a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Closed casket 2How can you review a nifty mystery-thriller without giving “it” away? Dear readers, dear cineastes, dear lovers of literature, I ask you?

“It” being the surprise ending, the twists, the plot, the sub-plots. Well, you can’t. You just can’t. So I won’t. But what I will say is that “Closed Casket” British crime writer Sophie Hannah’s SECOND Poirot novel is a book that I just could not put down. I could not. And that’s called real suspense.

I can’t reveal anything about it, except perhaps it’s amaaaazing back story. Which is a combo of good luck and smarts by the Christie estate in wanting to continue delighting us with crimes for legendary Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to solve.And choosing the brilliant Brit crime writer Sophie Hannah to do it.

I was late catching up with “The Monogram Murders” Sophie Hannah’s first Poirot “continuation.” And so I didn’t review it because the new one “Closed Casket” is coming out very, very soon. Sept.8. And Harper collins, her publisher, generously sent me a review copy. So I’ll respect the pub date and not reveal anything except that, well, you can’t reveal anything. You just can’t. Except I couldn’t put it down!

But I can say that Sophie Hannah is one smart, terrific, delectable choice to fill Poirot’s patent leather shoes. A best-selling crime writer herself internationally, she was still completely unknown to me when I dived into “The Monogram Murders,” not knowing WHAT to expect.

I thought, as most readers did, I suspect, feel that anything “New” from Dame Agatha went to the grave with her. Agatha Christie 2But no! Sophie Hannah, a for-real, respected genre writer(as well as poet and children’s book author) is the authentic thing. La Vrai Choise, as I think Poirot would put it.

And she brought Poirot roaring back to life. Doing the seemingly impossible magic trick of reviving without re-inventing a beloved literary character. I never knew how much I missed him and his “little grey cells” til I found myself re-reading Christie’s entire oeuvre this past year. What had happened to me? Agatha Christie has taken over my life! But wait! I’m not alone! She’s taken over Sophie Hannah’s, too! It’s Christie-mania and it’s contagious! Beware!CLOSED cASKET 1Well, I can say no more about the suspenseful “Closed Casket” until after Sept.8. But I WILL say that a central character Lady Athelinda Playford is going to go down as one of Hannah’s great new creations.

She is one of “Closed Casket”s main characters and it is she who sets the wheels of the plot in motion, by re-writing her will at age 70. She is the widow of the fifth earl of Klonakilty, in County Cork,  Ireland, where “Closed Casket” is set and is the author of many,many children’s books.

More I will not say, except that this is the first novel I’ve ever read anywhere, that has Shakespeare’s “King John”, as a semi-constant reference point.

And yes, there is murder, mayhem, twists and turns and dastardly doings galore and Hercule Poirot at the seeming height of his powers in 1929.What more can one ask of a book? Dame Agatha would be so proud.

But you’ll just have to til Sept. 8 for more, when I predict “Closet Casket” will fly off the shelves! Better pre-order now!www.sophiehannah.org

#Sophie Hannah #Closed Casket # Harpercollins #Agatha Chrisite# Crime Novel # Mystery # Thriller# Novel #British# Detective#Monogram Murders

Troilus and Cressida 1Andrew Burnap 1“Troilus and Cressida” is considered one of  Shakespeare’s Problem Plays. It’s hardly ever done. It’s wildly uneven, and it’s always nigh to impossible to tell the Greeks from the Trojans. It’s clear that there’s a war on, but who’s who and which is which is always mightily confusing.

Director Dan Sullivan has perhaps rectified all that with his testosterone fueled-production in Central Park this summer. He’s cast one of the strongest male casts I’ve ever seen containing some of the best young Shakespearean actors around today. Main among them is newcomer Andrew Burnap in the usually forgettable title role. But Burnap burns up the stage as he holds his own against as formidable a male cast as I’ve ever seen in Shakespeare in the Park, New York’s annual, pastoral summer ritual. Founded by the late Joe Papp to be free to all New Yorkers, the Park never disappoints, though most times the productions certainly do. But not this time.Shakespeara in the Park 1

I’m happy to say that “Troilus and Cressida” is one of the best Shakespeare’s I’ve ever seen in the Park.

But back to Andrew Burnap. A recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, he’s stepped right out of school and right into stardom, following in the footsteps of former Yale-ees Meryl Streep and Lupita Nyong’o who just soared immediately upon graduation. His beautiful, brave, heart-broken, angry, and eventually murderous Troilus is everything a dream role for a young actor should be. And blond, blue-eyed, dashing Burnap is living the dream. In a part, I’ve never really even noticed before, he makes it seem a greater role than it’s ever been.

Troilus and Cressida are sort of Romeo and Juliet gone wrong.  The Trojan War  breaks them apart early and nearly kills them.

I saw Helen Mirren as a young girl, maybe even a teenager, make her debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company back in the ’60s as Cressida.Helen Mirren Young Her debut, her first scene, she got rolled out of a Persian carpet completely nude. And thus began her great career. She was utterly heart-breaking in the scene where she emerges ravaged from the rival army’s camp where she has been raped repeatedly. She was shattered, bruised, barely able to speak, unforgettable. The actress here, Ismenia Mendes, just can’t cut it. You barely can tell she’s been gang-raped, and you don’t care much either.

But you do care about Andrew Burnap/Troilus’s reaction to his love being so defiled. He goes madly to war against his enemies, main among them the superb young Shakespearean actor Zach Appelman, as Diomedes, another part no one ever remembers. Appelman, you may remember, was the diamond brilliant Hamlet in Hartford, just this past winter for Darko Tresnjak.

Troilus and Cressida 3In the first act, Diomedes has very little to do, except to flex his muscles and show his six-pack lifting barbells and strutting shirtless (as do many others of this studly, sweating, stunning cast) in the 100 degree heat New York is now experiencing. But in Act 2, he gets to come into his own, as he battles Burnap. Appelman is a Yale graduate, too, btw.  As pictured above and below, you can see how intense their final confrontation is.Troilus and Cressida 4

I also must mention the tremendously strong ensemble feel that this T & C production had and I wasn’t surprised when I checked my program later that there were 10 (!) count’em TEN graduates of the equally superb NYU Grad Acting program! Which boasts its’ own  terrific, classically trained actors, main among them Corey Stoll. Stoll was so memorable as Ernest Heminngway in Woody Allen’s ” Midnight in Paris.” Here the completely bald Stoll is oiliness personified as the only man in a suit in this play, the slippery, Ulysseus, whom Stoll plays as   a corrupt ad exec, who arranges Cressida’s gang rape and many other nefarious things.Corey Stoll 1

I also had the privilege of seeing Understudy Keilyn Durrell Jones go on as the muscle-bound Achilles. He was just so loopily love-struck by his male amour Patroclus (Tom Pecinka), he licks his face like a huge puppy dog.Keilyn The Millionaire Jones

Yes, this is also the gay-est play Shakespeare ever wrote and director Sullivan does not hesitate to show the mighty Achilles, gathering his beloved up in his hugely muscled arms and whisking the giggling Patroclus off to their love-tent.

A male cast this awesome, and striking, who speak the Bard’s lines as magnificently as they make love AND war, makes one re-consider “Troilus and Cressida” as a much better play than it ever seemed before.

#Troilus and Cressida # Shakespeare # Trojan War #Andrew Burnap #Zach Appelman #Shakespeare in the Park #Corey Stoll #Achilles #Helen Mirren # Royal Shakespeare Company #Helen Mirren nude #Ulysses #Dan Sullivan # Problem Play # Central Park #Hamlet # Hartford Stage Company # Darko Tresnjak # Keilyn The Billionaire Jones#Achilles

 

Florence 1We all might as well admit it, right now, even though it’s only August, Meryl Streep will win her 20th(!) Oscar nomination for her genre-busting, and gut-busting, and ear-busting musical phenom “Florence Foster Jenkins.” They(Streep & director Stephen Frears) have decided to hit the base pedal for this outrageous, camp, true life story of a woman who may have inadvertently founded camp. And in the beginning, I questioned why it wasn’t as funny as it could have been, but in the end, I think they hit the right wrong notes just right.

You can’t have a two hour+ plus film with just a lot of horrendously bad singing. Labeled “The World’s Worst Singer” by columnist Earl Wilson(and nearly everyone who ever heard her croak, er, sing), Jenkins was a massively illusioned rich woman, who thought she had a beautiful voice and could sing opera, coloratura yet, like any of the world’s great sopranos. But she couldn’t. It was so wildly off-pitch that even when you’re hearing Streep do it so well, you can’t believe it. And singing so badly is not an easy thing to do. And for all those arias! She sings both sharp AND flat at the same time.

But what Streep, Frears and screenwriter Nicholas Martin did just right is emphasize Jenkins generosity and heart, as well as her physical frailty. And her courage. At 76, she attempts her debut at Carnegie Hall!

Florence 4 At the beginning of the film, we see Streep has shaved her head completely bald, to mirror the ravages of syphilis, that she contracted on the night of her marriage to her first husband(whom we never see).Streep breaks our hearts as she busts our eardrums.Her cacophony is not phony.

Hugh Grant, Florence 6in one of the best roles of his long career, is her devoted, but not married to her, (or having sex with her)partner in life St. Clair Bayfield, a failed aspiring middle-aged actor as she was an aspiring dowager singer. The two had a bond that carries the weight-i-er parts of the film along to its’ truly moving climax, when on her death-bed( yes, all this extreme concertizing kills her) Streep says to Grant, “You can say I didn’t sing well, but you can’t say I didn’t sing.”

The end credits roll over the sound of the REAL FFG caterwauling on her Melotone recording and sounding much, much worse, more jarring and flatter than Streep, who sounds almost sweet in comparison.

So Streep, Frears, and screenwriter Martin miraculouslly transform this most outrageously untalented, bejeweled and pretentious frog into a symbol of artistic purity and triumph. The film is genuinely touching, and is right in the Academy’s wheel-house. She WILL be nominated for Best Actress again.And she wears a fat suit. And she’s fighting an illness(syphilis) And dies. All Oscar bait check boxes. And she’s playing a real person.

Also nominated may be screenwriter Martin and the sumptuous/ridiculous costumes of the great Consolata Boyle. Also turning up as someone who deserves, and may get serious awards consideration is “Big Band Theory” co-star, Simon Helberg as Cosme McMoon, Jenkins’ at first reluctant, then finally triumphant accompanist. McMoon (these are the real people’s real names!) facial expressions as the astounding awful-ness of the voice he is being paid to accompany dawn on him are beyond priceless. He COULD get a Best Supporting Actor nod.Florence 3

Helberg/McMoon also is the audiences’ stand-in. He realizes just how terrible Madame Florence’s singing is and is trapped there (as we the audience are) trying to figure out what to do best without getting fired. The thing that makes Helberg’s performance even more astounding is that he is a gifted piano player himself and has the Herculean job of playing all of these great opera arias correctly while Streep sings them like a small dog barking while being stepped on. Florence 2

There was a recent French film “Marguerite” dealing with this same topic, a rich woman who is cossested from the awfulness of her singing by a devoted husband. In the French version however Marguerite coughs up blood at her final concert and then is committed to an insane asylum and dies there, in the second half of the film. Lugubrious.

Whereas Streep, Freers, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg do it  right. You end up loving Jenkins as a free spirit and an example of  indomitably and generosity. It’s the nicest character Meryl Streep has played in ages and yes, Meryl, you’re going to the Oscars again this year and for the 20th time! Brava! Diva!Florence 5

Stephen Holt chats with Hell’s Kitchen restaurant entrepreneur Charlie Marshall about his new, about-to-open “Diane Elizabeth.” It will be at 644 Tenth Avenue. Charlie is also the owner/operator/chef of the highly successful “The Marshal” just down the block from Diane Elizabeth.

http://www.the-marshal.com

Camera & Editing ~ Slava Rusakov

 

 

 

 

 

Less than 24 hours left! I can’t believe it!And thank you to the two, only two people, who backed me. Tamara Schebak, who has been so loyal. And a gentleman in Thailand who i don’t even know. Thank you. I’m at $70 dollars with a goal of $1500.

As it stands right now, I will be able to attend the Montreal Film Festival, but Toronto as I describe in the body of the Kickstarter project looks more than gloomy, if not impossible. So a final P”Please Help Me” if you can.

I’ve never been able reach my goal before in the four years now that Kickstarter has allowed me to be on its’ fabulous site. But I got to Toronto anyway. This year they want me to pay at least $684 for what they are now calling an “Industry” pass.  The same for my cameraman for whom this is also impossible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brady Corbet 1Brady Corbet, an Indie actor whose work I’ve admired and followed, suddenly has done a 360, while still in his 20s and directed his first film, the ultra-creepy psychological horror film “Childhood of a Leader.”And I’m predicting after seeing this rather unforgettable, and unclassifiable thriller, he’s going to go on to direct more, much more. A dedicated cinephile, who lives in New York and Paris. This film is partially in French and is very European in its’ dark, unsettling sensibilities.

It calls to mind “The Bad Seed” in its’ unrelenting look at the horror a child can wring on his (or her) family. Although the child Prescott  ( Tom Sweet) in this movie, is not ever smiley faced and isn’t really deceptive, he’s out front and unrelenting in his hostility to his parents, his father, Liam Cunningham, who is an American and his European wife a terrific,nuanced Berenice Bejo. Childhood of a Leader 1

This is sort of grand allegorical fantasy of what would Hitler have been like as a child, if he was from a privileged Upper Class Franco -American diplomatic background. Based loosely on a short story by Jean Paul Sartre, Prescott seems to be a tiny Hitler through and through. And his sympathetic parents seem totally at a loss as to what to do with him.

Childhood of a Leader

It’s gripping, I’ll say that much and the wonderful Berenice Bejo is incredibly sympathetic and also coldly repellant in the role that is simply called “The Mother.” The film seems to be saying that all of Prescott’s(and later the free world’s) problem are a result of Mom.

“Childhood of a Leader” has already won Best Director and Best First Film for Brady Corbet when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year. And I think Corbet is going to go on to win many, many more accolades in this chosen career either as a director or an actor.Keep an eye on him.

SH Kickstarter 2016http://kck.st/29RQYUL

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