December 18, 2017

Get Out, a movie on HBO GO

Twenty-somethings at a recent party were all raving about a strange and engrossing movie called Get Out. Written and directed by Jordan Peele (of the comedy team Keegan and Peele), a bi-racial couple, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allisonn Williams) visit her white and very strange parents who live in a bucolic and privileged enclave.

The Armitage family employ black servants who act like automatons. Things get even weirder as people show up for an annual party on the estate. Catherine Keener plays the therapist mother who may have hypnotized boyfriend Chris. Her husband is actor Bradley Whitford playing the forceful and phony suburbanite Dean Armitage.

My favorite character is TSA agent, Rod Williams (actor Lil Rel Hower) who is Chris’ friend and phone advisor as he encounters these unsettling events.

You will find yourself laughing and pulled along by the off-beat storyline, but make no mistake, the movie is exploring some brutally honest and horrifying concepts in our history and culture.

We still need Peele to be funny as a comedian, but here’s hoping that this is the first of his many films that allow him to visit the dark side. Pun intended. We will all be challenged and wiser for it.

If you don’t have HBO GO, you can purchase the movie at iTunes, Amazon Instant Video or YouTube.

Bladerunner 2049, currently in movie theaters

Rocket ahead 35 years and Blade Runner 2049 gives an update of the iconic 1982 Blade Runner movie. This is no remake but a continuation of the story with Harrison Ford playing a very agile senior citizen on the lam along with cameos by Edward James Olmos and an electronically-created Sean Young who were both in the original. The 1982 director, Ridley Scott is on board as one of this project’s executive directors, too.

Make no mistake, this movie is a different animal with French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve at the helm, and Ryan Gosling is the errant-replicant hunter.  The cinematography is stunning, the score uses industrial-type noise in a symphonic manner and the story line is clear. I enjoyed the experience although the almost 3 hour film could have been shortened by at least 20 minutes. My husband was hugely disappointed however, having been a big fan of the original film.

True, the vivid characters created by Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah in the 1982 movie have no equals in this new take on the dystopian world created by author Philip K. Dick. Unfortunately, Robin Wright and Jared Leto, excellent actors both, do not have roles in this film that allow them to give similarly indelible performances.

Still and all, if you like the neo-noir science fiction genre and have any affection for the 1982 Blade Runner production, you could do worse than to choose Blade Runner 2049 as a movie option.  On the flip side, my husband would have preferred to have stayed home.

Please let me know your thoughts if you catch this film, but be forewarned that a small screen will not do this film justice. I did not have the benefit of a 3-D version but you may want to find a theater that gives you that option.

Let’s hope this is NOT what our world looks like at mid-21st century!

Davis Theater in Chicago’s Lincoln Square

I had heard that the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square had undergone a recent facelift but I was pleasantly surprised at how successfully the old theater was transformed. The lobby is welcoming with a display of old movie paraphernalia, a cheery concessions stand and reclining chairs with cup holders in the three different viewing rooms. Art deco touches, both new and vintage are found throughout building and the renovators uncovered the original vaulted ceiling in the main 300-seat auditorium. The sound system appeared to be much improved also, plus a wireless mike system was installed for film events and corporate rentals of the space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The addition of Carbon Arc, a bar/restaurant that is attached to the movie lobby is the biggest change. You can take food into your movie using a tray that snaps into the back of the seat in front of you. Think of an airline meal experience but with more leg room, a cushier seat and more sophisticated meal selections.

Even the bathrooms got a design redo with graphic wallpaper and a clean silver, black and white palette.

Thanks for this loving restoration go to theater owner Tom Fencl, the designers of Analogous Company, Kennedy Mann Architecture and the National Park Service which lent money on behalf of this historic landmark building. Kudos for not just tearing the building down but finding a way to modernize the operation while not destroying its connection to the past.

Non-chain movie houses and bookstores have a chance of survival if they become social venues for their communities. Davis Theater is now a lovely destination in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

https://www.davistheater.com/

Alan Jay Lerner, wordsmith

Musical Theater geeks will recognize the name Alan Jay Lerner, but the general public may ask, “Who?”
Not only did he co-write My Fair Lady which some theater aficionados consider the perfect musical theater piece, but his creative output also included Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, Gigi and Camelot, all written with composer Frederick Loewe. He won Academy Awards for writing the screenplays for An American In Paris, Gigi and a nomination for the adapted screenplay for My Fair Lady so lyrics were not his only interest.


He also had some other interesting collaborations. With Burton Lane, he created the movie musical, Royal Wedding, and the stage musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever which was recently revived on Broadway with Harry Connick, Jr. and Jessie Mueller. He and Andre Previn penned a musical, Coco about iconic fashion designer Chanel; Lolita, My Love was a written with composer, John Barry; 1600 Pennsyvalania Avenue was co-written with the revered Leonard Bernstein; composer Charles Strouse was his partner on Dance a Little Closer. Lerner also started the movie project Dr. Doolittle but was replaced with Brit Leslie Bricusse.

A little known fact is that Alan Jay Lerner was, for a time, the lyricist for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. The second act opener, Masquerade is conjectured to have an uncredited lyric by Lerner.

The celebrated librettist has two other darker claims to fame. He was a patient of Max Jacobsen, “Dr. Feelgood” and was addicted to amphetamines for 20 years. Lerner was also married 8 times and fathered four children. An ex-wife quipped, “Marriage is Alan’s way of saying goodbye.”

Still and all, every time I sing favorites like Almost Like Being In Love, On a Clear Day, On the Street Where You Live, If Ever I Would Leave You and countless other songs, I honor the brilliance of Alan Jay Lerner.

An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater

I had heard about this charming musical ever since it premiered on Broadway to great acclaim in 2015, so it was with great anticipation that I caught this national tour version of An American In Paris.

The production has several things going for it. Ballet sequences are breath-taking as conceived by director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.  George Gershwin’s music provides the lush soundtrack for the whole show. Not only do we hear permutations of his famous An American In Paris orchestral work, but we are treated to portions of his classical Second Prelude, his Concerto in F, his Second Rhapsody and his Cuban Overture. Beloved songs like I Got Rhythm and The Man I Love are sung by cast members, but lesser known tunes like Fidgety Feet, Who Cares and Liza shed new light on Gershwin’s song catalogue.
The technical aspects of the show dazzle with creative use of screen images on the electronic back drop and moving screens. Parisian buildings, paintings and other famous sights delight the eye throughout the show. A recurring view of the river Seine is most amusing as two boats are depicted by different artistic techniques.

The plot harkens back to the basic romantic formula found in black and white movies. Three men who are friends are all in love with the same ballerina. Boy and boy and boy meet girl. Only one boy gets girl.

The action takes place in Paris right after World War II in 1945 so the frothy doings are sprinkled with references to the German Occupation, the Resistance, and the Holocaust making this a work of both light and dark.

For me the orchestral music, the dance sequences, the stage images and Craig Lucas’ snappy dialogue outshine the singing, but this is a quibble when the over-all effect of the production is to know that one has spent a delightful evening at the theater.  Broadway In Chicago will be running An American In Paris at the Oriental Theater through August 13, 2017.

http://www.broadwayinchicago.com/show/an-american-in-paris/

Lady Gaga’s jazz, musical theater and piano chops

Lady Gaga turns 31 this week.
Is there anything Lady Gaga can’t do?  She has burned up the pop charts with her contemporary songs, worn meat as a costume, recorded standards with Tony Bennett, credibly sung a Sound of Music medley at the Oscars, and played an intriguing role on FX TV’s America Horror Story.

For my purposes, I wanted to know more about her jazz and musical theater inclinations.

Gaga’s dad, Joe Germanotta said she won a jazz vocal competition in her mid-teens and cut her vocal teeth in that genre.  A few short years later, she was enrolled at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts before dropping out to follow her own musical muses.  If you can believe it, she was dropped by Def Jam Recordings. She then worked as a songwriter for Sony/ATV Music Publishing before finding her groove as a performer and visual artist, with hair, makeup and clothing being her personal canvas.

She also plays the piano. And we mean pianos and keyboards of all types. Some look like space ships, one is filled with plastic bubbles, with still others covered in butterflies or veritable gardens. I particularly admire the keyboards that look like a motorcycle or a giant shoe, not to mention the piano that looks like a 20- foot spindly-legged creature or the one that is literally on fire!

Enter Tony Bennett. With their duet recording, Cheek To Cheek, Bennett and Lady Gaga both broke some impressive records. The project won a a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album and debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200. Bennett became the oldest person to reach number one on the charts, and Lady Gaga became the first female artist to achieve three number one hit albums in the 2010 decade. While on a music road trip, I carefully listened to every track and had to admit, this gal has vocal chops, knows how to put across a lyric and she swings.

Gaga makes the occasional appearance, both announced and not, to sing jazz and pop standards. Type Lady Gaga into a search engine with the song titles Someone To Watch Over Me, Orange-Colored Sky, Imagine and You’ve Got a Friend, and enjoy these and other clips on youtube.

Now word comes out that she is slated to be the lead in Bradley Cooper’s movie remake of A Star Is Born, the iconic story previously featuring Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. I wouldn’t be surprised if, down the road, she was announced as the lead in Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera House. You go, Gaga!

La La Land: Oscar-worthy

I finally had the opportunity to see La La Land this past week. In short, I was delighted from start to finish. Imagine my surprise when the two men who accompanied me to the cinema proclaimed this to be “a terrible movie” and “boring,” respectively.
Another friend disliked the opening sequence with a traffic jam resulting in people getting out of their cars and singing and dancing.
As for me, I loved the opening for quickly putting the viewer into the world of Hollywood where every other person seems to be grasping for a toe hold into the world of entertainment. Although they may get to sing, dance, act, write, direct or design for TV and movies, all of these people have to keep on scrambling to pay bills and keep their cars running. The scene also has the principal characters “meeting cute” with an angry flipped finger at one another.

The use of bright colors throughout the movie whether it be with clothing, furniture, signage or scenery absolutely delighted my eyes. The score was tuneful and lyrics well-crafted. The song “City of Stars” is still going through my head. The orchestration found so many different ways of presenting the simple but potent melodies. The script dialogue is reminiscent of the rapid bantering of 1930’s screwball comedies.

Now a word about the stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. She can actually sing pretty expressively. Gosling’s singing is serviceable, but I was really impressed with his ability to simulate playing the piano really well. He reportedly sang and played piano, guitar, bass and cello in a group in 2009 so he came to the film with some musical skills. His dancing is pretty impressive, too, especially since he is six feet tall and gracefully manages his long legs. Stone and Gosling were cast for their box office names and their acting chops, but their musical and dancing skills are most entertaining.

One of the men who dissed the movie did sheepishly note the large number of Oscar nominations for this “terrible movie.” Let me compare this to the political climate. We definitely see the world through our own filters, be it for movie-watching or political opinions. Some of us just have better taste!

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in Bright Lights Doc on HBO

If you love Hollywood lore, the documentary Bright Lights featuring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds will touch you deeply.
Originally scheduled to be released in March 2017 on HBO, the project directed by Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom was sped up and released on Jan. 7, 2017 to coincide with the day-apart deaths of the famous mother and daughter.
In the footage, Reynolds appears to be a celebrity mother who was aware of the effect of her career on that of her children. Her relationship with daughter Carrie is warm and caring as you see them living next to one another in the same compound. Fisher demonstrates her incisive wit, her eclectic decorating taste and surprisingly good vocal skills. Her brother Todd also comes off as a good guy and proud of his mother. You just may laugh, cry and smile while watching this gentle slice of life program about two ladies who are part of cinema history.

A Man Called Ove Book

Every so often a book strikes a universal chord and becomes a world-wide hit. Such is the case with Fredrik Backman’s charming novel, A Man Called Ove. The prose is anything but dense with child-like chapter headings but the themes running throughout the book run the gamut from marriage, suicide and aging with characters whom are disabled, gay, obese, depressed, pregnant and senile. One alternates between chuckling and feeling a lump in one’s throat.

Come to think of it, everyone must know a cranky older man who has a secret heart of gold which is perhaps why this short Swedish novel has been so popular.

The Swedish movie version was released this fall starring Rolf Lasgard who has been seen in the TV show Sebastian Bergman. The movie reviews have been generally positive and the film is still available in movie theaters this December 2016. Reading the book first may be my recommendation. Skal!

Apple TV Generation 4

I finally bought a flat screen Samsung Smart television after quelling family resistance to installing something new.  Yet, nostalgia has kept us from wheeling the old tube tv to the dumpster.

I must admit that television is now a much more vivid and engaging experience which is a bit of good thing, but with its dark side, too. Binge-watching is a little too easy. Especially with Siri.

Did I mention that I also bought the Generation 4 version of Apple TV?  The system is now voice-activated with Siri being all too happy to find your selected program, especially if it means buying it from itunes. She is quite the sales clerk.

The only real set-up needed is to download free and paid apps for anything you may want to watch. For example, PBS and CNN apps were free; the MHZ Choice, Netflix and HBO Now apps simply connected to my existing paid-monthly accounts.

The remote-control allows you to swipe to make selections, hold down a button to summon Siri or punch Menu which takes you back to your previous page view.

A nice feature is your iCloud photo gallery can be run as a slideshow on your tv screen. I’m still discovering ways to use Apple TV, but Siri alone has revolutionized how I watch television.  Imagine being able to talk to all of your appliances?

Apple, please come up with an equivalent to Amazon’s Echo so I can tell Siri to turn my lights on, lower my heat, switch off my oven or set my alarm clock. And then put Siri into a robot that can do my laundry while I watch my Apple TV.