Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Fringe 2011 Review: 22 Stories

Posted by metaphorical on 18 August 2011

22 Stories

0h 45m
VENUE #10: IATI Theater
Performance seen: Fri 12 @ 9:15 Wed 17 @ 5:45
Remaining performances: Fri 19 @ 2 Sun 21 @ noon Fri 26 @ 7 Sun 28 @ 3:15
http://www.22-stories.blogspot.com/

Rating: 7
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

Earlier this year I interviewed the 14-year-old software programmer whose game hit #1 at the iPhone app store, unseating the enormously popular Angry Birds. His responses were mundane, almost banal (“Was it hard to create an Android version?” “No, there’s a library for that”), but every moment of the interview was colored by the fact that he was only 14.

It would be a mistake to look at “22 Stories” without keeping in mind that it’s written by a 17-year-old, Sofia Johnson, about a pair of 17-year-old fraternal twins, Nicole, the survivor, and Natasha, who has killed herself (we learn this in the first couple of minutes).

There’s a danger of condescension to that, to be sure, so let me say right up front that this is better than a lot of plays, indeed, better than a lot of plays that are in this year’s Fringe.

But some moments, such as a scene in which Nicole’s school principal offers her extra time for her assignments and grief counseling, both of which Nicole angrily rejects, are best seen in light of the playwright’s age: The principal’s words are at once perfectly reasonable and absolutely fatuous and unbearable, and they ring true as exactly how an angry and upset 17-year-old hears and sees the world around her. The same authentic ear for words and emotion is reflected in a couple of the flashback scenes between the two sisters.

The flashback scenes comprise about a third of this 45-minute play, the remainder being a handful of scenes that move forward in Nicole’s life with her mother, her principal, and two of Natasha’s friends, and a number of speeches in which Nicole explains her life to the audience.

The division of the story into almost equal parts monologue and action inevitably results in a lot of exposition. The monologues might have been a good way for a playwright to get into a story, and it’s common in writing anything, whether it’s a play, a novel, or a personal essay, for the early drafts to have a lot of exposition and on-the-nose dialogue; the main job of the subsequent rewrites is to turn as much of it as possible into scenes and subtext.

With more active scenes, perhaps Johnson could have written herself out of another corner her play’s structure paints her into—Nicole ends up striking mostly a single pair of notes, anger and regret, and so it becomes increasingly hard for the conflicts to build as the play progresses. (Along similar lines, the characters of Maddie and Darius could have been more sympathetic—and while I’m at it, I’ll say Darius would make more sense if he were not obviously gay.)

A couple of production notes as well: The cots that well serve the flashback scenes between the sisters ill serve some other scenes, notably those between Nicole and the school principal; and items get thrown onto the floor that are hard to remove, given the absence of breaks between scenes.

I thought Alexandra Jennings did a terrific job as Nicole; my wife preferred the equally terrific Juliette Monaco as Natasha. I thought the difference between the two performances had mostly to do with the fact that though the Natasha role is smaller, it gets to express a wider range of emotion.

These are quibbles, though, in a fundamentally sound and satisfying play, and I hope Johnson feels all the pride she deserves in her achievement. There are plenty of plays written by playwrights twice her age that aren’t half as good.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: Em O’Loughlin

Posted by metaphorical on 18 August 2011

Em O’Loughlin was a BIG FATTY BOOMBAH!

1h 0m
VENUE #16: Players Theatre
Performance seen: Tue 16 @ 6:45
Remaining performances: Thu 18 @ 9:45 Wed 24 @ 3:30 Sat 27 @ 9:45
http://www.emoloughlin.com/

Rating: 3
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

As an entertainer, Em O’Loughlin is a triple-threat: She wasn’t funny, she wasn’t interesting, and she offered no insights into herself, obesity, or any other aspect of the human condition.

Instead, she skips through her life as a fat person, stopping every five or ten years, noting on a large pad the year and her weight in pounds, kilograms, and stone. No real milestones, but there are stones.

O’Loughlin does have a performer’s heart, a strong stage presence, and a nice singing voice, though the last quality surfaced only through a parody line or three of about seven different songs. And I’ll readily note that there was a fair amount of laughter from the audience.

Toward the end of the show, she remarks that at 40 she had her first boyfriend. I would have been more interested to hear what it was like to try to get stage work as a 300-pound woman, if indeed she did, or what it was like to first try to get stage work at 40, if she didn’t.

What, in other words, was it like for all that raw performing talent—which unfortunately doesn’t translate into writing talent—to be bottled up in a 300-pound jar? It’s a mark of how poorly written this show is that after an hour of insipid and self-indulgent autobiography, we have no idea.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: Who Loves You, Baby?

Posted by metaphorical on 16 August 2011

Who Loves You, Baby?

0h 50m
VENUE #13: Bowery Poetry Club
Performance seen: Sun 14 @ 7
Remaining performances: Fri 19 @ 10 Sun 28 @ 4:15
http://www.tellysavalaslive.com/

Rating: 9
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

Modern writers have the benefit and burden of decades and centuries of past culture. The modern style is to mine it relentlessly and the post-modern style is to do so self-consciously. The prior work then becomes subtext. That creates a further complication for the writer, because, after all, subtext must, from time to time, surface.

These self-conscious moments are thus fraught with risk, as the new work must lower the fourth wall that separates the stage from the audience even as it erects it—even as the theatrical experience depends on its continued existence. It helps, though, that the cabaret format has always had a low picket fence of a fourth wall.

So picture a one-hour 2011 nightclub act in which Savalas (Tom DiMenna, brilliantly) comes back to comment on the lack of Real Men in the years since his demise. (About one modern actor he says, “In my day you stuck a guy like that in a club sandwich to keep the bread from falling off.”) Picture him reprising the weirdly successful singing career most of us forgot (or never knew) he also enjoyed, and, of course, commenting as well on the pop singers of today (“Who are the Neil Sedakas of today?”).

Throw in some affectionate references to such friends as Peter Falk and Frank Sinatra. Add a hilarious first-person prologue (performed by Taylor Negron, who directs the show) about Savalas at the height of his cultural prowess feeding steak tartare to a kid he is babysitting. Add as well a few numbers in which Savalas calls his brother George to the stage to help him sing or dance. Wrap it all up in a solid 60 minutes of advice, sage and self-consciously absurd.

Such a show should have legs. But see one of its remaining Fringe performances. Why risk missing it, when right this week you can go see the man who loves you?

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: Whale Song

Posted by metaphorical on 16 August 2011

Whale Song or: Learning to Live With Mobyphobia

1h 15m
VENUE #8: The First Floor Theatre @ LA MAMA
Performance seen: Sun 14 @ 2:15
Remaining performances: Thu 18 @ 2 Mon 22 @ 6 Wed 24 @ 7 Sat 27 @ 9:30
http://dreamscapetheatre.org/shows/whalesong.html

Rating: 5
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

“Whale Song” is a perfectly okay play about overcoming grief. I would ascribe to it a more definite idea or purpose but I’m not sure it has one. If—and unfortunately only if—you’re suffering from recent grief and think a play would help, I heartily recommend it.

As the show begins, Maya, a young New York schoolteacher, addresses her class of four year olds in increasingly inappropriate ways. It quickly comes out that she has recently lost her father.

The father, it also quickly comes out, died in an unusual way that involves whales. Meanwhile, Maya can’t return phone calls and instead spends her time obsessively watching the TV news about a whale that has accidentally—or was it????—swam up the Hudson.

Through a quick series of phone messages that emphasize Maya’s psychic isolation, we’re introduced to her sister in Florida, her boyfriend, and a drummer dude she wants to hire for obscure but ultimately unimportant reasons.

None of it has much importance. The relationship to the boyfriend can’t endure, the sister is only as supportive and helpful as one can be through occasional phone calls, the drummer understands her best and least meaningfully. They each ultimately add up to little more than plot devices, such as the plot is; their own needs are limited and predictable and don’t come into conflict with Maya’s, which in turn add up to little more than an inchoate desire to understand her father’s death and whether she herself is crazy. It’s not really enough to drive a whale up the Hudson—or a plot toward a climax.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: Life Insurance

Posted by metaphorical on 16 August 2011

Life Insurance
“A motorcycle crash on a rural Virginia road. An overeager volunteer firefighter, a bitter standardized test instructor, and a stoic salesman must confront the American dream. Death. Birth. Sacrifice. Office supplies.”
http://www.hamnertheater.com/Life-Insurance

0h 37m
VENUE #17: Manhattan Theatre Source
Performance seen: Sun 14 @ 4
Remaining performances: Thu 18 @ 6:15 Fri 19 @ 9 Wed 24 @ 2 Sat 27 @ 12

Rating: 9
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

“Life Insurance” is a clever inquiry into the circumstances of a motorcycle death on a Virginia country road and other questions about how much control we have over our lives in the face of fate and the actions, capricious and otherwise, of others.

The life insurance agent who paid a sales call to the deceased shortly before his demise, the former college teacher who first called 911, and the born-again first responder first on the scene tell their disparate, overlapping stories in alternating bursts.

Comparisons between this show and the movie “Crash”—in subject matter as well as the random joining of lives—are inevitable but not entirely apposite, given the vast differences between theatre and film in general and the specific fact that one actor plays all three parts.

Joel Jones, who also wrote this play, does a superb job capturing the three characters and moving between them. The program notes say the show began “as a single-character monologue in a bar in Charlottesville, Va.” One has the idea—and not just because the insurance agent continually sips from a rocks glass—that it was also, as so many good plays are, conceived in a bar. But the addition of the other two characters played by the same actor not only distinguishes it from “Crash” but surely more than triples the play’s considerable power, if not its initial impact.

This is a show that seemed to end with a whimper, but it’s the whimper of a mutt that followed me onto the subway, into my home, and perhaps even delayed my sleep. I don’t remember “Crash” keeping me up late at all.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: 74 Minutes of Stereo Radio Theater

Posted by metaphorical on 16 August 2011

74 Minutes of Stereo Radio Theater

1h 15m
VENUE #18: The Studio at Cherry Lane Theatre
Performance seen: Sat 13 @ 5:15
Remaining performances: Fri 19 @ 7 Tue 23 @ 8:45 Thu 25 @ 7 Sat 27 @ 5 Sun 28 @ 2
http://www.stereoradiotheater.com/

Rating: 9
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

If you want 74 minutes of pristine hilarity, you could hardly do better than to seek out “74 Minutes of Stereo Radio Theatre.”

This two-person show consists of eight hilarious vignettes: a game of desert island (pick one book, CD, food, person) that goes horribly wrong and right; a chance encounter on the street of two friends who decide to have a doomed love affair; a delusional tribal chieftan and his loyal and infinitely wiser advisor; a nervous new patient and her psychiatrist as they explore the voices of a large Jewish family in her head; a taping of a TV chef and her passive-aggressive mother; a bachelor showing an amorous young woman his collection of macaroni & cheese; a challenging job interview for a coveted position of gong ringer; and two teenagers who work in a trendy clothing chain store.

The last was expendable (and the gong ringer would have been a great—pardon the word—note to end on) but the first seven were thoroughly charming—in some cases surprisingly so. When the lights arose on the tribal chieftan I was sure I would hate the tired stereotype, yet it might have been my favorite segment. I teach my writing students that you need to exorcise clichés, except for the occasions when you turn them inside out, making them fresh again.

Or my favorite might have been the game of desert island—a textbook example for my students of building a scene with rising beats. The piece depends entirely on the timing of the machine-gun animus-laden repartee, a challenge the multitalented Maureen Fitzgerald (who also wrote the show) and Andrew Shulman (who directed it) met with surpassing ease.

Or my favorite might have been the gong ringer—a classically simple absurdist idea brilliantly executed, in which a ridiculously wealthy and eccentric mansion-owner more than meets his match in an revisionist scholar and exponent of a preposterous art form.

Shulman makes the most of his considerable acting abilities to turn another absurdist character—owner of the world’s largest collection of macaroni & cheese—into a sympathetic—albeit pathetic—potential boyfriend. It would be hard to pin Fitzgerald down to the vignette I liked most for her acting, and likewise for her writing—there’s just too much to choose from.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: The Eternal Husband

Posted by metaphorical on 16 August 2011

The Eternal Husband

1h 15m
VENUE #8: The First Floor Theatre @ LA MAMA
Performance seen: Sat 13 @ 2:45
Remaining performances: Wed 17 @ 3:45 Sun 21 @ 6 Fri 26 @ 9
http://www.eternalhusband.info/

Rating: 8
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

The conceit of author and director Nat Cassidy’s loose adaptation of the novella of the same name is that Dostoevsky was the Raymond Chandler of his day. While I can’t speak to the fealty of the adaptation, the detective at the center of “The Eternal Husband” is indeed close kin to Philip Marlowe.

The detective, Younger Man, well played by Arthur Aulisi, is haunted by his past and by an unfamiliar older man who he thinks is following him. Older Man turns out to be the husband of a woman Younger Man had an affair with nine years earlier.

All the roles are well played, especially, I thought, that of Claudia (Karen Sternberg), a friend and former lover to Younger Man. Elyse Mitro’s adulterous and castrating Natalya is eminently believable as the sort of woman an eternal husband is drawn to, as a moth to the flame. Charles Gerber, a terrific actor, seemed less prepared for the role of Older Man than the other three, though the contrast between the meandering early scenes between the two men on the one hand and the crisp banter of Sternberg’s scenes with Aulisi on the other surely had more to do with the quality of the dialogue than the quantity of rehearsal time.

I can’t say whether noir is a particularly strong undercurrent in this year’s Fringe, or if the perception that it is merely reflects the selection biases of this reviewer, but certainly, as our society becomes ever more pragmatic and job oriented, conventional and utilitarian—more math-and-reading, yet with ever-less history and literature to calculate and read—our artists will, as they have in every age, ask the counterintuitive and countercultural questions. In this age, that means the existential ones.

For after all, Cassidy’s conceit, which is (his program notes notwithstanding) by no means uniquely his, is well founded. Good noir, like existentialism, blurs the bounds between reality and imagination, and it is surely no coincidence that not only were Dostoevsky and Nietzsche writing their seminal works contemporaneously, so were Sartre and Chandler, Camus and Cain. That would make The Eternal Husband noir to the nth.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: The Mountain Song

Posted by metaphorical on 16 August 2011

PigPen Presents: The Mountain Song

1h 0m
VENUE #12: 4th Street Theatre
Performance seen:Sat 13 @ 7:30
Remaining performances: Thu 18 @ 6:30 Mon 22 @ 7:15 Thu 25 @ 10 Fri 26 @ 3:45 Sat 27 @ 12*
http://pigpentheatre.com/

Rating: 10
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

“PigPen Presents: The Mountain Song” was already going to be a hot ticket on the strength of the company’s general excellence award at last year’s Fringe (for “PigPen Presents: The Nightmare Story”). Now it’s going to be a hot ticket for word of mouth. Before, it was “if it’s anything as good as last year… .” Now, it’s “it’s even better than last year.”

The Mountain Song has a lyrical and narrative cohesion that seems deceptively simple to achieve. Through song and prose, the story is told of an carpenter searching for his mute daughter’s wedding. Along the way, he scales a mountain three times, is launched into flight by a waterfall, meets a giant and builds for him a pair of shoes the size of a boat, and is carried to the ocean by a man who uses his suitcase as a horse.

The voice of this thoroughly original story is that of a tradition of tall tales that’s distinctly American—no Swiftian sarcasm here—and the language is authentically that of the Appalachian hollers—perhaps those of West Virginia, a stone’s throw (at least, a giant’s stone’s throw) from Carnegie Mellon University, from which the troupe of seven graduated this past May.

The style is an emerging form that we might call theatrical collage.

The Pigpenners use a hand-held length of fabric to represent the mountain, a child’s dress for the daughter, a papier-mâché head and hand for the giant, a pair of fingers for the man climbing the fabric mountain, a shadow-stencil for a village, a shipping pallet for a raft, more shadow stencils, and more objects d’puppetry. That no two are of the same scale, even in the same scene, only adds to the charm.

Last year’s Fringe saw at least two such shows; besides Mountain Song’s Pigpen predecessor, there was the astonishingly incoherent and delightful “Butterfly, Butterfly, Kill Kill Kill!” (imagine if, instead of making “What’s Up Tiger Lily,” Woody Allen had spent four years at CMU with the Pigpen boys).

There’s nothing incoherent about “Mountain Song” though. The story moves clearly and inexorably toward a bittersweet ending that’s fully foretold in an opening speech, and the speechifying throughout is as charming as the bluegrass music, the shadow and other puppetry, and the life-sized acting.

The whole thing made me want to rent a couple of grandkids and go back to the next performance. The only thing better than seeing “Mountain Song” through adult eyes or those of a child would be seeing it through both at once.

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Fringe 2011 Review: The Bardy Bunch

Posted by metaphorical on 16 August 2011

The Bardy Bunch: The War of the Families Partridge and Brady

1h 40m
VENUE #9: The Ellen Stewart Theatre @ LA MAMA
Performance seen: Sat 13 @ NOON
Remaining performances: Fri 19 @ 9 (sold out!) Sun 21 @ 8:45 Wed 24 @ 2

Rating: 8
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

When I say I thoroughly enjoyed “The Bardy Bunch” you have to take into account that I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of the Brady Bunch (nor the movie); I was not a fan of the Partridge Family; and I don’t have the greatest head for Shakespeare.

Yes, Shakespeare.

“The Bardy Bunch” is a telling of Romeo and Juliet where the rivaling families are the Bradys and the Partridges and there are two forbidden loves, not one: Marcia–Keith, and Greg–Laurie.

But the Shakespearean references only start there. Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well That Ends Well, Tempest, and most especially Macbeth and Hamlet—I can’t tell you all the plays quoted from and referenced (the playbill claims a dozen), because they come fast and furiously and, as I say, I don’t have the greatest head for Shakespeare, confusing the various gender-bending ones, for example. Sorting out the Hamlet from the Macbeth was particularly tricky until I realized that the same ghost was doing double-duty: For the Bradys, he’s Duncan, for the Partridges he’s Hamlet’s father.

It’s a clever idea, and that kind of cleverness pervades the show—notably in the mixing of Shakespearean plots, without losing itself in fealty to any one of them, but also in the use of music, especially the way “Woke Up in Love” and “I Can feel Your Heartbeat” hurtle the conflicts toward their inevitable tragic and hilarious conclusion.

The huge cast is entirely outstanding—it seems unfair to single anyone out, but Marcia (Cali Elizabeth Moore) and Greg (A.J. Shively) are particularly aptly cast, Erik Keiser’s singing channels Keith’s voice perfectly and is terrific in its own right, and speaking of voices, Craig Wichman gets Reuben’s so right it’s eerie. It’s probably not possible for the Alice part not to be a crowd pleaser, but Joan Lunoe does a terrific job of milking the small role for all it’s worth.

I have only two small complaints about this show—the name, and the fact that in an early scene Marcie and Jan make an explicit reference to Romeo and Juliet. It’s unnecessary, and undermines the show’s greatest charm—that the subtext to a story grounded in the most ephemeral of 1970s pop culture is rooted in the 16th century writer who created the most enduring cultural monuments we have. Indeed, the number of Fringe shows that reference the Bard is literally and figuratively uncountable, but I can’t remember enjoying it this much.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: COBU

Posted by metaphorical on 16 August 2011

COBU

VENUE #14: Bleecker Theatre
0h 45m
Show seen: Fri 12 @ 9:45
Remaining performances: Wed 17 @ 7:30 Fri 19 @ 5:15 Wed 24 @ 2:30 Thu 25 @ 5:15

Rating: 9
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

Our favorite of our three-show opening night of this year’s Fringe was COBU, which describes itself as an “explosive fusion of Japanese Taiko drumming and funk tap dance … created and directed by STOMP veteran Yako Miyamoto. COBU is a dance/percussion troupe with the motto ‘Dance like Drumming, Drum like Dancing’.”

The first piece uses five drums, three upstage, and two down, each with a woman wearing a unique outfit that in one way or another—whether its pink hot pants with black fishnets, or a yellow tank top, yellow shorts, and loose yellow leg warmers, or just an orange golf hat worn backwards—bespoke hip-hop. The woman at the center drum, who I came to quickly think of as the queen drummer, wore olive drab baggie cargo pants and a sort of long sleeveless black hoodie robe.

The entire effect was both sexy and extremely powerful, and got only more powerful as the show progressed.

Three dancers appeared between the two rows of drums, at least, at first they seemed to be just dancers, but they held drumming sticks and soon alternated the choreography with drumming on the floor itself.

There were about nine distinguishable pieces—the boundaries were unclear, except when the costumes changed, which happened several times—and perhaps my favorite was the third, in which the queen drummer led off with a lengthy tap dance that included using the side of her square-heeled tap shoe for added volume and, for a moment, rising en pointe. After the dance, she sat cross-legged downstage, facing away from the audience and toward two drummers who came out and played the rhythms she had tapped out. In a later number, she would sit in the same place and do a call-and-response with the entire troupe, with her banging only the floor.

Every time it seemed we’d seen everything the troupe had to offer, something new was added. In the fourth number, drums lying sideways were struck on both sides by two different women, several of whom, standing between two drums, alternated between them. The eighth piece was mostly dance, with the queen drummer holding the beat—mostly dancing, that is, until it evolved into a beautiful chanting song.

I can’t easily describe the finale except as a tour de athletic force of rhythm and choreography that included cartwheels, dancers jumping over one another, and the queen mother wielding a six-foot-long stick with which to strike the sticks of others and be struck by them.

A powerful pas de quatre in which dancers circled four drums and with perfect precision struck their own and those of the others, first with little ronde de jambs over them, then with swooping, drumming 360 turns beside them, was the dramatic highlight of the piece and an altogether pleasing show.

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Fringe 2011 Review: Rachel Calof

Posted by metaphorical on 16 August 2011

Rachel Calof

VENUE #2: CSV Flamboyan
1h 30m
Show seen: Fri 12 @ 5
Remaining performances: Fri 19 @ 2 Sat 20 @ 9 Sat 27 @ 2:15
http://www.rachelcalof.net

Rating: 4
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)

A picture bride survives an unbearable childhood in Russia and a brutally harsh North Dakota family of in-laws and winter before things become better.

If this logline strikes you as surprisingly inactive for a dramatic story, you’ve identified the central problem in the one-person play “Rachel Calof.”

Teachers of narratives—whether it’s a play, movie, short story, novel, or even a memoir or nonfiction narrative destined for a magazine—all agree: If your story has a protagonist, the protagonist has to actively resolve the plot’s complications (or fail trying). Jack Hart, in his excellent book “Storycraft” says, “when you’re looking for a protagonist, search for the person who makes things happen.” Rachel Calof, it turns out, is no protagonist.

The play is based on a book, “Rachel Calof’s Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains” (Indiana University Press, 2009) that in turn is based on a hand-written memoir Calof’s family found after she died, augmented by “scholarly essays that provide historical and cultural background,” according to IUP press materials.

In childhood, Calof, whose mother died when she was four, is bounced like a pinball between a thoughtless and cruel father, a thoughtfully cruel step-mother, and an imperious and uncaring great-uncle who, as Calof approaches marrying age, wrenches her from a growing friendship and love with a village butcher boy by sending her to America to marry a total stranger to the family.

In America, Calof is an impeccably passive fiancee and then wife and daughter-in-law. Her mother-in-law, by turns superstitious and just stupid, but always domineering, would make one long for the violently cruel step-mother.

Writer Ken LaZebnik shows almost no awareness of the need to make Rachel Calof at least somewhat the mistress of her own fate. It’s left to the music and lyrics (by Leslie Steinweiss) to show us a Rachel acting on her own initiative, pathetically fashioning a lamp out of mud and butter as the fuel. To be sure, in on lone, belated scene LaZebnik has Rachel saying no to the ridiculous demands of her husband, himself laughably submissive to his mother. It’s not enough. Every good thing that happens to Rachel—the visit by a neighbor to Rachel and her six-week old baby, left alone in a tiny shack; the declaration by the shochet that the ailing post-partem Rachel is allowed to eat unkosher ox meat; the children she is allowed by her husband to have—happens to her.

The narrative is bookended by Rachel’s desire, and eventually resolve, to visit her daughter in Seattle. Stepping across the threshold without her husband’s permission is apparently LaZebnik’s idea of the decisive act of an active protagonist. It’s not enough, and not just because all we see is a resolve; it comes 85 minutes and 30 years too late in the story. Worse, with a flat inactive protagonist, “Rachel Calof” almost inevitably has no other interesting characters either. Everyone, especially the husband and his mother, are flatly cruel and stupid, albeit hardworking.

There’s much to enjoy in Rachel Calof—the hardships of homesteading are novel and engrossing to a modern audience, and Kate Fuglei’s acting is inspired, her Russian-Jewish accent letter-perfect, and her singing voice is stunningly clear. In the words of IUP, “her narrative [is] both unique and a representative western tale.”

It’s not possible to rewrite a show from the audience, nor is it a critic’s place to do do, but it’s impossible not to note that the protatonist-confrontation-resolution structure is not the only one available to the author, nor is Rachel the only protagonist available.

The story as it actually seems to exist on the page’s of Calof’s memoir is one of a family with almost insurmountable challenges of culture, abject poverty, pride, and jealousy, finally and reluctantly uniting to defeat the greater enemy of North Dakota’s unrelentingly grim and nearly fatally harsh winters. In that story the husband’s admirable qualities of hard work and fealty to family would at least briefly shine, and the mother-in-law, enduring 40-below winters at the end of her life and, like Moses, given only a view of the promised land, might at least evoke our sympathy.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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Fringe 2011 Review: Chagrin

Posted by metaphorical on 16 August 2011

Chagrin

1h 0m
VENUE #8: The First Floor Theatre @ LA MAMA
Show seen: Fri 12 @ 7:15
Remaining performances: Wed 17 @ 10 Thu 18 @ 4 Sat 20 @ 12
http://michaelrossalbert.com/plays/full-length-plays/chagrin/

Rating: 5
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)


Four friends who used to star in a kid’s quiz show have drifted apart until they return to Chagrin Falls, Ohio, for a TV reunion and the near-suicide of the smartest one of them.

The structure of “Chagrin”—a single scene outside a hospital—requires that the power of the show consist entirely of the successive, ongoing reveal. That requires impeccably coordinating the twin faucets of mystery and information.

Here, unfortunately, the story goes cold, as the early minutes become bogged down with unimportant information that didn’t carry us far enough toward answering the bigger questions in the backstory, while the final minutes persisted beyond their being answered, to the extent the play answers them at all.

The only action in such a story is a character’s decision to confess something or lie. It’s not enough. At some point, the audience craves action in the present.

The lack of any real action means as well that there are no opportunities for the characters to change, and with only the four friends on stage, the story becomes, over time, claustrophobic.

By contrast, had, say, the TV producers come downstairs from their vulture-like perch at the one friend’s bedside (which we know about only second-hand), they could have forced the four to make choices and reveal character through actions instead of empty words.

[more fringe 2011 reviews here]

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An Atheist Minister’s Wedding Vows

Posted by metaphorical on 13 March 2011

My nephew and his fiancé (now wife) asked me to officiate their wedding. I registered with the Universal Life Church for free, paid a few dollars for a package of documents it puts together to expedite certification with the City of New York, and gave the City another $15 in a process that took all of 15 minutes one afternoon at an office down near City Hall.

I married them yesterday, and it was as lovely a wedding as I’ve been to. A few people there asked for a copy of what I said, so here it is.

An Atheist Minister’s Wedding Vows

Some of you may find it odd that this ceremony is presided over by minister, even a mail-order minister. Others of you are puzzled that an atheist—a third-generation atheist at that—should be standing before you. But a day like today is about union. And if two people can choose to share a life, then atheists and believers can share a few simple words—words like holy, sacred, consecrated, faith, and love. And the greatest of these, as the Good Book says, is love. But today I want to talk about faith.

The poet John Donne said that Reason is our soul’s left hand, Faith her right. A beautiful thought—hey, it’s John Donne. But this is a dualism that I want to reject. Sherwood Eddy, a little-known missionary and pacifist of a hundred years ago, expressed the view I want to advance in its stead. He said: Faith is reason grown courageous.

One meaning for the word faith in that other good book, the dictionary, is: allegiance to duty or a person; loyalty. Here’s another: confidence or trust in a person or thing. If there is any moment in our lives in which one person exhibits loyalty, and confidence and trust in another, is it the one for which we’re assembled today.

Here’s another—it may sound a bit like the John Donne idea, but it is not. It is that faith is belief that is not based on proof. If there is one moment in our lives that is not based on proof, it is this one.

Without proof—not in the sense of belief in the unprovable, but without proof in the same way that a scientist launches an experiment, fully expecting the proof—or disproof—to come. The successful marriages we see all around us every day, especially the ones here today—literally surrounding this nervous, courageous couple—are ongoing proofs of leaps of faith, made years, even decades, ago.

The philosopher J.L. Austin coined a phrase “performative utterance” to describe things like promises and marriage. John Searle uses the phrase “speech acts” to talk about them as well. The idea is that some utterances, some tokens of speech, are more than mere statements, they are actions. To say “I promise you” is not separate from the act of promising—it is the act of promising.

To be sure, it’s not enough to say, “I promise you”—there has to be a context of promising, a custom of promising. That context, those customs, require a community. If faith is an allegiance to duty or a person, a promise is an allegiance to a duty and to a person.

This, then, is the other meaning of “faith” that needs to be shared between atheists and those of religious faith. A faith—this is from the dictionary again—is a community of believers. We are assembled here by our belief—our belief in each other; our belief in our community, our belief in community itself, a community that includes all who came before us. And let us remember all those who could not be with us today, because customs are inherited. Community itself is inherited.

Of course, it has to start somewhere. Our national community, our nation, assembled itself out of nothing by a performative utterance—We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union….

Which brings us to today’s performative utterance.

We, the family and friends of Derek and Nicole, in order to form this more perfect union, are gathered here today, to join together this courageous couple in holy matrimony, which is an honorable estate.

Derek and Nicole. You love one another. You are already each other’s best friend. You have found your other half. Today, you pledge each other your troth, that is, your truth, a truth that wakes up each morning to the unknown future with courage and a determination to prove your faith in one another, and to one another, for yet another day, for each and every day that you both shall live.

Derek, please repeat after me.
I, Derek Ambrosino,
. pledge my truth to you, Nicole,
. a truth that will include good times and
bad times,
. sickness and health,
. joy as well as sorrow.
. This I give to you today,
. and all the days of our life.
(ring)
Nicole, please repeat after me.
I, Nicole Burdett,
. pledge my truth to you, Derek,
. a truth that will include good times and
bad times,
. sickness and health,
. joy as well as sorrow.
. This I give to you today,
. and all the days of our life.
(ring)

By the authority vested in me by the City of New York, I now pronounce you husband and wife.

(corrected 3/13/11)

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8 Out of 10 Americans Still Crazy

Posted by metaphorical on 30 January 2011

First the good news: The number of Americans who believe that humans evolved over millions of years without God’s active intervention is greater than ever. The bad news: it’s still less than one-sixth the population.

Two and a half times as many—40 percent—hold a strict creationist view that God created humans sometime in the last 10,000 years. The rest hold a hybrid belief that acknowledges evolution while still asserting that “God guided the process.”

Gallup has apparently been asking people since 1982 to choose between

Human beings have developed over millions of year from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process

(1982: 38%; 2010: 38%)

Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part of this process

(1982: 9%; 2010: 16%)

God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so

(1982: 44%; 2010: 40%)

I’m characterizing that squishy middle ground as not believing in the theory of evolution, because the theory of evolution makes no reference to God and describes a mechanism that weighs out the future without a divine finger on the scale. But Americans themselves aren’t so clear on what constitutes a belief in evolution. In 2009, Gallup asked this:

Do you, personally, believe in the theory of evolution, do you not believe in the theory of evolution, or don’t you have an opinion either way?

The result:

On the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, a new Gallup Poll shows that only 39% of Americans say they “believe in the theory of evolution,” while a quarter say they do not believe in the theory, and another 36% don’t have an opinion either way.

Anyway, the split in the more exacting three-way question runs pretty strongly along party lines. A majority of Republicans reject evolution entirely, while only a third of Democrats do; only 8% of Republicans believe in the theory of evolution, while 20% of Democrats do.

Maybe the most shocking stats of all: 22% of all those with postgraduate degrees are strict creationists, 37% of all college grads are. While those numbers are lower than among those without college degrees, given the strong self-selection that probably takes place, it would seem that college changes few minds about creationism. So much for the powerful liberal hegemony in academia.

Posted in education, language, politics, pop culture, religion | 4 Comments »

Non Company Mentis

Posted by metaphorical on 24 January 2011

The Company Men
109 minutes
Written and directed by John Wells

The dictionary defines “non compos mentis” as “not of sound mind.” How else do you explain the release a movie that’s missing the last twenty minutes of the story?

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without talking about, well, the movie, so, fair warning: spoilers ahead.

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From the trailer, the story line is clear: Ben Affleck is laid off from his white-collar job, others (Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones) are as well, they band together and start a new company of their own.

And, indeed, that’s what happens. It’s a little disconcerting that Chris Cooper doesn’t lose his position until a second round of layoffs, roughly at the movie’s midpoint. When are they going to get around to starting this new company? Tommy Lee Jones is still with the old company until plot point #2. Actually, I’m not sure there is a plot point #2. But we’re at the 90 minute mark or so. The new company doesn’t get started until the last 10 minutes or so. And then Tommy Lee Jones hires Ben Affleck. And then the movie ends.

Huh?

In other words, we never see Ben Affleck stealing away his old company’s big account, or, stealing away that new contract the greedy CEO-antagonist was counting on, or, well, do anything. So there’s no satisfying feeling of revenge. And there’s no real success—yes, his character’s fundamental desire is met: he has a job again now, and it’s not just hanging sheetrock for his brother-in-law the housebuilder. But does he have great success, or just a job that pays better than carpentry? Doe he have a job he loves?

More importantly, the movie violates perhaps the single most fundamental rule of movies (and all fiction, and in fact, all drama): the protagonist has to do the thing that achieves the movie’s outcome. Ben Affleck’s character does nothing—he passively accepts the job that Tommy Lee Jones’s character offers him.

There’s no question what the shape of this movie should be. The inciting incident is getting laid off—this should happen within the first ten minutes, ideally the first five. Chris Cooper should get laid off between minutes 30 and 40, Tommy Lee Jones would be laid off (or, for my money, quits) at the midpoint. The new company is started soon thereafter, and cannot survive unless Ben Affleck gets a big account, a task that will take us to the climax.

Yes, this would make for a very conventional three-act, two-plot-point Hollywood structure, but after all, this already is a conventional Hollywood movie. The trailer promises us one, and the movie is otherwise constructed as one. They just dragged out some of the middle parts, and forgot the third act. It’s pretty astonishing, the number of people of people who had to not notice there’s a quarter of a movie missing here—the screenwriter, the director (oh, wait, they’re the same person), the producer, and the studio. I don’t think the audience won’t notice though. Despite a great cast, the movie scores a mere 59% at Rotten Tomatoes. (Inexplicably, 71% from the critics. Maybe some of them are non compos mentis as well.)

Posted in language, screenwriting, the arts, writing | 1 Comment »

2010 Movie favorites to date

Posted by metaphorical on 16 January 2011

Without picking winners or trying to predict how the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will pick ’em, here are some favorites, out of the movies I’ve seen to date. Interestingly, two of my favorite performances were by teenagers.

Picture:
Inception, The King’s Speech

Screenwriting:
Inception, The King’s Speech, The Town

Performances:
Christian Bale in The Fighter
Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone
Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right
James Franco in Howl (I haven’t seen 127 Hours yet)
Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
Colin Firth in The King’s Speech

Posted in language, pop culture, screenwriting, the arts | 1 Comment »

Why do all the good movies come out in December?

Posted by metaphorical on 15 January 2011

If you have the impression that most of the good movies come out toward the end of the year, that feeling would be borne out by looking at the release dates of the 21 movies I listed last week as the top screenwriting candidates for 2010.

I suppose it’s just happenstance that a movie can come out in December, catch a few Golden Globe nominations (December 14th), hang on for a few more weeks, win a few (January 16th) and hang on long enough for the Academy Award nominations (January 25th) and awards (February 27th).

Below, the movies are listed in order of release date. Current availability is given in parentheses. As far as I can tell, Winter’s Bones hasn’t had a U.S. general release yet at all (only festivals). By the way, I saw three of these movies today, bringing me up to 12 of 21.

Shutter Island
February 19, 2010 (Netflix Instant)

The Ghost Writer
February 19, 2010 (Netflix DVD)

Toy Story 3
June 18, 2010 (digital rental)

The Kids Are All Right
July 9, 2010 (digital rental)

Inception
July 16, 2010 (Netflix DVD)

Get Low
July 30, 2010 (not available)

Never Let Me Go
September 15, 2010 (not available, 2/1/11 digital rental)

The Town
September 17, 2010 (Netflix DVD)

Howl
September 24, 2010 (digital download)

The Social Network
October 1, 2010 (digital purchase 9/30/10, still at 11 theatres in NY metro area)

Hereafter
October 15, 2010 (DVD)

127 Hours
November 5, 2010 (2 theatres in Manhattan)

Love & Other Drugs
November 24, 2010 (3 theatres in Manhattan)

The King’s Speech
November 26, 2010 (many nyc theatres)

Black Swan
December 3, 2010 (wide release)

The Fighter
December 10, 2010 (wide release)

Rabbit Hole
December 17, 2010 (9 theatres in NY metro area)

True Grit
December 22, 2010 (wide release)

Somewhere
December 22, 2010 (11 theatres in NY metro area)

Another Year
December 29, 2010 (2 theatres in Manhattan)

Winter’s Bones
17 September 2010 (UK only?)

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Golden Globe nominations

Posted by metaphorical on 13 January 2011

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association doesn’t award separate Golden Globes for adapted and original screenplays. Of the 2011 nominees two are adaptations, 127 Hours and The Social Network.

According to a November article in the UK Telegraph about screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s writing process,

he decided to write the script after reading a 14-page proposal submitted to publishers by Ben Mezrich, whose subsequent book, The Accidental Billionaires, became a bestseller.

Though Sorkin was undoubtedly inspired by what he had read – he knew by page three that he wanted to bring the story to the big screen – his script and Mezrich’s book were written simultaneously and independently of each other. If Sorkin has produced an adaptation rather than an original screenplay, it’s an adaptation of an idea (albeit highly developed) rather than a finished work.

In an article in the Jan/Feb issue of Script magazine, which doesn’t seem to be online yet, screenwriter Charles Randolph said his screenplay for Love and Other Drugs bears a similarly loose relationship to the book it’s nominally based upon, Jamie Reidy’s 2005 nonfiction book, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.

As his script came into focus, he confesses, “I didn’t really use much of the book.” Reidy’s anecdotal tales quickly became “more of a background resource than story points. It’s not really an adaptation in that sense.”

The original work was similarly disregarded when it came to David Lindsay-Abaire’s adaptation of Rabbit Hole. Here, though, the original work being disregarded was a play and a the original author being disregarded was himself. Again from Script magazine:

I had to re-imagine the play fairly entirely to turn it into a movie. When I decided to turn it into a screenplay, I put the play aside and thought, “Okay, if this never existed as a play, how would I tell this story as a movie?”

Lastly, what’s also interesting about the Golden Globe nomination list is the many movies with acting or other award nominations that are not on the Script magazine list of potential screenwriting Oscar nominees. I may have to expand the also-worth-seeing list. Here’s the list of major Golden Globe nominations for film.

Best Motion Picture, Drama

    The Fighter
    Inception
    The King’s Speech
    The Social Network

Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical

    Alice in Wonderland
    Burlesque
    The Kids Are All Right
    Red
    The Tourist

Best Director – Motion Picture

    Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
    David Fincher, The Social Network
    Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
    Christopher Nolan, Inception
    David O. Russell, The Fighter

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

    Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
    Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
    James Franco, 127 Hours
    Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine
    Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama

    Halle Berry, Frankie and Alice
    Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
    Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
    Natalie Portman, Black Swan
    Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy

    Johnny Depp, Alice in Wonderland
    Johnny Depp, The Tourist
    Paul Giamatti, Barney’s Version
    Jake Gyllenhaal, Love and Other Drugs
    Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy

    Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
    Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right
    Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
    Emma Stone, Easy A
    Angelina Jolie, The Tourist

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

    Christian Bale, The Fighter
    Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
    Andrew Garfield, The Social Network
    Jeremy Renner, The Town
    Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

    Amy Adams, The Fighter
    Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
    Mila Kunis, Black Swan
    Melissa Leo, The Fighter
    Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

    127 Hours
    The Kids Are All Right
    The King’s Speech
    The Social Network
    Inception

Best Animated Feature Film

    Despicable Me
    How to Train Your Dragon
    The Illusionist
    Toy Story 3
    Tangled

Best Foreign Language Film

    Biutiful
    The Concert
    The Edge
    I Am Love

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The Ghost Writer—2.5 of 5 stars, and that’s being generous

Posted by metaphorical on 8 January 2011

The Ghost Writer (IMDb, Netflix)

Written by Robert Harris & Roman Polanski, based on the novel, The Ghost by Robert Harris

It’s astonishing that this mediocre movie makes Script magazine’s list of potential Oscar nominees for best adapted screenplay—its mediocrity is deeply rooted in screenplay’s weaknesses.

The fundamental problem is that the movie violates the standard Hollywood understanding of a movie’s story. Drew Yanno, in his book The 3rd Act,, puts it this way:

Somebody wants something badly and goes after it against great odds.

The only thing the protagonist wants at the start of The Ghost Writer is to make a lot of money doing a quick rewrite of a former UK Prime Minister’s memoir. Later, he stumbles upon a secret and tries to unravel it. To be sure, doing so imperils his life, but it serves no interest of his beyond idle curiosity. It also puts at risk the only thing we him wanting.

A post at the blog Complications Ensue says much the same thing at far greater length and disgust, and includes a detailed spoiler-laden summary of the movie’s plot.

Posted in language, screenwriting, the arts, writing | 1 Comment »

Screenplays, 2010

Posted by metaphorical on 8 January 2011

The current issue of Script magazine handicaps the Oscar races for best screenplays. Some of their picks are still in theatres here, some are available on Netflix, the rest we’ll have to rent from iTunes or Amazon. Those with loglines I’ve seen.

Original Screenplays

1. Another Year (Lincoln Plaza, Angelika)
Written by Mike Leigh
  The happiness of her older friend from work eludes a middle-aged woman struggling through another year alone.

2. Get Low (available for Amazon online purchase 2/22/11)
Written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell (screenplay), and Chris Provenzano & Scott Seeke (story)
  A hermit hires a funeral home to gather the entire community to tell, Tom Sawyer-like, stories about himself before he dies, but really, it’s for him to tell his a story from his own dark past.

3. Hereafter(available on DVD 3/15/11)
Written by Peter Morgan

4. Inception (Netflix DVD)
Written by Christopher Nolan
  Haunted by his own dreams of his wife, Dom Cobb assembles a team of dream-stealers for one last act of corporate espionage—to plant an idea in the subconscious mind of a rival of his industrialist client.

5. The Kids Are All Right
Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
  When a lesbian couple’s children contact their biological father, the couple’s relationship begins to fracture.

6. The King’s Speech
Written by David Seidler
  King George V’s younger son can keep his stutter hidden from the world until a number of events thrust him in the limelight: his father’s death, his older brother’s abdication, the inception of WWII, and the new importance of radio. Can eccentric self-trained speech therapist Lionel Logue cure the newly crowned George VI in time for him to rally a complacent nation?

7. Somewhere (Clearview 1st & 62nd, Lincoln Square, Angelika)
Written by Sofia Coppola
  A Hollywood star is surprised by how much meaning his 11-year old daughter brings to his aimless existence when she comes to stay with him for a couple of weeks.

Adaptations

1. The Ghost Writer (Netflix DVD)
Written by Robert Harris & Roman Polanski, based on the novel, The Ghost by Robert Harris
  A ghostwriter, hired to complete the memoir of a former UK Prime Minister when the first writer dies suspiciously, pursues a secret despite putting his own life in peril.   (I didn’t think much of this movie, and briefly explain why here.)

2. Love & Other Drugs (AMC 84th St, Regal 42nd St, AMC 19th St, AMC Village 7)
Written by Charles Randolph and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz, based on the book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy
  Jake is a happy-go-lucky born salesman—now in pharmacuticals; Maggie, a talented and gorgeous artist suffering from Parkinson’s, refuses to commit to a relationship because drugs can only hold off her symptoms somewhat and only for so long. They’re perfect for one another, until they fall in love.

3. Never Let Me Go
Written by Alex Garland based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (available on DVD 2/1/11)
  A love triangle at a boarding school where cloned children are being raised for their body parts raises the question: will we understand life better – and will we live it better – if we know when we’re going to die?

4. 127 Hours (Landmark Sunshine)
Written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
  It takes a hiker 127 hours to bring himself to a point where he can save his life by sawing off his arm with a dull knife.

5. Rabbit Hole (Clearview 1st & 62nd, Landmark Sunshine)
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the play by David Lindsay-Abaire
  After the death of their 4-year-old son, a couple can’t get on track with their lives—nor with each other.

6. Shutter Island (Netflix Instant)
Written by Laeta Kalogridis, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
  A U.S. Marshall’s investigation of the disappearance of a murderer-patient at an island hospital for the criminally insane is too zealous for the hospital’s director.

7. The Social Network (AMC 25, AMC 19th St, Quad)
Written by Aaron Sorkin, based on the book by Ben Mezrich
  The youngest billionaire in history is bound to have made some enemies along the way—and rightfully so. But then, some of them were assholes too.

8. The Town (Netflix)
Written by Peter Craig and Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard, based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan
  A young, handsome, master bank robber has trouble leaving the life, and trouble staying. For one thing, he’s fallen in love with the only person who can identify his gang, and his best friend wants her dead.

9. Toy Story 3 (DVD)
Written by Michael Arndt (screenplay), John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich (story)
  Andy is headed for college, and the toys have to figure out how best to move on—a matter they have almost no control over.

Other movies that seem worth seeing

Black Swan
Written by Mark Heyman (screenplay), John J. McLaughlin (screenplay) and Andres Heinz (screenplay and story)
  A shy, young ballerina on the cusp of greatness has to embrace her dark side or lose her first starring role.

The Fighter
Written by Scott Silver (screenplay) and Paul Tamasy (story and screenplay) & Eric Johnson (story and screenplay) & Keith Dorrington (story)
  A Lowell, Mass., boxer with one more shot at the top is torn between professional management and his current manager (his overbearing mother) and trainer (his screw-up exfighter older brother).

Howl
Written by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
  Out-of-the-closet beat poet Alan Ginsberg is liberated by the publication of Howl, while his publisher—poet and bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti—stands trial for the poem’s obscenity.

True Grit
Written by Joel & Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Charles Portis
  A 14-year old girl seeking justice for her murdered father hires an alcoholic U.S. Marshall (because she’s told he has “true grit”) to hunt down the killer in Indian territory—forcing him to take her along.

Winter’s Bone
Written by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini, based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell
  In the Ozark foothills, a 17-year-old girl, already responsible for her 12- and 6-year-old siblings, now has to find her crank-dealing father, dead or alive, before the law takes away their house.

Blue Valentine
Written by Derek Cianfrance & Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis.
  As a marriage breaks up, you wonder what they ever saw in each other, but as they remember, though flashbacks, the relationship’s early days, you wonder how it could go so horribly wrong.

Posted in language, screenwriting, the arts, writing | 2 Comments »

 
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