April 15, 2017

Theatre Review: Linda Vista at Steppenwolf *****

Linda Vista is the story of a middle-aged man going through a contentious divorce, who's working at a mundane job, has a 13 year old son who doesn't speak to him, and who's trying to find love, or something.
If something good happens in his life he's a master at destroying it.
Would you want to watch a play about this loser? Trust me, you would.
In real life it's the person who has their shit together that you want to be friends with, but in fiction you want to keep that one off center stage. No danger of that here...Wheeler is a hot mess (an expression he hates).
Playright Tracy Letts is a genius with dialogue. Beginning to end, these characters are authentic and funny (funniest when the humor hits home, which it often does) in a casual and organic way, and sad. There's so much laughter that you miss some lines that are surely too good to miss. A good reason to see it again.
Ian Barford
It's a stellar cast; Ian Barford strikes exactly the right note as our damaged hero; he's the guy you'd want to avoid if you met him in a bar but in spite of your better judgement you'd be drawn in by his wit, intelligence and vulnerability. And then you'd kick yourself for ignoring your instinct.
Warning: there's nudity and pretty graphic sex. So it's all good.
Oh, and there's a Steely Dan soundtrack.

Running through May 21, 2017 at Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago. But I bet you'll see it on Broadway in the not too distant future.
Five out of five stars for Linda Vista.
Go see it!

March 27, 2017

Movie Review: Lion *****

I didn't have time to write a review of Lion when I saw it in early January but I recently saw it again because it's one of those stories that stays with you. I was just as blown away this time, and once again I cried from beginning to end.
Sunny Pawar (right), is the young Saroo who gets lost and ends up 1200 miles from his home and somehow survives all alone on the streets of Calcutta, until authorities find him.
If his remarkable and heart-wrenching performance doesn't wreck you you don't have a heart.
Saroo grows up with a loving and supportive adoptive family and his life is seemingly perfect as he goes off to hotel management school and falls in love. But he's haunted by his long lost family. Through the magic of Google he embarks on a search for them, and the rest of the story seems impossible and unbelievable, but it's all true. The film is based on the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly.
Dev Patel (below) is the older Saroo, and deserving of his Academy Award nomination.
Go see this wonderful, moving film while it's still in theaters.
Five of five stars for Lion.

March 26, 2017

Movie Review: The Sense of an Ending **

The Sense of an Ending is a film that will attract older baby boomers because we love movies about ourselves. Plus it's a great cast (Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling, among others) and stellar acting all around, particularly by Broadbent as Tony, a curmudgeon being revisited by his past.
There's a rather convoluted mystery at the heart of the story involving a girl Tony was involved with (Charlotte Rampling as Veronica) as a university student some fifty years ago. Veronica's mother has died and, oddly enough, left him something in her will that he has to reconnect with Veronica (of course) to get.
It sounds like an interesting premise but it's not. Tony hasn't seen Veronica in all those years, doesn't appear to have ever thought about her, doesn't seem to be carrying a torch. So, except for simple curiosity it's hard to understand why he cares.
But if he didn't there wouldn't be a film. That wouldn't be a big loss.
I have a couple of nits to pick (other than the entire film): Tony has an unmarried daughter who has decided to have a child on her own and is hugely pregnant. By default, Tony is her Lamaze partner, which was unseemly to me as he sat behind her with his hands on her belly. Call me a prude but as much as I loved my dad I would never have wanted him to do that with me.
There's also a gratuitous scene in a bar where Tony has told someone he went to university with Veronica and the guy tells him he doesn't look old enough to have gone to university 50 years ago. Well, yes, he does. And then some.
I wish this had been a more engaging story. I really wanted to like it. The only thing to recommend it is the cast but excellent acting is not enough to overcome boredom.
Two out of five stars for The Sense of an Ending.

March 24, 2017

Movie Review: Personal Shopper ***

Personal Shopper is directed and co-written by Olivier Assayas, who also directed The Clouds of Sils Maria. Once again Kristin Stewart (Maureen) is cast as the assistant to a diva, this time she's a (guess what...) personal shopper to a celebrity of some sort. We don't know much about that celebrity but it's not necessary - it's not her story.
There was something a little "off" (not in a bad way) about Clouds, and unfinished, and Personal Shopper has a similar feel; they both make you scratch your head and work to figure it out, something you may or may not be inclined to do.
Along with her day job Maureen is a medium, as was her now-dead twin brother and she moves though the movie waiting for a sign from him and dealing with ghosts who may or may not be the twin.
The ghost element is a little silly at times (or all the time). Kristin Stewart is good in the role, though not as good, in my opinion, as other critics seem to think.
Three of five stars for Personal Shopper.

Movie Review: Land of Mine *****


Land of Mine is a beautifully crafted film.
Nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film, it's the story of 1945 Denmark; the German occupation is ending and German POWs are tasked with removing hundreds of thousands of land mines.
The war-weary Danish sergeant who's in charge of a group of young soldiers struggles with his hatred of the enemy and his own humanity.
This is a heart-wrenching story with some small heart-warming bits that help relieve the tension; difficult film to watch but worth it.
Five stars out of five for Land of Mine.

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.