class black guy.
I stayed for an hour and was so worn out by all the yelling and poor-me speeches and his supposedly good-intentioned mistreatment of his son that I walked out.
And see that picture above? That must be an outtake, because there's no smiling in this film. At least not in the first hour.
Even though it's not fair to judge a whole movie by an hour, I'm doing it anyway.
2 stars out of five for Fences.

Theatre reviews: The Bodyguard, Gloria

I'm going to let Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune speak for me on The Bodyguard, the latest Broadway in Chicago offering.
Read his review. He says everything I was thinking, except for this: He appreciates Deborah Cox's (the Rachel character) singing more than I do. Technically she's good but of course she doesn't hold a candle to Whitney. Not that she has to, really, she just needs to put some soul in her singing. Not an easy task when the script is so bland.
And remember that iconic image from the movie promotion back in the 90s? Well, they recreate that scene here in such a gratuitous way, with so little build-up, that people laughed.
As Chris Jones says, the male lead doesn't sing, and what's up with that? Not only does he not sing, there's a karaoke scene to explain why, where he gets up on stage and sounds like a caged cat.
Then, after the show ends, the cast comes out on stage and does some extra dancing and singing, and the show's villain sings a couple lines to Rachel (his, thankfully, is not a singing part), and he sounds pretty much like the Frank character did in the karaoke scene, only this guy was obviously not trying to do that. This felt like he was given an opportunity to show his chops. Kind of pitiful.
This show has no heart, no emotion, no passion and the stars have no chemistry. So...no stars for The Bodyguard.

Don't waste time with The Bodyguard. Instead, go see Gloria at The Goodman. This play is beautifully acted and directed, with snappy, authentic dialogue, and that's what this play is about: cubicle people at a magazine sniping at each other, caring for each other, figuring out who they are and where they're going and their ambition. A crisis in act one changes everything, and that's all I'll say about that - I would not have wanted any hint about what happens.
Act two is all about whose story it is and who should write the book about it and who should make money off of it.
Act three is short, not truly an act, but the curtain comes down for the set change (people started clapping until the word PAUSE appeared on the curtain). This short act seemed unnecessary. The addition of just a few more lines at the end of act two would have made it a perfect place to end.
But all in all, it's a gripping drama.
3-1/2 stars of five for Gloria.

January 9, 2017

Movie Review: La La Land ***

I love the idea of La La Land, a musical reminiscent of the 30s. I love Ryan Gosling and I love Emma Stone, but I don't love La La Land.
What with all the accolades and awards and all the critics jumping on the La La band wagon I thought this was going to be the world's most entertaining movie, so truly, I was very surprised when half an hour in I was looking at my watch, thinking, okay, get into the story already.
The first act could be cut with no loss of meaning (except it bookends with the final act, but that could be cut too - problem solved). The chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (who are individually great) is lacking, and after the characters finally meet, they break up for such a silly reason that I yawned.
I expected to be amazed by this film. Instead I was underwhelmed.
And yet it won a boatload of Golden Globes, so...you be the judge. If you've already seen it, what did you think?

November 27, 2016

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea *****

Casey Affleck is remarkable in his role as Lee in Manchester by the Sea. He's a solitary man with demons, though we don't know what they are until well into the film, and when the story is revealed we completely understand who he is.
Now he has to go home to deal with the death of his brother and figure out what to do with his 16-year-old nephew, whose father named Lee as his guardian, without telling Lee.
"Because he knew I'd say no," Lee tells the attorney.
Affleck hits just the right notes of stoicism and grief, and much of his performance is in his face, not his words. It's a subtle and restrained performance and I can't imagine he won't be nominated for an Oscar for this performance.
Newcomer Lucas Hedges as the nephew Patrick also gives a wonderful and authentic performance. Kenneth Lonergan's direction was just right in this film, and all the actors live up to his high expectations.
There are no neat little bows in this story. It's a gritty story about gritty people, struggling to survive.
Five stars out of five for Manchester by the Sea.

November 26, 2016

Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen **

The Edge of Seventeen is an implausible coming-of-age story that doesn't work until the final act.
There's Nadine (Hailee Steinfield), who's supposed to be a nerdy outcast but who's too beautiful to have ever been anything other than head cheerleader or homecoming queen. But okay, if you can buy that part of the premise you might like this contrived story.
A couple more of my many problems with the story: As a seventeen year old she "accidentally" sends a pornographic text to a guy she has a crush on (there's no believable lead-up to this crush, no chemistry, and this guy is such a drip that one has to wonder what she sees in him), and when he texts her back to ask if she wants to hang out she thinks he really just wants to get to know her. He does, of course, but not the way she hoped.
And after she finally understands what he's after (duh...) she gets out of the car and runs away, only to call her teacher (Woody Harrelson as a curmudgeon in another unbelievable relationship) who comes to get her. Nice, right? How does she have his private phone number? But, whatever, he picks her up and takes her to his house. WHAT??? He takes her to his house? In what world would he not be arrested? And why didn't he just take her home?
But up until this point we're led to believe that he's single, making his actions even sleazier, so this scene is contrived to show us that voila! he's a family man with a lovely wife (what does she possibly see in him?) and baby.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Nadine's house which of course isn't a ranch) there's the stereotypical neglectful mom (Kyra Sedgewick) and the older brother who's the golden boy, who Nadine has never gotten along with.
Spoiler alert: In the final act everyone's happy, with themselves and each other. Sweet, but not sweet enough to sit through the other 45 minutes.
Two stars out of five for The Edge of Seventeen.

November 18, 2016

Movie Review: The Eagle Huntress *****

I don't often call movies perfect. Usually there are at least one or two small things I would change, but The Eagle Huntress is perfect.
This is a documentary about a young girl in a remote part of the Asian mountains who wants to be an eagle hunter, a right reserved for men, and handed down from generation to generation. Not only is she not a man, she's not even a woman - she's a 12 year old girl; a girl with admirable courage and fearlessness and heart.
Dazzling photography, a magnificent score that enhances the action and the scenery, an elegantly written and edited story. It's a sensitively told, heartwarming and uplifting story about the human spirit.
Watch this trailer and then go see this amazing film.
Five of five stars for The Eagle Huntress.
(I have no idea what other documentaries will be nominated for Oscars this year, but none can be better than this.)

October 31, 2016

Halloween: The Anti-Cinderella

As a child I wanted nothing more than to be Cinderella for Halloween. I remember one year when I was a cowboy. Not a cowgirl - a cowboy. I remember being a scarecrow and a baseball player. But what I remember most is the year I was a wolf. The costume was a red onesie-type thing with a tail, and it had a red full-head wolf's mask complete with fangs and icky red fur.
Talk about anti-Cinderella.
The only good thing about that wolf costume was that Mrs. Williams, my third grade teacher, said she was going to give out a prize if she couldn't guess who you were and I thought, "How the fuck is she going to know who I am in this thing?"
Well, not in those exact words. I was 8, after all.
Mrs. Williams went up and down the rows and put her hand on each kid's head and said their name. Of course it was easy with the princesses and the cowboys and Indians, but there were a few of us with full-head masks and I was sure I was going to win. But when she got to me she never even hesitated, just said my name and moved on.
Sheila Bennett won that year. She was a black cat. She didn't even have a full-head mask. She wore black makeup and whiskers and a mask over her eyes. And she acted just like a cat; licking her paw and "washing" her head and sitting by Mrs. Williams' chair and meowing. Everybody knew it was Sheila. Except that ignorant (sucker) Mrs. Williams.
The thing is, I used to get my cousin Ken's Halloween hand-me-downs because he was one year older.
But he was a boy. I was not.
And my mother was too mean to buy me a Cinderella costume. Mean, just like that wicked stepmother. And she was apparently immune to my tears because I shed a lot of them over that wolf thing.
It scarred me for life.
I blame Ken. If only he'd wanted to be Cinderella.