Seen at the Movies:
Though it has its ecstatically violent moments, Kill Bill—Vol. 2 doesn’t supply the sustained adrenaline rush of its predecessor. In concluding his martial arts and Spaghetti Western-inflected tale of revenge, writer-director Quentin Tarantino seems to be going for something more emotionally and philosophically complex, but when star Uma Thurman stops killing and starts talking, particularly in a long concluding sequence with David Carradine (cast as the titular Bill who must be killed), the movie goes flat. Still, there are plenty of disreputable pleasures along the way, as Thurman faces off against fellow hit-persons Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah, who sports a fetching eyepatch to match her ensemble (as before, Catherine Marie Thomas’ costumes are killer). Madsen’s redneck character has taken up residence in a trailer in the Mojave Desert, a location spectacularly mined for its white-trash scenic vista potential by DP Robert Richardson. On the other hand, the cheesy 80s-TV look of Bill’s Mexican hacienda, created by production designer David Wasco, is a real visual drag. For the final 45 minutes or so, there isn’t much to look at in Kill Bill—Vol. 2, and Tarantino doesn’t adequately compensate with anything compelling enough to listen to.
Kill Bill: Andrew Cooper/Miramax Films
13 Going on 30, a Big retread directed by Gary Winick, is standard-issue in most departments, but it does showcase Jennifer Garner in a movie star-making role. The premise finds a gawky circa-1987 13-year-old wishing herself into the future; there, she finds her 30-year-old self installed in an enviable editorial role at a fashion magazine (that also, dubiously, pays the rent on a swanky Fifth Avenue apartment). The movie’s portrait of glamorously back-biting New York journalists is embarrassing, but Garner is funny and effervescent, costar Mark Ruffalo is appealing, and the technical package is smart. DP Don Burgess and production designer Garreth Stover give the movie the look of a glossy layout, and costume designer Susie DeSanto’s creations have real wit: turned loose on a closet full of designer clothes, Garner’s inner 13-year-old naturally puts together the most bubble gum-colored and bosom-enhancing ensembles she can manage.
13 Going on 30: Columbia Pictures
The costumes in the wan cross-dressing comedy Connie and Carla are very enjoyable as well: designer Ruth Myers has a ball imagining what the female title characters would come up with if forced to pass as drag queens. In this low-rent Some Like It Hot-Victoria/Victoria pastiche, Nia Vardalos (who also wrote the script) and the divine Toni Collette are lounge singers fleeing the mob by hiding out in a West Hollywood drag show. Their big-haired, over-the-top attempts to fit in provide the movie with some all-too-infrequent laughs, and credit must also go to makeup artist Connie Parker and Charles Porlier, and hair stylists Donna Bis and Paula Tremblay. Richard Greatrex’s cinematography and Jasna Stefanovic’s production design are less spot-on: Vancouver makes a poor substitute for L.A. Connie and Carla also boasts some entertaining musical numbers, but Michael Lembeck’s direction is fatally sluggish, and a subplot involving straight David Duchovny coming to terms with cross-dressing brother Stephen Spinella is bathetic.--John Calhoun
Connie and Carla: Eike Schroter/Universal Studios
Seen on Broadway: Reviewed for the record is Sixteen Wounded, which posted a closing notice as soon as it opened and will likely have expired by the time you read this. As I’d already responded to the press invite I felt duty-bound to see it so off I went to the Walter Kerr Theatre, with lowered expectations that were entirely fulfilled. It wasn’t a bad play and the cast, led by the usually scenery-chomping Judd Hirsch in a performance of Herculean restraint, was fine. But while well-intentioned Sixteen Wounded is (or, rather, was) the kind of show where every plot point is at least half-expected and nothing comes as much of a surprise; its potentially incendiary material is doused by blandly reassuring ethnic humor and sentiment. As directed by Garry Hynes (The Beauty Queen of Leenane) the scenes changed as quickly as possible but the pace couldn’t disguise that the drama was going nowhere fast.
Sixteen Wounded: Photo: Joan Marcus; Judd Hirsch and Omar Metwally
The time is the early 1990s. Eliam Kraiem’s drama begins with a bang, as a Palestinian refugee, Mahmoud (a shaded, sympathetic performance by Omar Metwally), is thrown through the window of a bakery owned by Hans (Hirsch), a Russian Jew who has lived in Amsterdam since surviving the Holocaust. Despite this unpromising start and their differing backgrounds the headstrong Mahmoud and Hans become friends, and Mahmoud takes a job in the bakery. He and fellow worker Nora (Martha Plimpton) begin a relationship, though Mahmoud is as close-mouthed about his murky past as Hans, who has an on-again, off-again romance with a local prostitute, the world-weary Sonya (Jan Maxwell). Mahmoud’s brother Ashraf (Waleed F. Zuaiter) shows up with an unwelcome package, setting the stage for the sharing of secrets, the baking of more bread, and another kind of bang, this time at the close. Set and costume designer Francis O’ Connor contributed a nice bakery set, half-kitchen, half-shop, lit with cold overhead fluorescents in the kitchen and more warmly in the shop by James F. Ingalls. The sound design by John Gromada amplified every boom, but in a difficult year for straight plays no one’s contribution could take Sixteen Wounded off the critical list. — Robert Cashill Seen off Broadway: The Roundabout Theatre Company has inaugurated its lovely new home for the Laura Pels Theater on West 46th Street with one of the finest dramas of the season, Lynn Nottage’s beautifully written, engagingly researched, and thoroughly moving Intimate Apparel. [If that’s not enough to propel it to the front ranks in a tepid season off and on Broadway, it’s quite funny, too.] Nottage based her story in part on the life of her great-grandmother, an African-American seamstress in New York circa 1905, who could have been one of those anonymous workers captured in period photographs. The playwright mixed social and family history to create the character of Esther, who has left her native South for the roar and tumult of fast-expanding Manhattan; Viola Davis, in a touching and faultless performance, brings her off the page and to life.
While part of the post-slavery generation, Esther, illiterate and unmarried at age 35 in the race- and class-conscious city, is hardly free. Her hard-won financial independence is the product of a different kind of constraint. Esther makes form-hugging corsets, splendidly crafted and decorated with fringe and beading, which two very different clients, the strait-laced socialite Mrs. Van Buren (Arija Bareikis) and the prostitute Mayme (Lauren Velez), prize for their erotic appeal. Into Esther’s bustling but lonely life comes a suitor, albeit one who communicates via letter: George, a Panama Canal worker (his missives, liltingly read by actor Russell Hornsby, convey fascinating history while advancing the emotional undercurrents of the drama). In response, Mrs. Van Buren and Mayme help Esther write her own letters, and in time George announces a visit to New York. Esther’s fabric supplier, Mr. Marks, an Orthodox Jew (played by Corey Stoll), gives her gorgeous Japanese silk to make the impending arrival a gift of a smoking jacket, though he and Esther share an unspoken attraction based in part on their shared love of fine materials. Esther’s landlady, Mrs. Dickson (Lynda Gravatt), warns her that George may not be the man he seems to be in his poetic letters, but she’s smitten by his charm and handsomeness and they marry soon after meeting. Their union, however, complicates, rather than solves, a story rippling with intimacy issues—and graced with terrific design.
Intimate Apparel Photo: Joan Marcus; Viola Davis and Lauren Velez
As you might imagine, a play called Intimate Apparel is a field day for a costumer, and Catherine Zuber does surpassing work here; all her clothes are precisely tailored to the history and bearing of each character, and her corsets are worth the effort it takes the actresses to get into them. [All the performers, I should add, wear her designs as clothes and not as costumes, a key distinction.] I assume she and set designer Derek McLane worked together to fill Mr. Marks’ shop with multicolored silks and other fabrics that have a vibrancy all their own; on his own, McLane has designed a sewing station for Esther downstage right and a bar for Mayme downstage left. In between, automation from Hyde Power Systems brings historically accurate setpieces like the tailor shop and the very different beds used by the characters on and off stage, across the dark cherry wood floor (preview bugs with the automation seem to have been resolved the night I saw the show). The lighting by Allen Lee Hughes evokes each of these varied settings, adds luminous touches to the readings of the letters, and replicates the period photographs that the show recreates at the end of each act. Most music for straight plays amounts to a few unmemorable bars of entrance and exit music but Harold Wheeler has contributed a jaunty ragtime score excellently blended with the ambient sounds of old New York by sound designer Marc Gwinn. And Lazarro Arencibia brings it all to a “head” with immaculate wig and hair design. In every way, Intimate Apparel, expressively directed by Daniel Sullivan, is cut from a finer cloth than anything else I’ve seen this year. — Robert Cashill