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Film review—Documentary “Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg”

Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg
Directed by Marshall Fine
Robert Klein and Fred Willard
Robert Klein was one of the first comedians I saw on HBO in the late ‘70s, when it was still called Home Box Office. And forty years on, he’s still one of the funniest men on the planet, as shown in Marshall Fine’s fond chronicle of Klein’s career and legacy, Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg.
The title refers to one of Klein’s signature bits, as well as pointing to his continued longevity in a field that eats its practitioners through attrition, drugs, irrelevance or simply old age. Klein seems to be one of the few comics who’s lived a comparatively normal existence—about the worst you could say is that his first marriage ended in divorce—and Fine, who structures the movie as a dozen chapters that take moment s from Klein’s life, doesn’t need to take any pains to show how normal he really is.
Klein grew up in the Bronx, and some of the film’s most amusing moments have him going back to the old neighborhood and tossing off his sardonic observations. His comedy has roots in his personal life—we meet his son, also a comedian, as well as his sister, with whom he reminisces about their parents—and the absurdity in the everyday, and many of his routines are classically comic riffs on such topics, but always with humanity peeking through the craziness.
But what’s most surprising (and heartening) about the movie—even amid seeing Klein’s hilarious stand-up and appearances on shows from Carson to Letterman and beyond—is discovering how many of the later generations of comics and performers name Klein as one of their biggest influences, if not the biggest: everyone from Billy Crystal, Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart to Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Eric Bogosian and Ray Romano has a Klein tale to tell.
There’s even more touching reminiscences from the likes of actress Luci Arnaz—with whom Klein had a successful Broadway run in the musical comedy They’re Playing Our Song, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor Tony—and comic peers David Steinberg, Fred Willard and Don Rickles. But the focus rightly remains on Klein, whose five decades at the pinnacle of the comedy business are commendably summarized in Fine’s very fine portrait.
Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg
Premiered March 31, 2017 on Starz

Austrian Overtures & More at Carnegie Hall

Franz Welser-Möst

On the evening of Friday, February 24th, the first of three extraordinary concerts were given at Carnegie Hall by the superb musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the masterful direction of Franz Welser-Möst, one of the greatest living conductors.

The program—aptly devoted to Viennese music, which dominated all three concerts—opened with the lovely, uncharacteristically Rossinian Overture to Die Zauberharfe, by Franz Schubert, heard here in a sterling account. This was followed by the American premiere of Time Recycling by contemporary composer, René Starr, which was notable for its accomplished orchestration.

The second half of the evening was devoted to the brilliant tone-poem, Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss, magnificently rendered by the musicians. Enthusiastic applause brought forth a delightful encore, the Frühlingsstimmen Waltz of Johann Strauss Jr.

The program on the following evening opened with a dazzling performance of the great Piano Concerto No. 1 of Johannes Brahms, featuring the deservedly celebrated Rudolf Buchbinder as soloist who rewarded the audience's spirited ovation with a marvelous encore, “Soirée de Vienne,” Op. 56, Concert Paraphrase on Waltzes from Die Fledermaus (after Johann Strauss II), of Alfred Grünfeld.

The second half of the concert was just as remarkable, opening with a glorious account of Schubert's exquisite, if ubiquitous, "Unfinished" Symphony in B Minor. This was followed by an equally impressive performance of the excellent The Miraculous Mandarin Suite by Béla Bartók. Another round of excited applause elicited another enjoyable encore, the "Frauenherz" Polka-Mazurka, Op. 166, of Josef Strauss.

The concluding program, presented on the afternoon of the following day, was also superlative, opening with a magisterial version of the Arnold Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, one of the masterpieces of late Romanticism, while the second half of the concert enchanted with a wonderful account of Schubert's titanic Symphony No. 9, the "Great." The audience's joyous reception of this performance was reciprocated by one final encore in this thrilling series, the thoroughly pleasurable  "For Ever" Polka, Op. 193, of Josef Strauss.

March '17 Digital Week IV

Blu-rays of the Week 



In 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni went to swinging London to make his first English-language film, a rare instance of the cultural zeitgeist being recorded, aside from its cinematic brilliance as a mystery and investigation into the power and truth of images. 


The Criterion Collection gives this historically important filmic time capsule the hi-def release it deserves: there’s a ridiculously good-looking Blu-ray transfer, and extras include archival interviews with Antonioni and actor David Hemmings, featurettes and a new making-of documentary, Blow Up of Blow-Up; and new interviews with actresses Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Birkin.

Cinema Paradiso

(Arrow Academy)

1989’s Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film, Giuseppe Tornatore’s semi-autobiographical reminiscence is perfectly—and honestly—sentimental, its story of a young boy who befriends the local movie projectionist and who leaves his small Sicilian village to become a world-famous director encapsulated in the yearning violin figures of Ennio Morricone’s most romantic score. 


The nearly three-hour director’s cut is repetitious but essential for understanding what Tornatore is after: despite its soap opera leanings, resistance is ultimately futile while viewing, especially when the irresistible Brigitte Fossey shows up near the end to steal the film. Fine hi-def transfers of the two-hour released cut and 173-minute director’s cut are included; extras include a Tornatore commentary, A Dream of Sicily documentary and featurettes.

The Creeping Garden 

(Arrow Academy)

This odd but compelling documentary by directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp is a straight-faced exploration of strands of mold that multiply on their own, and those scientists and several artists who study and use such creeping masses of matter in their fields. 


Needless to say, the interviews and glimpses of the actual molds are fascinating throughout. The film looks fine on Blu; extras include directors’ commentary, Grabham short, featurettes and soundtrack CD.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

(Warner Bros)

J.K. Rowling returns with a sort of Harry Potter spinoff based on her book about a British wizard, Newt Scamander, who arrives in 1926 Manhattan with magical creatures in his suitcase only to spend most of the movie trying to recapture them after they escape. 


Of course it’s silly and overlong, but there is a sense of tongue-in-cheek fun that permeates the film, especially when the strangely compelling creatures dominate its second hour. The film looks dazzling on Blu; extras are featurettes and deleted scenes.

Patriots Day 


This forceful dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and aftermath is another skillful recreation of a real-life tragedy from the suddenly formidable team of star Mark Wahlberg—a convincing everyman—and director Peter Berg, collaborators on the true-life oil-rig thriller Deepwater Horizon who balance the larger canvas with humanizing personal stories. 


There’s also marvelous support from John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, J.K. Simmons and Alex Wolff, who plays the younger Tsarnaev brother with truly frightening intensity. The Blu-ray image is first-rate; extras comprise an hour of interviews and on-set featurettes that give a voice to the real people who were affected by that day and the performers who played them.

DVD of the Week

Just a Sigh

(Icarus/Distrib US)

Jerome Bonnell’s intimate character study of a French actress and a lonely Englishman who meet in Paris while both are in emotional distress has moments of ringing authenticity, but there’s little onscreen resonance despite the flavorful performances by two reliable actors, Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne. 


The talented pair makes the most of the contrived scenario, providing some laughs, occasional tears and even the odd sighting of a real emotion that go beyond what’s called for in Bonnell’s slight script.

Broadway Review—New Musical “Come from Away”

Come from Away
Music, lyrics & book by Irene Sankoff and David Hein; directed by Christopher Ashley
Opened March 12, 2017
The cast of Come from Away (photo: Matthew Murphy)
What happened on September 11 still haunts New Yorkers. Now, more than 15 years later, comes the soothing tale of people in a small Canadian town becoming known around the globe in the days following the horrific terrorist attacks, musicalized as Come from Away.
When U.S. airspace was closed after the attacks, international flights already in the air and headed to the States had to be diverted, and dozens ended up landing at the large former airport near the town of Gander, where passengers and crew were sequestered for several days until they were able to resume their flights. By all accounts, despite fraying nerves on both sides—hundreds of newcomers, none of them able to contact their loved ones in a timely manner, and locals not used to an influx of so many visitors—those days went by remarkably smoothly, providing some good will during some very dark days.
It’s a fascinating and important story, but “Broadway musical” doesn’t scream out as the obvious way to tell it as much as a non-fiction book, movie dramatization or documentary. But Toronto-based creators Irene Sankoff and David Hein soldiered on, playing off the cliché that Canadians are so likable and nice by showing the locals interacting with the people from the planes—Americans, Europeans, Africans, even (in a few brief moments of tension) Middle Easterners—and interspersing those scenes with in-jokes about Tim Hortons, Shoppers Drug Mart and the local custom of kissing a codfish.
The show runs 100 intermission-less minutes, its interchangeable songs comprising lonely laments about absent loved ones and power ballads about understanding others despite differences, most rhythmically-heavy tunes with vague folk- or Celtic-based arrangements. Beowulf Boritt’s mostly bare set includes a revolving turntable that allows greater freedom of movement for the performers (Christopher Ashley is credited as director, with Kelly Devine given a “Musical Staging” credit).
The talented cast of 12 energetically plays dozens of characters, both locals and visitors. And Jenn Colella, always a gripping presence whenever she’s onstage, gets the best musical moments as she belts her way through the show’s most emotional tune, “Me and the Sky,” as an American Airlines pilot who mourns that planes have been turned into lethal weapons by terrorists.
The audience loved the performance I attended, laughing, crying, applauding and jumping immediately to its collective feet at the end. They didn’t mind being manipulated; on Broadway, Come from Away hits close to home, and succeeds despite its limitations.
Come from Away
Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street

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