Archive for May, 2010

Iron Man 2—Movie

May 30, 2010

Put simply, Iron Man 2 is an entertaining, fun-filled movie. With an endless supply of wise-cracking remarks by the actors, Iron Man 2, written by Justin Theroux and directed by Jon Favreau, demonstrates that a movie loaded with special effects can still be a film in which dialogue counts.  Perhaps that’s because Theroux and Favreau are also actors and therefore appreciate the fact that words do matter.

Robert  Downey Jr. is back in top form as Iron Man/Tony Stark along with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, Stark’s former assistant and now CEO of his company. The scenes with Downey and Paltrow crackle with chemistry and are a lot of fun to watch. Also back for a return visit is Favreau as Stark’s driver and Paul Bettany as the voice of Jarvis. Don Cheadle replaces Terrance Howard’s Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes and doesn’t miss a beat—he’s actually an improvement in the role.

Iron Man 2 features two villains—Sam Rockwell’s nebbishly evil Justin Hammer, a competitor  of Tony Stark—and Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko, an electrical genius who’s “freed”  from incarceration by Hammer  so he can help him design a suit better than Stark’s with which to sell to the government. They are very good together and have fun with their roles. It’s nice to see Rourke continuing to get work, and Iron Man 2 will certainly pay his bills, but hopefully he’ll start getting roles that really challenge him.

Iron Man 2 also showcases Scarlett Johansson in a dual role as  Natalie Rushman, a Stark lawyer and as Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. She shows off some terrific martial arts moves in “a-to-die-for”  killer body. Is  Johansson ready for her own comic genre movie? You betcha!

Viewers will notice some veteran character actors in key roles, most notably John Slattery as Tony Stark’s father (who looks amazingly like Walt Disney) and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. And Gary Shandling is wonderfully funny as a U.S.Senator.

To be sure, Iron Man 2 comes with the requisite number of special effects, thankfully none requiring 3-D glasses, but most of all there is Robert Downey, Jr. And he’s ultimately more important and better than any special effect could ever be. (And yes, all is forgiven for Sherlock Holmes.)

3 nuggets out of 4

Gruesome Playground Injuries—Theatre

May 30, 2010

Gruesome Playground Injuries, written by Rajiv Joseph and directed by John Vreeke, is both a heartbreaking and a comedic night of theatre at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

Staged in the round and set on a playground for much of the time, the two-actor play tells the story of life-long friends Doug (Tim Getman) and Kayleen (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey), from ages 8 to 38. In non-chronological order, we peek in at five-year intervals in their lives, when they are brought together when one or both of them are “hurting”—physically or psychologically. Doug is a daredevil—always experiencing one injury or another. Kayleen has a sensitive stomach, brought on, it would appear, by years of scarring–emotional and physical. As we go in and out of their lives, a hockey-like scoreboard provides us with their ages and injury.

Both actors are brilliant in their roles. Fernandez-Gomez does a fantastic job at conveying a fragile heart with a super tough exterior. Getman is nothing short of spectacular at portraying the young “Dougie,” both physically and attitudinally.  He also manages to let us see a very sensitive side as well as the emotional hurt he has carried over the years.

Do these two love one another? Most definitely. Will they both ever be on the same page at the same time? Will they be able to break through their injuries to be together and if yes, should they? These are some of the questions you’ll be pondering between your laughter and tears.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company  641 D St NW, Washington, DC 20004

George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead—Movie

May 30, 2010

There is a germ of an idea in George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead—is it better to shoot zombies in the head and kill them or does it make more sense to chain zombies up and try to teach them to eat something other than human flesh. Frankly, in all the zombie movies I’ve seen over the years, no one has ever before raised this question. That would make for an interesting movie. That movie is NOT this one.

It’s not as easy to make a good zombie movie as one might think. If the movie is supposed to be humorous, it must be very funny and gross at the same time. Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead managed to do this perfectly. If you are playing the straight card, the movie has to be intelligent and intelligently scary.  28 Days Later and the granddaddy of them all, Night of the Living Dead (directed by the same George A. Romero), are frightening from the first frame to the last. Finally, if the movie is so god-awful as to be cheesily bad, at least you’ll be entertained. However, if you are so bored as to be looking at your watch every 10 minutes…this is not good. That, unfortunately, is your fate viewing Survival of the Dead.

Most of the movie’s action takes place on an island off the coast of Delaware or in Pennsylvania, in a post-apocalyptic world, which has resulted in zombies walking the streets. What’s very odd about the setting is that most of the characters have either an Irish brogue…perhaps the Irish are the only ones to have survived the apocalypse, save for a few American-accented soldiers—or are hillbillies, not native to the U.S. upper east coast.

Kenneth Welsh as Patrick O’Flynn and Richard Fitzpatrick as Seamus Muldoon are the two elders with conflicting points of view as to the treatment of zombies. O’Flynn wants to obliterate them and Muldoon wants to chain them up. Neither is willing to compromise. Alan Van Sprang as Sarge ‘Nicotine’ Crocket is the soldier who gets involved in the war between the two.

Poorly written and directed by George A. Romero and horrifically acted, this movie…save for that one germ of an idea, stinks from beginning to end. Why Romero would want his name above the title is beyond me, except, perhaps, to attract suckers like me. You have been warned. Stay away!

½ nugget out of 4 (for the germ of the idea)

Robin Hood—Movie

May 23, 2010

Robin Hood, written by Brian Helgeland and directed by Ridley Scott, provides yet another perspective on the “taketh from the rich, giveth to the poor” hero. Neither the suave Errol Flynn, swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks or Kevin Costner Americanized version, and most especially not the Mel Brooks musical comedy hero, 2010 Robin Hood is perhaps the thinking man’s (or woman’s) champion. As personified by Russell Crowe, this Robin Hood can drink and fight with the best of them…is an archer extraordinaire…has a sly wit…is gentle…and loyal. I have to admit I was smitten by the man and the movie. 

Scott’s Robin Hood gives us the man before he became “Robin of the Hood,” beginning as Robin Longstride, an archer in the Third Crusade under Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston). Following Richard’s death in battle, Robin and three of his fellow soldiers, Allan A’Dayle, Will Scarlett, and Little John (Alan Doyle, Scott Grimes and Kevin Durand respectively), are returning home, having spent ten years fighting abroad. Along the way this “merry band of men” happens across an ambush of the King’s guard by Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), an English knight with what seems to be dual French and English citizenship and allegiance. Robin assumes the identity of Robert Loxley, an English lord murdered in the ambush and in possession of  Richard’s crown. Robin/Robert takes the crown and returns it to the king’s brother, Prince John (Oscar Isaac )and then proceeds to Nottingham so he can inform Robert’s father, Sir Walter Loxley (Max Von Sydow), and Robert’s wife, Lady Marion (Cate Blanchett), of Robert’s death. Walter asks him to continue the false identity and in so doing, Robin becomes engulfed in the troubles between the new king and his subjects as well as the battles between England and France.

In addition to Crowe, the film boasts an eclectic cast with some terrific acting. Von Sydow and Blanchett are very convincing as the elder Loxley and the mature, but spunky Marion. Mark Strong gives another powerful villainous performance and William Hurt, as William Marshall, counselor to the king, and Eileen Watkins as the king’s mother, make strong impressions in their roles. And television viewers may be amused and surprised by some key performances by Kevin Durand and Scott Grimes.

Scott may take liberties with the battle scenes, but they are fun to watch as are all of the archery scenes. The shots of the English countryside are breathtaking and make one long for a visit.

This was a Robin Hood with which I was not familiar, but truly enjoyed getting to know.

 3 nuggets out of 4

Please Give—Movie

May 23, 2010

In a movie season full of 3-D, bullets, arrows, and gross-out humor, a good script and fantastic acting still has the power to stop you dead in your tracks. Say “hello” to Please Give, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener.

Full of witty dialogue, Please Give tackles serious topics…guilt, death, adultery…in a darkly funny, mean-spirited, snarky and deliciously entertaining manner.

Please Give revolves around Manhattan middle-class couple Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) , daughter Abby (Sarah Steele), the crusty old grandmother, Andra (Ann Morgan Guilbert) who lives next door and her two granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet).  Kate and Alex own a high-end vintage home furnishings store, purchasing most of their stock from the estates of the recently deceased. They own the grandmother’s apartment and are basically waiting for her to die so they can knock through the wall and expand their apartment.  Abby is a typical teen, concerned about her weight, skin, and the search for the perfect pair of jeans…no matter how much they cost. Andra’s granddaughter Rebecca lives a shy, quiet life as a radiologist and looks after her grandmother in her spare time, while her attractive, extraverted sister Mary works in a spa.

Each actor is great in his and her role, but Catherine Keener and Amanda Peet have to be singled out. Keener, long Holofcener’s muse, has never been better or looked worse. She’s racked by guilt over making money from dead people and it shows in every fiber of her being. Amanda Peet proves that she’s much more than just a pretty face. She has some of the sharpest dialogue and really delivers.

Give your ears a time-out from the sounds of bullets and crashes and your nose a break from those 3-D glasses. A movie as good as Please Give doesn’t come around often enough to be missed.

4 nuggets out of 4

Social Safeway—A Little More of Both

May 18, 2010

There’s been so much hoopla over the new “Social” Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue NW, a visit was necessary. The 71,067 square-foot Georgetown store was designed and built to be the first LEED-certified grocery store in the District of Columbia, and Safeway’s second LEED-certified store (the other being located in Santa Cruz, CA).

To make way for the new Safeway, open to the public since Thursday, May 7, the old building was razed and the new store building constructed directly on Wisconsin Avenue, making it more pedestrian-friendly. The building is two stories with Safeway located on the second level (small retail shops on the street level will open shortly). Via Wisconsin Avenue, from the Safeway lobby, shoppers access the store by escalator, stairs or elevator. The new Georgetown store has ample parking directly underneath with additional open air parking spaces located on a deck at the store’s rear customer entrance.

On to the important things…groceries.

Once inside, you are struck by how big and bright the store is. During opening weekend, Safeway employees handed out roses to every customer, most likely an effort to boost the expanded floral department located at the entrance, but a nice touch never the less. Fruits and vegetables are close at hand, with a large selection of international fruits and vegetables nearby.

At the opposite end of the store is the Starbucks café with room to relax over a latte inside the store and a separate enclosed area as well. This side of the store also houses the sushi bar, salad bar, and freshly prepared food for take-home. That area also encompasses the bread offerings, which is enormous, as well as the bakery.

The new Georgetown Safeway seems to be part old Safeway and part Whole Foods. It has a wide array of organic food products as well as a large supply of traditional groceries (although I was unable to find unsalted pretzels, despite the extensive number of snack offerings). This Safeway has a huge section devoted to wine and beer and a large wine cellar. And for nut lovers there’s an extensive area devoted to them as well as the ability to make your own “nut” butter.

One thought regarding the opening. For a store which boasts its “greenness,” wouldn’t it have made sense to hand out recyclable bags? On a weekend when Safeway and “green” should have been front and center, most customers used their Giant recyclable bags, given out for free in January, to carry out their groceries. Talk about a missed opportunity!

Safeway appears to have hired the friendliest of staffs…from the folks stocking the produce and other food to those serving up the coffee and pouring the wine to the checkout personnel. In general the new Georgetown store is certainly an improvement over the old. But bottom-line…it’s still a grocery store and, thankfully, still very social.

The Square/Spider—Movie

May 10, 2010

Get to the movie theatre on time for The Square to ensure you see Spider, the short preceding it. Both movies are the work of the Edgerton Brothers, a dynamic sibling, movie-making team from Australia.

“It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.”  What are we to make of this first screen shot? Spider, shown at the 2008 Telluride Film Festival, made quite an impression then and it still does. When shown in conjunction with The Square you get a great insight into the creative minds of this Australian duo. Written by Nash Edgerton and David Michod, Spider centers around a young couple, Jack and Jill, in midst of a lover’s quarrel as they’re out for a drive in Australia. When Jill (Mirrah Foulkes) pulls over for gas, Jack (Nash Edgerton) goes inside the convenience store to buy a make-up gift, a gift that keeps on giving in delightfully black, comedic payoffs.

Now take what you’ve learned from Spider and fast-forward to The Square, written by Joel Edgerton and Matthew Dabner and directed by Nash Edgerton. Part drama, part mystery and completely involving, The Square is the story of married, middle-aged construction firm owner, Raymond Yale (David Roberts) and his affair with the married, younger Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom). With both love and work problems, Raymond has to be the unluckiest man on the face of the earth. His affair comes with so much baggage, it would need a fork-lift to move it and eventually bleeds into his work issues.

The acting, the story, the pacing…it’s all perfect. David Roberts is so good you actually feel sorry for him (look for Joel Edgerton as Billy in a small, but critical role). You’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat the entire time, wondering what will happen next. Previews for The Square compare Joel and Nash Edgerton to America’s Coen Brothers. That’s a lazy comparison. There might be some Coen Brothers’ flavoring, but there’s some Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock mixed in which makes the Edgertons uniquely their own genre. I cannot wait to see what they do next and, believe me, you’ll feel the same way.

4 nuggets out of 4—The Square

4 nuggets out of 4—Spider

Georgetown Chorale: Musical Gem

May 6, 2010

For lovers of the performing arts, living in DC has many advantages. Not only do we have access to the best artists national in scope, but our size makes it possible for local talent, both large and small, to find homes and audiences. Such is the case of the Georgetown Chorale.

On Saturday, May 1, the Chorale presented its spring concert, The Colors of Hope, for the benefit of the John T. Walker School for Boys, an Episcopal School for children of low-income families. Performed in the beautiful St. Alban’s Church on Wisconsin Avenue, the concert was a glorious mix of Franz Schubert’s Mass in G and selections from Paul McCartney’s Ecce Cor Meum. Selections by John B.  Dyke, Johannes Brahms, and Benny Andersson, Tim Rice and Bjorn Ulvaeus were also sung.

Under the direction of Dr. Elaine J. Rendler-McQueeney, the Georgetown Chorale is a 60-member group that performs classic choral literature in combination with shorter, modern pieces. The Chorale’s mission is to provide for the musical excellence and education of members and give them an opportunity to perform their community service through music. Thus, the Chorale donates concert proceeds to DC-based charitable organizations, exemplified by this year’s beneficiary, the John T. Walker School for Boys.

The Georgetown Chorale is one of many chorales in the DC area available to one as either a performer or audience.  These chorales are small gems and definitely worth seeking out.

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