Seen at the Movies:

It’s only been out in theatres for a week, but The Alamo is already widely known as a bomb. Is anyone really surprised? The story of the Mexican army’s siege of the Texas mission and makeshift fort in 1836 has been told on film several times before—most notably, by John Wayne, in 1960—and it’s likely that most viewers know the name the Alamo and the fact that something bloody happened there. Beyond that, the event recedes into remote historical memory, and John Lee Hancock’s lumbering and often incoherent $100 million-plus movie does little to rescue it. The issues at stake in the battle between the Mexican General Santa Anna and the stubborn Texians holed up in the fort are, to put it kindly, not well elucidated, so all the fighting and dying seems somewhat pointless, even nihilistic. If this were intended, it could conceivably be an interesting approach, but there’s no evidence Hancock and his co-writers have any focused point of view beyond getting the details of prop and costume right.

The Alamo
Photo:Deana Newcomb/Buena Vista Pictures

The press notes make a very big deal about production designer Michael Corenblith’s painstaking recreations of the fortress and adjacent town of San Antonio de Bexar on a 51-acre site in the Texas hill country. It is, we are told, the largest free-standing set ever built on location in North America. That doesn’t make it very interesting: the Alamo isn’t that notable as a piece of architecture, and the scrupulously reproduced dustiness of the setting tends to cast a visual pall. DP Dean Semler seems defeated by the dull brownness—scene after scene lacks contrast and flair, resulting in the most blah-looking epic-sized film I’ve seen in a long time. The only eye-catching thing on hand are the costumes, by Daniel Orlandi, who makes a virtue of historical exactitude. The 1830s are a relatively unfamiliar in-between period, particularly in the burgeoning West, so it’s fascinating to see the defenders wearing dirty tailcoats and top hats, and facing an army decked out in splendiferous Napoleonic shakos and gold embroidery. Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) does wear a coonskin cap, but he reveals that it’s only to live up to the image created by an actor impersonating him on stage.

The Alamo
Photo: Deana Newcomb/Buena Vista Pictures

Thornton is the best, maybe the only, reason to see the movie. His Crockett is both modest and aware of his iconographic responsibilities, and his eventual embrace of his unexpected fate at the Alamo is the most lucid development in the movie. Crockett also has a low-key scene explaining why he won’t eat "taters" that is the perhaps the only moment one’s full attention is commanded by something on screen. It certainly isn’t commanded by the other actors, including the reliably somnambulistic Jason Patric as Jim Bowie, Patrick Wilson as uptight Lt. Col. William Travis, and, as Gen. Sam Houston, a disappointingly constricted Dennis Quaid. Maybe it’s time to lay the saga of the Alamo to rest once and for all.--John Calhoun

Seen on Broadway: Given generally poor reviews, Match will likely be extinguished soon at the Plymouth Theatre, but the first act of this eccentric comedy-mystery-drama strikes a few sparks in a fun-bad sort of way. In full flamboyant flutter, Frank Langella stars as Tobi, a former ballet dancer and instructor whose colorful, globe-trotting past disguises a shabby, sexless present in upper Manhattan, "just 45 minutes from Broadway." From Seattle comes a rare visitor, Lisa (Jane Adams), who’s writing some sort of doctoral dissertation on choreography. Accompanying her is her aloof husband, Mike (Ray Liotta), whose knife-edged interjections as Lisa begins her interview suggest the set-up of a Harold Pinter play. After a few nibbles on Chex treats, a couple of whiskeys, and a bit of hash smoking, the bitter truths come tumbling out. There is no dissertation; Mike, a homophobic cop, is searching for his long-lost father; and Tobi, whatever his present inclinations, may be dad. Act I ends with Mike forcibly swabbing Tobi’s mouth to obtain a DNA sample, which he plans to have analyzed that night to prove his paternity.

Match Photo:Joan Marcus

So far, so watchable. Playwright Stephen Belber’s Tape, seen off-Broadway and adapted as an indie film, had a more tightly plotted (and plausible) "three-hander" situation, but in Langella he and director Nicholas Martin have the ideal actor to bounce a few quirks and quips off of (riffs Tobi of his early success, "I was the talk of the town in that part of that town where they talked about dance"). Liotta (who seems to lost the heft that Alec Baldwin put on in Twentieth Century) and Adams do what they can with less meaty material, but are down to table scraps as the preposterousness barely held in check previously overwhelms the second act. Lonely Lisa and a torn Tobi, kindred spirits, scrutinize Mike’s "dance-father hate issues" and contemplate cunnilingus in a ridiculous scene, while Mike reappears with an unbelievable change in attitude that rocked the house with unintended laughter. While Belber may have planned these inconsistencies to keep us guessing, he lacks the finesse to make them credible in their own right. I won’t spoil the surprise of Mike’s parentage, but I can say that Match suggests the bastard child of Pinter and a soggy sentimentalist like Ernest Thompson (On Golden Pond).

Set designerJames Noone and lighting designer Brian MacDevitt make sturdier contributions. Noone’s Inwood apartment, with its elderly orange couch and furniture, a trunk for a table, and vanity photos hung on the walls, is precisely the place you’d find an aging, near-penniless bohemian like Tobi at. MacDevitt’s sun-dappled illumination, giving way to twilight through the stage left windows, complements the table lanterns and lights strung around the apartment to liven it up a little. Tobi’s casual let-it-all-hang-out shorts, Lisa’s business-professional brown skirt and pale pink sweater, and Mike’s black sportcoat, supplied by costume designer Michael Krass, tell us as much about them from the outset as Belber does over two hours (I guess he takes the blame for the multicolored sweaters that Tobi knits obsessively). Someone, maybe sound designers Kurt Kellenberger and Jerry Yager, should however check Adams’ body mic, which went on the fritz in Act II—Match, though, had started to dim before that.— Robert Cashill

Heard in Houston: The Houston Grand Opera has announced its 50th anniversay season in 2004-2005. Champion of new operas, Houston has two additional world premieres on the schedule for this golden jubilee season: Set to open on October 29 is David Catán's Salsipuedes, a tale of Love, War, and Anchovies, set in the Caribbean in the war-torn 1940s, with sets by Allen Moyer, costumes by Constance Hoffman, and lighting by James F. Ingalls. The second new opera is Mark Adamo's Lysistrata, The Nude Goddess, based on the classic Greek comedy by Aristophanes, with sets by Derek McLane, costumes by Murell Horton, and lighting by Howell Binkley. This one goes up in March. A recent world premiere, Rachel Portman'sThe Little Prince, seen in Houston two years ago, will be back. This opera marks one of the final productions with sets and costumes designed by the late Maria Bjornson, with lighting by Rick FisherEllen Lampert-Gréaux

The Little Prince in Houston.