Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Dumb Fun Sub Movie Is Better Than None: Hunter Killer

Gerard Butler (left) in Hunter Killer.

If you hadn’t already guessed from the film’s name and poster typeface, Hunter Killer is a retro action B-movie in the techno-fetishistic style of a Tom Clancy adaptation. Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) ascends from the rank and file to captain his first submarine on a mission to investigate a missing American sub, which they find sunk alongside a Russian sub. Unable to contact Russian President Zakarin (Alexander Diachenko), the U.S. sends out a Navy SEAL recon team, which discovers that Zakarin is being held captive at a Russian naval base in a coup led by war-hungry Defense Minister Durov (Mikhail Gorevoy). Naturally, the sub and the SEALs are brought together to form a mission to extract Zakarin. Needless to say, they succeed by a hair.

There are numerous resemblances to The Hunt for Red October (1990): some crew are rescued from the downed Russian sub, whose captain (the late Michael Nyqvist) proves indispensable for navigating the U.S. sub into the Russian naval base, and for getting it out in one piece; a stateside bureaucratic argument over how to deal with the coup results in both prepping for war and greenlighting the maverick rescue op, which is also headed by a black admiral (here played by Common); there’s a traitor in the Russian crew, though here it’s only a minor plot point; and, heck, the Russians even speak English amongst themselves.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Halves: Man in the Ring and The Lifespan of a Fact

Kyle Vincent Terry and John Douglas Thompson in Michael Cristofer's Man in the Ring. (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Michael Cristofer’s new play Man in the Ring, receiving its premiere at Boston’s Huntington Theatre, is the biography of Emile Griffith, the middleweight boxing champ of the late fifties and sixties, born on St. Thomas. It’s a fascinating story about a man whose life is haunted by demons – of Benny “Kid” Paret, who died as a result of the Griffith’s last victory over him in the ring, and, in Cristofer’s portrait, of his bisexuality. (Cristofer recreates the vicious beating Griffith received outside a gay bar in 1992.) Cristofer’s dramatic strategy is to tell it in flashback through the point of view of an aging Emile (John Douglas Thompson), living in New York with Luis (Victor Almanzar), a younger man who nurses him through his struggles with dementia pugilistica.

Michael Greif has given the work an exciting production, gracefully staged and visually beautiful. David Zinn designed the set, which is delineated at the wings by staggered fire-escape balconies and upstage by a curved cyclorama on which Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully’s projections evoke the period urban feel as well as echoing key moments in the play, Brechtian style. Zinn relies on muted colors, blacks and browns and sepias, while Emilio Sosa’s costumes provide exotic flashes of color that link back to Emile’s island birthplace. The brilliant lighting design is by Ben Stanton, who takes a leaf from Raging Bull cinematographer Michael Chapman’s book: blinding, crackling flashbulbs heighten the fight scenes. Matt Tierney created the vibrant sound design, and Michael McElroy arranged the music, Caribbean hymns and folk songs that, like the titles, have a Brechtian function. The supporting cast is flawless; the standout performances are by the charismatic Kyle Vincent Terry as young Emile, Almanzar as both Luis (who was Griffith’s adopted son) and a male lover, and Sean Boyce Johnson as Benny Paret, but Starla Benford as Emile’s mother, Emelda, and Gordon Clapp as his manager, Howie Albert, are also memorable. Towering above them is the majestic John Douglas Thompson. His portrayal of the physiologically and psychically impaired Griffith, who stumbles through the play like a wounded colossus, howling like Lear against the immovable universe, is surely one of the highlights of the theatrical season, here or anywhere.