jesus christ superstar live

The musical tells the story of Jesus Christ, (John Legend) from shortly before Palm Sunday to his betrayal by Judas Iscariot (Brandon Victor Dixon) and denial by Peter. (Jason Tam) Jesus was eventually handed over to Caiaphas, (Norm Lewis) Pontius Pilate, (Ben Daniels)   and finally King Herod.(Alice Cooper The people who once showered him with Hosannas, now want to crucify him.  But what is Jesus’ crime?  And will Herod find him guilty?

There were two musicals about the life of Jesus from the 1970’s, Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.  Jesus Christ Superstar is clearly the superior musical of the two.  The songs in Jesus Christ Superstar are clearly superior songs.  The songs, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice are still powerful and convey the passion story with great emotion and conviction.  One of the aspects of the songs that I didn’t like is the fact that it deemphasized the divinity of Jesus.  I suspect that that’s what made the songs popular in the 1970’s and now. The song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” continues the misconception that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but it’s still a very well written song.  There are some songs like “What’s the Buzz” “Hosanna” and “The Last Supper”  that sound dated, but the music remained the same in this version and it still tells the story just as well as it did in 1970.The songs have to carry the story because there is very little dialogue.

John Legend stars as the titular character in the latest version of Jesus Christ Superstar, and he mostly does well, especially on the ballads where he adds touches of soul.  But Legend lacks the powerful voice necessary to carry off a song, like “The Temple” he really needed to scream in that song, but his voice is not a voice that lends itself to screaming.  Brandon Victor Dixon is very impressive as Judas, he seems to have the power to sing Judas’ songs, even though his voice falters at times.  It was a live performance.  Sarah Barelles does a decent job as Mary Magdalene, but not as good as Yvonne Elliman  Alice Cooper talks his way through his role as King Herod.

There shouldn’t be any controversy to casting a black man to play Jesus, but it is doubtless that some Christians will have a problem with this.  These Christians would seem to be more concerned with the messenger than the message.  In fact, this was a multiracial, multiethnic cast. The message of love, selflessness, fellowship and eschewing material well-being is universal, so why not have a multicultural cast embody that?  There is no better way to show the universality of these themes.

There is not much to directing this show, the staging is space, and so there’s not many elaborate set pieces to move into place.  The songs aren’t elaborately staged either, but everything goes off without a hitch.

Jesus Christ Superstar:  Can a Legend walk on water?  Almost.

 

 

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victoria and abdul

In 1887, Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) celebrated her Golden Jubilee, to commemorate the occasion, the royal family mints a mohur, or gold coin, and finds a Muslim clerk named Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) is chosen to present the mohur to Victoria.  Another Indian Muslim named Mohammad, (Abdeel  Akbar) goes with him.  At the Jubilee, Abdul causes a stir by making eye contact with the queen .  Later Abdul causes a bigger stir, by kissing Victoria’s feet.  Abdul Karim then gets a private audience with the Queen and recommends that he become her munshi, or teacher.  Abdul proceeds to teach her to speak and write in Urdu, the language of Muslims in India. Abdul tells the Queen that it was the Hindus that started a recent rebellion against the British, and Victoria is so taken with Abdul that she takes his word for everything he says.

The sudden closeness between Queen Victoria and Abdul doesn’t sit well with the rest of the royal family, especially Victoria’s son, Bertie. (Eddie Izzard) Bertie told Victoria that the Muslims sparked the 1857 mutiny against the British.  The revelation hurts Victoria to the core because she feels betrayed by Abdul, does she confront Abdul about what she finds out?

This is a woefully bad film, filled with gushy sentimentality, but absolutely no emotional intensity at all.  Abdul is portrayed as a sycophantic servant, bowing and scraping and even kissing her feet, which in real life would have got him shipped back to India in a box.  Victoria is first seen as on death’s door and then after one look at Abdul, she miraculously springs to life.  Victoria is written not as the prim and proper queen of history, but as part mother, part lover of Abdul.  This movie sometimes resembles British revisionist propaganda, because Abdul is completely subjugated and seemingly loving every minute of it.  Whatever the veracity of the story of the friendship of Victoria and Abdul, and there is really no objective way to know how close they were, it is undeniable that their relationship had no bearing on the relationship between their two countries, which continued to be one of colonizer and colonized for another 60 years.

The acting is subpar, Judi Dench who was nominated for an Oscar for this role, tries her best, but is vanquished by a confusing script, which makes her sickly to the point of having others clothe her in the beginning of this film, yet spry enough to dance in the middle of the film, not to mention her confusing relationship with Abdul.  Eddie Izzard gives a strong performance as Bertie, the power hungry ruthless future King Edward.  Izzard plays Bertie as a man with no conscience or empathy, it’s a great performance. Ali Fazal is terrible, he plays Abdul like a child trying to please his mother, that’s partially the script’s fault, but a more experienced actor would have added some nuance to the role.

Director Stephen Frears brings very little to this movie even though he is well-known for his period pieces like Dangerous Liaisons, and Elizabeth about Queen Elizabeth II.  Other than the pacing which is pretty good, the rest of the direction is unremarkable.  There is nothing visually arresting about this film, and he gets lackluster performances from most of the cast.

Victorian and Abdul:  Royal flush it in the toilet.

lady bird

Christine (Saoirise Ronan) is a rebellious high school senior who is dissatisfied with almost every aspect of her life, she thinks her hometown is boring, she doesn’t like going to Catholic school, hates being poor, she’s ashamed of her parents, and even is tired of her own name.  She wants to be known as Lady Bird.  She is adept at acting and singing and while trying out for a play, she meets and falls for Danny O’Neill. (Lucas Hedges) They  have a platonic relationship, until Lady Bird finds out something about Danny that makes a relationship with him impossible.  Before she can say heartbroken, Lady Bird meets Kyle  (Timothee Chalamet, a local guitarist.  After playing a prank on a nun in her school she befriends Jenna Walton, (Odaya Rush) a rich, superficial classmate.  With her new rich and popular friends, Lady Bird seems to forget her best friend in school, bubbly, perky Julie Steffans, (Beanie Feldstein) but that doesn’t seem to bother Lady Bird in the least.  More than anything else, she wants to leave Sacramento, and go to college on the East Coast.  Does she get her wish, to be admitted to an East Coast school, does she leave Julie in the rearview mirror as well?

This movie is terrible, mostly because of its trite, hackneyed, storyline.  Everything from the rebellious teen girl, trying to befriend the rich teens, bored with school, ashamed of her parents, trying to ditch her best friend, all these issues have been dealt with in every John Hughes movie ever made. Don’t be fooled by the indie panache, or the A-list cast, Lady Bird is Pretty in Pink.  The secondary characters aren’t even well developed, the viewer knows next to nothing about Julia, or Kyle, or Danny for that matter, these are single characteristic characters, without any depth to them.  And Lady Bird glides too easily from one relationship to another, when she’s done with Danny, Kyle is waiting for her, that’s not how teenage life works, nothing happens so quickly and effortlessly.   The ending betrays everything that the movie was trying to say in the first hour and 15 minutes, it’s disappointing,

Despite the cliché ridden script, the acting is very good. Saoirise Ronan is very good at doing an American accent, although she has trouble saying the word Sacramento.  She imbues her character with the mercurial emotions of a teen, volcanically angry one minute, deliriously happy the next. Laurie Metcalf is also very good as Marion, Lady Bird’s mother, who tries  discipline mixed with coddling, and she is flawed and human, and wonderful.  Metcalf lets the character’s humanity shine through. Tracy Letts is also very good as Larry, Lady Bird’s relentlessly good-hearted dad, who only wants to help his daughter.

The direction is not very good.  Greta Gerwig tries some funky camera angles, but it’s not a very visual movie.  The pacing lags at times, and despite good performances, she should and could have done more to move the story along. Lady Bird was nominated for 3 Oscars, it didn’t win any, I think Laurie Metcalf could have won, but Allison Janney beat her out.

Lady Bird:  Never really takes off.

darket hour

In May of 1940, England faced an existential crisis, posed by Adolph Hitler and his armies, which were rampaging through Europe with their Blitzkrieg, or lightning war campaign.  The British Parliament had a no confidence vote, and dismissed Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) but they had no more faith in his replacement, Winston Churchill. (Gary Oldman)  Churchill faced a number of problems.  He had to form a coalition government with Chamberlain, and Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane), who both wanted to negotiate with Hitler, King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn)  preferred either Halifax, or Chamberlain to be PM.  To add to his worries, he had British troops in Calais and Dunkirk, and he couldn’t evacuate them because the British navy was bottled up by the German air force, and American help was not anywhere on the horizon, even though Churchill pleaded with Roosevelt (David Strathairn) for any help he could provide.  What does Churchill do?  Does he fight for England to remain free with whatever troops he had, or does he negotiate with the madman tyrant Hitler?

Any World War II movie is compelling, because this is probably the only time that one man came close to world domination. The narrative is especially urgent in Darkest Hour because in 1940 the desperation in England is palpable. The narrative loses a bit of urgency because some of the story is told through Churchill’s secretary’s perspective.  And one of the scenes is made up out of whole cloth, and that scene was completely unnecessary, so while the writer felt it necessary to add to a superb story, it is still a story worth telling.  Watch Dunkirk and Darkest Hour together, it’s a great double feature.

The acting is superb, Gary Oldman won an Oscar for this role and deserved it.  Oldman conveys both the confident public persona of Churchill, and the private doubts that England can help France, never mind defend themselves.  He portrays Churchill masterfully, and it’s not just the makeup, Oldman becomes Churchill.  Kristin Scott Thomas is comic relief as Clemmie, Churchill’s wife, who cheers on his victory, and gently chides him to stay strong while Prime Minister.  It’s a nice departure for Thomas, who usually plays very serious roles.  Ben Mendelsohn plays King George VI, very well, as a strong king with lots of resolve, deemphasizing the stutter, and emphasizing his role in Churchill’s eventual decision.  Lily James is very good as Elizabeth Layton, Churchill’s secretary, playing both the light comedic scenes, but also the pathos that is eventually revealed in the character.

The direction,  by Joe Wright is very visual, and I like that.  There are shots zooming out from where Churchill is standing.  Parliament is visualized as a dark, dank, sinister place where backroom deals are made.  Before Churchill made a speech on the radio, he is bathed in the red light of the warning signal, making the speech look ominous.  The pacing is good, he gets good performances, this is great direction, from what could have been a pedestrian effort.

Oldman plays an old man to perfection.

 

Marshall

At the beginning of his legendary legal career, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) worked as a lawyer for the NAACP, and took high profile cases to illustrate the organization’s continuing fight against racism. In 1940, Walter White, (Roger Guenveur Smith) Executive Secretary of the NAACP suggests a case where African American chauffer Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) is being accused of rape by his employer, wealthy Connecticut socialite, Eleanor Strubling. (Kate Hudson)  The defense is hamstrung almost immediately because Marshall is forced by Judge Foster (James Cromwell) to act as co-council with Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) because Marshall didn’t have a law license in Connecticut.  Spell proclaims that he never touched Eleanor, but his story has as many inconsistencies as hers does.  So who is telling the truth?

The most important decision the writers make is concentrate the story on one case argued by Marshall that focusses the viewer’s attention on both Marshall’s legal strategy, and the perniciousness of racism, even in the North.  Another important aspect that this movie illustrates is the economic consequences of a rape accusation.  Many black servants who had no connection to Joseph Spell, were fired because of the fear that this case created.  The only downside of the script is that it tends to subjugate co-council Friedman to emphasize Marshall’s genius, the writers didn’t have to do that, they were both able lawyers and should have been shown that way.  The story is a compelling one, and the script stays mostly true to the facts.

The acting is only so-so, and for this the casting is to blame.  Chadwick Boseman is great.  He plays the role with intensity, urgency, and gravitas.  He is building a nice career for himself.  Josh Gad is more a comedic actor in musicals like Frozen and Beauty and the Beast, and the way the role is written Friedman is treated like comedy relief, like Thurgood Marshal and Sam Friedman are in a buddy movie. Try as he might Gad can’t quite pull off the more serious aspects of the role.  Kate Hudson also goes through the motions as a snooty, upper class, society woman of means, but it feels so perfunctory, there’s no emotion in her performance, and so it’s hard to feel anything for her.  Sterling K. Brown, best known for his role in This is Us, lays on the poor black southern voice a little too thick, to the point of self-parody, it was not a good performance.

Reginald Hudlin was the director, he broke through in Hollywood shortly after Spike Lee, but there’s nothing visually notable about his direction here, he does keep the pacing going, and gets at least one strong performance from Chadwick Boseman, so it’s a better than average job of directing.  If he oversaw the casting, some of the blame for the miscasting falls on him as well.

Marshall:  Not just good, Thurgood.

 

the tick

Episode 1: Pilot

Arthur Everett  (Kyle Catlett, Griffin Newman) is obsessed with the arch villain, The Terror. (Jackie Earle Haley) The terror was responsible for the death of Arthur’s dad. (Richie Moriarty) And now, heavily medicated, Arthur tracks down the Terror’s henchmen to an abandoned warehouse.  But the police mistakenly arrest Arthur, and threaten to lock him up.  All this time, Arthur has been seeing a large man in a blue Tick costume, and he wants Arthur to join him as his sidekick, and find and stop the Terror.  Arthur is just trying to stay out of jail, and he’s not even sure if The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz ) is real. Arthur just wants to get out of jail.

I liked this episode.  The story was darker than I remember the animated series ever being, Arthur was a lot more obsessive than I remember but the Tick is really funny, and that saves the episode.  Peter Serafinowicz really seems to understand the nature of the Tick the satirical catchphrases flow out of his mouth like a waterfall.  Griffin Newman does a good job as the slightly unstable Arthur, the unwilling sidekick. Valorie Curry is pleasant as Arthur’s sister, Dot.

Episode 2:  Where Is My Mind

The Tick has a battle with Ms. Lint (Yara Martinez) but Arthur still thinks that The Tick may be a figment of his imagination, until his sister, Dot (Valorie Curry) sees The Tick too.  Arthur is still ready to give his costume to Ms. Lint and her henchmen, until the police come to arrest him, then what happens?  Why does the Tick disappear when Arthur needs him most?

This was not a great episode.  It’s full of exposition and backstory, rather than moving the plot forward, some new characters were introduced, like Rameses the IV, but not much more than that. I’d hate to think of this as filler, so early in the season, but that’s what it seems like.

Episode 3: Secret/Identity

Arthur wants to give up the sidekick business and return to his cozy accounting job after being hunted down by Overkill (Scott Speizer) a former government assassin.  But Arthur is still haunted by visions of The Terror and pursued by Ms. Lint.  The Tick also wants Arthur to rejoin him as his sidekick, as he is having some memory lapses.  What does Arthur do?

This is a good episode, Overkill adds a new wrinkle to the storyline, the established characters are interesting, the dialogue is interesting and funny, and there’s a bit of a cliffhanger at the end.

Episode 4:  Party Crashers

Arthur goes to his stepfather Walter’s (Francois Chau) 60th birthday.  Ms. Lint has trouble activating the suit she stole from Arthur, so she shows up at the party.  And, of course the Tick shows up, and Walter likes the Tick.  Lint gives the suit to Arthur, does he activate it?  Overkill is still lurking, whose side is he on?  Who is a V-L-M?

I like this episode because even the tangential characters are making me laugh now, and that’s always a good sign.

Episode 5:  Fear of Flying

Arthur tries to fly in his suit, but doesn’t know how to land.  He is being pursued by the Tick, who is riding with Dot.  Also chasing Arthur is Overkill and Rameses IV.  (Michael Cerveris)  Why do they want the suit?  Does Arthur land safely?

The viewer finally finds out who Ramses IV is, and why Overkill wants the suit, and there’s a surprise ending to this episode involving Ms. Lint. What I like about this episode is that the laughs aren’t coming from only The Tick but all the characters.  And the characters’ roles are coming more sharply into focus.

Episode 6:  Rising

The Tick and Arthur are on the trail of The Terror, with Ramses IV in tow.  In a bid to escape Ramses fires a missile at a city bus, forcing the Tick and Arthur to save the passengers.  Ms. Lint takes the advice of an old cohort.  After savoring their victory in saving the passengers, Arthur is kidnapped, but by whom?

I like this episode because it builds on the plot, further develops the characters, and keeps the laughs coming.  It also ends on a cliffhanger, which makes the viewer want to see the next episode.

Episode 7: Tale From The Crypt

Arthur knows who kidnapped him, and he has company, Dr. Karamozof (John PInkus) has also been kidnapped.  The Tick is coming to rescue him with the help of Dot, Overkill, and Dangerboat.

The episode shows that the show is just hitting its stride, very funny, laugh out loud funny, and the plot is coming together too.

Episode 8:  After Midnight

Arthur escapes his kidnapping and wants Overkill to track down Midnight.  Midnight and Overkill don’t get along.  Overkill’s true identity is revealed, who is he?

The dialogue between Midnight and Overkill is funny, and the plot is really starting to gel.

Episode 9: My Dinner With Android

Arthur and the Tick try to find Dr. Karamazov before Sonja, (Jaqueline Antaramian) a diplomat from his country and her sidekick, an android named Bakkup (Dan Castiglione) The Tick, who’s having an identity crisis, thinks that Backkup is his doppelganger.

The show continues to be funny, and the viewers are getting to learn a little more about the characters, and the plot is continuing to take shape.  It’s a very well-constructed, well-written show.

 

Episode 10: Risky Bismuth

Superian is feeling ill, and Dr. Karamazov knows why, he developed a chemical compound called Bismuth that has a deleterious effect on Superian, and there’s more to the plan, that includes the VLM.  Can the Tick and Arthur stop the plan? Dot and Overkill take on Ms. Lint, how does that turn out?

There was more exposition than jokes in this episode, but that’s ok it was still funny.

Episode 11:  The Beginning of The End

Dr. Karamazov  has come up with a way to counteract the Bismuth, now The Tick and Arthur are on their way to confront The VLM.  Meanwhile, Ms. Lint is still torturing Overkill and he seems to be enjoying it.  Can Dot make Lint stop?  Does Overkill want her to stop?

The bi-play between Lint and Overkill is funny.  The dialogue between Arthur and his stepfather is funny.

Episode 12:  The End of The Beginning

Arthur confronts the VLM with Dr. Karamazov’s new formula, what happens?   The Tick confronts the man who started it all, how does that confrontation turn out?

I like the way this show ended, Arthur got his confrontation, the Tick got his, and they both got to retain their low-key hero status.

 

The Tick is an outstanding show.  This iteration of The Tick is darker than the cartoon series, while maintaining its campy sense of humor. Think of a mashup of The Dark Knight It is consistently funny, while keeping the plotline going.  Most of the characters are funny, and interesting.  The Tick has an identity crisis all throughout, Arthur is a reluctant hero, Dot is a badass, with a day job that she hates Overkill is a heartbroken anti-hero.  Superion is a Superman  ripoff, I wanted more from this character.  Ms. Lint is evil, and loving it.

Amazon has ordered a season 2 of The Tick, and I am happy about that.  Very few shows make me laugh as much as the Tick did, I’m unhappy that Amazon split twelve episodes into two seasons, and made viewers wait for months to find out what happened.  BEZOS!!!! (See Star Trek Wrath of Khan for reference)

 

what is yours is not yours

Books and Roses:

A baby girl named Montse, is left at a monastery door.  She has a key around her neck.  Years later, Montse works as a clothes launderer with a woman with a similar key around her neck.  Is there a relationship between the two keys?  Is there a relationship between the two women?

Sorry Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea:

A guy named Ched asks his friend to housesit while he goes off to do his military sevice.   The house sitter has a boyfriend with two kids, Dayang, who is serious, and Aisha, who has a crush on a German pop star named Matyas Fust.   Matyas gets involved in a scandal.  Is the scandal true?  Does Aisha stay loyal to Matyas?

Is Your Blood As Red As This?  No

A girl named Radha meets an older woman named Myrna, at a party, and becomes a puppeteer like Myrna is, to impress Myrna.  Does Myrna return Radha’s feelings?  Is Radha’s puppetry career a success?

Drownings:

A man named Arkady lives in a country run by a dictator. To protest the dictator’s rule, and to pay off his growing debt, Arkady and his friend Giancomo plan to kidnap the dictator’s daughter and hold her for ransom.  How does the kidnapping plot go?

Presence:

Jill Ackerman and her husband Jacob experiment with something called the Presence, which is supposed to bring a spiritual presence into the life of the person who tries it.  Jill volunteers, does a presence enter her life?

A Brief History of The Homely Wench Society 

Dayang Sharif is a college student at Cambridge University, and she wants to join a club called the Homely Wench Society.  This club is a counterweight to the all-men’s Bettencourt Society which is seen as chauvinistic, and generally hostile to women. One day Dayang meets Hercules Demetriou, who’s a member of the Bettencourt Society but doesn’t tell her. Does Dayang join the Homely Wench Club, does she find out the truth about Hercules?

Dorninca and the St Martin’s Day Goose:

Dornica goes up to the top of Mount Radhost in the Czech Republic to visit a statue of a wolf.  The wolf statue talks to Dornica and says he wants someone to eat, and despite Dornica’s red hood, he passes on her and says he wants someone younger.  What does Dornica do to satiate the wolf statue’s hunger?

 

Freddy Barrendorf Checks In

Everybody expects Freddy Barrendorf to follow in his father’s footsteps, and become a hotel maintenance man, does Freddy follow in his dad’s footsteps?

If A Book Is Locked, There’s probably a good reason for it, don’t you Think?

New employee Eva sends tongues wagging at her new job, with her New York sense of style and cool manner.  Tongues are wagging for a different reason as rumors circulate about Eva and a married man.  Then, one of the employees finds Eva’s diary, does she open it and confirm the rumors or return it to Eva?

 

What Is Yours Is Not Yours is a collection of short stories.  Ms. Oyeyemi is fond of literary flourishes, large words, symbolism, recurring characters, recurring themes and tangential subplots.  These are all things critics and literary agents adore, but it may alienate the average reader.  For example, she gets so enamored of a tangential portion of the story in  Sorry Doesn’t Sweeten The Tea, that she forgets the main story entirely.

Books And Roses is a pretty good story, but again there is so much of a backstory and so much exposition, that it makes for difficult reading.  Reading a book should not be a chore, and some of this book seems like work and not pleasure.  There are other stories that get so caught up in the technicalities of the task she is describing, that the point of the story is lost.  A story about puppetry might be interesting, but not the way she wrote it.

Sometimes the recurring themes of books and keys and locks seem to be forced into the story, just to keep the thematic consistency going.  And most of the characters show up in different stories, for example Dayang shows up in at least two stories if not more, Aisha shows up in multiple stories, and it’s maddening.  They just seem to make cameos in other stores, for no reason, another frustrating flourish.

There are good stories in this collection, A Brief History of The Homely Wench Society is good story, simple, direct, to the point. And the characters have a definite point of view.  In fact, I’d say more than half of the stories are very good, but even in the stories I liked, the endings are weak or abrupt or don’t match the tone of the story that came before it.  I’ve read her work before, Mr. Fox, and I had the same complaint, it was too metaphorical, too symbolic, almost like a bedtime story with some deeper meaning.

Ms. Oyeyemi is talented, but her writing is too lyrical, she needs to tell a story in more prosaic language, beginning middle and end.  Sometimes, the simplest way to tell a story is the best way.

Short stories, not for short attention spans.