Archive for March, 2013

The Call: Don’t Put on Hold—Movie

March 26, 2013

Until it goes off the rails the last 20 minutes or so, “The Call” is one taut, suspenseful thriller. Directed by Brad Anderson with screenplay by Richard D’Ovidio and story by Richard D’Ovidio, Nicole D’Ovidio and Jon Bokenkamp, “The Call” has the potential to be really terrific, but is undone by being too big a fan of the great song from “Chicago,” The Cell Block Tango.The Call

“The Call” stars Halle Berry (with the worst Afro seen on-screen in some time) as Jordan, an emergency call center operator.  Early on in the film, Jordan has the misfortune to answer a 911 home invasion call that ends badly. We are given the impression that the call’s repercussions so rattle her that six months later she is no longer an operator, but now serves as a call center instructor. While training new recruits, Jordan is asked by a panicked operator for assistance in the middle of a 911 kidnapping call. For the rest of the movie the action centers on Jordan, the kidnapped victim, Casey (Abigail Breslin), the kidnapper (Michael Eklund) and Paul (Morris Chestnut), the primary officer on the case.

“The Call” gives a very realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an emergency phone call and how delicate the whole operation is. Berry does a great job at demonstrating fear, confidence and empathy. The odd hair-do is probably done to distract from her beauty and give her more of an every-woman look. That’s not really necessary because Berry’s performance does the talking for her. If your last remembrance of Abigail Breslin is from the 2006 “Little Miss Sunshine,” be prepared for a shock. Breslin is now 17, still petite, but otherwise all grown up. What hasn’t changed is her acting ability. She’s very good in a confining role. Eklund, who bears a strong resemblance in a sinister manner to actor John Corbett, is extremely convincing as a mentally disturbed villain.

The movie’s suspense is palpable and it’s too bad the creative team didn’t have enough fortitude to try to come up with a better ending.  Although still worth seeing, the cast…and the audience deserved more.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

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Chasing the Hill: Get Your Political Fix Here—Online Programming

March 25, 2013

Are you a political junkie? Need a political fix? Then you have to watch “Chasing the Hill.” It’s absolutely fantastic.

“Chasing The Hill” is a pay-per-view online series. Promos for the show compare it to “West Wing.” The program is in its infancy, but from what I’ve viewed so far, “Hill” is better, and that is saying something. Chasing the HIll

Produced by Richard Schiff (“West Wing”) and Brent Roske, with episodes written and directed by Roske, “Chasing the Hill” follows the story of California Congresswoman Kristi Ryan (Robin Weigert) who’s running for re-election against Samantha Clemmons (Melissa Fitzgerald), a self-made green energy millionaire. Along the way we’re introduced to various members of both candidates’ staffs, most especially Matthew Del Negro as Henry Walls, campaign strategist for the Congresswoman, brought in to help save her campaign.

What makes the series so much fun and compelling to watch is that it seems authentic. “Hill” takes us enough inside the inner workings of the campaign that we get to actually experience what it’s like to run a campaign, be the candidate and feel the strain on the family of those involved. The series’ dialogue is crisp and clever, but not overly so. It’s never preachy like so many shows can be (I’m looking at you, Aaron Sorkin). I can imagine actual people saying these words to one another. Adding to the realism is the inclusion of actual politicos ranging from former Governors Gray Davis and Ed Rendell of California and Pennsylvania respectively, to Democratic political operative Terry McAuliffe, to California Representative Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, all playing themselves while providing advice to and commenting about fictional characters. The way it’s done is just pitch perfect. Governor Rendell is particularly good in playing himself. In one episode, MSNBC commentator Lawrence O’Donnell (also a former producer/writer for “West Wing” as well as a former Senate staffer), plays an operative, not himself. He is terrific. I think he missed his calling.

“Chasing the Hill” shoots very creatively and inexpensively. Many of the scenes are filmed on location, including the Democratic Convention and the 2013 Presidential Inauguration.

I absolutely loved what I watched. If you have any interest in politics, or well-written and acted programming for that matter, “Chasing the Hill” is must see viewing.

For more information about the pay-for-view component, go to http://www.chasingthehill.com/.

 

4 nuggets out of 4

Stoker: Nothing Beneath the Surface—Movie

March 21, 2013

With “Stoker” renowned South Korean director Chan-wook Park makes his English-language debut.  Sadly, it’s not an auspicious one.

Somewhere beneath “Stoker’s” watercolor-like cinematography, the sinister music (and who knew Nancy Sinatra’s and Lee Hazlewood’s “Summer Wine” could be so disturbing), the blood spatter in all of its red fineness, and most especially, the two pairs of the bluest of blue eyes one has ever seen on the screen, is what turns out to be, nothing more than a slasher film, albeit a stunningly packaged film.  It’s because of this beauty that I will be creeped out for some time to come. However, don’t view this as praise or a recommendation, because it is most assuredly not.Stoker

“Stoker,” with screenplay by Wentworth Miller (“Prison Break“) and Erin Cressida Wilson, is basically India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) story. High-school age India spends most of her time in her own head and her one friend seems to be her father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney). He’s killed suddenly in a car accident and it’s at the funeral that India meets for the first time her father’s younger brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode). That’s when the creep factor begins in earnest.  A too soon immediate attraction from Richard’s widow and India’s mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman),begins for Charlie. He reciprocates, but  at the same time we also sense something not quite right in how Charlie interacts with India.

Mia Wasikowska is an outstanding actress. Her work in “Albert Nobbs,”  “The Kids Are All Right” and “Alice in Wonderland” is as good as anything  her peer,Jennifer Lawrence, has done. BUT in “Stoker” she is so one-note sullen (and the dark brown severe hair-style does her no favors) as to become painful and boring to watch.

“Stoker”  is no friend to Nicole Kidman. She probably thought that working with Park would be an interesting experience. Perhaps it was for her, but not for the audience. Kidman spends most of her time staring with her big, blue eyes. This movie is so beneath her.

Finally, Mathew Goode. He also spends a lot of time gazing, glaring or staring with his big, blue eyes. He might be “Stoker’s” most interesting character.

Chan-wook Park  has directed some very remarkable movies, but this is not one of them. “Stoker” is beautiful to watch, but is excruciatingly boring and fairly dumb. He lets himself down with this one.

1 nugget out of 4

Oz the Great and Powerful: Fun without the Rainbow—Movie

March 18, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful” takes its time getting started, but once it does, watch out.

Directed by Sam Raimi, with screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, based on L. Frank Baum’s novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” takes us behind the curtain, cleverly showing us how the Wizard came to be.

Save for Dorothy and her traveling companions, “Oz” is filled with most of the characters we’ve grown to know and love—from the munchkins to the flying monkeys to witches…good and wicked…and we  still can follow the Yellow Brick Road, fear the poppy fields and sail away in  hot air balloons. Even the opening is in black and white. What helps make the movie its own are some endearing new characters—most especially the adorable China Girl (Joey King) and Finley, the flying monkey (Zach Braff), who befriends Oz (James Franco).Oz

We meet first meet Oz as Oscar Diggs, doing his thing as a carnival magician/con man. He is literally blown to kingdom-come, aka Oz, in a Kansas tornado.  Upon landing he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a witch, and Finley. They are convinced that Oscar, who soon takes the name Oz, is the great wizard for whom they have been waiting to rule. One hesitates to say much more without giving away the plot. Suffice to say, “A woman scorned is a dangerous thing.”

I may be in the minority, but I loved James Franco as the young Oz. His is an understated performance, but it serves the story well. Franco has a ready sly smile and a twinkle in his eye, so you’re never quite sure what he’s thinking—perfect for a con artist. The witches are also well cast. In addition to Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz as Evanora and Michelle Williams as Glinda are beautiful, spunky and fun.

I saw “Oz” in 3-D, but I don’t necessarily recommend this treatment. 3-D does not further the enjoyment of the movie. In fact, it’s almost distracting. What does work is how China Girl and Finley are brought to life. Whatever the technique, China Girl seems very real in miniature form and Finley’s monkey eyes are eerily human-like. It’s those small, detailed special effects, and the movie has many of them, that serve the movie well, and 3-D is not necessary to view them.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is just plain fun. So grab some popcorn and enjoy.

3 nuggets out of 4

Quartet: Two is company, four is better—Movie

March 14, 2013

Much ado has been made that with “Quartet,” Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut. But it should also be noted that “Quartet” is well-written and has terrific performances from its lead and supporting casts.

Written by Ronald Harwood (based on his play), “Quartet” takes place in a retirement home for musicians in England. The focal point of the opening scenes are with residents Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly), Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins), Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay) and other members of the community as they plan their annual fund-raising gala, a tribute to Verdi, under the “supervision” of Cedric Livingston (Michael Gambon). The film takes it time, perhaps a tad too much time, in these opening scenes, and one wouldn’t be faulted for asking, “Where is all this leading?” However, the relaxed pacing does allow for a better understanding of some of the main characters.  We learn that Wilf had a stroke, from which he has recovered physically, although mentally his ability to self-censor has diminished.  And through her actions we realize that Cissy is suffering from the early stages of dementia.   Quartet

The tempo picks up considerably when famous retired opera singer Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) arrives unhappily in their midst. Turns out she was very briefly married to Reginald, who has never gotten over his feelings of love for and betrayal by her. This leads to some terrific scenes between Smith and Courtenay. Jean was also friends with Wilf and Cissy and we learn that many years earlier Cissy, Wilf, Reginald and Jean, together, performed Verdi’s Rigoletto Quartet. Will they perform this one more time for the gala even though Jean has refused to sing in public for many years?

Dustin Hoffman has assembled an outstanding supporting cast, all of whom do their own singing, dancing and playing of musical instruments. Most haven’t performed in public in years, but you would never know it. They are a wonder to behold.

As for the leads, they are remarkable. Billy Connelly’s Wilf seems one note (no pun intended) at first…trying too hard to be a scamp. But then we gets the sense that there is more going on than meets the eye and his performance begins to make sense. Pauline Collins’ Cissy is a hard character to pull off, but she manages in spectacular fashion. Tom Courtenay has an understated role; however, he is perfect in it. We feel the hurt and pain he has suffered over the years. And finally there is Maggie Smith…funny, fearful and outspoken. She’s simply terrific.

Maybe it takes an uncompromising actor in his own right to get the most out of his players as a director. If so, let’s hope Hoffman has a few more pictures up his sleeve.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

Woolly Mammoth 2013-2014 Season: One from the Heart—Theatre

March 13, 2013

If Woolly’s upcoming season is one-half as entertaining as was the presentation of the shows-to-be, DC-area theatre-goers are in for a great ride.Woolly Mammoth

Artistic director Howard Shalwitz addressed an audience of subscribers Monday night, March 11, and spoke briefly about the upcoming season. For the past few years, Woolly plays have followed a theme. This season will be no different, featuring the theme “America’s Tell-Tale Heart.” No, Edgar Allen Poe will not be part of the offerings, but but delving into America’s heart…what makes us tick…will be. Resident company member Emily Townley emceed the evening event, which showcased readings of the 2013-2014 plays—some had her performing monologues, others had her working with fellow resident member Dawn Ursula. Townley also interviewed some of the directors and playwrights for the new season.  All in all, it was a great night at the theatre and bodes well for the future.

The 2013-2014 season will present:

September 9 – October 6, 2013

Detroit by Lisa D’Amour and directed by John Vreeke, D’Amour’s play revolves around two neighboring couples living life in suburbia with secrets.

November 4 – December 1, 2013

Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by Liesl Tommy,  centers on an estranged Arkansas family in dramatic fashion.

 December 10 – January 5, 2014

Just the Two of Each of Us, created and performed by The Pajama Men, blends improv, wit and humor into who knows what?

February 10 – March 9, 2014

We Are Proud to Present a Presentation…about the Herero of Namibia, formerly South West Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, between  the years 1885-1915, by Jackie Sibblies Drury, directed by Michael John Garcés, is an innovative new play which features a group of American actors telling a story that’s not American and getting tripped up in their own “Americaness.”

March 31 – April 20, 2014

Arguendo, created and performed by Elevator Repair Service, directed by John Collins, takes the actual text from a case argued before the Supreme Court—Barnes vs. Glen Theatre—about freedom of expression and the right to say what’s in your heart…albeit doing it naked…and show us the wit and wisdom of the Justices.

 June 2 –June 29, 2014

The Totalitarians by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, directed by Robert O’Hara, was commissioned by the New Play Network (NPN), and focuses on politics in Nebraska and asks,” how do you come to believe than an eye is not evil…how do we come to believe in things without facts?”

For more information about the upcoming season, go to woollymamoth.net.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

641 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

Ballston Macy’s: Martha Stewart’s Touch Needed—Restroom

March 12, 2013

Just got off at the Ballston Metro stop and need to use the restroom before an interview or engagement? You have a friend at Macy’s.  A quick elevator ride to the second floor and a trip to the back of the floor will bring you front and center to the ladies restroom the way God intended…large and full of mirrors. However that is where the fun ends.macy's

The good?

There are six sinks and three hand dryers and lots of mirrors. The sinks look brand new with a beautiful countertop on which to place your pocketbook.

The bad?

When you first enter the restroom area there is a huge lounge area, but where to sit? Where are the wall hangings? It’s dingy and features a yucky pink color scheme which carries into the stall and sink area. Macy’s…you carry Martha Stewart furnishings. Can’t you at least open up one of her books and use some of her decorating tips? And talk about bad branding. The changing table in the room is labeled “Hechts.” Oops.

Although there were eight stalls, only four were working. Also, the ventilation system was reverberating at such a fever pitch, it felt like a plane was going to land on the stalls. It made one feel very strange and if a pregnant woman was there, I think the vibrations would make her feel extremely uncomfortable or even bring on an early delivery.

However, the restroom area is convenient, clean and large. Sometimes that’s enough.

4238 Wilson Blvd.  Arlington, VA 22203

No: Happiness is Coming—Movie

March 11, 2013

Any movie that makes you want to Google all the information mentioned in it while you’re watching said movie has got something going for it. “No” has that something in spades. This film is an utterly fascinating look at the melding of politics and advertising and is immediately relatable to anyone living in a country where elections occur.

Based on Antonio Skármeta‘s  play, directed by Pablo Larraín with screenplay by Pedro Peirano, “No” is the fictional account of the plebiscite that took place in 1988 Chile, when military dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, ruled the country. No

In the real world, Pinochet calls for an up or down vote on his power—Vote “Sí ” to keep him in office; vote “No” for a new democratic regime. In the fictional world, Gael García Bernal plays the fictional character, René Saavedra, an advertising whiz kid hired to bring new ideas to the No campaign in the hopes of turning the cards stacked against it into a winning hand.  In working for No, Saavedra puts his family in jeopardy and ends up being pitted against his day job boss, Luis (Alfredo Castro), who is working on behalf of Pinochet’s Sí campaign. Bernal is terrific at portraying the concerned father and hot-shot ad man.

I use the words, real and fictional, on purpose because “No” is so well shot and executed that it is difficult to tell truth from reality. Is that an actor portraying Pinochet or is that Pinochet himself masterfully edited into key scenes? Actual campaign footage with Jane Fonda and Richard Dreyfuss is expertly intercut with the fictional aspects of the story. In addition, the advertising scenes are spot on. Watching the creation of “Happiness is coming” campaign will resonate with anyone engaged in advertising…or viewers of “Mad Men”, for that matter.

Fans of “Game Change” (the book or HBO movie), “Recount,”  “The Making of the President” or “The Selling of the President” should run, not walk, to “No.” Regardless of your politics, you’ll find it’s one of the best political movies of all time.

4 nuggets out 4

The Gatekeepers: Not Open or Shut—Movie

March 4, 2013

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” “The Gatekeepers” offers up many pithy quotes, but this one resonated with me and pretty much sums up the hopelessness one feels at the end of this brilliant film.

For this documentary, director Dror Moreh interviewed the six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency…its version of the CIA. Each one of the men, during his term in office, was charged with, among other issues, keeping the ever-changing Israeli-Palestinian borders safe.The Gatekeepers1

When you watch this film, you keep asking yourself, “Who are the good guys?” The answer is, “No one.” None of the former Shin Bet heads seem happy with their tenure…resigned is the word that comes to mind. As one puts it, “We’ve become cruel.” None of them think the occupation is a success and aside from Yitzhak Rabin, they view most politicians with contempt.

You feel the hope the men had, when in 1993, the Oslo Accords were signed by Rabin and Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO. It was a turning point in Arab-Israeli relations and forced both sides to come to terms with the existence of the other. However, those hopes for permanent peace were dashed with the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, and nothing has been the same since.

The term, “thought-provoking,” is used so often that it’s almost a cliché. However, thought-provoking is exactly what “The Gatekeepers” is. It should be mandatory viewing for anyone contemplating a career in foreign service.

4 nuggets out of 4


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