Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Theater Review: An Enjoyable Metaphysical Trip on “The Coast Starlight,” Judy Gold Hilariously Gets Things Off Her Chest in “Yes I Can Say That!” and A Dazzling Donna Murphy Highlights “Dear World”


The Coast Starlight (c) T. Charles Erickson

Theater: The Coast Starlight 
At Lincoln Center Theater 

The iconic premise in the otherwise forgettable Gwyneth Paltrow movie, “Sliding Doors,” is that we follow Paltrow’s character down two paths, one in which she makes the train home and the other where the titled doors close in front of her and she has to take the next train. In our new “Everything Everywhere All at Once” multiverse reality, six strangers, who find themselves on The Coast Starlight train at different points in its itinerary from Los Angeles to Seattle, bond in a “what if we actually connected” way. The two people who take the entire trip are T.J. (a solidly jittery Will Harrison), a navy medic who is about to be deployed back to Afghanistan, and Jane (Camila Canó-Flaviá), an inspiring artist going to visit her long-distance boyfriend. They notice and are attracted to each other right away but they barely talk. In fact, if we add up the dialogue that is actually spoken in real life between these two and the other four passengers we will soon meet, the play would be no longer than fifteen minutes. Keith Bunin’s conceit is that these six people are on the same train but meet on a metaphysical plane in which we the audience are the only ones who witness their interactions and how they would advise each other’s current predicaments. As twee as this sounds, director Tyne Rafaeli invests the production with enough surreal touches to keep us on our toes. Entering the train at various times along the 36-hour ride are Noah (Rhys Coiro), Ed (Jon Norman Schneider), Anna (Michelle Wilson) and Liz (Mia Barron) bringing different energies to the dynamics, with Barron coming in like a tsunami and Wilson as a healing presence. The play’s ending feels right even if the real-world interaction between these characters couldn’t match the “what if” scenario that preceded it. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Film Review: Be Wowed by Bob Fosse’s 1969 Directorial Film Debut, “Sweet Charity,” Starring the Inimitable Shirley MacLaine (Frugs Included)

Sweet Charity (c) Courtesy of Film Forum

Film: Sweet Charity (1969) 
At Film Forum (NY) for a Week Starting on March 24 
And on Blu-Ray 

Premise: Director/choreographer Bob Fosse’s first film was the 1969 adaptation of the musical “Sweet Charity” which he directed on Broadway with his wife Gwen Vernon. Both the film and musical are adaptations of Federico Fellini's 1957 Italian film “Nights of Cabiria.” The musical was written by Neil Simon with songs by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields and was nominated for nine Tony Awards in 1966, only winning for Fosse’s choreography. Since then, the musical has been revived numerous times with the title role being played by Debbie Allen, Christina Applegate and most recently off-Broadway by Sutton Foster. For the film, Charity, the dance hall hostess at the Fandango Ballroom filled with an abundance of optimism, was played by a then 35-year-old Shirley MacLaine, who had already been nominated for three Oscars by the time of its release, including the musical “Irma la Douche.” The movie is a series of vignettes revolving around the men in Charity Hope Valentine’s life including a married lout named Charlie (Dante D'Paulo), a famous Italian movie star named Vittorio (played with a swarthy charm by Ricardo Montalbán) and a nervous actuary named Oscar (John McMartin, the only Broadway cast member to make the leap to the big screen). Along for the up-and-down ride that is Charity’s love life are fellow dime-a-dance cohorts Nickie and Helene (Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly, respectively, playing the roles they originated in the London production). The 4K restoration of the film was released on Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber, with this big screen debut being shown for a week at Film Forum as part of their partnership with Carnegie Hall’s “Woman in Music” series. For both the Blu-Ray and theatrical presentations, the alternative “happy” ending is shown after the film. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Final 2022-23 Oscar Predictions: Up Your Odds to Win Your Oscar Pool


Oscar Class of 2022 (c) Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Science

Here are my Oscar prediction and one longshot (with percentage of likelihood) in all the categoriesas well as The Interested Bystander’s own preference if I was an Oscar voter. You will see that some of the categories are slam dunks (90% and higher) but this year is a lot harder to predict than usual. 


Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Film Review: This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Films, Part 2: "Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” “All That Breathes” and “EO”

Marcel the Shell With Shoes On (c) A24

Catching up on some more Oscar-nominated films (this one focusing on human/animal relations) before the big night (Sunday, March 12). 

Film: Marcel the Shell With Shoes On 
In Cinemas, Steaming On-demand and on Showtime 

I was unaware of the phenomenon that is “Marcel the Shell With Shoes On” from the many shorts of YouTube to its cult following that led to its big screen debut in the early to mid-aughts. So, when a feature film was released, I was resistant to seeing any movie in which we follow the misadventures of a sentient shell named Marcel (voiced by co-creator Jenny Slate) living a carefree life in an Airbnb. Why would I care about this oddly shaped creature with one eye and shoes? Thankfully, I finally caught the film months after its release and it’s as charming as its reputation promised. Marcel’s daily life is similar to Pee Wee Herman’s at the start of his “Big Adventure” – Marcel has devised Rube Goldberg contraptions to help him get around the proportionally huge house and garden. The garden is where Marcel’s only relative lives, his nana Connie, played by the invaluable Isabella Rossellini. The latest resident of the Airbnb is Dean (played by co-creator and the film’s director Dean Fleischer-Camp), who just happens to be a filmmaker and decides to make a documentary about Marcel. The best things about the film, in addition to the wonderful voice work by Slate and Rossellini, as well as the astonishing animation, has to be the script (co-written by the creators with Nick Paley). Marcel is such an innocent soul, and his inquisitiveness as well as his interpretation of the world is just irresistible and hysterical, with wonderful observations about life, dogs and Leslie Stahl. The plot, when it finally arrives, surrounds the fate of the rest of Marcel’s family who disappeared when…well, I won’t spoil that. With Dean and (again) Leslie Stahl’s help, Marcel begins his search, which gives the movie its shape, but it really is unnecessary. I would have been happy just watching Marcel read the yellow pages and hearing whatever thoughts pop into his head. While I admire the front-runner for Best Animated Feature, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” my vote has to go to this undermollusk with a heart of gold. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

Theater Review: First-Rate Plays to Catch This Winter: “Wolf Play” at MCC, “black odyssey” at CSC and “The Wanderers” at Roundabout

Wolf Play (c) Julieta Cervantes

Play: Wolf Play 
MCC Theater 

Spoiler alert: “Wolf Play,” the wonderfully wacky but sincere new play by Hansol Jung, produced by MCC after a successful earlier run at Soho Rep, is great. But I had my doubts at the start of the play when the very earnest actor Mitchell Winter talks to audience in a prologue with rhetorical questions about the meaning of acting and theater that usually rubs me the wrong way. But it turns out, in retrospect, that it helped ease the audience into the remarkable, breathless staging of director Dustin Wills. After the prologue, Winter picks up a simple wooden puppet and imbues it with life as they become Jeenu, a six-year-old Korean boy whose short life so far has been so harrowing that he protects himself by believing he’s a wolf. Jeenu is an orphan being brought to his new parents – Robin (Nicole Villamil) and her partner Ash (Esco Jouléy) – in San Francisco by his current adopted father Peter (Christopher Bannow) in a crazy but real practice in which people sell children through illegal means, which in the case of Jeenu, takes place through Yahoo message boards. While the play could have stayed in this realm of TV issue movie of the week, Jung uses this as a stepping off point to a creative investigation of this young boy’s psyche and this chaotic but surprisingly nurturing world that includes, of all things, boxing. And believe me, there’s more, but people should experience in person the wonderful synergy of this wonderful cast working like a well-oiled machine, constantly in motion but always finding the heart of this whirlwind of a play, on a helter-skelter set by You-Shin Chen and a truly astonishing lighting design by Barbara Samuels that helps situates the audience to the play’s many locations. I was taken aback by how truly transporting this ambitious play and production was.