Category Archives: Theatre

“The Audience” (2013) – Review

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Director: Stephen Daldry

Writer: Peter Morgan

Stars: Helen Mirren, Haydn Gwynne, Edward Fox, Paul Ritter, Nathaniel Parker, Rufus Wright, Michael Elwyn, and Richard McCabe

The Audience is a production of The National Theatre Live. It was a stage show that was broadcast live in the United Kingdom, and now that broadcast is being released in movie theatres across the United States.

Every Tuesday so long as both are in London, the Prime Minister meets with the Queen at Buckingham Palace at 6:30 PM for a private conversation about the state of the country. The meetings are not recorded, nor are there any notes taken. The meetings exist as a courtesy to the crown and are treated as private affairs.

What we are watching is a work of fiction that the writer, Peter Morgan, believes to be a truthful depiction of what occurs in these meetings, but not necessarily an accurate one. The interactions between the Queen and the Prime Minister reflect what is known about the relationship both individuals had with each other, and the assumption that after repeated meetings with each other both persons would start to view the meetings as therapeutic.

We start with the Queen (Helen Mirren) and John Major (Paul Ritter). He is lamenting the fact that he is Prime Minister, and almost views himself as an accidental Prime Minister. He prided himself that before he became the PM he was quite an ordinary person: a forgettable backseat parliamentarian, a person with a pedestrian education, a man who didn’t make waves. The Queen humorously admonishes him on why he became the Prime Minister if he never wanted it; his answer, “he didn’t think he would win.”

From John Major we jump back in time to the Queen’s first meeting with her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (Edward Fox). The Queen is obviously nervous and unsure at the start; Churchill, the elder statesman, is set in his ways from the previous monarch. But over the course of the meeting the young Queen acquits herself admirably, revealing herself to by quite well informed and understanding the game of politics.

And so it goes, the audience with the Queen is shown at different times and with different PMs during her reign. On occasion the young Elizabeth is shown interacting with the Queen wondering why she has to learn something or why her life has to change. But as the production continues the young Elizabeth then has to remind the older Queen the importance of some of the lessons she has learned, as well as some of the small things she has forgotten.

The main set of the production is the minimalist audience chamber in Buckingham Palace. All the meetings with the Prime Ministers occur there with one exception. That being the second audience with Harold Wilson (Richard McCabe) at Balmoral Castle in Scotland–the Queen’s summer vacation home. Whereas all the audiences at the Palace are formal affairs, the Bamoral audience is decidedly less so–the Queen serving Wilson a tea and bringing him a blanket. The change in location not only marks a change in tone, but also demonstrates the chumminess of their professional relationship.

An impressive feature of the production was the ability to transform Mirren with make-up,wigs and costume to the different ages of the Queen almost always while on stage. The first time you watch it, it is a magic trick of wonder.

As for Mirren, she delivers another incredible performance as the Queen. She expertly conveys the Queen throughout the different stages of her life, as well as her different feelings towards the Prime Ministers. The Prime Minister themselves also deliver good to excellent performances. The two stand-outs, and also the two having the most stage time, are Richard McCabe as Harold Wilson and Paul Ritter as John Major. McCabe’s performance in particular is quite affecting.

Near the end the Queen asks her attendant if she had a favorite PM, and he answers she does. We go to Harold Wilson’s third audience with the Queen. At their first he was the commoner elected Labor PM, bringing a camera to the audience in order to have photos with the Queen for his wife. At their second they spoke as friends at Balmoral. And now at their third he reveals that he must resign soon; he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The Queen is heartbroken about his condition and the changes in him she already sees. But at the end of their audience she asks him if she and her husband would be able to dine with him and his wife at #10 Downing Street, an honor only accorded to Winston Churchill during her reign.

The Audience is a bittersweet production. Though humorous throughout, there is an ultimate melancholy to the story. The Queen may be the constant of British politics, but her ability to affect it are limited at best. Her job is to be the rock upon which all others can rest. But a rock that must maintain the same face no matter who is in power and how she feels about what they are doing. Her role is to support but never criticize.

Grade = A

Click on image to view trailer

Click on image to view trailer


“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by The National Theatre (2012) – Review

Click on image to view promotional video

Author:  Mark Haddon

Playwright:  Simon Stephens

Director:  Marianne Elliott

Stars:  Luke Treadaway, Nick Sidi, Niamh Cusack, Nicola Walker

The National Theatre of England simulcast a television broadcast of their production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on September 6th, and it is now being released in cinemas in the US.

The story begins with Christopher (Luke Treadaway), an autistic fifteen year-old, standing over the murdered body of Wellington, the neighbor’s dog.  The neighbor, Mrs. Shears, incorrectly assumes that Christopher has killed her dog with the pitchfork.  After a series of misunderstandings between Christopher, Mrs. Shears, and later the police, we meet Christopher’s Father (Nick Sidi) at the police station.  Once at home, Christopher’s father tells him not to worry about Wellington and stay out of other people’s business.  Not willing to leave well enough alone, Christopher decides to solve the mystery of Wellington’s murder.

While this occurs, the story is narrated by Chevon (Niamh Cusack), Christopher’s teacher, reading a book she encouraged him to write.  Through the intermittent narration we are privy to Christopher’s thoughts and perceptions, and come to understand what we are watching is the realization of his book.  We also learn that Christopher lives alone with his father, his mother having died two years earlier of a heart attack in hospital.

Christopher believes that whoever murdered Wellington a.) knew the dog, and b.) wanted to hurt Mrs. Shears.  As he proceeds with his investigation he inadvertently learns from an elderly neighbor that Mrs. Shears ex-husband had an affair with his mother, and the neighbor was unaware that his mother had died.  All the while Christopher continues to document everything in his book.

But later his father discovers and reads the book.  Enraged, he confiscates the book and forbids Christopher from continuing his investigation.  Once alone in the house Christopher searches for the book and discovers it hidden in his father’s room with much more.  With the book is a stack of unopened letters all addressed to him from London.  Confusingly, they are all from his mother and post-marked after her death.  Christopher now has two mysteries to solve.

An important item to remember (which I had to be reminded of myself) is that what I watched on the screen was originally simulcast with the live production and not released after the fact and edited together.  In other words, every close-up, cut-to, establishing shot, etc. was determined and choreographed before hand to make sure all the cameramen knew where to be and when and with what zoom in order for the director in the control room to immediately cut-to a specific shot at the same time it is performed so that it was broadcast to the desired effect.  With all that said, the crew and creative professionals did an incredible job with only one minor slip in the second act.

Simon Stephens, the playwright, created an excellent adaptation of the book.  The use of Chevon as narrator of the book in order for us to understand Christopher’s thoughts and perception is ingenious.  Christopher is autistic.  He cannot read body language, interprets everything literally, does not understand metaphors and slang, and does not have the ability to filter his senses.  Stephens also reminds us on occasion what we are watching is a production of Christopher’s book of what happened and not what happened.  At one point at the train station another police officer comes looking for Christopher but during the play it is the same officer.  Christopher interrupts the play an reiterates it is another police officer; at which time a new actor replaces the old.

As for the set production, the decision was made to perform in-the-round.  This allows for minimal set dressing and much creativity.  The use of an elevated stage with access panels and LEDs, projected images, music, and cubes to represent just about anything is an example of such creative imagination that I was in awe of it.

And the acting.  The success or failure of the production rests entirely on the shoulders of Luke Treadaway as Christopher, and he succeeds.  He is in every scene and makes you feel every emotion.  You truly care for and invested in Christopher and his story.  You also care about Nick Sidi as the father who is giving-up so much for his special son, and Nicola Walker as the mother who cannot.  And when trust is broken and reality lays low expectation, you genuinely want these characters to be all right in the end.

Grade = A

PS  The Curios Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of my all time favorite books.  I discovered it on a trip in 2005 and read it in two days.  The success of the play is due in no small part to the success of the book in putting you into the mind of an autistic person.

Unfortunately, Amazon and Barnes & Noble have the tamer US cover of the book instead of the European one I purchased and show below.

Click on image to purchase book


Comic Weekend at the O-Cinema – 2012

This past weekend was hopefully the First Annual Comic Weekend at the O-Cinema.

Kareem Tabsch and Vivian Marthell did an excellent job staging a great event for everyone involved.  The weekend had multiple screenings of With Great Power…The Stan Lee Story and Comic-Con Episode IV:  A Fan’s Hope, as well as Batman (1989), Superman II, and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The Tim Burton Batmobile was on hand, as well as many Cosplay participants–with the winner of best costume winning 75 Years of DC Comics from Taschen (a great book which I own, but did not win).  Also on hand was David Sexton, former Marvel writer of the Mystic Arcana series involving Magik, The Scarlett Witch, and The Black Knight; William Lawrence Hess, one of the directors of With Great Power…The Stan Lee Story; Jaie Laplante, Executive Director of the Miami International Film Festival (MIFF); and Billy Corban, director of Cocaine Cowboys and The U.

Scroll below for some of the photos, and stay tuned for the upcoming reviews.

Front Page of the Tropical Life Section of The Miami Herald by Rene Rodriguez

1989 Tim Burton Batmobile

Kareem Tabsch & David Sexton

Batman Themed Cosplay

Top Prize for Best Costume


Miami International Film Festival – Venues

As I said yesterday, one of the great things about the Miami International Film Festival is its use of the many venues in and around Miami and Miami Beach.  Below is the listing of the venues with at least one interior and exterior shot, and my opinion of it–if I have one.  The listing is in alphabetic order.  Also, I focused on a few of these locations in my Art House post from way back when.

Colony Theatre (Miami Beach)

Corner of Lincoln Road & Lennox Avenue

I’ve been to a few things at The Colony.  Before or after the show you can grab a drink and a quick bite to eat at Segafredo’s.  It’s one block away from the Regal South Beach.

Coral Gables Are Cinema (Coral Gables)

On Aragon Avenue across the sheet from Books & Books

There is plenty of parking since it is located in a Parking Garage.  It’s easy to miss because the City of Coral Gables does not allow them to put up any permanent signage on the building.

Festival Village Stages (Miami Beach)

1111 Lincoln Road-The coolest garage in the City

From the MIFF website, I believe they are talking about 1111 Lincoln Road for the Festival Village Stages.  But it may be an actual stage they move around on Lincoln Road in front of the garage.  This is in front of Regal South Beach on the other side of Lincoln Road Mall.

Freedom Tower (Miami)

The Ellis Island for quite a few Cubans during the 60s–my Family not included.

They’ll be using the Freedom Tower for seminars and parties.  I’m not sure if they are going to use the above interior, or the larger back area which was the old Printing Press for the “Miami News” paper.

Gusman Center for the Performing Arts (Miami)

The Gusman is where they show all the films with big names attached that are going to be at the Festival.  These few photos do not do it justice.  I’m going to reblog a post from “Little Beach Bum” who has many photos and a brief history of the facility in her blog.  On a side note, this is where my High School Graduation was.

Miami Beach Cinematheque (Miami Beach)

1st Floor inside the Old City Hall on Washington Avenue & 12th Street

After the recent renovation

The Cinematheque use to be in a make-shitt facility in the lobby of a hotel with folding chairs.  Their recent move is a great improvement.

O-Cinema (Miami)

Recently repainted exterior (which they do fairly often)

They are going to be almost doubling their seating soon.

Kareem and Vivian, the Owners, do am excellent job with programing.  I saw “Troll Hunter” there.

Regal South Beach (Miami Beach)

Corner of Lincoln Road & Alton Road

One of the smaller theatres.

Regal South Beach is the local multiplex on the Beach.  They do a great job hosting the many different film festivals in South Florida, as well as programing smaller independent films.  This is where the bulk of the festival screenings will occur.

The Historic Alfred I. DuPont Building (Miami)

This is where the opening night party will be held.  On a “too much information” note:  the Ground Floor Men’s Room have pedal flush urinals.

The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse (Miami)

This is in the Wynwood Section of Miami, just North of Downtown.  It’s gritty, dirty, and full of many art galleries.  They are going to use this facility for two Director Seminars.

Tower Theatre (Miami)

In Little Havana (8th Street–Calle Ocho–just West of Downtown)

 It’s always a fun mixture of people when the audience exits and mixes with the locals.  There is a domino park right next door.

Villa 221 (Miami)

Just West of Biscayne Blvd on 22nd Street (maybe 21st)

Back Yard

They are going to have performance artist one night for a party.

Wynwood Walls (Miami)

The festival will be screening more shorts at this location.

I hope you enjoyed.


Art House Cinemas

Miami is having a renaissance in Art House Movie Theatres.  From posh Coral Gables to gritty Wynwood, there is a place for you to catch “your not ready for prime time” movies.   Below are five theatres, one should be near you.

O-Cinema

Click on image to visit website

O-Cinema is located in Wynwood at 90 NW 29th Street and is owned & managed by Vivian Marthell and Kareem Tabsch.

 
The theatre is a reclaimed warehouse space that also has a small reception area up front and a few artist retail spaces on your way to your seats toward the back.  Popcorn, candy and beer are available, and sometimes they have a food truck in the parking lot for before or after the movie.  There is plenty of street parking out front, and several restaurants are within walking distance.
 
When it first opened, I thought they didn’t have a chance.  I was wrong.  Between special events, filmmaker Q&As, and a great showing of films, Vivian & Kareem are making it work. 
 
They also care.  I went to one of their first showings and wrote them concerning the sound quality.  Kareem responded immediately letting me know they were aware of the issue, were in fact meeting with the audio company that same day, and wanted to know what my concerns were.  I’m happy to say the audio sounds great now.
 
Miami Beach Cinematheque

Click on image to visit website

Miami Beach Cinematheque is locating in the Old City Hall Building in the heart of South Beach at 1130 Washington Avenue, 1st Floor, and Dana Keith is your man.

The Cinematheque has moved from their old Espanola Way quarters with the fold-out chairs to new swanky digs in Old City Hall.  Located on the 1st Floor, the Cinematheque wins both the Chic Style Award and best sound of all the Art House Theatres.  There is plenty of parking at the 12th Street Garage and plenty of places to eat all around (I vote for Vinyl & Kai literally across the street on Washington Avenue).  Inside you have your choice of quality candies and refreshments.

The Cinematheque is staffed with society member volunteers that love movies.  They offer a great mix of classic, foreign, and small domestic films, as well as act as a venue to some of the smaller film festivals.

The Bill Cosford Cinema 

Click on image to visit website

 The Bill Cosford Cinema is located on campus at the University of Miami in the middle of the Memorial Building on the Doctor’s Hospital side of campus–opposite US-1.  And as addresses go, that’s the best you are going to get.  The Cinema is named after Bill Cosford who was The Miami Herald film critic that tragically died young due to illness. 

The Cosford gets movies both late and early.  The small art house films seem to get here way before other venues, or they get the ones that don’t go any where else.  The Cosford shows standard Hollywood fare after their normal wide release runs.  But the great thing about the Cosford are the shorts or vintage news reels they play before the feature–you truly never know what you are going to get.

Parking is plentiful, but food choices are slim–you are in the middle of campus.  So eat early or after, because unless you like vending machine candy–and I do–you have nothing.  One other thing, outside the cinema is what I think is the only YooHoo! Chocolate Milk vending machine in the world–which I take full advantage of on visits.

Coral Gables Art Cinema

Click on image to visit website

The Coral Gables Art Cinema is located at 260 Aragon Avenue across the street from Books & Books and is the brainchild of Robert Rosenberg.
 
The Theatre is located in found space in an existing parking garage; so no surprise, there is plenty of parking.  There are also plenty of places to eat within walking distance.
 
I have only seen one film there and only good things to say–the seats are comfortable and the sound & picture quality good.  What I have to do now is the same thing you have to do, make time to enjoy it.
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If you love movies or want to try something different, one of these locations will help you out.  Visit their websites, keep up to date on what they are showing, and give them a chance.  You’ll have a good time.