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Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

Cher Saves “Mamma Mia 2,” but It’s Hard to Resist


When Cher, yes, CHER, enters in the Final Act of “Mamma Mia 2,” she saves the film, and yes, kicks it upstairs into Gay Heaven, or at any rate, Camp Heaven with a good, swift  stilletto-heeled sureness, only a stage and screen legend like Cher could provide. Pow! All the dullness and wishy-washiness of her young co-stars vanished, and NOW we were in the midst of a glorious fun-filled summer musical romp. She was so good, I immediately re-wrote my mind’s middling review and began raving like a teenaged fan-girl. Which let’s face it, is a cheery place to be in these troubled times. I guess I ended up loving it, and wanting to see it again. No, really.
In spite of all good sense, I found myself totally abandoning myself to its epic silliness. And why not? I always loved ABBA as a guilty pleasure. Those original, now classic, tunes got me through some very dark times when I was a house-cleaner in London in the ’80s. I was trying to get my plays done and become a right, proper British actor in the grand tradition. And it was tough. But ABBA was so uplifting, it made me forget all the charring.

I was a “Super Trooper”, and now Cher is a Super Trooper, too. In fact, she climaxes this barely organized mish-mash with that song, as well as her much heralded “Fernando” duet. As she and Andy Garcia(yes, ANDY GARCIA!) tango and sing their hearts out, both Senior Citizens now, as fire-works explode behind them, like it was 1968. Or ’86. Or one of those years, or decades that Cher’s career spans and she’s still singing! She’s a goddess for the ages. And FINALLY makes up for Meryl Streep not being in this movie except as a ghost.

You see, “Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again” does not really have a center to it, until Cher appears at the end like the Deus Ex Machina that she is. “Here We Go Again” flips back and forth in time between two stories, both starring lovely young blondes, Amanda Seyfried and Downtown Abbey’s Lily James. They both have to carry half the film each.

It seems Meryl’s character has died a year before “Mamma Mia 2” starts and her cinematic daughter Sophie (Seyfried) has to carry on without her, trying to re-build her mother’s dream of a turning their Greek island into a perfect Aegean guest house. Meanwhile, the film flashes back in time to the ’70s, when Donna (Lily James) was a wild young thing cavorting all over the continent, shagging everybody in sight.

Thus explaining (or trying to) how three different men could have potentially been the father of the single Mom Meryl’s child. As played by a trio of young hunks, notably “War Horse”s Jeremy Irvine (who grows up to be Pierce Brosnan). They make the case quite clearly how and why the young Donna/Meryl couldn’t keep her hands off all of them, one after the other, in rapid succession.

I would say Josh Dylan, who is making his big screen debut here as the young yachtsman that one day would become Stellan Skarsgard, has the best chiseled bod. British actor Hugh Skinner, who plays the young Colin Firth, doesn’t really get enough foreshadowing that his character is in later life going to be gay. An interesting opportunity missed.

Though Firth does camp up a storm in his own reserved way as his grown up self, and Christine Baranski (and Julie Waters) are back supplying even more camp (as if this film needed it).Which goes to prove something I’ve always felt. There can never be too much of a muchness. Or too much camp. Camp makes you happy. And so will “Mamma Mia 2.”

And last but not least, the young British hunk of hunks Dominic Cooper is back again as Sky, Donna (Seyfried)’s hotter than hot love interest. Dominic was one of the many stars of my year’s Best Film of that year “My Week with Marilyn” playing Milton Green, Marilyn Monroe’s ex-lover and now exasperated agent. He was also one of the original “History Boys” on Broadway and in film, and has been on “The Stephen Holt Show” more times than just about any one else (in this movie).And he used to date Cher! He just told Stephen Colbert. So it must be true!

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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!

Happy Gay Pride 2018!!!

Happy Gay Pride Day 2018!!!

Luminous, Lucent, Transcendant Kate Winslet Could Win Her 2nd Oscar for “Wonder Wheel”

Wonder Wheel 3

Lustrous, luminous, transcendent Kate Winslet is the wonder of Woody Allen’s new “Wonder Wheel.”
Is there any American filmmaker alive today who writes  such great roles for women? No. There simply isn’t. And as photographed by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Kate Winslet seems to be a cinematic miracle of color and light, majesty and emotion,

You simply can’t take your eyes off her. Storaro and Allen have combined to give her a cinematic beauty that makes you gasp, in a multi-faceted role that makes you applaud. She is playing Ginny, a Brooklyn waitress, who works in a Coney Island Clam House. I have known SOOOO many Ginnys in my lifetime, and British though she is, Winslet absolutely nails her Ginny to the Coney Island boardwalk. And it’s  stirring performance in the grand tradition. She’s every woman. And every woman I’ve known, from Brooklyn, trying to make a better life for herself and her family. And trying to find love at the same time, having given up her dreams of being an actress earlier in her life.

Winslet’s Ginny seems the simplest of creatures.. But Allen’s writing and her bravura performance proves that every woman is as complex as a whirlwind. Or a rollercoaster. Or a Wonder Wheel at  Coney Island, to use this film’s great metaphor. Winslet has never seemed so bedeviled and so bewitching at the same time. She’s a housewife in waitress’ outfit that she wears like a queen, as she goes about her frantic daily work of cooking and cleaning for the whole of Brooklyn it seems.

Allen and Storaro capture the ordinary woman’s extraordinariness. She is married to a lout (James Belushi) and having a torrid affair with Justin Timberlake, the local lifeguard. Timberlake’s string-bean-ness seems out of place as a life guard, but he, too, has movie star charisma in buckets instead of muscles, that make all the women in the film falling for him make sense.Justin Timberlake Wonder Wheel He and Belushi have both never been better.Kate Winslet 1

She is playing Ginny, a common-as-they-come Brooklyn waitress, who is as uncommon, as she is earth-bound. Winslet’s a fiery red-head this time. And in Storaro’s use of orange and amber light, she seems so on fire, she is burning up the screen. It is no surprise then that her red-headed son is an arsonist, setting  a fire every time he’s left alone. The fires remind him of his mother.

And Juno Temple is Belushi’s neglected daughter, who turns up as a “Marked” woman, being chased by the mob, because she married a gansta, and became a “canary” who sang on her husband, making her a woman on the run for her life. She hides  out in Winslet’s and Belushi’s  humble household underneath the ever-present Wonder Wheel. Young, blonde Temple has the role of her career here, too, and is doomed from the first seconds we see her taking her first tentative steps under the Wonder Wheel.

In a simple car ride in a romantic rain storm with Timberlake, she becomes, as he says “as beautiful as the rain light.”Storaro has lit her in golds and blues to emphasize her beauty as well as her melancholy. She, too, is magnificent in this film.

Storaro  and set designer Santo Loquasto make more magic by making Coney Island in the ’50s look like the Riviera.

Winslet’s performance is so heart-breaking and towering it immediately recalls the great screen performances of screen queens past. Joan Crawford in particular. The shop girl who was not a shop girl.  The waitress who was not a waitress. And reminds you that not since the ’40s have actresses consistently seen parts like this. Winslet’s Ginny is the  working class version of Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine in Allen’s recent Oscar winner “Blue Jasmine.” “Wonder Wheel” is his best film since “Midnight in Paris” and is now one of my favorite Woody Allen movies. It’s right up there with the best. It reminds me why I love Brooklyn. And New York City.

“Wonder Wheel” is a movie movie about romance and melodrama and great actresses playing great roles. And it ends this year’s superlative NYFF with a BANG!

Oscar Supporting Actress Possibilties Are Piling Up!

It’s mid-October and although New York has been enjoying an unseasonably mild fall, Mother Nature is trying to deceive us that Oscar season is not fully upon us BUT IT IS! And even the said-to-be-sparse Supporting Actress category is beginning to be piled up with potential nominees. All of them brilliant I’m happy to say.

I know one thing for sure. There are three actresses whose shots are better than others. First I’m going to start off with the least known of them. The beauteous British actress Juno Temple, who is playing full-tilt Brooklyn bombshell, Carolina, in Woody Allen’s new wonderful “Wonder Wheel” which I just saw as the closing night feature at the New York Film Festival.

Always one of honor his actresses of choice with great roles that become them, I say Temple gets in, because of the same thing happened to another little known Britisher Sally Hawkins. When she co-starred in “Blue Jasmine” with the soon-to-be Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, every Academy member WATCHED THAT SCREENER and saw how marvelous Hawkins was as Jasmine’s working class, comforting sister. The same thing will happen to Juno Temple, too.

Whatever they think of the film, Temple is getting Oscar-buzzed praise.

So is recent Tony winner for Best Actress Laurie Metcalf. Super superb as Saoirse Ronan’s put upon Mom in Great Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.” Metcalf is having a banner year with the Tony win for “Doll’s House, Part Two” on Broadway and now actually having a juicy sympathetic screen role as the frantic nurse practitioner mother of wayward teenage, Lady Bird.

Because Metcalf is such a beloved industry figure, having won multiple Emmys as Roseanne’s sister on “Roseanne,” she really has the edge here. And her role as Lady Bird’s Mom has got Oscar written all over it. The kind of part that Metcalf has never really had before on film. AND she’s never even been nominated before! Believe it or not.

I would say she has the edge. And it’s definitely

Louise Penny’s New #13 Gamache ~ “Glass Houses”

I wonder what’s going to happen to Louise Penny’s latest novel, hot off the presses, “Glass Houses”? It’s her 13th in a row Inspector Gamache novel. And USUALLY she hits it out of the ball park every time, but this time…Well, she’s a crime/mystery writer the world has fallen in love with, even though she’s an Anglo-Canadian writing about our beloved Montreal and the province of Quebec, where she lives.

“Glass Houses” was written very fast. It seems like the last one “A Great Reckoning” only came out last week, but actually it was last year. But still, a new book, EVERY year! I mean, that’s an incredible achievement by any definition and she’s been called “the new Agatha Christie”, which is also an incredible accolade. (She’s won Agatha Award six times!) And she sells! She tends to debut at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

And it’s really difficult to write about her Chief Inspector Gamache books, because you don’t want to spoil anything. But I will say this. This is my least favorite novel of hers, so far. And I’ve read them all!

Don’t worry die-hard Gamache fans he’s very much front and center here, and Penny has created a great character in him, her lead detective. He’s retired now and living in Three Pines, the wonderful, mythical Quebec township town she’s created. It’s not real, but it’s setting is continuously beguiling and I really want to eat at the Bistro of Gabri and Olivier, right now!

Food is mentioned often, but not as much in “Glass Houses” but the Bistro Gamache fans NEED to know is where most of the action, and the eating, mais oui, happens. And Kudos to Penny for putting two very original gay Bistro/B&B owners front and center in her books. Gamache has a gaggle of sorts. What’s the French word for “Posse”? Maybe it’s posse, too, and they are all on hand, and there’s so many of them now that the ensemble tends to push the new characters almost out of the book completely.

It must sound divine to Penny fans, but — this time…
“Glass Houses” I found confusing. There. I said it. You need to know that it switches back and forth in time and seasons and locales. It’s hard to follow, until you realize that the trial that takes up half the book, is set in Montreal in the summer. Just WHAT and WHO is on trial for WHAT is also confusing. It’s made clear at the end but by then my patience with Gamache & co. was more than a little frazzled.

Then her masterpiece Ruth Zardo the crazy, foul-mouthed Octogenarian poet whose pet duck Rosa comes on. And then Gamache’s PERFECT wife Reine-Marie starts exerting her charm, and they all dine at the beautiful, homey bistro and you realize that Louise Penny is really above criticism at this point.

Especially, considering she wrote this big 400 page tome as her beloved husband, Michael, in real life, was dying.

Which kind of exemplifies the dark, threatening figure that keeps appearing on the Village Green one cold, rainy November day…Wait! How did we get to be in November? I thought it was July! Well, “Glass Houses” keeps switching back and forth, yes, confusingly.

Penny really returns to form(she really is an exquisite writer) in of all places the Author’s Note, which is at the end of the entire book. She writes feelingly about her husband’s death and ends with the lovely thought “The final thanks is to you, my friend. For your company.The world is brighter for your presence.
All shall be well.”

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