Friday, June 24, 2011

'Green Lantern' is middling superhero fare

“Green Lantern” is the the third superhero movie of the summer, but the first based on a DC comic following Marvel's “Thor” and “X-Men: First Class.” It is also the least successful of the bunch, but that says more about the quality of the other films than this one.
Critics have been particularly brutal to “Green Lantern,” but while it is definitely a middling quality film, it isn't without its entertaining moments, strong performances and worthy messages. The biggest thing “Green Lantern” has working against it is the raised expectations people have for superhero movies thanks to films like “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight.”
Much like “Superman,” another DC propriety, “Green Lantern” deals with alien beings, but the difference is the title hero, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), is not an extraterrestrial, but a human.
Hal is bestowed the power to fly and to make anything in his mind a reality by a magic ring. The ring is given to him by Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) a member of the Green Lantern Corp, an intergalactic police force that defends against evil, who crashed landed on Earth after a fatal battle with the evil Parallex (voice of Clancy Brown). By accepting the ring Hal joins this team and is whisked to the Planet Oa for his training.
Instead of a traditional good versus evil scenario the film has will against fear. Hal Jordan and his fellow Green Lanterns get their strength from the green energy of will. Parallax gets his power for the yellow energy of fear. The film explores what it truly means to be fearless. There's a good theme about overcoming fear. albeit it one that is presented a bit too heavy handedly with Hal dealing with issues involving his father's death.
Before taking on the role of hero, we see Hal in his day job as a cocky, risk-taking test pilot who works for a company run by his ex-girlfriend (Blake Lively). Reynolds and Lively have a genuine chemistry together and the dynamic is not the traditional one for these kind of movies. While she does need saving at one point, she isn't just a damsel in distress. She helps to shape and push Hal into the hero he will become.
The best thing about “Green Lantern” is Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond, a hunched-over scientist with self-esteem issues who is infected by a part of Parallex. Hammond goes through a physical and mental transformation that gives him telekinetic and telepathic powers. Sarsgaard creates a truly fantastic, not entirely unsympathetic villain. His line readings and acting choices are unexpected and he helps the movie become something more than what it might've been.
Unfortunately, Hector Hammond is merely a secondary villain to the far-less compelling Parallax, which is basically a giant snog creature that, while having the formidable voice of Clancy Brown, doesn't really have a personality. He is just an evil entity that must be destroyed in the climax of the film.
Reynolds, a good, genial and funny actor who often misplaces his talents, slides  nicely into this role. The script does give him several dry quips to deliver, something he has always had a knack for doing, but he also dials down his comic impulses. He is a charming and believable as a hero.
The rest of the cast is filled out with some fine actors including Tim Robbins as Hector Hammond's father, Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clark Duncan as the voices of some of the other Green Lanterns, and, most notably, Mark Strong as Sinestro, a high-ranking Green Lantern who is skeptical of their latest recruit. Strong gives an effective performance, which is all the more impressive considering he is purple.
“Green Lantern” is marred by relying too much on CG effects and is a bit more simple-minded than a lot of superhero movies, but it isn't without its charms. In fact, “Green Lantern,” despite its PG-13 rating, is a good film for kids.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gordon Clapp gets down to 'Business'

Emmy-award-winning actor Gordon Clapp is returning to the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse, the stage that first gave him work, 33 years after he last graced it for “This Verse Business” a one-man show about Robert Frost by A.M. Dolan. 

“'78 was the last season I had there,” Clapp said. “Which was right around the time that I became obsessed with doing a one-man Robert Frost [show]”

“This Verse Business” will be at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse in North Conway, N.H. Saturday, June 18, with a reception at 7 p.m. and the show at 8:30 p.m. Clapp will also be performing the show at The Barnstormers Theatre in Tamworth, N.H. Sunday, June 19, at 7:30 p.m. 

Doing a show about Frost, the poet who so often employed vivid imagery from rural New England,  has been a passion project for Clapp that has been percolating for decades. 

“I started reading Frost when I was back in high school,” Clapp said. “When I went a way to school in Connecticut he was sort of my way of coming home.”

It was more than 30 years ago that Clapp first started researching Frost with the intention of putting on a one-man show. He read biographies and listened to audio from speaking engagements. In spite of his growing obsession he wanted to wait for the right time to do it.

“I just really thought this is something I'll do when I'm older as I get closer to his age, at the age at which he was better known,” Clapp said.

That time has finally come and a couple years ago he decided it was time to once again address this passion when the “This Verse Business” script fell into his hands. 

“An old friend of mine came across the script and put me together with the playwright,” Clapp said.  “The playwright and I have spent the last two and a half years honing it and trying to figure out how it works best.”

“This Verse Business” turned out to be an ideal fit for Clapp and was exactly what he was hoping for.

“It was the perfect script for my purposes,” Clapp said. “It was an evening with Frost that was cobbled together from these various events and audio tapes, a little bit of stuff from the letters and prose, but it is 90 percent Frost in his own words.”

Normally running about an hour and 20 minutes, the show at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse is a revised version that runs about an hour. 

Clapp is excited to return to the stage that helped give him his start working a long aside the likes of David Strathairn, Geena Davis, Chris Elliot and John Sayles. 

“That was a great company,” Clapp said. “We did unusual stuff for summer stock. We did original stuff, we did classics. A lot of summer stock theaters are just doing musicals now.”

Clapp has a lot of fond memories from that time, but says his favorite production was “Our Town” “because I was doing it in my hometown.” He hopes to that show again next summer at The New London Barn.  

Getting to perform at the Barnstormers is also a long time coming and something Clapp is looking forward to. 

“I've always wanted to do something at Barnstormers because I grew up in North Conway.”

Ironically, in spite of his local ties, it was working in a show in New York that brought about this performance at Barnstormers.

“I was doing a play in New York the past year,” Clapp said. “The director at the theater had a couple friends at Barnstormers and they were asking about it ['This Verse Business'], they had heard about it, so he put me in touch with them.”

Tickets for the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse show are $25, which will benefit the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company, may be reserved by calling 356-5776 or by visiting at Come meet Gordon  and the summer company. Tickets for the Barnstormers show are $20 or $35 including reception at the Remick Museum in Tamworth at 6 p.m. For tickets call 323-8500. 

For those who need more of a  Clapp fix, he will also be appearing in an episode of “In Plain Sight” on the USA Network Sunday at 10 p.m. 

Clapp has performed “This Verse Business” at the Hanover Inn, the Williams College, poetry societies and last summer had the first official run at the  Peterborough Players. In the fall he's taking it to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. and doing a longer run at the Merrimack Theatre in Lowell, Mass. Hopefully, this is the just the beginning though.

“I want a touring version and then another longer version that would be able to do runs at regional theaters and maybe even a commercial run in New York, LA or Boston,” Clapp said. “My hope is this will be my Hal Holbrook vehicle and that I'll be able to ride it into the sunset.”

'Super 8': The way summer movies should be

“Super 8,” writer/director J.J. Abrams' throwback to Steven Spielberg's films of the 1970s and 1980s, is the summer's only big budget film that is an original in the sense that it isn't based on any previous films or source material. In a summer awash with sequels, reboots, remakes and comic book adaptations “Super 8” is an oasis.
Produced by Spielberg and set in small town America circa 1979, two years after the release of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and two years before “E.T.,” “Super 8” is like a lost Spielberg film albeit it one with Abrams fingerprints all over it. Abrams loves lens flares and at this point it is signature much like Spielberg's frequent use of shooting stars.
The film centers on a group of kids that are making a zombie movie when, while shooting a scene, they accidentally capture footage of a horrific train wreck that unleashes something on the town. The title refers to the film stock that was the standard for home movies and amateur filmmakers before the invention of video.
Soon weird things start to happen: Dogs start running away, car parts go missing and people start disappearing. The kids make a pact not to tell anyone they were at the wreck of what turns out to be a military train.
Yes, there is a creature running loose in this film, but it isn't about this monster. The film opens with a prologue that shows the funeral for the mother of Joe (Joel Courtney), the boy who turns out to be the film's main character. The film is really about how he and his father (Kyle Chandler) let go of that loss.
Part of what helps Joe move on in is the making of the film with his friend, which keeps him occupied and allows him to meet Alice (Elle Fanning) and begin a very tentative, sweet and innocent flirtation.
What the film gets absolutely right is the dynamic between the kids. The way they talk and interact feels authentic. These aren't merely cutesy movie kids who speak overly glib dialogue. The kids in the film come across as genuine kids.
Good kid actors are hard to find, but everyone here is great, particularly Fanning, who, though only 12 at the time of filming, shows depth, subtly and skills well beyond her years. She has a scene where she is rehearsing a scene for the zombie film and she brings such real emotions to it that it is hard not to be moved.
Courtney is very good as well. He shows a boy that tries to put a strong front up, but who is hurting from the loss of his mother. His relationship with his father is strained and removed. When he begins to discover love for the first time you can see how it changes his mood, but, wisely, it is played in small, quiet moments.
Of the rest of the kids, the stand out is Ryan Lee as a boy with penchant for explosives. Riley Griffiths as the director of the zombie film is also good especially has he starts using the real events unfolding as “production value” for his film.
As for that zombie film, the kids actually did write and direct it themselves. It plays over the closing credits and it is an absolute riot.
The last third of the film turns into an outright 1950s-style monster movie with better special effects and explosions. The switch in tone is a bit jarring, but at that point you're so invested in the characters that it is easy to just go with the flow. Abrams as a director does a fine job of keeping things at a steady pace that allows for character development and interaction. When things go crazy, in the end you actually care.
As is often the case with Spielberg films, there's a sentimentality to the film and there are moments that feel manipulative and heavy handed, but it is a testament to how well Abrams handles this material and his actors that these moments work and still affect almost in spite of themselves.
This is the kind of movie that you wish every summer movie could be. It is engaging, smart, funny and touching.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Two actors, one act, completely entertaining

M&D Productions latest show is the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Talley's Folly,” a simple two-person, one-act romantic comedy set in Lebanon, Mo. in the 1940s. It is a direct, charming piece of theater.
“Talley's Folly,” written by Lanford Wilson, who passed away in March, is told in about 90 minutes in real time and focuses on Matt Friedman (Ken Martin), a German-accented man who travels from St. Louis to ask for Sally Talley's (Heather Elsie Hamilton) hand in marriage. A year earlier they had a romantic week together. He's written every day since with no encouragement, but he knows they are meant to be together. 
The show, which opened Thursday and is running at Your Theatre in North Conway Thursday through Saturday for the next three weeks, begins with Matt giving a fourth-wall-breaking monologue explaining that if everything goes to plan the evening will be a waltz. It is a fabulous introduction that is well performed by Martin. It is key in getting the audience on Matt's side. We almost instantly like him and want him to get the girl.
Matt is a wonderful character. He is given an amusing quirk of over-analyzing the English language, a nice touch for someone who has English as a second language. He notes that bees have a life expectancy of 20 days, but then wonders if expectancy is the right word, after all what does a bee expect out of life.
Everything takes place in the decaying boathouse (or Folly) on the Talley property. The Talleys were once a wealthy family that fell on hard times during the depression. The boathouse is yet another astounding bit of set design by Deborah Jasien. The stage is entirely transformed complete with vegetation and flora. The authenticity of the set makes it easy to disappear into this story for 90 minutes.
The tone of the show isn't wild farce or screwball comedy. The bantering dialogue of the show is a delicate mixture of humor and poignancy as each character reveals tragic aspects of their past. It is ultimately these darker elements of their past that show the way to a brighter future together.
Challenged with an accent that could potentially sink his whole performance, Martin overcomes this would-be shortcoming and gives a solid performance. He makes Matt awkward, a bit goofy, but completely sincere and lovable. It is hard to stay mad at him though Sally certainly tries to.
Hamilton makes for a good romantic foil. She keeps up a strong front that keeps being pulled down only to be put back up. She does a good job of balancing her frustrations with a suitor she is trying not to want with her apparent affectionate feelings towards him. Martin and Hamilton have a nice, light chemistry together that isn't forced.
And really that's all that needs to be said. Under the assured hand of director Richard Russo these two actors perform this wonderfully written show beautifully. It isn't elaborate or big theater, but its simple pleasures are hard to beat.
For more information or tickets call the box office at 662-7591.

'First Class' gives new life to dying franchise

When sequels have run their course and a franchise is running on fumes it is time to give up, right? Never! When all else fails, start over with a prequel. The “X-Men” series has gone the prequel route once before with “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” It made money, but left few happy. So, now we have “X-Men: First Class,” one of the most satisfying films of the series.
“X-Men: First Class” presents the origins of the mutants Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, and Erik Lehnsherr, aka Magneto, who were previously played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, but the younger models are now James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. We also learn the back story of the shapeshifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, stepping in for Rebecca Romijn), who, in a departure from the comics, is Charles' adopted sister.
In the later films, Erik and Charles are adversaries driven apart by an ideological split. Charles wants mutants to attempt to co-exist with humans and Erik wants mutants to reign having seen humanity's capacity for genocide during the Holocaust.
In this film we are shown their very different, but parallel lives and the point in which those paths intersect. Charles is an affluent English student, who recently graduated with degrees in the studies of genetics. Erik is a holocaust survivor turned brutal Nazi hunter. Charles has telepathic abilities and Erik the ability to control and draw metal to him like a magnet.
They meet and become fast friends and form an uneasy alliance with the FBI in hopes of being able to stop a common enemy, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Shaw, it turns out, was the mastermind pulling the strings behind the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now you know. Shaw also did cruel experiments on young Erik and now as an adult Erik is eager for revenge.
Other mutants are gathered for this battle, but, as is often the case with these films, many of them get lost in the shuffle. We are introduced to several characters, shown their abilities and later they get to show them off in elaborate action sequences. There are fun montages of these characters recruitment and training that, while entirely obligatory, have a brisk pace to them.
Characters like Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) and Havok (Lucas Till) are given very little to do. They are simply there to fill out the team. The exceptions are Lawrence's Mystique and Nicholas Hoult's Hank McCoy, aka Beast. Lawrence and Hoult have a tentative flirtation and the direction that goes in ultimately feeds where her allegiances will fall.
While there are too many characters, the real focus is on Charles and Erik and their dynamic is well written by a team of screenwriters. McAvoy and Fassbender are very good together as you see the seeds of their love/hate relationship planted.
Director Matthew Vaughn, who ventured into the comic book hero realm in last year's “Kick Ass,” a subversive take on the genre, brings an energy to proceedings that nicely captures the 1960s time period. The first half of the film feels very Bond-like with Fassbender's Erik like a darker, more merciless version of 007. Fassbender has a commanding screen presence and he's charming, but he also makes Erik well rounded, both sympathetic and menacing.
McAvoy plays Charles as an English playboy who uses his intellect and wit to pick up women. His pick up lines are rather amusing and oddly effective. As the film progresses though we see flashes of the compassionate leader he'll become.
Bacon makes for a great over-the-top villain. He plays it like a Bond villain — cool, collected, but with a mischievous glint in his eyes. He's surrounded by a trio of mutant henchmen who barely register, two of them don't even have an dialogue. The talkative one is Emma Frost, but, as portrayed by January Jones, you wish she spoke less. Jones, a very attractive woman, is a flat, one-note actress (at least from what I've seen, but I haven't seen her in the acclaimed TV show “Mad Men”) who is easily the weakest link of the film.
Everything builds to climatic showdown to prevent the Cuban Missile Crisis that is rather spectacular. The historical setting gives a certain weight to the events.
Comic book purist will surely nitpick everything that was altered from the source material, but, within the context of the film, everything works and is dramatically satisfying. This is summer film as it should be: smart, fun, witty and entertaining.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The 'Hangover: Part 2' feels like leftovers

In 2009 director Todd Philips and his cast struck upon a successful formula with “The Hangover,” so successful in fact it became the most profitable R-rated comedy in film history. The sequel was inevitable and so was the feeling of deja vu.
“The Hangover Part 2” is beat for beat the exact same film as its predecessor. The location has shifted from Las Vegas to Bangkok and the jokes are new, but this is otherwise a carbon copy of the original right down to Ed Helm's character singing a goofy song (still funny) and Ken Jeong jumping out of a confined area (too predictable). It is entertaining, but it is no longer fresh.
Both films center on a trio of friends (Helms, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis) who gather for a wedding and, after supposedly one drink, wake up with a memory-erasing hangover and missing one of their compatriots. The groom in question this time is Helms and the missing man is his soon-to-be brother-in-law (Mason Lee).
Philips follows the time-honored tradition that if a sequel is bigger and louder it'll be better. Why do filmmakers insist that this is true? It rarely is. In this case, it works to a degree as Philip and his co-writers come up with some outrageous scenarios that attempt to outdo the original.
There's a running gag with a stolen monk that gets some laughs, Paul Giamatti is good, but underused as a foul-mouthed crime kingpin and the expanded return of Jeong is welcomed. On the demerit side, there's a completely superfluous car chase.
This will sound strange, but the best thing about “Part 2” is a monkey. The first had the trio waking up to discover a tiger in their hotel. Naturally, this film needed an animal as well. The monkey is an upgrade. In his Rolling Stones vest, this monkey has got personality and unexpected talents. I'd watch a whole movie about the exploits of this monkey. Perhaps the monk and monkey should be the stars of the third film. “Monk and Monkey” coming to a theater near you.
The first film turned the scene-stealing Galifianakis into a star. His Alan was endearingly socially awkward, but this time social ineptitude is taken too far. You begin to wonder if the character may have Asperger's syndrome. Too much of his behavior is awkward and uncomfortable without truly being funny. Galifianakis does still get some laughs, but it may be time to retire this persona, which also appeared in Philips' “Due Date” last year.
As with the first film, part of the appeal is the mystery aspect of the story. It is a good formula and you almost can't blame Philips for cloning it so completely. Both films do have clever twists as to where the missing person was the whole time.
So, for a second time around this formula works, but if a third film is made, oh who am I kidding, when the third film is made, Philips better come up with a variation on the theme, because this same situation a third time will be one time too many.