Check out my new post

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN' the Musical at the Raven - 'Hark - Forever More'

Many will argue  Mel Brooks' films "The Producer" or "Blazing Saddles" are amongst the funniest films of all times.  Brooks co-wrote & co-starred with Gene Wilder in "Young Frankenstein."  The film opened in 1974 (in Milwaukee where Wilder is from) and Brooks claims this is his best film.  "The Producers" went on to become a major Broadway Musical Hit.  "Young Frankenstein" had a short life-span on Broadway (2007-09) with mixed reviews.  The Raven Performance Theater in the quaint town of Healdsburg, CA, are offering a Halloween treat complete with live music and some surprisingly strong performances from its cast of local playhouse performers.  The hilarious film is a hard act to follow against the comedic geniuses of Wilder, Brooks, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman and Madeline Kahn.  The slapstick, visual humor made fleeting only fleeting glimpses in this production.  Dr. Frankenstein (Troy Thomas Evans) comedic acting flatlined but his singing voice along with that of Inga (Mary Watts Sparks) were both admirable.  Frau Blucher (Tory Rotlisberger) did spark some genuine gleeful comedy.  Igor played by Bill Garcia doesn't compare to the late great Marty Feldman in the role but he stole the show.   Credit the live orchestra with transforming this community theater into a viable "Off Off Broadway" show.  Conductor Kelly Considine lead an excellent score with gusto.  The orchestra alone made it worth the paltry $30 admission price.  Kyle Craft on violin and Ruth Wilson on French Horn were first rate, first chair musicians.  There was budding talent to be found on stage with two young performers.  Cecilia Brenner, just 11 years old was terrific and Emilia Naples, a sophomore at the local high school was a stand-out with her fabulous dancing.  Both were in the ensemble.  SF Ballet look no further than your own backyard for a budding star in Naples and Brenner might bring locals bragging rights for hometown talent.  I recommend the Raven's production of "Young Frankenstein" as and enjoyable romp and a reprieve against today's pressures.  "Humor is just another defense against the universe."  (M Brooks).

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Film "Yesterday" Imagine a World Without Beatles Music if You Can

"Yesterday" is a fantasy (or perhaps horror) film wherein the Beatles were never formed and the multitude of memorable songs that formed the soundtrack to our lives are gone.  Stop and think about it, no uniting of Paul, John, George and Ringo.  Dir/producer Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") romantic musical comedy plays on the premise the Beatles band had never born.  Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a fledgling singer/songwriter getting by with a little drudgery job.  He has 1 unflagging fan, Elie (Lily James "Downton Abbey").  Elie is his manager & long time admirer since their teens.  Not having made it in the music business, Jack tells Elie he's had enough.  Elie tries to convince him to stick with it, he's got talent and miracles can happen.  What happens is the entire planet goes dark (y2k deja vu) for 12 minutes while Jack is on his bike.  He slams into a bus.  It's a miracle he survived.  When he wakes in the hospital, Elie is at his side.  Hey dude, is the premise of the movie based on a dream?  Na-na na, na - let that idea out & let it in, allow the fantasy to begin.  Once out of the hospital, Elie presents him with a new guitar (he sweetly weeps for his demolished guitar).  Elie with a couple friends (one a doppelgänger for Paul McCartney's son) ask him to play.  Jack chooses "Yesterday" to the astonished praise of Elie & friends.  They don't seem to recall the song or the Beatles.  Is this a dream or a joke gone on too long?  Jack attacks the internet.  The only reference to Beatles are - beetles.  He becomes a real nowhere man, not knowing what he's going to do.  He begins to perform Beatle songs to growing adoration from increasing crowds.  Ed Sheeran (playing himself) pops over to his house having heard him play & asks him would he like to open for his band.  Jack agrees immediately (despite his dad running ridiculous interference).  Sheeran is one of the many delightful surprises.  If Sheeran can play out of character, he may have another career acting.  And, Malik has great promise as a singer.  Kate McKinnon's role as the LA ruthless music exec who  tempts Malik with money & fame is a big put off.  Rocky (Joel Frey "Game of Thrones") on the other hand puts in scene stealing performance as the underfoot lackey.  Rocky is only trying to HELP Jack.  Rocky says to Jack "I never not got what you not got in Elie."  The movie strums along with the Jack & Eli love story everyone sees except Jack before it's too late for him to say he's sorry and he's gonna lose that girl.  Patel & James performed together in perfect harmony. "Yesterday" is a charming and entertaining homage to the Beatle's songwriting genius.  the Beatles' music will defy the test of time as in all great art.  The film "Yesterday" is a pleasurable romp into a nightmarish world without the music.  Imagine a world without cigarettes, it isn't hard to do.  You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.  Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The doc. Film "The Biggest Little Farm" is Big on Charm, Wisdom and Nature's Beauty

John and Molly Chester have worked out the recipe for marriage mixed with manure for good measure that's matured into a phenomenal organic farm in CA.  This didn't happen without them getting their hands dirty or spirits dampened.  John is an award winning film and TV writer/director.  His wife Molly, a farm to table organic chef.  They're happily married & living in Santa Monica when they became dog driven to revitalize hundreds of acres of barren farm land into a utopian, self-sustaining organic farm.  This was achieved through "a delicate dance of co-existence" amongst nature, nurture, organisms, animals & people.  Dog driven because after being drawn to rescue dog named Todd.  Their vows now included a permanent home for Todd. Todd was beloved by John & Molly but not their neighbors.  Todd's non-stop howling whenever they were away and got them evicted.  Naturally, John's talent as a filmmaker & Molly's love for cooking organically with added ingredient of needing to relocate landed them in Moorpark, CA; just over an hour N of LA.  With financial backing, inexplicable soil hacking, fundamental understanding of farming lacking (and cameras packing) John & Molly sought mentors, help and 8 unforgettable years later, their dreams  of a productive "traditional" farm using diversity, ingenuity, grit grew into a miraculous reality.  Getting there was a slow journey of disillusionment,  debacles, devastation & determination.  This indefatigable twosome created something profound.  This wondrous cinematographic doc. captures  nature's beauty & brutality. The viewer will discover fragile harmony in our eco-system energized by the impermanence of life.   John is not only the hero of his domain.  He's totally hands on, heart fully committed and discretely behind the camera.  John is the writer, dir. producer and cinematographer of this phenomenal film that gives you an inside look at the complex inter-workings of nature's inherent sustainability and human ingenuity.  "There's more to see than can ever be seen.  More to do than can ever be done."*   John narrates with poetry and sage.  Amy Overbeck's editing is brilliantly dissected & 'thymed' spanning nearly a decade.  "The Biggest Little Farm" is magically unpredictable.  It's a paradox of co-existence and a creative observation on the delicate equilibrium balance; pest or salvation, problem or resolution.   John and Molly unearthed an interconnected beauty of land and nature and discovered a comfortable level of disharmony essential to thrive.  Parents, you may want to take your children to see the "Lion King" but you MUST take them with you to see "The Biggest Little Farm."  "It's the circle of life and it moves us all."*

* (E John)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Late Night Shines with Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson-A Modern Mary Tyler Moore and More

The film "Late Night" is formulaic funny stuff that is riotously clever, politically incorrect and much more than a light fare chick flick.  A behind the scenes TV talk show host & writing staff is not ground breaking material but "Late Night" throws in saucy curves and hard hitting lines.  Molly (Mindy Kaling "The Mindy Project") is the film's screenwriter and co-star who pars with her boss, TV Late Night host Katherine (the inimitable Emma Thompson). Kaling pays unapologetic homage to old TV shows; particularly the beloved "Mary Tyler Moore Show".   Kaling tosses her hat high & laughs rain down amid some well earned tears.  Molly is your perky, irrepressible single working woman looking for her big break in TV.  Katherine is the curmudgeon boss who hates perky.  Katherine has a steely facade covering for a big heart after all.  The Late Night Talk Show with host Katherine Newbury has been flailing for the past several years. It's become stale, dated and worst of all, not funny.  There's blame to go around from its haughty host and its all white stale male writing team for whom Katherine's stifled and been hostile.  The comedy writers type casting is straight from "40 Rock" (as is the locale).  They're a motley mix of talented actors.  Katherine assigns them numbers according to their seats rather than addressing them by name.  A few of the number crew to call out are Hugh Darcy, Reid Scott, Max Casella and Denis O'Hare as Brad her long-time cohort.  Amy Ryan is perfect as the menacing network head who intends to stop the bleeding by cutting Katherine from her show.  Katherine knows she's been negligent, lazy & sexist.  She hates working with other women and orders Brad to hire a woman on the staff.  Molly's happenstance circumstance land her the job despite her feeble qualifications.  But, timid Molly is not.  Mindy as Molly has never been more appealing or subversively clever.  The "Me too Movement" gets a she too slut shaming and there's affirmative action blaming.  Molly remains undaunted.  She refuses to be marginalized by white male privilege or kowtow to a bitchy boss.   This may sound trite but Late Night goes rogue.  It's a pastiche of hubris, humbling humor with earnest emotional tugs & twists.  Kaling's screen-writing is innovative  "cartharcissim" deserving of a standing ovation.  "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." Mindy Kaling is no Yeats, at least not yet.  But, "Late Night" is a sure bet for LOL fun.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Oliver Ranch an Outdoor Sculpture and Art Installation in Sonoma County

The Oliver Ranch located in Sonoma just an hour north of San Francisco is an outdoor art museum with 18 installations on a sprawling 100 acres of rolling landscapes with breathtaking  panoramic views of the surrounding wine countryside.  It's fair but diminutive to compare Oliver Ranch to Storm King an hour north of NYC sitting on 5 times the acreage and 10 times the number of installations.  Of course, this is petty and both outdoor art museums are well worth visiting.  Both have large scale installations that can be appreciated in a relaxed and organic environment.  We were met at the property by Steve Oliver.  Steve and his wife Nancy have partnered with the Community Fdtn Sonoma County to offer tours to organizations benefitting the local community.  Oliver greeted us in jeans & t-shirt & gave a rehearsed, self-deprecating history of his initial interest in contemporary arts which were honed into a driving passion by his wife.  Oliver's background is in engineering & business.  He built & owns the massively successful Oliver Construction Co.  The only restriction placed on the artists' works by Oliver were to be site specific.  The art installations are majestic feats of architectural engineering and complex configurations.  There are 3 derivations from this generalized description.  Two sound installations and the dual figurative sculptures by Terry Allen.  I took exception to the curators' shallow summation of Allen's works as whimsical.  I thought Allen's sculptures of a girl with her head buried in the ground and the headless male torso braced against a tree a powerful political comment on racial injustice with its history of lynching and the continual failure to acknowledge and affirm civil by burying one's head or turning a deaf ear.  The 2 structures I was most taken with were Roger Barry's "Darwin" a large steel cor-ten arch for its graceful form melding into the earth as well as its ingenious functioning as a seasonal sun-dial by its casting shadows.  Robert Stackhouse's "Russian River Bones" is an all white oblong structure resembling a board walk.  The upper boards are braced upon tall saw horses.  As you move alongside the structure the shape undulates and creates the sensation of water ebbing and flowing.  I'm disappointed our tour was limited to 8 artists.  I very much wanted to experience Andy Goldsworthy's  "6 untitled installations."  I hope to have another opportunity to immerse myself into Oliver Ranch.  There are performances held inside Ann Hamilton's gargantuan concrete tower with helix staircases which I'd be thrilled to attend.  

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Congrats to Elaine May for Her Tony Win - As Predicted Back in November

THE WAVERLY GALLERY is the name of a defunct art gallery run for almost 30 years by Gladys Green (the incomparable Elaine May) in Greenwich Village.  She's an eccentric octogenarian teetering on senility.  The play begins with Gladys having lunch with her grandson Daniel (Lucas Hedges "Manchester by the Sea").  Gladys is garrulous, charming and ultimately exasperating.  She talks non-stop about herself and the glamorous social life she led with her previous husband; both deceased.  Gladys asks Daniel questions repeatedly.  His contained vexation with his grandma is admirable & hilarious.  Gladys tells Daniel about his paternal grandma who was, well "nuts" at the end of her life.  ACT I is set in 1989 and Gladys' non-stop prattle is maddening but tolerable by her daughter Ellen (Joan Allen), Ellen's husband Howard (David Cromer) and Ellen's son Daniel.   Gladys' loquaciousness at the family dinner table is a comedic masterpiece.  May began as a comedy duo with Mike Nichols & she's a showbiz legend.  May as well hand her the TONY for this remarkable performance.  Her comedic timing is uncanny & her dramatic turn extremely poignant.  ACT II set 2 years later paints a drastic change in Gladys.  Her dementia has deteriorated to the point where she can no longer manage on her own.  Her mind has been smashed to pieces a blank canvas.  The full-time care required is excruciatingly draining on her family.  Ellen's  anger & frustration is understandable and the situation painful for everyone.  Ellen wishes her mom would have a "peaceful death" and tells Daniel to "just shoot me when I get like this."  The running gag with hearing aids is bittersweet.  Don (Michael Cera) is a pathetic flailing painter who hangs his art & his hat in the vacant Waverly Gallery.  Don keeps insisting the family needs to adjust Gladys' hearing aids.  The owner of the gallery evicts Gladys despite the families pleas for more time.  The owner has his own plans for the space although it remains empty for the next 2 years.  Most people don't have the strength or unwilling to commit to someone whose life is fading.   Kenneth Lonergan's brilliant play was a Pulitzer Prize finalist (2001).  The play is cleverly staged.  The brick wall curtain serves as a screen between scenes showing how things have changed over the years in Greenwich Village from the 1960s to 1980s.  Daniel speaking directly to the audience is very affecting.  Allen & Hedges are excellent in their roles.  May gives a powerhouse performance.  Lonergan's brilliant play is a potent reminder to listen to each other, to remember the details and to fully embrace life.   THE WAVERLY GALLERY is a masterpiece and May is a miraculous force of nature.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Warriors Loss is Shoved aside by Mark Steven's Foul Mouth and Contact with Player

I was at the Warriors game last night where the home team fell to the Toronto Raptors 123 to 109 despite an all time high of 47 points for Steph Curry and celebrity support by Beyonce and Jay-Z. The Raptors now lead the series 2-1.  The NBA Finals are not over yet except for one of its owners, Mark Stevens.  In the 4th quarter Raptors' player Kyle Lowry fell into the stands trying to save a loose ball.  It was apparent Lowry was extremely agitated as he was seen asserting himself with a ref.  Not long afterwards,  two security guards were seen escorting a man from the arena who was seated in the section where Lowry had landed.  The man being led out was Mark Stevens; not merely a fan but part owner of the Warriors.  Security reviewed footage of the incident.  Stevens was seated off to the side and not involved in the collision. Nevertheless, Stevens reached over and put his hands on Lowry and yelled vulgarities at him.  This abhorrent behavior is not to be taken lightly.  Lowry said "He {Stevens} had no reason to touch me.  He had no reason to reach over two seats and then say some vulgar language to me.  There's no place for people like that in our league."  Lowry's absolutely right.  The NBA has banned Stevens from the rest of the series.  But, is this in itself serious enough action?  No, it' not!  I agree with Lowry, "Honestly, I hope he's never allowed to come to an NBA game because he shouldn't have done that.  There's no place for that."  The NBA has come out with the following statement "Mr. Steven's behavior last night did not reflect the high standards that we hope to exemplify as an organization.  We're extremely disappointed in his actions along with Mr. Stevens offer our sincere apology to Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors' organization for this unfortunate misconduct. "  Good for Lowry for speaking to league security and for taking action to remove Stevens.  Still, this doe not even out the score.  Stevens should be forevermore banned from attending any NBA games.  I'm hoping the Warriors will tie up the series and go onto a repeat championship.  There should never be a repeat of this disgraceful behavior by a fan and should it be an owner - they should be banned.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

"Booksmart" A Superbad Senior Breakout Flick with Funny Clever Chicks

Film and TV Actress Olivia Wilde makes her film directing debut with "Booksmart" written by Emmy winner Emily Halpern ("Black-ish").  Wilde brings something new & refreshing to the comedy genre of high school seniors, self-proclaimed losers, seeking to redeem their social status and achieve sexual conquests.  There is something blatantly outdated with "Booksmart."  The inane  casting of 20 somethings in roles as high school students deserves detention.  There has to be teens to fill roles as teens.  The entire h.s. class should've already graduated college by now. But, the 2 leads Amy (Kaitlyn Dever "Beautiful Boy") and Molly (Beanie Feldstein "Ladybird") are a pitch perfect comedic duo that precludes warranting a do over.  Feldstein, a youngish Rebel Wilson is magnetic, hilarious and commandeering as the over achieving student with myopic focus.  Molly put aside fun & socializing albeit for her cohort & bestie Amy (an endearing Dever).  The movie begins the last day of high school; a precipice into the future.  Amy picks up Molly for school but first the two do a pas de deus that is like to die for leaving you wanting more.  The footwork is paved for friends who have each other's back.  Back at school, the two are seen on the outside looking in as the student body is submerged in outlandish celebration for their imminent emancipation.  Molly with Amy in tow, go to see the principal (Jason Sudeikis) whose already clocked-out.  But, we'll see from Sudeikis later in an excruciatingly funny scene.  Molly is unsinkable and unperturbed by the bubble she & Amy have been under for 4 years because they both got into Ivy League schools.  Her bubble bursts big time when enlightened by classmates she perceived foolish & puerile they too got into top notch schools while finding time to enjoy other endeavors.  Molly's indignation ignites a highly motivated plan.  She & Amy will make up for lost time by having the time of their lives on their last night.  The two go on a major bender with hilarious detours.  They're not deterred from achieving maximum levels of  cool fun.  The film splashes into the foray of a "Superbad" genre starring Jonah Hill, Feldstein's sister.  "Booksmart" earns valedictorian honors & goes overboard with clever, laugh-out-loud, unexpected humor.  A scene where the girls try to heist a pizza delivery guy for directions to "the party" is priceless and a lock-up as a comedy classic.  The film doesn't shy away from unabashed sexual grossness but it's done with a gamine flair.  "Booksmart" makes top grades for its LOL ludicrousness.  Its high level of perfection goes to uber drive from the girls' bond of friendship so deep it's uplifting to fathom.   Wilde's two "wild & crazy" principles - don't miss out on all the fun - you don't get do overs.  My seminal advice is don't miss out on "Booksmart."

Monday, June 3, 2019

Healdsburg Jazz Festival Features Pianist Ethan Iverson and Saxophonist Mark Turner

The Healdsburg Jazz Festival which is from May 31 - June 9 at the Raven Theater features a variety of styles from spiritual, blues, bebop, Latin, classical and even a Jazz Night at the Movie with archival footage of rare live footage of some of the greatest artists in jazz history.  Last night was a double bill featuring composer/arranger/pianist and NEA Jazz Master Carla Bley, 82 and the contemporary jazz duo pianist Ethan Iverson and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner.  Iverson on keys did all the bantering with the audience and wrote most of their compositions.  My favorite piece nonetheless was one of Turner's compositions which gelled their sinewy rhythms that enhanced each other's unique sounds.   Iverson's piano playing was somewhat reminiscent of Monk's; unpredictable and perfect.  Iverson's arrangement at times seemed to be working too independently and somewhat at odds with each other.  Af first Turner struggled with the reed to his sax.  It took Turner a while to settle in and present the full rich complexities of his tenor sax reminiscent of Coltrane.  Iverson said they were going to play "esoteric contemporary jazz."  The duo, sans drums or bass was intriguing.  The piano & sax duo sufficed to a driving, rich and complex aesthetic.  Their avant-garde style was innovative and exciting.  The type of jazz that embraces a new & rewarding learning curve.  Iverson referred to his mid-western, WI roots, which accounts for his friendly, outgoing demeanor.  The background for the titles to their compositions were clever, especially "Unclaimed Freight."  He was driving in MN with his family in the middle of nowhere when they came upon a gargantuas warehouse with a sign that read "Unclaimed Freight." "I knew this would be the title for my next composition."  Iverson has recorded with Ron Carter and was the musical director for the Mark Morris Dance Co.  Iverson & Turner's original compositions charter new territories that are well worth taking note.  I'm looking forward to hearing the soul jazz duo with Calvin Keys on guitar & Jeff Chambers on bass.