Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Breaking yawn

Another year brings another “Twilight” movie, this time “Breaking Dawn,” the adaptation of the final book of the vampire/human/werewolf love story. Alas this is not the final film of intense brooding and angst as “Twilight” is going the way of “Harry Potter” and splitting the final novel into two films.

This time next year look for “The Twlight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2.” Fans are already lining up, everyone else is stocking up on garlic and stakes. If only it were that simple, though. Author Stephanie Meyer created a new breed of vampires for her series that can’t be killed by conventional vampire slaying methods. Vampires are supposed to burst into flames in sunlight not sparkle like diamonds.

But “Breaking Dawn” the film can’t even follow the rules established by its creator. There is a extended sequence with vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) enjoying some Brazilian sun and there’s not a sparkle to be seen.

In this installment, Edward and his human girlfriend Bella (Kristen Stewart) finally get married much to the chagrin of Bella’s best friend the werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner). The “Twilight” series has been one long allegory for abstinence with Bella begging to be turned into a vampire and Edward refusing unless they get married first. With marriage out of the way, Bella can finally get her vamp on, but first she wants to get it on with some human-on-vampire action in the bedroom.

Naturally, their sexual adventures end in a pregnancy. The fast-growing fetus is “incompatible” with Bella and is destroying her from the inside. As if that wasn’t enough drama, the news of the pregnancy has the wolves in Jacob’s pack vowing to kill this vampire/human spawn. This leads to a lot of people trying to look intense and distressed, but generally just coming off as constipated.

There’s also a controversial development involving Jacob’s character that has already stirred much debate. Without spoiling anything, this development can best be described as creepy and not in a good way.

During the film’s many pregnant pauses, my mind began to wander and wonder about the logistics of vampire sex and impregnation. If a vampire doesn’t have a heart that beats blood then how can they become aroused? Furthermore how would they produce sperm? And even if they did wouldn’t it be venomous and turn a human into a vampire? The world may never know.

The movie is competently made by Bill Condon the talented filmmaker behind such films as “Gods and Monsters” and “Dreamgirls,” but there’s really only so much that can be done with material this silly and superficial.

There are isolated moments that break up the angst-ridding monotony. An all-too-brief flashback of Edward’s darker past that is shot in the black-and-white style of 1930s horror movie creates more atmosphere in a few minutes than anything in the rest of the movie.

Bella’s father’s (Billy Burke) wedding speech is good for a laugh as he reminds everyone he is a cop with a gun he knows how to use. Anna Kendrick as a catty frenemy also gets some choice one-liners. On the flip side, the film is at its most unintentionally hilarious when we get to hear the thoughts of the snarling wolf pack.

There would be need to be a drastic rewrite of the source material to find anything interesting here, but Melissa Rosenberg’s screenplay is slavishly faithful to the novel. This is great news for the die hard fans of the series, but dire news for those hoping for something more.

In truth, Meyer’s first “Twilight” had some promise, but that got watered down over a series of films that dwelled on shallow characters who mistake obsessive devotion with love. These are the kind of whiny self-absorbed people whose lives would be great if they could just get over themselves. It’s not much fun to be around people like this in real life and it is worse being trapped with them in a movie theater.

Student Artist Profile: Shelby Noble hits the road

Shelby Noble, a senior at Kennett High School, has been acting since the age of 10 and has appeared in numerous productions of Arts in Motion Theater Company. She recently was accepted to tour with Up With People, an international educational and cultural program. Noble, the daughter of Glenn and Jane Noble, will join Cast B 2012 for a world tour that begins in July. Each year hundreds of young men and women between the ages of 17-29 apply to join the international, educational and cultural program for a one- or two-semester experience that visits diverse communities on a multi-continent tour.

Tell me about Up With People.

It is an organization like People to People except the difference is they perform for communities instead of just helping communities.

And what will you be doing with them?

I will be touring with them. I don’t get a final printed schedule until January of all the places I’ll be going to. Basically, I leave July 1 to go to Colorado and I meet with all the other people that have been chosen and then I get to learn the show and we start touring all around the world.

Do you know what sort of things you’ll be performing?

The only general overview that I have are the videos they have on their website, and then on YouTube they have videos of their shows. That’s all that I’ve seen so far.

What sort of things have they done in the past?

In the past, they do everything from like Macy’s Day Parade to the Olympics. They do all sorts of different performances. Usually, they go to a specific community, like last year when Haiti was undergoing all their distress, they went there and built reforms and helped with their community and then at the end of the week they put on a big show. That’s basically what they do.

How did you find out about this or get chosen?

My dad had someone he had in his theater shows back in the day and eventually he went on to do Up with People and that’s how my dad heard about it. We’ve always talked about it and it wasn’t until this year that I was like “Hey, that might be something I’d want to do.”

What was the process like for the selection?

First you need to apply online. There’s a standard $20 fee. Then you just fill out what you’ve done community-service wise, performance-wise. I actually knew a guy because my dad is also trying to get Up with People to come into town and do performances with Arts in Motion. So, this guy named Brad Good was e-mailing me before that and saying he was excited to have an interview with you. Then I had an interview and after the interview they were like, “We’ll let you know in a few weeks at how you placed or whether you got in” and then a few weeks later I got an e-mail saying congratulations and I got a phone call. That’s the general process.

And when did you first become interested in performing in general?

I think it is just in my blood because my dad went to college to be an actor and then he came up with the non-profit organization Arts in Motion, and so ever since I was really outgoing. I just started acting when I think I was 10 or 11 and my first production was “Alice in Wonderland.” That was when I first started.

What was your first role?

The Gryphon. It is not in the movie so your probably have no idea what I am talking about. That was my first role. It wasn’t a very big role.

What would you consider your favorite performance?

Probably Annelle in “Steel Magnolias” because I am named after the movie, so it is special to me and the opportunity to be in it was really cool because I went there to try out and I was like “There all these older people and I’m only 16 years old.” I didn’t even think I was going to place because my mom was going to try out with me. So I was like, “Alright, I’ll go for support” and when I got a role I was really surprised. That was definitely my favorite.

That was a fun performance.

Yeah, I like working with close-knit casts of only a few people because you get to know everyone better.

What was it like doing “Ordinary People” because that’s obviously a fairly dark show?

Yeah, “Ordinary People” was definitely a lot different than all the other shows I have done — well, I don’t know, it was kind of like “Steel Magnolias” with the tight-knit cast thing. It was a dark show because I’m used to doing musicals and happy things, but I prefer when I watch a show or I am in one for it to be more dark. I feel like it challenges people to act a certain way because I am obviously not in this gloomy life, but when I’m asked to be in a show like that I just think that is more of an opportunity.

And how do you get to a darker or gloomier place?

I don’t really know. I don’t know I act a certain way. I guess to try to take on the whole character and be that character when I am on stage. I don’t have things constantly going through my mind like, “Oooh, what am I going to do after this.” I’m thinking of if I was that person how would I be acting, so I guess that’s how I get to any place when I take on a role.

What are you hoping to do after high school?

After high school I leave July 1 for Up With People and when I get back I plan on applying to colleges. I don’t know where yet though. I had some in mind, but I’m not sure. I do want to pursue acting as my major though.

And will you continue to participate in community theater?

Probably, yeah. Community theater is where I started. I feel like obviously I’d have to continue.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Double your displeasure with 'Jack and Jill'

Just in time for Thanksgiving, Adam Sandler has released his biggest turkey yet. “Jack and Jill,” a supposed family comedy in which Sandler gets to play his own twin sister, may not be his worst movie, but it is easily his laziest.

Sandler in drag has been funny before. One of the most popular sketches he did on “Saturday Night Live” was the Gap girls with David Spade and Chris Farley. But what is funny for five minutes isn’t necessarily funny for 90.

Guys dressed as women can be funny, but the idea isn’t intrinsically funny unto itself. Sure, the visual is good for a quick laugh at first, but after that you need to start writing some actual jokes. Movies like “Some Like It Hot,” “Tootsie” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” knew this and created funny and interesting characters and plots.

In all the above examples you also have characters that are guys who decide to dress up as a woman and so there’s the comic tension of how long the charade will last. With “Jack and Jill,” we’re supposed to accept Jill is an actual woman and that’s not believable on any plane of existence.

This could be excusable if the movie was actually funny. There are admittedly some laughs but, few to none of them come from the Jill character. There’s a reoccurring sight gag in which Sandler’s son tapes things to his body that is amusing and an extended appearance by Al Pacino that is, well, we’ll get to that later.

Any time Jill comes on screen with her shrill voice and obnoxious, loud and disgusting behavior you just want her to go away. If fart jokes are your thing, Jill is your gal. Somehow, despite having no redeemable qualities, we’re supposed to believe that Jack’s entire family falls in love with her.

Jill apparently has no job because she just keeps extending her Thanksgiving visit through to the new year. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her because she’s lonely since the passing of her mother who, other than her pet bird, was her only friend. She isn’t a character, but a very ugly caricature. Jack isn’t any better as Sandler plays his latest in a line of rich jerks.

The rich jerk character first appeared in “Funny People,” but that was a film in which Sandler did some real acting. Believe it or not, Sandler is better than movies like “Jack and Jill.” Sandler is just following the money. Anytime he’s tried something more serious like “Punch Drunk Love” or “Reign Over Me,” the films, despite being quite good, are box office duds. His lazy comedies gross $100 million.

In “Grown Ups,” “Just Go With It” and now “Jack and Jill,” he has played wealthy men who are bitter and self-absorbed and then in the final third of the films learn the error of their ways and become better men.

This has been a similar arc to many of Sandler’s films, but in his films from the 1990s such as “Happy Gilmore” there seemed to be some winking at the audience or some genuine sweetness as in “Big Daddy.” In his latter films there’s a sourness. A father now in real life, it's as if he feels obligated to put heartwarming messages in his films even if they feel disingenuous.

“Jack and Jill” is at least partially saved by Pacino. Pacino, playing himself, falls instantly in love with Jill at a basketball game. This leads to some strange scenes in the final third that are so off-the-wall that they actually work. Pacino seems oddly committed to playing himself.

The scenes with Pacino, particularly one in which he takes a call from Jack in the middle of a live stage production are indeed funny, but they feel like they are coming from an entirely different movie.

The Pacino scenes are worth seeing, but it is not worth sitting through all the fart jokes and lame prat falls. So, here’s the recommendation: Walk in an hour late or better yet, save your money and wait for it show up on YouTube or Netflix or in Red Box.

Friday, November 11, 2011

'Time'ly science fiction

Writer/director Andrew Niccol is a dangerous man in Hollywood. He makes movies about ideas and forces his audience to think. His latest film “In Time” is set in a world in which time literally is money and uses this allegory to comment on the current state of the economy.
“In Time” is set in a future, or perhaps parallel universe, in which all people have been genetically altered to not age past 25. The catch is you are given only one more year to live and you must work, steal, beg or borrow more time to continue living. The rich are essentially immortal whereas the poor literally live day to day and often second to second. 
Niccol does a terrific job fully fleshing out and running with this idea. Characters have a glowing green time code on their forearm clicking off the time that remains. People can loan time by holding each other’s wrists. Time has replaced currency. A cup of coffee costs four minutes. It gives a whole new meaning to the expression: What’s it worth to you? The premise also makes things more urgent. When you’re out of money it may not be the end of your life, but in Niccol’s world if you’re out of time, you’re dead.
This is a brilliant concept for a piece of science fiction, but when Niccol set out to make “In Time” I doubt he realized how timely the film would actually be. Niccol’s film directly addresses many of the same issues at the center of the Occupy movement.
The star of the film is Justin Timberlake, who has done the rare feat of transitioning from pop star to a movie star with genuine acting ability. His character, Will Salas, is a laborer who lives with his mother (Olivia Wilde) and they barely can make it to the next day.
Will meets Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) who has lived 102 years and has another century to go. Henry no longer wants to live, and, sensing Will is a good man, gives his remaining time to him. He also lets Will in on a little secret that “for a few immortals to live, many people must die.” The system is staked to ensure that enough people die off so there isn’t over population while the rich live forever.
With this new-found time, Will is allowed into a different “time zone” for only the wealthy, but it also gets the attention of the Time Keepers led by Cillian Murphy. These new form of police make sure that time remains in the right hands and believe that Will murdered Henry.
Now on the run, Will kidnaps Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), an adventure-seeking heiress, and the film essentially becomes “Bonnie and Clyde” meets “Robin Hood” with Will and Sylvia stealing time from her father’s banks and giving it to the poor.
 After establishing the universe and rules, the film settles into a more traditional action movie with car chases and gun fights. These scenes are slick and well produced and flow naturally from the plot rather than just being arbitrary. There are enough quiet moments that allow for tough moral questions to be asked.
Perhaps the best scene in the film is a high-stakes poker match in which being all in means your life is on the line. There is also a similar, but less effective, to-the-death arm-wrestling match.
The premise also allows for a youthful cast. Apparently in this world, in addition to not aging passed 25, you also remain thin and attractive. Timberlake makes a viable thinking-man’s action hero and does continue to prove his acting chops. He does have one unfortunately laughable crying scene, but the guy has real screen presence and that’s something you can’t fake.
Seyfried is a good and appealing actress who is given an underwritten role. She is only here to serve one purpose: fall in love and aid the hero. Her character does have some arc going from a rich girl to a rebel overthrowing the system, but, ironically, there’s not enough time given to show this transition. Even so Seyfried does what she can with the role and Timberlake and Seyfried make an appealing couple.
Murphy is essentially the Tommy Lee Jones character from “The Fugitive” and he does the dogged, hardened-cop role well. He brings a stoic intensity to the character.
Much like “Gattaca,” which Niccol also wrote and directed, and his screenplay for “The Truman Show,” Niccol uses his sci-fi premise to comment on society, culture or human nature, which is in the tradition of the best science fiction.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Talent springs forth in powerful 'awakening'

For its annual musical, M&D Productions has mounted an ambitious and powerful production of “Spring Awakening,” the eight-time Tony Award-winning musical of sexual discovery set in 19th century Germany.

“Spring Awakening,” which opened Thursday, Nov. 10, at Your Theatre in North Conway, N.H. and is playing Thursday through Sunday for the next two weeks, is a rock musical adaptation of the controversial 1892 German play of the same title by Frank Wedekind. Featuring music by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater, the dialogue is more or less to period, but the lyrics are contemporary.

The show is like a greatest hits of misery: child abuse, rape, abortion and suicide. This isn’t a light, happy musical, but it isn’t a total downer either. It explores these issues in a serious and direct way, but also features rousing musical numbers and a sly sense of humor.

There’s a large cast that mixes community actors with three professional actors that M&D brought in specifically for this show. The most notable of the three pros is Jason Cabral in the lead role of Melchior, a bright student who is seen as dangerous for being a free thinker.

Cabral, who also was assistant director, has a strong, commanding voice and an engaging stage presence. He is good in both dramatic and comic moments. Most importantly, you never see him acting. It feels natural. His standout moment, backed by the ensemble, is “Totally “F---ed,” the show's funniest, most dynamic number.

It is a testament to the level of talent that we have in this community and to Ken Martin’s abilities as a director, that the professionals, who also include Christopher Baron and Janet A. McWilliams in supporting roles, don’t stand out like sore thumbs. The cast blends together seamlessly. The pros don’t come down to a lesser level, everyone comes up to their level ability.

Molly Paven is the naive Wendla, who embraces her sexual desires toward Melchior not knowing the consequences thanks to a lovely bit of misinformation about child birth from her mother (Christina Howe). Paven is every bit Cabral’s equal in terms of vocal and acting ability. Paven, seemingly with little effort, brings across Wendla’s innocence, confusion, frustration and excitement.

Paven and Cabral have a palpable chemistry and share numerous powerful scenes together most notably one in which Wendla asks Melchior to beat her with a rod as she wants to be able to relate to her abused friend Martha (Amy Nicole Smullen). The act unleashes their sexual desires.

Chris Madura as Moritz is the third lead. Mortiz is troubled by his developing sexual urges which plague his dreams. As a student, he struggles to make the grade and is often the target of abuse and humiliation from his teachers (Bill Knolla and Karen Gustafson).

Madura beautifully brings across the tremendous pressure Mortiz is under and the depression he is struggling with. When he confronts his father (Kevin O’Neil) about his struggles at school only to be ridiculed we feel his pain. Madura shines brightest sporting a fauxhawk and venting his frustration on the punk-ish “Don't Do Sadness.”

Outside of the three leads, everyone gets at least one moment to shine. Smullen takes lead on the heartbreaking “The Dark I Know Well" which explores her character’s abuse. Jessica Pappalardo as Ilse, who tentatively attempts to be more than a friend to Mortiz, showcases her beautiful voice on the haunting “Blue Wind” and leads the cast in the show’s final number "The Song of Purple Summer" Baron and Ezra T. Alves share a funny and tender scene of budding, forbidden love.

This is complex and big show and so everyone deserves their credit. The actors are backed up by a solid live band that includes Cella Mariani, Eric Hudson, Eric Jordan, Thaddeus Pinkerton and Rafe Matregrano, who also provided musical direction. Once again Deborah Jasien has provided a beautiful set with an amazing tree as the center piece. Johnathan Pina provides the show with its lively choreography. Lighting design by Martin and Mark Delancy and sound design Pinkerton are both effective.

For more information or tickets call the box office at 662-7591.

Friday, November 04, 2011

'Puss' gets by on the charms of Banderas and Hayek

Last year the “Shrek” series petered out with the passably entertaining “Shrek Forever After.” It was clear the series was well passed its expiration date, but Hollywood always perseveres when there is money to be made and thus we have the spin off “Puss in Boots.”

All cynicism aside about the roots of the film, “Puss in Boots” is a charming, funny animated film that recaptures much of the original wit and freshness of the first “Shrek” while having its own flavor and personality.

As with “Shrek,” “Puss in Boots” is set in a world that reworks and satirizes fairy tales, but the film differs from “Shrek” by taking on a tone of a spaghetti western.

Antonio Banderas returns as the adventure seeking cat that is part Zorro and part El Mariachi, his character from “Desperado” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.” In this story, he is a bandit who thieves as the means to a noble end. A back story reveals that years ago Puss was betrayed by his friend Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and tricked into robbing his beloved home town. Left an outlaw, Puss desperately hopes to somehow repay his debt.

That chance comes in the form of heist cooked up by Humpty that involves stealing magic beans from Jack and Jill (Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris), who in this universe are feared criminals, and growing the famed beanstalk that leads to the goose that lays the golden eggs. Despite his qualms about Humpty, Puss agrees to take part in the caper. It helps that the third partner in crime is the lovely Kitty Softpaws (Selma Hayek).

Banderas and Hayek worked together in “Desperado” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” and their chemistry, even just in voice performances, is tremendous. Both actors breathe so much robust life into their characters. It is ultimately their performances that make the film so enjoyable even when the films plot begins to feel stretched in spots.

Galifianakis, whose socially awkward idiot schtick in “The Hangover” and “Due Date” is wearing thin, gives a sweet, genuine performance as Humpty Dumpty. There’s some complexities to the character that Galifianakis’ vocal performance brings across naturally.

Thornton and Sedaris have a lot of fun as the bickering bandits and lovers Jack and Jill. In an amusing twist Jack wants to give up the criminal life and have kids and start a family.

The screenplay by Brian Lynch, David H. Steinberg, Tom Wheeler and Jon Zack is full of clever ideas, visuals and lines of dialogue. A particular favorite is the way a wagon transforms into a flying machine. The plot does become needlessly complicated in the end suggesting that there was perhaps one too many writers working on the script.

Director Chris Miller, who wrote and directed “Shrek the Third,” brings a slick visual style that emulates the “Shrek” style, but has a feel all its own. The film movies at a brisk pass and the use of split screens at various points in the film is clever and energetic.

But as previously stated it is Banderas and Hayek that make this work. Without them there really is no movie. Other actors could’ve provided the voices of these characters and done a good job, but it just wouldn’t have been the same. Their personalities are so completely infused in the characters it is hard to imagine it any other way.

Student Artist Profile: Kevin Brown — 'It is really nice to perform'

Kevin Brown, a senior at Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine, is in vocal jazz and has an interest in theater.

How did you get interested in vocal jazz?

Originally, I really wanted to go into theater my freshman year, but Mr. Neland was like "No, no, no, you should go to chorus" and I was like "Alright." So, I went to chorus and the first few years I wasn't really interested in eclectic, which is like JV vocal jazz and then junior year I tried out for vocal jazz and Mr. Lacasce said "Yeah, you're definitely in. You're definitely one of the best basses we have." Alright, cool. So, kind of been on the road since.

Have you always had interest in singing?

Yeah, my mother was a choir director for the church we went to in Massachusetts before we lived here, so often times I'd stay after and sing with her, hang around and get some pieces under my belt.

You have done some theater, too?

Yes, I've always been interested in theater. Again, my mother and my brother, Ryan, have both been interested in theater and influenced me most of my life. Ryan right now lives in Baltimore, Md. and he's actually directing plays. For his job, he works at an intern hospital and he walks in and acts like a patient sometimes. He'll walk in, "Oh, I think I have a heart problem and I don't really know why." And they have to wonder what he is going to do. That sort of thing. I get a lot of influence from him.

Have you been in any productions?

Well, I've only been in like three because it has mostly been school productions that I've been able to go to because they are pretty local. Even then I wasn't really interested. A lot of theirs are like these comedy musicals things and I've always been interested in drama and really acting not just: deliver line, punchline, walk off stage.

Have there been any roles you really enjoyed playing or that you really want to play?

Last year when we did the one acts for the May term I got to play this character who wasn't really connected to his parents because he was adopted and they didn't really feel like telling him until pretty much half way through his life. The character really stuck out and I enjoyed it because he started out as this really shelled in boy and then he grew up to be this rough and tough guy, but deep down he was still this boy. I really liked that part. As for a part I've really wanted, I don't know. My father always told me "There's no such thing as big parts, but big actors" and same thing for small. I've always worked with what I got. Granted, guard number three isn't a great role.

What do you hope to do when you get out of high school?

I've been mostly looking into botany and ecology. Oddly enough, I don't really want to go into theater much, but if it comes to be I might do the school plays or that kind of thing, again, what I've actually been doing lately. I've been looking at the College of the Atlantic and mostly coastal ecological kind of places for studies.

In terms of the vocal jazz, has there been any standout performance you really enjoyed participating in?

Yeah, last year we did the Berklee Jazz, which has, I think, over 200 schools. We luckily came out on top against all the other schools across the entire New England performance. At the end, I just remember singing and things weren't really on time and we weren't really singing that great, but it just felt so good to be in front of all these other schools and be like, "Yeah, Fryeburg Academy, we're singing in front of you guys." I just remember looking behind me and seeing our drummer, Jon Dana, jamming out on these 50 Toms and he didn't know what to do like a little boy in a candy shop. It was really great. It was really nice performance. That was last year when we won at Berklee. That was a great performance definitely.

Have you had any interest in participating in community theater with M&D or Arts in Motion?

Nah, there just hasn't been enough time in anything I've done. I don't even have a car, so it is kind of hard for me. If my dad was home a lot more, but often time he has been working a lot, so it would've been middle of the day, right after school, I'd have to find a ride and then a ride back. It is a great idea, I'd really love to be a part of it, but it is just too out of the way.

Do you have any final thoughts on what you want to do or why you like to perform?

I just perform because it is really nice to perform. I like being different from who I am. Can I be this character? Can I be that character? Can I act sane for once or can I act insane. Yeah, that's about it.