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Archive for the ‘Theater and Movies’ Category

OK, this one is emphatically NOT Shakespeare. But such fun! Everybody loved the original Coming to America of 20 years ago, and this sequel is more of the same–a sweet natured film, with lots of completely wild costumes, and much ridiculous waggery to make you smile. No souls are seared, no blood is shed, no babies or puppies harmed–in short, a lovable entertainment.
We start in Zamunda, which looks very much like America but is in Africa! We know this because there are lions and giraffes and elephants wandering about the garden. Eddie Murphy is engaging in a martial arts exercise with his three lovely daughters! They flatten him, in a loving way. But then sad news–his father is dying. And it turns out that Eddie unwittingly sired a son when he was in America (he was drugged, we do NOT blame him a bit). So off he goes to find and bring back Jermaine Fowler. Who luckily is a very good young man, who insists on bringing his mom–a VERY vulgar lady but with a heart of gold–and his uncle who was like a father to him. Eventually even the wonderful barber shop guys (all played by Eddie and Arsenio Hall, a tour de force) join the throngs at the Zamunda palace for the fabulous wedding party that ends the show. At which Wesley Snipes (playing the odious General Izzi from neighboring country Nextdorio) does a FABULOUS dance, elegantly dressed in a kilt, suggestively swishing the long tail on his sporran.

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I know I’m forever saying we can’t always be watching Shakespeare.
But that’s not to say that we can’t sometimes be watching Shakespeare!
And last night I watched Midsummer Night’s Dream–the simply charming BBC 1981 version, with Helen Mirren as a radiant Titania, and Peter McEnery as her dark Oberon. And Bottom was played by Brian Glover–so familiar as Campion’s henchman Lugg! And many other familiar faces, as always with the BBC. Of course this is a 40 year old movie, and the color and image clarity are poor–but nevertheless, a delightful vision of the very familiar story. Because I am so familiar with Benjamin Britten’s opera of the play, the words are already in my mind as the actors speak them–it’s odd how music can drill the words into the brain.
They did a grand job with the Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe (“If we offend, it is with our good will!”)–beloved by audiences ever since it was first performed. Theater companies always have such fun with this wonderful play-within-a-play!

The opera version is wonderful, even allowing Thisbe a simply beautiful tune for her ridiculous lament–“This cherry nose, These yellow cowslip cheeks, Are gone, are gone.” This BBC version was swell, with old Glover hamming it up: “Thus I die, THUS THUS THUS.”

There was also an adorable take on the bewitched lovers quarreling in the wood business. In this version, they are pushing each other about and falling into puddles–and at one point Helena is speaking, and both men stare at her in complete mute adoration. An entrancing moment!

And Puck gently lays them all down in magical sleep after all the bellowing, and kisses them gently, so that they wake up with the right partner.
A simply wonderful play.
PS I made an animation of the Lamentable Comedy, see this.

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Last night I watched the Royal Shakespeare version of Twelfth Night–that completely loveable show!

There was an EXCELLENT movie made of it, with all sorts of big names taking part–Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia! Ben Kingsley as Feste! And Maggie Smith’s amazingly lovely son Toby Stephens as Orsino! A wonderful show though as always brought down by that dreadful Malvolio business–so distasteful to modern audiences. The casual cruelty is shocking, EVEN when Malvolio, its victim, is played by brilliant Nigel Hawthorne.

So I was a little wary clicking on the RSC Twelfth Night, getting ready to avert my eyes when poor old Malvolio is mistreated. But they did very well, managing to slip around the more beastly bits, keeping it light, not emphasizing the hateful. And Adrian Edmondson was a FINE Malvolio, grave to start, but then ravished into donning–the yellow stockings! CROSS GARTERED! Audiences have been completely delighted by this business since Shakespeare first had the great notion 4 hundred years ago. There have been so many fine actors sporting the cross gartered yellow stockings–aided and abetted by totally K-K-KRAZY costume designers!

How can you not love it!
This iteration of the show did very well with these interesting items, AND the other sticking point also, which is, the twins. They actually looked somewhat alike! As the plot depends on this, it is always good when there is at least some possibility that the other characters could mistake the one for the other. The director decided that they were Indian, as was Feste. They are about the same height, and wear matching Indian outfits.

And are very appealing. And the moment when they finally confront one another and realize that the other was not drowned after all–it is profoundly moving; brings tears to the eyes. The darling siblings!
And so EVERYONE is happy (except Malvolio) and they all dance and sing to end the show (including Malvolio).

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Taming of the Shrew is a dicey show to put on these days, but it is so much FUN that companies just can’t resist, the Royal Shakespeare Company among them. Only they decided it would be totally smashing to reverse the sexes–to make the women men and the men women! Oh HAHAHA, they thought, what a completely cunning idea! Now, these are some of the best actors and actresses in the world, who can speak Shakespeare’s brilliant lines clearly and perfectly. And the costumes are stunning, gorgeous Elizabethan ruffs and velvet brocades.

[You’ll note that in addition to required diversity there is even a lady on a wheelchair.]

So, the play: the ladies have the power in this world, and Petruchia is looking to husband it wealthily in Padua. It begins well enough–these women have such control over their voices and bodies, they sweep around, persuade us. But then comes the scene where Petruchia meets her Katherine (they didn’t change the names of the formerly female characters) and after the wonderful witty exchanges, she suddenly strikes him to the ground, and he is alarmed, frightened.
I was taken aback. I thought, this is untrue.
Now, you’ll say all THEATER is untrue, and that is of course correct. But this was untrue in a disturbing human way. Yes, some women overpower men. But for the most part, it is the other way around.

And ladies LIKE powerful men. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, just that it is the way it is.

And to see that tall handsome actor look meek and afraid of the bellowing lady was disagreeable. In some circumstances it might be amusing, or satisfying. Not here, not to me.
So I will confine myself to traditional Shrews (e.g. this one) and leave these bold experiments to younger playgoers.

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Back in my youth, I listened to operas, over and over, Puccini, Verdi, Britten. I LOVED them, magnificent works of art. The ones I favored, they are now etched in my brain.
These days, I mostly listen to music that is pleasant and that keeps the dark away. But every once in a while, I listen to those wonderful demanding masterpieces that I used to keep by me.
And today, I listened to Billy Budd, such a completely brilliant piece of music. Britten wrote the opera to the story by Melville, a short shipboard plot with no women and a terrible inevitable path ending in death. But how powerful the melody and singing that takes us there!
There was an excellent movie of the story, with Peter Ustinov as Captain Vere, and Terence Stamp as a fabulously lovely Billy.

The story is not simple, and the anguish of the good man who must condemn Billy to death is splendidly conveyed in both film and opera– though I can’t help but find it more moving in the opera. Captain Vere, Billy, John Claggart are men thrust together in terrible times, the 1790’s war between the British and the French.
“Don’t like the French,” sings the British sailing master, “don’t like their Frenchified ways.” “Their notions don’t suit us, nor their ideas–Don’t like their hoppity-skippety ways,” agrees the First Lieutenant– “Those damned mounseers!” A simply charming interchange.
E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier wrote the libretto, and it is masterly.
I listen to these beautiful voices, these deeply moving harmonies–and I forgive the world its stupidity, its violence, its terrible tragedies.

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Carousel

While drearily flicking through Amazon’s entertainment offerings I came across a modern performance of Carousel, that antique but beloved clunker. What ho! A show at the Lincoln center, with the beauteous Kelli O’Hara as Julie Jordan and barihunk Nathan Gunn as her abusive spouse, Billie Bigelow! Both are very easy on the eyes, and both have lovely voices.

As this was a concert version, the orchestra sat solidly on the stage, and the cast darted through and around them to act and sing. And because of the nimble camera which also darts around and through, the action is gripping.
Though perhaps one could have done without some of that determined rollicking.
The story is based on a Hungarian play called Liliom, by Ferenc Molnár. Puccini wanted to base an opera on it, but Molnár turned him down–as he also turned down Kurt Weil, George Gershwin, and Richard Strauss. But he was so charmed by that wonderful show Oklahoma that he gave way, and agreed to let Rodgers and Hammerstein adapt his play. And they made a grand musical of it, as filled with wonderful songs as an egg of meat. Songs which we all know, You’ll Never Walk Alone, What’s the use of Wond’rin’ –and of course, the Carousel Waltz . YouTube has them all and all the other ones too. I gritted my teeth a trifle though that energetically enthusiastic Clambake song, and was not completely carried away by the June Busting Out All Over business–HEAVENS, such panting lewdness: “All the rams that chase the ewe sheep are determined there’ll be new sheep; And the ewe sheep aren’t even keeping score!”
But Nathan sang that fine father-to-be song like a hero, and Kelli did the same for the Wond’rin‘ song . Lovely stuff.
The charming bit with the kindly old man on the ladder who is hanging up stars led to a rather nice dance sequence–Billy fondly watching his now almost grown up daughter twirling about, and so to the end.

Then Billy trudges off to hell or heaven, we don’t know which, after a reprise of You’ll Never Walk Alone.
YAY! Applause!

PS The old man with the stars routine suddenly reminded me of Gielgud doing his Supreme Being gig in Time Bandits: “I AM the Supreme Being. I’m not entirely dim.”

But he is much sterner than the Starkeeper.

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As I made the bed this morning I found myself singing “A strolling minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches”–once downstairs I asked my music service to play me some Mikado please–the D’oyly Carte product of course.
Oh MY! Such wonderful stuff, incredibly charming music, wonderfully witty lyrics.
And still so completely entertaining–a hundred years and more later.

One of the poems my dad used to quote was in fact a verse from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience:

If you’re anxious for to shine in the high aesthetic line
as a man of culture rare,
You must get up all the germs of the transcendental terms,
and plant them ev’rywhere.
You must lie upon the daisies and discourse in novel phrases
of your complicated state of mind,
The meaning doesn’t matter if it’s only idle chatter
of a transcendental kind.

And ev’ry one will say,
As you walk your mystic way,
“If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me,
Why, what a very singularly deep young man
this deep young man must be!”

Grand shows, all of them! They all end happy, too.

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Marvel Movie

I fear some aspect of ageing has rendered me unable to appreciate worthy movies, so that I find myself watching the most desperately silly stuff. With handsome guys! Which reminds me of my older daughter explaining why football was great: large men in tight pants. The ridiculous comic book movies do indeed feature large men in tight pants. Which is, of course, very nice.
Though, one likes to think one appreciates, you know, the finer things.
And I do! Do I not subscribe to the ballet, to the opera? YES! Do I not read complicated and excellent books? YES! Well, mostly. There are the Vampire/Werewolf in Victorian London series. I’m not proud of my eager haste in reading all of those.
Come to think on it, perhaps I am losing brain power, dear friends.
See, I started watching Ladybird, which everyone agreed was a fine well made modern movie. Alas, alas, I just couldn’t keep watching it, despite the totally believable Saoirse Ronan–a splendid young actress, who was so fine in Brooklyn.
What, Hope, already missing the guys in tight pants?
And then, Netflix slyly offered me Thor: Ragnarok, one of those Marvel Comix productions. It’s jokey, violent, colorful, imaginative–in fact, fun to watch. Silly, unbelievable–but, fun to watch.
Jeff Goldblum makes a fabulous villain, effete and self involved, with a large unamused lady aide, who keeps him in line.

Together they rule over some kind of entertainment empire, and both Thor and Loki are somehow entrapped. And both are as beautiful as the day, so that really, there is no problem with just watching them. They have good lines, too.

AND, Anthony Hopkins plays their dad, Odin. And Cate Blanchette their sister, the, uh, GODDESS OF DEATH. She has a fabulous unfolding hat with antlers, REALLY effective. She is SO BAD.
They all seem to be having a ball. And of course, they are making millions of dollars, which can’t hurt. Hiddlestone and Blanchette have made serious movies, which, come to think on it, were also fun to watch.
So maybe it’s not old age, it’s just good sense that has me watching fun movies that are, after all, made to entertain.

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​​Yesterday I joined my fellow antique citizens for a performance of Cosi fan Tutte (=EVERYONE does it) –a grand performance of Mozart’s fab opera as put on by the Met and delivered to our local movie theater, at a tiny fraction of the cost and vexation of seeing it in New York.
I don’t know why young people are not loving opera, but so it is. Perhaps opera will not end after my generation dies, but I must report that the audience at this event was nothing but whitehairs. And we staggered, clumped, and wheeled our way into the theater.
For this production, it was decided that Coney Island in the 1950’s would be a fun location for the action. Why? Well, opera producers get bored of those damn powdered wigs and gigantic petticoats, I suppose.
The music is completely beautiful–angelic harmonies, amazing singing, astonishing and miraculous. But I was somewhat shocked by the libretto–I am an old lady now, and not as forgiving as I was as a young woman.
The story is about 2 loving couples, under attack by an immoral older man, who persuades the 2 men to disguise themselves and tempt their beloved women to betray them, which they do, successfully. And thus, breaking their own hearts. I have seen reviews saying that Mozart was brilliantly confronting the limitations of the enlightenment, of a world based on reason. Here is what Despina, the star of the show, says:
What is love? Pleasure, convenience, taste, enjoyment, amusement, pastime, fun– it’s no longer love if it becomes a burden and instead of pleasure brings pain and torment.

But that is false, of course. Or at least, false for grown ups. Teenagers frantic for sex may so define love, but surely those more mature would not.
Love is more than sex.
Listening to that heavenly music, I thought, how could anyone believe such crap, despite the gorgeous singing, despite the elegant stage set, despite the charming freak show inhabitants–the snake charmer, the sword swallower, the dwarfs and giants, whose weary cynical faces figured so dramatically in each scene.

Yes, they said, the world is wicked, the world pays us to show how crazy it is—but, you know, the world is not completely crazy. And love is more than pleasure, convenience, taste, enjoyment, amusement, pastime, fun. And this was a mean spirited show, though the music is so wonderful, reminding us that music is how we honor god.

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In my laudable quest for suitable entertainment I have been sampling the wares of many fine European countries—Italy! Germany! Ireland! And recently, a handsome Swedish actor all dressed up in 18th century gear caught my eye—like a youthful Charles Dance, such a pretty lad.

He was playing a doctor in a show called Anno 1790, a decent chap recently arrived in Stockholm: gentlemen in powdered wigs! ladies in elaborate curls and swirling petticoats! Seemed a good bet.

MY, Stockholm was very dark back then—lit by a few dim streetlights. Very authentic of course, but sometimes hard to tell who it was striding through the streets. The good doctor saved an innocent man from being executed for murder, and managed to keep his hands off the adorable wife of his employer in the first episode. But there was some fairly horrid stuff and the third episode started in such a grisly fashion that I fled to…

SING!

Idiotic and yet very likeable animated film, brimming with all the tedious messages that such films always urge on us (Pursue Your Dream! Everyone is Above Average!) –it’s Let’s Put on a Show, in a city filled with humanoid animals. But actually, rather nice. I particularly liked Johnny the soulful Gorilla.

Idiotic as I said, but rather charming. And there were no children whipped to death which cannot alas be said of Anno 1790. See, that is the kind of plot device that tends to dismay the grannies.

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