I seem to be gradually re-gaining my frequent theatregoer routine, which is definitely a positive development. For some reason my filmgoing routine has been in overdrive these last several months, often seeing 2 films per week – I ought to have chronicled them more immediately but might try to do a reverse chronological list before the year is out.
I returned to the local Performance Network Theatre a few nights ago to catch An Iliad, their season opener that will be closing this weekend. I found the show to be the most impressive one I’ve seen there yet, and while I’ve only been to 3 or 4 productions there so far, it was a welcome reminder to pay attention to what the company has to offer, as my previous impressions had been more mixed.
This Iliad was a one-man show, and the narrative traced the familiar mythological story, adding some contemporary touches towards the conclusion. I found actor John Manfredi’s performance to be consistently engaging, even though individual moments tend to stand out more in my reflections on the play than the piece as a whole. There were many intriguing uses of set and light design that seemed to be some of the most versatile I had seen on stage in a long while. For example, the stage appeared to be sparsely illuminated by a series of search lights, but those same lights came on and off at very specific times throughout the narrative. Sound design also added a perceptive layer through use of a record player, recorded music and many individual LPs on stage that banded together for a late plot point. And I can’t forget the set as a whole, which used the entirety of PNT’s wide rectangular space to its maximum advantage.
Yesterday I ventured over to the Quality 16 (definitely the oddest named cinema I’ve ever been a regular patron of) to catch new release The Counselor. In retrospect I’m not sure why I rushed out to see this film, but suspect a glitzy advertising campaign and good memory of seeing previous New Mexico/Texas-based Cormac McCarthy (and Javier Bardem) film No Country for Old Men might have contributed to the “want to see” effect. Unfortunately this did not live up to the strong standards of No Country.
McCarthy’s first film script sees him exploring familiar bleak themes of life and death in an arid and lonely landscape. Unfortunately character motivation remains vague throughout the film, and the layered plot is never completely nor clearly unfolded. The featured actors fare inconsistently, and I felt particularly disappointed to see Penelope Cruz regressing to a glorified supportive girlfriend part that might have been more common for her earlier in her career. On the other hand, Cameron Diaz turns in a scenery-chewing performance in multiple ways, though looking noticeably older on-screen – I realize I haven’t chosen to see a new release of hers since The Box in 2009, which only drew me in because it was filmed in my home region of Massachusetts. Of the three primary men in the film, Javier Bardem fares the best, again playing up character eccentricities (a similar approach was seen in Skyfall last year) to create a memorable screen presence.
Two better known in the 90’s Latino actors (John Leguizamo and Rosie Perez) appeared in cameo roles, making me wonder what they’ve been up to the last several years. And the technical makeup of the film impressed me, but that’s not a surprise coming from the skilled hands of veteran filmmaker Ridley Scott.
Next up on my film list is clandestine Disney documentary Escape from Tomorrow, playing a very limited engagement at the Michigan Theater this week.