Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Nothing compares to early Tim Burton films. You know, when Johnny Depp was charmingly eccentric and not just annoyingly weird. And the films seemed to come from a a singular mind that had a vision of a gothic-chic world we hadn't seen before. It's fitting that the first project that Burton worked on in his early days as a Disney animator was The Black Cauldron–a film criticized for being too dark for children–because he's been bringing that aesthetic edge to his projects ever since. If there's one film who's look is quintessentially Burton-esque, it has to be this week's Hit Me With Your Best Shot entry over at The Film Experience: Edward Scissorhands. 

I've had multiple viewings of the film over the 22 (!) years that it's been out, including one on the big screen at a Burton Retrospective in TriBeCa in conjunction with an exhibit they had on the art of The Corpse Bride. (I still think Beetlejuice has it beat in my total viewings, though. My sisters and I must have worn out that VHS tape.) So, I wasn't exactly expecting to find anything revolutionary for my viewing this time around. I also found myself asking a lot more questions about it than usual. Things I hadn't thought before, like: Why was a suburban sprawl built around a dilapidated house? Wouldn't the real estate market have just taken over that land years ago, bulldozed it, and built up more pastel-colored ranch-style houses? Also, what was this cookie-making inventor doing making a man anyway? What credentials does he have? But most importantly, why didn't he just give Edward regular hands to begin with? Who uses scissors as temporary training tools? What the hell was that gonna teach him? Having sharp objects in the place of hands is just asking for him to be ostracized. So, way to go.

But, that's just the cynical adult in me nitpicking. And it's so easy to fall into that mode nowadays. Which is why I was glad that my favorite scene from the film was still able to instill in me a sense of that childlike wonder I had when I was younger. 

The film begins with a little girl asking her grandmother where snow comes from. Which begins the bedtime story of Edward Scissorhands. Throughout the film, Kim (Winona Ryder–who, by the way, was my favorite actress as kid) hasn't exactly warmed up to the idea of Edward. But as the film unfolds, she slowly recognizes his kind soul and slowly begins to understand that her affections have changed to love. Just before her family's (unattended) Christmas party, something magical happens. As she looks out the window, she sees something that she has never seen in real life. Like a miracle, snow is gently falling in her warm-weathered home. It is wondrous. And as she walks outside, she realizes that Edward is creating it by carving an ice sculpture of an angel with his hands. The moment is just so joyous that she reaches out her arms and basks in the beauty. 

Edward has created this moment for her. A moment that she will always remember. Although their love is not to be, she will always remember him every time it snows. When she feels the snow on her skin later in life, she will feel his presence and the love she felt for him. "Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it." 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Who Am I?

The coming of age drama is a staple of cinema. For one thing, everyone has had a childhood and had to figure out where they fit in. It already has a built in connection. But finding your place in the world can feel even more difficult when you come to realize that you're different than most people. Which is why so many LGBT films are about the process of coming out and finding your true self as a young adult. And while I can think of a couple of good gay films that illustrate this (My Beautiful Launderette, Beautiful ThingGet Real), the only movie I can think of about adolescent lesbians is Heavenly Creatures. Which is a great movie, but is more about unhealthy fantasy and murder–something most young lesbians aren't exactly coming to terms with. Which is why I had such high hopes for this week's entry in The Film Experience's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, the coming of age drama, Pariah.

The film played at Sundance last year and won an award for Best Cinematography (which is fitting for this series about the best visuals of a film) and star Adepero Oduye received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her portrayal of Alike (Le), the young woman discovering her sexuality and grappling with her family and society's reactions. While there is much to admire in the film (how often does a film focus on a young black woman, let alone a lesbian?), it never really took off for me. A lot of the performances didn't feel authentic to me and most of the time everyone sounded as if they were reading off cue cards. And for such a serious subject matter, it always seemed slight to me. The film clocks in at less than an hour and a half. I felt it could have taken the time to indulge and let scenes settle in more. It seemed to gloss over one plot point after another so quickly that I never felt like I got to know who these characters were.

The only time I really felt I was getting a glimpse into who this girl was happens in the early moments in the film. After a night clubbing with her friend, Le is left alone on the bus. Before she gets home, she transforms herself from the tomboy she is into the perfect daughter her mother wants her to be:

The transformation happens in less than a minute and the lyrics of the song that play telling us, "you don't know who I am", we learn all we need to know about Le's situation. Her reflection in the bus window just further illustrates the double life that she is leading. And it's the first time we as an audience get to see the person behind the facade. To witness the struggle she faces everyday. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tony! Tony! Tony!

By now, I'm sure you've all seen the Tony nominations that were announced this morning by Emmy award winners (and stage vets!) Jim Parsons (see he him in Roundabout's production of Harvey this summer!) and Tony award winner Kristen Chenoweth (Kristen, honey, leave GCB and come back to Broadway!). You know, if you're into that sort of thing. And just be reassured by returning host Neil Patrick Harris, the Tonys aren't just for gays anymore! And if you're not into did you get to this site? Anyway, on to the nominees and my thoughtful insights because I live in New York! I see Theatre! And I love awards...

For the longest time, when I saw the production stills I thought they had light sabers. They don't. But they would have fit in just fine with the production...
Best Play
Clybourne Park
Other Desert Cities
Peter and the Starcatcher
Venus in Fur
The only one of these four that I haven't seen is Claybourne Park (which won the Pulitzer Prize last year!). It's probably gonna win, so I should probably get on that. Of the three I've seen, Peter and the Starcatcher was my favorite. It's just a great example of why we go to Theatre. It's the kind of magic that can only happen on a stage. Your imagination is just free to roam when you see the creativity they are achieving onstage. And I kept getting choked up at certain points. I really enjoyed Other Desert Cities as well, but there are some plot points that are a little questionable. And I didn't really care for Venus in Fur all that much. It got really repetitive, there's only so much you can do with just two people on the stage the whole time. 
Best Musical
Leap of Faith
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Three musicals based on movies and a musical written around the songs of Gershwin–yep, all really original. I haven't seen any of these yet (I'm more of a play kinda guy), but I really want to see Once and Newsies. I really love the movie Once and have seen Swell Season (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova from the film) a couple of times in concert. And people keep telling me they didn't like the movie (including the person I saw it in the theatre with when it came out. You liked it then!), but that this musical is ah-MAZ-ing (it also has the most nominations this year with 11)! I didn't see the movie version of Newsies until I was in my late 20s and let's just say it's one of those movies you would have had to see as a child to enjoy. But, I've only heard good things about the musical. You could not pay me to see Leap of Faith or Nice Work. Seriously. No Spiderman. Is anyone really surprised by that? 
Best Revival of a Play
Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Gore Vidal's The Best Man
Master Class

Do Death of a Salesman and The Best Man officially have to have the author's name attached to them from now on? I didn't know there were other productions with the same name? But can't get them confused with Neil Simon's Death of a Salesman or Shakespeare's The Best Man. Also, those are the two shows I haven't seen yet. I'm dying to see Death (oh, I just realized what I did there...) and it's probably gonna win. I'm surprised Master Class made it on here as it was the first show to open the 2011-2012 season way back in August. Faye Dunaway must be happy people remember it. I didn't love this production of Wit mainly because I think Cynthia Nixon had to work too hard to make us believe her in the role. She just doesn't have that innate academia intelligence naturally about her the way Emma Thompson did in the HBO version.

Best Revival of a Musical
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Jesus Christ Supersta

The only one of these that I saw was Follies and it's most likely gonna win, so good thing I did. I enjoyed it a lot. Many people consider tis one of the greatest musicals ever written. I wouldn't go that far...I really want to see Evita. I love the music and it's the first revival since the original production made Patti LuPone a star. But, everyone keeps saying Elena Roger is screaming her way through the performances. Maybe that's why she didn't get nominated...I heard people are surprised Godspell wasn't nominated, but that production was awful. I left at intermission. I was also really drunk, which may have contributed to my strong dislike. But I couldn't sit through that twee Christian propaganda. 
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
James Corden, One Man, Two Guvnors
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
James Earl Jones, Gore Vidal's The Best Man
Frank Langella, Man and Boy
John Lithgow, The Columnist

It's really between Corden and Hoffman in what are so completely different performances, how can you choose who's "best"? I mean, I haven't seen either, yet (oh, god. The only one I've seen is Frank Langella. Yikes.), Corden is doing slapstick comedy and Hoffman is doing one of the most iconic characters in dramatic history. Tough call. Jones, Langella, and Lithgow seem to be here on name recognition as none have really been praised all that much. Too bad Alan Rickman's name is further down alphabetically...
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Nina Arianda, Venus in Fur
Tracie Bennett, End of the Rainbow
Stockard Channing, Other Desert Cities
Linda Lavin, The Lyons
Cynthia Nixon, Wit
Like last year, this category looks to be pretty competitive. Nina gets her second Tony nom in a row in this category (She was in my group for final semester of school. She's since worked with Woody Allen and has two Tony noms and I'm typing away at this blog, Yeah...). Stockard was wonderful in Other Desert Cities. Sat in the front row, so I was close for all the action (also close to see Judith Light's bunions). I still have to see Bennett playing Judy Garland and Linda Lavin (who didn't take her Follies role to Broadway so she could be the lead in this. I bet she's happy with her choice), but I plan on before Tony night. Surprised that they remembered Master Class for Revival but not Tyne Daly here. She kinda is the play. Don't know who she would replace though. Maybe Cynthia Nixon.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Danny Burstein, Follies
Jeremy Jordan, Newsies
Steve Kazee, Once
Norm Lewis, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Ron Raines, Follies
Another close race. I don't think it'll be either of the Follies guys (that show is really about the gals anyway). A couple of new stars and a veteran. If someone twisted my arm until I made a pick, I guess I'd go with Kazee.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Jan Maxwell, Follies
Audra McDonald, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Cristin Milioti, Once
Kelli O'Hara, Nice Work If You Can Get It
Laura Osnes, Bonnie & Clyde
I think a lot of people were shocked that Bernadette Peters didn't make the cut in this category while Osnes in the long-closed Bonnie & Clyde did. I can't vouch for Osnes because I didn't see her show. I was busy that week. But she really seems like she's being groomed to be Broadway's next leading lady (like a Kelli O'Hara type). She just played Maria in an anniversary concert of Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall and it was announced that she's gonna be Cinderella in a Broadway revival of the Rogers and Hammerstein version. So, obviously things are going good for her. Bernie, whom I love, was no at her best in Follies. The night I saw her she could barely get through her songs. I'm all for emotion in the song, but you do actually have to be able to sing it as well. I think it's down to Maxwell and McDonald and I'm leanin' towards Jan because she's never won and she was snubbed twice in 2010 when she was a double nominee . 
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Christian Borle, Peter and the Starcatcher
Michael Cumpsty, End of the Rainbow
Tom Edden, One Man, Two Guvnors
Andrew Garfield, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Jeremy Shamos, Clybourne Park
After seeing Peter, my friend wondered if Christian Borle was gay. I didn't think there was any question about it after seeing him in Angels in America onstage, his role in Smash, and his hilariously flamboyant performance in this. But, then my friend said he used to be married. To a woman. And not just any woman–Sutton Foster. Which really doesn't help his case because what guy man wouldn't marry two-time Tony award winner Sutton? Oh, and he's winning this Tony. Sorry, Andrew Garfield. You can go cry on the pile of money your unnecessary Spiderman movie will make. 
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Linda Emond, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
Spencer Kayden, Don't Dress for Dinner
Celia Keenan-Bolger, Peter and the Starcatcher
Judith Light, Other Desert Cities
Condola Rashad, Stick Fly
The biggest surprise here is that Angela Landsbury isn't nominated for The Best Man, excuse me–Gore Vidal's The Best Man (don't want to get you confused). Every time she's in a new production I rush to se her in it as who knows how long she'll be able to do 8 live shows a week? The woman is 86! But, as soon as I see her in something, it's announced she's on to another Broadway show. I can't keep up with her! She needs her own Kardashian like reality show...And she needs to take Spencer Kayden's place. Who was the best part of a really flat, unfunny show. Which isn't good in a comedic farce, y'all. Celia is more of a lead in Peter. Which means it's between Emond and Judith Light. I'm hoping for TV's Angela Bower only to see if she thanks Tony Danza in her acceptance speech.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Phillip Boykin, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Michael Cerveris, Evita
David Alan Grier, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Michael McGrath, Nice Work If You Can Get It
Josh Young, Jesus Christ Superstar
People are shocked that Ricky Martin didn't get nominated? Really? They do know he was just cast to sell tickets (like Uma Thurman's Rebecca Duvall on Smash!), right? Did anyone really think he would be nominated? I only know who Michael Cerveris and David Alan Grier are in this category. And Michael has already won before and the part of Peron isn't really that good. So, I'm gonna go with DAG for the win. 
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Elizabeth A. Davis, Once
Jayne Houdyshell, Follies
Judy Kaye, Nice Work If You Can Get It
Jessie Mueller, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever
Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Ghost the Musical
I really need to see Once cause who the hell is the other female character? I don't recall any other females other than the lead in the film. Not even like a woman in the background that puts some money in Glen Hansard's guitar case. People really love this musical. I don't even remember Jayne Houdyshell in Follies. It'll be nice for Jessie Mueller to add "Tony Award Nominee" when she plays Cinderella in the park with Amy Adams. And the role of Oda Mae won Whoopi an Oscar, but from what I hear, Da'Vine ain't no Whoopi. Sooooo...random girl from Once! Your show has the most nominations and you deserve it!
The Tech nominees after the jump. They aren't even good enough for the actual ceremony on Broadcast TV, so why start acting like I care now...
The Tonys air LIVE on June 10th at 8:00PM EST on CBS