Friday, January 31, 2014
Simon Brook, son of Director extraordinaire, Peter Brook, filmed his father working with 8 actors that displayed Brook's techniques for trainings actors to hone their craft. Peter Brook beings by saying "We are exploring something that is impossibly challenging." The film which switches seamlessly between English & French (without subtitles) is titled TIGHT ROPE. "Tight rope" is a major exercise Brook utilizes when working with actors "to link imagination to the body itself." Actors are asked to move along an imaginary tight rope to "free parts of the body" to "see what is impossible is possible at the same time." Viewing the film is tantamount to being "an annoying fly on the wall" watching Brook at work & actors languishing to fulfill what is asked by their esteemed mentor. Brook watches with astute observation as his students perform and his students unabashedly fawn over his every word. The film is a rate glimpse at a master class on acting taught by one of the greatest living directors. "Joy" is what Brook maintains is essential behind every actor "to make it real." I have no experience or desire to perform. The tight rope walking & number counting aloud appeared foolish to me. For those outside the acting profession, there is little to enjoy from this documentary.
British born (1925) Director Peter Brook has won numerous illustrious awards for the Arts. He has been awarded Tonys, Emmy, Int'l Emmy and Int'l Honors: Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Ibsen Award '08 & Critics' Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts. Brook has directed stage, film, opera & television and authored several books. He directed Olivier, Gielgud in Shakespeare productions and recently directed Midsummer's Night Dream with Ben Kingsle & Patrick Stewart. His 1963 Lord of the Flies film is legendary as King Lear with Paul Scofield. He directed The Suit ('13) at BAM. Brook's works & awards are behemoth & legendary. It was a rare honor & a delight to have him as the guest speaker. Sadly, the moderator Dan Wakin, of the NYTimes failed to facilitate an introspective dialogue with Mr. Brook. Brook was charming, candid, quick witted with no tolerance for fools, which included Wakin & members of the audience. The Q&A from people were pitifully abject or shamelessly self-promoting. Clips from the doc. film on Brook's directing technique made by his son, Simon Brook, were presented. Simon shared the stage with his father and their kinship was heartwarming. Brook said that joy is essential for actors as the link between imagination & the body itself. This TimesTalk was a rare & precious opportunity for garnering incisive wisdom from a living legend. "Director is a wretched word, I prefer guide," sad Brook. Sadly, valuable time was wasted with wretched questions.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Donald Marguilies' play Dinner with Friends is a deceptively lighthearted play that is deep-seated in universal human nature. Marguilies received the Pulitzer Prize for this play and numerous Pulitzer & Tony nominations for other works. He has a knack for uncovering an entire story by exposing imposters and injured parties. Its intelligence lies in discerning what is credible and what is forgivable. The 4 character play is about 4 friends; 2 married couples. A newly married couple, Gabe & Karen "set up" their single male/female friends, Tom & Beth. Tom/Beth wed but then Beth shocks Gabe & Karen over their hysterically pompous meal when she blurts out Tom is leaving her for another woman. Married couples are mysterious to those outside the marriage. Friendships too are nebulous. One friend may not perceive the relationship as they had thought. It's apparent everyone wants to be heard & validated yet listening/understanding another is an elusive ability. Gabe (B'wy veteran Jeremy Shamos) is played with likeable conviction. Karen (Marin Hinkle of 2 1/2 Men) is wonderful as the affronted friend with strong convictions. How do people keep love alive and friendship thriving? There is an evolution to all relationships overtime. Sometimes "practical manners outweight abandon." Dinner with Friends is a penetrative play that provides food rich for thought and discourse.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
FOCUS, Julliard's week tribute to Russian composer Alfred Schnittke to mark his 80th birthday continues through Friday. Schnittke's compositions were unbeknowst to me. His music had been suppressed under Stalin, barring the release outside the U.S.S.R. Julliard has been endowed with many of Schnittke's papers. Joel Sachs, the Julliard Orch. conductor, had a personal relationship with the composer and felt a tribute was in order to honor the late composer. Program II on Mon. Jan. 27th featured a string quartet performing Arvo Part; a collaborative piece. Part is an Estonian classical & religious composer who music is minimlistic & reflective of Gregorian chants. It sounded like 4 musicians were all practising their own piece and the composition was neither cohesive or harmonic. The cello player plucked most of her piece and the group stopped to "retune" at one point. Duo-Sonata for 2 bassoons by Sofia Gubaiulina, (b. 1931 in Russia) was interesting for its unique sound: 2 discordant bassoons playing diverging melodic themes. Schall und Hall composed in 1983 by Schnittke was a trombone & organ duet. Again, intriguing but not appealing. FOCUS continues through this Friday and I will use my tickets for Program 4 on Wednesday.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Outside Mullingar is Patrick Shanley's new play set in Ireland is as entertaining as a wake. Outside Mullingar is performed without an intermission. This made the play interminable. The 4 characters live on contiguous farmlands. The only way anyone leaves either property is by dying. I felt planted in purgatory. One farm is owned & run by father/son Anthony (Brian O'Byrne) & Tony Reilly. The Muldoon's farm is managed by Rosemary (Debra Messing) & just widowed mother, Aoife Muldoon. While the elders commiserate their losses & dismal futures, 42 yr. old Anthony & 35 yr. old Rosemary cantankerously argue outside in the rain each telling the other they should move away and live elsewhere. They're perfect for each other; both being full of blarney. Incredulously, Anthony still pines for a spurned love @ 16 and Rosemary has maintained a grudge since the age 7 after he shoved her. The deathbed contrition from father to son is pitiless. And, the aggressive, last resort romantic plea from Rosemary is buffoonish. Shanley has won the Pulitzer & Tony Award for his brilliant work, DOUBT. In OUTSIDE MULLINGAR he has written a play that is painfully predictable, non-lyrical and totally lacking in any Irish charm. Mrs. Muldoon says "The middle is the best part." If there were a middle, I would have left & gone outside.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Le Passe (The PAST) an intense, complex family drama is by Iranian director/writer Asghar Farhadi. Farhadi won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for "A Separation." Le Passe marks Ashar's 1st departure from filming in Iran. PAST is set in France and entirely in French. Ahmad (Al Mosaffa) is an Iranian has returned to France after 4 years to finalize a divorice from his estranged wife, Marie (Berenice Bejo) and to see his 2 stepdaughters. Ahmad had formed a deep bond during the years he spent with Marie & her girls. The ties that bind between Ahmad & Marie are apparent as is the love & respect her daughters feel towards Ahmad. It is not clear what caused the break in their relationship. Ahmad returns to discover numerous changes. Marie has a live-in relationship with Samir (Tahar Rahia) with his son, Fauod. Lea the younger daughter is delighted to see Ahmad. Older daughter, Lucie, has been tormenting & worrying her mother. Marie asks Ahmad to intercede with Lucie. Lucie soon reveals troubling family secrets to the attentive & caring Ahmad. This is a fierce & emotional drama where unknown confidences are unraveld and the past comes hurling into the present with its disastrous consequences. The PAST is an unforgettable movie. Relationships are tested; apologies and forgiveness are questioned. It's about deciding or remaining stuck in purgatory. I've decided the Oscar for best foreign film this year should go to THE PAST.
Friday, January 24, 2014
The Broadway musical BEAUTIFUL is Carol (Kline) King's musical yarn from Brooklyn schoolgirl, to successful song writer and legendary recording & performing artist. This show is a beautiful tapestry of wonderful music, snappy choreography and stellar performances. Carol, is played by a superb Jessie Mueller. Mueller has a reverberating singing style to King that is spectacular in her own inimitable sound. In addition to her pipes, she is completely disarming in her portrayal of King. The entire ensemble is sensational; both singing and acting. BEAUTIFUL is woven with performances by musical artists who are linked to King's songs. A few of the memorable treasures were the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," the Drifters' "Up on the Roof" and Barry Mann's "You've Lost That Lovin Feelin" crooned by the Righteous Brothers. Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, the song writing team were contemporaries and friendly rivals with Carol & her husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin. It is refreshing to escape up in a musical/drama of living musical legends who were churning out hits and simultaneously supportive friends who admired & encouraged each other's careers. When Carol's marriage unravels we feel her sorrow & admire her irrepressible spirit. I keep a-telling you, this is a show you are sure of loving and you don't have to ask again.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Kinky Boots, last year's Tony Award winning Best Musical cleaned up at the Tony's in almost every category. The musical has the multiple Tony Award winning Playwright Harvey Fierstein and Grammy, Emmy & now Tony winning composer & lyricist, Cyndi Lauper. Nonetheless, the musical didn't produce good material. The story was tired and rehashed: son's who never lived up to their father's expectations. Charlie (Stark Sands) didn't find his real passion in life until he comes back to save the family business. He must keep the workers "who are like family" employed. (Hey, I know let's all put on a show.) Charlie and Lola (Billy Porter) a transvestite chorus "girl" are a misfit, yet perfect pair together. They find their niche. Everyone learns acceptance, Charlie finds the right girl to fit, kinky boots save the company, harmony is made; everyone sings Kumbahyah together. The music was forgettable and the choreography flat. Sands & Porter were both fine in their roles especially since they were treading from tired & mawkish stuff. My girlfriend & I just wanted to have fun - we had none.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
The newest odd couple, crime fighting dynamic duo movie, Ride Along, stars Kevin Hart & Ice Cube. This formulaic comedy has been done so many times before you could stick a fork in it. Yet, funny man Kevin Hart & the indefatigable straight guy, Ice Cube provide plenty of fresh laughs & genuine bonding moments. Ben (Kevin Hart) is an earnest, fast-talking wanna be cop. James (Ice Cube) plays the seasoned cop and over protective brother to Angela, Ben's fiancee. Ben is determined to succeed through Police Academy and prove he's worthy of marrying James' sister. James agrees to take Ben on a ride along with the intent of discouraging him by putting him through intentionally insane scenarios. The required and tired car chases, dirty cops & unrelenting shoot-outs are cookie cut outs which needed editing cuts. But, the irrepressible spunk & wit of Ben pitted against James steely veneer manages to break through the pack of buddy movies to be one of the funniest pairings since 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon. Ride Along is a joy ride that needs some shortcuts.
Monday, January 20, 2014
10,000 Waves is an engrossing video & sound installation on the 2nd floor @ the MoMA. The British born (1960) filmmaker Julien Isaac uses 9 huge, double sided screens strategically suspended from the ceiling. The videos alternate scenes of contemporary & ancient China, mythical beings, tranquil waves and recovery missions at sea. The film is both peacefully hypnotic & abruptly disconcerting. The videos, music and vocal communications immerse the spectators in a surreal art performance that runs for about an hour. The audio portion contains poetry, music, and recorded voices of a sea rescue. Isaac references the drowning tragedy in '04 off the NW English coast of Chinese workers and pays tribute to those lost at sea. The poem Small Boats by W. Ping is recited against the multitude of waves, "Souls scatter across the ocean, nothing is left of us." The footage of an angelic floating figure is reminiscent of the magical beauty in the film "Flying Tigers." The contemporary footage shows busy traffic intersections and a lovely woman traveling alone. Comfortable seating space accommodates the immersion. There is a visceral sense of isolation although we're reminded "we all end in the same boat."
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Ethan & Joel Coen's new movie is set in the NYC folk scene; 1961. The film follows a week in the the life of a talented but down & out folk-singer who serves as his own worst enemy. America's most talented screenwriters/film producers never fail to deliver the unconventional, a movie both wry & morose and exceptionally creative. It's no wonder the stars all align to glimmer for whatever screentime granted. Th lead actor, Oscar Isaac, Latin America actor/singer is pitch perfect for the role and could credited with bringing back folk music. The talented supporting cast include: Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, F. Murray Abraham and their talisman, John Goodman. Jean (Mulligan) is both furious & infatuated with Llewyn. "You're the opposite of Midas, everything you touch turns to shit." He is a vagabond, couch surfer with brooding sex appeal. Llewyn's quest for notoriety is an incredulous, unforgettable journey. The Coen's artistic skills move seamlessly from vibrant colors to haunting black/white scenes. Jimmy cracked corn & I don't care I wasn't a fan of folk music. The Coen Brother's maintain the Midas touch for inventive films; always new that never get old. They keep on surpassing their own distinguished genre of work.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
HER is the film in which Ted (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his computer, Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johanson. (Can a voice receive an Oscar nomination? Because she deserves it.) Phoenix's performance is exceptional. He deserves an Oscar and is arguably our finest American actor. The movie is set in LA in the not too distant future. This is a credible future from where we are today. Ted is a professional letter writer. He writes other's personal letters to their loved ones. Letter writing and printed books have become archaic. Everywhere you look today, everyone is looking/talking into their cells and real contact is becoming obsolete. By real, I mean eye contact, touch, conversation and human emotions. The word lonely is used repetitively in HER, a film of melancholy isolation. Ted is emotionally stifled by a failed marriage. He spends his evenings alone playing (really cool) interactive video games. He purchases the new OS (operational system) a programmed voice designed to respond & provide companionship to its owner. Ted falls in love with Samantha; a virtual being. Samantha too breaks his heart but not before Ted has learned to feel joy, and love again. This is the wakeup & smell the coffee of today. Hokey? Absolutely not, it is a must see movie to experience.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
The hauntingly beautiful film, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, is an account of the secret, illicit affair between Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan. During the rigid societal constraints of the Victorian era, the literay giant Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) maintained a clandestine love affair with a beautiful young actress, Ternan (Felicity Jones.) You don't need to be a fan of Dickens to be enthralled with this arcane knowledge, but it helps. The literary references to Ternan's influence on Dickens' writings may be ambiguous but the pressures to keep their relationship hidden are all too apparent. Dickens was 45, married 20 years and father of 9 children when he began a 10 year affair with 18 year old Ternan. The fear of a scandal that would likely cost Dicken's his popularity held them apart. Fiennes both stars & directs with a skillful touch. The best & worst of times are pictured: bucolic serenity for the aristocracy and the wretched urban conditions of the poor. This is a tale of two loves: forbidden love and love for public adoration. Seeing this film with low expectations you should be greatly pleased, especially with secrets revealed of a legendary writer.
Saturday, January 11, 2014
Today's free performance of music & dance at the Y on W 64th had 3 companies performing puppetry, modern dance and an elaborate Chinese Warrior Dance. The marionettes were all farm animals that was charming to those 8 & under & their parents. The Reichlan LA Dance Co. did a very entertaining interpretation of the Wizard of Oz - if ever there was. The dancer portraying the Tin Man could melt any heart. The final performance was a Chinese Dance Co. that did a visually stunning warrior battle & colorful ribbon dance. The dancers were in full make-up and elaborate costumes. There was a large weaving dragon & dancers standing on each other shoulders in one long gown. The emcee kept the youngsters engaged between numbers and the hour program was delightfully paced. Despite the barnyard banter, the program was fun and the price was right. The Y presents several free youth programs to the public throughout the year.
The APAP Showcase on Friday was a dance performance marathon held in the Allen Room overlooking Columbus Circle. The festival ran for 6 consecutive hours; 5:30PM-11:30PM. The tickets, starting @ $15, gives you access to come & go during the non-stop performances. There are more than 40 companies, mostly modern, but there is ballet, flamenco, hip-hop, contortionists & performance art. Some companies had 10 dancers while others had only 2. There was live music but most was recorded. Several companies had elaborate costumes while others were basic. It's like a huge box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. There is no discernable order to the program. However, this is the most bang for your buck you can get for dance. I burnt out and didn't stay for the entire evening. Of the companies I saw, I particularly enjoyed the passionate Flamenco Co. and the theatrics of the Reichlin Dancers from LA. Some performances left me scratching my head while others had my head nodding off…but, there is much to be said for seeing a cornucopia of dance styles with C.P.S. illuminated as the backdrop.
Alan Gilbert lead the NY Philharmonic with a sensational program of Beethoven, Shostakovich & Gershwin. Lisa Batiashvil played Shosatkovich's Violin Concerto #1. Batiashvili received an ECHO award for her debut album which features this violin concerto. She has also received the Beethoven Ring Prize. The oustanding piece for me and most likely the crowd pleasure, was Gershwin's American in Paris. Gershwin, famous for his Broadway musicals and jazzy twist to classical music wrote An American in Paris in 1928. His music will remain forever a hallmark of uniquely American sound. His flair for bravado exudes jingoism with a flourish. Listening to the full orchestra performing Gershwin's piece you can feel the swagger and pride of being an American whether it be in the beautiful City of Lights or anywhere in the world. Gershwin's rhapsodies will forever continue to be enthrall for generations to come.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
I hated this stunning looking paradoxical film. Falling for the assumption that THE GREAT BEAUTY was a film of profound depth and meaning only made me feel shallow. One absurdist performance artist in the movie claimed "I'm an artist. I don't need to explain." Nothing could be explained, it made no sense. All the nudity in the film spoke loud & clear - the Emperor is naked. This was a faux Fellini fiasco. I walked out of the movie after a scene where a parent bullied their child into making a "$1,000,000 work of art" by throwing cans of paint onto a large canvas and rubbing herself against the wet paint creating a great, distressing mess. Don't buy into this lousy film with no redeeming qualities.
Saul Leiter was a gifted photographer/painter who shunted fame. He passed away in 2012 at age 84. Mr. Leiter had this to say about his work "I am not carried away by the achievements of Mr. Leiter." Tomas Leach, a U.K. filmmaker made his 1st full length documentary, filming Mr. Leiter at age 82 inside his jumbled, ramshackle studio/apartment. Leitner half-heartedly tries to make semblance amidst the hodgepodge of his work & possessions. Watching & listening to Leitner is a treasure hunt filled with art & humorous tidbits. This warm hearted doc. shows the artist's keen eye for composition and witticisms. Leiter is both disarming & inspirational. His self-deprecation & loving embrace for life are infectious. When touted as a pioneer of color photography, Saul claims "nothing is new and I don't care." Esteemed for luminous colored compositions of NYC's scenes & people since the 1950's, his photos are painterly abstract images, "I like when I am uncertain with what I see." Rumbling through his possessions or on the streets with a camera, he says "Search for beauty in the nice things in life. IN NO GREAT HURRY shows us how to appreciate all kinds of things. With a laugh Leiter says "to know everything is not good." This doc. film achieves what Leitner intended his photographs to do, "tickle your left ear."
Friday, January 3, 2014
"Savings Mr. Banks" is the type of family, holiday movie you hope to fully embrace but will lightly cuddle instead. The classic Mary Poppins movie, immortalized by Julie Andrews thanks to Walt Disney, is one of the most beloved movies that was almost never made. Mary Poppins' author, P.L Travers "Mrs. Travers, please" was relentlessly pursued by Walt Disney "Walt, please," for more than 20 years. When Uncle Walt promises his own daughters he would make the book into a movie, what would prevent him from working his magic. Apparently, more than pixie dust is required to own the copy rights from an author reluctant to sell. Travers (Emma Thompson) is one persnickety curmudgeon immune to Walt's charms & the ingratiating talents of the musical Sherman brothers (winningly played by Jason Scwhartzman & B. J. Novak.) The Dickensian story of the author is told in relentless flashbacks that are draining & disruptive. The movie soars with the scenes of Walt or the Sherman brothers trying to woo Travers with kindness, & their imaginative vision for her story. Hanks & Thompson are wonderful in their roles. However, a spoonful of sugar is needed to swallow all the story lines. "Saving Mr. Banks" is not the happiest of Disney movies but it is not without its enchantment.