Friday, September 22, 2017

Off-Broadway Review—Simon Stephens’ “On the Shore of the Wide World”

On the Shore of the Wide World
Written by Simon Stephens; directed by Neil Pepe
Performances through October 8, 2017
Atlantic Theater Company, 336 West 20th Street, New York, NY
atlantictheater.org

Ben Rosenfeld, C.J. Wilson and Tedra Millan in On the Shore of the Wide World (photo: Ahron R. Foster)
Simon Stephens’s ambitious plays include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which daringly got inside an autistic teen’s headspace thanks to Marianne Elliott’s astonishing Tony-winning staging; and Heisenberg, a routine May-September romance between an elderly man and a younger woman whose dullness was saved on Broadway solely by a luminous Mary-Louise Parker. In between sits On the Shore of the Wide World, a 2005 effort titled after a line from a John Keats poem, belatedly getting its New York premiere.

Three generations of the Holmes family muddle through their quotidian 21st century existence in the north of England. There are two brothers—teens Alex and Christopher (smitten with Alex’s new girlfriend, Sarah)—their parents Peter and Alice, and Peter’s own father and mother, Ellen and Charlie. After one of the brothers is killed in an accident, it sends shock waves through the family, and the bulk of the play deals with coming to grips with that loss by taking tentative steps toward rebuilding their lives and relationships.

The major problem with the play is that these are indistinct characters with muddled motivations and a manner that’s subdued to the point of being somnolent. Maybe Stephens is showing the ultimate British stiff-upper-lip sensibility, but when Peter mentions the death of his son to Susan, the mom-to-be whose house he is renovating, it’s the first time the audience has heard about it and it feels like cheating: why is such a momentous event handled in an “oh by the way” manner, and in a conversation with a relative stranger some weeks after it happened?

By omitting immediate reactions to the biggest dramatic incident in the Holmes family’s lives, Stephens shortchanges both the characters and the play they inhabit, ensuring that everything from that point is greeted with audience skepticism: the playwright is playing untrustworthy games.

Too often the characters are mere chess pieces placed by their author into contrived situations. When grandfather Charlie is rushed to the hospital with a seemingly serious ailment, it ends up being for purposes of obvious dramatic irony as his son Peter comes to visit and confess his lifelong love-hate for his own dad. And when Alice meets John, the father of the boy who accidentally killed her son, they embark on an improbable (but platonic!) relationship, replete with delicious home-cooked meals, that exists solely as an inelegant parallel to the equally unconvincing bond between Peter and Susan.

Since there’s little coherence in the story’s strands or emotional resonance in the characters, even a first-rate staging doesn’t help. Director Neil Pepe sensitively paces the action—there are many scenes, some brief, some lingering, in several locales (the canny set design is by Scott Pask)—and gets affecting performances by a mainly American cast whose British accents sometimes waver but whose grasp of these sketchy people feels more lived-in than they deserve.

Blair Brown is a subdued but transfixing Ellen, Peter Maloney his usual ornery self as Charlie, Mary McCann a riveting bundle of raw nerves as Alice, C.J. Wilson a trenchantly expressive Peter, Ben Rosenfeld and Wesley Zurick finely wrought as the brothers, and Tedra Millan just right as Sarah—this, her first stage appearance after she nearly stole Present Laughter from Kevin Kline, confirms her as one of our most promising performers, on and off Broadway.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September '17 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Vietnam War
(PBS)
For the formidable team of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, it was only a matter of time before they got to the Vietnam War—following Burns’ famous The Civil War and The War (on World War II)—and, over 10 episodes and 18 hours, theirs is a thorough and informative history lesson in the usual Burns way, with clear-eyed chronicling and analysis from fascinating talking heads and sobering archival footage. It might not be the last word on such a divisive, disastrous war, but what could? On Blu, the series looks and sounds fantastic (big late ‘60s-early ‘70s hits are heard throughout); extras include a making-of featurette and extra scenes.

The Big Knife
(Arrow Academy)
Erik the Conqueror
(Arrow)
Clifford Odets’s intriguing but overly melodramatic play The Big Knife—on Broadway a few seasons ago with Bobby Cannavale—was adapted by director Robert Aldrich in 1955, an unsatisfying exploration of a Hollywood superstar’s difficulty balancing his personal and professional lives, despite strong work from Jack Palance, Ida Lupino and Shelley Winters. Italian schlockmeister Mario Bava’s 1961 Erik the Conqueror—an often risible but mainly watchable swords-and-sandals epic—has its moments, especially whenever stunning twins Alice and Ellen Kessler are onscreen. The films look pleasing enough in new hi-def restorations; extras include commentaries and Erik’s original ending.

Festival 
(Criterion)
Murray Lerner—who died earlier this month at age 90—directed this classic 1967 time-capsule about the Newport Folk Festival, with performances by luminaries Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Johnny Cash and Pete Seeger. Criterion’s Blu-ray features a superbly restored print with excellent sound, bonus musical performances, When We Played Newport, a new program of archival interviews with Lerner, music festival producer George Wein, Baez, Seeger, Judy Collins, Buffy Saint-Marie, and Peter Yarrow, and Editing "Festival," with Lerner, associate editor Alan Heim, and assistant editor Gordon Quinn.

Madonna—Rebel Heart Tour
(Eagle Vision)
Although her career has gone on longer than I expected for a celebrity of scant musical and artistic worth—notwithstanding a brilliant PR machine—Madonna does hire the best in the business, so this two-hour concert from her most recent tour is well-paced, -staged and -performed by her band and sundry dancers. That she’s always been arrogantly unsubtle has served her well with her many fans, and she gives them what they want: “shocking” sexual come-ons and a “daring” potty mouth. Hi-def video and audio are top-notch; extras include a CD of the concert, excerpts from another concert and a performance of “Like a Prayer.”

The Slayer 
The Ghoul
(Arrow)
In 1982’s The Slayer, two couples find themselves at the mercy of a killer in a remote vacation house; director J.S. Cardone’s slasher flick is heavy on atmosphere and gore but light on true chills, despite a game, attractive cast and photogenic locale (Tybee Island, Georgia). Dime-store psychology gives way to absurdity in The Ghoul (2013), Gareth Tunley’s would-be thinking-person’s thriller about a detective investigating bizarre murders, with an accomplished cast unable to overcome bumpy dramaturgy. Both films have first-rate hi-def transfers; extras include commentaries, interviews and making-of featurettes.

Wonder Woman
(Warner Brothers)
If it wasn’t for Gal Gadot—an Israeli actress who dominates the screen with personality, charisma, charm and fierce strength—as the title character, this overlong, overstuffed, underwritten and self-important superhero movie would be as redundant and pointless as all the others from the past decade or so. Director Patty Jenkins harnesses what she can of Gadot’s uniqueness but 40-50 minutes of bloat needed to be shorn from this 2-hour, 20-minute slog. The movie looks great on Blu; extras are extended scenes, blooper reel, alternate scene and several featurettes.
                                                                                                                
DVDs of the Week
Abacus—Small Enough to Jail
(PBS)
Anyone still outraged that no big bank executives were punished for actions leading to the 2008 financial meltdown—except for several billions of dollars in fines, more than offset by taxpayer bailouts and bonuses—will be enraged anew by director Steve James’ probing look at how tiny Abacus Bank in New York’s Chinatown was the only financial institution hauled into court. As James deftly demonstrates, overreach by the New York attorney general’s office was the bigger story: it tried for at least one conviction, however miniscule in the grand scheme of things, to show it was tough on the big bad bankers. This is also a tale of the togetherness of a family banding together to fight to clear the name of the institution it’s run for generations.  

The Treasure
(Sundance Selects)
Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu loves shaggy-dog stories, which he once again pursues in his latest dryly droll feature, of a piece with his earlier, accomplished but flawed Police, Adjective and 12:08, East of Bucharest. A treasure hunt undertaken by a man and his neighbor serves as a metaphor for post-Communist, post-capitalist Romanian society—one with lots of skeletons in its historical closet—with priceless moments of deadpan observation alternating with arid stretches.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review—Sarah Ruhl’s “For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday”

For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday
Written by Sarah Ruhl; directed by Les Waters
Performances through October 1, 2017
Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, New York, NY
phnyc.org

Kathleen Chalfant (center, arms upraised) in For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday (photo: Joan Marcus)
Sarah Ruhl’s plays are an ungainly hybrid of whimsy, tragedy, absurdism and sheer absurdity—and her latest to arrive in New York, with the equally ungainly title of For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday, is no exception. (The haphazard capitalization is Ruhl’s own.) Its protagonist is Ann—which rhymes with Pan, of course—a former grade-school player of Peter, who introduces herself, is seen at her father’s agonizing deathbed with her four siblings, then at the booze-fueled wake with their father’s ghost wandering in and out of the proceedings with the family dog, and finally in a fantasy sequence donning the green outfit and flying harness one last time as her brothers and sister enact roles from J.M. Barrie’s beloved saga, like Captain Hook, Wendy and the Lost Boys.

The idea of an elderly woman stepping into Pan’s shoes to replay her childhood certainly has promise, but Ruhl bludgeons it to a premature death with countless side trips into forced whimsy and heavyhanded dialogue, right from Ann’s opening monologue in front of the curtain, and continuing with the deathbed scene, where it’s not the physical and emotional turmoil of waiting for someone to die that’s excruciating but the paucity of the writing and meaningless conversations. The wake, too, suffers similarly: would a group of middle-aged Midwesterners from Iowa boisterously start singing “O Canada” simultaneously? The other song interludes—including one of the brothers picking up a trumpet to play not “Taps” but “The Saints Go Marching In”—are additional desperate padding.

For 90 intermissionless minutes, Ruhl’s play meanders both obviously and pointlessly. Unsurprisingly, she has explained that she wrote it for her mother, which is fine as far as it goes, but For Peter mines territory similar to her other work, as willful weirdness and irrational characters and their relationships pile up onstage in order to stretch out a play whose ideas barely pass muster for a 10-minute curtain-raiser.

What’s disheartening is that Les Waters directs persuasively, David Zinn’s sets are beguiling, Matt Frey’s lighting is often dazzling, and Kristopher Castle’s costumes are amusing. Fully on board is the entire cast, led by Kathleen Chalfant, who plays Ann with her usual resourcefulness and intelligence. But nothing can disguise that For Peter Pan—even more than her previous play seen in New York, How to Transcend a Happy Marriage—is all dressed up with no place to fly.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

September '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Man with Two Brains
(Warner Archive)
Director Carl Reiner and star-writer Steve Martin collaborated for the third time on this lunatic 1983 comedy about a brain surgeon who falls in love with a brain in a jar (voiced by Sissy Spacek) and hopes to plant it into the head of his luscious but hateful wife. Despite many stretches of silliness, it’s the most sustained and funny comedy the pair made together—following The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid—thanks to Martin’s prodigious comic skills and the fearlessly funny performance by Kathleen Turner, who simultaneously sends up and revels in her own sexpot image. There’s a great Merv Griffin cameo as well. The hi-def transfer is good.

Amsterdamned
(Blue Underground)
Dick Maas’s cleverly titled slasher movie is set in Holland’s jewel of a city, whose famous canals provide excellent cover for a rampaging murderer. It’s too bad that, at 113 minutes, the movie is simply too long, sinking under its own weight of too much repetition and false starts. Still, a decent cast does fine work, especially Monique van de Ven, known for her appearances in Paul Verhoeven’s early films. The hi-def transfer looks good and grainy; extras include a making-of featurette and interviews.



Endeavour—Complete 4th Season 
(PBS Masterpiece Mystery)
For this fourth go-round, Endeavour Morse teams with Fred Thursday for more murder investigations, as they prowl the Oxford area in the summer and fall of 1967 to find those responsible. Shaun Evans and Roger Allam again have fine chemistry as the detectives, and there’s an attractive supporting performance by Sara Vickers as Joan Thursday, Fred’s daughter and Endeavour’s unrequited love, returning for the final episode. The four whodunits, set in lovely countryside locales, are well-paced, if not always convincingly argued. The hi-def transfers are excellent; extras are short featurettes and interviews.

Hamlet
(Unitel)
Seemingly forgotten since its 1865 premiere, Franco Faccio’s operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s play has been heavily if intelligently pared down by librettist Arrigo Boito (who also penned the libretti for Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff), but Faccio’s routine music only comes to life in the pageantry scenes and, surprisingly, the tragic climax. This 2016 Bergenz Festival production is well-staged by Olivier Tambosi, superbly sung by Pavel Chernoch (Hamlet) and Julia Maria Dan (a sympathetic Ophelia), and beautifully performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and Prague Philharmonic Choir under conductor Paolo Carignani. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate.

Maurice 
(Cohen Film Collection)
In 1987, Director James Ivory and producer Israel Merchant followed up the previous year’s Oscar-winning breakthrough A Room with a View with an adaptation of a less acclaimed E.M. Forster novel about repressed homosexuality in early 20th century England. (The script was by Ivory and screenwriter Kit-Hesketh-Harvey.) Sumptuously mounted and smartly acted by a cast led by James Wilby as Maurice and an unknown Hugh Grant as his lover, Maurice is nonetheless too slow-moving and long to have much dramatic impact—even if it was cut down from three hours, as Ivory himself states. The film’s restoration looks exemplary on Blu; a second disc of extras includes several Ivory interviews, deleted scenes and commentary.

DVDs of the Week
Citizen Jane—Battle for the City
(Sundance Selects)
In the 1950s and 60s, urban activist Jane Jacobs fearlessly took on New York City planning czar Robert Moses for, among other things, his feckless attempt to put a highway through lower Manhattan to connect the Holland Tunnel with the Lower East Side bridges, thereby decimating neighborhoods. That fight is entertainingly recounted in Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary, crammed with archival interviews and statements from the adversaries themselves. (Marisa Tomei provides the voice of Jacobs.)


Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In—Complete First Season 
(Time-Life)
The groundbreaking comedy-variety series debuted in 1968, and—as the 14 first-season episodes show—was full of irreverent, topical, and silly humor from the get-go, with ringmasters Dan Rowan and Dick Martin introducing and interacting with a cast featuring Goldie Hawn, Joann Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Arte Johnson, and Henry Gibson. Among the guest stars willing to send themselves up were Johnny Carson, Tiny Tim and Sammy Davis; extras include the series’ pilot episode, highlights from the 25th anniversary reunion, bloopers, and an interview with creator and executive producer George Schlatter.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September '17 Digital Week I

Blu-rays of the Week 
Heal the Living
(Cohen Media)
Based on Maylis de Karengal’s best-selling novel, Katell Quillevere’s profound film probes the emotions and private lives of several people damaged, destroyed, or otherwise affected by the death of a healthy young man and the donation of his organs. With clinical precision but affecting immediacy, Quillevere dramatizes the dizzyingly complicated decisions that arise from life-or-death ordeals, with persuasive performances and two graphic scenes of surgery that are perhaps two too many. The film looks splendid on Blu; lone extra is a Quillevere interview.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
(HBO)
Rebecca Smoots’ remarkable journalistic endeavor dove into the history of the woman whose harvested diseased cells have become an enduring line of defense for fighting cancer and a host of other diseases since her death in 1951. And while the film adaptation—written and directed by George Wolfe—can’t hope to cover the same amount of time, narrative and breadth of characters in a mere 90 minutes, by concentrating on the relationship between Smoot (a wonderful Rose Byrne) and Lacks’ daughter Deborah (a poignant Oprah Winfrey), it demonstrates what such a momentous scientific breakthrough meant to those most directly affected by it. The film looks fine in hi-def; extras are two brief featurettes.

Jessica Jones 
Daredevil
(Netflix)
Netflix’s first two Marvel-inspired series show how a strong main character can lead the way to binge viewing, as Krysten Ritter tears up the screen in Jessica Jones, overwhelming the preposterous storylines and ridiculous characters she has to deal with. Unfortunately, Daredevil is stuck with limp noodle Charlie Cox as the hero, which seriously crimps its style. Luckily, there’s a supporting cast sturdy enough for Daredevil to muddle through, including Rosario Dawson, who’s also superb in Jessica Jones. Both shows look great on Blu; no extras on either set, however.

The Love of a Woman
(Arrow Academy)
French director Jean Gremillon’s final film was this intimate, unsentimental 1953 drama about a female doctor who becomes an island’s new MD while battling sexism—then falls in love with a man who wants to take her back to Italy and make her a housewife. It sounds like pure soap opera, but under Gremillon’s sensitive guidance, actress Micheline Presle and actor Massimo Girotti give performances of enormous sympathy, making this a quite satisfying tragic romance, and a lovely swan song for the director. The B&W films looks flawless on Blu; the lone extra is a substantial one: a 96-minute documentary, In Search of Jean Gremillon, from 1969.

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity 
(Arrow)
This trilogy directed by Kinji Fukasaku between 1974 and 1976 continues the epic gangster tales told in his original late ‘60s quintet, but these may be even more ferocious, forceful and brutal in their studying such amoral and immoral characters. That each of the films works as a standalone story is another enticing feature. Arrow’s boxed set is another winner: all three films are in good (if sometimes soft) new hi-def transfers, there are interviews with co-screenwriter of the second and third films, Koji Takada, and an appreciation by Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane, and also included is an illustrated accompanying book.

Night Moves
My Blue Heaven
(Warner Archive)
Night Moves was director Arthur Penn’s last fully-realized drama, a 1975 private eye mystery with Gene Hackman at his peak (and then 17-year-old Melanie Griffith in the altogether) in a ramshackle but pointed pulse-taker of an America wounded by Vietnam and Watergate that’s become a nation of isolation, loneliness and confusion. Herbert Ross’s amiable 1990 comedy about a gangster in the witness protection program, My Blue Heaven traffics in so many stereotypes that even a cast led by Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Bill Irwin, Deborah Rush, Melanie Mayron and Carol Kane can’t save its increasingly labored attempts to wring laughs out of the basest genre clich├ęs. Both films have excellent hi-def transfers; Night Moves also includes an on-set featurette.

Ronin 
(Arrow)                                
John Frankenheimer’s 1998 action flick has grown in stature over the years, mainly for its often spectacular car chases through Paris and the narrow alleys of Nice. There are several inventive if illogical set pieces, including one in the Arles Roman amphitheater, but the action continues so relentlessly that two hours fly by. The top-notch cast, led by Robert DeNiro, Natascha McElhone, Jonathan Pryce, Jean Reno, Michael Lonsdale and Stellan Skarsgard, also helps. Arrow’s new hi-def transfer is superb; many extras include Frankenheimer’s commentary, interviews with the actors and cinematographer Robert Fraisse and featurettes on stunts and music.

The Tempest
(Opus Arte)
Shakespeare’s final play was this magical fantasy about reconciliation and forgiveness, but this new Royal Shakespeare Company production accentuates the magic, remarkably realized by Imaginarium Studios, with projections, lighting and other visual effects given primacy over the poetry and relationships. Such stagecraft swallows up the performances, mainly Simon Russell Beale’s Prospero, who comes across as slightly dull and plebian, not the aged wizard who sheds his otherworldly powers when all is returned to normalcy. The staging looks quite spectacular on Blu; extras are director Gregory Doran’s commentary, a Beale interview and other featurettes.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Broadway Review—Harold Prince’s “The Prince of Broadway”

The Prince of Broadway
Co-direction and choreography by Susan Stroman; directed by Harold Prince
Performances through October 22, 2017
Samuel Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York, NY
PrinceOfBway.com

Karen Ziemba and Chuck Cooper recreate Sweeney Todd in The Prince of Broadway (photo: Matthew Murphy)
Harold Prince has had such a remarkable Broadway run it’s impossible to shoehorn his decades of musical hits—and occasional flop—into a couple of hours onstage. So The Prince of Broadway—the anthology Prince created with co-director/choreographer Susan Stroman—doesn’t even try, giving audiences a greatest hits compilation (with a few curveballs thrown in) that provides a commendable overview of Prince’s career.

Since Prince had a hand in dozens of shows from Damn Yankees and West Side Story to Fiddler on the Roof and Company (not to mention Show Boat, Follies, Phantom of the Opera and Kiss of the Spider Woman), it was likely tough to decide what to include and what to omit. The above-mentioned shows made the cut, along with The Pajama Game, She Loves Me, A Little Night Music, Cabaret, Evita, Merrily We Roll Along, Sweeney Todd, and even Parade and the mid-‘60s flop It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman!

There are restaged sequences from these shows, often—but not always—their “classic” numbers, which tends toward imbalance whenever we don’t hear such songs from other shows. Having “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita and “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music is all well and good, but such showstoppers take the focus off Prince’s innovative stagings and instead shine a light on, say, composers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim.

There’s also been a nod toward making The Prince of Broadway more than a string of unconnected highlights, so all nine energetic cast members take turns walking onstage as Prince and relate some engaging bon mots or enlightening statements about his career and theater in general. But this conceit isn’t used to its fullest extent; at times we should hear from one of the faux Princes to set up certain numbers, but instead there’s simply a clunky segue to the next. And the routine finale, Jason Robert Brown’s song “Do the Work,” simply isn’t stylish enough to satisfyingly wrap up the show.

Still, great moments are scattered throughout, and no one can begrudge Prince and Stroman wanting to include as much as possible without making it four hours long. And the cast performs with incomparable zest, even if some aren’t perfect for the roles they assay. Chuck Cooper absolutely kills “Ol’ Man River” from Showboat, but is on less secure ground for Fiddler’s “If I Was a Rich Man” and a Sweeney Todd trio. Cooper’s Sweeney costar, the magnificent Karen Ziemba, is a delightful Mrs. Lovett, and also gives it the old college try as the gorilla in Cabaret.

Michael Xavier and Janet Dacal are a funny, sexy couple in the Superman segment, but the otherwise accomplished Dacal doesn’t come within hailing distance of Patti Lupone in Evita or Chita Rivera and Vanessa Williams in Kiss of the Spider Woman when she takes on “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” and the latter’s title song.

Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner and Kaley Ann Voorhees show off superior pipes in various numbers, but the cast’s MVP goes to Tony Yazbeck for his versatility and virtuosity, especially during the seemingly endless and sweat-inducing tap-dance number, “The Right Girl” in Follies, for which he deservedly brings down the house and puts a stop to the entire show.

Though not the stage extravaganza that both Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and Fosse were, The Prince of Broadway has an intimacy that serves its creator’s more subtle approach, despite its hiccups.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August '17 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Golden Age
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
(Bel Air)
The Bolshoi Ballet’s thoroughly delightful Golden Age, based on ridiculously catchy music by Dmitri Shostakovich, displays the company at its best with spiffy costuming, clever sets and some effortlessly stupendous dancing. In choreographer Alexander Ekman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, only the title is Shakespeare’s: the music isn’t Mendelssohn’s classic score but a lukewarm one by Mikael Karlsson that doesn’t seem to challenge the men and women of the Royal Swedish Ballet, who still do their damnedest to make it work. Both discs include first-rate hi-def video and audio. The lone Dream extra is an Ekman interview.

Meantime
(Criterion)
In Mike Leigh’s 1984 television film, a working-class family deals with the effects of Margaret Thatcher’s regime, including skyrocketing unemployment and a possible youthful alternative like skinheads. Although ragged around the edges, this biting comedy-drama from the always political Leigh is a fine lead-in to his two best films, 1988’s High Hopes and 1991’s Life Is Sweet—both of which deserve a Criterion release—and also a great showcase for an array of young acting talent, including Tim Roth and (in his debut) Gary Oldman. The Criterion hi-def transfer is decent enough (this is, after all, an early ‘80s British TV film); extras are new interviews with Leigh and actress Marion Bailey and a 2007 Roth interview.

La Poison 
(Criterion)
In Sacha Guitry’s jet-black but precise comedy, French great Michel Simon and Germaine Reuver play long-wedded spouses who’ve grown to loathe each other so much that they discuss how they will off each other—until she ends up dead and he is taken to court charged with her murder. Guitry’s poison pen is as sharp as ever, notwithstanding a sentimental opening credit sequence unlike any you’ve seen (unless you know other Guitry movies). Simon is superbly expressive, unsurprisingly, as is Reuver as his unlucky wife. Criterion’s hi-def transfer of this 1951 B&W film is nothing short of dazzling; extras comprise an hour-long 2010 documentary, Life On-Screen: Miseries and Splendour of a Monarch, about Guitry and Simon’s collaborations; an hour-long episode of French television series Cineaste de Notre Temps from 1965 about Guitry (who died in 1957); and an interview with an unabashed Guitry fan, director Olivier Assayas.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Broadway Review—Michael Moore’s “The Terms of My Surrender”

The Terms of My Surrender
Written and performed by Michael Moore; directed by Michael Mayer
Performances through October 22, 2017
Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, New York, NY
MichaelMooreOnBroadway.com

Michael Moore in The Terms of My Surrender (photo: Joan Marcus)
In the nearly 30 years since his muckraking documentary Roger and Me made him famous, Michael Moore has perfectly honed his style of man-on-the-street reportage and progressive advocacy, including books (Downsize This!, Stupid White Men), television (TV Nation, The Awful Truth) and more documentaries, including Oscar winner Bowling for Columbine and Cannes Palme d’Or winner Fahrenheit 9/11.

Now he’s taken his act to Broadway, where, to put it mildly, he preaches to the already converted. But he doesn’t care: The Terms of My Surrender has the same strengths and weaknesses of Moore’s other work. The formula is the same: the shambling, baseball-cap wearing everyman walks onto the stage and begins his shtick, which includes corny, obvious jokes—like a game show that pits two audience members against each other, a so-called dumb Canadian and a so-called smart American—that alternate with on-target political satire and analysis.

Sure, he can be self-aggrandizing, but when he discusses himself, it’s in the context of what he sees as the greater good. For instance, in high school, he was the youngest ever member of the local Flint school board at age 17, and he shamed the Elks Lodge by winning an Abe Lincoln essay contest decrying the Elks as a whites-only institution. His point—and he has one—is that, in the age of Trump, if people are angry or shocked by what happened in November and what’s been happening since January, then there are things everyone can do to help ensure that the House and even the Senate flip in 2018 and the White House flips in 2020.

Moore knows his audience includes many people upset and embarrassed by Trump’s victory who nevertheless won’t do much to affect any meaningful change, so he tells stories, makes jokes and insults Trump to prod them to take matters into their own hands by making calls to their Congress people or running for local office or doing anything to help the country heal (not heel, as Trump’s tweets would have it) and move forward.

Of course, Michael Moore appearing on Broadway isn’t for everyone, and those people know who they are. But in Michael Mayer’s slick staging, the slightly overlong The Terms of My Surrender (the Dancing with the Stars finale has got to go!) is a funny, thoughtful and even cathartic time in the theater for anyone still stunned by the results of November 8.