Pretty Much a Triple Digit Movie: In A World

Chicago has been very kind to us non-AC have-rs this summer. So I guess it’s throwing one last bone to those Chicagoans who celebrate the fact that our city used to be a swamp. Which means I had an excuse to go to the Landmark last night. I chose In A World out of some delightful options, mostly because it started earlier than the others. But I really liked it.

Somewhat ironically, as the whole plot follows the trials and tribulations of movie trailer voice over artists, I feel like I saw all my favorite parts of this movie in the trailer. That’s not to say that this movie isn’t worth seeing. It totally is, it’s a warm, genuinely funny romantic comedy. The emotional stakes are real. Particularly in the subplot with Michaela Watkins and Rob Corddry as the central character’s sister and brother-in-law going through a marital crisis.

Generally I believed that all of these people were real, but I had a little bit of trouble trying to figure out if I was supposed to hate Ken Marino’s character. He plays a-holes so often and everyone in the world of the movie seemed to hate him, but I found his Gustav sort of oddly charming. (Not as oddly charming as Demetri Martin, but that’s probably impossible.)

I must take a moment though, because I am me, to celebrate how feminist this movie was while still being hilarious. Written, directed, and starred in by Lake Bell the movie treats all its characters as full, awkward characters. Essentially the whole moral of the story here is to get women to stop the “sexy baby, uptalking” and though that might seem a little preachy I must say I agree with Bell (and the amazing Geena Davis who shows up in a delightful cameo here) that we (as in American women of the 21st century) are better than that baby talk – “let’s make a statement.”

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Six Degrees of Cinema: Rabbit Hole

I should have seen this movie years ago. Not because I have some sort of deep need to watch incredibly sad stories (though some people I know may debate this point), simply put Nicole Kidman got nominated for a lot of awards and I totally skipped it despite the complete lack of physical violence. But I had read the David Lindsay-Abaire play in between shelving books at my summer job at the Evanston Public Library and it made me cry so much I was shaking. Therefore running out to watch Nicole Kidman, recently not one of my favorite actresses, say those lines that so broke my heart just wasn’t a priority for me. And then I read that Miles Teller played the role that John Gallagher Jr. originated on Broadway and I decided I had put it off long enough.

Rabbit Hole, adapted for the screen by Lindsay-Abaire himself and directed by the fabulous John Cameron Mitchell, is a portrait of a couple Howie (Aaron Eckhart) and Becca (Kidman) who are dealing with the aftermath of the tragic death of their four-year-old son. One of my favorite things about the play, which for the most part is true also of the film, is how this incredibly dark subject is handled without melodrama. There are high emotions of course, and some yelling, but they are spikes of energy that burst out of the quiet day-to-day of grief. Eckhart does a wonderful job as the husband not quite ready to let go, he watches cell phone videos of the lost boy every night, but the real powerhouse in this movie is Kidman.

I was skeptical that Kidman could carry the emotional weight of this role, but now that I’ve watched it I’m questioning where that hesitation came from. This movie made me remember that I used to love her, Practical Magic is one of my favorite movies, and the scene where she finally breaks down in this film was like ice breaking.

This is of course a testament to the writing as well, and Lindsay-Abaire is one of my favorite playwrights. Apparently, he also wrote the screenplay Oz The Great and Powerful, which is finally a reason for me to watch that, beyond a lingering love for James Franco.

In this chain:

Smashed The Spectacular Now — Rabbit Hole

Bonus Adventure: Romeo & Juliet at Moody’s Pub

cast on tree

Something really special is happening on the patio of Moody’s Pub in Edgewater. Brand new theater company, Rabid Bat Theatricals, composed of a lot of recent/soon to be Northwestern grads (full disclosure I know a bunch of them), are putting on Romeo & Juliet. But this isn’t “dinner theater” in that stuffy, old-fashioned sense that everyone uses as a punch line but no one ever seems to actually attend any more.

balcony

Pernell Myers and Zoe Maltby as Romeo & Juliet in the iconic balcony scene

The show, directed by Ned Baker, is staged among the dining tables, some of which are occupied by people who came to get dinner or sangria (which is amazing) unaware that they were about to take part in a play. And take part is really the only way to describe being an audience member at this show, following the action requires movement, and sometimes straining to hear, but that helped to pull me into the world of the show.

The wedding - with Will Kazda as Friar Tuck

The wedding – with Will Kazda as Friar Laurence

Because I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic, Romeo & Juliet is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays – maybe one of my favorite plays period – which means I’ve seen it a million times in a million forms, but this production was so fresh and energetic that I fell in love with it all over again. The cast all juggle multiple roles, and instruments, and sound effect duty (and waitress dodging) with seeming ease, and have a chemistry that is almost addictive. The show is running tonight, and Monday and Tuesday of next week and you should all go.

For more info check out their website (also check out the cool video WBEZ did on them on the News page.)

Photo Credit – Julia Davidson

Weekly Adventure: The Comedy of Errors from CST in Welles Park

Anyone who has been following my Shakespeare Project/has ever innocently brought up The Comedy of Errors in conversation with me, know that I have a lot of issues with Shakespeare’s broad comedy. In fact issues is putting it lightly, I have a grudge against this play.

I’m not going to rehash that here though, because it is not the fault of director David Bell and his amazingly energetic and talented cast that my brain takes farces too literally. Instead I’m just going to take a minute to say how much I love the whole idea of CST’s Shakespeare in the Parks.

I know that we aren’t the only city to have public, outdoor Shakespeare. But what’s uniquely cool about Chicago’s version is that tours throughout the entire city. (Something not enough Chicagoans themselves let alone large-scale arts organizations manage to do.)

So I can’t say this production convinced me about The Comedy of Errors, but it did reaffirm my love of Chicago, and Welles Park.

CST in Welles

 

There are still a few more stops on their park tour – if you live nearby you should check it out

6 Degrees of Cinema: The Spectacular Now

So apparently James Ponsoldt has a lot to say about alcoholism, and he really loves a cinematic technique I’m going to refer to as the “indecision fade out.” (I can’t really describe what I mean by that without ruining the entire plot of both Smashed and The Spectacular Now but if you’ve seen either you’ll get what I’m saying.)

But even if Smashed hadn’t completely charmed me, I would have loved The Spectacular Now. I’ve seen it reviewed as the rebirth of the smart “teen movie,” but what that actually means to me is that this isn’t a “teen movie” it’s a really great movie that happens to be about teenagers. Although sad, this is a remarkably realistic story, right down to the nervous giggling and awkward stumbling.

As always with small movies like this, the cast (including against type performances from Coach, I mean Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Jason Leigh) is what makes this. My friends and I keep joking that Shailene Woodley is taking over the world, but based on her emotional, subtle performance as the quiet, “sweet girl” Aimee, I’ll be happy to live in her world. I already knew that I loved her, but now I know I don’t have to be embarrassed about that.

As amazing as Shailene is, Miles Teller is the revelation of this movie for me. I don’t think I had ever seen him in anything other than adorable ComicCon interviews, but he gives a remarkably layered performance as “life of the party” protagonist Sutter Keely. This is a coming of age movie, which could be full of clichés, but Teller’s vulnerability grounds it. I really felt Sutter’s desperation to live in the Now, not in a new age-y Zen way, but in a sad “I’m scared of the future way.” I was so moved by his performance that I’m going to bite the bullet and force myself to watch the film adaptation of Rabbit Hole, even though it will emotionally kill me.

 

In this chain:

Smashed – The Spectacular Now

6 Degrees of Cinema: Smashed

I’m starting a new blog series today, it will look remarkably similar to a bunch of other things about movies that I already have on here (though there won’t be baking recipes sorry.)

Basically this will just be a way for me to write about movies I see in a theater when it isn’t award season/100 degrees out or movies I get from Netflix/the library that I haven’t lied about seeing (which if you’re a new reader is what the “Classics from the Queue” series is about.)

How I envision this working is whenever I see a movie I really love that doesn’t fit into one of the above categories I’ll write a review or post about it, and then it will be the start of a chain of 6 movies that I’ll watch/review in the near future. (This is mostly inspired by the fact that I watched Smashed last night when my friend Lindsey and I had already planned to go see The Spectacular Now tonight. Both movies were directed by James Ponsoldt, and I thought this would be a fun way to write about them both.)

So anyway – the start of my first chain: Smashed.

I’ve been meaning to see this movie since I first saw the trailer at the beginning of awards season last year, but it got lost in the nominations shuffle and I just never got around to it, but I really should have. This movie is quiet, just a portrait of a young married couple played astonishingly well by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul who drink far too much and have to begin to deal with the consequences when Kate (Winstead) throws up in front of her classroom full of first graders.

The consequences are heart wrenching, but what’s so refreshing about Smashed and the character of Kate in particular, is that there’s almost no sentimentality. No maudlin or melodramatic scenes of her strung out, even when she’s wasted she only seems off kilter if you know what you’re looking for. This a movie about problem drinkers that are recognizable to me, rather than Hollywood alcoholics in the Kirsten Cohen on The O.C. mold. It isn’t until later in the movie when she’s sober that I even realized how unhealthy she looked at the beginning.

I’m going to give too much away if I keep writing about this. Mostly I just want to gush about every single cast member, with a special shout out to Nick Offerman, who plays a completely non-Ron Swanson, socially awkward recovering alcoholic. If the actors involved weren’t all so recognizable I would completely believe that they were all playing themselves, that’s how real this movie felt to me. Like a punch to the gut at points, but a realistic one.

Weekly Adventure: The Last Five Years from Kokandy Productions

I’m sorry I’ve been lax about posting lately, I’ve had a lot going on, but I had a wonderful distraction this past Sunday afternoon in the form of director John D. Glover’s new staging of The Last Five Years.  I know that I have talked about this show before in the course of my Norbert Leo Butz fangirling, but this has long been one of my favorite musicals for reasons that go way beyond its (wonderful) original cast.

In a nutshell The Last Five Years (written by Jason Robert Brown) is the story of a young couple, Cathy and Jamie, who meet, fall in love, move in together, get married, resent each other, and fall apart. Cheery, right? But the story is told both forwards in time (through Jamie’s songs) and backwards (through Cathy’s), so you literally see the heartbreak coming from the first song:

But you also see the hope and romance:

I was wary about this production, because I love this material so much and the only other production I had seen was a student show that added background dancers that frankly I didn’t understand. I get the urge to fill the stage, essentially the show is just two people singing into empty space about their feelings, but I must say I enjoy this production’s solution a lot more. Glover has his Cathy (the wonderfully quirky Allison Hendrix) and Jamie (the heartbreakingly boyish Jim DeSelm) accompany each other’s songs on piano, so even when they are the ghost character’s in each other’s timelines they are still a part of the scene, reacting while also remaining separate as the score/script necessitate. It could be hokey, but it works.

But the crux of a show like this is the chemistry between the two cast members, and Hendrix and DeSelm have it. They are both so charming that I found myself cringing when I knew the painful songs were coming, and feeling giddy when I knew this was about to start:

Obviously these are all recordings from the original cast, you should all go see the show to hear the lovely renditions Hendrix and DeSelm deliver.

The show runs through August 25th at Theater Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave

Annual East Coast Adventure!

I know this post is a bit late, but the reentry to work has been a bit insane. Most of my (absolutely lovely) week off was spent hanging out with my parents either here:

My parent's backyard in New Haven, CT

My parent’s backyard in New Haven, CT

Or here:

My family's Shack in Higganum, CT

My family’s Shack in Higganum, CT

But I did find time in there to do a couple of blog worthy things:

1. Read A Moveable Feast and The Paris Wife

 

I generally detest Ernest Hemmingway, but I sort of fell in love with the idea of him in Paris in Midnight in Paris and reading these books together reaffirmed both of those feelings. Hemmingway was at his best with Hadley, or at least the fictional Hadley Paula McLain has given us.

2. Watching Endeavour 

 

A prequel to Inspector Morse, staring the adorable Shaun Evans. As Miró said last night ” there’s nothing like a period British mystery to distract an American girl from her quarter-life crisis.”

3. LMNOP from Goodspeed Musicals

A New Muzical

That little cottage pictured above is very close to Chester, where Goodspeed has a little mini-theater (apparently in an old knitting needle factory.) Yet somehow my parents and I have never seen a show there before last week. LMNOP is a clever new musical about language and censorship and the power of individual action in the face oppression. And the alphabet.

Also Lilli Cooper = amazing…

4. Peter and the Starcatcher at New World Stages in New York

hanna and peter

My friend Hanna (my host for the absolutely magical NYC leg of my trip) always got to a Broadway show for your joint August birthdays. Technically Peter & the Starcatcher is now off-Broadway, but I’m actually glad that I saw it in a smaller house. This show is so much fun, I literally laughed out loud repeatedly. And though I’m sad I didn’t get to see my favorite Adam Chanler-Berat, the cast I saw was really wonderful.