On Mondays, Broadway's dark night, let's talk theater! I have reason to talk tonight, shout even. The highlight of my weekend was an unexpected one. I agreed to see Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike with friends knowing virtually nothing about it aside from the safe-guess that it was somehow riffing on Chekhov and that Sigourney Weaver was in it. Sigweavie was draw enough.
This semi-blind purchase happily delivered far more than just starpower.
The play takes place in a single weekend at the childhood home of the very famous Masha (Sigourney Weaver), an Oscar-less aging movie star who made her name on a violent genre franchise. Heh. That sounds so familiar! Is playwright Christopher Durang having a winking laugh at his close actress friend? more
In an effort to review every new film I see this year -- a task I have never accomplished but there's a first time for everything -- I will resort to capsules like these when I haven't reviewed properly. (I realize that my "Oscar" section of reviews implies that all films should be seen through this prism. This implication is not literal or an endorsement -- it's just something that's fun for me and some of you to think about.)
We're ten years on from Yossi & Jagger and Yossi is now a doctor, who buries himself in work to avoid living life or moving beyond that love cut short. When a chance encounter with Jagger's mother shakes him from his stupor, he ends up on holiday. Some of the notes are beautifully played -- the early tearful scene with Jagger's mother is super -- but Yossi is a maddeningly passive protagonist. The film happens to him rather than with hi, or even with his permission. He stubbornly refuses to participate in his own story which makes the redemptive new romance a really tough pill to swallow. Why would this vivacious younger man be interested in Yossi when Yossi himself isn't interested... in anything!?
Grade: C (I would have loved to heartily endorse this movie because Yossi & Jagger was such a perfectly pitched mini-gem but it frustrated me despite a few really strong moments. So if you haven't seen Yossi & Jagger, please do rent it.)
Best in Show: Oz Zehavi almost sells you on the unfortunately lopsided romance as the young soldier Tom but I have to hand this one (emphatically) to Orly Silbersatz Banai as Varda, Jagger's mother who packs a surprising amount of drama into her two scenes. The rug is pulled out from under her but since she kept pretending the rug didn't even exist for ten-plus years...
Oscar Chances: Writer/director Eytan Fox has made 4 feature-length films prior to this one, and most of them have received international release, but he has yet to be selected for submission to represent Israel at the Oscars.
28 HOTEL ROOMS
A novelist (Chris Messina) and an accountant (Marin Ireland) have a fling in a hotel room on a business trip. She tells him it's one and done but they keep meeting on subsequent trips and a confusing, passionate relationship develops. It lasts for years. This is undoubtedly a 'one for the reel' project for both actors and sometimes plays like an acting exercize albeit a good one. Though it never quite transcends its gimmick (the title is the structure), it's affecting despite or maybe even because of the limitations of scope; their lives outside of these rooms begin to feel like fantasy or, in the inverse, like intrusions of reality on fantasy. (But honestly, for a drama that hinges on sexual compatability, it could've used a couple more sex scenes, or longer ones that developed the relationship. This is possible to do in sex scenes. See the great Israeli drama Late Marriage (2001) which is the film I always think of when I think of sex scenes that function as integral narrative and character development, like a great song in a musical or a perfect setpiece in an action film.
Best in Show: It's a complete duet so it'd be rude to pick one!
Oscar Chances?: This was from 2012 and got a teensy-teensy release. Now available on DVD.
CAESAR MUST DIE
This Berlinale winner from the Taviani brothers recreate an art therapy program of sorts in which inmates perform plays. By filming at a prison where they saw a play performed by inmates (a different play) with some real inmates and some actors, some play scenes and some scripted discussion of play scenes the movie effectively walks a line between documentary and drama. The line is no highwire though. The reality and fiction of the program and this particular production is blurred enough that the film never has the knife's edge of real danger that you'd think you'd feel watching real prisoners acting out murder plots, politics and betrayals. As we crosscut between auditions, production, and both formal and informal rehearsals we see the art begin to bleed into life for the inmates. The end result is intermittently moving as most productions of great work tend to be but it feels strangely abitrary; why wasn't it just a documentary?
Best in Show: Salvatore Striano as Brutus. There's a reason he became a professional actor after prison.
Oscar Chances?: Italy submitted this Cannes winner for Oscar consideration last season. It was one of the highest profile titles to not make the 9-wide finalist list.
Obviously the oxygen-hogging story this weekend was the release of a new Oz movie. Pre-sold films are Hollywood's favorite thing for a reason. Familiarity and branding goes a long long long long long long long way toward automatic ticket sales. But Somewhere over another rainbow (logo) NO is a more deserved success story. Let's discuss.
Word of mouth can be your best friend or your worst enemy in movie theaters. The big corporate movie studios are generally very consistent with their strategies though I'd argue too consistent. The would be blockbusters are released on so many screens that people sometimes buy tickets just because it's "the big movie opening" rather than from genuine I Must See This interest. I mean, imagine the financial bloodbath if Jack the Giant Slayer had opened on 10 screens and tried to build trusting that people would be recommending it to others? At least it made some money last weekend before a terrible 63% drop this week.
Meanwhile smaller titles are nearly always platformed in the same way even if that's a mistake for them. I mean, it makes total sense for a movie like Chile's Oscar nominee No which will have a distinctly limited audience proportionately the exact size of its word of mouth. In these cases platforming is wise since the movie is EXCELLENT (seriously, go see it) and people will tell their friends just that. But riskier polarizing movies like Stoker the studios treat in the exact same way, throwing all their chips on reviews and word of mouth even though that clearly won't work as well. I confess that I don't really understand the strategy. When you have a way to hook bigger audiences without word of mouth (i.e. the serial killer genre, some stars, and violent horror which has the most faithful audience ever) why aren't you using it?
I mean, I know I didn't exactly give Stoker a positive review but I'm glad I saw it. Stoker is, at the very least, a great curio discussion topic. But here's the catch. When they hide the weirdos they even lose their cachet as curios because nobody has anything to discuss having not seen it. I guess Stoker will have to wait for DVD to find its audience.
What did you watch this weekend?
I skipped the movies and went to see Sigourney Weaver on Broadway. (More on that tomorrow night)