Seen at the Movies:

Last Orders

is a subtle gem to brighten up the dim moviegoing time of mid-February. Actually, "brighten" is probably the wrong word to use, for Fred Schepisi's film, based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Graham Swift, is both set and shot in typically gray English autumn and winter. The story is of a London butcher (Michael Caine) whose best friends (Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings, and Bob Hoskins) follow his last wishes after he dies and journey with his ashes to the ocean. Intercut with this trip are flashbacks spanning the men's long lives and friendships, used to poignant yet unsentimental effect. Also featured in the wonderful cast are Helen Mirren as Caine's wife and Ray Winstone as his used-car dealer son.

Schepisi, whose previous films include The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, A Cry in the Dark, and Six Degrees of Separation, is a master of the widescreen, creating so much life within the frame that Last Orders never seems depressing despite the understated, even dour, tone. DP Brian Tufano and production designer Tim Harvey make outstanding use of the locations, which range from the streets and pubs of Peckham and Bermondsey in south London to Canterbury Cathedral, the hop fields of Kent, and the seaside town of Margate. Costume designer Jill Taylor and makeup/hair artist Norma Webb provide styles for the actors and their younger counterparts which cover several decades, from the 1940s through the 80s.

Hart's War is a much blunter piece of work--a typical piece of Hollywood engineering, very right-thinking and simplistic. The World War II setting, designed by Lilly Kilvert, certainly feels authentic: a cold, muddy German POW camp, where allied prisoners played by, among others, Bruce Willis and the dreamy-looking Colin Farrell, are housed. Created on a location in—where else?—the Czech Republic, this stalag looks like a truly miserable place. (Hogan's Heroes it ain't.) What goes on there is less persuasive: a Nazi commandant-sanctioned court martial of a black officer (Terrence Howard) accused of killing a white racist soldier. The three main characters each get an opportunity to behave very nobly. Further contributing to the film's visual, if not dramatic, integrity is Alar Kivilo's cinematography. Blue and gray hues are overwhelmingly favored in the no-sun-allowed images, while period tungsten lamps were used to light the camp. Prison garb is designed by Elisabetta Beraldo.--John Calhoun

Seen on Broadway: An Almost Holy Picture is the title of a monologue by Heather McDonald about a church groundskeeper whose life is one long crisis of faith. If it isn’t the bus accident that killed nine schoolchildren, then it’s his daughter, who is born with a rare disease that covers her body with golden fleece. Along the way, we hear about, among other things, John Ruskin, English gardener Gertrude Jekyll, The Glass Menagerie, the song “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” the art of photography, and various dreams, visions, and other ineffable phenomena. I used the word monologue because An Almost Holy Picture is many things, but it is not a play. It’s short on narrative and its intellectual argument is, to say the least, undeveloped. It’s really a kind of Sunday sermon dressed up for the stage, although, thanks to the considerable powers of Kevin Bacon, it isn’t really dull. Furthermore, set designer Mark Wendland and lighting designer Kevin Adams have done superb work, setting the play on a mound of dirt filled with debris and a river at the front edge of the stage, a space that is constantly transformed by light. The designers do much to add a sense of mystery to McDonald’s rather arid text.--David Barbour


The EOS party

Heard on the Street: Christien Methot, president and lead LD for Manhattan-based Design One Corporation, designed the lighting for EOS Orchestra's gala dinner party and concert held on the seventh floor of Sotheby's in New York City on Monday evening, February 11. "It was an evening of all-American Pops," says Methot, who went for a red, white, and blue design theme in keeping with the music. "We projected abstract white stars on blue walls and put red stripes on the floor." Big Apple Lights supplied the rig, which featured some old-style gear, including 38 6x12 Altman 360Q ellipsoidals and 33 6x9 Altman 360Q ellipsoidals, used to project the stars with Apollo #2420 star gobos, and for shutter cuts to create the stripes on the floor. Dimmers ranged from an EDI Scrimmer 48 x 2.4kW rack to two 3kW manual Variac dimmers that plug into the wall. "These allowed us to have equipment all over the room without running cables," explains Methot. "You can dim the lights, but not run cues. So you set it and forget it." The console was an ETC Expression 2X, with 30 ETC Source Four Parnels used to light the orchestra. "We also used battery-powered Christmas lights on the tables," Methot adds. "The lighting helped turned an ordinary sales floor into a gorgeous space." Associate designers Todd Gardner and Brian Orter collaborated with Methot on the design.--Ellen Lampert-Greaux