review: STUDS PIERCING
Review by Emily Hingle
The hip stretch of Magazine Street between Jefferson and Henry Clay Avenues is home to several boutiques catering to the aging Millennial, quick-service eateries specializing in healthy foods (Playa Bowls) or tasty foods (District Donuts), and a brand-new piercing boutique called Studs.
This cool, clean, studio is a perfect fit for the neighborhood, all eye-popping neon accents, uptempo pop tunes and translucent neon green stands showcasing the goods.
Studs is all about the ear. Staff are happy to consult about earscaping: the art of strategic ear piercings in order to stack jewelry for a dramatic look. You fill out some forms, provide ID, and you are shown a selection of jewelry. Using a chart, you select exactly where you want that new piece of jewelry to go. My piercer, Raynbow, met me in the lobby to discuss piercing location, the heal time, and what jewelry would be best for that particular area. I decided to get the Snakebite Midi, which is two piercings close together.
Raynbow invited me back to the freshly-sterilized room. It looked almost like a doctor’s office with a sink, a cushy patient table, and sterilized instruments, but the bright yellow accents and hair clips in jars brings it all back to ear piercing. After confirming things, she explained in detail how she would do the piercings, and how the flat-back jewelry works. She really put me at ease, and I imagine that she is amazing at helping nervous clients get through the process well.
Raynbow spoke to me throughout, making sure I was handling the process. Some people can experience light-headedness or actually faint while being pierced, and it was clear that she was ready for that possibility. Afterwards, Raynbow again went over the after-care regimen and handed me a guide. As I left, the staff gave me a goody bag with holographic stickers, a scratch-off game to possibly win a discount, and a stick-on diamond tattoo (which I have not seen in 20 years!).
As a young girl, I was taken to the mall to get my ears pierced. It was a rite-of-passage for girls in the 1990s and 2000s to sit in the store’s window with everyone watching, and get pierced via piercing gun by a possibly inexperienced (and nervous) clerk. It wasn’t unheard of at these mall stores for the piercer to set off the gun when you weren’t expecting it. She might say, “I’m going to do it on the count of three. One…CLICK!” After the event, you were told to wash the piercing and turn it regularly to get it healed up. As an adult, I’ve also had piercings and tattoos from various tattoo parlors. They can be noisy and intimidating places.
Studs is a spot for kids to go to have a fun, safe, and private piercing experience, and it’s a tranquil environment for adults as well. It felt good to be in a room by myself instead of out in the open. It’s certainly safer to be pierced with a needle rather than a gun that shoots an actual earring through your lobe, but I never knew about not twirling your earring until the knowledgeable staff here explained why that’s a terrible idea.
I would certainly go back for single piercings, but the boutique’s emphasis on earscaping and the jewelry sets that they create for that are making me think about doing more.
Studs is open at 5705 Magazine Street, 11am-7pm daily.
FIRST NIGHT REVIEW
Sects and Violins
Fiddler on the Roof @ The Saenger Theater
The themes of tradition being challenged by new ideas is one that looms large in many ways over this beloved 60-year old musical. The staging itself creates these very tensions, and in this touring ‘Broadway in New Orleans’ production, a couple of small modern touches are introduced to emphasize the ongoing relevance of the story. The story is book-ended by the lead in a modern, bright orange parka, driving home that the themes ring true for the people of Syria, or even more topically, Ukranians (to whom the show is dedicated).
Tevye (Jonathan Hashmoney) is an impoverished milkman in a Jewish village in Tsarist Russia in 1905, who nevertheless delights in the rules that bind society and will help him marry off his five daughters. If there’s a stronger, more emphatic opening number than ‘Tradition’ then I’ve yet to see it, the central tensions of the show set up with incredible gusto from the off. “People ask me where these traditions come from,” Tevye confides to the audience, “And I’ll tell you…I don’t know.”
Tevye lives happily with his wife, Golde (Maite Uzal), a hard-working pragmatist with a no-nonsense outlook. His three eldest daughters are approaching marrying age, and although the meddling matchmaker Yente (Gabriella Green) fusses around them, they each have their own ideas, which slowly but surely come to the fore.
Tevye speculates on how life could be, and while being grateful for his faith and culture, wishes for just a little more in life. Hashmoney brings a fresh charisma to the number ‘If I Were a Rich Man’, ramping up the laughs as his imagined life of wealth gets ever more decadent.
At first, life is comically exasperating for Tevye, as his eldest Tzeitel (Randa Meierhenry) ducks away from an arranged marriage to bluff elder butcher Lazar Wolf (Andrew Hendrick). She has eyes for the local tailor Motel (Daniel Kushner) and Tevye goes against his better judgment and relents.
In these early scenes, fast-paced humor dominates, and the lines come thick and fast. Lazar Wolf offers Tevye a drink - “I won’t insult you by saying no!” comes the reply. Perchik (Austin J Gresham), a young student, tells Tevye that money is the world’s curse - “Then let God smite me with it!” yells the dairyman. There’s also a telling part where Perchik interprets a bible story as saying that “all employers are evil” and let me tell you, only the back half of the theater laughed.
Tzeitel and Motel’s wedding comes as a first act climax, with joyous scenes of incredibly gymnastic and inspirationally-arranged dance numbers. People usually think of West Side Story, but Fiddler on the Roof is low-key one of the greatest musicals for dance numbers. Back flips, feats of agility, and of course the famous bottle dance, explode on the crowded stage. All credit to the truly outstanding work by choreographer Hofesh Shechter.
Already, though, the cracks in age-old practices are starting to appear. Perchik dances with unmarried Hodel (Graceann Kontak) to initial outrage, and the wedding is broken up by Tsarist militia men, in a stark warning of the violence to come.
Tevye’s world begins to crumble as we start the second act. Hodel and Perchik declare their love, Tevye’s permission overstepped. He very sheepishly gives his blessing, with a lament: “Love! It’s the new way!” His limits are severely tested, though, as Chava (Yarden Barr), falls for a visitor, Fyedka (Carson Robinette), who isn’t Jewish. He questions his own relationship with Golde, as they duet on the gorgeous second half highlight, ‘Do You Love Me?’.
The family unit is strained, as is the community as they are violently evicted from their village by the Tsarist forces. New ways and ideas come in many guises, from cheeky loopholes that allow teenagers to dance together to the extermination of a people and their culture. It’s a pretty bleak ending but the power of hope is never extinguished.
Breathing new life into a 60-year old musical can’t be easy, but Michael Yeargan’s sets and Catherine Zuber’s costumes do fabulous work in updating the aesthetics without losing the ambience of an early 20th-century East European village. Tevye’s incredible dream sequence wouldn’t look out of place in a Tim Burton movie, and classic set pieces such as the expertly-rendered bottle dance are utterly compelling, visually reinforcing the subtle, growing tensions.
I’d only ever seen half of the epic film, and so to experience the full range of emotion, from belly laughs to near-unbearable poignancy, was unexpected but very welcome. This production of Fiddler is as fresh, challenging and relevant as it must have been in the 1960s. We can pay respect to theatrical traditions while accepting new ideas, and when a huge ensemble uses both to create something this powerful and entertaining, that’s surely the real sweet spot. (PO)
Fiddler on the Roof plays at the Saenger Theater through Sunday March 5th. Click here for more information and tickets.
It’s not such an original premise: a man who has played it safe for his whole life receives a terminal prognosis and changes his outlook. In many ways, too, this is a dramatic mirror image of the gentle comedy Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. It’s set in a similar world, with faceless bureaucracy to be stood up to by someone with nothing to lose, repressive British manners to be overcome and fairly low stakes in the scheme of things.
The central performance by Bill Nighy, though, elevates Living from straightforward schlock. Living is a remake (with a screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro) of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film Ikiru, or To Live. Mr Watanabe is replaced by Nighy’s Mr Williams, a man so buttoned up that you sense he can barely breathe.
Decades of dull pen-pushing and thankless deference to his betters come crashing down when Williams, a man in his 60s, is given a stomach cancer diagnosis. In the short term, a Ferris Bueller-type day off in Brighton with boozy bohemian playwright (Tom Burke), gives Williams a jolt. He gets drunk, sings out loud in a pub and sees a burlesque show.
But he eventually translates this newfound urgency and focus to his workplace, and takes up causes that had been floundering in paperwork hell, particularly one that would convert a corner of a working class slum into a children’s playground.
He takes long lunches with a charismatic young former coworker (Aimee Lou Wood) and looks to instill an unadulterated dose of ‘carpe diem’ into his already-dusty team of younger men. This is done in ways that American audiences might find too subtle to be interesting, but the rebellion has to be analyzed on a relative scale.
Nighy does such a good job of conveying a life of constraint, a stifling, starch-stiff existence with precious few air pockets for self-expression and certainly no room for bending the system, even for good. Small victories become hugely significant, and even the act of shaking a colleague’s hand and thanking them for their work becomes a talismanic freedom charge.
The humble playground itself is an obvious visual metaphor for living, and the message is perhaps that letting yourself go on the swings for even a few minutes is better than watching from the sidelines. Living is slow and quaint for the most part, but Nighy’s emergent charm is irresistible, and it’s a welcome reminder to make even the small parts of our lives as memorable as possible. (PO)
Living is playing at the Prytania Theatres at Canal Place
HOLD ME CLOSER, TINA DANCER
TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL
First Night Review
at The Saenger Theater
Broadway loves a comeback, stars and subjects alike. Recently, there’s been a renaissance of women who turn their real life lemons into showtime lemonade. There’s Pamela Anderson, hot off her documentary and literary forays into memoir, who poured her exploitation and heartbreak into her performance in the Broadway revival of Chicago as Roxie Hart. But the award for crisis management and reinvention has to go to Tina Turner - both the real superstar, and the star of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, now touring its Broadway show at the Saenger Theater. With an emphasis on energy, heart, and soul, this musical is a true testament to the resilience and strength of one of the greatest musical icons of our time.
The production opens with a young Anna-Mae Bullock, discovering her gifts and witnessing the breakdown of her turbulent family. From there, the audience is taken on a journey through the ups and downs of Tina's life, including her rise to fame, her tumultuous relationship with her former husband Ike Turner, and her eventual triumph as a solo artist. Throughout the show, Tina's music serves as the backbone, providing a pulse-pounding soundtrack that keeps the audience bouncing in their seats.
The lead actress, Naomi Rodgers, is phenomenal as Tina Turner. She channels spirit and stage presence, delivering powerful vocals and electrifying performances of hits such as 'River Deep, Mountain High', 'What's Love Got to Do with It', and 'Private Dancer'. The supporting cast is equally impressive. The runaway fan favorite was Ayvah Johnson (a Slidell native!) as Young Anna-Mae, who immediately sells Tina’s prodigious nature by virtue of being a singing and acting prodigy herself. Garrett Turner as Ike—no relation, I expect—is pitch-perfect in his mercurial performance, swinging from smooth charm to rage to sniveling as quickly as the tempo changes. The choreography is also a highlight, with faithful reproductions of the high-energy routines that vaulted Tina and the Ikettes to stardom.
In addition to the music, Tina - The Tina Turner Musical provides a glimpse into the personal struggles and triumphs of Tina's life. The show chronicles her journey from a battered young artist to a confident and empowered woman, exploring themes of abuse, resilience, and self-discovery. The show even touches on some of the tools she uses along the way: the reciprocal abuse learned from her parents’ relationship; the support from her bandmates and tour manager, also victims of Ike’s temper; and the Buddhist meditation practices that finally give her the strength to leave. It's a moving tribute to the fortitude of the human spirit and the power of perseverance.
The production design is also noteworthy, with stunning lighting and outstanding costume design that all come together to create a truly immersive experience. If you missed the iconic performances of the Ike and Tina Revue or Tina Turner when she was playing live, you’ll feel transported into some of the most memorable shows of the last 50 years. The use of projections, sound design, and special effects are especially effective during scene transitions, which seem to happen almost instantly thanks to the actors doubling as stage crew. This makes what could be a long show move at a clip, allowing the audience to remain immersed in the story being told on stage.
Overall, it's a dynamic and entertaining celebration of one of the most beloved musical legends of all time. The show is a must-see for fans of Tina and anyone looking for a toe-tapping night. New Orleans showed up in its best sequined and fringed getups for the affair, so your 80s wig won’t be out of place. Plus, there’s just something special about dancing and singing to 'Proud Mary' mere blocks away from the bank of the river herself, and it's an experience that will leave you feeling empowered and inspired. (Eileen Daley)
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical plays at The Saenger through February 12th. More information and tickets here.
review: the pale blue eye
It’s a trope as old as time. A grizzled gumshoe fighting his demons of alcoholism and bereavement as he drops into a buttoned-up institution to crack some skulls and find a violent killer. Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) is a pulp-ish detective grimacing and poking his nose around West Point military academy in the snowy winter of 1830.
Given the presence of demons, though, who better to have as a sidekick than a morbid, occultist weirdo such as Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling) himself? Poe, you see, just happens to be a cadet at the facility, as he was for a time in real life. The growing number of ritualistic murders are panicking the top brass but Poe has insights enough that Landor takes him on as an eccentric assistant.
The photography throughout flickers like an animated daguerreotype, and scenes are dimly lit and are evocative of a gloomy outpost. This gives it the vintage ambience of a Christmas ghost story, and one that Poe could easily have written. There are certainly enough newly-liberated human hearts flying around to inspire one of his gory fables.
Bale brings the familiarity of a world-weary dick to the proceedings, and it’s a restrained performance as he navigates the formality of the academy and the unseemly nooks of its underbelly. It’s Melling, though, as an excitable, almost Holmesian puzzle-solver that steals every scene. He strikes a pallid, poetic but strikingly eloquent presence in what is essentially as much a Poe origin story as it is a whodunnit.
Some great British acting talents wrestle with the unusual accents of the time period and geographic location, with Toby Jones and Timothy Spall as a suspicious coroner and crusty general respectively. Lucy Boynton does great work as a cynical beauty with a good line in dramatic seizures but it’s Gillian Anderson as haughty matriarch Julia Marquis who matches Melling’s oddness with some truly memorable melodramatic outbursts.
The script is charmingly verbose, and put me in mind of the TV show Deadwood. People aren’t ‘falsely accused’, they ‘suffer an unwarranted calumny the likes of which are an assault on their dignity’...that’s not a direct quote but you get the gist. If you like flowery dialogue, methodical procedures and vaguely silly twists, then it’s compelling enough to warrant a couple of hours. I’d love to see Melling as Poe in a franchise of his own, but for now, these tell-tale hearts will have to suffice. (PO)
The Pale Blue Eye is playing at the Prytania Canal Place Theater
review: The lion king
Friends were startled when I told them I’d never seen any version of The Lion King. What can I say? I’m just not really a Disney guy. The recent dead-eyed, soulless “live-action” remake hadn’t done anything to spark my curiosity, and so I was going in cold to this touring production of Broadway’s second-longest-running, and by far most lucrative show.
I gingerly entered the lion’s den, with little expectation. The rousing opening salvo by the baboon Rafiki (here reimagined as a shamanic priestess) in Swahili - “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba! / (Here comes a lion, father!)” - coupled with the stampede of animals that it heralds, though, was like an electric jolt.
From the stage wings and from the back of the theater, a Noah’s Ark of wildlife arrives to welcome the new heir to the throne. Birds swoop, puma slink, giraffe saunter and a huge elephant marches through the audience to complete the crowd of animal onlookers. This is an immediately awe-inspiring introduction to the audience of the puppet-lead artistry that graces the entire production.
Six actors live inside that near life-size elephant, and the rest of the savannah is equally thrilling. I join the multi-generational audience in being nothing less than agog as the story begins. You’ll be familiar with the plot, which draws from Hamlet as a young prince navigates a perilous route to the throne, protected by a loving king father but beset by danger from a scheming uncle who feels overlooked.
The songs come thick and fast, and although Elton John and Tim Rice are the marquee names, the work and atmospherics provided by the African composer Lebo M. are the heart of the show, and are further brought to life by two live rhythm sections.
The ingenious animal costumes, employing puppetry that mixes simple light and shadow with the most elaborate exoskeletons, are a complete joy. Even when the actors are clearly visible, their commitment to movement and mimicry never detract from the aesthetic, and in fact it creates an even more dream-like visual.
The young Simba (Jaylen Lyndon Hunter) is a revelation, while scheming uncle Scar (Peter Hargrave) is played pitch-perfectly, bitter and sinister with a splash of camp. The entire ensemble is nothing but charismatic, with stand-outs for me being the comedy provided by avian consort to the king Zazou (Nick LaMedica), and the meerkat and warthog who befriend young Simba (Tony Freeman and John E. Brady as Timon and Pumba respectively. Gugwana Dlamini (Rafiki) steals every scene she’s in and Khalifa White’s Nala is a whirlwind of badassery.
In short, it’s a joyous extravaganza, and the presence of legions of children (who often hilariously react to onstage dialogue) reminded me of the pantomimes of my home country. The production levels, though, are ones that show a satisfying portion of the ticket price right up on that stage, and the visual logistics of the wildebeest stampede alone are worth the price of admission. Even Disney-sceptics such as this old warthog left blown away by the showmanship, delivered without a trace of cynicism, and with storytelling and truly inspiring spectacle to the fore. (PO)
Broadway in New Orleans continues at The Saenger Theater, with Six on November 29th
Being interviewed on stage as the movie opens, the life of classical conductor Lydia Tár looks to be resounding with symphonic levels of success. Through sheer talent and a singular drive, she has worked her way up to the heady heights of helming the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Her resume is longer than a CVS receipt, with a PhD from Harvard, years spent in remote jungles exploring music anthropology and even EGOT-ing (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) her way to fame beyond the concert halls.
Nowhere to go but down from here, right? An upcoming completion of recording her hero Mahler’s works is the backdrop to a nuanced and expertly-paced fall from grace, but director Todd Field isn’t in a hurry to get there. Settle in for a near-three hour psychological drama that both Field and lead Cate Blanchett deliver with a masterful touch.
At first, small actions hint at some of Tár’s more worrying idiosyncrasies: courting sexual attention from admirers, mild germaphobia, lying to her long-term partner (the orchestra’s first violinist, played by Nina Hoss) with whom she is raising a young child (Mila Bogojevic). She leads a bad-tempered tutorial at Juilliard, cowering a young conducting student into submission about the separation of art and artist when he suggests that Bach might not be a hero to everyone.
What follows is a compelling examination of Tár’s lifestyle of panoramic manipulation, balanced with her descent into utter derangement. Dissatisfied with her long-time, aging assistant conductor, she plots to have him removed but rigs it to make it look like his own choice. She elevates less qualified players in the orchestra so that she can seduce them, and she gaslights her long-term partner in sinister, controlling ways.
The death of a former protégé sparks increasingly frequent bouts of paranoia. As much as her life is dedicated to sound, Tár also suffers from misphonia - a condition where ambient noises trigger a flight-or-fight response - and she often wakes at night, startled by a buzzing refrigerator. Aural irritations add to the growing cracks of a mental breakdown, as her professional machinations and predatory behaviour begin to catch up with her, shaking her lofty perch.
It’s a performance that should have Blanchett in real-life Oscar contention come awards season. She is at once utterly controlling, intimidating and dynamic, but with weaknesses that lay her vulnerability bare. Sometimes impulsive, never satisfied (especially romantically), insecure and bullying. She’s a loving mother, though, and she lives for musical beauty, and so even as she deteriorates, sympathetic virtues underpin her worst excesses.
Tense lingering takes, the absence of a score beyond the music played on screen and a script that makes the audience calculate plot inferences for themselves instead of being spoon-fed: these are all daring choices by Field given the film’s length. However, it’s gripping from the start thanks to the subtle way that the rot sets in, as well as the engaging performances. Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Noémie Merlant is excellent as Tár’s long-suffering assistant, as are ingénue cellist and temptress Sophie Kauer and classical old guards Mark Strong and Julian Glover.
It’s a thrilling character study, as well as one that addresses sexual morals in entertainment head on. The film’s movements are conducted expertly by Field and Blanchett, and in the end, it’s more of a requiem for a dream than a mighty opus. (PO)
Tár is playing at Prytania Canal Pace
There’s a heady echelon of artists who didn’t just excel at what they did, the very fact of their doing it changes the landscape of their craft. Louis Armstrong is, to borrow a phrase, in that number. From his first musical outings in ragtag bands at the Waif's Home for delinquents in New Orleans (where he became band leader at 13 years old) to a global presence that few musicians attain, Armstrong lead an extraordinary life.
Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues, by director Sacha Jenkins, leans on a wealth of impressive source material (including the vast library of Armstrong’s uncensored home tapes) to create a structurally jazz-like film that paints an unflinching picture of a musical titan.
His somewhat known rise from poverty, playing in the red light district of New Orleans’ Storyville, is fleshed out with some remarkable tales and film footage. The stories of his influence come thick and fast - he created scatting, his pivotal innovations injecting African rhythms into Western music, his pioneering of improvisational techniques…what we’re describing is virtually the invention of a genre. To quote virtuoso saxophonist Artie Shaw, “I would say jazz almost stems from Louis Armstrong.”
Armstrong smashed through barriers as a force of nature. He was the first black artist to open a club, and a ballroom, and a radio station, and the the first black actor to have his name above the title in movie promotion. There are way too many anecdotes and insights to summarize here. The documentary packs them in, though, via talking heads, voiceovers by musical legends and extracts from Armstrongs’ letters and private archives.
If you’re reading this you likely have a relationship with New Orleans. Louis Armstrong had one too, and it was…complicated. He left the city as a young man, following his musical heroes to Chicago and then to New York as his star ascended. His returns here were a mix of joy and stark reminders of Southern prejudice.
We hear about his taking a private train to travel here, selling out a large theater, but the announcer of that theater refusing to bring him up on stage, using the most offensive slurs imaginable. The then mayor gave him the keys to the city, but in reality those keys could not unlock swathes of white-only spaces. White supremacy might performatively make token concessions, but it does not relent in its persecution.
Armstrong’s civil rights stances are, of course, examined. He was often mocked by other black artists for playing a submissive role in the media, but like Sammy Davis Jr, this was a stealth offensive. Decades before Hendricks at Woodstock, Louis Armstrong would play the Star Spangled Banner as a political statement, he was in rooms that many other black people could not dream of entering, he was working to survive and elevate others from his position.
There’s an incredible story by black actor Ossie Davis, who had “malice and ridicule” for Armstrong until he worked with him on a movie set and saw a steely melancholy in him. “Beneath that gravel voice and that shuffle,” he says, “Under all that mouth with more teeth than a piano had keys, was a horn that could kill a man.”
New Orleans’ own Wynton Marsalis is one of the main commentators. He too came from a position of cynicism about Armstrong. It was all “Dixie and shufflin’,” he says. “In my time I hated that with unbelievable passion.” When Marsalis moved away from New Orleans, his father sent him tapes of Armstrong and said, “Why don’t you learn one of these solos?” After trying and failing to match the sonic range, the power of the musical register and the sheer endurance of Armstrong’s trumpet playing, Marsalis conceded his genius.
Sacha Jenkins covers huge tracts of biographical ground. We get Armstrong the global megastar, playing to tribespeople in Ghana and in front of the pyramids in Egypt, Armstrong the marijuana and laxatives proponent, the avuncular chat show guest, the four wives, the uncompromising artist, the sweary rants at astonishing racism from low-level media personnel. Armstrong is criticized for not marching, but he buys coal for poor residents of cities he plays in, and he gives generously, working a different line of attack.
In a lot of the footage, though, he is just spreading industrial amounts of joy. That famous, infectious grin, as big as a sunrise. As one commentator remarks, “It was not a simple-minded happiness, it was a transcendent joy.” That transcendence - social, musical, cultural, - is the feeling that you walk away with. Welcome to Armstrong’s complex, but wonderful world. (PO)
Louis Armstrong's Black and Blues is playing at the Prytania Canal Place
Review: the triangle of sadness
‘Eat the rich’ is a common enough anti-capitalist slogan, and here’s a movie that prods at what that might actually look like in extreme circumstances, begging the further question of whether the rich would be as appetizing if you knew what they were marinated in. Excuse my grammar: if you knew in what they were marinated. Happy now? OK.
Director Ruben Östlund is a big cheese on the European film circuit, collecting his second Palm D’Or at Cannes last year for this satire. If you’ve seen his previous outings, Force Majeur (an avalanche-themed social comedy with beardy Game of Thrones star Kristofer Hivju) and The Square (a skewering of the modern art scene set in Stockholm), then some of the themes of the Triangle of Sadness will be familiar.
Östlund loves to dwell on the tensions between the middle/upper classes and those that serve them in luxurious surroundings, the wasteful, frivolous decadence of the rich, and the conflicting memories that two people might have about the same event. Those are all in evidence here, the former two being the main motif.
The title refers to the patch between a model’s eyebrows, the film opening with a pointed look at catwalk auditions, and introducing us to ernest himbo Carl (a chiseled but dour Harris Dickinson) and his semi-flighty influencer/model girlfriend, Yaya (the late Charlbi Dean Kriek). The first act is a precision dissection of modern sexual and economic morals in a personal, romantic sense, and one which leads to a free jolly on a luxury yacht.
Enter uptight steward Paula (played with perfect intensity by Vicki Berlin), corralling her starch-white uniformed staff to pamper their rich guests with the promise of huge cash tips, all the while the camera panning down to the Filipino cleaners and cooks, none of whom will see these bonuses. The captain seems to be drunk, though it’s hard to tell as he refuses to leave his cabin, but soon enough we’re in the middle of the ocean.
Secret Marxist Captain Thomas (an amusingly wasted Woody Harrelson) pulls it together for the Captain’s Dinner, welcoming a selection of oligarchs, tech billionaires, arms dealers and old money types, and it’s here that the tone shifts. What follows is a visceral and highly scatlogical literal shitstorm, the climax of which has Harrelson locked in his office with a Russian businessman, shouting communist epitaphs over the PA while everyone else swims in their own filth.
A hilariously ironic bout of piracy has the third act set on a deserted island, the few that survive thrown into a whole new society as a woman from ‘the staff’ (the excellent Dolly de Leon) emerges as the only one with the skills to hunt, make fire, or do anything of value. Looks and wealth mean nothing at first, though these things do have corrupting impacts as time passes, even in this apparent desolation.
Money, desirability, influence - these are all just ways to ease transactions of power, and this is laid bare. It’s a satire that’s perhaps more heavy-handed than Östlund’s other films, and the excesses of the rich could be painted in more subtly brutal terms. The director does have a nose for the minutiae of human behaviour, and how it shapes and is shaped by society. There are some laugh-out-loud set pieces, and a belligerent Woody Harrelson is always worth the price of admission. If you’re squeamish, though, you might have to look away for that shocking, mid-movie tidal wave. (PO)
The Triangle of Sadness is playing at the Prytania Theater Canal Place.
mona lisa and the blood moon: review
There’s certainly no lack of ambition behind writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour’s third feature. A young woman, Mona Lisa Lee (Jun Jong-seo) escapes a secure facility and has to survive in the neon-drenched fleshpots of the French Quarter. She has telekinetic powers but limited street smarts, having been imprisoned for many years. Caustic 'tart with a heart' Bonnie Belle (Kate Hudson) takes Mona Lisa under her wing and a local cop (Craig Robinson) is on her tail.
That’s pretty much the entire plot, save a friendship that Lee develops with Belle’s eleven year-old son, Charlie (Evan Whitten), both of them frustrated with their respective stations in life. One immediate question as Lee escapes in the opening scenes is why she didn’t use her powers to break free years earlier? There’s also the mystery of where her powers came from, and more generally, what her backstory is. We never really find out.
Mona Lisa Lee is drawn in the vein of an X-Men mutant, or Eleven from Stranger Things. She's a detached, quasi-alien being, though without any biographical insights, it’s hard to root for her beyond just wanting an underdog/outsider to win. We know even less about Robinson’s Officer Harold, save that he’s back on the job the day after getting shot in the leg. Is that a fair representation of NOPD’s work ethic? I’ll diplomatically defer judgment there. Also, he begins the movie as a uniformed beat cop, but spends the rest of his time on screen as a plain-clothes detective, so it’s unclear what his actual job is.
Parts of New Orleans are evocatively and atmospherically rendered, such as the drunken chaos of Bourbon Street and the sulphur-washed corners of Esplanade Avenue, lit by buzzing streetlamps, where Lee finds her main ally (a likable hoodlum called ‘Fuzz’. Played by Ed Skrein). Locals might feel a little disoriented as characters walk down one street only to emerge elsewhere, but that’s nit-picking.
The city is teased as a character, and so there’s scenes like the obligatory consultation with a voodoo priestess, Robinson getting mad that all she can offer is spells and potions, although I’m not really sure what he was expecting by going to her. You came to a voodoo practitioner for help and...she suggests voodoo. Kind of with the priestess on this one.
There are some script elements that feel like they were filler at the time of writing and then just never got replaced. The hospital is just called the ‘Home for Mentally Insane Adolescents’, the strip club is called ‘The Panty Drop’, both of which seem like top-of-the-head ideas that were just not rewritten.
It’s a very stylized and color-saturated movie, and there are some fun set pieces, but I feel like it should have leaned into the humor more. As much as I love Craig Robinson as a comedic talent, I’m not sure he has the gravitas for a grizzled cop, but then we find out so little about these characters that maybe it doesn't matter. IMHO, a bit more schlock and self-aware goofiness might have made for a fun ride.
It’s a cinematic curiosity that locals might like as they recognize the real-life locations (including a tense denouement at the old airport, RIP), and the leads are charismatic, if doggedly one-dimensional. A few more wry smiles and a little more color to the character’s lives might have elevated this Mona Lisa more towards a masterpiece, but if a low-stakes portrait against a familiar backdrop works for you, then you might still like this New Orleans caper. (PO)
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