Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oscar Season

It is Oscar season. Here are random observations on some of the nominated films.

1. Favorite scene of the year #1: When Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in Doubt, shows his young male students his perfect fingernails, his hand splayed to welcome their admiration.

2. Favorite scene of the year #2: The flamenco dance instructor in Happy-Go-Lucky stomping the floor and commanding her students to claim it as "my space!"

3. In Slumdog Millionaire, the protagonist dives into the bottom of an outhouse. In Trainspotting, the protagonist dives into a toilet. What is it with director Danny Boyle and diving?

4. Scariest image all year? The frozen river in Frozen River.

5. Was The Wrestler a Canadian movie? Bleak setting, down'n'out protagonist, no real story or ending - I hope it wins the Genie.

6. The Reader sported the year's most ridiculous suicide scene. Director Stephen Daldry excels in ridiculous suicides. Remember The Hours?

7. Revolutionary Road. Move to fucking France already, goddamit.

8. Clint Eastwood's Changeling and Gran Torino show him to be the least nice old man on the planet. His skill as a director, however, just keeps growing. I can hardly wait to see what kind of movie he'll be making ten, twenty years from now.

9. Milk has the best drunk scene of the year, thanks to Josh Brolin (also so good in W.). I am stunned, however, by how few of my gay friends even bothered to see Milk.

10. Ralph Fiennes. So very good in The Duchess and In Bruges. So very bad in Bernard and Doris.

11. The sight of little ancient Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - vomitlicious!

12. Waltz with Bashir pointed the way to depicting graphic violence on screen - by rotoscoping it. I wish they would do that to all those horrid Saw movies.

13. My favorite movie wasn't even nominated for anything. How could the Academy ignore the visual poetry that was Cloverfield? I could watch that monster chew up New York City every day.

14. Meryl Streep. So very, very good in Doubt. So dignified against all odds in Mamma Mia!

15. Oscars are idiotic, but all the same, I'd love to see Milk, Sean Penn, Meryl Streep, Josh Brolin and Gus van Sant win, but unfortunately for them, they didn't make a comeback and/or die, like some of the other nominees.

And as always, I pray for a dance number to exceed the garishness of Rob Lowe's legendary duet with Cinderella, still the high water mark for tacky.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A New Brain

The musical A New Brain, at the Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs, is remarkable, first for its writing, and secondly for the level of performance in this well-directed production.

It is a musical about a gay guy who writes songs for a children's show starring a man in a frog suit. One day, while lunching with his hag, he has a health crisis and is admitted to the hospital. His mother and boyfriend and the hag all rush around him as he lay there, on the brink. He hallucinates, they operate, he survives and flourishes. The subplot involves his mother throwing away all his books because she believes they brought on his brain pain, and they end up in a homeless woman's shopping cart. None of this sounds like it could be funny, moving and entertaining, but it is, because the show's author, William Finn, wrote from his own experiences, and he can write a great song.

Many of the songs are a reminder of how daring musical theatre can be. I enjoyed the fat actor singing a song about being fat, and the mother has some great numbers, and the Asian actor playing the doctor is hilarious. But the showstopper is when Thom Allison sings "I'd Rather Be Sailing", a classic example of how an actor with a strong voice can literally elevate the entire audience and keep them there.

The set, mostly clinical white drapes and glass bricks, is striking. As my theatre-going companion Howard Kane said between sobs, it's great to sit through a musical that does not require amplification. Plus I love a show with no intermission. This production, from Mitchell Marcus' Acting Up Stage, earned a standing ovation on opening night, not a surprise. This is a great night of theatre.