Sunday, August 31, 2003

Ashland Play: Hedda Gabbler

An amazing play about a bizarre, incomprehensible woman. Hedda is a newlywed who returns home with her husband, George, a boring academic who spent their seven-month honeymoon doing research. They've purchased a large house beyond their means, apparently because Hedda expressed a fondness for the mansion, but in truth she doesn't like it, but now that her husband bought it for her, she must lie in the bed she made (there's a significant pun in there). Bored, Hedda begins to manipulate the people around her. There's a girl from her childhood who's flightly and weak, who has left her husband to pursue a lover. That lover turns out to be Hedda's former lover, and a man who's competition to George: he's in the same field and is working on a new book. George reads part of the book and thinks it's brilliant, one of the best book's ever written, but when the drunken author accidentally drops it, George recovers it. It's the only copy. But before he can return it, the guy goes nuts, thinking someone stole it, and his violence ends him up arrested. When he's released he goes to see Hedda, who encourages his sucidical thoughts -- even giving him one of her pistols! She doesn't tell him she has the manuscript and when he leaves, she burns it. Why? Good questions. She tells her husband it's because of her great love for him and he believes her, though he's horrified at the loss of such a great work. News comes that the author is dead, though not exactly the way Hedda expected. In the end she's blackmailed and caught with the prospects of a husband she doesn't love and forced romance with a blackmailer, she shoots herself. The end.

This is a play about questions, not anwers. The questions are many and fascinating. Why does Hedda marry George? Why is she so bored? Would anything satisfy her? Why does she waffle, changing her mind so frequently? Does she even know what she's doing herself? Why is the play's title her maiden name instead of her married name? Why does she keep seeing visions of her father? Why is she so jealous (if that's what it is) of the other girl? (Hedda is beautiful and shouldn't be jealous.) Why does she kill herself in the end? Was life so unbearable to her? Or was it guilt? The answers to these questions are not impossible, but they are subjective: everyone who watches the play will have to form their own conclusions, and every production interprets the play in their own way, making for a fascinating experience. Granted, Hedda's incomprehensive behavior does make her difficult to like or relate to, but she's fascinating. Most of the other characters are also severely flawed: the husband's a simpleton, the author tempermental, the girl an idiot, the judge a corrupt blackmailer. The only innocent in the bunch is old Aunt Julia, virtual mother to George, but she's not a main character. That lack of compassionate characters does make the play more difficult to connect with, but I still liked it. It's a fascinating intellectual exercise. I'd actually like to see if again a few times: there's enough depth here to study for a long time.


Sunday, August 31, 2003

Ashland Play: The Piano Lesson

Of the three plays I saw this weekend, this was undoubtedly the best. However, it was not perfect. It's an amazing play: Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1990. It's about a Black family in 1936 Philadelphia. A wild brother shows up from down south, ready to sell the family piano. He and his sister co-own it, but she refuses to sell it. He needs the money to buy a farm so he can control his own destiny. But the piano has a history for her family: their slave ancestors were bought with that piano, and it was paid for with their sweat and blood. The sister won't play the piano, however: it's haunted with too many memories. She also won't marry, still stuck on her husband who's been dead for three years. Thus the conflict brews. Meanwhile there are ghost sightings, and it turns out the piano really is haunted, and in the end, the sister must overcome her fears and play it, which (apparently) banishes the ghost... and her brother, who leaves peacefully without the piano.

Plotwise, there's not too much to this story. This is a play all about the characters, and they are amazing. The varied personalities are all strong and bold, presenting plenty of conflict, and none are alike. Each has obvious good and bad aspects, just like real people. There's tons of humor, as the outrageous situations are unusual and funny, yet that's tempered with genuine drama, as the piano represents serious emotional baggage. I loved the play, the characters, the presentation, and the acting was astonishly good, but I found myself waffling over the whole ghost thing. Unlike the ghost in Hedda Gabbler, this one we never see: making it both creepier and less real. Was the ghost a figment of their imaginations? Was the ghost from the devil as some believed? Why did playing the piano banish the ghost? Why have a ghost at all? Couldn't the same thing have been accomplished in a different way? Would the ghost be considered a main character? There are many questions, and I'm not sure where I fall. I guess my main objection is that the ghost, for me, did not fit in with the period and the characters. The ghost felt tacked on, too modern, like some sort of psychic stuff that's so popular now. Either back then the ghost would have been different, or perhaps the presentation was flawed: it's hard for me to tell what was interpreted without seeing the script. I just found the ghost aspect uncomfortable and a little puzzling for a serious drama. But I loved everything else about the play, though the ending was a little abrupt and almost sitcomish in its easy resolution. It's a fascinating look at Black culture in the early part of last century.


Saturday, August 30, 2003

Ashland Play: Lorca in a Green Dress

I drove up to Ashland, Oregon this weekend to see some plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. First up was this one, about the controversial Spanish poet, Fredrico Garcia Lorca. The description of the play intrigued me, but while the execution was superb, the play itself was flat. The description promised Daliesque surrealism and that was certainly present. The play is about Lorca waking up after he's dead and in a sort of limbo, a 40-day quarantine, during which he's to reflect on his life and become convinced of his own death. A series of actors dance around him, reenacting various scenes from his life: childhood, on the beach with Dali and his sister, the courtroom trial where he was accused of being a Communist, his death being shot by soldiers, etc. As Lorca struggles to remember and understand, we learn more about him. Unfortunately, despite the weight of the material, the play isn't especially illuminating about death, Lorca, or anything else: it uses the conceit to bring in surrealistic imagery and concepts, but doesn't deal with the deep philosophical issues it brings up. There are no answers here, and very few questions. For instance, I was surprised to find no mention of God in the entire play! For a play about the struggle between life and death that's a striking omission. Even if Lorca didn't believe in God, he surely would be questioning that belief when he wakes up dead! Instead the play's mostly about drama and presentation, or "shocking" the audience with revelations such as Lorca's homosexuality. That said, the play's not bad: the set's awesome and there's some wonderful imagery and the acting was excellent. But we don't really get to know Lorca that well, the surrealistic presentation distances us from him emotionally, and the lack of depth in subject makes for a weak play. It's possible that my lack of knowledge about Lorca hurt my interpretation; a Lorca fan would probably get much more out of this.


Friday, August 29, 2003


Movie: Seabiscuit

I had zero interest in seeing this film. It's long at over two hours, it's about a horse (I'm not much of a horse person), about horse racing (even worse), and set fifty-some years ago. Boring! But the timing proved fortuitious. At the time I was ready to go see a film, this was the only one showing, so I decided to give it a whirl. It turns out the film's not about a horse, but about America. This is the story of how a nation was broken and battered by the Great Depression, but found inspiration in a broken horse that became a champion.

The film follows the life of the horse's owner, a penniless bicycle repair man (Jeff Bridges) who turned his talents to the new horseless carriages and made a fortune, but lost his son to accident and now carries a broken heart; the horse's trainer (played by the always excellent Chris Cooper) who's more horse than man; and the horse's jockey, a battered loser who's too tall and has no peripheral vision in his right eye. The group sounds like a setup for chaos, but the personalities all mesh with Seabiscuit, a horse of good lineage but poor treatment, who's tossed aside as worthless. With the proper training and loving attention, Seabiscuit becomes a champion, and eventually takes on the reigning champion. But just when you think the story's over, there's another twist: the jockey's horribly injured and will never ride again, and the horse ruptures a tendon and will never race. But despite those predictions by doctors, the two fight back and prove the naysayers wrong. Yes, it's long, but it's surprisingly interesting and keeps moving. It's not boring at all. I saw no evidence of the supposed $100 million budget: if there are special effects they are carefully hidden. The horse races are mildly interesting, but predictable (of course). But it's the characters you care about, and there's humor in their interaction. But mostly this is a story about an important time in American history. It's an excellent movie and worth seeing.


Monday, August 25, 2003

Midnight Runner

Book: Midnight Runner
Writer(s): Jack Higgins

Normally I love spy thrillers and I'm not too critical of them, but this one was bad. The concept was terrific: the wealthiest woman in the world, an heir to an Arab oil fortune, declares vengeance on former IRA gunman now British secret agent Sean Dillon, his boss, an American Senator, and the Senator's friend, the President of the United States. Unfortunately, that's about as exciting as it gets: after that set up I expected a lot and instead I got a mishmash of dropped plots and non-action.

First problem: dropped plots. The American Senator and President feature initially, but later are forgotten completely and have nothing to do with the book. The Senator's daughter is killed by the wealthy woman, and he initially vows revenge (against the counsel of the President), but ends up doing nothing. Higgins spends a lot of time at the beginning letting us know the history of this man, reliving his Vietnam experiences, etc., and then... nothing.

Next problem: lackluster action. While the rich woman talks big, she doesn't just try to kill her enemies. You'd think she'd be hiring killers, planting bombs, etc., but no. She has dinner with them! They chat about how she is planning on killing them. She keeps hinting to her cousin about this big plan she has in mind, and when it's finally revealed, it's a plot to blow up her own oil pipeline and thus destroy the world economy and ruin the U.S. President's popularity. Gee, that's brilliant. Wasn't that the plot of a recent James Bond film?

We finally get some action toward the end of the novel, but it's too late. We're bored to tears by then, and the action's so brief and odd (killing is usually so quick it's over before it's begun, and the good guys and bad guys do more talking with each other than shooting) it's unsatisfying.

The book has a few nice points, but that's the problem: it feels like a jumbled collection of semi-related stories jammed into a single book with a rough plot loosely tying the mess together. Lame.


Sunday, August 24, 2003

MLS: D.C. United at San Jose Earthquakes

Soccer: MLS: D.C. United at San Jose Earthquakes

What's to say about this game? The guys gave it their all. It was a 3 o'clock kickoff and blisteringly hot and I wasn't running for 90 minutes. The action was all Quakes: Pat Onstad hardly had to make a save all afternoon. Landon Donovan hit the cross bar and had several other close chances, as did a few other guys. Brian Mullan was subbed early for Dwayne DeRossario, who's been out injured all season, and it was good to see him get some minutes. He's still a bit rusty and this was an excellent game for him to face some real competition. He had a few near chances, but looked uncertain when it came time to finish or deliver that killer pass. But toward the end of the game he went forward eagerly, managing to catch up to a ball at the endline and deliver a perfect cross in front of the goal mouth. The pass beat goalkeeper Nick Rimando and cut off the defense: Ramiro Corrales just had to tap it into the goal to give the Quakes the lead. D.C. tried hard after that, but it was too little too late. The Quakes win and remain at the top of the league. Did I mention it was hot? Final: 1-0 Earthquakes.


Friday, August 22, 2003

Dirty Pretty Things

Movie: Dirty Pretty Things
Director(s): Stephen Frears

Now this is a film! Unlike Le Divorce which went on too long and overcomplicated its plot, this movie knew exactly what it was supposed to be and succeeds brilliantly. It's a very simple plot about the illegal immigrant class in London who will do anything to survive, including selling kidneys to obtain a valid passport and new identity. The lead is an amazing actor who plays an African doctor who, for political reasons, is wanted in his own country, and has escaped to London. Now he lives in the underground, working two jobs (taxi driver by day, hotel night manager at night), and sharing a room with a girl from Turkey. She's a maid at the hotel and has opposite hours of his, so they aren't in the room at the same time. During a shift at the hotel, the man discovers a clogged toilet which contains a human heart. He suspects foul play but can't go to the police. Later, he discovers its part of an organ market, with desperate immigrants allowing themselves to be butchered in order to become legal residents. Slowly the African is roped into the scheme when it is discovered he's a doctor: now they want him to do the surgeries. Meanwhile, the Turkish girl has fallen in love with him. The authorities are hot on her tail and against his advice, she decides her only chance is to sell her kidney and escape to New York with a new identity. Now he's going to have to operate on the girl who loves him!

This film moves at a rapid pace, building drama and unraveling the mystery, and the love story between the two leads is one of the best I've seen, especially considering they barely acknowledge the love or even kiss! All this happens in a condensed 90 minutes, just perfect for a film of this nature. It doesn't try to make itself more than it is. It's a simple plot with a simple twist. But unlike films that either try to tack on multiple twist endings, throw in a few extra plotlines to complicate things, or just toot their own horn too much, this film is simple and honest and quite beautiful. Remarkable.


Thursday, August 21, 2003

Le Divorce

Movie: Le Divorce

Strange film. If you took a number of film genres and put them in a blender and spun them around but forgot to put the lid on some pieces flew out, what you'd have left would be something like this. Part comedy, part drama, part romance, part Paris adventure, part French farce, part crime thriller. The end result? Confusion. The movie uncomfortably jumps from genre to genre, throwing in a psychotic killer periodically, humor, drama, romance, etc. The plot's about a girl who goes to visit her pregnant sister in Paris. Right as she arrives, her sister's French husband leaves -- permanently. He's just walked out without an explanation. The French (apparently) think it's weird that the American woman is bothered by this. They think it's a little tacky (after all, his wife's pregnant), but normal. As divorce proceedings start, things get complicated. The woman can't return to the U.S., because that might look like she's running away with assets. Then there's the matter of the family heirloom she brought with her from her parents: it's a painting that's been in their family for generations, but now it's assumed to be part of the estate that should be equally divided between the couple. As attention is focused on the painting, there's suddenly speculation that it's an unknown La Tour and worth a fortune. Then there's the visiting sister: she's quickly becomes the mistress of one of her in-laws, a wealthy Frenchman. Does she love him? Who knows? How can one know anything in this film? Some films that break genres are awesome because they do exactly that. This doesn't, however; it's just nothing. You never know if you're supposed to laugh, cry, take things seriously, be scared or happy, or what. It's very strange and uncomfortable. Now it's not badly done at all, and it is entertaining, and there are parts that are excellent. But the whole just didn't come together for me. The movie was far too long at two hours: it should have been trimmed to 90 minutes, eliminated a few of the silly, superfluous plotlines, and focus on whatever kind of movie it's suppsed to be (light comedy, drama, whatever). Then it would have been an awesome treat. As it is it's okay, but not great. It waters itself down.


Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Freddy vs. Jason

Movie: Freddy vs. Jason

Suprisingly fun sequel. The film opens by "explaining" the history of the two horror villians, Freddy and Jason. Jason's the one in the hockey mask and was drowned as a child when camp counselors were too busy making out to notice him -- hence his passion for killing horny camp kids. His gift is that he can't die. Freddy Kruger's the one of the knife-fingers who was a child molester burned by angry parents, and now that's he dead, he can only hurt people in their dreams. But he's got a problem in that everyone's forgotten about him. So he recruits Jason to start killing, and the people assume Freddy's back, and of course, remember him, restoring his power to attack them in their dreams. But Freddy loses control of Jason, who goes on a killing spree, and the climax is set up as a conflict between the two villians. Who will win? Who cares: this just an excuse to merge two popular horror films. While I'm mildly amused by some of these (Jason X was fun), I'm not a huge fan: I just enjoy the humor. This one has plenty of that, along with gore, screaming, and violence. Entertaining if you're into that sort of thing. I'm impressed at how the creators keep reinventing this genre and keeping these characters going. They did a good job (for this kind of film).


Sunday, August 17, 2003

Cousin's Weekend Wedding

This weekend, Megan Mihm, my second cousin once removed (I think that's right -- she's the daughter of my mother's cousin) got married. Hordes of relatives descended on the area, so I got to see lots of family I hadn't seen in a while. I'm not a huge fan of weddings -- the formality bores me -- but this one turned out to be a lot of fun. Except for the brief ceremony, which was emotional and heart-felt, there were informal dinners and gatherings at the beach. The entire affair was spread out over the whole weekend (things started Friday night with the rehearsal dinner) and capped off with a family lunch on Sunday. I really liked the way that was done because instead of the wedding being an isolated event it was part of a series. Also, there was time to actually meet the couple and talk with them, chat with distant relatives, and have a good time. Having it on the California coast was also brilliant, for many of the family came from back east and it was a terrific beach vacation for them (everyone but me, since I live here, stayed at a hotel right on the beach in Santa Cruz, so there was plenty of nearby activities for all). It was great to see everyone and I wish Megan and Tom the world.


Friday, August 15, 2003

Open Range

Movie: Open Range
Director(s): Kevin Costner

Surprisingly good Western. The plot's nothing fancy: a cattle baron's out to harrass some freegrazers (played by Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner) and steal their cattle. It reminded me strongly of Unforgiven, and while it wasn't as good as that, it had its moments. Tonally it reminded me of High Noon: like that movie, you know there's a conflict coming from the beginning, but the film's in no rush to get there. The movie moves at a leisurely pace, but it somehow holds your interest with the promise of violence to come. Sometimes that's the kiss of death as the violence doesn't meet expectations, but in this case, like Unforgiven, the violence is furious and shocking as we watch the gentle characters we know turn brutal. The big gunfight at the end is excellent -- long and detailed enough to feel like a good payoff, and yet still realistic and gritty and stunningly fast. Though the film makes and effort, there's nothing deep here: just good old fashioned Americans fighting for freedom and justice against a corrupt sherrif and an evil rich dude. Much of the "profound" character-based stuff comes across as too light or is so heavyhanded as to not work (i.e., when the kid, Button, and Mose play-wrestle, we're supposed to be moved by the contrast to their later tragedy). Still, it's an interesting film, and the pace is unusual for a current release. It's worth seeing.


Thursday, August 14, 2003

The One

Movie: The One

It was an idea with potential: there are multiple universes and an interuniverse policeman discovers that if he kills off his identical selves in parallel universes he gains their energy and becomes superhuman, so he becomes a serial killer, killing himselves off, until he encounters a self which fights back, and two duel. I can definitely see how this could be sold as a script to Hollywood. Unfortunately, so much of the story is told via exposition that all that's left is the fighting. Sometimes that's a better way to go, but in this case the fighting is feeble and the duel anticlimatic (duh, who do you think will win, the good guy or the bad guy?). Great idea but lamely done.


Wednesday, August 13, 2003


Movie: S.W.A.T.

Not terrible, just predictable and routine, with stereotypical characters. It's about a group of misfits that aren't quite good enough for the L.A. S.W.A.T. team but are brought together by a specialist into a super-SWAT team, and of course they go about and save the day, hooray. Fun.


Friday, August 8, 2003

Marc in the News

Shameless self-plug: I'm mentioned in a Wired News article that was posted today.


Wednesday, August 6, 2003

The Importance of Being Earnest

Movie: The Importance of Being Earnest
Writer(s): Oscar Wilde

Not a bad adaptation of the famous Oscar Wilde play about false identities. Fairly true to the original, and well acted. It's a little light compared to today's spectacle-driven blockbusters, but there's some excellent comedy here. Great stuff.


Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Bad Boys II

Movie: Bad Boys II

I was expecting the worst, but this wasn't as bad as I'd thought. It's better than the first, in fact. It is long -- way too long at well over two hours. The plot meanders and in the end it's just a mini-war (literally) with a shootout ending. Along the way there's silly character-based drama with the two partners arguing and having conflict (of course all resolved by the end). The film's best when it's just the two guys shooting with guns and mouth and not trying to make the film more than it is. I could edit this down to a terrific 90 minute film that would be non-stop action. As it is, the film tries too hard. Still, it's not terrible, and there are a few good moments.