Monday, January 31, 2022

If The Interested Bystander voted for Oscar Nominations

Penultimate Oscar Nomination Predictions and TIB Choices 

Likely Oscar Nominees, to be announced on February 8
House of Gucci (c) UA Releasing / King Richard (c) Warner Bros / 
West Side Story (c) 20th Century Studios

A week and a half before the Oscar Nominations are announced on Feb 8, I have updated my Oscar Predictions but I am starting with The Interested Bystander's own personal choices for each category. Enjoy.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Reviews: Three Late Oscar Hopefuls Open, and They are All Great

Shorts: Cyrano, The Worst Person in the World, Compartment No. 6 

Cyrano (C) UA Releasing

Film: Cyrano 
In Theaters on Feb 25

If you think the only musicalized version of a famous theatrical balcony scene you might see this year is in “West Side Story” (from “Romeo and Juliet”), you’re wrong. The second historically famous balcony scene is from Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac,” in which the brave but large-nosed soldier Cyrano woos the lovely Roxanne on behalf of a younger cadet in his troop named Christian. And in the movie musical, “Cyrano,” the scene is as transforming and romantic as it is sad and unfair. But this Cyrano doesn’t have a big nose. He is a dwarf, played magnificently by Peter Dinklage, and that’s what sets him apart for the rest of French society. The movie is based on an off-Broadway musical also starring Dinklage, which I saw, and in the stage version, the script was faithful to the original, keeping the reference to the nose and not much about the stature. I am glad they decided to change it for the movie for it is obvious that the role was tailored for Dinklage by his wife, Erica Schmidt (the screenwriter of the movie and original director of the stage show) and the songwriters Bryce and Aaron Dessner of the band “The National.” The movie is wonderfully directed by Joe Wright, who has gone back to his costume drama days of “Pride and Prejudice” with beautiful set pieces and dances. And the songs, while not your standard Broadway fare, are quite melodic and emotional, especially one in which the soldiers sing to their loved ones before a battle. Haley Bennett plays Roxanne with more frills and giggles than most interpretations I have seen, but she does get better as the movie goes along. Kelvin Harrison Jr., so good in “Waves,” is an appealing Christian, but chewing every scene is Ben Mendelsohn as De Guiche, a soldier who believes he’s entitled to have Roxanne as his wife even though it’s obvious he’s really in love with himself. I enjoyed the stage version of the musical, but the movie adaptation is more successful in keeping with the Rostand’s original. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Review: The Day Might Be Shorter, but the "Journey" Is Still Long

Long Day's Journey Into Night (c) Joan Marcus

Theater: Long Day’s Journey Into Night 
Audible at the Minetta Lane Theatre 

Premise: If the subtle scattering of FedEx and Amazon boxes visible on Clint Ramos’ set for the Tyrone’s coastal summer house weren’t enough to tell you that this is a modern-day interpretation of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” it’ll certainly be obvious when the play begins: Matriarch Mary (Elizabeth Marvel) is doing yoga when her husband, James (Bill Camp), replete with a Covid face mask, enters with Starbucks. Their sons, Jamie (Jason Bowen) and Edmund (Ato Blankson-Wood), soon enter the living room, and despite the cellphones and the modern set dressing and outfits, this is still the Tyrone family with secrets and resentments abound. James is still an actor, rich from playing the same part on stage he is known for, but his penny-pinching, especially when it comes to the family doctor, has resulted in youngest son Edmund’s dire health problems (in this production, it’s hinted that it’s Covid) as well as the drug addiction of his wife, which could be a result of over-prescription of painkillers after the difficult birth of Edmund two decades ago. And as the bright sun of the morning gives way to the fog creeping into the afternoon to the unbearable loneliness of night, the Tyrones must confront some truths or continue to live their days in this unending loop. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Reviews: Recent films include a "Novice" with No Bounds, a "Jockey" with No Options and a "Macbeth" with Three Witches in One

Short Takes:  The Tragedy of Macbeth, The Novice, Jockey 

The Tragedy of Macbeth (c) A24

The Tragedy of Macbeth 
In Cinemas and Apple TV+ 

For a play that was once known as cursed (and dubbed “The Scottish Play” for the play that thou not speaketh its name), I have been inundated by Macbeth from all sides, including theater (Isabelle Fuhrman playing a school girl Thane as well as a more traditional one by Corey Stall) and film (Michael Fassbender being the last cinematic one in 2016, and one can’t forget Florence Pugh playing –at least in name only–a variation of Lady Macbeth in the 2017 film of the same name,) as well as opera (with superstar Anna Nerebko as Lady M and Zeljko Lucic filling in for Placido Domingo at the last minute after sexual harassment accusations forced him out). So, to say I didn’t want to see another Macbeth would be an understatement. And while Joel Coen (without the assist of his brother Ethan) gets the mood right with the stale, fecund air of a black and white Scotland, I wonder if anyone who wasn’t familiar with the play would catch all the names of the key players before the double-crosses in this truncated version start happening. Denzel Washington is just great as Macbeth, even though his turn from wide-eyed innocent flower to cold-blooded serpent seems to happen off-camera. At least Frances McDormand as his wife always had a notion that the crown can only be won by assassination, which may make her performance a bit one-note, but she has some fine moments as she tries to shield her husband’s madness from her guests. And the fine stage actress Kathryn Hunter (she had a memorable cameo as an undercover wizard in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”) steals the movie as a Gollum version of the three witches, including one of Coen’s best directorial moments that incorporates her reflection. I liked looking at the movie more than I was engrossed by it. So, I’m taking a break from the Macbeths for now. Wait, Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga are doing the play on Broadway this spring? Sigh. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Review: Samantha Mathis Shines in Bleak “Whisper House”

Whisper House (c) Richard Termine

Theater: Whisper House 
Presented by The Civilians at 59E59 

Premise: Not unlike “The Secret Garden,” “Whisper House” takes place in wartime in which a young boy named Christopher (Wyatt Cirbus), whose father was killed in battle in WWII and whose mother is having a mental breakdown, is whisked away to live with his Aunt Lily (Samantha Mathis) in a lighthouse (!) in Maine. With no maternal instinct, Lily tries to make life comfortable for her nephew, but the lighthouse is unfortunately haunted by two ghosts (Molly Hager and Alex Boniello) and they have their sights on Christopher. Under the threat of a possible German invasion along the East Coast, the local policeman (Jeb Brown) is focused on the lighthouse as a way to thwart any attack, but he’s particularly interested in Lily’s handyman named Yashiro (James Yaegashi), an immigrant from Japan, whom he and Christopher suspect might be a spy. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Film: Together (Together) x 2

Together (c) Bleecker Street / Together Together (c) Bleecker Street

Together (Together) x 2 

Together on demand and Hulu 
Together Together on demand and Hulu 

Premise: In addition to “Swan Song” – two films in 2021 sharing the same name – we also got a movie called “Together” and a movie called “Together Together.” While they’re not the same title, they’re close enough, and both were released by the same company, Bleecker Street and are now playing on Hulu. The “Swan Song” films shared a common theme of a dying man wanting to preserve his legacy. The “Togethers” only share the main characters, a man and a woman who at the beginning of the film are not actually together but thrown together for different reasons. In “Together,” the two are exes who decide to move in together at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK for the benefit of their son, Artie. Unnamed except for he (James McAvoy) and she (Sharon Horgan), the couple really can’t stand each other as they narrate to the audience the story of their relationship via a vaguely filmed documentary concept like “The Office.” The movie starts in March 2020 with topics of conversation being the hoarding of food and toilet paper and ends about a year later where the talk turns to anger at how the UK government botched its response to the pandemic as well as possibly jumping the line to get the vaccine. In “Together Together,” the two people are actual strangers. Matt (Ed Helms) is interviewing Anna (Patti Harrison) as a possible surrogate for the child he wants to raise on his own. Anna, a barista who missed going to college but seems interested in going now, agrees to be the surrogate and the movie is mostly their relationship during the pregnancy, including predictable scenes of doctor visits and birthing classes, but there are also scenes as they try to (maybe?) become friends. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Film: Swan Song (2021) x 2

Swan Song (c) Apple TV+ // Swan Song (c) Magnolia Pictures

Film: Swan Song (2021) x 2 
Directed by Todd Stevens, starring Udo Keir (on demand) 
Directed by Benjamin Cleary, starring Mahershala Ali (on Apple TV+) 

Premise: By chance, two films in 2021 had the same title, and although they told similar tales of a dying man’s last quest, they took two different approaches in tone. The Todd Stevens directed one stars Udo Keir as Pat Pitsenbarger, the formerly famous Sandusky, Ohio hairdresser who is living as the sour queen of a retirement community when he finds out that a socialite he had a falling out has died and requested in her will that Mr. Pat does her hair for funeral. Mr. Pat marches to the beat of his own queer drummer, makes his way back to Sandusky revisiting important touchstones of his life, including a run-in with his former protégé, Dee Dee (Jennifer Coolidge). In Benjamin Cleary’s film, Mahershala Ali plays Cameron Turner, a man still madly in love with his wife Poppy (Naomie Harris). They are raising a young son and are looking forward to their next chapter, but Cameron hasn’t told his family that he has a terminal disease and has decided, with the help of Dr. Scott (Glenn Close), to clone himself and have the clone take over for him without his family knowing. But is Cameron having second thoughts? 

Friday, January 7, 2022

Top New York Theater of 2021

My Favorite NYC Theater Shows of 2021 

Seven Deadly Sins (c) Matthew Murphy

Even with only five months of in-person theater in the year of 2021 (with the last month making national news because of the overwhelming impact of the omicron variant of Covid-19 on Broadway shows), there was enough good work by the vibrant New York theater community that cries out to be remembered at year’s end.  Here are 8 shows that stood out for me. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Best Films of 2021 (and 2020!)

Two Years in Films: Best of 2020 & 2021 

Minyan (c) Strand Releasing, In the Heights (c) Warner Bros, 
Pig (c) Neon, The Worst Person in the World (c) Neon

For The Interested Bystander website, I’m going to shake up the year-end Top Ten tradition. 

I’ve decided that making end-of-the-year lists at the end-of-the-year is just too stressful: I haven’t seen all the movies that have been getting awards attention and I believe you need time to reflect on a movie for a bit before committing to the best of the year. 

So, I will first give you my top 20 favorite movies of 2021, and at the end of 2022, I will rank my final top ten, knowing that some film I didn’t list or haven't even seen yet will be ranked higher than the ones I listed here. 

To make it fun, I am also highlighting some favorite performances no one is talking about from 2021, and then I ranked my definitive top ten films of 2020.