Tuesday, November 29, 2005

MATCH POINT - Woody Allen's new balls?

This evening I saw an advance screening of Woody Allen's newie MATCH POINT, not released here til January. The film, his first film shot entirely outside New York, stars Scarlett Johansson and an otherwise British cast including Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton.

His new backdrop has invigorated him to a certain extent but the film lost my goodwill when the plot was pitched suddenly into melodrama. The first 45 minutes promised much - Rhys-Meyers is Chris, a tennis player just off the circuit who finds work coaching in a well-heeled tennis club. A friendship develops with upper-class Tom (Matthew Goode) who invites Chris to the opera with his family. There he meets Tom's sister Chloe (Mortimer) who is won-over by his charm which develops at a visit to the family country estate. At the same weekend party, Chris flirts with a sexy girl - who turns out to be Tom's girlfriend Nola (Johansson), an American actress not having the best of success in London. 

Despite his relationship with Chloe he finds himself attracted to Nola who fends him off until, upset with her future mother-in-law's snide remarks, she has sex with him one rain-swept afternoon in the country. Chris is told a few weeks later by Tom that he has dumped Nola as he has found a more acceptable girl for his family and Nola vanishes from London. Chris marries Chloe and accepts a job in her father's business in the city. Then Nola reappears in London and Tom's passion is re-ignited...

The film turns into a love triangle with Chris torn between his wife's desperate attempts to get pregnant and his mistress' increasing desperation at his unwillingness to end his marriage. When Nola gives him the unthinkable - but predictable - news that she is pregnant Chris is forced to choose his fate. The film then lurches abruptly into a cross between Theodore Dreiser's AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY and Dostoyevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT - via Allen's own CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS.

Needless to say, the film's plotline is played out in front of London's most glamorous locations - the characters only appear to shop in Bond Street (which might explain why they are never seen buying food), Rhys-Meyers' office is in 'The Gerkhin', the apartment Rhys-Meyers and Mortimer move into after their marriage is a huge penthouse affair with enormous windows overlooking the Thames and the cultural life of the couples is viewed at Covent Garden, Tate Modern, The Curzon Mayfair and The Palace Theatre. Indeed there are so many shots of Rhys-Meyers coming out of designer shops that I thought "Why not have him come out of Buckingham Palace and have done with it?"  

The absurd melodramatic turn of events also rendered the film's most interesting character, Scarlett Johansson's Nola, into little more than a pathetic shrill creature. Up until then, Johansson had fleshed out the character wonderfully, making her attraction to Rhys-Meyers totally understandable. The casting of Rhys-Meyers is problematic - his inscrutable air keeps his Chris at an emotional distance from the audience and more strangely his Dublin accent is almost untraceable but much is made of his character's Irishness.

Friday, November 25, 2005

a Popbitch tribute...

Georgie Porgy wouldn't die

He drank wiv boys and made girls cry
But when the law said we can drink all day
Georgie Porgy passed away!


It sounds like the start of an odd love letter but it in fact heralds the fact that I have done two theatre trips with Mr. Guy Thomas in the past week.

Last Thursday was RICHARD II at the Old Vic which finally saw Kevin Spacey delivering a performance worthy of that stage's history. Although not one of the most poetic of Kings - and I think some of the speechs could have done with more introspection and less tart snittiness - he really excelled in the deposition scene where his cry of anguished frustration "I have no name" was all the more powerful for seemingly coming from nowhere. He was ably supported by Ben Mles whose Bolingbroke slide smoothly into power after his exercise in regime change in a strangely Blairite manner. There was excellent support from Julian Glover as John of Gaunt as well as Oliver Cotton and Peter Eyre.

Tonight we saw Pirandello's AS YOU DESIRE ME at the Playhouse Theatre with Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins, slickly directed by Jonathan Kent. I had seen the film starring Greta Garbo yonks ago so knew the story - Elma is an amnesiac singer in a Berlin cabaret, one night she is followed by a man who tells her that she is in fact Lucia, the wife of an Italian count who had disappeared from their villa in WWI when she was raped and kidnapped by some German soldiers. Bored by her decadent life as a mistress to a violent writer she goes to Italy where she is greeted by the count, her aunt and uncle. 

Four months later she agrees to meet her sister who had regretfully allowed the missing woman's death certificate to be signed. However what was at the heart of that decision was who gained control of the villa, as it was part of the wife's dowry on her death it reverted to her sister. Is Lucia really Lucia or is she simply being used as a pawn? When her ex-lover Santer arrives at the villa with an insane woman who can only speak the name of the aunt the whole question of identity is blown apart.

Sadly it reads and lives in the mind better than it does on stage - at 90 minutes it still seemed padded and repetitive. However it was worth seeing for the livewire performance of Scott Thomas - almost bursting out of her slinky 30s dresses with frustration of not knowing who she is. Hoskins was strangely muted as Santer but there were memorable performances by Margaret Tyzack and John Carlisle as the woman's older relatives.

New York New York: Day 8

The usual mine-sweep of the room to make sure that absolutely definitely nothing had been left in the room. Cleared out the safety deposit box then it was out into the streets for the last time. We journeyed down to Houston Street and walked along to the rather fine Angelika Film Center to see the 11am screening of NEW YORK DOLL. 

It was great to see it again and it didn't take long for the first tear to well. The Angelika is at the top of Mercer Street where the Dolls played one of their most famous gigs so it was a great place to see the film. Happy to report that Owen liked it as much as I thought he would. Eeee it's been a while since I went filums on a Sunday morning!

We were about 20 minutes late for lunch with Suzanne at Niko's on Broadway at 76th Street. It was nice to finally meet up with her and tell her about all out adventures. Owen particularly enjoyed his pizza so it looks like we have made another culinary discovery! 

Cabbed it back to the hotel, picked up the luggage then cabbed it again to Newark. The taxi driver took us down 5th Avenue then turned at Washington Square through the Village to get to the Holland tunnel which was a nice way to say goodbye to the city. Newark airport is a bit of a dump with unhelpful staff and the flight was as dreary as coming out so I shall leave our New York trip there. It was a really fun holiday and it was nice to reacquaint myself with the city.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

New York New York: Day 7

Giggleheim yesterday, Museum of Modern Art today! I had been round it on a previous visit but have not seen it since the upgrade. The building looks excellent, large galleries, wide connecting concourses with views down onto the floors below.

As with the Guggenheim's RUSSIA! exhibition, most of the lower galleries were more than easy to pass through, unmoved by the claims of installation pieces or photographic exhibits which were jaw-droppingly average. 

However the higher up you go... truly the closer to art heaven you get.  It was quite an experience seeing so many great works under one roof... definitely one to visit again.

We walked round the sculpture courtyard afterwards which was bathed in sunlight and we found Picasso's delightful statue of a goat. Spent bigly in the shop too.

After that it was time to head downtown and see my friend Sam who runs the film poster gallery Posteritati. He wasn't in the gallery but he and his wee 'un Benny caught up with us at Il Palazzo in Little Italy where O and I were fit to burst from the food! After walking Sam back to the gallery we had a nice meander up through SoHo which was as busy as anywhere on a late Saturday afternoon. 

Stopping off for a wee at the Angelika Film Center we headed to Bleeker Street to visit the Biography Store, a small bookshop I always visit and usually find something to buy but not this trip dammit. HOWEVER walking up Christopher Street (my favourite street) we went into Alternate Cards and.... I now own my own RuPaul doll! She stands an Amazonian 13" tall and I may never leave the house again!

And - as if it could not get any more Out There - we saw the Christmas show at the Radio City Music Hall.  O is a bit of an Xmas junkie so he was in Bliss City just looking at the marquee! 

The cavernous, opulent lobby was worth the price of admission alone - to say nothing of the Gents! - but the show was beyond anything. Starting with a 3D film of Santa flying in and out of the NY skyscrapers we then were treated to the first of several appearances by the famous Rockettes.
Legs, huge sets, snow falling inside the auditorium, skaters on stage, dancers on stage, this was surely what the Follies must have been like! And if my senses hadn't reeled enough we had a re-enactment of the Nativity which outdid itself in jaw-dropping earnestness - with the help of real donkeys, sheep and 3 camels! 

We staggered back to the hotel to meet Dezur and Paul for much-needed JD and Cokes!

Then sadly... up to the room to pack in silence... sigh, the saddest part of any holiday.

Friday, November 11, 2005

New York New York: Day 6

We Metrocarded up to the Guggenheim which I have always wanted to see but never got round to. Typically they were renovating the front so I didn't get to see it's impressive frontage, however once inside I was thrilled by the spiralling rotunda. 

The main exhibition was RUSSIA! an overview of Russian art. Sadly most of it was very easy to be given the go-by... icons, religeous art, court portrature, vast landscapes of St. Petersberg a la Canaletto, many paintings depicting the life of the humble peasant - all quite ironic bearing in mind what was to come. 20th Century art movements were adopted but rarely it seems understood, then there was the Soviet Art extolling the revolution - there is an bizarre one of a teenage girl meeting Stalin surrounded by applauding party members - all of whose heads could easily be painted over at some time. 

However there were paintings which drew you to them, there were some fine 'social realist' ones - depressive as Hell but at least they gave a sense of real life. Landscapes of startling clearness - almost like digital photographs and an amazing painting by Vasily Vereschagin "Defeated: Service For The Dead" of a priest and officer under a darkening sky standing in a huge churned up field that stretches off into the horizon which is filled with the bodies of hundreds of dead soldiers. 

Off the main rotunda are separate galleries given over to the Thannhauser collections and the museum's substantial Kandinsky paintings. The first contained some glorious works by Picasso: "Woman With Yellow Hair", "Mandolin and Guitar" and "Le Moulin de Galette" and the Kandinsky gallery glows with colour and imagination. Looking forward to future visits...

After lunch in a crowded Madison Avenue eaterie that left me feeling more hungry after I left than when I went in, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking leisurely though a Central Park turning golden in Autumn and getting ready for the invasion of runners for the NY Marathon on the Sunday. 

The park looked lovely and after a bit of hunting we found the ice-skating rink - the last time we were there it was surrounded by huge banks of snow!  By now I was seriously flagging, made it back to the hotel and had about an hour's snooze which was much needed. We were both in two minds about going to see the show tonight - but we had the tickets and thought we could always leave in the interval if we were not enjoying it.  Enjoy it?  We loved it - AVENUE Q at the Golden Theatre.

What a great show - the most enjoyable one of the trip. To say it's a musical with puppets is putting at it's most basic - it's a laugh-out-loud collision between The Muppets and the best American sitcoms. The cast of seven - three actors, four puppeteers - work their arses off and the show fully deserved it's Tony Award for Best Musical - among it's hilarious songs are IF YOU WERE GAY, EVERYONE'S A LITTLE BIT RACIST, THE INTERNET IS FOR PORN - 'Grab your dick and double-click' and THE MORE YOU RUV SOMEONE (sung by the Japanese character) - hugely recommended!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

New York New York: Day 5

This was the sunniest day so far so we took the '1' down to Battery Park so we could get the ferry to Liberty and Ellis islands. I had never felt the urge to go visit them before. I always enjoy visiting Battery Park however for one big obvious reason, it's a central location for DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN! Luckily I didn't get mugged by a murderer and bang my head, waking up to think I was a light-fingered free spirit instead of a quietly desperate New Jersey housewife... so we went to Liberty Island instead!

I'm so glad we did.. it was actually quite an awesome experience, watching the skyline of downtown New York recede and the Statue of Liberty loom closer and closer. What a strange feeling to finally see this iconic statue close up, very much like seeing the pyramids last year. I've seen it so many times in so many different circumstances that it is difficult to come to terms with it being in front of you, quite an experience.

After a while we went across Ellis Island which again conjures up strange feelings. The main entrance into America for mainly European immigrants over the period of 1892 - 1924, more than 12 million people streamed through it's doors to start a new life in America. Although only 2% were refused entry - usually on the grounds of having a contagious illness, because they were found to be a contract worker or having a criminal past - the whole building seems unutterably sad. It's almost like the hopes and fears of those millions of people have soaked into the walls. I bet it's a mighty scary place at night.

In the evening we went to see DOUBT at the Walter Kerr Theatre with Dezur as her birthday treat. DOUBT has been this year's must-see play of the season winning 7 Best Play awards including the Tony and Pulitzer, I must admit I had.. er.. doubts about it as I have seen previous plays of the season which weren't all that. But it was an excellent play, 90 minutes no interval. 

Cherry Jones plays Sister Aloysius a stern nun running a Bronx school in the early 1960s who, despite having no evidence, accuses a priest (Brian F. O'Byrne) of abusing a boy pupil.  Jones - who won the Tony award for Best Actress - plays this difficult part with a ramrod back and caustic wit, making no play for audience sympathy which pays off about half way through in an extraordinary scene with the suspected boy's mother. The actress who plays this - and won a Tony award for Best Supporting Actress - was absent but the understudy Caroline Stephanie Clay was fine.
Irish actor O'Bryne matched Jones stride for stride, his three speeches to the audience immediatly connecting and making you want to side with him when the nun accuses him. The other role is the seemingly slow Sister James (Heather Goldenhersh) who is torn between the two protagonists. 

A richly rewarding night in the theatre with a killer curtain-line which had us debating the play over dinner afterwards. Oh and Brian O'Byrne's BROADWAY CARES curtain speech was very engaging!

New York New York: Day 4

Today was Macy's day... a day I had been dreading as O loses all judgemental faculties after walking through it's doors. Actually it wasn't too bad... purchases were made. Then it was up to the top of the shop for their Christmas Lane - the centre of a whole floor given over to trees, balls, baubles, tinsel, trimmings, huge nutcracker dolls and Christmas cards. It was fun trailing around after himself who judged each potential purchase with the wisdom of Solomon and the happiness of Larry.
Lunch found us again at the Heartland Brewery and we then ventured uptown to Tower Records on Broadway at Lincoln Center. I always say I hate Tower but I always end up buying a heap of stuff! Three cds and five dvds to be precise. The dvds were incredibly cheap. If I had a bigger suitcase I would have bought more!
In the evening we went to the Minskoff Theatre to see FIDDLER ON THE ROOF starring the king and queen of Broadway gaydom Harvey Feirstein and Rosie O'Donnell. I have never seen the show before - on stage or screen - so this was a good opportunity to see it. First off I must give the thumbs up to the Minskoff's major selling point: as you go in the theatre and up an escalator you find yourself in a large foyer with a double-story block long window onto Times Square - quelle wow! We were alarmingly close to the stage - about 4 rows back so much of the choreography was lost on us. Sadly the auditorium wasn't full.
I am still slightly puzzled by the show's huge 41 year success - I think more is projected onto it by audiences than is actually contained in the book which struck me as repetitive and obvious. However the show has an old-fashioned warmth and craft especially when compared to the coldly calculative emotion of WICKED. David Levaux's production appears to have divided people - some critics saying it lacks the emotion of the original Jerome Robbins production while others like it's stripped-down revisionist approach. I must say the set and lighting reminded me more of a Gorky or Chekhov play and was a bit austere to frame some of the more rambuncious numbers. 
Looking back now I can appreciate the warmth and chutzpah of Harvey F's Tevye - his scenes with Tevye's daughters were very tender and loving and that totally original voice - like a velvet curtain wrapped around rocks - socked over IF I WAS A RICH MAN.  
Rosie O'Donnell seemed somewhat muted in the role of Golde but then the women's roles are fairly badly-written. In the few scenes where she is called upon to express fire she sounded more Brooklyn than Anatevka but I liked her - she conveyed genuine distress at Tevye's banishment of Chava and her duet with Harvey "Do You Love Me?" showed their empathy and obvious respect for each other. So all in all, I enjoyed seeing the show. 
It transpired we hit Broadway for the week of it's AIDS/HIV charity BROADWAY CARES so each show ended with one of the leads having to quiet the audience down to do a pitch for donations. Harvey did this and it resulted in me buying an extra Playbill signed by Harvey and Rosie for $20 (makes mental note to return $20 to O).

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

New York New York: Day 3

After breakfast we went to Museum Of Modern Art which was bleedin' shut! We wandered down 5th Avenue trying to find HMV but it looks like it has closed - how did THAT happen? At a bit of loss we wandered into Rockefeller Plaza and noticed huge posters for the "Top Of The Rock" observatory deck. 

I had wanted to go into the Rockefeller Building to see where Diego Rivera's mural was so we went in and sure enough, we found it was the opening day of the deck! That was probably why the staff were hugely chatty & helpful but it was exciting to be there on it's opening day and it wasn't at all busy.

After the fab ascent in a glass-topped lift up the 70 floors - the lift shaft is lit up with bright colours and a film is projected on the roof as you zoom upwards - we stepped out onto the lower of it's three levels and we both were fairly gobsmacked at the amazing views the large window-enclosed terraces provide.

Great views of both uptown and downtown - and this time you get the Empire State Building in your photographs! We had to share the top level with tv crews queueing up to use Central Park as their backdrops in pieces to camera - Tim Vincent yet! - but it was a wonderful way to spend a morning!

After dinner at the Italian restaurant next door to the hotel, we went to see our first show WICKED at the Gershwin Theatre. Stephen Schwartz's score has one too many self-motivating songs likely to be covered by Celine Dion or American Idol contestants and the show seemed curiously empty despite it's bombastic score and special effects.

However the two leads - although similar in voice - gave it their all and there was scene-stealing support from Rue McLanahan as the scheming Madame Morrible and Ben Vereen as The Wizard. It was great to see Vereen finally on stage, a Fosse star from PIPPIN and ALL THAT JAZZ and 'Chicken George' in tv's "Roots".

The audience too were quite bizarre: the first act closer found them screaming and yelling, and their reaction at the curtain calls was like the second coming, or first going.

New York New York: Day 2

Had a very civilised brunch at Dezur's bijou apartment with her and Paul - always nice to see them. Only with Dezur does one start the day with a Mimosa!  Walked down to the Empire State Building for the usual wander around the top - always seem to get there when it's getting dark. Two conclusions - my camera isn't that good at taking pictures at night and anyone who raves about American Customer Service has obviously never been to the ESB. 
Lovely views of downtown tho'. I was a bit chilled after which is always a bit dodgy for my blood sugar levels so had a major nosh at the Heartlands Brewery on the corner of 5th & 34th (under the ESB) - a huge caesar salad and grilled chicken breast.  It did set me up for the journey down to 14th Street to watch the Halloween Parade... what a scrum.  We finally settled on being 4 deep in a group and spent the next hour or so on tiptoe with my camera raised above the heads in front!
The Parade was a bit all over the place... there seemed to be ages when nothing was coming along then you would get a clump of people so it was hard to appreciate the efforts some had made in their costumes.  It was great fun though... made me wonder about digging up The Bride again to make her NYC debut. After all, walking the route HAS to be better than standing still on tiptoe with people surrounding you: when we started walking I realised I had really bad lower-back pain.
It would have been nice to get striding uptown but the crowd from the parade made it difficult not to shuffle along and when we made a break onto 7th Avenue we hit Madison Square Garden just as a sports event was letting out - GRRRRR!

New York New York: Day 1

Back from a hugely enjoyable week in New York, I was a bit underwhelmed by the thought of it after having had such a good time in Barcelona but it was a great week.

Day 1: Sunday 30th October.

No problem flying out tho' it must be said Continental are the dreariest of airlines. Made it through immigration easy enough, a $60 cab ride into New York from Newark found us at our rather fab hotel The Millenium Broadway, 145 West 44th - literally a stone's throw from Times Square. Our room was on the 36th floor which gave us an amazing view of the Chrysler Building... and yes I still *heart* it. 

Quickly unpacked so we could get out and plug into the NY current which tingles underfoot on the sidewalks. Dinner at an old favourite.. the Art Cafe on Broadway and 52nd. Wandered around Colony Records and the huge Virgin store in Times Square... checking prices and making mental notes for future purchases!