Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tales From the Dark Side: The Lust for Vinyl

The last time I wrote about buying vinyl, it was after a Record Store Day. I sent off early in the morning cruising a variety of shops to score some of the exclusive discs that are especially created one day in April for music hungry fanatics like myself. There’s another such day coming up in November. They call it Black Friday. Vinyl is black, you see. Although many of these special releases are pressed on coloured, even multi-coloured vinyl, to draw the rabid collector in even further. But somewhere back in the collector’s history there must be a beginning where this craving began. We all understand cravings these days. The proliferation of vampire and zombie stories, with their creatures’ cravings for blood and brains is just what makes people of a certain age, and bent, to wander the streets searching for a way to satisfy that vinyl-lust. I started to think about the first record stores I ever visited to see what it was that drew me into this dark world in the first place.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Insider Outsiders: Hulu's Difficult People

Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner star in Difficult People, on Hulu.

This past fall, IFC premiered a comedy called Garfunkel and Oates. The short-lived series starred Riki Lindhome ("Garfunkel") and Kate Micucci ("Oates") as a female musical comedy duo trying to make it in Hollywood, one NSFW folk song at a time. Admittedly I came a bit late to the party, only watching the show after IFC had already cancelled it, and only even becoming aware of it because of Lindhome's new Comedy Central series Another Period, which she co-stars and co-created with Chelsea Lately regular Natasha Leggero. (Another Period, a scatological "parody of manners" best described as Downton Abbey meets Keeping Up with Kardashians – and whose cast also includes Mad Men's Christina Hendricks – will finish its first season at the end of the month and is also among the most pleasurable of this summer's guilty pleasures.) Garfunkel and Oates is buoyed by the unassuming charm of its lead players and (unapologetically borrowing from HBO's Flight of the Conchords) provides ample opportunity for well-produced cutaway videos of the kinds of songs that have made the duo famous on YouTube over the years. It also offers a timely glimpse into the pandemic sexism of the internet and the comedy world in general. (Asked by a comedy club owner "Please, no material about your periods," the two acquiesce only to segue into a lengthy on-screen conversation about, of course, their periods.) Garfunkel and Oates – like the act which inspired it – was alternately biting and adorable, and was, for its brief time on our airwaves, always entertaining.

Shows about comedians, with the comics playing slightly tweaked versions of themselves, have long been a TV staple. From Jack Benny to Garry Shandling to Jerry Seinfeld to Larry David to the sublime Louis C.K., the list includes some of the funniest and often most innovative shows on television. (As last year's lamentable Mulaney demonstrates, however, the trope isn't always a guarantee of success: Mulaney felt a little like what I would have imagined the fictional series "NBC" commissioned from George and Jerry in the middle seasons of Seinfeld to have been like.) This past year, along with Garfunkel and Oates, television has added two new shows to that list, both notably about the travails of comedy duos: FX's (already cancelled) mockumentary-styled The Comedians (starring Billy Crystal and Josh Gad), and now Hulu's Difficult People. The latter premiered on Hulu on August 5, and will release one new episode a week until mid-September.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Blast from the Past: The Gift

Joel Edgerton (right) in The Gift, a film Edgerton also wrote and directed.

In movies, the Australian actor Joel Edgerton is best known for playing a wide assortment of muscle men and meatheads. Edgerton was the thuggish small-time crime lord in Animal Kingdom, one of the Navy SEALs on a mission to take out Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, and the MMA fighter who reconnects with his estranged brother (Tom Hardy) by kicking his ass in the Octagon in Gavin O’Connor critically acclaimed, sweat-stained male weepie Warrior. (On stage, he has taken on the greatest meathead role in the pantheon of the American theater, Stanley Kowalski, in two separate productions of A Streetcar Named Desire.) When Edgerton finally got the chance to play a character who doesn’t come down to dinner in his undershirt, it was the oafish nouveau riche villain Tom Buchanan in the 2013 Baz Luhrmann travesty The Great Gatsby.

There, he made the fatal mistake of trying to scale his performance to match the bombastic style of his director. Neither Luhrmann nor Edgerton seemed to understand that Tom’s lines about the scientific basis for racism and looking out for number one are enough on their own to mark him as an obnoxious fellow; it isn’t really necessary for the actor to underline things by bellowing every syllable. Edgerton makes his directing debut with The Gift, which he also wrote and acts in, and it’s a bit of a shock: a deft, perfectly controlled little thriller, a commercial entertainment but one that’s smart and detailed and rewards close attention to the nuances of what’s being said and how. It is that rarest of oases in the late summer movie release schedule, an actor’s movie.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Shakespeare For The Masses: Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's King Lear

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's King Lear. (Photo by Andrew Brilliant)

We are pleased to welcome a new critic, Michael Lueger, to our group.

Reviewing a free production of Shakespeare in the park might seem to miss the point. It seems that every day brings fresh hand-wringing about the future of the theatre, and whether the trends of rising ticket prices and aging audiences have sent it into a terminal decline. In light of such concerns, it’s encouraging that organizations such as the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC), which has been mounting Shakespeare on the Boston Common for 20 years now, and which staged King Lear from July 22 to August 9, are bringing free productions of classical works to a wide audience. However, the relative decline in the importance of theatre in popular culture means that, for many of those attending events such as Shakespeare on the Common, this may be the only production that they see in the course of the year. Many of the 75,000 attendees (by the CSC’s estimate) who saw Lear this summer will have their impressions of the theatre in general shaped by what they experience at this production, and may base future decisions on whether to attend other shows on its quality. Given those circumstances, it’s worth critiquing the CSC Lear for what it gets right and wrong about presenting Shakespeare to a wider audience.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Jackpot – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Rebecca Ferguson and Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is a gambler, according to terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a loose cannon whose reckless success relies more on luck than solid field work – which is one of the reasons the CIA has chosen to shut down his Impossible Mission Force. Luck does certainly play a large role in getting Ethan out of many of the harrowing situations he puts himself in, but it has nothing to do with the success of the Mission Impossible series, which – through experience, dedication, and craft – might have hit the jackpot on a perfect blockbuster spy thriller with Rogue Nation.

Monday, August 10, 2015

1984 in the 21st Century

Simon Coates, Christopher Patrick Nolan, Hara Yannas, Sam Crane, Tim Dutton, Stephen Fewell, Mandi Symonds & Matthew Spencer in 1984, at London's Almeida Theatre. (Photo by Manuel Harlan)

Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s exciting production of George Orwell’s 1984 (they did the adaptation as well as directing it) began two years ago at the Nottingham Playhouse and toured around the U.K. before opening at the Almeida in London and subsequently the West End earlier this year. (It will tour the U.S. this fall, including a stop at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge.) Orwell’s 1949 classic is inherently dramatic, though both movie versions – one in 1956 and a second, naturally, in 1984 – were disappointments. (A 1953 television production for  CBS's Studio One attracted some notice, but I’ve never seen it.) Icke and Macmillan’s 1984 is relatively modest, though the stagecraft in the climactic scene where the Thought Police arrest Winston (Matthew Spencer) and his lover Julia (Janine Harouni) is quite sophisticated. The show has a cast of nine and Chloe Lamford’s set, which looks like a slightly moldy English library from the Depression era, also does service as an office, an apartment and a canteen; it manages to both look anonymous and suggest a nostalgic glimpse of an earlier England.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Off-key: Ricki and the Flash

The following contains spoilers.

Meryl Steep’s terrible performance as Ricki Rendazzo, a ‘rock chick’ who left her family years ago to try for music stardom, only to end up fronting a minor bar band in Tarzana, California, is only one of the many drawbacks of Ricki and the Flash, a movie whose truthfulness is as elusive as Ricki’s dreams of success. As the ‘aging’ Rendazzo, Streep is all pouty lips and pained expressions, outrageous outfits and excessive makeup; what she isn’t is a flesh and blood character. But Diablo Cody’s screenplay doesn’t allow for anyone to create anything memorable on screen and Jonathan Demme’s lazy direction – he’s never been worse – only underlines the emptiness and hackneyed nature of the movie.