Friday, January 29, 2016

The Revenant-A crazy good walk through the woods

               Ladies, gentlemen and fellow film lovers it’s that time of year again-Oscar season! Even with the #OscarSoWhite controversy I will be watching and enjoying the night as I do every year. Also as I do each year I try and watch as many of the nominees as possible (the more the best pictures nominees there are the harder this is) but I knew I had to see the film with the most nominations and this time around that movie is The Revenant.

                Truth be told I wanted to see the movie but I honestly didn’t know I was going to like it as much as I did and even more then I thought I would. Written by Mark L Smith based partly on the book written by Michael Punke it’s a story about a man named Hugh Glass played by the impeccable Leonardo DiCaprio who after being attacked and severely injured by a mama grizzly bear and left for dead, he survives and begins a long journey to seek his revenge. Along the way he meets a handful of  interesting characters. Besides revenge it is a story of love and fighting because of that love is what helps one survive

                  I know I’ve said this before but I mean it the time when I say director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu brings the viewer into the story. From the moment Glass is attacked by the bear we are right in the middle of the action and can feel his pain. All I thought as I watched the scene was this is what it looks like when my dog tears apart one of his toys and takes out its stuffing for the purpose of finding and extracting the squeaker. The camera work is amazing and becomes the POV of the viewer. We see the lens fog as Glass takes what breathes he has left, blood spatter and water spots also appear. The look of the film is a beautiful sight. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is some of the best I’ve seen. Seeing the harsh wintery landscape helps the viewer feel as cold as I’m sure the actors were. The rushing river, high cliffs and light through the tall trees (The trees crackle to tell me its cold) made me feel like I was trudging through the crazy and unforgiving wildness. Another truth be told I have been a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio since his first acting days on Growing Pains and enjoy everything he has been a part of. As far as the Oscars go he should have been nominated for his first film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Titanic (for which I have been campaigning for him to win ever since). DiCaprio is the type of actor who at times is unrecognizable in a role and this film displays his ability to do so in the best ways possible (and I’m not just referring to the beard and hair) In The Revenant DiCaprio is alone as he crawls through mud and snow and is barely able to speak for most of the two and a half hours. As an actor he is excellent in allowing the viewer to truly feel for Glass as he looks for food (from bones of large dead animals) heals his wounds (at times not easy to watch) and find ways to stay warm (I can’t tell you what he had to do for that).

An also unrecognizable Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner and Forrest Gooluck also star in this gripping and fascinating tale. It is a small cast but each actor brings the characters (fur traders in the 1830s) they have created to life with freshness and realness that any reality show (about living in the wild) can only dream of having.

When the film was over I knew why it has been nominated for 12 Oscars and other awards so far this year and you will too once you have climbed the mountains and followed the path of The Revenant 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

10 years ago today...(originally posted Jan 7 2016)

A year after Heath Ledger passed away Entertainment Weekly remembered him and I HAD to write a letter back to them, below is what I wrote to the editor and what I wrote about happened 10 years ago today...

 Sarah Donaldson
Mon 1/19/09 12:49 PM

    Even though I cried when I saw my EW I was reminded of why I truly admired Heath Ledger and love everything he was a part of. In fact he was one of just a handful of actors who I went to the movies to see. Which brings me to a day I’ll never forget, the day I went to the multiplex for a Heath Ledger mini-movie-a-thon. I walked up to the counter with money in hand and asked for two separate tickets, one for Casanova and another for Brokeback Mountain.

     Casanova was showing first so I entered the theater, with only a handful of others, found the perfect seat and waited for the lights to go down.  When it was over I had a smile on my face as I re-entered the line with my other ticket in hand.  Anyway it turned out Casanova was longer then I planned and by the time I got into the theater showing Brokeback Mountain the only seat left was in the second row!  But my eyes adjusted and by the time the credits rolled I was smiling again.  When I got back into my car the two movies seemed to become one and I felt like I had just seen a, longer then normal, movie which happen to star the always wounderful,never the same role twice Heath Ledger.

      Thank you for remembering Heath Ledger one year later.  He was one of the best and I hope we never stop talking about him. He was something special and this fan will never forget what it was like watching him on the big screen.

As you can see I still have the ticket stubs. Recently I re-read EW  #853 from December 9, 2005 an issue that featured Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Brokeback Mountain on the cover and the article mentions that Ledger was coming off three flops including The Four Feathers and The Order, as you can see I saw them. In the same paragraph Gyllenhaal just did The Day After Tomorrow, which I have only seen on TV.
Because of Brokeback Mountain I became a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal  and have some ticket stubs to prove it.
Yes, Gyllenhaal has been is many more and I feel guilty about not getting the chance to see them but life gets in the way.
This is how the letter appeared two weeks later. Edited but still got my point across.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens-It’s About Darn Time


Ok I don’t want to give anything away as it would ruin the whole watching experience so let me begin this review with a personal background story about my love of Star Wars…
           According to the internet the #1 movie at the box office the day I was born was The Empire Strikes Back so when I was old enough my mom made me watch all three original movies and I became a fan at first screening. It seems to me that most of yours out there favorite character is Han Solo and yeah he is alright but for me it has been love at first sight (maybe even my first crush) for Luke Skywalker. 
(from high school yearbook)
                  Although only a fictional character he was the first character I ever cared about, which lets me to enjoy other beings of the fictional world including The Doctor and taught me that characters in which the viewer can feel compassion and passion for (none are more passionate then Star Wars fans) are what make for good story telling in any film or TV series. I watched each movie many times and (like with many others) quickly memorized each one by the time I was 10 or 11, even acting out scenes when no one was around. Jump to my teen years when with a new video camera and a few friends who shared the same love for the films made a mini movie which I still have on VHS (Hi Marcy, Cassie and Martha) and of course I played Luke. Jump to my early 20s when the three prequels come out, sure they weren’t as good but origin stories rarely are and if you think of them as a separate part of this wonderful world we were already a part of it makes for better viewing of each. That was past…

               Now, from the announcement by new franchise owner Disney that there would be sequels to learning that J.J. Abrams (of whom I became a fan of through Alias) would write and direct the anticipation began, there were online teasers, trailers, then posters, TV ads, many many TV interviews and a Hollywood red carpet premiere, with tickets sold out and people standing in line (and costume) weeks in advance it was time for the lights to go down and to be transferred back to that galaxy far far away…

            Not giving any plot points away I have to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens directed by Abrams and written by him and Lawrence Kasden along with a 30+ year wait was certainly worth every minute and each frame of the Kodak film it was made on. In the first few seconds we were introduced to the main new characters and each fit into the story seamlessly, which helped me like them right away. For example I could tell from the commercials that I would like new droid BB-8 and I ended up caring for him more then I could have imagine. In fact all of the characters and the actors who played them new (Oscar Isaac as Poe, John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren) and old (Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fisher as Leia) had amazing and perfect chemistry with each other thus permitting the viewer to easily flow into this new chapter. The newbies even brought a welcomed crisp freshness to the story.

Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew also star.

        I trusted Mr. Abrams with this beloved tale and have to say he did not disappoint. The entire look of the film made me reminisce about the original three which allowed true continually with the story as a whole. He use old school effects like puppets and real explosions for most of the filming reminding fans of their childhood. Or course there was a beautiful score by John Williams and we all remember and love the sound of blasters, ships and those lightsabers (nothing like a good lightsaber fight to put I smile on my face). There were multiple nods towards true fans of those original three and a quick synapsis to anyone who has been living under a rock for 40 years.

        Thank you to the cast and crew for a memorable and happy movie going experience, even at 10 am on a Friday I sat with a handful of faithful fans who cheered (sometimes out loud) for our heroes. If you are already quoting the lines and re-enacting the scenes as you exit the theater (and days later) those involved with making the movie must have done something right.

For its humor, sadness, heart and of course non stop adventure go see Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Wiz Live-Another NBC take on live theater

The third time is the charm for NBC and their yearly live musical broadcast. I wasn’t sure about watching The Wiz Live, mainly because the high school versions I’ve seen haven’t been all that good but this production proved me wrong on all counts.

The cast which included Ne-Yo, Elijah Kelley, David Alan Grier, Amber Riley, Queen Latifah, Uzo Aduba, Shanice Williams, Common, Mary J. Blige, Stephanie Mills (and Cirque du Soleil) were perfect as each was on point with singing and acting.

Then there were the costumes and makeup. The details when we saw close ups of the cowardly loin (those whiskers and claws) and scarecrow (with twigs and leaves as hair) made the characters pop and come to life. Every costume was different from Witch to Witch, the colorful munchkins, the crows and poppies to the glow and green of the nightclub dancers of The Emerald City.  

All in all a fabulous trip down the yellow brick road!


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Act One (A few words about the play)

          Movies, TV Shows and live theater by now you know I love them all so when one comes along and features a story about showbiz you can count on me to see it. That brings me to the PBS airing of Live from Lincoln Center’s performance of Act One. When I Wikipedia the synapsis I was intrigued by the story about playwright Moss Hart and how he broke into the business that is The Theater. 

       The show was on Broadway in spring of 2014 and received 5 Tony Nominations. One was for featured actor and one of my favorite people to watch (since discovering him on Wings) Tony Shalhoub. Mr. Shalhoub actually played a handful of roles including the narrator/playwright as an adult, his own father and real life producer, writer, George S Kaufman. Each character was as different as the last and a joy to watch (Between the quick costume changes and crazy blocking it’s a wonder he made it through the show each night). Santino Fontana played Moss Hart as a young man whose love for theater started when his Aunt Kate gave him a retelling of each play she saw. Fontana (who I learned afterwards is the voice of Prince Hans of Frozen) was excellent running up and down stairs, moving through different doorways and sparring with Shalhoub.

       Speaking of those stairs the show won a Tony for its outstanding scenic design by Beowulf  Boritt  and after seeing the set I know why. How do I write a description about a stage with many well made parts? First there were the layers, rooms on top of rooms. A revolving portion with sections including two home sets and a theatrical office. And those stairs, how the actors didn’t get confused as to which room they were supposed to be in at any given time and didn’t literally break a leg I’ll never know.

   Directed and written (from Moss Harts autobiography) by James Lapine, the production also starred Andrea Martin as Aunt Kate/Beatrice Kaufman/Frieda Fishbein, Mimi Lieber as Moss Hart’s mother, Will LeBow as Jed Harris/Augustus Piton/Alexander Woollcott/Slimowitz and the rest of the cast were amazing to watch.

    Until this play the only thing I knew about Moss Hart was as the writer of the play You Can’t Take it with You but now I feel like a know so much more and appreciate what I have learned by watching Act One, a wonderful, sweet play about a playwright and what it takes to make your dreams come true.

Monday, October 26, 2015

(First encounter with) The Martian

Even though at times it would be difficult The Martian makes the idea of being the only human on an entire planet look like paradise to someone who is not a fan of people and crowds.

Mark Watney played by Matt Damon is a botanist who gets left behind when his commander and fellow astronauts have to quickly abandon Mars. Now completely isolated from the rest of the universe he must find a way back to Earth. He works with what he knows about the planet and the objects they brought with them to develop new techniques to survive. Some of the things he has to do are disgusting and unusual and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do what he did, but it is amazing to watch.

Directed by Ridley Scott the film itself is beautiful to watch. From beginning to end the viewer is taken on a dangerous trip. When Mark goes outside we see just how desolate the planet is and at times become frighten for his life. When he has to travel cross the taren there is nothing but sand and empty space. Back on Earth we watch and hold our breathes as NASA scrambles to help their lost man.

Without giving anything away there is a scene near the end that is like a stunning ribbon dance among the stars.

Although he is alone most of the time Matt Damon isn’t the only actor in this movie. Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, Benedict Wong, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena and Kate Mara also star and the Screenplay was written by Drew Goddard based on the book by Andy Weir.

After seeing what life on Mars might be like I don't think I want to live there but if they ever find a way to get there quicker it seems like a good place to visit and I would love to be a "space pirate"

Much like the 1995 film Apollo 13, The Martian is an epic and heroic sci-fi adventure (with specks of humor) for all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

True life flash fiction-An Occurrence at Dippikill

There was a long cabin camp in the middle of a popular mountain range in Northern New York. A beautiful place surrounded by a forest full of wildlife. It was 30 years ago this past summer when the head of the company my father worked for decided to take those who worked for him and their families on a trip as a thank you for good work. I was 5 or 6 and my memory is a little iffy but when my parents, older sister and I got to the cabin you knew you were someplace special. All the beds were upstairs and there was a large kitchen and living space down. During the day the men would chop wood and the term “spaghetti arms “was born. It was yelled by spectators at the men who couldn’t quite spilt straight or missed the logs all together. At night there was a bonfire, it was at this time that the younger me discovered the beauty of fire the way the smell stayed on your clothes as you went to bed and how if you set the end of a poking stick on fire and quickly blew it out you could write your name with the smoke in the night sky. All were having a great time, that is until later that night when suddenly my dad and a couple of his fellow co-workers came running out of the woods. The story goes they took a couple of canoes to a nearby river to do some fishing, well you know when a group of men fish they also drink and lost track of time. Unexpectedly they heard a noise in the darkness a “Woo Woo” sound. These men lived and worked in a city and this was not a sound they ever heard. They jumped out of the boats as quickly as possible and ran for their lives. They were wet, cold and out of breathe when they returned with no idea about what they left back in the dark woods.

A few months later I was lying in a hospital bed recovering from open heart surgery when my grandmother came for a visit. Like all who came to cheer me up she brought a present. It was a grey, fuzzy looking stuffed animal with big feet, short arms held up in the air and with two double A batteries it made a mechanical unrecognizable noise and tiny lights blinked for eyes. I named him Charlie Woo Woo, he got his very own hospital bracelet and to this day sits in my childhood room as a reminder of the trip in which my dad was chased out of the woods by an unknown creature of the night.