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.
Back in 1992 when Enchanted April was released, the first thing you wanted to do was book a plane and spend a summer at the same place where those four ladies spent a vacation together in a secluded villa in Italy. The same thing occurs after watching the new Pierce Brosnan romantic drama Love Is All You Need. After spending a couple of hours in the company of these mostly likable characters in a secluded villa in
Despite the whimsy of its title, Love Is All You Need is not a film based on the chorus of the
famous Beatles song but a drama revolving around a wedding at an Italian lemon plantation. Danish actress Trine Dyrholm plays Ida, a woman who has just successfully ended treatment for breast cancer. On the eve of a trip to watch her daughter marry a young Englishman in
Pierce Brosnan plays Phillip, a businessman living in
The mechanics of the plot suggest a farce – the bride’s mother and the groom’s father meet up at the villa - and even though on the surface they appear like a mismatched couple, you know that eventually there’s a good chance they’ll be together. Then the Danish father turns up with his girlfriend; the bride and groom have doubts, then the bride starts dirty-dancing with one of the hired locals. The way events develop and the manner in which the characters react to those events, everything appears as though the film is paved for a comedy, yet Love Is All You Need isn’t interested in the laughs, despite the occasional moment of humor. The potential romance between the Danish mother and the English father develops in a manner that seems quite real. It’s a nice chemistry that’s fun to watch, and even though it’s never obvious to either Phillip or Ida that they may have something happening between them, it’s obvious to us. “I don’t understand why anyone would work for you,” Ida tells Phillip after hearing him bark demanding orders to his employees down the phone. “You’re awful.”
Love Is All You Need is a Danish film with dialog in both Danish and English. The wide screen cinematography is well framed with bright, vivid colors throughout, but it’s not just the look of the film and the sight of the Italian coastal location that’s attractive to the eye; the characters are also good company, and it’s fun to be with them if only for a couple of hours. Pierce Brosnan’s no nonsense character warms as events continue, and even though Trine Dyrholm looks nothing like the expected glamour of a
For more film and local theatre reviews, CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
This week’s new releases on DVD and Blu-Ray include an epic with an all-star cast, an examination of a character not unlike Charlie Sheen played by Charlie Sheen, and a word about 4K Ultra HD.
The original novel upon which Cloud Atlas is based is told in six separate stories that somehow bridged together to make one whole. Many considered the novel unfilmable. They were right. The theme is the exploration of reincarnation and how acts of the past can affect what we do in the future. With the talent involved and the high-production values throughout, Cloud Atlas gives the impression that what we’re about to see might be something incredibly profound and important, but what we end up with is a bloated mess that fails to show why the six stories have any kind of real connection, with the exception that they’re all played out by the same actors in six different roles. There’s no denying the ambition of the project or its epic scope, but the finished product is a heck of a long, three hour slog with little payoff. I wished it worked, but it really doesn’t. Available in both DVD and Blu-Ray formats.
Among the many problems with the new Charlie Sheen release, A Glimpse Inside the Mind Of Charles Swan lll, is the problem of momentum. I’m not sure audiences are any longer interested in seeing Sheen play what is perceived as an extension of himself. Maybe a year ago, but not now. It’s like a train finally arriving at the platform only to find all the passengers left the station. There’s not really a story in Charles Swan, more a series of events and fantasies. The film runs a scant eighty-five minutes, but there’s not enough of an interest in Charlie Sheen’s indulgent character to fill out the time. There’s no real mystery about him, no intrigue and nothing to discover. In fact, there’s nothing we really want to know about him. Some time ago I was taught in a creative writing class that in order for an idea to work it needs to have two things; wings to fly and the ability to land. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan lll has ideas flying all over the place, but there’s no landing gear in sight. Available in DVD and Blu-Ray.
And now, a quick word about 4K Ultra HD, beginning with what it is.
4K Ultra HD is four times the resolution of Full HD. In other words, if you thought hi-definition was razor sharp, wait until you see something in 4K Ultra HD. In the same way that a Blu-Ray player can play regular DVDs and make them look better, 4K HD players and TVs can make your regular DVDs and Blu-Rays look upgraded even further. Here’s an example of a film released this week on 4K Ultra HD.
The film bares little resemblance to the original Total Recall – no one flies to Mars for instance, a major plot difference - but it’s amazing how much this remake owes to other sci-fi adventures. The setting is an impressive work of CGI special effects, enhanced even further by the clarity of 4K Ultra HD, but you suddenly realize you’re looking at an expanded version of the cluttered street scenes in Blade Runner complete with Chinese and Korean signs everywhere, talking billboards, rickshaws, and rain that perpetually falls from the polluted skies above. It all looks great, but with its speeding, floating cars, and the bad guy robocops who closely resemble Storm Troopers from Star Wars, it also feels like sci-fi theatre revisited. Total Recall has all the ingredients – plus it’s so much fun to watch Kate Beckinsale being so relentlessly mean – but with all the action and non-stop chasing, you finish the film not so much entertained but feeling something more akin to total exhaustion.
Also available in DVD and Blu-Ray.
Perhaps it’ll never happen; the perfect big screen version of The Great Gatsby. In addition to the plodding 1974 Robert Redford version, there have been two others, including a silent movie in 1926 and a 1949 version with Alan Ladd that no one can see because of all kinds of legal wranglings hindering a home DVD release and no showings on TV.
If you, like me, were skeptical of the new Baz Luhrmann version, a director not exactly known for displaying a sense of visual restraint, then his extravagant version of the now classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel may come as a surprise. The flourishes are there in abundance – the first half hour is a hallucinatory trip where every current
Grand and occasionally overwrought images aside, what you may remember the most of this high-energy production is the casting of the three main characters. For the first time, Leonardo DiCaprio, a tremendous actor whose round-faced, youthful features have always doomed him to look like a boy forever trapped in a man’s body, finally looks and acts his age. His Gatsby is both mournful and exciting. It’s a pleasure to watch him as his expressions of hope and yearning manifest themselves so effectively.
Tobey Maguire, another actor with a boy’s face that hasn’t always translated into adult roles so well, finds just the right tone as good neighbor Nick Carraway, the film’s narrator who observes the glittering lifestyle of the wealthy and occasionally dips his toes into it without being seduced by it. “Back then all of us drank too much,” he comments as his words scroll across the screen like drunken subtitles.
Carey Mulligan, an actress whose star has deservedly risen to grand heights relatively quickly in the last few years, appeared initially to be the one hiccup in director Lurmann’s casting choices, but she, too, hits the mark. Her portrayal of Nick’s cousin is just as I imagined a young, Daisy Buchanan should be. Mulligan makes us like Daisy, even to the point of feeling sorry for her despite her indulgence and her selfish sense of self-preservation as her future happiness is snatched away. Mulligan is all the more impressive when you can judge how efficiently she has managed to abandon her quintessential English rose of a well-spoken
The wall to wall soundtrack doesn’t always work. Hearing hip-hop while watching stock film of a busy NYC Times Square of the twenties doesn’t reflect a feel for the moment in any way, and re-imaging Beyonce’s Crazy In Love as a twenties styled ballad is simply jarring. Rather than add to the scenes, these moments take you out of them. On the other hand, the use of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the unofficial anthem to
Like Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, the overblown style of story-telling in The Great Gatsby may be too much for some. Exaggeration and artificiality can become boring very quickly, particularly if it masks moments that don’t always require them, but there’s also a lot to like. If director Ken Russell was still alive this is the Gatsby he might have made.
And finally, back to the verdict on another film presented in 3D. Luhrmann’s use of vibrant colors, a design he no doubt worked hard on achieving, is immediately muted the moment you put on those dark lenses. It’s not immersion; it removes you from the moment.
For more film and local live theatre reviews CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
The new film from director Mira Nair, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is based on a novel by Mohsin Hamid. Compared to the film, I’m told that the book is understated. It tells the story of what made a bright Pakistani man abandon the
The film, on the other hand, is framed as a political thriller and begins with a kidnapping.
Having not read the book, it’s difficult to make a comparison as to what is more effective when telling this story, but judging the film on its own terms, Nair has made something of considerable power, effectively highlighting the issue of home-grown terrorists and how their development can sometimes be the end result of our own doing. It’s not a theme that everyone in the west would want to explore or even acknowledge, but it’s of importance, all the same.
A diplomat has been kidnapped overseas in
American patriotism took on many different forms, the film tells us. For some it was comfort; for the vulnerable it became a shield. Changez suffers a humiliating body search at the airport. A local truck driver spits at him and calls him “Osama!” By the very reactions of those around him, the life he had built in
After trying to assimilate himself in
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is well performed. British actor Riz Ahmed fleshes out a certain amount of sympathy for his plight as his alliances shift, while Liev Schreiber by looks and sheer presence successfully gives the impression that he might be more dangerous than someone simply looking to conduct a media interview. Kiefer Sutherland is also effective as a corporate boss who sees something of himself in Changez and hires him. “You have a gift,”
Sutherland’s character tells Changez. “I have a theory about those with the gift. We’re outsiders.”
Its only when we spend time watching Changez’s relationship with Kate Hudson develop then eventually crumble that the film seems to take a wrong turn. She’s a photographer who
presents an exhibition of her work at a gallery with Changez as its subject. He misinterprets the exhibit. For her the exhibition an expression of love, but he’s insulted for being her art
project. Hudson is perfectly fine, but the situation never convinces.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 128 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)
For more film and local theatre reviws CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre review website.
How far would an ordinary guy go in order for personal survival and self-preservation? The
answer is in the title. At Any Price is a new drama that ultimately turns into an unexpected tragedy, and it’s that final act that proves to be troublesome.
Dennis Quaid is Henry Whipple an agriculture salesman who wants nothing more than to have his two sons inherit and work the family farm. During the opening credits we see some movies of the Whipple family enjoying life, playing with their boys, enjoying Christmas, getting older, and eventually waving goodbye to the oldest boy, Grant, as he drives off for college. Time passes in a flash, as it often feels to parents who watch their children grow in front of them, but once Grant has left the home, the real story begins.
Henry is in trouble. His oldest is now leaving college, but instead of returning to the farm he’s climbing mountains in the
“Why are my children sabotaging me?” Henry asks as he tries desperately to pull the strands of his family life back together.
The strength of At Any Price is in the central performance. Dennis Quaid’s Henry is a salesman who has spent a lifetime of faking sincerity in order to get the sale. By all accounts he was once good at it, but despite the professional façade he continually exhibits, the doubt and fear you now see flickering in his eyes illustrates the cracks in his veneer, and not everyone is buying his act. Quaid gets the both the look and tone of the character right. Henry is not exactly someone you can admire, but Quaid makes him real enough that you can’t help but feel sorry for the character as his world starts to fall apart, even if it’s mostly of his own doing.
Zac Efron continues to distance himself from his Disney High School Musical days, and even though in contrast to Quaid’s animated style he actually appears to be underplaying his role as the moody and temperamental son who would rather be racing cars, it works within the context of the scenes he shares with his dad.
The real problem is in that third and final act. Events turn in an unexpected direction involving guilt, lies and even murder, and while you may argue that life itself can change direction just as unexpectedly, here, within the framework of the world that the film has created, it doesn’t work as well. In fact, it actually feels like a different film with a fade out that could possibly irk or even annoy.
At Any Price is worth seeing for Quaid, plus the outstanding widescreen cinematography manages to make what is essentially a small film appear grander. The problem has everything to do with that fade out. What we know of these ordinary characters tells us that guilt will eat them alive. As the end credits rolled I was not convinced that the story was over.
For more film and local theatre reviews CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
This week's new DVD and Blu-Ray releases include a Tom Cruise thriller, a Hugh Laurie comedy, and a Julianne Hough romance.
Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher is the kind of male fantasy character that most men would love to be. He’s cool, confidant and mysterious, with an almost uncanny Sherlock Holmes-like ability to look at someone and know exactly where they’ve been or what they’ve done. What guy wouldn’t want to be Jack Reacher? Those who have read the books know that Jack Reacher is a giant of a man. Author Lee Child has described his character’s enormous size as a metaphor for an unstoppable force. Cruise, on the other hand, is considerably smaller. I don’t know if this will change things for those who have read all of Child’s novels, but for someone like me, unfamiliar with the character, Cruise was perfectly fine. The outcome of the plot doesn’t always make sense but it’s the kind of thriller where the solution behind the mystery takes second place to the action. Available in both
In The Oranges, the new romantic comedy from director Julian Farino, the principle characters live on
In Safe Haven, champion ballroom dancer Julianne Hough plays Katie, a woman on the run. Like her character in her last film, Rock of Ages, Hough boards a bus in the opening scenes in order to escape her past. We don’t know what she’s running from but we know that it’s something bad involving a knife, a body on the ground and someone presumably chasing her. Once we eventually get the full picture by the film’s conclusion, the big reveals are neither as interesting nor as clever as the build up suggests. Author
For more film & local theatre reviews, CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
Since it was first written in 1938, playwright Thornton Wilder’s Our Town has gone through several styles of presentation. It’s been a radio play, a film, a television drama, a musical, even an opera. Several revisions have also changed things, and not always for the best. Some productions have added sets, others have reversed identities in order to be theatrically creative. Some have even switched genders, color or nationalities on its narrator, here known as simply Stage Manager, using a form of poetic license in an effort to show the diversity of a modern day American town. Each time a production does this it drifts dangerously away from Wilder’s original concept.
Not so with this new Phoenix Theatre production. Concluding its current season, Phoenix is presenting Our Town in all its original glory, unfettered by a need to update or present a form of diversity that may appear relevant today but has little to do with the America that Wilder was presenting, and it’s a joy. If this is the first time you’ll see this classic American play then you’re in for a treat.
Our Town is a drama in three acts. It tells of an average town doing ordinary things between the years 1901 to 1913. There are no sets, and with the exception of some chairs and empty tables, no props. There is just a backdrop illustrating the time of day or maybe a change of weather. Characters mime movements, such as reading the newspaper or pulling a horse, and even recreate the sound of falling rain by first rubbing hands, then clicking fingers, then slapping thighs, and it’s all held together by the friendly and comforting presence of a man called Stage Manager, the narrator of the play.
Dressed in his everyday working clothes of jeans, a shirt and a vest, it’s as if the friendly ol’ guy you’d see sitting in a booth guarding the stage door at a theatre had suddenly decided to walk on stage and take charge while chatting to the audience. “Let’s skip a few hours,” he says as if having a sudden idea. Here, Stage Manager is played by the likable Mike Lawler who is more than just someone who tells us a story. He comments on the action, stops a scene if he feels we’ve seen enough, and even compliments the performers. “Thank you, ladies,” he says at the end of dialog between two women after telling them how well the scene went.
The ensemble is made up of main and secondary characters, all of whom are of equal importance in order to effectively convey the minutia of small town life. In the military it is often said that the platoon is only as strong as the weakest soldier. The same can be said for an Our Town ensemble where the obvious weakness of a supporting player could easily ruin the overall illusion. There is no weak link here. Each player, whether it’s a lead or a support, perfectly creates the effect that what we’re seeing are authentic snapshots of real people. The one constant is the relationship between Emily Webb (Jenny Hintze) and George Gibbs (Robert Anthony Peters) a young couple who we see court, marry and beyond.
Jenny is a particular standout whose performance in the final act captivates in a way no other character can. From beyond the grave, her Emily is told to forget the life she had, but she refuses to let go, demanding to know of the Stage Manager if anyone ever realizes life as they are living it. Her impassioned plea for understanding and her character’s inability to let go connects and draws us in. Wilder gave the character some of the best and most emotional dialog of the play, and Jenny embraces it full on with a passion that deserves applause. In these final moments she is radiant.
Director Pasha Yamotahari has delivered to the valley, and to the
For more details regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE to go directly to the Phoenix Theatre website.
For more film and local live theatre reviews, CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
This weekend saw the opening of Arizona Theatre Company’s final production of its 2012-13 season, the award winning
Dovetailing from Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun where the black family the Youngers are about to move in to an all-white Chicago neighborhood, this newer production of Clybourne Park sees the event from the point of view of the white couple who are selling, Bev and Russ.
Author Bruce Norris has said that he wrote
The first half has such emotional power – we discover why the black family, the Youngers, can afford the house in the expensive all-white neighborhood – that at times the comedy becomes at odds with the drama. Rather than underlining the conflicts, the laughs actually get in the way. Arguments ensue as neighbors fret as to how the area will lose its value if a black family move in. “This family could be perfectly lovely,” Bev (Jenny McKnight) says. “That’s not the point!” declares a frustrated Karl (Gerard Neugent) as he tries to offer the moving couple money collected by the neighbors in order not to sell.
The real problem occurs when the husband, Russ (an outstanding Lee E. Ernst) finally loses control of his emotions and declares what little respect he now has for his neighbors because of the total disrespect they had for his suicidal son after the boy returned from the Korean War. Those moments have such an emotional pull, delivered with such a powerful sense of anger that to suddenly have a huge laugh in the middle of Russ’ speech is to ruin the moment. Good writers have often used comedy to help illustrate the serious nature of what is being discussed, but in the first half of
The second half is a different matter. We jump fifty years later to present day. A young, white couple want to buy the same house where they intend to knock down and rebuild, but they have to negotiate the local regulations with a black couple, representatives of the
As is always the case with ATC, the play is well cast and productions values are high. Todd Edward Ivins’ scenic design is as important and effective a character as anyone else. Gerard Neugent is an overwhelming force as both Karl in the first half and Steve in the second. As already mentioned, Lee E. Ernst is heartbreaking as the anguished Russ of the first half, but in the second he plays Dan, a local worker with a thick
For times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE to go directly to the ATC website.
For more film and local theatre reviews, CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
The new Iron Man movie, titled simply Iron Man 3, sees Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) suffering from anxieties developed after the last episode with The Avengers. In a voice-over he’s telling us his thoughts as we witness his numerous Iron Man suits explode before us. “Backup,” he says, and we flashback to 1999 in
There’s a different tone to the new adventure, presumably because of a new director, Shane Black, taking over the directorial duties from Jon Favreau. There was always a light touch to the fast-paced dialog in the first two films, but here there’s what feels like a comic free-for-all throughout, as if Downey Jr. has been given free reign to ad-lib at will, and if it’s funny it’s kept in. When a young, bespectacled boy asks Stark for his autograph, the millionaire adventurer responds with the snarky, “Loved you in A Christmas Story.” It’s a funny line but you sense that, like a lot of other business in the film, it was a spur of the moment comment that made people laugh, so it was kept in. As a consequence, the film occasionally feels undisciplined.
The story is a straight forward, basic revenge plot. The principle villain is a terrorist known as
The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley with the strangest of American accents. He sounds like a weird, TV game show host with the sound slowed. “The big one is coming,” he warns the
world. Then there’s Guy Pearce as a spurned scientist introduced at the beginning in the flashback episode. He returns years later having developed a program that appears to aid people with physical disabilities but actually turns them into heat inducing killers with superhuman abilities. Those superhuman abilities must stretch to their hair and clothes; these characters burn like flaming embers when required yet when they cool down, their hair and clothes are amazingly singe-free
Somehow, Pearce’s character and The Mandarin are working together. We don’t know how or why, but it won’t be long until we find out, and when we do it’s one of the most fun twists of villainous characterizations throughout any of the Marvel stories so far.
There’s a lot to impress. The destruction of Stark’s beach front home is an eye-popper as chunks of his oval shaped building slide into the Pacific. It’s like watching the starship
The final dazzling set piece is the climax by the docks as quay-side cranes collapse and crash, a result of a battle between both hero and villain in Iron Man suits, and it’s here that the film falters. Yes, it’s spectacular, and yes, it’s delivering the action that superhero fans have been waiting for, but it also resembles Transformers in the worst way; there’s never any sense of
involvement or even danger – it’s metal crunching metal, and it goes on and on for way too long.
The strengths of the film are the human touches, which is why the lengthy twenty minute climactic battle with little human element seems so empty. The continuing relationship
with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts (such a great name) is fun to watch develop further, plus there’s a nice turn from Britain’s Rebecca Hall as a botanist with dubious intentions and another pitch-perfect American accent. There’s also an engaging side plot where Stark meets up with and is aided by a young boy called Harley, played by the truly likable Ty Simpkins. “You’re a mechanic,” the boy tells Stark at the one moment when everything seems lost. “Why don’t you build something?”
Plus, the playful banter between Stark and his computer, Jarvis, voiced by Paul Bettany, is consistently light and amusing. “I don’t remember what I had for breakfast,” comments Stark when trying to dismiss an unwelcome guest. “Gluten free waffles,” the computer volunteers.
And finally, a word about the 3D. Iron Man 3 was filmed in regular 2D then converted. It adds nothing. Go for the 2D version. It’ll look better, the screen will be brighter and the ticket will cost less.
For more film & local theatre reviews CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.