Friday, April 30, 2010

'North Face' is gripping

“North Face” is an extraordinary recreation of a 1936 attempt to climb the North Face of Eiger, a peak in the Alps that is so steep and dangerous that it is nicknamed the death wall.

For those with an aversion to foreign language films, yes, this is a German film and is subtitled, but the film is worth the effort. The hiking footage in the film is amazingly authentic and is an absolute must-see for hiking enthusiasts.

The film centers on Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas), hiking partners who are prodded along by Luise (Johanna Wokalek), a childhood friend, turned struggling photojournalist, to attempt the deadly hike. The first team to make the ascent is promised fame and the title of Olympic hero.

Toni, the more practical of the pair wants nothing to do with the death wall, but Andi is hungry for the notoriety. Out of loyalty to his friend and to keep him safe, Toni agrees to the ascension.

A competing Austrian hiking team (Georg Friedrich and Simon Schwarz) follows Toni and Andy's newly created route. When things become increasingly perilous the two teams join forces. It is the Austrian team that the screenplay by Christoph Silber and director Philipp Stölzl blames for events turning tragic.

Down below Luise he is staying in a posh hotel with a reporter (Ulrich Tukur) who has taken the young photographer under his wing. The presence of this older man is upsetting to Toni, who loves Luise. This material is delicately played. The reporter keeps the relationship largely professional and it is relief that the film doesn't attempt to force a love triangle subplot. Instead, Luise's struggle is where her loyalty lies: with her friends or her job.

The film doesn't ignore the presence of the Nazi party, which want to use the conquering of Eiger as a metaphor for their strength and to turn Toni and Andi into heroes. It is good that film addresses this, but once on the mountain that's where the film's focus stays.

Director Stölzl uses an impressive mix of real footage with special effects. The illusion is completely seamless. It is very clear they are on that mountain in several scenes, but upon research I discovered other scenes were done in a studio setting. Spotting which scenes are on location and which aren't is just about impossible.

The hiking scenes, especially as the elements begin to turn on our heroes, are taut, suspenseful and gripping. The footage of Eiger is beautiful to behold, but also ominous. Eiger means ogre and the mountain, often filmed surrounded by foreboding clouds, does indeed look monstrous.

As with all films that claim to be based on a true story, some liberties are taken with the facts and, as one character notes, it is impossible to know entirely what happened up there. But, based upon what information is available, the film seems to be mostly accurate.

The acting throughout is strong, with Fürmann as Toni making the strongest impression. He has moments of tenderness with Wokalek, who doesn't play a typical passive love interest. Fürmann and Lukas portray a clear sense of friendship between Toni and Andi. We care about all the players when things start to go south.

“North Face” is not a feel good film, but it is an enthralling one. This is the kind of film you watch and wonder: how did they do that?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

More than just a mime

Silent actor Rajmund Klechot comes to Your Theatre

For a silent actor, Rajmund Klechot sure has a lot to say.

The 70-year-old polish born performer with a thick accent will eagerly discusses his craft with great passion and enthusiasm. Even while just sitting and talking he is performing, often acting out the words as he is saying them. But sometimes his seat is too confining.

“After one and a half hour being on the stage I am exhausted,” Klechot said leaping from his stool. “I cannot even speak because I am in my vision. I have to have a break then I can come back and speak logically with someone. Because when I perform you are sitting here, I am looking through you, not looking at you.”

M&D Production is bringing Klechot to their Your Theatre stage in North Conway, N.H. to perform his “Journey of Life” May 1, 2, 8 and 9. The performance is a silent one-man show in four vignettes. Whatever expectations that description may create, the actual experience is likely to be quite unexpected, according to Klechot's manager Ben Mayerson.

“Every age, you just scan the audience, whether you're talking 80 years old or 4 years old, they are all sitting there with their mouths hanging open,” said Mayerson, who came out of retirement to manage Klechot. “The comments afterward are, 'I didn't see that coming. I had no idea that that's what this is about. This is not mime.' And of course immediately he's, it is not mime, it is silent acting. Don't you dare call this mime because it is such a different art form.”

So, then what is the difference between mime and silent acting? To understand the distinction, Klechot first goes to the word that mime is shortened from: pantomime.
“Generally, they [people] think pantomime is silent acting, it is not,” Klechot said. “It is a combination of two different words: pan and mimus. Pan is everything and mimus is to imitate, so in other words I imitate everything.”

Klechot furthers the distinction by noting that pantomime, unlike mime, is not necessarily silent.

“Mime is even more narrow,” Klechot said. “Mime is more clownish. I'll say their vocabulary is very limited. Pantomime, you can speak, you can make gesture, you can use symbolic things, metaphoric things, you can even use music and Et cetera.”

Kletchot has a similar skill set to that of a mime, but his performance goes deeper and has more substance. In discussing his craft, he often uses the late mime Marcel Marceau, his good friend of 40 years, as a point of reference and to further clarify the difference between mime and silent acting.

“Marcel Marceau is a completely different technique, a completely different philosophy, completely different acting,” Kletchot said. “He is more in clouds. I am more in Earth inserting my roots here. When I imitate things it is almost like naturalistic things, but of course it is not. But it is more appealing I would say and more understood.”

Kletchot is also quick to note that his performances are not just one persona, but a series of different characters.

“Marcel Marceau is Bip [the Clown], the same as Charlie Chaplin was The Tramp in different situations,” Kletchot said. “I create different personalities. Every time I come on stage it is a different person, a different characterization, different philosophy of life, different acting, even the movement doesn't repeat, if repeated [it is] in a different form.”

Kletchot learned his craft at a conservatory in Poland. After 10 hard years of work he earned his diploma in silent acting and joined the award-winning Theatre Pantomima. After working with this large group for 15 years he co-founded the five-person ensemble Warsaw Mime Theatre. With the change in size of the company, so changed the size of the stage.

“You have big stages, big theaters as well as chamber stages and chamber theaters and some how silent acting appeals more with limited audiences instead of huge audiences
because you can't amplify your voice,” Kletchot said.

Once again to emphasize his point he uses Marcel Marceau.

“I saw him [Marcel Marceau], on a huge stage,” Kletchot said. “It was probably 3,500 seats and the stage was big. Instead of putting the light on him, limited and simple and the rest black, they completely put light on the whole stage. He was tiny. He lost so many expressions. Therefore you need to be very careful where you are performing, but of course this is money.”

While touring with Warsaw Mime Theater in the United States in the 1970s he met his future wife. This would bring him to America where in addition to performance and direction he began teaching at several universities including the Yale School of Drama.

Perhaps his most successful achievement as a teacher was at Sinclair Community College where he put together a show with his students that made it all the way to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

“He brought them up to the level of being professional and yet none of them had background or training in theater,” Mayerson said. “These were teenagers who came to a community college and yet he was able to mold this production into the highest level of polished performance in a matter of months.”

Although Mayerson never got to see this performance live, he did see a tape of the show.

“I'll never forget we were sitting in his den or something and he turned off the VCR and said, 'Well what do you think?' and I said 'Ah crap, you are really good' and he said, 'Of course I am.'”

Following his wife's death, Kletchot took a break from performance because he could no longer “put everything together,” but you cannot keep a good artist down for too long. Soon the stage was calling to him again.

“Life has limitations and I still have a lot of things to do and to express a lot of things, to create a lot of things,” Kletchot said. “And this is the thing, maybe 10 or 15 years from now I can teach, I can talk, I can write a book.”

But that time has not yet come. As long as he is physically able, Kletchot will continue to perform because it is his primary means of expression and there are still things to be said. Even when a single word is never spoken.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fey and Carell are an enjoyable 'date'

Between “The Office” and “30 Rock,” Steve Carell and Tina Fey have perhaps the funniest and smartest hour of comedy on TV. When you can get these two in the comfort of your own home, is it worth going to a movie theater to see their new film “Date Night?” While you could probably wait for DVD, this is a worthy night out. Unless there is an “Office” and “30 Rock” crossover episode, this may be only time to see these comedy titans together.

"Date Night” is an action comedy about the Fosters, a married couple whose life is stagnating in suburbia. In an attempt to add some excitement into their lives they go on a date in New York City, but get more than they bargained for when they steal a reservation at a expensive restaurant. Before you can say “Check please” they are being chased by crooked cops (Jimmi Simpson and Common), a mobster (Ray Liotta) and a corrupt district attorney (William Fichtner).

This is familiar territory. The plot, which revolves around the Fosters trying to find a stolen flash drive, is negligible. All the parts fit together and make sense, but ultimately the why behind everything that is happening doesn't really matter. It is merely an excuse to have Carell and Fey banter and wisecrack through car chases and gun fights.

Car chases, especially in action comedies, have become routine and rarely thrill simply because it has all been done before. Deja vu is deadly for a film. So, “Date Night” deserves immense credit for coming up with a gimmick for its big chase center piece that is unique and funny. You haven't quite seen anything like it.

The stars, though, are what make this film work. Their comic timing and line delivery is impeccable. A gag reel at the end of the film shows that much of their dialogue was improvised. They are so good at this sort of fast-paced repartee that even when they are riffing it feels natural and unforced.

Carell and Fey are given several people to play off of. Mark Walhberg is very funny as a perpetually shirtless high-tech security agent that takes pity on the Fosters. Likewise, James Franco and Mila Kunis get big laughs as the trashy second-rate criminals whose reservation the Fosters stole.

Kunis is a fine comic actress who has a tendency of popping up in action movies like “Book of Eli” that don't utilize her talents. Her one five-minute scene with Franco is a highlight of the film. The four actors bounce off each other with such ease. You want more screen time with them, but maybe director Shawn Levy has it right to not have too much of a good thing.

Surprisingly enough, the film does actually have some dramatic tension and tender moments. These moments aren't sustained for long, but they don't need to be in an action comedy like this. The opening scenes do a nice job of establishing how Carell and Fey's marriage has fallen into a grind, but at the same time we are given glimpses of their chemistry. This is key to giving their adventure some weight.

Naturally, by the end of the night they find that missing spark and learn to trust each other. Beyond being funny, Carell and Fey actually make the relationship credible and make the audience care.

It is safe to say that without its stars this film would be just an average genre film. Carell and Fey make a great team, and, thanks to the supporting work of Wahlberg, Franco and Kunis, make “Date Night” a quite enjoyable date movie.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Head back to the 1980s with John Cusack

John Cusack is currently starring in “Hot Tub Time Machine,” which, as you may have guessed, is a political thriller that takes the Bush administration to task. No wait, that was “Green Zone.” “Hot Tub Time Machine” sends three 40-something guys back to their youthful heydays.

I saw the film last weekend and it is a lot of fun, but, as of today, it is no longer playing in the Mount Washington Valley. Instead of gushing about a film you can no longer see, let me direct you to some of Cusack's back catalog.

“Hot Tub Time Machine,” which was produced by Cusack's production company and directed by his friend and frequent collaborator Steve Pink, is basically a throwback to the teen romantic comedies that helped make Cusack a star in the 1980s.

The early 1980s began with a few small roles for Cusack, most memorably in “Sixteen Candles,” before he graduated to lead roles. By 1986, the year that “Hot Tub Time Machine” sends him back to, Cusack starred in three teen comedies, co-starred in the Disney adventure film “The Journey of Natty Gann” and had a cameo as the dead brother in “Stand By Me.”

His first starring role was in 1985's “The Sure Thing,” a title that makes it seem like just another of the many “Porky's” knock-offs that were prevalent in the early 1980s. The film, director Rob Reiner's follow up to his smashing directorial debut, “This is Spinal Tap,” is better than its title.

While the film has the requisite T and A, it isn't about them. It is essentially a reworking of 1934's “It Happened One Night,” generally regarded as the template for all romantic comedies to follow. Two college students (Cusack and Daphne Zuniga) who hate each other reluctantly hit the road together for California. He has been promised a sure thing. She has a fiance waiting for her. Naturally, their hatred melts away to love. It is low-key, sweet and a good early showcase of Cusack easygoing charm.

Later in 1985, Cusack starred in “Better Off Dead,” the first of two collaborations with writer/director Savage Steve Holland. Cusack's Lane Meyers goes suicidal after he's dumped by his girlfriend in perhaps the goofiest, most surreal of all the 1980s teen comedies. There's even a sequence with claymation hamburgers rocking out to Van Halen's “Everybody Wants Some.”

“Better Off Dead,” like “The Sure Thing,” isn't original in its plotting. It is the weirdness that permeates throughout the film that makes it special. The same quirky sensibility couldn't quite be replicated when Cusack and Holland worked together again for 1986's “One Crazy Summer.”

This time Cusack played an aspiring cartoonist who is trying to find love in Nantucket. The best thing about “One Crazy Summer” is that there are several animated sequences that are very funny. In a few scenes, much to Cusack's frustration, his cartoons begin talking back to him and they aren't particularly kind. The film is also noteworthy for being one of Demi Moore's first big roles.

By the end of the decade, Cusack was the go-to guy for this kind of teen/20-something romance. He would finish out the 1980s with the best of the bunch, “Say Anything,” a film about a nice, but average guy who against the odds wins the heart of the valedictorian. It is an honest, smart and funny look at love.

All of these films helped established what would become Cusack's career persona. He's almost always a good guy looking for love. He usually has a cynical, smart-alecky edge that only barely masks his sincerity.

Cusack isn't a chameleon-like actor who is different in every movie. Many people assume that those are the only truly great actors, but that isn't necessarily true. Cusack hits similar notes in all his films, but watching him find new riffs and variations is the appeal. Cusack is an actor in the same mold as a Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart in that he has a certain act that he repeats time and time again, but that's why you go to his films.

So, I say hop into your own time machine and have yourself a Cusack marathon. It'll make the world a better place.

Friday, April 09, 2010

A rather mild 'clash'

“Clash of the Titans,” at this point a somewhat obscure fantasy adventure from 1981, is the latest film to get the remake treatment. The excuse for the existence of this version seems to be that now the film can be bigger, louder and have flashier special effects. As far as these things go, it is passable entertainment.

Like the original “Clash of the Titans,” this plays loose with Greek mythology with man declaring war against the Gods and recruiting the demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington) to aid in their battle. A bitter Zeus (Liam Neeson) prodded by his brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) threatens to release the terrible beast the kraken unless a human princess is sacrificed. Perseus has a week to discover a way to beat the kraken and save the girl.

While the first “Clash of the Titans” was hardly a masterpiece it had a degree of charm and the stop-motion animation from effects master Ray Harryhausen contained a certain magic. The computer-generated effects in the new version create very little awe or wonder. This stands out particularly in the Medusa sequence, in which the creature seems more fake and cartoonish than the completely animated version from nearly 20 years earlier.

Other times though the effects are quite good. A battle with a group of giant Scorpions does generate some excitement and in this case the visuals seem complete. The kraken's appearance at the end of film is also impressive.

The original also had a better sense of the Gods interacting, but in the new version the only Gods that appear to matter are Zeus and Hades. Neeson and Fiennes could play these roles in their sleep and you get the distinct impression that their work is simply for the paycheck. Fiennes essentially plays Hades exactly the same way he plays Voldemort from the “Harry Potter” series. Even not on their A-game, Neeson and Fiennes bring a bit of credibility to a pretty silly enterprise.

Worthington, who this time last year was a no-name, became a star last year based on his work in “Terminator Salvation” and “Avatar.” He seems to be the go to guy for sci-fi or fantasy adventure right now. His performance goes a long way toward keeping the audience's interest. He has an earnestness that transcends the material.

Other actors help to keep things interesting as well. Mads Mikkelsen (the villain in “Casino Royale”) brings an interesting intensity as one of Perseus' fellow adventurers. Gemma Arterton as the immortal Lo makes for a nice love interest for Perseus. Arterton and Worthington have a training sequence that is fun and sexy.

Overall, it is mildly entertaining. It offers a few chuckles and some decent thrills, but it doesn't capture that elusive “it” factor that makes it something special and memorable. You definitely won't be shouting its praises from Mount Olympus.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

M&D’s new show is un’doubt’edly good

M&D Productions takes on John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Doubt: A Parable” in their latest production, which opens tonight at Your Theatre at Willow Common in North Conway, N.H.

Although the script never directly mentions the words pedophile or sexual abuse, “Doubt” addresses those issues in regards to a priest working at Catholic school in New York City in the 1960s. It would be easy to dismiss the subject matter as obvious given the headlines that have been plaguing newspapers in recent years, but Shanley's treatment of the material is not salacious or exploitive.

The play sets up a battle of wills between Sister Aloysius (Julianna Brosnan) and
Father Flynn (Bill Knolla). Flynn has a protective relationship with Donald, the first and only black student at the school. When Sister James (Natasha Repass) sees something that could be construed as suspicious behavior it sets Sister Aloysius on a mission to remove Father Flynn. Although she has no evidence, she is absolutely certain of his guilt.

Father Flynn's guilt or innocence is part of a larger ideological struggle. Sister Aloysius is a firm believer in strict authority and emotional distance from the students and the parish. Father Flynn believes in compassion and love and that the church should he seen as part of people's families. There is an implication that this difference in opinion is Sister Aloysius' true motivation.

Thanks to the 2008 film adaptation starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, “Doubt” should be familiar to a lot of people in the audience, but while the film is an excellent and well-acted point of reference, it isn't so iconic as to be distracting. The cast of M&D's production, under the direction of Ken
Martin, more than hold their own against the formidable cast of the film.

What struck me more in M&D's production than in the film is how Sister James is torn apart by being caught in the middle of a struggle between Sister Aloysius' coldness and Father Flynn's warmth. This secondary philosophical battle is in a way just as important as the primary conflict.

Sister James is innocent and sweet with a passion for teaching. Sister Aloysius wants to crush all those aspects of Sister James’ personality and shape the young nun to be more like her. It leaves Sister James disturbed and literally restless. Repass plays the role on a perpetual verge of tears and her angst and internal conflict is palpable. You just want to give her a hug and tell her everything is going to be OK.

Brosnan as Sister Aloysius perfectly captures the steely rigidness of the character and doesn't make her a particularly likable or sympathetic character. Shanley's script lives in a gray area, there is no villain. It may seem as if Sister Aloysius is a bullying antagonist, but if she's right doesn't the villain become Father Flynn? The doubt that shrouds the whole show makes everything less cut and dry and more realistic.

We want to believe Father Flynn because of his compassion and genuineness. As portrayed by Knolla he is amicable and the kind of priest who could be your friend. Knolla is believable and effective when giving his sermons. The scenes of conflict between Knolla and Brosnan are exceptionally acted.

The only other cast member is Pa'Mela Ramsay as the mother of the boy in question. She only has one scene, but it is profoundly powerful. Sister Aloysius attempts to manipulate the mother for her own cause, but is surprised by the reaction she receives.

This is a potent and compelling show that raises issues and explores them in a way that doesn't offer clear answers. It is the kind of theater that creates lively discussion after the show, which is always a good sign.

For more information visit For reservations call 662-7591.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Rebmann does 'Patsy'

CONWAY/FRYEBURG — Arts In Motion is presenting “Always…Patsy Cline” as this year's annual scholarship fund-raiser for students at Kennett High School and Fryeburg Academy.

The show, a unique musical that is more of a concert with scenes scattered throughout than a traditional musical, is being performed at Loynd Auditorium at Kennett High School on April 9-10 and at the Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center at Fryeburg Academy on Friday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m.

“Playing music in a musical is different than in a regular club band but this show has a good mix of both,” Mary Bastoni-Rebmann, the show's director and star, said. “The musicians have done a great job of easing into this process and bringing a genuine live club band sound to the show.”

Bastoni-Rebmann as Patsy Cline and is backed by a six-piece band of some of the valley's most familiar and best musicians including Chuck O’Connor on pedal steel guitar, John Whitney on keyboard, Seth Austin on fiddle, Tom Rebmann on electric guitar, Moe Baillergeon on bass and Jill Ohlson on drums.

“Mary has assembled an outstanding group of musicians for this project who are as familial and collegial as they are talented,” O'Connor said. “Mary is an outstanding vocalist and has provided the kind of leadership and direction that allows for this diverse group of artists to coalesce as if having worked together for years.”

Cline's story is told from the perspective of her friend and manager Louise played by Carrie Engfer. The plotting is relatively loose and is a showcase for the music, which brings together 30 songs including “Sweet Dreams,” Walkin’After Midnight,” “I Fall To Pieces” and “Crazy.”

“We're trying to project that this is more about the music than it is about Patsy's life,” Ohlson said. “Patsy's life kind of makes the music come about. The emphasis is mostly on the music.”
Even with the focus on the music, unlike a lot of shows that attempt to string together hits from one particular artist, the dramatic material actually works and has humor and substance.

“A little bit of it tries to key in on her personal life and what it was like to be her and her relationship to Louise,” Whitney said.
The band has been listening to original Cline recordings as well as the cast recording of “Always... Patsy Cline.” Band members are attempting to get as close as possible to the way the songs were originally performed.

“The production is pretty close to how Patsy was singing the material,” Whitney said. “Some of the instrumentation has changed. In some instances someone is playing a lap steel guitar and we're playing a pedal steel guitar, so it sounds a little bit different, but the intent is still the same.”

Bastoni-Rebmann has been working hard on capturing the essence of Cline's distinct vocal style.

“As a vocalist and voice teacher I understand the vocal mechanics of many styles of singing,” Bastoni-Rebmann said. “I have studied Patsy’s vocal style closely and have learned to incorporate her country nuances. Her pure and rich alto sound mixed with vocal power is what made her voice a country legend.”

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at or at the door.