Archive for July, 2010

Salt: It Rocks—Movie

July 26, 2010

Let me preface this review by saying that I recently fell on the last step of a non-moving Metro escalator. I sprained my thumb, badly bruised my knees and elbows and still have trouble walking. Fast-forward to Salt. In the first 20 minutes of the film, our heroine, Evelyn Salt (Angelina  Jolie), jumps from moving truck to moving truck to moving truck, lands on cement several times and finally hops on a motorcycle and ends up with a mere gash on her abdomen (and has the smarts to use a sanitary napkin as a bandage–who knew?). No facial scars, black and blue marks, nothing.  Evelyn Salt ROCKS!

Salt, directed by Phillip Noyce and written by Kurt Wimmer, is a fast-paced, completely unrealistic and an extremely fun-time at the movies. The story is not all that easy to follow and there are definite holes throughout, but Jolie is so terrific that none of this really matters.  Salt is a U.S. spy working undercover for a front company for the CIA called RINK. Her possible real identity is compromised when a Russian spy turns himself in and during his debriefing by her makes a convincing argument that she is a double agent.  And thus the action begins.

The stunts are fabulous and boy, does Jolie look great doing them. This is not a thinking person’s action movie, but Jolie does manage to show a range of emotions as well as kick butt…in other words, she’s actually acting in an action movie!  Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, as her CIA colleagues, turn in some surprisingly good action performances and Schreiber is especially effective.

Much has been made of how June’s suburban NY spies have made Salt’s Russian/US angle more believable. The recent Washington Post  three-part series on top-secret government organizations and the companies that do work for them also adds credence to the movie’s beginning.  But let’s not dwell on believability too much and instead just enjoy Salt for what it is…a stunt-filled, action-packed summer movie with a fabulous leading lady at the top of her physical game.

3 nuggets out of 4

Uptown: A sad tribute to Kevin Costner—Restroom

July 26, 2010

As you make your way to the Uptown Theatre’s balcony restroom, you can’t help but notice the trail of Kevin Costner posters along the way. Very bizarre, you think to yourself. Inside the dark makeup area of the ladies’ room there’s a “Dancing with Wolves” poster. Also very bizarre. This area is huge, which is a waste since the light bulbs haven’t been changed or replaced in years, making it very hard to fix one’s makeup or see how bad or good one looks. Go inside the stall and sink area and you’ll notice the difference immediately. It’s bright and has the benefit of a window that looks directly out onto Connecticut Avenue (although not so close that those on the outside can see in). There are 5 narrow stalls, no hooks on the doors and two sinks. Sometimes the dryer works, sometimes it doesn’t. The entire ladies’ room  is decorated in Pepto-Bismol pink and just has a sad vibe to it. Kevin Costner deserves better.

Twilight Saga: Eclipse—Movie

July 23, 2010

Eclipse is actually good. There, I’ve said it. In fact, this third film in the Twilight saga is so much better than the first two movies, it’s almost unbelievable.

A fan of vampire television and movies, I went to Twilight, the first installment, with open mind and much anticipation. I was sorely disappointed. Having not read the books, I was shocked that vampires could run around in the daylight…even in Seattle…with no consequences. The acting was also mediocre at best. Reluctantly I went with my niece to see New Moon, the second film. It was worse than the first. And the acting went from mediocre to horrific…hello Taylor Lautner! I decided to see Eclipse because I heard buzz that this was the best of the three. For once the buzz was right.

Something miraculous has happened between the second and third installment. The lead actors have actually learned how to act, most notably Lautner. Along with his chest muscles, his acting muscles have grown. He won’t be mistaken for Daniel Day-Lewis anytime soon, but he has improved.

Based on the books by Stephanie Meyer, directed by David Slade, with screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, Eclipse revolves around efforts to keep Bella (Kristen Stewart) safe.  Once we dispense with the obligatory werewolf Jacob (Lautner) or vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) nonsense, the movie takes off. More so than the scenes with Bella and Edward, the scenes between Jacob and Edward have real zip and chemistry to them and are fun to watch.

The supporting cast also does a great job, particularly Jackson Rathbone (Jasper Whitlock), Nikki Reed (Rosalie Hale) and Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen). Unfortunately, Dakota Fanning (Jane) who should really be supporting no one, is totally wasted.

 I still can’t get past the issue of vampires out in the daylight, but that is the fault of Stephanie Meyer, not the film. For me, Twilight will never come close to the vampire excellence of Angel or True Blood. But based on its own merits, Twilight Saga: Eclipse is just fine.

3 nuggets out of 4

Toy Story 3—movie

July 22, 2010

Pixar’s Toy Story 3 is an absolute joy from beginning to end. The story, the animation, the “acting”…there is not one false note.

This time around, Andy is getting ready to go to college and leave his toys behind. The toys, all gathered together in a box, are meant to be stored in the attic, but instead are mistakenly sent off to a day-care center. Woody tries to convince his fellow toys that the day-care was an error and the rest of the story is centered on their struggle to escape the horrors of the center and head for home.

In addition to Tom Hank’s Woody and Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear, it’s great to see old friends Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris). Pixar does some wonderful stunts with Mr. Potato Head and Rickles voices him to perfection. There are several new toys that make quite an impression– Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), Lotso (Ned Beatty), and Ken (Michael Keaton)—all are great additions to the mix.

It’s hard to say just where the credit belongs –to the animators, the screenwriters or to the actors voicing the characters. Let’s just say that all are masters at their respective jobs. The dialogue is so imaginative and just spot on. Ken in particular has some of the wittiest dialogue and is probably the most metrosexual character—human or animated—ever seen on the screen.

Toy Story 3 also contains some fabulous dancing between Buzz Lightyear and Jessie, choreographed by Dancing with the Stars’ Tony Dovolani and Cheryl Burke. Buzz Lightyear could teach Buzz Aldrin a few things. And once again there is some wonderful music, courtesy of Randy Newman.

Unlike some reports I’ve read, I did not cry, but I did find myself caring about what happened to this merry band of toys and that’s the beauty of Toy Story 3.

4 nuggets out of 4

The Kids Are All Right—Movie

July 22, 2010

With the release of the smart comedy, The Kids Are All Right, the 2010 Sundance Film Festival continues to unveil a number of terrific films.

Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg and directed by Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right takes an unflinching look at a family consisting of lesbian parents whose children have the same sperm donor. Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) live with their two teenage children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hucherson) in a breathtakingly beautiful bungalow in Los Angeles. Nic is a doctor and Jules is the stay-at-home mom, still in search of a career for herself.

The story is set in motion when Laser prods Joni, before she leaves home to start college, to take the steps necessary for them to find their biological father. With the help of the sperm bank and the agreement of the donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), children and father meet.  Paul is a good-natured bachelor/restaurateur, who actually embraces the new additions to his life.

The Kids Are All Right’s acting is sheer perfection. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore have real chemistry and are at the top of their game. Mark Ruffalo nails his role and relative newcomers Wasikowska (most recently Alice in Alice in Wonderland) and Hutcherson more than hold their own against this talented cast. A shout-out must be given to the casting director. The two children could definitely pass for the real-life offspring of this combined family.

So what do we learn from this from this complicated family? That same-sex coupling and sperm donor aside, this family is just like any other family, full of laughter, tears, problems and forgiveness. Their story is just better told than most.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Winter’s Bone—Movie

July 21, 2010

Winter’s Bone, the Grand Jury prize winner at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, is compelling on several fronts.  First is the story—the coming of age tale of one girl’s sheer grit, determination and courage. Second is the setting–the Missouri Ozarks, a place unlike any other in America. In many respects, the Ozarks serve as the most important character in the film.

Written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, and directed by Granik(screenplay), Winter’s Bone is the story of 17 year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), single-handily taking care of her disabled mother and younger brother and sister. Her father  has jumped bail and gone missing. Unless he’s found and brought back for trial or can be proved dead, the family’s home will be lost and they will be out in the cold.

Ree embarks on a search for her father among relatives and acquaintances. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. The Ozarks’ residents live by their own rules…a code of silence…men have the power and the women are their protectors.  Breaking down those barriers is both daunting and dangerous.

Newcomer Lawrence turns in a star-making performance. As her character encounters every obstacle imaginable, both physical and emotional, she manages to convey youthful exuberance with the soul of an 80 year-old.  The supporting cast also provides terrific performances, most notably John Hawkes, as her uncle, Teardrop, who reluctantly helps Ree in her search.

Most of us have never been to the Missouri Ozarks, but visiting them in Winter’s Bone is worth the trip.

4 nuggets out of 4

I am Love—Movie

July 21, 2010

What to make of I am Love? Written and directed by Luca Guadagnino, I am Love is beautiful to watch, but oh so painful to sit through. An Italian drama with English subtitles, I am Love is the study of the disintegration of the wealthy Milanese Recchi family, a family with each member holding secrets of his or her own. It is the secrets and actions of mother and son that propel the story forward.

Years ago Tancredi Recchi (Pippo Delbono), while in Russia, met and fell in love with Emma (Tilda Swinton). He brought her back to Milan where they had three children, sons Edoardo, Jr. (Flavio Parenti) and Gianluca (Mattia Zaccaro), and daughter Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher). At one time Tancredi and Emma probably had a passion-filled marriage; now Emma appears to have become nothing more than a show-wife in a boring, loveless union. It is at a family gathering that Emma meets Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a chef friend of Edoardo with whom he plans to open a restaurant. There is instant chemistry between Emma and Antonio, and after much “quiet” flirtation, the two embark on a torrid affair.

I am Love has a very sensual feel to it…the eating of food, the dressing and undressing. The camera lingers over it all with lush music in the background. The problem is that it’s all too much…too much lingering…too much melodramatic music. There is one scene in which Emma rolls around in the field with Antonio. This scene went on for so long that I started to wonder and worry about Tilda Swinton’s health. How could the palest actress in the world stay out in the sun so long? I found myself pondering about what number sunscreen she was wearing. Unfortunately I am Love has too many scenes like this.

The saving grace to I am Love is Tilda Swinton. She astonishes as she blossoms before our eyes. Actually the entire cast is very good. Sadly their numerous talents are wasted.

 1 ½ nuggets out of 4

WIT’s in Full Bloom at the Capital Fringe Festival

July 20, 2010

Laughs, groans and more laughs were in abundance Saturday evening as WIT (Washington Improv Theater) rocked the Capital Fringe Festival at the Source Theatre. Special for the Festival, WIT’s theme is iSchool Musical. Although the topic, high school, is a given, the rest of the production is improvised in song by ideas from the audience. Saturday’s suggestion was a high school field trip to Quebec, Canada, where love was most humorously in the air. Not all troupe members had voices bound for Broadway, but all had impeccable comedic timing and were especially quick on their feet.

Unlike other Festival participants, WIT is a local presence, and performs regularly at the Source Theatre and other local venues. Not only is musical improv performed, but more traditional improv is also showcased. WIT also offers classes in improv. More information on WIT can be found at washingtonimprovtheater.com.

Ischool Musical will run on Friday, June 23 at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 24 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Visit capitalfringe.org for information on other Capital Fringe Festival performances.

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Cyrus—Movie

July 9, 2010

Cyrus, written and directed by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, is one of this summer’s unexpected movie pleasures in which terrific acting abounds.

Movies don’t normally classify themselves as dramadies as television shows do, but that’s exactly what Cyrus is. Part comedy and sometimes very dark comedy, Cyrus also has a lot of psychological thriller and just plain drama to contemplate.

Cyrus is the story of two men struggling with female abandonment issues. The first–single, self-identified Shrek-like schlub, John, is played to perfection by John C. Reilly. Abnormally close to his ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener) and still morose over their divorce, he is thrown into a deeper depression when she tells him of her impending wedding. It’s Jamie who encourages him to go to the party that will ultimately change his life. While extremely funny, the party scenes hit uncomfortably right on the mark for any shy person struggling to be social. At the party, he meets “cute” the quirky stunner Molly (Marisa Tomei). In what initially seems too good to be true, the two hit it off. But there is an impediment to a happily ever after and that’s in the form of Molly’s surprise 21 year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), who still lives with her. Cyrus obviously suffers from fear of female abandonment issues in this eyebrow-raising, unusually close relationship. Is it “Flower’s in the Attic?” Is there room for John in this two-some? Does Molly even want out?

Jonah Hill is a revelation as Cyrus. Breaking free from his usual frat, fat boy roles, he shines in a complicated role. Is he a villain…unbalanced…or just plain sad? Marisa Tomei just seems to be getting better and better with every recent performance. She’s wonderful in her role as the fragile, spunky lover and suffocating/suffocated mom. Catherine Keener, in a supporting role, is spot-on as the movie’s voice of reason.

Cyrus is a rare summer find that will entertain from beginning to end while have you thinking at the same time. It may not be what you expect, but you’ll enjoy be glad you saw it.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Capital Fringe Festival—A Celebration of the Performing Arts

July 8, 2010

DC’s fifth annual Capital Fringe Festival begins Thursday, July 8. The Festival provides local theatre-goers with a unique opportunity to explore a whole host of  plays in intimate settings.

The Fringe’s mission is “to connect exploratory artists with adventurous audiences by creating open access to an annual performing arts festival in DC.” Put simply…it’s tons of fun.

Often this Festival is the first opportunity for emerging artists based in DC to present their works. But it’s also a great way for other theatre groups from across the country to introduce themselves.

DC audiences can choose from dramas to comedies to satires to one-person performances. Plays run the gamut in length—from 55 minutes to two hours. Each play is $15. A Fringe button is required to enter any show in any venue.  While the button is a one-time $5 charge, it must be worn to enter any show.

In addition to plays, Fringe also offers “Training Factory Discussions” July 12 and July 19. All discussions are free and open to the public. You can choose from programs on the relevance of art to performing solo to learning and experiencing improvisation to using the Fringe Festival as a launching pad for your career. The festival also provides food and beverage at the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent Bar at 601 New York Avenue NW.

The Capital Fringe Festival runs from July 8 to July 25. Tickets can be purchased online, at the Festival Headquarters at 607 New York Avenue NW, or at the venue itself one hour prior to show time, subject to availability.

For information on plays, venues and tickets, go to capitalfringe.org.


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