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Broadway Review—Michael Moore’s “The Terms of My Surrender”

The Terms of My Surrender
Written and performed by Michael Moore; directed by Michael Mayer
Performances through October 22, 2017
Michael Moore in The Terms of My Surrender (photo: Joan Marcus)
In the nearly 30 years since his muckraking documentary Roger and Me made him famous, Michael Moore has perfectly honed his style of man-on-the-street reportage and progressive advocacy, including books (Downsize This!, Stupid White Men), television (TV Nation, The Awful Truth) and more documentaries, including Oscar winner Bowling for Columbine and Cannes Palme d’Or winner Fahrenheit 9/11.
Now he’s taken his act to Broadway, where, to put it mildly, he preaches to the already converted. But he doesn’t care: The Terms of My Surrender has the same strengths and weaknesses of Moore’s other work. The formula is the same: the shambling, baseball-cap wearing everyman walks onto the stage and begins his shtick, which includes corny, obvious jokes—like a game show that pits two audience members against each other, a so-called dumb Canadian and a so-called smart American—that alternate with on-target political satire and analysis.
Sure, he can be self-aggrandizing, but when he discusses himself, it’s in the context of what he sees as the greater good. For instance, in high school, he was the youngest ever member of the local Flint school board at age 17, and he shamed the Elks Lodge by winning an Abe Lincoln essay contest decrying the Elks as a whites-only institution. 
His point—and he has one—is that, in the age of Trump, if people are angry or shocked by what happened in November and what’s been happening since January, then there are things everyone can do to help ensure that the House and even the Senate flip in 2018 and the White House flips in 2020.
Moore knows his audience includes many people upset and embarrassed by Trump’s victory who nevertheless won’t do much to affect any meaningful change, so he tells stories, makes jokes and insults Trump to prod them to take matters into their own hands by making calls to their Congress people or running for local office or doing anything to help the country heal (not heel, as Trump’s tweets would have it) and move forward.
Of course, Michael Moore appearing on Broadway isn’t for everyone, and those people know who they are. But in Michael Mayer’s slick staging, the slightly overlong The Terms of My Surrender (the Dancing with the Stars finale has got to go!) is a funny, thoughtful and even cathartic time in the theater for anyone still stunned by the results of November 8.
The Terms of My Surrender
Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, New York, NY

August '17 Digital Week III

Blu-rays of the Week 

After the Storm

(Film Movement)
Although he’s made memorable dramas about family bonds (Still Walking; Like Father Like Son),Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda comes up short with his latest about Ryota, a writer and gambler behind on support payments for his son. As always, Kore-eda has enormous sympathy or every character, and Hiroshi Abe’s sensitive portrayal beautifully balances Ryota’s irresponsibility with half-hearted attempts to mend fences, letting us root for him even as he keeps screwing up. But Kore-eda’s insight into tempestuous family relationships is only intermittent, despite wonderful moments scattered throughout, especially in the final rainstorm scenes. The hi-def transfer is excellent; extras are a 75-minute making-of documentary and a short film, The Last Dream, by directors Noemie Nakai and Carmen Kobayashi.
Beatrice et Benedict
(Opus Arte)
French director Laurent Pally’s amusing 2016 production of Hector Berlioz’s charming opera based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing juggles with, but doesn’t puncture, either the Bard or the composer, and the result is an unalloyed delight. As the eponymous haters-turned-lovers, American Paul Appleby and French soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac are perfect together and apart, while Sophie Karthauser provides winsome support as the aptly-named Hero. Hi-def video and audio are superb; lone extra is a backstage featurette.
Everything, Everything 

(Warner Bros)

I know, I know: I’m not the target audience for this treacly adaptation of a YA novel by Nicola Yoon. But even teens and pre-teens surely see the contrivance and melodrama of a plot about a teenage girl stuck in her house since she was a baby due to a damaged auto-immune system who finds love—and freedom—when the new cute boy next door notices her. Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson are good and Anika Noni Rose as the over-protective mom is superb, but the movie never breaks out of its cutesy trajectory from the first frame. The film looks quite good on Blu; extras are deleted scenes and featurettes.
Freebie and the Bean
(Warner Archive)
Richard Rush—who went on to direct the dazzling 1980 feature The Stunt Man—helmed this ramshackle, politically incorrect but eminently watchable comic drama about a couple of borderline-inept detectives who fight each other more than they track down criminals. James Caan and Alan Arkin are at the top of their game, while Rush dazzlingly uses San Francisco locations for several daring car chases all the more impressive for their authenticity, unlike fake, CGI-laden sequences proliferating today. Warner Archive’s hi-def transfer is first-rate.
The Zodiac Killer 


Low-budget doesn’t begin to describe the Z-movie specs of Tom Hanson’s 1971 drama that ineptly but earnestly tries to dramatize the horrifying drama of the infamous murderer that terrorized the Bay Area: amateurish acting, distaff writing and non-existent directing all sink it. The Blu-ray—which shows off a messy surviving print in hi-def—also includes an equally risible feature, Another Son of Sam(1977), director’s commentary and retrospective interviews.
DVDs of the Week
The Summer of All My Parents
Louise on the Shore
(First Run)
In one-named director Diasteme’s intimate character study, The Summer of All My Parents, teenage sisters—one 17, the other 14—must deal with their own (and their sister’s) sexual confusion and their divorced parents’ new lives; a superlative cast led by two remarkable young actresses as the sisters, Luna Lou and Alma Jodorowsky hits all the right marks.Louise on the Shore, Jean-Francois Lagionie’s inventive animated film, about a 70-ish woman who finds herself alone after a freak storm at her usual vacation spot strands her, is filled with spare, lovely touches (including a talking dog companion) that make this far more than a mere kids’ flick.

Hot Movies for Summer’s Dog-Days: Comedy, Drama, Thrills, Murder, Superheroes, & War-Zone Chaos


These Dog-Days of summer are a good time to hit the cineplexes. Milk Duds, Goobers, a tub of “buttery” popcorn, and a bottomless iced cold drink, a chaise lounge experience in posh [anti-bedbug] leather seats, and A/C. What more can you ask for? And, unlike most summer Augusts, there’s much to shout about at cineplexes.

The days are long, and some of the best films are short. The studios aren’t waiting for late October roll-out of prestige films. They’re putting them out weekend after weekend – often with three/four openings on a Friday. Some making a big impact at box offices are indies. There’s comedy, drama, romance, murder, superhero thrills, war-zone chaos, one determined dude on a snowmobile, and a new action goddess.

Oscar-nominee Taylor Sheridan (Deputy Chief David Hale, TVs Sons of Anarchy; Danny Boyd, Veronica Mars) of Hell or High Water fame has sneaked in with the season’s sleeper, crime thriller Wind River, which he wrote. Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner is letter perfect as rough and tumble game tracker of mountain lions and coyotes who prey on livestock on a remote Wyoming Native American reservation. He’s also no slouch on snowmobiles! Already in the stark winter of their discontent, the poor natives are devastated by a second murder of a young woman, found viciously beaten and raped multiple times. This is not savory going -- especially when Renner is called upon to assist urban (Las Vegas via Ft. Lauderdale) FBI Agent Elizabeth Olsen (Captain America: Civil War’s Scarlett Witch). We’ve seen directors handle flashbacks many ways, but Sheridan, no slack when it comes to inventiveness, introduces a new and seamless approach. The estimable Oscar nominee Graham Greene is featured as the girl’s father. In a brief but memorable seduction scene, HOHW’s Gil Birmingham – showing different sides of himself, will have a lot of audience members swooning.

MoviesDogDaysSummerCompositeIn the U.S., a child goes missing every 40 seconds. You never think it’ll happen to you. Until it does. In Kidnap (Aviron/Di Bonaventura Pictures), when mom, Oscar winner Halle Berry, returning to the big screen after three years, catches a glimpse of the abductors speeding away, she begins a high speed pursuit across Louisiana highways, byways, and bayous, overcoming obstacle after obstacle. The nappers messed with the wrong mom! TV veteran, 10-year-old Sage Correa delivers a masterful performance during the marathon chase that had to be shot with great care. Pay no attention to the red herons, as they don’t deliver pay dirt. The only delivering is done by indefatigable Halle Berry. The ending is powerful, but, on second thought, it would’ve been interesting to have another motive behind the kidnap other than the crackers out for ransom, that include long-time character actress Chris McGinn – move over (Misery’s) Kathy Bates!

There’s another Man in Black and, alas, he’s not Johnny Cash. The mind of Stephen King has no limits when it comes pulp fiction, but his works have proved to be a mixed bag when brought to the screen. Nikolaj Arcel’s brave attempt to adapt his seven novels and a short story published over 30 years [with homages to Robert Browning, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Sergio Leone] in Dark Tower (Columbia Pictures) falls into that category. It’s a box office champ, but no critics’ darling. However, who needs critics? Idris Elba is the last gunfighter in an alternate land out to keep the world from colliding; and Matthew McConaughey is evil incarnate as the Man in Black, with whom he’s locked in eternal battle.

Oscar winning director/and co-producer Kathryn Bigelow proved her mettle with Best Picture The Hurt Locker, and followed with a Best Picture nomination for Zero Dark Thirty. She and ZDT collaborator Mark Boal know a thing or two about war zones. This one is stateside, 1967 Detroit (Annapurna Pictures/MGM), where a police raid and a number of murders set off a literal African-American rebellion that set off a night of turbulence that segued into one of the nation’s largest race riots. The film is docudrama realistic, raw, disturbing, engrossing, brutal. A writer aptly summed it up: “The degree of terror and carnage is so strong that ‘based on a true story’ is too tame to do the film justice.” Not for the faint of heart, and in these Dog-Days of summer, certainly not a date movie. There are lessons that should have been learned and weren’t. John Boyega, John Krasinski, Jacob Latimore, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter, and Algee Smith headline a huge cast.

Director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (Warner Bros.), a sweeping 70-mm IMAX epic [with the help of CGI] restaging of the 1940 evacuation of more than 300,000 Allied troops [French, British, Belgian, Dutch] in fast retreat from the Western Front at Dunkerque, France. Penned in by the Germans, they’re stranded due to a lack of transport. Fionn Whitehead, in a near silent role, delivers a shattering performance. There’s also Sir Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, and, in his acting debut, Harry Styles. Except for Branagh, you may find it hard to spot the others. Olivier, BAFTA, Oscar, and Tony winner Mark Rylance gives a solid performance helming his boat, which joins the civilian watercraft armada aiding the rescue. Though you never see blood, the gore as Germans strafe and use their U-boats in unconscionable torpedo attacks, is harrowing– but something’s missing. At 1:45, there’re no humanizing back stories to motivate audiences to care instead of just being blown away. The Dunkirk headlines were instrumental in getting FDR to aid the U.K. to avoid a conditional surrender to Germany.

How does a sweet gal with the name Lorraine become a bad-ass spy? In Atomic Blonde (Focus Features), adapted by Kurt Johnstad from Anthony Johnston’s graphic novel series The Coldest City, illustrated by Sam Hart, Charlize Theron is an agent sent to walled Berlin to retrieve a list of spies destined to fall into the hands of Russia for Britain’s MI6 military intelligence group. It seems like a set-up, because she’s a marked woman upon arrival; but like Berry in Kidnap, Lorraine isn’t to be messed with. With almost 90% of the 115 minutes so bloated with mortal combat, karate chops, all manner of guns, and objects for body blows, it begins to get monotonous, sometimes ridiculous, and lacks a core.  The story gets muddled with the intro of a lesbian [it appears] French spy, played by Sofia Boutella – but it also gets rather steamy. Numerous flashbacks don’t help the film’s coherence. That said, Theron is, indeed atomic as a spy who doesn’t know when to come in from the cold. Kudos to director and veteran stunt coordinator David Leitch (John Wick), fight coordinator Jon Valera, and crew. Without their precision choreography, bloodied, bruised Theron and cast mates wouldn’t have come out of this alive. James McAvoy co-stars. John Goodman and Toby Jones are featured.


MoviesSpiderHComingGirlsTripThere’s nothing sanitized about the raucous, crass R-rated comedy about female friends bonding, nonetheless is non-stop hilarious [and probably would be just as hilarious with less F-bomb raunch and sexual innuendos and more creative expletives], Girls Trip (Universal), made for $20-mill, rolled in out of the blue and has swept up $86-mill. In addition to stellar performances by Regina Hall and tiny dynamo Jada Pinkett Smith, brilliant comic Tiffany “Shake it ‘til it brakes” Haddish, better known to TV audiences, has had the big-screen break-out role of the year; and the gals have found a new crush in former Off Broadway actor and now hunk Mike “The Arm” Colter (who’s been gym-pumping since his Good Wife Lemond Bishop days).

It’s been a good summer for superheroes. In Spider-Man: Homecoming (Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios), director Jon Watts does a high dive, forgets the past, and begins anew. Tom Holland (Lost City of Z) soars to new heights in the third reboot of the webby franchise by not taking himself seriously and being adept at slapstick. He’s superbly abetted by Oscar winner Michael Keaton’s intense menace– some of the film’s best moments are when Fresh-faced kid Vs. Grizzled villain, and guest star Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Peter Parker wasn’t alone waking up to the full potential of power. In Wonder Woman (Warner Bros) Gal Gadot (a prime asset of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) spectacularly segues with gusto from princess of the Amazons to discover her true destiny as guardian of the world. With global grosses in the multimillions, it’s no wonder sequels are in the pipeline.

August '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 

King Arthur—Legend of the Sword

(Warner Bros)
Guy Ritchie’s turgid version of the Excalibur legend favors the supernatural elements—witches, monsters, the Demon Knight—over the battling humans, with the unfortunate result that this spectacle is more enervating than entertaining. And, despite solid work by a cast that actually looks right—Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Djimon Hounsou and Annabelle Wallis, for starters—Ritchie unsurprisingly slathers CGI over everything, allowing several rousing battle sequences to overwhelm the characters that are at the center of this timeless story. The film looks great on Blu-ray; extras are several featurettes.
Beyond the Darkness
Bag Boy Lover Boy
Lovers of gory flicks will be in heaven with these new releases, starting with Beyond the Darkness, Italian director Joe D’Amato’s pulverizingly nasty 1979 thriller that features incest, necrophilia, dismemberment and other fun things to keep its target audiences reasonably entertained, especially a sequence that includes a post-mortem eye operation. Bag Boy, conversely, is a shoddy mess that tells the tale of a slow-witted Manhattan hot-dog vendor who moonlights as a fetish model, enabling him to lure several of the most unsuspecting to their deaths. Both films look fine in hi-def; Darkness extras are a D’Amato documentary, location updates and interviews, while Bag extras are a commentary and short films.
Jane’s Addiction—Ritual de lo Habitual Alive at Twenty-Five 

(Rock Fuel Media/MVD)

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of its seminal album Ritual de lo Habitual (even though it was released in 1990), Jane’s Addiction—fronted by singer/songwriter Perry Ferrell—tears through a superbly-paced 85-minute set at this 2016 concert at Southern California’s Irving Meadows Amphitheatre. The incredibly tight band comprises guitarist Dave Navarro, bassist Chris Chaney and drummer Steven Perkins, and Ferrell is in top vocal shape throughout, with standouts being the opener “Stop!” and audience favorite “Been Caught Stealing.” The hi-def image and especially audio are top-notch; the three-disc set also includes the concert on DVD and CD.
Steve Gordon’s tongue-in-cheek 1985 horror flick is loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft novella, but blood, guts and the ick factor are ramped up to eleven. There’s an amusing schadenfreude watching various characters meet their deaths, only to be brought back to life as zombies that are quite unlike George Romero’s. Despite the lunacy, there’s a healthy sense of dark humor, a no-brainer when you’re dealing with a reanimated doctor who carries around his own decapitated head. Standing out in a game cast is Barbara Crampton as our hero’s beautiful fiancée. Arrow’s thorough set includes two cuts of the film, audio commentaries and featurettes, all encased in an attractive box that even has a selection of postcards.
DVDs of the Week 

In the Shadow of Women

Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman
He’s been a critics’ and film festival darling for decades, but French director Phillippe Garrel makes films that strike me as amateurish, half-baked explorations of relationships, and his latest In the Shadow of Women continues his string of stiffly-acted, superficial dramas. Leading man Stanislas Merhar is less talented than the director’s mediocre son Louis, whose merely dull presence is sorely missed. In Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman, the late Belgian director’s 1997 self-portrait, she begins by reading from a text about her problems making this film, then shows clips from her best-known film, Jeanne Dielman, along with several others. Non-fans will find it self-indulgent, but your mileage may vary if you’re an admirer.
(IFC Films)

A star Manhattan high school basketball player juggles a pregnant girlfriend, a gambling dad, a clueless mom and his own college prep in Bart Freundlich’s one-note melodrama which reaches its nadir in a contrived one-on-one game between father and son that pales next to a similar scene scene in The Great Santini. What Freundlich lacks in expressive writing he compensates for in casting and location scouting: Michael Shannon (dad), Taylor John Smith (son), Carla Gugino (mom) and Zazie Beetz (girlfriend) are all admirable, and the famed Greenwich Village basketball courts provide vital atmosphere.

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