Kate Burton as ‘Liz Essendine’ and Michael Emerson (co-stars in the play ‘Hedda Gabbler’ where they noth won Tony Awards) pose backstage at the hit comedy 'Present Laughter’ on Broadway at The St. James Theatre on May 21, 2017 in New York City
The cast of “Orange is the New Black” poses with the awards they won for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series backstage at the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017.
You screamed as you watched Block B
perform before your eyes. You managed to win front row seats to the concert, so
the handsome boys were up close and personal. So many girls were shrieking
behind you, fangirling over their favorite members as the men danced their
hearts out on stage, but your eyes were only on one person. Zico licked his
lips as he moved to the front, unleashing a powerful rap that was so fast you
could hardly understand what he was saying. Afterwards, he did some fancy
footwork, gave his fans a sexy, over-the-shoulder look, and then walked to the
back of the stage, swaying his shoulders like he owned the world.
“The closer man resembles a machine, the funnier he becomes. The opposite is true as well. Characters with no ability to organize or act appropriately are also funny.” For this week’s Backstage magazine
Clint Eastwood’s dispassionate directorial style makes a fascinatingly fluid document of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s Iraq War experience: viewers may see it either as celebratory or condemnatory. The scene that best exemplifies this ambiguity, however, occurs back home, as a young veteran (Jonathan Groff) approaches Kyle in public to salute him for his service. Kyle’s response, delicately measured by star Bradley Cooper, is one of chilly uncertainty, in line with the film’s own tacit questioning of heroism.
Since Alejandro G. Inarritu’s backstage comedy is designed to look like a single take, it’s tempting to praise the entire film as a standout scene. Movie magic aside, let’s focus on the moment when washed up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) steps outside the theater for a smoke, gets his robe caught in a locked door and finds himself darting through New York’s jam-packed Times Square in nothing but a pair of socks and tighty-whities to make a dramatic entrance for the play’s next scene. Nothing else distills Riggan’s peculiar mix of desperation, dedication and borderline madness quite so perfectly.
There’s a moment in “Boyhood” where it seems as if all this beautifully messy acne-marred splendor is going to explode in one big bloody pulp: Mason, our adolescent hero (played to natural perfection by Ellar Coltrane) is messing around with saw blades and neighborhood chums. We fear the end is nigh — surely one of these kids will accidentally wind up with a fatal slice. But they emerge unscathed, which is a testament to Richard Linklater’s creative approach. The film’s brilliance comes from its subtlety: It’s not only the crushing, catastrophic moments that shape our lives, but also the smaller, more innocent ones.
Sometimes a scene can sum up an entire lifetime in just a few minutes. John du Pont (Steve Carell) is talking to his mother (Vanessa Redgrave). Up until that point, du Pont has been brooding, awkward and vaguely creepy, but it’s hard to get a handle on him. However, as Mrs. du Pont airily diminishes his interests (decreeing wrestling a “low” sport), audiences suddenly see years of rejection and loneliness (and perhaps genetic weirdness). It is a perfect blend of writing, direction and acting.
Delivering the monologue that ignited a billion think pieces, beautiful sociopath Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) explains what drove her to frame her adulterous hubby, Nick (Ben Affleck), for murder. As she speeds away from an oppressive suburban existence, she ponders the pressure to be a “cool girl”: “Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes and burping … Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile … and let their men do whatever they want.” Director David Fincher intercuts scribe Gillian Flynn’s piercing words with images of Dunne scrutinizing passing female drivers for signs of the “cool” burden.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
The poignant comedy immediately establishes that M. Gustave (the sublime Ralph Fiennes) is stylish, calm and devoted to serving the needs of others. When he gets into hot water, a quick montage shows his fellow concierges around the world phoning each other, in a sort of bucket brigade of support. Each concierge is in the middle of an emergency situation (which becomes increasingly urgent with every new person), but each calmly tells an assistant “Take over, please” so he can attend to the top priority: M. Gustave’s rescue. It’s a brief, funny-sweet merger of writing, direction, editing, design and deadpan comedy acting.
“The Imitation Game”
It was never easy for eccentric genius Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to make friends, let alone romantic partners. But in flashbacks to his younger days at a British boarding school (when Turing is played by Alex Lawther), we see the evolution of his bond with classmate Christopher (Jack Bannon). Just when Alan has worked up the courage to declare his forbidden love to Christopher, he discovers some devastating news from the headmaster. As Alan is forced to hide both his grief and his broken heart, young Lawther delivers a scene for the ages.
Like so much in Christopher Nolan’s space epic, the most transcendent moment defies layperson description: Suffice to say that Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) faces the challenge of docking his vehicle on the damaged, spinning-out-of-control Endurance spacecraft. The action sequence that follows all but abandons narrative logic in pursuit of a glorious state of visual and sonic abstraction: The whirling, dizzying images seem to envelop us, while Hans Zimmer’s score pushes itself to astonishing new heights of Straussian bombast. Rarely has incomprehension been so unbearably tense, or so unbearably moving.
“Into the Woods”
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical contains no shortage of emotionally rich observations about life, dreams and growing up, but Rob Marshall’s film adaptation also serves up one of the year’s best comedic sequences. The uproarious duet “Agony” between a pair of preening princes (played to the hilt by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) trying to one-up each other in their devotion to idealized dream girls nails the exquisite torture of romantic pursuit and that universal feeling “when the one thing you want is the only thing out of your reach.”
“A Most Violent Year”
For much of writer-director J.C. Chandor’s slick and measured thriller, the tension remains on a slow-burn as self-made businessman Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) tries to keep his cool. But in a sudden, and stunning, centerpiece halfway through the film, Abel’s world comes crashing down. Two of his employees are assaulted in two different locations simultaneously. One of them pulls out a gun to defend himself and starts shooting on a bridge on-ramp, only to flee when the police arrive. It’s a nail-biting sequence that expertly showcases the film’s top-notch cinematography, editing and original score.
As the cognoscenti sour on JMW Turner’s increasing abstract and muddy canvases, the painter visits a photography studio to have his portrait taken (and satisfy his curiosity about an emerging visual form). “The image you create is not one of color, for why?” asks Turner (Timothy Spall) with a scowl. “I am afraid that is a question we have yet to answer,” responds the American photographer. “Long may it remain so,” Turner mumbles to himself as he remains perfectly still for the required 10 seconds. “It is finished, sir,” says his portraitist. “And I fear that I, too, am finished,” concludes Turner gravely.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) has big ambitions, and most of the twisted fun of screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut comes from watching — with mouths agape — just how far Bloom will go to achieve success. The high point of his despicably low behavior arrives during a dinner date with scrappy local news producer Nina (Rene Russo). She thinks she can brush off his unwanted romantic advances. He calmly explains why she has no other option than to give in, or risk losing her career. It’s a chilling look at good old-fashioned American self-determination run amok.
Ava DuVernay could easily have kept off-screen the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that incites the critical wave of Civil Rights protests depicted in her exacting historical drama — it’s a symbolic event already embedded in America’s consciousness. But DuVernay’s sensitive observation of four young girls obliviously gossiping in the moments before their death in the church bombing, exquisitely caught in d.p. Bradford Young’s honeyed lens, sets the tone for the film to follow: one about momentous events occurring via intimate human exchanges.
“The Theory of Everything”
Jane (Felicity Jones) and Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) are celebrating the birth of their third child, Timothy, when she’s confronted in private by her mother-in-law (Abigail Cruttenden), who drops a bombshell at point blank range: Is the baby actually Stephen’s, or is the true father Jane’s choir master friend, Jonathan (Charlie Cox)? A visibly shaken Jane asks, “Is that what you really think of me?” Overhearing the exchange, Jonathan vows to step back from his friendship to avoid innuendos. Meanwhile, Stephen plays outside with his other kids, blissfully ignorant of the drama unfolding just a few feet away.
Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) has been floating in a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean for weeks with two fellow U.S. Army Air Corp soldiers and less than minimal provisions. They’re finally able to catch an albatross with their bare hands, but eating the fowl quickly causes them to vomit. Instead, they decide to use the meat to lure in fish. That leads to an even bigger catch: sharks, which they capture and rip apart to feast. Every gruesome detail is made all the more remarkable because they’re exactly as Zamperini described to biographer Laura Hillenbrand.
In a film filled with great scenes, it’s hard to single out one for special praise. But there’s no arguing with the final moments, in which drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) plays the solo of his life: an opera of pain, rage and jubilation that ultimately wins over his abusive former instructor Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). When Fletcher tries to get him to stop, Andrew strikes a cymbal in his face in a moment of hilarious defiance. And as the playing continues, the shifting emotions on Fletcher’s face — from fury to grudging respect to triumph — makes for a cathartic victory.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine hiking the Pacific Crest Trail solo and not encountering some highly precarious scenarios — especially if you’re a woman. For Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) the freakiest moment happens when she comes face to face with a creepy, would-be perpetrator who eyes her lustily. The scene is flush full of tension; we fear for her life. In the end, the guy backs off, but the encounter leaves us marveling at Cheryl’s bravery to press on and pursue her goal, especially in a day and age where going it alone as a woman can often spell disaster.