By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Just like last year's Oscars, the next ones are being actively coveted by ripped-out-of-the- headlines reflections of actual violence (The Queen, Bobby, The Last King of Scotland, Catch a Fire, Flags of Our Fathers, the two 9-11 movies, the death-to-Dubya one), not to mention truckloads of real-life tyrants, from QUEEN ELIZABETH to Idi Amin to ANNA WINTOUR. Even more scarily, with HELEN MIRREN and PETER O'TOOLE angling to win the top prizes, the Oscar organizers must be shitting themselves and screaming, "They're so old! Our ratings will be lower than MEGAN MULLALLY's!"
While we're waiting for the glory-bound to get even closer to the crypt, let's glance back at the recent spate of attention-craving films before cleansing our palate with some popcorn-flavored sorbet and moving on. First of all, Borat would be the funniest movie of the year even if just for the title shmegegge finding the naked fat guy's ass on his face. (But don't expect any Oscars for this one. Why? Because it's the funniest movie of the year!) Not quite as hilarious, Babel is long, confusing, contrived, and all right, powerful, with BRAD PITT getting one of those Oscar-friendly "phone scenes," only to have the whole movie stolen by ADRIANA BARRAZA as the Mexican nanny running faster than PETE DOHERTYat a customs checkpoint.
Conscientiously fleeing from blockbusters, NICOLE KIDMAN is brave to always pick such offbeat projects, but unfortunately she usually picks the wrong ones. In fact, she's lucky her husband had to go into rehab the second she was going to have to do more promotion for the misbegotten Fur. While the Diane Arbus not-a-biopic poignantly attempts to show the beauty in freakdom, it's deeply boringand what's more, it's about a woman who's made to take it all off in her liberating experience at a nudist camp starring a woman who uses a body double.
Stranger Than Fiction a/k/a Adaptation of The Truman Showtries too hard to be effortless as it attempts to free WILL FERRELL into the realm of capital-A acting (i.e., talking softer and slower and not smiling as much). The film unconvincingly pre-sents a guy who realizes he must break out of someone else's story by living to the full, with Ferrell donning JIM CARREY's old behavioral straitjacket in a doomed bid for trophies. (But it's hardly a complete washout; the tone is amiable enough and EMMA THOMPSON scores as a wack job Diane Arbus would love.)
A review of a revision of a revival of a revival
Now bring on the sorbet. No, bring on the fizzy theaterespecially Tony Award types sticking their esteemed asses in, if not on, my face. The dress rehearsal for Chicago's 10th anniversary star-laden performance enabled me to catch up with virtually all the replacement cast members I'd ever missed. The show started with the original Velma, the legendary CHITA RIVERA, rising up to deliver "All That Jazz" with a knowing gleama magical moment that made my rouged knees weak. From there, different performers jumped into the roles at various points, which thrillingly resulted in two simultaneous Big Mamas and three Mary Sunshines, all proving the 'mo the Mary-er. BROOKE SHIELDS was a limber, wonderful Roxie on "We Both Reached for the Gun." (I might even forgive her for going to TomKat's wedding.) And then ANNA NICOLE SMITHI mean MELANIE GRIFFITHtook over and proved to be adorable, woozily saying her lines in a way that got big laughs while seeming totally true to the character. Of course Melanie's "singing" was rather like a kid in a school pageant trying not to miss a note, which I guess was kind of cute. But her dancing mostly involved slowly rocking her raised arms back and forth, as Bob Fosse no doubt flailed in his coffin. In lieu of the elaborate physical riffing generally found at the climax of the song "Roxie," Melanie just lay onstage cooing at the hardworking male dancers writhing around her. But she's got star quality and that's just what the show's aboutthe ability of razzle-dazzle to obscure the truth and cloud people's doubts.
The revival of Tennessee Williams's Suddenly Last Summer seems to only have stunted casting. Fab BLYTHE DANNER keeps her dignity, but CARLA GUGINO's unmodulated performance brings mannered hysteria to every moment and chews so much scenery there's nothing but a twig and a cup of tea left at the end. It's unbearable! Besides, I preferred this showabout two battling women and a bland guy rehashing the past in a creepy mansion overrun with foliagewhen it was called Grey Gardens.
Speaking of that gothic tap-dance fest, CHRISTINE EBERSOLE has gotten unanimous raves for playing two different roles. Big deal. KRISTIN CHENOWETH will play three in The Apple Tree! (By the way, I'll save you six months of wondering and tell you now who the next musical- actress Tony nominees will be: Ebersole, Chenoweth, AUDRA MCDONALD, DONNA MURPHY, and DEBRA MONK. And all five of those greedy whores have Tonys already!)
Awake and shtup
But something young and new is actually coming to Broadway Spring Awakening, the musicalization of the 1891 Wedekind play about teen mattress dancers on a hormonal rampage as the grown-ups feel their knickers twisting. When I got the press release promising "homosexuality, abortion, and teen suicide," I frantically booked my tickets and even got on the phone with composer DUNCAN SHEIK, the ever boyish singer-songwriter who generously played six questions with me.