Friday, May 1, 2009

PaleyFest 2009

I have consistently attended the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Radio and Television) festival. In its 26th year, the PaleyFest annually celebrates achievements in television series that have aired during the past season. I was able to attend four of the 14 nights (and would have gone to more, but the tickets are $40 each.) The festival was held this year at the Arclight Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, and the venue proved to be a perfect way for the cast and creators of the shows to interact with their fans.

“True Blood”—On April 13, this HBO vampire series was honored. The creator and executive producer Alan Ball (“Six Feet Under,” “American Beauty”) was on hand to tell the audience about his vision for the show and how the next season will play out. Many members of the cast were there, including Anna Paquin (who plays telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse), Stephen Moyer (her vampire love Bill), and Nelsan Ellis (who appears on the show as the deliciously campy Lafayette.) The series is a fascinating mix of fantasy and romance, and should be the reason, aside from “Twilight,” that the public has a renewed interest in vampires. The PaleyFest attendees were treated to a sneak peek of a new series episode that won’t air until June.

“Big Love”—April 22 marked the celebration of another impressive HBO series. The polygamy drama, centered around Bill Paxton’s Mormon family man and his three wives, has garnered rave reviews over its previous three seasons. However, it was the past few episodes of this show that earned complete respect from its audience—the writers have packed so much into each episode that they revealed their storyboarded plotlines through season six have all been used up. Although Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays naïve wife Margene, was unable to attend the festival, the rest of the cast was represented. The standout entertainer was Jeanne Tripplehorn, who stars as first wife Barb (and also just appeared in HBO’s “Grey Gardens” as Jackie O.) Although her character is formal and stoic, Tripplehorn seems to be the funny lady of the cast, continually making the audience laugh at her quips. It was fun to see a cast that truly gets along with one another. Harry Dean Stanton plays Roman Grant on the show, and appeared to be a little nutty at the festival—he was constantly misunderstanding questions and yelling out mixed up answers. However, his antics only made the night more unpredictably fun.

“Fringe”—This FOX sci-fi show has gotten grief for not having a bigger audience, but its fans are truly devoted. J.J. Abrams, the creator of the show, has had an illustrious career so far, with shows like “Lost,” “Felicity” and “Alias.” It was interesting to hear the inspiration behind the show. The cast was also present, including Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv and John Noble. The best part of the night was when audience members were allowed to ask questions of the cast and creative team. The questions ranged from curiosity about the mythology behind the show to queries about character arcs in the upcoming season.

Each year the festival outdoes previous events by showcasing amazing talent both in front of the camera and behind the scenes…2009 was no exception.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Grey Gardens"

With the current state of the economy, losing one’s wealth is a relatable topic. People are now becoming increasingly familiar with living one day as the cream of the crop and living the next without access to riches. When the story of the Bouvier-Beales was first presented in the 1975 documentary “Grey Gardens,” the public became fascinated by the story of a mother and daughter related to Jackie Kennedy who were discovered to be living in squalor in the East Hamptons. Despite living in the lap of luxury throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the duo (Big and Little Edie) ultimately became a cautionary tale of money management and codependency. When a documentary crew interviewed them for a film about the Bouviers, the two were discovered in utter filth, without electricity or running water with diseased cats and raccoons roaming throughout the house. Through actual footage, the unhealthy relationship between the mother and daughter was revealed.

HBO’s interpretation of the documentary premiered last Saturday, showcasing incredible storytelling and mesmerizing performances by the two lead actresses. Jessica Lange impressively portrays Big Edie as a gregarious broad, eager to sing at local Hamptons parties and determined to marry her daughter off to a suitable beau. Lange has graciously endured hours of makeup to appear as Big Edie later in life—she genuinely looks like a woman in her 80s, down to the ragged teeth and saggy arms. Lange gives a tour-de-force performance as a woman who refuses to be a wallflower, and is so set on living life to the fullest that she barely notices when her own life has become unmanageable.

While two-time Oscar winner Lange is impressive, it is Drew Barrymore, as Little Edie, who truly steals the movie. There were industry concerns over the casting of Barrymore. She has previously been in romantic comedies, starring and producing movies like “Never Been Kissed” and “Fever Pitch.” However, the actress dove into the role and completely became the character for this project. She plays Little Edie with reverence and sympathy, displaying her highs and lows with equal respect. Barrymore even successfully conquered the accent, while forgetting her usual side-mouthed speech patterns (the actress has admitted that she took over a year of classes with a diction coach to sound like Little Edie.)

Although only in a few scenes, Jeanne Tripplehorn is amazingly subtle as Jackie Kennedy Onassis (she is already married to Ari in the scene in which she appears in.) Tripplehorn has been doing a remarkable job as Barb Henrickson on HBO’s other show “Big Love,” and she adds a quiet glamour to the other more boisterous characters in this movie.

The film is excellently written and directed by Michal Sucsy, and the dialogue contains enough saucy quips and witticisms from the two Edies to make up for the otherwise sobering account of the women. But the costuming in the film is by far the most impressive part of the production. Catherine Marie Thomas has blended together a slew of glamorous gowns from the 30s and the eccentric turbans and capes that Little Edie grows to love later in her life.

This movie is airing repeatedly over the next month on HBO—be sure to catch it for a glimpse into the lives of these captivating women.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pacific Asia Museum

In the Hindi religion, many different gods are celebrated and revered. The Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena houses some of the most inspiring artworks and eclectic exhibits in the Los Angeles vicinity, which honor this tradition along with other Asian customs. The museum is located at 46 North Los Robles Avenue, and a trip to check out the art can easily be squeezed in between shopping on Colorado Boulevard and dinner at El Paseo. Additionally, the museum is fairly inexpensive—tickets are $9 for adults and $7 for students and seniors, with free admission on the fourth Friday of every month. There are also many events offered by the museum, including lectures, yoga classes, and free family concerts.

Currently, “Discovering Ganesha: Remover of Obstacles,” will run until Sept. 20. Although the collection is very small (it fits into one small room,) there are amazing photographs depicting the Ganesha festivals in Mumbai, India. The room that houses the collection is brightly painted to go along with the colorful photographs, and there is a 30 minute movie displayed that discusses the different rituals surrounding the Ganesha festivals.
The Ganesha is an elephant figure that is a much-revered god in the Hindu religion. Annually (usually around August or September,) there is a 10-day festival honoring Ganesha called Ganesh Chaturthi. Homes in India are decorated with bright flowers, and the festival culminates in a trip to the sea where representations of the Ganesha (usually made of clay) are submerged in the water. This act is symbolic in the hopes that Ganesha will visit the following year, bringing good luck again.

Shanna Dressler captured some of the most impressive art featured in the exhibit. She was inspired by the Indian people’s dedication to Ganesha, and the faith placed in his ability to make lives better. Dressler writes in her artist statement, “Regardless of religious or cultural background, universal questions will present themselves: ‘What obstacles would you like removed from your life? What would your life look like if you removed all of the everyday obstacles related to money, relationships, career, and health? What would it be like if everyone in your community was connected to something beyond the material world that gave deep meaning and purpose to their lives?’” Most of Dressler’s prints are untitled pieces, but they all embrace the color of the festival and demonstrate the devotion and hope displayed by the people celebrating.

Another interesting exhibit is “The Samurai Re-Imagined: From Ukiyo-e to Anime” in one of the main galleries. The exhibit, which will run until Aug. 9, shows how the definition and depiction of samurais has changed and evolved over centuries. To demonstrate how the samurai has been incorporated into American culture, there are posters of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies, in which samurai violence is glorified and celebrated. The art of anime is represented by various animation cells and comic books that are extremely popular in Japan.

For more information on the museum, visit

Friday, April 3, 2009

"Frozen River"

In the film, “Frozen River,” the audience is treated to a tour-de-force performance by Academy Award-nominated actress Melissa Leo. She plays a down on her luck minimum wage worker, Ray Eddy, who struggles to cope with paying the bills. The woman will do anything to keep her two young sons from knowing how bad off they truly are. The only food in their ill equipped trailer consists of Tang and popcorn, and their dream is the hope of obtaining a doublewide—however, Ray just can’t seem to make the payments.

The opening scene of the movie shows Ray sitting outside in a disheveled robe, smoking a cigarette. Set in upstate New York, there is snow covering the lawn, and her breath comes out in puffs. Tears stream down her cheeks, and the audience learns that Ray’s husband has run off and her job at the local dollar store is hardly helping to make ends meet. The audience can fully appreciate why Ray makes tough choices throughout the film—she will do anything to keep her children safe and cared for.

While pursuing her wayward husband, who has a gambling problem, Ray crosses paths with a woman who lives on the Mohawk reservation, between New York state and Quebec. The woman, Lila Littlewolf, works as a smuggler, driving illegal immigrants across the border. Because of the money (more than Ray makes in months,) they form an unlikely crime duo. Although visually, the two women couldn’t be more different, their goals are the same—to provide for their families.

Leo’s acting in the film is superb. Her emotions are raw, and the director, Courtney Hunt, makes a wise choice to center many scenes on Leo’s expressive face. Leo’s acting is incomparable to most actresses of today (with possibly the exception of Kate Winslet who beat Leo for the Best Actress award at this year’s Oscars.) Despite Leo’s impressive acting, Misty Upham, as Lila, more than holds her own. As a woman desperately trying to pull her life together, Lila is a sympathetic character that the audience instinctively finds themselves rooting for.

The scenery is hauntingly beautiful in “Frozen River.” White snow covers everything, and the filmmaker often includes scenes of eerie quiet. The silence plays nicely with the building tension present in the movie. The two women face increasingly dangerous situations when they get more involved in the smuggling world. The audience feels as though something bad is going to happen, and the foreshadowing continues throughout much of the film. Although the movie runs about 97 minutes (relatively short by most filmmaking standards,) the audience experiences a festering feeling that the movie won’t end well for the main characters. The movie ends realistically, which helps to explain why it is so well crafted.

Hunt, who was also the screenwriter, should be commended for her incredibly moving script—she was also nominated for an Oscar for this project. Even though the movie is a tale of two downtrodden women, there is an evident feeling of triumph throughout the movie. Lila and Ray are portrayed as strong female characters who do what is necessary to protect their families. The sense of reality brought to the film by the two actresses allows for an impressive demonstration of the lengths people will go to in order to overcome adversity.

Friday, March 27, 2009

James Hueter Exhibit

Using various materials including glass, mirrors, and pencil lead, James Hueter’s art is filled with the complex layering of different elements. At a current exhibit at the Claremont Museum of Art, Hueter’s impressive works are available for everyone to observe. The museum, which has not been open for very long, is small but has enough room to showcase many of Hueter’s pieces in what has been deemed “A Retrospective.” The exhibit, which will run through May 3, displays works from Hueter from each decade, dating back to the 1950s.

Hueter is a local artist from Claremont, but his paintings and drawings are worldly and broad in range. The guest curator for the exhibit, Steve Comba, brought Hueter’s work to the museum because he was inspired by the “hybrid nature of Hueter’s work, the notorious fickleness of the art market, the focused seriousness of his pursuits, and his own modest demeanor.”

One of the most striking pieces on display is a drawing entitled “Mystic Head” from 1960. It is created entirely out of small pencil strokes. When the viewer looks closely, all they can see is tiny pencil marks, but when standing across from the painting, a face comes into sight. Hueter was drawn to the form of these ‘soft drawings’ in which the “process began as an experiment involving repetitive, vertical strokes applied with gentle pressure.” These drawings (especially his “Self Portrait” from 1990) are ghostly images that have taken form from the usage of the lead in the pencil.

At the exhibit, there are works from Hueter including sculptures, acrylic paintings on wood (like “Jeff” from 1969), landscapes in oil paintings, and an entire room filled with 55 of the sketches and drawings he completed throughout his life. The sketches include rough outlines for his wood and glass designs and watercolors. Most of the images are of naked women, faces, or landscapes.

Around the 1970s, Hueter began working on a new style, using glass to create his illustrations. Creations like “Roman Woman” done in 2003 showcase reflections from mirrors and prisms to produce interactive pieces—the viewer first sees their own reflection and then proceeds to catch sight of a woman’s face drawn in the center of the work. Hueter was “initially attracted to its color, sheen, and prismatic diffusion of light.”

The museum is in the Packing House in Claremont at 536 West First Street, with admission prices at $5 for adults and free for anyone under 18. The museum offers many deals because they hope to get the community involved in the various exhibits. The first Friday of every month is free from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. There are also Family Art Days, including the upcoming “Chalk Talks” in which children can experiment with pastels—the event has been inspired by Hueter’s works. For more information, visit

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Man on Wire"

In a beautifully filmed documentary, “Man on Wire” is a visual treat for any movie lover. The recent Academy Award winner for Best Documentary follows the story of Philippe Petit, a French tightrope walker who walked between the two World Trade Center towers in 1974. James Marsh’s film is a kind of love story about Petit’s dream to conquer the two towers in a coup that resulted in his arrest. The title of the film comes directly from the police report after he made the walk—the police didn’t know how to describe the stunt, so they just printed ‘man on wire.’

The film focuses on Petit and his team of friends from around the world who saw his determination and wanted to participate in the stunt. The story opens with Petit learning of the construction of the twin towers when he was a young boy—he was instantly drawn to the buildings and later decides it is his destiny to try and tightrope walk between them. In the early 70s, Petit falls in love with a woman named Anne, who continued to support his utterly dangerous lifestyle throughout the time period.

Petit first set up wires at the Notre Dame and in Australia and was arrested for both of the illegal acts. Despite these minor setbacks, Petit became even more obsessed with finding out how he could take on the twin towers. In this sense, the movie becomes a story of a heist—the audience is treated to the inside scoop on how Petit and his friends got past security and how they found the best way to get all of their heavy equipment to the top of the World Trade Center buildings.

With photographs and footage filmed from the 1970s (along with reenactments), Marsh is able to tell Petit’s life in a fantastical and yet realistic way. In a way of adding to the telling of the story, Marsh uses current interviews of the cast to get what happened in their own words. Thus, there are interviews with a much older Anne remembering those years of blindly following Petit and the other men recalling the many lengths they went through to pull off the event.

The best element of the film (besides the footage of the actual stunt) is the interviews with Petit himself. Although this stunt was completed decades ago, Petit still has a clearly evident fire and passion for what he accomplished. The man wiggles in his chair from excitement and wildly gestures while he speaks. The movie could hardly have been as entertaining without Petit’s showmanship. When they accepted the Academy Award in February, Petit came on stage and balanced the Oscar on his chin.

The most awe-inspiring moment of the film is when Petit actually is on a wire over 100 stories in the air. He balances on the wire between the two towers, dancing and lying on his back on the wire. The audience can’t help but think to themselves, “This guy must have been crazy,” but there is a magical calm in that moment when the camera captures a man finally reaching his dream. Actual footage of the event of the stunt is the most touching aspect of the movie.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Not since “The Sopranos” has there been such a realistic portrayal of life in the mob. In the recently released sub-titled independent film, “Gomorrah,” the audience is treated to a harrowing and powerful story about the many people affected by gang life in a small Italian town. The film first drew attention by winning the 2008 Grand Festival Prize at Cannes. It was later nominated for best foreign film at the Independent Spirit Awards and the Golden Globes. Although lauded by film critics, the movie truly benefits from the distressing and scary familiarity with brutality depicted by the characters portrayed.

“Gomorrah” follows the lives of several people who are drawn into the local mob, Camorra. These individuals include two gawky teenagers who are obsessed with guns and often quote lines from the movie “Scarface.” Throughout the movie they come to learn that glamour doesn’t always accompany violence. Action also centers around a young boy named Toto who discovers that the mob completely rules his neighborhood; he decides to get in on the action after realizing that real life doesn’t exist outside Camorra’s realm. There are also characters of an old man who deals with monetary transactions and thinks he is above the gang lifestyle, and a tailor who risks angering the mob by working with the Chinese immigrants living in the city. The characters are followed with close camera shots and little outside lighting, giving the feel that this is a documentary. This style allows the audience to feel like they are getting a secretive glimpse into the workings of the mob.

The film plays with sound in an inventive way. There is little music accompanying the scenes, unless it is music being played by the characters on stereos or car radios. Several scenes feature no sound at all, except for sounds like a beating heartbeat. Situations are played out on screen with little fanfare—characters are seen sitting around a table discussing the fate of some of their workers who have wronged Camorra in a seemingly calm way. There are enough scenes that display little to no action, so that when a violent shooting or beating does occur the audience is completely surprised. The film effectively shows that there is no escaping the brutality experienced by the people in the town—no scary music or buildup of instrumentals occurs. The audience is left to worry and anticipate when the next surprising act of bloodshed will happen.

The acting in “Gomorrah” is astonishingly real. Even the younger actors, like Salvatore Abruzzese, who plays Toto, accurately portray sadness and their resignation to a dangerous life. The film could easily have gone into cartoonish overacting. Scenes do require an over-the-top intensity, but the accomplished actors never retreat to hammy actions—they always maintain the emotions in a truthful way.

“Gomorrah,” reminiscent of Scorcese’s gangster dramas, is a touching film that will leave audiences thinking about it for a long time to come. The most powerful moment of the movie occurs at the very end when facts are given about the real-life Camorra gang. There were statistics about killings and the many projects the mob funds. Although the entire film is scary, the fact that these events have an element of truth gives it even more of an impact.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Armstrong Gallery

Art can be found in the strangest places. The city of Pomona might be in the news more for crime-related incidents, but the downtown area also has a bevy of sophisticated and impressive art galleries. The Armstrong Gallery, at 150 East Third Street, offers exhibits of fine-art ceramics by nationally recognized artists. Although the space is small, with only one room to present all of the work, it is a remarkable gallery. David Armstrong, who is an enthusiastic collector of ceramics, runs the space.

The current show, “Patchwork,” is an eclectic display of works by several artists well known for exploring the use of various textures. The exhibit, which will run through April 4, showcases art from Bennett Bean, Geoffrey Swindell, Peter Kuntzel, Thomas Hoadley, Bevelry Crist, and many others.

Bean created some of the most impressive pieces in the exhibit. He has created several pieces through pit-firing and painting on gold earthenware. His “Untitled Vessels” look like abalone structures, with colorful details. Bean is known for “creating complex and overlapping patterns,” which is evident in the pieces that run from the $16,000 to $24,000 range.

A current favorite on display is Steve Tobin’s art. Tobin, an artist from Pennyslvania, starts out with various materials (like clay), then places firecrackers inside the structures. He sets them off, and then uses the fragments as his pieces of art. They often look like geodes you would find in a store, but the intricate colors are inspiring.

Another artist on display at Armstrong’s is Coeleen Kiebert from Santa Cruz. She is a sculptor who works with ceramics and bronze. Part of her “Navigator Series” is in the gallery. Her pieces explore levels of enlightenment, including Bardo (or the period between this life and the next.) The artwork features ideas of how time passes, and they include remnants of actual machines, like spark plugs, a SLR camera that still works and a pair of headphones. The pieces “Sparked” and “Recorder” range from $3,200 to $4,800. Kiebert says in her artist statement that “with this work, I try to face into my own naturally impending death and seek to see it as starkly and with as much truth as possible.”

One of the most impressive pieces at Armstrong’s is Margaret Keelan’s “Red Dress, Blue Bird.” The piece, which is going for $3,900, is a ceramic piece that has been treated so that it looks exactly like wood. The doll looks creepily like an old, wooden figure you would find in an attic somewhere. Instead, the piece was crafted through a ceramic process, in which the clay is textured and stained. The faces are press molded, and the hair is taken from other dolls. Keelan says that “as I make these sculptures my mind lingers on images of Greek classical figures, those ones that been incomplete, but beautiful, or, African tribal wood sculpture and their practical purposes of honoring ancestors, and connecting with the spirit world.” Her piece surprises viewers with its authenticity.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Burlesque is back. In a brand new musical comedy at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, “Minsky’s” is bringing the old style of entertainment to a new audience. The play, with a run from Jan. 21 to Mar. 1, is a production with plenty of kinks to be worked out, but overall presents a good time for everyone involved.

The show, written by Bob Martin, is centered around a 1930 New York burlesque house. Billy Minsky, played by the impressively energetic Christopher Fitzgerald, runs the house, and is trying to keep his business up while a new politician is gunning to shut down all traces of smut in the city. Of course, Minsky falls in love with the politician’s daughter, and musical hijinks occur.

The several celebrities in the show represent the most fun aspect of the production. Rachel Dratch, from seven seasons of “Saturday Night Live,” plays the most humorous character, Beula. Her interpretation of jokes had the audience cracking up—especially in her musical number, “I Want a Life.” There were several scenes that would have fallen flat without her deadpan delivery.

George Wendt, from “Cheers,” plays the politician, Randolph Sumner. Although he gets some of the sillier scenes (like a repeated pie in the face gag,) Wendt is a consummate professional, and he brings much to the production. “Mad TV” veteran Paul Vogt also appears as the hilarious Russian thug Boris.

Because this is the musical’s first run there are still many areas that can be improved. The music overall is solid—lyrics by Susan Birkenhead and music by Charles Strouse—show promise.

However, the dance numbers, choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, leave the audience disappointed. These are moments that should have been the most show stopping, but they turn out to be sloppy and the dancers were hardly ever together, even when precision and tight formations were required.

Several songs could have been shortened (“Eyes Like That” and “Happy,”) and there were even a few that producers should consider completely cutting out (“Someone” and “Workin’ Hot Reprise.”) A few of the show numbers, like “Bananas” and “Cleopatra,” are reprised too many times—the audience gets the feel after the first version.

The sets, designed by Anna Louizos, are outstanding. They easily transform from the backstage at Minksy’s to an old-fashioned New York street. Lighting by Ken Billington aids the production’s showiness factor. Also, the costumes are an impressive part of the production—great attention to detail is paid to every costume, including the showgirls’ elaborate outfits.

The best part of the show by far was the performance by Beth Leavel, who plays the house’s stage mom, Maisie. Leavel won the 2006 Tony Award for her role in “The Drowsy Chaperone” (another recent production at the Ahmanson,) and proves her talent in this show as well. She gets some of the best songs in the show, “You Gotta Get Up When You’re Down,” “Every Number Needs a Button,” and “Home.” It is her portrayal of the bluesy broad that ties the whole production together.

While the show could use some refining before making its Broadway debut, the production is fun, lighthearted, and entertaining—the perfect form of escapism.

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Three Sisters"

The setting is perfect for a Russian tragedy—a cemetery celebrating its anniversary with the play itself. Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles has teamed up with Chalk Repertory Theatre to bring the production of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” to the stage. Unfortunately, this ‘re-imagining’ would have had the playwright rolling over in his grave. The production has all the components of a solid play—beautiful script, pedigreed actors, and an incredibly spooky setup. However, the play drags, and the tragic spirit in which Chekhov wrote the play has been completely distinguished.

The play, with a run from January 30 to February 22, is being put on in the cemetery in a Masonic Lodge that was built in 1925. The setting is incredible, with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. The room is set up with no outside light coming in, and audience members are encouraged to sit in rows lined up on either side of the room. The performance is conducted almost in the round, and actors often walk among the audience members. However impressive the theater is, the blocking prevents some of the audience from seeing important scenes. Actors are sometimes positioned in corners, and can’t be viewed by everyone. This leads to viewers craning their necks just to see some of the actors.

The cast members are all competent, accomplished actors, but they have turned every piece of dialogue into drawn out soliloquies. This results in the play becoming boring and trite, instead of staying true to the passion and emotion in Chekhov’s works.

Perhaps the most famous cast member is Ricardo Antonio Chavira, who plays Carlos Solis, Eva Longoria’s husband, on “Desperate Housewives.” Chavira has taken on the role of Vershinin, a battery commander who has taken residence in the same Russian town as the three sisters. Chavira has an impressive, booming voice, but his monologues were some of the most passionless parts in the entire play. Actress Jennifer Chang, who plays Masha, is probably the most talented of the bunch, but she is given more scenery chewing pieces than the rest of her cast-mates.

Another disappointing element of the production is the forced laughs the company seems determined to insert in scenes that are traditionally supposed to be tragic and touching. Corey Brill, playing the part of Kulygin, is a talented comedian—unfortunately he is using his comedic talents in scenes which require heart wrenching intensity, not sight gags. The company should have felt comfortable enough with the script to let the audience sit in the misfortunes of the characters—instead of allowing the actors to make jokes at inopportune times.

There was certainly a lack of professionalism in the production as well. Scenes which required absolute stillness from the actors offered one cast member scratching his nose.

By the last act, the audience had grown so tired of the show that several people in the first rows could be seen nodding off. The concept of putting on a show with astounding acoustics in the lodge was an inspired choice, but this theater group should have been capable of bringing Chekov to life without infusing the show with boredom.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"The Wrestler"

“The Wrestler,” is a story of comebacks. The movie has become a vehicle for star Mickey Rourke to gain attention for his acting once more, instead of his wild child antics. Rourke has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, and has already taken home trophies from the BAFTA’s and the Golden Globes. The once battered train wreck has proven to audiences and critics alike that he can still carry a movie.

After starring in several successful films in the early 80s, like “Barfly,” “Body Heat,” and “Diner,” Rourke got caught up in the party scene and left his playboy status behind. Then came his professional boxing career in the early 90s—Rourke has admitted that this training helped him immensely when he shot the wrestling scenes in the film. But his boxing career also helped him diminish his pretty boy looks—no longer would Rourke be the stud, but he never could have played this role as a good looking man. The character had to be portrayed as a wreck, a man looking for redemption.

While Rourke’s comeback has been impressive, it is the writing in this film that allows the actor to play the most heart-wrenching comeback of all—his portrayal of Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Randy is a down and out wrestler who was once a famous figure on the circuit, but who now realizes he is much too beaten down and old to keep fighting. He goes through several violent matches, but keeps wrestling because it’s all he knows.

Randy meets a stripper, Cassidy, who becomes his confidante. Marisa Tomei, as the age-old clichéd stripper with a heart of gold, turns out a good performance, but most likely doesn’t quite deserve the Oscar nomination she’s received. Of course, she’s impressive in her pole dancing, but the audience might feel like she can never quite commit to the role.

Aside from Rourke’s tour de force performance, Evan Rachel Wood turns out an equally impressive emotional character as Randy’s estranged daughter. The later scenes between Rourke and Wood help the movie’s hard-edged tone transform into a softer, lighter film in some parts.

The film, written by Robert Siegel (the former editor in chief of The Onion), is a hardcore, draining production. But an outstanding feat of direction from Darren Aronofsky (who also directed “The Fountain,”“Requiem of a Dream,” and the upcoming “Robocop”) helps tie the film together. The film sparks with signs of realness—the movie was shot with a shaky handheld camera. This gives the audience a feeling of unrest much like the emotions experienced by Randy himself. The film was shot in a surprisingly short time—production was completed in 35 days; but altogether, it is a moving film that demonstrates that it’s never too late to start over.