Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I just realized that I didn't post about the 1955 Supporting actresses over at Stinkylulu, possibly because I don't really post here much, and I figure no one was reading. That's self-defeating. As always, check out supporting actresses.

And while you're at it, be very excited to see Persepolis, the new animated movie about childhood in Iran and the Islamic revolution.

Brilliant. Really. Not just the emotional resonance of the story, but the animation, which manages to stay true to the 2D comic book sense of the original while creating a 3D feeling with richness and depth. And all in black and white. There is a great use of Children's paper puppets, and a wonderful sense of the theatrical. Add in true menace, sadness, elation, confusion, and heartbreak, and you have the makings of a wonderful film. It's my pick for Oscar. I loved Ratatouille, but let's face it, it's not even in the same league. And this is no Triplets of Belleville let's nominate it as a nod to its quirkiness. This is a great film with a well told story.
I've been listening to "Reading Lolita in Tehran", and it's amazing how these two works of art work together. It might sound sexist, but I do respond to the personal in each of them. I don't know if it's because the authors are both women, but the particular oppression of women in the Islamic revolution is harrowing, and it really brings home how it must feel to have so many freedoms taken away. And also how much these two women do love their country and try to make it work. One of my friend's cousin is the author of Lolita, and is the same age as the author of Persepolis, and it really makes me feel for what her experience must have been like at such a young age. Wierdly, I have another friend who had to escape from Romania in her teens. We are so sheltered, really. And this always brings me back to the lie of revolution, or the wierd belief that there will be revolution without this kind of bloodshed. It's rare, especially when ideology takes over. We were even lucky in our revolution, probably because we were starting a new goverment in a new place, which circumvented our having to follow the rule of killing all of the original revolutionaries with half a brain and anyone who questions to make a new government. It happened with the French, the Russians, the Iranians, the list goes on and on. Interesting, too, how it was considered a Marxist revolution at first, which of course people grabbed on to. Ideas are power.
Anyhow--that's a digression. Go see the movie--you won't regret it.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Supporting Actresses

Check me out blogging for 1940 supporting actresses over at Stinkylulu, and at the end of November for 1955. Fun with old movies!

Hoping to write about a show I saw at the Getty and straight male wierdness with women's bodies, but I'll let it germinate.

And just saw Beowulf in 3D IMAX tonight. Surprisingly, I liked it. And if you're going to see it, do it in IMAX 3D. This movie needs to be big and in your face. It's a ride.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Funny Girl

This is for that Wyler Blogathon over at goatdog's movies.

I watched Funny Girl again about three weeks ago, even though I knew I could probably write an entire treatise on this movie without watching it again. I should come clean--this was the movie I would ask to stay up late to watch in its entirety when I was eight. Every year it was on I would watch it. In college, I used to request the soundtrack at the music library when I had extra time and journal while listening to it. And in grad school, during some extra time, I looked up the original reviews of the stage production.
So--let's deal with the elephant in the room first--Barbra. This is movie is about her, and there's no way to deny it. When renting the movie I should really own on DVD, Terry Sue, the venerable queen who owns the video store, called this "the best movie she ever directed" when I mentioned the featurette showed her behind the scenes interested in how everything was put together. And he also gave me an earful of why Anne Francis (who has third billing) is in the movie for about 5 mintues and has less screen time than Emma, Fanny's maid. And also how she had Lainie Kazan fired at the first moment she could from the stage play. And sure, you could put this all on Stresiand, but I do think Wyler, wisely, just let her do her thing and followed it. He has said that she did the role over a 1,000 times before doing it for the film, so he didn't really have much to offer her.
The most telling thing for me, back-story-wise, is how the movie charts Streisand's story and will a little more accurately than Brice's. One of the original reviews of the stage show said something like "She's not doing Fanny Brice, but whatever she is doing is astounding." The real Fanny Brice grew up on Long Island, had some money, and knew what she was getting into with Arnstein. But Ray Stark's mother-in-law was Fanny Brice's daughter, so the lore stayed intact. And it works. Streisand herself was a poor Jewish girl from Brooklyn who had a burning desire to perform and the talent to match. Who better to play the Jewish girl who made it from the second avenue theatres all the way to Broadway? Streisand basically did something similar.
The drive that took, and the drive that Streisand has, makes this movie work the way it does. A similar story is told in "Star", made the same year, starring Julie Andrews. Where that picture is overlong, confusing, and boring, this one seems, even at 2 1/2 hours, to be streamlined and seamless. I think it works because we focus on her talent, drive, and how it affects the love in her life. That is the only story told--even the daughter disappears and is only spoken of. Wyler's sense of movement, and the stellar performance of Streisand make it watchable over an over.
First, the costumes. Just as this wasn't really the story of Fanny Brice, this is not really the 20's. It's the 20s in 1968. See Barbra's long fingernails when she's going her first audition? Did someone tell her once that she had beautiful hands? Those fingernails are everywhere in the movie--they even have a spotlight to open the second half in "Sadie..". And the big sixties hair--kind of a twenties fantasia on the hair, right down to her asymetrical pageboy. She manages to look period and a la mode at the same time. There are too many costume pieces to love in this, and I think Irene Sharaff deserves a lot of credit for making this all work--the orange dress for "Don't rain on my Parade", the purple periwinkle toilet brush drop waist bauble for "You are woman, I am man" against an eniterly red room; the great teardrop bangled burnished plum dress she wears for "People". I could go on, but let's talk about the leopard coat.
Wyler makes a great decision to show us this leopard coat crossing a rainy streeet, going into a theater, walking about, and then finally the star looking over the collar in a mirror to say "Hello Gorgeous", which has become a signature line for Streisand. It's wry, but it's self-mocking tone was perfect to introduce an unlikely star and an unlikely "gorgeous" woman. And to introduce a story about a woman desparate to be seen and to be found beautiful.
With the opening, Wyler tells us he's going to follow his star, and follow her he does. I was struck watching this time how Stresiand holds the screen. Wyler trusts that we'll be with her. Unlike the current fast cutting mania, he manages to be still when he needs to be, but never be stagnant. "I"m the Greatest Star" (which is I still think one of thebbest musical moments on film ever), is basically two tracking shots. He doesn't cut unless he needs to, but he moves with her. And around her--her POV from the stage right before she sings "I'm the greatest star" for the first time heightens the excitement, as we're alone with her in the theatre, seeing what she sees.
With the exception of the bride number, Wyler keeps the stage to stage dimensions, befitting the story of a theatre talent. We're spared the "theatre turns into an enormous soundstage" numbers, and left with full on proscenium views for most of the numbers. For the numbers outside of the theatre, notably "Don't Rain on My Parade", he uses all that he has at his disposal--there's a train, a boat, an aerial shot--anything to keep the number moving. The numbers outside of the theatre have a theatrical quality about them--People feels as if it's on a soundstage, Nick becomes a participant in "Sadie, Married Lady" and "You are woman I am man", where the innner monologue versus outer conversation is handled deftly to hilarious results. The only camera shenanigans that didn't work for me are the two freezes when she meets Nick Arnstein. They happen twice, but are intrusive in a way that you are suddenly aware that someone has stopped the film and that you are watching a film. What does work, and something I think someone should have picked up for Dreamgirls, is "My Man". There is one cut in the entire number, and it's stunning. It works emotionally, it's the climax of the film, and you can't look away. Here Wyler again trusted his star. I feel like watching Wyler's direction in this movie I find myself saying "just because you can doesn't mean you should"--He manages to avoid any intrusive tricks, never getting in the way of the actors. You don't really notice his direction except that it supports the story. And for someone directing a big budget musical featuring the film debut of the lead, that's quite a feat.

And now for some of my favorite quotes:
Fanny: He's a gentleman. A gentleman fits in a any place.
Mrs: Brice: A sponge fits in any place. To me when a person's a stranger they should act a little strange.

When Fanny says she hasn't suffered enough to get a job with Zigfield, Mrs. Brice responds:
"Who says if you get it, in a week you won't lose it?"

Fanny;"Do you think beautiful girls are gonna stay in style forvever?!"

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Zorro In Hell

Last night I went to the newly restored Ricardo Montalban theatre on Vine and saw the Culture Clash production of:

I had never heard of Culture Clash, a group started in 1984 in San Francsico. I suppose I'm surprised I hadn't before since I studied performance and performance art for a few years in New York, and love what you might call "downtown-y" performance there. Maybe it's the SF thing, though they've performed everywhere. They even had a TV show. So, color me clueless. This was the first Chicano performed Latino produced full theatrical production in Los Angeles history (according to the mayoral proclamation in the lobby), and the group has a venerable history of performance and instruction in political theatre.

So--onto the show. The blurb on the website says:
The Missionaries of Mayhem arrive at the historic Ricardo Montalban Theatre for the Los Angeles premiere of ZORRO IN HELL! Set in simpler times when our Gringo Amigos terrorized whom ever they pleased as they struggled with Mexican Immigration, Hispanic Girlie Mans, Indian Casinos and a foreign born governor with a thick Austrian accent! Culture Clash rips Zorro from the pages of pulp fiction to take on Hollywood's image machine while blasting though borders and stereotypes. Culture Clash remakes the Masked Hero so that he may truly represent the oppressed peoples everywhere including The West Side! Rise up Californians! Rise up for justice! Rise up for Zorro in Hell!

So--you know, no big topics here. Ha. Like always, this will be a non-proofread extravaganza, so hopefully I'll make some sense and you'll be able to follow.

The show is set in a flahsback. We meet a man who is masked in a straightjacket who calls himself Zorro is being questioned by FBI (CIA? Secret Service? They wear shorthand black trenchcoats and sunglasses) about who he really is. After being given some kind of truth serum, we all flashback to his arrival in a small town in California at a small inn. He is a (failed/failing) sitcom writer, and the inn he has stumbled upon is run by a 200 year old woman who has tutored/slept with many famous writers from Tolstoy to Murieta to Karl Marx and her sidekick the first Chicano in history. She tries to get him to recognize the true Zorro that he is. That's the big bruch version. In the midst of this are a couple of Zorro tales, a jewish grizzly bear therapist, the Austrian Gobernador, two gay cowboys, and a Gold Icon. You may get the idea. Amongst the plot are sprinkled musings on politics (current and past), history, and race.

Frankly, I don't know where to begin. The cast is great--talented, funny, obviously working hard. The jokes are funny--one of my favorite sequences involved a silent movie gag in which a mute Mexican villager tries to tell the lady heroine about Zorro. He pulls out the bells, whistles, finally charades, and when he makes Zorro's motion of the Z she says "They've chopped the prices at the mercado!" That scored a guffaw. And many more did, though I felt overall the humor only added to the scattered nature of the production.

In the final moment, when Zorro (Richard Montoya?--I'll have to check my program when I get back home) has had the audience stand up for California, he climbs up a ladder to the balcony extension and says "Let's hear it for clever agitprop theater". I think that may be the best explanation, though I think that's even a little too facile. Agitprop believes in it's ideas, whereas the cleverness of this troupe for me undercuts some of what they are trying to get across. Also, agitprop is pretty straightforward, whereas the hurricane of ideas and references in this show are almost exhausting to follow.

There is a discussion of the Zorro character and the purpose he serves, the Scotsman who wrote him, the character's roots in old California, whether he had been appropriated or not that began in the show but was never resolved, although I believe the idea of the show is the main writer's gradual acceptance of Zorro as a symbol of strength. The earlier idea of how he was created, by whom, and why are gradually recede to the foreground in favor of treatment of the Yaqui Indians in the filming of the original movies and the portrayal of "the sleeping Mexican" in all the films. Into this are references to everything from Ramona to West Side story, and digs at Schwarzenegger, Villaraigosa and the Riverside County police, as well as lines about everything from healthcare to immigration. I'm exhausted just thinking about it again. I kept thinking there are so many references in the show that the writer's may be too clever for their own (or the play's good). At the end, there were so many ideas thrown about, but I had no idea of the political purpose of the play except to agitate. Doesn't agitprop at least have a purpose? Are we supposed to leave the play upset about eminent domain, the environment, gay marriage, immigration, progress, empire building, latino stereotypes, the governor, Guantanamo, literary theft, bad writing, grizzly bear habitats, the loss of free speech and the right to a fair trial?

Or are we supposed to leave thinking that the cast was very clever? They're a smart, talented, fun to watch group. The references are fast and furious. If there is a chance to get a laugh, they'll take it. In most ways, I think they succeed more as a comedy troupe than political theater (at least in this piece). It's chock full of references, obscure to general. And if there is any opportunity for a joke, it's taken, no matter how ridiculous. The action even completely stops for a Matrix joke. Perhaps it's the influence of Family Guy--non-sequitirs that congratulate the audience for it's own cleverness and are shorthand to a laugh.

Don't get me wrong--I laughed and I think it's funny. It's just that if you are bringing up all these ideas, I would expect something to be done with them, or at least explored in some ways, as opposed to being set ups for a joke. Everytime there was a moment of emotional connection it would be undercut with a joke. So the play felt like little political diatribes and a bunch of silliness. I certainly enjoyed it--I'd rather have politics brought up in any way, even if not thoughtfully. I learned no more about the creation/co-opting of Zorro than I knew going in, and if I didn't know about Ramona through , it would've just been another lost reference to race and character construction. I don't even know how it could've been solved. It's a very entertaining play, but it didn't move me emotionally to find out more--it kind of congratulated me for what I already know and for being in on the joke.

Perhaps it's the size of the theatre--having this 5 actor piece on a stage with a turntable and projections may have overwhelmed this silly "let's put on a play" feeling that smaller spaces can have. Certainly it lost some of the intimacy that I imagine could really envelop you in a smaller house. Maybe that's why this comes off in some ways as an exercise in clever.

Like I said--it's funny and I'm glad I saw it. I would go see this work again before some of the other things that pass as theatre. And I would always support and love any group of people trying to entertain and say something at the same time. Perhaps it's indicative of where we are as a culture--there is so much information, so much to be upset about, that sometimes we can only look at it all and be overwhelmed, or make jokes--I know how that's how my mind works. But it comes off as a little self-congratulatory--watching an artist struggle with himself and make jokes telegraphing how quick he is.

The last moment, when Zorro is left alone in a straightjacket by the FBI who have basically told him he can be held without charges or have any right to an appeal, there is a moment of true frustration, where we can see where we could be headed (or some would argue, are). It's a moment that had a glimmer of dramatic intensity. There could have been a something harrowing that happened to leave us after a night of hilarity in a place that dark, especially considering the whimsy with which most of the ideas were brought up throughout the evening. Instead, our hero is saved by a Salvadoran immigrant janitor (whom he thinks is Mexican). Well, it's a comedy, and we always want Zorro to win.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Life changing performance blog-a-thon

I have taken up the gauntlet thrown down by Emma at All About my Movies to write about the performance that changed my life. It’s not a gauntlet thrown down directly in front of me by her, but it’s an open invite, so I’ll take it up. I’ve read some great posts about performances I knew, and those I didn’t, and am fascinated at the idea of doing this at all. One performance? Are you crazy?
So being a typical/atypical Gemini, I can’t make up my mind. I have chosen one, but I’d like to share just a couple of runners-up as well. And I don’t even know about changing my life, but certainly they have changed how I feel and are cherised. Surprisingly, most of these are women. Ha.

These are the ones that popped to mind, for whatever reason:
Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl—I used to ask to stay up late when it ran on TV, and it was my earliest favorite ever. I still think “I’m the Greatest Star” and “My Man” are two of the greasest musical performances ever committed to film. If there is ever a film to make you believe that drive does a lot, this is the one.

Marisa Paredes in Flower of My Secret, and let’s face it, most women in any later Almodovar, and I’ll even throw in Gael Garcia Bernal in Bad Education. Celia Roth in All About My Mother—and Marisa Paredes in that one, too. Once again, the power of finding yourself and accepting who that is while accepting the ridiculousness of life I don’t think is paralleled by any other film maker. His films make you want to live.

Robert Ganoung in Parting Glances (and John Bolger--mad crush material, and Steve Buscemi) all give great performances in a movie that I saw 4 of the 6 nights it was in Albuquerque when I was 18. Still one of the best depictions of adult gay men living an actual life and having believable relationships, it made me believe that relationships were possible, love was possible, and that I should move to New York. Well, at least I did one. And then moved away.

The favorite performance, though, is one in which love and trust are tested, and even though they are trampled like yesterday’s dead flowers, hope does not die. Although All About my Mother runs a close second, the film that knocks me over every time I see is “Nights of Cabiria" by Federico Fellini, starring his wife and muse, Guilietta Masina in a performance that will make your hair stand on end.

The film is probably familiar to most audiences through it’s musical adaptation “Sweet Charity.” And although that incarnation has some memorable tunes, it in no way nears the depth and resonance of the original movie. The film follows Cabiria, a Roman prostitute, on a few days in the course of her life. We meet her as she is being pushed into the river by her boyfriend so he can steal her purse. She is saved by some children, but it’s clear she is a ball of defensiveness, at once needing the help she is given but refusing to believe she can’t do it all alone.

Fellini gives us a chance to see unseen Rome through her eyes—the life of a prostitute; the others she works with ; the catacombs of the homeless and the priest who ministers to them (a scene only restored in the 90s after years of being censored by the Catholic Church); the rich man who picks her up and the obsessive life of objects he lives; her best girlfriend, the big working girl with the spiky hair, Wanda. It is a perfect way to watch the human parade—through the eyes of a naïf who is tough on the outside but as runny as caramel in the sun inside. The range of the performance is operatic, and always hypnotic.

In one of my favorite scenes, Cabiria wonders into a theater and is brought on stage and hypnotized. The tough girl shows the tenderness underneath to the delight of the audience, eventually quieting the theatre. And after that embarrassing performance, she meets the man of her dreams.

The man, seemingly too good for her, an unassuming accountant, romances her and convinces her to runaway with him. And not only run away, but to sell her house and all her possessions. **SPOILER** And in a last chilling moment, when she is rapt with happiness and reveals to him all the cash she holds from the sale of her house, we realize when she does that he is not what he seems. I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking “no, no” when it becomes apparent that he has lured her into the woods to take her money and then throw her off a cliff, ending the same way she started.

What makes this the performance that changed my life, though, is the little hope that comes through at the most unlikely moment. Cabiria, humiliated, broke, and heartbroken, is walking on a small road in the woods. Suddenly she is overtaken by a group of revelers, young people out for a small night parade, it seems, or just dancing to the Spring. She is bereft, but gradually, very gradually, we see a smile creep up the side of her face while there are still tears streaming from her eyes. Even though she has lost everything, she can’t stop living, or even being amused. She may not be able to stop who she is or what has happened, but she can’t help but feel tickled. I feel like there isn't a person who hasn't felt that, and Checkhov said it was his favorite emotion--laughter through tears. This little clown--and I say that in that she seems to embody the humor and the pathos that are the essence of that archetype, is the best example of the beauty of life, and the persistence of hope, that I’ve seen on film. It’s that smile that made me go back and see it the next day after I saw it the first time, and keeps me revisiting this performance again and again. It's an extraordinary performance in an extraordinary film.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


I got to see Hairspray last night, and it is just one big finger-lickin' bucket of fun. John Travolta is that wierd packet of squeeze butter on the side that comes with it, but you can ignore and not use while not having it effect the overall excellence of the the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cole slaw and biscuit. The stage play was a blast, too, so it's no surprise the movie is as well. Though some of the songs were cut, and some characters cut down in the process, the story moves along and is as fun as it ever was. Nikki Blonsky is adorable and a complete find. Amanda Bynes is funny and totally gets Penny. I liked Queen Latifah (though I still miss Ruth Brown's voice and manner-but who doesn't?), who is having a great time as well, and Elijah Kelly, who plays Seaweed, is a revelation. Michele Pfeiffer is having a blast and is great, as is Christopher Walken. Zac Ephron is all cuteness and plays with it, as is James Marsden, who came as a complete surprise to me--probably the "who knew?" performance of the film. And the kids are all great. It's not as broad as the play or the first movie, but it has enough winks to keep you going, and everyone's on the same page. They even pulled off the civil rights moment (for me--though not for a couple of others we talked to after the film). I miss the jail sequence, but the rest is still there.
That leaves Travolta, who isn't necessarily bad, just strange. For some reason, he's the only person in the movie doing a Baltimore accent, and it doesn't work. In fact, at times it gets in the way of the jokes. He seems to be enjoying himself, and that's perhaps the problem. I kept wishing for the warmth of Harvey Fierstein, who disappeared into the role in the first five minutes of the play and seemed to envelop the whole production with his warmth--it's one of the big "might have beens" of the last few years. Oh well. Shankman manages to work around it well--I just wish that he wasn't so aware of himself and playing at it in his performance. It felt like he was going "Look at me! I'm in drag! I love this!"
Still--the movie was a lot of fun and I'll probably go again, just to see the opening sequence. Loved it! Bucket of fun!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Show Business

So before you read this, know one thing. I am a theatre nut. Not as nutty (read: competetive,bithcy) as some theatre nuts, but still...there is no where I feel as comfortable as in a theater. I could spend all day in a theatre, and have. When I was acting, it was the place I loved being--I even catered once on the stage of the New York State theater and Lincoln Center and didn't want it to end. Catering, folks. On tour, with an execrable children's show, seeing theatre architecture across the country, and performing in theatres like this and this kept me going. So, just to let you know, I'm biased.

Last night I saw "Show Business: The Movie", about the 2003/04 season on Broadway. The film focuses on 4 musicals: "Avenue Q", "Wicked", "Taboo", and "Caroline, or Change", from rehearsals to the Tonys, and is directed by Dori Berenstien, a Tony award-winning producer herself. Charting the rise (and fall) of the shows, she gets great footage from actors, critics, producers, and talking heads. There's some excellent performance footage, and I remembered how magical it can be when a show works. The movie, though, feels like just an outline. Even at a little over an hour and a half, I was left with a glancing portrait of each of the shows, wanting to see more (she's a producer--perhaps that's the point). The footage she has is so rich, though, I was wishing this was a series of movies, as each show seems as if it could've supported it's own doc.

The film is divided into four seasons (Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring), and follows the shows through rehearsal and opening-- Q, then Wicked, then Taboo, and finally Caroline. This is tracked, somewhat ingeniously, by a Greek chorus of critics, including Michael Reidel of the Post; Christopher Isherwood, late of Variety and now of the NYTimes; Linda Winer of Newsday; Patrick Pacheco of Show People; and Jacques Le Sourd from Gannett, who are all shown eating and drinking at a round table and discussing theater. Add to that, from remote locations, John Lahr and Ben Brantley and you have quite a slew of formidable critics. Reidel comes off as a complete ass, which is somewhat delicious (surprise, the Post gave the doc it's worst review). So, added to watching rehearsals and the creative process, we also see what the critics are predicting will succeed or fail (sometimes before opening). Reidel seems to have had a personal vendetta against Taboo, and when that show fails, it looks as if it's completely the media's fault. Winer even says that she doesn't think the show had a fair chance, and certainly the fans (some of whom had seen the show dozens of times) crying outside of closing night would probably agree. Boy George has a great line about the critics supposedly being there to champion new work but are completely responsible for its demise, and that they'll probably be stuck with Andrew Lloyd Weber. Certainly Wicked makes that point--though all the critics lambasted it, it is, and continues to be, the biggest financial success on Broadway. It's kind of wonderful watching thier cluelessness, and I'm sure the producer took not a little relish in making them look slighty pompous. The best laughs come from the critics.

Critics aside, the strength of this film is getting to see all of the performers and creators in rehearsal and in action, particularly Tonya Pinkins, Euan Morton, Raul Esparza, Idina Menzel, Joe Mantello, Stephen Schwartz, George C. Wolfe, Idina Menzel, Jeff Whitty, Jeff Marx, and Bobby Lopez, and Boy George, and co-producer of the film Alan Cumming, who all provide great interviews. But then again, it feels a little crammed, and all of these people you could watch for much longer. George C. Wolfe in rehearsal is fascinating, as are the Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner, who we get to see hitting a wall in one of the many humorous places in the film. My personal fave, though, is my new crush, Jeff Marx (co creator of Avenue Q), who has just the right amount of dorkishness, intelligence, cynicism and silliness to be adorable. And hearing his Dad talk about how he couldn't hold a job and that he was so wierd he had to do great things, you just want to give him a hug. He doesn't mention he has a law degree. Ah, parents. There's also a bit of the Tonya Pinkins story, and how that shaped the role of Caroline, which is legendary I think, at this point.

For all it leaves in, though, there are a few notable omissions: though much is made of Avenue Q and it's Tony suprise, no one mentions the "Vote with your Heart" Tony mailer song that the show sent out pointedly to sway voters; though Anika Noni Rose is shown in rehearsal, no mention is made of her Tony win for Caroline. And I actually could've used more Tony Kushner (but that's me).

The film feels like a fascinating conversation starter, with just enough to get you hooked in, but no payoff. It definitely made me miss New York, and the excitement of the theatre there that is unlike any other. Ultimately, though, it could've been an entire season of a reality show (and somewhat felt like it--"The Race for the Tony's"). Too bad the Grease show didn't work--it could've used a little of the sparkle of this film.

The thing that keeps coming up during the film is the love that people have for these shows, and for fighting this uphill battle. Euan Morton is heartbreaking on the pre-mature closing of Taboo, and you realize how much heart and soul can go into a show--magnified by hearing and seeing him perform. For all the cyncism I hear is rampant among performers on Broadway (calling in sick, complaining, etc) in Phantom, Beauty and the Beast, etc, it's nice to see that shows are still created for love of doing it, and for getting a story you can care about to an audience. The most poignant and joyous scene in the film is the passing on of the gypsy robe--a time honored tradition that never having been in a Broadway show I had never witnessed. The robe, with sewn patches from every show, is given to the chorus member who has been in the most productions, who then has to circle the stage 3 times and visit all the dressing rooms while wearing the robe. IT's a joy to watch, and a something to see how important this tradition is. With all the talk of money and how much a show costs or will profit, it's edifying to see this gift passed around, and how much emotional power it has. And that alone is a reason to keep doing it. I'm a sucker for nostalgia on some level, if it's done in the right way, and those traditions, the spaces, and the ghost light get me every time. Like I said, the film may have it's weaknesses, but on this subject I'm biased. Any information is good information.

Monday, June 18, 2007


It's been a while since I've posted here, so I figure the first day of my 40 th year (yes, folks, I turned 39 yesterday) is a good a time as any for resolutions. So, I am resolving to write more criticism/film/book stuff here, and then just blah on my other blog. Blogs a-poppin'.

So, since I'm one of the smackdowners over at Stinkylulu this month, this would be a good time to write about those performances. If I had seen them. So tonight's a double feature, and I will have watched all by this Saturday, lord willing and the crick don't rise.

Meanwhile--finished off the Armistead Maupin latest. It's like a new Tales in the City, but focused on Michael and his new, much younger boyfriend (just like the one Maupin has...hmmm..who is adorable, by the way). It's a little bent on trying to wring poignant moments about death and life out of the narrative, but somehow he works for me best when he's just inenting fun characters and plotting them. There is some plot summary of the earlier tales in this book, and you just long for how exciting and silly those were. I do like the ease with which he writes about sex, which has always been one of his strengths, as well as his writing about San Francisco. It's nice to revisit the characters, but I don't feel like it reaches the poignancy it's aspiring to.

And I did like La Vie en Rose, the new bio pic about Edith Piaf with a knockout performance by Marion Cotillard (that should be nominated for an Oscar). The perf is somewhat stagy, but it works beautifully for a woman who performed a great deal of her life. You always feel it's Piaf performing it, and I have no idea who this actress really is, besides great. I am most interested, though, that no one in the movie smokes. They are in France and New York from 1920 - 1960 and no one smokes. They drink, they fight, they visit prostitutes, but no cigarettes. Hmmmm.....so much for historical realism. They may think it's glamorizing smoking, but watching La Vie en Rose didn't make me want to drink or prostitue myself. Anyhow...the only mis-step is Piaf's first concert, where suddenly we are not hearing her sing anymore, only montaged gesticulations of singing while some instrumental overly orchestrated plays. Why? Other than that, go to watch her.

That's all for now. And tonight, it's California Suite

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Supporting Actress Blog-a-thon

As part of the Supporting Actress Blogathon over at Stinkylulu, I’ve decided to give some props to a new actress I haven’t seen before, but am now incredibly impressed with.
Almodóvar has a way of introducing new performers to the world at large, the first to recognize their greatness, or at least bring them to a wider audience: Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Victoria Abril, Rossy di Palma, Chus Lampreave, Marisa Pardes (love, love), and the always wonderful Carmen Maura. Volver is no exception. Besides showing the world that yes, ladies and gentlemen, Penelope Cruz can act (and brilliantly), he has introduced me to another actress whose performance makes me want to run out and Netflix everything she has done, as I did with Marisa Paredes after All About my Mother and Flower of My Secret. This time, it’s

Blanca Portillo as Agustin in Volver. I will spare you the plot summary, but this careworn, caring creature is for me one of the greatest accomplishments of the film. As he did for a moment in Flower of My Secret, Almodovar visits a small windy town outside of Madrid. What he finds there is the complex, hysterical, stubborn Agustin, who roots the film to reality, even while believing all the while in ghosts.

Portillo’s greatest achievement is to give nobility and sweetness to a character that could have been a neurotic rube. Worrying and wearing black, cherishing the memory of her mother "the Hippy" while smoking pot, and delivering gunfire kisses all around, Portillo manages to make Agustin the pull that brings everyone back to the village. The character represents superstition and small mindedness on one hand, but openness of heart and great loyalty on the other. When Agustin is brought on a reality show to air some dirty laundry in exchange for a trip to Houston for treatment of her cancer, what could have been a silly moment of laughter at the ridiculousness of the character and the situation becomes a harrowing moment of decision and a condemnation of all those would trade Agustin’s pain for their entertainment. Always meaning well, but sometimes desperate, Agustin stays with us throughout the film as a voice of conscience, as well as a reminder of compassion, goodness, and self-sacrifice. One of the most interesting characters I’ve seen in a while, and a performer I am thrilled to have been introduced to. She would make me want to visit a windy, barren Spanish village. Let’s hear it for Blanco Portillo.