Seen at the Movies:

Mean Creek

, written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes, is a very commendable, well-crafted film about teenage cruelty and remorse. Rory Culkin plays Sam, a gentle 13-year-old whose life is made hell by an overweight bully (Josh Peck). With the help of his brother (Trevor Morgan) and several friends, Sam devises a revenge plot involving a river outing that, rather too predictably, goes horribly awry. The movie is gripping throughout, and the acting by the young cast is sensational: Peck’s performance as the bully, who shows softer dimensions that confound the other characters, is as fine as any I’ve seen this year. Yet there’s something a little schematic about the film, which seems rather insistent on teaching its audience a moral lesson. It’s definitely worth seeing, however, and it’s very well shot on suburban Oregon locations by Sharone Meir.


Mean Creek: Sandra Johnson/Paramount Classics

Margarethe von Trotta’s Rosenstrasse recounts the little known World War II story of German Gentile women who rescued their Jewish husbands from the hands of the Nazis, and from deportation to the camps, in 1943. They did so not through cover-of-night escapes but through very public protest and haranguing of the authorities, who were embarrassed by the spectacle of good Aryan women taking to the streets in anger. The film is a long, rather lumpen affair, with an awkward present-day framing device and flashback structure. But it’s also inescapably moving, even though the uncomfortable awareness that these women weren’t exactly putting themselves on the line for Jews without Gentile family ties is always present. There’s an excellent lead performance by Katja Riemann, and the story is given a handsome production by DP Ranz Rath, production designer Heike Bauersfeld, and costume designer Ursula Eggert.--John Calhoun


Rosenstrasse: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Seen on Broadway: As you enter and exit the Vivian Beaumont when attending The Frogs, a soundscape of the croaking critters reverberates around the plaza at Lincoln Center, a nice touch (courtesy Guy Sherman’s Aural Fixation) in a production hopping with little bits of pleasing business. That’s its limitation: A “revisal” of a piece Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove staged at Yale 30 years ago, loosely adapted from the play by Aristophanes and with new Sondheim songs and a book reworked by its star, Nathan Lane, The Frogs never really adds up.


Nathan Lane and Roger Bart in The Frogs: photo, Paul Kolnik

The brisk first act is knockabout musical comedy, the Greek equivalent to Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Lane is Dionysos, who, fearing the downfall of mankind as the Peloponnesian War ravages Athens, journeys to Hades to retrieve George Bernard Shaw, figuring the writer can set things right with a few new plays. Accompanying the god of drama is his skeptical slave, Xanthias (Lane’s Producers co-star, Roger Bart), and their misadventures down the river Styx, with a stoned Charon (John Byner) as their hapless ferryman, are fun, if never particularly inspired. Lane steals scenes, and Bart steals them right back. [Their ad-libbed wrangling over the lion suit, pictured, after it inadvertently fell apart during one scene, upstaged most of the script the evening I attended.] Adding to the amusement is a richly comic design from London’s Giles Cadle, that extends from ceiling to floor and includes the giant Grecian urn Dionysos appears from. Charon’s skull-decorated skiff descends to the stage below, and travels on a circular turntable to the bowels of the underworld. The voyage is comically accented by Gregory Meeh’s special effects, Scott Lehrer’s sound design, and Kenneth Posner’s humorous lighting, which includes lilypad projections when the title creatures, the complacent, do-nothing conformists Dionysos most despises, are encountered. William Ivey Long spawned their day-glo, rubberized costumes, while the aerial designers at Antigravity keep them and Lane jumping on bungee cords. Act I concludes with Lane being devoured by one of the beasts, an impressive, if only briefly glimpsed, creation from Little Shop of Horrors puppeteer Martin B. Robinson.

While Lane makes it back in one piece, the direction, by Susan Stroman, splinters in Act II. While the speechifying by Shaw (Daniel Davis, convincingly made up by Melissa Silver and strikingly wigged by Paul Huntley) and his rival for man’s salvation, Shakespeare (Michael Siberry) is inspiring to listen to (and makes you want to see more of Shaw’s plays in revival), you can feel the algae forming on the pond as the show, hoping to reflect more of our wartorn times, shifts from silly to serious. [It doesn’t help the cause of enlightenment that Stroman’s choreography and Sondheim’s numbers are uneven, with the liveliest contributions earlier on.] Although it falls short of Olympic glory, so long as it sticks to down-and-dirty burlesque The Frogs is suitably tongue-in-Greek summer entertainment.--Robert Cashill