Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Opera Review: The World Premiere Production of “The Hours” at The Met Gives Three Sopranos the Chance to Shine

The Hours (c) Evan Zimmerman

Opera/Theater Review: The Hours 
At the Metropolitan Opera 

Premise: “Am I Monster? Or a Mother?” sings Laura Brown (Kelli O’Hara), the suburban housewife in 1951, as she has a panic attack and impulsively drops her young son nicknamed Bug off at a babysitter and gets a hotel room to do the one thing she wants to do: read Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.” But, maybe Laura has an ulterior reason? Meanwhile, in 2001, Clarrissa (Renée Fleming), whom her soulmate Richard (Kyle Ketelsen) calls Mrs. Dalloway (Clarrissa is the first name of the Woolf heroine), is throwing a party for Richard, who says he’s getting a literary award for still being alive (he has AIDS). Clarrissa even announces that she “would pick up the flower herself.” This is the famous first line of the novel, which in 1923, Virginia Woolf (Joyce DiDonato) is writing at her country house, but is always being interrupted by her husband, Leonard (Sean Panikkar) and their maid. Woolf wonders if she could set her novel (she hasn’t decided if she’ll call it “Mrs. Dalloway” or “The Hours”) over the course of one day but she is certain someone will die at the end. All three time periods take place over the course of one day and are played simultaneously on the stage, and at the end of one of these three days, someone does indeed die. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Interested Bystander’s Oscar Predictions: November 2022

Avatar: The Way of Water (c) 20th Century Studios

Thanksgiving is start of the onslaught for Oscar voters and critics group. So, let’s take one more look, objectively (without the influences of critics’ awards) to see which films has the best chance of getting some Oscar love. The only films with Oscar chances still unseen are "Avatar: The Way of Water" and “Roald Dahl’s Mathilda.”  I am also including my Best Score predictions here instead of at Film Score Monthly this year because timing is off at the magazine, and I won’t be able talk about Best Score until after the short list is announced. So, enjoy this month’s bonus category. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Film Review: Steven Spielberg's Childhood Is On Display in Wonderful "The Fabelmans"

The Fabelmans (c) Universal Pictures

Film: The Fablemans 
In Cinemas 

Premise: Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi Fableman (Michelle Williams) are living in New Jersey in the 1950s and they decide that their son, young Sammy (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord), is old enough to see his first film in a movie theater, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” At first, they are afraid that Sammy would have nightmares, especially after the scene of a horrific train accident involving zoo animals and train robbers. But when he screams out that night, it isn’t because of fear – he knows what he wants for Hanukkah: a train set. So starts the journey of director Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical stand-in, who uses Burt’s small camera to recreate the train crash, which ultimately leads to teenage Sam (now played by Gabriel LaBelle) making Western films with his boy scout pals. The Fabelmans are now living in Arizona for Burt’s job, with three daughters added to them and their best friend Bennie (Seth Rogen) in tow. But when Burt’s job uproots the family again, this time to Los Angeles, cracks begin to show, especially with Mitzi, a former classical pianist whose restlessness and unhappiness take its toll on everyone. Sam is now in high school and as one of the few Jewish students, his biggest obstacle is the antisemitic jocks (with another “West Side Story” mini-rumble in the gym), but he is also now closer to Hollywood and dreams one day to be involved with the film industry somehow (spoiler alert: I think he’ll make it). 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Film Reviews: “The Menu” Is Tasty; “The Inspection” Makes an Impressive Debut for Director Elegance Bratton; “Causeway” Is a Superb Actor’s Showcase

The Menu (c) Searchlight Pictures

Film: The Menu 
In Cinemas 

Just in the time for Thanksgiving, director Mark Mylod (of many “Succession” episodes) has fashioned a satire of both pretentious foodies and self-centered two percenters as a small boatful of rich diners arrive at Hawthorne, a small island that doubles as a restaurant locale for a $1,250 meal with the famous Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). Along with the usual wealthy suspects, like a movie star (John Leguizamo), a renowned food critic (Janet McTeer) and a trio of financial douches (Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr and Rob Yang), are Tyler (Nichols Hoult), who loves cooking shows and worships Chef Slowik, and his date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who doesn’t seem to be half impressed with the evening festivities as the other guests. Greeted by Slowik’s first-in-command (played by, mwah - a chef’s kiss, Hong Chau) at the pier, the guests get a tour of the self-sustaining island before starting their meal with Slowik, who narrates each deconstructed course with crazy metaphors. As the meals progress, even these guests cannot help but realize there’s something creepy to Slowik’s increasingly menacing stories and dishes (wait till you hear why there’s a garnish of a small scissor stabbed into each of their roast chickens), especially when the blood, which was not on the menu, starts flowing. The script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy does a better job satirizing the haute cuisine culture with all the buzzwords and anachronistic ingredients than it is does taking down the only people who can afford an evening like this. Taylor-Joy and Fiennes have a nice antagonistic relationship that grounds the movie as it starts its descent into the plot’s madness. There’s also a moment that seems to indicate a Hunger Games twist that ultimately has no consequence. But I was never bored, and I had fun trying to figure out how the heck all of this would resolve itself. This may not be as satisfying as a well-balanced meal, but it is a fine, tasty amuse bouche. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Theater Review: “Almost Famous” and “A Man of No Importance” Get Fine Musical Adaptations While “You Will Get Sick” Is a Curious Pandemic Play

Almost Famous (c) Matthew Murphy

Theater: Almost Famous 
Broadway at the Jacobs Theatre 

Sooner or later, with all these movies-to-musical adaptations on Broadway, it would only be inevitable that one of my beloved films would get the theatrical makeover. After sitting through musicals based on films I only had passing knowledge of, like “Bring It On, “Elf” and “Shrek,” comes a movie I almost know by heart, 2000’s “Almost Famous” from writers Cameron Crowe (the director and writer of the semi-autobiographical original) and composer Tom Kitt. “Almost Famous” is the Oscar-winning film in which a young music critic named William is asked by Rolling Stone magazine (not knowing he’s only 15) to interview and write a piece on the rising rock band Stillwater in 1973. William is played here by the charismatic newcomer Casey Likes, who is usually just asked to react to the chaos that is a rock-and-roll tour life, but he does it charmingly. With advice (“Don’t make friends with the band–”) from his mentor Lestor Bangs (Rob Colletti, not quite up to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s level, but who can be?) and warnings (“Don’t Do Drugs,” another song title) from his overprotective mother (the always reliable Anika Larsen), he goes on the road with his trusty tape recorder, and immediately becomes enamored with Stillwater’s golden god guitarist Russell Hammond (Chris Wood, in the evening’s best performance), and falls in love with one of the band-aids (don’t call them groupies) Penny Lane (a so-so Solea Pfeiffer). 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Film Reviews: Oscar Season Gears Up With Films From Ireland (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Mexico (“Bardo”) and Mars (“Good Night Oppy”)

Good Night Oppy (c) Prime Video

Film: Good Night Oppy 
In Cinemas and Streaming on Prime Video 

Landing on Mars was the mission of robotic rovers Spirit and Opportunity, launched a week apart by NASA in 2004 for a 90-day tour of the red planet. The twins, looking like svelte Wall-Es, are remarkably expressive, at least in the recreating of their journey by the special effects team at ILM that brings them to life. The documentary is split between the rovers’ animated journeys and the talking heads of the scientists who were in charge of the mission as well as the archival footage and the actual photos taken by the rovers. The two explored different parts of Mars, well exceeding their 90-days (or Sol, as each Mars day is referred to) life expectancy as each mission went from a few months to years. Director Ryan White (“The Case Against 8”), with top notch narration by Angela Bassett, goes through the history of the mission, the many hiccups on the way to launch and the many obstacles Spirit and Opportunity encounter on the red planet itself. As the title suggests, Opportunity is the main character we follow, with occasional sidebars about Spirit. The documentary does a good job humanizing these oversized roombas (yes, I was on the edge of my seat many times when they would get stuck), occasionally overreaching with stories that the scientists back at NASA paralleling some things the rovers are experiencing like arthritis. And if you think the needle drops in “The Martian” were maddingly on the nose, you can blame NASA who wakes up the twins with pop songs as they used to do with their human counterparts. Special mention must be made for Blake Neeley’s magnificent and soaring score. But mostly, this is a story of pluck and can-do optimism that will be a great selling tool to spark children’s scientific imaginations. And please try to see this on the biggest screen you can find, but you will break out the tissues even if you ultimately catch it streaming on Prime Video. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

Festival Roundup: At NewFest 2022, The Gays Are Holding Out for a Hero

(c) The Interested Bystander

Last month, around the time the New York Film Festival was winding down, NewFest, New York’s LGBTQ+ film festival, ramped up with a few overlapping movies, like the Nan Goldin documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” and the gay military drama “The Inspection.” But for whatever reason, some high-profile movies with LGBTQ+ themes were bypassed by NYFF. Thankfully, NewFest picked up the slack. Films that include some of this year’s International Film Oscar choices from their respective countries like “Close” from Belgium, “Blue Caftan” from Morocco and “Mars One” from Brazil. They were shown at NewFest in addition to highly anticipated selections, including “My Policeman” (with Harry Styles fans finding themselves at their first film festival, and a gay one at that) and documentary “The Return of Tanya Tucker – Featuring Brandi Carlile,” which has two gay icons coming together to create great music.