Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Film Reviews: Omnibus Round-Up of Recent Film Releases, Including the Romantic “The Greatest Hits,” the Violent “Monkey Man” and the Filmed Version of The One-Man Show, “Just for Us”

Looking for some films to see either in theaters or on streaming? Here are some interesting films I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks I recommend. 

The Greatest Hits (c) Searchlight Films

Film: The Greatest Hits 
In Cinemas and Streaming on Hulu 

There is so much to enjoy in the film The Greatest Hits, but I have to bring up the one thing that bothered me throughout: the plot. I certainly love a high concept film, and here we have Harriet (Lucy Boynton), who, when she hears a song that reminds her of dead boyfriend Max (David Corenswet, the newest Superman), she is suddenly transported to that moment. Is she actually time-traveling or is she having psychological breaks with reality? When the film finally answers that question, I was totally frustrated with the logistics, which is always a problem a film that plays with time or multiverses has to face. But this crazy plot does produce a sweet romance between Harriet and David (Justin H. Min of After Yang) who meet at a grief support meeting but may also be involved in each other’s tragic narrative. Director Ned Benson, who gave us the nonlinear romance, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, has a stronger authoritative grip here before the complicated plot soon overwhelms the love story. Still worth a watch. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Interested Bystander: Early 2023-24 Tony Award Nomination Predictions

Merrily We Roll Along (c) Matthew Murphy

April is very busy for Broadway and those who cover it. There are Broadway show openings in the double digits in the next few weeks, all hoping to get some Tony Award nominations before the deadline. So, it’s sort of silly to predict who will get award nominations, since most of the shows are in previews right now. But what kind of awards prognosticator would I be if I didn’t try. So, based on reputation, out-of-town or off-Broadway reviews, here are Tony Award predictions, with most of the nominees being sight unseen. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

Theater Reviews: Eclectic Off-Broadway Productions Include a Magic Show Worthy of Vegas (“Stalker”); a Fully Stocked, One-Person “Hamlet;” and Drag Superstar Charles Busch Battling “Ibsen’s Ghost”

Ibsen's Ghost (c) James Leynse

Theater: Ibsen’s Ghost 
At Primary Stages at 59E59 

You will be forgiven if you thought that Charles Busch’s new play Ibsen’s Ghost is the playwright’s adaptation of the prolific Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s 1881 Ghosts. But alas, if you were expecting to see Busch’s interpretation of the play’s heroine, Helen Alving, as she cares for her ailing son Oswald, you will be disappointed (although those who stan Ibsen will get some sly references). And that will be your only disappointment of the evening, as Busch, as usual, has written another wonderful play, this time about Ibsen’s widow, Suzannah. The title’s singular ghost is indeed Ibsen, who metaphorically hovers over Suzannah as she deals with his estate in the aftermath of his death. This includes the unexpected appearances of Ibsen’s former protégé Hanna (Jennifer Van Dyck) as well as a mysterious sailor named Wolf (a welcome return of Thomas Gibson to the New York stage). Both confront Suzannah with secrets in Ibsen’s past, secrets that Suzannah, in typical Busch heroine fashion, resolutely does everything in her power to refute or ignore. Suzannah, who may be harboring a few secrets of her own (reminiscent of Glenn Close’s character in The Wife), is another in a long line of wonderful parts Busch has written for himself, with hysterical one-liners usually accompanied by a melodramatic actorly flourish that tickles the funny bone every time. Busch has always been generous in giving all his characters memorable moments, but he has really written a juicy part in Hanna, who, in Busch regular Jennifer Van Dyck’s capable hands, almost steals the show with a masterful and exhausting monologue. Also giving wonderful turns are two-time Tony-winner Judy Kaye as Suzannah’s snooty stepmother, crackerjack Jennifer Cody as her physically deformed maid and chameleon Christopher Borg in two memorable roles, but who shines brighter as the unfortunately named Rat Wife. Compared to Busch’s ambitious last play, The Confessions of Lily Dare, the slighter Ibsen’s Ghost does feel like a minor diversion. But it’s an enjoyable diversion, and the play certainly lives up to its subtitle An Irresponsible Biographical Fantasy. The handsomely mounted production by Busch’s invaluable long-time director Carl Andress will delight devoted fans and curious newcomers alike. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Theater Reviews: “Teeth” is a New Musical With a Lot to Chew On; “Corruption” Doesn’t Pull Punches Examining the Rupert Murdoch Empire; and in a Bold Play About Israel and Palestine, What Is the Definition of an “Ally?”

Teeth (c) Chelcie Parry

Theater: Teeth 
At Playwrights Horizons 

Gird your loins, everyone. Michael R. Jackson, the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and composer of A Strange Loop, has a new musical and, depending on your acceptance of the subject matter and the fearlessness of the material, it is either a daring, edgy, provocative tour de force or a daring, edgy, provocative mess. I ultimately find myself in the latter camp, in spite the fact that Jackson and co-writer Anna K. Jacobs have crammed so many themes and ideas in this two-hour show that it’s hard to keep up. Based on the 2007 indie film by Mitchell Lichtenstein, which I haven’t seen, the story focuses on Dawn (Alyse Alan Louis), a four-star Promise Keeper in a New Testament Village church, which is reeling from the recent scandal of an unwed pregnant teen in their midst. Her stepfather is the Pastor (Steven Pasquale), and while he greatly admires Dawn, he has greater contempt for his biological son Brad (Will Connolly) in an almost Carrie fanatical way (this production reminded me of the movie and the infamous musical). Dawn and her crew keep referring to their deity as Father God, which nicely mirrors Brad’s journey into the dark web searching for straight, white male empowerment support from a leader known as the Godfather (unexpectedly sporting an Australian accent). The plot comes to a head (pun intended) when Dawn is tempted to not keep her promise anymore with her jock boyfriend Tobey (Jason Gotay) and her untapped sexual energy leads to biological awakening, that in turn activates the titular weapon. Even though this plot point is the thing the whole show hinges on, Jackson and Jacobs are more interested in the build-up to the revelation through many fun songs and character development moments like when Dawn makes lemonade from the lemons of her changing body, singing, “I need the sting of shame in my body to keep and protect me from sin/desire can’t win” in “Shame in my Body,” a song which gives Teeth a sort of vibey, modern take on Spring Awakening

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Film Reviews: In the Multiplex, a Sports Drama x Shaggy Dog Film = Family Fun (“Arthur The King”) While Two Wildly Different Queer Love Stories (“Love Lies Bleeding” and “Glitter & Doom") Should Satisfy the Art House Crowd

Arthur the King (c) Carlos Rodriguez, courtesy of Lionsgate

Film: Arthur The King 
In Cinemas 

Mark Wahlberg is becoming the John Wayne of the 21st Century in a way that he always seems to pick “Dad-film” projects, which occasionally Venn diagrams with family fare. Arthur The King is probably the best example. This film is an uneasy gerrymandering of a sports movie (an Adventure Racing endurance competition, which this film equates to whatever it is that Bear Grylls is known for) and a shaggy dog story, the kind where Michael Light (Wahlberg) and the dog he dubs Arthur (because like all kings, he lets his subjects eat first – umm, ok) appear to know exactly what the other is thinking. So, there’s a lot of shots of Mike looking concerned at Arthur or Arthur barking portentously at Mike’s team to not go down a path. But in-between these dog cuteness overloads are testosterone-filled sections in which Michael feels he is not a complete man unless he wins this Adventure Race marathon in Costa Rica, which he humiliatingly lost during a team meltdown a few years back. So, he assembles a ragtag team of underdogs (pun intended), like expert rock climber Olivia (Nathalie Emmanuel) and the veteran, injury-riddled Chik (Ali Suliman), who people keep asked about his Chekov’s knee. Mark also has to eat crow and try to recruit his former teammate (the one involved in the meltdown) now influencer Liam (a self-deprecating Simu Liu, the film’s VIP of the two-legged variety). The best sequence of this first half is this breathtaking scene that takes place on a zip-line, expertly executed by director Simon Cellen Jones. But then a shaggy stray Arthur (played by the “who’s a good dog” Ukai) joins the group as the honorary fifth member of the team, and the corniness factor is exponentially ramped up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the tonal shift is a bit jarring. The dog sections work, but it takes up so much oxygen in the last half of the film that the finale of the race is almost an afterthought. There’s a lot of fudging to make this a Mark Wahlberg joint (the real Mike Light is Swedish), but ultimately it delivers what it promises: a film the whole family will enjoy, with the only queasy, ick moment being a popped blister (I looked away), although your tolerance for a dog in peril may also be tested. 

Side note: Mark Wahlberg’s Michael is probably as manically driven to win as Annette Bening’s Nyad but somehow, we still find him likable even when he’s driving his friends crazy. It seems like a sexist double standard to me, but maybe if Nyad swam with a dog telepathically linked to her on the boat, cheering her on, the audience would have embraced her as well.