Friday, August 10, 2012

"HOPE SPRINGS" WISTFUL FANCY

“HOPE SPRINGS” WISTFUL FANCY

Call the wistful “Hope Springs” a comedy of knowing laughter.  Daring to portray a long-married couple old enough to be wrinkled boomers, this sensitive film by David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada”) is set in picturesque Great Hope, Maine.

One of those picture postcard perfect villages on the coast where everything looks old shoe comfortable.

Amid the quaintness of enduring shops and restaurants, grumpy corporate tax advisor Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) and determinedly sunny wife Kay (Meryl Streep) have to spend a week of  “intense marriage counseling” with the highly touted Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carell).

It’s all her idea, of course, and he’s not the least bit happy about it.

While a stream of stereotypical sex problems and clichéd solutions runs through the script by first-time writer Vanessa Taylor, the willing talents of Streep, Jones and Carell lift this material to a highly satisfactory plane.

Frankel is a fantastic enabler, encouraging their commitment to these roles and staying out of their way. Streep, as always, throws herself into creating a deeply detailed personality.

Kay is one of those traditional wives who believe nobody should talk about sex in public, and when they do, only the most proper euphemisms are appropriate.

Arnold would rather not talk about sex at all. Not even think about it.  His idea of cultural enlightenment is watching instructional videos on the golf channel.

After 31 years of marriage, raising two children and all that, their beautiful home is empty and so are their lives. Arnold has the daily games of corporate one-upmanship to stimulate his ego and Kay works in a fashionable clothing boutique keeping the mannequins looking irresistible.

But at home…nothing. Without the kids to talk about, they have become isolated in their own thoughts. Kay feels this loneliness the most, and takes the first steps to do something about it.

It doesn’t take long to get all this set up, with Arnold all bluster and resistance while Kay works that traditional non-confrontational wife psychology to get what she wants.

The fun begins in the vigorously low-key office surroundings of their therapist.  Carell is excellent as the all-knowing observer whose therapy hinges on asking the most insightful questions at exactly the right time.

Sitting safely in the audience we can laugh as Kay and Arnold squirm to describe their feelings about oral sex, fantasy sex and “doing it” in public places (like a mostly empty art film theater).

What is nicest is how all these sensitive moments are handled with such good taste.  Fans of  the Judd Apatow school of crude comedies won’t have much patience with it, but all audiences of the appropriate age can identify with the delicately played out stale marriage humor.

For those couples in their 20s about to consider marriage, there is also some fresh food for thought.



 

 

"RUBY SPARKS" LIGHTS UP THE SCREEN

“RUBY SPARKS” LIGHTS UP THE SCREEN

Love is always about power, isn’t it. Every relationship has a center of power, but when is that center equally divided between both partners?

“Ruby Sparks” becomes a cinema love story filled out with a philosophical sensibility that can’t stop looking closer at this power center. Best of all, the screenwriter, directors and actors involved are all up to the task. Way up.

Paul Dano plays Calvin, a stalled out young novelist, with such believability that you go right along with everything he does.

Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay with Dano (her real life boyfriend) in mind, plays Ruby as a plenty quirky kid with a sincere heart.

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the co-directors of “Little Miss Sunshine,” know all about quirky. This time out they have comfortably created a quirky version of magic realism as both a screen and literary gambit that works every time.

Think of it this way. If you loved “Little Miss Sunshine” and
“Juno,” you are going to be watching “Ruby Sparks” in the next 24 hours.

The story begins with 29-year-old Calvin living on the fumes of fame he  won at age 19 writing a novel filled with such convincing angst it has now acquired a literary mystique equal to “The Catcher in the Rye.”

In the meantime, Calvin himself has been shrinking. He hasn’t written anything. His writer’s block has become a granite block, a writer’s mausoleum.

Desperate to recapture the old magic, he keeps typing on an actual typewriter, the same one he used for that brilliant first novel. But to no avail. He sits, he dreams, the empty sheet of paper rolled up in that noisy typewriter taunts him.

Being the ultimate lonely guy, it’s only natural his fantasies would include a beautiful young woman with a beguilingly artistic nature. Then – what ho – a vision of this lovely creature suddenly appears to him as a full-sized actual person  who wants to fix his breakfast.

Yes, indeed, she is real. The kick is that she will become whatever Calvin types onto the no-longer-empty page. Does he want a girlfriend fluent in French? He has one. A girlfriend who hangs on his every word? He has one.

But then – aha! Where is the honor of having a girlfriend who isn’t her own person? Where is the complicity in that?

More layers of complication ensue. But wonderfully enough, these actors and directors know exactly how to provide what we are after. The uplifting genius of their work becomes our own romantic flying carpet.

After all, if it happened to Calvin, why not all the other lonely guys with rolled up paperbacks in their backpacks?








 

 

ALL NEW "BACK TO THE PAST"

ALL NEW “BACK TO THE PAST”

The Gaslight Theatre has been doing shows for 35 years, but has never cast a DeLorean sports car…until now.



Actually it isn’t the whole car, just the front half. And it isn’t an actual DeLorean, but a scaled-down though accurately depicted model (with a gull-wing door, of course) that has a starring role in the Gaslight’s all-new production “Back to the Past!”

The car’s big scene, when it blasts from 1987 straight back to 1957, is truly a marvel of low-tech special effects -- something the Gaslight Theatre does better than anyone else in town. Tom Benson did the scene design
Peter Van Slyke is the writer and director, coming up with a neat 1950s twist on nostalgia that is remarkably close to the cult movie favorite “Back to the Future.”

Fresh new face Jack Chapman plays Mickey McFry, the eager high school lad who accidentally drives his eccentric science teacher’s experimental car to the same street in Pleasantdale 30 years earlier.

Once Mickey gets over the shock of finding himself in quaint 1957, where even more quaint doo-wop songs seem to set the teen standard, he realizes his DeLorean doesn’t have any fuel to get him back to the future and his own comfy bedroom in 1987.

Then, much worse, Mickey discovers his own dad in 1957 was a nerdy high school kid who couldn’t talk to girls. In a flash of panic, Mickey realizes if his dad doesn’t get up the nerve to ask his future mom to dance, Mickey will never be born.

Fans of time travel can draw their own conclusions about this probability occurring. Can something that hasn’t happened yet still influence something else that hasn’t happened yet? There must be some science fiction writers’ rule to cover such a situation.

At the Gaslight, where a sense of time has always been rather arbitrary anyway, Van Slyke and company go fearlessly where no Gaslight cast has ever gone before.

Chapman makes a strong impression as a bubbly adolescent who can sing a good pop song. He makes a nice team with the equally effervescent Tarreyn Van Slyke as Mickey’s bouncy girlfriend Betsy.

Joe Hubbard and David Orley are double-cast in the flighty role of spiky white-haired Professor Jedidiah Bunsen, the science teacher always one test tube shy of a load.
Mike Yarema dons the glasses with white tape across the bridge to play the beleaguered Vern McFry,  Mickey’s reluctant dad.  Sarah Vanek  gets the sensible role of Mickey’s mom Lillian.

There aren’t any real Gaslight-type villains here, but Todd Thompson comes closest as Buzz the pot-bellied town bully who lives to humiliate both Verne and Mickey.
While many Gaslight shows would qualify as a blast from the past this one feels fresher, especially with that DeLorean lighting up when it breaks through warp speed.

Staying with that 1980s time frame, the after-show Olio does some costumed tributes to Boy George, Brian Setzer’s Stray Cats, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna doing “Vogue.”
As well as a joke with my favorite punch line, “Linoleum Blownapart.”  You just gotta’ be there



 

 

INTENSE FUN IN "MAURITIUS"

 

INTENSE FUN IN “MAURITIUS”

 

Theatergoers who love language receive a special treat in TV screenwriter Theresa Rebeck’s “Mauritius,” a joyful riff on David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” and more. Alongside the higgledy-piggledy Mamet-speak of tough guys trying to out-attitude each other there glides the rhythmic counterpoint of elaborate phrase-craft carefully constructed to conceal more agendas than it is forced to reveal.

Live Theatre Workshop has opened a sleek production of “Mauritius” directed by Sabian Trout to let Rebeck’s words soar freely in exploding displays that continue to shimmer like fireworks in your mind long after the moment has past.

The ostensible subject here is stamp collecting, but the real subject is greed as we watch this hunger for wealth terminally consume Jackie (Carley Elizabeth Preston), an innocent in the illusory land of price tag philately; her half-sister Mary (Rhonda Hallquist), determined to lay equal claim on a pair of exceedingly rare stamps from the island country of Mauritius; ambitious Dennis (Steve Wood), a street-wise con artist eager to parlay Jackie’s innocence into his own opportunity; crafty Philip (Michael Woodson), a less-than-prosperous stamp dealer who always had to watch life from the outside; blunt and brutal Sterling (Jonathan Northover), an unabashed gangster and master of manipulation.

Let it be said loudly that all five actors are at the top of their game in giving this play a real run for its money. Each creates a hard-edged character that turns “Mauritius” into a bristling ensemble piece of double-cross scheming and frustrated desires. Nobody gets all of what they want. Everybody gets all of what they deserve.

The plot begins with Jackie discovering that her deceased grandfather’s stamp collection contains two exceedingly rare entries worth an exceptional amount of money. Mary immediately points out she is the most entitled to the collection because she is the one who spent the most time with Grandfather.

But Jackie, being more punk than polite, grabs the stamp album and immediately gets involved with Philip, the shady stamp expert who was recommended by a guy at Jackie’s favorite comic book shop.

Then the fun comes in watching how Dennis, the protégé in the stamp store, tries to outsquirm both Philip and Jackie to get control of those stamps. All their maneuvering becomes more manic when Sterling, the real money man, enters the fray.
None of them has any idea what the two rare stamps from Mauritius are actually worth.

Certainly, each would be ecstatic with $2 million. But what if the stamps are really worth $8 million?

Suddenly, $2 million doesn’t sound so good.

“Mauritius” continues through Aug. 18 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd. All tickets are $18, with discounts available. For details and reservations, 327-4242, or visit www.livetheatreworkshop.org


 

COME GET YOUR "ESSENTIAL SOUL"

COME GET YOUR “ESSENTIAL SOUL”

Every heart needs an extra helping of soul now and then. Given today’s tense times, NOW sounds like an excellent opportunity for some genuine good times groovin’.


More specifically -- Monday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. in the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway – when the stage is cleared to present “Essential Soul: A Soul, Motown and R&B Vegas-style Revue!!!”

Dapper entrepreneurs Charlie Hall and Sam Eagon have put together a 10-piece mainstage soul and funk band called The Socials and an equally enthusiastic opening act, the Thousandaires.

To create this roots, blues, soul and R&B treasure chest, Hall and Eagon culled deep talents from the Bad News Blues Band, Giant Blue, members of the Tucson Jazz Society and Arizona Blues Hall of Fame,  along with alumni of the Gaslight Theatre.  

Plan on hearing trad favorites celebrating Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” Aretha Franklin’s “Never Loved A Man,” Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” and lots more where those came from.

“Essential Soul: A Soul, Motown and R&B Vegas-style Revue!!!” headlining with the Socials and featured act The Thousandaires plays for one night only, Monday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. in the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway.

All tickets $21.95 plus tax. Reservations 520-886-9428 or visit www.thegaslighttheatre.com






 

 

"TOTAL RECALL" A SENSORY OVERLOAD

“TOTAL RECALL” A SENSORY OVERLOAD

History can seem so quaint sometimes. Remember “Speed” (1994) and “Twister” (1996), a couple of proto-action flicks that made no pretense of being interested in exploring fascinating characters or presenting a clever plot.

Back then I loved these movies for being unabashed cheap thrills and acting so proud of it.

Well…the thrill is gone.

Len Wiseman, the director of “Total Recall” who was aided by several willing screenwriters, finally has bludgeoned his audiences into terminally fatal boredom. Blame it on the redundantly repetitious action scenes that never seem to end.

Taking his cue from the infamous Chinese water torture, Wiseman keeps banging us on the head with one chase scene after another. Who is chasing whom? Where are they running to…or running from? Why do we care?

The once unrepentant bad boy Colin Farrell is wading through his own bad karma here. Instead of becoming his generation’s number one action hero, Farrell has been outdistanced by Brad Pitt and a dozen others. This “Total Recall” will in no way bring Farrell’s career back to life.

All those screenwriters aren’t even pushing the “do over” button on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1990 screen adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi story “'We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.”

When Paul Verhoeven was directing Schwarzenegger in “Total Recall,” both made tons of money. So now in 2012, Wiseman directs Farrell in a high concept sensory overload also called “Total Recall” with only the most ephemeral connection to Verhoeven and even less to Dick.

Nobody even goes to Mars this time. Instead, it is a century from now and a bunch of engineers have built a massive tunnel that goes straight through the Earth, connecting the imperious  metropolis that succeeded Great Britain and the only other civilized place in the whole world…Australia…now known as The Colony

Only it isn’t much of a success story as the whole country has been turned into a Skid Row rats’ warren of scurrilous survivors reminiscent of “Blade Runner.”

Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, a soot-collar proletarian who lives in the Colony and every day commutes to work in the evil metropolis. His partner in an unhappy marriage is Kate Beckinsale as Lori (the Sharon Stone role).

Jessica Biel completes a triangle of unhappiness on this landscape of desperation, though I can’t say for sure what’s at the root of it all.

Douglas has had his memories erased, thereby deleting his feeling of being worthless. But that’s when the bureaucrats discover he could be a spy with a very clever cover-up.

Is he or isn’t he? He doesn’t know. We don’t know. But he keeps trying to find out, long after we have stopped caring.

 

 

"BOURNE LEGACY" A WORTHY INHERITANCE

“BOURNE LEGACY” A WORTHY INHERITANCE

With a little bit of brains and tons of crisply played action, “The Bourne Legacy” with Jeremy Renner creating a new renegade agent to replace Jason Bourne easily tops the post-Batman box office derby -- the movie to see after you’ve seen “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Here’s the thing, all you conspiracy watchers, director and captain-at-large Tony Gilroy doesn’t give Renner that much to do on his first enlistment. The first two-thirds of “Legacy” roar and tumble like a chemically enhanced nightmare set among the world’s most sophisticated slum cities before pudgy-faced Renner gets too involved.

Most of the “plot” up to this point involves various ultra-top secret government agencies pumping up gallons of their own competitive testosterone just trying to locate the elusive Jason Bourne.  We never do get to see Bourne. Maybe he’ll be back in “Bourne Legacy II.”

Instead, leaping in as the movie’s raison d’etre is Renner playing the drug-addicted and sweaty blue collar agent-on-the-run Aaron Cross, our government’s unwilling inheritor of the aforementioned legacy.

By the time Cross does get truly involved, his prowess has been inflated to such intensity we don’t care about his schlumpy screen presence.
This new secret government agent is a long way from being the Yankees’ own James Bond, though. Not only does he lack the traditionally lean All-American man-of-action look, he’s got no troublemaker edge to him.

Or think of it this way, Renner looks like a fairly fit weekend warrior in the Army Reserve when what we expect is an elite beret-wearing  commando from the U.S.Army’s special forces, albeit in civvies.

Most of the screen time goes to a snarling Ed Norton, anyway. He enjoys chewing up the screen while spewing anger all over his quivering colleagues.

Using quick edits and jumping all over the globe from sprawling cities to isolated outposts, Gilroy  stirs up a heady brew of Matrix-like conspiracies poisoning inter-agency rivalries of Machiavellian complexity.

Just trying to keep up with what’s going on requires extreme concentration , but it can be just as much fun to settle back and feel overwhelmed – just like Aaron Cross. From here, it looks absolutely certain that he will be back in the next episode.

The final scene of  “Bourne Legacy” has Cross and U.S. government scientist Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) adrift on a raft, safe enough but with no idea where they are going.

 

 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

CHARMING JAZZY “A CAT IN PARIS”


CHARMING JAZZY “A CAT IN PARIS”
The charm of imagination fills the art work and the soundtrack of the French animation film “A Cat in Paris,” now playing at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. While Pixar currently reigns as the king of kid movies that tug on adult heartstrings, this “Cat” tale in French with subtitles will be mostly appreciated by grown-ups.
Postmodern in style, though laced with a 1950s sensibility (and period jazz to accent the drama), the mood easily carries a chuckling grace that can quickly neutralize one’s own cynicism. We know acting like a properly dressed and responsible person can become rather tiresome – especially after 5 p.m on weekdays.

Co-directors Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol begin with a concept I have always loved: that cats often live private lives far more elaborate than anything we might guess about. Especially if they are jazz cats like Dino.

By day, Dino lazes around in the sunny apartment of Jeanne, her sad daughter Zoe and their housekeeper Claudine. But at night, wide-awake Dino zips off to the lesser neighborhood of Nico, a burglar who scampers across Paris rooftops with the quickness of a cat – and Dino is right there step for step.

Zoe is always sad because her police detective father was recently murdered by crime boss Victor Costa. Now it is Jeanne, also a detective, who is in charge of bringing Costa to justice.

However, all that is backstory as we watch how innocently Nico the good-hearted cat burglar and then Zoe are drawn into the conflict.

With a running time of only 67 minutes, “A Cat in Paris” unfolds with an elegant economy of narration that is never confusing. Nor is it condescending.

Zoe may be practically catatonic over her father’s violent death, but she can’t help giving in to her own youthful curiosity and, ultimately, her determination to demand justice, as well.

Costa and his gang of criminals get a more cartoonish portrayal, but Felicioli and Gagnol are serious artists who value balance in their work.

Earlier this year “A Cat in Paris” received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. It should have won.

THIS “PACT” IS GENUINELY JUMPY


THIS “PACT” IS GENUINELY JUMPY
We can all agree that a banquet of fast food is not anything like a banquet of gourmet offerings. “The Pact,” a low-budget screamer now playing at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd., is definitely in the fast food category – but is also a banquet of sorts.
First time writer/director Nicholas McCarthy shows flashes of brilliance in presenting his generic plot of genre spooky stuff refreshingly free of gratuitous gore and fantasy special effects.
The timing and shadowy lighting become effective additives to maximize the tension, heightened by a full score of intimidating original music by Ronen Landa. This is horror more in the Japanese manner, where the sound of wispy willows can turn into a death rattle.
Caity Lotz plays Annie the beautiful damsel in distress, an angry miss on a motorcycle whose determination to prove her missing sister is just another drug-abusing slacker keeps keeping Annie in more trouble.
Agnes Bruckner is Nichole, Annie’s tattooed sister with a baby. She has a small but pivotal part in the beginning, baiting the trap for what comes after.
The plot is just a jumble of odd parts as Annie returns to her mother’s house after her mother’s funeral, looking for Nichole. Hints of horrifying family secrets fill the air. The house itself seems to hate Annie, the more she digs into discovering Nichole.
Most everything takes place inside, with doors slamming, refrigerators opening, shadows cloaking every moment.
McCarthy to his credit minimizes the negative impact of his limited actors by giving them little to say but lots to risk.
The Loft has invested years in developing a solid audience for this kind of film. “The Pact” is right in the pocket, providing cheap thrills with an instant rush.

SHOOTING GALLERY SATIRE IN “GOD BLESS AMERICA’


SHOOTING GALLERY SATIRE IN “GOD BLESS AMERICA’
Wouldn’t it be fun if there was a carnival shooting gallery where they had floating ducks named “Democrat” and “Republican,” along with slightly smaller targets called “hippie communist” and “angry right wing talk show host.”
If that thought makes your trigger finger itchy, you are the audience for Bobcat Goldthwait’s satirical cinema therapy, “God Bless America” now playing at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.
When the protagonist Frank is played by Bill Murray’s brother Joel (who does create a very sympathetic shmoo) and his accomplice is Roxy a perky high school kid (Tara Lynne Barr) in the eccentric mold of the hit movie character Juno – well, let the fun begin.
Although “God Bless America” is thinly plotted and superficially written -- really it’s just a 104-minute Saturday Night Live skit -- the satisfaction afterward is worth at least the price of a matinee ticket. Who wouldn’t love to put a bullet through that thoughtless cell phone user who disturbs your restaurant meal or – Heaven forbid – your movie.
It is quite amusing to imagine less culturally aware couples who see that title “God Bless America” listed in the movie times and go buy tickets expecting a conservative feel-good flick.
Goldthwait couldn’t be a more left-leaning writer and director. He includes a few scenes with white-knuckled rants written just like his own comedy performances. Some of his personal favorite targets are Tea Party fanatics, spoiled teens on TV shows, the politically correct and all shades of self-righteous trend setters.
Frank has always been polite and thoughtful, consequently getting nowhere in his life or his career. His daughter hates him. His ex-wife is about to marry a handsome policeman.
He learns he has a fatal brain tumor on the same day he gets fired for sending a cheerful bouquet of flowers to the office receptionist. She considered his act of kindness to be sexual harassment.
There is also the hateful young married couple with the baby who cries all night every night. They live in the other half of Frank’s duplex, separated only by one thin wall.
All this gets set up fairly quickly and Frank is about to commit suicide when he decides, if he is going to die anyway, he might as well take out a few of his own enemies along the way. The obnoxious TV programming that’s pumped into his brain daily is a major influence on Frank’s choice of victims.
Roxy shares many of Frank’s frustrations. Though Roxy is still a high school teen, she’s a precocious one who encourages Frank to keep finding new targets. As a team they become a post-modern Bonnie and Clyde (but without the sex, and lots more killing).

LOOPY, TRIPPY “BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW”


LOOPY, TRIPPY “BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW”
No one has been more dedicated to going back to the future than Canadian experimental filmmaker Panos Cosmatos with his meditative horror mash-up, “Beyond the Black Rainbow,” now playing in the late night spot at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.
His father is Greek/American director George Cosmatos (“Rambo: First Blood Part II,” “Tombstone”). Young Panos grew up in the movie business in the 1980s, and received a crew credit on “Tombstone.” The son also credits himself with being a self-taught filmmaker.
“Beyond the Black Rainbow” gets compared in some film magazines to the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Stanley Kubrick. Also in there is another Canadian, David Cronenberg.
But this is young Cosmatos’ first feature film. He has a lot to learn about drama and pacing before he can reach the level of those icons.
“I wanted the film to be like slow motion suspense,” he told one film magazine. “I wanted to explore the moods and tones and themes” that are contained within a simple story of one beautiful young woman’s need to escape from brainwashing torture in an isolated and sterile hospital-looking environment.
 Cosmatos has the slow motion part down pat, if not the suspense part. It is maddeningly slow, and the plot is defiantly simple. There is never any complexity to clutter up endless strings of dialogue-free scenes that seem to last forever.
If it wasn’t for the truly sinister film score composed by Jeremy Schmidt there would be long lapses in clues as to what emotion Cosmatos was going after.
Film fans of horror movie classics from the 1980s (you know who you are) will appreciate this director’s diligence for going back to the future. He sets his picture in futuristic 1983, using lighting, film and sound recording equipment from that period. Even going so far as to having the music played on an old school analog synthesizer.
Such antique atmosphere is very convincing as he turns grainy lo-fi film, stark sets, odd camera angles and eternal pauses in dialogue and action into a strange mosaic that becomes by turns both loopy and trippy. By his own admission, Cosmatos calls “Beyond the Black Rainbow” his own “bizarre art film.”
The evil doctor is played by Michael Rogers. His pretty patient, internalizing all of her lines, is Eva Allan. A few other characters pop up now and then, but Rogers and Allan are the ones you remember.

Sharon McNight


Sharon McNight is so psyched to do her show in Tucson, she’s bringing along a little bit of everything – which in McNight’s case, is quite a lot.
She sings, she dances, she yodels, she tells piles of jokes. In high school she also played flute in the marching band.
“And I have a master’s degree in directing,” McNight adds in her trademark gravelly voice, on the phone from her San Francisco home.  She is also noted for her research on the lives of Sophie Tucker and Mae West.
Re-imagining that information, McNight created and performed a one-woman musical based on Tucker that played off-Broadway as “Red Hot Mama.”
Then there is the versatile artist’s Tony Award nomination in 1989 for “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” for her performance as Diva in “Starmites.” Shortly afterward, Al Hirshfeld drew her caricature.
Another noteworthy piece McNight enjoys performing celebrates the screen legends Betty Grable, Betty Hutton and Bette Davis.
“I’m one of the few women who do Bette Davis,” she says proudly, noting most of those other entertainers doing Davis are men.
Some of McNight’s more colorful achievements include a party record (like they made in the 1950s) called “Songs To Offend Almost Everyone” that was so popular she recorded a second one – which included such tasty favorites as “Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals.”
 “She can belt with the best and pour out a torch song like there’s no tomorrow,” said the San Francisco Bay Times, adding that her act also included some “bawdy ditties from World War II.”
Little wonder that in 2010 McNight was named one of the 50 most influential people in cabaret.
“What I do is more like a vaudeville act,”
McNight explained. “I’ve always admired Sammy Davis, who could do so many different things, but always called himself a variety artist.
“That’s what I am, too. A variety artist.”
But wait…there’s more. McNight’s signature piece, which she will be doing for Sizzling Summer Sounds, is her seven-minute version of “The Wizard of Oz.” You know the story. You know the characters. McNight does them all.
 There are several YouTube excerpts online. Check them out for yourself.
As for that yodeling part, if we are lucky maybe McNight will tell us all about the time Roy Rogers taught her how to yodel when both were on the Johnny Carson show.

BAD TASTE DEFINES “THAT’S MY BOY”


BAD TASTE DEFINES “THAT’S MY BOY”
If you know any 18-year-olds who are still in fifth grade, you might know someone who would enjoy Adam Sandler’s deepest dive into high raunch, “That’s My Boy.”
If you are the sort of person who appreciates crude humor so long as it is extremely crude (think Judd Apatow), I suggest drinking a six pack in the theater parking lot before stepping up to the box office for “That’s My Boy.”
Sandler’s main talent these day is to come up with a uniquely disgusting idea, then make it even more disgusting. The premise of “That’s My Boy” sounds rather sunny compared to the oozy humor and excrementitious situations that fill the screen.
But first comes the set-up. The Sandler character, Donny Berger, is only 14 in 1984…albeit a very cool 14. Seduced by his sexy blond teacher, Donny becomes a national hero for his precociously macho manner after his teacher swears her undying love as she is hauled off to jail – her tummy rounded with their love child.
Soon as Donny turned 18, he became a single parent responsible for raising this child – who Donny had named Han Solo Berger.
The catch is, Donny was a horrible parent, totally preoccupied with his own interests instead of looking after his son. We jump ahead to the present day, Donny is still an irresponsible bum closing in on middle age wearing his hair in a shag cut.
Han Solo (Adam Samberg), of course, has grown up to be a Wall Street wizard with lots of success and a wardrobe to match. Han has also taken a more responsible name – Todd – and a hot girlfriend he is about to marry.
Now Donny is in deep financial doo-doo and his only way out is to ask his disenfranchised son for a loan.
Now it is almost time for the “real” movie to start. Donny tracks down his son and jumps through nearly two hours of hoops arranged in concentric rings of increasing crudeness and disgust. It is Donny’s determination that is supposed to win us over.
That and his son’s realization that Donny does have some good qualities, after all.
But the plot is not the point here. The plot is only the rack on which to hang enough sex-pie-in-your-face humor to overwhelm the movie’s R rating.
There is one more cinematic note of interest: Vanilla Ice plays a caricature of himself, but does it with such strong presence and easy élan he becomes the most positive force in the picture. If Ice wants to revive his career by making movies, “That’s My Boy” is a good start.

ROCK ’N’ ROLL HEART FILLS “LAST DAYS HERE


ROCK ’N’ ROLL HEART FILLS “LAST DAYS HERE”
This combination is not as unusual as you might think. Lots of young men can chant, scream or otherwise outrageously deliver a rock song lyric that – for totally unknown reasons – suddenly connects with millions of people.
Despite infinite research projects, nobody can predict when this will happen. Back in 1970, Liebling was just another skinny kid with long hair and a crazed attitude who could jump onstage with a rock band, grab a microphone and seem to be channeling the Devil itself.
Kids always love this stuff. The band heightened this effect by taking the name Pentagram. A cult following began to form. Columbia Records caught the scent of more money and brought Pentagram into the studio.
Alas, that did not go well. Liebling, a nervous perfectionist, drove the studio technicians crazy with his demands and Columbia quickly lost interest.
But now Liebling was convinced he had world class rock star talent, albeit unrecognized. A handful of true believers in the Pentagram cult agreed.
Those drug addictions quickly followed as Liebling took to his parents’ sub-basement, waiting for the knock of fame on his door. His well-intentioned parents became enablers of Liebling’s weaknesses, willing to let him become increasingly helpless while sincerely believing they were trying to help.
Enter a superfan named Sean “Pellet” Pelletier from Philadelphia in the year 2000, a onetime indie-record-label employee who was determined to be the guy who “discovered” the feeble Liebling and set the singer back on his delayed path to rock ’n’ roll fame and fortune.
Once film documentarians Don Argott and Demian Fenton (“The Art of the Steal,” “Rock School”) got involved, the story focused on Pelletier’s determined efforts to save Liebling from himself.
Seen from this lens, the audience gets a little distance from the singer’s suffering while coming to appreciate more the devotion of Pelletier to this lost cause. Somehow the filmmakers acquired some rough footage of the Liebling of a few years ago showing the decades-old ravages of his deep addiction.
“Last Days Here” then becomes a tense race to see if Pelletier can get the singer clean and clear of drugs, strong enough to carry the emotion that still burned behind his cadaverous face. Right up until the last few scenes, the decision is in doubt.
But on this journey we are equally awed by the power of rock ’n’ roll to destroy one life while energizing another one.

IT’S TIME TO SIZZLE AT THE ARIZONA INN


IT’S TIME TO SIZZLE AT THE ARIZONA INN
It’s here! The Sizzling Summer Sounds gourmet cabaret presented by Invisible Theatre at the Arizona Inn, 2200 E. Elm St., June 13 to July  6.
Kicking up its heels to open this four-week event Wednesday and Thursday, June 13-14, 
is Invisible Theatre favorite, the desert diva Liz McMahon going “Crazy…About Patsy Cline!” accompanied by pianist Khris Dodge, with special guest the energetically fiddlin’  li’l mama Heather Hardy.
The weekend goes golden Friday and Saturday, June 15-16, with “From Ragtime to Romance” presented by the renowned interpreter of George Gershwin, that incurable romantic Richard Glazier, warmly remembered for his PBS specials “From Gershwin to Garland” and “From Ragtime to Reel Time.”
In coming weeks the sizzling lineup will include notable guest artists from out-of-town, Amanda McBroom with pianist Michele Brourman, Sharon McNight and Steve Ross...plus an array of Tucson favorites. All tickets are $35.
                                     *****
Richard Glazier remembers very clearly the day that changed his life. He was 12, sitting in Ira Gershwin’s Beverly Hills home, playing Ira Gershwin’s piano.
Glazier will tell you the whole story himself, during his performance of “From Ragtime to Romance” this weekend in the Sizzling Summer Sounds showcase.

“This music is immortal,” said Glazier, on the phone just hours after flying back home to Sacramento from his concert in Toronto. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a hard rocker, a contestant on “American Idol,” Lady Gaga or whatever.
“These songs make you feel good on the inside. That’s why I do what I do,” Glazier continued. His enthusiasm for this music comes at you in capital letters.
“The more you learn, the more you appreciate these songs,” he said. “Nobody should settle for mediocrity.”
This lifetime of dedication to the music of George and Ira Gershwin, along with colleagues such as Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and Irving Berlin has also led Glazier to do more research into the lives of these composers as well as an intense study of their interpretations on early 78 rpm recordings.
“I’m not a jazz musician,” Glazier said firmly. “I’m a classically trained concert pianist. I learn the nuances of these songs. Every note I play is a conscious choice, with a purpose and meaning.
“It takes discipline and hard work, preparing these pieces as deliberately as a classical musician would prepare.”
Listening to the recorded excerpts posted on Glazier’s website – www.richardglazier.com – the music has a strong period feel, with all the mannerisms of a 1930s recording, as well as the clear and bright quality of modern technology.
“Being able to perform is a special gift for me. It’s when I am the happiest,” Glazier explained. “I give everything I have every time.
“What I want to create onstage is the intimate feeling that this audience is in my living room, being taken on a magic carpet ride of music that makes people feel good about themselves.”
Not just the people who remember these songs from their youth, but today’s youth, as well. The ones who hear today’s rock and pop stars singing this music as if it was brand new.
Richard Glazier will perform “From Ragtime to Romance” Friday and Saturday, June 15-16, at 8 p.m. at the Arizona Inn. Tickets are $35. For details and reservations, 882-9721,www.invisibletheatre.com
Dinner and show packages are offered by the Arizona Inn, 325-1541, www.arizonainn.com


BALLET DREAMS IN “FIRST POSITION”


BALLET DREAMS IN “FIRST POSITION”
For teens, summer is the time when dreams blossom. So it is entirely appropriate to find “First Position” playing at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.  This documentary on the competition in 2010 among contestants at the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world for teens, is all about dreaming impossible dreams.
The filmmaker is Bess Kargman, a journalist and former dancer intimately familiar with this student world of ballet competitions. Hundreds of budding dancers spend all of their formative years training to win a handful of awards.
 All of them will know the pain and sacrifice of stretching their bodies far beyond normal limits. All will have exhaustion as their constant companion. But only a few will win the recognition that opens those ballet doors to push their careers forward.
Kargman has selected a politically correct list of six dancers, three males and three females, ranging in age from 11 to 17. Latins, Africans, Asians and a couple of All-Americans are represented.
Following a structure much like “Spellbound,” we meet each of the kids, get to know them on a personal level, then follow them through training and preliminary rounds of performances that lead up to the finals.
Applying her journalism instincts, Kargman doesn’t set up any artificial heroes and villains. She has chosen her candidates carefully. Each of them becomes an endearing individual, courageous for accepting this torturous performance path to achieve a few stage moments of soaring triumph.
Anyone who is a ballet dancer, who has spent many childhood years in ballet training or has been the parent of a dancer will relate to this gentle film (as compared to, say, “Black Swan”).
We learn about the insiders’ pain of discipline that stretches young feet to endure performing on tip-toe; stretching legs, backs and arms to reach a range of extensions unknown to normal youngsters. There are the expensive ballet shoes that last, literally, just a few days; the elaborate costumes whose cost spirals upward from hundreds of dollars.
Then we see all the hope, all the determination on those sweet innocent faces.
Who can resist that? It is impossible.

FEVERISH, ABSTRACT “KEYHOLE”


FEVERISH, ABSTRACT “KEYHOLE”
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It would seem, at first thought, that nostalgia and abstraction would fit together naturally in the halls of recollection. Why couldn’t vaguely strung-together abstractions easily match nostalgia’s lack of interest in accuracy?
“Keyhole,” the newest entry from Canada’s rabidly non-conformist Guy Madden (“the Saddest Music in the World,” “Cowards Bend the Knee’”) is now playing at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd. “Keyhole” is the Loft’s current Cinema Nocturna entry, shot in black-and-white so Madden can take the German expressionist fascination with film noir to remarkable heights of haunting design.
Every crime movie from the 1930s and 1940s feels reflected in this rush of imagery Madden brings to the screen. Talk about 50 shades of grey.
The filmmaker doubles that, at least, to tell in the abstract a tale that feels more like a fever dream of regrets from childhood, adulthood and parenthood stirred with sexual fantasies that would never be allowed in the house.
Jason Patric is compelling as Ulysses Pick, a modern man whose life of selfish compulsions has led him into a catacomb of lost causes symbolized in this dimly lit and nightmarish house full of twisted hallways lined with closed doors set on distorted angles.
All these doors hide secrets, it seems, though some contain keyholes through which the ever-harried Ulysses can kneel down to discover a certain amount of bitter truth.
Also in the film are Isabella Rossellini as Hyacinth, a distracted woman separated from Ulysses to mourn her three dead children; Louis Negin playing Hyacinth’s upset father, kept chained to Hyacinth’s bed; Udo Kier as the game-changing Dr. Lemke, a symbolic role, to be sure.
All are sad, believing life is something that only happens to other people, while their own personal experiences are filled with more obstacles than opportunities. And with a note of absolute truth, all of them blame someone else for their problems.
Rather than having an actual plot, “Keyhole” offers more of a suggestion that in this large and crumbling house are several detached people who exist only to provide metaphors meant mostly for the audience.
Ulysses searches for Hyacinth, getting into lots of crime-related scrapes along the way played by a large cast of unknowns who don’t talk much.
Most engaging are the camera angles exaggerating the corners and shadows of the creaking house, creating those expressionist statements that feel like nostalgic noir.
In a movie where nothing makes any “sense” in a linear sense of the word, where the atmosphere feels as much like David Lynch and “Eraserhead” as it feels like Sam Fuller’s “Shock Corridor,” the most enjoyable way to enjoy “Keyhole” is to approach it as stoner noir.
Or as David Byrne insisted, “Stop making sense.”