A beautiful, hot mess!
Looped @ Westwego Cultural Center
review by Todd Perley
Ah, Tallulah Bankhead (1902–1968). The diva of stage, radio, and screen. An amalgamation of Bette Davis, Oscar Wilde, Mae West, and Morticia Addams, with a healthy dose of Bitchy Drag Queen (which just sums up the previous attributes, honestly). And did Jennifer Saunders write a bit of her into Edwina Monsoon in the TV show 'Absolutely'?
Bisexual, promiscuous, ubiquitous drink in hand, a cigarette in her mouth, and white-ringed nostrils. She for whom Tennessee Williams wrote the character of Blanche Dubois. Wouldn’t you like to spend an evening with her?
Well, you’re in luck, thanks to this play, by Matthew Lombardo. As they bill it: “This three-person drama is based on a real event that took place in the summer of 1965, when an inebriated Tallulah Bankhead required a full day to redub – or loop – one line of dialogue … The recording session ends up lasting eight hours due to her drunken behavior.”
The campy mood is set before you even enter the theater. The lobby becomes an interactive playground. Sign your name to a star on the floor. Take a photo with Tallulah wearing borrowed mink and holding fake cigarettes and champagne. Don’t forget your complimentary packet of candy cigarettes. (Yes, they still make those!) Many theater-goers dress the part. I stood in the wine line with a man who had sewn dozens of dangling cigarettes to his blazer. (“It’s my smoking jacket.”)
Set in an L.A. recording studio, the three-hour-late Bankhead finally shows up to read her one line. Film editor Danny Miller’s nerves are quickly shattered as she fails, fails, and fails again. She’s more interested in prying into his life, revealing sides of her own…and drinking, smoking, snorting, and pill-popping, natch.
Eric Lincoln as Danny is believably (and justifiably) frustrated with the shenanigans. Leslie Castay delivers Tallulah’s barbs and quips with appropriately acerbic dryness. It would be easy to play this role as a campy diva stereotype, dah-ling, but Castay is never shallow.
Director Janet Shea wants us to know the real Tallulah. As sloppily aloof as she seems, her inquisitive humanity and self clarity is always at the foundation. She’s a mess, Danny’s a mess, and she recognizes this and demands to connect with him, much to his consternation as well as that of the equally-frustrated tech booth worker Steve (David L. Haydel, Jr.).
Act One is a fun-fueled bitchy romp, and Act Two, while still bitchy and quip-y, becomes legitimately moving. I confess to some casual weeping as Bankhead/Castay delivers a brilliant monologue as Blanche Dubois.
I signed up for the iconic Tallulah caricature, but her depth and fragility was lagniappe, without ever dragging the mood irretrievably into the land of morbid. As Bankhead/Castay says, “We all have our vices, dah-ling. Mine just all come out to play at once.” And you should come to this play. At once.
Looped runs through November 19th @ Westwego Cultural Center. More info and tickets here.
More on Out All Day New Orleans by Todd Perley:
True stories: No rain probably helps
True Stories: Tree beads hold their value
Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein
Review by Paul Oswell
It’s been feeling a bit like ‘Monster of the week’ in the city’s theater scene this month, with a handful of seasonally spooky productions. ’Let The Right One In’ brought the serious Scandic Noir, The NOLA Project’s ‘Dracula’ brimmed with original silliness, and now ‘Young Frankenstein’ at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center adds to the Halloween hilarity.
With musical numbers and script by the great Mel Brooks (who also wrote and directed the well-loved 1974 movie version) and the late Thomas Meehan, you arrive expecting to be launched into a high-octane, gag-filled romp, and that’s exactly how it goes. It’s not just a parody of the Frankenstein story that we all recognize; Brooks also pokes fun at the tropes of musicals, with pastiches of Cabaret and any number of Andrew Lloyd-Webber productions.
Directed with tangible enthusiasm and delight in the material by New Orleans’ own Leslie Castay, there’s little room for subtlety as the double entendres and innuendo, not to mention straight-up filthiness (the good kind), come at you from the off.
Dr Frederick Frankenstein (Michael Paternostro) leaves his prudish fiancee Elizabeth (Jennifer Delatte) to attend to his deceased grandfather’s estate in Transylvania. Events conspire to have him reanimate a corpse with a stolen brain, creating the iconic monster (Adriel Aviles). Here, he is comically assisted by sidekick Igor (Scott Sauber), seduced by saucy scientist Inga (Charlie Carr) and reprimanded by Teutonic scold Frau Blucher (Meredith Long-Dieth).
The plot, involving the monster’s escape, Elizabeth’s unexpected arrival and the villagers forming angry hordes, is a minor concern. Young Frankenstein is more a celebration of suggestive vaudeville, set pieces as vehicles for Brooks’ jokes and some top-notch physical comedy. I’m not above an obvious analogy in that the production itself feels stitched together from movie, musical and vaudevillian traditions, and like the monster, it lives, laughs and lumbers into becoming its own entity.
Paternostro gives us a relentlessly energetic lead performance, requiring no small amount of discipline to maintain some dramatic cohesion. Sauber absolutely slays the crowd as the knowingly incompetent Igor, the funniest role in both the movie (recalling the flawless Marty Feldman) and this musical. Delatte’s journey from frump to femme fatale is embellished with some seriously stirring pipes and Carr and Long-Dieth both ham up their roles with impressive commitment. Long-Dieth, for example, positively relishes racy lines such as “He won the three-legged race all by himself” as she reminisces about Frankenstein senior’s memorably-proportioned physique.
The highlights for me were the set pieces of the monster’s chaotic, slapstick-heavy arrival at the home of a blind hermit (Ken Goode) and an all-singing, all-dancing, all-bellowing rendition of Puttin’ On The Ritz that you’d have to be undead not to enjoy. Aviles skillfully winkles a personality out of the monster that is both charming and sinister, and the chorus deliver some fine moments with dynamic dance routines and pitchfork-waving mob work.
Young Frankenstein is indelicate, risqué and raucous, but even the most politically-correct reading would struggle to find offense. If you love unpretentious, bawdy laughs, then animate your own bag of bones and lurch along for one last salute to this year’s spooky season.
Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein runs at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center through Nov 5th. Tickets and more info here.
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Let The Right One In
review by Paul Oswell
If all you wanted was to not feel alone, what’s the highest price that you’d pay? This is a question that many of the characters ask themselves in ‘Let The Right One in’, now showing at Le Petit Theatre. Jack Thorne’s adaptation (of the 2008 Swedish movie of the same name) is restrained, and at many times bleak, but with hope buried deep in its dark heart.
The Scandic noir ambience of the film is impressively recreated on stage. The production team uses basic props, but somehow manages to keep things astonishingly cinematic, especially given the demanding number of scene changes. By combining unfussy, practical sets and impeccably atmospheric video projections, we’re at once in a dark forest, a school locker room, or underwater. Even judged solely on a technical level, this production soars.
We’re dropped into a small, rural and snowbound town. Oscar (Dalton Major) is an older teen, an only child with a caring but alcoholic mother (Wendy Miklovic). He is relentlessly bullied by his peers. Eli (Caylee Sanders) is a young girl around his age, who moves in next door with an adult man, Hakan (Mike Harkins), who we presume to be her father. She has strange mannerisms, and appears to live almost outside of time, like an intelligent alien. Oscar and Eli cautiously bond as outcasts. Meanwhile, blood-drained corpses start to appear as a series of grisly murders has the town understandably on edge.
A supernatural element unfolds gradually, and as both Oscar and Eli’s situations become increasingly fraught, they are drawn closer together, at the same time being forced to make some dramatically adult decisions. Salvatore Mannino’s direction has a satisfying, patient delicacy to it, allowing scenes to breathe when necessary, exploring the nuances of what it really means when you commit to loving a son, a friend, a partner, a soul mate.
Major and Sanders skillfully and empathetically navigate an unusual coming-of-age romance with poignancy, while Harkins’ unconditional love is laid heart-wrenchingly bare. Andrew Hagen and Derek Boudreaux entertainingly deliver as Oscar’s tormentors (Johnny and Mickey) - both believably cruel, with Boudreaux showing rare glimmers of a conscience. Ryan Hayes, Nick Strauss and Kevin Wheatley are all wonderful as various townsfolk, from shopkeepers to police officers to Oscar’s semi-estranged father. It’s fine character work from them, and the multiple roles are never jarring.
Occasional live camera feeds relayed on stage help to create a televised press conference, or put relationship dynamics under a probing visual microscope. There are particularly moving moments as Oscar bonds with his mother and later Eli in their small apartment. Once again, this blending of technology with a cold, analogue world helps move us seamlessly between locations. Scene changes can be tricky vortices, where the emotional resonance of a play can waver, but it’s maintained here with thoughtful imagination.
I loved the moments of stillness, the minimalist soundtrack and how evocative the whole experience was. Honors are split right down the middle between cast and crew, all of whom should feel very proud of the result. There’s an undeniable backdrop of unspeakable violence and horror, but Let The Right One In is an exploration of love. Love sometimes comes with a price tag that’s more than we can afford, and rationalizing a vast emotional cost can be terrifying in itself.
Let The Right One In plays at Le Petit Theatre through October 22nd. You can buy tickets via this link.
Review by Paul Oswell
It was a dark and stormy night, though other cocktails were also available at the bar. We’d been summoned to a strange venue by an eccentric host. The weather was, as it always is these days, unseasonably clement, and so I’d forgone my regular crucifix-emblazoned smoking jacket with garlic clove and wooden stake accessories. I brought with me, as per the invitation, a folding chair and a simple, everyday blood sample in an ornate drinking vessel. Yes, I thought that strange as well - bringing your own chair to a theatrical performance! (I'm just goofing about the blood sample)
Welcome, then, to the NOLA Project’s seasonally-astute production of Dracula, a comically romantic retelling of the classic Gothic vampire myth. The venue is a warehouse on the Lafitte Greenway, an industrially-dreary but atmospheric backdrop.
There’s little in the way of set dressing, deft and daft sound design by Khiry Armstead, Joan Long’s subtly effective lighting and a cast of eight actors taking on dozens of roles. Props are mainly limited to costumes (notably excellent work by Bridget Ann Boyle and Grace Smith), and a few boxes on wheels. In terms of challenges, it’s something of a high-wire act to turn this into a triumphantly entertaining two hours, but as you’ll see, The Nola Project vamp their way to success with real aplomb.
Jonathan Harker (played with wide-eyed befuddlement by Keith Claverie), a young English lawyer, travels to Castle Dracula in Transylvania to assist a reclusive Count with a real estate transaction. He orates gag-heavy letters to his fiancée, Mina Murray (a delightfully petulant Alexandria Miles) as the story unfolds.
There’s an unsettling carriage ride, Joe Signorelli and Natalie Boyd note-perfect as a knife-sharpening psychopath and his mother, the arrival at the castle (Signorelli and the excellent Wayland Cooper as overly-sensual acolytes), and an introduction to Count Dracula. Benjamin Dougherty sinks his teeth into the titular role, switching nimbly between vampiric menace and farcially flummoxed frustration.
Thanks to a script that's tighter than a pinching pair of pumpkin-print panties, the textual, visual and even aural gags come at you from the start like bats from the rowdiest belfry in town. There are post-modern, Pthyonesque set pieces, fanciful physical flourishes and let me ask you this - when’s the last time that you laughed at a recurring sound effect? I’m not sure that I ever have, but it (you won’t miss it, believe me) landed every single time.
The vicissitudes of the plot have the Count eventually traveling to London to pursue Mina, jockeying for position among a rogue’s gallery of suitors. The wonderfully versatile Signorelli is a clueless toff, Natalie Boyd is riotously great as a dope fiend in the asylum business, and Cooper fully commits to a brilliantly incongruous, rootin’ tootin’ cowboy. All of them are hilarious, and change costumes at impressively breakneck speeds.
Meghan Whittle nails Lucy, Mina’s hedonistic best friend, and has the crowd howling as Renfield in a scene parodying The Silence of the Lambs. Alex Martinez Wallace positively revels in his roles as Mina’s mother and the vampire hunter Van Helsing, approaching both with a joyous oozing of camp swagger. Dougherty and Miles both expertly distill comedy from the emotional heart of the novel, and Claverie’s coterie of brash supporting characters feels like an extra level of comic relief, even within a relentlessly funny play.
Writer Pete McElligott has penned a wonderful silly script, tonally edging toward Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Directors Khiry Armstead and Leslie Claverie allow for just the right levels of fourth wall breaking, and conduct things at a satisfying, comically-intensifying pace. Just in case it’s not clear, I loved this play like Dracula loves enticingly-exposed necks.
I can’t believe it’s much fun living as a vampire. You’d have to forgo any reflective surfaces for one, and I really couldn’t see myself living in a house without mirrors. I SAID I REALLY COULDN’T SEE MYSELF…fine, suit yourself. Catch this production before the sun comes up on it permanently - like me, you’ll be truly fangful (sorry, we had to get one in) for the memories.
Dracula plays at The Greenway Station through Oct 15th. Tickets available via this link.
This sporting underdog tale has all the elements that scream ‘Oscar buzz’. Based on a real person, Saúl Armendáriz (Gael García Bernal) is an openly gay wrestler in a run-down Mexican border town when we meet him. Known as El Topo (The Mole), his slight frame and effeminate nature mean that he is routinely cast as a pipsqueak, thrown around by his giant opponents.
He has dreams, though, to become ‘the Liberace of Luchador’ and to do this, he must take on the persona of an “exotico”. These are wrestlers who don make-up and a feminine look, but who are traditionally doomed to be punching bags and on-stage sponges for the crowd’s homophobia. Emerging as ‘Cassandro’ (named after a camp Mexican soap opera), Armendáriz wants to flip the script and be an exotico who wins.
We’ve had movies exploring the inner lives of wrestlers before - most famously Aaranofsky’s The Wrestler - and this movie shares the grit and grime of their reality. Cassandro is mainly supported by women: his hard-working single mother, and his trainer Sabrina (the excellent Roberta Colindrez), a local lucha success who spots his potential.
As Cassandro starts to move up the ranks, he attracts a possibly scummy promoter and his pseudo-gangster son (Bad Bunny), as well as scorn and admiration in equal measure from the crowds. There are unavoidably cliched training and sporting montages as the process takes on momentum, but Bernal’s showy magnetism easily carries them in an engagingly joyous way.
Conflict comes in the shape of his relationship with his closeted wrestler lover (Raúl Castillo), who has a family that holds his main affections, and another man - the estranged father who first introduced him to lucha libre. Bernal channels his anxieties about these relationships into hard work on his craft, and increasingly risky behavior as his lot in life improves.
There’s a lot to love in the flamboyance of Bernal’s character and his determined challenges to well-established macho norms. Bernal does great work combining camp showmanship, sporting grit and extreme vulnerability, and some of the wrestling sequences are genuinely impressive.
For me, though, what must have been some very testing real life stakes are kind of rushed through. Cassdandro wins over hostile crowds in an instant and seemingly cruises to a nationally-televised glamor match. There’s a shift in tone over the last 20 minutes that glosses over a lot of character development and the climax doesn’t feel quite earned in some way.
There’s some touching scenes, especially between Cassandro and his mother, a tough but loving woman, wonderfully portrayed by Perla De La Rosa. Bernal, too, is warmly charismatic and real, and you’re on his side from the off. Personally, I felt that director Roger Ross Williams didn’t quite stick the knockout, but the bout as a whole is still an enjoyable ride. (PO)
Cassandro is currently showing at The Broad Theater.
The View UpStairs
Review by Paul Oswell
On June 24th 1973, 32 people died in an arson attack on a gay bar called The UpStairs Lounge in the French Quarter. The devastation was compounded at the time by a shameful, callous reaction to the loss of life from so-called religious leaders (even given that one of the deceased was a Reverend) and city officials alike. It remained the most horrific, violent act against the LGBTQ community until the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in 2016.
Before anything, we remember and honor the memory of those who lost their lives.
This may sound like an unlikely backdrop to a life-affirming musical, but playwright and composer Max Vernon was moved to create The View UpStairs in 2013, this one-act production first performed at the Lynn Redgrave Theater in New York in 2017.
Unless it was just to be a straight retelling of the events, a conceit was necessary, and so Vernon presents a kind of living flashback to that night. Wes (Donyae Asante), a hyper-modern influencer, has - oblivious to its history - just purchased a derelict lounge bar and tells his online followers that he can’t wait to transform it into a trendy art space.
The audience is asked to make a sudden leap as his presence somehow opens up a portal in time, and he is transported back to 1973, where it's just another night for the UpStairs regulars. It’s important to remember that much of queer life was illegal at this time, and so places to socialize were rare, the clientele ranging from vagrants to men of the cloth.
Among others, we meet firecracker bartender Henri (Lauren Sparacello), piano man Buddy (Marshall Harris), theatrical Freddy (Eddie Lockwood, who also designed the costumes), pastor Richard (Tom Vaughn), queer elder Willie (Rayshaughn Armant) and hustlers Patrick and Dale (Ty Robbins and Justice Hues).
The sense of family is apparent from the off, with a wonderful chorus adding to the opening’s song and dance numbers, a whole world and its dynamic efficiently conjured. Wes imagines himself to be hallucinating at first, but he quickly adapts and before long is explaining phone apps and the vacuity of contemporary life.
This theme has some easy laughs as the bar patrons dismiss his rants, and while it’s not the most interesting part of the night, it’s an empathetic bridge that allows us all to cross. Issues - some of which still resonate today - are discussed and fought over...the behavior of the hustlers, the spiritual health of the group, how to deal with a police raid. Some people fight, while others pretend to be straight married men, the eternal conflict between pragmatism and idealism.
Asante is tremendously charismatic as he deftly navigates a difficult role, veering from cartoonish arrogance to being mystified and lovelorn as he and Patrick - played with note-perfect, easy assurance by Robbins - start to fall for each other despite the odds. Lockwood shines as a drag queen, beaten on the street and comforted by his mother (JeAnne Marcus) before an entertaining “we’ve got just one night to put on the best show ever” subplot. Mostly in the background, Justice Hues grapples with a gradual descent into desperation with real aplomb.
Almost all of the cast are on stage for the entirety of the 100-minute run time, and I want to especially commend the chorus. Given the time-travel aspect, the show relies on the integrity of creating a realistic 1970s world, and they do an excellent job. Jack Lampert’s direction, and the choreography of Monica Ordoñez are both admirable in their dynamism and realism.
The music and songs deliver a sense of comradery and maintain an emotional resonance. There are some seriously impressive pipes on stage, particularly from Donyae Asante, Lauren Sparacello, Rayshaughn Armant and soprano JeAnne Marcus.
There are some memorable lines, and I laughed out loud when Asante begs “Give me one more chance to ruin your life!” Harris and Armant expertly tease out their characters, while Eddie Lockwood brings their skills as one of the city’s most creative burlesque performers, and they are similarly a joy to watch.
The set and book do a great job in taking us back to the early 1970s, capturing the linguistic and aesthetic ticks and contrasting them nicely with the relentless modernity embodied by Wes. It’s a love story, a cautionary tale of modern superficiality, and a gut-wrenching tragedy all in one.
It’s also a piece of New Orleans history that asks us to keep in mind both the devastating consequences of one man’s torment, but also the barbaric indifference of our institutions when a compassionate, human response was needed, but from them, none came. Many times, our found families are the ones that matter the most.
The View UpStairs plays at Jefferson Performing Arts Center through September 17th. More information and tickets here.
Star Crossed: A Midsummer Nightmare
Review by Amelia Parenteau
In a New Orleans summer rife with Shakespeare, Fat Squirrel serves up a manic retelling of the canon with 'Star Crossed: A Midsummer Nightmare'. Combining text, themes, and characters from over 17 of Shakespeare’s plays, Andrea Watson conceived and directed this original production with an ensemble cast of 18 performers. Watson herself stars as Mercutio, the mercurial agent of chaos tying the divergent plot lines together with his insatiable need for scheming.
Like any grand family reunion, the play features many familiar characters and several stunning performances. Laura Bernas is a powerhouse as Fairy King Oberon, taking inordinate delight in drugging Titania (Lizzy Bruce), the Fairy Queen, for nefarious revenge. Mary Pauley as Juliet’s Nurse showcases her phenomenal range, pulling laughs one moment and tenderly tugging heartstrings the next. Elyse McDaniel plays a fierce, spiteful Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, deftly holding the spotlight even while having her lines, spoken in Spanish, simultaneously spoken in English by the Translator (Kaylon Willoughby).
Taking advantage of the large ensemble cast, Watson created beautiful stage pictures, including a striking tableau to open the show, with characters garbed in the tunics of Ancient Athens and holding statuesque poses. Court dances and stage combat were high points of the action in an otherwise dialogue-heavy script.
The soundtrack combined moody indie rock hits with instrumental underscoring, which could have gone even further to highlight dramatic moments: I would have loved a swelling orchestra beneath Romeo and Juliet’s first ecstatic kiss, for example. “Star Crossed” delivers on unabashedly queer romance, with Hermia (Hannah Dougharty) and Helena (Desirée Burrell) as one of the central pairs of lovers, and Titania falling head-over-heels for the Nurse in her love-potioned trance.
Perhaps the truest madness is daring to love at all, knowing that after all humans, gods, and fairies’ machinations in life, we each inevitably meet our end in death? Unless we’re lucky enough to have a poet or playwright keep telling our tale.
“Star Crossed” runs through August 24, 2023. Tickets and more information available here.
Review by Pippy Calmar
Twelve Mile Limit is a great spot for getting everyone together. There are delicious pop-ups in the kitchen for the foodie, fundraisers for the activist, dance parties for the fairy with endless energy, and trivia nights for the nerd.
The Mid-City haunt is decorated with local bands’ concert art, old signs, a pride flag, and koozies that line the ceiling for sound absorption and flair. It feels like walking into your cool older cousin’s college apartment from the early 1990s. The quirkiest bit that truly makes me smile is the bathroom with 2 heads next to each other…
12ML’s rotating events are perfect for date nights: open mic comedy on Mondays, karaoke on Thursdays, and various (often queer) dance parties most weekends. A burlesque show was the perfect midweek pick-me-up on a recent Tuesday night. I always try to make it out for sexy bingo (last Saturday of the month) and trivia (Wednesdays at 8).
In addition to craft cocktails, they have delicious non-alcoholic options too, including some locally-made THC seltzers which are my favorite. Every night they have $5 classic cocktails and there’s always a new $3 brunch punch on Sundays before noon.
There’s a kitchen on site, with Third Wheel as the main tenant. Third Wheel’s delightful bar bites are right on brand. They make the freshest, tastiest salads that you would never expect from a dive bar– highly, highly recommend! The prices are such that you can order the whole menu, try each dish, and share with your friends/partners/metamours. Chow down with Third Wheel (W and F evenings; Sunday brunch), Milkfish on Thursdays, and Big Little Kitchen on Mondays.
Apart from great vibes, tasty cocktails, and fun events, Twelve Mile Limit also does good. Since opening in 2010, 12ML has been a hub for progressive causes: they've held phone banks to support local policy changes and hosted Planned Parenthood for sex ed trivia. Recently, 12ML partnered with Lift Louisiana for a dance party fundraiser for bodily autonomy and abortion access. Every Friday, $1 from their $5 classic daiquiris goes to charity (like the New Orleans Women & Children’s Shelter).
Pro tip: if you've got more go-cups than you need, save up your 12ML go-cups to return in exchange for drink credits: 50 cents per cup, no limit or expiration.
Do you want to review your favorite local spot? Email email@example.com - we'll send you some swag if we publish it!
by Paul Oswell
What’s the crossover point of nuclear weapons and a famous American doll? Probably the bikini, right?
In 1946, Europeans experienced their first summer without war in years. The air was ripe with optimism, and in France, designer Louis Réard noticed women rolling up the edges of their bathing suits to improve their tans. He created a skimpy two-piece bathing suit using a few triangles of fabric. Across the world in the south Pacific, Bikini Atoll was being used for atomic bomb tests. The islands took their name from a local word, ‘pikinni,’ meaning ‘coconut place.’ Réard thought his invention was as ‘small and devastating’ as the atom bomb, and bikinis were born.
Oppenheimer - Chris Nolan’s biopic of the eccentric physician heading up the Manhattan Project - doesn’t concern itself with fashion, although there are some gratuitously saucy clips that go way beyond flashing midriffs (more on this).
At three hours long, it’s something of a test of endurance, especially given the decidedly un-cinematic plethora of scenes that are mostly just men arguing in a broom cupboard. Other scenes include men arguing at parties, men arguing in congressional hearings and men arguing on trains. Oops, they accidentally-on-purpose invented a devasting weapon, and now there’s some moral qualms about using it, and the world-ending doors that its use inevitably opens.
I found that the conflicts - Oppenheimer’s personal ones as well as the larger ethical/political picture - carried the drama well enough, and given that there’s only one ‘action’ scene (the testing of the bomb), I personally didn’t feel that it dragged.
There are some surprising revelations. Much of the first part of the movie is negotiating Oppie’s romantic tangles. He was quite the player, let me tell you. Apparently he was irresistible, and he didn’t even look like Cillian Murphy that much in real life. Still, it rounds out the character nicely. Otherwise we’d just be watching repeated heated discussions of theoretical physics.
There are some fun cameos - Tom Conti as Albert Einstein for example - and a Salieri/Mozart-type storyline with embittered scientist Lewis Strauss (Robert Downy Jr). Florence Pugh spends much of her screen time in the nude, and I’m not too sure how it advances the plot but Nolan seems to think it important.
There’s lots of Communist hunting and intellectual jousting, and of course it’s a huge topic. In some ways, we are all living in the post-credits sequence. They also make Oppenheimer say his famous line (“Now I am become Death, etc”) twice, just for kicks. But overall, it’s a commendable achievement, imho.
Two hours after Oppenheimer finished, I was laughing at Ryan Gosling being a plastic doll. Barbie could not be more diametrically opposed as a movie, and I’m glad we saw them both in this order.
I am Very Much Not The Demographic for Barbie, but Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach deliver a witty, self-aware script that elevates this film way above, say, The Emoji Movie or Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Given that it’s essentially two hours of product placement, it’s a biting, near-subversive commentary on gender politics, and two-thirds of the way through, America Ferrera delivers a feminist manifesto that is genuinely rousing. I can understand why Ben Shapiro pretends to hate it for money, and that in itself is pleasing to me.
Margot Robbie, Kate McKinnon and America Ferrara all deliver, and Ryan Gosling’s commitment to the role of Ken is impressive. Issa Rae and Michael Cera are also absolutely loving their roles.
If you want six hours of experiencing just about every emotion that you could feel watching movies, I heartily recommend the double bill. Just be careful about the order and remember the old saying: “Oppenheimer before Barbie, you’ll still want to party; Barbie before Oppenheimer, you might have a bad time-a.”
Two men and three fish spend years in a geodesic dome after a nuclear holocaust. If this sounds like a set up for a joke, then it kind of is. Billy (Louisiana’s own Mark Duplass) and Ray (Sterling K. Brown) are - as far as anyone can tell - the last remnants of the human race, just as Sam, Diane and Woody are the last of their piscine cousins. Hilarity ensues. Er, sort of.
The why is the first reveal. Turns out Billy was a red-button-happy President (of the United States), and Ray his right hand man, his childhood friend-turned-consiglieri. Ray had built the dome just in case of the apocalypse and WHOOPSIE it was a good job he did. We join them a number of years into the situation, and they’re living like a couple of college roomies, playing video games, maxin' and relaxin' and just wholesomely bro-ing out, man.
The fish reproduce and provide fresh food sustainably, and so when ‘Sam’ dies and is the main star of that night’s fish fry dinner, it’s no biggie. Only they realize just before dessert that it‘s actually Diane who went fins up, which puts a freshly-urgent spin on humanity’s present and future, such as they are.
What transpires is kind of a Black Mirror-esque buddy comedy as the leads deal with immediate and existential threats. How will we eat now, and oh, a strange green light appears in the completely black sky of the nuclear winter, and is starting to grow.
The lifelong dynamics of Billy and Ray start to emerge. Billy is impulsive and kind of a goof, Ray is scientific but open to the mysteries of the unknown. They have Odd Couple-type fights about personal privacy, video game hacks and their different recollections of a childhood magic show. It’s mostly fun times given the circumstances, but with the sudden ecological and evolutionary pressures, a lot changes very quickly.
Directed by first timer Mel Eslyn (who co-wrote the script with Duplass), some interesting ideas are explored. Given the lack of diverse settings and microscope of the dome, though, it’s hard to misdirect, and so the developments at times feel like they’ve been foreshadowed with a slightly heavy hand. It’s not hard to keep a step ahead of the script if you’re paying attention.
Duplas and Brown are charismatic, and bounce off each other charmingly. We are mostly unencumbered by hard sci-fi problems or thoughts of everyone that they ever loved having been vaporized, though if you had a two-person dome set up in advance, then presumably you’d already reconciled yourself to them not making it.
I won’t spoil the main conceit though you’ll work it out early on. It does throw up some fun conversations and slapstick moments, but I left feeling like it could have worked well as a one-hour episode in an anthology rather than a 100-minute feature. Bereft of the distraction of other characters, there’s a limit to where you can go (thematically and geographically). The future of the species being in the hands of two petty men who mainly like to argue about The Super Mario Brothers isn’t without its amusing moments, though. (PO)
Biosphere is playing at Prytania Canal Place
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