Wednesday, April 28, 2010

RIP Dorothy Provine

The AP, the Times, etc. will file the nuts and bolts but this is a far more satisfying obituary of the charming actress, who pretty much left show business in her 30s. How nice of the community theater players to stop by and cheer her up in her final days. She was so nice (and so sexy) in movies like Good Neighbor Sam and Who's Minding the Mint? you want to know that she passed with a smile on her face. She could be rowdy, though the pose is uncharacteristic of her film work; I'd like to see her pre-Bonnie and Clyde Bonnie Parker, and she's fun vamping it up in a Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini musical number in The Great Race. But I'm surely not alone in remembering her most vividly as the oasis of calm among the comedians in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, the one who discovers the "Big W," then watches as its riches slip away (and is spared the final slapstick indignities). "It was a nice dream, if only for a couple of minutes," she says wistfully to Spencer Tracy. Lovely moment, lovely performer.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Doctor Hamlet

David Tennant's acclaimed RSC portrayal of Hamlet gets the PBS Great Performances treatment tomorrow night as 8pm (EST, in New York). Confusing the matter of to be or not to be for the Tenth Doctor is Captain Picard...I mean, Patrick Stewart. While the play has been contemporized there is no truth to the rumor that Daleks and the Borg co-star.

(While we had our ups and downs with Tennant's madcap-ish portrayal of the Doctor we are two thumbs up, two episodes in, regarding the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. The young actor has really silenced the skeptics with a neatly balanced performance and Karen Gillan makes a winning traveling companion. With Dalek and Weeping Angels programs scheduled for the next three weeks Doctor Who is definitely in.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

A tangled web

How the programming grid on my Time Warner box describes Vincente Minnelli's The Cobweb (1955), which airs tomorrow afternoon on TCM: "Psychiatric clinic director (Richard Widmark) handles crisis over new curtains." Yeah, that'll put butts on couches.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thompy comes home

I don't often write about community topics, but my world-famous "stash spot" was rocked by a dognapping a couple of weeks ago, one that was publicized on various local blogs, TV shows, and newspapers. I wasn't expecting a happy ending, but sure enough a miracle occurred, and Thompy was located in Red Hook this morning. (The bastard who stole him, still roaming the streets, sold him to an unsuspecting family; a microchip implant proved his ownership.) Two things to note: watch your dogs, and never bet against Brooklynites who unite for the common good.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Aliens among us

Overpraise can hurt a playwright's career as surely as bad reviews, or no reviews at all. So I'm feeling a little protective of Annie Baker this morning. Yes, her new play, The Aliens, is good. But anyone who dashes off to the Rattlestick to see it based on Charles Isherwood's New York Times rave this morning is likely to come away unfulfilled. "At the risk of appearing hyperbolic, I’ll go so far as to say there is something distinctly Chekhovian in the way her writing accrues weight and meaning simply through compassionate, truthful observation," Isherwood writes--and, yes, it's risky.

On this we agree: Baker is a good playwright. Her Body Awareness was an unexpected delight when I encountered it at Atlantic Stage 2 a couple of seasons back (I went primarily because the somewhat MIA JoBeth Williams popped up in it) and Circle Mirror Transformation was a justified sensation at Playwrights Horizons last season. The Aliens is something of a pullback from those plays, putting me more in mind of of one of Richard Linklater's indie films. The focus here is on three men; more to the point, three guys, one adolescent, Evan (Dane DeHaan, pictured at left), and two adolescent of the overgrown variety (Erin Gann, center, as Jasper, and Michael Chernus, right, as K J). They meet in the backyard of the Vermont coffeehouse where Evan works and Jasper and K J loaf. Not a lot happens, at least, not initially--and the play flirts with a distinctly un-Chekhovian tedium as Evan can barely get a word out as the self-proclaimed "geniuses" in his midst talk about Charles Bukowski, play music (they were in a group called The Aliens, or maybe The Frogmen, or maybe something else), and bait him.

I was however confident that Baker, working once more with Circle Mirror director Sam Gold, was purposefully drawing us into something more purposeful, and I wasn't wrong. By the end of the first act, Evan has made his bones and is part of the group, as the three steer clear of an uncool Fourth of July celebration; in the second, the dynamic has changed dramatically, in a way that's not easily comprehended but that Baker makes comprehensible (yes, there's a crater-sized spoiler that I'm laboring to conceal). A show that was doodling along suddenly, forcefully grows up. The first act is about how cool it is for a young person to be accepted by older, worldwise friends, no matter that we may think of them as, well, losers; the second is about how to cope with the rupture of that bond, and the difficulty of moving on. Worthy subjects, movingly enacted (Chernus has a great Falstaff in him) and richly designed in an intimate space (Bart Fasbender's audio suggests quite a fireworks display, one that can't help but to shake the characters from their usual disdain)--but we do such a low-key work a disservice by loving it out of proportion. I mean, hey, what are trying to do here, drive Baker to movies and TV? Let's keep her to ourselves for a while.

Green Night

And I was there as Green Day took to the stage at the St. James last night to perform a couple of songs following American Idiot, the musical based on their album. It seems they're often there enjoying the show but this was the first time they'd become a part of it. The contrast between the show and the live performance was fascinating--if you think the show is loud, you ain't heard nothing yet--but they didn't upstage the adaptation, and rather complemented the piece with their own particular dynamism. That's star Spring Awakening Tony winner John Gallagher, Jr., a guy born to suffer in contemporary rock musicals, behaving himself in a relatively quiet moment from the production. Top that, Barbara Cook, I say, as I downshift into traditional musical theater mode for tonight's performance of Sondheim on Sondheim.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

RIP Dede Allen

See a little of what made the film editor great. It's hard to believe she went without an Oscar despite her innovations, but the work, as always endures. Would there have been a golden era in 60s and 70s without her leading the way in the editing room, establishing its particular rhythms and idiosyncrasies? Her influence over her time is the mark of enduring greatness. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Mark Harris' superb "Pictures at a Revolution," which quite thrillingly tells the whole story of how Bonnie and Clyde, her signature credit, came to be. And there was so much else. What a resume--Odds Against Tomorrow. The Hustler (the first time an editor received sole credit for a film). Little Big Man. Serpico. Dog Day Afternoon (Oscar nomination). Night Moves. Slap Shot. Reds (Oscar nomination). The Breakfast Club. Wonder Boys (Oscar nomination). There are other key credits than those; indeed, more facets to her trail-blazing career than that particular skill. But her work on some of my favorite, generation-defining movies is what generations to come will remember.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Cineaste on Facebook

The Sixties survivor is now a part of the 21st century. Hop on over and fan us.

Shows: Frank, Tony, and the Boys

Come Fly Away with Sinatra, Lend Me a Tenor, and The Scottsboro Boys as I pick it up again after spring break. Tenor stars Justin Bartha and Tony Shalhoub approximate how I feel to be back after a week on the Florida coast.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Stop the presses

Last year's political thriller State of Play was pretty much an elegy to newspapers, and to a certain kind of fast-talking, deadline-driven movie. Film Forum relives the days of ink-stained wretches with "The Newspaper Picture," a month-long extra that begins on Apr. 9. Kicking off with Billy Wilder's caustic Ace in the Hole (1951), the series encompasses all kinds of headline-grabbers, including the early color horror film Mystery of the Wax Museum (1934), Samuel Fuller's excellent Park Row (1952) and Shock Corridor (1963), and two movies vying with Dr. Strangelove as most revived, All the President's Men (1976) and Sweet Smell of Success (1957). A special section is devoted to the films of the garrulous Lee Tracy, who turbo-charged every movie he was ever in, burnt out scandalously, then came back with a last, Oscar-nominated hurrah in The Best Man (1964). Hard at work on the five star final is Dana Andrews in Fritz Lang's While the City Sleeps (1956).

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Seeing Red

Alfred Molina is Mark Rothko in John Logan's new bioplay, at the Golden fresh from the West End.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Popdose: Ben Stiller in Greenberg

The actor achieves a career high as a low-as-he-can-go misanthrope in the new film from Squid and the Whale writer-director Noah Baumbach.