Heard from Carnegie Hall

: This week, I attended a special preview concert at the new Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall, the new venue located in Carnegie Hall, directly beneath the building's Isaac Stern Auditorium. This extraordinary project was created by digging into the bedrock of New York. ("A mining operation is not an easy thing, especially in Midtown Manhattan," said Robert J. Harth, Carnegie Hall's executive and artistic director, at a recent press conference.) The result is a beautiful, stunningly designed space, which can be reconfigured in three different ways. It will provide a home for an eclectic variety of musical events, including chamber groups, vocal recitals, jazz, world music, and more. Among those involved were Polshek Partnership Architects, Jaffe Holden Acoustics, theatre consultants Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, architectural lighting designers Auerbach /Glasow, the the Tishman Construction Corporation of New York (the latter being responsible for all that digging). Look for a feature story on this highly unusual project in an upcoming issue of Entertainment Design--David Barbour.

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A view of one possible configuration in Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall. Photo: Courtesy of Polshek Partnership Architects.

Seen at the Movies: Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is a lovely minor-key film, a delicate waft of mood and performance that threatens to float away while you’re watching it, but manages to stay put in your consciousness when it’s over. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson star as Americans jet-lagged and adrift in a huge luxury Tokyo hotel, disoriented by the city and culture outside, which feels both familiar and utterly alien. Murray plays a movie star in town to film a whiskey commercial, and Johansson is a young woman whose photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) is off on a shoot, leaving her stranded, sleepless, and bored. The two form an unusual alliance—ambiguous, non-sexual, but just right given the circumstances.


Lost in Translation. Photo: Yoshio Sato/Focus Features

Murray’s typically deadpan but deeply felt performance as an unhappy man who can be ironically self-aware of his own midlife crisis is a masterpiece; if he isn’t nominated for an Oscar this time (after being criminally overlooked for Rushmore), I will be picketing outside the Kodak Theatre. And Johansson, not yet 19, projects a moody sensuality that complements him perfectly. Lost in Translation’s expressive subtlety is such that you feel you’re watching two souls connect, and then spin off in separate directions. (Whether the relationship is actually believable, and not a fantasy of an older male figure providing non-threatening emotional succor to a vulnerable young woman, is a question that didn’t occur to me until later.) Coppola, who also wrote the script, is in admirable command of all its elements, even the slightly broad humor wrung from Japanese pronunciation. She has assembled a top-notch crew, most important among whom is DP Lance Acord, who uses high-speed film stock to capture Tokyo, which provides its own light, at night on the fly. The city’s Park Hyatt Hotel, the main location, is a perfect oasis of sterile anonymity, and is exploited well by production designers Anne Ross and K. K. Barrett; the understated costumes are by Nancy Steiner.

Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men provides a different take on an older man-younger woman relationship. Nicolas Cage stars as an obsessive-compulsive con man whose therapist advises him to get in the touch with the 14-year-old daughter (Alison Lohman) he’s never met. When she discovers what Dad does for a living, she takes to it alarmingly well. That outline doesn’t really convey what the movie’s like; Scott and screenwriters Nicholas and Ted Griffin juggle a number of elements and tones, at times more successfully than others. Predictably, the plot turns on a con, but the filmmakers provide more emotional layering than one expects. Matchstick Men--the title is another name for con men, though its origins are never explained--is the rare studio film that’s difficult to categorize, which is some sort of achievement. It’s also beautifully acted by Cage, Lohman, and Sam Rockwell, as Cage’s partner. Scott employs his usual flashy bag of tricks, using shock zooms and distortions to convey the main character’s affliction, and the film is shot, by John Mathieson, in a variation on the director’s favored hot, diffused style. Costume designer Michael Kaplan’s savvy is key in helping the 23-year-old Lohman once again (after White Oleander) pass for a young teen; the production design, which relies to a great extent on L.A. locations, is by Tom Foden.


Matchstick Men. Photo: Francois Duhamel/Warner Bros.

Three other new movies at least provide something to look at, even if that something isn’t always appealing. In Cabin Fever, special makeup effects outfit K.N.B. EFX Group, Inc. contributes some hilariously convincing representations of a flesh-eating disease plaguing a group of college students on vacation in the woods. Eli Roth’s horror film can’t seem to decide if it’s trying to be a parody or straight-up scary, and it succeeds at neither. Corey Yuen’s Hong Kong femme martial-arts caper So Close features the requisite way-cool fight stunts and way-cool cinematography (by Kwok Man-Keung), as well as the requisite idiocy…And Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s Party Monster, the story of druggy promoter and convicted murderer Michael Alig, at least gives costume designer Michael Wilkinson the chance to strut his super-outre club-kid stuff. The costumes are fun, but the movie is sordid and pointless, and one of the ugliest DV features yet. It’s probably the polymorphous Macaulay Culkin’s last shot at a perfect role, though.--John Calhoun


Party Monster. Photo: Content Films.

Seen Off Broadway: The solo show Berkshire Village Idiot is Michael Isaac Connor’s memoir of growing up angry, confused, and Irish-Catholic in rural new England. In his telling, the adolescent Mikey is given to acting out his rage against his father, Bob, a former prizefighter turned janitor who has re-enlisted in the Air Force to escape his dead-end life. When Bob returns from a tour of duty in Thailand, his family is imploding. Much of the action revolves around a battle regarding the fate of a beaver dam in a nearby lake, a conflict that draws in the Connors’ tragic next-door neighbor Reggie, who lost his son in an accident, Connor’s obese, alcoholic Uncle Jumbo, and most of the rest of the community. At its best, particularly in the early passages, Connor’s gift for mimicry and mocking sense of humor are most welcome, espeically when he is evoking Mikey’s hostile environment. After a bike accident, his mother bluntly informs him, “You’re not the type who can afford too many blows to the head.” When he makes a rare appearance in the confessional box, the local priest sighs, ”I didn’t want to start my morning with a soul as black and hopeless as your own.” His devout grandmother announces, “God is preparing a table for you at the Feast of Flames.” As for any feelings of hometown nostalgia, well, as Uncle Jumbo points out, “This is the only town that Robert Frost ever passed through without being inspired to write a poem,” adding that he may have erased one or two after the visit. The problem with the piece is that Connor, who is also a standup comic, is so successful at portraying his supporting characters, that he never gives any real emotional heft to the father-son conflict at the heart of the story. Given a choice between an unpleasant, but real, feeling, or an easy laugh, he will always choose the latter. As a result, a dark late-in-the-evening revelation feels totally unearned, closing the piece on a sour, manipulative note.


Berkshire Village Idiot Photo: Carol Rosegg.

Working in the weirdly configured Zipper Theatre (where the audience sits in car seats!) Derek McLane’s setting has a garage-like atmosphere, with a car motor and oil drums on stage, and rows of tires hanging on the back wall. This is another one of his installation settings, not unlike his work on I Am My Own Wife, and it is both simple and effective. Russell Champa’s lighting moves smoothly through a series of mood changes, many of which are signaled by Connor flipping the onstage fusebox; this is solid, fluent work. Laura Bauer’s single costumes looks totally authentic, and John Gromada’s design consists of a few rock music cues that provide bridges between scenes. Ultimately, however, Berkshire Village Idiot is more exhausting than entertaining.--DB