Sunday, October 29, 2023

Theater Review: Playwrights Horizons Presents an Excellent and Absorbing Look at the Making of a Rock Album by a Band Resembling Fleetwood Mac (“Stereophonic’s” Version)

Stereophonic (c) Chelcie Parry

 Theater: Stereophonic 
At Playwrights Horizons 

Premise: Have you ever looked at the producer’s credit for Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 Tusk album? It’s “Produced by Fleetwood Mac (Special Thanks to Lindsey Buckingham) With Richard Dashut & Ken Caillat.” Why would Buckingham get such a cushy shoutout since him being part of Fleetwood Mac would have included his contribution? I’m not saying that David Adjmi answers this question, in fact, the band at the center of his fascinating new play Stereophonic is never named and only (cough, cough) tangentially resembles the supergroup from the 1970s. But the playwright does tackle the easily bruised egos of a band trying to record a follow-up album to one of their most successful albums ever (Tusk, by the way, is the follow-up to Rumors) when one member takes on the role of band visionary. That member is guitarist and vocalist Peter (Tom Pecinka), who along with his longtime girlfriend/singer Diana (Sarah Pidgeon) are the American contingency to a band of Brits consisting of bassist Reg (Will Brill), his on-again, off-again girlfriend and band’s keyboardist/singer Holly (Juliana Canfield) and drummer Simon (Chris Stack). They are joined in the Sausalito recording studio by the engineer Grover (Eli Gelb) and his assistant Charlie (Andrew R. Butler). There are a lot of side dramas in between songs, and they become exacerbated as the recording of the album extends to over a year. There’s Peter’s codependency on his girlfriend Diana but his disregard of her feelings in the studio; there’s the stress on Simon, being separated from his wife and children still in England; there’s Holly’s insisting on moving out of the band’s house to live on her own, and then there’s the seemingly bipolar Reg, who’s kind and caring one minute but snorting coke and having a breakdown the next. All this is happening as poor Grover and Charlie try to get things on track and on tape, day-in and day-out. 

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Interested Bystander’s Oscar Predictions: October 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon (c) Apple TV+

Even with the SAG-AFTRA strike (with actors unable to promote any movies without a waiver, and studios unable to send For Your Consideration materials to actors – at least for the SAG Awards), the films vying for awards have mostly kept rolling out (RIP Dune, Part 2 to 2024) and I have now seen some of these contenders. However, seeing the movies has a danger that personal opinion will overshadow Academy preferences for films like CODA and Green Book

We also have our first award nominations of the season with The Gotham Awards which provided an interesting look at the first batch of lower budget film getting awards attention from some predictable ones (Past Lives, All of Us Strangers) to provocative ones (Showing Up, Passages). 

Here are my predictions for October. Please note, there have still been no industry or public screenings of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon or the musical version of The Color Purple


Friday, October 20, 2023

Film Reviews: Taylor Swift Keeps Making Cents as Her “Eras Tour” Film Rolls On, “Nyad” Excels with Excellent Performances by Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, and Enjoying the Trippy “Once Within a Time” May Require an Edible

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (c) TAS Rights Management

Film: Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour 
In Cinemas 

The second weekend of the Taylor Swift juggernaut concert film in Worldwide Cinemas, filmed during the LA portion of her mega million-dollar tour, should be just as hard to get good seats in IMAX or larger format theaters, but chains are adding more theaters to the Thursday-Sunday schedule, so if the thought of Swifties singing and dancing during the 3.5 hour duration was a turnoff, you can probably find some sanctuary screenings. If you’re like me, and you know some of her songs, and didn’t even know Taylor had eras (let alone nine), the movie and the hype may feel too complicated to understand. The charm of Taylor is that even though she exudes a lot of rock star posing (she enters with a flourish worthy of Cleopatra, she’s so proud of her popularity, she kisses her biceps), she does seem genuine with her fans and their love for her. That charm is infectious for the majority of the film, although director Sam Wrench seems to be mostly cribbing the concert’s footage seen on the huge screen for the cheap seats. Believe me, Taylor always knows where the cameras are located, giving us TikTok-ready flirty, eye rolls. And the eras are easily categorized for us Gen Xers, with Red being her Prince era, Fearless her Debbie Gibson, Reputation has Janet Jackson attitude, while her pandemic twin eras, Evermore and Folklore, have total Stevie Nicks vibes. The film also lets you pay attention to some of her more clever lyrics like “car keys” rhymed with “patriarchy” in All Too Well, the 10-minute opus that’s her Stairway to Heaven (Taylor’s Version). By the time she dives into a hole in the stage after her acoustic set (the only spot in the set list she deviates from, city to city), you know she certainly didn’t skimp on the production value or the cool imagery (the diversity of the couples dancing during Lover probably didn’t play well during the Florida leg). Of course, she doesn’t bring up the exorbitant prices of her shows, but her tour, like the film, seems to put saving the economy all on her shoulders. So, Taylor, it’s you, hi, you’re the problem, it’s you. (But, also thanks.) 

Friday, October 13, 2023

Film Review: “Anatomy of a Fall,” Doesn’t Meet Palme D’Or Expectations, “Foe” Is a Fine Replicant of a Terrence Malick Film and “The Burial” Is Enlivened by Jamie Foxx

Anatomy of a Fall (c) Neon

Film Review: Anatomy of a Fall 
In Cinemas 

Sometimes a film’s reputation is its worst enemy. Anatomy of a Fall won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and it certainly felt like a fait accompli: a well-received French Film (with a lot of spoken English) directed by a woman (Cannes has been criticized for not highlighting the films of female directors). The film, which takes place in a remote, snowy-mountain French town, starts out like many TV series these days: a death, and then either through the work of amateur detectives or a lurid murder trial, we get to see what led to the death, culminating with the mystery being solved by the end of the first season. And while Anatomy of a Fall doesn’t produce a body until about 20 minutes into its 2 ½-hour run time, the rest of the film does follow this formula, which unfortunately reminded me a lot of the much inferior Where the Crawdad Sings. The victim of gravity in this film is Samuel (Samuel Theis), who is working in the attic of the family fixer-up cabin when he falls. The only person in the cabin is his wife, Sandra (Sandra Hüller), who claims she was taking a nap while their legally blind son Daniel (Milo Machado Graner, breaking the name game) was walking the dog, which just seems like a bad idea in a hilly and snowy landscape. The police don’t buy Sandra’s story, so there’s a murder trial in which the couple’s fraught relationship is brought to light, mainly revolving around Samuel’s envy of Sandra’s writing success as well as his own impotent creative output, although there is also some revelations about Sandra’s infidelity and excess flirting with women. The second most successful part of this film, as it was with the much superior Saint Omer from last year, is showing how differently a trial is handled in France, with witnesses taking the stand and the lawyer being able to ask the defendant to respond to what they heard right then and there. Fascinating stuff. More successful, however, is the performance by Hüller as Sandra. Sandra is German and she defaults to English as she is less fluent in French, and the language barrier, especially in court, is one of the most intriguing parts of the film, although it’s odd that her son only speaks to her in French, even after living in London for most of his life. Sandra is a cool character, rarely showing any emotion, very articulate and direct (which is very much not what you want to convey on trial for your dead husband), and Hüller is simply captivating. The script, however, doesn’t delve into her crumbling marriage until it is brought up in court, which then puts too much weight on the trial and less on Sandra as a character study. This is all perfectly enjoyable and tense, and the last act that revolves around some ingenious detective work by Daniel and their aptly named dog Snoop (excellent woofing by Messi) is quite enjoyable. But winning the Palme D’Or comes with some expectations of gravitas this film can’t bear under the weight of scrutiny. Because of the Palme, there is a lot of talk about Oscars for Anatomy of a Fall, which would be unwarranted, except for Sandra Hüller. And Messi, who’s a good dog. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Theater Review: “Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors” is Goofy Fun, While “Bite Me” and “Job” are Intriguing Two-Character Plays That Are More Than What They Present

Dracula, A Comedy of Terror (c) Matthew Murphy

Theater: Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors 
At New World Stages 

Imagine if playwrights Charles Busch and Paul Rudnick had a baby and it hosted a Halloween costume party, you would most likely get Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors, a funny, innocuous trifle of a retelling of the overly mined Bram Stoker novel. This year alone had two Dracula films: one was a mainly faithful horror film, The Voyage of the Demeter, while the other was a pretty bloody Nicholas Cage comedy focusing on his much put-upon assistant, Redfield. Both are also touched on in Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen’s play, but if a faithful adaptation is what you’re after, you’re biting up the wrong neck. The productions of Dracula on stage has never really succeeded, becoming more infamous than enjoyable (Dance of the Vampire, Dracula, the Musical, Lestat), and parodies are rather fruitless affairs since every last drop of humorous blood has already been drained from the well. So, color me surprised with the “let’s put on a show,” can-do version held more laughs and ingenuity than I ever expected. We start in Transylvania, in which our titular Count (James Daly, more petulant Fire Island party boy than Bela Lugosi) is selling his mansion to move to America, thanks to the efforts of ambitious realtor Jonathan Harker (an appropriately eager Andrew Keenan-Bolger). Once on this side of the ocean, Dracula begins to sate his hunger with the locals, but he is most captivated by Harker’s plucky and beautifully necked fiancé Lucy (the fetching and no-nonsense Jordan Boatman). Fearing the worst when Lucy’s sister is suddenly stricken with anemia, their father, Dr. Wallace Westfeldt (Ellen Harvey), hires the supernaturally inclined Dr. Van Helsing who, in Arnie Burton’s hysterical interpretation, is the even less fetching German sister of Roald Dahl’s Miss Trunchbull. In fact, it is the acting that is the highlight of this production (the energetic cast plays many secondary characters), with Burton and Harvey providing chameleon turns, sometimes in the same scene, being firsts among equals. Then there’s the whole gay vibe presentation that highlights what is already there in the text. Dracula is of course an equal opportunity predator, and the campy joke meter is certainly in the red here. While this is about as scary as a ride through Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, it is certainly fun, alternative fare for the Spooky Season. 

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Film Reviews: The Testosterone-Soaked Worlds of the Military (“Eismayer”) and Wall Street (“Fair Play”) Are Compellingly Examined. And, How to Make a Complete Meal Out of the Wes Anderson Shorts on Netflix

Eismayer (c) Dark Star Pictures

Film: Eismayer 
In Cinemas 

Last year, we got three true-story films of varying excellence (all still worth catching) about gay men in the hostile world of the military: the American The Inspection, the Soviet Union Firebird and the South African Moffie.  This year’s batch starts with Eismayer, the titled character, a hardass, takes-no-prisoners drill Sergeant Major (Gerhard Liebmann) in the Austrian Army in the early 2010s. His reputation precedes him and inspires fear in the newest recruits before he makes a theatrical entrance into the barracks as the most toxic male in the room. Even when he’s called in by his superiors to tone down his dictatorship tone, he continues to push his recruits to the brink, including grueling training maneuvers and insidious mind games. One wonders when he is alone pleasuring himself as he smokes in the shower if he’s giving a big screw you to his internal homophobia or his persistent bloody coughing. His own perception of what it means to be gay in the army is tested by one of his recruits: Mario Falak (Luka Dimić), an Austrian of Serbian descent who is openly gay and is both harassed and accepted by his fellow soldiers. Their relationship is the most compelling part of the film, with the intense Eismayer butting heads with the more relaxed Falak before they start to break down each other’s concept of masculinity, including a fascinating scene in which Falak takes an outrageous bet from his mates that involves their commander. The movie is seen from Eismayer’s perspective, so we also get scenes of his family life with his frustrated wife (Julia Koschitz) and son (Lion Tatzber’s Dominik), that, while necessary plot wise, delay the more remarkable relationship of the two men, which is indeed based on a true story. The immensely likable Dimić is the audience’s surrogate, viewing the sergeant as both menacing and sympathetic, especially when played with bold and mesmerizing intensity by Liebmann. Director David Wagner’s debut feature film, which won the Critic’s Week Best Film Prize at The Venice Film Festival last year, is certainly assured and absorbing, but I wish the last 20% of the film’s narrative made up most of the film’s runtime. Still, a fascinating film.