Shaw Festival Review: A Woman of No Importance

Shaw Festival Review: A Woman of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance A play by Oscar Wilde Directed by Eda Holmes Designed by Michael Gianfrancesco Starring: Martin Happer (Lord Illingworth), Wade Bogart-O’Brien (Gerald Arbuthnot), Fiona Byrne (Mrs. Aruthnot), Fiona Reid (Lady Hunstanton), Diana Donnelly (Mrs. Allonby), Julia Course (Hester Worsley), Mary Haney (Lady Pontefract), Jim Mezon (Sir John Pontefract) Oscar Wilde only wrote four comedies in the late Victorian era and they’re all worth reviving today. Clearly in agreement with that assessment, Jackie Maxwell, the artistic director of the Shaw festival, has already included Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan and An Ideal Husband in her programme over the years. Now, with A Woman of No Importance, the quartet is complete, just as Ms. Maxwell is finishing off her final season at the festival. Maxwell’s long-time associate Shaw director Eda Holmes has helmed this production, which features a fine ensemble performance led by the inimitable Fiona Reid (though she doesn’t have the major role), elegant design by Michael Gianfrancesco and an interesting temporal concept, moving the tale from late Victoriana to England in the early 1950s. A Woman of No Importance is an odd play for Wilde. Much of it takes place at a dinner party thrown by Lady Hunstanton (Fiona Reid) in which people drink, eat, play pool and flirt outrageously. Like all of his works, it features great aphorisms but when a plot eventually emerges about half way through the proceedings, it suddenly shifts to melodrama. Before getting into that most un-Wilde-like of all genres, let’s relish some of the aphorisms. During the very funny parts of the play, the elegant...
Weiner

Weiner

Weiner Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg, directors Starring: Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, Laurence O’ Donnell, Sydney Leathers  Documentary Feature Anthony Weiner is a great subject for a documentary. The former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives and New York City Councilor had apparently thrown away a brilliant political career when he was caught sexting with multiple women in 2011. Two years later, with the full-hearted support of his wife Huma Abedin, Weiner decided to revive his career by running for mayor of New York. At that point, Josh Kriegman, a former Weiner political aide, his filmmaking partner Elyse Steinberg, were allowed unprecedented access by Weiner to make a doc about his home life and campaign. At first, all went well. Audiences in New York took to Weiner, accepting his apology and embracing his opinions about how to better the city. Huma, a quiet but brilliantly effective woman, who is one of Hilary Clinton’s main political insiders, made rare public statements endorsing her man. At one point, in the Democratic mayoral primary Weiner was neck and neck with Bill de Blasio, who eventually was the winning candidate in the ensuing election. What happened to Weiner was extraordinary. He was caught in yet another sexting scandal, this time involving a part-time porn actress named Sydney Leathers. Rather than resigning from the campaign, Weiner insisted on fighting on, bringing his marriage and integrity into microscopic scrutiny and huge media attention. Weiner became the subject, once again, of jokes on all the late night shows from Colbert to Leno. He was harassed everywhere he went, including—memorably—a Brooklyn deli where he engaged...
The Neon Demon

The Neon Demon

The Neon Demon Nicolas Winding Refn, director & co-script w/Mary Laws & Polly Stenham Starring: Elle Fanning (Jesse), Jena Malone (Ruby) Karl Giusman (Dean), Bella Heathcote (Gigi), Abbey Lee (Sarah), Christina Hendricks (Roberta), Keanu Reeves (Hank) Is being an auteur a justification for creating horror films? Some would say yes and cite David Cronenberg and George Romero as two excellent filmmakers who shook us up with films like The Fly and Night of the Living Dead but did it artistically. If they can do it, should there be any reservations when Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn does the same? The Neon Demon is a deliberately provocative film about the modeling industry in Hollywood. Refn, whose previous films include Bronson, Drive and the Pusher trilogy, is clearly a filmmaker with a vision and a number of directorial signatures. His films are violent, pictorial and, at their best, absolutely compelling. But he’s also been accused of being a manipulative misogynist, incapable of writing and directing a film about women. His response to those accusations is this film. Set in Los Angeles, The Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning as Jesse, a 16-year-old virgin, who comes to Southern California to make it in the big time as a model. She quickly gets picked up by an agent, is immediately featured in hot film shoots and has a make up artist named Ruby (Jena Malone) come on to her as a friend and mentor. But things aren’t all great for Jesse. Two of Ruby’s friends, Sarah and Gigi, are models and jealous of her success. Jesse’s motel manager, Hank (Keanu Reeves) is an angry...
Tempest Storm

Tempest Storm

Tempest Storm Nimisha Mukerji, director and co-script w/Kaitlyn Regehr Full length documentary  Starring: Tempest Storm, Harvey Robbins, Herb Jeffries One of the biggest stars of the 1950s American underworld scene, with its nightclubs,  jazz musicians, comics and strippers, was the “classy” and marvelously endowed performer, Tempest Storm. Possibly the most renowned stripper of the period, she had affairs with Elvis and John F. Kennedy, and starred in a notorious erotic “art” film called Teaserama with the equally acclaimed Bettie Page. The Southern redhead caused considerable controversy in the late ‘50s when she married the “Black buckaroo” Herb Jeffries, a handsome African-American singer and actor. And a decade and a half later, Ms. Storm astonished a generation of rock’n’rollers by being the opening act for the James Gang when they played Carnegie Hall. There’s no doubt that Tempest Storm is worthy of a documentary feature. Nimisha Mukerji, the Canadian director of 65_Red Roses, about a young woman fighting cystic fibrosis, has focused on the tragic tale behind Tempest Storm’s bawdy triumphs. Now in her early 80s and no longer able to perform after injuring her hip while  stripping a few years ago, Storm is an auburn lioness in winter, ready for a doc portrait. Mukerji has come through, offering in Tempest Storm a sympathetic feature biography of a beautiful woman who had to fight a series of abusive men in order to become a star. But while she includes a few reminisces from Storm’s exciting past and a considerable amount of archival footage, Mukerji’s doc concentrates on the octogenarian performer trying to connect to her long lost family. As the...
Genius

Genius

Genius Michael Grandage, director John Logan, script based on Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg Starring: Colin Firth (Maxwell Perkins), Jude Law (Thomas Wolfe), Nicole Kidman (Aline Bernstein), Dominic West (Ernest Hemingway), Guy Pearce (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Laura Linney (Louise Sanders) When a film is titled Genius, the leading man or woman is normally quite obvious. Not in this case. Acclaimed theatre director Michael Grandage, who was the artistic head of the Donmar Warehouse in London for a decade, has chosen to make an uncompromising film debut with the tale of a book editor’s relationship to a major writer, set in long-ago New York, from 1929 through 1938. Considering that the book editor is Maxwell Perkins, who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and the writer is Thomas Wolfe, a highly acclaimed novelist during that time, it certainly isn’t clear who the “genius” is in Grandage’s film. And perhaps that’s the point. Wolfe met Perkins in the late 1920s when he was an unpublished novelist and his future editor was the talk of the literary world, having worked with Fitzgerald on The Great Gatsby (1925) and Hemingway on The Sun Also Rises (1926), arguably the most influential novels of the so-called Lost Generation. Perkins saw Wolfe’s talent and in arguably the most successful editorial feat of all time, cut 90,000 words from a prolix autobiographical tome called “O Lost,” transforming it into the brilliant debut novel, Look Homeward, Angel (1929). After that triumph, the emotionally needy Wolfe became a close friend of Perkins’ wife and five daughters. Many have claimed that Wolfe became his surrogate...
Maggie’s Plan

Maggie’s Plan

Maggie’s Plan Rebecca Miller, director and script from a story by Karen Rinaldi Starring: Greta Gerwig (Maggie), Ethan Hawke (John), Julianne Moore (Georgette), Bill Hader (Tony), Maya Rudolph (Felicia), Travis Fimmel (Guy), Wallace Shawn (Kliegler) Few romantic comedies meet the standards of the past. Quite frankly, there are no Cary Grants out there any more—and contemporary Audrey or Katharine Hepburns are also in short supply. Romantic comedies should be handled with seriousness but too often, today’s attempts descend into silliness or vulgarity. To laugh and to fall in love, even vicariously, you have to care about characters and what happens to them. That requires good writing, subtle dialogue and well-developed characters. Not an easy task in Hollywood today. So it’s nice to hail a new rom-com. Maggie’s Plan is a film written and directed by Rebecca Miller. Better known because she’s Arthur Miller and Inge Moraths’ daughter and Daniel Day-Lewis’ wife, Ms. Miller can stand on her own two feet. She possesses a fine talent, which has been obvious to those of us who watched with varying degrees of respect and pleasure The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Personal Velocity and The Ballad of Jack and Rosie. Each featured great performances by women—Robin Wright in Pippa Lee; Catherine Keener in Jack and Rosie; Kyra Sedgwick in Personal Velocity—and were heartfelt dramas. They weren’t, of course, comedies. With Maggie’s Plan, Miller has finally made a film that is approachable and fun to watch: not for cognoscenti alone but for a larger public. It features two fine performances by women—Greta Gerwig as Maggie and Julianne Moore as her rival/friend Georgette. What’s...