Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Theater Reviews: “Teeth” is a New Musical With a Lot to Chew On; “Corruption” Doesn’t Pull Punches Examining the Rupert Murdoch Empire; and in a Bold Play About Israel and Palestine, What Is the Definition of an “Ally?”

Teeth (c) Chelcie Parry

Theater: Teeth 
At Playwrights Horizons 

Gird your loins, everyone. Michael R. Jackson, the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and composer of A Strange Loop, has a new musical and, depending on your acceptance of the subject matter and the fearlessness of the material, it is either a daring, edgy, provocative tour de force or a daring, edgy, provocative mess. I ultimately find myself in the latter camp, in spite the fact that Jackson and co-writer Anna K. Jacobs have crammed so many themes and ideas in this two-hour show that it’s hard to keep up. Based on the 2007 indie film by Mitchell Lichtenstein, which I haven’t seen, the story focuses on Dawn (Alyse Alan Louis), a four-star Promise Keeper in a New Testament Village church, which is reeling from the recent scandal of an unwed pregnant teen in their midst. Her stepfather is the Pastor (Steven Pasquale), and while he greatly admires Dawn, he has greater contempt for his biological son Brad (Will Connolly) in an almost Carrie fanatical way (this production reminded me of the movie and the infamous musical). Dawn and her crew keep referring to their deity as Father God, which nicely mirrors Brad’s journey into the dark web searching for straight, white male empowerment support from a leader known as the Godfather (unexpectedly sporting an Australian accent). The plot comes to a head (pun intended) when Dawn is tempted to not keep her promise anymore with her jock boyfriend Tobey (Jason Gotay) and her untapped sexual energy leads to biological awakening, that in turn activates the titular weapon. Even though this plot point is the thing the whole show hinges on, Jackson and Jacobs are more interested in the build-up to the revelation through many fun songs and character development moments like when Dawn makes lemonade from the lemons of her changing body, singing, “I need the sting of shame in my body to keep and protect me from sin/desire can’t win” in “Shame in my Body,” a song which gives Teeth a sort of vibey, modern take on Spring Awakening

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Film Reviews: In the Multiplex, a Sports Drama x Shaggy Dog Film = Family Fun (“Arthur The King”) While Two Wildly Different Queer Love Stories (“Love Lies Bleeding” and “Glitter & Doom") Should Satisfy the Art House Crowd

Arthur the King (c) Carlos Rodriguez, courtesy of Lionsgate

Film: Arthur The King 
In Cinemas 

Mark Wahlberg is becoming the John Wayne of the 21st Century in a way that he always seems to pick “Dad-film” projects, which occasionally Venn diagrams with family fare. Arthur The King is probably the best example. This film is an uneasy gerrymandering of a sports movie (an Adventure Racing endurance competition, which this film equates to whatever it is that Bear Grylls is known for) and a shaggy dog story, the kind where Michael Light (Wahlberg) and the dog he dubs Arthur (because like all kings, he lets his subjects eat first – umm, ok) appear to know exactly what the other is thinking. So, there’s a lot of shots of Mike looking concerned at Arthur or Arthur barking portentously at Mike’s team to not go down a path. But in-between these dog cuteness overloads are testosterone-filled sections in which Michael feels he is not a complete man unless he wins this Adventure Race marathon in Costa Rica, which he humiliatingly lost during a team meltdown a few years back. So, he assembles a ragtag team of underdogs (pun intended), like expert rock climber Olivia (Nathalie Emmanuel) and the veteran, injury-riddled Chik (Ali Suliman), who people keep asked about his Chekov’s knee. Mark also has to eat crow and try to recruit his former teammate (the one involved in the meltdown) now influencer Liam (a self-deprecating Simu Liu, the film’s VIP of the two-legged variety). The best sequence of this first half is this breathtaking scene that takes place on a zip-line, expertly executed by director Simon Cellen Jones. But then a shaggy stray Arthur (played by the “who’s a good dog” Ukai) joins the group as the honorary fifth member of the team, and the corniness factor is exponentially ramped up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the tonal shift is a bit jarring. The dog sections work, but it takes up so much oxygen in the last half of the film that the finale of the race is almost an afterthought. There’s a lot of fudging to make this a Mark Wahlberg joint (the real Mike Light is Swedish), but ultimately it delivers what it promises: a film the whole family will enjoy, with the only queasy, ick moment being a popped blister (I looked away), although your tolerance for a dog in peril may also be tested. 

Side note: Mark Wahlberg’s Michael is probably as manically driven to win as Annette Bening’s Nyad but somehow, we still find him likable even when he’s driving his friends crazy. It seems like a sexist double standard to me, but maybe if Nyad swam with a dog telepathically linked to her on the boat, cheering her on, the audience would have embraced her as well. 

Thursday, March 7, 2024

The Interested Bystander's Final 2023-24 Oscar Predictions: Up Your Odds to Win Your Oscar Pool

Oscar's Class of 2023 (c) Richard Harbaugh

After Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, it will either be a huge Oppenheimer blow-out with it winning statues in the double digits or the Academy members decide to spread the wealth. It will feel obvious after the fact, but at this moment in the before times, I am overthinking it to the nth degree. So, I am hedging my bets and predicting other movies to win awards that Oppenheimer is nominated in, but something tells me Oppenheimer’s sweep could be as big as it was projected on the IMAX screen. I am also giving the odds of each category of who I am predicting so you can make your own decision when you fill out your own Oscar pool ballot. 


Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Film Reviews: This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Shorts May Be Dominated by Grief, But They Can Still Entertain and Educate

Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó (c) Disney+

In the week leading to the Oscars (Sunday, March 10), you may want to catch up on the nominated short films, packaged together in cinemas or found on streaming services like Netflix (Henry Sugar, The After), Paramount+ (The ABCs of Book Banning), Disney+/Hulu (Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó, The Last Repair Shop) and YouTube (Island In Between, Knight of Fortune, The Barber of Little Rock).