Sunday, August 30, 2009

Julie & Julia. Or Julia & Julia. Whichever.

"Moonlight Serenade" played on the jukebox at the Cobblestone Pub about 9/10 of a mile from home. It’s been a glorious day, clear skies, hot without oppression. The Sunday domestic needfuls done, I gave myself the gift of walking the mile and change to Forest Hills to see “Julie and Julia” (whichever order).

What a delightful film. Of course Streep is perfection, I expected no less. This is just her cup of tea. And Stanley Tucci as her husband Paul – those two work so well together, I’ll see anything with the two of them. I’ve heard some disparagement of Amy Adams’ performance in comparison, but such criticism is, in my opinion, unfounded. Amy Adams does an excellent job as Julie Powell. Julie is just not as interesting as Julia. How could she be – she’s 30, a would-be writer living in NYC in the 21st century. Been there, seen that, and it's only the first decade.

Julia was in the OSS during WW2. She didn’t meet Paul in her 20s but in her 40s. She lived in Asia and Europe before she attempted to write anything. Julia was original, Julia was one of a kind. Julie thought she had something to say before she had even survived 30. I understand, I turned 30 once, too – although I enjoyed it as the beginning of a new and potentially better decade than my 20s had been, rather than a mark to dread as Julie and her friends do. Julie Powell felt unfulfilled most particularly in comparison to her bitchy, snotty, thoroughly unpleasant so-called friends from college. I mean, really, who would want to be like them. So much for college friendships.

Julie’s accomplishment of cooking out of Julia’s cookbook over one year is nothing compared to Julia’s, but that is hardly Adams’ fault. Julie is just what she is. Chris Messina as Eric Powell, is, well to me, rather unreal as Julie’s husband Eric. He’s so damned amiable, without an ounce of condescension in him. I guess the real guy meant it when he told his wife not to write about him in her blog because I don’t know who that man really was. Again though, the actor was fine. That’s the character he was given.

I felt Julie’s pain when 90 year old Julia reportedly showed no appreciation for her blog. But, really, can we even assume that Julia understood what a blog was, let alone that she read it to understand Julie’s goals? And why should she care. Still, I heard the breaking crystal inside Julie when she heard the disapproval. Adams can do that – she’s very good. Give her time. And a better role.

I’d read of Julia and Paul, and fell in love with them as a couple during this movie. Not to mention falling in love with post-war Paris in the years the Childs spent in there. Take me away!

The final credits ran by too fast for me to search out each character – thank goodness for -- but I was able to catch the name of the actor who did such a wonderful job as the phone voice of Julie’s mom: Mary Kay Place (also seen in the trailers for an upcoming Streep film). Glad to hear her.

The movie may not be deep but it’s tremendously enjoyable and a lovely way to spend two hours. I cook, but I don’t have Julia’s book. Maybe I need to pick it up. She’s even more enticing after Streep’s portrait. As for Streep: Long may she reign.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What Was the Point?

Today I saw the last performance in the Fringe NYC festival of a play called “His Greatness” by Daniel Macivor. It offers a few scenes in the later life of Tennessee Williams. It has apparently been well received – well enough to be advanced to the “Fringe NYC Encore Series” for ten more performances downtown. I missed the rest of the Fringe this year, but if this ‘play’ made the top productions, I didn’t miss much.

The 3-person show offers Peter Goldfarb an entertaining romp as a southern playwright who opened up the modern age but didn’t necessarily stay in it. Although called “The Playwright,” there’s nothing subtle in this play, so accept that we’re talking about Tennessee Williams even if the program didn’t include photos of him. His “assistant” is played by Dan Domingues, and the young man hired as an opening night escort is played by Michael Busillo. Mr. Goldfarb and Mr. Busillo appear to be in a serious play, while Mr. Domingues played the assistant in full camp style until an emotional drunk scene at the end of the first act.

Tennessee used to tell a story about why homosexuals died in hotel fires (I remember clearly a hilariously sad conversation on the Dick Cavett Show. It is likely I didn't understand much of it, but I already knew I adored Tennessee). I kept thinking there’d be something really about Tennessee, something revelatory, insightful, something that was particularly about him that would drive this play from its beginning through to a satisfactory close. I was disappointed. Nothing at the end of the play differs from the beginning of the play. The playwright, seemingly the main character, does not take a journey of discovery. He is the same sad man living on his past genius and accolades in the final scene as he was in the opening monologue. The abused assistant may or may not have made a new choice – he has, we are told, made it before. And the boy – well, he’s a pretty boy earning a living on his looks while he can, which may not be for much longer.

The actors play the scenes well and develop real connections. The actors aren’t the problem here – it’s the play. What was the playwright trying to tell us? It’s not in the script, where it belongs. If director Tom Gualtieri knew what the playwright intended to say, he has made it no clearer. All in all, I could only be glad the play ran a neat 90 minutes.

Oh, what Tennessee said was the reason homosexuals died in hotel fires – back in the day when everyone smoked, they all most certainly smoked after sex. In the hotel bed. And then fell asleep.

When Tennessee told it, it seemed funny.

"Desire Under the Elms" on B'way Spring 2009

Desire Under the Elms at the St. James Theatre .

The curtain rises revealing a boulder-strewn set. No elms. Hard surfaces. Unfriendly terrain. A dense wooden house hovers above suspended from thick ropes. A hog is draining over a tub. Two sweat- and dirt-streaked men drag a flat laden with rocks and still another boulder. They work together silently, weary, old, strong. An old iron stove rises, a kitchen table, a slighter, younger man cooks and sets the table. The inner scene of the house disappears into the floor, and the house is lowered on its thick ropes until it settles gently on the stage. The younger man comes out on the porch and clangs a harsh dinner bell. It’s fascinating. Then they start to speak.

I remember an O’Neill production I liked. It was in Swedish.

Visually pleasing as the opening is, all the actions of hard work on a hard farm (they farm rocks?) are done in silence. The act of gutting a pig is silent but for the slap of the entrails hitting the pail. When the elder brothers finally speak, they shout out to the audience. It is largely exposition in the annoying fake dialect O’Neill wrote to tell his audience, “these people are different from you and me.”

Director Robert Falls choreographed some beautiful s tory telling far from the harsh realism of O’Neill’s play. Carla Gugino’s Abby danced hers, reaching from her silent heart. Pablo Shreiber’s Eben – the production’s eye candy –did his choreography diligently, but not from the heart. Brian Dennehy as patriarch Ephraim shouted his mumbles but was physically strong, lumbering, proud, frightened, broken. The O’Neill characters are so well-drawn they’re hewn. Visually, their s tory unfolds and it’s riveting. But as soon as those sorry bastards open their mouths to shout incomprehensible dialect out to the audience, they don’t just lose me, they push me away.

Carla Gugino does not appear tiny on the small screen, and I don’t recall her appearing tiny in the Roundabout’s “After the Fall” several years back. As Abby, she looks tiny, breakable, hardly a farmwoman. Were the men all that big? Mr. Schreiber, while working on the physique required for this role in this production, should have given an elocution coach equal time to his physical trainer. Most of his speech was garbled until he spoke softly at the end of the play. Neither he nor the actors strenuously playing his brothers Peter (Boris McGiver) and Simeon (Daniel Stewart Sherman) had any vocal modulation, so nothing they said meant anything. What they did meant a great deal; these are lumbering, growling, physical beings, pounding the Earth for mere subsistence. McGiver’s Peter occasionally did little dances as he struggled to find words to express himself. Vocally, he was almost as monotone as Sherman ’s Simeon. Similarly when Dennehy finally spoke quietly and clearly (about the cows), the change in modulation made those moments work.

This is a visual presentation, operatic, grand guignol without the humor. If you want eye candy (isn’t that what television is for?), Mr. Schreiber and Ms. Gugino provide it.

Quibbling note – the play is supposed to take place in New England in the 1850s. Carla Gugino’s Abby was not dressed as a woman of the mid 19th century would be dressed. And this did not appear to be New England . And there weren’t any elms. Unless they’d been chopped down to make that looming house.

If only they didn’t speak (and for this production that means shout for every actor, even Gugino), I don’t mind the predictable story . If only.

-- MM

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why a Blog?

  1. I’m hoping writing more consistently to make entries into this blog at least three times a week will kick-start an addiction so the writing habit will include working on (to completion of an entire first draft by Spring 2010) my long-awaited mystery novel.
  2. I read an article that recommended blogging for young professionals as a way of presenting their capabilities and credentials, presuming the blogs have something serious to say about their profession and industry. I’m not young enough for that to help me get a job. In fact, I’m so old I’m terrified of looking for a new one if/when I join the ranks of the laid off, the downsized in order to make the firm ‘right sized.’ Blogging will not help me get another job in and of itself, but perhaps it’ll make me think outside of my job, outside the box, about the rest of the world so I can find yet another ‘career.’ Or just a job.
  3. Why are there old play and film reviews on this blog? Because I wasn’t doing a blog when I wrote them, yet I wrote them for friends. I decided that waste is not healthy.
  4. What I love about the concept of blogging is that it can (or I can make it) force me to acknowledge all my scribblings, edit them in the cold light of day, and make believe that all the time I spent writing in bars was not a waste – and you know how I feel about waste.
  5. I have been working hard, working well, but without passion because I have none for my job, or the industry I’ve been in for 17 years. Trying to work my way back to my life, I employ this blog as a stepping stone. Which brings me to:

    Thoughts resembling a Mission Statement:
    To what do I wish to step?
  • My Self that I left behind years ago for the sake of safety – ie., regular paychecks and medical insurance.
  • My work, that I left in an immature stage of development, as an actor, a director, and a writer.
  • The courage that I once had.

Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch….

Thanks for stopping by,
Molly Matera
August 2009

Harry Potter movies lag behind the books. Quel surprise.

This is from 9August2009. Sorry, I’m on computer over 10 hours a day five days a week, so I don’t always log on in my off time – as I warned the friends who repeatedly invited me onto Facebook. Unfortunately, where I work there will never be a Wallace Stevens writing poetry in his desk drawer (soon there won’t even be desk drawers); there’s just a firewall on the computer to block everything I’d rather be doing than working.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is fun. That is not to say good. That is not to say faithful to the book. Nevertheless, the ending did to me just what it was supposed to do. Yes, I’m a weeper. If the movie didn’t get me at those penultimate scenes, no one would have been doing their jobs – including me as viewer with an imagination. Knowing what’s coming from the books – or even from the way the movie is set up (any movie) doesn’t make the shock less affecting. So I cried as is proper when [spoiler alert for those who have not read the book or seen the movie] Dumbledore died. No worries on that score.

Disappointments: Plenty. Including the utter lack of clarity about the Phoenix. Dumbledore’s Phoenix was a fixture and embodied a feeling. At the end of the film, its presence and departure can only be surmised by those who read the book. And we’re disappointed. Those who haven’t read the book haven’t a clue. And that’s a great loss of such a marvelous symbol. It really irked me.

A friend of mine mentioned missing Richard Harris particularly in this film – and he was right on the mark. I’ve always liked Michael Gambon as an actor and understand how difficult it must be for him to take on this beloved character after Harris’ death. This film in particular shows what this intellectually adept actor lacked: Richard Harris’ heart. We LOVED Harris’ Dumbledore. We respect Gambon’s.

TomFelton as Draco was fabulous, he’s growing up well – Felton, that is, not Draco. He’s not really growing up at all, just getting taller.

Alan Rickman was underused as were Gemma Jones and Maggie Smith.

Why, you ask? Because this film is more concerned with teenage and ’tweener love than with the saga of the past six films. Young love (as well as ‘not-love-but-spells’) is important here, but should not negate the rest of the story elements. The filmmakers negated those by leaving them out and adding extraneous scenes outside of the time arc of the series. Are they bored with the magic? Are they bored with the Weasleys?

Anyone who’s bored with Weasleys has no business participating in a film version of a Harry Potter book.

Daniel Radcliff does a very good drunk scene when he drinks the luck potion, but those early scenes in the pub made me want to be in one. I yearned for a pub more as the film went on.

What was lacking in this film: It ran 2.5 hours but seemed to skip over any storytelling that would build tension in favor of splashing emotional mishaps (and their numerous comedic moments) across the screen -- of all those cute kids growing all too blatantly to adulthood. Ron is funny as ever, but Hermione and Ginny seem like tweeners, still children. Ginny is a tall tweener and seems younger than her character ought in comparison to the others. The Weasleys are given short shrift in their manufactured domestic tragedy instead of their real one (“real” meaning the one in the book). The portrayal of the sad remainder of the Order of the Phoenix couldn’t even show us the gaping hole left by Sirius’ death -- all these building blocks were missing from this film, so how will the story be accomplished in the next. With its mighty obvious cliffhanger ending, this film is incomplete without whatever will follow.

In essence, this film makes me want to re-read the books for the real story, and the pictures JK Rowling allowed my brain to paint. So I will.

− MM, turning off the computer, but not the light − I have reading to do.

Friday, August 21, 2009

District 9: Warning -- This summer movie may induce thought.

On the 90-degree afternoon on which I saw District 9, the first three trailers were all about violence. What were they? The first was something about god being pissed off with us again and sending angels to exterminate the human race. Angels do not appear to be very nice. Lots of violence. Second was…. What? Violence. Violence sells, but I can't even remember what the second and third trailers were about a few hours later, so I propose that the adverts didn’t work.
District 9 runs under two hours and includes plenty of violence. But there’s a story here. A thoughtful story played so realistically I almost believe there’s a concentration camp for extraterrestrials two hundred miles or so south of Johannesburg. Here are 9 points about “District 9.”

  1. The story follows, in largely documentary style, Wikus Van De Merwe, a terribly ordinary employee of a private company, Multi-National United (“MNU”), doing government work by dealing with the aliens whose mother ship came to a hovering halt above Johannesburg over twenty years earlier. Wikus’ assignment: To oversee the removal of the alien residents of the ghetto designated ‘District 9’ inside Johannesburg, far away to a larger compound hidden from public view. As played by Sharlto Copley, Wikus is the perfect patsy for whatever may (and doubtless will) go wrong. He’s in over his head, but determined to prove himself to the person who gave him the assignment -- his father-in-law, a major player in MNU, played by a chilling Piet Smith.
  2. “District 9” is what science fiction is supposed to be. Science fiction has a not terribly long but honorable history of telling stories about our own society disguised as another. The science fiction conceit here is a first encounter with an alien race in our own back yard and how we respond. Had this taken place in the U.S., you can be sure we would have nuked the damn thing and killed ourselves – some quickly, some slowly, but all of us – in the process. Then we would have bemoaned our hapless fate, instead of examining how we got there. The South Africans portrayed chose a different course, and that allows us to deeply examine the human response.
  3. We follow Wikus into the field where he and his colleagues knock on shack doors to ask the alien residents to sign a legal document acknowledging they’ve been given 24 hours notice of their eviction to the far off tent city, District 10. The aliens communicate with clicks, subtitled for the audience’s understanding. It is perfectly clear the humans do not understand them, however. Neither do the humans see the absurdity of asking a claw-handed alien to sign a legal waiver. Only one alien clicks back in understanding of the form, and even the law. The humans have named him ‘Christopher Johnson.’ The filmmakers do this throughout, showing humans arrogantly expecting aliens to understand and respect their bureaucracies. It’s hilarious.
  4. Everyone in a leadership position – that is, someone who can give orders to other humans and expect them to be obeyed – is white. Any human can order about and abuse the aliens – called prawns because, yes, they do look like prawns. Eating shrimp or any other crustaceans will be impossible for this reviewer for some time. Initially the aliens are difficult to look at for the squeamish. Little by little though, we see more. The fragments of clothing, the frightened eyes, the different stances clearly denoting near-human emotional responses to the situation at hand. And the design and execution are brilliant.
  5. Special effects: Wow. ‘Transformers 2’ (and some say the first as well) is visually cluttered, and no size screen can define the combatants. With no one to root for amid the unidentified machine parts, ‘Transformer’ films are just noise and consequently dull. This film has machines, some of which move like robots, all of which are clearly defined, their actions are easy to discern, and you know who’s on what’s side and vice versa. [Spoiler alert: When Wikus climbs into the Nigerians’ stolen machine, almost an homage to Ripley, the audience roars its approval. I sat stunned at the human-like movements and the heartbreaking – wait, that’s too much spoiler.] Suffice it to say, this film has some of the best CGI I’ve seen this year – and yet it cost so little to make that it’s already earned back its costs. How does that make sense, Hollywood?
  6. The film is full of metaphor and symbolism, especially since it’s South African. The offensive commercials hearkening back to our own Civil Rights era are even more poignant in terms of a country with such a recent end to Apartheid. The black soldiers still follow white administrators’ commands, the criminal gang profiteering in the ghetto are Nigerians with old religious beliefs and serious attitude.
  7. For those who want story and meaning mixed in with their explosions, District 9 is for you. MNU is everywhere with mercenaries and scientists to add to the horror. Even an alien child appears to be the property of MNU with a company sticker on his head. The set design of the ghetto, of the MNU buildings, the varying residences all collude to make this feel like the documentary after which it is styled.
  8. That developed story need not interfere with the enjoyment of those who just want blood, guts, gore, barf moments, big weapons, explosions, and pink mist. The movie covers a lot of explosive ground in less than two hours. For those who need gunfire and weapons ever increasing in size and effectiveness, District 9 is for you.
  9. Finally, you won’t recognize these actors. You’ll have no preconceptions as to who’s a good guy, who’s not, who lives, who dies, just like this year’s riveting “The Hurt Locker.” I suppose that means this film may not do well in the American box office despite the explosions, but I certainly hope everyone gets to the theatres to see this one. It’s intense, funny, exciting, unexpected, and far from standard fare.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I've no idea what I'm doing. Just testing.