Thursday, April 28, 2011

Baseball movies greatest hits

With baseball season getting into full swing, the time has come to look back on baseball movies. There are so many great baseball films, too many to mention in one article, but here are some highlights.

The Kevin Costner trilogy

Kevin Costner starred in three unrelated, but worthy baseball movies, 1988's “Bull Durham,” 1989's “Field of Dreams” and 2000's “For the Love of the Game.” “Bull Durham” is a very funny and observant look at minor league baseball. Costner starred as a minor league veteran saddled with trying to help a young, unfocused pitcher (Tim Robbins) make it to the majors. Susan Sarandon is a groupie who picks one player a year to live with and help make great. Writer and director Ron Shelton actually was a minor league player from 1967 to 1971 and he brings an authenticity to the film and understanding of how the players think.

“Field of Dreams” is a movie that transcends mere sports movie conventions to be about the mystique, the history and the very reason we watch baseball. James Earl Jones delivers a monologue about the timelessness and magic of baseball that is absolutely perfect. And even the toughest guy is likely to shed a tear when the he of “if you build it he will come” finally arrives.

“For Love of the Game” is a lesser film and came in a time in Costner's career where it seemed like he went back to the baseball well looking for a hit. Even so, despite a distracting story structure of Costner's aging pitcher flashing back to the last few years of a failed relationship while pitching a perfect game, the film is entertaining. There are nice touches like Costner's ability as a pitcher to turn off all the noise of the ballpark and a well-written dynamic with his catcher played by John C. Reilly.

Based on true events and bio-pics

Some of the best baseball movies take their stories from reality. No matter what you think of the Yankees, it is hard not to be touched by 1943's “The Pride of the Yankees,” the story of Lou Gehrig, the baseball hero whose life was cut short by the disease that to this day still bears his name. Made only two years after Gehrig’s death, he was already a legend in his own time and in an era of war was an example of strength and grace in the face of adversity. The recreation by Gary Cooper of Gehrig’s farewell speech is a guaranteed tearjerker.

“Eight Men Out,” John Sayles dramatization of the infamous Black Sox scandal in which players took bribes to throw the 1919 World Series, is a compelling piece of drama. It doesn’t paint the players, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, as innately crooked people. Instead Sayles shows how each player is slowly, and in some cases reluctantly, convinced to take the fall. The dream cast is packed with raising stars and veterans of the 1980s including Charlie Sheen, John Cusack, David Strathairn, Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Michael Rooker and D.B. Sweeney.

“A League of Their Own” took a look at the women’s league that was formed to fill the void left behind by the men who went to fight in World War II. Rich, well-written characters are ideally cast from top to bottom from the league’s star player Geena Davis to the league tramp Madonna to talent scout Jon Lovitz to coach Tom Hanks. This earns a place in baseball and movie history if only for the classic line “There’s no crying in baseball.”

“Bull Durham” director Shelton returned to baseball in 1994 for “Cobb,” a bio-pic about Ty Cobb, one the greatest and most reviled players to ever play the game. Brilliant portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, this is a film that isn't afraid to show its subject in an unflattering light and it is all the better for it. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for 1992's “The Babe” a lackluster look at the Babe Ruth story. It isn't bad, but it lacks substance. It is worth a look, though, for a solid performance by John Goodman.

Kids movies

In 1976, “The Bad News Bears” set the template for underdog kid’s sports movie. Crotchety drunk Walter Matthau reluctantly becomes the coach of a team of misfit little leaguers. The team starts to win when he brings in daughter Tatum O’Neal as a ringer. These sort of movies would later become pure formula, but “Bad News Bears” played by its own rules. It is foul mouthed, political incorrect and wonderful for it.

Other films that followed in the wake of “The Bad News Bears” often had a bad case of the cutes, but some were better than others. In “Rookie of the Year,” from 1993, a kid (Thomas Ian Nicholas) gets to play in the major leagues after a broken arm gives him an amazing pitch. It is basically “Major League” for kids right down to John Candy in the Bob Uecker role as a color commentator.

Perhaps the best movie about kids and baseball is 1993's “The Sandlot.” This is a sweet, good-natured movie about a group of kids playing ball in the 1950s that proves to be equally enjoyable for kids and adults alike. The new kid on a backyard team doesn’t know much about baseball; he knows so little, in fact, that when the team needs a ball he swaps his step-dad’s ball signed by Babe Ruth. When the ball is hit over a fence, the film becomes a riotous battle to get it back from a supposedly man-eating dog called The Beast. A fine young cast makes this an utterly charming piece of nostalgia.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Student Artist Profile: Taylor Hill — Caught in the act

Taylor Hill, a senior at Kennett High School, has been a local actress since elementary school and has appeared in productions for both Arts in Motion and M&D Productions. The diverse list of productions she participated in includes “Footloose,” “Rent,” “Seussical” and, most recently, “Guys and Dolls.” Hill also performed as part of Alpenglow at Radio City Music Hall in New York City in December.
When did you become interested in performance?
I think it really started when I was around 7 years old and I auditioned for my school play at Madison Elementary. I got a small part, but that really sparked the theater person in me. I think it just sort of snowballed from there and I've just been doing plays and theater and anything to do with music ever since.
What was your first show?
I honestly don't remember because it was something so remotely far fetched for a 7 year old to comprehend, but I do remember that my first bigger part was in “Alice in Wonderland” at Madison Elementary.
What was the part?
I was the White Queen. I didn't get the Red Queen, the really nasty one, but I got to be the White Queen.
When did you start singing?
I could say I was singing from the time I was talking, but I don't think that was the case. I was probably 8 or 9 years old when I joined the local children's choir around here directed by Karen Page. I kind of got the basics and then I started singing with her. I guess, ever since then, I've picked up pieces here and there.
What is your favorite performance that you've given?
Probably “Rent” with Arts in Motion, but I will say that I got to play Captain Hook in sixth-grade elementary school and that was a blast. That was so much fun. They really aren't comparable, but they were definitely two really fun performances.
What was your most challenging acting experience? Would that also be “Rent?”
Probably yes. I mean anyone who knows about “Rent,” they hear it and it is such a controversial show. I think it not only stretches audiences members when they watch it, but actors and directors and producers and anyone involved in it. That's a big show. It takes stretching yourself to get there, to produce it.
You've done shows for M&D and Arts in Motion. How would you compare those two experiences?
I think with any show that you jump into you can't really compare it to other shows because each show is a new project that you have to tackle. I think working with M&D and Arts in Motion both have been great experiences because they both have such gifted directors. Whatever play I've done, no matter how stressful it has been, it has always been fun. It has been a pleasure with both. I think challenging, but enjoying, so, I think both have a lot in common actually.
The first thing I saw you in was “Footloose.”
Ah. That's right.
I remember being really impressed and being like “Oh wow, she's really good. She's actually better than the lead.”
Thank you. It was a lot of fun. That is a fun play and that was one where I'd never seen the movie before I had done the show. So, I actually had to go out and get the movie and watch it.
It is kind of funny with that movie because it makes sense that it would be turned into a musical. So many of movies that get turned into musicals it just doesn't make sense at all, but that one really does.
Yeah, it does. I don't know how old the musical is, but I don't know why they didn't do it sooner because it is have musicals like a “Chorus Line” and “42 Street” things so heavy on dancing and that one isn't heavy on dancing until they start to dance [at the end]. So, yeah I agree.
What are you hoping to do after graduation?
I'm actually going to be attending Lasell College in Newton, Mass. this fall and I'll be majoring in fashion marketing, so the business side of fashion. As much as I'd love to pursue theater as a career it is just so unpredictable and I'm not sure I want to be living in a box in New York City. But I will keep theater on my horizon because it is a passion of mine. I'll keep that on the side whether I minor in it or something.
Do you think you'll do plays and musicals in college?
Time willing, yes, yes I do.
I'm sure when you come back for the summer you'll be auditioning for things.
Yes, definitely! When I come back for summer, even though I should probably work and save money, I'll probably audition for shows and do shows.
What's it been like post-Alpenglow and New York?
That was such a great experience. I had never been to New York. It was eye opening. I almost decided on a school in New York and after Alpenglow it helped me make my decision because New York is a big city and I'm from a small town. Post-Alpenglow, my life has been normal.
So, it was just too overwhelming to consider going to school there?
For right now. I would love to work in New York City. I would love to be part of the fashion industry in New York City, but to start I need to ease my way into it.
Has there been anything else with Alpenglow?
I think right when we got back I had practice and rehearsals for “Guys and Dolls” and a lot of school work. I know Mary Bastoni, who kind of is the director of it, is really busy and everyone is just super busy. I think initially we were going to try to get back together and try to do something for charity and perform at some concerts and maybe this summer at the park. As of right now? Nothing. But hopefully in the future.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'Scream 4' more of the same and — surprise — isn't bad

“Scream 4,” director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson's latest entry in their self-satirizing slasher series, is unnecessary and yet oddly relevant. It is smart and funny and yet dull and routine. Basically it is a bloody barrel of contradictions.

Back in 1996, the original “Scream” was a shot in the arm, although that's probably a poor choice of words, to the horror genre, which had become stale and listless. “Scream” was both an entry into the much maligned slasher genre at the same time that it mocked it. The characters knew horror films and all their rules.

A year later, “Scream 2” cleverly made fun of the idea of a sequel, but when “Scream 3” came around in 2000 there was nothing new to be said and the series lost some of its bite. If they had to make another sequel, Craven and Williamson were wise to wait as long as they did because the horror movie scene and world at large has changed in the decade since the last film.

Since 2000 we've seen the rise of social networking and become a society that feels the needs to be constantly broadcasting. Reality TV has continued to gain popularity, making celebrities out of talentless dolts. Basically every horror movie of the last 30 or so years, both classic and minor, has been re-made and the torture porn genre found mainstream popularity thanks to the “Saw” franchise.

All this becomes good fodder for Williamson's screenplay, and the movie starts off extremely well with an opening that is the best since the original. It is on target, funny and unexpected. Unfortunately, the film struggles after that when the gears of the plot get going.

The three survivors of the original trilogy, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette, all return. They are joined by a new generation, including Emma Roberts as Campbell's cousin, Hayden Panettiere as one of Roberts' friends, Alison Brie as Campbell's publicist and the prerequisite film geeks played by Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen.

Many of these new characters are well sketched, it would be a stretch to call them fully developed, but they are not complete blanks. They have some fun, entertaining dialogue that is well delivered. Panettiere is a particular standout as the pretty popular girl who is a closet horror fan. Culkin and Knudsen are also solid as the geeks who establish the new rules that the new Ghostface killer is playing by.

In the “Scream” universe there is a series of films called “Stab” which are based on the events that unfold in the “Scream” series. This is a way of acknowledging there is a whole generation that has grown up with and knows the post-modern self-referential conventions of the “Scream” movies. “Scream 4” becomes both a sequel and a remake of the original making for some shrewd jabs at the recent flood of remakes.

The problem is that the middle section of the film, despite the moments of clever writing, is rather paint by numbers. Deaths come quick and there's little imagination put behind them. The killer jumps out and stabs someone. Repeat. This is the nature of the genre, but previous entries in the series had more subtlety and wit about it.

Luckily, the film has an ingenious and completely unpredictable ending that, surprisingly, has some pointed social commentary about the lengths people will go for fame. It is the most satisfying conclusion since the original.

For those keeping track, that is an opening and conclusion that match the first “Scream” for quality and a middle section that could be better. All in all that's not too shabby for the fourth entry in a franchise.

Friday, April 15, 2011

'Five Women' provides solid laughs

CONWAY — Before writing the Academy Award-winning film “American Beauty” and creating the popular and critically-acclaimed HBO shows “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood,” Alan Ball wrote “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” a tart comedy about five bridesmaids hiding from a bride they can't stand.
M&D Productions has dug up this relatively obscure comedy as its latest production, which opened Thursday, April 14, at Your Theatre at Willow Common in North Conway, N.H. and will be running Thursday through Saturday until the end of the month.
A review in the Austin Chronicle described the show as “The Breakfast Club” with bridesmaids, and that's fairly accurate. Depending on your outlook, a wedding could be as tortuous as a Saturday detention and, like that film, these five women represent different types. They all trade one-liners and ultimately become confessional about dark secrets.
Frances (Natasha Repass) is a sweet, naive Christian; Meredith (Bethany Taylor) is the bride's cynical, bitter younger sister; Trisha (Hannah Gaschott) has been with many men and is jaded about the idea of love; Georgeanne (Kelly Karuzis) is drinking heavily because of a failing marriage and re-ignited feelings for an old fling; and Mindy (Jodie Mullin) is the groom's quick-witted lesbian sister.
The final dress rehearsal I saw had a stand-in for Karuzis as she has fallen ill. Brenda Bailey filled in as Georgeanne at the the final rehearsal and opening night performances. Despite still having a script, Bailey gave a complete performance at the rehearsal. There will be another stand-in for this Friday and Saturday performances, but Karuzis will hopefully return for the second and third week of the production.
Ball's script, much like his screenplay for “American Beauty,” is populated by an abundance of sharply written dialogue that attempts to balance comedy with tragedy. “American Beauty” satirized the American dream and suburbia. “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” is critically of the institution of marriage, but doesn't ever go over to full-out satire.
The script does lampoon Christianity through the character of Frances, who is played nicely by Repass in a performance that is mostly silent reactions to the “shocking” use of profanity, alcohol and pot.
It is an imperfect show with wild shifts in tones that don't always work. The dramatic scenes are well written, but revelations are given their due and then it is back to the sassy dialogue. It is a credit to first-time director Christina Howe and the women of the cast that they overcome the shortcomings of the script.
Taylor has the most challenging role as her character has the darkest secret. Throughout the show it is clear Meredith's tough, angry, sarcastic facade is hiding something, and when she finally cracks Taylor portrays her pain honestly and believably.
Mullin's Mindy is, thankfully, not written as a stereotypical token gay character. The character even states at one point she doesn't want to be a man-hater. Mindy gets some of the show's best lines, and she delivers them well.
Gaschott gives a solid performance, but doesn't seem quite as hardened as her character should be. Still, she handles the witty dialogue well and has a good concluding scene with Eric Jordan as the one male in the cast.
In the scene, Gaschott and Jordan literally and figuratively do an uneasy dance as Gaschott's Trisha decides whether to let her guard down. Jordan, who normally plays broadly comedic characters, has to pull back those tendencies and be laid back and charming, and he achieves this admirably.
This is a show with many big laughs and a few well placed dramatic moments. It is uneven to be sure, but this strong cast makes it work.
Ticket prices are $25 for non-members, $18 for members. For reservations call 662-7591.

'Arthur' is a worthy remake, it may be crazy, but it's true

Remakes are more often than not unnecessary and just repackage a popular title because it is easier and safer than coming up with something new. The new version of “Arthur,” the 1981 film starring Dudley Moore as a drunken playboy millionaire, but now personified by Russell Brand, is largely being dismissed by critics as a cynical cash grab.

A good remake will discover something new in the material or provide a different angle that the previous version didn't. Sometimes, though, it is simply nice to see what a new cast does with the characters. That's the case with “Arthur,” which, thanks to strong casting, entertains, even if it falls short of matching its predecessor.

Brand, who is intelligent and quick-witted in interviews and who has battled his own drug and alcohol demons in real life, is in many ways the perfect performer to take on this role.

Moore's Arthur was basically the definitive comic drunk. It is a performance that couldn't be topped or even emulated, but Brand does a good job fitting his persona into this character. As with last year's “Get Him to the Greek,” Brand shows that he can dial down his wilder antics and create moments of pathos and even warmth.

The plot of both films are identical. The title character is heir to a business fortune, but his drunken tomfoolery has led to an ultimatum from his family: marry Susan Johnson (played in the original by Jill Eikenberry and Jennifer Garner in the new version) or lose the money. Arthur is willing to enter this loveless marriage until he meets a lower middle class girl from Queens (played in the original by Liza Minnelli and Greta Gerwig in the new version) and instantly falls in love.

As was true with the original, while there are sharply written scenes of romantic banter in both films, the most important relationship in the film is between Arthur and his butler Hobson, who was brilliantly played by John Gielgud with an acid tongue, but warm heart. In a gender switch, Hobson is now Arthur's nanny and is ideally played by Helen Mirren.

The original “Arthur” was a throwback to the whimsical screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s right down to the class clash between the wealthy and poor. Much like many of those films, “Arthur” ended with everything arbitrarily working out just fine.

This new “Arthur” keeps the screwball plot, but tries to play it more realistically, relatively speaking. In 1981 it was possible to still get away with squeezing laughs from alcoholism. Director Jason Winer and screenwriter Peter Baynham have decided that you still can, but that you need to have the character address his problem. Yes, Arthur goes to AA in this new film, but it actually isn't too heavy handed as far as these sort of things go.

Arthur also has to work harder to win over his love in this new incarnation because she is less forgiving of the fact that Arthur is engaged to another woman. It makes for a very different tone at the ending and one that doesn't quite work, but it isn't a failure either.

The other major departure from the original is the expansion of the Susan role. In the original, the character was more a plot point than anything else. Here she is now a manipulative, controlling social climber. She is thoroughly unlikable as played by Garner and, in this case, that is a compliment. It makes you root for Brand and Gerwig all the more.

Mirren and Brand play well off each other, and while their banter doesn't quite have the same spark as Moore and Gielgud it is still effective. As was true with the original, their relationship is the heart of the film and the dynamic still works even when the script forces in a couple cloying moments.

Brand also has nice chemistry with Gerwig, who has an instantly lovable screen presence. She is sweet and charming, but can also toss a barbed one liner. Nick Nolte steals a couple scenes as Susan's intimidating father, and Luis Guzman gets some laughs as a goofier version of Bitterman, Arthur's driver.

So, this new “Arthur” isn't perfect, but it works. I liked it. It may be crazy, but it is true.

Friday, April 08, 2011

‘Guys and Dolls’ hopes for a ‘luck’y opening night

CONWAY — Lady Luck may be featured in one of “Guys and Doll's” most famous songs, but it was Mother Nature who decided to take an active role in keeping the cast and crew of Arts in Motion and Kennett High School's production of the iconic musical on their toes.
“We've had some struggles with the amount of snow that we've had because that's canceled a lot of our rehearsals, so we had to do overtime in this last week, but it is going well,” Taylor Hill said.
The canceled rehearsals have lead to a busy final week with rehearsals running seven or nine hours to be ready for the opening Friday, April 8, at 7 p.m. at the Kennett High School Loynd Auditorium in North Conway. The production, directed by Glenn Noble, music directed by Mary Bastoni-Rebmann and choreographed by Holly Fougere, will have additional performances April 9, 15 and 16 at 7 p.m. and April 10 and 17 at 1 p.m.
“It has been tiring, but they have pulled together as a team,” Noble said. “A high school production is always challenging because they are always involved in so much.”
“Guys and Dolls,” by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, first opened on Broadway in 1951 and went onto inspire the 1955 film starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando as well as numerous revivals on Broadway and the West End. For the cast though it was like a brand new show.
“This was a show I had heard about,” Hill said. “I heard some of the music. I had heard some things about it, but I hadn't gone into it with a preconceived notion about what it was or what came with it. I was kind of like, 'OK, a new show, let's tackle this' and I think that's what we've all kind of done.”
Set in Damon Runyon's mythical New York City, the show introduces us to Sarah Brown (Hill), the upright but uptight "mission doll," out to reform the evildoers of Time Square; Sky Masterson, (Philip Mathieu) the slick, high-rolling gambler who woos her on a bet and ends up falling in love; Adelaide, (Hanna Paven) the chronically ill nightclub performer whose condition is brought on by the fact she's been engaged to the same man for 14 years; and Nathan Detroit, (Kevin Ahearn) her devoted fiancé, desperate as always to find a spot for his infamous floating crap game.
The young cast made a conscious effort to avoid much of the pre-existing material out there and to create their own characterizations.
“I have my perception of what the character should be like, so I try to stick to that even if I see someone else do it differently. I kind of stick to my own,” Paven said.
Mathieu agrees and has avoided seeing the film so as not to have it alter his performance.
“Usually if I watch the film I will find myself imitating who plays it and then that's not me so it doesn't come out well on stage,” Mathieu said.
The show was also a chance for the actors to try new roles and, in Hill's case, an opportunity to play against her usual type.
“It was a completely different role from things I've done in the past,” Hill said. “Sarah is really conservative. I'm not really used to playing a conservative role, so I guess that was challenge in itself.”
For Ahearn the challenge came in tackling the dialogue that comes with the Nathan Detroit character
“I've always played kind of like a goofy character in some way,” Ahearn said. “This one isn't as goofy, but it still is, but the language that Nathan uses compared to other characters I've used has been really hard to comprehend and memorize the lines for just because he speaks a lot different than past characters I've played.”
The show also stars Zack Whitley, Kodi Barrows, Gabe Lee, Shai-ann Fellows and 30 other Kennett High School students. This year's show also includes guest appearances from non-Kennett students including Chris Madura, Keith Force and Matt Stoker.
All tickets are $10 and can be purchased at or at the door.

The 'Source' for intelligent sci-fi

“Source Code” is about a military man (Jake Gyllenhaal) who, through the marvels of modern technology, is sent into the last eight minutes of another man's life. This other man is on a train that is bombed, and it is up to Gyllenhaal to find the bomber in hopes of preventing a larger scale attack.

In description “Source Code” sounds like a slam-bang action thriller, and, in the hands of someone like Michael “Transformers” Bay, it may have been, but director Duncan Jones plays it on an effectively small scale.

This is Jones' second feature following 2009's “Moon,” a film about an astronaut on a three-year mission on the moon who makes a bizarre discovery that alters his reality. Both “Moon” and “Source Code” are essentially one-set films with a lunar base and train, respectively. The compact settings make the films more intimate, personal and rich with the detail of their spaces.

“Moon” was made for $5 million, a small budget for a sci-fi film of that nature. It worked as a calling card for Jones and landed him the bigger-budgeted “Source Code.” There is a risk when Hollywood attempts to co-op a voice from the so-called indie movie scene. Some filmmakers struggle with the increase in budget size, playing within a system and keeping a voice that is true to them.

This is not the case for Jones, who has made an intelligent, thoughtful film that is challenging, but also accessible to a mainstream audience. It hits all the marks that you'd like a film like this to hit: It has laughs, romance, suspense and even some unexpected tears.

The script is by Ben Ripley, whose only other major credits are the direct-to-DVD sequels “Species III” and “Species: Awakening.” That's not exacting high pedigree, but sometimes you need to take what you can get before doing something of more substance. The script here is smart, witty and well developed with a rather unexpected plot twist. There is an ongoing theme in which Gyllenhaal is looking to get in touch with his father that has a powerful emotional payoff.

Essentially, “Source Code” plays like a skipping record repeating the same eight minutes over and over again, but in this case the song slightly changes each time as Gyllenhaal learns more about his surroundings. Much like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” who was stuck in a similar time loop, Gyllenhaal gets better each time he lives those eight minutes until he gets them perfect.

Sitting across from Gyllenhaal every time he returns to the train is a sweet, intelligent, beautiful woman (Michelle Monaghan). Gyllenhaal slowly falls for her while trying to complete his mission. He wants to save her, but is told by those running the program (Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright) that it doesn't work that way as what he's seeing isn't really the past, but a shadow of the past. That doesn't stop Gyllenhaal from fighting to prove them wrong.

Gyllenhaal makes for a charming leading man and does well with smart material. He brings an earnestness and sense of humor to his character that makes him likable and easy to root for. He has a nice chemistry with Monaghan, who finds interesting ways to keep her character fresh despite the repetition.

Farmiga, as the captain running the program, gives a subtle performance. Though it is never stated in the dialogue, you see her internal struggle when the sleazy inventor of the source code technology (Wright) wants to keep exploiting and pushing Gyllenhaal. It is an effective performance driven by quiet facial expressions and body language.

This is a thriller with a brain and a heart. Moviegoers who are willing to go with the high-concept premise and who want a film with more substance than the average action film are not going to be disappointed. This is a solidly entertaining film that is likely to cause some healthy debate after the credits roll.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Student Artist Profile: Devin LaCasce continues on the family name

Devin LaCasce, a senior a Fryeburg Academy, is the daughter if the academy's director of music Brent LaCasce and sister to academy alumnus Jared LaCasce. In a family full of talented, award-winning musicians she has managed to step out on her own and earn her own accolades as a vocalist and flute and saxophone player.
I know you've won all kinds of awards through all kinds of competitions, so what are some of those?
My vocal jazz group has won the past three years and we're going to another competition for the state festival. I won best female vocalist at the state and with my big band we won last year and this year we got second and I've gotten two outstanding awards. I've gotten outstanding awards for combo three times. I got a few judges' choice awards at the Berkley Jazz Festival.
What's it like having Brent LaCasce as your father?
I'm kind of used to it by now because he's been my teacher since I was 5. So, it is not weird anymore.
Was it kind of a predetermined thing that you were going to be into music? Was it ever not an option?
I started piano lessons when I was 5 and ever since then I started playing the flute and saxophone and singing. They didn't force me to do it. I loved music ever since I was little.
What was it like growing up with a house that was full of music?
It is always fun. My brother plays the trumpet and my dad, trumpet, piano and all these other instruments, so it is always very loud at my house definitely.
Did you ever feel like you had to step out from behind the shadow of your brother when you were at the academy?
A little bit. When we graduated people thought our music program wasn't going to do as well. His class had a lot of really talented musicians in it. I think we all really stepped up and did our best and had an amazing year last year and this year so far.
Out of all the things you do, play instruments, sing, I know you do some acting, what do you love most?
That's hard to say. I love to sing. I love to play both flute and saxophone. I like acting as well, but I'm going to college for music performance and music education, so sticking with music.
Where are you going to go for school?
I'm figuring that out now. I've heard back from all my colleges and I'm deciding between McGill, NYU and University of Miami.
Ideally, once you are all done, what would you like to do?
I'm also deciding that. I've applied to some schools for music performance and some schools for music education. Either way I just want to be involved in music.
What would be your absolute dream job be if anything could happen?
Probably performing and just getting to play a lot of music and whatever happens.
Do you have any early memories of performance where you were like “Yeah, this is what I love, this is what I want to do?”
I think all the performances. I can remember performances from when I was in elementary school and everything. I've always loved it. Just playing recorder in fourth grade that probably was it. It was awesome.
Do you have an influences or people you are really drawn to?
Both of my teachers, I have a flute teacher and saxophone teacher and they've really inspired me to keep practicing and play the best that I can. And they are both really talented musicians and I look up to them.
How do you balance school with all this music performance?
I've gotten used to since freshman year. We have, basically, one really busy season, during the winter, when we just have festivals all the time and school work is always important. It is just a lot of late nights staying up doing homework and then going to rehearsals the next day. It is not as hard as people would think.
Do you do any sports as well?
I used to play soccer and I tried lacrosse and track and all sorts of sports, but I've moved towards music in the past few years.
Because doing all this music isn't really any different than doing  sports in terms of doing all that late night homework, but I imagine trying to joggle all three things gets kind of insane.
I've never played a winter sport because music festivals and a winter sport and homework would be ridiculous. I tried fall and spring sports and I don't think I was very good at them, but I liked them.
Do you have any final thoughts on music or why you perform or why you love music?
I'm just really glad I have a really great music program at the academy and all my friends are also really great musicians, so it is fun being able to play with people that love it as much as I do.

'Sucker Punch' is a big, audacious mess

The late film critic Gene Siskel use to ask himself this question as a gauge of a film's quality: “Is the movie that I am watching as interesting as a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?” Zack Synder's “Sucker Punch,” in spite of its ambition and audacity, doesn't pass this test.

Set in the 1960s, “Sucker Punch” centers on a girl, nicknamed Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who after her mother's death is framed by her stepfather for her sister's murder. There is also an attempted rape in there, too. Baby Doll is sent to a mental institution and scheduled to be lobotomized in five days. All this is within in the first 10 minutes. Welcome to Zack Synder's idea of a PG-13 movie.

This is director and co-writer Synder's first film that is not an adaptation of previous source material following good, even occasionally great, work on “300,” “Watchmen” and the remake of “Dawn of the Dead.” On all those films, Synder had strong base material at the core of his films, but here he starts with an interesting, but unfocused idea that is muddled in the execution.

The film attempts to explore the idea of escapism by having the characters not just enter a fantasy, but a fantasy within a fantasy. It is a needlessly convoluted plot device that is suppose to add depth, but merely undermines the storytelling.

At the institution, Baby Doll quickly bonds with her fellow ladies in the “theater,” the room in which the girls receive music therapy with their doctor (Carla Gugino). This sets up the first fantasy world, a sort of brothel/strip club, which makes you wonder whose fantasy this is: the character's or the director's.

Whenever Baby Doll closes her eyes while dancing, we enter a second fantasy realm in which all the girls become butt-kicking super humans who battle everything from giant samurai to zombie nazis to robots. These fights correspond to missions in reality to collect items to make an escape.

This brings us back to Siskel's test. Watching interviews with the females of the cast, which include Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish and Vanessa Hudgens, is in many respects more interesting than the film itself. These are intelligent, articulate women, Malone in particular. Watching them speak about the bonds they created while training and filming and the film's buried themes of female empowerment and escaping pain through fantasy is compelling stuff.

While watching the film you can see that Synder is attempting to explore these ideas, but his approach is too shallow. There are basically two very different films here that don't quite fit together. The first is a study of the struggle of institutionalized females. The second is a bombastic action spectacular that blends comic books, video games and music videos.

Synder deserves credit for attempting to address lofty concepts, but they get lost as his focus is more on creating the next great spectacle. On that level the film delivers. The battle sequences are visually compelling, artfully designed and exciting. Scott Glenn as a sort of guide to each mission adds some nice comic relief.

Individually these scenes work, but there's a disconnect from the rest of the film. The first fantasy creates too much distance from the reality of what is happening. Certainly, one dream reality would've sufficed. The stripper world adds nothing to the film's structure and is merely there for titillation. The film would've been stronger if the characters went straight into the action fantasies. This also would've allowed for more carefully observed scenes of the girl interacting in the institution.

Browning is unremarkable as Baby Doll. She is basically a pouty blank. Out of the rest of the cast, Malone and Cornish as sisters fair best. Outside of Baby Doll's backstory, they are the only characters who are given any sort of shading and background to play with. They provide the film with a genuine human connection that gives the film some fleeting emotional truth.

As for the titular sucker punch? It is the audience that is the recipient thanks to an ending that makes sense, but feels like a cheat. It is a conclusion that works on one level, but infuriates on another.