Thursday, July 30, 2009

'Ugly Truth' is a thoroughly average romantic comedy

“The Ugly Truth,” the new romantic comedy starring Katherine Heigl and Gerald Butler, is thoroughly average. It isn’t an awful experience and it is pleasant enough, but it certainly doesn’t fill one with the desire to tell people, “Oh, you’ve got to see this one.”

The romantic comedy by its nature is formulaic, so it isn’t fair to throw that criticism at entries in the genre. Opposites meet and bicker at first, but slowly grow to like each other and eventually fall in love.

In a way, the predictability of the romantic comedy is part of its appeal. It is comforting that love always prevails. As is true with any story, even if the outcome is known, it is the journey to reach that conclusion that makes it a story worth telling.

The better romantic comedies mask their formula with fresh characters and sharp dialogue. “The Ugly Truth” has no original characters and limited supply of memorable dialogue.

The premise here is Abby (Heigl, “27 Dresses”), an uptight producer of a TV morning show, is saddled with Mike (Butler, “300”), a new guest commentator who claims to speak the truth about men and women. Mike is a chauvinist that oozes testosterone and Abby finds his point of view on women degrading.

In their early scenes together, Heigl and Butler have some nice barbed exchanges and it seems like the film will be a biting look at the way men and women see love. Instead the film has Abby cave very quickly and basically accept Mike’s view point as he coaches her on how to win over a cute doctor that has moved into her apartment complex.

There’s a lot of vulgar dialogue in the film. It is clear that the film is trying to emulate the appeal of the Judd Apatow produced films. For the most part the use of profanities is supposed to be funny unto itself. Very few jokes are actually written. If you giggle when someone says a naughty word then you’ll find much of the film’s dialogue hilarious.

This isn’t to say there aren’t some genuinely funny scenes. Abby bringing a printout of an online profile and background check on a date is good for a quick laugh as is her rant about how tap water is the same as bottled water. Heigl gets the film’s biggest laugh in a scene that recalls a certain scene from “When Harry Met Sally.”

Things move along well enough, but the film just never quite builds much energy or has anything to say. Romantic comedies don’t need to be profoundly deep, but “The Ugly Truth” stays in the kiddie pool.

The script views gender in the most basic and board stereotypes ultimately concluding that deep down all men only care about sex and want a woman that will never question or criticize them, which is unfortunate since all women are really controlling, judgmental harpies. This is certainly ugly, but not necessarily the truth.

It’s the appeal of the two leads that holds attention. They are likeable together. Butler, who is known more as an action guy, showcases an assured ability to deliver a comedic line. Heigl is cute, perhaps not the highest praise, but it is the word that fits. She does an adorable little happy dance.

As far as a date movie goes, you can do far worse. There are some smiles and laughs, but nothing special. It is safe to say you could wait for DVD on this one. If for some reason it becomes necessary for you to see it in theaters, make sure it is a matinee.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Errol Flynn: The definitive Robin Hood

Last night just as I was about to go to bed, I got pulled into watching a movie on TV, 1938’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” starring Errol Flynn. I decided reviewing that film would be a far more pleasurable endeavor than what I had originally intended to write about.

From time to time, I think I’ll forgo reviewing a new movie and point people to a classic. I was going to write about “Bruno” this week. I’ll sum up for you what I would’ve said: skip it. Even if you liked “Borat” I can’t guarantee you’d like “Bruno,” so better to save your money.

Now back to last night and my adventures with Robin Hood. Watching Flynn in all his swashbuckling glory reminded me of my childhood. No, I wasn’t a swashbuckler, but as a boy I had a Flynn phase.

I loved him in such films as “Captain Blood” and “The Sea Hawks,” but it was “Robin Hood” that had the most profound effect on me. I’d take walks in the forest with friends and family pretending to be merry men. When we came to bridges crossing streams staff battles would inevitably ensue.

It was around this time that 1991’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” came out, a fine film, but even at 8 years old I knew Kevin Costner was no Errol Flynn. Flynn’s Robin Hood, with his jovial laugh, mischievous grin and sharp tongue, is the defining image of the iconic hero from Sherwood Forest.

Flynn was a true movie star and too often they get dismissed as not being genuine actors. What Flynn did was hardly easy. He had believable physicality to his fight scenes, but wasn’t a stiff bore when it came to line delivery. Far from it. He was a charmer who could deliver a one-liner with the precision of a great comic and who could sweep any girl off her feet.

“The Adventures of Robin Hood” was release in Technicolor more than a year before “The Wizard of Oz,” the film that generally gets acknowledged as the first color film. Technicolor makes colors seem brighter and more brilliant than they are in reality and helps the films it is employed in seem as if they come from a magical other world.

It is clear that the producers of “Robin Hood” were excited to use color and grabbed every color they could find. The film is populated with bright greens, reds, blues and purples.

In addition to Flynn's charismatic portrayal of Robin, the film is populated with great actors. Claude Rains as Prince John and Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne provide excellent villainy. Rathbone and Flynn’s climatic sword fight is the stuff of film legend.

Olivia de Havilland is a lovely Maid Marion, who holds her own against the saucy Robin. Flynn’s frequent sidekick Alan Hale is a delightful Little John as is Eugene Pallette’s Friar Tuck. Flynn’s initial encounters with both these characters are classic scenes as is the archery contest.

There is an idea that kids won’t like or watch old movies. I say poppycock, that’s right you heard me, poppycock. “The Adventures of Robin Hood” captured my imagination as a kid and how could it not? It has adventure, humor and romance, but not too much of that icky kissing stuff. No matter your age, if you haven’t seen this timeless piece of cinema than seek it out. If you have seen it, perhaps the time has come to revisit it.

Brooks' 'Producers' provides big, bawdy laughs

After eight long years, the Mount Washington Valley is finally getting the opportunity to see Mel Brooks’ gloriously goofy musical “The Producers” as it should be seen: live.

The Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company’s production of “The Producers” will continue its run at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse in North Conway, N.H. through Aug. 1.

Brooks’ “Producers” first showed up as his debut film as a writer/director in 1968.
It starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder and would go on to win an Oscar for best original screenplay. In 2001, Brooks’ musical version starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick made its Broadway debut and would later win a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards

The premise, the same in both the movie and musical, is inspired: a down and out Broadway producer teams up with a meek accountant to cook up a scheme to raise more money than is needed to produce a surefire flop and take the extra money and run.

I saw “The Producers” in London’s Broadway, The West End, and this production absolutely holds up to that big city version, which is impressive given the size of the theater and budget restraints. The show is full of several big, bawdy numbers including the infamous showstopper “Springtime for Hitler” and director Clay James and his cast pull it off.

Throughout his career as a film critic Roger Ebert has shared the following anecdote about Mel Brooks many times. Ebert was sharing an elevator with Brooks a few months after the original “The Producers” film was released. A woman got onto the elevator, recognized Brooks and said, “I have to tell you, Mr. Brooks, that your movie is vulgar.” Brooks smiled and replied “Lady, it rose below vulgarity.”

It is a clever line that perfectly encapsulates the experience of seeing the original film as well as the musical. Sure, “The Producers” is crude and in bad taste but is presented with a certain level of sophistication and wit that allows it to transcend low brow even as it trades in it.

It also helps that it is all delivered with good cheer. The humor, which includes sex jokes, gay jokes, Jew jokes and, naturally, Nazi jokes, is never mean spirited. It is hard to be offended by even the potentially offensive because it is all so amicable.

This cast is absolutely spot-on in getting the tone of the material right. George Piehl, so good last year as Tevye in the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” is ideally cast as the scheming, boisterous Max Bialystock. Piehl has to be a larger-than-life personality and he is just that. He manages to channel both Mostel and Lane.

Chris Handley is very much Piehl’s equal as timid, high strung Leo Bloom who slowly comes out of his shell under the tutelage of Max. Falling in love with their sexy secretary Ulla (Liz Clark-Golson) certainly helps too. Handley is hilarious in the classic “I’m hysterical” scene. Piehl and Handley have great chemistry.

Grant Golson gets to ham it up in a big way as the gay director turned star of “Springtime for Hitler” as does Thomas Schario as the author of “Springtime” and Ryan Fitzgerald as Golson’s “assistant.” These actors take their supporting roles and run with them stealing scenes whenever they are on stage.

The show is full of great songs that all slightly skewer the traditional musical. Even ballads like “That Face” and “Til Him” are given twists.

Every number is well mounted, but easy highlights include “I Wanna Be a Producer,” “If You’ve Got it Flaunt It,” “Along Came Bialy,” “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop,” “Betrayed” and “Prisoners of Love.” Heck that’s half the show right there.

Those who have seen the flat 2005 film version of the musical may feel they can safely skip this, but they’d be mistaken. Live is the best way to the splendid silliness of this musical comedy gem.

For more information visit or call 356-5776.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Saying goodbye to Nikki Martinez

Magic 104 morning show host heads back to Texas for a new job

CONWAY, N.H. — The valley is losing a key member of its community. Nikki Martinez, the morning show co-host at Magic 104, is moving back to her home state for a position at a radio station in McAllen, Texas. Martinez moved to the Mount Washington Valley in September 2007 and quickly became more than just a radio personality. She joined the Mount Washington Choral Society as well as the Young Professionals and acted in two M&D Production musicals. She was the emcee for this year’s Miss Mount Washington Valley Teen and Pre-Teen and most recently organized a Locks of Love event in which she personally donated 18 inches of hair. On a personal level, she was my friend and collaborator for youtube shenanigans. She will be missed.

Alec Kerr: All right. We’ve come to the exciting part now. I’ve always wanted to do this. I’m going to do the questions that James Lipton uses to close out the “In the Actor’s Studio,” so here we go. What is your least favorite word?

Nikki Martinez: There are some curse words that are my least favorite words, but hate. It is a four-letter word, it is a simple word, but it has a lot of meaning to it if someone really means it. So "hate" would probably have to be my least favorite word.

AK: And what is your favorite word.

NM: Scrumtrilescent. (Laughs) No. I can’t do that.

AK: Oh, it is done. It is done.

NM: Oh OK, scrumtrilescent has to be my favorite word.

AK: What turns you on?

NM: That’s one of the questions?

AK: It is not a dirty question. It is just what gets you going?

NM: What I’m passionate about?

AK: Yes.

NM: Oh this is so hard. Thank you James Lipton. Music. Music has always been my thing.

AK: What turns you off?

NM: There are so many things. I’d say frozen fish sticks.

AK: What sound do you love?

NM: A baby’s laugh.

AK: Oh that’s a good one. What sound do you hate?

NM: Oh, nails on a chalkboard. That is my worst. Oh! And I think about it now. Oh! Next question!

AK: What is your favorite curse word, but of course in this case it is going to be the TV edited version of your favorite curse word.

NM: I personally usually say: “What the…” and that’s where I stop. I do that a lot because I don’t curse a lot.

AK: And I know you’re fond of holy schnike.

NM: Holy schnikes. I totally forgot about that, yes, holy schnikes probably would be my favorite.

AK: What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

NM: I would love, love, love to go to culinary school and be a chef. I love Food Network. I am not even going to lie: I love Food Network and I could be the next Food Network star if I had those skills. I can cook, but it is definitely not like them because they’re awesome.

AK: What profession would you not like to do?

NM: I give them a lot of respect because they do this, but I could never be a garbage collector. I could never do it. I give them respect for doing it. Props to them.

AK: OK, here’s the big one. If heaven exists, what would you like God to say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

NM: Welcome my child. It is simple, easy, but that’s what I’d love to hear him say and I think I will. No, I know I will, what am I saying, I know will.

'Potter' series still full 'blood'ed entertainment

The time has come for another “Harry Potter” film, which is something I say with great joy versus a heavy sigh. “Harry Potter” is not only the most financially successful franchise of all time — it is one of the most consistently entertaining.

The “Harry Potter” series may have completed its seven book arc two year ago, but the film series has a few more laps to go. With the release of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,” the count is at six with book seven being split into two films.

By the time of the final film’s release in 2011, it’ll be a full decade of J.K. Rowling’s beloved characters on the silver screen. We’ve seen the young wizards Harry, Ron and Hermione grow up, and the actors that bring them to life, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emily Watson, grow into fine actors.

This installment focuses on Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) recruiting Harry to extract a memory regarding Voldemort from the eccentric returning potions professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). This memory is the key to the undoing of the all powerful evil that is Voldemort.

The film also involves an assassination plot of a key central character. That someone dies in this film is no surprise to the followers of the book series, but you’ll see no spoilers here for those who haven’t read the book.

Speaking of those who haven’t read the book, I fall into that group. This allows me to look at the films on their own merits. The key to their success has been a willingness to explore the dark corners of the story and to not simply make a dumbed-down version for the masses.

I can’t say what has or hasn’t been changed, but obviously there has been condensing. It has been my understanding that, though details have been changed or removed, the series has largely been faithful to its source material.

The films themselves have been getting better the more willing the filmmakers have been to create their own vision instead of simply trying to mimic line for line what is on the page.

After going through several directors ranging from the workman-like Chris Columbus to the visionary Alfonso Cuarón, the series has settled on David Yates to finish the job. He directed the previous installment and is directing the concluding films.

As with “Order of the Phoenix,” Yates brings a foreboding tone to the proceedings.
This time he creates sequences that are tense and suspenseful. Even with a two and a half hour running time, the film moves briskly, yet takes enough to time to give room for the characters to breathe.

At one point Harry remarks he never noticed how beautiful The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was. The same holds true of the films set there. It is easy to become immersed in this world and take for granted the painstaking craft that went into creating the look and feel of the film.

“Half Blood Prince” in particular is beautiful to behold with gorgeous cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel (“Amélie”) that uses defused earthy tones crucial in creating the film’s uncertain atmosphere.

The proceedings aren’t all gloom and doom; there’s plenty of low-key comedy as the three young leads deal with adolescent crushes. Grint, who was always reliable comic relief and has increasingly developed into a fine comic actor, is particularly good in these scenes.

There’s also the first sparks of romance between Harry and Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright). These scenes are handled delicately and Yates proves to be a director who is assured in both the small moments and the more elaborate set pieces such as the stunning opening destruction of London’s Millennium Bridge.

It is impossible to name check the entire cast of veteran British actors. Alan Rickman’s Professor Snape as always remains a standout. Rickman has brought an ambiguous sinister edge to the role that becomes even murkier as his true intentions seem to finally come to the fore.

Gambon, who had the unfortunate task of taking over the role of Dumbledore from the late Richard Harris, gives his best performance the fourth time out — perhaps because Dumbledore has a more active role in the plot this time around. He imbues the performance with humor, wisdom and heart.

For those who haven’t followed either the books or the films, entering the series now would probably be a confusing endeavor. That being said, this is such a visually rich and well told installment that maybe even the uninitiated should give it a try.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

M&D offers change of pace

'How the Other Half Loves' delivers big laughs

M&D Productions has a reputation of doing provocative, challenging material that can be difficult and emotionally draining to watch. This is by no means a bad thing, it very often makes for excellent theater, but some may breathe a sigh of relief that the theater company has taken a turn into farce for its latest production, “How the Other Half Loves.”

“How the Other Half Loves,” which opens at Your Theatre at Willow Common in North Conway, N.H. Thursday July 9, first appeared on Broadway in 1971 and deals with an increasing level of confusion between three sets of couples.

The play’s staging and set is quite ingenious. The households of the middle class Philipses and the upper class Fosters share the stage with half being dedicated to each home. Scenes of the two couples play out simultaneously with criss-crossing dialogue often creating amusing juxtapositions. It sounds confusing in description, but on stage works beautifully.

As the play opens it is the morning after Bob Philips (David Freedman) and Fiona Foster (Paula S. Jones) have come home from late nights and their spouses, Theresa (Janette Kondrat) and Frank (Richard Russo) are not pleased, although they show it in drastically different ways.

Theresa is a door slammer with a sharp tongue. Frank is chronically absent minded, maybe even a bit senile, so it is hard to tell if his approach with his wife is passive aggressive or just blissful aloofness.

Bob and Fiona both claim to have spent the night consoling one half of another couple, William and Mary Detweiler (Eric Jordan and Katie Gustafson), each claiming that one member of the couple is cheating on the other.

This little lie leads to layers of mix-ups and misunderstandings that pile higher and higher especially when the Detweilers are invited to dinners at both of the other couples’ homes. Although the dinners happen a night apart they take place at the same time on stage like a movie cutting between two different scenes.

Jordan and Gustafson come in about half way through the first act and inject the show with a new vigor. Up to this point the humor has been largely verbal, but Jordan and Gustafson as the nervous, socially awkward Detweilers bring a physicality to the humor that accentuates the dialogue.

Both Jordan and Gustafson show sharp comedic timing and a wide range of hilarious facial expression and body language in reaction to the unfolding events.

The rest of the cast should not be shortchanged though. Russo absolutely nails a very particular sort of scatterbrained person. The way he attempts to recount a story and gets hung up on the names of people rings all too true. Russo’s spot-on line delivery recalls Alan Alda or Woody Allen.

Kondrat is great at fuming. When she catches Freedman in a lie her anger is palpable, but it is always played for laughs and never turns sour. Her drunken serenading of the Detweilers is one of the show’s bigger laughs.

Freedman’s Bob is probably the least likable character. There are some nasty misogynistic notes to the character that Freedman is able to dull some so he isn’t a completely unsavory person.

The show is structured in such a way that the show continues to build. Grins become broad smiles then give way to chuckles and conclude with guffaws. This holds most true of the dinner scenes in which the comedic energy builds to a fever pitch.

English playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s script is approaching 40 years in age, but it still feels fresh and only lines referencing a percolator and getting together for cocktails show any signs of dating.

Even though the show borders on madcap, this isn’t just a bunch of silliness and barbed one-liners. Ayckbourn gets in some truths about relationships that with a switch of tone could be quite painful. Instead “How the Other Half Loves” reminds that life is a tragedy until you laugh at it.

For more information visit or call 662-7591.

Depp shines as Dillinger

Coming out of “Public Enemies,” the one thing that is abundantly clear is that Johnny Depp is a master at his craft. It is unlikely at this point in his career anyone doubts that, but his talent still astounds.

Depp stars as depression-era bank robber John Dillinger in director Michael Mann’s account of the gangster’s final year. Though the title implies that the film is about all the numerous high-profile gangsters of the era, this is very much Dillinger’s story. Other familiar names such as Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson make what feel like guest appearances.

Mann as a director has been fascinated by criminals and cops in films such as “Manhunter,” “Heat” and “Collateral.” He has also shown a keen eye for period detail in “Last of the Mohicans.” Both of these qualities come together nicely in making an engaging gangster movie.

Instead of focusing on Dillinger’s glory days, Mann focuses on his final days leading up to his death outside a movie. Although more of a drama than an action flick, Mann stages some exciting gun battles that should keep action fans pleased.

Dillinger is being actively pursued by the fledging FBI led by J. Edgar Hoover (well portrayed by Billy Crudup) with agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) heading up the investigation.

“Public Enemies” was based on a book of the same name subtitled “America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34.” Mann’s films shows some of the early behind-the-scenes activities of what would become the FBI, but again this film is most interested in Dillinger. He is the foreground — everything else is merely the background.

In many respects, “Public Enemies” is a love story between Dillinger and Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), the coat-check girl he instantly falls for.

Cotillard is not a household name in spite of the fact that she won an Oscar for Best Actress in 2008. Having missed her award-winning performance as Edith Piaf in “La vie en rose” this was my first time seeing her and she is nothing short of amazing. It is hard to take your eyes off of her.

The world is full of beautiful actresses, but most, such as “Transformers” babe Megan Fox, are all surface. Cotillard’s beauty runs deeper. She has that allusive movie star quality. Even though her role is standard love interest stuff, she is able to give the role vibrant life and give the film its heart.

Depp plays such quirky and offbeat characters that it is easy to forget the sheer wattage of his star power, but here there is no question of that. He is magnetically charismatic as Dillinger.

Depp makes it easy to see how Dillinger was able to become a Robin Hood-like figure to the pubic. Dillinger was savvy about how the public perceived him because he knew he had to live amongst them and if they liked him they’d be less likely to rat on him.

The rest of the film is populated by familiar faces all giving solid performances, but rarely being given enough time to develop them. Keep an eye out for Lili Taylor, Stephen Dorff, Giovanni Ribisi, Leelee Sobieski, Rory Cochrane and others.

Bale does good work, but isn’t developed into a full character. Depp and Bale share one scene of confrontation. It is short, but effective.

Some critics have complained that the film offers no insight into Dillinger. The great gangster movies of the 1930s and 1940s didn’t feel the need to get into their gangsters heads, so why is it necessary now?

I don’t need some dime-store psychology involving a flashback of Dillinger getting beaten by his father, and chances are that’s the sort of thing we’d get. Would the film be richer and better for having gotten into Dillinger’s head? Perhaps, but it isn’t a bad film because it doesn’t.

Others have ragged on Mann’s choice to shoot the movie on hand-held high-definition digital video and state that the shaky camera work could make people queasy. Ty Burr of The Boston Globe went as far as to claim that the film looks as if it were shot like an episode of “Cops” or a bar mitzvah video. It is a clever line, but hardly accurate.

There are plenty of films shot on hand-held camera — the “Bourne” movies come to mind — that could make some nauseous, but “Public Enemies” is definitely not one of them. The digital video is only noticeable in low-light night scenes. This very much looks like a full-fledged, well-shot film, not the amateur hour Burr’s comment implies.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

'Transformers' sequel is an overlong headache

If you went to camp as a kid, you might remember a song that went like this: “You can’t ride in my little red wagon, the axle's broken and the wheels are sagging. Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.” That basically sums up the experience of seeing “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Each scene is a little bit louder and a little bit worse.

The sequel to 2007’s “Transformers” made $200 million in just five days in the United States and has already made nearly half a billion dollars worldwide. By Hollywood’s standards that makes the movie a roaring success, but money made and quality of a film is not always an equal mathematic equation.

Obviously with a movie about warring robots that can shape shift into anything mechanical, the expectations aren’t for something deep, thought provoking and meaningful. This is meant to be mindless entertainment, and that’s fine, but the biggest problem with “Revenge of the Fallen” is it just doesn’t know when to quit.

Director Michael Bay is known to be a filmmaker of excess who likes to blow stuff up real good. His films are populated by women who look like supermodels and are photographed as such. For 14-year-old boys, he is probably the best director ever. If you can connect with that inner child, it can be fun to a point, but there’s definitely too much of a good thing including Megan Fox running in slow motion.

Both “Transformers” films are produced by Steven Spielberg, and the first time around it seemed like he was a steadying hand to Bay’s more excessive impulses. Some moments of grace were even allowed to slip in. That’s not the case this time. Perhaps Spielberg was off planning how to further ruin the “Indiana Jones” franchise.

The first “Transformers” was a chaotic noisemaker too, but it entertained, almost in spite of itself. It had novelty going for it. There was a thrill and a bit of awe in watching cars, planes and trucks turn into giant talking robots. Sure, it was silly, but it seemed to be aware of that fact.

The second time around, the tone is far too serious. There is some goofiness supplied by the invaluable John Turturro returning as Agent Simmons. He always has a quirky line reading or an offbeat reaction that cuts through the bombastic noise and self important tone.

Shia LaBeouf is still an amicable lead as the movie’s human hero, Sam Witwicky, and there are some amusing scenes early on with Sam dealing with his parents’ reactions to him leaving for college. Fox as Sam’s girlfriend definitely has a screen presence, but all Bay requires of her is to look hot.

As the movie progresses, moments of human interaction become fewer and fewer — but then, you aren’t paying for human drama. We are paying to see robots smash each other to bits.

A little of the crunching robot battles goes a long way. The fight scenes that take over the last 30 minutes and that are spread out through the rest of the running time are messy and confusing.

To make matters worse, the film can’t even follow its own rules when it is revealed that there is a transformer that can take human form. The scenes play like a particularly bad “Terminator” knock-off.

At two and a half hours, the latest “Transformers” is only a few minutes longer than its predecessor, but it feels much longer. It is as if Bay has discovered how to slow the passage of the time. If only we can apply this technology to humanity we could add years to our lives, or at least the hours Bay stole away from us.

From screen to stage

'High School Musical' at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse

“High School Musical,” which will be at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse through July 12, is what you call critic proof. No matter what I say, the core audience — preteen and teen girls — is going to see it even if they have to drag their parents along with them.

The Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company is putting this on for one reason and one reason only: money. And who can blame them? In this economy, they need a surefire hit — and “High School Musical” is it.

The film that inspired the stage version was the most viewed Disney Channel original movie at the time of its release in 2006. The film’s soundtrack was the highest selling album of that year. There have been two sequels, the last of which was released theatrically and went onto gross more than $250 million worldwide. If opening night at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse is any indication, the “High School Musical” money train is still chugging along.

“High School Musical” is basically a reworking of “Grease” with two high schoolers from opposite cliques never expecting to see each other again after meeting over a break only to find the girl has transferred to the boy’s school. In this case the cliques are the jocks and the brainiacs.

Troy (Matt Kacergis) and Gabrielle (Noellia Hernandez) shake the foundation of the school by breaking away from their respective cliques to try out for the high school musical, a rewrite of “Romeo and Juliet” with a happy ending. I laughed at that line, but apparently it wasn’t a joke and “High School Musical” is essentially just that, a modern update of “Romeo and Juliet” with none of the tragedy, plenty of music and everyone learning to get along.

Before proceeding with a critique of the content, I should make it absolutely clear that I am not faulting director Clay James' production, which was well choreographed, designed and performed by a talented cast that rises above the slight material and gives vibrant performances. Fans of the movie will not be let down.

Leads Kacergis and Hernandez, stepping into the roles played by Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, are appealing and have powerhouse vocals that genuinely impress. There is some nice comedic work put in by Alison Rose Munn as the drama teacher; Alex Lafrance as the student who does the school announcements; and Michael Luongo as the put-upon brother of Sharpay, the show’s villain. Their quirky performances kept me most interested.

“High School Musical” is inoffensive, harmless fluff that spoon feeds the audience its message to be who you truly are. The message is probably what appeals to young viewers and it is a good message, but does it have to be delivered in such an obvious, formulaic way? Come on, the writers couldn’t even give the show a proper name.

The writing doesn't have any edge, but there is one line delivered by Sharpay (Merissa Czyz) that surprised me. It was an insult that went like this: “I’d rather suck the snot out of a dog’s nose until his skull caved in.” I wanted more dialogue with that sort of bite. Even though the target audience likes it just fine the way it is, they deserve better.

But I’m clearly not the target demographic for this. The preteen and teen girls in the audience seemed to love it. During intermission they could be found at the bulletin board with the cast headshots debating who the cutest actors were.

Even for all my complaining, seeing musicals live is always more dynamic than seeing them on TV. A well performed live performance of even so-so material is almost always more compelling than a filmed version, and this is certainly well performed. And maybe, just maybe, some “High School Musical” fans will get hooked to live theater in general. One can dream.

For more information visit