Trainwreck is a trainwreck


Sure I’m the last person on the block to see this vehicle for the highly touted talents of apple-cheeked Amy Schumer. But let me be the first to walk away unimpressed.

The film poster (left) is funnier than anything in the film.
The film’s uneven pacing offers oft-witty, but mostly flat cameos. And it’s shockingly laced with NBA promos (even though I’ll admit that LeBron James, playing himself, is a delight). But where it should have tightened up and stayed tough—Schumer is supposed to be a free spirited, unrepentent single career gal who loves sex, booze and drugs—the film caves. She gets all kinds of weepy domestic advice from colleagues and family—especially her sister, played by Brie Larson who steals every scene she’s in from Schumer.

Schumer’s character works for a smut magazine whose editor is a shrill Tilda Swinton, playing the crude soulless boss, aiming for the bracing tone of Ab Fab‘s hilarious Joanna Lumley, “sweetie baby.” But even the great Swinton fails to pump energy into this mis-directed pastiche.

On assignment to write a behind the scenes article about a sports medicine specialist, played by Bill Hader, Schumer finds herself getting interested in the doctor for more than just a quickie. Fine. Sex in the City. Seinfeld. SNL. Meg Ryan. Tina Fey. Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle. Joan Rivers for God’s sakes! We’ve seen this before. Continue reading “Trainwreck is a trainwreck”

The Liar is Not-to-Miss!

liar.jpgHere’s a sneak peek of my review of The Liar—the entire piece is in this week’s GTWeekly

Santa Cruz Shakespeare‘s nimble new production of The Liar is the sort of searing live comedy that blows all things digital right off the map. Every single actor in this splendid production is remarkable. That needs repeating. Each and every actor adds sparkle. Nothing interferes. There is no down time. There are none of those, er, moments where you look at your cell phone and wonder how much longer the play will go on.

Romping through a very brisk 2 1/2 hours, the entire ensemble ran away with the opening night audience. Not since Richard Ziman’s Falstaff have I laughed so hard. Director Art Manke—whose Bach at Leipzig remains one of my fondest theater memories—took an exceptional cast and set it on fire. You always know what’s going on and every minute of it is delicious. Strap yourself in. The Liar is a triumph—a show smart enough to disarm skeptics and sexy enough to delight audiences in need of pre-Candy Crush fun.

Farewell to an arts visionary

k-sinsheimer-photo-copy_0.jpgIt’s hard to believe that Karen Sinsheimer is gone, so fierce was her energy and passion. In all things really, but especially for the arts.

I can still see her and Audrey taking meetings, using their influence, cooking up an official Shakespeare Festival site, something that would remain as a legacy for great theatrical productions in the future. Such irony, isn’t it? That not only is the Festival she helped to co-found no longer associated with UCSC, but the very Festival Glen named for her and actress/director/professor Audrey Stanley—the Glen itself will be gone as a Shakespeare venue after one more month of performances.

Karen was a larger-than-life beauty, whose graciousness was genuine. She was comfortable about the choices she’d made, and she made everyone around her feel the same way. Her passing sadly underscores the changes that have come to the beautiful redwood glen she loved and protected for so long.

It was a rare pleasure to have known her. [photo: Kimberly Kavish]

The Liar

11694008_987544969923_8470895088890908252_n.jpgRapid-fire fun, witty over-the-top wordplay, lavish costumes, brilliant acting—you must put Santa Cruz Shakespeare‘s The Liar on your August calendar. We laughed ourselves senseless on opening night and gave thanks for the astute casting, directing, and savvy choice of a mid-summer night’s dream!

Life’s too short NOT to see this delicious spectacle.

[Shown here is the insanely talented Brian Smolin, who tears up the stage as the feckless liar, Dorante.]

Ex Machina, the film…

xmachina.jpgYes, but who—or what—is the deus in this taut probe of artificial intelligence?

Directed by sci-fi screenwriter Alex Garland, Ex Machina slowly turns some of the major questions of futuristic metaphysics (e.g. Philip K. Dick) around in its spare, elegiac hour and 45 minutes. With complete precision the film moves like a beautiful Swiss watch, involving only a few moving parts. It is impossible to stop watching.

Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson is Caleb, a young programmer selected by billionaire über scientist (read Victor Frankenstein) Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) to take part in a variation on the Türing test (is an artificial creation capable of exhibiting seamless consciousness). Helicoptered to Nathan’s remote compound (you can feel Mary Shelley haunting the wild and rocky periphery) Caleb meets both the creator, and his creation Ava (Alicia Vikander) a disturbingly perceptive composite of beauty and circuitry. Caleb has seven days in which to decide whether Ava is the real deal. Is she capable of self-awareness, emotion, humor, and deception? Without revealing crucial plot details, the short answer is hell yes! What happens, however, as we gradually gain increasing knowledge that things are not what they seem Continue reading “Ex Machina, the film…”

Instagram, ergo sum!

monalisa.jpgOnce upon a time people went out to galleries, museums, private homes, and lots of other places, to enjoy seeing artwork.

Today people go out to rented spaces, retail shops, and studios to support artists.

In other words, people go out and congregate in places filled with all of their friends to support the work of another one of their friends. The results can be scorchingly bad. Privately, people will admit that they’re weary of having to support the arts, weary of traipsing through one more opening of work that would embarrass a beginning student. Everybody knows it’s become an obligation, rather than a pleasure. These sorts of vanity fairs fail to surprise, delight, or provoke controversy.  They’re designed to bolster egos and provide soothing reassurance.
The word “support” makes this party-like activity seem like a good thing, like helping a disabled person cross the street. Or throwing a Tupperware party.  But supporting such vanity activities actually neutralizes genuine art-making, and levels the hard work, brilliance, and inspiration of real artists.

Art in the era of digital reproduction has been reduced to so much hobbyism, therapy, narcissism, and social activist reassurance. Instagram, ergo sum.

At these politically-correct gatherings—people come in, and go out very very quickly Continue reading “Instagram, ergo sum!”

Kessler in mid-stride

sk.jpgWe’ve been the best of friends, we’ve been the worst of enemies. We’ve been intimate and we’ve been indifferent. But Stephen Kessler and I have known each other for 35 years and except for the few decades when we didn’t speak, we’ve managed to maintain a robust respect for each other’s shared defiance in the face of mediocrity.

Stephen Kessler has written with a fierce intelligence pretty much every single day of his life. From those early alternative riffs called “Polygraph” that he penned at the dawning of the age of the Santa Cruz weeklies, to his literarily impeccable Redwood Review, to countless gracefully nuanced, and internationally celebrated translations of the A list of Spanish poets, Kessler just doesn’t know how to cease and desist.

And just when we thought we’d already collected enough of his work to savor for years to come, he up and launches not one, but two new works. New prose poems that Proust their jazzy way through some of the key memory spots in his personal biography—Where Was I?—and a brilliantly curated “greatest hits” of memoirs, essays, vision quests, and kvetches titled Need I Say More?

I savored the prose poems, rife with street scenes of LA and Santa Cruz, Continue reading “Kessler in mid-stride”

The Past Recaptured – Oswald and then some

oswald.JPGLike many of you, I still carry a torch for the intimate bistro, with its tiny little upper room and its tall Victorian brick walls, the original Oswald. During its delicious flowering nothing could match it.

But last week I enjoyed a dinner at the newer incarnation of Oswald, on its dicey corner of downtown, with its spare eschewing of ambience, and found it—yes, I’ll say it—as good as I remembered those earlier Oswaldian days.

How in God’s name could an appetizer as, shall we say “yesterday” as seared ahi, be so insanely perfect? This one was. From its sparkling fresh tuna, to the impeccable potatoes, beets (beets that somehow recoined the entire concept of “beet”), and sexy snap peas. It was a one-dish premonition of Spring, and the beginning of a dinner that went from great to greater.

My full review of this wonderful dinner at Oswald is available in the current GTWeekly.

American Sniper

americansnip.jpgAmerican auteur Clint Eastwood has delivered yet another provocative work in American Sniper. A physically transformed Bradley Cooper, as legendary marksman Chris Kyle, leans into the addictive allure of the Iraq conflict and illuminates Eastwood’s latest masterpiece.

An unflinching anti-war film that is draped in the American flag, Sniper forces us into the chilling midst of modern ground level warfare. Cooper, bulked up and Texas drawled, plays real-life Navy SEAL sharpshooter Kyle, who in his unimaginable four tours of duty performed feats of heroism and marksmanship that earned him the nickname “The Legend,” among military aficionados, and a bounty on his head among the Iraqi.
Eastwood and his cinematographer Tom Stern plant us in the dust and rubble of war-torn Ramadi, while the SEALs hunt and seek and attempt to take out the savvy and wily enemy, including a brutal assassin called “The Butcher.” Kyle became a born-again (radicalized?) patriot on the morning of 9/11 and believes without question that his duty was to take out the “bad guys” who threaten his fellows and his country.

Working with the cool confidence of a master, Eastwood believes in his subject—that war is hell, that sometimes we are capable of selfless actions, and that the emotional disconnect between vets and their families is often irretrievable. Eastwood is at his best at probing the quiet moments of unconscious damage done by Kyle’s kill count. Continue reading “American Sniper”