Sherlox Not Ded
A Review of LB Playhouse's Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure
Wes Verner, Union Staffer
I have not read the particular Sherlock Holmes tale that this stage play was adapted from, however I have read a fair few of the stories and have seen both [Robert Downey, Jr.] films. I must say that this was everything I had hoped it to be and more.
Sherlock Holmes, directed by James Rice, opened this past weekend at the Long Beach Playhouse. It is a mesh of two or possibly three of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories starring the famous detective and his most trusted, and perhaps only, friend Dr. John Watson. The play begins with a man sitting on a bench on a foggy night in London reading a paper. A policeman strolls past and the man exclaims that Sherlock Holmes is dead. The policeman then asks a third man if he has heard the news. This third man proves to be Watson, and he presently begins his recollection of his and Holmes’ last case together.
The play leads the audience from the famous 221B Baker St. to Reichenbach Falls in Bohemia. The cast is quite small, really. Only eight people make up the ensemble, though approximately 14 characters are seen. The acting is terrific and you soon lose yourself in the story. They were very faithful to the spirit of the original Holmes, while still adding things here and there to make it more relevant. There were physical interpretations to add humor, such as Watson rolling his eyes and showing his exasperation with the situation at hand. The seriousness and intensity were frequently broken by laughs; indeed, one of the biggest comes at the show’s close.
The acting was amazing and I was thoroughly impressed with how well all the actors portrayed their characters. I was always struck by how even-tempered Watson was in the books, but I think that when you read between the lines you find that he is closer to how Stephen Alan Carver plays him: irritated yet awestruck. The entire cast played their respective roles with a conviction that was truly inspiring to anyone with dramatic tendencies, and captivating to those without. I urge anyone who is a fan of detective novels, Sherlock Holmes in particular, or Theatre in general to attend this performance.
Show times are Fridays and Saturdays 8pm, and Sundays 2pm until March 24th. Tickets are available at lbplayhouse.org, or call 562-494-1014.
Consider Not Drinking the Kool-Aid
A Review of David Wain's Wanderlust
Leo Portugal, Literature Editor
Wanderlust is a Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston vehicle that takes them on a journey, just as both a metaphorical vehicle and a real vehicle might, from the Big Apple (New York City) to life in a rural Georgia commune where its residents practice free love and grow their own food (big apples, for example). From the creators of Wet Hot American Summer, Wanderlust was made by some genius comedic talent.
Before I put this review in the rearview (sticking to the vehicle theme), I just have to say that I’ve been pumped to watch this flick since last summer when I heard Rudd, Director David Wain, and Co-Writer Ken Marino on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast while on a little road trip with my girlfriend. Filled with great gusto for past work of theirs, I went into the theater with high hopes.
I left the theater with mixed feelings.The commune setting is reminiscent of the summer camp of Wet Hot American Summer. But while everyone who lives there has their quirks (Joe Lo Truglio as a nudist winemaker/novelist), the silliness felt like a tease. At points, it indicates that the uncontrolled craziness of American Summer could be just around the corner, but then it pulls back. Still, some the best parts of Wanderlust come when the filmmakers finally do let their buffoon flag fly. For example, when the film cuts to three perverted and stupid newscasters covering the commune protesting while wearing nothing but their “birthday suits.” The newscasters’ journalistic coverage is comprised of saying things like, “I would have liked it better if they had taken off their birthday suits,” and then the three of them flirt incessantly and awkwardly with a female reporter. Last, but not least, the film is topped off with a hilarious nude Ray Liotta cameo that is equal parts silly and great.
The themes that come with the setting—the hallucinogenic drugs, the free love, and even the value placed on sharing and non-violence—offer a lot of room for playing around, but the filmmakers seemingly did not want to go too far down a rabbit hole of absurdity. Instead they wanted to instill the story’s protagonists with realism and tell a story about values and about discovering what you truly value and love. While Rudd and Aniston were charming as always, I was left not caring about them as much as I wish I could have. In the end, Wanderlustwas good for a lot of smiles and a few hearty laughs.
The Oscar Doesn't Go To
Spotlighting a Few Films Excluded From the Academy Nominations
Erica Medrano, Contributor
Every year the Academy Awards inevitably exclude worthy films deemed too controversial, avant-garde, or obscure for academy voters. This year was no exception. Both director Lynne Ramsay’s unforgettably compelling adaptation of Lionel Schriver’s novel We Need to Talk About Kevin; and Denmark’s native enfant terrible, Lars Von Trier’s unrelentingly bleak yet visually stunning ode to apocalypse, Melancholia, went unrecognized by the Academy. Both films featured superb direction as well as gut-wrenchingly authentic portrayals by their lead actresses, Tilda Swinton and Kirsten Dunst, respectively. Yet, they were overlooked for either best picture, best director, or best actress nominations.
This year, Oscar favored the uplifting (Hugo, The Help), and the whimsical and nostalgic (Midnight in Paris, The Artist). The surprise nomination for Best Picture was without a doubt, the decidedly art-house tinged The Tree of Life, even though it was, on the whole, uplifting in comparison to Von Trier’s hopeless portrait of human existence or Ramsay’s brutally honest exploration of the nature/nurture question. Melancholia, like every other Von Trier directed film, does not spare its viewers uncomfortable emotions or cringe-worthy scenes of human interaction.
Kirsten Dunst portrays a young woman, newly married and on the brink of a nervous breakdown. We see her marriage begin and end in one day, while the planet Earth moves ever closer to extinction following the arrival of a new planet which threatens to destroy it. In the midst of inevitable apocalypse, we are witness to her breakdown and the seething family relations between her and her older sister, portrayed by the enigmatic Charlotte Gainsbourg. Dunst gives voice to Von Trier’s own melancholic philosophies in lines like, “The earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it.” We watch as she comes rapidly undone and mutters things like, “It tastes like ashes,” following the lowest ebb of her severe and debilitating depression.
It isn’t a pretty picture. No Von Trier film ever is. But it is visually arresting and the performances are each amazing in their authenticity. Kirsten Dunst proves she is capable of doing much more than fluff like Spider-Man or Bring it On and Von Trier proves himself once again, a successor to Bergman as a true auteur of existential angst.
Equally amazing is Lynne Ramsay’s criminally overlooked We Need to Talk About Kevin. Tilda Swinton, in another brilliant performance on the long list of her brilliant performances, portrays the mother of a boy who goes on a Columbine style killing spree at his high school. Told mostly in flashbacks, the film examines the aftermath of tragedy and asks the uncomfortable questions that lead up to it to begin with. Is it nature or nurture that produces psychopathic killers? Are some children just born “bad” and unlovable? What happens when “good” parents produce “bad” children?
We Need to Talk About Kevin delivers no real answer, but is compelling in the questions it raises. Unfortunately, the Academy rarely recognizes work made by female directors (Kathryn Bigelow’s win for The Hurt Locker in 2010 broke an 82 year-old glass ceiling) or those who stand at odds with its ideals as Von Trier does.