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.
The law of attraction is a baffling and often inconvenient thing.
Years ago, when crossing a street in a mid-western city, I recall passing someone walking in the other direction whose face was so striking I couldn’t get her image of my mind for years. Didn’t know her, never spoke to her, but no matter what I was thinking, at any given moment, the face of that stranger would involuntarily pop in to my head. It’s a moment I’m sure has happened to many, many others. Years later, the memory of her face has now passed, but the moment was powerful enough that the event is still branded at the back of my mind. This is exactly what happens to Adele, the central character in the new, erotic French drama, Blue is the Warmest Color, only she can’t shake it off.
Adele is played to heart wrenching perfection by Adele Exarchpoulos, a young French actress of Greek descent. When we first meet her, Adele is a girl at high school, a young woman with dreams of becoming a school teacher. She has a new boyfriend, but one day, when crossing the road, she passes another slightly older woman with streaky, blue hair, walking in the other direction who, for whatever mysterious reason, catches Adele’s attention in a manner so powerful she can’t get the stranger out of her mind.
The attraction is more like a magnet pull. Some time later, when Adele actually meets the blue-haired woman at a nightclub, she is drawn to her in a way that overwhelms her senses. “I’m messed up,” Adele tells her boyfriend during an emotional breakup. “I’m missing something.”
The older and somewhat mysterious woman is Emma (Lea Seydoux), a talented art student, and once she meets Adele the dye is set and they embark on a volatile, erotic love affair that emotionally will tear Adele apart.
Adele is no cover girl beauty, but like most people whose good looks grow on you the more you get to know them, Adele’s handsome features actually appear to develop into something undeniably alluring the more we see her. While another teenager blessed with cute, Barbie doll like features will find those early good looks eventually fading, Adele has the kind of face that will most likely remain attractive long into her maturing years. Plus, the performance of the actress playing her is so honest and heartfelt that when we see her breakup with her boyfriend, not to mention the later, more emotional breakup that we know is going to come with Emma, the emotions appear satisfyingly real.
The truly sad thing about Adele is that the power of attraction she’s now experiencing is so overwhelmingly all encompassing, it’s as if she’s intoxicated with a desire to always be with Emma. She can’t help herself. It’s no surprise to say that when the split between the two occurs – the whole film points to this; it’s no plot spoiler - to Adele it’s as if part of her physical self has been wrenched away. She may always feel incomplete.
The sex scenes are explicit, perhaps more than you’re going to expect. Stories behind the scenes talk of an over-worked and unhappy film crew pushed to their limits by a dictatorial film director, Abdel Kechiche, who didn’t know when to shout ‘Cut.’ Both leading ladies have publicly denounced his working demands and have insisted they would never work with him again. The love making scenes between the two woman are undeniably long and erotically charged, but their surprising explicitness is essentially porn. Some may argue that it was necessary to show what the film shows in order to fully understand the depth of emotion the two women feel for each other, but its porn, all the same.
The director also films his subjects in extreme close ups throughout. Considering the film is shot widescreen, a system that allows for a broadening image, there is way too much intimacy when the moment doesn’t always require it. It’s like continually invading someone’s space; fine for TV but overwhelming on a larger canvas. You want the camera to pull back and show a character’s surrounding area instead of always being in-your-face. Ironically, when it comes to the sex scenes, the camera actually does pull back and shows us for long periods full bodied shots. You can’t help wondering how those same moments would have looked had a female helmed the project.
For a film that is essentially character driven rather than plot driven, Blue is the Warmest Color is also too long. The director is said to have filmed seven hundred and fifty hours of material, but has edited it down to three. That’s still an hour more than required. Everything we needed to know about Adele and Emma, their wants, desires, achievements, even their lusts, could have been just as effectively explored in under two hours and it would still not have felt rushed.
However, if the film does anything, it introduces us to Adele Exarchopoulos, a tremendous talent who delivers an astonishing performance. If I never see her again in another film there’s always that chance that over a matter of time I’ll eventually forget her face, but I’ll never forget the work, and neither will you.
MPAA Rating: NC-17 Length: 181 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)
For more film and local theatre CLICK HERE for the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review websaite.
The hugely successful Broadway musical Disney's The Lion King is currently in performance at ASU Gammage in Tempe and will continue until November 17.
This morning I had the chance to go backstage at ASU Gammage to talk with two leading cast members of the show, Brown Lindiwe Mkhize who plays Rafiki and L. Steven Taylor who plays Mufasa.
All three of us sat in Steven's dressing room and talked about the show. Lindiwe talked not only of her time on this tour but also what it's been like playing Rafiki on the London stage in England for the past 8 years. Steven talked of his time where he also played Mufasa's villainous brother Scar in previous productions and the difference between the two characters.
To hear our full interview click on the link below.
And don't forget, if you have tickets to any of the Thursday evening performances, stay after the show for KEZ's Talk Back Thursday where you get the chance to be a part of a special Q&A with the Executive Director of ASU Gammage, Colleen Jennings Roggensack, co-hosted by yours truly.
For more infiormation regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the ASU Gammage website.
For more film and local theatre, CLICK HERE for the Dave Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
Family Tree: The Complete Series consists of 8 episodes from the HBO series written by comedians Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock. These are short, thirty minute stories told in the now familiar faux documentary style. The humor is as dry as a bone and without a comedy track there may be many who won’t recognize the humor or find it funny, but for those who stick with it and get with the rhythm, Family Tree is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Irish comic actor Chris O’Dowd moves back to
Surprisingly, despite this being Halloween week, new releases for horror fans are in short supply. However, there is one gem released from the folks at Criterion and that’s the pristine copy of the black and white 1944 minor classic with Ray Milland called The Uninvited. The story was dramatized on radio at a time when you could hear radio plays, but the film became most notable simply because it was among the first
This was a great weekend for live theatre in the valley. New shows began and current productions flourished. Adding to that roster was the opening of Spotlight Youth Theatre’s lively new production of the Elvis Presley jukebox musical, All Shook Up, a show that enjoyed only a short run on Broadway in 2005 but after a few revisions has continued to do well ever since in dinner theatres and even high-schools all over the country.
In truth, All Shook Up is not the best of the jukebox musical styled shows. It’s intentionally corny plot offers little or no surprises. The outcomes for all of the principle characters are pre-ordained the moment they first enter the stage, plus, perhaps more so than other, more successful jukebox musicals, here the already established songs aren’t in the show to service a scene, it’s the other way around. Nowhere is this more evident than in the opening of the second half where the title song is performed for no other reason other than it’s a great song and a good way of reintroducing the entire cast back on stage after an intermission.
What’s important about this production, however, is what Spotlight has done with it. Having already seen the show performed some years ago by seasoned professionals, I’m more than happy to say that with the enthusiasm and non-stop energy that this young cast put into the musical on its opening weekend, despite a few rough edges, this particular production was oh, so much more fun.
The show’s plot has a loose connection to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with one of the central characters cross-dressing as a man in order to be closer to the love of her life. There are Shakespeare references throughout; characters refer to his sonnets as well as a nod to Romeo and Juliet, plus there’s even a play on the barb’s famous opening Twelfth Night line when a character thinks she hears music - to her the food of love - and runs off stage crying, “Play on, play on.”
When the show was previously performed at a high school in
The show takes place in a small mid-western town during the fifties.
Bobby Sample has put together an effective set design that highlights the rock ‘n roll themes of the show. Painted musical instruments flank the stage, an oversized guitar adorns the backdrop, and characters step over what looks like a large stack of platters piled high and an old-fashioned turn table, complete with an arm for its stylus. Everything appears black and white during the opening number, Jailhouse Rock – just like the movie – then becomes color once the setting effectively changes to the small town.
Co-directors Mark and Lynzee 4Man – who must be two of the busiest talents in local showbiz – use the somewhat restricting area for such a large production well. They’ve assembled an ensemble which ordinarily would look dangerously cluttered in such an intimate setting, yet Lynzee’s well choreographed and challenging dance numbers – the best thing about the production – contain an unstoppable energy and sharpness of movement that makes All Shook Up burst with continual excitement. The inexperience of some of the cast shows more during dialog exchanges, but in a show such as this it’s the singing and dancing that matters, and if anything, All Shook Up is the perfect vehicle to show what Spotlight can do.
One of the most exciting things about watching local talent in organizations such as Valley Youth Theatre and Spotlight Youth Theatre is witnessing the development of talent that comes across as assured and borderline professional. All principle characters have been well cast to the point where you might forget that they’re teenagers playing adults. Both Carly Grossman and Conner Morley make perfect leads, with solid support from other principles like David Samson, Ali Whitwell, Hahnna Christianson, Riley O’Conner, Trey DeGroodt and Michael Schultz, who amusingly resembles a somewhat nerdier version of Neil Patrick Harris during his Doogie Houser days, but there’s often one whose developing talent has taken things a step further. In All Shook Up it’s Carly Makani Copp who here is given a chance to stand out, and she’s embraced the challenge extraordinarily well.
Carly plays Miss Sandra, a character who becomes humorously aroused by the mere suggestion of intelligence and anyone who quotes Shakespeare. With her intentionally brazen manner, good looks, accentuated ruby red lips and thick framed, horn-rimmed glasses, she’s the dream boat librarian that bookworms fantasize over. You can’t help but find your center of focus drawn to her when she appears, but that’s the point; several of the characters from the show are drawn to her for the same reasons. With her singing and dancing abilities, plus her comic timing, Carly is an all-rounder who clearly possesses the ability to be a performer with a future beyond Spotlight. Others in the cast show some of the same early signs of potential, but it’s Carly who is already there. Remarkable for one who is only fifteen.
For times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for the Spotlight Youth Theatre website.
For more film and local theatre, CLICK HERE for the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
This has been a tough year for Actors Theatre.
As explained in a message from Producing Artistic Director, Matthew Wiener, the theatre has been on ‘pause’ for several months. But now, after much restructuring and a certain amount of introspection and change, that pause is released and the play is the thing, and it couldn’t be more thrilling.
The play chosen to begin Actors Theatre’s unpause, as Matthew describes it, is A Steady Rain by Keith Huff, a gripping drama of two Chicago cops performed on a sparse stage with a set that requires nothing more than two chairs, a table, a jug of water and two cups. What makes this a practically perfect choice to illustrate what Actors Theatre is all about is the fact that A Steady Rain is, above all else, an actors play.
Those who write might argue that because of its style – the production is a series of confessional monologues presented in a he said, he said manner – A Steady Rain is really a writers play, but in reality it needs actors of considerable skill to make those lengthy monologues spring to life. Both Joseph Kremer and Christopher Haines do exactly that, but in ways that you might not always expect.
Director Anthony Runfola has fleshed out two strong performances from his duo. Both Kramer and Haines confide directly to the audience with such energy and passion that when they detail the events of their lives and the lives of those their actions affect – friends, family, working colleagues – you feel that by the end of this emotionally draining sequence of actions you have come to know a whole slew of characters in addition to the two players before you. By the time the play concludes and the two actors take a bow you feel as though other important characters continually mentioned throughout will be joining them.
The play runs for a taught ninety-five minutes or so, plus intermission, though in truth this is one play that arguably doesn’t require an intermission. If anything the break actually gets in the way. The lengthier first half acts more as an introduction to the lives and habits of the two buddy cops, long-time friends who support, protect and even lie for each other, while the second half reveals that one catastrophic event that changes the course of everything. Perhaps for some, the intermission is a moment of release, a welcomed break from the undeniable grip the play holds, but for others it's a raodblock. You want to know where the play is going, and you want to get there as soon as possible.
Denny (Joseph Kremer) is the racist hot head. He’s married with children and appears to love nothing more than his family, his dog, the loyalty of his partner, and his TV. His longtime partner is Joey (Christopher Haines) and he’s single and lonely to the point where his partner arranges for a prostitute with an “…Upper, frontal super-structure,” to keep him company. As contradicting stories through a series of detailed and colorful confessionals are revealed, we learn how a pimp named Walter Lorenz fires a bullet through the officer’s window, shattering the glass and hitting the neck of Denny’s son. We learn of Joey’s secret love for his partner’s wife, Connie, where, after a moment of both characters caving to their passion, Joey tells us that making love to his best friend’s wife was “The worst possible thing I could have done at the worst possible time.”
Denny, on the other hand, is no saint when it comes to extra-marital affairs. Joey may have reflected back on his moment of weakness with regret, but when Denny relates his moment of lust with Rhonda the prostitute, Denny declares that “It was the closest to a religious experience since my first communion.”
However, the event that changes everything revolves around the disclosure that the two cops released a frightened Vietnamese boy back to the custody of a man claiming to be the boy’s uncle who turns out to be a cannibalistic serial killer. The “Rice-puppy kid,” as Denny describes him, is killed, and the two cops find themselves ensnared in an investigation where they are held responsible for their failure in correctly assessing the reality of a terrible situation.
Everything we learn unfolds in clear, cinematic terms, but it’s the cinema of the mind; the ability of two accomplished actors creating the reality of events that continually ignites pictures in the psyche. They give flesh to events we think we’re witnessing, but it’s in our heads. That’s the power of a mostly bare stage, stark lighting and great live theatre. And that’s the power of Actors Theatre.
For more information regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for Actors Theatre
For more film & local live theatre CLICK HERE for the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
The Power of Pain Foundation presents Joan Rivers in Comic Pain Relief at the Chandler Center for the Arts on Friday, November 15.
Earlier this morning I had the chance to talk to Joan when she called KEZ to tell us about the show, what we can expect and why she became involved with Comic Pain Relief.
Now, as you might imagine, Joan didn't mince her words, particularly when talking about certain other celebrities, so while the interview doesn't altogether need a censor, be warned that what she says is for adults.
For more information regarding times and tickets for the November 15 performance CLICK HERE for the Chandler Center for the Arts website.
For more film & local theatre CLICK HERE for the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website
Films based on the novels of Cormac McCarthy such as The Road and No Country for Old Men are bleak affairs; uninviting landscapes populated by desperate characters embroiled in situations of their creation but now beyond their control. If any of McCarthy’s characters have one thing in common it’s the need to survive and by any means possible. In this world there is only one solution to any given problem; kill it.
The Counselor is the author’s first screenplay bypassing the novel, and despite the differing
landscapes of previous works his new story paints an equally bleak picture populated by equally desperate characters. It’s not an altogether fun ride, and it really doesn’t make sense. But at least in the hands of director Ridley Scott, everything looks good. The cinematography has a continual well framed and sun-kissed, unblemished look to most of it you’d swear the director had personally polished the canvas to a glossy sheen before the screening.
Michael Fassbender plays the title character, a man whose real name is never given. He’s simply the counselor, a lawyer who through his desire for easier money finds himself caught in a situation that’s hard to describe for the simple fact that we’re never quite sure what it is that’s he’s agreed to. From the disjointed scenes that rarely connect it’s never fully clear what the real problem is, all we really know is that the man has suddenly surrounded himself with truly shady characters and they’re all about to turn on him.
The vagueness of everything becomes apparent early on when characters that initially seemed important simply disappear, a trend that continues throughout the film. With the exception of Laura (Penelope Cruz) everyone else we get to know are unlikable creatures with little redeemable qualities whose sole ambition is their own self preservation.
McCarthy’s mannered dialog has all his people talking in unnatural rhythms that are more monologs than conversations. They wax philosophically as if experts on the human condition, when in fact they’re actually clueless on the realities of what should really make the world go round.
“Life is being in bed with you,” the lawyer tells his girlfriend. “Everything else is just waiting.” When Brad Pitt as some kind of middleman in the affair tells the lawyer that, “You don’t know someone until you know what they want,” you start to realize that what might sound profound is really a severe case of running at the mouth, and they all have it. The best quote comes from Cameron Diaz as a ruthless schemer who when told that her opinion on something is a bit cold responds with, “I think truth has no temperature.”
Javier Bardem, whose hairstyle in McCarthy’s earlier No Country for Old Men raised a few eyebrows, sports an equally bizarre do in The Counselor. The spiky, reaching-for-the-sky look is described as an ode to Ron Howard’s long time producer Brian Grazer, a style that appears to be that of a man who once had the scare of his life and can’t shake it off. Plus his dialog waxes equally as philosophically as everyone else. “The truth is you can do anything to a woman,” he advises, “Except bore them.”
When Bardem relates a bizarre incident to the counselor regarding an evening when the Carmeron Diaz character had sex with his sports car – a scene that, like many, has no apparent connection to anything else, but it’s there all the same – he tells the lawyer that, “You see a thing like that, it changes you.” All the lawyer can say in return is, “I don’t know what it is you’re trying to tell me.” It’s the only relatable line in the movie. We’re all left equally clueless.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 116 Minutes Overall Rating: 4 (out of 10)
For more film and local theatre CLICK HERE for the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
Currently running at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria until November 10 is the hit Broadway musical Hairspray. Joining me this morning at the KEZ studios were 2 cast members: Victoria Lynn Socci, who plays the central role of Tracy, and Richard Koons-Wagoner, who plays Tracy's mother, Edna.
Because of the costumes, wigs and props, the transformation from actor to character is startling. Here's Victoria as she appears in the show as Tracy...
... And here's Richard as he appears in the show as Edna.
And here they are as themselves with yours truly in the KEZ studios.
To hear our conversation with Victoria and Richard click on the recording below.
For more information regarding times, dates and ickets, CLICK HERE for the ABT website.
And keeping in the spirit of the on-coming holiday season, here's Victoria and Richard by the KEZ studio Christmas Tree prior to decoration. After all, we are The Holiday Station!
Just ahead of Halloween, what works in The Conjuring – and yes, this film really does hit the mark – is that all special effects are kept to a minimum. What we have here are old fashioned creaky doors, objects that move, something hiding under the bed, and the creepiest looking doll in recent movie history. In many ways, this is old school, haunted house movie-making and it shreds your nerves. What you can’t see is worse than what you can. There are ‘Boo’ moments – moments where you anticipate something might happen, and it does, and you jump – but they’re not cheap. The Conjuring earns its scares. And in case you were wondering about the validity of the situations, during the end credits we see pictures of the real people, the Perron family and the investigators. Names have not been changed, and the place really does exist. Whether the events occurred in the manner in which the film presents them, I don’t know, and I’m not sure I really want to know or even think about it for too long. All I can say is that director James Wan (Insidious) has achieved his aim. The Conjuring is one genuinely scary ride. Available in DVD and Blu-Ray.
The coming-of-age comedy, The Way, Way Back was written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash and they have truly captured the essence of what it’s like to be the young outcast when all you want to do is spend your summer somewhere else. The film’s template is Meatballs. There’s a similar feel to the humor and to the development of the central character,
The new, amiable enough comedy from Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, The Internship, taps in to something many of us fear – unemployment and the difficulties of finding something new. Even though the theme of being out of work in a world with fewer opportunities is both a timely and serious one, The Internship is nothing more than good natured fun and attempts to be nothing more. The language, with the odd, minor exception, is relatively clean, the jokes are obvious, and there’s basically little to offend. The end result coasts on mild, innocent charm that kind of wins you over, and even though Vaughn’s motor-mouth delivery can, like the film itself, often run too long, the important thing about The Internship is that it’s actually quite funny. And in a film like this, that’s really all that counts. Available on DVD and an unrated Blu-Ray edition.
For more film and local theatre, CLICK HERE for the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.