kitchen_kink: (Default)
So, I've finished Perdido Street Station, about which I posted so sideways-enthusiastically the other day.

I found the whole thing weirdly pleasurable, not necessarily in a train-wreck-can't-look-away sort of way that was going to be my first analogy, but rather in a perverse, intense, viscerally pleasurable sort of way, the same way I sometimes enjoy extremely dark sexual fantasies, or reading Clive Barker, or watching something like 28 Days Later.

Spoilers. )
kitchen_kink: (winter's tale)
This is long in coming! But it's been a busy time, and writing about theatre hasn't been at the top of my list, sadly. But I've seen a lot of it! So, hopefully I can remember what I thought.

First up, The Winter's Tale, at the Guthrie in Minneapolis.

In part, I timed my last visit to Minneapolis, when it was really still too cold and ridiculous to go there, in order to see this production. It probably hasn't escaped my readers' notice that it's one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and it's been experiencing something of a renaissance of late: it seems everyone wants to produce it these days. I adored the Guthrie's Midsummer when I saw it a few years ago, and was excited to visit the venerable institution again.

This production was set, initially, in what looked like an early '50s America: slightly post-war, celebratory, a New Year's Eve party. This put the second act squarely in the flower child era, which made a lot of sense for the Bohemia country scenes and added a delightful element to them; I don't think I've ever seen Bohemia done so well. The director's notes made it clear that this director loved Bohemia best about the play, and it showed.

The performances were mostly marvelous - all professional level, of course - but there was a problem in the center of the play, which was Leontes. Someone - probably the director - made a fatally wrong choice about Leontes' behavior, which is a common mistake: making him just plumb crazy. He seems a bit mentally unbalanced from the beginning, and his jealous fits and sleepless nights have a fugue-state quality to them, his voice dissociated, far away and childlike. Making his horrible behavior in the first act the result of mental illness is a pretty bad choice, serving as it does to take responsibility from him; it's also an easy choice for a director who is not willing to face the idea of Leontes behaving like a monster and still being able to be forgiven.

The choice is salvageable, if one decides that the deaths at the end of the first half and the revelation of the truth snaps Leontes out of it, and into a cold reality where he can recognize where his actions have led him and his family. Sadly, this production fails here, too: Leontes seems to simply sink from a slightly schizoid behavior pattern into a shell shocked kind of depression, which carries over 16 years into the second act. When we return to Sicilia we see Paulina treating him like a child who needs special care, and at the end of the play, when Polixenes and Hermione are in the same room again, Leontes again reacts jealously, flinching at the sight. A lovely moment and image that ends the play (the ending images of both acts made me gasp and tear up suddenly) has everyone pouring out of the chapel upstage except Leontes, who stands behind looking troubled. Hermione turns back for him and takes his face in her hands and kisses him, and the lights bump out. It's a beautiful moment that allows us to see, with this choice made, that Hermione has chosen to return to a broken man, and to take care of him for the rest of their days. But I very much dislike this reading: that Leontes after all this time has regained no strength, has learned nothing from his errors except for endless grief, and cannot be a full partner to Hermione the way she so richly deserves - and the only way, I think, that she would agree to finally leave Paulina's care and take her place again as queen. Instead, she comes out of her long hiding to return to a man who ultimately still doesn't trust her.

Polixenes was only so-so ([livejournal.com profile] srakkt was better); I don't think I saw him make a single powerful choice in the whole play. Paulina was magnificent, as were many of the bit players; young Mamillius was absolutely wonderful - a little older and more aware. And Florizel and Perdita - along with Autolycus and pretty much everyone in Bohemia - were magical and full of life. And the settings were gorgeous, the worlds believable. It's just such a shame about Leontes - as Bard in Boston so generously said about my own production, the choices that you make about Leontes are the engine that drive this play and make it either sink or fly - and the actor who plays him has to seem like a man worthy of love and respect even as he behaves monstrously. Jason managed it; Michael Hayden, sadly, doesn't.

Think I'll post these one at a time; less daunting that way. Next: Hamlet!
kitchen_kink: (feminist)
I finally saw Black Swan the other night, and I really liked it, as I figured I would. For me, though, this was not the kind of movie that carries me away, the way The King's Speech did, for example, or True Grit. I didn't fall in love with it the way I do with some movies; I wouldn't say I loved this movie. But what I did love was the way it made me think afterward, and I've been thinking about it since.

We cut because we spoil. )

W.

Nov. 11th, 2008 11:12 pm
kitchen_kink: (Default)
Tonight, after a day mostly consisting of long term food preparation (two pots of stock and apple butter), I went to see Oliver Stone's new biopic, W.

To sum up: meh.

First off, I question the wisdom of making a movie about a president while he's still in office. True, this followed not only the first four years of his presidency but his misspent youth and subsequent bizarrely meteoric rise, but it still seems strange to make a film like this without there being a major ending: JFK gets shot, Nixon resigns, the first black president ever gets into office by a landslide...ya know. Something. Not to mention that all the things that might shock an audience about a major public figure are things that 1) we all already know about, and 2) we just saw on TV in the past eight years. Yes, the earnest, slack-jawed idealist/spoiled brat Stone presents us with is terrifying as a president. But watching it in a movie is no more horrifying than watching it on CNN.

Structurally, what I was hoping Stone would do he shied away from, whether by design or oversight I can't say. The film follows two linear timelines, alternating: the lead-up to the Iraq War, and the time from Bush's hazing into a Yale fraternity to his election as governor of Texas. The big missing piece, here, is his election into office, and the first few years of his presidency, including 9/11. My hope was that Stone would eventually have the two timelines meet, and climax the movie with Bush's response to the 9/11 attacks. Instead, we don't see the presidential election at all (something I was very interested in), nor, in spite of Stone's including the minor pretzel incident, do we see the incident with the goat book and the kindergarteners.

So what does Stone focus on? It's a little hard to tell. At moments, I almost expected there to be a laugh track: there are plenty of points where Stone shows the stupider moments of Bush's attempts at speech, highlighting all of the classic gaffes we've all heard by this point. But instead of being funny, it just feels kind of uncomfortable. The discomfort is understandable in a way, since the other thing Stone seems interested in is making his Bush sympathetic: he's not very bright but he means well; he's the neglected scion of a great man; he's just trying to live up to his father's hopes; he really has been born again and believes everything he says. Yet this sentiment doesn't go quite far enough to make up for the feeling that Stone is taking feeble shots at Bush; it seems he couldn't decide whether to go for the jugular or put his politics aside and tell a story. The result is funny moments that aren't funny, and touching moments that aren't touching: nothing quite sticks in this film.

Which is a shame, because Stone and his marvelous cast are throwing a lot of good stuff against the wall. The marvelous and still mostly-unsung actor Jeffrey Wright turns in a fantastically noble Colin Powell; Ellen Burstyn knocks Barbara Bush out of the park; the always excellent James Cromwell makes George H.W. Bush quite likable, and Richard Dreyfuss nigh-disappears into his portrayal of Dick Cheney. In the middle of all this is Josh Brolin as an affable but temperamental, earnest young man who just can't find his feet but somehow finds himself in the White House.

Stone seems to be trying to address the question: how did this happen? How did we get here? But in the end, with Bush himself on his fantasy baseball field, losing the fly ball in the glare of the lights, I found myself just as lost on that question as ever. The gratifying thing was that the end of the movie actually contained the classic, screen printed words, "The End." I could only sit back in my seat and breathe, "Thank God."
kitchen_kink: (yee!)
It's been a crazy few weeks, in ways I can't even begin to go into. But yesterday, I got to spend a nice long romantic day with [livejournal.com profile] imlad, something we haven't done in far too long. It included watching Figaro at the ART, which I'm highly recommending folks go see. Oh my my yes.

I'm not all that familiar with Figaro's story, but I know it's been told mainly by Mozart and Beaumarchais. This new adaptation is essentially a play in English, with songs from the Mozart in Italian. It sounds strange, but it somehow completely works. And Jennifer Baldwin Peden, whom I saw last year in this same troupe's Carmen, and who broke my heart as Michaela, here breaks my heart as the Countess. There is something about her expressiveness that is unutterably sad, about her voice that is both powerful and ever-soft, about her control of her voice and her body that is sheer poetry. She may be my favorite performer, period, right now.

Actually, anything you see happening by Teatre de Jeune Lune, just go see. I can pretty much guarantee you won't regret it.

Figaro is playing in repertory with another adaptation of Mozart (and Moliere), Don Juan Giovanni, at the Loeb, through October 6.
kitchen_kink: (Default)
Still making my way through the men's long program, as I spent the last week unpacking and previous one packing and moving.

Matt Savoie turned in a wonderful performance in his long program; I'm sad that he's off to law school and so we're not likely to see him again. A terribly sad thing, as I think he was one of the greatest I've seen, medals or no medals.

I'm also checking out relative newcomer Shawn Sawyer of Canada, who is incredibly flexible and energetic, and did a lot of moves previously only done by women. I find this incredibly refreshing, as a contrast to the very athletic women who try to do moves only previously done by men. I'll be looking out for him in the future.

I'm sad to say I can't get behind Yevgeny Pleshenko, whom I know turned out the gold medal winner. While his technique is impeccable, there's something cold about his style. I usually love the Russians, but somehow he doesn't move me. Watching his long prgram, all I saw was a series of admittedly incredible jumps executed perfectly, and everything else just engineered to work the system such that he would take home the gold by sheer points alone. His spins are awkward, his choreography uninteresting, and his emotion not going much beyond "intense." He's not someone I'm enjoying watch win, even with his sob story of training 1,000 miles away from his parents at age 11. I just am so much more gratified when someone wins it who is truly an artist.
kitchen_kink: (demon)
I've been meaning to write this review for a long time, and by now I've all but lost the rage that was to drive it. I'm hoping it will nonetheless still be interesting at least.

300

It seems I can count on at least one thing when one of Frank Miller's comic books gets adapted into a film: I will be outraged and disturbed enough to write an angry and hopefully thought-provoking essay about it.

But while I could see the beauty of Sin City and had some difficulty pinning down what made me sick about it, 300 gave me no such problems.

Its flaws and infuriating qualities were quite obvious.

When I left the theatre after watching this fiasco, I was boiling over. I didn't even manage to get out of the building before literally screaming to my viewing partner, "Where do I start??!!" And so it seemed possible that right then was not the right time to write a review. Instead, I ranted, from the Somerville Theatre all the way to my house and beyond, about all the the things in this film that made me want to tear my skin off while watching it.

Now let me start by saying that I know that some of the things I'm going to criticize in this movie are merely portrayals of a certain kind of society, one whose belief systems an audience member such as myself may or may not agree with. I will dispense with this objection before it is made, by pointing out the unequivocal way in which this film glorifies and fetishizes the way of life that this version of Sparta represents. Before going any further, I put forth as an argument that this film does not merely portray a particular society, however fantastically; it endorses it.

Now there's already been a bit of talk from certain astute film reviewers about 300's references to the current U.S. administration and its relationship to the Middle East; I'm certainly not going to be the first to mention it. But besides my glib snarl after seeing it that "this movie was financed by Karl Rove," there are deeper questions of the rhetoric chosen here that warrant further examination. And beyond these issues, which are troubling enough, there are vast problems of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, racism, and outright eugenicism that need to be addressed. I've heard some people say that watching this movie was "like a video game," or that it was just "fun" and made them feel like going out and kicking ass. That's all well and good, and I'm far from being against fun, or even ass-kicking, particularly where action movies are concerned. But there are times when we need to take a closer look at what these images are telling us, and what messages we are absorbing into our psyches without further thought. Just as many of us get desensitized to the news and/or don't look at it terribly critically, other cultural markers such as film tell stories about what assumptions are present in our culture now. I believe we ignore them at our peril, both as individuals and as a society. But now I'm getting all soapboxy. On to the movie.

It's raining men... )
kitchen_kink: (arguing)
I'm not familiar with Frank Miller's comic series, but I'm familiar enough with the genre to know that the film adaptation is a shockingly beautiful rendition of the dark graphic novel form to the screen. It certainly blows From Hell and any number of other attempts out of the water in terms of its stylization, daring use of black and white and color, noir sensibilities, and appropriately inflated and cartoonish acting style.

Without having read the comic, I could still strongly sense each frame being carefully crafted to reflect a shot from the book, each character striving for vocal delivery that would bring their particular speech styles to life, each splash of color (I use the word "splash" quite literally here; most of the color choices involve blood) serving to further cartoonize the incredible violence being depicted. In the end, the whole film hangs together like a perfect piece of music, the flap of the cast's bevy of flowing coats forming a crescendo in the artificial wind of the eternal, artificial night of Miller's urban nightmare.

So why did I leave it feeling like I was going to vomit?

Contains spoilers, but mostly a philosophical discussion. Also, kinda gross. )

See this.

Jan. 26th, 2005 10:07 am
kitchen_kink: (assertive)
Last night I had the opportunity to see South African artist Pieter-Dirk Uys (pronounced 'Ace') perform his latest one-man show, Foreign Aids, at the ART's Zero Arrow Theatre. Part drag show (with transformations performed in full light), part comedy, part political manifesto and part educational lapel-shake, it delves into the AIDS problem in South Africa, comparing it to the defunct apartheid in its destructive abilities and race- and class-dividing power.

Tonight is the last night it plays in its extended run. If you have $35 bucks and the will to stand in the lobby and see if you can get standby seats, go, go, go see this play.

A wonderful profile of Uys was done in The New Yorker last May, but I can't find it online. Here, though, is a good review.
kitchen_kink: (happy)
Last night, [livejournal.com profile] continuoboy got together a rascally crew of scurvy dogs to go and see ye Pirates of the Caribbean.

Yes, it's a movie based on a ride. I've heard of movies based on video games, which I thought was the last straw and the final sink into Hollywood stupidity. But no, they made a movie based on a Disney ride.

And I have to admit, gosh, it was good.

True, it had the typical upper-class girl's father wants her to marry boring aristocrat but she's in love with our hero the humble blacksmith who has a secret about his pirate heritage plot.

But the humble blacksmith is played beautifully by Orlando Bloom, whose sincerity and comic timing are charming. And the damsel in question is played by a newcomer (I think), Keira Knightly, who has the requisite imperious beauty (a bit reminiscent of Ms. Winslet), combined with a very nice dose of comic acting. (She reminds me a bit of Robin Wright in The Princess Bride: not the funniest thing by far and a little green, but with a lot of promise.) Geoffrey Rush does a nice turn as the evil pirate captain, who manages to make a purely evil character sympathetic (which is basically his claim to fame: reference the flawed yet somehow wonderful Quills), and the supporting cast provides the perfect backdrop, the old exaggerated Disney Animatronics come to vivid life. This aspect of the film made me happy as well: much like in Disney World itself, the style was absolutely consistent. When you walk around Disney, there's not a bit of garbage out of place, not an anachronistic error to spoil the illusion. It's all a perfect (that is, sanitized, cartoonized and very, very safe) facsimile of whatever world they're trying to create. Similarly, in this movie, the supporting characters are all completely believeable in this fully realized world, and the main characters all play their roles slightly stylized: the kind of acting that wouldn't work in a conventional film, but is absolutely right here. Nobody is out of place with an accent (reference the uncommonly awful even for him Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker's Dracula), nobody plays it too "big" or worse, too small and out-of-period. The thing coheses.

And then, of course, there's Johnny Depp.

I'm beginning to think there isn't anything this man can't do. They fill his head with beaded dreads and feathers, put a bunch of eyeliner and a braided, forked goatee on him, and then he weaves around, pointing daintily at things for emphasis, in some combination of drunkenness, madness, and his role as Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It's a walk in the park for him, to be sure, but he is hilarious, and completely believeable. He's not exactly what you'd expect from a pirate, but that's the point. He's gorgeous, weird, sinuous, clever, quick-thinking and very very funny. It's really he that saved the movie for me.

Because admittedly, there's a little too much CGI (I won't reveal the really cool thing they do with it), a little too much traditional boring plot. It goes on a little longer than it should, and indulges in the same stereotypes that most Disney fare does: the heroine is plucky, but must still be saved by the man in the end (see The Little Mermaid and others); the hero is a poor boy who makes good by becoming a renegade for a good cause (see Aladdin and others).

But as our particular (read: queer) audience noted: a gay pirate is a bit unconventional. :)

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dietrich

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