Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

Arts

10/21/2016

'Front Page' on Broadway with Nathan Lane: No need for rewrite!

Arts1

NEW YORK — He had the advantage of the John the Baptist that is Robert Morse and, in his wily partner John Slattery, the oldest, driest and most cynically unlikely Hildy Johnson that ever snagged a scoop. But at the Broadhurst Theatre on Thursday night, America's master farceur grabbed Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's creaking, dramatic homage to the beleaguered but indomitable craft and calling of Chicago newspapering by the scruff of its scraggly 1928 neck. And — nearly a century on — Nathan Lane declared it to still be beautiful.

Appearing at around the same time as the shark appears in "Jaws," Lane's Walter Burns roared through the door of this thinly veiled version of Chicago's former City News Bureau (the former Criminal Courts Building is lovingly recreated by designer Douglas W. Schmidt). And, for one near-perfect third act of the old farcical school under the direction of Jack O'Brien, he delivered a sublimely funny tour de force that would have had everyone rolling in the aisles were it not shot through with enough emotional resonance for any ink-stained wretch to sweat bullet points over what once churned in Chicago, and now has been torn up, sheet by sheet.

Thankfully, a few characters remain, none more likely to go down with the boring bean counters than Burns. He is the editor who answers a writer asking how many words he wants for a big story that he wants every last darn word he's got if the story's an exclusive. He is the Chicago editor every Chicago writer wants but never gets.

"The Front Page" is perhaps the only play ever penned for Broadway where New York is where you go to die.

For a newspaperman with equal parts newsgathering and fictional writing skills, a deliciously timeless pairing, happiness lies only in Chicago. For this great old Chicago play is not about making it there or anywhere, really, but about loving what you do alongside the crazy people with whom you do it. For these Chicago newspapermen, working at The New York Times is intolerable. It's too much like "working in a bank." Plus ca change.

You could not possibly write such a play about journalism now, not when ledes are crafted in silence on laptops. But in 1928, reporters barked copy into telephones on their desks, calling up those semi-mythical rewrite men (and they were all white men), which serves the needs of the theater perfectly.

In truth, MacArthur and Hecht also spend a...


Nathan Lane can only try to save ‘Front Page': theater review

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Stop the presses: Nathan Lane saves the day — and the play — again.

Broadway’s famous comic ace is in his glory in “The Front Page” at theBroadhurst Theatre, playing the dogged tabloid editor Walter Burns. Like a shot of adrenaline laced with laughing gas, Lane jolts the lopsided and longwinded 1928 chestnut wide awake.

The only thing wrong with Lane’s performance, which comes with his signature shtick, is that he doesn’t arrive earlier in Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s classic comedy of Chicago newsmen, politics and a killer on the loose.

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For the play’s first hour and 45 minutes, a supporting cast of comic pros who portray hard-boiled reporters are mired in mostly expositional banter that goes in circles and stalls.

Lane’s performance is the highlight of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s comedy of Chicago newsmen, politics and a killer on the loose.

John Goodman fares no better as a shifty sheriff and basically just relies on a high-pitched voice that’s half as amusing as it’s meant to be.

Three standouts are Micah Stock, who plays a dim-witted cop, Jefferson Mays, as a germophobic reporter and Broadway veteran Robert Morse, who delights as a bedraggled process service who holds the key to the play’s finale.

John Slattery isn’t ideally cast as ace reporter Hildy Johnson, who’s trying to trade scoops for marriage. He gives an energetic performance, but except for an in-joke about Hildy going into advertising, his best moments come alongside Lane.

Goodman barely gets away with a funny voice throughout the show.

Director Jack O’Brien’s production is handsomely gritty and well-dressed, but only really catches fire in the third act.



07/19/2016

Ice Age: Collision Course *

Movie1

The latest installment in the cartoon franchise is lazy, forgettable and pointless

We’re five movies in, and the ‘Ice Age’ series has jumped the sloth: ‘Collision Course’ feels like it was scripted on the back of a beer mat and animated by the folks behind those straight-to-DVD Barbie movies. It’s hard to shake the suspicion that the producers looked at the dwindling quality and soaring box office of the first four films and concluded that, actually, they didn’t need to put much effort at all. 

The setup remains unchanged, focusing on the midlife struggles of three prehistoric mammals: Mannie the mammoth (voiced by Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the sabre-tooth tiger (Denis Leary, whose drastically reduced role may reflect his drastically reduced star power). In classic lazy-sitcom fashion, Mannie’s daughter (Keke Palmer) wants to get married, but dad doesn’t approve. Will he swallow his pride and come around? What do you think? 

Meanwhile, madcap weasal Buck (Simon Pegg, grating beyond belief) is convinced the world’s about to end, leading to a perfunctory road-movie plot, a series of half-hearted action scenes and Jessie J as a Cockney hippy sloth. With even the Looney Tunes-style Scrat-the-slapstick-squirrel scenes feeling tired, it’s time to put this franchise on ice for good.


Film Review: ‘Ice Age: Collision Course’

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The long-running series returns to form with an infectious chatterbox comedy about the end of the world as we know it.

“Ice Age: Collision Course,” the breathless fifth chapter in what has become the most die-hard franchise in the history of digital animation, kicks off with a cheeky but spectacular prologue in which Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel, accidentally creates the solar system. He’s sitting in a frozen wasteland, in pursuit of — what else? — the acorn that’s forever destined to squirt out of his clutches. Only now that precious nut gets wedged into a control lever… that operates a flying saucer… that’s been frozen inside a glacier. The sequence that follows might be described as Terrence Malick meets Tex Avery: When Scrat hits that lever and liberates the alien ship, it shoots off into space and causes a chain reaction that knocks apart the planets like billiard balls, in much the same way that Scrat split the continents apart in the 2010 short “Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up.”

Scrat has been there, of course, from the first “Ice Age” film, back in 2002. (Yes, we’ve been living with these movies since what may seem like the dawn of time.) Yet there’s something about Scrat: No matter how often we see him, his manic, starving, Tasmanian-devil energy never gets old. More than just a gnashing mascot, he’s got a hungry life force that’s primordial. With “Collision Course,” he once again becomes the guiding spirit of the “Ice Age” movies, and the result proves to be an essential course correction for the franchise. After the last two installments, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” (2009) and the all-too-aptly named “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (2012), the series was running on prehistoric fumes, but now, against all odds, it has gotten its mojo back. “Collision Course” is a cosmic comedy about facing down the end of the world as we know it. It may be a slight entertainment in the grand scheme of things, but it’s been made with a busy, nattering joy that is positively infectious. Even with animated competition from the likes of Pixar (“Finding Dory”) and Illumination (“The Secret Life of Pets”), box office prospects look solid as ice.

Back in the snowy prehistoric wilds, life has been good for our old friends: Sid the neurotic lisping ground sloth (John Leguizamo), Diego the grumpy saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary), and, of course, Manny the woolly mammoth (Ray...



06/03/2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows - review: The year's best superhero movie

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Believe it or not, the latest exploits of the pizza-loving brothers turns out to be the best superhero flick of the past few months, delivering a ninja-kick to the recent adventures of Superman, Batman and Captain America.

Bright, breezy and colourful, the bigwigs at Marvel and DC really should sit up and take note.

This time Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo are called on to save the world when their archenemy, Shredder, is sprung from custody.

With the scheming samurai teaming up with a mad scientist to open a portal to another dimension, the shelled-superheroes, plus sidekicks Splinter the rat andMegan Fox’s reporter, must band together to prevent an alien invasion of Earth.

Unlike recent comic-book adaptations, there’s a refreshing sense of fun in every scene and no end of exciting action set pieces - made all the more remarkable given the relatively tiny $70m (£48m) budget.


'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows': Tedious clunker, dude! In 3D, yet!

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"Boy, Megan Fox has gorgeous eyes. Is she wearing colored contacts?"

"I wonder what material is in the stretchy black ninja outfits the bad guys are wearing."

These are just some of the thoughts I found my mind wandering to as the deadly tedium set in during a screening of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, a subpar 3D action comedy featuring four giant motion-capture animated turtles and a raft of human costars, including the dreamy-eyed Fox, wide-shouldered Perry, a remarkably slender Will Arnett, and Laura Linney, who looks tired and uncomfortable throughout the proceedings.

A headache-inducing $135 million sequel to the 2014 blockbuster, TMNT: OOTS becomes intolerable after about 32 seconds.

The opening, a swirling, motion-sickness-inducing nightmare, has the green foursome - Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello - plunge off the top of the Empire State Building and into our faces. Then they gyrate, rotate, fly, leap, lunge, and fall - into our faces - to grab a pizza before settling inside the Madison Square Garden Jumbotron to watch a New York Knicks game.

Great - just another hour, 51 minutes and 28 seconds left to go.

The latest product (I just can't bear to call it a film) in a franchise of cartoons, video games, toys, and comic books going back to 1984, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows plunges America's beloved half-shell heroes into a new adventure.

Except that it's not new. I'd be hard-pressed to find a single line of original dialogue or single unique plot point.

Shadows opens where the first film left off: The supervillain Shredder (Brian Tee) is headed to prison after being vanquished by our heroes. But lo and behold, his army of nicely outfitted ninjas snatches him right from under the nose of handsome cop Casey Jones (Stephen Amell).

Whoa!

Shredder teams up with a mad scientist (Perry) to assemble a doomsday device that will open a portal to an alternate universe from which will emerge an even more eviler alien creature. The CGI monster looks like a big orange booger with arms, legs, and really big pointy teeth.

The first TMNT made half a billion dollars. I'm sure this one will do just as well, even though the whole predictable mess, with its absurd, explosion-fueled action and flat one-liners, feels like it's old hat from the very first frame.

 



05/05/2016

Captain America: Civil War cements Marvel's victory over Hollywood

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With great power comes great responsibility, or so says a dying Ben Parker in the 2002 filmSpider-Man. While the forever-doomed Uncle Ben was trying to instill a sense of justice in his young nephew Peter, his final words also serve as the guiding philosophy at Marvel Studios, which has been entrusted with Earth’s mightiest heroes, or at least their naming rights.

Ever since the premiere of 2008’s Iron Man, Hollywood’s most powerful players have been holding their collective breath, waiting for the Marvel powers that be to nick themselves as they furiously unwrap toy after toy from their massive intellectual property treasure chest. Yet with the exception of twoHulk misfires, the studio has defied the odds and figured out the perfect formula for a superhero blockbuster, one that’s allowed them to exploit name-brand characters (Captain America, Thor) just as easily as who’s-that-again oddities (Groot, Ant-Man).

It’s not as if Marvel has patented some unknowable cinematic algorithm. Its tried and true method is right up there on the screen each time, a refined mix of up-and-coming directors not yet commanding huge salaries (Joss Whedon, James Gunn), familiar-enough stars with backgrounds in comedy (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt), ‘splosion-heavy action that’s actually easy to follow, and a keen sense of story continuity that ensures one film’s developments affect an entire universe worth of other narratives.

Most importantly, though, Marvel knows what everyone else in the industry seems to forget: Superheroes are supposed to be fun. The reason Spidey and Nick Fury and Doctor Strange and the rest of the Avengers succeeded way back when they first debuted in comic form was because they were light, whiz-bang diversions from a real world that was often cruel and calculating. Every Marvel film has embraced that same sense of levity, expertly balanced against the varied demands of modern blockbuster cinema.

All of which makes Captain America: Civil War such a rousing success, and a stinging rebuke to Marvel’s many imitators. It might be unfair to compare this, the studio’s 13th superhero film, to something like Batman v Superman, Warner’s second, but in nearly every way Civil War represents the dizzying heights of the genre.

Where Zack Snyder’s clash of the titans was dark, malicious and crassly designed to wring maximum profit by promising...


Bored Rich Guys in Tights: Captain America: Civil War

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So our manly men in tights have consciences after all. It’s been mere months since Batman v’d Superman because of the collateral damage the Son of Krypton incurred during his city-razing smackdown with General Zod. Marvel Studios now offers a comparatively sunnier companion piece to that Goth(am)ic sturm und drang with the featherweight Captain America: Civil War, in which Chris Evans’s star-shield-wielding First Avenger finds himself at odds with several superheroic colleagues over their own destructive, if well-intentioned escapades.

The tipping point is dual: Reality-altering mystic Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) accidentally blows up several innocents during a clandestine mission abroad to capture Brock Rumlow aka Crossbones (Frank Grillo). And cocky billionaire Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is confronted by the accusatory mother (Alfre Woodard, lending such raw gravitas to this corporatized silliness that it effectively unbalances all that follows) of a young man killed during the Avengers’s battle with James Spader’s Ultron in Sokovia. (You all saw that movie, right?)

And so an ideological split forms, with Cap on one side, insistent that the Avengers require absolute autonomy, and Stark on the other, resolute in his belief that an accord putting the group under the supervision of the United Nations (and William Hurt’s Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross, in particular) is the best course of action. A mysterious figure known only as Zemo (Daniel Brühl) further deepens the divide, as does the reemergence of Cap’s friend-turned-supersoldier enemy Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

But wait, there’s more! So much more, and so much of it pointless in that very Marvel Studios way. Every single serious moment is undercut by a cheap-seats witticism (or a Stan Lee cameo, here disastrously interrupting a tender moment between Stark and Don Cheadle’s Lieutenant James Rhodes aka War Machine). And every plot point lands with a pro forma thud, paving the way to that Infinity War that’s been teased since the beginning of the decade. (When all is said and done, this series will surely earn the Guinness record for longest throat-clear in cinema history.)

The company men direction by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo certainly doesn’t help matters. Dialogue scenes are pedestrian master shot/close-up assemblages; action sequences are...



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