September 14th, 2009


Movies that are better than "All About Steve"

Before the list gets ridiculously long, here's what I've seen lately besides "All About Steve":

Symphony Space has been doing double features of classics, and I walked over one Sunday afternoon for "Jules et Jim" (love triangle) and "The 400 Blows" (a schoolboy's seemingly minor infractions lead to worse and worse consequences).

"Julie and Julia" - the parallel stories of Julia Child and blogger Julie. Meryl Streep as Julia was far more interesting.

"Amreeka" - my first time at the Sunshine, in a screening arranged through IFP. The movie was a well-done fictional story of Palestinians in Illinois during the Iraq War. Filmmaker Cherien Dabis spoke afterward. This was the perfect antidote to the much worse "All About Steve" which I'd seen the previous day.

"The Time Traveler's Wife" - saw this on a whim so hadn't read about it and spent much time wondering if the lead was Christian Bale (nope, equally crossword-friendly Eric Bana). I think the movie might have been less confusing if I'd read the book, but maybe all that jumping back and forth in time is not supposed to be crystal-clear.

MoMA now has a "Film Plus" membership option, which I joined but I don't know yet whether it will be worth it. I did continue to use the current membership features and saw:

"Wedding Crashers" - I knew a couple who used to get all dressed up and hit the big catering halls to crash weddings. I'm not sure how they avoided sit-down dinners with assigned seats, but they probably had just as much fun as Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn do in this movie. I'd never seen Wilson in anything before and he does have a certain charm (and his Butterscotch Stallion nickname hints at even more talents). Sure there are silly situations, but overall a fun movie.

"Hairspray" - the movie musical version of the Broadway musical (which I didn't see) of the John Waters movie (which I saw). Waters has a cameo. Everything and everyone is cheerful and pastel-hued even though the topic occasionally gets serious. I liked it a lot, and the art during the credits was worth hanging around for (I always stay for the full credits, and am amazed how few others do).

"A History of Violence" - a few minutes in, I had that "trapped in violence beyond my control" feeling but stuck it out. Duh, a movie with "Violence" in the title is going to be violent. Viggo Mortensen is a contented family man and diner owner in a backwater town who defends himself against would-be robbers. This makes the national news and he's soon visited by people who claim he had a very different life in the past. William Hurt was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for 8 minutes of screen time.

Broadway and beyond

I thought I was getting a flu at the end of last week. Had a scratchy throat, cough, and slight fever (100.8) the one time I took my temperature. I carried a bottle of water with me and had to drink it while seeing some plays, trying hard not to cough and annoy the audience. But it seems my computer (with the virus) was sicker than me, and I'm feeling better so maybe that was a false alarm. I did have a flare-up of my allergy (whose cause was never determined) over the weekend, with my face swelling alarmingly, but I'm OK two 24-hour Claritins later. So maybe I won't have to avoid plays (other than the two I already have tickets to) this week. Here's what I've seen since last report.

"Far Out" (Fringe Festival) - Lorinne has enormous personal charisma, so I was happy to see that translated into talent onstage. Wearing '50s outfits, she sang and danced (and had a few lines) as part of the "Far Out" ensemble. The musical had some elements of "Toxic Avenger" but was unfortunately not nearly as good (and was miked too loud).

"Cock-a-Doodle-Doo" (Fringe Festival) - I went downtown on a rainy Saturday morning to see my cousin Rachel in this adaptation of a Herman Melville short story. I didn't want to distract her with eye contact or (worse) waving or yoo-hooing, but the theater was small and she did see me. The play's creator and star, Danny Ashkenasi, was acting up a storm and it took a while to figure out what was going on. Very simply, he's drawn by the call of a rooster (thus getting to say "cock" often - get your minds out of the gutter! It's a rooster) and things went on from there. Rachel got to use her violin skills in portraying the rooster's call, as well as acting various parts.

"Puppetry of the Penis" - speaking of cocks (OK, you can put your minds back in the gutter),.. Yup, this production has no puppets other than body parts. Still, this isn't really racy once you get past the fact that you're looking at naked men's genitals. The evening had a bachelorette/gay guy party vibe, and began with comedian Amy Schumer (who alternates shows with two other comics) warming up the crowd. Then the two "puppeteers" emerged in capes and eased us into their unveiling. Their "installations" of things like hamburgers, the Olympic torch (complete with flame) and Yoda were shown on a big screen for optimum viewing. I heard the Aussie originators on Howard Stern during the show's first run a few years ago, but this production starred two young Americans, recent conservatory grads who didn't expect their New York debut to be quite like this. Giggles galore.

"The Ghosts of Provincetown" - a double bill of the crossword-friendly O'Neill play "Ile" (a whaling captain has to decide whether to turn back and satisfy his near-mutinous crew and unhappy wife, or continue and catch enough to profit) and Louise Bryant's ("Reds") "The Game" (Life and Death battle for souls). Heavy themes, well-acted.

"Race Music" - Black classical music enthusiast LeBron is turned away when he tries to get a job as a radio announcer in a midwestern city in 1999. This seemed too recent for such blatant and illegal racism, but it's all explained with some complicated backstory. Despite the overplotting and sometimes contrived situations, I enjoyed this look inside radio and especially liked the classical music used as background.

"Tales from Rainwater Pond" - part of an Irish festival, this play was done downstairs at Irish Rep. The nice lady in the box office directed me to a young woman checking people in at the head of the stairs, who thought I looked familiar. Yes, she saw "Wordplay" and said her mother would be especially excited to hear she met me. Oh right, the play. Billy Roche ably performed two of these tales, about a woman reminiscing about her brother's drowning, and a man telling of a poignant first love.

"Spinning the Times" (59E59) - also part of the Irish festival, this was held in the smallest theater (C) at 59E59 so I now have a venue complete. "The Pride of Parnell Street" had its opening night the same night, and I heard many Irish accents in the bar waiting area (which is somewhat claustrophobic) and saw the lady from the Irish Rep box office. Turns out she's the company's co-founder and artistic director, Charlotte Moore. My show was 5 monologues by Irish female writers, based on current events. Good.

"Phantom of the Opera" - I go to the theater all the time, yet never saw this longest running Broadway musical ever. Perched in the rear mezzanine, I finally saw it. The staging is spectacular and everything is grand and schmaltzy, but my problem is I just don't like operatic voices. Still, certainly worth seeing.

"Broke-ology" (Lincoln Center - Mitzi Newhouse) - I like soul and disco a lot more than opera, and some good songs were played both before and (just a bit) during this play about a struggling Kansas City family. Several poignant moments, especially at the end.

As I left the building, I realized I should have stopped at the ladies' room but figured I could go to Barnes & Noble nearby. It was like the recurring dream where there's something wrong with every bathroom. The main one was closed for cleaning (the sign said 15-20 minutes), the one near the cafe had just 2 stalls and a line, and the one in the kids' section was supposed to be just for kids (you had to ask for the key and I wondered if I should try to bribe the salesperson). I hung around at the main one but it seemed like a long time and they were still cleaning. So I went home - stopping for groceries and pizza (take-out slices), so it wasn't that big an emergency. I made it just fine, but for better peace of mind I should have either waited on the line or waited for the cleaning to finish.

"Girls Night" - different vibe than "Puppetry..." but just as fun for a girls night out (though I went alone). The usual pre-show "turn off your cell phone" announcement was followed by one saying dancing was strictly permitted, and the disco score encouraged this. I was too shy to get up and dance except when it was strongly encouraged; if I ever saw this with my sister we'd be in the aisle the whole time. There was also a plot. I don't see why men wouldn't like this too, and a few brave ones in my audience seemed to enjoy it.

"Shrek: the Musical" - rear mezzanine again for a Saturday matinee filled with kids. Unfortunately, full-sized adults sat in front of me blocking the view slightly - but the seat was unusually comfy. Very lavish set and effects. I didn't realize until curtain call that one actor performed entirely on his knees. The cast was good, but Pinocchio was annoying and the songs were generic. I never saw any of the movies, but that didn't seem to matter.

"In the Daylight" - I failed to notice the box office on the ground floor and climbed to this 4th floor theater and then had to go back down and up again. The play was a dark (very dark) story of family secrets and murder with lots of familial yelling. The plot was a little contrived, but it worked.