Friday, July 30, 2010
The stage version moves the action from Sheffield, England to Buffalo, N.Y., but the switch is merely cosmetic and the story is faithful to the film. When the local steel plant closes, six unemployed guys decide to take a cue for some Chippendales that came to town and do a strip show. They intend to compensate for not being the fittest, most talented bunch by going all the way — aka, the full monty.
Like the film, the stage version is very funny, but has a dramatic underbelly. Jerry (Nathaniel Shaw), the ring leader of the enterprise, needs the money for child support or he'll lose the rights to see his son Nathan (Liam Van Rossum). Dave (Andrew Lipman) is insecure about his weight and has become distant from his wife. Harold (Grant Golson) is afraid to tell his wife he has been laid off as she continues to live well beyond their means. There are serious things at stake, which makes the final strip have weight and significance.
The show is well cast from top to bottom. Shaw develops a believable and tender father-son relationship with Rossum. Lipman has some great one-liners and facial expressions to the antics around him, but also gets across his character's pain about his weight. Patrick Roberts as the most intellectually challenged of the group is funny as he repeatedly attempts to run up a wall like Donald O'Connor did in “Singin' in the Rain.”
Speaking of “Singin' in the Rain,” as was true with her work in the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company's recent production of that show, Tara Tagliaferro is a scene stealer as Jeanette, a showbiz relic who decides to help the boys. Tagliaferro has some of the show's best lines, and she delivers them just right.
The show has an original score, so those expecting to hear some of the songs that appeared in the film like “Hot Stuff,” “You Sexy Thing” and “You Can Leave Your Hat On” will be disappointed. The score is passable with a couple bright numbers and a lot of unmemorable filler.
The show starts strongly with “Scrap,” a number set at a union meeting that captures the anger and frustration of being laid off with a dark sense of humor. The best song in the show is “Big Ass Rock,” a parody of Broadway ballads in which Jerry and Dave sing about how they'd gladly help Malcolm (Joe Byrne) commit suicide because they are such good friends.
The other major highlight is “Big Black Man” in which, despite his age, an older man name nicknamed Horse (Evan Smith) showcases his amazing dance moves during an audition. Smith's energy during this number is impressive.
“Scrap” and “Big Ass Rock” represent the tone the show should've taken. Both songs are knowing of Broadway formula and take a slightly satiric approach. They have a cynical bite. Unfortunately, too many of the songs are straightforward ballads. The problem with these ballads is that the dramatic scenes work on their own. All the ballads do is tell us how we are already feeling.
The second act gets weighed down with these cliché-laden songs. These songs are delivered sincerely, though, with a lot of emotion that compensates a lot for the lyrical flatness. Byrne is particularly affecting on “You Walk With Me.”
The show ends, naturally, with the big strip show and the song “Let it Go.” And, yes, although the audience only sees some bare bottoms, the men do take it all off. This final number is a lot of fun and is a worthy payoff to the rest of the show.
Tickets are $32 and may be reserved at the box office at 356-5776, which is open daily from 11 a.m., or online at www.mwvtheatre.org.
“Salt” yearns for the world of the 1980s and early 1990s where it was clear who the bad guys were: Russia. Although the film takes itself seriously, this is not a serious film. It is an efficient one, though, and in the green era that has to count for something.
The film opens where a lot of films would end with Angelina Jolie's Evelyn Salt being tortured in North Korea only to be rescued in a prisoner exchange thanks to the efforts of her future husband (August Diehl).
Jump ahead a couple years and Salt is called into interrogate a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski). In a lengthy bit of exposition, the defector explains a program in which Russia trained children to be spies that they then planted in the United States to wait for the arrival of Day X in which Russia would rise to power again. Salt is then informed she was part of this program and will kill the Russian president.
The rest of the of film is an extended chase where we discover that Salt has abilities that would put Jason Bourne and James Bond to shame. Like Matt Damon in the “Bourne” movies, once Jolie enters action mode she becomes a woman of few words.
When she goes on the run her colleagues are left to question her allegiances. Her friend and fellow CIA agent Liev Schreiber defends her to FBI man Chiwetel Ejiofor. Then Salt's actions even make Schreiber turn on her.
The screenplay by Kurt Wimmer does a good job of making it unclear whose side she is on. For a good part of the running time we aren't even sure what Salt is up to and the film doesn't tell us. Wimmer and director Phillip Noyce respect the audience's intelligence enough to let us figure it out on our own.
Back in the 1990s, Noyce directed two of the film versions of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels, “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger,” so as a filmmaker he is on familiar territory. Noyce chooses practical effects and real stunt work over computer generated and enhanced effects. It is nice to see car chases with actual cars and people. A particularly thrilling chase involves Jolie jumping along the tops of trucks along a busy highway.
Jolie continues to prove herself to be an apt and believable action hero. Her career has been balancing big budget action films with films that show off her serious acting chops. She always seems most comfortable on camera in films like “Salt” perhaps because it is clear she has so much fun playing with guns and kicking butt.
Schreiber and Ejiofor are hardly household names, but will be recognized by audience. They are actor that fall into the oh-that-guy category. Both are two of the most reliable actors working today. Their presence in the film helps immensely in grounding the film in reality even when plot developments border on absurd.
This isn't a great film, but it is an enjoyable one while it is on the screen. My only problem is that the end is just a shameless plug for the inevitable sequel. I understand Hollywood is constantly looking for the next franchise, but “Salt” doesn't even try to disguise the fact that that's what it is doing.
Friday, July 23, 2010
In “Inception,” "The Dark Knight" director continues to explore the ideas of memory that he touched upon in “Memento.” In that film, a man with short-term memory loss was stuck with only memories of his past which he worked and reworked until it was unclear what was real. Now Nolan mixes memories with dreams and further blurs what constitutes reality.
The premise is that a group of people have the ability to enter people's dreams. This concept isn't new and has been used in such films as “Dreamscape” and “The Cell,” but what is original is where Nolan goes with it.
Leonard DiCaprio stars as Cobb, the leader of a team that not only enters other people's dreams but creates them and then uses these dream worlds to steal ideas. DiCaprio's team is hired by a business tycoon (Ken Watanabe) to take it a step further and plant an idea into the mind of a competitor's son (Cillian Murphy) that would clear the playing fielding. The problem is the idea will only stick if the person believes he originated it.
This is essentially a heist film and follows a lot of the same formula of caper movies like “The Sting,” “The Italian Job” or “Ocean's 11.” Early scenes focus on gathering and recruiting the team together. Then there is the planning of the job and ultimately the execution of the plan.
Things are complicated by Mol (Marion Cotillard), Cobb's deceased wife who he desperately keeps alive in memories and dream. She won't stay put often encroaching like a reoccurring nightmare on the various dreamscapes DiCaprio and his team have created.
Cotillard and DiCaprio's backstory and how it feeds into the main plot provide the emotional base for a film that would otherwise be all artifice. For some, the film will still be about nothing more than its spectacle and the execution of its clever ideas. The film is an exceptionally well made machine and if it works on you than you'll be engrossed, but if it doesn't you'll just see and admire the mechanism.
As is often the case with heist films, it is really only the lead character, in this case, DiCaprio's Cobb, who is fully fleshed out and given a more complete character. The rest of cast, with the exception of Cotillard, are merely part of the team and serve their purposes in getting the job done.
Each character is given a trait or two to play and that is it in terms of development. The team is comprised of solid actors including Joesph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao. These actors brings personality and flavor to their characters even if they only represent different archetypes.
This description is not just of this film, but of the genre as a whole and isn't meant as a criticism per se. Nolan seems aware of the fact that he is working within a template, but he merely uses that as a foundation on which to build upon.
For example, there are different levels of dreams which are achieved by creating dreams within dreams. Each level represents a different passage of dream time to real time. This is working on the idea that when we dream it can feel like hours, but it is really only minutes. On the deepest level, dream time can last for decades.
The dream worlds aren't flights of fancy, but rather based in reality because while dreams can be surreal and abstract, more often than not they are usually set within variations of our existence. Details will be taken for different aspects of our life, but within the dream it feels real.
During a training sequence for Page's newbie dream builder, Nolan explores how in a dream world anything is possible. In the film's most astonishing and likely to become iconic visual, a Paris street literally folds over itself. A later sequence involves a dream with zero gravity.
I was enthralled by the way the story unfolded and by the concluding sequence which has action happening simultaneously on four different dream levels with each level affecting the next. This all probably sounds rather confusing, but when you are watching it, everything makes sense. The film establish its rules and within those guidelines the film is completely plausible.
To see what Nolan is really up to here it is perhaps best to look at his film “The Prestige.” That film was about rival magicians trying to find the ultimate magic trick. Nolan is a filmmaker who likes to play and manipulate his audience. He wants to wow us with the next trick and keep us guessing how he did it.
Friday, July 16, 2010
The despicable one of the title is Gru (Steve Carell, with an accent he describes as a cross between Ricardo Montalban and Bela Lugosi), a super villain who has no desire to rule the world, but rather to simply hold the title of the world's greatest villain. He drives around in the least eco-friendly vehicle imaginable, uses a freeze ray to cut the line at Starbucks and will make a kid a balloon animal just to pop it the next minute.
Gru is indeed pretty despicable, but since he's also the lead character he isn't an unlikable monster. Gru has mama issues. His mother (Julie Andrews) sees him as a complete failure and, as we see in flashbacks, has never been impressed with any of his interests or endeavors.
He is also dealing with Vector (Jason Segal, in need of stronger material), a new rival villain, who is the buzz of the world after stealing a pyramid. Vector hides it, in a great gag, by painting it to look like the sky.
Vector has a shrink ray that Gru needs in a theft to top all thefts. He adopts three cookie-selling orphan girls to get into Vector's well-protected lair and steal the ray.
It goes without saying that these kids will warm Gru's heart. One of the girls notes “I thought that when we were adopted by a bald guy it would be more like 'Annie.'” In actuality, that's exactly what “Despicable Me” turns out to most closely resemble, although in this case Daddy Warbucks has an army of yellow pill-shaped minions.
Oh yes, one can't forget the minions. They speak their own chirpy, gibberish language and are essentially a bunch of loyal goofballs that worship Gru like a rock star. Their antics are silly slapstick, but also very funny. In one particularly amusing sequence, three of the diminutive minions pose as a family to go toy shopping.
In early scenes, the film has fun with the rivalry between Gru and Vector. A sequence involving Gru attempting to break into Vector's lair relies on absurdist Looney Tune-style visuals and silent film comic timing. It delivers large laughs.
The film could've continued mining laughs in this “Spy Vs. Spy” manner and could've become darker and stranger, but the heartwarming road that is chosen instead turns out to be surprisingly sweet and undeniably cute.
This is the first film from a new animation company called Illumination Entertainment that, with the introduction of the three girls, is clearly attempting to blend humor and heart the same way Pixar does. The approach here is more obvious and less sophisticated than the high caliber work Pixar puts out, but it is effective. The closing scenes with the girls and the no-longer-grinchy Gru earn their emotional pay offs.
Carell gives a great vocal performance using his Boris Badenov-esque accent to butcher catch phrases like “That's what I am talking about.” He also brings some real emotion to the more
The rest of the voice work is solid, but somewhat disappointing given that talented comic performers like Kristen Wiig (“Saturday Night Live”), Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock”) and Will Arnet (“Arrested Development”) are in throwaway roles. Russell Brand (“Get Him to the Greek”) scores some laughs playing against his wild man persona as Gru's elderly inventor cohort.
Although there are some missed opportunities, the film works. The animation is bright, colorful and lively. The humor is broad, but intelligent. Ultimately, it is the warmth that comes late in the film that makes this a success.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company's 'Singin' in the Rain' runs through July 24
It was raining both outside and on the stage during Tuesday's opening night of the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company's production of “Singin' in the Rain,” which is running through July 24 at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse in North Conway, N.H.
“Singin' in the Rain” is one of the most iconic movie musicals in film history, in fact it topped the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest musicals and placed at No. 5 on their list of the greatest films of all time. Those are some lofty shoes to fill on the limitations of a small stage.
Set during the early days of film, “Singin' in the Rain” — in addition to being a great musical — is a shrewd satire of the transition from silent films to talkies.
Grant Golson, just seen in “The Music Man,” stars as Don Lockwood, a Douglas Fairbanks-esque movie star. When talkies become all the rage he must learn to speak on screen. He's up to the challenge, but his shrill, squeaky voiced leading lady, Lina Lamont (Tara Tagliferro) is not.
Lockwood and his loyal sidekick Cosmo Brown (Chris J. Handley) cook up a scheme to use the speaking and singing voice of the sassy Kathy Seldan (Liz Clark Golson) to save the movie.
Those going in expecting to see the level of precision and difficulty portrayed on the screen by Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor will be let down, but those are admittedly perhaps unrealistic expectations.
The dancing on display is good and impressively synchronized, but is somewhat lacking. The title song should be the show's big set piece, but in spite of making it rain on stage — a truly fantastic visual — the number feels flat and short on energy.
The timing on “Make 'Em Laugh” is also ever so slightly off, but is carried through by Handley, a fine comedic actor who was so excellent in last year's production of “The Producers.” His work with a dummy is very funny and he nails the punchline of the scene.
Given that the show was put up in just nine days, it is hard to quibble too much. First-time director LoriAnn Freda and choreographers Bonnie Kelly and Eddie Schnecker deserve credit for managing to put anything together in that time. What is presented is certainly not bad. These are solidly put together dance numbers.
The singing is top notch throughout. All of the most famous songs from the movie, “Singin' in the Rain,” “Make 'Em Laugh,” “You Are My Lucky Star,” “You Were Meant for Me” and “Good Morning” are delivered with gusto.
Tagliaferro steals the whole show though with her truly hilarious rendition of “What's Wrong With Me?” Her comic timing, intentionally bad singing and facial expressions all come together to provide the highlight of the production.
Surprisingly, as good as the singing is, what works best are the non song and dance scenes. Scenes involving the filming of the movie have some very big laughs. Andrew Lipman as the director Roscoe Dexter is a riot as his frustration with the ever clueless Lina grows. A scene involving a diction couch (Dov Rubenstein) also amuses and morphs into the most enjoyable song “Moses.”
The production also integrates filmed parodies of silent films and early talkies. Golson and Tagliferro perfectly capture the essence of the screen acting style of the time.
This is a fun production marked by some strong performance from the hard working cast that easily overcome any shortcomings the show may have. You'll definitely leave the show humming a tune or two and that's a glorious feeling.
Tickets are $32 and may be reserved at the box office at 356-5776, which is open daily from 11 a.m., or online at www.mwvtheatre.org.
Friday, July 09, 2010
In “Eclipse” we get more of the love triangle of human Bella (Kristen Stewart), vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). There is also the vengeful Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) who wants to kill Edward and Bella for killing her beau in the first film.
To complete her mission, Victoria builds an army of newborn vampires who in the early stages of vampire-hood are stronger and faster then older vampires. The book acted like it was a mystery that Victoria was behind the army. The film smartly does not.
So, what exactly is the appeal of this series? The elements of the story are not in themselves bad. The love triangle is one of the most time-honored story traditions and can be a great source of both drama and comedy. It is easy to see why young female readers and viewers would want to project themselves onto Bella since she is desired, even coveted, by not one, but two hunky supernatural men.
The execution of this romantic conundrum is all wrong though. It is all about brooding glares, pregnant pauses and drawn out proclamations. Only one scene of quiet confrontation between Jacob and Edward in a tent during a blizzard feels authentic. The dialogue for once has some wit and substance. It is immediately undermined by the following scene which features an eye-rollingly overwrought plot development.
The three main characters speak in grandiose absolutes about their feelings. This does capture what it is to be a teen since at that age everything seems so definite and permanent. But anyone who has spent any time with a pouty teenager knows it is no picnic. With “Eclipse” you get to spend two hours with three particularly whiny teens, one of whom is supposedly a 100-year-old vampire, who really should know better by now.
It is hard to see why either Edward or Jacob would fall for Bella. She has no discernible personality of her own. Her whole existence is defined by the two men in her life. Edward isn't any better on the personality front though. In “New Moon,” at least Jacob had some playfulness, but once he wolfed out he became just as bland as the other two.
It is a bad sign when the secondary characters are more interesting than the main ones. The movie, as with the book, shows the back stories of Jacob's wolf tribe and a couple of Edward's family members. This is far more compelling than anything in the main plot line. A whole movie should be dedicated to the character of Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), who we learn was a Civil War general who was turned into a vampire and trained other young vampires for a turf war.
Billy Burke continues to provide much needed comic relief as Bella's father. Anna Kendrick, as one of Bella's friends, gives a valedictorian speech that has more energy than any of the three overly intense leads display. You want to know more about her. Instead you are stuck with Bella having to decide between Edward and Jacob and whether to stay human or vamp out.
The “Twilight” series has always been an allegory for abstinence, with Edward resisting the temptation to bite Bella even though she wants it bad. “Eclipse” takes it one step further, with Edward refusing to turn Bella until they get married. If you miss the subtext, they literalize it for you: They can't have sex until they are married either.
Which leads to one of Bella's more ludicrous hang ups. Bella doesn't want to get married because she is afraid of what people will think. Really? This character is willing to give up her humanity, but when it comes to marriage that's the sticking point?
What's good about this film? The book was written from Bella's point of view, but screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg wisely allows us to see things from outside her perspective, which allows us to get glimpses of the building of the vampire army. There are some truly exciting action scenes sprinkled throughout the film building to a vampire versus werewolf battle that is admittedly pretty cool.
Director David Slade directs the battle scenes well, but there just isn't enough of them, certainly not enough to warrant the price of admission.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
“California Suite,” which first opened in 1976 and spawned a 1978 film adaptation, is set in Suite 203-04 of the Beverly Hill Hotel, with each of the four pieces of the play representing different visitors to the suite.
Playwright Simon has a way with both verbal comedy with an underpinning of pathos as well as broad slapstick. In “California Suite” he distills his two sides by alternating from a more dramatic, but still funny, piece to a more silly subject.
M&D's production gets off to a rough start with the first segment “Visitor from New York,” which focuses on Hannah (Tracy Marcotte-Ludwig), a workaholic who comes to Los Angeles to visit her ex-husband Billy (Andrew Brosnan) to discuss who gets to keep their 17-year-old daughter for the next year.
There is an interesting dynamic between these two characters as Billy has adopted a healthier so-called California lifestyle which Hannah finds disdainful. The zingers Hannah keeps throwing at Billy are meant to mask her insecurities and fears that she may be losing her daughter.
Unfortunately, the scene doesn't really work because Marcotte-Ludwig's line delivery is so flat and even monotone. Brosnan is better, but it is Marcotte-Ludwig's Hannah who is suppose to set the pace and it is not nearly fast enough for this sort of bickering banter. To her credit, she does get the last line, and the emotional payoff of the piece, right.
Stick with it, though, because director Dan Tetreault's production finds its footing with “Visitor from Philadelphia,” a situational piece involving a husband (Rob Clark) who wakes up to find a prostitute passed out in his hotel bed just as his wife (Heather LeTarte) arrives at the hotel.
Clark is very funny as he anxiously comes up with a steady stream of barely plausible lies to prevent LeTarte from entering the bedroom. Here the pacing is right and the verbal by-play delivers. LeTarte is particularly amusing after the reveal of the prostitute in the bed. She gets a big laugh with the punchline after she forgives her husband.
“Visitors from London” is the best written of the four segments, and actors Clare Long and Ken Martin rise to the occasion. Long is an English actress in town for the Academy Awards because she is nominated for Best Actress, and Martin is her gay husband.
The dialogue is this piece is barbed and often venomous, but there's an undercurrent of genuine affection that Martin and Long bring across beautifully. Although this is a marriage of convenience, there is love between these two characters even as they toss acidic one-liners at each other. Martin and Long have inconsistent English accents, but that's better than the alternative of over-the-top accents that draw attention and distract.
Ironic side note: Maggie Smith won an Oscar for playing an actress who lost one in the film version of "California Suite."
The final piece, “Visitors from Chicago,” is the most slapstick and physical of the four. Two couples (Eric Jordan and Mary Moody and Rafe Matregrano and Kate Gustafson) on vacation have reached a boiling point, and by the end of the scene are quite literally at each others' throats. It is not subtle and the dialogue is more coarse with its put-downs, but this last piece is perhaps the funniest.
Everything is played at a high-strung fever pitch as verbal insults give way to punches. Jordan and Matregrano have a fight that looks impressively authentic. It appears as if they really are kicking the crap out of each other, but the tone is kept appropriately comedic. Gustafson has a laugh-out-loud moment after hitting her head, and Moody amuses as she hobbles around with a potentially broken foot.
For those keeping score, that's three out of four that hit their marks, which most definitely earns a recommendation.
For more information and tickets call 662-7591.
Thursday, July 01, 2010
“Music Man” first opened on Broadway in 1957 and has gone on to become one of the touchstones of American musical theater spawning several revivals on Broadway, the 1962 film version starring Robert Preston and a TV movie starring Matthew Broderick in 2003.
The music man of the title is Harold Hill (Grant Golson), a con artist, who arrives in River City, Iowa, to perform his usual con: selling musical instruments, instruction books and uniforms to the parents of the local children and promising to form and lead a youth band. Here's the rub: Harold has no musically talent and plans to skip town right after he is paid.
It is four weeks before everything arrives, which gives Harold plenty of time to court Marian (Megan Buzzard), the local librarian and music teacher. What Harold doesn't expect is too actually do good for the community and fall in love with Marian.
The plot is basic stuff with that timeless theme of love being able to get a crooked guy on the right path. It is nothing groundbreaking, but it doesn't have to be. The story is merely a clothesline to string the songs and jokes together. This is light, fluffy, feel good entertainment and director Clayton Phillips' production captures that sense of colorful fun.
Golson as Harold Hill carries the show quite nicely. This is his third season with the company and regular patrons of the theater will recognize him from such shows as “Cabaret,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Producers.” Here he is ideally cast as the hustling huckster. He is charming with a big smile and convincingly puts the town under his spell.
Golson is particularly good on “Ya Got Trouble” where he excites the community to believing they have a rebellious youth in need of the structure of a band and in the rousing “76 Trombones,” which along with “Shipoopi” features some lively choreography by Bryan Knowlton.
One of the best things about show is a barbershop quartet that Harold amusingly cons four feuding locals into forming. Low and behold, the quartet is actually quite good and is easily coerced into singing at any moment. Andrew Lipman, Dov Rubenstein, Evan Smith and Jesse Havea sound great together and are always a welcome presence on stage.
Buzzard as Marian makes for an appealing love interest. She effectively plays being cold and reserved and slowly melting under Golson's charisma. She has a naturalistic stage presence and a powerful singing voice.
Although the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company is a professional company, regulars of local theater will spot some familiar faces from the community.
Kevin O'Neil is very funny as the mayor who is constantly telling people to “watch your phraseology” even though he quite often gets things backwards himself. Caroline Nesbitt amuses as the mayor's wife, who is tricked into heading up a dance group with disastrous results. It is also nice to see Kyle Mulcahy, last seen in “Bare,” as one of the townspeople.
Although this is a well-mounted production, it is hard to avoid that on a couple occasions the music drowned out the singing and on the reprise of “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little” the overlapping and contrasting lyrics canceled each other making it difficult to make any sense of what was being sung. This was opening night and perhaps this issue will be worked out as the run progresses. These moments are isolated and don't undermine the overall quality and enjoyability of the show.
Tickets are $32 and may be reserved at the box office at 356-5776, which is open daily from 11 a.m., or online at www.mwvtheatre.org.