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Friday, September 20, 2019

The Movie Report #1037, September 20, 2019

The Movie Report

#1037, September 20, 2019


MOVIES:

  • Ad Astra ***
  • Downton Abbey ** 1/2
  • Pailwaan (Wrestler) **
  • Where's My Roy Cohn? ***

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Monday, September 16, 2019

F3Stage Review: Idina Menzel offers laughs & emotional truth in Skintight

Film Flam Flummox


When one thinks of Idina Menzel, the first thing that most likely, and quite understandably, comes to mind is her spectacular singing voice--to the unfortunate oversight of her no less impressive acting chops. This was never more apparent in her last major stage appearance in If/Then, a production that blessed her with a dual role that was even more dramatically demanding than it was vocally so; while earning her a much deserved third Tony Award nomination, still more attention was paid to the powerhouse pyrotechnics of her pipes than the tear-wringing tour de force of the totality of her turn. Menzel's pure gifts as an actress should never come close to being questioned with her richly wrought work in a change-of-pace straight play role in Joshua Harmon's funny and insightful Skintight, currently playing its west coast premiere engagement at the Geffen Playhouse's Gil Cates Theater in Westwood.

The production's key art being a close-up shot of Menzel's face being done up by the hands of an unseen glam squad is somewhat misleading for a couple of reasons, most notably for this being very much an ensemble piece, with Menzel's Jodi Isaac being one of four equally weighted central characters. Also, however, this is could not be less of a glamorous vanity project for Menzel, whose Jodi, a 40-something divorcé whose ex is about to marry a woman some 20 years their junior, is a raw, riveting mess of neuroses and insecurities. Her sudden presence at the posh and creepily sterile townhouse (scenic designer Lauren Helpern's two-level set is spot-on in its self-consciously clinical chic) of her wealthy fashion designer father Elliot (Harry Groener) for his 70th birthday is met with less than a warm welcome, not so much due to her frazzled state than the inevitable disruption she causes in his seemingly idyllic existence with his much younger live-in love Trey (Will Brittain). Strapping, studly southerner Trey is all of 20 years old, the same age as Jodi's rather effeminate eldest son Benjamin (Eli Gelb), who soon joins the would-be festive gathering from his queer theory studies abroad in Hungary.

That's about all there is as far as plot, but Harmon is less interested in straightforward narrative than exploring issues of aging, maturity, beauty, sexuality, family, and identity via the relationship dynamics within this contrasting quartet of characters. That description sounds heavy, but the proceedings are far from it, with Harmon spiking his genuine and sincere insight with biting, often hilarious, wit. Driving the piece more than the general and relevant themes are his words, which fly fast and furious right from director Daniel Aukin's rather sudden first act lights-up, catching Jodi and Elliot in the midst of what will not be their last heated conversation of the night. The actors are right on pace with the frenetic, full-steam-ahead wordplay, with Menzel's minutes-in, masterful mouthful of a hilarious rant setting a high early bar for the cast and the play as a whole. While the rhythms soon settles down to a less frenetic level, the entire cast's work only grows richer as the banter and barbs recede somewhat and they dive into the deeper dimensions of their characters.

Brittain and Gelb, who originated their roles alongside Menzel earlier this year in Aukin's world premiere Off-Broadway production, especially impress in this respect. They lend roles that both initially strike as contrasting comic stereotypes a complex, harder-to-categorize humanity beyond the more overt surface-level attributes and affectations. Menzel delivers a star turn in the best possible sense, a blazing stage presence whether precision-dropping Harmon's brash bon mots or mining Jodi's deep-seated pain from her tortured history with her father. She instantly wins one's heart over with the many laughs she elicits, and then she proceeds to pierce it with her soulful emotional range. Despite being the newcomer in the cast's core four, Groener, just recently seen on the Los Angeles stage in Indecent, fits right in with the returning trio, forging believable and individually unique rapports with each of his castmates. His is perhaps the hardest role of the piece, not only being the calmer, centering presence amid the more comic counterparts but also generating some empathy and understanding for a character who could be taken as overly cold, shallow, and vain.

And that is right in line with Harmon's overall interest here, inviting and challenging the viewer to find some level of understanding for, though not necessarily agreement with, various viewpoints on the play's key issues as expressed and embodied by the quartet. Much like the characters, with just as much food for thought offered as laughs over the play's two hours, the audience is left to mull over and figure out how one personally handles and navigates such a mental minefield in their own day-to-day, even if it may not be as extreme as seen in the Isaac home. If the psychological and emotional Pandora's box opened by the convergence and collision of these characters doesn't come close to being tidily tied up by night's end, such is exactly the tightly achieved point of the deceptively loose-in-structure Skintight.


Will Brittain as Trey, Harry Groener as Elliot,
Eli Gelb as Benjamin, Idina Menzel as Jodi in Skintight
(photo by Chris Whitaker)

Skintight is now running at the Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood through Saturday, October 12.


(Special thanks to Geffen Playhouse)


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Friday, September 13, 2019

The Movie Report #1036, September 13, 2019

The Movie Report

#1036, September 13, 2019


MOVIES:

  • Another Day of Life *** 1/2
  • Chhichhore (Flippant) ** 1/2
  • The Goldfinch ** 1/2
  • Hustlers ***
  • The Dead Don't Die ***
  • Monos *** 1/2
  • Ne Zha *** 1/2
  • The Sound of Silence **

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F3PR: 9th annual Catalina Film Festival returns September 25-29

Film Flam Flummox

PRESS RELEASE

9th ANNUAL CATALINA FILM FEST
RETURNS TO SISTER CITY BY THE SEA --
LONG BEACH LAUNCH & LANDING BOOKENDS
ISLAND FEST WITH PREMIERES, PARTIES & EVENTS
AT THE QUEEN MARY SEPT. 25-26 & 29

Chartered Boats Available Daily to and from Catalina
for the Island Fest Sept. 27, 28

Oscar-Winning Actress, Mira Sorvino,
Among Honorees Slated to Attend

Los Angeles, CA (September 10, 2019)-Catalina Film Festival (CFF) is excited to announce its return to Long Beach, capturing the best of both coasts and iconic, historic film venues for its 9th annual film fest. The continued partnership connects the island festival’s experience to the mainland Sept. 25-29, 2019, bookending CFF with “launch” and “landing” premieres, parties and panels Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday in Long Beach. Catalina Island will play host to CFF Friday and Saturday, with Festival-chartered party cruises to and from the Queen Mary Terminal daily.

Just a few highlights of 9th annual Catalina Film Festival include:

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 25- OPENING NIGHT ABOARD THE QUEEN MARY
The Opening Night feature film is the comedy Babysplitters. When two couples with mixed feelings about having kids hatch a plan to share one baby, it seems like the perfect compromise until things spiral out of control. Written and directed by Sam Friedlander, Babysplitters stars Emily Chang (The Vampire Diaries), Danny Pudi (Community), Mark Feuerstein (What Women Want) & Maiara Walsh (The Last Ship). Filmmaker/Cast Q&A after the screening in the Queen’s Salon.

THURSDAY, SEPT. 26-THURSDAY THRILLER: WORLD PREMIERE OF DARK HARBOR, STARRING JOEL MCHALE & JESSICA SIPOS
Thriller Thursday takes over the Queen Mary with World Premiere screening of Dark Harbor, starring Joel McHale (Community, The Soup) and Jessica Sipos (Chesapeake Shores, Wynonna Earp), directed by Joe Raff. Cast confirmed to attend: Jessica Sipos, Xander Berkeley, Meagen Fay, Connor Trineer, Jillian Armenante, Reiko Aylesworth, Sterling Hurst, and Nick Wolf.

Thriller Thursday also includes the annual Wes Craven Horror Block at 6 p.m. – CFF is the only competitive Festival to have an award sanctioned by the king of horror himself – plus, The Talk, directed by Kevin Alejandro (confirmed to attend), best known for his role as Detective Dan in Netflix’s Lucifer. Catalina Film Fest’s Film & New Media Summit also kicks off Thursday on the Queen Mary featuring two panels: Film Finance: Hands on Workshop (10 a.m.) and Making your First Feature Film (12:30 p.m.)

FRIDAY, SEPT. 27 & SATURDAY, SEPT. 28 : SET SAIL TO CATALINA FOR THE LIONS DEN, RED-CARPET PREMIERE AND TRIBUTE TO ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING ACTRESS MIRA SORVINO
The Festival heads to Catalina Island for two full days of premieres, panels and events. Daily roundtrip cruises are available from Long Beach. A few highlights of the island action include:

  • The Lion’s Den Pitch Panel. Stacked with prospective film investors, this pitch-fest matched accredited investors with filmmakers seeking funding for their projects on Friday.
  • CFF honors Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite, Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion), and spotlights World Premiere of Badland, starring Sorvino, Kevin Makely (Big Legend), Bruce Dern (The Hateful Eight), Trace Adkins (I Can Only Imagine), and Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans)

SUNDAY, SEPT. 29-BEST OF FEST ON THE QUEEN MARY IN LONG BEACH
Best of Fest winning films announced Saturday night on Catalina Island will be screened on the mainland in the Queen’s Salon all day. NEW THIS YEAR: CFF launches a new streaming channel, featuring 67 official selections in competition for the 2019 Film Festival. Streaming passes to the Catalina Film Channel are available September 1 – 30, 2019 for only $7.99. Passholders have 30 days from the point of purchase to watch films in competition and vote for their favorites.

For more info, visit filmfestivalflix.com/festival/catalina-film-channel/

Full schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.catalinafilm.org.

ABOUT CATALINA FILM FESTIVAL & FILM INSTITUTE
Catalina Film Festival is an annual celebration of film in Southern California with coastal screenings and events in Long Beach and on Hollywood’s island, just 22 miles off the Los Angeles coast. Past CFF honorees include Nicolas Cage, Jon Favreau, Stan Lee, Kevin Hart, William H. Macy, Andy Garcia, Sharon Stone, Emmy Rossum, Richard Dreyfuss, and more. CFF is a competitive festival with awards in multiple U.S. and International categories, including the prestigious Stanley Kramer Social Artist Award, Charlie Chaplin ICON Award, Wes Craven Horror Award, Ronald Reagan Foundation "Great Communicator" Award and the Island's Conservation Award. 2019 sponsors include The Cafaro Group, Building Image Group (BIG), Bogart Spirits, REED’S INC, REZ – Recovery Brands, BANDERO Tequila, Catalina Express, ABK BEER, Horseshoe Bend Vineyards, and Sprint.

Follow @CatalinaFilm, #CatalinaFilm , www.catalinafilm.org.


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Friday, September 6, 2019

The Movie Report #1035, September 6, 2019

The Movie Report

#1035, September 6, 2019


MOVIES:

  • Before You Know It ** 1/2
  • Bennett's War **
  • Don't Let Go ***
  • The Fanatic * 1/2
  • It Chapter Two ** 1/2
  • Killerman **
  • Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice ***
  • Official Secrets ** 1/2
  • Saaho ***
  • Tod@s Caen (Everybody Falls) ***

The Movie Report wants to attend and cover all your film events and press junkets! Please send any and all invitations to this address. Thanks!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

F3Stage Review: Must See TV makes for breezy theater in Friends! The Musical Parody

Film Flam Flummox


As someone who not only regularly watched Friends during its historic original ten-season run that began 25 (!) years ago this coming fall but still watches the syndicated reruns on a near-nightly basis as background late night comfort food, I'm not exactly the best person to most accurately assess the stand-alone, self-contained merits of Friends! The Musical Parody, whose North America tour production is currently stationed at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.  However, that über-familiarity with the influential, iconic NBC sitcom makes me all the more appreciative, impressed, if not downright stunned at just how much material writers/lyricists Bob and Tobly McSmith and director Tim Drucker pack and condense into this a breathless 90 minutes over two acts.  The feeling I had while in the theatre must be akin to what devotees of The Brady Bunch while watching The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel in the cinema in the '90s, with a stream of nostalgic references to individual episodes as constant and unwavering as the gags.

Luckily for those in the audience, Friends fan and non-fan alike, just as constant and unwavering is the boundless spark and enthusiasm of the terrific ensemble.  While stellar chemistry between its core sextet of actors appropriately mirrors that of their forebears on the tube, also like the original six, each individually brings their own distinct energy and approach to their respective characters, who do register as appealing comic creations regardless of previous familiarity.  As one would expect with a parody production, a number of the cast members go for more spot-on impressions, namely Madison Fuller's accurate capturing of the daffy charm of Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe Buffay; Domenic Servidio's recreation of lovable lunk-headed lothario Joey Tribbiani, originally essayed by Matt LeBlanc; and Sami Griffith's downright eerie channelling of Jennifer Aniston's inflections, mannerisms, and facial expressions as spoiled little runaway bride Rachel Green.  The others--Maggie McMeans as Courteney Cox's neurotic neat freak Monica Geller, Aaron C. Rutherford as Matthew Perry's ever-wisecracking Chandler Bing; Tyler Fromson as David Schwimmer's geeky, oft-married Ross Geller--go for less literal, more spiritual impressions.  Adding additional spice are Jenna Cormey and Nick Palazzo, who turn up at various supporting characters/guest stars.  The contrast in approaches, much like that in the personalities of the characters, help keep the silly proceedings from being one-note.

Indeed, silly it all is, and any newcomers to all things Friends will likely be hard pressed to find a completely coherent narrative through-line, especially given that the show compresses an entire decade's worth of "Must See TV" into 90 minutes, with the McSmiths and Drucker wisely using the intermission to skip over some years.  But even if all of the events and that steady stream of in-jokes and episode references fly clear over the heads of non-fans, everyone would get the appeal of the completely original songs composed by Asaaf Gleizner, which runs the gamut of sounds from traditional showtunes to pop to even hip-hop.  That last note is another  example of how the experience is further enhanced by viewership of the original show, referencing Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back," which was central to one late season episode; and the McSmiths cleverly build a few tunes out of characters' signature catchphrases and notable dialogue, even having cheeky fun with how, due to copyright restrictions, this Phoebe cannot sing her infamous ditty "Smelly Cat" (which is an even deeper-reaching reference for fans since she, on the original show, was ultimately barred from performing it).  Billy Griffin's choreography matches the high spirits of the production and makes good use of the entire ensemble throughout.  Even if the dancing isn't the most complicated nor intricate, nor are the cast members great dancers, the sheer exuberance sells the movements.

And that exuberance, inviting and infectious, infuses and sells the entire production.  Friends! The Musical Parody, with its functional but still evocative scenic design by Josh Iacovelli (a dual-sided sofa that is rotated to serve as Monica's couch and that at coffeehouse hangout Central Perk is an example of that perfect balance of imagination and practicality), and spot-on but equally no-frills costuming by David Rigler, may somewhat remind of a live sketch/improv show on the physical production level.  But like such a show, its ultimate success is really dependent on the timing and talents of the troupe, and they most definitely bring the fun and funny.




Aaron C. Rutherford as Chandler Bing, Sami Griffith as Rachel Green,
Madison Fuller as Phoebe Buffay, Maggie McMeans as Monica Geller,
Domenic Servidio as Joey Tribbiani, Tyler Fromson as Ross Geller
(photo courtesy Right Angle Entertainment)

Friends! The Musical Parody is now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City through Sunday, August 4; the touring company then moves on to other cities throughout North America through the end of August.

Buy the Friends The Complete Series Blu-ray here.
Buy the Friends The Complete Series DVD here.
(Special thanks to Right Angle Entertainment and Patty Onagan Consulting)

The Movie Report wants to attend and cover all your live stage productions! Please send any and all invitations to this address. Thanks!

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Movie Report #1024, June 14, 2019

The Movie Report

#1024, June 14, 2019


MOVIES:

  • American Woman ***
  • The Dead Don't Die ***
  • Funan *** 1/2
  • Men in Black International ** 1/2
  • Shaft *** video of Samuel L Jackson, Tim Story, Kenya Barris introducing Los Angeles friends & family screening
  • This One's for the Ladies ***

The Movie Report wants to attend and cover all your film events and press junkets! Please send any and all invitations to this address. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

F3Stage Review: A far from Indecent history lesson

Film Flam Flummox


From the moment one enters the Ahmanson Theatre to find its entire cast already seated, silent, on an open and nearly bare stage, director Rebecca Taichman announces the simple yet boundlessly clever stagecraft she brings to Indecent, which, as subtitled on a projection right above the cast, tells "the true story of a little Jewish play." That subtitle succinctly sums up the ostensible subject matter of Paula Vogel's play, but as the piece plays out over its brisk yet loaded two-hour, intermission-free run time, Vogel and Taichman's main concern appears less about that specific story and more about the greater and still-all-too-relevant scope of its thematic concerns.

One is also tempted to say one of those concerns is theatrical technique, for despite its undeniable creativity effectiveness, Taichman's approach keeps one hyper-aware of the theatrical artifice. Six of the seven actors in the cast are officially billed as just that--"Actor"--in the program, for they rotate with remarkable fluidity and versatility through a succession of roles in telling the decades-spanning story of Sholem Asch's landmark Yiddish play God of Vengeance. It begins from it and its author's humble beginnings in 1906 Warsaw and through the global success that leads the work to reach America and finally the Great White Way of Broadway in 1923. It is in the theater capital of the fabled land of the free that, ironically enough, the work runs into its big obstacle in its worldwide journey. A melodrama which earnestly tells of a romance that develops between two young women, including on-stage kiss between the two lovers--which then leads to it being shut down on grounds of indecency and its troupe of actors accordingly arrested. On the base level on the page, Vogel tells this story in as straightforward manner as summarized, with that somewhat by-the-book approach spilling over on stage with copious text supertitles being projected on the back wall (and, in a nice and rare note of mindfulness to those sitting on the sides, also on the left and right walls) serving as lower-thirds chyron equivalents for live theater, labeling characters, locations, time periods, and sometimes even offering supplemental information.

Those identifiers are crucial, not only as Vogel moves through the years but also as the actors impressively shuffle through different roles and even switch languages and accents, at many times on a dime. As mentioned, all but one of the acting septet covers multiple roles, classified by age group and temperament, the sole exception being Richard Topol (one of the four cast members from the original 2017 Broadway production reprising their roles at the Ahmanson) as Lemml, who is not only stage manager for God of Vengeance as it travels the globe over the years, but also serves as a meta one for the very production the audience watches. Thus encapsulates the central conundrum at the heart of this production. While the non-Topol six have a few roles that recur, including that of playwright Asch himself (which is shared by two of the billed Actors, Joby Earle and Harry Groener, at different ages), Vogel's script's briskness covering decades and the many people involved necessitates never delving too deeply into any of the characters, with Lemml and Asch the only having discernible arcs. But if characters then don't forge a strong connection with the audience, it then brings to greater prominence the broad thematic strokes of the piece, which appear to be Vogel's most paramount concern anyhow. While telling of a specific incident in history that centers around a specific community, not only are the general themes such as artistic censorship, immigration, ethnic and LGBTQ prejudice more universally relatable, they are sadly very relevant and timely in this day and age. In fact, given the political atmosphere of contemporary America, the entire scenario could have easily been adapted to current times, and it would ring all too painfully true.

Further making the ideas more resonant is Taichman's ingenious direction. The story theater approach, which frames the events as being presented by Lemml and his troupe from beyond the grave--or, rather, from ashes--may initially strike as a bit precious and on-the-nose, but by the haunting end, it becomes rather chilling. In between though, there's a fair amount of pure enjoyment to go with the heart rending drama, with a mix of period and original music by Lisa Gutkin (who, along with Patrick Ferrell and fellow Broadway production musician Matt Darriau, are on stage the entire time, even intermingling with the cast) making for some memorable dance moments (choreographed by David Dorfman) and serving as a propulsive engine through the numerous changes of scene, with Riccardo Hernandez's spare scenic design lent much versatility by Christopher Akerlind's expressive lighting concept. But most impressive is the cast, which in addition to Topol, Earle, and Groener includes Elizabeth A. Davis (who, in one scene, also plays the viola) and Broadway cast members Adina Verson, Mimi Lieber, and Steven Rattazzi. They all convincingly embody their numerous characters, and watching the six of seven seamlessly, repeatedly transform over the two hours adds additional excitement and even suspense. Indecent may ultimately be an informative if basic primer into the history of God of Vengeance and traditional Yiddish theater and Jewish-American playwrights, but it is executed in such an enthralling and inviting manner that one does feel compelled to investigate further.


Adina Verson and Elizabeth A. Davis in Indecent
(photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Indecent is now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles through Sunday, July 7.

Buy the Indecent Original Broadway Cast album CD here.
Buy the Indecent play text by Paula Vogel here.
Watch the Indecent Original Broadway Production here.
Buy The God of Vengeance play text by Sholem Asch here.

(Special thanks to Center Theatre Group)


The Movie Report wants to attend and cover all your live stage productions! Please send any and all invitations to this address. Thanks!

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