Scarborough Affairs (Movie Thoughts: Scarborough)

ScarboroughPostermainbigimg59901I know the teacher-student love affair is sort of a thing, a fetish ff some sort for some people, but in Barnaby Southcombe’s ‘Scarborough,’ it’s the subject of parallel stories between two sets of lovers, and yes, they are of the teacher-student kind. The material is derived from a play by Fiona Evans, and I bet it played better on stage. The framing of the film is a little awkward, and the story opened up just highlighted its pretenses. At times, to me, it even felt icky, especially the Lolita-esque set up between Aiden (Edward Hogg) and Beth (jessica Arden)  These situations should be a lot more nuanced than presented here, but we don’t get a sense of that. I did appreciate the location, which is a North Yorkshire resort town, that seems appealing, though I read that the place has seen better times. Maybe this film will give it more attention.

Under Her Skin (Stage Thoughts: Skintight, The Gil Cates Theater)

1562720863_info_image_SkintightThere’s a very very funny thing happening at The Gil Cates Theater at The Geffen Playhouse in Wetwood, and the Ms. Elsa from Frozen herself Idina Menzel is in the middle of it.  In Joshua Harmon’s ‘Skintight,’ she is front and center and she is both hilarious and touching as Jodi. Jodi is a woman of a certain middle age, and her husband has just divorced her, trading her in for a younger model. She runs away from California to New York, partly to escape from her current situation, and partly to help celebrate her father’s 70th birthday. Her father, Elliot (played by Harry Groener) is sort of a Calvin Klein figure, a fashion mogul once married to a woman but with a string of boy toys to his name. He is now settling down with Try, twenty years old, and the same exact age as Benjamin, his grandson by Jodi. They all converge on his tony NYC apartment, and….well, hilarity (and other things) ensue. Menzel is terrific here, with all her luminescent star power, equipped with razor sharp comedic timing and stage presence (you can’t stop looking at her) and she is  a diva in the greatest sense here, surrounded by gay men as he battles sassy zingers with them left and right. Harmon’s first play, ‘Significant Others’ is modern gay life specific, and I think ‘Skintight’ is as well, as the play comments on youth and life with a very gay sensibility – if that’s not enough intellectually, we get Trey, the boy toy played by Will Brittain wearing just a jock in a huge chunk of the first act (and it’s a glorious sight) I had a lot of fun watching ‘Skintight,’ some of it shallow, but fun is fun however one takes it!

His High C (Film Thoughts: Pavarotti)

2e5d6aa4b4ade74f04c80ee258eb2c7cWhen I was a college student, I used to take advantage of the student discount for the Saturday afternoon performances at The Metropolitan Opera and there was a time I was really into it – making sure I understand everything about the art, and the singing. I was already a big musical theater fan by then, and it fascinated me how there are similarities between the two arts, but in a lot of ways they are very very different. My heart will also be for Broadway, but there is a part of it that’s for Lincoln Center. I veered towards more the sopranos, but of all the tenors, Luciano Pavarotti was my favorite. I thought he was always larger than life in his performances, and yes that voice – opera is mostly about the technical, but Pavarotti provided heart and soul in what he sang – you felt the passion there.

You feel that passion as well in Ron Howard’s documentary ‘Pavarotti.’  Howard definitely loves his subject, and you can feel it. He builds Pavarotti the lovable figure that he is, and captures vividly that mega watt smile that lit the stages when he was performing. The great thing about opera is a lot of these performances get recorded, so we see all the archival footage of when he performed his classic roles. When we see him hit that high C, we see the visuals that go with it, and it enhances the experience more. Howard starts from Luciano as a kid, all the way to his peak of stardom in the 80s, when he reached superstar status. We learn about the man from interviews from his family and lovers – there’s a tender story when one of his daughters shouts ‘Papa’ after seeing her father die on stage. Even as he moves from one lover to another, Howard frames it as almost adorable. It’s sometimes a bit much – sure he did a lot of philanthropic work towards the end, but Howard really piles it on.  But in the end, I didn’t care. This film celebrates a lot of what he did well – the music he left us – and I couldn’t help but weep as the film is closed by him singing his signature ‘Nessun Dorma.’ I am blessed to have lived in a world where that existed.

A Barley Bouquet (Perfume Thoughts: Poppy & Barley, Jo Malone)

375x500.56152Jo Malone’s new release ‘Poppy & Barley,’ sounded familiar. And sure enough, it is a from an earlier limited edition collection (English Fields) I thought that maybe I had it already, but I don’t – it’s from the collection that came out when I was in the middle of my ‘big move,’ so I had a lot in my mind then and couldn’t pay attention.

Apparently poppies do not have a smell, so Mathilde Bijaoui, who signed this, created an accord of ‘green notes and red roses’ to express the colors of the flower. My first impression is that this is very unlike the aesthetic of the brand. It smells like perfume – a little on the potent and heavy side compared to the mostly light Jo Malone offerings. It is richly floral – the rose is there and well blended with some violets. There are some figs and black currants that makes it slightly juicy and tart but it’s all well blended – they do not stand out unless you look for them. As I mentioned earlier, there is some heft to this scent, and that’s part of the reason why I like it. It smells like a perfume with a capital P.  It has some personality and I bet it blends well with Southern California weather.

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.

Scary Stories From Dark Times (Film Thoughts: The Keeper/Trautmann, Past Life)

the_keeperFor me, it is interesting that after all these years, there are still very interesting stories being told about the second world war. And I myself am more into them like before – perhaps old age has done this to me. I recently saw a film from last year, ‘The Keeper,’  which is an Anglo/German co production. It tells the true story of Bert Trautmann, a British POW who became a football hero for Manchester. It is a great story, and the film, co-written and directed by Marcus H Rosenmuller, is a great watch. It shows how Trautmann overcame being a Nazi sympathizer to become a football hero. There are great performances here, anchored by David Kross’s charming portrayal of Traumtann (In some markets, that is the title of the film)  I think I gravitated towards it because of the great love story between him and Margaret, the British woman he married (played by Freya Mavor) I got caught in the story instantly, and I this in the end feels a little more than just a football romance, it gives us a lesson on humanity and love. Much recommended.

past-lifeThere was certainly a lot of thought in Avi Nesher’s ‘Past Life.’  It’s a story of a young woman who finds out secrets from her family history. For me, this is a more interesting picture than an enjoyable one –  there is too much exposition and the payoff was a little limp. Still, this has some vivid characters that you will want to know, and some good performances, especially from Joy Rieger as Sophi. I also thought the production values were well done, as this is a period piece set in 1977. It felt like so.

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.