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Posts tagged ‘Wit’

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How I Adore “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”!

Seeing “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” for the SECOND time, I couldn’t believe how much I loved it ~ more! I saw it when it first opened this past winter, and I adored how tuneful, how witty and how inventive it was and how ingeniously staged and performed it was by all hands on deck. I thought it was too rich, too lushly melodic, too good, too period perfect(It’s 1908), or too perfect. Period. For Broadway in this loud, flat day & age, but guess what?

It survived the long, horrid winter we’ve had and has come up this Spring blooming with Award nominations! So the SECOND time I saw it, “A Gentleman’s …” was even more delightful, if that’s actually possible, because you just relax and luxuriate in its’ glorious excesses of gorgeousness. malevolence,melody & wit!

WIT! How many musicals on Broadway have this, my most prized delectation! And how I miss it!

Not since Lerner & Lowe have we heard this wealth of sharp lyrics, luxuriant melodies and the rebirth of patter songs. I kept thinking of Rex Harrison’s immortal Henry Higgins all through this juggernaut of tongue-twisting fun. It harks back to the best of George Bernard Shaw, too, in its spot-on depiction of life high and low in Edwardian England. And it’s also thoroughly British, which I love, Anglo-phile that I am.

The opening tableau of a grim, gleeful, rain-soaked chorus all in black sets the tone with “A Warning to the Audience” that “you’d best depart!” at once, if they don’t like murder and mayhem. They re-unite merrily in Act Two’s Opening asking “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?”

You see, our redoubtable hero, Monty Navarro (the stupendous Bryce Pinkham) is impoverished and grief-stricken at the outset. He is reeling, coming from his beloved mother’s funeral. A strange old woman named Miss Shingle,(pictured above^) whom he doesn’t know from Adam, turns up to comfort him in his Dickensian, down-at-heels bed-sit in a grimy, smoke-stack spewing part of London (kudos to scenic designer Alexander Dodge) to tell him that “You’re a D’Ysquith!” And consequently the heir to a vast fortune, but unfortunately there are eight other D’Ysquiths in the way to his ascendancy to the Earldom of Chislehurst.

The marvelous Jane Carr (the apple of Maggie Smith’s eye in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”) turns up here as Miss Shingle, evincing a perfect Cockney accent, and a twinkle in her mischievous eye, to set the plot a-rolling and the pots a-boiling.

She quickly transfers that deadly twinkle to the bereft down-and-outer Monty’s big baby blues and hence a dastardly, dashing, handsome devil of a villain is born.

I.E. The plot is to bump off the eight people standing in his determined way. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a social-climber quite so much!

Monty sings: I am standing here with poison in my pocket,
One eye on the target, one eye on the clock. It
Better happen soon before I lose my nerve and run.
If I had a knife I could have grabbed him,
Then discreetly knocked him on
The head and stabbed him,
Not to mention what I would have done,
If I had had a gun.

And one after the other, in one hilarious set piece after the next, each one a knock-out, literally. (Kudos again to the inventive Mr. Dodge. His back-projections are as hilariously apt as his front-projections) The D’Ysquiths all begin to fall like nine (or rather eight) pins in an East End bowling alley. That they all are played by the incredible Jefferson Mays is simply beyond astounding. And each one of the doomed D’Ysquiths are meticulously differentiated from the other. He’s a one-man cast of thousands ~ of dead people.

In case all of this is sounding a tick familiar, “A Gentleman’s Guide…” is based on the book “Kind Hearts and Coronets” that the famous movie starring Alec Guinness is also based upon. And Jefferson Mays fills the bill quite, quite well.

Mr. Jefferson Mays is, of course, the esteemed Tony recipient of “I Am My Own Wife,” where once again he showed his chameleon versatility playing multiple roles in a one-man show. Though sweating and spitting up a storm in Act One, he nevertheless engages the audience’s affection and admiration as the bodies pile one upon the other in seemingly endless succession, all them bodies his. And who knew he could sing and dance like that?

D’Ysquithian highlights abound as we await the next deliciously daffy dispatch of one dastardly aristocrat after the other. Without spoiling just how hilariously they all go to meet their maker, there’s one patriotic, and also homo-erotic, number called “It’s Better With a Man” that both Mr. Pinkham and the inevitable Mr. Mays seem to take particular purple relish in.

Bryce Pinkham, Broadway’s newest, hottest leading man, has a lilting tenor, arched eye-brows and chiseled cheekbones. Plus he has the difficult job of making all the many murders of Mr. Mays, be sympathetic, and also empathetic, as well as sexy, as he slashes, and stabs and poisons his way to the top. You root for him to be the sociopath that he becomes. Pinkham has been seen before buried in the chorus of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” and also playing the third lover in the musical “Love’s Labour’s Lost”in the park this past summer. You’ll remember him as the hot guy in silver lame hot pants, and on roller-skates. An agile triple-threat, he.

Keeping the sex count as high as the body count are the beauties battling for his affections, the pink-obsessed blonde Sibella (Lisa O’ Hare) and the brunette soubrette Phoebe(Lauren Worsham). The brilliant director of all this madness is the meticulous Darko Tresnjak and the bloody good music & lyrics are by the two and only Steven Lutvak and Robert L.Freedman(who also penned the tart, smart book). All of these are the gentleman, who will guide you through love and murder, and all are astonishingly making their auspicious Broadway debuts!

And they’ve all been nominated for Tonys! And Drama Desks! And the Outer Critics Circle Awards, too! Ten or eleven! Almost as high as the count of murders! And surely on the way to topping and copping all the awards for “Best Musical of the Year”! Sometimes quality is rewarded on Broadway! T</em>hank the Theater Gods! YAY!

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Carson Elrod & Dave Quay Explode like Supernovas in Hilarious “Heir Apparent”!

What an uproarious delight is awaiting theater-goers at the CSC on E.13th Street! You must see two young, incredibly talented and gifted actors become stars in David Yves uproarious new comedy “Heir Apparent”. Carson Elrod explodes and Dave Quay shines in one of the most expertly executed comic duets since Laurel and Hardy had us in stitches! This kind of delight and excitement is so, so rare in theater or in film, or anywhere. It’s a unique and festive romp that will leave you rolling,if not dancing, in the aisles! Send in the clowns! Don’t bother, they’re here! At the CSC!

Carson Elrod, remember that name! You are going to be hearing it a lot this season, is a veteran, and quirky, comic actor whose work I have been following ever since he graduated from NYU’s prestigious Grad Acting program a few years back. His is a unique talent that has finally gotten the role of his career in “Heir Apparent”, as Crispin, the wily servant straight out of Commedia dell’Arte via the inventive playwright David Ives’ wildy comic take on a centuries old French farce by Jean-Francois Regnard”Le Legataire Universel”(1708).

If all of this sounds a little stuffy and pretentious, “The Heir Apparent” is none of that. It’s simply the funniest show in New York! And Carson Elrod’s comic genius of timing and impersonations is finally allowed to explode like the Supernova he’s going to be.

Director John Rando (“Urinetown”) has given Carson Elrod his comic head and unleashed the stupendously funny volcano inside. Elrod explodes and explodes, topping himself in scene after scene, where he, the wiliest of servile servants, is called upon to assume one outrageous disguise after another, trying to bilk the dying Miser character of Geronte (the always perfect Paxton Whitehead), out of his considerable fortune.

He is matched beat for beat by the stunning Dave Quay(pictured above^), who only JUST graduated NYU’s grad acting program this past June, and who here makes an incredibly impressive New York debut in what perhaps is the more difficult role of Eraste, the ardent young lover, who is Crispin/Elrod’s master, and the Heir Apparent of the title role.

Quay has to play straight man to Elrod’s wackness-to-the-max-ness and it’s a comic duet by two young actors the likes of which I’ve never seen in all my play-going life!

Quay has to be touching, ardent, relatable, impetuous romantic and sexy, too, and he manages to do all that and not miss a comic trick, complementing and completing Elrod’s tour-de-force, Quay does this without missing a beat, or a laugh.

Elrod’s character describes himself at one point as a “one man Comedie Francaise”.

I’d say it was two!

Playing the straight, leading man to Elrod’s whirling dervish is no easy task for an actor. But Quay’s meets the challenges and surpasses expectations ~ for handsome love interests are not USUALLY this funny. But he is!

You have to CARE about Dave Quay’s blond, blue-eyed, sincere heir with the Rock-Star hair, and you do. You have to want him to inherit the earth and the considerable fortune that is at stake here.

“The Heir Apparent”is like discovering a new play by Moliere! Yes! It’s THAT funny!

The fact that both Elrod and Quay trained in clown work at NYU makes them a perfectly matched pair of comical technical wonders. They can handle the slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am physical comedy as well as Ives’ scintillating wit.

And did I mention the play is entirely in RHYME!?! What a joy! To hear language this highfalutin (and hilarious) handled with such magical mastery by Elrod, Quay, and past British masters Paxton Whitehead and Suzanne Bertish who set an expert pace here.

If Carson Elrod is a volcano, Dave Quay is simply a star, and does what stars do. He just shines, shines, shines!

And I can’t forget to mention the gigantic comic performance of the world’s tiniest lawyer Scruple, played on his knees, with tiny little pads for feet by the redoubtable David Pittu. He doesn’t make his entrance til Act Two but you’re going to never stop laughing at the world’s littlest lawyer with a wig(by Paul Huntley) that is bigger than he is!Pittu is the comic cherry on top of this delicious French pastry of a play!

Don’t miss “The Heir Apparent” before it moves to Broadway! Or somewhere more expensive, like David Yves’ last hit “Venus in Furs” did which made another NYU Alum Nina Arianda famous. (WHAT magical elixir do they have in the water down there?!?)

I think “The Heir Apparent” will do the same for Carson Elrod and Dave Quay! Don’t MISS iT at the CSC, a theater that is barely large enough to contain the laughter!

They throw gold coins at the audience at the end, and I’ll treasure mine for ever and ever, like you will the golden, mirthful memories “The Heir Apparent” will leave you with. You’ll exit happy!

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The Absolutely Grand “Grand Budapest Hotel”! A screwball comedy with real screwballs!

I am going to go on record right now and say that this new year’s Oscar race, yes, 2014’s, has already started in earnest because Fox Searchlight has just released what I think is for SURE going to be a major topic in the Oscar conversation all year-long, Wes Anderson’s absolutely grand “Grand Budapest Hotel.”

How often does a WITTY comedy open these blockbuster days and become a record-breaking box-office blockbuster itself? Unheard of! Astounding! When everything is a comic book or a sequel that makes me gag, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” towers above all others in laughs, style and brain-i-ness, and oh yes, all the good guys are inexplicably wearing moustaches and Tilda Swinton is an 84 (or is it 83?)-year-old love interest to Ralph Fiennes’ sublime comic creation M. Gustav H.

And as Gustav says himself “She’s dynamite in the sack.” He shrugs,”I’ve had older.”

The concierge M. Gustav is so grand himself, it’s like he’s the hotel manager, in this pink and red-hued fantasy that goes beyond camp into whimsy of the giddiest and most original kind. It’s the kind where you can say “Thank god, there are still films like this being made!”

A screwball comedy with really screwballs! Divine!

And Madame Tilda’s murder sets in motion a dense plot of A-listers-in-cameos all fighting over the dead woman’s money.

And of course, she’s left it all to M.Gustav, and of course, hilarity ensues.

The cast is a who’s who of International Hollywood starting with Ralph Fiennes himself giving the performance of his career, comically speaking. Who knew he had this kind of expert comic timing in him? Anderson’s lines are putting it mildly often tongue-twisters and that fine actor Fiennes is having a fine time getting them all out in that perfect British upper crust accent and hitting the ball out of the proverbial comic park every time.

And Swinton has never been better, or should I say, never been funnier. I always felt she had a penchant for British drawing-room comedy that has never been tapped. Until now. She’s hilarious!

And a new discovery as the perennial Anderson innocent Zero, Tony Revolori of Anaheim, California holds his own against Fiennes and Swinton and Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe and Bill Murray, as he romances Agatha, a kitchen maid played beguilingly by Irish actress Soairse Ronan, who has a large disfiguring birth mark on one side of her face, in that shape of Mexico. This, in pure Anderson style, is never even referred to. It’s just THERE. One side of her face is perfectly classically beautiful and the other side is just well, beautiful, too, because she is.

The film for all of you dear readers, dear cineastes, is in three different aspect ratios, which are too complicated to explain here and spoil all the egg-headed fun as “Grand Budapest Hotel” keeps flash-ing backwards in time from the not-so-grand semi-now, Tom Wilkenson narrates, to F. Murray Abraham, who now is Mister Moustafa and OWNS the “Grand Budapest Hotel”. A journalistic Jude Law asks him how he got it, and as Abraham explicates, we jump back in time again, and it turns out he is Zero, the Lobby Boy, we’re going to be spending a lot of time with as does Ralph Fiennes’ M. Gustav.

For M.Gustav takes on the hapless Zero, who has to draw HIS moustache in with a dark pencil, as his protegee and partner in crime, as they try to well, you have to see the film.

All the villains in the film, like Dafoe, are strangely clean-shaven. Only good guys have moustaches.

I will spoil no further. But suffice it to say that it’s Anderson’s best film by far, and he’s now launched himself into the cinematic stratosphere of THIS year’s Oscar race, which will garner nominations across the board. The visuals being as sumptuous as the acting is delicious.

I can’t wait to see it again! Let the Oscar conversations begin! And the often nominated, but never awarded composer Alexander Desplat, may very well be getting his first Oscar here for his hilarious score keeps the hi-jinks high.

The number of A-list stars director Anderson has pulled into to flash by in the smallest of parts, like, as I said, Academy Award-winner Tilda Swinton, as the grand octogenarian Madame, who Gustav is romancing. Her every tremble is a delight, and who is suddenly found dead.

He says to her corpse, lying in state, “I don’t know what kind of facial cream they’ve used on you, darling, but I want it. You’ve never looked lovelier.”

Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Patience” Delights at Symphony Space

I had a truly magical, joyous experience stumbling in to the Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of the little-seen “Patience” at the Symphony Space in the deadening cold that New York is now experiencing. I didn’t think I could ever laugh or respond, it was such a frigid night. But “Patience” rewarded my patience by having me laugh myself warm and silly at the lyrics’ surprising, sharp, satiric wit. It was the essence of camp, and an utter delight.

The G&S Players are a group of very dedicated Savoyards,as the ardent admirers of Gilbert & Sullivan’s marvelously giddy operettas are called. And these super singers have dedicated large portions of their life to appearing in, and TOURING, these wonderful masterpieces of wit and nonsense.

“Patience” is rarely done and may be the least known of the G&S canon. It was first produced by the  Richard D’Oyly Carte at the Opera Comique in London on April 23, 1881 and on October 10 it transferred to the Savoy Theater which Carte had just built.  Hence, the term Savoyards. “Patience” was also the first production to be entirely lit by electric light. It ran and ran.

I had seen a production of it by the English National Opera in London in the early 70s, but though magnificently sung, it wasn’t funny at all. I don’t think those tres serieux opera singers got the joke. But the Gilbert and Sullivan players sure do. I couldn’t stop laughing.

The character of Bunthorne, “a fleshly poet” was thought to be based on Oscar Wilde himself, and it was a satire of the whole Aesthetic Movement, which was all the rage in England at the time. But Wilde himself took no offense at its’ depiction and joined with D’Oyly Carte to go on a publicity tour to promote “Patience” and the Aesthetic movement all across America, where it hadn’t really ever caught on.

Oscar knew great PR when he saw it, and seized the opportunity, arriving in America and stating famously to customs “I have nothing to but my genius.”

The plot of “Patience” has two rival poets, one Reginald Bunthorne, the other Archibald Grosvenor, who in this production looks like Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s young, notoriously blond and good-looking young lover, sought after by a chorus of “20 Lovesick Maidens We”, who reject the 20 Dragoons they are supposedly engaged to, because of their adulation of Bunthorne. Then in Act II the fickle maidens switch their affections to Grosvenor, played & sung marvelously by David Macaluso. The slim James Mills camped himself dizzy in the role of Bunthorne, not a “fleshly” poet, but an athletically lithe, hilarious one. His “Magnet and the Silver Churn” was terrific fun.

In the reduced scope of this  production on the tiny stage of the Symphony Space on Upper Broadway, I counted only about 14 maidens, and the pit orchestra was also ONSTAGE. Supposedly hidden behind a black-draped panel, which at one point fell down, revealing the suitably embarrassed conductor and musicians. As I said, it was the essence of camp. And the aesthetic of camp allows for this.

Patience is the virginal village milk-maid whose affections, both poets vie for. In this production, however it was the basso profundo contralto actress/singer playing the plain, aging, massive Lady Jane ,Cáitlín Burke,who really knocked my socks off. She has the wonderful Act Two opening aria, accompanying herself on a cello, and lamenting her fate as she ages and “more corpulent grow I,” as she waits for Bunthorne to return her unrequited love.”There will be too much of me  in the by and by.”

We can all relate. I haven’t laughed so much in a theater in years!

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