And who is stupid enough to vote for him?
That would be the current resident of the White House, and his show of petulance, ignorance and stupidity at the World War I ceremonies over last weekend in Paris and France. His inability to show even a modicum of respect and recognize t the gravity of the moment. His laziness, and unwillingness to travel in the rain to acknowledge thousands of dead Americans who perished so that he, and his Nazi father and all of their miserable relatives, could prosper and sponge off (and rip off) the American public. And for that matter the millions of combatants from all over the world who perished in the name of democracy, a form of government that he is attempting to eradicate. His slimy bro-mance with Putin, winking and nodding at each other, Trump oblivious to the fact that Putin will spill the goods on him whenever the Russian tyrant finds it convenient, when his little pimp has outlived his usefulness. How did this putrid fart of a human being become president?
And who is stupid enough to vote for him?
Some things take a while: few stories seem to have begged to be turned into films more than the kidnapping of J Paul Getty III, grandson of the wealthiest man in the world (at the time). It has all the key elements: a dramatic plot with the possibility for conflict and twists galore, wealth, decadence, drug use, beautiful people, 60s and 70s hedonism and Eurotrash contrasted with upper-crusty British banking wealth, exotic locales, British country homes, and on and on. Yet it took over thirty years, and now, finally, two excellent productions, different in their own ways but both eminently watchable, have been released this year: All The Money In the World, on the big screen, and Trust, a 10-part series on FX.
All The Money In The World, directed by Ridley Scott, has both the benefit of concision, relatively speaking, and suffers from it as well. The kidnapping of JPG III forms the spine of the drama, while subplots concerning his possible complicity in the crime, the Italian Mafia, his grandfather’s unrepentant stinginess (even when his own flesh and blood is concerned), the dysfunctionality of the Getty brood, JPG III’s mom and her unwavering commitment to freeing her son, and other elements are squeezed into the 90 minutes or so that make up the film. Christopher Plummer plays the tight-fisted patriarch, as a replacement (!) for the Kevin Spacey. Its hard to image casting Spacey over Plummer – he even has something of a resemblance to J Paul Sr., and Plummer’s take on the domineering, callous industrial baron deserved better than a mere Academy Award nomination. Plummer’s long illustrious career gives him a kind of gravitas on screen that can’t be learned, only earned. Michelle Williams is excellent as JPGIII’s mom, divorced from JPGII, but the headscratcher among the actors is Mark Wahlberg as Getty senior’s fixer.
Wahlberg, I find, is one of the most vanilla actors out there. A lot of sound and fury often, signifying well you know what, he just never seems to bring much to the table. Like Tom Cruise and other H-wood actors, he is better known for who he is than what he does. So its curious in flipping through Rotten Tomatoes reviews that one reviewer from the Hindustan Times, Rohan Nahar, gives kudos to Wahlberg while giving a thumbs down to Brendan Frazer in the same role in Trust. Now let me preface this by saying that I chose this critic somewhat randomly. I was flipping through the reviews, saw one that was somewhat negative, so then checked it out. I found it interesting, but also revealed a critic somewhat out of his depth in material that clearly was unfamiliar to him, one of the dangers of our globally connected media community. The ability to access all material globally can lead to a sense of familiarity that might be unfounded.
Back to Brendan Frazer, whose acting is a comedic revelation, with serious moments to leaven the mix. Created as West Texas, Bible-quoting (thankfully not too much) PI hired by Getty to fix his problems, Frazer is a pleasure to watch. Like Carey Grant, Frazer has that rarest of screen qualities: likeability, a quality notably missing from Wahlberg, who always seems to be pressing his acting ability onwards, perhaps as a reminder that he doesn’t have as much to work with. Nahar also pans the excellent Hillary Swank (as Gail Getty, JPGII’s ex-wife) and Donald Sutherland as JPG senior, as well as Frazer. Here’s the quote:
the performances of Sutherland as Getty, Hilary Swank as Paul’s penniless mother and Brendan Fraser as Getty’s fixer, are nothing like their cinematic counterparts’ - Plummer, Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg. They seem to know that they’re in a piece of entertainment. Sutherland is almost moustache-twirlingly cunning, and Fraser speaks in an exaggerated Texan drawl as he breaks the fourth wall…
Perhaps the Hindustan Times critic has never met West Texans: the drawl is not overdone, just as it is not representative of all West Texans. But writing off Sutherland’s performance as a caricature is a gross under-appreciation: Sutherland’s Getty is every bit the equal of Plummer’s, albeit different, a reminder of how great actors can give the same role alternate takes, emotions, and characteristics. While Plummer is icy, aloof and cruel, Sutherland can be somewhat more personable, and sarcastic, but always with a leering cruelty just below the surface. Sutherland’s Getty reminded me, in more ways than one, of another one of his great roles, in one of the great films of the 1970s Bernardo Bertolucci’s Novecento, where Sutherland played the decadent, morally corrupt head foreman (and Fascist) of the Berlinghieri estate, the padrone played by Robert DeNiro (and his father by Burt Lancaster). Given that the real life JPGIII kept what amounted to a small harem in his English country manor, the jaded and lascivious aspect that Sutherland brings to the role - the harem is not part of Scott's film - is all appropriate, and true to biographical accounts of the old lecher.
The Hindustan Times critic further shows just how far off-base film critics can be. He also derides the Trust subplot, a very considerable part of that shows 10 episodes, which explores the idea that JPGIII staged the kidnapping in order to pay off his drug and partying debts in Italy, funded by (of course) the Mafia. JPGIII did bandy this idea around, so that when the actual crime happened, the Gettys were not sure if it was for real. And this is the main fault with Danny Boyle’s spin on the event: in stretching the show to almost nine hours, the mafia-side of the story takes over, so that the much more interesting story concerning the many generations of Gettys, the drug-fueled 60s scenes in London and Rome which involved JPGII and III, Talitha Pol and others, is overtaken by what eventually becomes the Godfather Part IV. And this godfather is no Vito Corleone in New York, but an obscure and unsuccessful don in Calabria, the Arkansas of Italy. Perhaps Nahar should stick to more familiar fare.
Both versions are worth watching, not the least for the remarkable acting by two leonine Canadian octogenarians as J Paul III. Entertaining, and both with commentary on how absolute wealth can corrupt absolutely, the story of John Paul Getty III’s kidnapping makes for fascinating, and sometimes remarkable, watching. That two versions of the story were released within months of each other, well that is perhaps even more remarkable.
Some more theatre reviews from the online site I write for - takes them forever to publish them. The PR companies who are kind enough to give me free passes have complained. But at any rate here they are - would write more about it now, but here are the links with the copy afterwards ....
"Walk On The Moon"
It’s been almost fifty years since Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. Those heady summer days of 1969—Woodstock, Vietnam, protests, Nixon, and the first human landing and walk on the moon—still reverberate today. Especially in San Francisco, with last summer's 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love still being milked for nostalgic value as well as commercial profit. ACT’s latest musical, A Walk on the Moon, directed by Sheryl Kaller, music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman, with book by Pamela Gray, has been adapted from Gray’s script for the 1999 film of the same name. The musical sticks to the script, creating a nostalgic look at the late ‘60s and one woman’s (Kate Brayben as Pearl) realization of long-suborned sexual yearning, her breaking of tradition and rebelling against the family, and the eventual decision she must make, between reverting to the norm, or breaking away an exploring a different universe of adventure and love. Hence the title, as the song “Walking On The Moon” and other tunes from the show highlight, all in the context of a family vacation at a Jewish family summer camp in the Catskills in July and August of 1969, near Max Yasgut’s farm, the site of Woodstock. When the festival happens, it trips the light fantastic for Pearl, the housewife in question, as well as for other characters, throwing the camp into an uproar.
All the right elements are at work in the production. The cast is excellent, particularly Brayben, her character torn between a dull marriage to her over-worked, conventional and chauvinistic husband (Marty, played by Jonah Platt) and her attraction to the almost stereotypical “free love” hippie (and traveling blouse salesman in a van) Walker, played by Zak Resnick. Brigid O’Brien shines as Alison, Pearl’s rebellious daughter who also yearns for an alternative, as does Kerry O'Malley as Lillian, Pearl’s mother-in-law, who divines trouble in the making. Three generations of women give voice to their desires and frustrations, opening up a generation conflict. Other characters including Rhoda (Monique Hafen) as friends of Marty and Pearl lend to the local color of the summer camp—references to latkes and knishes abound, and the camp loudspeaker chips in as well. Feminist musical, 60’s sexual awakening tale, 50’s Jewish doo-wop, a cautionary tale on male chauvinism: A Walk On The Moon brings all these elements into the mix, with mixed results.
These various components never really gel. It almost feels as though this is painting by numbers. All the right elements are here: emotional solos highlighting the housewife’s dilemma, check. The weary wisdom of the mother-in-law, check. Adolescent angst and the Age of Aquarius, check. Male chauvinism, check. Catskills Jewish humor, check. The score and lyrics, by Paul Scott Goodman, serve the occasion, but rarely stand out. The book, with these different aims in mind, errs on entertaining with local color, while Pearl’s journey often feels underserviced, resulting in one-dimensional male characters (except for Walker), and a story that clicks on by without really engaging the audience. However, production values are outstanding: the lush forest and homey cabins of the camp, with a moon and stars of many moods and shades in the background, almost steal the show (designed by Donyale Werle). Similarly, Tal Yarden has designed excellent projections by Tal Yarden. Shifting stars, the vibrant moon, the psychedelic festival, scrims that descend for more projections: the light show stands out. And herein lies the problem: when the stage design and light show steal the show, Houston, we have a problem.
"A Lesson From Aloes"
Apartheid and succulents might seem like odd bedfellows, but centuries of racial oppression and violence can make metaphors reverberate. Athol Fugard’s 1980 three-character drama, A Lesson From Aloes, now playing through June 29th at San Francisco’s Z Below in the Mission, provides a searing view into how politics and race can inject suspicion, fear and madness into our lives. As a piece of theatre, it’s a must see, relating not just to South Africa and its horrible history of apartheid, but to the same deeply ingrained racial injustice which plagues our country.
Perhaps no playwright since Strindberg or O’Neill has mastered the craft and art of turning the single-set play, with a minimum of characters, into a pressure-cooker. In the two-act A Lesson From Aloes, Piet Bezuidenhout, a retired Afrikaner bus driver who now devotes his time to collecting and tending aloes, and his wife Gladys (played by Victor Talmadge and Wendy vanden Heuvel respectively) live in a simple home on the edge of Port Elizabeth, a mixed-race community where many of Fugard’s works transpire. They’ve prepared an outdoor buffet for guests, Steve Roberts and his family. Roberts, a black friend of Piet’s, recently released from jail, was imprisoned for anti-apartheid activities with Piet and others. Barred from working in his profession as a brick-layer, Steve decides to obtain a one-way exit pass for the family and emigrate to the UK. Arriving late, Steve arrives solo with a score to settle, as the friendless Piet is suspected of being an informer—a belief shared by Gladys, who suffers her own trauma. When the Security Branch seized Steve, they also searched the Bezuidenhout residence, rifling through and seizing Gladys’ diary. In Glady’s mind, her ensuing breakdown and hospitalization result directly from his culpability in the crimes of the state.
Adrian Roberts as Steve and Victor Talmadge as Piet in A Lesson From Aloes at Z Below in San FranciscoAn aloe that Piet tends to serves as a critical metaphor in the play. Tough and spiny, able to survive in the parched South African veldt just as people do, Piet cannot fit its identity into the known species. People’s racial make-up was clearly demarcated under apartheid, just as all species of the aloe genus were. But this aloe’s identity, like those of the three characters in A Lesson From Aloes, eludes easy identification. Like these prickly plants, Steve, Piet and Gladys each have their own roots—background and memories—which they draw upon to survive the rough times, with decidedly different trajectories and outcomes. But in the end—especially in the tumultuous second act when Steve arrives—the central conflict remains. Did Piet really inform on Steve? Is Piet the cause of Gladys’ madness? And what will become of Steve and family in exile?
Director Near has shaped a compelling show, with excellent performances from all three actors. Scenic design by Deb O fashions a comfy modest bungalow terrace with assorted patio furniture and plenty of aloes, a partially visible bedroom stage-left, and a scrim behind a cinder-block wall, showing the slowly changing afternoon and evening skies, marred only by a few wrinkled in the scrim and some rather abrupt lighting changes. Talmadge gives a controlled performance as a man who has invested himself in a cause, given his all, only to come out at the end as a suspect and a failure. Vanden Heuvel’s turn as the neurotic and scarred Gladys (shades of Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night ), like Talmadge and Roberts, reveals layers of psychological complexity, years of doubt and perseverance turned, in her case, into something like personal nihilism. And Roberts provides a jolt in more ways than one when he arrives: the subaltern come to confront his past, before leaving for a new future. One senses that the three actors are still finding the moments in and rhythms of the production: from my point of view, they are just inches away from providing Bay Area audiences with one of the most enthralling and intense shows of the year. This is a show that cannot be missed as theatre that matters, a production that bravely explores the human heart, on issues of race, prejudice, violence and oppression that matter now just as much as ever—if not more.
One of the better shows to hit the small screen in the past few seasons was "The Terror", a ten-episode gripper of a series on AMC. I'm not usually a fan of horror movies/series, finding them unintentionally comic usually, but "The Terror" has all the right atmospherics and meticulous plotting and context to weave "the terror" into the story in a believable fashion. Taken from the novel of the same name, and based on the historical expedition by John Franklin in the late 1840s in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. Navigators believed, at the time and incorrectly, that there must be an open waterway passage around the top of North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific that would enable easier travel between the two waterways. Franklin's was not the first attempt, but it is the most famous, or rather infamous attempt, as the two ships (Erebus and The Terror, captained by John Franklin and Francis Crozier) disappeared, with all hands vanishing as well. Attempts to find the ships failed, and it was only in the past few years that the ships were found, at the bottom of Terror Bay (no relation to the ship nor series) in Nunavut, intact, somewhat south of where they were believed to have been stuck in ice. Remains of various sailors had been located over the years, indicating that the ships sailors, after two years (!!) stuck in the ice, made a break for the south, hoping to reach human habitation - the nearest being Fort Resolution on the Great Slave Lake, probably 700 miles to the south - a tall order.
So without giving away any details, things do not go as planned, not even close. The sailors have had some contact with the local Inuit tribe(s), and like most interactions in colonial North America with the British and Americans (later), it winds up with dead Inuit. They came in peace, but certain factions within the two ships fear the natives. A lone woman Inuit winds up as a hostage aboard the ships, where among the few who respect her are Captain Crozier (played by a superb Jared Harris, the real star of the series, who is making the portrayal of truculent, tough but empathetic sea captains something of a specialty), who speaks the local tongue, and Doctor Goodsir (well played with a winsome sincerity by Paul Ready). Due to the white man;s violation of the Inuit's home, and of nature perhaps, the "terror" - a supernatural beast called Tuunbaq - is release, and terrorizes the crews, picking them off one by one, and rampaging through the ice camps.
The cast is excellent, especially Harris, the captain who knows more about the Arctic than his superior Franklin does, and tries to mend the factions within the survivors who head south. Tobias Menzies as the flawed, lead-poisoned Commander James Fitzsimmons is also excellent, as is Ciaran Hinds as the pompous yet oh-so-very British (meaning polite without being personable) Franklin, whose dunder-headed command of the expedition serves as a prelude to later British explorers whose poor judgement lead to death (Scott in the Antarctic, among others). Hinds also has a slightly haunted look that fits the role, the look of a man who while acting with the utter self assurance of the British upper classes, has a gnawing suspicion that he might just be making a colossal cluster fuck of the whole situation.
As mentioned, not really into horror movies, and the threat of the "terror" in the series remains most effective the longer it remains unseen. Another detriment, small, is that it never looks all that cold. Having spent five winters myself in Northern Central Asia, and dealing with minus 40 degree temps, its just not that convincing, although all other aspects of set, costume and atmosphere are superb. And that is what makes "The Terror" vital viewing: through detail, dialogue, rich characters, we as viewers live the grim reality facing these men, out of their depth many of them, facing an external "terror" which, in a Conradian vein, is merely a doppleganger for the terror that lurks in the heart of men - especially those who go around the world as would-be colonizers. Don't miss it
Here's my review of her latest effort "Father Comes Home From the Wars" at ACT.
She spent a week here in SF, and gave a couple of classes. Guess where? Stanford of course. So often when artists come to the Bay Area, and claim to be progressives and interested in social justice, where do they end up giving courses? The most elitist and most conservative institution of higher learning in the Bay Area. Just like Anna Deveare Smith. There's no shortage of other schools that serve learners from communities that are under-represented, under-served, and often lack access to education. Stanford is not one of them.
A link to my online review of "Head Over Heels" at the Curran Theatre here in SF.
A good show, but with some issues to address before it heads east ....
Here's a link to my online review of the Cirque's latest show "Crystal," which I saw at the SAP Center in San Jose a couple of weeks ago.
... the major TV and internet content providers (such a clumsy descriptor, but it fits the current vanilla style popular in tech) are making films or series, I thought it odd that one of the oldest, and most prominent, is yet to enter the fray.
Yes, I am talking about CSPAN.
Where are their movies and series?
I can just see it "Ten Memorable Senate Filibusters", "Great Moments in Tax Legislation", "Ted Cruze's Creepiest Moments" - with Cruze being played by Billy Baldwin, and finally, a re-enactment of Nancy Pelosi's 8 hours-long speech on immigration. We'd let Ashley Judd don a "blonde" wig and give her a shot at proving her political instincts and rhetorical skills.
Of course, then there's always the endless rumors, exposes, and resignations all stemming from sexual harassment and sexual impropriety, but I will leave that to minds more prurient than mine ... of which there may not be many.
My review of Hershey Felder's one-man show on the great Russian composer, in which Felder portrays Tchaikovsky and plays piano as well.
My review of "The Birthday Party," Harold Pinter's 1957 play about enigmatic and dangerous visitors to a sleepy seaside boarding house , somewhere in England. Carey Perloff's last directorial appearance with ACT, at least as artistic director.