ARSENIC AND OLD LACE – A DELIGHTFUL COMEDY OF TERRORS AT OUR OWN LAKE CHARLES, LA ACTS THEATRE

 

 

 

 

The Addams Family was an endearing bunch of creepy oddballs. Appearing like zombies, witches and vampires they were actually a loving Mom, Dad, kids and extended family of rich and philanthropic homeschoolers.

The family of Queen Eleanor and King Henry II, in the classic Lion in Winter were not so companionable, and battled continuously with each other throughout the play. Different members bond with, then betray, each other, jockeying for power, land, revenge, attention, or love. At the end of a particularly vicious argument with her husband, Eleanor, left sitting on the floor in the doorway, gathers herself together and to self-console muses: "Well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?"

The Guardians of the Galaxy is a band of violent and ethically questionable outlaws and vigilantes who come together as a family unit in part to (re)raise Groot, who is a sentient tree. (See my review on that one here .)

NONE of them have anything on the Brewsters.

The premise of Arsenic and Old Lace is that Mortimer, a once cynical-of-romance theater critic, now totally smitten and freshly engaged to Elaine, the girl next door, goes to his sweet, loving, maiden aunts’ home for a visit and to break the good news.

In residence is his adorable Uncle Teddy, who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt, periodically charging up the stairs he knows as San Juan Hill and digging grave sized locks in the basement, which he thinks is the Panama Canal. Hovering in the background is the ominous, but so far absent, other brother, Jonathan. And so the stage is literally set for this very black and very funny slapstick comedy about a family which would put the Guardians on alert, make the Addams Family startle, and have both Henry and Eleanor running for cover. Bodies pile up and are switched like the plates of tuna in Noises Off or the suitcases from What’s Up Doc, identities are hidden and a good time is ultimately had by all…except for the corpses…in Arsenic and Old Lace.

I hesitate to say more for the benefit of those readers who have not seen either the play or the brilliant 1944 movie directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant. If you don’t know the story it is just too delightful to spoil. If you do know some of the details then it will be like going back for seconds of your favorite ice cream.

Clay Hebert, the director and Officer Klein, is a familiar and welcome face from every stage Lake Charles offers. He has a resume which spans from McNeese's Theater to ACTS, and from Lake Charles Little Theatre to the Bayou Players and independent film productions all over Lake Charles. Clay artfully guides this fairly large cast through the quick draw and fast paced humor of Arsenic, which is to comedy what very dark and deliciously bitter semi-sweet morsels are to chocolate chip cookies, skillfully leading his troupe over that tightrope between horror and humor.

Louis Barrilleaux, another talented veteran of ACTS, LCLT and McNeese for over 20 years, is Mortimer, the eye around which this storm circulates.

Kelly Rowland and Sarah Broussard, respectively as Martha and Abbey Brewster, age themselves convincingly 50 years to play Mortimer’s adorably naive and unassuming aunts whose home is the site for some rather….unexpected events. Both ladies have degrees in performance, Kelly in music and Sarah in theater, with a wide and diverse range of acting credits.

Rebecca Harris, an actress with an impressive resume, is Mortimer’s confused but stalwart fiancee.

Aaron Webster, a self-described reluctant actor, is eminently creepy as Jonathan, the ne'er-do-well prodigal brother.

Brahnsen Lopez, another stage veteran, plays Jonathan’s would-be repentant colleague, Dr. Einstein (not Albert).

Matt Dye, local radio personality and frequently cast in small but scene stealing roles, does it again as Teddy.

Mark Hebert, Dusty Duffy, Dylan Conley and Kathy Heath round out the cast with memorable supporting characters.

 

The set is terrific, creating the authentically homey, gentle parlor of two elderly aunts, making the sinister events all the funnier for the contrast, complete with two sets of stairs and a landing up and through which Teddy has the freedom to charge with abandon, a window seat which can house…various and sundry… and French doors through which the characters are free to pop in and out.

I was privileged to interview Diki Jines, master electrician on the set and will have his interview clips up shortly below, talking about the set, its design and a little background.

Timing and blocking are very key, especially in this comedy of terrors and Clay has the tempo and coordinated actions and responses wound like a Swiss Cuckoo clockwork.

It’s a joy to watch a stage full of such talented veterans work smoothly together, and the fact most are old friends and/or fellow thespians, who have trod the boards often together, helps catalyze the chemistry that makes this play full of intimately connected characters work. These performers know each others’ rhythms and make the most of their considerable pool of experience to bring us a delightful evening of fun and fright, chills and chuckles, comedy and carnage, shocks and snickers, jocularity and jump scares.

So go warm up — or chill out — in anticipation of Halloween at ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. But be sure to BYOW. (Bring your own wine.)

BUY TICKETS HERE, OR CALL (337) 433-2287

LITTLE WOMEN – ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES I’VE SEEN IN YEARS

SHORT TAKE:

Artfully modernized, faithfully told beautiful adaptation for the contemporary audience of the classic story, Little Women.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Everyone. Anyone. All ages. Please go, bring friends.

LONG TAKE:

We know this story extremely well, inside and out. I’ve read the book. I’ve taught it as part of our curriculum several times over the span of homeschooling six kids.  I have seen a number of filmed versions including the appalling one where Katherine Hepburn was way too old to play Jo and a lovely one with Susan Sarandon as Marme. Our family was IN the danged play at our local community theater 12 years ago. My second oldest daughter played the lead, Jo, and the rest of our family either had parts on stage, behind the scenes or were present for every rehearsal cheering their siblings on. We’ve incorporated lines and expressions like "love lornity" and how French is a "silly slippery language" from the play into our traditional family sayings. Shoot, with four girls of our own, there were times I've felt as though we were LIVING scenes from Little Women…but I had never truly appreciated the story of Little Women until I saw this 2018 modernized film.

Little Women, marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of the source book, has been refurbished to modern day and is arguably one of the best movies I have seen in years. The film makers have adapted this Civil War era story to the 21st century with the same skill as the innovative Cumberbatch-Freeman Sherlock updated the original Conan Doyle invention, or Steve Martin refreshed Cyrano de Bergerac into the whimsical Roxanne – that is to say with both seamless, creative invention and great respectful affection for the source material. It is a testament to the timelessness of the concepts foundational to Louisa May Alcott’s novel that it translates so well, but it is the talent of the gifted screenwriter Kristi Shimek, newbie director Clare Niederpruem and the actors that makes it blossom onto the screen.

For the benefit of anyone suffering the misfortune of not being familiar with the story, the premise of Little Women follows Jo March from childhood to womanhood as she and her sisters grow and mature together in the warm embrace of loving parents and stalwart friends through joys, embarrassments, mistakes, misunderstandings, and the other comedies and tragedies of life.

For those who are blessed with a familiarity of the subject, rest assured the writer and director have a love and respect for the material. The tale has not been changed by the displacement in time, but is transformed into an image more familiar and therefore more accessible to 21st century audiences, without altering a single iota of character development, story arc, or theme. John Bunyan’s famous Christian allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, is as notable here as it was in the original script and novel, forming the underlying themes of passage from human frailty and sin to redemption, suffering the travails of life with forgiveness, courage, and love. Instead of the Civil War, the father is deployed overseas. Instead of letters they have Skype. The charity the original characters perform for a starving mother and children next door is done at a homeless shelter. The children are homeschooled and the social faux pas are appropriately updated to reflect the unwiseness of modern youth. As many lines as can be are pulled directly from the book, but updates, where needed, are appropriately made.

I’ve known Lea Thompson was a fine actress ever since I first saw Back to the Future at the theater in 1985. I was floored to discover, some 20 minutes into the movie when Marty goes back to the past, that the same woman who played a dowdy, overweight, burnt out, disillusioned and embittered alcoholic was NOT in fact 50 years old but a brilliant little 24 year old actress who nailed the tragic first version of Lorraine in the opening scenes of that now famous movie. She hits the bull's eye again in Little Women as Marme, the gentle, warm and archetype maternal figure of the March family.

I was honestly not familiar with any of the other cast members before seeing this Little Women. Most harken from TV shows and B movies, but every one of the performers is not only tremendous in their roles, but fit into and shape their characters so perfectly I will have difficulty ever thinking of these March family members and friends as anyone but them (with the except of our own family members, of course).

Sarah Davenport is perfect as the high strung, impulsive, often unthinking and deeply emotional Jo. Allie Jennings ditto as Jo’s favorite sister and alter ego, the gentle, kind and resolute Beth. Melanie Stone is lovely as Meg, wanting nothing more than to be a wife and mother. Elise Jones and Taylor Murphy playing the younger and older Amy, respectively, do a great job of the self absorbed and easily smitten youngest sister without losing Amy’s vulnerability. Lucas Grabeel steps into the part of Laurie with just the right combination of awkward and delightful as the lonely young man next door anxious to join a family. Ian Bohen as the caring and insightful Professor Freddie Bhaer, Bart Johnson as the warm and loving Papa March, Michael Flynn as Laurie’s kind and thoughtful grandfather Mr. Lawrence, Stuart Edge as Brooke, Barta Heiner as Aunt March and even Goober the cat contribute their support to this brilliant and beautiful film adaptation for the contemporary audience.

The dress and sets are simple and fit the time and place of a family of well cared for and spiritually sound young women. The sweetly fitting soundtrack is decorated with modern day songs which accurately reflect the needs of the film's moods. Most of the action takes place in and around the March and Lawrence homes. The filming style is of flash – backs and forwards – as time moves on and memories are rekindled by events in Jo’s dynamic present. And I really enjoyed the cinematically creative and tasteful way Ms. Niederpruem conveyed the passage of time.

Go see this wonderful version of Little Women. Read the book either before or after…or both…and gain a fresh new appreciation for this enchanting, inspiring and enduring tale of spiritual growth, family strength and the power that love and faith have over the buffets and trials of life. Bring Kleenex.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN – HIS LAST NAME WAS MILNE!!! AND OTHER STUPID FILMMAKING DECISIONS

SHORT TAKE:

Christopher Robin attempts to show how a grown up with an intimate connection to a famous child's fantasy book, deals with adulthood in a British version of the equally weak Hook. Dull, ponderously slow, with a poorly thought out plot, while there's no reason NOT to take your child, there is very little to recommend it.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone CAN go.

LONG TAKE:

I REALLY wanted to like Christopher Robin. I had been looking forward to it for months, but the over trailer-ing should have given me a clue. Advertising too much is often a sign the film makers know they have an underachiever and throw everything up on the screen hoping it will attract enough audience to pay for itself.

The good news is there is nothing, per se, wrong with the movie and you can, I think, safely take a child of any age to see it. The biggest danger you run is that they will fall asleep.

The acting is excellent and special kudos go to Ewan MacGregor, the grown up Christopher Robin, who, like Bob Hoskins before him in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, had to perform with … nothing. There was never a moment when these stuffed animals did not seem alive.

The voices were all very familiar. Jim Cummings, the only veteran in the crew, who has been speaking lines for Winnie the Pooh and Tigger since 1988 reprises the voice roles with his very familiar tranquil-laconic Pooh and loquacious-over excitable Tigger. The others re-create the other characters' voices almost flawlessly.  I only wish the story had been as well conceived.

Brad Garrett is the eighth person to groan the apathetic donkey, since Disney’s original featurettes. Nick Mohammed is the fourth Piglet. Peter Capaldi, the twelfth Dr Who (thirteenth if you count John Hurt), is the sixth Rabbit. Kanga is voiced by Sophie Okonedo (Liz Ten, the Queen in Dr Who), Roo by Sara Sheen. And Toby Jones, character actor from Sherlock, Dr. Who, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and an Avengers baddie, does a kiddie movie turn as Owl.

Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter, Captain America's first girlfriend) is lovely as Christopher’s wife and Bronte Carmichael is very sweet as Christopher’s little girl Madeleine. The performers acted their little hearts out.

The bad news is that the resulting film was so disappointing it made me mad. So I hereby present to you:

SEVEN REASONS WHY CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, THE MOVIE, MADE ME MAD:

Where should I begin?

How about with a list?

1. Winnie gave me the creeps; 2. the theme was stupid; 3. there were a LOT of missed opportunities; 4. poor character development; 5. profoundly stupid historic inaccuracies; 6. man abuse; and 7. the crowning jewel of all ignorant decisions.

SPOILERS

1. WINNIE AND FRIENDS GAVE ME THE CREEPS

The animals gave me the creeps. They were dirty and old and used looking. Not at all the way a small child would see them or an adult in fond memory. They looked as you might find them mouldering away in some old attic. And, save, for some reason, Rabbit, their faces barely moved. They were virtually expressionless. This all would have made some sense if, as time went on and Christopher spent more time with them, they started appearing cleaner and newer and more alive. But, alas, they continued in their bedraggled state throughout the course of the movie. A child would not have noticed them being dirty so if we, the audience and Christopher are looking at them through his child eyes, then they would have seemed fresh and new. If we are looking at them REALISTICALLY, through the eyes of the jaded and adult Christopher why were they animated at ALL? And, if we are looking at them realistically, why do any of the other humans see them move or talk? If this was all part of Christopher’s delusions, no one else would have seen them animated.

The stuffed animals in Christopher Robin all had more in common with Sid’s toys in Toy Story than in a visit to the Hundred Acre Woods.

2. THE THEME WAS STUPID

The theme was "sometimes you have to do nothing to do something" ….uuum? What? Christopher takes this to heart and brings it to his employer, the owner of a luggage manufacturing company, as a solution to their economic woes. That they should give all of their employees two weeks paid leave so they will buy luggage … to go on holiday. This would be like giving someone $100 to spend $25 in your store and then calling that $25 a profit. Based on this, NO one should put Christopher in charge of a business. NOW – he ALSO, as an offhand comment, suggests they should have a line of luggage for the "common" folk, rather than exclusively produce for the wealthy. Well, OK, that’s a good idea but not when linked to the other one.

3. MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

With three screenplay writers, two "story by" credits and based on the works of A.A. Milne and Ernest Shepard, you would think Disney could have come up with a tight clever plot. Instead, it plays out exactly what it is – a story mashed together by committee.

Why didn’t Christopher bring his daughter with him when he followed Pooh to the Hundred Acre Woods for the first time in 30 years? Or have the writers have her follow him in? She was available having just seen the red balloon Christopher left her on her bike. He knew she would eventually figure out he had been there. His balloon gift made it no secret he had been in the vicinity, so why did he not just bring Madeleine with him?

From a plot point of view, this would have thematically helped establish a bridge between his youth and adulthood, AND allowed him to see his favorite playground from a fresh set of youthful eyes, AND provided Christopher with someone to bounce dialogue off of aside from talking to himself, of which he does a lot.

Why didn’t he see his reflection in a pool of water as a Heffalump? The idea is casually alluded to but the writers ignored the chance to bring this to the forefront and make it part of his character arc.

There is ONE good line in Hook, when the aged Wendy, finding out Peter has grown up to be an attorney specializing in corporate takeovers quips: "Peter, you’ve become a pirate!" Similarly, an image of the heffalump in place of the grown Christopher’s reflection could have been a touchstone moment. Instead he flails about with an unseen imaginary invisible heffalump to deliberately fool his stuffed animal friends.

Why couldn't, for example, each of the Hundred Acre inhabitants represent a change Christopher needed to make or an issue he had to resolve? Winnie could be his need to relax. Tigger to inspire finding the joys of childhood. Eeyore his insecurities. Kanga and Roo to renew and deepen his relationship with his wife and daughter, etc.  Nope they were just dirty tag overs, apparently abandoned in a dust covered corner of his attic.

4. POOR CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

There is little transition for Christopher from becoming a man so business oriented he reads hard economic texts to his daughter for bedtime stories to someone talking to an animated bear. Bruce Willis' character, Russ, in the comedy The Kid is inexplicably faced with the incarnation of his 10 year old self. Like the appearance of Winnie the Pooh in Christopher Robin, this manifestation forces the protagonist to confront some unpleasant truths about his grown up self. However, Russ, in The Kid, does not accept the little boy's identifty or even existence right away. Russ, first, seeks professional counseling, takes medication, and enlists the help of his personal assistant, all to simply prove to himself the kid is actually there and that others can see him. Putting aside that this was just a better movie by several factors of ten, this single point is a more realistic portrayal of someone coming to grips with an unknown. And Russ was only faced with a child, not a walking talking stuffed animal.

Alas, Mark Gatiss, we thought he knew better, Horatio. Mark Gatiss, (writer and actor from Sherlock and Dr Who) was roped into embarrassing himself, with a bad toupee, in the thankless task of a caricature bad boss. His Giles Winslow is so shallow it could have been replaced by a drawn stick figure. Gatiss is a wonderful actor but he was given little to do but tell Christopher to work on the weekend, knock over the same display several times in an incomprehensible show of clumsiness, which was neither amusing nor set up for any later pay off, and sulk when thwarted.

5. PROFOUNDLY STUPID HISTORIC INACCURACIES

The movie Christopher Robin shows the father as anxious to send the boy Christopher to boarding school and the mother sympathetic. Goodbye, Christopher Robin, the far superior biopic about the relationshiop between A.A. Milne and his son, was much more historically accurate, based upon the verifying documentation of the real Christopher's interaction with his mother and the fact he wouldn't have anything to do with the fortune made from the Winnie the Pooh stories. It was the MOTHER, in real life, who was callous and cold and couldn’t wait to be rid of the boy. OK, this is a Disney movie. I can overlook that alteration.

In C.R., his father dies while he is in boarding school, making him the "man of the house" when he was about 11. In fact, as accurately portrayed in Goodbye, Christopher Robin, his father didn’t die until after Christopher had grown, been to war, declared MIA, returned, and reconciled with Christopher. Christopher was 36 years old when A.A. Milne died. There was no particular reason for the premature "killing off" of Christopher Robin's father in this Disney misadventure except, perhaps, to explain why Christopher was in an unfulfilling job at a luggage factory. Reality would have provided a better plot point here too. In fact, Christopher rejected all of the money made from his father’s books and ran his own bookstore instead. This could easily have been worked in as a far more interesting character development issue.

Christopher detested his boarding school days and would NEVER have considered sending a beloved daughter there.

Christopher’s obsession with turning his daughter into a career woman was massively anachronistic for the early 1950's.

The real Christopher DID indeed marry but to a Leslie, not an Evelyn. And he did have a daughter but her name was Clare not Madeleine and she had cerebral palsy.

While I completely understand taking creative liberties for the sake of a story, if you are going to diverge THAT MUCH from an established and well known historic figure, why don’t you just create a NEW person out of whole cloth who has, perhaps, been INFLUENCED by the Winnie the Pooh stories and not concoct this absurd confabulation of made up "facts" about a real human whose past was rather well documented and easy to confirm.

6. MAN ABUSE

Here's a quiz for you. What doClick, Jingle All The Way, Kramer vs Kramer, Hook, and even Mary Poppins to a certain extent – all have in common? ANSWER:  Hard working, faithful husbands who are painted as the bad guy because they are busting their buns to provide for their families. In return, all they get is guilt from unappreciative wives and whiny children. I am sick to death of movies who cast men, who deny themselves fun and recreation, who proudly provide for their families, as negligent, solely on the grounds of that hard work.

What do these women WANT? Homer Simpson? Then, if a man is portrayed as fun loving, as in Mrs. Doubtfire, this behavior is presented as grounds on which to dump him and trade up to a rich established guy. And in Christopher Robin they do it again. Christopher is chided by his wife, raled at (behind his back) by his daughter and threatened (subtly) with divorce (I think we'll stay out here at the cottage for a while LONGER). Why? Because he had to forego a vacation when faced, by his superior, with two days to figure out how to cut 20% of the costs in his department without FIRING 20% of his people. I do not think his wife had any sense of proportion.

7. THE CROWN JEWEL OF IGNORANCE

And finally, the most egregious, most nonsensical, most distracting transgression was that the protagonist of the movie, acknowledged as the son of the author of Winnie the Pooh, was called Christopher Robin. His boss, who refers to everyone by their last names, calls him Robin. His WIFE is referred to as Mrs. Robin!!! This is not only wrong, it is profoundly STUPID, and worse, without purpose!! The name of the son of the author of Winnie the Pooh was NOT Christopher Robin!!! It was Christopher Robin MILNE!!! His father, the author of Winnie the Pooh was A.A. MILNE!!! The name "Milne" is never even mentioned!!! It is as though the screenwriters relied for accuracy on someone whose only experience with Winnie the Pooh was to watch one Disney short, for the first time, as an adult. And, I checked, there is no evidence to indicate that Christopher Robin MILNE, though he distanced himself from his father’s books and even his father’s money, EVER distanced himself from his family name. Christopher MILNE even wrote a book himself, The Enchanted Places, under the name Christopher MILNE!!!

You know, even wikipedia knows more than this. Pick up a BOOK why don’t you, Disney screenwriters, and look on the edge for the author's name!

So — take a small child if you must. There’s nothing really WRONG with the movie. But there is little right with it either. Personally, I think you’d be better off digging out one of the books by A.A. MILNE and reading the original to them. Or go back and watch The Kid.

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE – MUST SEE MUSICAL COMEDY FOR MARRIED COUPLES

SHORT TAKE:

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change is a very very funny musical comedy revue about dating, marriage, men, women and relationships.

WHO SHOULD GO:

For adults in general and married couples in particular. Might be an awkward first date but is positively a MUST SEE for married couples.

LONG TAKE:

I Love You, You're  Perfect, Now Change is the latest play showing at ACTS Theatre from August 3 through 12 at 7:30pm, and Sunday matinees at 3:00pm. I was privileged to get permission to attend the dress rehearsal and must say it was some of the most fun I have ever had in the theater!

A musical comedy revue of twenty skits with over 40 characters and costume changes, are played by four very gifted actors. Clay and Markie Hebert, Kelly Rowland and Casey Doucet make up the intrepid quartet who sing and act up a storm of laughs and a few bittersweet tears.

They all have AMAZING and powerhouse voices with NO INDIVIDUAL MICROPHONES! They sure don't need them. I would have sat for 90 minutes and enjoyed listening to them sing random songs out of any Broadway collection but each of the diverse vignettes is fitted with a catchy song crafted specifically for the tone of the short story it tells sung by its own unique characters. The wide story range stretches from poignant to snarky to slapstick to tender and all will make you smile as they lead you, not only from the beginning of relationships through their maturities, but guide you through every possible emotion a romantic might have.

Clay Hebert does double duty as director, aided by his assistant Ashley Mayeux. Clay was most recently in Godspell. Markie Hebert was the female lead in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Casey Doucet just won an ACTA for his Shrek in the play of the same name. Kelly Rowland is a powerful mezzo-soprano with a flare for comic timing. There is a fifth member of the troupe who is not seen but heard. Andrew Steiner delights the audience with live piano accompaniment, expertly blending these four strong voices.

This is a hilarious send up on the loneliness and difficulties of dating, the challenges of marriage, the tragedy of divorce, and the optimism that it is never too late to find love. With twenty musical vignettes presented for your approval, there is something for everyone involved in the marriage adventure. 

Kelly Rowland and Casey Doucet portray an ecclectic collection of characters who are, at turns: hilariously ridiculous, heartwrenching, and adorable.

Clay and Markie Hebert also have a wide variety of personalities to perform, but the scenes where Clay and Markie play man and wife are especially charming as they are married in real life with three little boys. So, for them, this play isn't an observation but a strange kind of out-of-body experience, as they humorously have an opportunity to re-emerse themselves in the excitement, pratfalls, heartbreak, frustrations, and soul fulfilling contentment that highlights the different stages of dating, and varied relationships, with the hope of culminating in the lifetime marital committment.

Make your plans quickly as you'll likely want to see this gem more than once and it only runs through August 12. Get your tickets at ACTS THEATRE

TAG – GOOFY MOVIE GIVES GOOD ADVICE

SHORT TAKE:

Based loosely on the real life camaraderie amongst 10 friends who have been playing the same game of Tag one month a year for 30 years, the movie Tag focuses on a representative five, plus one wife, a fiancee, and a reporter from the Wall Street Journal who breaks the story to the world.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Not for kids. Young adults and up only. The language and topics discussed are often raw and juvenilely crude and graphic. And the stunts these men are shown to pull are dangerous even under the supervision of stunt men, as Jeremy Renner found out. You would not want young impressionable kids trying to imitate them. UNLESS you want to show them clips and this photo to make the point – DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME!!!

LONG TAKE:

"You do not stop playing games because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing games." This rather wise saying by George Bernard Shaw is the avowed, often repeated, theme of the movie Tag.

I have often advised my girls and teased my husband and sons that I do not believe men ever really get beyond the age of 13. Be they the Pope, your husband, your 80 year old grandfather, your investment broker, or your doctor, they hit puberty and that's — that. The only difference amongst them is their ability to hide it. It's one of the things that is most charming about them and used properly is a superpower.

And for anyone who does not believe me, you should see Tag, the movie, based on a real group of ten men, written up in a 2013 Wall Street Journal  article by Russell Adams.. Back row, from left to right: Mike Konesky, Bill Akers, Patrick Shultheis, Mark Mengert, Chris Ammann and Brian Dennehy. Front row, from left to right: Father Sean Raftis, Joey Tambari, Joe Caferro and Rick Bruya. (Courtesy of Father Sean Raftis ) These men, from all walks of life, one a priest, met at a Catholic school and  have been playing the same game of Tag, on and off, for THIRTY years. The Tag Brothers as they call themselves, particpate in this childlike joyous event for one month every year as a way to keep in touch —- literally — with each other. They have played despite and sometimes because of: births, deaths, weddings, illness and distances. They have tagged each other, in real life, by their own admission: in disguise, after flying hundreds of miles, appearing at family events, and even breaking into each others' HOMES! It's a wonder none of them have shot the other yet. One got tagged during his father's funeral – the taggee acknowledging it was a form of comfort and condolence and that his father, a big supporter of their game, would have thought funny. The group collected to support one of them when his wife was undergoing chemo and tagged him there. They have tagged each other when wives were in labor, and even when those children were being conceived!! (I do NOT even want to IMAGINE that one!) It is the way these men have chosen to stay friends.

As funny as this premise is you'd think it would be a one trick pony, perhaps documentary worthy but not enough to carry a movie. But you'd be wrong. The screenwriters, Rob McKittrich and Mark Steilen, have rather cleverly condensed the reality and formed it into an analogy for what keeps people together.

SPOILERS

Obviously an ensemble cast, to introduce them in rough order of appearance: Ed Helms as Hoagie, a successful veterinarian married to Isla Fisher’s extremely competitive Anna. Jon Hamm plays Bob, a wealthy CEO of a drug manufacturing company. Annabelle Willis is Rebecca, the reporter who embeds herself into the group. Jake Johnson is "Chili," the loser friend, stuck in his hippie, weed smoking, teenaged days.  Hannibal Buress is Sable, an air-heady sweet guy who sees life existentially. And then there is Jerry – Jeremy "Hawkeye" and "Bourne" Renner  – waxing and waning with the group as they pursue him during his wedding preparations. He is the main target this year because, in thirty years of playing tag with these same four friends, he has NEVER —- BEEN —– TAGGED, and rumor has it he will retire at the end of the month. And there is almost no lengths to which these men will go – physically, legally or in mental gamesmanship – in order to avoid being the last "it" – or to end the game without Jerry beng tagged at least once.

The personalities in the story are composites. There are no comparable individuals who are directly represented in the movie, but the premise and inspiration which ignited this crazy story did and does continue. The game, as it were, is STILL a foot!

WSJ also published the Tag Agreement drafted and signed as young adults by the Tag Brothers, based upon the rules they followed as children.

I normally consider profanity in movies largely a lack of creativity. But I have to admit on some level it is appropriate in Tag. Once the game is on, the men revert to the crude one-upsman language of adolescent teenagers – comparing and hitting genitalia, awkwardly throwing out "cuss" words, and using profanity as though they are trying to win a secondary competition for the most vulgarity. But this is what little boys do. They play rough and crash headlong in and through windows, businesses, private homes, yards and garbage cans during the chases. So energetic were the scenes as filmed that during one failed stunt involving a stack of chairs Jeremy Renner broke bones in both arms. The rest of the movie was filmed having to CGI around the "green screen" casts he had to wear.

But what was most charming about Tag was the moral to the story. Jerry, the all time champion who had never been tagged, knew everything about his friends. He knew how they thought, acted, what they did for a living, the strengthes and weaknesses of their personalities and could thereby anticipate any schemes to trap him. This, and his almost superhuman running speed, has kept him the reigning champion for 30 years. Ironically, but in hindsight predictably, his friends knew very little about him. They didn't know he was getting married or to whom. They didn't know he had a drinking problem or that he was in AA – until they bribe one of Jerry's own employees to rat out Jerry's location. Jerry may have been the Olympic Tag gold medalist but the cost was not spending any time with his friends during the one month the rest were together scheming to get him. Tag deals with the 30 years resolution to this conundrum.

It is the heart to this goofy movie which helps ratchet up Tag above its threadbare premise.

Another clever and memorable aspect to Tag are the homages to other movie genres. A number of schemes are attempted to tag Jerry. One plays out like a classic monster movie as the group moves through a foggy forest. Another scenario includes Jerry's internal POV as a voice over describing his analysis of their attacks and how he plans to countermand them – much like Downey, Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes. Other scenes give nods to Renner's stint as the Bourne Legacy character Aaron Cross as he uses everything from tablecloths to donuts and a walker to thwart his friends and leaps chairs, through windows and around staircases with an agility that his own Hawkeye would have admired.

As ridiculous as this movie is, I could not help but smile at the irresistable charm of grown men letting loose in a spirit of genuine fun with their friends. If the quote by Shaw is right, the Tag Brothers will remain eternally young as they keep their bonds of friendship alive. And that is a game worth playing.

OUR FIRST VIDEO BLOG/VLOG — WE PREMIERE WITH — OVERBOARD

WE ARE SO EXCITED TO PRESENT YOU WITH OUR VERY FIRST VIDEO BLOG !!!!!

(also known as vlogs which is succinct but difficuult to pronounce).

We will continue to develop this project so any suggestions you have will be appreciated!!

IT IS ON OVERBOARD THE NEW REMAKE OF THE 1987 ROM-COM OF THE SAME NAME

HOPE YOU ENJOY OUR FIRST ENTRY INTO AN EVER DEVELOPING NEW PROJECT AND FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW!!!

 

VIDEO BLOG OF OVERBOARD

 

The Death of Stalin – A Commie Comedy of Terrors

To appropriately quote an iconic catch phrase from Monty Python – the most well known outing of Michael Palin, who is one of the actors in Death of Stalin:

"And now for something completely different."

I am delighted and honored to present a GUEST REVIEWER! Stuart White – former journalist – the author of several amazing books, and (Art of the Warrior: The Story Sun Tzu) (Black Jacques) screenwriter of a number of brilliant movies (Pendragon) and a frightening and intriguing TV show currently in pre-production, and MOST important (at least to me) my very dear friend.

I PROUDLY PRESENT TO YOU BY STUART WHITE:

The Death of StalinA Commie Comedy of Terrors

By Stuart White.

Imagine you’re a producer or screenwriter. You’re sitting by a big pool in Hollywood while a cigar-smoking movie mogul listens to your movie pitch.

"Well it’s about Stalin’s death in 1953, and the murder and mayhem and stuff that went on afterwards."

Big Mogul pulls on his cigar. Exhales:

"Stalin? The Russian dictator guy who killed millions of his own people? Starved them to death? Sent them to labour camps in the Siberian GULAG? That the guy?"

"That’s our baby. Now we open on him getting drunk with the Politburo and they’re all having a great giggle about the dying screams of executed political opponents, and then they play practical jokes, sticking tomatoes in each other’s pockets and squashing them.

"They watch endless movies after dinner, including John Wayne films which Stalin adores, but after they’ve finally gone Stalin keels over from a cerebral haemorrhage, peeing himself in the process.

"And even though his armed guards hear his collapse they are too terrified to go into his room, and he lies there all night."

Movie mogul blows smoke rings, and now there’s a hint of irritation:

"Yeh, yeh. Cut to the chase."

"Then the maid discovers him the next morning. The rest of his criminal gang, Krushchev, Beria – the head of the secret police – Malenkov his deputy – they turn up but are too terrified to call a doctor.

"Not surprisingly because the Soviet leadership has either killed or put in prison all the country’s best doctors on the grounds they suspected them of trying to kill Stalin.

"So his colleagues stick Stalin on a bed and leave him for four days debating what to do, before finally calling in medical guys dragged out of prison for the occasion. And on about day four Stalin finally pegs out."

The mogul’s attention wanders and he starts to ogle a skinny starlet Weinstein-style; you’re losing him..

"Yeh – so – our main man is dead. That’s the end of the picture, right?"

"No, you don’t get it. Stalin’s dead by about page 8 of the script. The story is afterwards. All his buddies are terrified of each other becoming leader, in case the new one has each of THEM killed."

Big Mogul is a trifle puzzled, "Like the Godfather is killed so it’s who takes over the Mafia – right?"

"You got it! Stalin gets embalmed, and shown in an open coffin while all the leaders weep crocodile tears and plan each other’s downfall."

"A Russian Godfather? I don’t know – "

"No, there’s more. We’ve got torture scenes. We’ve got executions! We’ve got sons betraying their own fathers to the secret police. We’ve got one of the ministers even slandering his own WIFE who is in prison – until to his astonishment she’s released.

"This film has the Three T’s: TERROR, TORTURE, TYRANNY. It’s Orwell’s 1984 only real. And true."

You sink back exhausted. The producer takes another puff on his Cuban and looks pointedly at his Cartier tank watch.

"All seems a little gloomy to me. And there’s no zombies, I like zombies, and – this is too serious a movie for me."

"No…no… read the title page of the script – IT’S A COMEDY!"

Big Mogul sits bolt upright in his sun lounger and spits his cigar sizzling into the pool.

"A comedy? Are you out of your freaking mind? Get the hell outta here! What next – Auschwitz the Musical?"

…………………………………………..

Unless it seems, the pitcher is Armando Iannucci the creative Scottish-born comedy genius of Italian heritage who came up with the stunning VEEP, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and brought to the screen half a dozen more comedy classics (in Britain at least).

So it got made. The Death of Stalin. A comedy.

Now having read more than a little about the rule of that psychopathic megalomaniac Stalin and a reign of terror that sent millions to their deaths, I confess I couldn’t see the humour – even the black humour – in a film about his demise and its bloody aftermath.

And for the first fifteen minutes, despite the insane guffawing of some bearded throwbacks sitting in front of me – I thought, "This is the least funny thing I’ve ever seen."

The casting and the actor’s portrayals didn’t help. Lavrenti Beria, the paedophile-rapist secret police boss was in real life physically a bald, weaselly little runt.

Nikita Krushchev, eventual leader of the Soviet Union was a bald, burly peasant type.

But they cast the English theatrical actor Simon Russell Beale, who is naturally bald and extremely rotund as – Beria. They cast thin, lithe, cosmetically- made-bald Steve Buscemi, as Krushchev.

So for a few minutes I admit I was confused thinking Krushchev was Beria and vice-versa.

Then there’s Monty Python star Michael Palin as the Russian leader Molotov. As you watch him you can’t help cast your mind back to the Dead Parrot sketch.

"No, this is a Norwegian blue…it’s not dead, it’s resting."

And the accents. No-one even attempts a Russian accent. Steve Buscemi is outright, no-holds-barred stars and stripes American. "Hey, who the hell put a go****ed tomAYto in my pocket?"

Jason Isaacs as the pugnacious Soviet military man Marshal Zhukov, has an English Northern accent so blunt he sounded like one of the Yorkshiremen in another Python sketch, where each one recalls growing up in such poverty they ate broken glass and walked 195 miles a day to school in the snow, then adding, "And it were luxury, bluddy luxury."

 

Then there’s an English TV comedian called Paul Whitehouse playing wily Anastas Mikoyan, who sounds off like a chirpy bus conductor on a red London Routemaster issuing tickets as he heads for the East End.

 

But the most incongruous accent of all comes out of the moustachioed mouth of Stalin himself; an astonishingly bad verbal impression of Dick van Dyke doing an astoundingly bad verbal impression of a Cockney in Mary Poppins.

It’s an utter dog’s breakfast, a veritable Babel of confusing accents.

But there IS a standout performance by that fine American actor Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the hapless and terrified Stalin deputy, Georgi Malenkov.

His bad wig is priceless, his hang-dog look and seemingly hesitant performance, looking this way and that before he makes even the smallest decision, is a master-class, even if this Deputy Chairman of the USSR appears to come from St. Louis, Missouri. The other standout is Jeffrey Russell Beale as the lascivious, murderous creep Beria.

But always in my mind as the movie unrolled was: never mind where’s the beef? Where’s the comedy?

There’s one scene where they roll the paralysed and dying Stalin onto a bed and two of the bearers end up UNDER Stalin.

Oh, wow, hilarious, what farcical stuff – yet the two swamp people in front of me thought it hilarious.

Or when Malenkov confesses to Zhukov that he thinks Beria is a danger, believing Zhukov will sympathise. But Zhukov in his broad Northern accent says he will have to report that remark to the Politburo. That could be a death sentence.

The eyes of Tambor’s Malenkov go wide with sheer terror, and his multiple flabby chins wobble with nerves. Next is the Lubianka prison and a bullet through the back of his neck. Then Zhukov laughs and prods him, "You shudda seen your face." He was putting Malenkov on.

Oh, excuse me for not rolling in the aisles. A man thinks for a brief second he has been betrayed and will soon die a horrible death. Then you say, in effect, "Just kidding." Maybe we need a laugh track here.

And an egregious error – (and a spoiler alert if you’re not acquainted with the period.) Beria, who has spent two decades sending people to death and slavery get his just desserts.

But as he’s dragged off for what we see as a bloody summary execution (oh, and another laugh clue: we feast on a shot of his burning body after he’s been shot in the head. What a rib-tickler.)

But as Beria is dragged away, bound and gagged, face bloodied, Malenkov, who Beria was going to have killed, is still sticking to pointless Soviet committee rules, shouting that Beria deserves a trial, insisting: "He was one of us!"

In reality Beria got his absurd show trial, was inevitably found guilty of betraying the Soviet Union, but also with some ingenuity, of rape too.

It was nine months later before he was finally executed, shot in the face after a gag had been stuffed in his mouth to stifle his terror-stricken and vain appeals for mercy.

Yes, this whole movie is simply a larf-a-minute.

To my amazement Homeland’s super-spooky-spook actor Rupert Friend plays Stalin’s drunken son, Vasily. And badly.

But he does get an actually almost funny moment. He insists on making a speech on the Kremlin balcony at his father’s funeral, against the wishes of the leadership. He even stays sober for it.

But as he starts to extol the virtues of his warm and cuddly dead Dad, and compares the peoples of the Soviet Union to a collection of sad little bereaved bears, fighter jets scream over Red Square and make his words inaudible.

His is the worst performance of the whole movie. AND we’re supposed to find funny him talking about a plane crash, caused by his incompetence, that killed an entire hockey team. I studied the audience for that one. Not so much as a titter.

And to be the worst performer takes some doing in a cast that includes Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, played by Andrea Riseborough, in the manner of a rather strident and at times hysterical English girl from the posh Home Counties of England who looks as out of place in Moscow as a Siberian babushka would in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Ok. Now here’s the weird part. I ending up LOVING this movie and I’d recommend you see it.

Truly, honestly – no joke – and no wordplay intended.

Why? Well…I can’t truly say. I didn’t believe ANY of the characters, yet the story is compelling, and if you needed a reminder – or to be informed for the first time – just how bad Communism was at its murderous apogee in the Soviet Union as short a time ago as the Fifties, well here it is.

And given Iannucci’s comedy street-smarts perhaps he’s actually saying in his less-than-coded way: "How can you treat these people and events as other THAN farce? Dangerous, homicidal farce but farcically ludicrous nonetheless."

And Buscemi as a Moscow Mafiosi?

Well, weren’t these people the Mafia of international politics with the largest country in the world for their turf?

Zhukov as a blunt-speaking, no-nonsense, I call-a-spade-a-spade Yorkshireman? Well perhaps the better to understand the rough-edged military genius who actually arrests Beria and roughs him up in the process.

Palin as mild-mannered nonentity Molotov, the man who in the 1930’s thought up the Molotov Cocktail – something that as military historians will tell you is not something to be ordered at your local upmarket hotel bar with a Vodka-Martini and twist for your companion. Well why not?

Weren’t these senior Communist apparatchiks frequently faceless, Janus-like two-faced straw men?

So go. Take the kids. And let them draw their own conclusion about the movie. Mine is it’s a comedy not of errors but of terrors; a blackly humorous attempt to show what can result when you let a country fall into the grip of totalitarianism.

And my confused view of the movie reminds me of an old joke told by a gagmaster in his prime:

"When I grew up and told them I wanted to be a comedian they laughed. Well, let me tell you, they’re not laughing now."

And I’m not laughing after this movie, and I didn’t laugh once during it – but it did make me think.

And make me want to read more about Stalin, that Georgian – yes, he was Georgian not Russian – red Tsar and about those murderous times.

But don’t tell your kids – or your wife, husband, or date – that the movie you’ve got tickets for is a comedy. Then if they come out splitting their sides saying, "That was SO funny," well, then Iannuci wins.

I wager you’ll have a humdinger of a conversation about the movie and the crazed world of the court of the Red Tsar, over the burgers and shakes afterwards.

And of course I mean Georgian as in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, rather than as in the US state of Georgia in case there’s any confusion. Stalin’s home-town was not Atlanta. LOL………

Dasdivanya!!!

Ends.

The Foreigner – a compelling departure from “type” for both Chan and Brosnan

 Given that The Foreigner stars Pierce "best James Bond since Sean Connery" Brosnan and THE Jackie "most brilliant and funniest martial artist to ever live"  Chan, about a dad with special abilities beating up bad guys, there have been so many speculative anticipations of what The Foreigner might be that I think it best to start off with what The Foreigner is NOT.

The Foreigner is not comedy Kung-fu master versus James Bond. Nor is The Foreigner a version of Taken-Chan style.

The Foreigner IS a movie which proves that Pierce Brosnan and Jackie Chan are not just movie stars.

I remember the first time I ever saw Jackie Chan. B.C. (Before children) when we actually had time to kill, my husband would flip through channels and occasionally watch a kung fu movie. I found them dull but would sit next to him and either read a book or doze off. But then one day he found a movie which featured a guy using martial arts and beating up bad guys…with a LADDER! Who fights with a LADDER!? Of course it was Jackie Chan. The fluidity with which he fought, the cleverness with which he parried blows and attacked his foes were a pleasure to watch. AND he was FUNNY! Watching Jackie Chan fight was the martial arts equivalent of watching Gene Kelly dance!

I have been a big fan of Pierce Brosnan for decades. First saw him in the TV show Remington Steele. In this clever old TV show Brosnan plays a con man who impersonates the head of a private detective agency actually owned by a woman. Her business had not been going anywhere because people wanted to trust a male detective. So she invented a masculine boss and Brosnan's character, in a North by Northwest homage, accidentally becomes the flesh and blood front man. Brosnan's Steele was, at the same time, both suave and adorably bumbling, seeing every case as some version of an old classic film. Then eight years after the close of the show, when FINALLY given the shot at James Bond, Brosnan ramped up the suave but kept just a touch of the cheek with him, making Brosnan's the best Bond next to Connery they ever had.

…………………..The Foreigner features NONE of the above – nothing of the simpler and lighter personalities we have come to associate with either Brosnan or Chan are in evidence in The Foreigner. The Foreigner instead showcases Brosnan's and Chan's talents as ACTORS. Both, to their admirable credit,  play strongly against the type we have come to expect and love. Chan plays Quan Minh, a father devastated by the loss of his only surviving daughter to an IRA bomb in London. Shuffling humbly from police station to political representative, he personifies an almost stereotype Chinese man. Without giving away anything you wouldn't know from the trailers, it is not long before grief and frustration peels away the onion thin layers that hide the dangerous man he has hidden beneath this carefully cultivated, easy to underestimate, persona. Brosnan, for his part, plays Liam Hennessy, a weasely slick Irish Deputy Minister who is also both more and less than he first appears. A political animal, Hennessy superficially sympathizes with Chan's character but clearly has his own agenda forefront in his mind and plans.

In the beginning, we watch Chan as his catastrophic loss seems to gut him. Then we follow him as this emptying out process becomes a metamorphosis. Meanwhile, the writer, in a fascinating twist, carves out the background with Brosnan's Hennessy, which explains how this collateral damage came to be. We see a bigger more complex picture through the eyes of the innocent bystander, Minh, who will stop at nothing to get justice for his daughter. The explanation of the intrigue which casually took Minh's daughter's life takes on a life of its own so that we end up with two movies in one.  The two stories begin like strands from separate balls of yarn, but become knitted inextricably together in an unexpected and fascinating pattern.

This is not to say that Chan doesn't kick some serious booty – because he does. As my husband is wont to say – they should have never have left him with nothing to lose. And one of the many applaud worth aspects of The Foreigner is that the story does not attempt to turn Chan's Minh into a super hero. Minh's age is even mentioned several times, as in (paraphrasing) "How can we be getting our a***es handed to us by a 60 year old man!"

And Chan, the actor, doesn't hide his age either. When Minh takes on two 35 year old men in their prime, it takes its toll on Chan's character, as, I imagine it really did on his now 63 year old body in a realistic way.

Over the years Jackie Chan has let it be known how dangerous his stunts were. Chan always was one for letting the audience, especially the kids in the crowd, understand what he does has a price. I always found it laudable that he would make a point of demonstrating in the end credit sequences of his lighter films the bloopers wherein he incurred obvious injuries. He wanted to be sure others knew: when you try to run up a wall and flip over or slide through a small opening or jump kick or slid down a 5 story pole – things happen even to professionals and they get hurt. Chan has broken almost as many bones as has the daredevil motorcyclist Evil Knievel. OK that may be an exaggeration inasmuch as Knievel holds the world record for the most bones broken by a surviving human being at 433. But Chan has had broken bones, concussions, a slash with an unexpectedly unblunted sword, dislocated cheek bone, sternum, and pelvis (I didn't even know you could DO that!), and his thighs crushed between two cars. Chan even has a hole in his skull from a misadventure jumping to a tree in Armour of God. But Chan still is a pleasure to watch, performing martial arts with his signature balletic grace despite his age and previous injuries. Chan's  acrobatic martial arts in a fight scene is as much a thing of beauty as watching Mikhail Baryshnikov performing a grand jete .

The story of The Foreigner is fascinating and both of these men deserve big kudos for gutsy performances quite different from the meat and potatoes style most people have come to expect. And they do it well.

I have a friend, Stuart White, a retired journalist, who covered the appalling violence of what the Irish called "The Troubles" – that period of time when the Irish and English were constantly and mortally at each others throats – when terrorist attacks became so horribly prevalent that public trash cans vanished as too convenient for depositing bombs. Stuart wrote a brilliant book about an IRA terrorist called Shamrock Boy which was turned into a screenplay called Crossmaglen now in pre-production. While watching The Foreigner it felt like the same world, so from my limited perspective I can say The Foreigner came across to me with the power of tragic authenticity.

Go enter the dark labyrinthian world of The Foreigner, then come back with a new appreciation for the talents of the men we previously knew, respectively, as Pierce "Remington Steele" Brosnan and the comic martial arts master Jackie Chan.

There is realistic violence and some rough language and sexuality from the terrorists. And the human assault which begins the story is terrifying. So mid to late teens would be my minimum age and then only with parental attendance.

A NEW POST – A NEW LEAF

In both the reference to a movie of the same name, and as an analogy for the fact we are taking a break from the ongoing much longer blog about Back to the Future and fatherhood —–

We interrupt this multi-post on Back to the Future to bring you – as John Cleese might say – something completely different.

I would venture to say that most, if not all of you, have never heard of the movie A New Leaf. Penned, directed and starring Elaine May, co-starring the iconic Walter Matthau, this is a small budget film made in 1971 based upon the short story, The Green Heart, by Jack Ritchie. The protagonist, Henry Grahame, (Matthau) is a self-absorbed, self-indulgent aristocratic heir who runs through his family fortune until, in his late thirties finds himself without friends or fortune. There is only one person in the world who cares anything about him, Harold (the delightful singer and Shakespearean theatrical actor, George Rose), Henry’s valet, who sums up the basis for his loyalty to Henry in this one speech: “How many men these days require the services of a gentleman’s gentleman? How many men have your devotion to form, sir? You have managed, in your own lifetime Mr. Graham, to keep alive traditions that were dead before you were born.”

Of course, Harold tempers this with the warning that if Mr. Graham continues to be poor, he immediately tenders his two week notice.

Henry quickly realizes that, for him, there are only two options: suicide…………….or marrying rich. With Harold’s aide Henry embarks on a quest to find a rich widow or single heiress who would be tolerable to his refined tastes and isolated ways. He soon discovers that while there are MANY candidates, he can’t stand any of them…until he finds the least suitable one of all. An extremely wealthy but ugliest of ugly ducklings. Shy, socially awkward, clumsy, naive, gullible – she is everything Henry would NOT want in a mate, aside from the money. However, it suddenly occurs to him, she would be quite easy to —— murder.

So begins the courtship and honey-murder, I mean —moon of one of the most charming little comedies I have ever seen. It is ultimately a film about the power of love, redemption and poetic justice, but told in the singularly most UN-conventional and UN-sentimental way I have ever seen demonstrated.

I REALLY am not going to spoil this one for you. You have to see it……if you can. It is quite hard to find and after much searching I located a copy on VHS.

But if possible, I recommend this movie as one of my all time favorites. This movie would be appropriate, with parental supervision, for even younger teens. Henry is quite chaste. There is very little profanity and no sex. Henry’s SOLE vice is avarice. The only questionable moment is when one socialite attempts to seduce him and Henry, in a breathtaking moment of humor, literally runs screaming from her.

Walter Matthau is at his finest in a brilliant example of miscasting gone right. Aside from Hello Dolly, I can’t think of a less appropriate vehicle for Matthau. But – as in Hello Dolly – he is such an amazing actor that he pulls off the deliciously arrogant and thoroughly self-centered Henry while making him – somehow – adorable.

Elaine May is perfectly terrific as the totally INcapable Henrietta Lowell. Vulnerable, dependent, socially oblivious and educated to the point of being a blithering idiot in everything except her one field of interest – botony – May creates a child-like character who is both endearing and extremely annoying at the same time. You come to understand why Henry would consider killing her yet dread her disappearance. May is probably not familiar to too many. She made her biggest mark with Mike Nichols as half of an improvisational comedy duo and did a good deal of stage work. She was in only about a dozen films, including a teensy part in The Graduate, wrote only 10 screenplays and directed only four movies, the last mostly because of her tendency to go way over budget. As an aside, one of her directorial efforts was Ishtar, the biggest financial flop in history at that time.

But she did manage to produce A New Leaf – this beautiful blossom of a movie.