Sunday, March 28, 2010

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO



It's a trashy page turner that lingers too long on the sexual torture of women, a Miss Marple-like list of suspects, and an ending that's on the visible horizon from page one. I was among the few who disliked the late Stieg Larsson's international bestselling thriller. Then I saw the movie. In Swedish.

The film bests the book by minimizing the sadism, streamlining the action, and maximizing the characterizations, especially that of Lisbeth Salander. She's a tiny, tightly wound, nose-ringed techno geek with a dark past, who helps investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) solve a 40 year old disappearance on a bleak Swedish Island. Noomi Rapace won't be easily replaced by an American actress when this movie is inevitably re-made. (Kristen Stewart? Natalie Portman? Ellen Page?) I say Noomi should learn English.

The film isn't flawless-- a few scenes are awkwardly imagined, and like the book conclusions are either too quickly or too slowly arrived at. But the film is clearly plotted, briskly paced (even at 2 1/2 hours), and dramatically addictive.

The GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is the first of a trilogy; all three films have been made in Swedish. The next two THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST will be released in the U.S. by Music Box Films this summer. Or go to Stockholm and watch them on DVD.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

WOMEN IN COMEDY!!


I have not dropped off the face of the earth. I have been rethinking the blog and meeting and talking and speaking and spewing and ducking the bricks being thrown by certain rabid members of the conservative right as they protest the healthcare bill.

WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE by the leaders of the opposition to these loathsome and dangerous tactics: spitting? brick throwing? death threats? What are we-- some third world country?? Keep this up and OBAMA'S going to look like a hero, so it's also stupid.
And the talk show hosts and pundits and politicians who are insidiously egging them on? You are COWARDS.

Today Minority Whip Eric Cantor finally stood up and said these acts were "despicable." No one on that side of the fence has had the guts to call these actions what they are: CRIMINAL! The whishy washy statement from Minority Leader John Boehner? Cowardly. And transparently disingenuous.

Now where was I? Oh yes. THE WOMEN IN COMEDY FESTIVAL is on in Boston--follow this link and have a good laugh!!
http://www.womenincomedyfestival.com

Stay tuned!

Monday, March 22, 2010

WHAT I DID LAST NIGHT: BOSTON LYRIC OPERA

What happens when you combine Greek myth and Italian farce?? Two operas within an opera:Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthall's ARIADNE AUF NAXOS--a BOSTON LYRIC OPERA presentation of Welsh National Opera's hilarious and moving production!

It all begins when the"richest man in Vienna"commissions not one, but two works for his guests, AND a whizbang fireworks display. When the performers start arguing about about which performance goes first,the Majordomo(A.R.T.'s Will LeBow)announces that to save time-- both works will be performed SIMULTANEOUSLY!!

So while Ariadne is singing her heart out onstage because Theseus has left her stranded on Naxos, commedia dell'arte buffoons Zerbinetta and her four suitors, try to cheer her up with all manner of frisky shenanigans. She's having none of it-- until the hunky Bacchus arrives in a tight shirt, and his godhead envelops her radiance...you get the picture. And what a picture! It all culminates in a transcendant image adapted from Schinkel's famous 19th c. stage set for THE MAGIC FLUTE :a waterfall of light beams washes over the lovers, while the audience cheers the vocal pyrotechnics, Strauss's limpidly beautiful score, and Von Hoffmannstahl's wacky but triumphant libretto!!

Don't worry--there are subtitles. AND you have one more chance to see it:
Tuesday March 23, Shubert Theatre 7:30PM! blo.org

Thursday, March 18, 2010

ODDS & ENDS-BUT MOSTLY ODD

I just got off the phone with THE THEATRE OFFENSIVE head Abe Rybeck whose father used to be the dentist for THE FLYING WALLENDAS! They apparently had terrible teeth and needed constant repairs for breakage from falling down. It's no wonder...check this out: Wallendas

One of the Wallendas,Karl,currently works for The Big Apple Circus whose tents will be used by Theatre Offensive for their upcoming gala fundraiser climACTS April 27. ALAN CUMMING is the guest star. Yours truly will be The Ringmaster. I'll be hanging on to my teeth.

CONAN O'BRIEN's mom recently told me as a child she once wanted a pink angora sweater for Christmas but instead got a book of manners by Emily Post. This would explain the extreme civility that runs in the family, evident in Conan's on-air handling of NBC's Late Night fiasco. I had Conan's brother in homeroom when I taught English at Brookline High. He was very polite.

Former 'BZ anchorwoman turned minister LIZ WALKER's son Nik,is a talented actor/singer who will debut an original piece this Saturday night at The People's Theatre Lab at Brookline High School Auditorium 7pm. Nik is tall, handsome, fiercely talented and has as much impact and charisma in person as his powerhouse mom LIZ!

Did you know that the following titles were once banned in Boston under pain of prosecution? AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, ELMER GANTRY, THE SUN ALSO RISES, MANHATTAN TRANSFER.

I've added: The Other Boleyn Girl, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Alchemist, and anything by or about to be by DR's Phil, Oz, Drew, Gupta, Perricone, Mengele, Brothers, or Dr.Quinn Medicine Woman.

But Doctors Seuss, Ruth, and Atul Gawande, report in immediately. And bring Dr. Dre.


Goodnight--
and stay tuned!

MORE GOOD THEATER:ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE

Just back from a kickass production of Joe Orton's ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE at Publick Theatre Boston! Four Brits directed by Eric Engel ignite this black comedy of cruelty, loneliness, repression, manipulation--it's a laugh riot!No kidding. With blackness to spare.

A handsome young sexual sociopath--Mr. Sloane rents a room in a tidy chintz-infested English row house. It happens to be in the middle of a garbage dump, with generations of refuse festering inside: there's lonely, oversexed, over the hill Kath played by the splendid and much-missed Sandra Shipley, who is flagrantly, hilariously flirtatious with her guest.

The adorably ambiguous Mr.Sloane-part cherub, part thug- is played by the attractive and nimbly talented Jack Cutmore-Scott here making his U.S. professional debut. (Director Eric Engel calls him "the most talented undergraduate...since MATT DAMON). I say WELCOME. Please come for tea.

Nigel Gore plays Kath's angry, sexually repressed brother Ed who also covets Sloane with equal parts stealth and salivation. And finally at the top of the heap is dear old dad, played by Dafydd Rees(thank god I'm not on TV-I'd have to pronounce that)who hasn't spoken to Ed in 20 years-- having once caught his son in the act.

It's a merry-go-round of dark farce and darker forces, each of the characters jockeying for position in a whirligig of shifting power,sex,and violence, and upending British Middle class morality in the process. Love the Beatle songs firmly rooting us in the 60's--but this is a tale for all seasons. See it at Publick Theatre Boston at the BCA through April 3!

Tea anyone?

Monday, March 15, 2010

SWAMPED

It has been raining. Like a hurricane. A typhoon. Like the gods are angry--for the last 5 days. Basements all over Boston are flooded, roofs are leaking, power is out, trees are down, my boots are leaking, my hair is frizzy, there's been thunder and lightning, sleet, hail, and snow. Today the center of our town turned into a small lake. So traffic was detoured, and the police picked up where the signal lights left off. Talk about Armaggedon.

No matter--I had places to go and theater to see. Friday night it was OTHELLO which felt like a one-dimensional exercise with a set resembling moveable wedges of cheese. Here once again our eponymous hero and his nemesis were the undoing of fair Desdemona, though in ironic contrast to Shakespeare's plot, the actresses buried the actors.

On Sunday en route to a matinee, an elderly man walking down the street behind me was blown over when his umbrella turned into a sail and took him down like a twig. A few of us scurried over to assist, then headed indoors to the theater where a new disaster awaited us: ADDING MACHINE --which didn't add up. It's a musical so unpleasant, uninspiring, and unmusical that I couldn't wait to go back outside.

The soggy weekend on the boards threw me back to a movie I had missed: the Coen brothers' A SERIOUS MAN. It's the story of Job--from Minnesota. Every awful thing that can happen to poor Larry Gopnick does. His marriage, his job, his kids, are all verblunget and God in the form of various rabbis seems to be having a little too much fun at his expense. And Larry? He takes it like a schnook. Like some pawn in a casual bet between god and the devil. Is he cursed? Does it matter what moral choices he makes? "What's going on?" he asks when the kids appear to be on drugs. It's the question on everyone's lips, and no one seems to have the answer--until the ending when God--or the filmmakers, with a cyclone on the horizon yet- show us emphatically that not only is there no place like home--there is no home in this place. It's an ending only a biblical scholar could love--and me.

It's still raining. Snow tonight.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

THEATER REVIEWS: "STICK FLY" / "BECKY SHAW"

The Huntington Theatre Company is currenty running the two hottest productions onstage in town right now: STICK FLY which has just been extended until March 28th at the Calderwood Pavilion, and BECKY SHAW which just opened at Huntington's mainstage last night! I'm still catching my breath--I saw them both in one day!!!

STICK FLY is the tale of one pivotal weekend in the life of an African-American family on Martha's Vineyard when two grown sons bring home their girlfriends to meet the family. Lydia R. Diamond's play initially erupts in hilarious, fast-paced dialogue; there are spiraling debates about class and race over Parcheesi and wine. But percolating beneath the posturing is a drama that pivots on a secret which is key to the complex family dynamics. The performances and staging are exciting, the denouement satisfying without being simplistic. I was grabbed by these warm and vibrant characters immediately, and was completely engaged in their "mirthful dysfunction." I left exhilarated!

Darker and deeper is the scary,funny, audacious dysfunctionality of BECKY SHAW, a Pulitzer prize finalist. The premise is a family coping with the fall-out from a father's death and secrets. It's a psycho-verbal-comic tour de force, revealing the dark underpinnings of dysfunction: how parents manipulate their children, what they give them, what they don't, how they enable or disable their offspring as they navigate the boundaries of intimacy. Believe it or not, this is all brilliantly funny in playwright Gina Gionfriddo's hands-- and shrewdly dramatic. The action ricochets off a blind date gone awry. Three 30-somethings await the arrival of the fourth: enter Becky Shaw--an emotional black hole who sucks their precarious world off its axis and into the whirling vortex of their deepest psychological drives. Her polar opposite and date for the evening is Max, as heavily defended as Fort Knox. Their encounter is dramatic dynamite. I couldn't take my eyes off the cataclysm; some of what's uttered on stage is downright cruel, outrageously funny, and all of it masterfully handled by a killer cast.

Last night's audience----many of us critics--leapt to our feet at the curtain, me with the thought of when, and how soon I could see it again! It's up until April 4!!

Now I'm going to call my mother.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: ALICE IN WONDERLAND

I was with Alice from the minute she fell down that hole--and Tim Burton really took me there. ALICE IN WONDERLAND is a girl's journey. Unlike AVATAR in which the hero layers on a second, perfected self and thrusts himself into a new world doing battle in outer space, Alice falls inward in search of herself; she tries out different sizes, different clothes, battling her own perceptions to make sense of the skewed reality around her, until she finds a skin she's comfortable in: her own. Before she tumbles to a disastrous marriage proposal from a nitwit, she must tumble to herself, and find her "muchness."

Tim Burton has orchestrated a weirdly gorgeous dreamworld, all iridescence and shadow, wind and odd words. Burton lets us see that Alice has followed herself down the hole and becomes this prism in 3D, her diaphanous clothing like the moss and leaves and toadstools--it's all herself--including the Madhatter, one of Johnny Depp's most ingenious, endearing, and complicated creations. He's channeling a lisp and a burr. I couldn't take my eyes off his outsize irises--or his eyebrows. I often think his performances indulgent (Captain Jack Sparrow swashbuckles to mind). But here he is mesmerizing, fully giving way to his imagination. 20 year old Mia Wasikowska as Alice straddles the girl/woman divide with tenderness and ease. Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen with her bulbous head and bloated ego calls to mind an inflated Queen Elizabeth I. She cracked me up.

There were but two false notes. Anne Hathaway was actressy and outside the part, posing rather than being. To work, these strange characters must be believable. Ironically, Crispin Glover--an odd duck in real life--didn't seem strange enough as the Knave of Hearts. And then there was that unfortunate last bit involving Depp dancing, an embarassing ploy to pull in a particular demographic. It pulled me right out of the film.

But the rest is a fantastical journey that excited me to my marrow. Even the soundtrack featuring edgy alternative artists like Owl City, All Time Low, and Avril Lavigne and her single "Alice(Underground)" held me in my seat right through the end credits, until I forced myself up-- and out into the light.

Good night--
And stay tuned!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Best Of Times/Worst Of Times

She came trailing a raspberry for worst performance of the year in ALL ABOUT STEVE. But no one was blindsided when she took the stage for best performance (THE BLIND SIDE) of the year: Sandra Bullock pulled off the historic dual win with uncommon grace, honesty, and humor as she clutched her Oscar and named Meryl Streep her lover! It was the night's best speech, but not its only history-making moment.

Soon Kathryn Bigelow would become the first female best director in history(and the happiest ex-wife)with the little film that could: THE HURT LOCKER defused ex-husband James Cameron's blockbuster with six Oscars to his three. It remains explosive at the box office.

And then there was Geoffrey Fletcher, the first African American to win for Best Adapted Screenplay:PRECIOUS took our breath away,and his words; he left overcome and speechless,only to have Oprah give him a second chance to say "thank you" during her Oscar wrap show on that very stage today!

In spite of the history it made, the show lacked precisely that: HISTORY. Somehow Zac Efron and Miley Cyrus spoke, but Lauren Bacall did not. Somehow a horror montage made the grade, but a retrospective of Bacall's lifetime achievements on celluloid did not. The hosts, while funny, never did what "hosts" like Hope,and Carson, and Crystal would do--guide us through the evening, playing off unexpected moments with well-timed quips and funny repartee holding it all together and somehow making us feel like we're all in on that big golden Hollywood thing.

But last night, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin had only scripted (though funny) bits, as controlled as the couture on the red carpet. Thank god for Charlize's cinnabon-ed breasts. I want a show where someone shows up wearing a swan a la Bjork; Or "demi" bicycle shorts; or a headdress as big as the Ritz--thank you Cher. I remember covering this event--and I covered it up close and personal for 25 years-- when Kim Basinger showed up wearing half a purple dress designed by PRINCE. And then there was the over the hill bombshell, Edy Williams (jiggle flick director Russ Meyer's ex) who would show up in practically nothing but a dazed look in her eye until security gently escorted her away.

I thought we were in for some real fun after last night's opening number full of be-feathered chorus girls, but soon it was one lackluster "star"(Amanda Seyfried?) after another (Chris Pine???).Where were Halle and Nicole, Julia, Salma, and Sarandon, Eastwood and Cruise, Pitt and Jolie, Jack and Denzel?

Give me more Michelle Pfeiffer. Or Jeff Bridges saying "groovy." Or newcomer Gaby Sidibe weeping the Hollywood dream come true. Gimme a stiff shot of tinseltown glitz and glamor.

And don't be stingy, baby.

Friday, March 5, 2010

OSCAR PICKS!!!

OK Here we go! It's the night I've waited for all year, every year, since I was old enough to know who GRETA GARBO was--did I mention we share a birthday? Yes. It's true. I'm 105 years old.

HEREWITH MY PREDICTIONS in the top six categories for the 82nd annual OSCARS this Sunday night on ABC at 8PM!!! But first, you can LISTEN to my Oscar predictions tonight 8-9PM on WBZ RADIO 1030 on NIGHTSIDE with Bradley Jay (filling in for Dan Rea). Then, listen through the weekend on WBZ RADIO 1030 as Diane Stern and I talk about the Oscars.
Three of these categories are a lock, three are up for grabs.

THE LOCK:

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz as a diabolically well-spoken Nazi in "Inglourious Basterds."

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Mo'Nique as the abusive mother in "Precious."

BEST ACTOR: Jeff Bridges as a booze-soaked, over-the-hill country western singer in "Crazy Heart."

UP FOR GRABS:

BEST ACTRESS: Meryl Streep for her rib-tickling, rib-sticking performance as queen of the kitchen Julia Child in "Julie & Julia." Streep will and should beat out the adorable Sandra Bullock who was wonderful in THE BLIND SIDE, but let's not confuse a popular performance with an Oscar caliber performance.

BEST DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker." She triumphed in an implosive character-driven apolitical thriller about the ripple effects of war on human beings. She will and should be the first woman to win in this category. I will take great pleasure in seeing her beat out her ex--husband "Avatar" director James Cameron.

BEST PICTURE:"The Hurt Locker" which should beat out the big-budget technological leviathon that is James Cameron's baby. The self-described "king of the world" will topple to the Queen.

Now let's see what happens Sunday night. JOIN ME as I tweet through the OSCARS beginning with the red carpet coverage! I will be watching and tweeting all night! Come tweet with me as we luxuriate in the spectacle of all those stars decked out on the red carpet, and biting their fingernails inside the Kodak Theater on the biggest movie night of the year!!

Just click on my twitter link below my picture!

Stay tuned!!!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

ROGER IN WONDERLAND

Today, I along with millions of viewers saw the remarkable Roger Ebert on Oprah, and heard his voice for the first time in over 3 years. He has been unable to speak as a result of countless cancer surgeries over the last 8 years. I am still so overcome by the humanity of the guy and his lovely wife Chaz, that I can barely write about him.

Ten years ago, after Gene Siskel died, I--along with several other lucky film critics across the country--was invited to sit in the balcony with Roger, thumb to thumb. I lasted about a year; it was the pinnacle of my career. In that time I came to know Roger beyond his brilliance as a critic. Above all, what struck me was how extraordinarily generous, unpretentious, open, and exuberant he was in debate. He exceeded all reasonable expectations of just how down to earth he might be, one on one, considering his position in the universe of film criticism. He is the sun, and we are assorted satellites, burnt out stars, and black holes. But Roger has always had his eye on the movies and not himself; his love of,and voracious appetite for film and ideas leaves us hungering for more.

There is much more I could say about what I learned of the man during that time, but for now I will pass along something Roger has made available on his twitterpage which cinephiles will LOVE! I did. Just before the release of Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND this week, take a look at the very first ALICE IN WONDERLAND, (1903).
Thank you, Roger, once again.

Cut and paste this link: http://j.mp/bvv031

Monday, March 1, 2010

O CANADA , OH NO J-LO, SCOTT-O!!!

The Winter Olympics are over and I am astounded at how much better they were than I thought they'd be... even CURLING, which I found out is not a sport for hairdressers on ice. How swell that the US brought home 37 medals, and I am truly glad that the gold for Hockey went to the Canadians, the final medal of the whole shebang, especially in light of those closing ceremonies. What the heck was that? That was the wackiest display of national pride I have ever witnessed. I thought I'd seen it all when women like caterpillars? stems? freaky mermaids appeared inside those giant maple leaves. That is until the giant inflated beavers floated out followed by lumberjacks on skates. The Chinese must have been in stitches. O Canada.

The night before I watched J-LO on SNL--she looked gorgeous and was funny as Rhianna in a short wig ("ella ella ella") in the "WE ARE THE WORLD remake" skit. Then she started singing for real as the night's musical guest. omg. The songs were crazy bad, and she chopped the tops off the high notes. That girl should stick to perfume.

But today something really cool happened. I had dropped our new Senator Scott Brown a congratulatory note after he won the election. I am not a Republican; I often lean left. But I decided to applaud his independent spirit and urged him to remain so. It's where we all need to be right now. I had been impressed by his unaffected manner in person and on TV. I loved that he voted with the Democrats on the jobs bill. Lo and behold, what did I get in the mail today? A HAND WRITTEN note, thanking me, telling me a little about how he's doing, and a little CD for Jack Williams who I let on is an Ayla fan.

Never in a million years did I expect such a down-to-earth, handwritten, personal response. I thought perhaps he'd sign a perfunctory note his aides had typed up. But this was clearly different, and the guy must be off in a million different directions right now: "Being watched 24/7"as he put it, on the cover of this week's NY TIMES MAGAZINE, parodied on SNL, the subject of Letterman's top ten, interviewed on Jay Leno, last night at the House of Blues in Boston...and oh yeah... he's the new SENATOR.


So maybe I'm being played. And maybe he'll collapse under all the pressure. But for right now, he seems responsive, and open, and REAL.

I'm giving this a real look.

Good night,
--and stay tuned!