Jennifer’s Time (Film Thoughts: Hustlers)

960x0Doing a pole dance set to Fiona Apple’s ‘Criminal,’ Jennifer Lopez’s entrance into Lorene Scafaria’s ‘Hustler’ is going to be one of the most memorable entrances in modern cinema. And then she follow that up with a next scene wherein she is splayed out at a building rooftop, wearing a fur coat and smoking. It is a most fabulous scene for a much fabulous actress in a role where she shines and shimmers that people are talking Oscar. and you know what? I agree. At the very least, she deserves a nomination for her fantastic turn here as Ramona Vega, wherein she risks blood, swear, and tears to give justice to the role. in the beginning, I thought the character was just a heightened version of JLo the persona, but it is much more than that, she gives the slightly underwritten character shading and depth, and she commands the screen when she is on, Poor Constance Wu, who has to stand beside her most of the time. Although Wu has the meatier role, her paper-like screen presence pales next to the force that is JLo, and her more than competent acting most times look lukewarm next to the Lopez sizzle.

I have some problems with the screenplay, as I thought the resolution petered. But Scararia has crafted a very entertaining film – funny at most times, provocative for sure, but most importantly, weighty. It has something to say, and it says it cogently. And the women here – all of them- are all bad ass. Just right before the film, they showed the trailer for the new Charlie’s Angels. Those girls have a tall order to overcome with the Hustler hustlers.

P.S. This film also has the sickest soundtrack from Janet Jackson to Usher to Scott Walker to Chopin.

Though Cute (Movie Thoughts: Falling Inn Love)

dMz89EX3lbTrPbh10CC9q2vgzkXI really don’t know how I feel about all these Netflix movies. While occasionally we get a ‘Roma,’ we also get a lot of thee middling fares, such as ‘Falling Inn Love.’ Thi film, directed by Roger Kumble is a typical rom com that wouldn’t be out of place in the Hallmark Channel (look at the poster, it even looks like it came from there)  And its predictability knows no bounds, you can practically mouth off the screenplay as you are watching. But sure, there’s some low-key chemistry between the two leads (the current Administration probably won’t be too happy about the interracial coupling)  and although Christina Milian’s too-earnest acting mostly grated on me, Adam Demos was there to provide heat. This is mindless, though cute.

Which Witch (Stage Thoughts: Witch, The Audrey Skirball Theater)

12There’s a witch at the Audrey Skirball Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, and she is played by Maura Tierney (of TV’s ‘E.R.’)  in ‘Witch,’ which is Jen Silverman’s retelling of the play ‘The Witch of Edmonton’ by Rowley, Dekker, and Ford. The play – revised with today’s ‘speak’ – begins with her lamentation that she is not really a witch, but the villagers have anointed her as one. So of course the Devil (Evan Jonigkeit) tries to recruit her to sell her soul to him, but she is proving to be a tough sell. An easier target is Cuddy Banks, who is a ballet dancer son of a King looking for an heir, so he is threatened by another young man seemingly favoured by his father. The inventive stage design is pieced in two, and the goings on at the palace is sprightly and interesting, while down below the witch and the devil develop a relationship. I thought Tierney was kind of bland, but maybe it’s a directional thing. All in all, it’s wicked in a good way, and the small production gives a bigger memory.

Baby She Was Born To Run (Movie Thoughts: Brittany Runs A Marathon)

1brHalfway through Paul Downs Collaizo’s ‘Brittany Runs A Marathon,’ I still had mixed feelings about it. I didn’t know if I was ‘enjoying’ myself – I was disliking the main character, Brittany, although I admit to admiring Jillian Bell’s performance. I mean, she is ‘killing it,’ (the crowd was eating up all her antics) but I just personally dislike the ‘self-deprecating fat woman’ kind of humor, from Melissa McCarthy to Rebel Wilson and beyond.  But Collaizo’s screenplay gives Britaany real shadings – this is a three dimensional character who self sabotages and triumphs, and really, by the end, she and the film won me over.  The film is ultimately about a lot of things: how your friendships can define your life, how you can triumph over difficulties if you concentrate and focus, and really this is a journey of self-acceptance.

Up On the Roof (Film Thoughts: Fiddler A Miracle Of Miracles)

MV5BMDIxMzEwZjEtMmExMS00OTZkLTljOTktYmJjYTQ2Mzg4Nzg2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODAzODU1NDQ@._V1_I knew the songs from ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ before I knew the show. I was very aware of the popular songs out of context, and to be honest, I kind of did not like them, from the vantage point of their 60’s pop arrangements. When I met Sheldon Harnick, I told him I loved ‘Fiddler,’ everyone in our circle kept on telling him how much they loved ‘Fiddler.’ (I was the non-conformist who told him my favorite was ‘The Rothchilds’)  It was only when I started getting deep into musical theater research   that I truly appreciated “Fiddler,’ the show, and, really, I hadn’t seen any production of it since the 1990 revival. (I hadn’t really grasped the depth of ‘Matchmaker Matchmaker’ as a aong until I saw it on stage) When I started collecting cast recordings, I was amazed by how many recordings the show had and I devoured each one.

So it was wonderful to finally see Max Lewkowicz’s ‘Fiddler: Miracle of Miracles,’  as I had been looking forward to seeing it for weeks. A friend of mine saw it and couldn’t contain his raves.  And he is right, this film delivered for me in so many ways, a rare treat for a theater geek like me. It certainly showed how the musical became so beloved, and how it connected with a lot of people (Someone described it as ‘very Japanese,’)  I loved how Lewkowicz traced the musical’s origins:  Sholem Aleichem’s short stories and Chagall’s paintings,  to its troubled out-of-town tryouts that made director Jerome Robbins ‘bludgeon’ the show to to the version that ran on Broadway for eight years. The documentary also touched upon how Robbins was a terror director, although the Master himself Stephen Sondheim in here also says doesn’t know a more creative person than Robbins. These are the kinds of anecdotes that make me live life better. I wish there were more, even as the film packs a lot of them.

After seeing the film, it inspired me to play the original Cast Recording again, and it even gives these songs more texture for me. I know all theater lovers will see this film, but I hope it casts a wider net pulling in people into rediscovering the show.

Hungry Like A Woolf (Movie Thoughts: Vita & Virginia)

vvI don’t really know too much about Virginia Woolf so I was very interested in “Vita & Virginia,’ Chanya Button’s film about the love affair between Vita Sackville-West and Woolf. (The former is the inspiration for Woolf’s novel ‘Orlando.’) And this film started promisingly as I love the look and feel of the film, as it captured 1920s England perfectly, and I read they even filmed some scenes at Sackville-Wests’s estate home. But the characters here are so thinly drawn and the center of the story, which is the tempestuous love affair between the two women – never takes flight. You don’t see what attracted them together, and their dialogue seemed stilted. It doesn’t help that the two actors (Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki) have nil chemistry with each other. Button adapted this from Eileen Atkin’s stage play and uses some unconventional touches – the characters read love letters to the camera which detaches the audience. Plus, what is up with the ‘modern’ flourishes, like CGI effects that feel out of place and the techno scoring? It’s a sad misfire for something that might have been more.

Who’s the Boss? (Movie Thoughts: Blinded By The Light)

large_blinded-by-the-light-movie-review-poster-1As far as movie musicals go, ‘Blinded By the Light’ skew more ‘Mamma Mia’ than ‘My Fair Lady,’ which means the songs (in this case, from Bruce Springsteen’s catalog) are screwed in to fit the story, and doesn’t really propel the story forward. But I knew that going in, so I wasn’t expecting much. This is the second film this year about British Pakistani guys set to songs by rock and roll artist, so maybe that’s why, for me, this film felt familiar.  This film is based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir, and tells his story of discovering Springsteen’s music, amidst cultural conflicts and the chaos of late 80s British politics. In the beginning, it felt a little uninteresting for me, until the film got its groove, and I adjusted how I looked at the film. For me, the film worked better when I looked at it through a lens of a super fan. I could relate better to that, because I have been and still am one.  With that said, I thought Viveik Kalra was wonderful as Javed, and essayed the heart of the story convincingly. And it was surely a treat to hear these Springsteen songs int his context.