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Film and the Arts

Movie review—Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “After the Storm”

After the Storm
Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
 
Hirokazu Kore-eda's After the Storm
 
Although he’s made memorable dramas about family bonds, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda comes a cropper with his latest, After the Storm.
 
Ryota, a once-famous writer, now works as a private detective in a small agency. But whatever he earns he usually loses gambling, which makes it difficult to keep up his child support payments to ex-wife Kyoko for their son Shingo. Ryota is also bemused that his mother Yoshiko is moving on after his father’s death—including learning about music (currently Beethoven’s quartets) from a neighbor—and his sister Chinatsu is spending more time at their mother’s house, apparently—he believes—sponging off her.
 
One evening, Ryota brings Shingo and Kyoko to his mother’s house just as a storm is brewing—they end up stranded there overnight, and it’s while there Ryota (after Kyoko tells him they have no future together and that he’s a failed father) hopes to finally earn his son’s affection.
 
As always, Kore-eda has enormous sympathy for every character onscreen, even if he sometimes tends to rub Ryota’s nose in his continued inability to shape up and become responsible. But Hiroshi Abe’s sensitive portrayal beautifully balances Ryota’s irresponsibility with his half-hearted attempts to mend fences, which lets us root for him even as he keeps screwing up. But Kore-eda’s steady hand and insight into tempestuous family relationships were shown to far greater emotional impact in Still Walking and Like Father Like Son.
 
There are wonderful moments scattered throughout, especially in the final rainstorm scenes: when Ryota takes Shingo (an adorably unself-conscious Taiyo Yoshizawa) across the street to sit in the old playground where he went with his own dad as a kid, there’s a lovely, unforced, casual quality to it. But although After the Storm reaffirms Kore-eda as one of our pre-eminent chroniclers of real life, it’s the least resonant of his films I’ve seen.
 
After the Storm
Opened March 17, 2017 in New York and Los Angeles
Filmmovement.com

Broadway Review—Arthur Miller’s “The Price”

Arthur Miller’s The Price
Written by Arthur Miller; directed by Terry Kinney
Opened March 16, 2017
 
Danny DeVito, Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shaloub in Arthur Miller's The Price (photo: Joan Marcus)
 
Arthur Miller chronicled psychologically messy families, as the estranged brothers locking horns in The Price characteristically demonstrate. It’s surprising that The Price has been relegated to the bottom drawer of Miller’s plays, as warhorses like The Crucible, A View from the Bridge and Death of a Salesman are trotted out regularly; its quartet of juicy roles and dramatically enclosed space keep up the intensity level for over two hours, however contrived the basic situation.
 
The Frantz brothers are Victor, a 28-year New York City beat cop who hasn’t yet decided to retire, to the consternation of his bemused but loving wife Esther; and Walter, a successful surgeon who hasn’t had contact with his younger brother in 16 years, since their father died. Now that the enormous amount of bric-a-brac in the family home is about to be sold off prior to the building’s demolition, the brothers reunite for an uneasy tête-à-tête—attended to by 89-year-old Gregory Solomon, an antiques appraiser who becomes a sardonic commentator on the action—in which they painfully bat around what happened years ago that led to their estrangement and dealing with memories of their parents, particularly their father. Secrets are shared, and revelations are made.
 
Miller could write dramatically conventional but gripping confrontations in his sleep, and there are moments in The Price when it seems he did—notably Esther’s predictable shifts of allegiance between her wearying husband and his accomplished but slippery brother—but the back-and-forth between the brothers is heated and soul-baring throughout, as in this exchange about the price Victor paid while caring for their dad in his old age:
 
VICTOR: It’s all pointless! The whole thing doesn’t matter to me!
WALTER: He exploited you! Doesn’t that matter to you?
VICTOR: Let’s get one thing straight, Walter—I am nobody’s victim.
WALTER: But that’s exactly what I’ve tried to tell you—I’m not trying to condescend.
VICTOR: Of course you are. Would you be saying any of this if I’d made a pile of money somewhere?  I’m sorry, Walter, I can’t take that—I made no choice; the icebox was empty and the man was sitting there with his mouth open. I didn’t start this, Walter, and the whole thing doesn’t interest me, but when you talk about making choices, and I should have gone on with science, I have to say something—just because you want things a certain way doesn’t make them that way.
WALTER: All right then. How do you see it?
 
Of course, it helps to have actors able to tear into these meaty parts, and Terry Kinney—who directs with unobtrusive sympathy on Derek McLane’s spacious set cluttered with furniture and items doubling as symbols, like the centerstage harp and a fencing foil—has them in spades. Danny DeVito is a riotous Greek chorus as the aptly-named Solomon, and Jessica Hecht—usually an excessively mannered actress—keeps her affected line readings to a minimum, even if Esther’s New Yawk accent is straight out of Edith Bunker.
 
Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shaloub present a dizzying contrast in techniques. Ruffalo’s world-weary, run-down Victor finds its finest expression in the actor’s shambling stage presence, while the swaggering Shaloub—dapper in his impeccably tailored suit—flaunts Walter’s wealth and prestige even as the ghosts of the Frantz family’s past rise up to put the brothers’ own memories into question. Their head-butting never becomes fatiguing, which makes The Price—despite its flaws—heartening and, ultimately, poignant.
 
Arthur Miller’s The Price
American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, New York, NY
roundabouttheatre.org

Off-Broadway Review—Bryna Turner’s “Bull in a China Shop”

Bull in a China Shop
Written by Bryna Turner; directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Performances through April 2, 2017
 
Enid Graham and Ruibo Qian in Bull in a China Shop (photo: Jenny Anderson)
 
The story of Mary Woolley is a fascinating one: she became president of Massachusetts’ Holyoke College in 1901 while living openly with her longtime companion, Professor Jeanette Marks, and finally retired in 1937 after leading the charge for raised standards for women’s education. Too bad, then, that Bryna Turner’s play about Woolley, Bull in a China Shop,rarely burrows to the heart of her relationship with Marks and merely pays lip service to her stature as an advocate for women’s rights.
 
Turner’s play compresses four decades of Woolley’s life on the Holyoke campus into 85 minutes, but the lack of motivation and character development is a fatal flaw: populated by dramatically insufficient scenes, it’s surprising that the play is, as it says in the program, “inspired by real letters” between the women. Also, I’d be surprised if those letters between these two intelligent, spirited women contained the surfeit of “f” words that is liberally sprinkled throughout Bull’s dialogue, especially one particular epithet beginning with “motherf—.” It’s not that such words weren’t used a century ago, but in this context—spoken by highly educated women in a place of higher learning—they seem willfully out of place, distracting from the drama whenever they’re dropped in.
 
Lee Sunday Evans directs with insufficient variety, and with Arnulfo Maldonado’s mostly bare set and Eric Southern’s conventional lighting, the effect is of an inadvertent distancing, underlined further by the acting of Enid Graham, whose Woolley is shrill and overbearing. As Marks, Ruibo Qian is nearer the mark, providing needed shading, especially in the humorous (and later, tender) scenes with Pearl (Michele Selene Ang), a student with whom Marks has an affair.
 
Instead of a sensitive study of a worthy historical character, Turner’s unsubtle play ends up aping its own title with its awkward bluntness.
 
Bull in a China Shop
Claire Tow Theatre, 150 West 65th Street, New York, NY
lct.org

March '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 

All We Had

(Gravitas Ventures)
Katie Holmes’s directorial debut is an earnest, feel-good study of a single mom and her teenage daughter who teeter on the edge of poverty, how they beg, borrow and steal just to get by, and how a series of fortunate events allows them to lay down roots in a small town.
 
 
 
 
Holmes directs straightforwardly, while her performance as the mom and Stefania LaVie Owen’s as her daughter are quite believable, which helps whenever the movie falls into its not infrequent melodramatic traps. The Blu-ray image is excellent; no extras.
 
Canoa—A Shameful Memory
(Criterion)
A true resurrection by the Criterion Collection is this barely known 1975 drama by Mexican director Felipe Cazals, which powerfully recreates the events leading to the murders of a group of innocent young men who had the misfortune of visiting a region of their country where a cult leader, i.e., priest, held sway.
 
 
 
 
Though marred by awkward acting and melodrama, Cazals’ blunt-edged film still resonates as a cautionary tale about following in lock-step behind a charismatic leader. The hi-def transfer is satisfyingly natural-looking; extras comprise a Guillermo del Toro introduction and conversation between Cazals and director Alfonso Cuaron.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
45 Years 

(Criterion)

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay give skillful portrayals of a long-married wife and husband whose relationship is upended when they find out that his long-ago girlfriend’s body was found after being missing for 45 years—that he never disclosed this earlier relationship to his wife before causes a possibly irrevocable rift.
 
 
 
 
Director Andrew Haigh insightfully shows how little things may upend decades of marital bliss in this finely etched character study, based on David Constantine’s short story. Criterion’s sparkling hi-def transfer is complemented by interviews with Rampling, Courtenay, Constantine and Haigh and a Haigh commentary.
 
Ghost in the Shell
(Anchor Bay)
In this now-classic 1995 Japanese anime—whose influence has been so large that a live-action remake starring Scarlett Johansson opens soon, if anyone cares about such things—a devious hacker called the Puppet Master is tracked down by a relentless government tracker and her team.
 
 
 
 
The vibrant animation—a canny combination of traditional cels and computer generated imagery—is seen in all its glory in this fine hi-def transfer; there are no extras included, except the steelbook packaging.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Mercadante—Francesca da Rimini 

Rossini—Armida

(Dynamic)
Although 19th century Italian composer Saverio Mercadante wrote many operas, they’ve been pretty much forgotten: at least until this 2016 Martina Franca (Italy) staging of Francesca da Rimini, under Fabio Luisi’s steady baton, excellent orchestral playing and choral singing, and fronted by head-turning vocal performances by soprano Leonor Bonilla and mezzo Aya Wakyzono.
 
 
 
 
One of Mercadante’s contemporaries, Giacomo Rossini, is far better known (The Barber of Seville), but his obscure Armida was brought out of mothballs for an impressive 2015 Opera Ghent staging, with fine singing by Carmen Romeu and Enea Scala. Both operas have superior hi-def video and audio.
 
Six—Complete 1st Season
(Anchor Bay)
The inner workings of the elite Navy Seals are dramatized in this eight-episode mini-series, as the elite group must go in and pry loose its former squad leader after he is taken hostage by Boko Haram in Nigeria.
 
 
 
 
By jumping around from hellish locations as far-flung as Afganistan and Chad—and by adeptly showing back stories like how the current hostage lost his position as squad leader—the drama dials up its intensity without losing focus on the men under fire. The hi-def transfer is splendid.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
DVD/CD of the Week 

Grigory Sokolov—Mozart-Rachmaninoff Concertos/A Conversation That Never Was (Deutsche Grammophon)
One of the most enigmatic artists in classical music, Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov doesn’t give interviews and hasn’t performed with orchestras in years: so how do you put out a new release of his musicmaking? Deutsche Grammophon has dug out two of his older recordings: his sizzling 2005 recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 and his even more dazzling 1995 recording of the fiendishly difficult Rach 3 (Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto).

 

 

 

 

Add to that Nadia Zhdanova’s documentary, A Conversation That Never Was, which recounts the pianist’s fascinating career through interviews with everyone but him, a less than definite portrait of a reluctant master.

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