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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Movie review: 'Faces Places' is a total bore

So much for Rotten Tomatoes and its "100 percent" approval rating.

Agnes Varda may be the greatest filmmaker out of Belgium since, since...(who?) but that still doesn't make her 2017 documentary of rural France any better.  Zzzzzzzzz.....

Faces Places is a constant refrain of frame after frame after frame of Ms. Varda, 89, traveling around France in a big van with a "mysterious" photographer, "JR" (that's all), 33, who together take pictures, blow them up, and paste them to barns, trains, walls, whatever is handy.  Cool!

Ta da!  That's it!  No plot, no drama, no upbeat to this tune except he wears dark sunglasses at night and all the time!  

About a third of the way through, I thought about leaving.  About half the way through, I thought more about leaving. At the end it was too late. 
It's one of those movies you keep telling yourself it's going to pick up, pick up, pick up, but it never does, and lies flat like the train tracks. (The next time I tell myself that, I'll know it's the signal to VAMOOSE.)

Faces Places is 89 minutes long which matches Ms. Varda's age! Imagine! About 80 minutes too many.  

Dullsville, lacklustre, you catch my drift. It would make a good drugless sleep aide since it works wonders in about 10 minutes. 

Take my words for it and save your time and money and forget about Rotten Tomatoes!  You know critics:  They like films like that lifeless, depressing cat movie of 2014
arty-farty films which earn zero return because they are public flops. But the producers don't make them for the money.  Oh, no:  They do it for the art!  Yeah, right. And Donald Trump doesn't tweet. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

'Our Town,' a play to see before you die

Jon Hudson Odom in Our Town at Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

You can see it now through November 12 at the Olney Theatre Center.

Its message is simple but strong, and I am happy to note that Goodreads agrees with me, including Our Town in its "Top 100 Stage Plays," and ditto, Buzzfeed (32 to Read Before You Die), and the list goes on.

Olney Theatre is nothing short of sophistication and utmost professionalism in its presentations, and Thornton Wilder's play fits the missive exactly, especially with Our Town under the baton of the esteemed Aaron Posner, director of more than 250 plays and winner of five Helen Hayes Awards.
From left, Megan Anderson, Jon Hudson Odom, a puppet, and Andrea Harris Smith in Our Town at Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

But the results of Posner's choice to use puppets for 21 of the roles at the Olney are unsatisfying, leaving me practically void of emotion and feeling, well, like a puppet.  Fortunately, my experience did not mirror those around me since on my left, a 60- somethings man sobbed, and on my right, a girl, age 9, cried, too, at the end. (Come to think of it, on my first showing I was probably as emotional.)
The stage is set tennis court style, another disadvantage, with audience members facing each other in the shadows, somewhat distracting. It's a clever arrangement for theatre types, but I doubt most members of the paying audience favor the approach.

When a puppet hollers from an upstairs window on one end of the stage but its voice emanates from an actor on the other end and on a different level, my eyes floated from side to side, tracking the source, an interruption which subtracts from the message (which is, in a few words: carpe diem and tempus fugit).

The program notes that a minimalist set (by Misha Kachman) is what Doctor Wilder ordered for his show and minimalism is what you get to focus attention on what's important (not the puppets).

Sound by Sarah O'Halloran is excellent, made visible by the actors on stage.

The puppet designer, Aaron Cromie, is due much applause for creations which reflect today's population diversity, but it's exceedingly doubtful that diversity existed in a small town like Grover's Corners, New Hampshire 100 years ago (so why not place the current production in this century?).

Wilder (1897-1975) is the only Pulitzer Prize winner for both fiction (The Bridge of San Luis Rey) and drama (Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth).  Over its 80 years, this is the first time Olney has presented the play.

The actors led by Helen Hayes winner, Jon Hudson Odom, as narrator or stage manager (a role often played by Mr. Wilder himself), are nothing less than superbMegan Anderson is Mrs. Gibbs; Tony Nam, Dr. Gibbs; Andrea Harris Smith, Mrs. Webb; Todd Scofield, Mr. Webb Cindy de la Cruz, Emily Webb; and William Vaughan, George Gibbs,  Mr. Vaughan notably realistic as the boy. The chemistry flowing between him and Ms. de la Cruz conveys badly needed authenticity to the show. Ms. Anderson will have you believing you are a member of the cast, too.

Other creative team members are Helen Q. Huang, costumes; Thom Weaver, lights; Hope Villanueva, production stage manager; Debbie Ellinghaus, managing director; Jason Loewith, artistic director; Dennis A. Blackledge, production; and Jason King Jones, senior associate artistic director.
What: Our Town

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832

When: Now through November 12, 2017, Wednesday through Saturdays at 7:45 p.m., and weekend matinees at 1:45 p.m.

Tickets: Begin at $47 with discounts for groups, seniors, military, and students. 

Ages: Recommended for ages 10 and up due to themes

Duration: 2.5 hours with two intermissions

Refreshments: Available and may be taken to seats

Parking: Free, nearby, and plentiful on-site

For more information: 301-924-3400 for the box office or 301-924-4485