Blog Archives

Honoring Women in many forms

The three films I’ve seen so far this year, as I maybe/maybe not get back into the “one film per week” routine, all focus strongly on the feminine experience, which feels appropriate and important as the Trump era begins in US government. (As we clearly saw yesterday with the widespread women’s marches around the country.)

Going in reverse chronological order, last night’s film of choice was the new 20th Century Women, which I caught back at the Devonshire Mall cinema, a place that would be my favorite local cinema if it wasn’t over a country border that requires often irritating logistics, not to mention a toll both ways. Anyway, I continue to appreciate the times that I do get over there, and this was the first time in awhile, probably over a year, although I had been to the mall – and not the cinema – at more recent times.

cineplex-devonshire

So the film of choice was 20th Century Women, an ensemble piece that has arrived with some “buzz” into a semi-wide release, although I’m guessing it may be overlooked when the all-important Academy Award nominations are announced on Tuesday morning. A small ensemble cast – Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Billy Crudup and Lucas Zellman – anchors the film in a surprisingly robust way.

20th-century-womenThe film seemed unusual to me in that it built my interest in the characters, as opposed to starting early with a lot of information and then losing interest as the narrative goes on. Related to that, the characters seemed to exist in and out of the story, thanks to the use of voice-over, with several individuals offering audio perspective from later in their lives as the “immediate” visual played on the screen.

I was pleased to see the Santa Barbara area of California, a region I’m quite familiar with, be represented in the story, and a few visual shout-outs to locations in the area I’ve passed by numerous times. As well, the heart of the story seemed to be one that focused on the nuances of life and art of communication between individuals, which made it more relatable in some ways than your average film about misfits, which all of the characters clearly were.

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Spring Break Tales from the Road and the Air

IMG_0781I’m off on another adventure today, currently writing this from the spacious and comfortable Toronto Pearson Airport in Canada. Final destination is London, England, where I carved out many memories and theatrical adventures in my early 20’s, but haven’t been there in person for just over seven years. So it will be an exciting reunion with a vibrant city.

For this on the road adventure, I’m pledging to write more on the blog, maybe/hopefully once a day, since there are several sure to be memorable theatre performances on my itinerary, and it might be interesting to reflect publicly on similarities and differences in the city since my earlier time living and working there.

But for now, I just have the energetic purgatory of airport life to report on. I keep feeling like Canada offers a fresher, looser take on the airport routine than what those of us in the USA have come to dread in recent years. Instead of uber-serious gate agents, people actually smile at you. The food offerings are freshly made for a modest price and not sterile wrapped in zealous amounts of packaging. And even some of the planes, as I saw this morning in the photo above, are more colorful and intimate than their American cousins.

It was especially refreshing to depart from cozy and friendly Windsor airport, which stands in stark yet refreshing contrast to the mammoth DTW. In Windsor there are only three gates and one small check-in area, giving the impression that one has traveled back in time to the golden era of air travel or come into a vacation resort. Or chosen an efficient spot to depart on a new adventure.

The Great Canadian Digital Film Festival

StandeeI was reminded of why I make a point of regularly checking the listings at the Cineplex Odeon Devonshire Mall when some old favorite films randomly appeared up on their schedule this past week. It turned out the cinema was taking part in a one week only “Great Digital Film Festival” – spotlighting classic films centered on fantasy, science fiction and adventure all across Canada. It seems this event has become a tradition for Cineplex filmgoers in recent years, and the impressively quirky lineup shows that they are programming for film lovers and not just to make some money off ticket sales.

For me, the choice of Blade Runner and Dick Tracy stood out the most, and conveniently, they were both showing on the same day. This was an audacious trek over the border, given that it happened to be last Sunday, the day the metro Detroit area received one of its largest snowfalls in a 24 hour period ever. But I forged ahead. When I did reach the Devonshire Mall, the cinema was not surprisingly sparsely populated.

Blade Runner AdBlade Runner was up first, and I’d actually previously seen the film on the big screen at the Palm Theatre back in 2008. But (no offense to the charming and unique Palm) the Devonshire Mall has a much more substantial film viewing experience, so I knew this time would be a fuller sensory experience. And that was just the case, with a crystal – clear print, Vangelis’ unique soundtrack oozing over the speakers, and the moody cinematography gaining more depth in its onscreen presentation where it should be.

It was a sort of “oh, aha!” moment to remember that the film takes place in 2019, which, of course, isn’t that far away at this point in time. I’d forgotten that a few of the lines of dialogue concerning Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah and co.’s replicant characters reference 2016 and 2017, just around the corner. Cineplex realized this coincidence as well and humorously played on it with their in-house advertising, as seen at right.

A long-awaited sequel to the film is reportedly close to shooting, but I have to wonder if they’ll delay the release until 2019 itself? It’s great to see the original film continuing to hold up so well and become even more prescient about our increasingly digital – obsessed world.

Dick Tracy was the evening show, and this was a major cinematic update for me, as I clearly recall seeing that film during its original run almost 25 years ago at the Star Theatre in St. Johnsbury, VT, even though I was just shy of my sixth birthday at the time – maybe it was one of the first “event movies” I ever saw?

Looking at the film now was, needless to say, a different experience. There was Warren Beatty in the lead, entering the autumn years of his career and playing a role that could/should have been played by someone younger – I believe Beatty was in his early or mid 50’s at the time of filming. There was Madonna, coming off her stratospheric debut decade and beginning the first of many image transformations over her long career. There was Al Pacino, overacting as usual and made up to be heftier onscreen. There was a boat load of other character actors, perhaps having more fun than the main cast in various levels of makeup and elaborate guises.

I’m certain I didn’t notice the technical mastery of the film when I looked at it through younger eyes. Today’s comic book movies really ought to have looked more closely at Beatty and co.’s depiction of a fabled world, using a very specific color scheme and deliberate lighting and editing choices, leading to Academy Awards for best makeup and art direction. As well, acclaimed composer Stephen Sondheim lent his distinctive composition talents to the movie’s original songs, and that led to an Academy Award for the main theme, “Sooner or Later“.

I don’t think I would enjoy Dick Tracy if I saw it for the first time today – the cartoonish violence overwhelms the main story, and is surprising given the PG rating, the characterizations are way over the top, Beatty is perhaps too old for the main role, and so on. But it sure was a big event movie in the summer of 1990 – I remember acquiring several collectable cards and likely a few other “must have” items related to the movie – so I’ll always recall its impact on that particular summer, like the best type of time capsule.

Thanks are due to Cineplex Odeon for programming these classics. I’ll look forward to seeing what they have up their sleeves next year.

Sneak Preview and Canadian Filmgoing Recap

I wrote this post back in December but only just re-discovered it on my hard drive. This film still awaits a US release!

Silver City CinemaSERENA, which I caught over the border at the Silver City Cinemas in Windsor, a place that seems very far away at this writing, has yet to be released in the US, and has been plagued by financier problems since it was shot early in 2012. The director, Suzanne Bier, is rumored to have been uncertain about the tone she was going for and how to tell the story. And some of that uncertainty exists in the final cut that I saw, which lurches awkwardly from sweeping epic to intimate drama and doesn’t seem to have a through-line of dramatic tension or objective. Curiously, Cooper comes across well in the piece, although he should have done something about his mussy modern hair. He projects a solid double-edge to his character, who is meant to be a somewhat conniving townsman. I’m sure that another, perhaps older, actor would have added more depth, however.

Serena PosterAs for Lawrence, she’s really got to stop going into roles that are written for characters older than her early 20s real life age. This time, her character, the titular role, is meant to be the fulcrum from which everyone else revolves. She has flashes of intensity and ulterior motives, but it is inconsistent. Where Lawrence also became so well-known so quickly after hitting it big in 2012 or so, she may be running the risk of typecasting in that the audience expects her to act jovial. When she sticks to drama, as is the case here, it feels less genuine. The collective consciousness may have forgotten that her earlier roles – Winter’s Bone, The Beaver and others – were in fact highly dramatic.

End of Summer Arts Binge

So I want to keep up the blog chronicling, but I’m not feeling motivated to go into detail about my arts exploits this past weekend. So I guess the answer is to do a paragraph and see what happens.

Friday evening September 12 brought my first visit to the Village Players of Birmingham back up in my now-neighbor Oakland County. Their current production, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, is an adaptation of the same-titled film by Pedro Almodovar. I’d heard about this musical when it appeared on Broadway in late 2010, but it was not a huge success there, and doesn’t seem to have picked up steam on the regional circuits, so props to Birmingham for choosing to showcase it as their season opener. I have also followed some of Almodovar’s work (and briefly met him personally in 2007), but have never seen this film.

This was a gutsy production paying direct homage to Almodovar’s love of bold colors, Spanish women and passionate characters. Costume design highlighted the aforementioned colors, with lots of reds and big 80s hair. Set design was an interesting hybrid of small and large scale, with the company’s modest proscenium stage decorated with pop-art style drawings on the walls and small suggestions of living areas in the forefront of the stage. As well, the orchestra was creatively nestled in above the play-space and behind a wall. The large ensemble cast seemed pleased to be giving voice to such enthusiastic material, with the actors in the central roles standing out.

But the script remained flimsy and tangential, with a meandering plot switching around to multiple characters, and little time devoted to creating a central protagonist. Often it seemed that when allegiances could build to one specific character, it was time to switch over to another one. Or, a different, and less likable character would take over the focus from someone that seemed more interesting.

Nonetheless, a fun show and great excuse to see a new to me company.

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Saturday night brought a trip over the border to see Howie Mandel perform at the (overrated) Caesars Colosseum. I could write a separate entry about the challenges of this particular performance venue… Roy summarizes them well. I was not pleased that it took nearly an hour to depart the complex, between a protracted awkward group shuffle out of the auditorium, going back through the casino complex, and then slowly snaking down the levels in the crowded free parking garage. I’ll keep my eye on the future offerings at Caesars, but might think twice before actually going in there again.

Happily, Mandel offered an upbeat and “extended” routine for the receptive audience. The native Canadian was clearly excited to be back in his home province. He didn’t offer too much personal background (a feature in a Michigan City newspaper about his previous night’s performance did) but that may have been due to his excitement over becoming a grandfather earlier that day which, naturally, was a big topic in the first half of his routine.

The “homecoming” theme stuck throughout the one hour or so long performance, where Mandel didn’t seem to shy away from being personal, yet funny, and treated the audience like his friends. Towards the end of his performance, he claimed that we were even getting an “extended version” because of being there in Ontario. And he gave a brief nod to his iconic Bobby character, which was my first introduction to his work.

windsor skyline

The Windsor skyline as seen from Detroit, with Caesars visible at the far left.

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Sunday brought another trip over the border, this time at the “northern passage” Port Huron/Sarnia crossing point, bound for the iconic Stratford Festival and a long-overdue (for me) first visit there. I was pleased that this trip came about through my new community at Wayne State University and is an annual excursion.

Initially I was not excited that our play of the day would be the overly familiar Midsummer Nights Dream. But this version dared to be modern with the material, incorporating such timely topics as gay marriage, deaf characters, multiple ethnicities and cross – gender/nontraditional casting freely into an exuberant take on the well – known tale. The production also offered the strongest take on the Theseus & Hippolyta scenes that I’ve ever seen, thanks to committed work from stellar actors.

The Stratford experience, clearly designed to be similar to its UK sibling/cousin, is also a winner, with the festival theatres located just beyond a wider than you’d expect downtown area, with most shops clearly, but cheerily, catering to the festival’s tourist trade, and taking care to ensure that the patron’s experience is a memorable one.