Friday, October 29, 2021

Film: The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch (c) Searchlight Pictures

 Film:  The French Dispatch 
In Cinemas 

Premise: “The French Dispatch” is a supplemental magazine for the readers of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Star, and in 1975, editor Arthur Howitzer runs the magazine as a well-oiled machine, being strict but always bowing to the artistic whims of his writers. Three of these stories are brought to life after a short but engaging bon mot travelogue of the city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, Paris by Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson). “The Concrete Masterpiece,” written by JKL Berensen (Tilda Swinton) tells the story of a convicted murderer (Benicio del Toro) in an Ennui prison who becomes an artist after finding a muse in prison guard Simone (Léa Seydoux). “Revisions to a Manifesto” by Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand) is a portrait of a student (Timothée Chalamet) at the center of the so-called “Chessboard Revolution” protests in Ennui. “The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner” is by Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) and tells the story of a dinner he had with the Ennui police commissioner that ends in a hostage situation. 

Film: Dune

Dune (c) Warner Bros

Film: Dune 
In cinemas and HBO Max 

Premise: There is no way to describe the plot of Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” effectively in one paragraph. I read the book by Frank Herbert and saw the previous David Lynch movie when I was in high school – neither left any impression on me. So, the plot, except for the giant worms, was pretty much new to me. There’s this desert planet, Arrakis, which has giant worms that hamper the humans, who are there to either protect the spice that is unique to the planet or to strip it away, for whomever rules the spice, rules the galaxy. By decree of the emperor, the royal family of Arteides is brought in to take over control of the planet from the ruthless Harkonnen family, as they try to forge a new relationship with the distrustful Fremens natives. Paul (Timothée Chalamet) is the son of the ruler of the Arteides family (Oscar Isaac). His mother (Rebecca Furguson) believes he may be the prophesized Kwisatz Haderach, who will bring balance to the Force. Wait, I may be mixing things up. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

My Play: "Our House (in the middle of our street)" reading

(c) Queens Theater

This is not a review but an announcement that my play "Our House (in the middle of our street)" is going to part of an evening of short plays by Asian American playwrights at Queens Theater.  My play is on November 6, 2021 at 8pm.  You can rsvp here.

Press release below:

Film: Passing

Passing (c) Netflix

Film: Passing 
In cinemas and Netflix

Premise: Reenie (Tessa Thompson) and Clare (Ruth Negga) were friends as children in Harlem, but they haven’t seen each other for many years when they run into each other the 1920s. Reenie is now a well-off housewife to a successful doctor (Andre Holland), still living in Harlem, with two sons and doing volunteer work for black charities. Clare lives in Chicago, also a wife of a successful businessman, but she has more or less abandoned her past in order to live a life most black women would never experience. Their reunion leads to a cautious friendship, whose life choices are questioned by the other in small jabs and knowing looks. Were the sacrifices each woman made worth the life that each are now living? 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Film: Mass

Mass (c) Bleecker Street

In cinemas

Premise: Two couples meet in a small-town church six years after a traumatic event. Both couples, Gail (Martha Plimpton) and Jay (Jason Isaacs) as well as Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd) have different agendas as they go through what happened that day and the aftermath. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Oscars Outlook 2021: October 2021

October 2021 

Dune (c) Warner Bros

October is the earliest I am willing to start my Oscars prognostication. At this point, after the New York Film Festival, when most of the main contenders have been seen in some form or another, the guessing game can begin, even though I myself have not seen many of these films. Plus, I've included some at-yet unseen last-minute December-deadline releases of big movies because of their prestige alone. So, take this as my Oscar doodling and fun thoughts about what might make the cut. In November, things will become clearer and I’ll have more to say. 

The section to enjoy this month is my “Give Some Love” choices. For any Oscar voters reading this (welcome!), why not take a chance on these selections? 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The 59th New York Film Festival

Alice Tully Hall (c) The Interested Bystander

The 59th New York Film Festival 
Sept 24 – Oct 10, 2021 

After a year sidelined to a virtual option by the pandemic, the NYFF returned to in-person screenings in 2021. And while the movies were still serious and mostly depressing (it says something that the most upbeat movie was “C’mon, C’mon,” the Mike Mills film starring the Joker himself, Joaquin Phoenix), just being in a movie theater with other film fans felt both like a hug and (sometimes) too close for comfort. That danger is usually on the Lincoln Center screens and not in the movie theaters themself, but welcome to the new normal. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Short Takes - October 2021 II

The Fever; No Time to Die; Diana

The Fever (c) Daniel Rader

Theater: The Fever 
Audible Theater 

Lili Taylor is quite a charming actor on stage, which is why she is the perfect person for the monologue play, “The Fever” by Wallace Shawn. She comes in with all the good will of the audience and by the end, we know we’ve been tricked into listening to a dark and guilt-inducing lecture on the haves and have-nots. Taylor starts by coming in with flowers and coffee, face mask in hand, and tells us about a recent visit to an unnamed country. When the word “execution” is casually dropped, you know we’re in for it. She even tells up front that the show is 90 minutes, which will be a question, she assures us, you will ask yourself as the show progresses (and she was correct). Shawn knows he has a literal captive audience, and he doesn’t tell us stories as much as describe detached, experiences of his narrator who during a feverish night at this unnamed country goes through a conscience crisis. Taylor does her best to keep the audience on her side, but even when I saw Shawn play the part many years ago, I felt intellectually challenged but in no way engaged. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Film: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy  (c) Film Movement

Film: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy 
In cinemas 

Premise: The “wheel” of the title spins for three women in three short films. The first, “Magic (or Something Less Assuring)” is about Meiko (Kotone Furukawa), a model who realizes her friend is dating her ex-boyfriend, whom she might not be fully over. “Door Wide Open” takes place at a university where Nao (Katsui Mori) tries to seduce a famous writer for personal and maybe nefarious reasons. “Any Day Now” follows Natsuko (Fusako Urabe) back to her hometown for a high school reunion, but she’s really hoping to run into an ex she hasn’t seen since their break-up. Each story starts with a sort of coincidence (the Japanese movie title is “Coincidence and Imagination”) and ends with the metaphorical wheel spinning to determine if the story will have a happy or sad conclusion. 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Theater: Six

Six  (c) Joan Marcus

Theater: Six 
Brooks Atkinson Theater (Broadway) 

Premise:  The eponymous “Six” are the six wives of Henry VIII, the British monarch who broke away from the Catholic Church and created the Church of England, just so he could annul his marriages. (OK, that’s a bit reductive, but the show doesn’t go much deeper.) The six wives, all in color-coordinated, steam-punk versions of 16th century British fashion, each get a turn to convince the audience to vote for her to be the most tragic wife in an afterlife reality competition show. “Henry’s Wives Race,” if you will. Built like a Spice Girl concert with high-energy pop anthems and “poor me” ballads in equal amounts, the wives try to reclaim history as a revised her-story. 

Short Takes: October 2021 - I

Persuasion, The Many Saints of Newark, Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Persuasion (c) Ashley Garrett

Theater: Persuasion 
Bedlam Theater 

I’m sort of new to Bedlam, a theater company whose agenda seems to be put a contemporary spin on classic works, with one of their most successful shows being Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” from a few years back, which I didn’t see. Their current show is an adaptation of another Austen novel, “Persuasion,” and the production seems to have the same humor and irreverence as their mandate, but still in keeping with the integrity and spirit of the original novel (which I must confess wasn’t evident in some recent Bedlam shows like “Peter Pan” and “Uncle Romeo Vanya Juliet”). Standout actors include Arielle Yoder, as our easily persuadable heroine, Anne Elliot, who mostly has to keep a straight face during the clowning of the rest of the cast, and Jamie Smithson, who is the clown most responsible for these laughs. There are some odd choices here and there (the sheep?) but overall, this is a fine and fun look at one of Austen’s lesser-known novels. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Film: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Everybody's Talking About Jamie (c) Amazon Studios

Film: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie 
In Cinemas and on Amazon Prime 

Premise: Jamie New (Max Harwood) is a young, flamboyant drag queen wannabee living in a small British town, and on his 16th birthday, he gets a pair of high heels from his supportive, loving mother (Sarah Lancashire). He doesn’t have the nerve to actually wear them to school, but he does plans to wear them to the prom. Going into a drag costume shop, he meets Hugo (Richard E. Grant) who not only agrees to make Jamie a prom dress, but also convinces him to make his drag debut at a local club. Jamie may have support from his mum and best friend (Lauren Patel), but he still has to face obstacles from the likes of a strict teacher, a school bully and an absent father. 

Theater: Sanctuary City

Sanctuary City (c) Joan Marcus

Theater: Sanctuary City 
New York Theater Workshop 

Premise: “Thanks.” “It’s okay.” We hear this exchange a lot between B (Jasai Chase-Owens) and G (Sharlene Cruz). The thanker and the thankee switches between the two throughout the course of the play which starts with the two as high school students in Newark helping each other through family and immigration crisis (both teens are undocumented) and ends many years later. Newark is important as it is a sanctuary city where undocumented immigrants are supposedly safer than most cities. But September 11 had just happened, and these two friends are afraid this is the end of any safe sanctuary. As high school students, they come up with a “Hail Mary” plan to stay in America, but can they follow through after high school ends and real life begins? 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Short Takes: September 2021

A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet, Come From Away,  The Guilty 

A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet (c) Matthew Murphy

Theater: A Commercial Jingle for Regina Comet 

Two budding songwriters are approached to write a jingle for an almost past-her-prime diva named Regina Comet (Bryonha Marie Parham) and her new line of fragrance. The jingle writers are played by Ben Fankhauser and Alex Wyse, who are the songwriters for this show, the first musical to open off-Broadway since the pandemic started. For that, the show’s energy and the easygoing songs are welcome, but the story has too many reality leaps that not even a frothy musical can overcome. If you liked “title of show,” this one might be for you. But for a show about a search for a hooky jingle, this show is just not that memorable.