Friday, February 26, 2010

Live Design: Tempests of various kinds

The Bridge Project production of The Tempest across the street at BAM, and the gay-themed musical Yank! (pictured), are part of this week's roundup.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

So goes Ohio

Unhappy news from the New York theater front, regarding a venue where I saw many a provocation:

"The Ohio Theatre, a pillar of New York’s downtown theatre scene for 29 years, will close on August 31, 2010. The new landlord has issued official notice and no further negotiations are scheduled.

Located at 66 Wooster Street, The Ohio Theatre was one of Soho’s pioneering performance spaces and is now one of the last remaining. The not-for-profit theatre company Soho Think Tank runs the space under the direction of artistic director Robert Lyons. Lyons says, “It’s where Tony Kushner produced his first play out of college, where Philip Seymour Hoffman made his professional acting debut, where Eve Ensler performed Dicks in the Desert, a decade before writing The Vagina Monologues. The Ohio Theatre has been an incubator and platform for New York’s most exciting and innovative theatre artists for almost 30 years. Its closing emphatically punctuates the end of an era in Soho, and stands as a high profile casualty in the relentless decimation of the lower Manhattan theatre landscape.”

To mark this traumatic event, the Ohio Theatre will be providing a space on their website, where artists and audience members will be able to post their thoughts, memories and experiences at the theatre. Robert Lyons goes on to say, “There will also be a place for artists who have performed at the Ohio Theatre to post production photos. We especially encourage those with pre-digital photos to take the time to scan and post them. Literally thousands of theatrical events have taken place at the Ohio over the last 29 years and we would like to have them ALL represented. We also encourage people to make a donation to help us through what promises to be a difficult transition.”

In the meantime, the current season continues, including preparation for Ice Factory 2010, as well as plans for a major dance party some time this summer.

Soho Think Tank’s short-term priority is to find a home for their signature programs: STT PRESENTS and the Obie award-winning ICE FACTORY Festival. Toward that end, they are currently in discussion with other downtown venues, including HERE Arts Center, Dixon Place, PS122 and The Public about their next season.

As for long-term goals, Soho Think Tank has begun discussions with some of the core theatre companies of the Ohio Theatre community about forming a coalition to secure a new space.

Robert Lyons explains, “For 29 years, the Ohio Theatre has embodied the living history of the neighborhood of Soho, continuing the spirit of community and cutting-edge artistic practice that once defined the area. It’s been a host to a generation of the finest, most exciting and widely recognized companies working in NYC in the last three decades and has cultivated a diverse and growing community of artists who are collectively changing the cultural landscape of New York and beyond.”

The critically acclaimed work of these artists and companies has garnered innumerable OBIES, Drama Desk nominations, Off-Broadway transfers, national and international tours, including multiple Edinburgh Fringe First Awards. In 2002, the Ohio Theatre received the Ross Wetzsteon OBIE Award, in recognition of its sustained artistic excellence and contributions to the theatre community.

Today, the Ohio Theatre is one of the last non-commercial arts centers remaining in Soho. It continues to foster an environment of generosity, dialogue and inspiration, where artists take risks and try out new ideas, bringing their work to a new level. One of the most beautiful venues in lower Manhattan, it remains a boon to emerging artists and the viability of experimental theatre in New York City. For this, the Ohio Theatre is widely recognized as an indispensable pillar of downtown Manhattan’s cultural life.

“This is a great loss for the city on many levels. It is the loss of a historic institution, the loss of a vibrant ongoing platform for new work. And it is yet another contribution to the loss of Manhattan’s cultural identity,” says Robert Lyons.


The imbecility continues within a Douglas-Sirk-has-cooties thread that erupted at Hollywood Elsewhere yesterday, and has spread to include Powell and Pressburger films, Mildred Pierce, and other undeserving victims. There are a lot of morons on Jeffrey Wells' site (including, in duller-witted and inadvertently revealing moments like this one, himself) but they've rarely been as misogynistic and embarrassing. Joan Crawford, you will be avenged.

Popdose: R.J. Cutler on The September Issue

The documentarian who co-produced The War Room enters the battlefield of fashion with Vogue editor Anna ("Nuclear") Wintour in The September Issue, out on DVD today.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Enemy returns

I'm always griping that the only Ibsen play revived in New York with any constancy is Hedda Gabler, with an occasional visit to A Doll's House. So I was happy to trek over to the West 30's to attend a Barrow Group Theatre Company production of Enemy of the People, which I only know from reading (I wrote a well-received paper about the playwright in high school) and an out-of-it Steve McQueen's curious 1978 film version, which I saw on cable and has resurfaced on DVD-R in the Warner Archive.

Very superficially, the play anticipates, of all things, Jaws. Except that here the menace isn't an outsized shark but the potential of slow death from chromium poisoning, which has been found in the hot baths that are a tourism moneymaker in the town where the production is set. Leading the crusade to shut down the baths for an overhaul is the town's physician--but the support he receives from his family and a socialist newspaper and other individuals erodes in the face of reasoned opposition from local business interests, not least his cagey father-in-law. Dr. Stockmann (Larry Mitchell) is shunned, and faces the scandal of being branded "an enemy of the people" as his damaging report is swept under the rug.

Seth Barrish and K. Lorrell Manning have freely adapted the play, beefing up the female roles and adding some sore-thumb colloquialisms ("ballistic!") to Ibsen's original. To a degree the overhauling, making the piece "meaningful" for our craven-to-business times, works, not that that aspect of it needed a push. The modest staging is however somewhat logy, and the acting uneven. (The "bad guys" have the edge, performance-wise, over the good.) But my desire to see this play staged has been satisfied, and anyone needing an Ibsen fix is encouraged to seek it out, through March 8.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Popdose: Schickel on Eastwood

Go ahead, make your day, as Time critic and documentarian Richard Schickel talks about a candid new film that accompanies a massive new collection of Clint on DVD.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Silent, but not quiet

Chris Jones has penned a beautiful feature story for Esquire about Roger Ebert's cancer-riddled decline...and emotional and spiritual upswing as he continues to write and write. What a devastating--and inspiring--piece. Thumbs up--way up.

Popdose: The House of the Devil on DVD

Follow a college student into a satanic lair in a new chiller that mixes 80s decor with 70s dread. Or are you afraid of the dark?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lincoln Center Over the Edge

This year's "Film Comment Selects" program kicks off on Friday with a screening of Jonathan Kaplan's searing Over the Edge (1979), a teen favorite of mine that went over extremely well when I showed it to my movie-watching group (20 years old and still going strong) last month. It's an interesting coincidence that we're all going "over the edge," so to speak. In any case here are some of my notes to Nous Allons au Cinema about the film, which inspired Kurt Cobain and director Richard Linklater, and probably Quentin Tarantino, whose Inglourious Basterds ends with a somewhat similar fit of violence:

"Today HBO is more about original shows than movies, but when I was a film-struck teen in the late 70s and early 80s it was like having a really good theater in your living room. Films that never played anywhere near where I lived, like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and the first Mad Max, inspired a lot of water fountain conversation in high school the next day. I remember talking about The Tin Drum and Bergman’s From the Life of the Marionettes—mostly, to be fair, about the nudity, or lack thereof. (Cinemax, which came along later, provided the booty.)

But Over the Edge was the movie that got everyone excited. Here was a “teenage movie” that treated the problems and concerns of disaffected youth in an adult way, sympathetic, but also wary. (Kaplan deliberately used few closeups, so we wouldn’t identify too strongly with the kids.) It’s a movie that’s hard to imagine being made today with the same cautious interest—and it was a movie that Orion Pictures wished it hadn’t made. Concerned by reports of teen violence emanating from theaters playing The Warriors and Boulevard Nights as Over the Edge was readying for release, Orion shelved it after a few token engagements. (Perhaps just as well, given a ridiculous horror movie-ish poster.)

But the Public Theater, which had a film program, ran it for a couple of weeks in 1981. Joe Papp was a big fan. Vincent Canby at The New York Times took note in his Dec. 20 column.

“Jonathan Kaplan's ''Over the Edge,'' made in 1979 but only now having its first New York engagement at the Public Theater, is not a great film but it's more expressive of some aspects of American life than most big-budget, supposedly serious melodramas, including ''Taps.'' ''Over the Edge,'' produced on a comparative shoestring is, in form, not much different from other movies about misunderstood youth, including the way in which it romanticizes its youngsters, but it is unusual in that the villains are not simply preoccupied parents but architects and urban planners, the people responsible for New Granada, where the story takes place.

New Granada is representative of those tacky suburban communities that were conceived and built in the late 60's, more or less all at once, from the ground up, to provide ideal environments for those who could afford condominiums or less expensive flats in apartment blocks. According to Mr. Kaplan, the director, and Charlie Haas and Tim Hunter, who wrote the original screenplay, the planners built a community ideal only for land speculators, forgetting that one-quarter of New Granada's population would be 15 years old or younger.

The New Granada tots and teen-agers, with no place to go and nothing to do, turn to drugs to calm their nerves and vandalism to pick them up. When they are threatened by a bullying policeman, who has accidentally shot one of them, they explode in a riot of violence in which they come close to wasting all of the community.

It's to Mr. Kaplan's credit that he makes New Granada look just as boring and alienating to us as it does to the unfortunate children who live there. Not since King Vidor's film version of Ayn Rand's ''The Fountainhead'' has any American film taken architecture so seriously. I hope it isn't sacrilege to suggest that ''Over the Edge,'' though often overwrought, is far more entertaining and to the point. “

Canby highlights the planned community aspect that gives the film some of its fascination. In 1973, Haas, a writer with The San Francisco Examiner, penned a story about a wave of teen vandalism that was hitting Foster City, CA, which he and Hunter and Kaplan used as the basis for the film. (Still good friends, they participated in the DVD commentary with producer George Litto, best known for his Brian De Palma movies.) They “found” the fictionalized New Granada in Colorado, which according to Danny Peary’s entry in his book “Cult Movies Three” (1988) had a school district that needed money, so the town fathers looked the other way as the film crew trashed the place. (The five main kids, including Dillon and Spano, were cast in New York; the rest were all local, and everyone had a great time participating in the destruction.) Funny thing is, when I was a kid, I remember being appalled—not so much at the awful buildings, which recur from state to state, but at the endlessly flat expanse of land. I’m sure it’s all ugly houses now, but given how they look in the movie it’s hard to lament those godforsaken plains." (My suburban prejudice showing, which I also graduated from.)

Pictured is the jacket of the (excellent) soundtrack LP, which friend and Nous Allons member Sara recently got from her brother. Probably worth a few bucks today. The movie is timeless, and priceless.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Popdose: Roberto Rossellin's War Trilogy on DVD

The Criterion Collection's 500th release honors one of the milestone achievements in film with a stellar box set that bundles new editions of Rome Open City, Paisan, and Germany Year Zero.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Popdose Interview: Michael Stuhlbarg

"It doesn’t get any easier trying to bring these characters to life," says the acclaimed New York stage actor, who is the star of the Oscar-nominated Coen brothers film, out now on DVD.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Popdose: Tops, Flops, Oscars, Razzies

From Avatar to the Transformers sequel, from Up in the Air (pictured) to the depths of Obsessed, a look back at the highs and lows of 2009 as awards season takes shape.

Also, 11's, or other movies that stayed with me for some reason or another: Coraline; The Cove; Duplicity; Fantastic Mr. Fox, (500) Days of Summer; The Hangover; Humpday; I Love You, Man; The Informant!; Killshot; Me and Orson Welles; Moon; Observe and Report; Public Enemies; Red Cliff (US version); A Single Man; Sin Nombre; Sunshine Cleaning; Tony Manero; Tetro; Trick 'r Treat; Two Lovers; Up; and Watchmen.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Top DVDs 2009

I reviewed some of these for Popdose and Cineaste, but some I picked up, or they just sort of materialized (as I fret a major, overdue culling and reorganization of my DVD cabinets). The catalog (i.e. "old movie") market got a real boost from DVD-on-demand programs like the Warner Archive, though the naysayers gripe about price, disc quality, lack of extras, etc. I share their pain, but as the market matures and the studios turn to recycling hits on Blu-ray the situation we're in is the situation we're in. Hail Columbia for continuing to release standard, extras-packed discs (for now, as cutbacks sweep Sony); I have to say that these DOD programs, revealing buried treasures, did give my interest in the format a shot in the arm.

Top 10 (alphabetical):

Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics I (Sony)
Dusty and Sweets McGee (Warner Archive)
The Exiles (Milestone)
The Films of Michael Powell: A Matter of Life and Death and Age of Consent (Sony)
The Important Thing is to Love (Mondo Vision)
Icons of Sci-Fi: Toho Collection (Sony)
Messiah of Evil: The Second Coming (Code Red)
Nikkatsu Noir (Criterion Eclipse)
People Like Us: The Complete Series (BBC)
The Stepfather (Shout! Factory)

11's: Ashes of Time Redux (Sony); Black Rain (AnimEigo); Classic Film Noir Collection Vol. 3: The Amazing Mr. X and Reign of Terror (VCI); Danton (Criterion); Husbands: Extended Cut (Sony); Monty Python: Almost the Truth (Vivendi); Nora Prentiss (Warner Archive); Repulsion (Criterion); Suspense (Warner Archive); The Terminal Man (Warner Archive); The Three Stooges Collections Vols. 6 and 7 (Sony); Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (Warner Archive)

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Popdose: Paris, Texas on DVD

The Criterion Collection goes down the road again with Wings of Desire director Wim Wenders as the German filmmaker creates a classic portrait of America. So I didn't care for it the first time.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Live Design: Beginning of 10

Regrouping from my "End of 09" entry a whole month after the year and decade the company of set designer John Lee Beatty and LD Peter Kaczorowski as they collaborate on two new plays, Time Stands Still with Laura Linney and Venus in Fur at Classic Stage Company, plus the revival of A View from the Bridge with Liev Schreiber and Broadway debutante Scarlett Johansson (pictured).

Film Forum at 40

There are many ways to salute New York's Film Forum, my home-away-from-home in my 30s, on its 40th anniversary year. Starting today the Museum of Modern Art is going all out with a retrospective of its non-fiction programming, curated by its director, Karen Cooper. Some of the ones I've seen at Film Forum include Bruce Weber's riveting Chet Baker portrait Let's Get Lost (pictured), Crumb, The Battle of Chile, and My Architect, all a window onto the world.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Oscars: More MOR than ever

Last year the movie world trembled when it was announced that the number of Best Picture Academy Awards would double from five to ten, returning it to where it had been in the mid-1940s. The intent--to jack up the ratings for the sagging telecast by pulling in the likes of The Dark Knight--was purely commercial, a move to placate the popcorn picture crowd that's illiterate about, say, The Reader. Not a terrible idea; maybe Star Trek would get in. Then, the second thoughts, the doubts, the night terrors--would the Globe-winning Hangover get nominated? Or something even...worse?

The fears were allayed this morning. While I wouldn't have minded a big broad hit like either of those two to compete the whorehouse is secure...and Oscar is more middle-of-the-road than ever. The overrated District 9 and The Blind Side (picture), which I'm now obliged to see, are the only challenges to the established order, and don't pack all that much rooting interest. Why not, say, the edgy-charming (500) Days of Summer, 2009's only real indie success/surprise story, and a movie to pull in the prized younger demographic that made it a hit in the first place?

Unless Transformers hottie Megan Fox reprises Pink's hot wet dance Grammys number at the Oscars expect the ratings to go up not much more than a tick, as lovers of A Serious Man and An Education wheel themselves in front of the TV at the retirement center. Kidding: All things considered it's not a bad list, and not so different from my own Top Ten, but the wow factor just isn't there. What was the point?

A few thoughts:

So I'm stuck seeing The Blind Side, though I'm pleased at the rehabilitation of my long-faltering crush object Sandra Bullock.

Jeremy Renner, Christopher Plummer, fist bumps!

I've never missed a Peter Jackson picture but The Lovely Bones may be it, sorry, Stanley Tucci--why not a nod for Julie & Julia? (Jackson gets the District 9 nods as a consolation prize for its failure.)

Matt Damon? Invictus? Seriously? Not going to see an Eastwood picture that his acolytes in the press wrote off. The hoariest nomination was Freeman's.

Maybe its tiny distributor will give The Messenger the chance to deliver a few more viewers.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga, nice going, too bad about the Mack truck in front of you.

More kudos: Nick Hornby and the In the Loop writers, keeping the British end up in a more American-centric field than usual.

A surprise to see some tech love for The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. On the other hand it's Avatar all the way in seven of its nine categories, with Hurt Locker stealing director and picture thunder.

I hate to say it, but Sherlock Holmes really did have the most flavorful score of the year. I may need reminding on Fantastic Mr. Fox, though.

Disney's at it again, swiping Best Song noms. But "The Weary Heart" is a lock.

The Secret of Kells? What?

A Prophet (une prophete) is the best foreign-language film I've seen in recent months. Riveting.

The Cove for Best Doc. Dead dolphins, tears, outrage.

Best title: A Matter of Loaf and Death (Animated Short).

The Oscars air March 7.