David Appleford is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society and the American Theatre Critics Association
To read more film and theatre reviews, plus navigate through archival material CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
To read more film and theatre reviews, plus navigate through archival material CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
The question I am asked the most is, "Are you Australian or English?"
For the record, it's English. I was born in Tilbury, Essex, made temporarily famous by the film 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age' with Cate Blanchett. Tilbury is the town where Elizabeth 1st gave her infamous speech where she rallied the troops in preparation for the oncoming, though disastrous, attack from Spain. Look on a map of Britain, go to London, then slowly run your finger to the right along the River Thames. There's Tilbury.
The second question that I'm usually asked is, "Are you thinking of becoming an American citizen?"
Actually, I became a citizen in 2001, exactly one week after 9/11 when government offices around the country re-opened for the first time after the attack. Taking your citizenship and pledging allegiance to your adopted country is always an emotional moment, but the significance of the timing in September of 2001 made this ceremony all the more poignant.
We conclude our short series of Christmas themed films that for whatever reason are today considered classics. Today it's Miracle on 34th Street.
Miracle on 34th Street is a genuine American movie classic that today is ranked at number nine on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies.
20th Century Fox studio head, Darryl F. Zanuck, didn't like it. He considered the script too corny and was against the film being made. Knowing that director George Seaton was eager to make the film, Zanuck saw an opportunity. He had Seaton sign a contract stating that if the director would accept his next three projects at the studio without question, he could make Miracle. A desperate Seaton agreed and singed the contract.
Maureen O'Hara wasn't so keen about the film, either. She had to be forced into accepting her role as Macy's events director, Doris Walker. O'Hara was in
The scenes revolving around Macy's Thanksgiving Parade were filmed during the actual parade. Actor Edmund Gwenn, who played Santa Claus in the movie, was the actual Santa in the 1946 parade, waving to the crowd and fulfilling all the obligations that every Santa needs to fulfill when playing the part of the big guy.
Both Macy's and Gimbels were asked by the studio for their permission to be used in the film. Both stores agreed, but on one condition - they both wanted to see the finished product before final approval. This caused the studio a major headache. If either of the two stores disapproved of the film and wanted their names pulled, much of the film would have to be re-shot. Fortunately, at a preview, Macy's and Gimbles were happy with what they saw, and no changes were required.
Even though Miracle on 34th Street is obviously a Christmas film, Darryl F. Zanuck wanted the film released in May. His argument was that more people went to the theaters in the summer, not the winter, so the promotions department had to rush around trying to find a way of promoting the film without letting on that it took place at Christmas. The film's original theater posters show Maureen O'Hara and her leading man, John Payne, dominating the foreground while Edmund Gwenn's Santa is relegated to the background.
Over the years, Miracle has become a much beloved film and has even inspired three television film versions, a 1963 Broadway musical called Here's Love, and a 1994 theatrical film version with Lord Richard Attenborough as Santa, but it is still the 1947 original starring an eight year old Natalie Wood that continues to inspire and capture our imagination.
If you drop by Phoenix Theatre between now and December 24 there will be no mistaking the time of year. Christmas is in full swing and has been for several weeks with Irving Berlin's White Christmas.
Two cast members, Molly Ljoie and Peter Marinaro dropped by the KEZ studios to talk about the show, how audiences have reacted, and why two extra performances were added.
To hear the full interview with Molly and Peter click on the link below.
To find out more regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the Phoenix Theatre website.
Director Peter Jackson clearly loves the imaginative world of J.R.R. Tolkien. He can’t let it go. After the enormous success of The Lord of the Rings, both commercially and artistically, he wanted to do it all over again, only this time his source material, The Hobbit, was considerably shorter, it’s plot more streamlined and it’s overall tone, somewhat lighter.
Evidently, none of those issues were roadblocks for
Part two kind of picks up where part one ended. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot and have yet to see the first three hours, you may want to consider renting the film to bring you up to speed. There’s no introduction to the story so far, it assumes you’re already prepped, and continues.
At the end of the first film you may remember how the thirteen Dwarves could see the Lonely Mountain in the distance with Smaug, the giant, ferocious dragon, inside, asleep, buried among the stolen coins and assorted riches of the kingdom. Then it opens an eye. It’ll take almost another two hours in part two before we return to that moment where the dragon stirs. Before then there’s more cross-country trekking to do, with the Dwarves led by Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the elves, led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and the deadly Orcs, led by a really ugly looking something with a killer temper called Azog (Manu Bennett), all chasing each other.
The casting is good. Martin Freeman (Love Actually and the modern day Dr. Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes) is as good as you could expect as Bilbo Baggins. In fact, he’s quite perfect, as is Ian McKellen as Gandalf with his commanding presence and a voice that demands attention. The surprises this time come with seeing the always entertaining Stephen Fry as the devious and greedy Master of Lake-town, Sylvester McCoy (one of the previous Dr. Who incarnations) as Radagast the Brown, and hearing the booming, distinctive voice of Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug, the last dragon of Middle-earth.
The most pleasant surprise of all is Evangeline Lilly (TV’s Lost) as Turiel, an elf and Chief of the Guards for the Elvenking. As you might expect from that title, she’s a female elf who knows how to look after herself, plus she’s a killer with a bow and arrow. Lilly is the one female character floating in an ocean full of disheveled and rough looking males. Not only is her presence welcomed, it’s necessary. There’s only so much of looking at monsters, squirly little characters, ugly faces, open wounds and unkempt facial hair for this mammoth length of time before you start wanting to see something or someone who is actually pleasant to the eye. With her good looks, tough stance and sympathetic heart, Lilly enters at just the right time. Plus, if you look closely, there is even a cameo from the director himself. His is literally the first face we see.
Peter Jackson has developed great work, plus his ability to make special effects appear seamless and something quite real is remarkable, but in The Hobbit things have got to such a point where it no longer feels as though Jackson is directing; with practically every frame of film relying on blue screen and computer generated imagery, he doesn’t exactly direct, he constructs a scene, building it block by computer generated block and manipulating the pieces to burst alive with the look of fantasy manifesting itself into something that appears real. There are set pieces that are quite stunning – the attack of the giant spiders, for instance, the escape of the Dwarves in barrels along a running river, and the dragon itself, perhaps the most ferocious looking dragon ever committed to film – but there’s a point where everything feels as though it’s being poured in without restraint and Jackson forgot to tell himself when.
To those who love their Tolkien as much as
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 161 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)
Currently showing at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria until December 29 is the most famous of all Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, The Sound of Music.
This morning, two members of the show, Trisha Hart Ditsworth who plays Maria and the director, James Rio, dropped by the KEZ studios to talk about the show, the problems of presenting such an iconic musical, and reaction to the live TV broadcast of the musical.
To hear our full interview with Trisha and James click on the following.
To find out more regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE to go directly to the ABT website.
To read the KEZ review of the show CLICK HERE.
We continue our short series of Christmas themed films that for one reason or another are now considered classics, regardless of age. This week, A Christmas Story.
Based on a book called 'In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash,' a collection of short stories by satirist Jean Shepherd, originally written for Playboy magazine, the family comedy A Christmas Story has become a genuine American classic whose popularity shows no signs of diminishing.
The film was first released in November just before Thanksgiving 1983 and had all but disappeared from theaters before Christmas arrived. Such was the unexpected popularity of the film that complaints were sent to both the studio and theater owners for pulling A Christmas Story out of circuit too early. Some theaters relented and showed the film on select screens until the following year.
For those who have never seen A Christmas Story, the film, set in Indiana during the forties, revolves around young Ralphie and his desire for a Daisy Air Rifle for Christmas. Director Bob Clark had scored such a surprising financial success with the teen-sex comedy Porky's that the studio gave him the go-ahead to film A Christmas Story. It may be hard to imagine, but the truth is that without Porky's there would never have been A Christmas Story.
Jack Nicholson was initially interested in playing Ralphie's father, referred to as 'The Old Man,' but the studio, in an effort to keep costs as low as possible, was not interested in paying Nicholson's fee. Instead, Darren McGavin was eventually given the role.
In an effort to get the right look to the film, the director sent a team of scouts to search around the country for a town that would most resemble an Indiana town of the forties. After visiting at least twenty cities, the director picked areas of Cleveland, Ohio, though the exteriors to young Ralphie's school were filmed in Ontario, Canada.
The voice of the narrator, which is supposed to be Ralphie as a grown man, is actually the author himself, Jean Shepherd. Shepherd can also be seen in the film. Look for a brief cameo in the department store scene where an irate man tells Ralphie he needs to get to the back of the line if he wants to see Santa. Plus, for the benefit of trivia buffs, the woman standing next to Shepherd is his real life wife, Leigh Brown.
Today you can visit the home where the fictional Ralphie lived. The house that was used for all the exterior shots went up for auction on eBay for $150,000. A man called Brian Jones bought the house then spent a further $500,000 renovating the building so that it resembled the way it looked in the film. He also bought the house next door and converted it into a gift shop and museum. It has become quite the tourist attraction for devotees of A Christmas Story.
Since 1995 it has been an annual tradition. A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail opened this weekend at Valley Youth Theatre, and even though the production has the same basic overall look as its predecessors, there are differences in both the presentation and performances that help keep this wonderfully seasonal production fresh and alive and always looking new.
The story by James W. Rodgers, who also wrote the music and lyrics, is a basic one for the season, just as it should be. It is Christmas and the setting of Christopher Robin’s childhood imagination, Hundred Acre Wood, is covered in crisp, white snow. At a time like this you’d think that all would be well as the friends of the young boy excitedly prepare for the holidays, but not for Eeyore. Not only does he continues to mope under his own imaginary dark cloud, as he always does, but this time he really has something to mope about; he’s lost his tail.
What follows next is a determined effort by Pooh Bear, Piglet and everyone else to find that missing appendage before Christmas and put it back where it belongs, on Eeyore’s behind.
Director Cori Brown, who also choreographed this fun production, has assembled a thoroughly engaging ensemble for VYT’s new production of the annual event and turned it into an upbeat and thoroughly delightful sixty minutes plus. The added freshness, coupled with a few new directorial flourishes, makes for a fun evening that might feel as though you’ve been there before until something new happens. When Piglet (Makenna Jacobs, the cutest Piglet ever!) sings of going Up, Up, Up she ascends the see-saw, and when she sings of going Down, Down, Down, she slides back to the accompanying music. When Winnie-the-Pooh (Maggie Eley) falls head-first into Rabbit’s snow covered home and can’t move, the dialog echoes throughout the speakers. With touches like these it’s like watching the show for the first time.
In a production like this where all characters, with the exception of Christopher Robin (Jacob Patch) are hidden under a mound of colorful makeup and wrapped in Karol Cooper’s superb animal costume designs, it’s difficult for any young actor to show their talent in ways that would help them stand out. A production like A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail is an ensemble piece, and like that military expression, the cast is only as strong as its weakest member, and here there are no weak members. Everyone, down to the smallest and youngest role - which here might be second grader Sierra Warner in her first VYT production as little Roo – is just right.
Adam Hays injects a fresh, comic energy into Eeyore, a character that rarely has any, while Caroline Wells as Kanga, Jake Bonar as Owl, Hannah Blaile as Rabbit and Austin Jason Long as Tigger all manage to add their stamp of individuality in order to make these wonderful A.A. Milne characters come alive, but it’s Maggie Eley’s Pooh that holds everything together. By default, not to mention the rotund size of the heavily padded costume, Pooh will always draw your attention, but it’s Maggie who gives Pooh that extra touch of warmth. The nice thing that makes this Pooh a little different from the others is that while Pooh is still that slightly befuddled, silly ol’ bear throughout, Maggie also makes him a determined, take-charge character. If something as important as a missing tail is to be found, it’s Maggie’s Pooh you want on the job.
With it’s giant, hanging snowflakes that hover above the audience, plus Bobb Cooper’s eye-catching wintery scenic design with its many Christmas pines in front of and on the stage – all of which will light up in the second half like one giant, twinkly Christmas tree - A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail continues to be what it always has been, a total charmer. And if you’re an adult who feels they’ve seen it before, think of this: Many of the young members of the audience will be seeing A Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Tail for the first time; maybe it’s their first show. Can you imagine the thrill and the magic of witnessing such delightful sights coming alive before them? See the show through the eyes of those for whom the production is really intended and maybe it’ll feel like seeing it for the first time for you as well. After all, when all the Hundred Acre Wood characters emerge from their various holes and entrance ways for the first time during Christopher Robin’s opening song, there’s something truly magical about seeing them altogether, like old friends we’ve known before bidding us welcome to their new Christmas adventure. That’s how you begin the season.
For more information regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the VYT website.
For more film & local theatre, CLICK HERE for the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
In some ways the new and important looking drama from director Scott Cooper, Out of the Furnace, can be considered a companion piece to The Deer Hunter. Both are set in an economically depressed, blue-collar Pennsylvania mill town, both have war as a backdrop – here you substitute Vietnam for Iraq – and both go deer hunting; not exactly a retread but the comparisons are unavoidable. Here are the principles.
Russell Blaze (Christian Bale) is a nice enough, ordinary kind of guy who, like many in this setting, is having a tough time getting through the day. He works at a steel mill, tends to his ill father and is trying to make a relationship with Lena (Zoe Saldana) work, but nothing is easy.
Russell’s brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck) returns from service in Iraq and can’t adjust. “Come work at the mill,” his brother suggests, but Rodney is having none of it. “I’d rather be dead,” the younger brother says.
Rodney is angry. It’s the kind of anger you carry around with you all day even if you’re never quite sure what you’re angry about. Things are owed to him. For him, mill working will never be a part of his life. Rodney wants something else and he wants it now. “I gave my life for the country and what’s it ever done for me?” he cries.
Then there’s Willem Dafoe as John Petty, a local, small time illegal fight arranger who arranges a bare-knuckle fight for Rodney for big money. At first, the man is reluctant to get Rodney involved. “I’m trying to protect you,” he tells the young man, knowing that the type of men Rodney will be fighting do nothing fair. As Defoe describes them, “They’re in-bred mountain folk from New Jersey,” and they’re dangerous. But Rodney wants the money and he wants the bare-knuckle challenge.
“I’m going to do this one last fight,” Rodney declares in a letter he’s left behind for his brother, and that’s the last we’ll see of him. From there it becomes the older brother’s duty to find out what happened to Russell when the young man went up the mountains and how far the older member is willing to go to seek revenge.
The principle villain is one of those dangerous mountain folk, Curtis DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) a vicious, drug-dealing killer with a hair-trigger temper that never quits. He’s the kind of guy you never want to meet, let alone talk to. He’ll ask a question, you’ll answer, and no matter what you’ve said, he’d find a way to twist it, treat it as an insult and lash out. In what should be a civilized culture such as ours, a man like DeGroat doesn’t make sense. But he, and many like him, exist, and Woody Harrelson does psychotic nut jobs so well.
There’s a lot to appreciate in Out of the Furnace – performances are top notch, the grainy look of the widescreen cinematography perfectly captures the feel of the depressed locale – but it’s a hard film to like. Other than an admiration of cinematic style, there’s no sense of enjoyment being in the company of some of these people or getting to observe them so closely. Their presence is unwelcome but because of the professionalism of the film and the quality of its performers you’re intrigued enough to want to know the outcome, though when it finally arrives you leave the theatre with an overall feeling of nothing achieved, nothing gained. And what the final fade out is supposed to tell us is anybody’s guess.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 106 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)
Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? is a series of conversations with the famous American linguist, cognitive scientist, philosopher, writer, political commentator and sometimes activist, Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at MIT. The conversations were filmed and conducted by French film director Michel Gondry as an obvious labor of love who then took the unusual step of animating everything in a playful, child-like, doodle manner which surprisingly adds clarity to Chomsky’s thoughts, but with a running time of ninety minutes it’s also hard work.
The style of animation is reminiscent to those lengthy internet commercials you might find promoting the learning of foreign languages, where the huckster’s words are quickly drawn like instant, hand-written subtitles or stick figure animation that seems to vibrate on the screen as it acts out what is being said. At one point, the French director actually stops the film to acknowledge that this style is both demanding for the audience to watch as well as it is for him to animate, taking years to complete, though he adds how important it is for him to finish the project. He wants to show the finished work to Chomsky before the elderly scholar passes away.
What’s important, however, is what Noam Chomsky says, and here the film is never boring even if the hand-drawn illustrations can sometimes come across as visual overload. Occasionally we even catch a glimpse of the real man, positioned in a small box at the corner of the screen, talking to director Gondry across a table as the director conducts his interviews that he will later animate.
Gondry wants to know about the man as well as the professor’s thoughts on linguistics and politics. The first question asked is Chomsky’s first memories of life. “The first memories of my life?” Chomsky repeats with mild amusement as though unprepared for something quite so general. The answer is of an aunt who tried to get a young, stubborn little boy to eat oatmeal in the family kitchen. It’s not a revelatory response, but Chomsky later uses that seemingly insignificant episode to illustrate a point during a discussion on a child’s learning of languages and behavior. “Children acquire knowledge of language long before they have the ability to exhibit it.”
The world is a very puzzling place, Chomsky tells the director. “If you’re willing to be puzzled, you can learn. If you’re not willing to be puzzled and you just copy down and behave the way you’re taught, you just become a replica of someone else’s mind. Serious learning comes from asking.”
If you know anything about Noam Chomsky you know that he adheres slavishly to the truth on any given subject, even if that truth is an inconvenient reality. He has no time for those who deny the evidence of science. “Science,” he explains, “Is there to make the world intelligible. Accepting everything as something that just happens teaches nothing.” His meaning is clear. The world doesn’t work in mysterious ways. It’s only the unwillingness to challenge and ask questions that makes it seem as though it does.
For someone who has spent a great deal of time giving lengthy, public speeches in packed auditoriums, Chomsky’s speaking style has often been described as boring, which is why Gondry’s animation clarifying certain matters is such a great idea. The professor talks in a continual soft, unemotional tone, never raising or lowering his voice for emphasis. What he’s saying is undeniably fascinating, but he presents it as though he’s merely speaking in passing, as though everything is an afterthought. His response to his critics has always been that he likes his personal, underplayed style, stating that what’s really important are the issues and adding that no one needs to be swayed by superficial eloquence or emphasis. He’s probably right, though as an admirer of his work and one who is fascinated by what he is saying, it would be nice if he occasionally projected. From time to time, emphasis works.
MPAA Rating: Unrated Length: 90 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)
Some seasonal fun is about to begin at the Kax Theatre,
One of the performers and good friend to KEZ, Carolyn McPhee dropped by to tell us more about the show and what we can expect to see between now and the 22nd.
To hear our interview with Carolyn, click on the link below.
For more information regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for the