Part 1: Perry’s First Take (Spoiler Free) on Ocean’s 8

 

Part I – No Spoilers ( except what’s in trailers and some reviews)

One would think that with all my eagerness  and planning to see Ocean’s 8 asap, I would have gotten this post up sooner – but it was not to be.

All I expected from this movie was a fun, relaxing time, some laughs, glamor, an intelligent plot with twists and some good acting, with the bonus of Richard Armitage. I’d have  seen this film with or without him because I’m a fan of heist movies,and was already familiar with the Ocean’s franchise. Ocean’s 11 was great fun. Ocean’s 12  was unwatchable and  Ocean’s 13, was not the cleverest, but the funniest.

I wasn’t disappointed. I enjoyed every minute of the movie and think it could have been longer to include more. It’s worth seeing more than once to take everything in. Some explanations and one or two line bits of dialogue move so quickly, it’s possible to miss something key – something that matters later. I saw the film twice, sort of, and had to go back over it in my mind to see what I missed the first time. I plan to see it a few more times when I can.

I had my usual issues when watching Richard Armitage’s work for the first time. I experience  anxiety or heightened excitement. This was the case with Ocean’s 8, but to a lesser degree- maybe because he doesn’t have that much screen time ( though more than I anticipated) and also because there is so much else to focus on – the stars, the cameos, the plan, and of course, New York City – and so familiar to me especially, the Metropolitan Museum and the neighborhood around it. ( A relationship I’ll share another time)

The formula of this franchise is to assemble a stunning, large, mostly A-list, diverse cast who play experts, either as con artists, actors, hackers and other talents, whose mission  is to execute some impossible heist. There is always some revenge or payback reason for choosing  the mark , aside from the potentially huge financial score.

Ocean’s 8 keeps the flavor and general outline of the Ocean’s franchise without artificially wedding itself to the precise formula. We’ve got an A-list ensemble crew of female artists well known in their fields – big talent. There’s a seemingly impossible heist and a fast moving pace. We don’t have a real villain, not even an antagonist in the present, but we do have  a revenge plot and the  male version of the stunning female – but without  the recognition of a Julia Roberts or Catherine Zeta Jones. What a bummer – All we have is Richard Armitage, as the mastermind’s ex, who put her in prison for five years plus years, and if possible, he’s gonna pay for that. He doesn’t bring that A List recognition ( ask @DanaSchwartzzz about that) and he’s not evil or menacing.  His  only contribution on screen is some some fine acting in a small but glamorous role and his knock out good looks. And while his screen time and dialogue is minimal, his character, Claude Becker, gets a lot of mention when he’s off screen. He’s essential to Debbie’s plot.

This was an almost perfect movie for me to want to see. It would have been more perfect for me, if Claude Becker had been drawn differently, but I’ll get to that in Part 2.

If you’re reading this, you know that Debbie Ocean ( Sandra Bullock), Danny’s sister, has been released from prison after she was set up by Claude Becker, her ex-boyfriend. It’s not clear right away what he did to her, but early in the film, it becomes clear that she’s got a grudge. She meets up with her former partner, and it seems like another lover, Lou (Cate Blanchette) and Debbie and Lou begin to plan their heist. But right off the bat, in one of the earliest scenes in the film, Debbie can’t seem to help herself – she takes herself to Claude’s  art gallery for no specific reason. Curiosity? Threats? Warning?  Whatever the reason, it’s obvious from the beginning, that Debbie hasn’t let go. As she explains later – maybe she just needs closure.

This initial and very brief scene is one of my favorites and it contains a delightful treat for Richard Armitage fans. I was deeming this as a spoiler at first, but then I discovered that bless her heart, RA_US saw fit to publish it on Twitter, so the jig is up.

In order to highlight in a flash that Becker has some chops in the Art world and may be a social somebody, the first glance into the gallery is a shot of  two piles of what looks like GQ magazine on a table, all alike, all with Claude Becker on the cover. It’s hard to read the text, but not many Richard Armitage fans would fail to identify the photo – it’s this fan favorite by Leslie Hassler:

That Claude would stack these magazines, and no others, in his art gallery, says a lot about the sort of guy he is and his self image. It’s hard to read most of the text, but one can’t miss the upper right hand corner which boasts  How to Starve Artists, which is something to be said for a gallery owner. ( Photoshoppers, if you can do better with the text, please advise). In addition, there’s a scene before Debbie enters, where he’s bragging to some woman about the number and location of his satellite galleries.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE DANGEROUS KIND Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) and Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock)

When Lou learns this of Debbie’s visit,  she’s annoyed. Her view is that there shouldn’t be a job within a job, or as she puts it later, she doesn’t understand why Debbie has to put an asterisk  on every job. Basically, Lou’s not on board if this heist is about revenge, and Debbie promises her that it isn’t. Hmmm. We’ll see. One of the trailers actually spoils this.

The mark in this heist is a $ 150M diamond necklace by Cartier, that’s been stashed away in the Cartier vault  50 feet underground for 50 years. The challenge? How to get it above ground and around the neck of Daphne Kluger ( Anne Hathaway) a leading lady actress and sponsor of that year’s Met Gala. The job? Robbing the necklace right off her neck at the Met Gala, an homage to fashion and the famous – the party of the year.

They’ve got 5 or 6 weeks to get it together.

Debbie and Lou start to put together their crew of women. They hash out some names for the positions that need filling, and Debbie makes it clear she doesn’t want any guys because guys get noticed, women don’t and this is one time they don’t want to be noticed. One by one the team is collected.

The team consists of fashion designer Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), hacker Nine Ball (Rihanna), fence Tammy (Sarah Paulson), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling) and pickpocket Constance (Awkafina) and Debbie’s long time friend, and maybe lover, Lou, (Cate Blanchett). ( Yup – we know – that’s only 7)

I’l give credit here to some of these bits. The assembly of the team is fun to watch as either Debbie or Lou, or both, knock heads to figure out who to choose and more or less audition their candidates. But we get only the briefest backstory for most of the crew. Best for me was Rose, the designer, who is on her last designer legs, having put all she has ( which isn’t much by this time – she’s 5 million in debt) into a last collection. You don’t want to miss this fashion show, or the snide remarks about the frocks. I’ve often thought when I’ve seen HBC on the red carpet – what the hell was she thinking? But Rose’s fashion collection takes the cake and is as far from HBC’s style as can be possible. It’s a gas.

I was also charmed by Awkafina, who gets no back story at all – but I think she lights up the screen, despite  that I couldn’t always understand what the hell she was saying, or Rihanna, for that matter due to their street talk.

But overall, I was a little disappointed in the hiring process, (Rihanna, the Hacker, shows up out of seemingly thin air) and her qualifications are only that she’s the best hacker there is, who isn’t a Russian man. But she’s a damned good one.

Once they get together, however, there are some clever and humorous moments between and among them, for example when suburban mom, Tammy (The Fence) is juggling Debbie’s recruitment of her with bratty kids somewhere in Westchester or Nine Ball is demonstrating to Debbie and Lou how bad their internet security is – and how rad she is at her job. But, on the whole, I didn’t feel the same sort of bonding among this group as I did with the male versions of Ocean. It grows as they work together, and there’s definitely precision teamwork during the heist and in some lead-ups, but that strong connection wasn’t there for me until the final scenes.

But there are are fun scenes  where the group  or most of them is together in their hideout  Brooklyn loft, especially the scene where Debbie gives a power point presentation of the heist and a couple of the crew, who have never been glamorous or rich, but are just, you know, girls who want to have fun, wish they can just go to the party without stealing anything.

The Power Point Presentation

The five in the loft are watching the two at work, remotely, at Cartier.

What makes a successful con artist is that expert’s knowledge of human nature. She has to know how a stranger will react in order to manipulate him or her into acting to further the plan. Debbie and company are masters of this, and even the newbies learn fast. They have to convince Rose, the designer, to become a criminal, in order to get herself out of debt. Her mission – to manipulate movie star Daphne Kluger into allowing Rose, a has been designer, to style Daphne for the Met Gala – and to convince her to insist on wearing the Toussaint necklace hidden in the Cartier vault. Debbie and Lou have Daphne figured out, so their plan works, with Rose’s help. Then they have to convince Cartier to give up the necklace, which has been underground, literally, for years. Their  knowledge of human nature is successful. Whether it’s the security team at the Met that needs to be enticed to change their procedures so security can be hacked, or Cartier and Vogue personnel, some private guards at the Met during the Gala, or fiddling with the seating arrangements. Not all of this requires high tech equipment or expertise – just a feel for how someone will react to a situation. Debbie knows

Watching these pieces unfold was delightful, and some of the ruses were super clever. If I didn’t laugh out loud, I certainly smiled a lot, or gave a frequent chuckle.

Then there is the use of modern tech, which was actually educational. Using 3-D printers, specially fitted glasses with wireless signals, hacking into Facebook pages, using computer cameras, and security systems, a little biology, a touch of chemistry, 1,000 safety pins- nothing the viewer could not understand… the plan falls into place – or some of it. The audience never knows the whole plan until it happens, and sometimes, afterwards.

Like the original Ocean films, a lot of the action takes place in flashbacks or simultaneous action with voice-over narration. But listen and watch carefully, because few facts are mentioned twice.

Fortunately, otherwise it would be a total bore, there are a few hiccups that need quick thinking technical skills, and occasionally, a little sister, to work out the bugs. Some of the most fun bits were those that solved problems and this provided a much needed bit of tension – even though we know it’ll work out.

For any fashionista, this movie is a winner. From the everyday outfits the crew wear, especially Cate Blanchett and Helen Bonham-Carter, to the fabulous gowns and jewels at the Gala, it’s a feast for the eyes. Not every dress was a winner in my eyes, in fact, the most boring ( and I think this was intentional) had to be the Valentino getup Rose makes Daphne wear to show off the necklace. While I thought the train on the beaded coat/cape made an impact as she walked up the Met stairs and I know that kind of hand beading costs a small fortune, the strapless dress was quite simple and not at all as avant garde as it should have been for the key celebrity sponsor. I’d say, lose the cape/coat, bead the dress instead and add a train.As it was, my college roommate wore a similar design a million years ago when she was Daisy Chain Princess.

Source is Tumblr, I think the Russian RA fan site


Compare it to what she actually wore this year, also Valentino: ( I hate it, but…)

Honestly, I was taken aback when I realized, as the text on the screen gave the date, that we’d gotten to the night of the Gala so soon, though I’m not certain what more planning could have been done up to that point. I realized after, that I’d seen just about every bit of preparation  (minus one or two surprises) unfold, yet  It just seemed rushed to me.

Of course, another highlight of the film are the cameos of the celebrities, all filmed at the Met during a few nights. I can’t say I caught every one of them, it moved sort of fast.  Debbie gets into a conversation in German with Heidi Klum, Zac Posner is sitting at the main table with Daphne and Claude, Anna Wintour has two or three cameos, the Kardashians show up, Serena is there, and a host of others at the Gala and a pre Gala luncheon. I need to see the film again to spot them all ( if I know them all).

And of course, the Met Gala is where we see quite a bit of Claude Becker ( also the pre event luncheon), as he ministers to a healthy and then not so healthy Daphne.

Source: Tumblr Riepu10

By this time, Debbie has disclosed  to the crew exactly what went on between them which caused her imprisonment, and his conduct at the Gala is a call back to that.

The producers went all out for authenticity in this movie. As with every Met Gala, they came up with a credible theme, Scepter and Orb: Five Centuries of Royal Dress  and a realistic, totally fabulous exhibit that seemed authentic.

I won’t say much about the night of the Met Gala here, because I don’t want to give away spoilers. I’ll just say that the execution of the robbery was pure entertainment, with just enough tension and possible screw ups to keep it interesting, though, as with most of the film, one has to suspend disbelief to enjoy. Still, most of it wasn’t totally impossible. And, we get another scene with Debbie and Claude, which has a big pay off later and some great reaction acting by Armitage.

As the evening ends, and the heist is a success, each crew member sheds her disguise, if she’s  been wearing one, and exits in formal dress with the most beatific expressions, proud, strong and decked out. The small audience in the very large theater I was in cheered – in English and Spanish.

After the theft – enter Insurance investigator John Frasier, played by James Corden. Every scene he’s in is a winner –  some of the funniest stuff in the film with most of the main characters, including, as we know from trailers,  Claude Becker, Debbie  and Daphne. He’s described as  a little Columbo without the raincoat,  meaning  don’t be fooled into thinking he’s not pretty sharp. Debbie’s not fooled.

I’ve said now that at least two or three scenes were my favorite parts, but no – I have to add that the wind up, the finish,  just before the final scenes, or let’s say, right up to that  now iconic Subway scene  ( along with a few things I’m saving for the spoilers post) are my favorites. Wait – no – it’s the scene with Daphne and Claude in his apartment because (a) it’s entirely looney and (b) ha! They had him take his shirt off!

So, if I have a zillion favorites, and few criticisms, and Richard Armitage, I’d say that overall it was a wild ride and a roaring success.

Anne Hathaway was a riot – is she or isn’t she number 8 – of course she is – but how? She stole the film, along with Corden. Sandra Bullock was Sandra Bullock. Cate Blanchett was a little annoying. I didn’t like the accent she chose – was it Brooklyn or some Boston dock worker? And there was a sort of nothingness to her role, except for the parts that hinted at her history with Debbie. Awkafina and Rihanna were charming. Sarah Paulson was uninteresting and Helen Bonham Carter was fun and her usual ditzy. Some supporting actors, as employees of Cartier and the Met Security team were entertaining – as men in this film, they were all sort of bumbling. In fact, every man in the film except Corden was bumbling, and he acted bumbling.

The Claude Becker scenes were sprinkled throughout the film, so one never had to go too long without seeing him, although he didn’t have much dialogue (British accent). A lot of his stuff was background,  visual with voice over, a few hellos with chit chat, and some dialogue. This isn’t that easy, so fortunately they cast an actor who excels at reaction  and physical acting. I look forward to a very close analysis of this from some expert.

3,000 words – see part 2.

 

 

 

 

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Castlemania Clip w/#RichardArmitage

I was pointed to this from a review I found from a link here at Me and Servetus

Perry’s Take on Pilgrimage – with later Spoiler Warning.

This part is spoiler-free.

This may be just part one, but after never getting around to  real review of Love, Love, Love, I decided to get right to work on Pilgrimage. I’m not a professional reviewer, so it’s my intention that the first part of this post will be spoiler free – then there will be a few images, after which, the rest of the post will have spoilers. Plenty of warning for you, but I hope no one is disappointed by an unintentional spoiler up here.

So yes, I did the almost ridiculous, and flew from Mexico to New York for a two day stay. I had the opportunity to see the film once, and that’ll be it for me until it’s released.

Just a side note here – despite on line information, the theater was not full packed, though it was decently filled, and with a fair number of  rows almost filled with Richard Armitage fans.

I’m assuming that anyone reading this already knows the basic plot that we were told – Irish Monks have to bring their holiest relic on a perilous journey from Ireland to Rome. The journey tests their faith in some cases, and they are concerned about motives of those around them.  The travelers are four or five of the monks, including a novice ( Tom Holland) one Cistercian Monk ( Brother Gerladus, played by Stanley Weber) who brings the command from the Pope, and a mute lay person ( John Bernthal )with a mysterious past. The relic is a rock and it’s housed in a rather pricey looking chest. It may or may not have spiritual/magical powers.

Very early in the film, the travelers become aware that war is raging around them and they meet up with some knights fighting that war. Since this occurs about 15 minutes into the film, I’m not giving anything anyway when I tell you that the Norman, Sir Raymond De Merville ( Richard Armitage)  and the Cistercian Monk know each other well, and De Merville is later charged by his father, with escorting the monks and the relic at least part way ( not clear). The senior De Merville hopes to receive absolution for this, since he’s too old and occupied either to fight in another crusade or make a Pilgrimage to Rome.

One has to know some history, or at least religious history, or have watched other crusader films or read books, to fully understand what’s promised about absolution, because the practice is alluded to a number of times and directed at a number of characters throughout the film.

The reason the Pope wants the relic, is that he sees hard times coming, what with lots of heretics and barbarians, getting ready for another crusade ( which, in history, doesn’t actually occur) and he thinks the relic will give the Church the power to overcome and destroy all opposition.

The “war” being fought in Ireland is about the De Mervilles trying to tame the local “barbarians” who inhabit the forests and woods – and we know this because we see Pagan signs and the results of some unpleasant animal cruelty along the way. In history, this was King John’s war ( the same John who was Prince in the legend of Robin Hood). Also in history, and this is barely explained in the film, except through one or two sentences by Raymond De Merville, (Armitage)  ( something like, ” My king is not so happy with the Holy Father”). King John and the Pope are opposed to one another, and just one year earlier, the Pope issued an interdict and suspended  many Christian rights in England.

Also early on, there are some questions about loyalties; who people really are and who can be trusted. Raymond De Merville is one such character. From first sight, although he seems to have a friendship with the Cistercian monk escorting the relic to Rome, there’s something about his dialogue ( whether in French or English or both) which makes the viewer suspect that he’s not a good guy. Part of that may be that he seems, and is, less religious and more political than others, and part of that may be what I thought was pretty open disdain for his own father, who is seeking absolution, but can never go on another Pilgrimage to obtain it.

I think by and large, some of the acting in this film is just superb. I liked Tom Holland from his run in Wolf Hall ( and look forward to more), but I think he”s quite compelling in this as the novice who loses innocence and comes of age in this film. He’s sort of a low key actor, or he’s been directed that way, and he has the ability to use his face as well as his voice.

Speaking of which, John Bernthal grunts his way through the film as the mute. I thought he was amazingly talented and fabulous to emote so much and speak so strongly, without uttering – we don;t know whether he is even able to speak. His character is really fascinating because we know very little about him, except, it’s pretty clear that he was a knight in a crusade at some time and he has some pretty nifty fighting skills.

But you really want to know about Richard Armitage, and I can’t say too much without spoiling a little. I think there was some failing in how he was directed. He did not have the most difficult task of all these actors. His role was more straight forward than others.

I thought the make-up people unprettied him for the role ( I think they played around with his nose) – he was no Guy of Gisborne – I can tell you that.

About the film in general – I didn’t like it much. I thought there was too much guesswork for the viewer. Not enough of the history was explained, so unless one already knew, or did some homework, you could be lost in why things were happening. One could not understand the real conflict unless you knew a little more than Jamie Hannigan was able to tell. I was also unsure whether the writer actually had a point of view about religion, and if he did, I think he came out against organized religion – at least the organized religion of that time in history – but really, who wouldn’t, when one considers the Crusades? More than that, I will not say. I also thought the ending was very unsatisfying.

Finally, before the spoilers, this film is extremely violent, and while there were two good battle scenes, some of it was really hard to watch, and I know I groaned aloud at least twice. ( I also didn’t like the animal cruelty).

I am so sorry to say that I was disappointed in this film, ( but not in Richard Armitage – or any of the actors)  I thought it  could have been so much better if it were a little longer and had a little more explanation, and  a slightly larger budget. It was just not enough for me.

Now here are the photos, that at this point, are going to lead to just a short bit with spoilers – and more tomorrow, because I’m tired now:

Q & A, John Bernthal, Stanley Weber, not sure of the first guy, last guy is moderator)

Q & A, Moderator, Brendon Muldowny (director) someone else, Jamie Hannigan ( Writer)

SPOILERS:

Just a bit more for now.

Richard Armitage was the villain in this film.  I thought from the first meeting, it was telegraphed that he was the villain, I didn’t see anything ambiguous about it. He even looked like a villain. It’s not really possible to make him look ugly, but he looked really sinister, and snarling and disdainful of everything and anyone. He himelf committed and also ordered brutal acts, and seemed to delight in them. Not in a cartoon way, as Guy of Gisborne, and not in any sort of sympathetic way as Francis Dolarhyde. He was just an old fashioned bad guy. But on the other hand, for him – for our Richard Armitage to be so convincingly bad and evil and hateful, well – it just shows how damned good he is. He was so menacing.

In the final scene, he fights to the death with the Mute ( John Bernthal). No question I was rooting for the Mute.

I thought John Bernthal was just outstanding. I loved his character, but I thought that more should have been explained. I feel able to put his past together, but I would have liked further explanation. I’m guessing he did and saw some horrendous things as a crusader, and then performed a penance of his own for the rest of his life. It was interesting that De Merville’s men, and De Merville thought they knew of him him or recognized him from someplace, but it was never resolved. His character was almost a super hero in terms of his fighting skills – and against better armed and bigger men.

There was next to no explanation about what was going on with the Normans in Ireland, the conflict between King John and the Pope, the need for absolution, how it worked – sometimes just one additional sentence or two in a conversation would have cleared things up. I don’t think the younger set, who would like this film, will get some it. Maybe they won’t mind.

More tomorrow about the views of religion and spirituality in the film.

I hope I’m in the minority and that the critics give it a better review than I am. Perhaps one has to expect less from an Indie film with a low budget.

Fan Allison’s Guest Post – #LLLPlay Review Part 2

Here is the continuation of Allison’s LLLPlay experience. Part 1 is here.xtn-500_5b00735d_benrosenfieldzoekazanrichardarmitageinlovelovelovephotobyjoanmarcus2016-pagespeed-ic-e_nlpik9sg Enjoy

Part II

Love, Love, Love: The Audience Experience (or: I Have No Stage Door Game)

NO SPOILERS

Some follow-up comments to the previous post, this time about my experience beyond the play itself.

I’d never been to Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre and it was a great place to see a play. I’m always amused, though, by some of the audience behavior I see at the theater, especially some of the high-profile ones in New York. While the play was on a woman directly behind me kept speaking to her friend in long sentences in extremely loud Russian – so loud I was convinced it could be heard on the stage. Sigh. No one did anything about it, so I finally turned around and shot her a Death Glare to shut her up. The woman next to me informed me before the play began that she had to leave after the first act to catch her flight. Seriously? Who buys a front-row ticket for one third of a play?! (It dawned on me only in hindsight that I should have found a Richard Armitage fan to take her seat. Argh – my bad.)

And then there is my hilariously fumbled stage door experience. Richard left the theater just minutes after the play ended (someone tweeted that he had to run off to a Berlin Station promo event?), and I was one of just five people waiting to greet him. I was so sorry that other fans in attendance missed him altogether and don’t take for granted the fact that I saw him at all afterward. I have to say I had very low expectations for the whole stage door thing; I’d never done one before and had mixed feelings about the whole concept. Also, I’d watched the videos posted by fans and knew that Richard moved quickly and often didn’t even make it through the whole line. Fair enough. (Nitpicky aside: I also noticed he was always lugging his big bag. I’ve staffed several well-known people at events over the years in my job, and wonder why a Roundabout staffer doesn’t just give his bag to the driver of his waiting car to free him up.)

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But with so few people there, I let my expectations rise a little, and I figured I might at least get to look him in the eye and thank him for his performance. Stupidly, I even thought suddenly, “Hmm, I know I always knock selfies (I hate photos of myself), but why not try for one with Richard after all?” To my right was the sweet elderly woman I tweeted about that day (I originally thought maybe she was getting her Thorin photos signed for a grandchild, but no, she told me, she was the fan!). To my left was just one other person.

I was poised and ready, holding out my phone. And after attending to the older woman on my right, Richard then…moved quickly to the woman on my left. He skipped right over me. I felt so invisible, even though I’m 5’8” and there was literally no one else standing in our vicinity (if it had been crowded, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought). I even, briefly, had the (very) irrational thought, “Oh, no – Richard Armitage hates me!” In truth, the woman to my left was waving her camera wildly and had really gotten his attention; I gave her my second Death Glare of the day for her rudeness but she seemed oblivious to having cut me off. This was also the weekend Richard had returned from the whirlwind LA Berlin Station premiere trip, so the poor guy was likely beyond exhausted (and seriously, hats off to the man for doing the stage door on any day after a two-hour performance. I can’t imagine how fried he must be.).

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After he finished with her, I gently asked for a photo as he was trying to scuttle off and I took one in a nanosecond. The universe decided that since I didn’t like selfies it wasn’t going to give me one: something went wrong and my phone didn’t take the photo. I hated being the person who bugged him as he was trying to leave (not my usual MO, and the kind of behavior that made me question the stage door thing to begin with) and am way less bothered by the lack of a selfie (note to self: never try that again) than the fact that I should have just spent my nanosecond blurting out thanks.

Anyway, I really don’t want all of this to sound like sour grapes – ever since the first few minutes of shock wore off, I’ve been laughing about the whole thing. I feel lucky to have been there at all that day and it was such a thrill to see Richard perform. And I consider myself very fortunate that I’ll get to see the play again soon.

 

 

Fan Allison’s Guest Post – #LLLPlay Review – Part I

This is a delightful, if long, analysis of Allison’s take on her #LLLPlay experiences. Part II will be posted this evening. Enjoy. And please send hr love and comments

WARNING: SPOILERS

I had the pleasure of seeing Love, Love, Love at The Roundabout Theatre in New York on Sunday, October 2. I’m able to get to New York as a day trip via a short train ride, and so last summer I bought tickets for a few Sunday matinees over the fall. This performance was not one of the ones I’d planned, however; I bought the ticket five days prior when I saw a front row center seat come open. I’m not normally a fan of either impulse purchases or super-close-up theater seating, but it turns out to have been a great decision. When I first got to my seat, I was actually rather alarmed, as it was so close to the stage as to feel exposed, like I would somehow be intruding on the performance. But once the play started I loved being so near to the action – including, yes, Richard’s.

Let me say up front that Richard is really a delight in this play. As fans know by this point, it’s a domestic piece, and despite its serious themes and strong emotions, it’s also a highly comedic piece with stretches that are quite light. As this is not territory Richard has explored a lot in his recent career, it was refreshing to see him do it, and do it well. The fact that he played the same character at three different ages over 40 years made it feel like I’d gotten a 3-for-1 Armitage coupon (topping the Hannibal twofer): surely this huge acting challenge was very appealing for him in taking the role, and it was fascinating to watch him age as he shifted his voice, speech, energy level, posture, and movement over the three acts. His comedic timing is terrific, as are the many ways his face expresses emotions apart from his words.

I was especially taken with his 19-year-old Kenneth. When first I saw the photos of him in the dressing gown and groovy hairdo, I was still thinking subconsciously of 45-year-old Richard inhabiting them, but live he paints a character that is wonderfully bright-eyed, mischievous, cocky, self-righteous, flirtatious, and ready to take on the world. His voice is a little higher (ah, the stuff he does with his voice!), and his inflections and movement have a youthful bounce to them. Middle-aged Kenneth most resembles present-day Richard, so his overall physical bearing felt more familiar, although you can also feel the weight of life that’s come down on him. That weight has been lifted emotionally in retired/long-divorced Richard, although age and the leisurely pace of his world make him move more slowly physically.

I knew Amy Ryan was a good actress from seeing her in a few movies, and had read great things about her performance as Sandra. She did not disappoint, whether delivering lines that were cruel, funny, or both at once. She also covered the three ages well. She played the role a tad more deadpan than what I had in my head when I read the play, but it was more effective her way, and actually more biting.

Zoe Kazan was a real revelation for me. She is just spot-on as Rose, conveying many different degrees of bitterness as she moves from being a whiny, pained teenager to an adult full of accumulated, deep-seated rage. She’s just enough over the top to make you ask yourself whether she’s a brat or a victim. There are many moments when her anger boils just under the surface, requiring her to well up and “almost cry” – how does one do that on demand night after night? I was impressed. The two supporting male roles, Alex Hurt as Henry and Ben Rosenfield as Jamie, were also strong, but took a back seat to the other three actors.

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Boy, this play has really stayed with me and made me think about a lot of things – that’s why I took to writing all this down a week after seeing it. I’ve loved the variety of answers given by the playwright, director, and actors when asked “What is this play about?” Certainly at the center is a swipe at the baby boomer generation for abandoning their idealism in self-absorption, and in a way that also causes them to abandon their children, who are struggling to find their way economically and emotionally as adults. To me that giving up of dreams and ideals and revolution was not just about selfishness, but also a naiveté and laziness about both the hard work of responsibility that comes with adulthood and the hard work of actually “changing the system.” (Aside: I’ve been thinking about Bernie Sanders after seeing this play; while I admired his support for millennials, ironically I thought too much of his proposed “revolution” was that of an over-idealistic baby boomer. Just sayin’.)

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The tendency to want to view this play through the very personal lens of one’s own generational experience is both a blessing and a curse. Everyone seeing the play has lived through at least some of the same times and will agree or disagree with some aspect of the play based on that. (As a GenXer, I definitely related to Rose’s “wait, I can’t really have it all” frustrations as a working woman.) And this high level of audience engagement is a really good thing for any piece of art. But I hope that people will also try to think about the play beyond their own experience, as while Bartlett has a lot of strong views, he also leaves a lot of questions in the generational debate open-ended and has other points to make, too.

I think Bartlett also cautions against the oversimplification of generational labels, including with hints like the Paul McCartney quote cited by Kenneth in Act II about musical genres all being the same thing. A bigger way that Bartlett does this that I really liked was the dichotomy between Jamie and Rose in the third act. On the one hand, they are two sides of the same Gen X/Y coin, but they differ in important ways. It’s almost as if Jamie is the younger generation as seen by baby boomers: an unmotivated layabout who drifts in and out of jobs and relationships, and is content with sponging off his “buddy”/father (though Kenneth and Sandra keep insisting he’s doing fine, one of a long list of their problematic parenting practices). Rose, by contrast, felt more like how many Gen X/Yers see themselves: working themselves to the bone with no long-term payoff of marriage, family, home, financial security, or job satisfaction – and deeply unhappy and resentful about it.

A question the play made me wonder about is to what extent love itself – and how we give it, receive it, desire it, even withhold it – is in fact a function of its time, as opposed to something more universally human. The answer, of course, is “yes.” A core feature of the play is the selfish nature of Kenneth’s and Sandra’s love for each other. Their original spark was very classic and very real (and very convincingly played by Armitage and Ryan). But in its time it’s also a love that has each of them turning on Henry in the first act, betraying each other in the second, and refusing to help their adult daughter in the third. It’s a love that thrives on dreams of adventure early and late in life but fizzles with the hard reality of responsibility in between. But was Sandra’s selfishness unique to her being born when she was? She seemed to me like she would have been a jerk in any generation. Kenneth, though, showed flashes of caring in Act II, whether in his commitment to being at Rose’s recital, or his initial shock at the idea of a divorce (despite his cheating); would that caring have evolved differently in a different age?

Another issue woven throughout the play is the implosion of the family and personal relations over recent generations. Kenneth’s and Sandra’s infidelities and the ease with which they divorced are the obvious examples, but there are others. By Act III, social media has replaced some real-life bonds for Jamie (whose sort-of girlfriend is off in Australia) and Sandra. Rose clearly doesn’t keep in close touch with her family, and is stung when she learns Kenneth and Jamie were in London to see Wicked and never contacted her. And what about poor Henry? Although he never appears in person after Act I, his presence remains in odd ways, like when Kenneth suggests that the family invite him to one of Rose’s recitals. Why hasn’t he been invited to any before she’s 16, and why is this the first time his common interest with Rose is coming up? Henry of course does appear, technically, in the final scene – in an urn, an un-subtle jab at the death of his generation. But what was Henry’s fate over those 40 years? If his brother was taking care of his ashes, does it mean Henry never had his own family? (For some reason the presence of that urn kept making me want to giggle and say, “Hi, Henry!” By the way, in the script there’s no urn, just reference to Henry’s funeral. Has there been an urn in other productions?)

Whether or not it was because it was still previews, there were little quirks in the performance of the kind that make live theater fun: in Act I Alex Hurt stumbled badly on a word and during one set of rapid-fire dialogue with Amy Ryan, Richard fired a little early and seemed to catch himself. Richard had to dust himself off a few times – when cigarette ashes fell on his bare chest and when crumbs from Sandra’s histrionic cake-cutting flew into his lap. When Richard entered Act II his jacket collar was up in a way I don’t think it was supposed to be, though he soon takes the jacket off anyway (but it’s the kind of thing where you think to yourself how badly you want to lean over to the stage and whisper, “pssst!” and gesture toward the back of your neck).

All in all, a very rewarding theater experience, and an exciting opportunity to see Richard do what he does best. I’m grateful that I’ll have the chance to see the play again and continue to ponder it!

Urban Shared: First Full Fan Review In – From Jaydall

This from Jaydall who #SharedUrban. Thanks!!!

So, where do I put my little ‘review’, Perry? I have just got back from the 4pm screening and didn’t wait to see if I could catch RA. But, I would agree with the 4/5 assessment. It might have seemed a little long because of the hard pews we were sitting on, LOL! It is a very smart little conversion with its own cafe where you pay whatever you want for coffee and cakes. It holds about 60, I would think. The director said that the chapel venue had been chosen for the premiere because the book was set in that area of Leeds.
The acting from everyone is very good indeed especially from Fraser Kelly who plays Urban. RA was totally magnetic and I thought it was wonderful that he played this scruffy character so convincingly. It must show what a very wide range he has and that he’s not just an action hero. There was a wonderful moment where he told the kids a story as they sat around a fire and I felt as totally absorbed as the young actors were pretending to be.
It is a very depressing story – more so than in the book, I felt, and they certainly don’t make out Chop to be a saviour. Both in the book and in the film I felt like giving him a good slap because he took so long to get his act together. But it is very gritty and very real and very honest.
This would make a very good TV drama and I hope a TV station picks it up if a distributor doesn’t. It is a very ‘local’ film with very strong accents and I somehow can’t see it doing well on the big screen (except in Yorkshire, LOL). I think that everyone involved should be proud of this production and I am interested in hearing more opinions.