Monday, October 31, 2022

The Interested Bystander’s Oscar Prediction: October 2022

Babylon (c) Paramount Pictures

With most of the major film festivals done, studios are gearing up to promote their greatest (and most popular) films for awards consideration. As opposed to my September, ridiculously early predictions, I did have to drop a couple of the early, sight unseen choices and add some more Oscar bait titles. 


Friday, October 28, 2022

Theater Review: At BAM, the Play Provides “A Little Life” That Was Absent In Hanya Yanagihara’s Novel

A Little Life (c) Julieta Cervantes

Theater Review: A Little Life 

Premise: Hanya Yanagihara’s wildly popular 2015 novel “A Little Life” revolves around a group of male friends in New York City, representing various points of the sexuality and racial spectrum (although, curiously, none of the major characters were Asian). There is the talented gay painter, JB (Majd Mardo); the straight, rising movie star Willem (Maarten Heijmans); the bisexual, biracial architect Malcolm (Edwin Jonker); and the sexually ambivalent lawyer Jude (Ramsey Nasr). It takes a while for the novel (which is over 800 pages long) to clue us in as to whose narrative will take over the story, but thankfully director Ivo van Hove and writer Koen Tachelet immediately let us know that the play (which is over four hours long) will focus on Jude. He immediately talks to the audience as well as have discussions with a social worker (Marieke Heebink) about how he handled certain situations with his friends. Although he has occasional trouble walking, he has told his friends he will never discuss his past. (This frustrates JD the most as he made Jude, whom he secretly has a crush on, the subject of an evocative painting.) But things start to unravel when Jude’s mentor Harold (Jacob Derwin) agrees to adopt Jude to give him stability (Harold’s wife Julia, like most of the novel’s female characters, is missing on stage). As happy as this makes Jude, he starts to spiral emotionally as he is finally getting the happy ending he always wanted but doesn’t believe he deserves. We see his childhood in flashbacks to a Catholic orphanage and the many (many!) abuses he faced there. Even his self-harm coping mechanism of cutting himself is not calming his chaotic brain, which prompts his doctor Andy (Bart Skegers) to throw up red flags for his friends to intervene. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Theater Review: “A Raisin in the Sun” Revival Is Eclipsed by Director’s Vision

A Raisin in the Sun (c) Joan Marcus

Theater Review: A Raisin in the Sun 
The Public Theater 

Premise: The Younger family, which includes matriarch and recently widowed Lena (Tonya Pinkins), son Walter (Francois Battiste), daughter-in-law Ruth (Mandi Masden), grandson Travis (Toussaint Battiste, Camden McKinnon alternating in the role) and younger daughter, Beneatha (Paige Gilbert), are all awaiting the life insurance money after the death of Lena’s husband. They live in Lena’s small, rundown apartment on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s, and she has her mind set on buying a house for her family. Walter, who is sick of his job as limo driver, would rather Lena give him the money to invest in a liquor store with his friends. Beneatha is in college, studying to become a doctor, and could use the money for med school. Lena has to decide between Walter, Beneatha or a down payment on a house in the white neighborhood of Clybourne Park. Will this money actually be a new start for the Younger family or will it only add to their troubles? 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Festival Round-up: World Cinema Shines at The New York Film Festival

(c) The Interested Bystander

New Yorkers love a film festival. With many festival focusing on LGBT+, Latinx, Asian, African American lives, documentaries, French films and so many others, New Yorkers have plenty to occupy their time, but it is the New York Film Festival that gets the most focus. As one of the last prestigious international film festivals before the Oscar season goes into full gear, NYFF has the luxury to curate the best from the many festivals earlier in the year, including Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, et al. The festival, which ended on Friday, also showed two world premieres: “Till,” about the murder of Emmett Till in the 1960s, and “She Said,” about The New York Times investigation of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct and assault charges. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Theater Reviews: The Off-Broadway Fall Season Starts With Three Ambitious Female-led Shows: “peerless,” “Weightless” and “I’m Revolting”

peerless (c) James Leynse

Theater: peerless 
At Primary Stages 

L (Shannon Tyo) and M (Sasha Diamond) are Asian-American twin sisters in high school, one grade apart with M as a senior (assuming she skipped a grade), hoping to get into her dream college with one early spot available. M believes she is a shoo-in until D (Benny Wayne Sully) gets the spot. And before you can say “Macbeth” with an assist from the class witch (Marié Botha), the sisters plan to take D out of the picture in order to grab his college spot. Playwright Jiehae Park has fashioned a rapid-fire tag-team dialogue for the sisters, which the two actresses handle with skill and aplomb, but the characters soon get overwhelmed by the Shakespearean plot, which doesn’t hold much surprise once it kicks into high gear. Sully, however, as the clueless, fun-loving nerd victim with (of course) a nut allergy is a hoot, making his eventual fate that much more painful. Director Margot Bordelon does a fine job building the suspense with Palmer Hefferan’s sound design doing most of the heavy lifting. Park doesn’t go into the deeper theme of the affirmative action aspect of college admissions (D is 1/16th Native American) but it hovers over the play and informs the motives of the sisters, who believe they figured out the formula of success until it doesn’t work out. Following the equally impressive “That Day in Amsterdam,” Primary Stages is the off-Broadway company to invest in if you want to be introduced to new, exciting playwrights who may be a bit unpolished. Polish comes later. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Film Reviews: “Amsterdam” Is David O. Russell’s Version of Whimsy; “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” Is “Green Book” Follow-up for Peter Farrelly; “Hocus Pocus 2” Is Hokey Too

Amsterdam (c) 20th Century Studios

Film:  Amsterdam 
In Cinemas 

It’s the 1930s right after World War I and three war-scarred vets meet at a French hospital and become devoted friends. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) is the officer in charge of an all-Black infantry and Harold Woodsman (John David Washington) is in that troop. They both get injured right as armistice is declared and are tended to by nurse Valerie (Margot Robbie). They move to and live an Arcadian life in the titled city with a romance budding between Harold and Valerie, before Burt feels the need to return to his life as a doctor in New York with his wife and her disapproving and antisemitic wealthy parents. A few years later, Burt is a doctor running a makeshift clinic specializing in helping wounded war veterans who have no other resources. Harold, now a lawyer, asks Burt to do an autopsy of their former army commander who he and the commander’s daughter (a very short but memorable cameo by Taylor Swift) believe may have been murdered. Soon, the two are mixed up in a big conspiracy in which they are now murder suspects which somehow leads them back to Valerie, who neither had heard from since Amsterdam. This leads the newly reunited trio and amateur sleuths to a 1930s rogues gallery of quirky characters, played by an impressive cast of supporting actors like Anya Taylor Joy, Michael Shannon, Rami Malek and Robert De Niro that ultimately unveils a cabal that might be behind the rise of some leaders in Germany and Italy.