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.
About Time, the new romantic comedy from British director/writer Richard Curtis, is a time traveling film for those who could care less about science fiction but love romantic comedies.
“Be prepared for strangeness,” dad (Bill Nighy) tells his son Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, son of Irish actor Brendan) on the day the young man turns twenty-one, and proceeds with the awkward conversation of explaining to his boy how all the men in the family have the ability to travel back in time. But there are limitations. The men can only travel back in their own time, not far back into history. “You can’t kill Hitler,” dad explains, “And you can’t shag Helen of
The trick is to go to a dark place, a closet or a wardrobe, close the door, think of a moment in your life that you would like to revisit, clench your fist, and, bam, you’re there. No fancy machine or a Dr.Who Tardis required. “This is such a weird joke,” a doubting Tim tells his dad, but he tries it, just to prove his dad wrong, and, yes, he travels back in time to a New Year’s Eve party where he was previously too shy to kiss a girl at midnight, only this time he goes back and gives the kiss, and feels all the better for it. “It’s going to be a complicated life,” dad tells his son.
The set up has a lot in common with Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray continually revisited the same day, over and over until he got it right. In About Time, young Tim can do the same, only unlike Bill Murray’s character, Tim is not stuck in a loop; he can go to and from at will, correcting all the little mistakes in his life by revisiting the same moment and getting it right.
“For me it was always going to be about love,” Tim tells us in a voice-over, and so it is. Tim has no interest in changing history, or going back and backing the right horse in order to make a fortune, he simply wants to find the right woman and sweep her off her feet, which is exactly what he does when he meets an American in
About Time has all the hallmarks of a Richard Curtis romantic comedy. In many respects, watching the film is something akin to being in a cinematic Richard Curtis time traveling loop where individual moments, scenes and even rhythms of dialog have all played out before.
When Mary tries on several different outfits, one after another in front of Tim, we’re reminded of the same scene played by Andie McDowell to Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. There’s a series of funny Best Man speeches at a wedding – again, Four Weddings - plus all his characters speak with the same voice saying quick, one word sentences like, “Excellent,” “Brilliant,” or occasionally expanding to “Great plan.” And like Four Weddings and Notting Hill, here in About Time the leading lady is an American in
The film has played in
In the end, About Time isn’t really about time travel at all, which is why you shouldn’t waste time discussing the realities or consequences of what would happen if you could do what this family can do. It won’t make sense. Traveling in time is merely a device to get to the heart of the matter, which is discovering the real secret to everyday happiness, something Tim will eventually get to without the need to keep hopping back and forth.
With a terrific cast of hugely likable characters – has Bill Nighy become a big screen, comedy treasure, or what? – About Time will win you over, as long as you let it. The film is perhaps fifteen minutes too long, and Rachel McAdams’ Mary tends to take something of a backseat in the third act while Tim runs around resolving other family matters with his younger sister and his dad. In the same way that Kevin Costner resolved a few issues with his character’s father in Field of Dreams, Tim wraps up some last minute moments with his dad.
Having now seen it twice, revisiting the film actually brings the message home with more poignancy than expected. The first time was to take notes for a working review, the second was to watch it all over again and simply enjoy it while knowing all the outcomes. And when you think about it, that’s exactly what About Time is really all about.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 123 Minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Four childhood friends from
Michael Douglas is Billy, and he’s the only one in the gang that has never married. But that’s about to change. “She’s almost thirty-two,” Billy explains over the phone to one of the gang, Archie (Morgan Freeman). “I have a hemorrhoid older than thirty-two,” Archie responds.
The jokes and the gentle prodding the four characters give each other in the early scenes as they prepare for their trip are the better moments. It’s the introduction to each character that proves to be the most fun. We see the gang as they were as young boys in a fifties flashback. They pick on each other with friendly, childlike ribbing, but if an outsider picks on any of them or threatens them in any way then they stick together. “No one calls us names except for us!” Paddy (Robert De Niro’s younger self) tells a neighborhood bully after cracking his knuckles against the bully’s chin.
The fun is seeing what child grew into what familiar face. Surprisingly, the four famous leads, Douglas, De Niro, Freeman and the youngest of the bunch, Kevin Kline, have never before appeared together, yet watching them interact has its charms. It really does feel like a reunion of old friends that we once knew.
The problem is, once we get the characters to
There are laughs. There aren’t as many big ones as the advertising hype might have you expect, but occasionally a sly and quotable zinger is released the helps keep the comedy buoyant. “We’re here to celebrate Billy marrying an infant,” Freeman’s Archie toasts once they arrive. When Kline’s Sam exercises in the pool with a slew of other retirees, he apologizes to the elderly lady bouncing in the water beside him. “Did I just step on your foot,” he asks, “Or was that your breast?”
The best scenes, and perhaps the nicest surprise of the film, is the inclusion of Mary Steenburgens’s Diana, an ex-accountant who is giving herself a second chapter in life by moving to Las Vegas and working as a late-night torch singer in a small, mostly empty bar. Steenburgen plays Diana with such warm and likable qualities she effortlessly steals every scene she’s in from under the feet of those seasoned pros. “Are you good in bed, Sam?” she asks Kline’s character. “I can’t remember,” he replies.
There’s a moment when famous rap star and entrepreneur Curtis ‘Fifty Cent’ Jackson playing himself turns up. He’s there to knock on the door of a hotel suite where the four friends are throwing a wild party. The joke is you think he’s there to crash the celebration, but he’s actually knocking on the door to complain about the noise. Like the film itself, the idea is funny but the execution falls short.
The tag line on the poster tells us that
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 90 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)
“It looks like football is just around the corner,” states the local radio sports announcer on WHBC radio in
In the new independent film from first time director Doug Dearth, just as the title suggests, Underdogs is the story of a small town, mid-western high-school football team that no one believed would succeed. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows the players, the families of the players, the coach, and anyone else associated with the team. To these folks, high-school football is everything, and for the players themselves, it will most certainly be the one time in their lives where local fame and a certain amount of glory, depending on the outcome of the season, will be theirs; at least, that is, until graduation and school’s finally out.
D.B Sweeney is Vince DeAntonio, the new, no-nonsense coach hired to get the players in shape. “Your habits stink,” he tells the players, “And that’s what I’m here to fix.” He’s gruff, rough and dictatorial. He’s also the kind of coach that tells his players things like, “If I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”
Whether the team will eventually succeed is never really in doubt – that’s hardly a plot spoiler; it’s that kind of film – but what makes Underdogs entertaining enough is the fun of going through familiar motions. You know the coach is tough, but he’s also going to earn his team’s respect; you know the underdog quarterback is eventually going to shine, and you just know that the major rival team in town is going to be the one the underdogs play in the big championship final.
Of course, we’ve been here before. Think Hoosiers with helmets. Both are loosely based on real events and both have that climactic game designed to have you cheering the team that no one thought would get there. Simply substitute basketball for football, small town Indiana for small town
But that feeling of familiarity is no bad thing, particularly in a PG sports movie such as this. If anything, for many, this is exactly the formula they want, and to veer too far away from the tried and tested in this kind of setup might cause a certain sense of disappointment, even resentment in the target audience. There’s only a certain amount of the human condition you want to see seriously explored in a film like Underdogs. What you really want to see is for coach to succeed, the good guy to get the girl, the villains to eat humble pie and the underdog team to win. Guess what happens.
Doug Dearth’s assured and unfussy direction captures that local, small town spirit well. The film breaks no fresh grounds, and just about everything that happens is something you expect is going to happen with outcomes that will surprise no one. You won’t remember much of Underdogs once it’s over, either, but at least during its playing time it hits its target. And you never know, you may even find yourself cheering the players on. Nothing wrong with an old fashioned, PG, formulaic sense of satisfaction at the movies, particularly when Joe Namath playing himself enters the locker room and tells the team, “Believe in yourself and you can do it.” How can the team go wrong? Yep, Underdogs is most definitely that kind of film.
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