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Showing posts from 2014

Whiplash

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People have said you need to bleed for your art, and other "helpful" advice speaks of the blood, sweat and tears needed to achieve glory. Writer and director Damien Chazelle puts such "wisdom" into action in his fantastic feature film, Whiplash.

Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now) plays Andrew, a drummer in his first year at a conservatory in New York. Andrew is a passionate musician who hasn't reached his full potential. While Andrew is practicing after hours, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a teacher at the conservatory, discovers him, and invites Andrew to join the Studio Band, an elite group of musicians overseen by Fletcher.

Simmons (whom you'll recognize from just about everything, including Up in the Air and Juno) gives a fascinating performance as a character that is obsessive about achieving excellence. He likes to tell of how Charlie Parker became "Bird": Jo Jones threw a cymbal at Parker after Parker couldn't keep up with Jones and his ban…

Year in Review 2014

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The New Year is almost here so in lieu of a Week in Review, please enjoy this Year in Review.

The Bridges of Madison County Score—Music is better than words, which is what made this show work and why I feel I can't fully express, with mere words, how good the score is. Head to Sh-K-Boom to purchase a copy. You'll thank me. I feel like crying when Kelli O'Hara starts singing "To Build a Home," the opening number. I ache when Whitney Bashor goes full Joni Mitchell in "Another Life." I absolutely swoon anytime Steven Pasquale sings, especially a love song, like "Falling into You." And if you don't completely melt from the one-two punch of the final two numbers, "It All Fades Away" and "Always Better," then you have no feeling. It's a magnificent, unabashedly emotional score from Tony winnerJason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years), a treasure of modern musical theatre.

Freestyle Love Supreme—The freestyle hip-hop group …

Into the Woods

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Be careful what you wish for because "wishes come true, not free." Sage advice from musical theatre's greatest living legend, Stephen Sondheim. In Into the Woods, Sondheim (music and lyrics) and frequent collaborator James Lapine (book/screenplay) take several well known fairy tales and blend them together to create a morality tale.

We begin with a prologue that introduces us to all the characters and their wishes. The Baker (James Corden) and the Baker's Wife (Emily Blunt) wish for a child (they don't know it at rise, but it's a curse cast on the Baker's father that has made them barren). Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wishes to go to the festival (i.e., the Prince's ball), but her stepmother (Christine Baranski) says no. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) wants to keep his cow, Milky White, but his mother (Tracey Ullman) insists he sell it. Little Red (Lilla Crawford) is en route to grandmother's house. And then there's the Witch (Meryl Streep), who offe…

The Theory of Everything

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I'll tell you what I like about The Theory of Everything: it isn't just some biopic lavishing praise on groundbreaking scientist Stephen Hawking, who devotes his life to studying time; it's a study of what happens to a relationship over time.

What struck me as I watched was that the story was as much about Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones), Stephen's first wife, as it was about Stephen (Eddie Redmayne). There isn't much about the science, other than Stephen's passion (obsession?) for it. We come to his discoveries, both about the universe and about his medical condition, swiftly, and focus on the couple's life together, challenges and all.

That should be expected, seeing as Anthony McCarten's screenplay is adapted from Jane's book about her time with the professor. And I like this point of view. I think we don't see portraits of complex relationships often enough. Here is a film, directed by James Marsh, that portrays life's full complement of e…

Wild

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Reese Witherspoon is back in top form. (Not that she was ever bad in a film, but she was good in some lousy or fluffy flicks.)

Wild invites us to go on a journey with Cheryl Strayed, a woman who reacts to her mother's death by spiraling out of control. (This is a true story; the film is based on Strayed's memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Nick Hornby wrote the adapted screenplay.) Cheryl's mom, Bobbi (Laura Dern, also wonderful), was the love of Cheryl's life. When Bobbi passed away at just 45, Cheryl (Witherspoon) became reckless, promiscuous and a (somewhat) functioning junkie, ruining her marriage (to Paul, played by Thomas Sadoski) in the process. Her mother had always encouraged her to "stand in the face of beauty," but Cheryl also remembered her mother saying, "I never got to be myself." So Cheryl set off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail by herself, to try to "become the woman [her] mother raised." (The PCT i…

Week in Review 12.19.14

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2015
I love rock and roll, and so do these people. The 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class has been announced. Lou Reed; Green Day; Stevie Ray Vaughanand Double Trouble; Joan Jett and the Blackhearts; Bill Withers; and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band will be inducted in an April 18, 2015, ceremony. In addition, Ringo Starr will receive the Award for Musical Excellence, and "5" Royales will receive the Early Influence Award. As you may know, artists are eligible for nomination into the Hall 25 years after their first release. Green Day make it in on their first year of eligibility. Reed was previously inducted with the Velvet Underground but will be posthumously inducted as a solo artist. And, as Rolling Stone notes, Starr is the last of the Beatles (inducted as a band in 1988) to be inducted as a solo artist. An edited version of the induction ceremony and concert will likely air on HBO in May, as has been the case in the last couple of …

Top Five

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I caught Chris Rock's Top Five over the weekend. It feels too ironic, given the premise of the film, to say that it wasn't as funny as I had hoped it would be, but it wasn't as funny as I had hoped it would be.

Andre Allen (Rock) is a performer who gained fame as a stand up comic. He then hit it big in a series of low-brow high-gross flicks, buddy cop movies in which he appeared in a bear costume. Allen wants to be taken seriously as an artistic voice. He hasn't done stand up in years, he hasn't done a fourth sequel to the cop schlock, and he is about to marry a reality TV star. We meet him on the day his latest film (a serious one, about Haitian revolutionaries) hits theaters, and spend the day with him.

The similarities between Allen's career trajectory and Rock's are obvious and expected—you're supposed to write what you know. Allen happens to be a recovering alcoholic; fear of doing stand up sober is part of what is keeping him off the stage. I don&…

Pocatello

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"Maybe we just don't get to be happy," a despondent Tammy says toward the end of Samuel D. Hunter's new play, Pocatello, now playing at Playwrights Horizons. It's a realization that hangs over the characters and just might find its way into your head, leaving you depressed as you walk out of the theatre and back into the rain, broken umbrella in hand. (Was that just me?)

Hunter sets his play (directed by Davis McCallum) in a foundering chain restaurant (akin to Olive Garden) in Pocatello, Idaho. Eddie (T.R. Knight) is the restaurant's manager, and he's struggling to connect with...anyone, really. There's his mother, Doris (an aloof Brenda Wehle); his visiting brother and sister-in-law, Nick and Kelly (Brian Hutchison and Crystal Finn, respectively); and his staff, Max (Cameron Scoggins), Isabelle (Elvy Yost) and Troy (Danny Wolohan).

Trying to make a connection—any connection—with his own family, Eddie organizes "Famiglia Week," and in doin…

Week in Review - 12.12.14

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The Newsroom: Inside the Episode
The series finale of The Newsroom will air this Sunday, 12.14, and if you're anything like me, you're probably still gutted from the way the penultimate episode ended. Aaron Sorkin has a habit of creating dramatic and tragic season enders (consider just The West Wing: season one - the shooting at Rosslyn; season two - Mrs. Landingham; season three - Posse Comitatus; season four - Zoe is taken), so I suppose we should have seen this coming. The series finale is titled, as many of his season finales are, "What Kind of Day Has it Been," and it promises to be riveting, so tune in! For more about episode five, let Sorkin take you inside the episode: (and head to HBO Connect for an interview with Sam Waterston and to Alternative Nation for an interview with John Gallagher, Jr.)


Kennedy Center Honors
The 2014 "class" of Kennedy Center honorees have been feted in a gala reception and tribute ceremony. This year's honorees are Tom…