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:


AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

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:

 


LET IT BE: A CELEBRATION OF THE MUSIC OF THE BEATLES

March 10, 2017

Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park

March 8, 2017

This is one of my rare forays from the big screen to the big stage. The touring production of this world famous musical came to Dallas, and will soon play Ft Worth before heading off to the next stop.

 The Beatles’ first big UK hit was in 1962 (“Love Me Do”) and their first U.S. tour occurred in 1964. The band’s final live performance was in 1969 on a rooftop in London, and they officially broke up in 1970. During this unprecedented run (and since), The Beatles sold more records than any band in history, and changed the face and sound of popular music at least a couple of times. Because of this unparalleled success and popularity, it’s not surprising that the band and its music have now generated THREE stage productions – Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles, Beatlemania, and most recently, Let it Be: A Celebration of the Music of The Beatles.

Revamped after successful runs in London’s West End and on Broadway, this touring version is split into two parts: Act 1 hits some of the highlights of the band’s career, while Act 2 provides a look at what might have been – a reunion of the band in 1980. One could describe this as ‘What was’ versus ‘What if?’.

Kicking off with the first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, the familiar music immediately lights the warm fire of nostalgia in the audience. The other segments in this first Act include the Shea Stadium concert, the Sgt Pepper era, and finally Abbey Road – replete with a barefoot Paul. What is immediately apparent is that the four lads on stage may not closely resemble the original band in looks, but they certainly are talented musicians and singers. The banter with the audience is not especially a highlight as the exaggerated speaking voices meant to mimic Paul and John are at times cringe-inducing, but this in no way impacts the enjoyment and expert versions of the songs that are permanently imbedded in our DNA.

The difference maker in this show is the ‘What if?’ second Act, as the ultimate fan fantasy occurs – the four lads from Liverpool reunite for a concert on John’s 40th birthday, October 9, 1980. This is ten years after they disbanded, and there are some musical chills as they play a blend of their hits from “the good old days” and meld their talents on songs from their individual projects. Selections include George’s “What is Life”, John’s “Starting Over”, Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy”, and Paul’s “Band on the Run”. There is also “Blackbird” in the stage style of Crosby, Stills and Nash; while John’s “Imagine” truly hits the right note. Though the encore is predictable and necessary and crowd-pleasing, the musical highlight of the show is George’s searing version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

With an emphasis on the music, the stage props were minimal. Either side featured a retro dial radio and television. While the band played, the familiar clips of actual Beatles audiences were shown; during the costume changes, we were treated to music from the era, news clips, and the always good-for-a-laugh Carnation Instant Breakfast commercial. Complementing the fine music were the spot on costumes. Evolving from the early suits, mop-tops and Beatle boots to the spectacular Sgt Pepper psychedelic colors, and culminating in Lennon’s iconic New York City t-shirt, the clothes and facial hair leave no doubt as to the era. Neil Candelora plays Paul with the perfect amount of fake stage pep and constant need for audience feedback, and JT Curtis as George gets to flash his prolific musical expertise periodically while struggling to maintain the mostly still nature of the quiet one. Chris McBurney handles Ringo’s drums with relative ease, and Michael Gagliano adds the Lennon edge necessary to capture the band’s stage presence. It may not be a true “Revolution” but everything does “Come Together” for an extremely fun and crowd-pleasing time.


SPECTRE (2015)

November 8, 2015

spectre Greetings again from the darkness. Don’t come to me looking for objective judgment on Bond. By the time we hear that familiar opening trumpet blast of Marty Norman’s Bond theme, I’ve already been swept away into the land of MI6 enchantment – gadgets, cars, women, over-the-top stunts, globe-trotting, global villains and quintessential coolness. And it doesn’t help that this time director Sam Mendes treats this 24th (official) Bond film as an homage to those that came before. At times it plays like a tribute – and maybe even a closing chapter (for Mendes and Daniel Craig?).

A long tracking shot drops us into the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, complete with skeleton masks and giant parade props. We follow a masked couple as they maneuver through the crowd and into their hotel room, where 007 quickly leaps out the window and makes his way across roof tops towards his mission. It’s one of the more visually stimulating and explosive openings in franchise history.

The story combines the personal back-story of Bond’s childhood with his relentless pursuit of the evil empire known as Spectre … the crime syndicate that has been part of the Bond universe for many years and films. The tie-in to the iconic Bond nemesis Blofeld, this new mastermind Franz Oberhauser, and Bond’s adoptive family make for an interesting chain of custody. However, as is customary, it’s the characters and action sequences that deliver the entertainment bang.

Oberhauser is played by Christoph Waltz (understated given his track record), and the two Bond “ladies” are played by Lea Seydoux (the daughter of Mr. White, and the key to finding Spectre), and Monica Bellucci (the widow of Bond’s Mexico victim). Mr. Waltz takes advantage of his limited screen time, while Ms. Bellucci is limited to a few lines and a chance to model some lingerie. Reprising their roles are Rory Kinnear as Tanner, Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q, and Jesper Christensen as Mr. White. New to the mix is Dave Bautista as Hinx (in the mode of Oddjob and Jaws), and Andrew Scott as C … the latest of those trying to shut down the “00” program. Whishaw brings a nice element to his role, while Bautista’s Hinx gets to participate in both a car chase and train fight … while uttering only a single word of dialogue.

The evil doers have gotten more intellectual over the years, and Oberhauser and Spectre have the goal of global surveillance and controlling information and data. It’s a modern theme for a Bond film that also seems intent on reminiscing. There are nods to most (if not every) previous Bond film via (among other things) Nehru jackets, cats, scars, and a white dinner jacket. And it’s nice to see the gun barrel sequence back in the opening credits where it belongs. As for the new song, Sam Smith has a very nice voice, but his Bond song lacks the punch of the best.

In terms of globe-trotting, we get Mexico, Rome, Tangier (Morocco), London and Austria. The (prolonged) car chase occurs on the deserted streets (and steps) of Rome and features two stunning cars – Aston Martin DB10 and Jaguar C-X75. In addition to the cars and previously mentioned train, it’s helicopters that earned a couple of worthy action sequences.

It’s Daniel Craig’s fourth turn as Bond, James Bond. He brings his own brand of emotion and cheekiness, while also possessing a physicality that allows the action sequences to work. He has made the role his, much like Christian Bale took ownership of Batman. For those who refuse to accept the new generation, director Mendes delivers enough nostalgia that even the old-timers should be entertained.

R.I.P. Derek Watkins

watch the trailer:

 

 


THE KEY (2015)

October 8, 2015

key Greetings again from the darkness. Novelist Jurichiro Tanizaki was nominated for Nobel in Literature, and is one of the more revered modern era writers from Japan. His 1955 novel “Kagi” is the source for this direct-to-video effort from director Jefery Levy, as well as a 1983 film version from Italian director Tinto Brass. Mr. Levy’s production is some sort of experimental film approach that employs the LSD effect utilized by so many movies … only this one isn’t based in the 1960’s and the trippy drug plays absolutely no role here.

Jack (David Arquette) and Ida (Bai Ling) have been married 16 years, and have for the most part, ceased to communicate. This void especially bothers Jack as it pertains to their sex life. He is so focused on this aspect that he commits to writing down all his feelings on this topic in his diary. We learn this because he tells us. Narration is key to the film … well that and the headache-inducing strobe edits and combination lighting-color-texture used to bring the diary entries to life.

One day Jack leaves the key to his desk drawer out so that Ida has full access to his diary, and his deepest thoughts. She refuses to read it, and instead decides to start her own diary. These two are not so creative when it comes to tormenting each other … though they go to great lengths to avoid a conversation.

Somehow, despite the lack of a plot, the obnoxious strobe-lighting, the never-ending nudity, and the droning narration, Bai Ling manages to stand out in her role. For one thing, she is an infinitely better narrator than Mr. Arquette, but more importantly, she seizes the few opportunities to bring some depth and humanity to her character.

It’s a story of frustration, obsession, questionable sexual habits, and the price paid for an absence of communication. The dreamlike visuals and the incessant narration never allow us to really connect with either character … even with the Charlie Chaplin bits performed by Ms. Ling. The film might be worth exploring from a technical aspect, but the less-than-graceful translation of the novel makes this a tough one to watch, or even to understand who its audience might be.

watch the trailer:

 

 


SICARIO (2015)

September 24, 2015

sicario Greetings again from the darkness. Really good thrillers – the kind that make our palms sweat and cause us to forget to blink – are increasingly rare in the world of cinema these days. Writer Taylor Sheridan’s script doesn’t choose the good guys, but instead highlights the terror and lack of rules and morality that guide the border wars and drug cartels. It turns out the border isn’t the only line being crossed. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies) elevates Sheridan’s excellent script further with a strong cast and some outstanding camera work from the best Director of Photography working today, Roger Deakins.

The opening sequence is about as tense as anything we could ever hope for on screen, and it introduces us to FBI Agent Kate Macer, played by Emily Blunt. We soon learn Kate is a focused and dedicated tactical expert, who also happens to be idealistic enough to believe the raids conducted by her team are making a difference … at least until this belief is later challenged.

Kate quickly finds herself “volunteering” for a special task force with muddled goals, uncertain tactics, and secretive leadership. Josh Brolin plays Matt, the leader of the team. He charms his way through answering Kate’s questions without offering any substantive intel. When asked about the mission objective, Matt responds with “to create chaos” and a smirk. Adding to her confusion and wariness is the mysterious “consultant” Alejandro (the “hitman” of the title) played by Benecio Del Toro. Part of the brilliance of the script is that everyone seems to know what’s happening except Kate and us (the viewers)!  Our understanding comes through the slow-drip method and keeps us fully engaged.

Similarities to both Zero Dark Thirty and Apocalypse Now struck me as the film progressed, but the sheer number of stress-inducing sequences set this apart as something different. A family dinner with a drug lord is one of the more fascinating and tension-packed scenes of the year. The moral complexity is thought-provoking, and the abundance of corruption and politics in relation to the cartels and war on drugs, leave us wondering not just whether this war can be won, but through what methods is it being fought.

Welcome to Juarez”, says Alejandro, as the SUV motorcade makes its way past the remnants of a brutal crime scene. Although there are some tremendous sequences of tactical raids (and the best traffic jam you’ve seen), this should not be labeled as an action film … it’s so much more. Ms. Blunt’s character is the conscience of the film, but it’s Brolin’s Matt that makes us curious as to his background and motivation. And as interesting as are those two characters, they pale in comparison to Benecio’s man on a mission. Del Toro doesn’t act frequently, but he possesses the gift that has him dominating the screen … forcing our eyes to follow his every movement. Rumors have a prequel in the works that will focus on Alejandro’s roots. It’s the “land of wolves”, and Alejandro is an alpha.

Lastly, it must be stated that the film is a technical treat. The unique score from Johann Johannsson is never overbearing, and often mimics our pounding hearts. It’s worth taking note. Best of all is the work of the great Roger Deakins. His photography is astounding and this could be his best work yet. The desert landscapes are just as crucial as the claustrophobic raids or the impromptu strategy sessions, and Deakins puts us right where we need to be. As a companion piece to this excellent film, I would recommend Matthew Heineman’s extraordinary documentary from earlier this year, Cartel Land.

watch the trailer:

 

 


A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL (Theater review, 2014)

December 9, 2014

** Theater review – this site is normally reserved for movies, but since the touring stage musical of one of my favorite movies is playing in Dallas, it seems like a good fit.

a christmas story musical Bob Clark’s 1983 film based on Jean Shepherd’s novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” has become a precious Christmas tradition not just for my family, but also countless others. The Broadway musical received three Tony nominations in 2013 (including Best Musical) and when the touring production was announced as part of the Dallas Summer Musicals 75th season lineup, it was certain to become one of its most popular.

What a joy to watch the pre-show sea of smiling ticketholders jostling to have their picture taken with a glass case display in the theatre lobby. The featured attraction was one of three original “leg lamps” used in the movie … direct from the private collection of Dallas Summer Musicals President and Managing Director Michael Jenkins. This set the mood for a most delightful presentation of a familiar story presented in a manner most of us had not previously experienced.

A film-to-stage adaptation is made more challenging when transitioned into a musical format. The music and lyrics were written for Broadway by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and the songs bring a nice, upbeat touch without disturbing the flow of the story. Chris Carsten plays the Jean Shepherd role, and instead of an unseen movie narrator, he is an active stage participant intertwined through many scenes. With a voice more reminiscent of Brian Doyle Murray than Jean Shepherd, it takes awhile for us to adjust, but Carsten’s animated descriptions are a real asset to the production.

Of course we all know what really matters … Ralphie Parker and the outrageous situations he and his family find themselves. For this show, Ralphie was played by Evan Gray (rotating shows with Coulten Maurer), and his slightly clumsy movements were effective for the comedy moments, and his singing voice was sufficient and consistent throughout the show. Christopher Swan as The Old Man sounded remarkably similar to Darren McGavin at times, while Cal Alexander was spot on as little Randy, especially when screaming “I can’t get up!” in a very popular scene. Susannah Jones was a real standout as The Mother, and her beautiful and soothing singing voice perfectly complemented the sweet demeanor necessary for the role.

The musical numbers benefited from a very talented group of youngsters, and the fact that the songs helped push along the story. The “A Major Award” song and dance sequence seemed to last a couple minutes longer than necessary, and that was probably because it was missing kids through most of it. Miss Shields (played wonderfully by Avital Asuleen) had an explosive and slightly seductive dance that was a bit uncomfortable to watch given the close proximity of the kids, but it was quickly forgiven as the “On Santa’s Lap” portion was colorful and lively and hilarious.

Somehow, most of the iconic moments were captured on stage: the pink bunny pj’s, the triple dog dare on the playground, Higbee’s display window, the furnace battle, Scut Farkus, and of course the leg lamp/major award. The Chinese restaurant scene is a bit awkward these days and probably should be re-written to avoid the racist tone, but we were treated to live bloodhounds romping across the stage as the Bumpus pups, and the presence of the Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200 shot Range Model with a compass in the stock kept Ralphie’s dream alive.

Matt Lenz takes over the direction from Broadway’s John Rando, and Jordan Sparks handles Warren Carlyle’s crisp choreography. The orchestra performed well throughout, and a couple of the kids were exceptional in their tap solos. At the core of the story, and what allows so many to connect, is the nostalgia associated with simpler times and life as a kid combined with the heartfelt emotions that go with being a parent. It seems we all dream of a major award, but what we really want is for our family to be happy … and that’s true whether on a movie screen or through singing on a theatrical stage. HO-HO-HO!!

If you want more information on Dallas Summer Musicals, visit: http://www.dallassummermusicals.org/

 


JAMES GARNER remembered (link to comments)

July 20, 2014

A glitch this morning prevented the “JAMES GARNER remembered” post from being emailed to subscribers.  Here is the link to the comments I posted:

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/2014/07/20/james-garner-remembered/

**If you received the first posting, I apologize for the duplication


YOJIMBO (Japan, 1961)

December 31, 2013

yojimbo Greetings again from the darkness. Yojimbo translates to “bodyguard”, but do not make the mistake of comparing it to the 1992 sappy mess The Bodyguard (Kevin Costner, Whitney Houston). This is one of the finest Japanese films ever made, directed by arguably the greatest Japanese director (Akira Kurosawa), and starring one of the top Japanese actors (Toshiro Mifune). It also served as the inspiration for Sergio Leone’s classic 1964 western, A Fistful of Dollars (with Clint Eastwood).

Based in 1860, we meet the unemployed ronin/samurai (Mifune) wandering the countryside allowing a tossed tree branch to determine the direction of his path. It leads him to a town where the ominous first visual is a dog carrying a human hand in his mouth. We realize this isn’t going to be the most welcoming of towns.

The town is controlled by rival factions: the Silk merchant versus the Sake brewer. They represent crime lords Seibel and Ushitora, respectively (think modern day bloods vs crips). Our clever ronin decides to play both sides against the middle and ends up hired as a bodyguard by BOTH gangs. As you can imagine, this leads to real problems for all involved.

yojimbo2 The psychology of (corrupt) power and fear is in play here, as is some dark humor (the coffin maker). The biggest clash comes with Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai), who proudly carries the town’s only pistol. He certainly enjoys (and abuses) the respect and power that comes with that handgun. The samurai are trained to be loyal at any cost, and it’s quite interesting to see our protagonist adapt to the self-preservation required in his new world.

Masaru Sato delivers a very unique score – one quite unusual for the samurai genre. Toshiro Mifune (pictured left) has one of the great faces in cinematic history, and Kurosawa is in prime form. This is definitely one to see if you enjoy the best films from all countries.  Other must see Kurosawa films include: Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Kagemusha (1980), and Ran (1985).  It should also be noted that Kurosawa directed a comedic sequel to Yojimbo called Sanjuro (1962). The sequel also starred Mifune.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzFq5hOlZ5s