Theater review from The Movie Snob
Evita. The community theater over in Irving, Texas, is doing Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita, one of my favorite musicals. I’ve seen it live twice before, both in big national touring productions, so I was a little apprehensive that the local talent wouldn’t be up to the demanding vocals and fairly elaborate choreography. My fears were for naught; this is a thoroughly competent and enjoyable production, and if you like Evita you will definitely like this show. The three leads all did very well. The fellow who plays Che did an outstanding job, and it didn’t hurt that he actually looks like the iconic picture of Che Guevara you see everywhere. The guy who plays Juan Peron has an excellent, booming voice; to pick a nit, I’d say he comes across as a little too genial and nice of a guy, he could stand to make Peron a little oilier, a little more menacing. Finally, the gal who plays Eva has both the looks and the voice for the very challenging role. One minor complaint–when she sings, especially when she’s facing the audience, her eyes bug out in an alarming and somewhat crazed fashion. But that’s a very small quibble, and probably not even noticeable if you’re sitting farther back than the second row, where I was.
DVD review from The Movie Snob
Ninotchka (B). With this DVD, I finally finished The Garbo Collection, and on the whole it really was a bit of a chore. (Okay, I confess that I skipped the silent films and went straight to the talkies.) To my great and pleasant surprise, the collection ends on a high note–a rather witty romantic comedy, instead of Garbo’s usual tragedy/melodrama. In the late 1930’s, the Soviet Union is badly strapped for cash. Three inept Party members arrive in Paris to sell some jewels stolen from the aristocracy during the Revolution. To their surprise, the former owner of the jewels, the Grand Duchess Swana, lives in Paris, finds out what’s happening, and slaps a lawsuit on them with the aid of her debonair gentleman friend, Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas, Hotel). The Kremlin sends Special Envoy Nina Ivanova “Ninotchka” Yakushova (Garbo, Grand Hotel) to straighten out the mess. She and Leon meet cute (without knowing they are about to clash over the jewels), and the usual Garbo theme of the conflict between love and duty is off and running. But this time it is played mostly for laughs, and mostly quite effectively. The director wisely makes Garbo an utterly humorless and doctrinaire comrade, providing a stark and amusing contrast to the glib, superficial, but good-natured Leon:
Ninotchka: Must you flirt?
Leon: I don’t have to, but I find it natural.
Ninotchka: Suppress it.
And Garbo is, of course, luminously beautiful. In short, Ninotchka is actually worth watching. Check it out some time.
A new review from The Movie Snob
A Good Woman (B+). This movie is based on an Oscar Wilde play (Mrs. Windermere’s Fan), so you know you can count on sparkling dialogue if nothing else. In this case, there is more besides, namely a thoroughly enjoyable plot. The acting, by contrast, is shaky. Helen Hunt (Soul Surfer), not my favorite actress even under the best conditions, seems completely out of her element, and my cousin Diane thought much the same about Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin). The movie is set in 1930, and Hunt plays Mrs. Stella Erlynne, an American who is apparently a professional mistress. As the movie opens, she is in America, finding herself unfortunately short both of funds and of lovers to foot her bills. She sees a newspaper article about Meg and Robert Windermere (Johansson, Mark Umbers), who are fabulously wealthy newlyweds from Rhode Island, and next thing you know she has tracked them down to the Amalfi coast in Italy. Mrs. Erlynne quickly scandalizes the idle rich who have congregated in Amalfi, and Meg finds herself doubting Robert’s fidelity even while she herself is pursued by the caddish Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore, The Lady in the Van). I thought the movie got off to a slow start, and that Hunt’s performance was strange and offputting. (She seemed to deliver every single line in exactly the same flat, inflectionless manner.) But the plot and the dialogue ultimately won me over. Worth seeing.
A book review from The Movie Snob
La Belle France: A Short History, by Alistair Horne (2005). Even at 440 pages, this book has to leave a lot out. It is basically a history of Paris and the kings of France, rather than a history of France as a whole, and for fun, breezy history, you could do much worse. Horne basically starts his history in the Middle Ages; by page 15 we are already in the 12th century. As the book goes on, the pace gradually slows down, and the last 130+ pages are devoted to WWI and thereafter. And we are swept along, generally from one hapless, hopeless monarch to the next, with only the rare decent king to provide a few decades of peace and prosperity before the next descent into religious or economic chaos. Horne provides lots of colorful descriptions of the stars of his history, many from contemporary sources. (Example: when Napoleon’s ministers Fouche and Talleyrand once entered a room arm-in-arm, an observer remarked that it was “A vision of Vice supported by Crime.”) In short, this is an interesting and enjoyable read if popular history is your thing.
Concert review from The Movie Snob:
Star Wars: The Live Concert. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra sold out a three-night run of this production, in which the orchestra performed music from all six Star Wars movies, and Anthony Daniels, who played C-3PO, provided a narration between the various pieces. It was very entertaining. First of all, they had several guys wearing stormtrooper outfits wandering around the lobby of the concert hall before showtime, and lots of people were getting their pictures taken with them. They also had R2-D2 there, and some woman dressed as someone I didn’t recognize. Maybe she was supposed to be Princess Leia in the outfit she wore on the Ewok planet in Return of the Jedi. Anyway, the performance progressed chronologically from “Episode I” through “Episode VI,” and they wisely gave shorter shrift to the music from Episodes I and II. Daniels’ narration of the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker was quite enjoyable, and he frequently broke the audience up by over-emphasizing the virtues and importance of C-3PO in the saga. Of course, the musical selections from Episodes IV – VI were the real crowd-pleasers, especially the main Star Wars theme, the fanfare from the very end of Episode IV, and best of all Darth Vader’s theme, the Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back. The thunderous standing ovation at the evening’s end brought the conducter and Daniels back out for an encore — the music from the legendary cantina scene in Episode IV. It was a lot of fun.
DVD Review from The Movie Snob:
Camille (D+). The next-to-the-last film in the Garbo DVD collection, Camille is, unfortunately, not very good. The setting is Paris, 1847. Garbo (Ninotchka) plays Marguerite Gautier, a woman whose beauty and wit have allowed her to escape the poverty of her youth and to become the kept woman of the cold and wealthy Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell, Witness for the Prosecution). Then she meets the young and passionate Armand Duval (Robert Taylor, Ivanhoe), whose love finally melts her icy heart. It seems as though all will be well for the two lovebirds, but this is 1847, not 2006. Armand’s father intervenes and begs Marguerite to send Armand away because her sordid past makes marriage impossible and their liaison will only ruin Armand’s good name and career. What will she do? Overwrought and interminable, this movie may have been well-received in its time, but it just doesn’t work any more. How Garbo got an Oscar nomination for her mediocre acting is a mystery, and Armand’s widow’s peak and slicked-back hair make him look like Eddie Munster. The folks over at DVD Verdict (new link added to the left side of this screen) point out that this plot has been recycled numerous times, including in Moulin Rouge, which had not occurred to me. Watch Moulin Rouge again and skip this overdone souffle.
From the desk of The Movie Snob:
The White Countess (C-). I am not too familiar with the large oeuvre of films made by the team of Merchant and Ivory, but I did like Howard’s End a lot. (They are perhaps best known for The Remains of the Day and A Room with a View, neither of which I saw.) This film is based on a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, who also wrote The Remains of the Day as well as last year’s excellent novel Never Let Me Go. So my hopes were fairly high for this movie. Set in the late 1930’s (just like Mrs. Henderson Presents!), this is the story of two lost souls who find each other in the chaos of Shanghai on the eve of WWII. Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash) is Todd Jackson, a disillusioned American whose dream is to own the perfect jazz club, which he will make his retreat from the world. Natasha Richardson (Nell) is a Russian countess, living in exile with a few family members after the Bolshevik Revolution, barely making enough money as a taxi dancer to keep a roof over their heads. (I had never seen that expression, “taxi dancer,” until I read some reviews for this movie. And it is exactly what she is.) The urbane, mysterious, and vaguely menacing Japanese Mr. Matsuda (Hiroyuki Sanada, Sunshine) hovers over the proceedings, an omen of the evil times to come. There is a strong Casablanca feel to the movie, but the plot lacks the urgency and forward momentum of that classic. Despite the obvious charms of Countess Sofia, Jackson seems content to hide in his bar until it comes crashing down around his ears, and we just aren’t given enough of a reason to root for him to pull out of his funk.