Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Boys Are Back

Sometimes it’s about expectations.  The current Sherlock Holmes franchise merely borrows the names and the most readily identifiable characteristics of its famous protagonists and almost-as-famous antagonist.  This 21st century revamping is an action picture with a bit of bromance, inspired by steampunk graphic novels.  You know, where there are modern attitudes in the romanticized past with spectacular fireworks, explosions, lots of weapons, and a few attractive women thrown in the mix.  Is the plot a bit muddled?  Sure. Was a great plot on my list of expectations?  No.
Yes, the boys are back!  ((c) 2011 Warner Bros. Pictures)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a lot of fun.  It moves swiftly, if somewhat jumpily (it is Guy Ritchie directing, after all) into the jumbled plot.  There’s some espionage — or is it just business?  Or….OK, plot is not the film’s strength.

A Game of Shadows is, more than anything else, a witty and brisk buddy film.  Robert Downey Jr.’s brilliant, petulant, slightly mad Sherlock Holmes cannot do without his friend Dr. Watson, and Jude Law plays the long-suffering sidekick with grace, charm, and occasional exasperation.  These are Downey’s films, but the pairing with Jude Law is practically genius.
Downey as Holmes and Law as Watson  (c) 2011 Warner Bros. Pictures

The first film was a typical Ritchie romp in which men dominate and women are neglected at best.  It’s happened again here, but at least there’s a new female character, and I don’t mean Downey in drag.  Noomi Rapace plays Madame Simza, a gypsy fortune-telling reformed anarchist that Sherlock is determined to save despite herself.  That’s all of her, by the way.  Ms. Rapace brings nothing more to the role than disheveled hair.  
Rapace and the Boys (c) 2011 Warner Bros. Pictures

Mind you, I wasn't fond of Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, even though I admire her work greatly elsewhere.  Hmmm.  Could the women be underwritten in these films?  Tosh.

This quest conflicts only slightly with Holmes’ attempt to protect Watson and his new bride-who-almost-wasn’t from the unscrupulous Professor Moriarty and right-hand-man Colonel Moran.  Moriarty is more and more interesting as Jared Harris plays him. Understatement is an understatement for what Harris does, and he pulls my attention away from Downey, which is no easy feat.  Perhaps it’s those cold eyes that freeze the blood.  Or his cold logic, which is difficult to argue with until you remember you’re a human.
Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty, and Downey.  (c) 2011 Warner Bros. Pictures.

While Harris actually gives Downey a run for his money, the main power of these films is the lusciously layered relationship between Downey’s Sherlock (or Sherley, as his brother Mycroft calls him) and Law’s Watson.  The two are so in synch, it’s gorgeous.  The looks that pass between them, and the eyes that don’t quite meet, speak volumes of their understanding.  And the dancing!  So don’t go thinking there won’t be a third “Sherlock Holmes and another adventure.”  Chemistry like this is priceless, and Messrs. Downey and Law and Ritchie are no fools.  Dr. Watson would make book on it.

The perversely delightful Stephen Fry appears in a very strange interpretation of brother Mycroft, sometimes in the nude.  Not full frontal as Michael Fassbender is purported to do in Shame, but quite enough to fluster Mrs. Watson and give us a few good laughs.

What with Ritchie’s penchant for replaying, in slow motion and voiceover, his lightning fast action scenes, there’s never a worry in the film.  When Sherlock does something absolutely dreadful, that should be shocking, we feel secure that it’s not an ending.  Only Moriarty ends things.  In lesser hands, this lack of suspense could be seen as a flaw.  But Ritchie does it all so skillfully that even knowing exactly where he’s going does not lessen the nail-biting, gasping audience from wondering Oh no, What Next???

As always, in her all-too-brief appearance Geraldine James is spot on as Mrs. Hudson, and Kelly Reilly has a bit more to do now that she’s married Dr. Watson.  More please.

Rachel McAdams makes a brief, nerve-wracking reappearance as Irene Adler. To say more would be a spoiler.  Which is, in itself, a spoiler….

Paul Anderson is chillingly efficient and loyal as Colonel Moran, stalwart of Professor Moriarty. 

And if all that weren’t enough, there’s a fantastical run through the woods with trees exploding around our heroes, rather like films showing Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge.  Effects are awe-inspiring and James Herbert’s editing is sharp-edged.  All elements of this film are extremely well crafted, like cinematography by Philippe Rousselot and the production design by Sarah Greenwood, which is just gorgeous, and costumes by Jenny Beavan.  What the film may lack in plot it has in high production values.  Could it have been better?  Sure.  Will that keep me – or Ritchie, or Downey, or Law – up at night?  No.

Just to be clear:  You are not required or expected to think during this film.  You are not to wonder if it resembles the original stories.  Purists beware.  This is a new Holmes and Watson, a new way of looking at them, and it’s really all about Robert Downey Jr and the joy of watching him work.  So just have fun.

~ Molly Matera, signing off, already looking forward to the next one.  I freely admit to greatly enjoying this guiltily pleasurable franchise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

BAM's Last Tape

Samuel Beckett was a mathematical guy. His plays are concise, his stage directions precise, he doesn’t like anyone taking any liberties with his instructions, and it’s all in the timing.  Lighting, settings, and properties are explicitly stated in his scripts. He knows exactly what he wants the audience to see and hear, and how. 

The production of Krapp’s Last Tape playing at BAM is from The Gate Theatre (Dublin) directed by Michael Colgan.  Lighting is perfect.  Setting is excellent.  John Hurt is excellent.  It is an intellectual exercise, however, not an emotional one.  Despite the analysis of the play itself in Gerry Dukes’ program notes, and his assertion that its intent was to show “regret, loss, and self-loathing,” it did not quite succeed for me.  It left me sad for the fellow, but more impressed with the technical aspects of the production and the acting than anything else. 

So closes (for me at least) the Fall 2011 Next Wave Season at BAM.  Happy Holidays to all, and I look forward to Richard III at BAM in 2012.

~ Molly Matera, closing the 2011 book – except for the next few things to squeeze in this December!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Terrible Three?

See Milo, the last of my elderly gentlemen, who was daft, dysfunctional and, in his later years, deaf.  See his water bowl.  It has sat on that sideboard by the window surrounded by rocks – brought home mostly from Montauk, but some other beaches as well – for more than a decade.  

 In Milo’s decrepitude, I set up a stepstool so he could more easily reach the window and his water bowl until his death in 2010.  Set in my ways, I left it all as he had.

Despite the two small bowls of water I put on their food tray, all three “new” cats prefer Milo’s water bowl.  See old shelf bridging the gap between the sideboard and the windowsill.  See cat bed I have placed on the cool slate for my kitties’ comfort for the past year.

As they say in episodic television, “four days earlier” (that is, Sunday), I was out back raking leaves.  I raked, I swept, I piled, then stuffed them into trash bags.  Essentially I was winterizing during the last weekend I expect to have time for such things.  This week it’s raining, so I’m glad I raked it all up.  Why the delay, you ask, until December?  I like the sound of crunchy autumn leaves underfoot.  I like the sound when it’s not my foot it’s under, thereby alerting me to any presence out back.  Saturday night it was a possum. 

I confess it, I find possums butt ugly. Really, that sickly pale long snout, sluggish body, and a rat’s tail the length of three rats… what was Mother Nature thinking?  Dozing off into a nightmare, that’s what she was doing, no thinking involved.
Anyway, Millie watched him (her?) carefully from inside the screen door.  “Glad you’re inside now, aren’t you?” I asked. She did not respond.  She often ignores me, as did Milo, but he had an excuse.  He was deaf.  Millie’s been a little antsy lately.  She meets me most days when I come in the front door — which I love, don’t get me wrong — but sometimes just a little too close to that opening door.  I’m keeping as watchful an eye on her as she does the possum.

Back to Sunday:  While I was raking, I heard a clunk.  The sound was unfamiliar enough for me to put the rake aside and walk to the window.  Crikey.  SOMEBODY had knocked over the glass water vase.  Spilled maybe 1/3 of it over the sideboard and bridge-to-the-window, and down below onto the baseboard heater.  Happily the vase was not broken; it was not even cracked.  I yelled anyway.  “What were you THINKing?!”  Although the cats had been watching me work out back, none were around to answer.
Chick and Wilbur
They gallop, my three kitties.  From the bedroom window on the street side, under or over the bed, through the room divider, across the furniture, and onto either the kitchen window perch (remember last week?) or the sideboard, and back.  Sometimes they’re chasing one another; sometimes they’re just galloping for the joy of it.  Sometimes this results in the window perch crashing to the ground.  This time it seemed to have led to SOMEONE knocking over the water vase.  The glass water vase.  Worrisome.

Tuesday morning I got up as dawn filtered in drearily, dragged myself to the kitchen, and stopped at what I saw on the way.

The water vase was on its side again, leaning against the stones.  Water soaked the bridge to the windowsill and the cat bed I’d put there for the silly creatures’ comfort as they keep watch by the window.

I cleared up the mess.  I just adore mornings that start with extra chores before I leave for work, don’t you?  As I refilled the vase that had survived these many years, but might not survive another day, I recalled a story I heard on NPR during Monday’s commute.  It was something about Cup o’Noodles and burns sending people to emergency rooms, all because the base of the Cup o’Noodles container was so much narrower than the top.

This set me to musing….Maybe during my Christmas shopping I’ll find a broad-based bowl (glass preferably, for the play of light through the water; ceramic if necessary; no plastic) that’s almost as tall….

Wednesday morning dawned as dull as Tuesday.  It’s a different day, though, so the water vase was tipped in a different direction.  Although upheld by stones, its peril was apparent.  
Who, me?

Coming home from work Wednesday evening, I was relieved to see the vase in its proper place.  The window perch in the kitchen, however, was upended over the food tray.

Every day is an adventure, courtesy Millie, Wilbur, and Chick.  After a year of ease, are these the terrible two’s?

~ Molly Matera, signing off – I hear a disturbing sound from the other room…again.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Alkestis Unfettered

Classics teachers who want their students to understand and enjoy Greek theatre should have brought them to Big Dance Theatre’s production of Supernatural Wife that played BAM’s Harvey Theatre last weekend.  This adaptation showed lucky audiences how it should be done.

Anne Carson interpreted EuripidesAlkestis simply and freely, and the Big Dance Theatre has joined her sparse script to music, dance, silent film, still pictures on television screens, voiceover, dance, drums, song, and just plain acting to tell the story clearly with passion and great humor.  Yes, humor.  And joy.

Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parsons, co-artistic directors of the Big Dance Theatre and co-directors of Supernatural Wife, do not separate theatre and dance.  They know better.  Annie-B choreographed the six performers in a modern yet timeless style that sang Zorba the Greek to the uninitiated.  Even the costume changes were clever.

The story briefly:  King Admetos is scheduled to die and doesn’t want to.  He asks many people, including his parents, to die by proxy for him.  No takers, except his loyal wife Alkestis.  Thanks, honey.

Molly Hickok is a hoot, dancing in the opening, hiding behind a curtain to emerge with a man’s traditional Greek costume. She dips below the curtain again to re-emerge with a long dark moustache to transform herself into King Admetos.

His wife Alkestis is danced and beautifully acted by Tymberly Canale with some languor, then energy, wit, anger, and finally, calm.

Pete Simpson played Apollo as laid back even in anger, then was downright hilarious as Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules) in the second half of the play.

Chris Giarmo’s gorgeous tenor gives us the woeful cries of a traditional mourner (Ai!).  The captions for the songs are as funny as the cries are aching.

Elizabeth DeMent is the loyal household servant, providing comfort and commentary, through dance.  Her body is a powerful messenger.

Aaron Mattocks is Death.  His verbal duel with Apollo at the opening is marvelous, his flippant treatment of Alkestis an introduction to the irreverent style of Anne Carson’s translation,

A Greek chorus is not easy to make palatable to a modern audience, but Giarmo, DeMent, Mattocks, Simpson, and a few televisions screens make it work.

Supernatural Wife is a gorgeous creation, a bold collaboration between Lazar, Parsons, Carson, and the cast, as credited in the program.  Pulling it all even more closely together are brilliant design and technical work by Jane Shaw (sound), Joanne Howard (gorgeous set, almost alive), Jeff Larson’s clever videos, and Joe Levasseur’s flowing lighting design.  These are complemented by Oana Botez-Ban's perfect costumes (which evoked, for me, the traditionally dressed dolls I was given as a child by family friends who’d visited Greece). Music flows through the piece, challenging, soothing, energizing, particularly Chris Giarmo’s choral music.

The ending was creepily reminiscent not just of Orpheus and Eurydice but of the last act of The Winter’s Tale, with a dead queen standing still as a statue before her bemused king.

Everything about Supernatural Wife is a tour de force, the only shame being its short run.  Keep an eye out for another production elsewhere, anywhere.

~ Molly Matera, signing off, her faith in BAM, dance, and theatre renewed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Kitchen Window Dramedy

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may recall that when I’m not writing reviews of movies, plays, and other theatre programs, I write about my cats.  Last year around this time I was kitten-proofing my apartment. The woman who’d rescued my kitties (whom we consider their foster mother) surveyed my apartment and pointed to potential downfalls.  I did my research, and aloe and philodendron are not varieties of plants that poison silly kitties who eat things that are bad for them.  So they stayed.  Up high.  Like this.

They get the morning light, they're happy where they are, and the cats ... well the cats.

The philodendron vine has been growing and growing so I tacked it up along the kitchen’s soffit.  Over the last year, it's reached all the way around to the opposite wall.  Pretty, no?

The cats love their window perches.  Wilbur is particularly fond of this one.

Sometimes he’s displaced by his mother.  She likes to sunbathe there too.

It took a year, but the cats — one, or two, or all three — finally decided the hanging plants were going down.

In the wee small hours of Wednesday, I was awakened by a clunk and a clutter and it wasn’t Santa Claus.  A bump bump da dump.  Nothing high pitched or sharp, no tinkling or crashing of broken glass or china, and I was tired. So I drowsily decided nothing was broken, muttered something like ‘oh what did you guys do now?’ and went back to sleep.

Wednesday morning I woke congested, but that’s too ordinary of late to stop me.  I stumbled into the kitchen to start the morning routine when what to my wondering eyes did appear but, instead of two brackets and three plants, a mere one, lonely aloe plant.

As you can see from those snapshots above, both Millie and Wilbur favor this window perch.  What you don’t see is that Millie is fascinated by water, and the sink is quite near this perch.  Millie is also fascinated when I slightly overwater the hanging philodendron and the excess drips out the bottom onto her perch.  Months ago I had to cut off the tassles of the hangers to remove their tempting sway; but even that didn’t stop someone Tuesday night.  I don’t know that it was Millie.  It might have been Wilbur.  It could even have been Chick.

Still believing I’d make it to work, I did not take the time to photograph the philodendron in its plastic pot sitting on the floor, much of its dirt scattered around, and the broken shards of clay that had housed the second aloe plant.  Instead I yelled at the cats who were gathering in the kitchen for their breakfast, and bent over to sweep it all up.  My sinuses objected strenuously to this position and I almost keeled over.  After I held onto the counter for a while, I swept up the mess.  Only then did I notice the other mess.

This is everybody’s favorite perch on the other kitchen window.  There are squirrels out there, birds, and a black cat who taunts my cats from the other side of the screen.  This is a nice little jump up for the cats, but jumping no longer suffices.  They like to gallop through the apartment and leap from a dozen feet away.  It’s really cool.  Alas, that perch has been up there a year and it’s tired.  Kaboom, down it came, scattering the cat food below it around the floor.  Good morning.

I cleaned, I fed, I called in to work and went back to bed with drugs for my head and my sinuses — they’re all connected.

The philodendron isn’t dead, but its pretty tendrils have been torn from their little hooks, leaving a lone leaf at one end.  So sad. 

I’ll bring the philodendron back to life, then I'll figure out how to plug the holes in the wall and set up a new bracket.  One hanging plant on just one side of the window is too lonely. 

Sigh.  Life with old farts of cats was easy.  Young energetic cats are another story.  It’s a good thing they’re cute.

~ Molly Matera, signing off.  I’ve got to go see what they’re doing in the other room.