Seen at the Movies: Word has already gotten around that Oliver Stone’s highly touted, $150 million Alexander is a hoot-producing fiasco, and indeed it is. So many things go wrong with the writer-director’s long-gestating dream project about the Macedonian world conqueror that it’s hard to know where to point first. But an obvious place would be the casting in the title role of Colin Farrell, who is so ill equipped to play Alexander the Great that one has to wonder what Stone was thinking. Short, charisma-free, and equipped with a ridiculous bleach job, Farrell wears an anxious-bunny expression on his face throughout. Leading his troops against the Persians at the massive Battle of Gaugamela, Farrell looks like a little kid inexplicably being humored by the Greek army. A huge movie like Alexander could survive a lot of missteps—even this film’s inane dialogue, skewed structure, and thematic confusion—if the director at least got the central casting right. But Stone is in no such luck with Farrell.
Playing Alexander’s squabbling parents, Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie at least get to ham it up. Kilmer’s one-eyed King Philip is rough and magnetic, and Jolie’s Olympias, who wraps herself in snakes and delivers dark pearls of wisdom in Transylvania-accented tones, looks beautiful and is deliciously camp. As Alexander’s lover Hephaistion, Jared Leto returns Farrell’s rabbity gaze with big doe eyes (while there’s no man-on-man sex shown, this is at heart a very gay movie), while as Alexander’s Bactrian bride, Rosario Dawson steams up the proceedings. The film’s deadliest scenes feature Anthony Hopkins as an aged Ptolemy, narrating the events of Alexander’s life from a 40-year remove. At one point, Hopkins covers some central occurrences—the death of the hero’s father, his crowning as king, and his conquest of Egypt and much of the Near East—in the space of a few sentences, while you sit there thinking, "And we’re not being shown this why?" Stone returns to Philip’s death in a later flashback, but he never does make sense of his son’s rise to world conqueror. There are obvious corollaries drawn to the current American administration’s misadventures in the Middle East, but there are few clues as to what the director thinks of Alexander, and what meaning he wants the viewer to receive from his life.
The movie is sporadically spectacular, though the Gaugamela engagement is very confusing to watch and more than a little reminiscent of the battle scenes in the final Lord of the Rings movie. A later battle set in India, with elephants advancing and stomping on Alexander’s men and their horses, is one of the few sequences in the film with recognizable Stone flourishes; otherwise, Alexander could almost have been directed by anyone. Some of Jan Roelfs’ production design work is breathtaking, particularly his full-scale (though digitally enhanced) vision of ancient Babylon, hanging gardens and all. Costume designer Jenny Beavan also does an artful job imagining the various cultures Alexander both subdues and celebrates on his obsessive march east. But DP Rodrigo Prieto has done far more expressive work on such smaller scale movies as Amores Perros and 21 Grams. The logistics of the project must have been overwhelming, and one is all too aware of the toil that went into Alexander while sitting through its three-hour running time.—John Calhoun.
Seen on Broadway: A season of solo shows continues. Eve Ensler, the creator of The Good Body, isn’t exactly up there all alone at the Booth Theatre; she’s backed by an A-list of designers whose contributions put flesh on the bones of her thesis. So to speak, that is. Ensler, of Vagina Monologues fame, here gazes upwards at her slightly sagging belly, and offers a wide-ranging conversation about body image: her own, those of notable figures on different sides of the battle of the bulge, including Helen Gurley Brown and Isabella Rossellini, and women she’s met at "fat farms," plastic surgery centers in L.A., and on treks through Brazil, Africa, and Afghanistan. Most of her 80-minute amble through avoirdupois is agreeable, and at times even lacerating, as she explores just how far some will go to fabricate or maintain the endlessly elusive "perfect" body that magazines and the media flaunt. [I know now more about "laser vaginal reconstruction" than any man, and most women, I imagine, really should, thank you very much.] It is, however, a somewhat corseted evening despite the subject matter, brisk direction by Peter Askin, and her own candor, as when she recalls of her boyfriend’s unwanted affection, "When my partner rubs my stomach I want to vomit." Ensler isn’t much of an actress (Rossellini was in the front row the night I attended, upstaging the uninspired onstage mimicry by her very presence) and when she takes her plight to countries where famine is commonplace her navel-gazing tumbles into self-absorption.
Even in the segments that had my eyes rolling, I can’t argue that there wasn’t something interesting to look at. From start to finish Wendall K. Harrington’s prodigious video design effortlessly takes us to all points along Ensler’s route, with the Africa segment (a judicious blend of local imagery and artfully deployed scrims that brought me right into the continent) just one highlight. Early on the main projection screen (equipment from Scharff Weisberg) falls away to reveal Robert Brill’s dryly comical set, a fashion’s photographer’s studio complete with vacant-eyed mannequins to one side (a medicine ball tossed onto the stage, taunting Ensler’s unsuccessful workouts, is an amusingly insinuating prop). Scene changes are set off by the pop of flashbulbs, and LD Kevin Adams also keeps the pace with an automated rig (from GSD Productions, Inc.) that adds color and texture to the coolly colored set elements, provided by Atlas Scenic Studio and Hudson Scenic Studio, Inc. (Rose Brand and Paragon Inc. fabricated the props). David Van Tieghem provides a moody underscore, cued to the locales; otherwise, he and co-sound designer Jill BC Du Boff ensure that Ensler’s messages come through loud and clear on equipment provided by Sound Associates Inc. Only Susan Hilferty is a little underworked, though her black wraps for Ensler, which she removes to bare the naked truth, and a sari she dons are effectively revealing and concealing (the costumes were constructed at Eric Winterling, Inc.). Still, the most necessary setpiece, without which there would be no show, is Ensler’s protruding midriff, which she works like a pro.
Dame Edna Everage, Australian "gigastar," is a woman after Ensler’s heart. Large and lovely, brashly opinionated, and able to reduce audiences to tears (of laughter), Dame Edna has again taken up residence on Broadway, right across 45th Street from The Good Body, at the Music Box. At the outset, Dame Edna announces that this isn’t a sequel to her Royal Tour, one of the highlights of the 1999-2000 season; it is, rather, the "exact same show," which is not altogether a bad thing. She is, after all, Back with a Vengeance! and woe on you if you’re brought onstage and subjected to her "sharing, loving" comic humiliation, including live phone calls to your parents as part of her marriage counseling and reenactments of Dame Edna’s unhappy pre-fame days with you and fellow audience members as the outrageously costumed stars. More sensitive theatergoers will want to hide out in the "mezzie," where you can still catch one of the gladiolas she throws out at show’s end, assisted by her Gorgeous Ednaettes and Equally Gorgeous TestEdnarones (and, as always, with a little extra help from Barry Humphries).
It’s all in good fun, though maybe, to be honest, not as much fun as the last go-round, still imprinted on my mind as the most delightful show of its own unique type that I’ve ever seen. Her routines seem to take longer to warm up than they used to and once she’s off and running a lengthy intermission interrupts the hilarity. [Two-and-a-half hours is maybe too much of a good thing.] When the sassy septuagenarian is on top of her game, however, she really knows how to work a crowd, and a constantly wacky design (think Elton John unplugged and unhinged) is a consistent pleasure. She’s flown in on a pair of enormous butterfly sunglasses, provided by production designer Brian Thomson, who is also called upon to create a New York vista with a swanky "outdated view" and other setpieces, like a Down Under backdrop illustrated with placid kangaroos. [ShowMotion handled the scenic and flying effects.] LD Jane Cox, with an array of conventional and automated lights provided by Scharff Weisberg Lighting, and sound designer Dan Scheivert (of OMNItech) add to the overripe comic opulence. The show is stolen, however, by costume designer Will Goodwin, who (along with the costumers at John Schneeman Studio) knows that sequins, and not diamonds, are a girl’s best friend. His final "gown," an indescribable mélange of pop-up Manhattan kitsch that had the audience gasping, does a lady proud. --Robert Cashill