Archive for July, 2014

Cooper’s London

July 20, 2014



Coming Up in London:
Summer 2014

A friend of mine just said, “There are so many many things I want to see in London right now,” and that’s likely to be true right through the summer and beyond, though many of them won’t be in the dead center of the West End, where the “same old, same old” shows continue to draw in the tourists.

lansburyThere’s nothing wrong with seeing Mama Mia or Les Mis for the first time or even yet again, and there are revivals one would expect, like Blithe Spirit to show off the undoubted and wonderful talents of Angela Lansburythe most iconic performer in London at the moment. However, there are some very interesting brave arrivals which I want to see, starting especially with a new regents-park-open-air-theatre-logo-1397058250production of the Gershwin opera, Porgy and Bess, at the Regent’s Park Theatre (17 July to 23 August). Timothy Sheader, Regent Park’s Artistic Director will direct, and that surely bodes well. His recent take on Arthur Miller’s All My Sons was a hit, and he’s also done some terrific new productions of major musicals in the past few years that benefited from his great eye and ear for casting. This time, he’s drawing porgy and besson talent from both sides of the Atlantic; Rufus Bonds, Jr. and Nicola Hughes take the title roles. I’ve been deeply impressed by Nicola Hughes in shows ranging from Lola in Damn Yankees (with Jerry Lewis), to Velma Kelly in Chicago, through one of the company in Fosse, and I expect her to be a definitive Bess. During her last time around in the role (2006-07) she was nominated for an Olivier Award.

And if you ‘re a Miller fan, there is a new production of The Crucible on at the Old Vic (24 June to 13 September).
yaelYaël Farber
is the director. I’ve been following her work for about ten years and she’s emerged as one of the most innovative, sensitive and totally reliable directors of our time. She’s always had a strong political interest and The Crucible, with its implications of and parallels to political witch hunting in our own times, is a perfect vehicle for her considerable talents. How many remember her play Amajuba (2007 Drama Desk award)? Or her recent Edinburgh Festival Awards winner Miss Julie (2012)? Farber is, for me, the draw for this one. electraAnother heads-up: Kristin  Scott Thomas will be following The Crucible into that theatre with Electra in a new version by Frank McGuinness (20 September to 20 December). I would go see Kristin Scott Thomas reading the proverbial phone book!

Director Nadia Fall, who is beginning to make a name for herself at the National Theatre, was in charge of the Harold Brighouse play Hobson’s Choice, rarely seen these days (played in Regent’s Park from 12 June to 12 July). With Mark Benton as Hobson, this was a real treat too. Let’s hope the weather holds for this summer’s open air eventsthe operas in Holland Park, but most especially Shakespeares’s Globe Theatre which has a very interesting season this year. The highlight for me so far was Antony and Cleopatra with the ever-wonderful Eve Best as Egypt’s fascinating queen and Clive Wood, who is one of the most memorable, powerful and intelligent Shakespeare actors in the UK, as Antony.

The highly recommendable National Theatre Production of The Curious Incident of curous incident the Dog in the Night Time is reopening July 21 at the Gielgud Theatre. Hugely successful and award-winning, this is the play where the roof literally fell in on its audience at the Apollo in Shaftesbury Avenue not so long ago. It’s a very strong translation of the Mark Haddon novel to the stage with a uniformly praiseworthy cast and a thought-provoking and emotionally moving story.

The new and stunning production of Julian Mitchell’s 1981 play Another Country at Trafalgar Studios 1 had an impressive cast and an equally impressive director (Jeremy Herrin). Richard III moved in with Martin Freeman and Gina McGee when Country moved on, and has been totally selling out. But you can try for August…

An old musical being given a new look is Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’s The Pajama Game. Already critically acclaimed during its run in Chichester, it’s directed by Richard Eyre, known for doing a fine line in musical comedy (his was the famous Guys and Dolls at the National Theatre and beyond!). pajama-game-2-05-14-shaftesbury-theatre-222
In an age of austerity and various financial problems, this musical about a strike in a pajama factory (from a novel by Richard Bissell, Seven and a Half Cents) as well as the nefarious dealings of a corrupt management is topical again. With a brilliant score that makes it one of the best musicals of the golden era of the 1950s on Broadway, I’m excited about it because it also stars Joanna Riding, one of the most consistently brilliant West End musicals performers (she was a superb Julie in Carousel and a totally convincing Eliza in My Fair Lady).

pajama gameIn the role of Babe, made famous first by Janis Paige on stage and then by Doris Day in the film, I’m betting she’ll live up to that standard with no trouble at all. The role of Sid is played by the very talented Michael Xavier. Both these performers would most likely have been huge stars in an age when musicals were written for the likes of Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, or Howard Keel. Indeed, I hope that seeing them on stage in a classic setting will inspire some young composer to do something original for them now. (The show runs until 13 September at the Shaftesbury Theatre.)

Weirdly, as one who usually cannot stand stage adaptations of movies, I am looking forward to seeing what they will do with Shakespeare in Love. I like the look of the cast, the director and the fact that the writer is Lee Hall of Billy Elliot fame. Now in previews at the Noel Coward Theatre. How will it stack up compared to the film? Stay tuned…

With things like The Scottsboro Boys transferring to the Garrick Theatre in the West End in October and a full, interesting season for the ROH and the ENO plus the usual range of world class concerts, there’s plenty of culture coming up on offer in London. And then there’s all the amazing stuff in Edinburgh for the Festival, and all around the UK. So go online, but don’t get a horse – get a car!

Apollo’s Girl

July 16, 2014




A Summer’s Tale (1996)

Just in time for the dog days, Eric Rohmer’s third installment of Tales of the Four Seasons has been restored and released for the first time in America. Why so long? Perhaps it fell into some cinematic crack, but the timing couldn’t be better. With July simmering around us, there’s no better antidote than this survivor of a movie. So let’s go to the beach…

But not the sun-drenched, saturated-color glamour
of the Cote d’Azur, where you pick summerstale2our way toward the Mediterranean while looking around to see who’s in the water. No.
This summer’s tale plays out on the lesser-known and everyday Atlantic, near La Rochelle. It’s cool, in every sense of the word. The film’s crisp, restrained palette of rocks, sun and sand, the middle-class ambiance of the beach and the pale bodies of its citizens are rendered as an alternative to the heat of the Riviera. And what a relief!

Eric-Rohmer-001Rohmer himself is a relief, too. We have missed his adolescents talking out their problems on long walks, or over the ubiquitous red wine that lubricates their opinions. It’s always about relationships–monogamy or the thrill of the chase and the unknown–talk is life to his self-obsessed young adults. What makes Rohmer so special is his fondness for the angst that never dies, expressed with eloquence and reticence. And how, in his young, heartfelt protestations of probity are delivered so that the audience is in on the joke and the layers of denial and emotional need that frame every conversation.

summer's tale 3A Summer’s Tale begins simply enough, with Gaspard (Melville Poupaud) arriving on the beach looking for his girlfriend Lena (Arélea Nolen) who is traveling to meet him. But she’s still in transit. Soon Gaspard is deep in conversation with Margot (Amanda Langlet), a charming waitress/graduate student, about his relationship. And–what do you know–the waitress professes friendship, and suggests he meet Solène (Gwenaëlle Simon), a friend of hers who might be just right for him while he waits.

No sooner has he begun to explore the possibilities of Solène’s “rightness,” then his capricious girlfriend shows up to tantalize–just as the waitress decides that perhaps Platonic might not be the way to go.
summer's tale 1There are no ultimatums or slamming doors, but eventually the lovelorn soloist has become the pivot of an increasingly lively menage
à quatre. It’s complicated: all sincerity and self, with incrementally elaborate deceptions necessary to maintain equilibrium. The comedy is sly, but
consistent, and just as we wonder exactly how summers tale- 2Gaspard will extract himself from what has become an embarrassment of riches, he finds a solution. Won’t give it away, but it’s worth waiting for and drew appreciative, knowing laughter from the sophisticated crowd. Definitely the right movie for right now. Look for
A Summer’s Tale and thank Big World Pictures for bringing it back.

Human Rights Watch Festival

Compared to the scale of last year’s political turmoil, 2014 offered a different aesthetic: small-scale, tightly focused, and intense. Often quieter. But no less affecting. One of the most powerful choices was the Sundance Audience Award-winner, The Green Prince, directed by Nadav Schirman.
It green princetranscends the you-can’t-make-stuff-like-that-up category with a real-life journey that, against all odds, generates a deep friendship between a young Palestinian zealot and the Shin Bet officer assigned to recruit him as a double agent for Israeli intelligence. It is, in fact, a terrifying story, with implications that remain troubling long after you leave the theatre. Schirman has figured out how to enhance the essentials with a combination of archival footage (chilling) and occasional reenactments designed for maximum impact.
The Green Prince pulls no punches and, given the current news from the Middle East, is a must for anyone who sustains even a scintilla of hope that coexistence is an option. Though still on the festival circuit, it will be in general release later this year. Find it! (From Music Box Films)


privateviolencedeanna_touched-finalPrivate Violence
(Director: Cynthia Hill) The tag line of Private Violence is “…the most dangerous place for a woman in America is her own home,” and ample evidence for the statement is offered repeatedly in this harrowing, disturbing account of the truth behind many marriages, and not just in America. Many of the victims are disadvantaged, but the pattern of violence and escalation is not confined to the 99%. One of the most shocking interludes reveals a highly respected doctor with a long history of domestic violence screaming imprecations at his wife and those who would restrain him. If that doesn’t unsettle you, the narrative thread of one woman’s terrifying attempt to find justice should forever answer the question “Why didn’t you just leave?” She eventually finds an ally with a similar history who is able to navigate the judicial labyrinth and bring the case to trial, with a verdict of guilty that will make you cheer while you weep. This is one instance where states’ rights are an almost insurmountable obstacle to a good outcome. (HBO: October, 2014)

(Director: Richie Mehta) is narrative fiction, generated by the reality of child trafficking that forms a horrific bridge between the haves and have-nots in the Third World. Needing extra money to subsist, a father “sells” his adolescent son through a relative to work in a distant factory, rationalizing the arrangement as a necessity, but only temporary.

Due to come home for the holidays, the son never returns. With the growing fear that something has gone terribly wrong, the father sets out to cross India and reunite with his boy. He encounters realities far beyond his simple existence and is unable to find anything more than the likelihood that Siddarth has been kidnapped and forced into an unthinkable life. Siddharth (like Mehta) has both gravitas and modesty, but the understanding that Siddharth will never be found shakes the father and mother, and its understated sorrow has greater magnitude than a more sensational film could ever provide. (Zeitgeist Films: In national release.)

The Beekeeper (Der Imker)  Director: Mano Khalil

der imkerAnother gentle and understated storyof a Kurdish beekeeper (Ibrahim Gezer)who has been granted
asylum in Switzerland. Only gradually does he reveal to his new friends the horrors that led him to flee Turkey (his entire family was killed), and find the strength to take up his old profession despite the Swiss laws—generating a hilarious sequence of the absolute and well-meaning correctness of Swiss bureucracy versus the beekeeper’s real need. The bees are his salvation, and he will pass his knowledge on to the next generation. But The Beekeeper, without a domestic distribution, will remain unseen in America.


casa grandeAlways a pulsing grab-bag of unexpected goodies,
the current Latinbeat scores with two  debuts: Casa Grande (Director: Fellipe Barbosa) is an unsparing coming-of-age story
that offers one of the most arresting (and original) opening sequences in cinema history.

Forget that car on the road going endlessly toward the horizon! Casa Grande’s beginning tells you everything you need to know about one of the essential players (the father): his conflicts, goals, and the house he has acquired for his family that is a source of pride for him, and a burden for his rebellious son. It is dusk; he paddles in his Jacuzzi, cools off in his pool, dons his expensive terrycloth bathrobe and heads across the patio to his house. He switches off the music that we mistook for a background score, then methodically turns out the lights that blaze through the windows as he climbs from the entry to his bedroom. The house is comfortable and welcoming, and will turn out to be built on sand.

The economic and social issues that plague modern Brazil are navigated well and imaginatively here, without short-changing any of the human drama, or the seriousness of what lies under the surface of suburb and favella. Barbosa keeps all the complex threads in motion so we can see the fabric of society unraveling without requiring explanation. It’s what movies can do in the right hands.

paula hertzogAnd now for another understated gem that simply sneaks up on you:
Natural Sciences (Director:
Matías Lucchesi) and yes, another example of how to tell a story by making the camera dialogue’s equal partner. The story is simple—a young girl’s obsessive quest to find the father she has never known—and, at 77 minutes, brief. But every second counts. At its center, and its alpha/omega, is (the then) 11-year-old Paula Hertzog, co-winner of Best Actress Award at the Guadalajara Film Festival. More, Natural Sciences also won Best Film and Best Screenplay there, then went to Berlin and walked off with its Generation Kplus Grand Prix. But you know, it’s not about the statuettes and crystal plaques; it’s about what happens on the screen and how you feel about it.

The old saw about not appearing with child actors does not apply here. As spectacular as Hertzog is, and will be (the camera really, really loves her!), the ballast is shared with her co-star, Paola Barrientos,  who (while never natural sciencesstealing a scene) manages to provide a compelling and beautifully nuanced portrait of a teacher who recognizes her pupil’s gifts and is determined to help her find herself, whatever the cost. You might call it a buddy movie, or a road movie, but it’s just a movie that will stay in your mind for a very long time. You will probably cry, too, but you will be happy. 

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