a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for March, 2016

Happy Easter, Dear Readers, Dear Cineastes!

Easter 2016Happy Easter Dear Readers, Dear Cineastes, Dear Lovers-of-Theatre!

 

“Trip of Love” Dreamy, Sweet, Shimmering, Sexy Ode to the ’60s

Trip of Love 1For a dreamy, trippy, zippy, sexy time travel musical back to the ’60s, don’t miss “Trip of Love” at Stage 42. There’s no book. It’s a musical revue, a form that we don’t see very often anymore. Juke-box musicals rule the day on Broadway these days. I mean “Beautiful” is still running, and the original Tony-winning”A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” has just closed. But “Trip of Love” totally surprised me with how delightfully entertaining it was. Without any plot or dialogue, it’s just very well put together entertainment by multi-talented director. choreographer, and SET-DESIGNER James Walski. And the sets are as eye-popping as the dancing is non-stop exhilarating.

I haven’t seen this much dancing in a Broadway show, (well, it’s Off Broadway actually, but who’s quibbling. It’s on W.42nd Street in a largish Off Broadway house.) since Bob Fosse left this planet.  And a dancing show it is.”Trip of Love” is exuberantly entertaining. And the dancers fantastic.

And the men, dare I say it, are sexier in this show, than any I’ve ever seen. It’s true that most of the men are constantly losing their shirts in almost every number, but I found that refreshing, and even innovative.Trip of Love 2I was at a disadvantage in that the performance I saw the three female leads were out, but their understudies were all fine, so no wonder the men dominated the show, with or without their shirts.

Austin Miller had pants slung so low that they were in constant danger of slipping off. As did his co-stars Brendon Leffler and Joey Calveri. Backed by an incredible ensemble, who shone, and shimmied and burned down the house with their on-fire choreography by Walksi.

“Wipe-Out” was a particularly incendiary number (pictured at top), which of course, had no lyrics whatsoever, and in this case, with the dancers placed atop pillars of waves, they didn’t need them. It was that great surfing number with heavy guitar riffs.

Trip of Love 3Then Walksi would blow your mind with the ballads, particularly the beautiful “Moon River” with a giant silvery moon backing a shimmering blue river and a young dancer named Colby Q. Lindeman doing a pas-de-deux with a young ballerina from the ensemble, as Tara Palsha  (I think…so many swings were on, I’m not sure who the actress/dancer was. Lisa Finegold?) Anyway, Palsha was on a swing, singing a plaintive “Moon River” in a style that Harry Mancini could’ve arranged himself. And would’ve loved. The set was so blue that the lyrics “Huckleberry Friend” finally made sense.

And this swoon-worthy number, that literally gave me goose-bumps, ended Act I in tremendous fashion. And took me back to the days when I, as youngster, was dreaming in the Bronx, of “Crossing you in style, someday. Dream maker, you heart-breaker, where ever you’re going, I’m going your way…”

And wearing out the red vynyl 45 RPM of “Moon River,” I played it so much. The Original, with the Henry Mancini chorus and orchestra. I loved that song before Andy Williams ruined it, for my money.

But director/creator/choreographer James Walski has brought it back to its “Breakfast at Tiffany” roots. And designed that blue Moon set that I will never forget. I can’t wait to see what his next extravaganza will be!Moon River 1

And that was just Act I! And Act 2, topped it in energy, enthusiasm and sexy brightness. I can’t wait to back to see it a second, and maybe even a third time!

Colby Q 1

And I have to say, Colby Q. Lindeman danced throughout the show, not just in the spectacularly moving “Moon River” number, and yes, he danced his way into my heart.

Extraordinary “Follies of God, Tennessee Williams & the Women of the Fog”!

Follies of God 1Every now & then a book comes along that is so extraordinary that you just have to drop everything & run to it! Such a book is “Follies of God, Tennessee Williams & the Women of the Fog” by James Grissom. Just when you thought you’d heard everything that there was to hear about the late, great, multiply-awarded as well as multiply-addicted playwright Tennessee Williams, along comes “Follies of God” and blows nearly everything else that’s been written about “Tenn” out of the water.

It’s an absolute must-have, must-read for anyone who loves the theater, as I do, and loves great actresses, as I do, and loves to write great roles for great actresses, as well, I try to do.You can’t put it down! It’s an absolute page turner. And the story behind “Follies of God” is as amazing as any plot Williams ever concocted for his great heroines.

You see, a year and half before his death, he summoned a young fan who had written him a letter, and that young man was James Grissom. Williams dubbed him “Dixie” (They were both in Louisiana at the time) and unbeknownst to the 20-year-old aspiring actor/writer, Williams concocted an epic plan of the book, a pseudo-memoir, he would endow Dixie with the task of writing sometime in the future when he was long gone. And 30 years or more later, he did.

He had Dixie write down nearly every word he said in little blue note books. And Dixie(Grissom)like Boswell, with Samuel Johnson, wrote down EVERYTHING. And Williams gave him MORE. Shopping bags full of fragments of unfinished plays and poems,”leaves of his mind” Williams said.

And most importantly, he gave him introductions to the greatest actresses of the past 50 years, the greats of the American Theater, and he tasked Dixie with writing down what THEY thought of him. And he wrote lyrical elegies to them all, and sent mementos, which inevitably reduced all of them to tears. They, to a one, had no idea how he felt about them.Follies of God 2

Williams knew instinctively that he had the right person for this incredibly daunting task, and he did. But it’s taken nearly a lifetime for Dixie, who turned into a wonderful adult writer, James Grissom to bring this book into print. But the work and the wait were well worth it.

Focusing ONLY on the relationships of these great stage actresses to the iconic roles in his plays, it’s a fascinating, breath-taking read. As Dixie encounters saints (Marian Seldes, Maureen Stapleton),sinners(Kim Stanley, Jo Van Fleet) and stars (Geraldine Page, Katharine Hepburn) who all burst into tears on reading what Williams wrote about them.

And wait! There’s more!

Grissom reveals, for perhaps the first time, that Williams and William Inge were life-long lovers, as well as sometimes haters. That on-again, off-again tempestuous romance fueled both writers and in turn endowed the theater(and the films) of mid-Twentieth century America with some of its’ greatest writing. And the greatest parts for actresses, bar none.

Some are missing. Elizabeth Taylor, for instance. But most are there.Jo Van Fleet 1

The worst of them was evidently Jo Van Fleet, the Oscar-winning mother of James Dean in “East of Eden” who became so penurious & eccentric in her sad later years that she would carry her “mottled” Oscar with her in a tote bag and plunk it down whenever she couldn’t cash a check or pay a bill.”THIS is who I am!” she would angrily declare. Frightening all who heard her.Jo Van Fleet 2

Why “Women of the Fog”? The fog was what Tennessee would always declare his great female characters came to him out of, as it rolled across the proscenium stage of his mind.

Gossipy, gilded and glorious, it’s all  here in James Grissom’s wonderful “Follies of  God, Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog.” It’s now out in paperback, too. By all that is holy, you must read this great book!

“Rendezvous with French Cinema” now up on Awardsdaily.com!

Paris is Burning! Fiery Films Light Up the Rendezvous with French Cinema 2016

Dheepan 2

Always proud and THRILLED to be headlining the always awesome Awardsdaily.com!

Here’s my article on this year’s “Rendezvous with French Cinema!”

Merci beaucoup, Sasha and Ryan!Dheepan 1

Oscar Winner “Danish Girl” now on DVD & It’s Glorious!

The Danish Girl 1My Number One Film of the Year “The Danish Girl” is now out on  DVD & Blu-Ray and it’s glorious! Its’ sumptuous, heart-breaking love story maintains all its’ lush simplicity on the small screen, making it even a more intimate yet stupendous experience as it relates the star-crossed story of two Danish painters Einar and Gerde Vegener in the 1920s in Copenhagen & Paris. Eddie Redmayne got an Oscar Nomination for Best Actor for playing Einar, who transitions into Lili Elbe, one of the first known transgendered male-to-females.

And I’m so happy that the luminous Swedish actress Alicia Vikander won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her tour-de-force as Gerde, his stalwart, beloved wife. Who encourages her husband to start cross-dressing as a lark, then begins to turn into something deadly serious, which confounds and confuses her as much as it does him.Alicia & Oscar 1

As Redmayne changes into Lili, every beat, every heart beat is beautifully rendered by director Tom Hooper, and matched in heartbreak, confusion and love by Vikander’s superb performance.

The story, in case you haven’t heard, has a tragic, heart-stopping ending. It’s no walk in the park. The pain and suffering of both leading characters’ true story has echoed down the ages. A transgendered tale such as this has never been translated into a major feature film and with such delicacy and respect. And with such magnificence and splendor by Production Designer Eve Stewart and costume designer Paco Delgado, who both also got Oscar nominations.Danish Girl Duo

Danny Cohen is the genius cinematographer, who captures all the various lights and colors of both early 20th century Copenhagen and the demimonde of Paris art salons with breathtaking accuracy. His camera just PUTS you there, and enthralls as vibrantly as the two leading players.

And I think it’s a crime that Hair and Make-Up Designer Jan Sewell did not get an Oscar Nomination for her transformative styling of Eddie Redmayne, turning him from a man into a woman, and all the stages in between with the utmost believability and subtlety. Sewell is also responsible for turning the dark-haired, olive-skinned Vikander into a pale Danish blonde.The Danish Girl 2

I also want to mention Ben Whishaw’s charmingly quiet and touching performance as Henrik,  the gay artist in Copenhagen, who is the first male to fall for Lili at an Artists’ Ball that serves as her coming out into public for her first nervous appearance as the shy country cousin of Einar’s.The Danish Girl 3

Whishaw and Redmayne’s first kiss, and indeed all their subsequent ones made the ground quake and the earth shake as they both don’t quite know what is happening between them. And of course, Vikander as Gerde sees this tryst. And her character goes through as many transitions and changes as Redmayne’s Lili, as she tries to understand and adjust to this cataclysmic situation the husband she loves has put himself, and HER into.Alicia 8

“The Danish Girl” moved me beyond tears as it did when I first saw it in Toronto. I’m so glad the Academy embraced Alicia Vikander and made her a star. And if Eddie Redmayne hadn’t won the Oscar last year for “The Theory of Everything,” he would have certainly won Best Actor for his beautiful “Danish Girl.”Alicia Oscar 1

 

“Le Village Francais” Is a Mixed Bag. French TV Series on WWII now on MhZ

French VillageMuch as I admire its’ audacity and ambitious reach of subject, the entire history of World War II, as encaptured in the life of a “French Village,” I hate to say it but this hit European TV series is very hit and miss.

It sounds good on paper. Each season of the TV series will focus on a different year in the occupation of France by the Germans during WWII.  And it starts off with a bang, as a group of school children go out to play on a field trip on a sun-dappled day in the tiny town of Villeneuve, a fictional subprefecture in the Jura region of France.

German planes suddenly are seen over head and begin shooting up everything in sight, including the children. A horrifying beginning, to be sure. But then we are slowly introduced to the characters and I have to say I had no great feelings for any of them.

Sure, the SITUATION they are is in riveting, but only up to a point. And the actors all look so similar it’s very hard to keep them and their plot-lines straight. The exception is Robin Renucci, a doctor who is co-erced into becoming the town’s reluctant Mayor.

Robin Renucci 1And he is forced to do many things that he does not want to do within the course of the 10 episode series. Each episode a little under the hour in length. He is actually by his acceptance of the Mayoral position, an unwitting symbol of the Vichy government. His bourgeois family continues to live well as all around him begin to starve due to ration restrictions.

The actors all being dark-haired and dark-eyed and average-looking, it took me a long time to sort out their different characters and predicaments. However, the incredible attention to war-time detail does fascinate. Some one can be jailed for just booing Hitler in a newsreel in a movie theater, for instance.

Then there’s the leftists who want to insert resistance pamphlets in all the daily newspapers. And do. But the characters doing this are all sadly two dimensional.

The Jewish question, and there a lot of Jews in this small town, is pretty much a non-issue until the latter part of Season One. Our understanding of WWII is so much based on the plight of the Jews that that part of the series suddenly springs to life as the Season ends.

It’s a great record of the period, though and I particularly loved the Special Features wherein the actual townspeople these characters are often based on get to speak, in French, of their own real-life stories and they are all hair-raising.

Being set so far out in the country the full impact of the War hits them only gradually, in stages. And it is truly harrowing, as one by one their liberties and freedoms and businesses and lives are all taken over by the  occupying Germans.

I am looking forward to Season Two. Maybe this time they’ll have more relatable characters.

Mac’s Seafood restaurant P-town Will Make You Hunnngry!

Mac Hay 1 One of the best seafood restaurants in Provincetown, Massachusetts is owned and operated by seafood chef & oyster entreprenuer extraordinaire Mac Hay. At his Raw Bar, Mac demonstrates how to shuck a Welfleet. oyster and also a Littleneck Clam. He also takes us backstage to his kitchen were he demonstrates how to make sauteed mussels. Yum! He also has two other seafood restaurants in Welfleet and Provincetown.

This video is guaranteed to make you HUNNNNGRY!

http://www.macsseafood.com

Camera ~ Phil Sokoloff

Editing ~ Kevin Teller

“Downton Abbey” Ends With Everyone in Tears

Maggie Smith“Downton Abbey”s over. It’s official. It ended in Grand Style tonight with everyone in tears. In the audience I mean. The larger than life cast of characters all had miraculously and ridiculously happy endings. Not the least of  them the lovelorn Lady Edith(Laura Carmichael) FINALLY heading down the grand Downton staircase as a bride, with a super-long silken train. Lovely. And of course, it reminds you of when she did this same thing a few seasons back and got jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony Stralen.(Boo! Hiss!)

Presided over by the great legend herself Dame Maggie Smith, as Violet, the peppery Dowager Countess of Grantham, “Downton Abbey” is simply one of the greatest TV series of all time.

Rob James-Collier1

And of course, you ask what was my favorite moment? Well, when Thomas Barrow, the perpetually lonely gay under-butler, was finally made butler! Well, I was just wiped out! Last episode, he tried to slash his wrists in a bathtub, and nearly died.

Rob James-Collier was the superb young actor who took us on Thomas’ long journey from a wine thief in Episode One, to WWI, where he shot himself in the hand to get out of military service, to kissing another valet and getting himself in trouble with the police for it.

Yes. You could just kiss a man in those days and it could have been the end of your career. Whatever career it was, it was ruined by something so innocent. Chilling. Frightening.

So when Thomas finally triumphed, it felt like a personal triumph, too.

As all the heterosexuals were pairing off at a dizzying pace, it was almost ridiculous. Lady Edith and the Earl of Hexham. Daisy and the new(ish)valet, who can’t read, Andy. Even Mrs. Patmore and Daisy’s benefactor/farmer Mr. Mason, and Cousin Isobel and Lord Merton. You could also see Moseley and Baxter eyeing each other as did Tom Branson and the new editor of Edith’s now successful magazine.

Lady Mary, of course had been married in the last episode  to her dashing racing car driver beau Henry Talbot, played to perfection by Matthew Goode, who has had quite a vigorous career in British films, and will go on to many more I predict.

Lady Mary 1That’s a lot of loose ends to tie up, but tie them up author Julian Fellowes did. It’s his great achievement in the end. He wrote every word and conceived all these great characters so vividly, so memorably, it’s hard to think that any of these talented actors are ever going to be able to top “Downton Abbey.”

Oh, and Anna and Bates had a baby. Her water broke in Lady Mary’s bedroom no less, so that’s where she had her little baby son.

The symbolism is getting a little heavy around here.

I’m so upset that it’s over. But there’s still more “Downton” to come. I think a movie is in the offing. Wouldn’t that be grand?

Lady Edith 1

In any case, “Downton Abbey” will simply never end. Not in our minds and hearts, anyway. It’s sooooo rare that television can touch us this way, and we’re so happy it did. And Bravos and Bravas to all concerned! May their futures be as bright and happy as this last episode!

Jayne Houdyshell Triumphs in Bways’ “The Humans”!

The Humans 1Jayne Houdyshell Humans 1Jayne Houdyshell, an actress I’ve always found astonishing, reaches the peak of her long career in Broadway’s newest and most unlikely hit, “The Humans.” Houdyshell had a two decades long career in regional theater and was “discovered” in mid-life as the mother that couldn’t stop criticizing her lesbian daughter in Lisa Kron’s break-through play “Well” that started at the Public Theater and moved uptown to Broadway. And Broadway has pretty much been her home ever since.

Houdyshell is the kind of actress playwrights dream of and though she has won tons of awards( the Drama Desk gave her a career achievement award a few years back), I can’t remember her having a leading part like the one she has now, and in a hit play to boot. “The Humans” is powered by her powerhouse performance as Deidre Blake, again a mother, but this time an Irish Catholic mother to end all mothers. Deidre is caught between a rock and a hard place as she tries to hold her unwieldy family together as they embark on a tumultuous Thanksgiving gathering in her daughter’s duplex in Chinatown.

It’s one of the best plays of the year. Playwright Stephen Karam has written what all of the American theater has been longing for. A great new American play. Set today, it’s totally current and absolutely vital, and unflinching in its’ detail of the lives we New Yorkers, we humans, live .

With horror film and Internet references galore, Karam and the titanically talented director Joe Mantello ingratiate “The Humans” into your soul and invite you to be a member of this troubled family. They hook you into sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with the at-first-glance very bland Blakes, and there you are experiencing something that you’d never thought you’d be experiencing, a top-level, quality evening in the theater, by some one who’s now going to be considered one of America’s important young playwrights.

What a joy this is to discover so much talent in one place, at one time, doing the thing it should be doing, bringing us the best in theater! Which is what Broadway is supposed to be doing. After all, shouldn’t that be going on all the time on the Great White Way? And so seldom is.”The Humans” is so good, it’s shocking.

And to have the majestic Jayne Houdyshell at the top of the bill, guiding this ship into port, as it were, with a superb ensemble who are all excellently cast and doing what sounds easy, but is really almost impossible, make you believe that they are the Blake family and you’re a friend, who they’ve also invited over for Thanksgiving dinner. But little did you know what you’re in for! Folding chairs, card tables and paper plates and cups. And not a turkey in sight! Only health foods!

Reed Birney is perfect matched as Deidre’s troubled husband Blake. Lauren Klein, is simply amazing and amazingly simple, as Deidre’s wheel-chair bound, dementia-ridden mother “Momo”, Cassie Beck & Sarah Steele as their struggling daughters, one gay and one straight, and Arian Moayed as the genial, still not married, but living together sort-of son-in-law.

Cassie Beck The Humans

Cassie Beck, in particular, (above) as the frazzled lesbian lawyer daughter,Aimee, who is going through a difficult break-up with her lover. And  it is to “The Humans” great credit that the Blake family treat this as something to be compassionate about and otherwise her sexuality is totally accepted in a refreshingly matter of fact way.

And the set! Once again I’ve seen astounding theater set design in one week! First “Hughie”s haunting green-lit majestic, ruined hotel and now David Zinn’s Chinatown duplex that is not as grand as it sounds, and as is just as knock-about and seems about to fall down as the Times Square hotel of the 1920’s in “Hughie.”

You just can FEEL this place shake,as it quavers under the  supersonic,crashing thuds that periodically drop on it from the (un-seen) floor above (sound design by Fitz Patton.) It’s a ground-floor apartment attached to the basement by a spiral stair-case that’s in, as Reed Birney’s father describes it, “A flood zone.”

At one point Birney’s character quips, noting his daughters’ obsession with health foods, “If you’re so miserable, why do you want to live forever?” “The Humans” is so good it will restore your faith in the American theater and make you want to live forever, too, so you can see it over and over and over again. What a joyful surprise this play, Jayne Houdyshell and this production are!

Just What Is Embroidered on Alicia’s Oscar Dress?

Alicia Oscar 1Alicia's Oscar DressAlicia & Oscar 1I love this yellow princess dress with the puffed waist that Alicia Vikander won her Oscar in for “The Danish Girl,” but just WHAT are the silver designs embroidered into it? They seem  to shimmer like diamonds? Are they? Or is it just bright silver thread?

And WHAT are those intriguing patterns? Leaves? sheaves of wheat? Leaves of grass? Palm leaves? Symbols of peace? I guess we’ll never know. It’s Louis Vuitton, so perhaps somebody out there, dear readers, dear cineastes, might know what it is? Or it’s supposed to be?

Some Swedish symbol? Palm fronds, anticipating Easter? It’s mysterious and only adds to Alicia’s allure.

Any guesses?

 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: