Thursday, August 25, 2011

MOVIE: ONE DAY


This beautiful afternoon which I spent indoors, at the movies, seeing ONE DAY–was one day well-spent. Though flawed,the film based on the best-seller stars a charismatic twosome: the multitalented Anne Hathaway who here does a serviceable English accent, and the already English and mightily talented Jim Sturgess (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE). ONE DAY calls on them to age over the course of some 20 years in a series of “one days.” It’s a little bit “Same time Next Year,” a little bit– well, I won’t give that away.

The last day of college marks the commencement of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew’s relationship. They’re drunk on graduation day, flop into bed with each other and things promptly fall apart. He’s a handsome rich kid who expects life to be a breeze. She’s a gangly girl with a pessimistic streak, but an incisively funny quip for every occasion. Because we know what Hathaway can look like, her attempt at dowdiness barely squeaks by. I overlooked this because she delivers the wisecracks with dry aplomb.

I will venture to say that the trajectory of Emma and Dexter’s relationship is tumultuous and surprising. Her character makes less sense than his– why she’s stalled working in a Mexican restaurant and settles for a boring but well-meaning schlub is hard to comprehend. I also overlooked this. Why? Because it’s always clear her soul mate and ultimate destiny is the charming but lost DEXTER, and I couldn’t wait for them to get together; that pulled me along. While she functions as more of a muse, Dexter is a more fully developed character. The film shows us the ways in which he is lost, the ways he disappoints his family, and the ripple effect on all his relationships. In other words, the movie dares to show in a fairly nuanced way how a basically good guy can behave badly. Sturgess is utterly sympathetic and believeable in the part.

ONE DAY is not perfect, but it’s worth seeing for part of a day– maybe a rainy one.

Monday, August 22, 2011

MOVIE: SARAH'S KEY


Who could make up a tale like this? Who ever heard of a locked door that no one was curious enough to open? Who ever heard of a man on his deathbed suddenly leaping out of that bed and producing a document that clears up all the family mysteries? Who ever heard of creating an incidental character--a child not directly connected to the central story--solely for the purpose of killing her off ? These and other obscene contrivances are the stuff of "Sarah's Key," based on the best-seller about a little known chapter in WWII involving the round up of French Jews in the middle of Paris: the Vel d'Hiv roundup of 1942.

This tale needs to be told-- but not like this. There are parts of the movie that are effective, especially when the action moves to the death camps. But even the talented Kristin Scott Thomas seems ill at ease in this badly acted, mechanically written, melodramatically conceived excuse for jerking even more tears out of the holocaust. The worst scene? Two actors slow dancing with a sultry vocal in the background, crooning something about a lock and key!!! I think it may be the only time I have ever laughed out loud--in horror.

SARAH'S KEY! Lose it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

MOVIE:THE HELP!


I loved the book. Couldn't wait to see the movie. The trailer gave me pause--nothing subtle here and that proved to be true. It's more pat and somehow smaller than Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel, but it's an engaging, if candy-coated take on the social milieu of a very American group of characters on the cusp of the civil rights movement in the deep south-- the white women of an upscale Mississippi neighborhood and the "colored" women who work for them: THE HELP.

The first sound we hear is the voice of a black maid named Aibileen (Viola Davis) and the first image we see is the hand of Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a rebellious young white woman writing Aibileen's words on white lined paper. The emphasis is correct, because THE HELP is also, but not ultimately about civil rights; it's about the power of narrative itself: the stories we tell each other and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and how those stories can trap or liberate us. (It's notable that the most crucial thing Aibileen may have done for the little neglected white girl in her charge may have been telling her repeatedly: "You is smart, you is kind, you is important.") Aibileen (and eventually many of her friends) dares to tell and Skeeter dares to write her first book about the embedded racism, cruelty, heartbreak, resentment and resignation intertwined in the complex relationships between the black maids and the privileged white families they care for. The book liberates them both.

Skeeter has a particular affinity for this material since she too is an outsider with hopes and dreams beyond her station: she's a smart, assertive, curly haired white girl who wants a career more than she wants a husband-- incomprehensible to the society of ninnies who spend their days throwing charity balls for the poor black Africans on the other side of the globe, even as they yank the chains of the help in their own back yards.

Emma Stone is a vibrant young screen presence, just right as the rebellious Skeeter. Viola Davis is a shining stoic presence as the kindly Aibileen who bears a painful history with quiet courage. Olivia Spencer is feisty and funny as Minnie who serves up a diabolically delicious revenge on her snarling boss Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard). Jessica Chastain gains our sympathy as the voluptuous Daisy Mae-like Celia Foote who is spurned by Hilly and company. Celia's big scene at the charity ball is, however, awkwardly directed. But Sissy Spacek steals every scene she's in as Hilly's hilariously dotty mother who still has enough wits to get in the last word. And Cicely Tyson is a heartbreaker whenever she's on screen. Allison Janney is sympathetic as Skeeter's cancer-ridden mother who just wants to see her daughter settle down.

But none of these performances is particularly nuanced. All of these characters veer dangerously close to stereotype. And that is the crux of the problem with the film. I wish the movie had retained some of the darkness subtly evoked by the novel: Minnie's abusive husband, or the real life and death risks these women were taking by speaking up in the Jim Crow south.

But THE HELP is worth seeing-- and I will never tire of what it is trying to say, however conventionally.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

THEATER: ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL!

ALL'S WELL (It certainly is.)THAT ENDS WELL (It certainly does.) I'm referring to this summer's FREE offering on Boston Common by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company! Artistic Director Steve Maler has served up one of Shakespeare's most infrequently performed comedies, studded it with some of Boston's brightest theatrical talents, and set it shimmering under the night sky like a dark star!

It opens with a funeral and a whirling casket; characters cloaked in 19th century black, backs to the audience. It's an arresting opening tableau-- somewhere between Edward Gorey and Tim Burton. Then Karen MacDonald opens her mouth and begins to work her magic as the Countess of Rossillion mourning her dead husband; a few scenes later, she'll have us in stitches with a mere shift of an eyebrow and perfect comic timing.

Her son Bertram is the conundrum here. He's off to Paris to attend the ailing King of France (Wonderful Will LeBow). There, he rejects the love of a good woman--the lovely and talented young Helena. The conundrum? Bertram is a superficial cad who proceeds to lie, cheat, and slither his way through the rest of this play; he's one of Shakespeare's shadiest "heros." Why Helena pines for him is a mystery, and a hurdle this production doesn't completely scale. Much of the problem is the flat and awkwardly enunciated performance by Nick Dillenburg.

Nevertheless, what Shakespeare has to say about real value, and pretense vs. true worth is conveyed through many compelling performances, among them-- Kersti Bryan as the delicate yet vibrant Helena, the hilarious but never over the top Fred Sullivan, Jr. as the aptly named braggart Parolles, McCaela Donovan as the feisty and beautiful Diana, Remo Airaldi as the snippy old LaFew. The action flows easily between heartbreak and hilarity. Maler's direction invokes everything from the Keystone Cops to "The Bachelorette" to keep things moving, and never loses control of the tone; the time flies.

I loved this production of ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL-- and you will too, right through August 14. Did I mention-- it's FREE? It doesn't get better than this.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

MOVIE: CRAZY STUPID LOVE


SEE ABSORB LOVE. The film is a triumph of chaos and delight-- I had NO idea where this was headed --which I love!!! It begins with a perfectly calibrated scene in a restaurant between Steve Carell and Julianne Moore, their characters married for 20 plus years-- when he orders creme brulee and she orders a divorce. This is not a spoiler. It's the first scene. Then there are characters coming and going, different story lines developing, no obvious overlap except the pratfalls of love stopped and started, and we're on a convoluted ride. I started to think the writer was nuts. Then I realized there was a method to his madness, and I was definitely along for the ride.

Suddenly I start thinking of Shakespeare. Mismatched lovers, chasing each other around and around, and as I'm having this thought Steve Carell starts shouting the word "cuckold,"aloud, over and over at a bar. I think I'm on to something. Ryan Gosling enters the picture, immediately making every scene he's in more interesting by virtue of his truly distinctive line readings and his extraordinarily sexual presence. He takes Carell under his wing--if not just to shut him up but also to help him out as a member of the species. He turns him into a version of himself- a ladies man for the ages, who has bedded and not wedded hundreds of all too willing modern females, because he knows exactly what deeply wired buttons to push. And it's wonderfully cast-- Marisa Tomei? Hilarious. Emma Stone? Smart, screwy, endearing. Kevin Bacon? Just right-- as always.


At a certain point all the nuttiness coalesces and bubbles over into one climactic, enlightening, and explosively entertaining scene. No kidding. I was screaming laughing. The writer Dan Fogelman has made good on the promise of the title, has a good grasp of these characters and what makes them believably tick, and an appreciation for emotional complexity. The result is a magical comedy that redeems all of these mixed up characters, their intentions, their foibles, their vulnerabilities, and leaves us wondering upon a star about CRAZY STUPID LOVE and where can we get some more.


DON'T MISS THIS!!