Doodad Kind of Town

Quick Take: "Hamlet 2"
August 31, 2008, 8:10 pm
Filed under: Musicals

I enjoyed myself immensely at “Hamlet 2,” although in hindsight, I’ll admit it felt like a movie I’d seen before.

Christopher Guest and his ensemble of regulars more than covered the comic territory of amateur theatre in 1996’s “Waiting for Guffman.” Twelve years later, “Hamlet 2” offers nothing original in the way of lampooning the passionately committed, yet wildly untalented, people who sometimes devote themselves to it. What it lacks in originality it almost makes up for in the sheer comic gusto of Steve Coogan’s performance.

Coogan throws himself into the role of Dana Marcshz, a failed-actor-turned-high-school drama-teacher, with shameless abandon. Marschz, like Guest’s Corky St. Clair before him, is an easy target for laughs, a obvious loser who is blissfully oblivious to both his lack of talent and the impending collapse of his marriage. (As his long-suffering wife, Catherine Keener has a discordant surliness that throws the movie off-balance whenever she appears.) He rollerblades to work, draws inspiration for his teaching methods from films like “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” and ultimately seeks to save the school’s drama program by staging a rock musical sequel to Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. (It adds Jesus Christ in a time machine to the original lineup of characters.) Coogan makes something daft and delightful out of the role, adding some nice, tossed-off bits of physical comedy (Dana never quite gets the hang of those rollerblades) and bringing a ridiculous conviction to lines like “Mango iced tea is my kryptonite!” And ultimately, he makes the character sympathetic. You actually end up cheering for his strange little show to become a hit.

The big production number in “Hamlet 2” is a bouncy little show tune called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” (which sounds a bit like the title number from “Little Shop of Horrors”); it’ll be stuck in your head when you leave the theater. But, for me, the show’s opening number – “Raped in the Face” – is the showstopper. Its staging – highlighted by Coogan’s appearance in the number, inexplicably, as Albert Einstein – is the most dead-on skewering of contemporary musical theatre since Richard Curtis imagined “Elephant Man” as a musical in 1989’s “The Tall Guy.”

Quick Take: "Mamma Mia"
July 19, 2008, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Musicals

Despite what you read elsewhere, I’m pretty sure that “Mamma Mia!” was conceived by a group of 12-year-old girls at a slumber party after getting all hopped on brownies and Twizzlers and listening to “Abba Gold” one too many times.

I’m absolutely positive that’s where all the choreography was created.

Who else would have decided that the proper way to stage “Dancing Queen” was with grown women singing the verses into hairbrush ‘microphones,’ and a big finish featuring a line of women skipping and twirling merrily through a village while getting all the lowly working women in sight to doff their aprons and join the skipping/twirling line?

What adult woman among us would picture the entertainment at her bachelorette party to be Mom and her menopausal friends in spandex and platform boots, serenading the crowd with with “Super Trooper?”

And what grown-up would have imagined the treacly ballad “The Winner Takes it All” as an eleventh-hour dramatic monologue by the leading lady to describe the greatest, failed relationship of her life?

Certainly this plot sounds like the invention of 12-year-olds: 20-year-old Sophie lives on a postcard-perfect Greek island where she helps her mother run a bed-and-breakfast. She’s never known her father – according to her mom’s diary, it could be anyone of three men – so for her wedding, she secretly invites all three to the island in the hopes one of them will be revealed as her long-lost dad and give her away. And it’s all set to Abba music!

Now I’m as susceptible as anyone to the guilty pleasure of Abba, but even I was worn out by “Mamma Mia!”‘ and its forced, incessant giddiness. And I was completely embarrassed for the many otherwise fine actors (among them, Meryl Streep as mom Donna, plus Chirstine Baranski and Julie Walters as her gal pals; Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard are the trio of possible daddies.) They’re all game and they throw themselves into their ridiculous roles with gusto. Streep, in particular, shows an irrepressible silly side that she must have been dying to let out after so many years of deeply serious roles (we got a glimpse of it in “Stuck on You.”) Unfortunately, as the film goes along, her idiosyncratic line readings get to be a little annoying; she’s not quite as adorable as she thinks she is.

Streep, however, has the film’s single best sequence – the only quiet moments in “Mamma Mia” – where she sings “Slipping Through my Fingers” as she lovingly helps her daughter dress for the wedding. That one sequence nearly made me cry.

Amanda Seyfried as Sophie probably comes off best in the cast. She’s wide-eyed, unaffected and possessed of a strong, pleasant pop singing voice. Certainly she’s the only one in the cast you don’t come away feeling embarrassed for.

I really wanted to surrender to “Mamma Mia” and its happy, summertime, sing-along feel, but I found I just couldn’t shut off the logical part of my brain. The film commits two of the most grating sins of illogic that I can think of:

1) Magic Movie Math: I’m getting a little tired of movies that refer to events of 20 years ago as if that were the Woodstock/flower child era. Hello, people, it’s 2008 -Woodstock was almost 40 years ago!! Sophie is 20; per the film’s timeline, she was conceived in 1987. So how come the flashbacks of her possible fathers show them with hippie-ish beards, headbands and hair to the middle of their backs? Well, except for Firth, who’s shown as a Johnny-Rotten style headbanger – which would have been cool in the late 70’s – 30 years ago

2)Lines/Jokes from the original play that don’t work with the film’s cast: When Baranski arrives on the island, Streep grabs her virtually non-existent breasts and squeals “When did you get these?” Baranski tells her “My third husband bought them!” Well, hubby must have a very poor man – or else it was a widly successful breast reduction surgery. In a later swimsuit scene, the top of Baranski’s suit is distinctly baggy. (Perhaps 12-year-olds did the costuming as well?) I’m pretty sure this is a line from the original stage production, and if Streep had to deliver that line, it would have made more sense for her to grab some of Baranski’s jewelry before uttering it.

Bottom line? If you really like Abba, but you also like good movies, stay home and rent “Muriel’s Wedding.”

Dancin’ behind the Iron Curtain: "East Side Story"
May 9, 2008, 2:01 am
Filed under: Musicals

If you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to shuffle over to the “Invitation to the Dance” blogathon over at Ferdy on Films, which continues through Sunday. It’s been a great week of thoughtful articles and fabulous dance film clips.

And, in the spirit of the festivities, I’m rerunning the following post which originally appeared here last year. I only wish I had been able to find some clips on You Tube to accompany this story, but there were none to be had. So just try to imagine…

If you’re a lover of musicals with a taste for the offbeat, you might enjoy “East Side Story,” a 1997 documentary about the musical films of the Soviet Communist era. Yes, you read that right. Turns out Joseph Stalin was a fan of the movie musical genre (who knew?)and happily supported an industry which cranked out song-and-dance spectaculars about the joys of working on the farms or in the factories of the glorious Socialist state.

Like, for example,”Tractor Drivers,” in which men on tractors and women with pitchforks sing happily about “harvesting wheat to make the bread/to feed our heroes and athletes.” (Presumably there were a whole lot of perfectly ordinary comrades partaking of that same bread, but why sing about them, right?)

In another film, a fresh-faced platinum blonde in peasant garb sings to her pigs as she leads them to the trough: “All I ask is that you eat and get fat!” Hog sloppin’ never looked like this much fun before, and the young songstress is actually quite charming. I was dying to see more of that number.

In fact, that’s the biggest letdown of “East Side Story.” You always want to see more than it shows you. It teases you with clips that are outrageous, astonishing or just plain silly, but they’re usually too abbreviated to really give you a sense of what’s going on. Just when you’re really getting interested, there’s a cutaway to one of many “talking heads,” former actors and directors from Socialist film studios of the era. Their commentary is unvaryingly humorless and glum; no one who worked in that era has a snarky or sarcastic perspective on it. Rather, it’s all presented at face value. After awhile, you find yourself wanting either a good, smart-assed remark (’cause you’re certainly thinking up a few of your own).

Much like their Hollywood counterparts, the musicals of the Stalin era presented fantasy worlds into which its characters (and audiences) could escape. That’s what the solemn, scholarly narrator tells us anyway. Unfortunately, her comments play over a dream sequence in which a sort of Guardian Angel/Comrade wakens a young woman and whisks her off to a gleaming, golden city. Here she is taken to a huge factory (the machines so loud she has to cover her ears) where she is given… a broom! Yes, that’s right; this character’s Utopian vision is to sweep a factory floor! It’s hard to believe that even the staunchest party apparatchik thought they could pass this off as heaven on earth. Those of us in the West whose personal musical-comedy Utopias contain Fred Astaire in white tie and tails and a swanky Manhattan penthouse or two can be forgiven for dreaming a little bigger, I think.

When Stalin died, so did the Soviet Union’s musical film industry, but other Communist countries started producing their own takes on the Western musical form, usually subverted to glorify party ideals. As in the Stalinist films, there is frequently a lovely young woman in coveralls pirouetting and jeteing joyously over and around factory machinery.

Two particularly intriguing films, to which “East Side Story” devotes an extensive chunk of its running time, are “My Wife Wants to Sing” and “Midnight Revue.” The first is a comedy about a housewife who dreams of a singing career, to the dismay of her ultra-traditional husband. She sings around the house while perfectly coiffed and dressed to the nines -which I suspect was not the usual mode of attire for East German housewives. But such glamour was entirely the point; films like this were made to compete with the big-budget American musicals that were luring Germans into West Berlin theatres. (Another briefly featured and delicious scene features a whole kick line of East German “Rockettes” in fishnets.) The latter film, “Midnight Revue,” is a comedy in which a group of writers is kidnapped by the party and forced to write a musical. Like “My Wife Wants to Sing,” it is filmed in color and looks and feels very much like the Hollywood musicals of the same era (the 1950s). These are two movies I really would like to see in their entirety.

“East Side Story” winds down with a look at the Soviet Union’s attempt to cash in on the “youth musical” market of the 1960s with a swingin’ Socialist tunefest called “The Hot Summer.” It opens with groups of young men and young women singing about how hot – how really, really hot! – it is today. (“If I see some cool water, I’ll jump right in,” the boys tell us.) It’s at this moment, that you most long for a good shot of snark from the narrator; these “hot” youngsters might be considerably cooler if they peeled off their long-sleeved jackets and turtleneck sweaters and headed for some shade trees instead of dancing around on sun-baked city pavement. I guess it comes down to this: whether a musical is borne of Socialist ideals or Western decadence, logic is the least of its concerns.

"Romance and Cigarettes"
April 15, 2008, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Musicals

John Turturro’s “Romance and Cigarettes” is a heaving, throbbing, unholy mess of a movie. It is lovely in places, hilariously profane in others – but getting to the good parts is a bit like digging for diamonds in a dung heap.

“Romance in Cigarettes” was completed in 2005 and played all over Europe that year, but didn’t reach U.S. screens till late in 2007. According to Andrew O’Hehir’s breathless, glowing review on Salon, that’s because the purported American distributor just didn’t know how to market it or didn’t trust American audiences to get it.

Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that the movie is weird, sloppy and ill-conceived to the point of being almost unwatchable.

James Gandolfini is a Queens steel worker named Nick Murder, and Susan Sarandon is his exasperated wife, Kitty. As the film opens, Kitty confronts Nick with a scrap of paper she’s found; it contains a poem he’s written to his mistress, lovingly extolling his favorite part of her anatomy. A heated exchange ensues, then Nick steps outside, music swells on the soundtrack, and he begins lip-synching to Engelbert Humperdinck’s “A Man Without Love,” soon joined by other men in the neighborhood – from sanitation workers to boys on bicycles.

And so, as in earlier films “Pennies From Heaven” and “The Singing Detective,” we enter a world where characters express their deepest, truest emotions through lip-synching to their favorite songs. Later, we will see Kitty pouring her heart out in a sing-along to Dusty Springfield’s “Piece of My Heart.” It’s never entirely clear in what time period “Romance and Cigarettes” is intended to take place. A scene set in an Agent Provocateur lingerie store would indicate the present day; the character’s clothes have a downmarket ’80s feel, while the cars they drive appear to be from the late ’60s or early ’70s. But the music is definitively 1960s, all overheated pop ballads by the likes of not only Springfield and Humperdinck, but Tom Jones, Vikki Carr and others of their ilk.

Although set in a grimy, working class neighborhood, there’s not much realism in “Romance and Cigarettes.” The characters have BIG emotions and they’re expressed in over-the-top ways: frantic, badly choreographed musical numbers; wild flights of dialogue; and shameless mugging. It’s hard to watch at worst, and hard to follow, at best.

I’m not usually a bullet-pointy kind of reviewer, but in this case, I’d like to get right down to the heart of what works and what doesn’t work in “Romance and Cigarettes” so here’s a handy guide to the Good, the Bad and the Ugly**:

The Good:

–Kate Winslet as Gandolfini’s foul-mouthed mistress. Hilarious and touching by turns, nearly unrecognizable under a mop of red hair and sporting a Manchester accent thick as clotted cream, Winslet very nearly steals the movie.

–Elaine Stritch as Gandolfini’s mother. The grand dame of Broadway musical theater has only one scene, and one potentially wacky/unsavory monologue, but she invests it with so much genuine woundedness and bewilderment that the whole cockamamie movie slows down and you become absolutely transfixed by her.

–The final few scenes of the film. Up to this point, it’s all been over the top and fantastical, but in its final moments, “Romance and Cigarettes” suddenly offers a quiet and wistful reflection on the few things that have been good in Nick and Kitty’s long and troubled marriage. The very last scene will you have all choked up.

The Bad

–Eddie Izzard. He isn’t bad, actually, he’s just criminally underused. As the local priest, his role is barely more than a cameo. One wonders if some good Izzard scenes were left on the cutting room floor.

— Nick and Kitty’s daughters. Two of them are played by Mary Louise Parker and Aida Turturro. Need I mention that these two women are far too old to be James Gandolfini’s daughters? There are hits of sass and subversion in Parker’s brief appearances that almost distract you from the fact that she’s actually over 40, but there are no such compensations in Turturro’s performance (see The Ugly below.) Mandy Moore is their third sister, and she isn’t given enough screen time to make any kind of impression. The three of them spend a lot of time playing “rock band” in the back yard (with actual instruments and teenage-girl-like enthusiasm), a spectacle that isn’t particularly enjoyable to behold.

–Bobby Canavale, as a neighbor who is briefly engaged to Moore. I had no idea what this character was supposed to be, other than a neighborhood boy who likes to sing along with the sisters’ rock band. He’s a embarrassing cartoon.

–Most of the musical numbers. I’m not asking that Turturro pretend he’s directing “Chicago.”But even when the “dancers” in a musical number are garbage men working on the street or a gaggle of pregnant housewives walking by, the number needs a focus, a sense of the flow of the dancer’s movement and a director who knows where to point his camera and when to cut. Tuturro’s numbers (choreographed by Tricia Bourk) are choppy, unfocused and all over the place. You’re never sure what or who you’re looking at, or why. Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You,” where incidental characters like hospital workers and jewelry store clerks would break into a dance on cue, is the obvious (and far better done) precursor of this type of musical, and Turturro might have done well to take a good look at it.

The Ugly

— Aida Turturro’s performance. She’s the director’s cousin, he should have done better by her. We’ve already noted that’s she far too old to be playing a teenager, and her apparent technique for playing younger is to play deranged. Ms. Turturro has two featured monologues – one delivered to Kitty in which she says something about Kitty not being her real mother; don’t ask me, I couldn’t understand a word. She also dictates something into a tape recorder late in the film -again, couldn’t tell you what, couldn’t understand a word. And it wasn’t a volume problem with the DVD player. Eveyone else was coming in loud and clear. I know Aida Turturro can act – I’ve seen her Janice Soprano – but I’m not sure what she was supposed to be doing here.

The final word? I had originally planned to drive down to Champaign later this month to see “Romance and Cigarettes” at Roger Ebert’s annual Film Festival (read the post on Ferdy on Films) , where the screening will include an appearance by Aida Turturro. As you may have already guessed, I’m very glad I stayed home and watched it on On Demand from the comfort of my recliner.

**(with apologies to fellow blogger Daniel G at Getafilm, who uses a similar method to focus on the positive and negative aspects of a film)

Light at the End of the Tunnel ! Things I’m Looking Forward To
March 26, 2008, 12:33 am
Filed under: George Clooney, Mathieu Amalric, Musicals, Sex and the City, Tina Fey

As I’ve mentioned several times recently, my job and the rest of my life have been kind of kicking my butt lately. I haven’t had much time to see movies or much to blog about.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. With Lent and Easter now over, my church choir commitments have lessened, and the work project I’ve been killing myself over is winding down.

At last, I can get back to the movies!!! And here are some of the things I’m looking forward to:

1. “Invitation to the Dance” Movie Blogathon

Marilyn over at Ferdy on Films is hosting a Dance Movie Blogathon from May 4 to May 10. Look forward to many fine and entertaining posts from fellow movie bloggers. I’ll be contributing a piece myself.

I want to be a dancer in my next life – ’cause in my current life, dance skills are among the talents I definitively do not possess. (During my years of community theatre performing, I heard one thing consistently from choreographers: “Honey, we’re going to put you in the back row.” I used to tell people I was the poster child for the American Society of the Dance Impaired.) Not surprisingly, I have great admiration for those who can do magnificently what I cannot. So I’m looking forward to everyone’s remembrances of great moments in the movies’ dance history.

2. “Leatherheads”

It’s a George Clooney movie. What other reason does a girl need? Opens April 4.

3. “Baby Mama”

If there was a Funniest Woman on the Planet award, Tina Fey would win hands down – and Amy Poehler would be one of the closest runners-up. Unfortunately, Fey didn’t write this one, but that won’t stop me from being there on opening weekend. (April 24)

4. “Heartbeat Detector”

A dark, corporate thriller that Salon critic Andrew O’Hehir calls ” ‘Michael Clayton’ on Nazi-grade Acid.” It stars Mathieu Amalric (of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) and it sounds fantastic. Unfortunately, it may be a long wait; the soonest I could find a screeing of “Heartbeat Detector” is at the Chicago International Film Festival – in October.

(BTW – If you aren’t reading O’Hehir’s “Beyond the Multiplex” blog, you should start now.)

5. “Sex and the City: The Movie”

I have a confession to make: I LOVED “Sex and the City.” I even still watch the crappy, hacked-to-pieces reruns on TBS. I’ll concede that some of the criticisms of “SATC” are justified. Over its five-year run, it did devolve from sharp-edged, envelope-pushing social satire into a glossy compendium of Madison Avenue product placements. (I don’t think the name ‘Manolo Blahnik’ was dropped once in the show’s first season.) And Sarah Jessica Parker’s portrayal of Carrie Bradshaw ran off the rails towards the end, with her early edginess giving way to a dumbed-down shtick of incessant squeals, giggles, and bad puns.

But despite the characters’ too-frequent trips to Barney’s and Carrie’s overused “today, I had a thought…” voiceovers, there was some damn fine writing and acting in that series, and the four leads created full-bodied and indelible characters that I’m looking forward to spending time with again. “Sex and the City” made me laugh and cry – and, yes, also influenced my shoe-buying habits. And I’ll be in the audience on the movie’s opening weekend.

"Love Songs"
March 21, 2008, 8:37 pm
Filed under: Musicals

I first became aware of “Love Songs” from last week’s review on Salon, where critic Andrew O’Hehir dubbed it “Menage a Trois: The Musical!”

If only it were that much fun.

Director/writer Christoper Honore has concocted a dreamy, slight little pop operetta that apparently borrows heavily from the traditions of Truffaut, Godard and Jacque Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”. I say “apparently”, because my own experience of those influential directors and films is spotty and incomplete. But I’ll pass on to you that background information (from O’Hehir’s and other reviews) in the hopes it may enhance your experience of “Love Songs.” Myself, I felt I was missing something.

At the outset, “Love Songs” is certainly charming and engaging enough. There are these three young people you see – Julie (Ludivine Sagnier), Alice (Clotilde Hesme) and Ismael (Louis Garrel) living and sleeping together in a playful, if sometimes uneasy threesome. Alice declares herself both asexual and attracted to Julie, Ismael professes happy adoration for both women, and Julie veers between a sophisticated acceptance of the situation and feelings of deep hurt. (Sagnier, who plays Julie, bears a passing resemblance to Chole Sevigny, and – like Sevigny, – seems limited to a small range of mopey, hangdog facial expressions.) Nevertheless, it’s all played with a bubbly Gallic sophistication. (In one scene, the three are lined up in bed, each reading a book. As the camera pans across them, we see the titles. Ismael reads “Perfect Happiness,” Julie reads “Voluptuous Pleasure,” Alice reads a sober tome titled “Politics.”)

But the tone of the film changes abruptly when (WARNING – SPOILER AHEAD), Julie dies suddenly outside a Parisian nightclub, turning a carefree evening out into a tragic one within moments. The remaining two-thirds of the film become a meditation on grief and mourning and the possibility of finding new love. And despite how promising that might sound, the latter part of the film is far less interesting. Gone is the fizzy chemistry between the three young lovers. Now we have endless scenes of the broody Ismael and others singing sad, wistful Europop ballads, often in grey and rainy locales -songs that all pretty much sound the same with fuzzy-headed lyrics that have no insights about loss or grief. Between the sad songs, the survivors attempt to form new relationships, and Julie’s older sister (Chiarra Mastroianni) practically moves into Ismael’s apartment in some misguided attempt to gain closure for both herself and him.

If you can hold out for the final scene, however, you’ll get the poweful emotional payoff this story demands. I won’t reveal the details, but the film ends with Ismael opening his heart to a new love, a memorable song (the new lover begs “Love me less, but for a longer time.”) and a heart-stopping visual image which beautifully encapsulates both the thrill and the risk of learning to love again.

Of Lent, Choir Rehearsals, and Disappointing Movies
March 6, 2008, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Musicals

Lent is the season of sacrifice, deprivation, and eating fish on Fridays.

And, if you are a member of a church choir, it’s also the time of year when you spend an inordinate amount of time in rehearsal. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday – each requires the performance of special music for the worship service, preceded by many hours of practice time.

And it’s not just the church choir. Friday night rehearsals have also begun for the community choir with whom I’m making an overseas concert trip this summer.

Let’s just say I’m spending more time in the alto section than in the multiplex.

When I have some down time, I’m likely to be relaxing with a flick on the small screen. But that hasn’t been a terribly satisfying pastime as of late. I’ve been re-watching movies I thought I loved, and finding they just don’t do it for me anymore.

Two nights ago, I decided to unwind by watching “Evita” on one of the specialty Encore movie channels. It had been several years since I’d last watched Madonna’s Eva Peron (to borrow a phrase from the original stage production’s advertising) “quietly seduce a nation.” In my recollection “Evita” was entertaining and visually compelling, and Madonna was pretty damn good in the title role. This time around, I found the movie still visually exciting, but I had a whole different opinion of Ms. Ciccone. I blame my dampened enthusiasm on all those choir rehearsals.

Let me explain:

I do not get paid to sing. I perform in these various choirs for free just ’cause I enjoy doing it. I’m not expected to be professional, BUT I am expected not to take a breath in the middle of a phrase. When the choir director says “Don’t take a breath between measures 45 and 46,” I don’t breathe there. As a general rule, you are not supposed to take a breath in a place where, if you were speaking the lyrics rather than singing them, you wouldn’t naturally pause. That’s one thing I’ve learned in over 30 years of choral singing.

Madonna, on the other hand, probably made a gazillion dollars to sing the role of Eva Peron. But she takes a breath after about every three words of every song. Why isn’t she held to higher standards than a lowly church choir alto?

For example, in the song “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” Eva sings this lyric: “Call in three months time, and I’ll be fine, I know.”

If you were saying those words to a friend, you would not say them like this:
“Call in three months time (pause) and I’ll be fine (pause) I know.”

But Madonna sings them like that. Which is perplexing to me. With all the Pilates and jogging this bitch does, shouldn’t she have built a pretty capacious set of lungs? Why can’t she get enough air to get through a simple phrase like that?

All through “Evita,” the onscreen Madonna physically projects all the confidence and ambition appropriate to Eva Peron, but her singing voice doesn’t match her physical presence. You can almost feel how nervous she is when she has to get up to a high note. She generally sings like she’s afraid of the music, but determined to give it her all. Something organic to the character goes missing. (Patti LuPone, who played the role on Broadway, isn’t my favorite singer either, to be frank. But Ms. LuPone’s voice is properly trained and powerful, and she can attack a high note fearlessly – appropriate when you’re playing a woman who was fearless and ruthless in her bid for power.)

If you want to see how it should be done, pay attention to Jonathan Pryce, who plays her husband, Juan Peron. He is flawless. Both a far better actor and a far more comfortable singer than Madonna, he interprets his lyrics so believably, that you almost forget he’s singing. His style feels conversational, doesn’t draw attention to itself. You’re watching a character, a person – not a “performance.”

I had even higher hopes for “All About Eve,” which popped up on TCM over the past weekend. While I hadn’t seen it in many years, I remembered it fondly for its witty script and fantastic performances. (And here I’m going to assume you are familiar with this classic, so don’t expect a rehash of the plot.)

I’ll probably be crucified by classic film lovers for saying so, but – 58 years after its initial release – I don’t think “All About Eve” is aging so well.

For want of a better word, I found it flabby. Almost every scene lasted a good minute longer than it needed to; every point made in the dialogue was hammered home just one time too many (Margo is insecure about getting older! Eve is just trying to be helpful! A woman needs a man in her life to be fulfilled! I felt more bludgeoned by these revelations than entertained by them.)

And Anne Baxter’s performance seemed so overwrought and phony to me. Granted she’s playing a phony, and when her ruse is revealed late in the film, she starts being a bit more believable. But up till that point, I kept thinking “Why isn’t anyone catching on to her? These are smart people, and she’s such an obvious schemer!”

Ironically, one of the wittiest performances is also one of the most restrained. George Sanders, who plays the venomous critic, Addison DeWitt, is all relaxed elegance and well-chosen but memorable quips. He isn’t nearly as garrulous or overbearing as most of the other characters, but even in repose, he’s fascinating. And when he speaks, you listen. Sanders’ Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role still feels richly deserved.

So, perhaps the coming weekend will bring better cinematic experiences. Personally, I’m looking forward to “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,” with wonderful Frances McDormand. I’m also hoping to make it to at least one of the following: “In Bruges,” “The Counterfeiters” or “The Band’s Visit.”

What are YOU seeing this weekend?