a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for the ‘Heat Wave’ Category

Poirot’s Back! Sophie Hannah Works Her Sly Magic Again in “Mystery of Three Quarters”


Well, “Mille Tonnerres!” As Hercule Poirot is wont to say, “Sacre Bleu!” but Madame Sophie Hannah has worked her sly magic once again in the continuation novel “The Mystery of Three Quarters,” out and at bookstores on August 28th.

Of course, reviewing mystery novels is always a problem for the reviewer because you can not give any of the plot away. “You CAN NOT!” I am again using Hercule Poirot’s unique voice and intonation here.

But I can say that is the literary legerdemain that Ms. Hannah practices so well. And the Christie Estate was so astute in choosing HER as the inheritor and author of now THREE delicious Christie continuation novels. “The Monogram Murders,” “Closed Casket” and now “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

The first quarter of “Three Quarters” is undiluted joy for Christie fans because it is all Poirot, all the time. He is front and center as his usually adept self in handling the perplexing question of who is sending these poison pen letters to various random people and signing his name, accusing them all of the murder of Barnabus Pandy. (LOVE that name!) Hannah is wicked good with her choice of her characters’ names.

The first character to accuse Poirot of this outrageous slander by snail mail (It is set in 1929. No emails here. Can you imagine Poirot sending an email? Or even going online! ) is the aptly named Sylvia Rule. And  a more vivid, angry introduct-ress to a murder mystery you cannot imagine. And Poirot cannot imagine it either!! He, Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective of all time (he calls himself, modestly) accusing others of a crime and signing his name to letters he did not write.”It is an outrage!” he tells the implacable  Sylvia Rule, and the other characters who turn up, in rapid succession, with identical letters. In various stages of discomfiture with Poirot..

This all happens in front of and inside his historic flat in Whitehaven Mansions. Hannah has preserved that from the Christie originals. New is the favorite place of Poirot’s to retire to, and figure out what to do with this perplexing situation with his “little grey cells”(Yes, they are here, too.)And that place is a pleasant café called Pleasant Café and run by Euphemia Spring. Who everyone calls “Fee.” (Once again Hannah’s marvelous choice of character names.) And Fee Spring has a large part to play.

She has graduated from “the waitress with the fly-away hair” in “Monogram Murders” to a full-blown character, the proprietress of the Pleasant Café,now also returning as Poirot’s favorite Hannah-named haunt. George, his always perfect valet is on hand here, too. And of course, Poirot, the ultimate foodie, is always eating. And it is Fee Spring, who  first raises the title of “Three Quarters,” through one of her delectable dishes, a cake that is shaped like a stained glass church window. The church window pane cake plays a major, major role in solving the mystery and the fact that Poirot keeps devouring all of its quarters so quickly made me think of how sweet and delicious this tasty treat must be. Just like this book.

This novel will make you hungry, I’m telling you. That I can reveal. And not just Window Pane Cake.

The Mystery of Three Quarters 4

And I also can tell you that you will not be able to PUT IT DOWN! It will possess you like you’re on a runaway train, maybe The Orient Express. Or a cake you can’t stop eating late at night.   The train metaphors and the food metaphors continue to abound in Hannah’s delicious tale of malice and murder. She’s so expert at this, the seemingly impossible task of recreating Agatha Christie’s unique, rotund Belgian detective with the great moustaches. Poirot is the only fictional character to ever get an Obit on the front page of the New York Times when he passed away in “Curtain.”

I never realized how deeply in love with this character I was until he rose from the dead so brilliantly at Sophie Hannah’s command in “Monogram Murders.” It was like encountering a long-lost friend! And you’ll feel the same way and be able to continue your own rapturous re-union with Hercule Poirot in “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

 

 

 

Advertisements

Oscars Major Changes, 3 Hr. Running Time, New Category

AMPAS has just announced major changes. The ratings were abysmally low (to the people who make these decisions) “The Shape of Water” winning, a beautiful film that not a lot of people saw with the love interest a monster/fish may be what sunk all this. 

It will be cut down to three hours, which can only help. All those technical awards, Best Short, Best Short Feature, Best Animated Short, Best Doc Short, all will be relegated like the Sound, Hair and Make-Up, Best Cinematography and Best Costumes to a pre-show, like with the Tonys, or during commercial breaks.

Haven’t we ALLLL longed for a shorter show? Four hours plus was always excessive…But adding a new category “Most Popular Film” makes room for action movies, etc. the likes of which I really cringe about seeing these days. That’s an unfortunate dumb-ing down…And moving the date up TOO? To Feb.8???

Well, I guess we can say Oscar season is upon us now that it’s AUGUST. It’s not too early to start prognosticating anymore, Oscar fans, now is it? And what I would like to know is what happened to the two films that are probably going to dominate the awards this year ANY way? Well, in my book…

“Boy Erased” starring Lucas Hedges as a young gay teen forced into conversion therapy by his parents Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. It hasn’t even been announced yet as being in a major festival. Although, yes, it is opening in November. From Focus Features.

And it will be competing with, and being confused with the other “Boy” movie, “Beautiful Boy” starring Timothy Chalamet about a drug addicted teen. 

Both Hedges and Chalamet previous Oscar nominees are bound to be heading back to the Dolby Pavilion again this year. Both films are opening within weeks of each other in the now more-vital-than-ever-month of November. Now that the Awards date has been moved up to early February. Confused?

Imagine how the Academy Members are feeling right now….

The NEW Oscars is not going to be like any Oscars we’ve known before…

And “Black Panther” with its billion dollar box-office is going to be going up against “Mama Mia 2” I am making this prediction already.

Will Brittain’s Buff Butt Stars in Gayest Play Ever (at the Roundabout)

Young Texas actor Will Brittain is pretty much entirely nude for the lengthy part he has to play in Joshua Harmon’s “Skintight” at the Roundabout. Well, he does wear a tight black jockstrap that beautifully frames his bounteous buff bubble butt. And boy does Brittain make the most of that astounding ass of his! He struts. He sways. He sashays this way and that waving his naked rear end in the face of audience, the cast and the face of Broadway. If you consider the Laura Pels Theater of the Roundabout to be Broadway. Some say it’s Off Broadway. But whatever you want off it’s Will Brittain’s clothes. We never want to see him dressed again.

Not that he will be. Much. I see A LOT of nudity in his future.And that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing! Has Broadway ever been this nude? Well, there was “Oh! Calcutta!” once upon a time. Has there ever been a play THIS gay? Well, we just had a magnificent, award-winning revival of “Angels in America.” But somehow “Skintight” seems gay-er. And Brittain’s butt just overwhelms the Pels.

And that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing. Will Brittain is having the time of his life upstaging Idina Menzel, no less, and sitting butt-ass naked on her father’s Greenwich Village sofa. The other characters objected to Brittain naked end being strategically placed at one very funny point in this very funny play on their high-end sofa. They all gasped in horror. I gasped in delight. As I’m sure the packed audience did, too.

You see, “Skintight” is very sexy in a way that “Angels” never was. Or could be. It was about the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s. “Skintight” is just about, well, skin. And the fun you could potentially have with it, if you were as un-hung about nudity and the casual display of it as Brittain’s character Trei is. He’s done porn. And he sees it as a legit career choice. Gay porn, of course.

He’s the most philosophically well-adjusted character in Harmon’s charmin’ play. Jack Wetherall, of “Queer as Folk”, has the role of his career as Trei’s 70-year-old lover. “Skintight” is his birthday, which he wants to forget, and get back into bed with Trei, and well, Brittain is so helplessly irresistible, you can’t blame Wetherall’s world-weary fashion designer one bit. Wetherall’s grand-son is gay, too, and he wants to get it on with Trei. In fact, the only straight character is the intrepid Menzel whos gets high marks for making her non-singing debut in THIS extremely gay play.

And she does very well holding her own against, well, Will Brittain’s beautiful butt and playwright Harmon’s beautiful attitude towards being gay. It’s so free. So fun. Go! It’s only on for three more weeks before Will Brittain has to put his clothes back on. Perhaps forever. But being such a perfect physical specimen, I doubt that the Show Biz Godz will have their way with him and he’ll never be able to be clothed again. And that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing!

It’s Over 100 Degrees in NYC. Perfect Antidote Mhz’s “Antartica:In the Footsteps of the Emperor”


New York is melting in over 100 degree temperatures. It’s brutal out there. So why not stay inside In the air-conditioning and watch the latest from Mhz? “Antarctica: In the Footsteps of the Emporor”

This is a very different offering from Mhz who usually specializes in heavy duty European television crime dramas. A favorite of mine “Maigret,” but their new “Antarctica:In the Footsteps of the Emperor.” is something else entirely. It’s a delightful French documentary on the sub-Artic continent, by Luc Jaquet, who brought us the equally delightful “March of the Penguins” in 2016.

And once again, those penguins steal the show. This documentary focuses on the filmmaker/photographers themselves. An intrepid band of French Antarctic enthusiasts, who just HAVE to  photograph every single aspect of the frozen continent. Their journey is compelling because they feel that climate change has even affected this least approachable of land masses. It’s melting fast. And they show it.

They have found traces of human waste and pollution in the water and also in what the birds and other mammals are eating…And the penguins! How can one not love the most humanoid of birds, who all resemble Alfred Hitchcock? To me any way. And we are engaged in their struggle to survive the brutal arctic conditions. They upstage the filmmakers at every turn, but we form concerns, too, about this intrepid band of Frenchmen, who are so obsessed with Antarctica, they even want to photograph and record what’s BENEATH it. Have you ever seen the UNDERside of an iceberg? Well, you will here in this terrific doc.

Your heart is in your mouth as these daredevil deep-sea divers go  beyond the beyond. To depths of the oceans bottom that were unimaginable heretofore. Laurent Ballest and Vincent Munier and their crew attempt, and succeed where to bravely go where no man has gone before.

“It’s like walking on the moon!” They exclaim, in French, over and over. And you’ll feel like you’ve taken a really cool and cooling escape from the heat of planet earth, when you watch Mhz’s enchanting and thrilling “Antartica:In the Footsteps of the Emperor.” Emperor Penguin, of course. It’s the perfect summertime movie!

“Twelfth Night” in the Park, Cast of Thousands an Amiable Mess


Productions of Shakespeare’s perennial gem of a comedy “Twelfth Night Or What You Will” boasts a cast of literally hundreds, who seem like thousands. Is it too much of a muchness? Almost. 

Directors Oskar Eustis and Kwame Kwei-Armah have taken what is the Shakespeare-in-the-Park’s most enduring positive, the audience, and put all and sundry onstage in the guises of many, many community groups from the Tri-State. It’s overwhelming and it almost overwhelms the play, but not quite. It’s Shakespeare’s best, just about, and seems to weather every storm that is tossed its way. In this case, crowds upon crowds of extras, some of them toddlers, some of them house-wives, all dee-lighted to be onstage at the Delacorte instead of just watching, lining up for hours for tickets and clapping madly.Who can resist a cast that also resolutely SIGNS the play, too? The most beautiful, transcendant moment for me was when an unnamed young, bearded, blonde man, got up and singly signed one of Shakespeare’s more poignant song poems. I wish he was given credit for that in the program. 

Also, because it was virtually the only quiet, thoughtful moment in this amiable, crazy-house of a mess.

There was no intermission. It was only 90 mins. and Shaina Taub’s average music did not send me. It made me long for the first time I saw “Twelfth Night” which was in an historic, traditional production at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1969, when I was in college in the Cotswolds, and young Judi Dench played Viola.

“How will this fadge?” I remember her saying til this day, enunciating Viola’s gender confusion. She’s disguised-as-a-boy Cesario, who everyone is falling in love with. Sir Donald Sindon was the wronged Malvolio, and his performance is awfully close to the present Park’s Malvolio, Andrew Kober, who is the only one of the vast ensemble to capture Shakespeare’s tone of comic absurdity just right.

I also enjoyed Nanya-Akuki Goodrich as an amply-figured Olivia, who is so distraught over her beloved brother’s recent death, she is followed around by a New Orleans jazz band, playing a funeral march every time she enters, black handkerchief in hand, copiously weeping. The tiny little high-heeled shoes that costume designer Andrea Hood has provided her with, ankle straps and all, make her teeter-totter between hilarity, despair, love and high fashion.

And Nikki M. James, a past Tony winner for “Book of Mormon” is quite fine as the business-suited Viola/Cesario. She’s not Judi Dench, but she’s owns the character in her own charming, petite way.Twelfth Night Park 5

 

Come Ride Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Wonderful, Rousing Revival of “Carousel” on Bway!

 

“Come ride away with me! And I will take you to heights you never dreamed of! ” beckons the plaintive/beautiful “Carousel Waltz” that opens Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic “Carousel” now being magnificently revived on Broadway, directed masterfully by Jack O’Brien. It stars, as the star-crossed lovers Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow, Jessie Mueller (“Beautiful”) and Joshua Henry(“The Scottsboro Boys”).

And “Carousel” is sounding more blissfully like an opera than ever. with the largest, most opulently orchestrated orchestra (with a harp even!) I’ve ever heard on Broadway! Orchestrations by the great Jonathan Tunick and Musical Supervision by Andy Einhorn.

The legendary lyric soprano Renee Fleming is on hand, too. To make the point even more clearly that Rodgers and Hammerstein meant to break your broken heart even further with a celestial, moving “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

You can’t miss this one! All you musical  theatre romantics out there!. It will make you cry from the first chords of the wordless, long, lush overture that opens with the “Carousel Waltz ” as Santo Loquasto’s glittering cup-cake-like tiara of a shimmering crown descends to represent the top of this dizzying merry-go round, as Tony-winning choreographer, Justin Peck keeps his dancers flying, spinning through the air. You MUST ride their joyous Carousel with all these wonderful artists on it! It’s a joy ride of a revival that surprises and startles and blows you away over and over again. especially musically. Particularly if you think this is an over-familiar chestnut of a  score that has no surprises left to find. You’ll never be able to forget the sounds this magical musical makes..


As perfectly classical as this “Carousel” is in every respect, it is breaking ground thoroughly too with its casting of African-American Joshua Henry, who proves beyond a doubt that he is one of the best great baritones Broadway now has, but that also director Jack O’Brien’s color-blind casting gives this masterpiece even more depth and timeliness that it’s ever had.

Joshua Henry’s reluctant wooing of white Jessie Mueller seems a perfect match, and gives credence to the other small town New Englanders giving vent to their small-town New England prejudicial warnings to Julie Jordan(Mueller). Their constant put-downs of Billy Bigelow(Henry) now seems justified from the 19th century point of view. It reminds us that their admonishments of an inter-racial romance’s “ending will be sad” prove true  as the (spoiler alert) Second Act turns tragic.

Billy never thinks he’s good enough for Julie and events bare him out.

Joshua Henry brings down the house with a rage-full “Soliloquy,” turning it more powerfully dark than I’ve ever remembered it. When he sings he doesn’t want his unborn daughter “to be dragged up in slums with a lot of bums like me,” it is coming from a place of pain that Rodgers and Hammerstein never envisioned.

And Jessie Mueller is a revelation too, singing in a sweet coloratura soprano that we’ve never heard her use before. She’s always been a Broadway belting baby utilizing her killer voice in the lower veiled registers. She now shows that her vocal and emotional range is limitless. She also doesn’t shy away from the passion Julie is feeling that propels her to Billy. “What’s the Use of Wond’ring” which is often just a throw away, here becomes a life lesson. 

It is foreshadowing as she is joined in its sad, resigned tones as Mueller proves to be a true relation of Renee Fleming, who joins her in the song and agrees with her. And then on Billy’s horrifying death, a bloody one this time, when Fleming tells Mueller over Billy’s dying body “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” she shakes the heavens as well as the rafters with the celestial perfection of her legendarily, thrilling voice.

My only disappointment, and it was a big one, was that Tony Winner Lindsey Mendes was out the night I saw it. She was replaced by a very bland, super-white, uptight college girl, which is not what Carrie Pipperidge’s character is supposed to be at all. I disliked her so much I won’t even mention her name.

And SHE won the Tony? In THAT part? Ms. Mendes must’ve been terrific, because the massive achievements of Joshua Henry, Jessie Mueller and Renee Fleming were world-class, unforgettable.

The excited audience applauded everything. The opening carousel appearance, and stopped almost every single number with rounds of applause also, WITHIN the song. I’ve never seen anything like it.

And last but not lost, Method Actress Margaret Colin proves that tasty, tacky, businesswoman/owner of the carousel, Mrs. Mullins demands and commands every single second of her stage time. She makes one wish she had more to do and even makes you think that SHE should have had a rousing song, too. I’ve never seen a “Carousel” with such a strong Mrs.Mullins. In Ann Roth’s flouncy, bouncy costumes, Colin’s virago becomes a diva.

I could see this “Carousel” over and over and over again, and I can’t wait til the next time I do!

Happy Fourth of July!


Happy Fourth of July to all my dear readers, dear cineastes and lovers of theatre all! And now donors, too! Thank you! I’m at $575 still nowhere near the $1500 sum needed. Go to GoFundMe. com and type my name in the search box, and it all will com up. Thank you advance!

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: