Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Oscars Outlook 2021: November 2021

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (c) Searchlight Pictures

November 2021 

I have now caught up with a lot of the movies vying for Oscar glory (believe me, no one will ever see ALL the potential nominees in any given year), and I still more to watch (as of this writing, I finally watched “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” released earlier this year). The clue to accurate predicting of the Oscars is to not let your personal opinions color your Oscar prognostications. Let’s take “Tammy Faye,” the film is a pretty standard biopic, but after watching the movie, I could tell that Jessica Chastain has a pretty good chance with the acting branch. It’s the kind of performance that critics may dismiss but the Academy embraces, similar to say Rene Zellwegger in “Judy” or Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” 

With that in mind, let’s see where we are with the state of the race at the end of November. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Theater: Assassins

Assassins (c) Carol Rosegg

Theater: Assassins 
At Classic Stage Company 

Premise: For my first posthumous Stephen Sondheim show, I saw “Assassins,” his 1990 musical about the unique hodgepodge group of people who tried to kill the president of the United States (or succeeded) from John Wilkes Booth (Stephen Pasquale, reprising his role from the Encores staging in 2017) murdering Abraham Lincoln in 1895 to the most recent John Hinckley (Adam Chanler-Berat) attempting to kill Ronald Reagan in 1981. The conceit is a carnival game where each of the assassins are asked to take their shot. The rogue’s gallery includes Charles Guiteau (Will Swenson), who believed James Garfield would make him the Ambassador to France in 1881; Sara Jane Moore (Judy Kuhn) and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Tavi Gevinson), who both tried to kill Gerald Ford separately in 1975 but in book writer John Weidman’s hands do it together, and Giuseppe Zangara (Wesley Taylor) whose stomach pains plagued him all his life until he was executed for trying to assassinate Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Short Takes: November IV - Holiday Shows

Reviews: A Sherlock Carol, Love Hard, Home Sweet Home Alone

A Sherlock Carol (c) Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade

Theater: A Sherlock Carol 
At New World Stages 

A fun and inventive mash-up of a Sherlock Holmes mystery and “A Christmas Carol” (Doyle x Dickens, if you will), “A Sherlock Carol” should be a staple of community theaters around the country that want something saucier than the usual Christmas family fare. Given a first-rate production here, the play written and directed by Mark Shanahan has Sherlock (Drew McVety), whom everyone thought was dead after his fall off the Reichenback Falls with Moriarty, in a professional funk, questioning his future as a detective, even when asked by many in London to help solve some crimes. But when he hears that old Ebenezer Scrooge (Thom Sesma at his most cheeky) may have been murdered, well, can he resist taking this case?  Shanahan is more successful with the “A Christmas Carol” part of the story than the Sherlock, spending way too much time on the Sherlock lore and the many murder suspects (although it does give the talented ensemble plenty of opportunities to show off their chameleon skills in many parts). All that does pay off handsomely in the last half hour when the mystery is solved in a deliriously inventive finale. McVety and Sesma commit to their parts wonderfully, but it’s Isabel Keating who’s the real culprit, stealing every scene she’s in. Lock her up. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Film: House of Gucci

House of Gucci (c) MGM

Film: House of Gucci 
In Cinemas 

Premise: At one point in the film, Patrizia Gucci (Lady Gaga) gives us the meme-able quote as she crosses herself and says “Father, Son and House of Gucci.” Sure, it’s a campy line and Gaga plays it perfectly, but it is also an apt summation of the film. Starting in the mid-seventies when Patrizia meets the heir of the Gucci fortune and business, Maurizio (Adam Driver), at a disco party and ends with the threat of bankruptcy (both moral and financial) more than a decade later, the movie is really about fathers and sons. Maurizio has a contentious relationship with his father Roldolfo (Jeremy Irons), especially when he announces his intentions to marry Patrizia, whom Roldolfo sees as a gold digger. Maurizo finds more kinship with his Uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), who is the face of the Gucci business. Aldo has a love/hate relationship with his own son, Paolo (Jared Leto), who believes himself to be a fashion designer genius. He is not. How this all shakes out was unfamiliar to me, but let’s just say there’s so much backstabbing in this film, it should have been called “Game of Gucci.” 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Film: The Humans

The Humans (c) A24

Film: The Humans 
In Cinemas and on Showtime

Premise: The Blake family of Scranton, PA, is spending Thanksgiving together, but this year, it’s in New York City with their daughter Bridgit (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun). The similarities to Peter Hedges’ “Pieces of April” from 2003 end there as that movie was more about the trip than the destination. This movie, like the Tony Award-winning play it’s based on, takes place entirely in the young couple’s Chinatown apartment, dilapidated and almost unlivable, but also boasts two levels with a spiral staircase so it’s a steal. Mom Diedre (Jayne Houdyshell) and Dad Erik’s (Richard Jenkins) main concern is Grandmother Momo (June Squibb), who’s in a wheelchair and is suffering from dementia. There’s also sister Aimee (Amy Schumer), a lawyer being laid off who just broke up with her girlfriend. In between the usual family tension and secrets that come out because of wine and beer, Erik is on edge because of a nightmare he recently had and all the noise the old building emits (and faulty electricals), half believing the apartment might have ghosts of its own. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Short Takes: November III

Reviews: Trevor, Mayor Pete, Finch

Trevor (c) Trevor

Theater: Trevor 
Stage 42 

If you’re in middle or high school, found this review (congrats on your good taste), love musicals and want to see one that’s about you but doesn’t talk down to you, please go see “Trevor,” a new musical based on the 1995 Oscar-winning short about an exuberant, extroverted teen boy, coming to terms with his sexuality and finding out his classmates are not so understanding. The songs are zippy and relatable, and the cast is mostly comprised of age-appropriate kids (so there is a can-do talent show quality to some). But, for adult audience members, your mileage may vary. If you were your school’s Trevor or his best friend, you will probably be moved by the show and its message. For the rest of us, the show may feel a bit simplistic and predictable, which wouldn’t have been such a problem if it wasn’t for the over two-hour running time. The only surprise is the appearance of a character we hadn’t seen at the end of the play and the lesson learned there was unexpectedly touching. The lessons of tolerance and acceptance are always welcomed themes in musicals and “Trevor” has both and a lot of good will. So, kids, enjoy the show. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Theater: Trouble in Mind

Trouble in Mind (c) Joan Marcus

Theater: Trouble in Mind 
Roundabout Theatre Company 

Premise: It’s the 1950s and actress and star Wiletta Mayer (LaChanze) is starting rehearsals for a Broadway play called “Chaos in Belleville,” which is the first play, according to the white director Al Manners (Michael Zegen), to take an anti-lynching stance and put the politics of it all on stage. Other black actors in the play are John (Brandon Michael Hall), who is making his Broadway debut in the show, an experienced actress Millie (Jessica Frances Dukes) and Sheldon (Chuck Cooper), a veteran actor who knows exactly what the white theater creatives want. In the process of rehearsing the play, Wiletta begins to question her character’s actions (while it may be dealing with lynching, the black characters still act and talk in a very stereotypically exaggerated way), something the white director and the other cast members (including two white actors) have to confront as well. 

Film: tick, tick…Boom!

tick, tick...Boom (c) Netflix

  Film: tick, tick…Boom! 
In Cinemas and Netflix 

Premise: The tragic death of Jonathan Larsen, the composer of the phenomenon musical “Rent,” of an aortic aneurysm the day of the first preview is well known. To find out what he was like as a young, struggling composer, we only have to listen to Larsen’s songs from his own one-man musical, “Boho Days,” which was made into a three-character posthumous musical and now film musical called “tick, tick…Boom.” Larsen (Andrew Garfield) was writing musicals between shifts as a waiter, trying to keep his relationship with dancer Susan (Alexandra Shipp) afloat and not neglect his friendship with former actor Michael (an excellent Robin de Jesus). The title of the show is the sound of the ticking clock that keeps reminding Jonathan of his lack of success as he approaches his 30th birthday in 1990. The musical he’s been working on for 8 years is the futuristic “Superbia” that he can’t seem to solve, but there’s a workshop presentation coming up. Will Jonathan Larsen ever become the Broadway composer he’s always dreamed he would be? 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Theater: Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992

Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (c) Joan Marcus

Theater: Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 
Signature Theater 

Premise: Three events in Los Angeles from 1991 to 1992 could have provided playwright Anna Devere Smith enough material for many plays, but that they happened back to back to back, making Los Angeles national news as the epicenter of racial unrest and rioting, Smith poetically combined them all into “Twilight: Los Angeles 1992.” The first event is the shooting of a 15-year-old black girl by a Korean deli owner after an argument and accusation of theft. The second is the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles cops. The third is the shooting of a white truck driver by an angry, black crowd. As per Smith’s usual style, her plays are based on her own interviews with eyewitnesses, actual participants and (shall we say) interested bystanders. We hear words of a Korean man who was shot in the head during the riots, jurors in the both the criminal and civil trials of the officers in the King beating, academics, witnesses and most memorably, opera singer Leontyne Pryce. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

NewFest: The Shorts

The Night Train (c) The Night Train

NewFest: The Shorts 
Film Festival: Oct 15-26, 2021 

At NewFest, one of the best ways to see the next generation of LGBTQ+ filmmakers is by taking a chance on the Shorts programming. With curated evenings under banners like “Dyke Drama,” “I Know What Boys Like” and “The Future is Queer,” even if you’re not enjoying one, you know it’s short and the next one’s just around the corner. I didn’t see all the shorts this year, but I saw a fair amount, and here are my 10 favorites in alphabetical order (with special VIP citations given to four of them): 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Short Takes: November II - Theater

Reviews: Nollywood Dreams, Fairycakes, Autumn Royal, Letters of Saresh

Nollywood Dreams (c) Daniel J. Vasquez

Theater: Nollywood Dreams 
Manhattan Class Company 

It’s 1990, Laos, Nigeria. The vibrant film industry is growing. Famous director Gbenga Ezie (Charlie Hudson III) and superstar heartthrob Wale Owusu (Ade Otukoya), think Tom Cruise in his prime, are auditioning local girls to play the title character of their new film, “The Comfort Zone.” Young travel agent Ayama (Sandra Okuboyejo) has dreams of becoming an actress and auditions, even though the rumor is that actress Fayola (Emana Rachelle) already has the part. Playwright Jocelyn Bioh wrote the successful and wildly entertaining adaptation of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” for Shakespeare in the Park last summer, and this play is just as fun. It’s hard to argue against a show that is such a crowd pleaser – its slightness being part of its charm – but it’s hard to distinguish this play from, say, any theatrical comedy output of Tyler Perry. But even the Oprah Winfrey-inspired character of Adenikeh (Abenda) who is the closest to an oversized Madea type character still has humanity in addition to all her droll line-readings. I was hoping for a little more insightful social commentary that made Bioh’s “School Girls; Or the African Mean Girls Play” such a success a few seasons back, but “Nollywood Dreams” is a refreshingly light and enjoyable diversion in our ongoing pandemic life. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Shorts Takes: November I - Films

Reviews:  Spencer / Eternals / Summer of 85

Spencer (c) Neon

Film: Spencer 
In Cinemas 

“Spencer” begins with a caravan of British cars heading to the Sandringham estate to prepare for the Royal Family’s arrival for Christmas. The cars don’t notice there’s a dead pheasant in the road. Any of the cars could run it over at any minute – and that’s probably the most subtle image director Pablo Larraín gives us on why Princess Diana finally decided to divorce Prince Charles soon after this holiday. That Diana is played by indie darling Kristen Stewart (who would have thought that she and her “Twilight” co-star Robert Pattinson would be the most risk-taking actors of their generation) is not even the boldest choice in this fascinating but ultimately tepid film, not unlike Larraín’s previous “Jackie”. Essentially a horror movie disguised as a comedy of manners (Did you know the Queen requires everyone to weigh themselves when they arrive and leave to see who gained the most Christmas weight?), “Spencer” is replete with specters, body horror hallucinations and spooky noises portentously warning, to paraphrase Whoopi Goldberg from another ghostly movie, “Diana, you in danger, girl.” Once I was on the film’s wavelength, the gimmick got tiresome and I wished for more insight. Stewart, whose main acting choice is breathy whispering, is fine, but if she wins the Oscar for this, I will pretend it was for her more deserving turn in a better otherworldly movie, “Personal Shopper.” The best scenes are the naturalistic and loving ones with Diana and her sons. I yearned for more moments like that. 

Monday, November 8, 2021

NewFest 2021: The Features

The Sixth Reel (c) The Sixth Reel

NewFest: The Features 
Film Festival: Oct 15-26, 2021 

After going virtual last year, NewFest, New York’s LGBT+ film festival, returned to in-person screenings while also keeping a streaming option. This hybrid model made the festival accessible to people around the country to enjoy a diverse and intriguing line-up this year. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Film: Last Night in Soho

Last Night in Soho  (c) Focus Features

Film: Last Night in Soho 
In Cinemas 

Premise: Ellia (Thomasin McKenzie) is a small-town Brit moving to London for fashion school. Her grandmother is happy for her and tells her if she ever needs anything to call, especially if she sees her mother. That Ella’s mother is dead is a red flag - Ella has seen her reflection in mirrors. And sure enough, not long after moving into a creepy old house run by Mrs. Collins (the late Diana Rigg in her last movie, a great send-off), she begins seeing the past being played out in her dreams, particularly that of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), who in the groovy 1960s is a promising young singer with the help of her new manager–boyfriend (Matt Smith). Ellie is enchanted by Sandie’s story and her glamourous life, even dying her hair blonde to emulate her (although she looks more like a young Nicole Kidman ala “To Die For”). But as Sandie’s story progresses, Ella realizes Sophie is in danger, which may spill over to Ella’s present. 

Monday, November 1, 2021

My Play: "Our House (in the middle of our street)" to be streamed live

Queens Theatre (c) The Interested Bystander

You can see my short play, "Our House (in the middle of our street)" live on YouTube on Saturday, November 6, at 8pm ET / 5pm PT.  It's tentatively the fourth play of six.  The play will be streamed live, and won't be saved to YouTube.  Enjoy.  

Here's more info:

Queens Theatre's New American Voices Reading Series marks its first in-person play readings since the start of the pandemic with two evenings of performances. “SHORTS! An Evening of Short Plays” on Saturday, November 6th at 8 PM ET and “MORE SHORTS! Another Evening of Short Plays” on Saturday, December 4th at 8 PM ET feature plays written and directed by artists who identify as Asian.

Featured playwrights include Kitty Chen, (“Rowing to America”), Mrinalini Kamath, (“Smooth Transition”), Nina Ki, (“Primary Colors,” “One Small Step,” “Broken English”) Nandita Shenoy, (“To The Stars”) Lucy Wang (“A is for American,” “Suffragette,” “Bad Chinese Daughter,” “Walkable Feast,” “Two Artists”) and Cary Wong [“Our House (in the middle of the street)”].  The directors are Dennis Yueh Yeh Li and Aneesha Kudtarkar.