a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Drama’

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!

“Grand Budapest”, “Boyhood” Win A.C.E.Eddies. “Birdman”s momentum stopped

Gustav H. & ZeroThis is certainly the bumpiest road to Oscar I have ever seen. The Race has taken ANOTHER severe, right-angle turn, with “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” winning the A.C.E. Eddie awards last night. Effectively stopping “Birdman”s new- found momentum from last weekend’s the PGA and the SAG Award in its’ tracks.

Why? The Film Editors are considered the most important voting group after the MASSIVE Actors Branch and Guild (who dominate and who gave out its’ SAG awards last Sunday) and for “Boyhood” it was a very, very important turn-around in fortune, and for “Grand Budapest Hotel” too.

A.C.E. is the organization that represents the Editors Guild. Which has a lot of members as opposed to the Academy’s Editors branch, which is smaller and more elite. And the Eddie is the name they call their award.

It broke down like this ~ Best Edited Feature Film, Dramatic, “Boyhood” Sandra Adair.

And Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy or Musical), “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling.

This means that “Boyhood” is still very much in the race, with “Grand Budapest” nipping at its’ heels. “Grand Budapest,” you may remember got an equal amount of Oscar nominations (nine) to “Birdman.”

“Birdman,” of course, has those long(some would say ENDLESS) tracking, stedicam shots, which makes the film look like it isn’t edited, but of course, it is. It wasn’t shot in one, long, continuous take. But it was meant to look like it was… which is kind of an anti-editing stance, if you think about it.

And “Boyhood” shot over 12 years…can you IMAGINE the Degree of Difficulty of editing THAT much footage into something watchable? Of course, some could say that didn’t happen. That it’s a mess rather than a melange.

And “Grand Budapest” has all those nifty, changing aspect ratios. Of these three films, “Grand Budapest” is still far and away my favorite. But a shift of momentum, for “Boyhood” to “Birdman” is now NOT officially happening. At least according to the all-important editors.

Next stop, BAFTA! Where “The Theory of Everything” will probably sweep.

Colin Firth Strong, Emma Stone Weak in Woody’s (NO) “Magic in the Moonlight”

“I want MAGIC” screams Blanche du Bois in Tennessee Williams classic “Streetcar Named Desire”. And I was screaming “I want magic, too!” As Woody Allen’s latest “Magic in the Moonlight” unspooled before me and I didn’t laugh once.

It LOOKS Magical. The cinematography of Darius Khondji is simply swoon-worthy. The Riviera never looked so lovely! Truly! But aside from a very, very strong performance by Colin Firth, it’s not much fun. Although Eileen Atkins as his sensible aunt (they’re both British of course) is also very good. But this film that looks like it should be a comedy, is simply not funny at all.

Firth has the challenge of getting up in yellow-face and being a stage magician  named Wei Ling-Soo, who makes elephants disappear and saws ladies in half, and is an extremely pessimistic curmudgeon. He spews venom constantly throughout the film in all directions, which is arresting, but not funny. Unlike the other recent magician in an Allen film, the great Splendini, in “Scoop” who Allen played himself. “Scoop” was set in London with Scarlett Johansonn in the female lead, a role Emma Stone essays so poorly here. “Scoop” was funny and good-natured as “Magic in the Moonlight” is bitter and grim. Good qualities in a drama, like “Blue Jasmine” but not is a half-baked pseudo-farce.

How can this much heightened sarcasm be not funny in a Woody Allen film? Well, for one thing his character seems an utter realist, if not a downright atheistic. Yes, that’s right. This is a film that is about atheism. Or a comedy about atheism. WTF? It’s seems like it should be by Ayn Rand and black and white and set in the ’40s.

Not the glamorous 1920s, a period Allen returns to again and again. And he’s done it better. I just watched “Midnight in Paris” for the umpteenth time last night and it delighted and chilled me all over again. I actually got goose bumps from it and from Mlle. Marion Cotillard’s superb performance.

And there were actually French people in it. And they spoke French! Imagine that! In “Magic in the Moonlight” we have the beautiful French countryside, but no French people are in it. At All.

And Emma Stone is very, very weak in this. As a supposed psychic, she’s a little spacey, a little kookie. Her red-hair flies beautifully in the wind. She has lovely large eyes, but Woody seems to have a problem with her overly large forehead which is covered up throughout much of the movie by her own bangs, which is fine and series of tam o’shanters, head-bands and hats with extremely low brows, which would look fine on Marion Cotillard, but on Stone they make her look odd. She is photographed soooo well in fact, she looked liked she’s acting, but she isn’t. The cinematography and costumes were acting FOR her.

I didn’t ever think I would miss Scarlett Johansonn, but in this film, I did. Stone is really out of her depth here, and she shouldn’t be.

I just attended a press conference for this film with Emma Stone notably absent. And Colin Firth when asked about working with her, just skipped the question entirely. “My Best Day?” he was asked, ” I guess the scene in the planetarium at night. I was wet. And I felt wet, so that was good.”

Unfortunately, it’s (no) “Magic in the Moonlight” that is all wet. Sadly.

Every OTHER film of Woody’s recently has been terrific. “Midnight in Paris” was a masterpiece. “To Rome, with Love” was a dud. “Blue Jasmine” won Cate Blanchett an Oscar for Best Actress, and so we were due for another disappointment, and unfortunately, we got it.

I can’t wait for the next one, however. That’ll be good again.

Woody did a press conference in New York today. He NEVER does that. I sensed Flop Sweat and I was right. But Colin saved the day, and Jacqui Weaver was buoyant, too.

Woody said “Life is meaningless.” And he meant it. And then added “Now that I’ve depressed you thoroughly, have a nice weekend.”Magic in the Moonlight 1Magic in the Moonlight 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Oscar Upsom Downs. WGA announces & AGAIN no “Llewyn Davis”!!!

Yes, it’s more Oscar Ups ‘n’Downs or Upsom Downs, as I like to call it.

Let’s see the Writer’s Guild just announced and it’s up for “American Hustle” and “Lone Survivor”(which almost made my Top Ten List) and Harvey Weinstein even succeeded in getting back in this(after being out of it for only a day. Yesterday. Toldja there’s no stopping Harvery!) with an Adapted Screenplay nomination for “August:Osage County”. Which saw Pulitzer and Tony winning playwright Tracey Letts butcher his own script IMHO.

“After Midnight” which put me to sleep got a Best Original Screenplay nod. ZZZZZZ…

But AGAIN “Blue Jasmine” turns up in Original Screenplay for Woody Allen. “Blue Jasmine” is just getting stronger and stronger, and will garner Woody his upteenth Original Screenplay nomination if he lands the Oscar nod. And as I said, expect Sally Hawkins to get in, too. In Supporting Actress.

And “Dallas Buyer’s Club” is showing surprising strength, too. It’s turning up right where it should be.

And the controversial “Wolf of Wall Street” scores, too! Unbelivable.

However, the down of DOWNS is no love for “Inside Llewyn Davis” which after two down days is RRRRREALLY bad news.

And no screenplay nomination for “Gravity” YAY!

Of course, there’s the caveat that several of the main contenders this year of years including “12 Years a Slave” and “Philomena” weren’t even eligible.

Once again, Kris Tapley is first out of the gate at http://www.hitfix.com

And herrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre they are, FWIW. They mean SOMEthing but not EVERYthing, because of the “ineligibles” as Kris calls them.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

“American Hustle,” Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell; Columbia Pictures
Blue Jasmine,” Written by Woody Allen; Sony Pictures Classics
“Dallas Buyers Club,” Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack; Focus Features
Her,” Written by Spike Jonze; Warner Bros.
Nebraska,” Written by Bob Nelson; Paramount Pictures

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

August: Osage County,” Screenplay by Tracy Letts; Based on his play; The Weinstein Company
Before Midnight,” Written by Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke; Based on characters created by Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan; Sony Classics
Captain Phillips,” Screenplay by Billy Ray; Based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty; Columbia Pictures
“Lone Survivor,” Written by Peter Berg; Based on the book by Marcus Lutrell with Patrick Robinson; Universal Pictures
“The Wolf of Wall Street,” Screenplay by Terence Winter; Based on the book by Jordan Belfort; Paramount Pictures

Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/in-contention/dallas-buyers-club-lone-survivor-wolf-of-wall-street-land-wga-nominations#f35iUgtZvdEYKIV8.99

Downton Abbey Season 3 ~ Ep.6 ~ There Are Fairies at the Bottom of the Abbey

SPOILER! SPOILERS! AND MORE SPOILERS! ALERT!

CODE VIOLET!

Or rather, as she’s called by some of her family, Cousin Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) was in full purple sail in Ep.6, the penultimate episode of “Downton Abbey” Season 3. Yes, dear readers, dear Downtonians, Season 3 is ending next week. *sob*sigh*sharp intake of breath* Alas!

Quality television is sooo rare these days and “Downton Abbey”s got it. In Spades.

And in the dreamy episode 6, Cousin Violet prompts Cousin Isobel to say “Have you changed your pills?” In one delicious set-to after the other, over Uber-social reformer Cousin Isobel’s (the superb Penelope Wilton) wanting to maintain former prostitute and former Downton maid, Ethel, as her cook and house-keeper.Shocking!

MEANWHILE!

Rob James-Collier’s sinister bad boy and head valet Thomas comes out of the shadows and is really at the center of this magnificent episode, which is, yes, an exploration of the attitudes towards homosexuality in the unenlightened Roaring 20s. In Post War Downton, everyone downstairs seemed to be roaring at Thomas. So bad Thomas, become poor gay Thomas and overwhelming sympathetic.

Thomas’ redemption began in Ep. 5 as he broke down crying at the death of Lady Sybil in childbirth in Ep.4. Rob James-Collier’s breakdown was as involving and empathetic and it was surprising in its’ power. “She didn’t even know I was alive!” he sobs “She was the only one who was nice to me!”

The death of Lady Sybil is going to be an ever-occuring and equivalent touchstone to the”Upstairs Downstairs” death of Lady Marjorie on the Titanic. Everything from now on will keep referring back to the untimely death of the lovely Lady Sybil at 24 years of age.

One keeps coming back to the fact of “Why? Why did they kill her off in such unceremonious, but incredibly compelling dramatic fashion?” And I keep coming up with the answer Well, she couldn’t act very well, so what else were they going to do with her?

With her abrupt passing, Tom Branson, the stupendous Alan Leech has really come into his own as the grieving father, former chauffeur and left-behind Irish son-in-law, who, in this episode begins to take over the running of the estate. He’s the new manager. And as magnificently played by Leech, he’s also becoming a very major character and dare I
say it? A heart-throb.

Which brings me back to the other emerging male star of Season 3, Rob James-Collier’s Thomas, who in this wonderful and also horrifying episode is called upon to play depths of emotion, his character has never been called upon to play so far. There are layers upon layers of dreadful humiliation as his frustrated gay feelings have nowhere to goand get him in to terrible trouble this episode.

Led on by the devilish Miss O’Brien, a former friend, Thomas thinks that Jimmy(Ep Speleers), the flirty footman is infatuated with him.

And so one night, he attempts a very beautiful kiss of the sleeping footman, the gorgeous Jimmy, who awakens and threatens to punch Thomas’s headlights out.

This disturbance is witnessed by the witless Alfred Nugent, and is reported upon by both Alfred and Jimmy to the Head Butler the super proper, Mr. Carson, who is revolted. And calls Thomas in to tell him he’s “foul” among other choice insults as he prepares to fire him. Thomas movingly says as he’s leaving”I may not be like you. But I’m not foul.”

And the major plot now revolves in this gripping episode of what are they going to do with Poor Gay one-handed Thomas?

James-Collier really proves himself to be a considerable actor as he is called upon by the brilliant, subtle script to play all the levels of loneliness, hurt, heart-break and degradation that homosexuals of that time, and earlier, were subjected to.

Oscar Wilde’s name was mentioned and that scandal that landed Wilde in jail in the Gay ’90s, was a mere two decades earlier than Downton’s time of 1920. And Thomas is constantly threatened with jail for his innocent, aborted kiss. As Wilde was. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment at hard labor because he was gay. It ruined his health and destroyed his talent.

And of course, who is behind all these machinations? Thomas’ former partner-in-crime Miss O’Brien, the wicked witch of Downton, who, I’m happy to say, does get her comeuppance quite grandly at the end of these two hours of television glory.

Oh! And Bates gets out of jail! I almost forgot! And it is in Bates’ and Anna’s new home, a cozy little cottage on the estate, bien sur, that we watch them happily refurbish as poor, gay, lonely Thomas sinks deeper and deeper into depression and hopelessness that the wicked trap, ,which evil Miss O’Brien has set for him snaps shut.

There is a saving punch-line to all this, but neither Bates nor Anna knows what it means, and why it causes Miss O’Brien so suddenly to heel, bitch.

And the words that brought her down off her broom=stick and back to earth with a resounding thud?

“Her Ladyship’s bar of soap”.

Anyone who has been watching since Season One will know what that means, but it’s too complicated and dastardly to explain here.

As I have to also comment on Lady Edith’s emerging career as a newspaper columnist! Laura Carmichael also outdoes herself in this episode and she begins, through writing to find herself. I could identify.

It also takes this busy, jam-packed episode to London, where she is chaperoned by her Aunt Rosamond, Lady Painswyck. And so we get to see more of that delightful character. who is the Dowager(Maggie Smith)’s smart London daughtet, and watch with unalloyed joy as Lady Edith, the mouse of the glamorous Grantham family, begins to assert and find herself through journalism! A column! She becomes a blogger, Roaring ’20’s style, and of course, her editor falls in love with her.

Laura Carmichael is magnificent as she goes from the recently jilted bride, left at the altar in Ep.2, and we delight in her triumph as she becomes the butterfly that was still in the cocoon at Downton and begins to spread her wings ~ a bit. Though she is still very shy and proper. And she can’t believe people are responding to her writing! I know how that feels!

ANOTHER wonderful Downton episode, two hours of heaven, then next week, two more hours and it will be gone until next season. And yes, there is going to be a season 4 and maybe much, much more according to a Vanity Fair article on Julian Fellowes, whose brilliant and sole creation this is. He does all the writing of all the episodes of all the seasons himself! It’s all him! It amazes me!

Because that almost never is allowed to happen in American television, which is why British television is so superior to ours almost always. Because the British have this thing about “The Writer” and it’s called respect. And it’s a beautiful thing.

“Downton Abbey” which is becoming the most successful series ever on PBS, can be seen on Sundays at 9pm on Ch.13 in New York and is rebroadcast on Monday at 1am. Or rather Tuesday morning at 1am. It can also be seen on Ch.21 WLIW on Mondays at 8pm.Don’t miss it!

Downtown Abbey, Season 3, Ep.3 ~ Recap & Review

“Downton Abbey” continues on as such a delectable television delight that I just feel compelled to write about it again! Right now! And this will contain spoilers so if you don’t want to know what happened in Ep.3 last night, then DO NOT READ ONWARDS! SPOILER ALERT TO THE MAX!

Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, does not have cancer. Poor Lady Edith has rebounded remarkably well from her altar-side betrayal by the spineless Lord Strallin, and writes a letter to the London Times about British women getting the vote, and the episode ends with it being published!

Edith, it seems, is now an embryonic Suffragette, and we glimpse that this may be her character’s main focus from now on. And good for Edith!

When her older, beautiful sister, Lady Mary, tries to commiserate with Edith over her abandonment by Lord Strallin, Edith dismisses it with “that was horrid” and moves right on to the next topic! British Stiff Upper Lip philosophy in action! Which can be summarized as “Don’t talk about it, get on with it!” She’s doing as her grandmamma, the Dowager Countess told her, “Stop whining! And DO something!”

Her younger sister, the beauteous Lady Sybil, y’know, the one who “Married beneath her station” to the Irish Chauffeur, Tom Branson, has been stranded in Ireland as her hunky hubbie has fled from the country due to the start of the “The Irish War”,it seems he’s been instrumental in perpetrating, including the burning down of a castle of a family who was friends with the Crawleys, the Drumgooles.

The Dowager Countess Grantham otherwise known as Cousin Violet otherwise known as Dame Maggie Smith, puts it all in perspective with a “Thank goodness! That house was hideous!”

And her son, the Earl, promptly shuts her up.”Mother, please! You’re not helping matters any!”

But Tom Branson seems to have been directly involved in planning the conflagration and is now sought by the police and has had to flee the country in fear of his life, leaving his pregnant wife behind.

“How could you?” Lord Grantham exclaims!

Lady Sybil finally arrives unscathed, but now neither of them can leave Downton until their child is born, which means it will now be born British, not Irish, as father Tom wanted.

There has always been so much trouble in Ireland I just don’t know when one war begins there and another ends. The Troubles there really never ended until modern times.

And the pregnant Lady Sybil, and mainly Branson, are really the focal points of this episode, which is more of a place-holder than the last, explosive one. Although as you can see, there was plenty going on at Downton, always.

Meanwhile, below-stairs, the stalwart Anna is dismayed that her jailed husband Bates has stopped writing to her. And Bates, and we see him often in various prison situations, is equally disturbed that she has not written him, but the “bit of bother” in the jail is eventually resolved by the episode’s end with Anna going to bed with the packets of Bates’ dirty envelopes. Ah! How ineffably,painfully romantic!

Meanwhile, in another fast developing subplot, the fired housemaid Ethe Parks, who did not look like a major character at the start of her storyline in Season 2, now is taking more and more center stage as the Seasons wear on. She has become a prostitute and ends up going to Mrs. Crawley(the wonderful Penelope Wilton)for aid for herself and her little boy who has no father. She wrenchingly at last lets him go into the hands of the boy’s late, ne-er-do-well father’s parents, the Bryants, IOW, his grandparents, who are, of course, conveniently wealthy. And can make sure the boy goes “to the right schools” which is everything to these people in these times.

Penelope Wilton endeared herself forever to me by her memorable performance in this year “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” She was the dark character in that light film, the one who can’t change and just doesn’t like India.

But I digress. Mrs. Crawley or Cousin Isabelle, Matthew’s mother, is also aflame with righteous reformist zeal as she not only aids damaged-goods Ethel, but in the end takes her in, at least temporarily, as her house-maid.

Their housekeeper/cook, Mrs. Byrd is scandalized.”It is not part of my duties to wait on the likes of her.”!?!

Downstairs is also all lit up with the arrival of the sexiest new footman imaginable (played engagingly by Ed Speleers), who calls himself Jimmy, but whom Mr. Bates insists is now “James.” And suddenly we’re reminded that Thomas is gay, and yet ANOTHER sleeping-dog subplot is re-awakened, as we see Thomas’ eyes lighting up at the sign of comely Jimmy.

All the downstairs ladies like rock-star footman Jimmy, too, like the hapless Daisy, the lovelorn kitchen-maid who is in this Episode promoted to “Assistant Cook.” Mr. Bates urges Lord Grantham to get this staff “back up to snuff” as they were pre-War. And a sassy, new kitchen maid Ivy is hired, whom Daisy, of course, at first sight, doesn’t like one bit.

And Miss O’Brien, who is usually referred to in the butch-est of terms as “O’Brien,” is seen lurking about in the background wearing her darkest blacks as Thomas ogles the sexy Jimmy. Uh-oh! Not since the Wizard of Oz and Margaret Hamilton have we seen such a witch!Cue the hisses and boos every time she comes on!

And I can’t wait for the NEXT episode, next Sunday! 9pm!

Meanwhile, Episode 3 is now up on PBS.org, in case you missed it.

“Downton Abbey” is the best series on television right now. I don’t know HOW you can bear to miss it!

NY Post Takes Down “Lincoln is boring” tweet!

Per Jeff Wells at www.hollywood-elsewhere.com Lou Lumenick has now had to take down the “Lincoln” is boring!” tweet! Uh oh! And Jeff linked to it, but I can’t find it anywhere!

Jeff has advertising from Dreamworks. I, you may notice, have absolutely no ads, whatsoever. I’ve heard nothing. But no ads=not important enough to bother with.

But believe me, this was THERE! And now, it’s not!

Oscar Winner “A Separation” Out on Blu-Ray& DVD Aug.21!

“A Separation” the incredibly powerful Iranian winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film deserves all the awards that were thrown its’ way this past year. And its’ brilliant director Ashgar Farhadi was named One the Year’s 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine, and it plays RRRREALLLY well on DVD, and now it’s coming out on Aug. 21 on Blu-Ray AND DVD.  It’s essential viewing. It’s not to be missed.

The subject, as the title says, is a divorce. Or what starts out really as a trial separation between a secular, middle-class couple soon escalates into something much bigger, a tragedy that is universal as well as thoroughly specific to its’ locale, which is modern-day Iran.

It is simple in the extreme, shot entirely on one camera, as unbelievable as that sounds. And the Special Features feature a commentary with the director/writer which is insightful as well as informative, and enhances the riveting experience of “A Separation” in ways I never expected it to.

Farhadi, for all his talent, has a very monotonal delivery, and I fell asleep at least several times trying to get through the dense translation. And although one of the striking things about the movie is its’ seeming refusal to take sides between the husband Nader(Peyman Mjadi) and his beautiful, Ava Garner-esque, Western-looking wife, Simin, a real screen beauty Leila Hatami, in the director’s commentary Farhadi is clearly blaming the woman in this situation and siding firmly with the hard-working suddenly single father of a teenage daughter, who his commentary reveals to be the character closest to his heart. Although his real life daughter Sarina Farhadi is playing the daughter in question here, her semi-flat portrayal hinders the film from really siding with her in this domestic conflict, that is unraveling her life, as well as that of her parents.

Termah(as enacted by Sarina Farhadi) is kind of a teenaged lump, barely reacting to her explosive family situation. I wonder if that was intentional.,or accidental. That she is supposed to be so numbed and unresponsive for a reason. The world that she suddenly finds herself in, following her mother’s exit from her life, is frightening and paralyzing in the extreme. But Termah is just non-reactive.

To make it worse, her father is taking care of HIS Alzheimer-ridden father in their own home. And he is a devoted son.  So when Simin exits, he hires a maid who turns out to be pregnant, and also an extremely religious, working class woman, brilliantly played by Sareh Byant, who is the real emotional core of this complex family drama. She is accused pretty quickly of stealing, and a miscarriage and a vituperative court case result, locking the two families from two different classes in a war that could turn violent and deadly at any minute.

The court, that all these fiery issues are disputed in is also a shocker, a bare, sweaty room, roiling, teaming with life, simple chairs and no lawyers present. Or juries, or court rooms, as we know it,as the two families have at each other in a savage, unrelenting fashion. You don’t want to see this. You don’t want to be involved. But Farhadi’s skill as a filmmaker, draws you in and you can’t look away.

Farhadi, who has a theater background, we find out in the illuminating Special features, brings the drama of a very skilled playwright to bear in this gut-wrenching movie. And of course, it’s an intimate view into a world we, here in the West, never see. Women in chandors. A religion that does not permit a man to touch a woman unless they are married. Women who must keep their hair covered at all times, it’s shocking but enlightening, in that it’s a world we should know more about, but don’t. And the most shocking thing is how familiar it all seems. We are all one, Farhadi is saying.

Time Magazine noted in its’ estimation of Farhadi’s great work, that he, in the illuminating, persuasive way “A Separation” has engaged audiences internationally, is really a great ambassador for World Peace.

Its’ use of intense close-ups and two or three person scenes in cramped stiflying locations just compells and educates at the same time, and on a DVD viewing, all this is enhanced, not diminished. I’ve watched “A Separation” twice now, and want to watch it again. It just grows and grows in your mind. I’ll tell you one thing, you’ll never forget it.

The Ghost of Heath Ledger Stalks the Earth

Poor late Heath Ledger. He challenged the gods, if there are any, with his iconic performances in “The Dark Knight” and in “Brokeback Mountain.” We all hoped he could rest in peace, but it seems that is not to be.

The horror that unfolded Thursday night in Colorado, just miles from where the Columbine tragic shooting occurred, was ignited by Heath’s indelible, but deeply disturbing performance of the Joker in TDK. He then died himself not long after. I often thought that that performance killed him. It made him go to a place so dark, he couldn’t come back. He went over the edge, and it was all captured on screen. And made millions and it killed him.

He was shockingly young, as were most of the victims of BOTH Colorado shootings. He was too young to die. His great talent wasted. Drugs were to blame. A lethal concoction of either prescription or illegal substances. We’ll never know. There was a 20-30 min. delay in reporting his death, wherein one presumes, the Tribecca Loft he died in was cleaned up of anything incriminating. But in any case, poor Heath was dead.

But he lives on, especially in those two classic film performances. As Ennis del Mar in “Brokeback” and as the Joker in TDK.

And now this homicidal maniac in Aurora ,Colorado told the police calmly when they came to arrest him, waiting for them casually,  in the Parking Lot of the megaplex where he had just killed a dozen people and injured dozens more, some critically, he told them HE was “The Joker.”

He died his hair orange. However, the Joker’s hair was green. And only red when he wore a red wig in drag with a nurse’s uniform.  The Joker set booby traps as the killer seems to have done in his apartment.

A Ph.d graduate student in neuroscience, it seems he booby-trapped his door and left it unlocked, so that presumably anybody could get blown up, too, if they entered it unknowingly. One woman, a neighbor, disturbed by loud “techno-music” blaring exactly at midnight, as the killer was set to begin his rampage at the movie theater, this woman unknowingly nearly did. But something told her not to try to go in, so she didn’t. And thus saved her own life.

And it’s not just an accident that it was THIS movie that he chose to kill at. There have been big blockbusters all summer long. “The Avengers”, “The Amazing Spiderman” etc. etc. but no. He chose this one. He had been planning this for months, starting to buy guns, legally, it seems, in Colorado, in May as he died his hair orange and began to drop out of school.

We don’t know what made his Phi Beta Kappa mind snap. But snap it did. We may never know.

But he seems obsessed, deathly obsessed with the Batman trilogy, and of course, the Joker in particular. The Joker was the embodiment of evil in a way that perhaps was never depicted on screen before.

How horrible, I kept thinking, for Michelle Williams and also Anne Hathaway, who stars in this film TDKR, which is now going to be linked in the publics’ mind forever with this horrible horrible tragedy.

Michelle has a beautiful little daughter by Heath, the now six-year-old Matilda, who looks EXACTLY like her late father. And Anne Hathaway knew Heath, too, from “Brokeback.” It’s soooo ironic that SHE, of all people, should be the star of this movie. I worry about them all, and my heartfelt best wishes and concern goes out to them.

And the families of the victims who are still identifying the dead.

Marshall Fine, the critic, who received death threats just last week when he wrote the first negative review of TDKR to appear on Rotten Tomatoes, had his website crash and caused Rotten Tomatoes to close their comment section on TDKR, the emails were so heinous, threatening violence. And we can be sure that this avalanche of hatred directed at Fine and Rotten Tomatoes did NOT come from one lone gunman in Colorado. What is going on here???

It’s SOMEthing about this movie that his driving all these people over the edge of sanity. Just like it did poor Heath.

What is it?

I wasn’t wildly a fan of TDK, but I LOVED Heath’s  towering, unforgettable, frightening performance. Filmed during the break-up of his relationship with Michelle Williams, his Joker seemed beyond description. Someone who was totally out of his mind. He was a nightmare come to life. Scary is a way that no other Hollywood villain has ever been. And in a movie based on a comic-book yet.

And hence the Colorado gunman’s identification with the Joker. He has doing in his mind only what the Joker did, I’m sure he thought. And in doing so he would become as famous as the Joker, as famous as Heath Ledger. And unfortunately, he has.

And now 12 people are dead and countless lives maimed or destroyed by this one madman’s two-minute shooting spree, which movie goers all thought was part of the movie.

Until they saw people dying in the seats next to them.

I don’t know that I’ll ever see this movie now.

But anyone who does is not going to be able to shrik the horrible reality of what happened in Aurora, Colorado.

They are all haunted by the Ghost of Heath Ledger, who does not lie quiet in his grave.

I Go to See a Bway show “Lombardi” in A BLIZZZZZAARD!

I can’t believe I did it, but I did it! It’s the middle of the worst, wildest snow weather and blizzard with SNOW THUNDER! I HEARD IT! Evidently there was lightening, too, but I didn’t see it because the snow was falling so thickly and fastly( Is that even a word????) and the wind was nearly knocking me over! WHY WAS I GOING OUT IN THIS?!?

Well, I just had to see my next guest on my TV show the brilliant Bill Dawes in “Lombardi”! At the Circle in the Square downstairs of “Wicked” and guess what? The audience showed up!!

I saw Bill afterwards and he commented that the audience was “so quiet”.

“Well,” I said, “They’re all exhausted getting here.” But they were really enjoying it!

I mean with 30-40mph winds, and the thickest, heaviest snow I’d ever seen in my life, it was a miracle that we all made it there in this Blizzard of 2010.

I mean, they always talk about the blizzard of 1888 as being THE WORST in recorded history. I think that occured in March of that year….And NO I wasn’t around for it. But this is certainly going to be in the record books. I’ve never seen anything like it.

It does transform the city. But in a scary not pretty way. It was like a hurricane, but with snow.

And how was the play? MARVAHLOUS, DAHLING! This is my second time seeing it, and I hate football and know nothing about it. But “Lombardi” has got me to thinking about it and liking it, well, just a little bit.

It’s interesting how well and simply done this play is and that even if you don’t know anything about football, it pulls you in and you enjoy it. It’s also interesting to note that this play is reaching an audience that doesn’t usually come to Broadway, football fans.

And football fans are used to braving bad weather to see The Game. But this blizzard phenomenon shows you how dedicated this audience was. To get there. And the actors, too! I heard people saying “Well, the show must go on.” And interestingly there was a day-after-Christmas Sunday MATINEE, too! As well as a 7pm Sunday night performance. They had Christmas Eve off, then they had a show Christmas Day night, which was a Saturday, and then two on Sunday. So since they performed earlier that day, the actors, including stars Dan Luria and Judith Light were presumably right near by or actually still in the theater itself. That’s what dressing rooms are for!

And every show on Broadway played last night during the Blizzard! Amazing!

The play which I practically risked my life to see ~ is about the life of Vince Lombardi, the famous Notre Dame football coach. And it’s a damn good play. I saw it first in late October right after it opened. And since it’s been such a long time between then and now(I’ve seen enough movies and plays to last most people a lifetime. Between the Drama Desk possiblities and the Oscar seekers. PHEW! But it’s been wonderful, too, of course. Or only as good as the movies and the plays you’re seeing.)it’s been such a long time I just HAD to see it again.

And I’m sooo glad I did! How often do you see a Broadway play, stars intact, in a BLIZZARD?!? I’d never done THAT before!

And the entire cast just gave it their all!

And I knew, I just knew that “Lombardi” was here for the long haul on the Great White Way, which really IS white right now!

It’s a solid endearing portrait of a good, Catholic marriage. Lombardi is brought to memorably vivid life by veteran character actor Dan Luria, who looks just like Lombardi, and  who, if this play keeps running and running as it is, he may be nominated for the Tony for Best Actor. And certainly the Drama Desk will remember his strong, endearing performance come awards time which is at the end of April. “Lombardi” is the only play that opened this fall, and Broadway had the healthiest, most robust fall season that I can ever remember, that is continuing to run into the New Year and beyond! “Driving Miss Daisy” it’s been announced is also continuing through the Spring. It could be Dan Luria vs. James Earl Jones for the Best Actor Tony Award.

 And Judith Light as Lombardi’s conflicted but devoted wife is a revelation and utterly wonderful and award-ready herself.

This play is really about the transition of an Englewood, New Jersey couple to the rural mid-west. Mrs. Lombardi (Light) gets an Atlas, when she knows that she and her husband are going to be perhaps re-locating and exclaims “I can’t even FIND Green Bay!”

Lombardi “It’s in Wisconsin.”

And my upcoming guest the superhumanly handsome Bill Dawes, plays the always-in-trouble blond heart-throb(every football play has to have one) real life football hero Paul Hornug, in a performance that is just as strong as the leads. He’s also a red-hot stand-up comedian, too! But more on that later! He’s on his way to a BIIIIIG career in either as a serious actor OR a comedian but probably both!

I’ll let you know what Superstar-of-the-future Bill Dawes is going to be on my show! Coming up soon, too are Ryan Gosling, Michelle Willaims and Ben Barnes!!! You’ll be able to see them soon on my You Tube Channel www.youtube.com/StephenHoltShow

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