Monday, December 30, 2013

On--or near--Broadway

It was the closest you get to anticipating a sure thing--Mark Rylance and his Shakespeare's Globe company from London doing Richard III--their alternating Twelfth Night was even more joyfully received in New York by the critics. When last in London a couple of years ago, I managed to see Rylance in an English play called Jerusalem: it was only a fair vehicle, and I was very surprised when it was brought to New York, where it was welcomed by critics and only mildly by audiences. But Rylance stood out. He's a fantastic actor, capable of assuming all kinds of roles.

His company adheres to Elizabethan practice--with men in the women's roles, actually in every role. Rylance moves from playing Richard III to Olivia in Twelfth Night. His Richard starts out subdued in the famous opening soliloquy and he continues the low-keyed approach with an occasional whimsical wink to the audience as he proceeds to eliminate everyone standing between him and the throne. You can readily see from Rylance's brilliant performance and concept of the title role how all the other players in the great game to determine who would rule England in the 1480s would not give much thought to Richard--or the danger in being perceived to be an opponent of his ambition--until it was too late. Too late for them to keep their heads--literally.

After that, everything else could have seemed anticlimactic, but Billy Crystal's 700 Sundays, a memoir with a good deal of comedy and some sadness, comes out as a winner and Bruce Norris's Domesticated, a drama about a couple breaking up, was worth seeing to catch two fine performers, Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf, in the leading roles.  Norris won a Pulitzer and Tony for a play about race I haven't seen, Clybourne Park, but this one apparently hasn't hit that level.

Living in a second-tier movie distribution town, it was also worthwhile to catch a few films on or near their opening dates.  The most fun was one playing near me here in D.C., American Hustle. I do confess a weakness for this kind of picture, as one of my all-time favorites was The Grifters, with Annette Bening, Anjelica Huston, and Peter Cusack, drawn from a Jim Thompson novel. Hustle is a bigger-deal production, and the outstanding performers were Christian Bale, hitherto not well known to me, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence. There were plenty of other cinematic vets who helped make the picture the winner it is. I particularly liked Adams's performance--based on some good work I'd seen her do before, I figured she'd be good but she rose to a higher degree of acting here.

Another bravura production was The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese's latest, which does a nice job tackling a promoter of penny stocks as a device to relieve working-class folks of their bank accounts. De Caprio is on screen the whole time and contributes a powerful depiction of a superb salesman. The always reliable sidekick expert, Jonah Hill, is enjoyable in that role, too. But as much fun as the pic can be--especially DeCaprio's sales pitches to the trading floor crowd and the subsequent bacchanals at the same venue--the fine editor who cut this from four to three hours could have cut another hour. She might have started with a few of the repetitive sales and party scenes.

A major play, August: Osage County, that won prizes aplenty on Broadway a few years ago, comes now to the screen with major stars--Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, supported by real pros like Chris Cooper and rising ingenues a la Abigail Breslin.  The play of course has been opened up, in classic cinematic fashion, and still works nicely as a drama. I found Roberts the strongest of a fine cast and on the whole, thought the picture a success. Streep has probably been more impressive, which allows Roberts to shine this time.

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