the traveler's resource guide to festivals & films
a site
part of Insider Media llc.

Connect with us:


Theater Review: "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson"

Directed by Alex Timbers
Book by Alex Timbers; music & lyrics by Michael Friedman
Choreographed by Danny Mefford
Starring Benjamin Walker, Maria Elena Ramirez, Ben Steinfeld

Alex Timbers' play is a stunning satirical revisionist history of America's seventh president Andrew Jackson as a genocidal Indian killer. It's done in a rock idiom that takes the edge off and makes him seem almost a man of his time as well as/rather than a political murderer. But with some present day vernacular, it takes on immediacy. It's a commentary on the past and also on the present day politics of state killing that is rare in its gut-wrenching toughness.

Chandeliers are suspended over the audience and stage. Walls are hung with oils of the grandees of the time. Here comes Jackson (Benjamin Walker) and his crew chanting, "Populism, yeah yeah! Take a stand against the elite. They don't care anything for us!" They raise their fists. "Populism, yeah yeah." The cast is vibrant and full of energy. Timbers' text and  Michael Friedman's lyrics are truthful and outrageous.

Jackson's family was killed by Indians. We see the arrows flying. Andrew and his wife Rachel (Maria Elena Ramirez) throw blood at each other. He declares, "I will make them all bleed." He says, "Rachel, I love you, but I've also got to kill the entire native population." What a history lesson! Walker might be as charismatic as Jackson was.

Jackson was elected president in 1828. We see Washington politicians John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, John Calhoun, Henry Clay, and James Monroe in their white ruffled collars. They propose a corrupt deal. But Jackson is against the Washington insiders, the aristocracy. We give those Wall Streeters a chance, he says, and they'll destroy the nation.

So what was he proposing instead? His populist "direct democracy"? That turned out to be posturing to crowds. Calhoun and Van Buren were his vice presidents. But the play points out that he was also for shutting down the national bank, a private institution that had been made the depository of federal revenues from which some rich and powerful men earned generous profits.

However, the theme is Jackson's overriding failure on human rights. He owned slaves. In the play, his wife quips, "I always thought I'd live in a house with a dog and some kids and a few slaves."

He signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, forcing tribes east of the Mississippi to move to the west so whites could steal their lands. We see his deal with Blackhawk (Ben Steinfeld), who betrayed the Indians.

How come the Democratic Party is still holding Jackson Day dinners? How come it takes an inventive rock musical to bring the issue to the American public?

With Friedman's eclectic rock music and Danny Mefford's choreography (including a Nutcracker-style ballet and a rock dance with rifles) this production is a powerful and pulsating in-your-face denunciation of an American genocide.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street

New York, New York
Opened April 6, 2010; closes June 27, 2010

For more by Lucy Komisar:

Photos: Joan Marcus

Bollywood Review: "Raajneeti"

Directed by Prakash Jha
Written by Anjum Rajabali, Prakash Jha
Starring Ajay Devgan, Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif,  Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai, Sarah Thompson


After an abominable opening sequence, with a fast-talking narrator spewing a parade of so many names and interlocking relationships you need a scorecard, the sprawling Hindi political drama Raajneeti (literally, "Politics," contextually, "Affairs of State") squanders whatever high-minded notions it originally may have had and devolves into a pulpy potboiler -- parliament elections by way of The Godfather. Blatantly: One character awakens not with a bloody horse's head in his bed, but his bloody gay lover. The Michael Corleone character, complete with WASP girlfriend, tries to get out but gets pulled back in, and sees his heir-apparent brother killed at his car by the family's rivals. One character even paraphrases a signature line from The Godfather Part II, instructing, "This is politics. Here, keep your enemy close to you."

This might certainly play well in India, where the admittedly Godfather-inspired Sarkar (2005) was a critical and commercial hit. But the highly specific milieu of Indian parliamentary elections carries a resonance that's lost on mainstream U.S. audiences -- who, as well, hear the term "Bollywood" and expect musical sequences. Raajneeti being in no way a musical, the only big chorus-dance number, taking place naturalistically at a nightclub, gets as truncated as those expectations. The film is also a modern-day telling of the ancient epic poem Mahabharata, further cementing its Indian sensibilities and diminishing its American cinema viability.

To be fair, so does its wild potboiler of a story. A young woman (Nikhila Trikha), 27 years ago, had an out-of-wedlock baby with a leftist leader we hear no more about. The baby is put, Moses-like, into a basket on the river by the woman's brother, Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar), a political power-behind-the-throne in a region of the country that’s unclear here. The child grows up to be the charismatic Sooraj (action star Ajay Devgan, seen here in 2007's Cash and 2008's U Me aur Hum), who wants to run for election to represent the lower castes. Ah, it's our movie's hero! Whoops, no, just one of a tangled cast of characters whose story arcs virtually all end badly if they even make it to the end of the film.

As succinctly as possible: Political party leader Bhanu Pratap (Jehangir Khan) suffers a stroke and hands power to his younger brother, Chandra (Chetan Pandit), and Chandra's son, Prithvi (Arjun Rampal). This enrages Bhanu's scheming son, the villainously mustached Veerendra (Majoj Bajpai), who recruits Sooraj to help shore up his uncertain power base. Meanwhile, Prithvi's younger brother, visiting American Ph.D. candidate Samar (Ranbir Kapoor, star of 2009's terrific Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year) must stay in India after Veerendra's camp has Chandra killed. Rich party girl Irdu (Katrina Kaif) must marry Prithvi instead of Samar, whom she loves but who doesn't love her, and car bombs go off, and a crooked police chief get beaten to death with a baseball bat, and the three main women characters each get pregnant after having sex once …it all eventually becomes so ridiculous and over-the-top violent that there is nobody, nobody, to root for. By the end, you're almost rooting for the villainous Veerendra simply because all the nominal good guys turn out to be even worse.

Played too straight to enjoy as satire, too seriously to enjoy as campy fun and too insularly Indian to mean anything to Americans, Raajneeti at least has a historical distinction of having some of Bollywood's most graphic sex scenes -- which is to say, not very.

For more by Frank Lovece:

Kevin's Digital Week 26: Make Your Day

Blu-rays of the WeekAbsolute Power

New Clint Eastwood Blu-rays

Warners’ Clint Eastwood: 35 Films, 35 Years celebrates his many achievements as actor and (mainly) director, including two Oscars for helming Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Included are films making their Blu-ray debuts. Neither The Enforcer (1976) nor Sudden Impact (1983)--two belated and inferior Dirty Harry sequels--have much to recommend them, except for the latter’s famous catch phrase, “Go ahead, make my day.”
The ill-humored Heartbreak Ridge (1986) seems a prequel to Clint’s Archie Bunker fantasy Gran Torino, as a hard-ass army vet whips a bunch of wimps into shape, just to in time for our historic invasion of Grenada. Absolute Power (1997), in which Clint is a reluctant witness to a murder in which the U.S. president is implicated, is an taut but forgettable thriller.

Eastwood completists will want to have all of these films: on Blu-ray, they look top-notch, even if the oldest entries have excessive grain and less sharpness. There are no extras; worth seeking out a bonus is The Eastwood Factor, a 90-minute documentary by former critic Richard Schickel that takes a loving look at the man and his career, narrated by Morgan Freeman.

DVDs of the Week
Word Is Out
(Milliarium Zero)
This landmark 1977 documentary explores the histories of 26 gay and lesbian Americans, who without embarrassment discuss their outed lives. The subjects’ openness remains heartbreakingly real today, showing the film’s continued unhappy relevance, considering the political climate of the country right now.
Still, one can only hope that this DVD release introduces Word Is Out to new and more open audiences, on whom its enlightened stance can continue to enlighten. Extras include a featurette about the subjects today, along with an appreciation for the leader of the filmmaking group, Peter Adair, who died from AIDS complications in 1996.

Youth in Revolt
Today’s teenage movies make John Hughes’ unsubtle comedies seem like Noel Coward elegance. Case in point is Youth in Revolt, in which high-school nerd Michael Cera assumes a suave alter ego to help him in his budding relationship with a willing young woman. This gimmick could be handled adequately in a five-minute sketch, but over the course of a 90-minute movie--which iincludes unnecessary animation--it’s quite interminable. Cera has been playing the same role since Juno and remains charming, but he’s going to the well once too often. The cast comprises others like Steve Buscemi, Zach Galifinakis, and Jean Smart who are neither amusing nor sympathetic; only Portia Doubleday scores as Cera’s love interest. Extras include deleted and extended scenes and animated sequences, along with audition tapes for those who like that sort of thing.

CDs of the Week
Anna Netrebko: In the Still of Night
(Deutsche Grammophon)
The dazzling Russian soprano Anna Netrebko teams with pianist Daniel Barenboim for an enticing recital of music by Netrebko’s countrymen, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Peter Tchaikovsky, in a performance recorded last summer at Austria’s Salzburg Festival. Although Netrebko, now a huge star, has greater demands to appear all over the world--which might cause her to simplify her repertoire--it’s heartening that she’s chosen obscure songs by composers better known for their symphonic and theatrical music. She’s also in lovely voice throughout, with supple tone and beautiful enunciation of her native Russian language. Barenboim, by contrast, is too much in evidence; instead of being an accompanist, he seems to be competing with Netrebko for attention, which detracts from--but never ruins--a sterling vocal showcase.

Dutilleux: Piano Works
France’s greatest living composer Henri Dutilleux is now 94, and although his best works are orchestral (his two symphonies are masterpieces), he’s also composed formidable chamber music, including brilliant solo piano pieces, all included on this scintillating, adventurous recital by pianist Robert Levin, who’s especially compelling and persuasive on the composer’s Sonata--a high point of post-WWII piano music--as well as the keyboard duet Figures de resonances, performed with the equally brilliant Ya-Fei Chuang
Interestingly, Dutilleux didn’t want Levin to perform his all-but-disowned early works--in a compromise, Levin put them at disc’s end after a pause, which separates them from the mature works but still lets us hear a living legend’s musical journey from youthful precocity to modern master.

Kevin's Digital Week 25: Of Myths and Monsters

Blu-rays of the Week


(Opus Arte)
The great German modernist composer, Hans Werner Henze, turns 84 in July, and is still going strong. This recording of his best-known ballet Ondine — from performances last year at London’s Royal Opera House—prove that his seminal collaboration with British choreographic master Frederick Ashton (which premiered in 1958 with ballerina extraordinaire Margot Fonteyn in the lead role) is a match made in musical and dance heaven. Ondine is one of Henze’s most vigorous and thrilling scores, and Ashton’s scintillating choreography matches it note for note. This first-rate performance, starring diminutive Miyako Yoshida as the water nymph heroine, has been captured on HD in all its visual and aural glory (the music sounds sensational), and there’s a short bonus interview with the frail yet  sharp-minded composer.

Dialogues des Carmelites
(Opus Arte)
Although Francis Poulenc is known for some of the 20th century’s wittiest music—like his one-act comic opera The Tits of Tiresias -- it’s the stately tragedy that premiered in 1957, Dialogues des Carmelites, that’s his most affecting score. This powerful drama, set in a convent of Carmelite nuns during the French Revolution, ends with the sound of the guillotine. There’s no way to remain indifferent when hearing Poulenc’s intense music as the opera moves toward its inevitable tragic climax, and Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s stark, simple production (with black and white as dominant colors on a near-bare stage) visually reinforces that notion. Lehnhoff’s 2008 staging is nearly ruined by the television director, who ham-fistedly shortchanges Poulenc’s shockingly blunt ending by too much clever cross-cutting of close-ups of the nuns before they meet their deaths. Luckily, the music (in capable conductor Simone Young’s hands), despite such butchery, still resonates.

DVDs of the Week

(Shout Factory)
Japan’s second most famous monster—after you know whom—returns in this newly restored version of the original movie that brought the extra-large turtle to prominence. As befitting a schlocky ‘60s monster movie, Gamera is silly throughout, with the usual parade of cheap-looking effects, but that’s immaterial in the broader sense: this creature—awakened from hibernation under the Arctic ice after a nuclear explosion—is befriended by an adorably cherubic boy, and so becomes one of the good guys. This black and white “classic” (the sequels were shot in color) looks about as good as it ever will, and the extras include an informative audio commentary by August Rangone and a retrospective making-of featurette.

Ghostwriter: Complete Season One
(Shout Factory)
In the nearly 20 years since its debut (and 15 years since its cancellation), the PBS mystery series Ghostwriter has nearly been forgotten among the crappy shows that have come and gone since. But since this is one of the smartest “all ages” programs ever (from the folks behind Sesame Street, the Children’s Television Workshop), it’s a pleasure to have it back again. Ghostwriter follows a group of Brooklyn teens who receive cryptic messages from their computers that help them solve neighborhood mysteries both innocuous and more serious. With guest stars like Samuel L. Jackson, Mark-Linn Baker and Spike Lee, the program still offers hours of intelligent entertainment, and the five-disc set (with all 28 episodes) includes a 12-page “casebook” for those who want to sleuth at home.

CDs of the Week

Shostakovich: Cello Works
(Praga Digitals)
Two Czech musicians — cellist Michal Kanka and pianist Jaromir Klepac — play three chamber works by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): the D minor cello sonata from 1934, an alternately somber and playful work that the men sink their instruments into with grit and clarity; two brief pieces from the 1951 Ballet Suite, which are dispatched with vigor; and, finally, Shostakovich’s last chamber work, the Viola Sonata, which sounds even more despairing and haunting played on the cello’s low registers. These are vital performances of some of the most inward-looking music of the past century, reminding us yet again of Shostakovich’s singular genius as a composer.

Czech Piano Trios: Florestan Trio
(Harmonia Mundi)
Over a century of Czech music is heard on this charming CD, with the excellent Florestan Trio playing works by Bedrich Smetana (from 1855), Bohuslav Martinu (1930), and Petr Eben (1986). Smetana’s Trio is a typical Romantic work reminiscent of Schumann and Brahms, but with his own voice peeking through. Martinu—who, along with Leos Janacek, is the heart of Czech music of the first half of the 20th century—is represented by his fleet, brief first piano trio, while Eben (who died three years ago) has penned a trio in an unabashedly tonal but muscular style. Pianist Susan Tomes, violinist Anthony Marwood and cellist Richard Lester give exciting readings of these works, which give us a tasty entrée into a neglected corner of Bohemian chamber music.

Newsletter Sign Up

Upcoming Events

No Calendar Events Found or Calendar not set to Public.