Sunday, December 31, 2023

Holiday Catch-Up on Oscar Films, Part 2

We continue with the holiday catch-up on potential Oscar-nominated and other award-winning films.

Frederick Wiseman's 
Les Menus Plaisirs--Les Troisgros
Les Menus Plaisirs--Les Troisgros
: The day after Christmas, I went to Film Forum for Frederick Wiseman's latest masterpiece Les Menus Plaisir--Les Troisgros. I knew it was four hours long and that would probably be the only chance I would have to see it. This 44th doc from the 93-year-old legendary filmmaker did not make the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature, but was named Best Nonfiction Film by the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Why did Oscar snub this fascinating portrait of a Michelin 3-star restaurant? Maybe it was the length?

I admit there were moments when I dozed off, but the overall effect was overwhelming, detailing every aspect of the three family-owned restaurants in the south of France. We watch the chefs buying produce at the local market, discussing whether or not to include rhubarb in the asparagus and whether the sauce should have shaved or whole almonds, preparation in the kitchen, lunch service at 350 Euros a head, visits to cheese caves, cattle ranches, and vegetable farms. In the past few years, I've been enraptured by Wiseman's take on the British Museum, Boston City Hall, the New York Public Library system and my own neighborhood of Jackson Heights. This film adds to the collection of comprehensive portrait of institutes.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

B'way Update: Year-End Rumors; Best Play Tony Contenders

Will Stereophonic move to the Golden?
Credit: Chelcie Parry

The calendar for the 2023-24 Broadway and Off-Broadway season appears to be set, but there could be a few additions before the Tony deadline of April 25. There are rumors that Stereophonic, David Adjmi's well-reviewed, three-hour play about a rock group not unlike Fleetwood Mac recording an album vital to their careers, which recently closed at Playwrights Horizons, may move into the Golden Theater. Playwrights has coyly announced that if you had missed the show, exciting news was on the way. This could mean a Broadway transfer, but it could also mean the release of a CD with Will Butler's songs from the play. 

Another rumor puts forth the possibility of the current minimalist London revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard starring Nicole Scherzinger (former lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls) moving to Broadway, perhaps in November 2024. The musical version of Billy Wilder's classic film of faded silent film Norma Desmond was last seen on Broadway in 2017 with Glenn Close recreating her Tony-winning performance from the 1995 production.

Nicole Scherzinger in
the London Sunset Boulevard
Credit: Marc Brenner

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Holiday Catch-Up on Oscar Films

The holiday season has come to mean something much more important than celebrating goodwill and exchanging gifts--catching up on potential Oscar nominated films so I will have seen as many as possible on the big night, March 10, 2024. Since the last entry on this topic, I managed to see three more potential nominees and rewatched Maestro on Netflix.

Julianne Moore and Charles Melton in
May December
May December
: Previous Oscar winners Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore look to nab Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress slots for this bizarre indie which falls between comedy and drama (the Golden Globes has classified it a comedy). But newcomer Charles Melton has emerged as the front-runner for Best Supporting Actor, having won the New York Film Critics Circle and several other critics' group. BTW, have you noticed that almost every city and geographical area in the country now has its own movie critics' group, each bestowing its own set of awards? It used to be just New York and Los Angeles, now it's everywhere including the East Podunk Film Critics Circle and the Dead Cactus, Arizona Movie Reviewers and Fly Swatter Collectors Group.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Off-B'way Update: A Sign of the Times

g.  Yet another jukebox musical is headed our way. A Sign of the Times will feature music from 1960s pop
Crystal Lucas-Perry and Chilina Kennedy in
"A Sign of the Times" at Delaware
Theater Company.
Credit: Matt Urban

legends such as Petula Clark, Leslie Gore, and Dusty Springfield. Preview perfomances being Feb. 2 at New World Stage in advance of a Feb. 22 opening. Sign of the Times
 will star Chilina Kennedy (Broadway: Beautiful: The Carole King MusicalParadise Square) as Cindy, two-time Drama Desk nominee Ryan Silverman (Broadway: The Phantom of the OperaChicago) as Brian, Justin Matthew Sargent (Broadway: Spider-Man: Turn Off the DarkRock of Ages) as Matt and Tony Award nominee Crystal Lucas-Perry (Broadway: 1776Ain’t No Mo) as Tanya.

York Theater Company in association with Richard J. RobinPresident, Wells St. Productions LLC., produces. With a book by Lindsey Hope Pearlman (Roar!, Cassandra Complex), based on an original story by Richard J. Robin, the production features music supervision, music arrangements and orchestrations by Joseph Church (Broadway: The Lion King, In the Heights), choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter (Broadway/London: School of Rock, London: SuperYou), and is directed by Gabriel Barre (Broadway: Amazing Grace; Off-Broadway: Almost MaineThe Wild Party). 
A Sign of the Times had its world premiere at Goodspeed Musicals’ Norma Terris Theatre in 2016 and played a sold out, critically acclaimed run at the Delaware Theatre Company in 2018. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Broadway/Off-B'way Update: Stranger Things in London, The Effect at the Shed, Etc.

Louis McCartney in
Stranger Things: The First Shadow.
Credit: Manuel Hardin
According to Deadline, the newly-opened London stage version of Stranger Things, the long-running hit Netflix sci-fi series, is headed for Broadway. The spectacular production, subtitled The First Shadow, is the first in a trilogy of projected plays and according its co-director Stephen Daldry is a bridge between season four and season five of the series. Nothing is official yet, but the Deadline article states plans are in the works for a NYC run if the London box office and reviews are positive. Like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child which is still running on Broadway, Stranger Things includes dazzling special effects and has input by playwright Jack Thorne who won a Tony for his Harry Potter stage adaptation. Kate Trefry is the author and the "original story" is credited to the Duffer Brothers, Thorne and Trefry. The producers are Netflix and Sonia Friedman who has brought many London hits to Broadway including Harry Potter, Tom Stoppard's Leopoldstadt, A View from the Bridge and more.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Boston and DC Crix Chose Holdovers and American Fiction as Best Pix

Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Paul Giamatti, and
Dominic Sessa in
The Holdovers
The 2023 film award season continues to spread the wealth among a variety of pix, making this year's Oscar nominations harder to predict. The Boston Society of Film Critics and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association voted for their awards on Sun. Dec. 10 (same day as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association) and went in two directions. The Beantown scribes chose The Holdovers, Alexander Payne's comedy-drama about a misanthropic school teacher spending the holidays with a rebellious student and the school's cook, as best picture. The DC critics went for American Fiction, first-time director-writer Cord Jefferson's satire about an African-American novelist. Da'Vine Joy Randolph who plays the cook in Holdovers, continued her dominance of the Supporting Actress category, winning from both groups.  

Killers of the Flower Moon took top prizes from the NY Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, while Zone of Interest won the Best Picture slot from the Los Angeles reviewers.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

LA Film Critics Pick Zone of Interest as Top Pic

Sandra Huller in Zone of Interest
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association has chosen Zone of Interest, Jonathan Glazer's chilling examination of the Nazi family living next to a concentration camp, as Best Picture in voting on Dec. 10. This bucks the trend of their New York counterparts and the National Board of Review, both of whom voted Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon the outstanding flick of 2023. Sandra Huller also won for her lead performance in Zone and for her role in Anatomy of a Fall. She shared lead performance honors with Emma Stone of Poor Things. Last year, the LAFCA  eliminated male and female categories in the performance awards and gives accolades to the top two vote-getters in lead and supporting fields regardless of gender (the Drama Desk does the same thing.) All acting winners were women this year with supporting performance awards going to Da'vine Joy Randolph of The Holdovers (who has won every other critics award so far) and Rachel McAdams for Are You There, God, It's Me, Margaret. 

Film award season continues to be an interesting race with several candidates possible for the upcoming Oscar nominations. The Golden Globes and Critics Choice noms, coming out this week, should tell us more.

Book Review: A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America

(Bought at Central Books used bookstore in Doylestown, Pa for $4.95) Maybe I'm a masochist, but I felt I needed to read as many books about Trump as possible in order to understand what's going on right now and to be prepared if anyone tries to get into an argument with me about his lack of fitness for office. I bought this book thinking it would cover Trump's actions after he lost the 2020 election, but it was published before then and only goes up to the end of 2019. The Mueller report is the framing device for this overview of the first three years of Trump's erratic, impulse-driven administration. Rucker and Leonnig are experienced, detail-oriented reporters for the Washington Post and they deliver a dense, insightful accounting of his petty, ill-informed governance style. Cabinet members and administrators come and go like riders on an out-of-control merry-go-round. Policy decision are made off the cuff without research or advice from experienced experts. It's all Trump's gut and how he feels at any given moment. I wish I had kept a list of his bad decisions and actions, but I have a life.

A few that stood out for me: believing Kim Jong Un had nothing to do with the death of American prisoner Otto Warmbier (and not getting any sort of a treaty with Kim); withdrawing from Syria and lying to American troops that they only received a raise because he authorized it when it fact they had been getting raises for decades; believing Putin over his own intelligence agencies about Russian interference with the 2016 election. And that's not even counting the blunders of the COVID pandemic which happened after the book came out.

Current polls show Trump leading Biden. This is terrifying. Trump is reckless and dangerous. Just today on MSNBC, Anne Applebaum of the Atlantic convincingly argued that if elected, Trump will pull us out of NATO which could be catastrophic for the world balance of power and embolden Putin to take more than Ukraine. If you care about women's reproductive rights, you can kiss them goodbye. Look at what just happened in Texas. A woman whose health would be seriously impacted unless she gets an abortion was turned down by the state supreme court. Liz Chaney has said we are sleepwalking to a dictatorship. I can see backing a Republican like Nikki Haley if you are a conservative, but why would you willingly vote in a wanna-be dictator? And don't forget there will be no "adults in the room" this time. Just lapdogs and sychophants. This book documents Trump's reckless, ill-informed behavior. It's a warning and more people should read it instead of carping about false issues like Biden's age, transgender youth in sports or a bad economy which even Fox News admits is really doing well.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

NBR Awards Killers Best Picture

Killers of the Flower Moon with
Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio
was named Best Picture by the NYFCCC and the NBR.
Killers of the Flower Moon continues to slay the competition, winning its second Best Picture Award from a major pre-Oscar group. The historical film based on the murder of Osage Native Americans for their oil rights was the top pick of the National Board of Review after winning the same accolade from the New York Film Critics Circle last week. In addition, Killers won for Best Actress (Lily Gladstone, also a NYFCC winner) and Best Director (Martin Scorsese). Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto won for his work on the film as well as for Barbie which was also named one of the year's top films. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

B'way Update: Hell's Kitchen Transfers; Busch and Izzard Off-B'way

Maleah Joi Moon (right) in Hell's Kitchen.
Credit: Joan Marcus
Hell's Kitchen, the new musical employing the songs of and inspired by the life of pop singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, is transferring from its current home at the Public Theater to Broadway. Previews begin March 28 at the Shubert Theater with an opening set for April 20. The show runs at the Public until Jan. 14, 2024. Featuring a book by Pulitzer Prize finalist Kristoffer Diaz, direction by Michael Greif (Rent) and choreography by Camille A. Brown (for colored girls), Hell's Kitchen focuses on 17-year-old Ali, living in a cramped apartment with her single mom in Manhattan Plaza, finding love with an older boyfriend and discovering her musical talent with the aide of a commanding mentor. The score includes several Keys' biggest hits including "Fallin'," "Girl on Fire" and "Empire State of Mind" as well as four new songs.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Two-time Tony Winner Frances Strernhagen Dies at 93

Frances Sternhagen at the 1995
Tony Awards
Two-time Tony winner and veteran character actress Frances Sternhagen passed away earlier this week at the age of 93. I always enjoyed her performances. One of the first shows I saw in NYC as a new resident was the Ellis Rabb directed revival of You Can't Take It With You which had been running for a few years. Sternhagen had replaced Elizabeth Wilson as Penny, Eddie Albert had taken over for Jason Robards as Grandpa, George Rose was the Russian ballet teacher, and Colleen Dewhurst as the countess-waitress (she was a riot). Also: Jules Feiffer's Grown-Ups (seen on a visit before I moved here), The Heiress (the second of her two Tonys, the first was for Neil Simon's The Good Doctor), Long Day's Journey Into Night at IRT (Drama Desk nomination), Edward Albee's Seascape, Steel Magnolias, Morning's at Seven, Terrence McNally's A Perfect Ganesh opposite Zoe Caldwell, and her last performance on stage at Manhattan Theater Club (a play called The Madrid I recall very little about except Edie Falco starred). In film as the "bitch from accounting" in The Hospital, the stingy librarian in Up the Down Staircase, and I seem to remember her as a psychiatrist treating pyscho John Lithgow in some thriller (Raising Cain). On TV as Cliff's mom on Cheers, Mrs. Marsh on those toothpaste commercials, and in Lanford Wilson's The Rimers of Eldritch and AR Gurney's The Dining Room on PBS. In The Dining Room, she played multiple roles including a little girl excited at the prospect of being taken to the theater by a free-spirited aunt much to her straitlaced mother's disapproval. Though she was many decades older than her character, she captured the spark of excitement and imagination of a child'd fascination with the stage and adult mysteries.

Friday, December 1, 2023

NYFCC Awards Flower Moon Best Picture; Etc.

Lily Gladstone won Best Actress from the NYFCC
for Killers of the Flower Moon.
Let the film award season begin. The New York Film Critics Circle is the first out of the gate with their picks for the best of 2023. Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese's three-hour-plus epic of the murders of Osage Native Americans by greedy white folks for their oil, was named Best Picture and Best Actress (Lily Gladstone as Mollie Kyle). But Best Director went to Christopher Nolan for Oppenheimer which also won Best Cinematography.