Man does not live by Trump alone, so here’s a reap of some of my recent attempts to remember that there’s a lot more to life than incompetent politics, ire and fake drama. Real drama, for instance.
First, the bad news. Some reviewers thought “Beatriz at Dinner” was worth a look. They were wrong. Salma Hayak stars s a Mexican immigrant turned California faith-healing masseuse whose car breaks down at a wealthy client’s mansion.
She is invited to dinner, much to her plutocratic husband’s dismay because the guest of honor is a billionaire real estate developer and he doesn’t want an alien bacillus infecting the proceedings. Which she promptly does.
Mr. Big, played with likable, amoral verve by John Lithgow is an endangered-species shooting, employee exploiting, nature despoiling nightmare to the new age Hayak who tells him so. Alas, the potential for an actual debate or dramatic conflict is squandered by a script that is painted in stark black and white and an implausible ending that manages to make the villain look less unhinged than the heroine.
“Dunkirk” has won raves which sucked me into wasting the price of admission. I should have been forewarned since the critical community seems to believe director Christopher Nolan can do no wrong. By contrast, I have always thought he makes rather heartless, too-clever-by-half movies that are more mathematical puzzles to solve than dramas to be felt. His Dark Knight Batman trilogy was dark but endurable, but “Inception,” “Interstellar,” “Memento” and others seemed more about him showing off than us being moved.
In “Dunkirk,” Nolan tackles the story of the miraculous escape of a third of a million ill-prepared troops about to be pushed into the sea by a superior Nazi war machine. They were saved, of course, by the knick of time arrival of an armada of small ships that snatched them off the beach.
Nolan has tried to do justice to the scope of the operation by following a few soldiers on the ground, one fighter pilot in the air and one small, private boat at sea. Unfortunately, this makes the story rather diffuse, and it is also marred by Nolan’s habitual and unnecessary messing with chronology.
Worse, almost to a man, the soldiers are portrayed as weak, timorous, defeatist, corrupt and unreliable. The only heroes are Tom Hardy as the pilot, hidden behind an oxygen mask for the entire picture, and the matchless Mark Rylance as the small boat skipper, but they are only on stage fleetingly. As usual wth Nolan, I was unmoved.
At the other extreme, a film with a lot of heart that deserves its fine reviews is the endearing autobiographical comedy “The Big Sick” starring Kumail Nanjani and co-written by he and his wife, Emily Gordon, whose story it tells.
He is a Pakistani-American stand-up comic whose parents are intent on arranging a marriage wth a nice Muslim girl. They keep having pre-vetted candidates drop in at family dinners. He is uninterested and instead falls for Emily, a nice American girl (Zoe Kazan), who dumps hm when she discovers he has flinched from declaring his feelings to his parents or shutting down their matchmaking bazaar.
The big sick of the title is a mysterious virus that first puts her into the hospital and next into an induced coma. He is at the hospital when her parents arrive (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) who know all about their relationship and initially view him as worse for their daughter than the disease she has contracted.
But he joins their vigil, misery loves company, and by the time she awakens all is forgiven. Except by her. She has been unconscious to witness his steadfastness. Cleverly plotted and nicely performed, “The Big Sick” is a welcome relief from the summer glut of superheroes and exploding ordnance.
I also recently saw the latest National Theater Live presentation, this one of “Twelfth Night” which I recommend if it comes around again. It stars a show-stealing Tamsin Greig as a female Malvolio who falls in love with the Countess Olivia that she serves.
National Theater’s live streaming to movie palaces around the world of some of Britain’s best stage productions is a treasure. Broadway should do the same, and we should be able to watch these and many other cultural goodies on a pay-per-view basis in our own homes. Surely, this is the future.
Until then, the next show coming to a theater near me is on Sunday the 13th, a 50th Anniversary production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” the play that made him famous. This version stars Daniel Radcliffe. For a list of coming attractions and a theater near you, check out ntlive.nationaltheatre.org/uk.
Finally, the doldrums of summer TV are mitigated by the final season of “Orphan Black” on BBC America, one of he best series ever contrived with an astonishing tour de force performance by Tatiana Maslany playing 12 different cloned siblings who answer once and for all the Nature vs. Nurture question.
The new version of “The Last Tycoon” on Amazon isn’t perfect, but it has a workmanlike cast and cashes in on the glittering mystique of Golden Age Hollywood in the late 1930s. Like Fitzgerald himself, the show fails to make the ingenue role of Cecelia Brady anything but annoying, in the immortal words of Oscar Hammerstein’s Soliloquy for “Carousel,” “a skinny lipped virgin wth blood like water.” And since F. Scott died before finishing the book, we shall have to see how the screenwriters decide it should end.
“Will” is a dramatization of Shakespeare’s life which tries to have it both ways. It takes full advantage of gaps and ambiguities in the historical record ti embroider. Some of its suppositions, such as a secret adherence to the ousted Catholic faith by the Shakespeare and Arden clans, are at last plausible. Others are wildly fanciful, and some completely anachronistic, such as the presence of female actors on stage, one of whom is actually portrayed as Shakespeare’s writing coach and collaborator. There’s also a pandering attempt to appeal to post modern sensibilities with a pop chart musical score and a rock and roll Christopher Marlowe who is played as if the actor were trying to channel Russell Brand. But if you check your knowledge of history at the door, “Will” can be an amusing fantasia on the Elizabethan stage.