INSIDE (2023)

March 16, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. We’ve seen movies about isolation, and we’ve seen movies with survival stories. However, as best I can remember, this is the first survival story about a guy isolated and trapped in an ultra-luxury Manhattan penthouse apartment. Ben Hopkins wrote the screenplay from an idea of director Vasilis Katsoupis. The best idea was casting the always interesting Willem Dafoe in the lead (and almost the only role), while the worst idea was wedging in a forced statement on the one-percenters.

Mr. Dafoe plays Nemo, an art thief working with a never-seen/only heard walkie-talkie partner. After being air-dropped onto the balcony via helicopter, the first few minutes are a thing of beauty in a criminally precise way. Nemo swiftly navigates his way through the apartment gathering paintings by famed expressionist Egon Schiele, whose self-portrait is to be the gem of the haul. The first problem is that painting is nowhere to be found, and the second, much more serious problem occurs when Nemo is ready to leave and the security system malfunctions. This renders Nemo a prisoner, trapped like a rat.

This is the type of apartment that features a plunge pool in the living room, two massive aquariums, a steel-reinforced door, and an automatic indoor sprinkler system for the plants. Valuable art is professional displayed throughout. What it doesn’t have is an easy escape route. The sleek modernism of luxury slowly transforms into a cold, prison-like fortress. We watch as Nemo’s initial panic is slowly overtaken by a sinking feeling of despair. His partner’s final walkie-talkie words, “You’re on your own”, ring out as Nemo takes stock of his dire straits.

It’s an unusual security lockdown. There is no running water, phone line, or emergency escape, yet the HVAC seems to have a mind of its own by spontaneously shifting from desert-level heat to Arctic winter cold. And for some reason, there seem to be no security cameras inside this high-tech apartment, yet the TV periodically displays closed-circuit video from around the building. Those cameras give Nemo his only link to the outside world, and also help us understand how far he has drifted from reality … especially in regards to Jasmine, a cleaning lady he spots. He scavenges for food and water in some not-so-appealing ways, including some scraps inside a refrigerator that plays “Macarena” on full blast if the door is left open too long. Although we aren’t told exactly how many days this ordeal lasts, we get some idea from a certain pile shown.

Any movie that has us engaged enough for us to ask ourselves, “What would I do in this situation?” has something going for it, but it’s really Dafoe’s performance as a guy losing his grip that keeps us zoned in. Supposedly the owner of this apartment is away in Kazakhstan, and given the weak attempt towards the end to comment on the ultra-rich, we assume this detail is meant to prevent us from having too much sympathy for him. It appears the filmmaker believes we should take a morality lesson from a criminal (one who doesn’t carry a cell phone) who, as the narrator, tells us twice, “Cats die. Music fades. Art is for keeps.”

Opens in theaters on March 17, 2023


OSCARS 2023 recap

March 13, 2023

OSCARS 2023 recap

For movie lovers, the Academy Awards ceremony is usually a fun night designed as a celebration of the art form, with recognition for some of the best work released the previous year. This year’s presentation marked the 95th ceremony, and as always, provided cynics ample opportunity to cast aspersions, while for the rest of us, there were many moments to treasure – some even falling into the category of ‘history-making.’

An opening faux trailer, with a superimposed Jimmy Kimmel sharing the cockpit in a fighter jet with Tom Cruise in TOP GUN: MAVERICK, concluded with the show’s host ‘parachuting’ onto the stage. Kimmel’s opening monologue was entertaining and didn’t shy away from last year’s stunning moment known as “the slap.” Noted in the monologue was a tip of the cap to composer John Williams, who at age 91, received his 53rd Oscar nomination, second all-time to Walt Disney’s 59. It’s also of interest to note that Mr. Williams has scored 25 of director Steven Spielberg’s 27 films.

The only things I’ll mention from the pre-show are that the carpet was “champagne” colored instead of the traditional red, Hugh Grant was an immense jerk during his arrival interview, and the odds-on favorite to have a huge night of awards was EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (EEAAO), a film with co-directors and featuring many Asian actors in a bizarre story that breaks the mold for traditional Oscar-type films. If you’ve read my “Best of 2022” post, you know that my personal favorite was THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, which garnered nine nominations, the same as ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (AQOTWF), with both just behind the eleven nominations of EEAAO. Yes, this year lends itself to abbreviated initials for two long-titled films!

Although I’m not one to buy into the idea of “snubs” since I believe such a label is an insult to others that are honored with a nomination and/or win, it is always fun to see which categories produce surprise winners. Kimmel pointed out that there were 16 first-time nominees and 5 Irish actors nominated – setting up a pretty good punchline. He also noted the absence of James Cameron and Tom Cruise … both A-listers rumored to have had their feathers ruffled due to a lack of nomination for directing (Cameron) and acting (Cruise), although both were producers on films up for Best Picture.

The first award went to the creative genius behind GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO (the actual title to differentiate it from other versions). This award was presented by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who was sporting a form-fitting pink silk sports coat. Not to be outdressed, Troy Kotsur sported a purple velvet suit as he and joined Ariana DeBose in presenting the awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Both were highlights and an early indication of the success that lay in store for EEAAO. Ke Huy Quan was emotional and inspirational as he reminded us of what the American Dream really means to those who value it, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ win is a testament to perseverance and support, as she thanked her many collaborators over the years, including her famous parents, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.

Each of the five nominated songs were performed live throughout the evening. 14-time nominee Diane Warren was first, soon to be followed by David Byrne and Stephanie Hsu (EEAAO). One of the evening’s true highlights was a rousing song and dance performance of the song, “Naatu, Naatu” from India’s RRR, the eventual winner. Also impressive were a no-make-up and torn-jeans performance from Lady Gaga (TOP GUN: MAVERICK), for some reason filmed almost entirely in extreme close-up; and a pregnant Rhianna (fresh off the Super Bowl) singing “Lift Me Up” from BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER.

Best Documentary Feature was awarded to NAVALNY, and Alexei Navalny’s wife sent a message from the stage. This powerful moment was followed by an audience participation version of “Happy Birthday” during the speech for Best Live Action Short film (AN IRISH GOODBYE). Although I found that moment a bit odd, it was the follow-up that hit me as truly bizarre … a no-holds barred, live from the stage promo for Disney’s upcoming live action, THE LITTLE MERMAID, followed by the first full trailer. I don’t recall such unadulterated marketing schemes every being a part of the ceremony in previous year. Later we did receive a tribute to Warner Brothers for their 100th anniversary of motion pictures – much different than a promo for an upcoming film.

James Friend winning for Best Cinematography for AQOTWF became the first of enough wins that some began to question if the film might pull off a Best Picture surprise to end the night. Best Make-up and Hairstyling went to THE WHALE, the first film to use digital prosthetics in order to allow an actors’ true features to flow through. All the donkey lovers were thrilled to see ‘Jenny the donkey’ led on stage by Kimmel. Unfortunately, this became one of the few nods to my favorite film, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Best Costume went to BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER, and AQOTWF won Best International Feature Film (Germany). Next up were awards for Documentary Short (THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER) and Animated Short (THE BOY, THE MOLE, THE FOX, AND THE HORSE). What was notable was that the first winner was cut off from their acceptance speech, while the second was allowed to babble on.

The award for Production Design became my first “miss” of the night, as AQOTWF took the award over the visually stunning BABYLON. This was quickly followed by another AQOTWF win for Best Score – a straight-to-the-gut musical punch composed by Volker Bertelmann. Best Visual Effects went to AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, an award presented by Elizabeth Banks and a ‘fake’ Cocaine Bear (her recent movie) as she explained the importance of visual effects. Another odd moment occurred as amazing actress Florence Pugh purposefully held her slit dress open as she presented awards for Original Screenplay (EEAAO) and Adapted Screenplay (WOMEN TALKING). As strange as the spandex undergarment sighting was, I was so excited for Sarah Polley’s win … hopefully this talented writer and filmmaker will be inspired to share more of her work.

Best Sound went to TOP GUN: MAVERICK, and it was the speech given by the RRR winners for Best Song, MM Keeravani and Chandrabose that stole the moment, as Keeravani sang his speech, adapted to “Top of the World” by The Carpenters, a pop group he says influenced him as he grew up. Lenny Kravitz performed during the “In Memoriam” segment … a segment that the Academy seems to botch with omissions every year (this year being no exception). EEAAO won for Best Editing, though it wasn’t until ‘Daniels’, co-directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, won for Best Director that we sensed EEAAO would hold off AQOTWF for the big prize.

A humble and grateful Brendan Fraser (THE WHALE) was nearly overcome with emotions during his speech for Best Actor, and making history as the first Asian actress to win was Michelle Yeoh for EEAAO, an award presented to her by Halle Barry, the first woman of color to win Best Actress. At this point, we felt pretty certain of the film title Harrison Ford would read for the final award of the evening, and sure enough it became a night of history for EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE as it was named Best Picture. The film totaled 7 wins out of 11 nominations, and only two other films took home more than one award: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (4) and THE WHALE (2). EEAAO also joined A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) and NETWORK (1976) with winners in three of the four acting categories. It was also a record-breaking night for cutting edge studio A24 as it won 6 of the 7 ‘above-the-line’ awards (Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress).

Leaving empty-handed were ELVIS, THE FABELMANS, and THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, each coming in with multiple nominations. And though we got a bit tired of Kimmel’s running jabs at Matt Damon (who wasn’t attending), it was very cool to see him point out the legendary 94 year old James Hong, who has nearly 500 credits on IMDb dating back to the mid-1950’s … his latest, of course, being the night’s big winner, EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. And I’m certain Mr. Hong was relieved to not be seated behind actress and presenter Danai Gurira, whose unique hairstyle stood up about 2 feet from the top of her head. Imagine being seated behind that for 3.5 hours! TV viewership for the ceremony was up 12% over last year’s program, though we can’t help but wonder if some tuned in to see if the Hollywood tradition included a sequel to “The Slap.”

OSCAR Nominated Shorts – Documentary (2022 releases)

March 3, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. Every year this is one of my favorite categories. Typically, these filmmakers are committed to a subject and have very little money to work with, making their work easily categorized as passion projects. This year is no exception, and once again we are amazed at the wide range of topics and subjects covered: the transformation of an angry war veteran, true love at an elephant sanctuary in India, a profile of a key player during the Watergate era, the effects of climate change on walruses in the Arctic, and a father-daughter video project covering 16 years. Below is my breakdown of this year’s nominees:


Director Kartiki Gonsalves introduces us to Bomman and Bellie, indigenous Kattunauakans working together to care for Raghu, an elephant rescued as an injured orphan in Tamil Nadu, India in 2019. The elephant preserve where they live and work is run by the Forest Department, and Bomman’s hut is right next to the stall where Raghu sleeps.

The love they share for Raghu soon develops into a romance between Bomman and Bellie. They talk to Raghu, train him, feed him, bathe him, play with him, and even tuck him in bed at night. Later when they also become caregivers for 5-month-old Baby Ammu, we can see the similarities to raising human children. Both elephants make it into the wedding day pictures of Bomman and Bellie, but when Raghu is re-assigned to other caregivers, we witness the grieving of the couple, as well as that of Ammu, who has lost a friend and role model. The 41-minute film serves to show how animals and people can live off the same forest and share a love.

HAULOUT (UK, Russia) 25 min

For the first few minutes, we aren’t sure what we are watching. Maxim is huddled in a rustic cabin on the shore of the Russian Arctic. He eats canned good (from the can), boils his water, and recycles his cigarettes. One morning he awakens to the grunting and groaning noises occurring outside. What follows is a stunning and spectacular shot of tens of thousands of walruses huddled on the beach by his hut.

It turns out Maxim is a Marine Biologist, and he spends 43 days observing this annual ritual of walruses as part of a 10 year study. Although the walruses show up every year, the effects of climate change are obvious. There is no longer ice for them to rest on during the trek. This exhausts the creatures, causing the death toll to increase each year. Co-directors (and brother and sister) Maxim Arbugaev and Evgenia Arbugaeva deliver a beautiful (considering the harsh conditions) 25-minute film, and a stark reminder of how animals are being forced to adapt to the changes.


We must admire Jay Rosenblatt’s foresight as a father. It’s a simple idea, yet brilliant in it’s lasting impact. Beginning on his daughter Ella’s second birthday, Mr. Rosenblatt maintained a tradition of videotaping an “interview” with her each year. This tradition, or ritual, continued through her 18th birthday. The result bounces between predictable, stunning, sad, joyful, and touching … all in a condensed 29-minute run time.

To watch the progression of a precocious two-year old and three-year old toddler obsessing over a lollypop and make-up to a poised eighteen-year old on the brink of independence is fascinating. As a parent, we recognize the many stages … some so cute, others so challenging … each to be treasured.

Dad’s questions include: What do you want to do when you grow up? What are you afraid of? What is power? What are dreams? What is most important to you? You get the idea. He wants to document her progression as a person and as a thinker. In addition to the lollypop and desire to wear make-up, Ella’s singing voice develops beautifully as she grows into a 12-year-old who has learned sign language, and a 13-year-old fresh off her Bat Mitzvah. We see her with braces on her teeth, and as a 14-year-old toting the burden of her age. It’s those last couple of years that really give us hope for Ella’s future, and an insight into what the project has meant.

As a teenager, what would you have told your 25-year-old self?


Fifty years have passed, yet the Watergate scandal continues to provide us with stories. Co-directors Anne Alvergue and Debra McClutchy turn their attention to one of the fascinating figures of the era in this 40 minute short. Martha Mitchell was the wife of Richard Nixon’s campaign manager and subsequent Attorney General, John Mitchell. Outspoken Martha was a colorful personality and characterized as “a menace” by Nixon himself.

The directors utilize archival footage and news reels to show how Martha became a media darling during one of the most closed-off administrations in recent history. Reporters such as Helen Thomas and Connie Chung bring a media perspective, as do the numerous newscast clips shown. However, things took a pretty dark turn for this charming lady, and her story provides a stark reminder of just how corrupt and extreme the Nixon administration became.

Once news of the Watergate break-in hit the news, Martha seemed to vanish from the public eye. Her story is that she was held captive, basically kidnapped, as the administration advanced a public character assassination on her. When the secret tapes were revealed, and Martha discovered her husband had conspired with Nixon on the break-in, she became a high-profile whistleblower, After Nixon’s resignation, Martha became a celebrity, frequently seen on talk shows. Cast by many as a ‘crazy’ lady, the “Martha Mitchell effect” became the description for those whose ‘delusions’ turned out to be true. The recent TV miniseries “Gaslit” also focused on Martha Mitchell, who died in 1976 from a blood disease.


Should you ever doubt that kindness and understanding can make a difference, please watch this film from director Joshua Seftel (WAR, INC, 2008). The 29 minute run time may just rejuvenate your faith in human beings to change their attitude and be accepting of those they once distrusted.

As a Marine, Richard “Mac” McKinney was trained to hate and kill Muslims. He was informed that they were terrorists out to destroy his country, and September 11, 2001 was all the proof he needed. A simple question from his young daughter Emily convinced him he needed to act, so he plotted to bomb the Islamic Culture Center of Muncie (Indiana). So this former Marine, a trained killer and hater, headed to the mosque to obtain the “proof” he needed to convince his daughter that his actions were righteous.

A funny thing happened. Mac was treated kindly by the folks there. They asked him questions and guided him to a better understanding. Now this didn’t happen overnight. A shift in beliefs never occurs quickly. However, their treatment of Mac not only (unknowingly) saved their own lives, it saved his as well. He may have been trained to not think of his war targets as human beings, but he found them to show him more humanity than he’d ever known. It’s chilling to see Emily ponder what it would have been like to have a mass murderer as a father, and mostly we are inspired to see good people work so diligently at accepting someone who initially showed them nothing but hatred. Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai is one of the producers of the film.

BOYCOTT (2023, doc)

March 2, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s pretty obvious these times are quite tumultuous when it comes to political views, as well as social and religious beliefs. Of course, differences of opinions have always existed, however the focus by media attention has created new types of monsters … the vocal types who yell into microphones and cameras about how anyone who disagrees with their extreme view is a danger. Most of us understand that the real danger lurks in the things that get decided ‘quietly’ … legislation that impacts people just trying to live their lives and do their jobs.

Documentarian Julia Bacha presents an extraordinary look at this exact topic … legislation that restricts civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. We are informed that 33 states passed some form of legislation outlawing the boycotting of Israel, and punishing individuals and companies that don’t abide. Three specific cases are presented: a newspaper editor in Arkansas, a speech pathologist in Texas, and a lawyer in Arizona. Through this, we learn a great deal about how legislation affects those with viewpoints outside the accepted norm.

Bahia Amawi is a speech pathologist and mother of five in Austin Texas. She is also Palestinian. She refused to sign a document promising to never boycott Israel, and was subsequently fired from her position. Alan Leveritt is the founder and publisher of “Arkansas Times”, a free community paper that survives on advertising revenue. He refused to sign a document promising to never boycott Israel, and his advertising revenue from state colleges and organizations immediately stopped. Mikkel Jordahl was part of a state-sponsored program in Sedona, Arizona offering legal representation for inmates. He refused to sign a document promising to never boycott Israel, and he was fired. Jordahl began offering free counsel while his case made its way through the courts.

Brian Hauss, an ACLU lawyer labels this as a First Amendment issue, and explains that boycotts (whether politically motivated or even something as foolish as a fan boycotting a sport or team) have long been a crucial part of this country’s freedom, and a legal way to debate controversial issues. The 1955 Montgomery bus boycott lasted more than one year, and was a protest against racially segregated seating. This consumer-led boycott resulted in change for fairness and equity.

The difference here is that the legislation is politically driven to support Israel, a United States ally, in its occupation of Palestine. This tangled web brings antisemitism and political favoritism into the same argument. The BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) is a Palestinian movement with the intent to pressure Israel regarding its Palestinian occupation. The support of Israel may make sense for the federal government, but for a Palestinian mother living in the U.S. to lose her job because she won’t give up her right to boycott the Israeli presence seems to make little sense.

Ms. Bacha’s documentary is so effective because three smart people are able to clearly vocalize how this legislation requires them to carry an unfair burden. Watching Arkansas state senator Bart Hester explain his stance is painful and ludicrous, and offers little support for our trusting of politicians to understand issues prior to voting. This is certainly not a Republican versus Democrat issue, and it’s a solid reminder of Americans’ right to debate and disagree. Most of us agree that antisemitism is despicable, but freedoms are the fiber of the country. The use of music here is often annoying, but a tremendous amount of information is packed into these 70 minutes. It’s quite an education.

Premiering March 1, 2023 on AppleTV and Prime Video



February 6, 2022

Slamdance Film Festival 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Mark Pellington is a renowned music video director, having worked with such acts as Bruce Springsteen, U2, Leonard Cohen, Pearl Jam, INXS, Demi Lovato, and Imagine Dragons. He’s also done TV work, as well as some feature films, including ARLINGTON ROAD (1999), THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002), HENRY POOLE IS HERE (2008), and THE LAST WORD (2017). Despite a successful and varied career, it’s difficult to imagine he’s ever had a project as bizarre as his latest “experiential” film, which was named the “Spotlight Feature” at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival.

Billed as “Pina” meets “Saw”; however, it’s difficult to believe a Pina Bausch production would offer similar style, and it’s clear that the gore and violence here is imagined and implied rather than sprayed across the screen. However, some empathy must be allowed for whomever was tasked with marketing Mr. Pellington’s film. It’s 70 minutes of interpretative dance. And I do mean interpretative. There is no story playing out, but rather sequences of dancers in what the one-time narrator describes as a fourth dimension.  

These sequences are abstract and oblique. Nothing is obvious. In fact, there is no attempt to draw us in. We are purely observers and interpreters. The title cards/text insertions are purposefully obtuse rather than helpful or inviting. The opening note in the films states that we never open ourselves to others, keeping instead to our protective shell. This sentiment is followed by dancing that represents grief, pain, sex, and other emotions.

The dancers are body-covered in chalky make-up and grease paint, while wearing non-descript skimpy costumes that more resemble tattered rags. Dark and shadowy is the best description for the lighting and you won’t find movie sets more stark than the few used here. Six dancers receive credit, and sequences feature one, two, or four dancers at any given time. These dancers are extraordinary in their athleticism, and ability to contort and twist. The same solo dancer is featured in the opening and closing, and she is especially impressive in her loose-jointed and intense floor writhing, often reaching positions that most of us can’t fathom. Every scene is shot in slow-motion, and all are accompanied by an electronic score that drones on in its sameness. Nina McNeely is the featured choreographer, and the dancing/movement is quite something to behold. We only wish it was a bit more accessible and certainly a bit shorter in run time.

**Slamdance Film Festival embodies its mantra: By Filmmakers, For Filmmakers. Though Slamdance has greatly evolved since the early years, its mission and organization remain the same. Slamdance serves new and emerging artists, filmmakers, and storytellers from around the world. Slamdance programmers gravitate towards films that embody the true spirit of DIY guerilla filmmaking.


April 24, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. A quarter-century once elapsed between feature films for Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson. He only directed a handful of short films between “GILLIAP” (1975) and SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR (2000). Mr. Andersson makes Terrence Malick look prolific. He’s certainly not a traditional filmmaker and this latest is not a typical movie. In fact, its highest and best use may be in a graduate Psychology or Philosophy class, so that the mental capacity of students can be stretched and tested to determine whether Andersson is celebrating life or bemoaning our existence.

The narrator begins most segments with something along the lines of: “I saw a man …”, “I saw a woman …”, “I saw parents …”, and “I saw a couple floating …”. These lead us into static one shot vignettes with little or no dialogue. For example, in the first segment, a woman on a park bench concludes with, “It’s September already.” There is a priest who makes a recurring appearance as one who has lost his faith. In another, parents have lost a son. The emphasis is on the artistic impression and one’s own interpretation.

Over the opening, and again later in the film, we see a couple floating over the ruins of Cologne. It’s Andersson’s take on Chagall’s 1918 painting, “Over the Town”. Another segment is a recreation of Hitler’s bunker in Kukryniksy’s 1946 painting, “The End”. These are simple, stark, low-key snapshots in time. The color palette seems to be off-gray, and the sun never shines in this world – there’s no tanned skin in the bunch. Andersson offers just enough moments of hope/happiness to prevent this from being 80 minutes of full-on depression. We always think he’s trying to tell us something, but can’t always decipher what the intended message is. Like the best art, it’s up to your interpretation, and surely dependent on individual perspective.

Release delayed due to COVID-19


BEST OF 2020

January 10, 2021

My list of Top Movies from 2020 has been posted, and as is my custom, you’ll also find plenty of movies to check out. 2020 was a strange year in all aspects – including movies.  As always, I hope you’ll share your favorites with me as well!

Here is the link to the BEST OF 2020:



THE BAND’S VISIT (stage musical, 2020)

February 6, 2020

***NOTE: I don’t often post stage reviews, but since this one is adapted from a 2007 movie, I’m bending the rules

 “Nothing is as beautiful as something you don’t expect.” This memorable line works not only for the story, but also holds true as a review of the stage production. When we think of Tony Award winning musicals, we tend to think big and loud, with elaborate and ostentatious set design. Full disclosure: In 2008, I became a fan of writer-director Eran Kolirin’s film version, and in 2017 the stage musical version, with a script Itamar Moses adapted (from Kolirin’s screenplay) and music from David Yazbek moved to Broadway. It won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and then won a Grammy for Best Theatre Musical Album. So yes, that’s one of the beautiful things we didn’t expect.

When the lights first come up, it’s 1996 and we see the Alexandra Ceremonial Police Orchestra waiting apprehensively at the bus station for a ride that is apparently not coming. They have arrived in Israel from Egypt, after being invited to play at the Grand Opening of the Arab Cultural Center in Petah Tivka. Thanks to the language barrier, they instead find their way to Bet Hativka  … “with a B” instead of “with a P”. A tiny desert town in Israel offers up only confusing looks from the locals to go with welcome hospitality. Dina, the café owner, arranges a place for each of the band members to sleep that night, and her own personal guest is Tewfiq, the band’s dignified leader.

Janet Dacal has taken over the role of Dina from Katrina Lenk (Broadway) and Chilina Kennedy (first national tour). It’s a challenging character because Dina is a tough-talking local who still harbors hope of a fulfilling relationship. In other words, her hard shell protects the warm and open heart of a romantic. Additionally, Dina is responsible for bringing energy and spirit to the stage as most of her scenes are with Tewfiq, one of the more reserved stage characters you’ve seen. Sasson Gabay has reprised his excellent silver screen role as Tewfiq (played by Tony Shalhoub on Broadway), and he perfectly embodies a man weighted with an internal burden of grief, as well as the added responsibility of proudly representing his country.

Everything takes place over the course of one night. It’s not so much a story as it is a display of human connection. There is no real clash of cultures. No, these are simply people dealing with the situation. The mundane existence of the small town locals have varying reactions to the strangers wearing powder blue uniforms and toting instruments. Ah yes, the music. Rather than overblown showstoppers, the 12 songs and score coax us through the interactions. Dina’s “Omar Sharif” is not only a catchy tune, but one that bonds her with Tewfiq. “Papi Hears the Ocean” may be the most humorous of the songs, and it’s immediately followed by the touching “Haled’s Song About Love.” Themes of humor (including a running Chet Baker gag) and love run throughout, but keep in mind, this is mostly a subdued, intimate show featuring human moments between characters.

The circular, revolving stage works brilliantly for the simple sets of this simple town. The depth comes from the characters, and sometimes what is implied is more powerful than what is said. The production is from director David Cromer (also from the Broadway run), and the show runs a little more than 90 minutes with no intermission. We are informed twice that the band’s visit wasn’t important, and maybe they are right … this was “Something Different.” In contrast to the tone of the band’s overnight stay, it’s that finale concert that brings the crowd to their feet. We get to see the musicians do what they love. It’s quite a treat.

In Dallas at the Winspear Opera House, the show will have a two-week run with Dallas Summer Musicals (February 4-16, 2020), and then an additional week through AT&T Performing Arts Center (February 18-23, 2020)

JOKER (2019)

October 3, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. The first thing to know is that this is not a Superhero movie. In fact, there are no heroes in the movie – unless you would like to apply the label to a single mom who lives down the hall from Arthur Fleck. Mr. Fleck lives at home with his invalid mother in a grungy, run-down apartment. He works as a clown-for-hire, dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian, and depends on social services to supply the 7 medications he takes since being released from Arkham State Hospital. It’s a bleak existence at a bleak time in a bleak city. Gotham is in the midst of a garbage workers’ strike (only the ‘super rats’ are happy), political upheaval, and a growing chasm between the classes. And then it gets worse for Arthur.

The second thing to know is that this is a standalone Joker film, and one mostly unrelated or not connected to previous projects featuring the colorful Clown Prince character played (and voiced) by such memorable actors as Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Mark Hamill, Jared Leto and even Zach Galifianakis. Director Todd Phillips (who co-wrote the script with Scott Silver) is best known for such extreme comedies as “The Hangover” franchise and OLD SCHOOL, so he’s a bit outside of his usual wheelhouse. Phillips and Silver seem to embrace not just the history of the character, but also the look, texture and tone of filmmaking from an earlier era. The gritty and outcast feel of Scorcese’s TAXI DRIVER and THE KING OF COMEDY is present, and so are numerous tributes to familiar Joker moments of days gone by.

Three time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, and he delivers Arthur’s slow descent into madness, or shall we say further descent. It’s clear from the beginning that Arthur views himself as ignored by society, while all he wants to do is bring joy and laughter to others … and be noticed. His daydreams or visions of himself in a better world send a strong message. Phoenix shows us what full commitment to a role looks like. He lost 50 pounds, leaving a frame that contorts, moves and dances in a manner unlike what we’ve seen before. In fact, it’s a toss-up on which shows up more frequently, his dances moves or his maniacal, pained laughter. We are informed Arthur suffers from Pseudobulbar Affect, also known as emotional incontinence, which causes that creepy laughter to pop up at some inappropriate times. Of course, the comparisons to Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning turn in THE DARK KNIGHT are inevitable. The roles and films are written quite differently, and it’s safe to say both actors were all-in.

Action sequences and special visual effects are both noticeably absent, but the violence is sure to shock. This is not one for the younger kids, no matter how much they enjoy THE AVENGERS or WONDER WOMAN (or any other DC or Marvel film). This gritty, visceral approach is often a tough watch, and is much more a character study of mental illness than a costume drama … although Arthur’s clothes and make-up are front and center. When Arthur states, “I have nothing but bad thoughts”, we believe him. And the sympathetic back story explains a great deal, and will likely prove quite controversial.

Phoenix dominates the film (as he should), and supporting work is provided by Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin, a TV talk show host in the Johnny Carson mode; Zazie Beetz (DEADPOOL 2) as the single mom neighbor Sophie Dumond; Frances Conroy as Penny Fleck, Arthur’s mother; Brett Cullen as a not so empathetic Thomas Wayne; and Shea Whigham and Bill Camp as police detectives. I’ll hesitantly mention that Dante Pereira-Olson makes a couple of brief appearances as an adolescent Bruce Wayne, and just for fun, we get a shot of the young man honing the batpole skills he will use later in life. Just don’t expect any “real” Batman references.

Director Phillips delivers a film that looks and feels and sounds much different than other comic book movies. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher is a frequent Phillips collaborator (all 3 Hangover movies) and the dark look and gritty feel are present in most every shot. Hildur Guonadottir (this year’s Emmy winner for “Chernobyl”) serves up a foreboding score – one that never overwhelms, and one that contrasts perfectly with the more traditional songs utilized throughout: Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”, Jimmy Durante singing “Smile”, Cream’s “White Room”, “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra, and Gary Glitter’s familiar “Rock and Roll Part 1 and 2”. The “Smile” song is especially relevant as its origins can be traced by to Charlie Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES, a silent movie classic featured in this film. Phillips even uses the Saul Bass designed Warner Bros logo to open the credits, making sure we understand the time period (no cell phones, etc).

The film traces Arthur’s slide into crime … a transition that he wasn’t seeking, and one that he believes was forced upon him. His rise as a savior to the working class is secondary to his own journey, and the chaos is handled on the perimeters of the film, preventing this from becoming a Super Villain movie. Keep in mind JOKER played at Venice, Telluride and Toronto – three prestigious festivals. This is just another thing that sets it apart from others in the genre. Despite the 1981 time stamp, the consistent anti-rich message and class disparity is prevalent throughout. This appears to be Phillips’ way of including a contemporary theme in a decades-old setting. And it’s a cautionary tale that there should be no clown left behind.

watch the trailer:


April 24, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. In what was originally titled “Avengers: Infinity War Part 2”, we get the much-anticipated conclusion to the most recent 22 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films … specifically Phase 3. Regardless if you are a deep-rooted fanboy or a casual viewer, you likely know the questions heading into this finale:


Can the Avengers defeat Thanos?

What role will Captain Marvel (and her pixie haircut) play?

Will those who died in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR be brought back to life?

Will Tony Stark/Iron Man make it back from drifting in space?

Who will survive this final battle?


We knew this one had to be big, and in fact, it’s colossal/humongous/monumental … whatever your preferred adjective might be. And you can rest easy knowing that all of the above questions are answered quite clearly in this 3 hour epic from co-director brothers Anthony Russo and Joe Russo and co-writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the same directors and writers behind AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and a few other MCU entries).

Marvel has excelled over the past decade plus by combining interesting characters, understandable story lines, visually stunning effects, and clever humor. This finale offers all of that and more. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a more perfect ending to this galactic odyssey … and I don’t offer that praise lightly. From the use of Traffic’s classic “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and a gut-wrenching opening scene that yanks us right back into that feeling of dread provided by ‘Infinity War’, we know we are in for a ride that is quite a bit more somber and even more emotional than what we’ve come to expect.

The fallout from the Thanos snap is clear as we catch up with Black Widow, Captain America, Thor and Hulk. Each is dealing on their own terms, and while the Banner-Hulk merger is quite something to behold, trust me when I say, you’ve never imagined seeing Thor in his current state. This marks Chris Evans’ 10th film as Captain America, and he is front and center through much of the film – as is, in a bit of a surprise, Karen Gillan as Nebula. It makes sense given her tie to Thanos, and Ms. Gillan holds up quite well in the spotlight.

Since the previous and speculation has been on time travel and the Quantum Realm, brace yourself for a bit of convoluted talk about how that works, but that’s the closest thing to a negative I have to offer – and even that is offset by numerous punchlines at the expense of BACK TO THE FUTURE and most every other time travel movie ever made.

The theatre was packed with Dallas area critics and industry folks, and there was a significant amount of cheering, applauding and more than a few sniffles. Yes, this one will take you on an emotional journey as well as a visual one. It has a tough/emotional beginning and a tough/emotional ending. These are characters we’ve gotten to know over multiple films … and you should know just about every major or mid-major character from every Marvel film makes an appearance, as do numerous minor ones. It’s quite a remarkable reunion. And yes, the brilliance of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One more than offsets the Pepper Potts scenes.

Creator Stan Lee does get his final posthumous cameo (good for more applause), and there is a ‘women’s movement’ moment that seems to be Marvel’s “we hear you” statement. Much of what we see is “inevitable”, but as the Avengers assemble this last time, we are there to laugh, cry and gasp. This is what happens when ‘over-the-top’ is ‘just right’.

watch the trailer: