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.
Valley Youth Theatre continues to surprise. Just at this critical economic time for local theatre when most groups should be thinking in terms of presenting something more obviously attractive in order to garner the attention of audiences, VYT takes a different and, to its credit, a more risky approach. It presents a show that on the surface would seem like nothing more than an excuse to drumbeat a serious message and raise awareness rather than an evening of entertainment, but that’s where the surprise comes in.
They Chose Me! deals with the subject of adoption as seen through the eyes of children, and it’s a ton of lively fun that practically explodes on stage before you. The show has of a large cast. There are twenty-three characters, and all twenty-three remain on stage throughout the production’s duration. It’s amazing that the intimate stage of the VYT is able to house such a large cast without it looking as though they’re falling over each other, but at no time does the show ever look cluttered or over populated. Director Bobb Cooper keeps the proceedings lively and energetic by having the cast move in constant motion, supported by smart and efficient choreography from Cambrian James.
There’s no plot. Each child has a specific character to present and story to tell. The device is something akin to A Chorus Line where each of the auditionees tell of their lives accompanied by music and dance, but in They Chose Me! the characters speak not of auditions and show-biz but of their thoughts and feelings on being an adopted child, what it means to them, how it affects their lives and occasionally how it affects their hopes, dreams and fantasies.
At the beginning, as the children gather on stage, ready to present themselves we can already hear their thoughts and concerns on how it feels to even be talking about the subject. “What if they think I’m a dork?” asks one child aloud, while another states, “I’m missing American Idol to be here!” It sets the tone and humor of what’s to come.
With a cast as large as this it’s practically impossible to name them all, but as often is the case with VYT there are always some performers who are given the chance to shine, depending on their character and the material, and in They Chose Me! there are standouts. Thea Eigo’s song about herself, Mei-Ling, is both a tuneful and humorous production that explores the issue of being raised in two cultures; her full name is Mei-Ling Moskowitz and at one point when the characters fantasize of having celebrity parents, Mei-Ling dreams of being the off-spring of Lucy Lui and Adam Sandler.
But it’s Lily Castle, a newcomer to the VYT stage, who brings the house down. She not only moves well and presents her character, Sharla Franco, with the assurance of a performer older than her years, but she takes her character’s song The Day I Was Told, sells it and makes it her own. The opening night audience couldn’t wait to cheer.
The music and lyrics by Ned Paul Ginsburg and Michael Colby have roots in Broadway. These are good songs with solid showbiz melodies and witty lyrics, and the cast embrace them with all the high-spirited energy each number deserves.
The problem now has nothing to do with the subject of adoption but with raising the awareness of the continual high-standard of productions as presented by Valley Youth Theatre. I would urge fellow colleagues in the theatre community to attend and spread the word. What happens and who performs on the VYT stage is beyond a doubt the future of valley theatre.
For more information regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE to go directly to the VYT website.
For more film & local theatre reviews, CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
Even though this fourth episode in the Evil Dead series is being promoted as a sequel to the original 1981 version, it’s not, not really. This new version takes place about thirty years later. It’s the same, run-down, fixer-upper in the middle of the woods – you may even notice the same car from the original, rusting in the grass nearby – but a new family bought the place and presumably cleaned it up a little. With that in mind, rather than call it a sequel, this new Evil Dead is more a continuation and you’d think that by now someone had learned their lesson not to open that suspicious looking Book of the Dead. The fact that it’s found covered in black plastic and wrapped with barbed wire should have been a clue not to touch the thing.
The setup is simple. Five teenagers spend the night at the cabin in the woods. One of them finds the Necronomicon – the Book of the Dead – and gets to the page that states “Don’t Read It, Don’t Write It and Don’t Say It.” Naturally, he does the opposite and lets loose the demonic spirit that haunted the place all those years ago. As each teeneger becomes possessed, it does terrible things to those around it until there is only one teenager left to see the sunrise.
Believe me, there are no surprises at any point throughout the film, with the one exception being you won’t predict who that final teenager is going to be. Other than that, it’s by the book.
Obviously, if any character did anything that even hinted at common sense, nothing would happen, but, of course, if they did that, there would be no film. Entering the cabin and immediately smelling something rotten would be the first clue. “Smells like burnt hair,” says one. Then they enter the basement and see all kinds of dead and mutilated animals hanging on chains from the ceiling. I don’t know how you feel, but for me, that would have been another clue to get out of there. But again, this isn’t that kind of film.
Evil Dead is pure and simply a gore-fest to the nth degree. It’s probably the most obscenely violent, mainstream blood soaked film ever. No kidding. There’s nothing else to it. In graphic detail we’re witness to every sharp, metallic, pointy thing puncturing or ripping open human flesh. Knives, hatchets, axes, nail guns, chainsaws, you name it, this film has it. If it’s
lying around the cabin and it’s sharp, chances are it’ll eventually be used to puncture someone’s flesh in one way or another.
The real issue with Evil Dead is this; whether you want to call it a sequel or a continuation, it doesn’t really matter, it’s hardly a worthy inclusion to the series. People tend to forget that the first Evil Dead wasn’t really funny, but it had a certain amount of camp. Number 2 was a hoot, and number 3 was simply bizarre. Unfortunately, this new addition has none of the camp that made Sam Raimi’s originals fun. By taking it seriously – there is not one intentional laugh in this new version, though you may still laugh, regardless – and not adding anything fresh nor inventive to the proceedings, there hardly seems to be a point in making the film in the first place. The recent horror/parody of teenagers spending a night in a cabin in the woods called – wait for it - Cabin In The Woods pretty much sent the whole thing up to the point where more of the same is redundant. But here we are with another.
Here’s the bottom line; you already know if this is for you. If you want to see teenage mutilation in graphic detail, then be my guest. Just becareful what you eat before you go.
For more film and local theatre reviews CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious though not altogether successful film that is told in three parts, runs for two hours and twenty minutes and spans fifteen years in its story telling. The title is based on “Place beyond the pine plains,” a Mohawk phrase for Schenectady, New York, the setting for director Derek Cianfrance’s elaborate story.
In part one we’re introduced to Luke (Ryan Gosling), a heavily tattooed daredevil motorcyclist in town with the carnival. Luke has been in town before. On a whim, he drops in on the home of Romina (Eve Mendes) a young woman with whom he once had a passing fling. To his shock, he discovers Romina now has a child, and the child is his. “Anything you wanna tell me before I leave and never come back?” he asks her, but it doesn’t matter what Romina says; Luke is so affected by the news that he has fathered a child that he quits the carnival and stays. He wants to do the right thing and if he can’t raise the child as a father, at least he can help with the money. But there’s a problem; he has none, so Luke turns to a life of crime and starts robbing local banks.
At about the fifty minute mark, part two introduces us to Police Officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) who becomes an overnight hero after catching up with the carnival bank robber. By all accounts, Avery is a decent man and a good cop, but he has ambition, plus he becomes embroiled in a case of corruption which threatens to change everything in his life, particularly his marriage and his ability to be a father to his child.
Part three jumps fifteen years and concludes by having Luke’s boy and Avery’s boy, both now teenagers, meeting up but not knowing how they’re connected or how their fathers knew each other.
The first episode works best. Ryan Gosling has developed the ability to make unpalatable characters acceptable. His Luke is not overly bright, doesn’t think things through, and always appears on the edge of being more dangerous than he is, but at least it feels as though we’re watching a fully developed character. Bradley Cooper is not quite so lucky. We already know how good Cooper can be when given the right material, but here, when it comes to requesting
an enormous promotion, the aspirations of his police officer and the way he goes about demanding what he wants seem out of character.
The Place Beyond the Pines is primarily about choices and the results of continually making the wrong ones, something that all principle characters appear to do at one time or another. There’s no denying the film’s aspirations and they’re admirable, but the telling becomes less interesting with each step. By the time we reach part three a lot of time has already passed and watching these characters take the wrong route to realize their desires is not only frustrating but also annoying. Plus, despite the film’s epic length, important characters seem undeveloped. They say things and engage in activities that don’t always feel like a natural development of their persona; they’re merely things that the mechanics of the script needs them to say and do.
For more film and local theatre reviews CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website
This weekend at the Phoenix Film Festival, a new film from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has its
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has flown into the valley to attend the festival, but he also dropped in to the studios this morning to talk to KEZ.
To hear our full interview with
To find out more regarding the schedule of performances at the Phoenix Film Festival, CLICK HERE.
To read more film and local theatre reviews, CLICK HERE to go directly to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
At this point, most readers will already know of the sad news regarding Roger Ebert. I am also sure that throughout the day and into the evening you are going to read and hear a lot more.
Rather than write the obvious and talk about something of which you already know, I thought it would far more appropriate for us to enjoy watching both Roger Ebert and his partner Gene Siskel discuss film. In this case, this is a clip from their At The Movies TV show where they discussed the work of Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction. Enjoy, if only for just a few more minutes.
It’s almost that time again, time for valley movie buffs to get excited because the Phoenix Film Festival is about to start. The festival runs April 4 – 11 at its home at
Founding member and President of the festival, Chris Lamont dropped by to talk about this year’s schedule and what we can expect to see, including details of the opening night film.
To hear our full interview with Chris click on the following.
To find out more about the Phoenix Film Festival, including times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE to go directly to the official website.
For more information regarding film and local theatre CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
This week's new releases include a hit Broadway musical, a film about a one hit wonder, and a small gem that deserves a larger audience than it received on the big screen.
Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those films that comes out from nowhere, engages from the start and keeps you there right up until the final fade out. This is the ad that appears in the Classifieds of a small town
That Thing You Do is the ultimate word on a band considered a one-hit wonder. It’s a fictional tale, but the feel of the film perfectly recreates that sense of innocent fun associated with the excitement of pop music during the early sixties. Written and directed by Tom Hanks, the film is wonderfully buoyant and populated with all kinds of recognizable references of the period. Look for a brief appearance from Charlize Theron who is said to have been the first person cast for the film. Even though That Thing You Do has been available on regular DVD for some time, this is the first release with the clarity of Blu-Ray, and is highly recommended.
The 1969 production of the huge Broadway hit musical Hello Dolly was not exactly a cinematic triumph for 20th Century Fox. In fact, the behind the scenes stories for the making of the film are just as interesting, if not, more interesting than the actual movie. By 1969, younger audiences appeared to be more interested in lower budgeted projects such as Easy Rider, which seemingly came out of nowhere, and huge productions like Hello Dolly, no longer in vogue, suffered as a consequence. Barbra Striesand and Walter Matthau did not get along and continually fought. During a scene where Matthau’s character is supposed to kiss Sreisand, the camera had to be angled to make it appear as if they were touching, when in fact all he had done was lean towards her, then pretended. Having said that, there is a lot to like about the musical. Streisand may be miscast – she was actually too young for the role – but she still made it her own and managed to make Jerry Herman’s score soar. Plus, the film, directed by Gene Kelly, has wonderful cinematography – it was filmed in the clarity of 70mm – and looks eye-popping in hi-def.
Look for more new releases next week.
To read more film and local theatre reviews or to order any of the above Blu-Ray features CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
Classic vaudevillian performers Lewis and Clark worked as a team for forty-three years. During that time they grew to hate each other so much that during their final year of performing they never spoke to each other off stage. Then, when Lewis retired from show business, leaving his partner in the lurch,
The Sunshine Boys has improved with age, and I think that might have more to do with yours truly getting older than anything new added to Neil Simon’s outstanding script. Part of the improvement has to do with the subject of putting on the years. When watching The Sunshine Boys during its initial 1972 run, the play was certainly funny, but its humor seemed obvious. To someone in his late teens/early twenties, The Sunshine Boys was simply The Odd Couple revisited with a showbiz background. Now, forty years later, the play has taken on a completely different meaning. You can still say that Simon’s most popular of uncomplicated comedies, The Odd Couple, has elements buried within the lines of Lewis and Clark, but the issue of growing older seems far more prominent, and it’s strangely touching, even relatable.
Willie Clark (Peter Van Norden) isn’t taking retirement or getting older lightly. He still lives in his grubby hotel room in
One of the pitfalls to producing The Sunshine Boys is defining a difference between how to portray the boys when they talk to each other off stage and how it works when they’re on. Neil Simon writes with a specific comedic rhythm, and in The Sunshine Boys the dialog between the two old men when they argue has a similar cadence no matter where they are. They talk to each other as if life is one long skit. A production that fails is one where you can’t tell the difference.
When one says to the other, “Are you listening to me?” the other responds with, “Why? Is there anyone else in the room?” It’s a funny line, but it’s also there to show how communication between the two men is full of confrontation and challenges, not just a Neil Simon punch line. When the two men finally recreate their dated but famous vaudevillian Doctor sketch - Benny Hill would have been proud – the punch lines are equally snarky, but it’s the broadness that makes it different. Director David Ira Goldstein has obviously worked with his boys in order to get the tone, the broadness, and more importantly, the difference right when the moment calls for it, and that’s why this revival of The Sunshine Boys is such a triumph.
As is often the case with Arizona Theatre Company, production values are high. Yoon Bae’s scenic design perfectly captures the essence of a worn-down NYC hotel room with its peeling, off-green wallpaper decked with black and white head and shoulder shots of past entertainers. Plus, another nice touch is having Herberger’s center stage framed as if in an old vaudeville theatre, complete with old, plush, music hall red curtains.
Another plus is how much the audience ends up liking everyone concerned. Peter Van Norden and David Green flesh out parts of their well-known characters to the point where it feels as if we might be meeting Lewis and Clark for the first time, no matter how many times you may have previously seen other versions of the play. The same for Bob Sorenson who makes his character of the frustrated agent appear not simply a Neil Simon cipher written specifically to say funny things at the right moment but someone quite real with depth. When Ben ultimately displays a fondness for his annoying uncle you believe that, despite everything, the agent really likes the old man, and because we like Ben, his regard for the old curmudgeon helps us feel the same. That’s quite an achievement when one character can successfully help us feel something positive towards another character, particularly when that other character doesn’t always deserve our affection.
For more information regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE to go directly to the ATC website.
For more film and local theatre reviews, CLICK HERE to go directly to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
The Host starts off with an okay premise. Aliens invade Earth and possess the bodies of almost every living human. Then it slows to a snail’s pace that threatens never to reach an end.
The idea isn’t altogether original, but that’s not important; body possession has always been a fun theme to explore in a sci-fi thriller. As long as you can come up with something fresh to say then a new variation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or stories of that ilk will always work. The problem is, there’s nothing fresh about The Host, and that’s a shame because with all the high-production values surrounding the film, the eye-catching cinematography and some interesting casting, you keep hoping for and expecting something more.
To her credit, author Stephenie Meyer knows her reading audience. In the Twilight Saga, the Arizona Cave Creek resident hooked readers with a heroine that in many ways reflected themselves. Teenage girls loved Bella; she was the wish-fulfillment of a fantasy romance made manifest. In The Host, Meyer has tried it again, this time with a heroine whose name is something less than romantically gothic but just as appropriate given the situation.
Melanie Stryder (
The Host is yet another example of something that presumably worked better on the page than on the screen. The two minds at work in the same body can easily come across as two distinct personalities when reading words on a page, but when acted on screen, seeing one character while hearing the other in a continual voice-over with a slight echo not only gets in the way, it actually becomes annoying, like a background narration that interrupts and won’t quit.
The interesting casting comes in the shape of Diane Kruger as an alien known as The Seeker. “Our world is perfect,” she declares, indicating how easy it is for the aliens to zoom in and clean up. Then there’s William Hurt as Jeb, the slow talking but thoughtful human. “I always liked science fiction,” he drawls, then adds, “Never imagined I’d be living in one.”
“They have strong physical drives,” the Seeker states, letting us know that the aliens can feel all the physical sensations and desires a human has, yet what sounds like an interesting theme to explore results in nothing more exciting than a thousand year old alien engaging in a passionate kiss with a teenage boy. Like the fangless, bloodless world of vampires in Twilight, Meyer has softened the edge of an alien invasion and turned it into another teenage soap.
When you think of it, what has happened to the world is horrifying, and such an idea would usually be treated as a story filled with edge-of-your-seat thrills and scares, but not in a world created by Stephenie Meyer. Allow me the indulgence of quoting Forrest Gump: Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Unless, of course, it’s a life created in the world of Stephenie Meyer, then you’re guaranteed a soft center every time.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 125 minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)
For more film and local theatre reviews CLICK HERE to go directly to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.