Thursday, July 28, 2022

Theater Reviews: The Enjoyable, New Musicals, “Titaníque” and “Between the Line,” Have Their Heroines Transplanted Into Other People’s Stories

Titaníque (c) Emilio Madrid

Theater Review: Titaníque 
At The Asylum Theatre 

What may seem like a parody whose timing missed the boat, “Titaníque” proved me wrong. This goofy and campy musical, made more fun if you take advantage of the bars in the small basement of the Asylum Theater, is indeed based on the 1997 James Cameron movie but hijacked by Celine Dion (Marla Mindelle) with this jukebox musical filled with her blandly catchy if overearnest songbook (however after all is said and done, “My Heart Will Go On” will be the only tune that’ll lodge in your brain as if it was 1997 again). Dion insists she was on the ship of dreams (even though the event happened over a century ago) and begins to narrate and incorporate herself in the romance of the upper-class Rose (Alex Ellis) with her lower-deck paramour Jack (Constantine Rousouli). And while both actors are fine, trying their darndest to keep their story on track, they are consistently upstaged by the rest of the talented cast playing every other role. Frankie Grande plays a manic Victor Garber (named for the actor who plays the architect in the movie), who would rather “Drive All Night” than listen to the warnings of icebergs (Alejo Vietti’s creatively amusing costume for Jaye Alexander, who plays the frozen “accident-in-waiting” is maybe the best representation of this character, second only to Bowen Yang in the famous SNL sketch). Ryan Duncan is hysterically severe as Rose’s mother, while Kathy Deitch as Molly Brown ties with John Riddle, who plays Rose’s greasy fiancée, as the show’s two unsinkable vocal belters. And then there’s Mindelle, who co-created the show with Constantine Rousouli and director Tye Blue. She must know she does a spot-on Celine Dion with her self-serious mannerisms and the Canadian-Frenchness of it all. But in certain angles, she also resembles former first daughter, Ivanka Trump. So, after what will probably be a healthy run in “Titanique,” Mindelle might consider her next show, “Insurrectíque.” 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Film Reviews: Billy Porter’s Satisfying Directorial Debut “Anything’s Possible”; Documentary “The Old School” Revisits a Scottish Scandal; Dakota Johnson Shines in Anachronistic “Persuasion”

Anything's Possible (c) Prime Video

Film Review: Anything’s Possible 
On Prime Video 

Emmy Award-winning actor Billy Porter’s stint on the TV show “Pose” has put him in the company of the next generation of talented LGBTQ+ actors and activists and his admiration for them probably influenced his choice as a director for his first film. “Anything’s Possible” is a surprisingly sweet Pittsburgh high school drama about Kelsa (Eva Reign), a trans YouTuber who wants to just make it through senior year unscathed in order to get a fresh new start in college with full support of her single mom (Renée Elise Goldsberry). What Kelsa doesn’t expect is to have her crush, Khai (Abubakr Ali), suddenly seem to have mutual feelings on her “last first day of high school.” Khai is a sort of nerdy artist type who may have to disappoint his liberal Iranian parents by not having any real interest in college. “Anything’s Possible” shares a lot of DNA with the hit TV series “Heartstopper,” with its bright color palatte, its mostly wholesome milieu and a cute love story at its heart. While Kelsa would rather not be seen for her transness (she loves animals and wants to study zoology), Porter and screenwriter Ximena García Lecuona don’t shy away from the obstacles in her way, from her aversion to people calling her brave (although that’s what her names mean) or having friends who are with her to be woke. This is breezy fun and both Reign and Ali have an easygoing sweet chemistry. Only when “Anything’s Possible’s” second half focuses on some predictable drama that includes a homophobic friend for him and a jealous friend for her that it sort of loses its way. But even then, the movie rebounds nicely to a surprisingly refreshing conclusion. The film premiered last week as the opening night film of L.A.’s OutFest and will stream on Amazon Prime Video Friday. With an overabundance of high school stories on streaming services, one wonders if there can ever be new perspectives for this well-worn genre. “Anything’s Possible” lives up to its title in that respect. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Film Reviews: “Don’t Make Me Go” Is an Effective Father-Daughter Bonding Story; “Thor: Love and Thunder” Is a Live Action Lego Movie; “The Sea Beast” Is a Sea Shanty Turned Animated Film

Don't Make Me Go (c) Prime Video

Film Review: Don’t Make Me Go 
On Amazon 

It’s very risky to name your movie after a Johnny Cash song, but if the title is “Don’t Make Me Go,” well, it might seem like a warning to potential viewers as well. Thankfully, the movie is enjoyable, despite its well-trodden movie trope of a road trip, and how you will ultimately feel about the movie may come down to a 11th hour (already controversial) plot twist that may either feel germane to the film’s overall themes or a betrayal to everything that came before. Before that happens, we follow single father Max Park (John Cho) and his rebellious teenage daughter Wally (Mia Isaac) from California to New Orleans to Max’s high school reunion. Wally has to spend her last weeks of summer vacation with her father because she was grounded for partying with soccer kid Glenn (Otis Dhanji), who seems to be resistant to officially declaring them a couple. Max himself has an ulterior motive including meeting up with Dale (an amusing cameo by Jemaine Clement), who was the man who broke up his marriage to Wally’s mother. It is nice to see Cho back after his accident on the set of the TV series “Cowboy Bebop” playing a complex father that you would see in most normal high school media. And Isaac is a wonderful find, being both funny, sympathetic and maddening. It’s hard not to notice the New Zealand feel of the locations doubling as rural America, but it doesn’t distract from the emotional core of Hannah Marks’ (“Mary & Some Other People”) direction of the story. As for the twist, I can only say that the unpredictable-ness of life feels rather artificial and arbitrary in art. Unless that’s the point. I accepted that point, and found the movie refreshingly honest, funny and tender in its story of a father and daughter just trying to co-exist with no road map. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Theater Review: For This “Richard III,” Our Kingdom for Danai Gurira

Richard III (c) Joan Marcus

Theater Review: Richard III 
Delacorte Theater (Closes on Sunday) 

Premise: “Richard III” has become the go-to Shakespeare play to highlight a social outcast who is so hated for his differences that he commits to a reign of terror on his way to the British throne. The most famous of the recent Richards is Ian McKellen’s not-very-subtle Nazi Germany allegory. In Shakespeare’s original play, Richard was a “deformed” hunchback, but some directors have experimented with more outsider Richards such as a dwarf (Peter Dinklage in a 2004 Public Theater production), a disabled actor (Arthur Hughes in a current UK Royal Shakespeare Company) and in the current Shakespeare in the Park production, a black woman (Danai Gurira). Director Robert O’Hara’s casting may just be a case of colorblind casting which thankfully is the norm in New York theater, while gender-swapped roles in Shakespeare are slowly making headway, with Helen Mirren playing Prospera in a 2010 “Tempest” film directed by Julie Taymour; an all-male schoolboy 2011 film “Private Romeo” (starring recent Tony-winner Matt Doyle); an all-female, schoolgirl “Mac Beth” by Red Bull Theater in 2019, and most famously, Glenda Jackson as King Lear in the recent West End and Broadway productions. But by having many of the other roles non-traditionally populated as well, with nonbinary, disabled, deaf and colorblind casting throughout, O’Hara must have a clear idea of what it means to cast a black woman as one of Shakespeare’s most notorious villains: Richard kills down the royal lineage line (in a very specific order), including children, to make sure he is the next King of England. 

Monday, July 4, 2022

Best of Film in 2022 So Far. Time to Catch Up on Some Great Cinema (Even at Home)

Everything Everywhere All at Once (c) A24

Happy Fourth of July. 

As many film critics are doing their “Best Films of the First Part of 2022” columns, I decided to also highlight some of my favorite movies and moments. Since most of these films are available to stream now, be sure to catch up with them during the upcoming lazy days of summer before the onslaught of Oscar films arrive in the fall.   All the categories are listed in alphabetical Order.