Tuesday, March 26, 2013

No, it's not really live


Ever wonder if the National Theatre Live series at Cineplex’s Devonshire Mall is, well, actually live from London, England? That’s how the series, which brings some remarkable world class plays to the local theatre including This House by James Graham May 16 - about the backbiting world of Britain’s Parliament – is billed. But, says Cineplex communications director Mike Langdon, the plays, as you might realistically imagine, are in fact “live to tape.” There is a five hour time difference between Windsor and London, after all, which would mean the “live” aspect would actually have to be performed on staged at 12 midnight London time. That’s not to mention all the other time zones in the world that would also have to be accommodated because the productions are shown in other countries. So, no, Langdon says. “This allows us to account for the time difference between the U.K. and different markets in Canada.” On June 13 Cineplex also shows Peter Morgan’s The Audience, starring Helen Mirren, reprising her Academy Award winning role as Queen Elizabeth II, about the elite audiences that the queen has always held with British prime ministers, the contents of which are never made public. The play will have three encore presentations in late June and early July.
One of the best DVD rental deals going is Redbox, available only in the U.S. Redbox is a vending machine and one amazingly easy to use. For $1.27 incl tax you can rent a video overnight by simply inserting your credit card in the machine’s slot. The machines are located conveniently in places like grocery stores. The machine’s on screen ordering directions are easy. And when returning your DVD you just slip it back into the return slot. Quick as can be! The one drawback is the inventory isn’t all that large. But for the last two weekends I was about to rent David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (2012) and David Frankel’s Hope Springs (2012) starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Sometimes a lot of the movies are grayed-out depending on their popularity and the time you order. But it’s a cheap home date. Pick up a bottle of (inexpensive) American-priced wine, order from the Redbox, and you have an evening's entertainment for under $5!
Speaking of Hope Springs, this is a great acting piece for Streep and Jones. They play a Midwestern couple who long ago lost the spark from their marriage. Streep (Kay) wants to reignite it. Jones (Arnold) is as tight-assed and defensive as you can imagine a 58-year-old stuck-in-his-ways accountant can be. The two have their roles down pat as a mature middle class couple who seem only too typical. And Steve Carell (Dr. Bernie Feld) is convincing as the marriage counsellor. The movie is supposedly set in a picturesque Maine fishing village – where the couple flies for a therapeutic retreat - but is actually filmed in Connecticut. This movie could easily be adapted for the stage.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sci-fi that doesn't get the future right

It's always interesting the way filmmakers portray the future. Such was the case when I - finally - got around to watching Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford. The movie is set in 2019. And Los Angeles is portrayed in a way that no one here in 2013 - only six years away - would recognize. It’s like the city had gone through a total transformation and become a brutalized bunker-like forest of skyscrapers with Jetsons-like flying machines shooting between them. But these aren’t just skyscrapers. These are massive blocks of concrete with thousands of slits of windows providing a formidable - indeed fascistic - image, which of course is the point. In fact, it’s become a cliché for filmmakers - and sci-fi book authors for that matter - to predict the (near) future as a totally alien environment from what it’s like when they wrote the novel or made the film. And almost always the future is totalitarian. But in reality the topography of current day Los Angeles has hardly changed since 1982, albeit with a few more office skyscrapers in the core and perhaps a bit cleaner air. Blade Runner’s depiction of the city is almost laughable.....Remember 1984? That year is now almost three decades old, and it came and went almost like every other year – no muss no fuss. Yet for decades prior to it 1984 was considered a foreboding date because it was the title of George Orwell's 1949 dystopian classic about an all-controlling totalitarian state. Sure enough the real 1984 seemed pretty much like the year before and nothing at all like how Orwell depicted it (although there were lots of public discussions in the media and elsewhere about how much the government controlled us, etc. etc.).....But there are aspects of the future that sci-fi authors don’t seem to take into account - for example, personal lifestyles. In Blade Runner we see characters smoking cigarettes just like they did in 1982. Yet it’s only a small minority of people who smoke anymore, and less will in 2019. A cartoon like The Jetsons, set in the future, also made the mistake of thinking the nuclear family and gender roles would be exactly the same as they were in the early 1960s, when the cartoon series was made…..BTW I didn’t finish watching Blade Runner. Despite all the hype surrounding this movie I found it almost insufferably boring. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

It's worth watching on the big screen

I never quite did – and now I never will – equate the experience of watching a movie on a television screen with that of a movie theatre. Such was the case when I ventured into the Devonshire Mall Cineplex theatre the other night, on a whim, to catch 1957’s Funny Face (Stanley Donen) starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Yes, I’d seen this movie two or three times over the years but only on DVD or video. Wow, what a difference watching on the big screen with sets and costumes just brimming with colour and exuberance! The movie also is about the fashion industry and takeoff on famed Harper's Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland. Think The Devil Wears Prada (David Frankel 2006) but with song and dance by some of the greatest actors ever to grace the silver screen (no offence Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway). Funny Face seems the epitome of the Fifties musical. It has it all. Donen – dubbed “the king of the Hollywood musical,” also directed Singin’ in the Rain. George and Ira Gershwin wrote the songs. Moreover, one of America’s greatest still photographers, Richard Avedon, supplied the sets’ fashion photos. This movie has it all, from Astaire and Hepburn’s singing and dancing to some of the greatest songs ever recorded (“How Long Has This Been Going On” or “S Wonderful”). The movie confirms Astaire’s amazing talent as actor, singer and dancer. And Hepburn wasn’t bad in all three roles either. How many actors these days are that versatile? Maybe I’m reading too much into it but beyond the 1950s candy floss the film had a few things to say about the world of fashion versus bohemianism where one, seemingly crass and the other deep, can both be just as artificial. It’s also a great movie about Paris, playing on every Parisian stereotype - and why not? (That’s when the French loved America.)…..Cineplex Odeon has more films over the next month in its classic series, such as The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille 1956), on Easter weekend, and The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming 1939). Take the kids to see The (original) Wizard in mid-April. If any movie should be seen on the silver screen it’s Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion. A bonus: tickets are just $6 adults. 
They promised, but I never did manage to get an interview with one of the directors of Burn (post below), the well-made documentary by Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez about a beleaguered fire company on Detroit’s east side. But it’s worth a night out to catch this flick in limited engagement March 22 – 28 at Silver City in Windsor. The “embedded” filmmakers with Engine Company 50 spend days and nights with the crew as they eat, sleep and are called to numerous fires – 95 per cent of which are arsons – in one of the Motor City’s most benighted areas. Yet these firefighters exhibit grit, brotherhood and a caring for the citizens in their neighborhoods. Says one: “I’m a product of Detroit, I’m not one of those persons who’s not going to turn my back on Detroit.” The movie also has a terrific rock and roll soundtrack. It’s no dull documentary.
And one final thing. Last night I caught the late great Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku’s final film (he died in 2003), Battle Royale (2003). You know the story Lord of the Flies? Well, this is Lord of the Flies on steroids. This class of high school students won the wrong lottery when they were chosen for a diabolical game on a remote island.