Archive for February, 2010

The Last Station—Movie

February 25, 2010

The Last Station, based on the novel by Jay Parini, and written and directed by Michael Hoffman, is the engaging story about the last days of Tolstoy and the war for control of his heart, soul and pocketbook between his wife, Sofya, and Vladimir Chertk, the chief disciple of his Tolstoyan philosophy.

When Christopher Plummer (Leo Tolstoy) and Helen Mirren (Countess Sofya Tolstoy) were announced as Oscar nominees, I wondered whose places they took that were more deserving. I wonder no more. As a long-married, long-suffering couple who may not be able to live together, but can’t live without one another either, these two give a master class in acting. The chemistry they generate is palpable. They are absolutely wonderful.

That Mirren is fabulous is no surprise. Coming to prominence in movies later in life than most actresses, she always gets the most out of a line or look without ever going over the top. Mirren literally throws herself into the role of Sofya and The Last Station is the better for it.

Plummer, who seems to be sporting the same beard he wore in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, shines as Tolstoy. It makes one wonder why he doesn’t work more often, he is that good.

Also central to the film are Paul Giamatti as Vladimir Chertk, Tolstoy’s disciple and major thorn in Sofya’s side (he hurls the ultimate insult to Sofya, “If I had a wife like you, I would have blow my brains out or gone to America”) and Tolstoy’s Tolstoyan personal secretary, Valentin Bulgakov, played by Jame McAvoy. Both are very good in their respective roles, especially McAvoy, who in addition to the role of peacemaker between the varying parties, has his own story, which in many ways mirrors the story between Leo and Sofya.

Special mention must be given to Sergei Yevtushenko for his original music. His beautiful score adds the perfect touch to The Last Station.

Though a tad longer than it needs to be, The Last Station is definitely worth your time.  The Tolstoys are fascinating characters and this movie definitely does them justice.

3 nuggets out of 4

Richard II—Theatre

February 24, 2010

The good news…The Sydney Harmon Theatre’s Richard II is a great play full of absolutely brilliant performances from every cast member. The bad news… the play is more than three hours long.

Let’s start with what’s great about Richard II, directed by Michael Kahn—the story. All the wonderful performances in the world can’t make for an entertaining night of theatre if the story isn’t there and this is one of Shakespeare’s more compelling pieces. Richard II, born to power, handles it poorly and ultimately loses his throne (in some ways, he’s the polar opposite of Victoria, who also comes to power at a young age, but became one of England’s most beloved rulers). The scenes with his supporters, with his wife, Katherine, and his rival, Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV), are beautifully written.

Now let’s get to the acting. Led by Michael Hayden as Richard II, this production contains some of the best performances the Shakespeare Theatre has ever produced. Good as Henry V in the other play currently at the Harmon, Hayden soars as Richard. He’s completely believable as a spoiled, young ruler and as the bewildered, repentant older king.

Shakespeare Theatre stalwarts Floyd King and Philip Goodwin shine in dual roles, especially King. Normally the fool in most Shakespeare productions, his two roles have not an ounce of comedy in them and he is wonderful in both. Ted van Griethuysen, as the Duke of York is also very good in a role that calls for both comedic and dramatic acting chops.

No matter how great this production is, it’s very long and difficult to sit through. A second intermission would be helpful. Another thought—editing. Yes, I know this is heresy to some, but think about it. Liberties are taken with Shakespeare’s plays all the time…changing timeframes, locations, dress, etc. Even this production adds some material. Therefore, couldn’t some scenes be eliminated? I love Naomi Jacobson, but her scene as the Duchess of York with the Duke of York and their son, the Duke of Aumerle and then their scene with Bolingbroke are long, add nothing to the play, and are completely unnecessary…off with their head! Just a thought.

Richard II is produced in repertory with Henry V. For this reviewer, Richard II is far superior, but both plays provide a plethora of fabulous acting performances. How the actors manage to do both plays at the same time is a complete mystery, but somehow they do. Mr. Shakespeare would be very proud.

Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004

Mazza Galleria—More Holes—Restroom

February 19, 2010

Need a visit to the restroom before boarding your bus or train at Friendship Heights? Then you’ll want to take advantage of the facilities at Mazza Galleria. However, a quick trip to the restroom on its lower level is déjà vu. It appears that the same designer for the AMC restrooms at Mazza had a hand in creating the “lovely” restroom for the entire Galleria. You’ve got it…the same holes on the sink counter for used paper towels. The difference this time…you can actually tell the holes are for garbage…one, because  they are very visible holes and two, you can actually spot the garbage cans sitting directly under the holes. The restroom itself is sort of dingy, but fully stocked. The area near the restroom is well-traveled, so one can feel relatively safe in using it.

Toyota vs. the Rest of Us—Comedic Nugget

February 18, 2010

I don’t own a Toyota, but I’m freaked anyway and I think with good reason. First Toyota had the acceleration problems…was it the floor mats, the pedals…act of God…they don’t know. Now it’s steering problems. I don’t want to be in the car in front of a Toyota and find I suddenly have a new passenger in my back seat. I don’t want to be in the car in either the lane left or right of a Toyota when it swings wildly from side to side and I find I can touch it without rolling down my window. It occurs to me that the safest place on the highway for me to be is to be in a Toyota!

The Wolfman—Movie

February 18, 2010

The Wolfman, directed by Joe Johnston with screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, is one scary, gory, entertaining hoot or should I say “howl.”

The Wolfman, a revisiting of the classic 1941 Curt Siodmak movie screenplay, The Wolf Man, stars Anthony Hopkins as Sir John Talbot, Benicio Del Toro as his son Lawrence (his lack of English accent is explained away as the result of being sent to America as a young boy), Emily Blunt as Gwen Conliffe, the fiancé of Lawrence’s late brother Ben who’s been killed under mysterious circumstances and Hugo Weaving as Abberline, the Inspector hunting down the unknown killer.

Anthony Hopkins immediately classes up any movie in which he participates and he makes the most of every bit of screen time he has, but not in a cheesy, over the top way. If you’re expecting a Hannibal Lecter Hopkins, you will be disappointed, but his restrained performance helps the movie a great deal. Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro also treats his part seriously. He’s very convincing as a man confronting demons from his past, trying to take charge of his present and future. Emily Blunt makes the most of the little screen time she has, but her scenes with Benicio Del Toro are charged with chemistry.

Aside from the two male leads, the real stars of this movie are the English moors and the amazing special effect makeup created by Rick Baker and his team. Together they set the eery tone for The Wolfman.

For sheer imagination, nothing beats the original Wolf Man. The black and white imagery and the performance of Maria Ouspenskaya as the gypsy who explains the curse of the werewolf just can’t be beat.  But The Wolfman, judged on its own merits, makes for a highly entertaining afternoon at the movies.

3 nuggets out of 4

King Tut—One of Ours?—Comedic Nugget

February 18, 2010

The world is all abuzz about the results from the testing of King Tut’s DNA and CT scans. It seems that he died of complications from a broken leg exacerbated by malaria. What’s most shocking to me is that he might be from West Virginia! The tests show that his parents were most likely brother and sister. Who knew?

Chef Geoff’s—Neighborhood Gem—Restaurant

February 14, 2010

In business for about nine years, Chef Geoff’s Wesley Height’s restaurant never disappoints. The Contemporary American Cuisine is always wonderful. The service is always cheerful, if not always efficient. On a recent visit, I had the Big Shrimp and Very Gouda Grits  and my dining companions had the Cider Glazed Salmon and the Sweet Fried Calamari Caesar Big Salad. None of us left a crumb on our plates. We purposely saved room for dessert because this is where Chef Geoff shines. We split orders of the Rich Chocolate Cake with a Molten Center and the Granny Smith Apple Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce. Both desserts were to die for. No dinner is complete without Chef Geoff’s great-tasting coffee. 

By DC standards, Chef Geoff’s is moderately priced. The restaurant is always packed and the bar is lively. It’s a neighborhood restaurant that doesn’t pander and we’re lucky it have it.

3201 New Mexico Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20016 202.237.7800

Henry V—Theatre

February 6, 2010

The good news…Henry V, directed by David Muse, picks up steam in the second act. The bad news…it takes 1 ½ hours to get there and the play is three hours long.

For this reviewer, there are problems in the first act…for whatever reasons the actors/dialogue don’t gel. As my theatre-going companion said, “there’s no passion.” But then something wonderful happens in the second act, following intermission.  The French are on display, the play comes alive and the juice they infuse makes its way into the rest of the play.

It’s unclear why director Muse has decided to use three storytellers rather than just one–two men, one dressed as a military official and one dressed like a modern-day professor, and a woman who dresses in several costumes from present-day to 13th century garb, to propel the story. There’s no rhyme or reason for this. It adds nothing to the play and is a director’s conceit that becomes distracting.

Distractions aside, Henry V is very well acted, particularly by Michael Hayden as Henry V and Tom Story as Dauphin. In supporting, dual roles, Naomi Jacobson and Floyd King bring much-needed zip to the evening’s performance.

The courting of Henry and Katherine near the end of the play come across as another play altogether. The scene feels completely out of context with the seriousness of the rest of the play. Michael Hayden portrays a goof ball in love extremely well, but this side of his character is like a bolt of the blue and the chemistry with Katherine (Rachael Holmes) isn’t there yet. Perhaps it will come.

Henry V’s sets are breathtakingly imaginative as one has come to expect from the Shakespeare Theatre’s set design team.  The fight scenes are extremely creative and well done.

I saw Henry V in previews, so it’s possible that the kinks in the first act and some of the other problems will sort themselves out. If so, the three hours may go by a lot faster and you’ll not need a shot of No-Doze to stay awake until intermission.

Sidney Harman Hall 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20004

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