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Posts tagged ‘WWII’

“Dunkirk” Lives Up to It’s Oscar Hype! Mark Rylance Will Get His 2nd Oscar nom!

I just LOVED “Dunkirk”! Not a fan of war movies as a rule, the cinemaster Christopher Nolan has re-written the book on this genre as well as re-inventing it with this spectacular achievement . It’s a heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat, white knuckle thriller as well as an eye-popping, frightening and ultimately triumphant Best Picture of the Year. Well, so far, anyway.

It’s hard to imagine anything that will top it in terms of its’ size and scope, and story, too. Christopher Nolan is the screen-writer as well as director, and also, a producer.

I found myself moved from the first frames of “Dunkirk,” with its’ magnificent Hans Zimmer score thumping and pounding and shaking the earth, which in the first shots are a picturesque rendering of the French seaside town of Dunkirk as it was then, in June of 1940 .  Nazi leaflets are dropping like autumn leaves on the young British soldiers below, who all are about to be slaughtered outright by the unseen enemies machine gun bullets.

The most unlikely, scrawny, leading young man is newcomer Fionn Whitehead, (See above and at top of page) who we are going to follow through his epic journey of struggling to survive the evacuation of 400,000 British and allied troops, who are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Bullets are ripping, searing and whizzing everywhere as Nazi planes pound the helpless soldiers, exposed, vulnerable and innumerable on the Dunkirk beach. They are just sitting ducks. “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel” one officer proclaims.

How will they EVER get out of there? And that is the drama that director Nolan is portraying so incredibly accurately, and in such a breath-taking and wholly cinematic detail. Nolan’s exacting directorial eye gives verisimilitude a new meaning.Mark Rylance with Oscar 1

Oscar winner Mark Rylance (for Best Supporting Actor for “Bridge of Spies”)  is the truly heroic, mild-mannered, stiff-upper-lipped British captain. owner of his own medium-sized,  pleasure yacht, hardly a warship. It is one of the many civilian small craft that are commandeered by Churchill to set sail across the churning English Channel and rescue all those stranded soldiers. Rylance’s no-nonsense, utterly focused, amateur seaman/citizen is a masterpiece of restraint, understatement and terse John Bull heroism.

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And he’s symbolic of one of hundreds of small boats that turned the tide of this terrible war, WWII. They did the impossible, because they had to. How they were called upon and how all they just stepped up to this incredible, daunting challenge  and how in doing so  served their country and saved the free world. Churchill’s thrilling call to arms “We will fight on the beaches!” echoes throughout the film, and as a first generation Brit myself, I was immensely proud of all of them. magnificently depicted here in this their finest John Bull hour of courage.

It’s a David v. Goliath feat, and it’s all true. This really did happen. And Nolan re-creates it down to the smallest, scarifying detail. Not even pop star Harry Styles,who acquits himself quite admirably as the gnarliest of the small group of British soldiers, teenagers, really,  can fall out of line. If you weren’t looking for him, he would blend in totally with the other young, struggling, dirty, frightened, brave soldiers.

“Dunkirk” explodes with many, many understated and marvelously compelling performances. Irish actor Cillian Murphy(below)is totally unrecognizable as a survivor of a downed plane that Rylance and his crew of two lads rescue from the sea. Is he a German? Is he a deserter?

Rylance’s scenes of struggle between him and Murphy will. I’m pretty sure,  net the Oscar winner another nomination. He’s got the biggest part. The Academy likes to nominate those they’ve awarded and nominated before. But Murphy, Whitehead, Styles and Sir Kenneth Branagh (as the British troop leader,who has the most moving single line in the film, which I won’t reveal here) are all  exemplary.


That Harry Styles in his film debut holds his own with these Knights of the Realm is as much a tribute to Nolan’s laconic, terse direction of the actors as well as the many, many ships at sea and the planes in the air. And to shoot this all on water! How did he get those incredible, aquatic shots?

Hoyte Van Hoytena, the superb cinematographer of the awe-inspiring, acrobatic camera work is surely on his way to an Oscar for his astounding work here of filming the unfilmable on land and on sea .There’s not a lot of blood in “Dunkirk” but there is an awful lot of water!  Lee Smith’s phenomenal, fast-paced film editing is going to be acknowledged, too, at awards-time, I’m so sure. “Dunkirk” is incredibly only 90 minutes! And it’s shot on film. Nothing is digital.Tom Hardy Dunkirk 1

A special note most also be taken of previous Oscar nominee Tom Hardy (for Best Supporting Actor for “The Revenant”)’s ability to act throughout the film almost entirely in a pilot’s gas mask, with only his eyes and his voice for expression.(See above) He’s got to carry nearly a third of the film in tight close-up in his fighter pilot’s cockpit. He’s as moving and as effective of those fighting to survive below, who we see in full.Dunkirk 4

This picture was made for Oscar, and it will get nominated all over the place, and deservedly so. It’s a great movie. And a great movie movie. And Number One at the box-office for the past two weeks to boot. Don’t miss “Dunkirk”!

#Dunkirk, #Mark Rylance, #Christopher Nolan, #Harry Styles, #WWII #Tom Hardy, #War Movie, #Oscars, #Best Supporting Actor, #Best Picture

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“Bright Star” Shines on Bway w/terrific debut by Carmen Cusack

Bright Star 5Carmen Cusack 1A  tuneful, ORGINAL new musical is a very rare thing these days on Broadway, but “Bright Star” is just that.  It is really a cause for jubilation. And comedian Steve Martin, of all people, is the power generator behind this welcome bluegrass musical marvel. Edie Brickell, a pop star singer/songwriter who was previously unknown to me, is his musical partner in crime here, and what a delight-filled evening of song they make!

I’ve always felt that a successful musical comedy should just be one wonderful song after the other after the other, and one so rarely sees that anymore on Broadway, but “Bright Star” is just that. The first four numbers alone are so strong and singable “If You Knew My Story”, “She’s Gone”, “Bright Star” and “Back in the Day”are each so startling, memorable and different, I immediately wanted to rush out and buy the CD. Except since “Bright Star” just opened this past week, they don’t have one yet. But they sure as will soon, and I’ll let you know when that delightful event happens.

Other songs, too, including second act showstoppers, “Always Will” and “At Last” are also immediate standards-to-be I’m so sure.

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And “Bright Star”s ace-in-the-hole is the astonishing Carmen Cusack, who sings nearly all these great songs with a country twang that verges on the operatic. She plays the dauntless heroine Alice Murphy, who, except for her rather trite name, is doubtless also going to be known as one of the greatest roles for an actress in musical comedy history.

Cusack has the daunting task of slipping backwards and forwards in time as her character ages back and forth between a hard-bitten literary editor and a plucky teenage un-wed mother with big dreams in a stultifying North Carolina town. It is put upon Cusack to take us through all these time shifts from 1945-1946 to 22 years earlier, and she does it so effortlessly, and so charmingly that she just made me gasp.

Yes, Carmen Cusack is doing the impossible embodying all these moods and ages that she for sure is now launched into the rarefied Broadway stratosphere as one of its’ most important, as well as newest, diva-cum-star. Who did she remind me most of? A cross between Reba McIntire and Maria Callas. Her roof-raising voice is as rangy as any Puccini heroine.

She is ably abetted in her time-travelling tropes by leading men, Paul Alexander Nolan and also A.J. Shively, who plays a WWII vet with literary aspirations who gets to sing the wonderful, toe-tapping title song “Bright Star.”

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Broadway vet Michael Mulheren gets to shine, too, finally after a life-time of thankless supporting roles, as the dastardly mayor. Dee Hoty is wasted as our heroine’s weak mother.  Hannah Alless strikes the show’s one false note as its’ stereo-typed ingenue. Underwritten compared to the other female roles, what could anyone do with a part like that that is pure treacle?

Emily Padgett of “Side Show” fares much better as the tart comic relief and Jeff Blumenkrantz is her zesty, funny counterpart, the pair not missing one comic beat. Which one is more deliciously campy, it’s hard to say. They both play imperious editorial employees of the mature Cusack’s magazine.

And the uncanny scenic design by Eugene Lee consists of a house-full of bluegrass musicians, who move in the Southern Gothic A-frame that contains them, back and forth across the stage at a dizzying pace, under the Scene Design Supervision of Edward Pierce that is as lively a choreographic move as the more subdued, but fun ones created by Josh Roberts.

All this is under the redoubtable direction of Walter Bobbie and “Bright Star” hums and purrs and jingle-jangles its’ gentle way into our cynical New York hearts and may indeed have found a permanent place there at the Cort Theater on W.48th Street for a long, long time.Bright Star 2

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wondrous, Joyful, Surprising “On the Town” on Bway

On the Town 1Imagine my surprise! To be thoroughly delighted, enraptured even, by a musical I always had a “meh” attitude towards previously. I had seen “On the Town” over and over in its’ many iterations and on film, too, and it had never turned my buttons. But THIS revival of “On the Town” pressed all of them, surprisingly and with joyous delight. Quelle Surprise! And why is this “On the Town” different from all the others?

The main answer I have to deduce is to give all the credit to its’ talented Tony  nominated director John Rando. He, of “Urinetown”, has really gone over the moon and captured it with his buoyant, light-as-air, but just-right re-interpretation. Rando and choreographer Joshua Bergasse have put the sauce (as in saucy) and the sex(see above picture^) back into “On the Town” making it as fresh and redolent as a Spring daisy.

I do think that that is what has been missing from all the other “On the Towns” I’ve ever had to sit through and go “What’s the fuss?” Well, the fuss started in 1944, right smack dab in the middle of WWII, when its’ three one-day-only shore-leave sailors burst off their battleship in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and onto the streets and subways of New York singing “New York, New York! It’s a helluva town! The Bronx is Up and the Battery’s down! The people ride in a hole in the ground!”

And in 1944, there also burst on to the Broadway scene, one of the most talented quartets the Great White Way was ever going to see, composer Leonard Bernstein, choreographer Jerome Robbins, and lyricist/librettists Betty Comden and Adolph Green. And what an explosion of talent that must’ve seemed to war-weary New Yorkers, who were seeing their city celebrated in the most joyful way imaginable.

And Comden and Green were IN it, too! As the loopy anthropologist  Claire de Loone(oy) and her mug of a tar.Ozzie, here essayed marvelously by Drama Desk Nominee Elizabeth Stanley and Clyde Alves. Stanley gets to show her considerable comic vocal chops in Act I’s “Carried Away” and her dramatic vocal ease in Act II’s “Some Other Time.” This is the part Betty Comden played originally. While her counterpart cohort, goofball Ozzie, was originally Adolph Green himself.

What a show that must’ve been! In 1944. But this “On the Town” seems to be just a good if not better. And did I mention they have an UNCOVERED 28 piece orchestra? One of the biggest I’ve ever heard on Broadway and they played Berntein’s classical score magnificently, dreamily. I never wanted them to stop!

Hunky Tony Yazbeck, nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, works himself (and the audience) into a sweat with “New York, New York”,”Gabey’s Coming”, “I’m So Lucky To Be Me” as well as dancing all the  pas de deux ballet breaks (and there are many), then breaking your heart with “Lonely Town.” A star is truly born here. Gene Kelly played the part in the movie and Yazbeck obliterates his memory

His(Gaby)’s story drives the plot as he searches for his subway poster dream girl “Miss Turnstiles.” He finds his mythical  Ivy Smith, here embodied by real life Ballerina turned Broadway star Megan Fairchild  in a singing class led by the redoubtable (and hilarious).Jackie Hoffman, who is a comic drunk for the ages.

Completing the trio of star tars is the thumpingly innocent farm boy Chip, (Jay Armstrong Johnson) who with his 10-year-old, out-of-date New York visitors guide falls into the clutches of lady cab driver from Mars Hildy Esterhazy. And the hefty Hildy (Alysha Umphress) literally kid-naps (or in this case cab-naps) the virginal Chip into one of the most hysterical New York taxi-rides ever seen, aided and abetted by Beowulf Boritt’s masterful back-projections. Chip doesn’t stand a chance.as Hildy exults “Come Up to My Place” adding “I Can Cook Too” to great comic effect.

So, as a Native New Yorker myself, I was blown away and elated by this rainbow-of-a-valentine to My Fair City. SEE IT! New York, New York Is a Helluva Town!

“The Master” is a Big Gay Movie! An accurate portrayal of the Closeted 1950s.

So FINALLY seeing “The Master” yesterday, I was astonished to find that my take-away from it was it’s A Big Gay Movie! Although clearly, it’s not being advertised as such. If only it were, I perhaps could’ve really loved it. But I found myself LIKING it more than I thought I would.

It really was to my great surprise a tortured, a VERY tortured gay love story, with two men who are so totally in the closet that they do not know what they’re experiencing as they both feel this inexplicable need and attraction for each other.

According to the Gurus o’ Gold, Daniel Day-Lewis in the still unseen “Lincoln” is right up there on the top of the list of Best Actors, separated by only one vote from Joaquim Phoenix’s tortured portrayal as Freddie Quell in “The Master.” And in Supporting, though again, he’s a LEAD, and shouldn’t be there, and he’s the title role for goodness sakes! Is Phillip Seymour Hoffman ‘s masterful portrayal of “The Master.” And he’s LEAGUES out in front of everyone else in that category. Maybe he’ll win his second Oscar for his role as Lancaster Dodd, the brutish, dapper, magnetic leader/creator/philosopher of “The Cause” a Scientology-ish cult.

The film is the story however of how Dodd, the Master, can NOT keep himself away from, or let go of the violent, abusive, lost drunken ex-sailor Freddie Quell. He becomes obsessed with him. He takes him with him everywhere, and his wife Amy Adams, does not like it. Unfortunately, her role is really nothing but pregnant wall-paper. She MIGHT get nominated if the film catches on with Academy voters, but there’s not much for her to do except, display her constant pregnancy and glare and glower at Freddie.

The fact that his wife is perpetually pregnant, and there is one scene in their bathroom, where she graphically masturbates her husband(Hoffman has his back to us, thankfully.) is meant to show that yes, the Master IS heterosexual, but NOTHING else explains this film and its’ existence except the explanation that The Master is in the closet and is in love with poor Freddie, who is also in the closet. In fact, the whole FILM is in the closet!

The Master”  starts out with a wrestling scene on a beach where a bunch of sailors in tight, brief  40’s navy-issue swim suits, their muscles glistening in the sun, are going mano a mano all around Quell. There is also a large breasted sand dune sculpture of a naked woman that Freddie masturbates, and gets himself a hand full of, of course, mud. Then HE jerks off, facing the ocean. Frustrated libido is everywhere. The film at the end returns to this shot of Freddie on the beach gazing at the gigantic sand woman’s breasts and nipples as he lies next to her on the beach.

Freddie has a girl friend named Doris who he deserts at the beginning of the movie. He’s a constantly in trouble ne’er-do-well, to put it mildly, and an alcoholic who is driven to drinking medicines from everyone’s bathrooms’ medicine cabinets to get high. His potions are so lethal, he accidentally poisons a man at one point a Mexican field hand, who drinks one of his concoctions of paint thinner and whatever else Freddie has devised to put into.And Freddie is then on the run from the law.

One night in a drunken stupor he wanders onto a boat where Lancaster Dodd is having a party that is about to set sail, celebrating his daughter’s wedding. They are to sail “through the Canal to New York” and Freddie stays on board and sails with them.

The Master likes Freddie so much at the outset because Freddie has put together the right combination of paint thinner and peach juice that DOESN’T kill The Master.

And this film is much more about Scientology than I thought it would be. WWII and the post-war 1950s are its’ backdrop and The Master’s control of all his followers in this cult that is called “The Cause” is really rather frightening and chilling. But as the film goes on and on and on(yes, it’s WAAAAY to long) it seemed to me that Hoffman’s portrayal of Dodd got more and more effeminate. And the big gay pay-off scene is of the Master and Quell rolling over and over each other, smiling and laughing, giggling even, as they embrace on the grounds of The Cause’s current posh residence. Over and over and over they roll on top of each other. And they both seem to be having the time of their lives doing so.

It’s the only scene in the film where you see the two men(or any of the characters in this bleak, chilly film) actually expressing human warmth towards each other and having FUN.

There, yes, is a scene, where Freddie, who is prone to alcoholic hallucinations, sees all of Dodd’s female followers dancing around the Master nude. But tellingly,none of the men are.

Clearly, Freddie can’t find happiness with a woman and his only positive, ongoing relationship is with Dodd. Freddie is such a lost soul, you can see why he’s drawn to the charismatic Dodd, but why is Dodd so drawn to Freddie? He loves him. He wants to save him. He wants him with him for the rest of his life. It homo-erotic to say the least.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Master expresses every nuance that is required of him.

And that includes Dodd’s sick, controlling side, too. Which is frightening when it explodes. He HAS to be in the power position over all these people, and to me, he was sublimating his homosexual impulses into this scary, and sometimes violent, controlling persona.

But when Dodd calls Freddie transatlantic from London and says “I need you!” it was a quintessential  gay moment, closeted, of course, to be sure. Freddie is watching a Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon in an empty balcony of a movie theater when this moment happens. But it is telling nonetheless. It was the ’50s! THIS is how closeted gay men expressed themselves, the only outlet they had. Everything was coded, or sublimated. At that time, it was a love that couldn’t even be mention to those that felt these emotions.

So Freddie expresses it in violence and drunkenness and the Master expresses through his obsessive need of  control over others. It’s a disturbing film, but it may bring Phillip Seymour Hoffman his second Oscar.

Joaquim Phoenix’s Freddie Quell has to duke it out with Daniel Day Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln.” Only a vote separates them on the Gurus o’ Gold chart. When we can see “Lincoln” in its’ entirety, we will know who really is on top for Best Actor.

“The Master” is a divisive film, because it doesn’t wear its’ homosexuality on its’ sleeve, so you don’t know what is REALLY going on between these two men, but it is there, though unstated, nonetheless. And that was the pre-Stonewall America to a T.

Stephen Holt Show’s 2010 Year’s Ten Best List

I’ll elaborate further later,when I have more time, but for now, here is my 2010 Year’s Ten Best List –

1. The King’s Speech

2. A Film Unfinished

3. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

4. Nowhere Boy

5. Black Swan

6. 127 Hours

7. Mesrine, Pts. 1 & 2

8. Blue Valentine

9. Another Year

10.I Love You, Phillip Morris

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