KNIVES OUT – A MURDER ANTI-MYSTERY WITH A SHARP-WITTED PLOT AND RAZOR-EDGED HUMOR

SHORT TAKE:

Clever, witty, well acted, anti-mystery which will keep you guessing to the end.

 

WHO SHOULD GO:

Mid-teens and up for: profane and blasphemous language, unscrupulous behavior, and some violence and a few disturbing images.

LONG TAKE:

First off I have to be careful what I say. I don’t want to spoil any of this cleverly written murder anti-mystery.

If you are familiar with the old Columbo TV series you’ll know what I mean by anti-mystery. The anti-mystery is a plot format whereby the “mystery” is revealed in the first act. You know what is done, how and by whom, and in the classic charming Peter Falk vehicle the fun is in watching Detective Columbo as he “bumbles” around waiting for the killer to underestimate the savvy investigator and let his guard down.

Knives Out is similarly structured. Act I of Knives Out reveals a great deal in the first 20 minutes, leaving the consequences for the remainder of the movie. But despite starting at the “end” the plot is so clever that there were still a lot of legitimate surprises in store – none from left field and all earned.

The title is a “sharp”-witted, double edged – uh – sword, referring not just to murder weapons but the emotional knee jerk reactions of the family members to each other not just as events unfold but in their “normal” every day relationships to each other.

A truly star studded film written and directed by Rian Johnson, Knives Out will keep you guessing.

Daniel Craig definitely missed his calling. He made his name as James Bond beginning with Casino Royale in 2006, but his flare is for more humorous characters. His southern private detective, Benoit Blanc, is not a caricature but amusing in his juxtaposition amongst the New England snobby crazy rich Thrombey family. His timing is precise and his occasional quirks executed with style but without being distracting.Christopher Plummer is a veteran actor of both theatre and film whose career spans 6 decades – including such varied stories as The Sound of Music, The Man Who Would be King, Oedipus the King, 12 Monkeys, Waterloo, A Beautiful Mind, Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, The Man Who Invented Christmas and made recent cinematic news by stepping up to replace Kevin Spacey in All The Money in the World when Spacey was excised in shame from the cast of that movie. Plummer has portrayed Kipling, Oedipus, Scrooge, Sherlock Holmes, a Klingon general, Santa Claus, Julius Caesar, Tolstoy, John Barrymore, King Herod and J. Paul Getty. Here, in Knives Out, Plummer portrays patriarch Harlan Thrombey. Wealthy, successful murder mystery (what else) novelist, he is found with his throat slit on the day after his 85th birthday party. (FYI Plummer was actually 88 during filming.) Suicide or murder? Police Detectives Elliott and Wagner (LaKeith Stanfield from Get Out and Noah Segan from Looper) work with Blanc to find out.

In life Harlan had been saddled with a crew of weak and dependent relatives. Chris Evans, in an obvious distancing from his Captain America persona, is Ransom, the obnoxious entitled grandson. (Halloween Scream Queen) Jamie Lee Curtis is cold and stiff Linda, Harlan’s eldest. Don Johnson (Miami Vice – the original, who made the five o’clock shadow a facial fashion statement) is Richard her socially clueless husband. Michael Shannon (12 Strong – SEE MY REVIEW HERE) is Walt, Harlan’s son and publishing employee who has otherwise never held a job in his life. Riki Lindhome (The Big Bang Theory) is Walt’s hanger-on wife. Toni Collette (Sixth Sense, and lots of other horror movies specializing in emotionally very unhealthy families) is aged hippie Joni, Harlan’s widowed daughter-in-law. Katherine Langford plays dependent, professional college student Meg, Harlan’s granddaughter. Jaeden Martell (It and St. Vincent) is Jacob, Harlan’s reclusive internet-addicted grandson. All are a bit like zoo animals, both confined and supported by a keeper until they can not function in the outside world.

Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049 and the upcoming Bond movie with Daniels, No Time to Die, in 2020) plays Marta, Harlan’s private nurse, through whose eyes much of the action is witnessed and whose very peculiar behavioral McGuffin provides a helpful plot anchor.

The cinematography by Steve Hedlin (San Andreas and Looper) takes advantage of cloudy days and dark passages to enhance the mood and theme of confusion – to make you doubt what you think you might know. He also does not shy from taking harsh advantage of close shots that put characters in “lights” most reflective of their personalities.

The theme music by Nathan Johnson is a very classy dissonant original string quartet and the rest of the soundtrack has the familiar richness of a symphonic poem.

The acting is wonderful: part caricature Clue characters part Agatha Christie – a fine ensemble group of players who walk that fine line effortlessly between realistic portrayals of dysfunctional people and outright hamminess. These are people you love to truly dislike but can’t wait to see what they do next. And Knives Out will keep you guessing to the tip end.

TAMING OF THE SHREW – CLASSIC COMEDY ON STAGE AT LAKE CHARLES LITTLE THEATRE

 

SHORT TAKE:

Fantastic production of Shakespeare’s most popular romantic comedy – Taming of the Shrew at Lake Charles Little Theatre from November 8 thru November 24, 2019 Get your TICKETS HERE!

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone old enough to sit through a fun and energetic full length play.

LONG TAKE:

Language immersion is a great way to learn a foreign language in all its many delights. Sous vide is a water immersion technique which gourmet chefs use to produce delectable meats. And Lake Charles Little Theatre presents a verbally and visually delicious, completely Shakespearean immersion experience, starting Friday, November 8, 2019, in their production of Taming of the Shrew, directed by 26 year stage veteran and Professor of Theatre Arts at McNeese University, Charles McNeeley, and stage managed by the tried and true staple of Lake Charles Little Theatre, Dan Sadler.

Taming of the Shrew is a love story with a twist, where the immovable object meets the unstoppable force and a most unusual courtship gets underway. Katherine, beautiful, rich and unmatchably pugnacious, must, by her mother’s decree, be wed before her demure younger sister Bianca can walk up the aisle. Providentially arrives Petruchio, set to expand his existing inherited fortunes to a wealthy woman, he launches into a bawdy, rousing, explosive battle of wills with the woman he is determined to make his wife.

Original period music written by David Ifland sets the mood in the theatre. Artist (Sean Hinchee, who also comes forth as the Haberdasher) and Fruit Vendor (Ashley Vidrine who also plays Josephine, a servant in Petruchio’s house) populate the stage providing the opening peep through this 16th century window from the comfort of your cat-bird seat. Funny, exciting, and romantic, this is Shakespeare’s most beloved battle of the sexes. The performers throw themselves – sometimes literally – into their roles, as actors enter down aisles, embrace the stage in force and occasionally even break the fourth wall.

Raye Floyd, returning to the stage for the first time since middle school, is in full on fiery Liz Taylor mode. Her rough Katherine meets her match only in  Petruchio, Louis Barrilleaux’, fresh from leads in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Arsenic and Old Lace, whose wildly commanding and eccentric personality is undaunted by the formidable Kate. Shakespeare’s witty banter is used to its full as these skillful thespians wrestle their way through this classic, combative and comedic courtship.

The supporting cast is also brilliant. Petruchio’s attendant, Grumio is played by Kassie Coltrin, channeling both Puck and Tinkerbell as she reacts to the insane antics of her master and new mistress. Lucentio’s Antonio Dre (Bye Bye Birdie) and Anna Sternaman’s Bianca establish an instant chemistry that make their airing an inevitability. Rebecca Harris (Arsenic and Old Lace) skillfully meets the challenge of Lucentio’s attendant, Tranio, as she is required to portray a character who portrays yet another character. Dylan Conley (Arsenic and Old Lace) plays the rebuffed suitor Hortensio with comic frustration. Taylor Novak-Tyler (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Bye Bye Birdie) is completely relatable as Baptista, the put upon parent of these two very different daughters. Rounding out the cast is a wonderful ensemble of veterans and newbies. Andres Germosen method acts as the comedic and elderly Gremio, third suitor to Bianca. Biondello, one of Lucentio’s servants, is Rylee Hall. Jeffrey Underwood performs as both Curtis, a servant of Petruchio and Vincentio, father to Lucentio. Aimee Mayeux (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) does double duty as both Hortensio’s rebound wife, the Widow and as the Tailor. Philomene and Petrah, both servants of Petruchio’s house are played, respectively, by Alex Hebert and Neveah Brown. Matt Dye, on-air personality for KKGB, sports mavin and Sowela professor, does a cameo as the Merchant who pretends to be Vincentio.

The costumes are stunningly detailed and gorgeous. The backdrop warmly evocative of the time and place of 16th century Padua.

Several roles normally played by men are performed by women due to the practicalities of the available cast. They make themselves completely at home in the oft rough and tumble vaudeville antics  inherent in the action. This is completely in keeping with Shakespearean tradition inasmuch as Shakespeare had the reverse problem, for cultural and legal reasons of the time, having to employ men for women’s roles. It is one of the many genius’ of Shakespearean plot and dialogue that Will S’s universal stories, which strike deeply into the fundamentals of human nature, can be portrayed across cultural, gender and chronological lines with ease.

The cast conveys the often complex dialogue with virtuosity as the iambic pentameter comes trippingly off their tongues in a way which, with their actions and emphasis, make the Shakespearean heightened language easy to understand even for the novice.

So go see Taming of the Shrew – this funny, romantic, explosively energetic, delightful period piece of deliciously Shakespeare literature at the Bard’s story-telling best, at Lake Charles Little Theatre from November 8 through November 24, 2019. Get your TICKETS HERE! Get them early as you’ll want to see this unique romance more than once!

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP – GOOFY GORY FUN

SHORT TAKE:

Sequel to the over-the-top zombie movie spoof about four survivors of a zombie apocalypse.

WHO SHOULD GO:

ABSOLUTELY NO CHILDREN! And only for adults who have a taste for gory macabre humor that pushes the envelope – like Shaun of the Dead, Cabin in the Woods, and the Evil Dead franchise. No sexual content of note aside from seeing two unmarried people in bed talking, but there is a lot of profanity.

LONG TAKE:

Let me make this simple: if you liked Zombieland then you will like Zombieland: Double Tap. There is nothing deep or philosophical about either of these movies. They are just plain old gory fun.

The premise of Zombieland: Double Tap answers that most pressing of all questions: Where are our intrepid heroes from the original Zombieland 10 years later?

The original cast returns as four survivors of a zombie apocalypse who form an ersatz family, fighting the undead with as much joie de vivre as possible. Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri see review HERE, Now You See Me 1 and 2, 2012 AND lest anyone forgot, broke out as the sweet Woody Boyd assistant bartender in Cheers) is Tallahassee again, the leader of the group and the one who attacks zombies with the most creative and gleeful enthusiasm. Jesse Eisenberg (Social Network, Batman v Superman) reprises Columbus, Tallahassee’s sidekick. Columbus’ official romantic interest is Wichita, (Emma Stone – La La Land see review HERE), older sister of Little Rock (Abigail Breslin – Signs, Raising Helen).

To tell more than these bare bones would be to give away too much. Suffice it to say, ZDT is as clever and as campy as its predecessor, playfully turning the zombie genre on its head. Instead of characters cringing in fear and running in fright from the brain hungry mobs, this crew embraces the challenge of zombie killing the way others in a non-zombie world might embrace an extreme sport like skydiving into a shallow pool without a parachute or Safari hunting lions with a crossbow.

I must say zombie killing has been good to these guys. Zombieland was the first thing I ever really liked Woody Harrelson in, Jesse Eisenberg makes a far better Columbus than Lex Luthor, none of the actors, except Abigail Breslin appear to have aged a day and Little Rock couldn’t help it because she went from teen to young adult, and all of them seem to be having the best time of their lives.

Adding to the merry mayhem of people they meet along the way are: Zoey Deutch as Madison, Avan Jogia as Berkley,  Rosario Dawson as Nevada, Luke Wilson (brother of Owen and Andrew) as Alberquerque, and Thomas Middleditch (Godzilla see review HERE, Tag see review HERE) as Flag Staff.

The music is at turns perky folk Americana, upbeat, creepy, and sometimes all of the above at once, incorporating songs from Caddyshack‘s “I’m Alright” to Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”. (You’ll understand why each of them are included when you see the movie.)

The characters are self-aware, make fun of themselves, the genre, their characters and do not just break the fourth wall but don’t really seem to care if there is one or not.

Had the actors, writers (David Callaham, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick) or director (Ruben Fleischer) stepped back even an inch from the full steam ahead, break through the guard rails approach, Zombieland would not have worked.

As it is, this ultimate camp of the year zombie movie, for the demographic of those who prefer goofy in their gore, camp in their carnage, and do not mind more than a bit of grotesque with their humoresque, Zombieland: Double Tap is, in its own special and unique way, a delight. But please oh please, leave the kids at home unless you want to start the therapy fund early.

NOISES OFF – BRILLIANT MADCAP COMEDY ON STAGE AT LCLT

 

SHORT TAKE:

Inventively staged, skillfully acted, and adroitly directed British comedy, the classic Noises Off by Michael Frayn, a play within a play at Lake Charles Little Theatre, showing from September 13 through September 29, 2019. GET YOUR TICKETS HERE!

WHO SHOULD GO:

Mid to upper teens and older for mildly sexual topics done in (almost) completely innocent fun. Nothing is shown and language is very mild. Younger than mid-teens should be parentally previewed and depend upon the child.

LONG TAKE:

Move over James Brown. The hardest working people in show business are the  actors performing Noises Off at The Lake Charles Little Theatre from Friday night September 13 through Sunday matinee September 29, 2019.

I’m going to try hard not to give anything away because you need to see this fast paced, clever and hilarious play with the fresh eyes this dynamic and brilliant cast, crew and director deserve to get. Not only is there a lot going on but this is the kind of play which is so funny and well written, and this version so energetic and professionally conceived, you’ll want to see it more than once. I saw Noises Off on stage years ago and the movie with Michael Caine several times but familiarity only made this witty badinage funnier and this iteration had me laughing from curtain up to curtain call.

The set is incredible – probably the most challenging I have ever seen at LCLT – and I can’t think of a soul in the world I would have trusted more to build it than LCLT’s own Randy Partin. Built by Mr. Partin in 110 hours over six weeks as a labor of devotion to this Theatre, it is one of, if not THE most ambitious sets LCLT has ever used. Seven (or eight depending how you define them) crucial entrance/exit portals in a two story parlor of a large off season bed and breakfast provides the setting of this raucous comedy as an ensemble cast rehearse and perform the first act of a British sex farce called Nothing On – a play within the play. The set is as much of a character as the performers.

As though channeling Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” or Ike and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”, Noises Off begins gently – or I should say with that certain inherent gentility of an innately British parlor comedy – as the characters and their quirks are introduced. Then slowly the action builds over three acts to Mad Mad World levels of freneticism as tempers flare, sleepless nights take their toll, personalities clash, and jealousies rage amidst the over worked, under prepared thespians, who desperately struggle to make some sense of a timing-crucial confusing play and their own even more befuddled love lives. A tagline I once read sums it up nicely: “The drama! The suspense! And the curtain hasn’t even gone up yet!”

It takes a truly brilliant actor to play the fool – Jerry Lewis, the stooge and buffoon on stage and screen, was actually the brains and organizer of the Lewis-Martin team. Stan Laurel, on film and in vaudeville the ever whining, clueless whipping boy for Oliver Hardy was, in truth, the author of most of the routines and genius behind their success. Similarly, it takes virtuoso coordination and intricately planned team effort to appear to get wrong a play which, itself, is suppose to require flawless timing.

The clockwork details require talented hands and this brilliant LCLT troupe manuever like the Blue Angels on stage with, collectively, over a hundred years of tenured experience amongst them. You will recognize most, if not all, of the performers.

Brett Downer is the brave soul who directed this enormously challenging Russian nesting doll of a play which relies on timing, entrances, exits, and … sardines.

Heather Partin is Belinda/Flavia, the mediator of the beleaguered troupe. If you have EVER been to LCLT or a community band concert you will likely have seen Heather. Her resume is impressive, ranging from Nunsense to MacBeth, devoted wife of Randy, and costume designer for the show.

Paula McCain, most recently from Mamma Mia! but debuting with LCLT here, she plays Dotty/Mrs. Clackett, financially desperate for Nothing On to succeed and the center about which much of the interpersonal friction is created amongst the cast.

Greg Stratton, playing to type, is Lloyd, the director of this play within the play, who is part teacher/father-figure, part chaos instigator, whose mind isn’t always on the job at hand.       Greg teaches Mass Com at McNeese, has been acting and directing for decades from the nostalgic comedy Laughter on the 23rd Floor to the tongue-in-cheek mystery The 39 Steps.

The loveable and reliable but hopelessly insecure Garry/Roger is played by Michael Davis, a singer, actor, dancer and video producer, most recently in LCLT’s Pump Boys and Dinettes.

Rebecca Harris, having sparkled in ACTS Theatre’s Arsenic and Old Lace, is sweetly ditzy Brooke/Vicki who soldiers on no matter the obstacles in her own guileless way.

Angela Martin debuts with Lake Charles Little Theatre as Poppy, the devoted but under appreciated, both on and off stage, assistant stage manager.  While debuting here in her first speaking part Ms. Martin nonetheless has an impressive set of credentials which include a stint with London’s West End! not to mention being married to castmate Cary Martin.

Cary Martin is our own prodigal son, last at LCLT 20 years ago, but returning to the fold as Frederick/Philip, a well-meaning but daft and perpetually confused soul.

Cameron Scallon, veteran of LCLT and lately one of the leads in Bye Bye Birdie, plays Tim, of necessity the resident Jack of all trades, the exhausted and threadbare stage manager, who is constantly plugging up holes in this leaking levee with not enough fingers to go around.

Gary Shannon on stage is the amiable but constantly drunken Selsdon/Burglar and in real life is the morning drive show radio host for KHLA, host of KBYS’ Sunday morning Jazz Show, long time veteran of community theater and independent film makers here in Lake Charles, and who  some years ago, I saw perform an amazing Willie Loman from Death of a Salesman with only a scant few weeks preparation.

Accessories to the insanity are: James Johnson as set decorator, Dan Sadler as Technical Consultant, Jonathan in lighting, David Wynn from KBYS for sound, and Liz Trahan who was kind enough to put together the ingeniously crafted program.

Aaaaaaaaaaand not to discourage audience members from either buying concessions or hitting the “loo” but you’ll really want to stay for at least part of the scene changes during intermission.

So for the most fun you’ll have this side of your best friend’s wedding, go see Noises Off at Lake Charles Little Theatre. You can CALL 337433-7988, buy tickets at the door or get them HERE. And plan to go early in the run the first time, as you’ll likely want to see it again.

{NOTE: In an effort not to spoil the show I’m holding off on some of the photos, but will release them all after the run of the show.}

 

ODE TO JOY – LOVE STORY WITH A TWIST

 

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF “ODE TO JOY – LOVE STORY WITH A TWIST” REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

How do you manage a romance if being happy makes you pass out? This is the conundrum with which a cataplexic man struggles when his perfect woman unexpectedly appears.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Mature older teens and up for language, comedic miming of sex, and attempts by the main characters to physical intimacy, though there is no nudity or anything graphic.

LONG TAKE:

What do Sherlock, Deadpool, Big Bang Theory, Saturday Night Live and a Bob Fosse docudrama have in common? The best of the supporting cast of each of these film projects in an adorable little rom com, directed by Jason Winer and written by Max Werner and Chris Higgins called Ode to Joy.

A friend of mine has often teased that EVERY movie could be described as “a love story with a twist”. But Ode to Joy really is.

SPOILERS

Martin Freeman, (Watson from Sherlock) is Charlie, a man who suffers from a neurologic condition called cataplexy, a condition in which any strong emotion, but for him especially joy and happiness, will cause him to — basically faint. Watching a cute cat video could render him unceremoniously unconscious, and while it may initially seem funny, the movie points out how dangerous, both physically and emotionally, the condition can be for those who actually suffer from this condition.

The script is based upon a radio interview (which you can listen to HERE) with a man named Matt Frerkin, himself a neuroscientist, who discovered he had this condition after becoming unable to move whenever he experiences strong emotion.

So Charlie keeps himself in constant emotional check, leading a quiet life as a librarian — until the girl of his dreams storms in.

Jake Lacy (featured as Gwen Verdon’s second string love interest in the mini-series about the life of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, Fosse/Verdon) plays Cooper, his watchful but fun love ‘em and leave ‘em brother.

Morena Baccarin (Deadpool’s fiancee) is Francesca, the woman who breaks into Charlie’s well encapsulated life.

Melissa Rauch (the loud but loveable Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory) is Bethany, a mousy eccentric woman, who rounds out the quartet.

Jane Curtain (an SNL charter member) is Francesca’s Aunt Sylvia, who is full of life despite her terminal illness.

There’s more than meets the eye to this un petite affaire de coeur. At one point Charlie yells at his brother, plaintively wondering if he understands what it is like to live every day afraid of making a fool of yourself. The answer is, of course, yes. Everyone does. We all have our burdens to bear. And when anyone falls in love, as Charlie has, they expose themselves to the ultimate vulnerabilities.   It doesn’t take cataplexy to make you aware of the potential hurt and humiliation, rejection and risk of falling – in Charlie’s case literally – head over heels. Charlie’s cataplexy is merely an extreme physical manifestation of the chance we all take with that bold step out to admit we love.

What can leave us more exposed than being unconscious, especially unbidden and unexpectedly? And that is a perfect analogy for the leap you must take in a commitment. You lay your life, your heart and your unconditional willingness to accept rejection out on the floor, undefended to whatever might happen beyond your control. God, Himself, takes that risk with every human’s Free Will when He offers us Grace and unconditional Divine Love. Though there are consequences to turning our back on this Love, God never ceases to offer that Love. And ultimately this is what Charlie realizes he must do to pursue the good of another – genuine Love, Love without a sense of entitlement, what Plato would call philia born of eros, or a Catholic might call Charity – in order to find true — Joy.

There are scenes in which Charlie experiences true Joy, but is not “Happy” in the emotionally excited way which most of us think of as “happy” or which would trigger his cataplexy. Charlie, during these scenes, is noticeably joyful, pointed out by the other characters, even while we the audience members know he is sad, as Charlie attempts to bring Joy into the life of someone else even at his own expense. He unwittingly discovers what is true Love, even though neither his friends or even Charlie really understands this.

As for Francesca, she is a woman who prefers to set herself up for romantic failure. Having lost her mother to hereditary breast cancer and on the verge of losing her beloved Aunt to the same disease, she tends to keep things superficial, moving frequently and choosing shallow men uninterested in a permanent relationship. But Francesca too instinctively knows true Love and Joy as, though sad, she Joyfully visits and helps her Aunt, who she describes as her best friend. And counseled by her open-hearted, Bucket List accomplishing Aunt Sylvia, Francesca also wrestles with the idea of what it means to Love and commit.

It occurred to me that the characters were what an adult version of Inside Out might look like from the mind of someone “in love” who matures from adolescent infatuation to true altruistic Love. From Francesca’s often unfettered enthusiasm and Cooper’s libido, to Bethany’s confused obliviousness, Charlie’s hyper-awareness of his vulnerabilities, and finally the wisdom of Aunt Sylvia who, more than most, understands the ephemeral preciousness of life and the importance of altruistic Love, they rotate about each other examining the question of the importance of living well and FOR someone you love – even if you have to risk pain and loss.

The music by Jeremy Turner is simple, the cinematography by David Robert Jones uncomplicated, but the story is neither. Although Ode to Joy is in that familiar niche of quirky romantic comedies with some unique obstacle to the main couple’s happiness, Ode to Joy is also an intelligent and clever story which surprises, offering quite a bit to think about.

The language is occasionally adult with completely unnecessary profanity. And  two unmarried couples try to go to bed together, though no nudity and ultimately, and wisely, nothing happens because of — comic reasons.

My only real complaint about the movie is it leaves the outcome of one of the characters unresolved and unaddressed, especially frustrating as that character was unfairly treated and earned a conclusion.

But overall Ode to Joy was – a joy to watch. So if you have a rainy afternoon to spend with someone you love, you could do worse than spend it watching and talking about this lovely little film with the big heart that is an Ode to Joy.

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS – TAKE A ROAD LESS TRAVELED STARRING AMERICA’S FINEST ACTOR

 

SHORT TAKE:

This first is in a series of movies which I will review which are unlike any other films. I begin with a gentle comedy fantasy, starring the greatest American actor who ever lived, with a new perspective on Sherlock Holmes.

WHO SHOULD SEE THESE:

Depends on the movie – but the range for ones I have in mind are about mid-teen and up, for plot topics, or language, or because younger kids would simply be bored or frightened. As always, but especially with these since there is often little to compare them to – you should check them out first before showing them to your kids.

INTRODUCTION:

A preponderance of movies now-a-days are derivative. You can’t blame movie executives for it really. When you are sinking millions of dollars of other people’s money into a project it is a great comfort to know it is similar to another one that made a profit. And I love formula movies. There is an enjoyable reliability in the anticipation of a familiar theme – like listening to a variation of a song you love by a different artist. Like Buble’s upbeat jazzy version of the originally clunky Spiderman theme song. Or Sia’s creepily ominous version of “California Dreamin'” from the recent disaster movie San Andreas.

But every now and again I find a unique little one-off which makes it fondly to my list of favorite movies. By unique, I mean it has no sequels, no prequels, and no one (yet) has plans to remake it. They are not part of a franchise, few people have ever even heard of them, and if you go on Amazon to look for them the “Customers Who Watched This Item Also Watched…” you will not find a single item anything like it. Oh, you’ll find a list of other movies the actors have been in or the director has made or a stab at the genre, but NOTHING approaching these sparkling gems in the cinematic firmament.

Here is the first of my favorites in no particular order – aside from the fact it stars my favorite actor ….. ever.

LONG TAKE:

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971)

I think George C. Scott is probably one of, if not THE best American actor ever. (Sorry Marlon). His filmography spanned decades. He threw himself completely into every role but never lost sight of the idea it was a job and he a performer whose responsibility it was to entertain his audience the best way he knew how. His career was as varied as his thespian skills were intense. At home in comedies, mysteries, biographies, romances, classics, horror, dramas, you name it, he played cops and lawyers,  generals and sleaze-balls, gangsters and scientists. He was an attorney in Otto Preminger’s 10 Oscar nominee 1959’s Anatomy of a Murder, and the off-the-wall General Turgidson in Kubrick’s 1964 classic 4 Oscar nominee Dr. Strangelove.  He was the man of choice in a version of Scrooge, Edward Rochester with a Jane Eyre played by Suzanna York (who later played Christopher Reeve’s Superman’s mom), the Beast opposite his then wife Trish Van deVere’s Belle, Fagin in Oliver Twist, Mussolini in a biodrama about the dictator, one of 12 Angry Men, the captain in a version of the Titanic, a hit man in a Stephen King movie, and the stalwart and heroic General George S. Patton in 1970’s amazing Patton, the latter a winner of 7 Oscars including best director, movie, screenplay, and lead actor.

Mr. Scott turned down both his Best Supporting nomination for The Hustler and stuck to his guns turning down even the Oscar for his win in Patton. He maintained the Oscars had morphed from a friendly dinner among compatriots to a “meat parade” with “contrived suspense for economic reasons,” and that he was not in competition with his fellow thespians.

THEN, right after his definitive turn as Patton, at what was then the height of his career, he made a little known film for a small budget, whose virtues rest squarely on the shoulders of the actors. They Might Be Giants was written by James Goldman, directed by Anthony Harvey, and with music composed by John Barry (who also scored 11 Bond films), were the same three men who crafted the brilliant Lion in Winter.

The premise of They Might Be Giants is that Judge Justin Playfair (don’t look at me, I didn’t make up the name, but this will give you a clue as to the film’s ambiance), is so stricken by grief over the loss of his wife that he has retreated into believing he is Sherlock Holmes. His brother, with motives other than Playfair’s best interests, seeks out a psychiatrist to have him committed. Unfortunately, or fortunately, her name just happens to be Mildred …. Watson. Dr. Watson is gently played by Joanne Woodward, who with a considerable acting track of her own, was the wife and long-time working companion of Paul Newman. Scott is (one viewer noted) “majestic” in this quirky mystery-romance, describing the film as a “delicate … comedy/fantasy”. I couldn’t agree more. Without giving ANY spoilers, I will admit this is not a perfect film, but what is there is creative, memorable, and delightful.

So, as Robert Frost might encourage, take the road “…less traveled by,” and check out this small movie aptly named They Might be Giants.

It is also available on Amazon HERE.

THE MOST RECENT FAST AND FURIOUS – MORE LIKE FARCICAL AND INFURIATING

SHORT TAKE:

Waste of time – see the Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw trailer #2 (linked here and at end of post) for all the best bits.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults only for language and extreme (though really cartoonish) levels of carnage. Not a lot of blood but you wouldn’t want the kids to try these stunts at home.

LONG TAKE:

I have nothing against brainless entertainment and I try to judge a movie only within the genre for which it was intended. So when you go see one of the Fast and Furious franchise films (try to say THAT three times quickly) you don’t expect much beyond good old escapist fun. I even applauded Fate of the Furious in a previous post as a welcome entry.

I love buddy movies and have extolled all kinds from The Great Escape to The Hitman’s Bodyguard. And I have no problem with franchises doing semi-parodies of themselves. I am on record many times for complaining that a movie takes itself TOO seriously. And I think the break from tradition Thor: Ragnarok, for example, is one of the best Avenger movies.

But you gotta give the audience SOMETHING of substance. Sadly, in the case of  director David Leitch’s Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, it’s like trying to make an entire meal out of day old cotton candy.

SPOILERS – BUT THE PLOT IS SO THREADBARE IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER

I’m afraid the writers Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce thought they could punch quality into a movie with just star power. But Spielberg’s 1941 or Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate or Bay’s Pearl Harbor could have warned them otherwise. I understand it is doing well at the box office and good for them. A friend of mine once taught me an expression – No one sets out to make a bad movie. But, unfortunately, despite what the film makers intended, this one is just not very good.

Not that the cast was trying very hard. Johnson and Statham spend most of the movie either posturing like WWW competitors or trading childish barbs with all the finesse of opposing players in a grade school gym locker room. Dwayne Johnson was funnier in Jumanji, Statham more invested in The Expendables, and Vanessa Kirby, a “legit” actress (amazing as Princess Margaret in The Crown and fun as the White Widow in MI: Fallout) is simply wasted. I really liked her Hattie in this, a variation of Atomic Blonde, (also a David Leitch directed movie), but then her scenes had to be spliced back into the fatiguing Hobbs-Shaw bickering man measuring show.

Ryan Reynolds appears in a cameo with dialogue that could have been made of rejected adlibs from Deadpool 2. Helen Mirren walks through her reprised role as Shaw’s mother, Queenie. At one point Queenie assures Shaw that she is happy in prison and could break out any time she wanted – that it was quiet and she could just sit in her room, and spend her time reading – that it was like retirement. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms. Mirren was talking about Queenie’s stint in the pen or Ms. Mirren’s actual presence on the set of this movie.

Kevin Hart pops up in a couple of random moments as Dinkley, the air marshal, to be used like duct tape on a leaky hose to solve a couple of plot holes. In return, Hart is allowed to ramble  interminably in an improvisational-style soliloquy in lieu of any proper exposition for his character.

Idris Elba as main cybernetically enhanced bad guy Brixton gives it everything he has, carrying the weight of what little gravitas the movie has. By far the most interesting character, it was a sore temptation not to root for him to win.

The premise of the story is that they are trying to prevent Idris Elba’s bad guy, Brixton, from getting ahold of an extinction-level virus for his unseen super villain boss. But it becomes obvious early on this is really just an excuse to create a string of cartoon quality violence fight scenes and car stunts. And while I do not fundamentally MIND that, the film makers have to at least TRY to hide this fact. But like a sloppy magician who yells “Look over there” before every clumsy trick, it just doesn’t work for long.

Instead of providing character and plot earned enthusiasm, the chase scenes strove to outdo all the F&F chases put together and as a result became preposterous. I’m not giving spoilers as the scene where a line of linked trucks are holding down a flying fortress helicopter is in the trailer. The chase scenes from The French Connection, Bullitt, The Great Escape, the beginning of The Rock (“Oh why NOT!”), or even the escape at the start of The Avengers from a collapsing building complex were exciting because the audience was led to believe the characters were potentially in danger.

Well, I can easily imagine Jeremy Scott from Cinema Sins doing a bonus round of “They survived this”. The F&F movies are supposed to take place (more or less) in the real world and the leads, aside from Elba, are not supposed to have unusual supernatural powers – Dwayne Johnson’s mountain-sized physique notwithstanding. But the repeated walk aways from cataclysmic-sized vehicle crashes, which would have killed Bugs Bunny, stretched and eventually broke the suspension bridge of disbelief out from under the viewers. (And, I’m sorry, but it was tough for even my loyal Marvel-fan heart to believe that Cap could hold back the small helicopter Bucky flew duringCaptain America: Civil War. Johnson is just NOT holding down a military grade bird.) It did not take long for there to be zero investment in the outcome of the rides, knowing the main characters would likely to come out the right end of a freight train to the face.

Then there is the storyline.

We’re talking Adam West’s Batman level of contrivances and clunky dialogue, where guest stars appear out of nowhere and backstories are pulled from whole cloth to justify prior franchise installment plot holes.

For example, the fact that Hattie, Shaw’s spy sister, never came up in conversation is explained away by him having been framed for treason in the master plan of a heretofore unknown and currently still unseen megalomaniac bad guy. Hobbs’ extensive Samoan family was previously non-existent because he had alienated everyone by turning in his crime lord father to the authorities.

Hobbs’ brother Jonah (Cliff Curtis), who lives on a remote island in Samoa, with only the technology of a classy chop shop at his disposal, is decided to be the ONLY person and place in the world they can go to fix cutting edge virus extracting bio equipment……? Huh? So I guess I can ask my car mechanic to do some gene splicing on the side. Easy peasy.

I did like the “importance of family” theme, which is one of the more endearing F&F tropes, including Shaw’s mom and sibling and Hobbs’ daughter, mother and brothers into the mix. And it was nice they found a way to include Johnson’s actual Samoan heritage into the story. But it was shoe-horned in, superficial and paint by numbers – Hobbs doesn’t want to go home, brother punches him on sight, mom intimidates all the big boys into cooperating. Shaw’s mother, Queenie, fondly recounts, in flash back, how the previously unknown and unseen sister and Shaw concocted scams and committed felonies as children. What a mom.

I guess it’s cute that they shoot parallel scenarios of these two men who can’t seem to stand each other doing pretty much the same things at the same time with their own styles. It might have even been funny had the repertoire between them sounded better than first day of shooting improvisation, created by two uninspired high school freshmen.

Supporting characters are dispatched or ignored with little fan fare. Professor Andreiko (Eddie Marsan from better movies like The World’s End, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2) is a heroic scientist who save our intrepid heroes, but then gets left behind without a thought, killed by Brixton with no consideration for how useful he might be in the future, with no attempt by the heroes to save him, and not so much as a “I wonder what happened to that little guy who saved our butts?” This callousness does nothing to shore up the already, by this time, flaccid investment the audience has in these characters.

While there’s no overt sex, the language is unnecessarily crude and contains a good deal of profanity and blasphemy.

If you REALLY think you want to see this latest and weakest F&F you can – LITERALLY – see a Reader’s Digest version of the ENTIRE movie via abridged cuts of all the best scenes in the official Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw trailer #2. It’s free, short and eliminates all the bad language.

But – if you want to see a GOOD car chase, adventure, buddy movie, try out one of the other better ones I’ve mentioned in this post or even go see one of the previous Fast and Furious installments. Sadly, this contender didn’t make it to the finish line.

 

STEEL MAGNOLIAS BLOOM AT ACTS THEATRE

SHORT TAKE:

Lovely production of Steel Magnolias running at ACTS Theatre in Lake Charles, LA from August 2, 2019 through August 11, 2019.

WHO SHOULD GO:

With parental discernment – probably mid-teens and up. A slight bit of language and serious topics, but mostly because the nature of the format – six ladies talking in a single stationary set – while engrossing to the more mature audience members  would bore the little ones.

LONG TAKE:

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the dress rehearsal of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias at ACTS Theatre. This comedy-drama is set in a 1980’s Louisiana beauty parlor and performed with great affection for the Southern women about whom this play revolves. The six ladies in the cast nailed it. Their timing, their energy, and their easy camaraderie the night before opening felt as though they already had several weeks of performances under their belts and were only tweaking for the weekend run.

The blocking was artfully choreographed, allowing easy access to all the characters, always a concern with an ensemble cast.

The stage for Truvy’s Beauty Parlor was terrific in all its brightly lit, lightly cluttered and detailed natural realism. For anyone who has ever spent time in a beauty parlor, you could almost smell the familiar hair care products and feel the warm breath of the hair dryers ubiquitous to ladies’ salons.

The director of this all female cast, Zach Hammons, is male. He, with his terrific back stage crew,  did a tremendous job with the style and technique of an experienced director. Veteran of the stage as an actor for many years and winner of performing awards, he is fairly new to the role of director.

I found his masculine behind-the-scenes influence a great advantage to this show, helping subtly inform the extensive, but never seen, male supporting players, whose actions are talked about, affect and are occasionally heard by the females on stage: Shelby’s Dad and M’Lynn’s husband, Drum, Tommy and Jonathan, Shelby’s brothers, Truvy’s husband, Spud, Ouiser’s boyfriend, Owen, and Annelle’s husband, Sammy. These men are all actively present in their women’s lives but are never present on stage. Zac confided to me that where most plays have two months to prepare, because of the exigencies of scheduling, they only had one month, but you would never know it to see the show. It’s tight and well timed, brisk in tempo, maintaining its intensity in both comedic and tragic moments from opening line to closing curtain call.

Ashley Dickerson plays Shelby, the optimist who does not let anything get her down and is the center of the play. Ms. Dickerson has performed both at ACTS and Lake Charles Little Theatre on many occasions.

Kathy Heath plays Shelby’s mom in a very challenging role of varied, and occasionally intense, often subtly repressed, emotional turmoil. Ms. Heath has lent her experience to both ACTS and McNeese Theatre, the latter from which she graduated with both a BA in theatre as well as a BS in Mass Com.

Joy Pace literally bursts onto the stage as Ouiser, the curmudgeonly neighbor to M’Lynn’s family. Fiercely loyal and sometimes merely fierce, her bark is always worse than her bite as she frequently steals scenes while providing comic relief. Ms. Pace has extensive experience as director for ACTS, and Artistic and Executive Director for the Itinerant Theatre, with a BA in Speech, and an MFA in directing, but this is her performing debut with ACTS Theatre.

Veronica Williams is Truvy, the energetic Eveready Bunny and the owner of the  shop in which all the action takes place. This is only Ms. Williams’ second stage outing, her first as Rosie in Mama Mia! garnering her an ACTA for Best Supporting Actress.

Taylor Novak-Tyler is Clairee, the sweet and lovable widowed dowager who provides advice and acts as a mediator and peacemaker to the sometimes tense female interactions. Ms. Novak-Tyler is another generous contributor to the stages both at ACTS and Lake Charles Little Theatre.

Shelby Castile plays Annelle who starts as the gentle and shyly fragile newbie to town who has the greatest character arc in the show. No newbie to ACTS Theatre though, she has been on stage here many times before.

So head on out to ACTS Theatre to see this terrific rendition of these very familiar women who are, indeed, Steel Magnolias – but, similar to the juxtaposition of opposites in the very title of the play – be prepared to both laugh until you cry and cry until you laugh.

MAMMA MIA! EXUBERANCE PERSONIFIED IN THE ADORABLE HEARTWARMING MUSICAL PLAYING AT ACTS THEATRE IN LAKE CHARLES, LA

 

SHORT TAKE:

Upbeat and joyous musical comedy cobbled from the wildly popular songs of ABBA, about a young woman who invites three men who might be her father to her wedding and the lighthearted ensuing fallout therefrom.

WHO SHOULD GO:

There is a bit of light innuendo played for comic buffoonery and a slight bit of mild language but it is the premise of the story that makes this really for mid-teens, with appropriate informed parental discretion, and up.

ALSO – there’s LOTS more pictures on their way which I’ll be adding and even changing over the next day or two – so check in again SOON!!

Also also – we incorporated as many pics as we could into the text of the blog but we couldn’t put them ALL so we have put DOZENS more at the end of the blog and MORE will be added in the next few days – so CHECK OUT PAST THE END OF THE BLOG FOR MANY MANY MORE PHOTOS!!!

LONG TAKE:

If you find yourself feeling down this weekend, boy have I got a cure for you. There is not a prescription in existence that will cheer you up the way Mamma Mia! will. And I challenge anyone to not find themselves helplessly and happily tapping along to the catchy, memorable and upbeat ABBA tunes.

Like the title of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play” the name ABBA is not technically supposed to be mentioned, but as a member of the audience, in case you didn’t know, Mamma Mia! is based on the music of this “unnamed” band, a Swedish pop group which exploded onto the musical scene in the late 1970’s and whose music is now ubiquitous from movies to elevators all over the world. Inspired by the theatrical possibilities of The Winner Takes it All, that song stands as the center showpiece of the plot written by Catherine Johnson.

Opening this Friday, May 31 and playing through June 16 where TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE at Lake Charles’ ACTS Theatre, 7:30 pm June 1, 7, 8, 14 & 15 with Sunday Matinees at 3 pm on June 2, 9 and 16, Mamma Mia is almost an opera buffa. Directed by veteran thespian Walt Kiser, Mamma Mia! jumps like musical parkour, from song to song, avoiding dialogue almost completely. Why say something when you can SING IT! And a more joyous heartfelt set of songs you would be hard pressed to find anywhere.

Even the saddest of the songs will make you smile with their deliciously sappy romanticism. Mamma Mia! dances from Honey, Honey to I Have a Dream, Dancing Queen, SOS, Super Trooper and of course Mamma Mia, as the play lyrically tells its story.

Sophie, a young bride-to-be, has been raised by her single mom, Donna, on a Greek Island. Desperate to find out who her father is and wanting his presence at her wedding, 20 year old Sophie peruses her mother’s diary, and discovers that Donna had had one wild and crazy couple of weeks … about 20 years before. So, behind her mother’s back, Sophie sends a wedding invitation to the unknowing lucky pater familias    — all three of them – Sam, Bill and Harry.  The three unsuspecting men, clueless to their possible fatherhood, show up and the awkward situation escalates comically with every musical number.

The set is in authentic Athens blue highlights, the costumes brightly colorful, the singing strong, and the cast infectiously enthusiastic.

Paula McCain, who recently added her considerable acting talents to McNeese’s The Crucible, leads as Donna. Heather Foreman, fresh from ACTS’ Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, LCLT’s Bye Bye Birdie and McNeese University’s Songs for a New World, captivates the audience as Sophie, bringing beautiful youthful exuberance to The Name of the Game and Lay All Your Love on Me.

Casey Doucet, who also serves as musical director, plays Sam, Donna’s first “one who got away”, bringing the same commanding poignancy from ACTS’ Shrek to his half of Mamma Mia‘s star crossed lovers, Sam. Michael Ieyoub is Harry and Mark Hebert is Bill, who endearingly and humorously play the other two Dad candidates.

Krystal Smith as Tanya and Veronica Williams as Rosie take the stage as the singing/dancing best friends of Donna, belting out the likes of Super Trooper and Take a Chance on Me.

Sky, Sophie’s fiancé,  is played by Joshua Peterson. Louis Barrilleaux is Pepper the lecherous bartender, Kane Todd is Eddie, Donna’s assistant, Diki Jines is their Catholic priest, and Anita Fields-Gold is the local island’s watchful kindly dowager.

The amazingly talented dancing troupe of Gracie Myers, Joley Fontenot, Eli Prudhomme, Jay Prudhomme, and Hannah Daigle periodically steal scenes as they punctuate the emotions and songs with near acrobatic choreography.

Kelly Rowland and Lori Tarver are Sophie’s best buds and bridesmaids, Ali and Lisa, aiding with Honey, Honey and others. Rounding out the ensemble and lending their voices and dancing skills, are: Alaina Goins, Amber Zuniga, Kristine Alcantra,  Teresa Marceaux, Taylor Novak-Tyler, Ashley Dickerson,  Zach Benoit, and Dan Sadler.

Brahnsen Lopez is stage manager. Producers are Diane Flatt and Mark Hebert.  Lauren Fontenot is their choreographer and Kris Webster the costumer.

So come to ACTS Theatre, to sing and dance your blues away, with the troupe from Mamma Mia!

 

MORE ON A SUPPLEMENTARY POST FOR MAMMA MIA!

 

 

 

 

STAN AND OLLIE – A PEEK BEHIND THE SMILES

 

SHORT TAKE:

A biographical look at the final reunion tour of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

WHO SHOULD GO:

This is family friendly – anyone can watch who is interested in Laurel and Hardy or even just a behind the scenes look at a theatrical legend.

LONG TAKE:

Stan and Ollie is about an arranged marriage that goes well for quite some time until a betrayal derails the relationship for fully 16 years. The marriage to which I refer is the professional relationship between the two geniuses of comedy Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Starting at the turn of the century in vaudeville they knew more about how to make their audiences laugh than anyone in the business except perhaps the Marx Brothers. Their mismatched, on-screen combination of slapstick, malapropisms and good-natured hostilities set the format for bromance comedies for decades and generations to come.

Linked together by Hal Roach while independently under contract to his studio, they made hundreds of movies and shorts together over decades. The riff comes when the stronger willed Laurel fights the studio machine to get better terms for the team but Hardy does not have the courage to back him up. Though they continued to work together after the dust up there remains bitter baggage and a distance in their friendship. The arc of the movie picks up almost two decades later as their careers are waning and they embark on a European tour in hopes of rejuvenating their box office appeal as they wait anxiously for word from a producer on financing for a Robin Hood parody they are writing.

In the movies, Hardy  played the blustering bully to Laurel’s shy sometimes weepy and conciliatory foil. However, contrary to their screen personas, Hardy was actually a meek and anxious-to-please gambling addict, while Laurel was the engine of the duo: ambitiously creative, insightful, and the lead writer.

The production values and rhythm of Stan and Ollie is a bit like a TV movie-of-the-week but the acting is excellent. Reilly and Coogan, respectively, get everything from accents to body language and singular physical quirks right as Misters Hardy and Laurel, both in their on and off screen personalities – which, admittedly, seemed to blur even for the real people involved.My dad, who was 40 years older than I was, loved Laurel and Hardy, having seen the original shorts in the movie theaters when they first came out. There were many a late TV night spent listening for the signature tune of Marvin Hatley’s “Dance of the Cuckoos” preceeding the ludicrous antics and long drawn-out sight gags which always had my father in stitches. Truth be told, with a few exceptions, I found their humor a bit dry and dated but loved watching my Dad enjoy them even more than I enjoyed watching the duo’s formulaic comic gags. As a result I can be pretty objective. And the evocations by John C. Reilly (Chicago and the voice of Wreck-it Ralph) and Steve Coogan, respectively, as Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel are spot on. It’s fascinating to watch their portrayal of the real men who could and would kindly switch their alter egos on for even the most transient and spontaneous audiences – at parties, for checking hotel clerks, at bars, at the race track, and for passing fans.

Shirley Henderson, most famously known as Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter series, sweetly plays the furrowed brow Mrs. Hardy, who fusses after “Babe,” as Hardy was known to his loved ones, like a mother hen. Nina Arianda, though born and raised in New York, taps into her Ukranian heritage for her  Russian-accented portrayal of the tough but staunchly devoted Mrs. Laurel. And Rufus Jones plays Delfont, their manager during this, their last hurrah.

It’s a compelling story and I only wish they had presented the beginnings of these famous icons of comedy from their first meeting, much as Yankee Doodle Dandy followed the relationship of George M Cohan with his partner Sam Harris from first handshake to retirement.

Much like looking behind the magician’s curtain, while there is a sadness to be disabused of the mystery as well as a satisfaction of curiosity to see where the “magic” comes from, in exchange there is also the endearingness of intimacy which comes from a deeper understanding of the motives and methods of the men when we take — a peek behind the smiles. Find Stan and Ollie on Amazon.com.