Archive for classic

“Rififi” – Los Angeles film review

Marie Sabouret and Jean Servais in Jules Dassin’s Rififi, 1955. Courtesy Rialto Pictures / Gaumont.

Marie Sabouret and Jean Servais in Jules Dassin’s Rififi, 1955. Courtesy Rialto Pictures / Gaumont.

The heist movie that started an enduring trend — Rififi — is being revived. Rialto Pictures is theatrically re-releasing Jules Dassin’s seminal 50′s heist film, set on the streets of Paris. Rififi will play September 4 — 10  in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal, for the first time in DCP. A theatrical run in New York is also happening, Sept 2 — Sept 8.

The great thing about Rififi is that it most definitely still holds up. Set in the seedy underworld of crims and nightclubs, also on the (curiously unpopulated) streets of Paris, the moody black and white movie features tough-as-nails and sinister characters, mostly middle aged with craggy faces. Their dames are shapely and pretty housewives or racy singer / gold digger types. The dialogue exchanges are of the hard-boiled variety. There’s lots of old-fashioned slang in there, too, if you speak a little French — the movie is subtitled.

The story is a classic one – Le Stephanois is out after five years behind bars for stoically taking some rap and not squealing. His old mates suggest a smash and grab jewelry job but he proposes a more ambitious heist. It involves assembling a crew that includes a safe cracking expert plus a water-tight plan to disable a sophisticated alarm system. What follows is a brilliant and taut twenty-minute heist sequence that is executed to perfection, notable for its absence of dialogue and music as the crims communicate wordlessly. There’s even the ingenious use of an umbrella. The heist happens at the mid-point of the movie, and, of course, things do not go so smoothly thereafter…

This classic French film by celebrated director Jules Dassin was a sensation upon release in 1955, and is widely regarded as one of the early heist films in cinema history. It has influenced countless generations of filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, and many others.

Director Jules Dassin (1911 – 2008) began his filmmaking career in the early 1940s and is known for his hits  Brute Force (1947), The Naked City (1948), and Thieves’ Highway (1949). His career later took a hit when he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and a subsequent move to France helped revive his career and was the setting for his most acclaimed film, Rififi (1955).

RIFIFI (ri-fí-fi) n. French argot. 1. Quarrel, rumble, free-for-all, open hostilities between individuals or gangs, rough-and-tumble confrontation between two or more individuals. 2. A tense and chaotic situation involving violent confrontations between parties.
Etym.: probably derived from rif “combat,” Italian argot ruffo “fire,” Latin rufus “red.” Since 1942: Paris underworld slang coined by Auguste Le Breton during a gangland clash in 1942 and popularized in his novel “Du rififi chez les hommes” (Paris: Gallimard, 1953) and the film directed by Jules Dassin (1955). The enormous popularity of that movie led to the use of “rififi” in the titles of several unrelated thrillers.


Do not miss the revival of this classic drama.


September 4 — 10, 2015
Laemmle Royal
More info here.

September 2 — Sept 8, 2015
Film Forum
More info here.





“La Traviata” – opera review for Stage Raw – Los Angeles theater review


Photo by Craig Matthew.

Photo by Craig Matthew.

Hello opera and #LAThtr fans!
Here is an intro and link to our first opera review for the critical website Stage Raw — which contains the latest arts and theater coverage from our intrepid team of journalists & critics.

Happy reading!


La Traviata  music by Giuseppe Verdi,  Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.

LA Opera has launched their new season by bringing back their 2006 staging of La Traviata. Director and designer Marta Domingo’s chic concept reimagines and transposes Giuseppe Verdi’s timeless romance to the decadent Roaring Twenties. The spare, almost minimal, sets are buoyed by dazzling flapper-style gowns, wreaths of diamonds and stylish tuxedos to convey the giddy, glitzy world of 1920s Paris, where a naïve young man falls head over heels for a glamorous party girl.

Nino Machaidze, one of LA Opera’s favorite leading ladies, returns to the Dorothy Chandler stage to step into the role of Violetta Valéry for the first time in her career, and truly owns the stage with her magnificent performance. Proving herself more than capable of meeting the vocal challenges of the demanding lead role, Machaidze also beautifully and authentically conveys the depth of emotions of this tragic heroine. Playing her besotted beau Alfredo Germont, Arturo Chacón-Cruz does not fare as well. Initially his voice sounds thin and weak, gaining some strength once he crosses downstage. The young tenor appeared to be in the soprano’s shadow and the two leads seem mismatched in power until Act II, where Chacón-Cruz appeared to gain more confidence. Admittedly, this imbalance does serve the storyline; she’s an upwardly mobile courtesan and he’s a bourgeois milquetoast. Playing Alfredo’s imposing father Giorgio Germont, tenor and LA Opera General Director (and husband to the show’s director) Plácido Domingo brings his legendary status and charisma to the stage. Once again, the relative inexperience of Chacón-Cruz was evident in his Act II duets and scenes with Domingo, whose rich vocal interpretation and gravitas spoke of a decades-long career. Better vocally matched, the duets between Machaidze and Domingo are electric.

While Machaidze’s bright and warm performance is enjoyable, she only sends thrills down your spine once, with Amami, Alfredo, amami quant’io t’amo — “Love me, Alfredo, love me as I love you,” during Violetta’s forlorn duet with Alfredo in Act II, sc ii. Music Director James Conlon conducts with a furious intensity and delicacy.

Former soprano turned director, Marta Domingo has a lot of fun with the 20’s staging, bringing a classic automobile — a rare, collectible vintage Chrysler — onto the stage in Act I for Violetta’s grand entrance. The gypsies of the party scene of Act II, sc ii are reimagined as statuesque ballet dancers, clad in gold helmets and tinkly gold mini dresses. Barefooted, they pirouette and strike angular poses reminiscent of both Egyptian friezes and the automaton from Fritz Lang’s futuristic silent movie classic Metropolis. (Divine choreography is by Kitty McNamee.)

Two of the dancers return in Act III for a brief fantasy scene, where Violetta hallucinates during her final hours. During the overture of Act III, an ailing Violetta lies motionless on a large daybed draped in a white lace coverlet. Behind her, surrealistically, is a backdrop of stars and fine snow cascades and falls upstage. Especially here do we see how the elegant simplicity of Domingo’s staging permits the music to dominate our focus.


Go here to read the rest of this review…


La Traviata plays for select performances through September 28, 2014 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

All information available at the official website.


A scene from LA Opera's June 2006 production of "La Traviata." Photo: Robert Millard.

A scene from LA Opera’s June 2006 production of “La Traviata.” Photo: Robert Millard.






“Psyche: A Modern Rock Opera” – latest theater review for Stage Raw – Los Angeles theater review

Photo by Barry Weiss.

Photo by Barry Weiss.

Dear #LAThtr fans,

Here follows the introduction to my latest theater review for Stage Raw.

Happy reading!


Psyche: A Modern Rock Opera by Cindy Shapiro.

The ancient Greek myth of the challenged romance between Psyche and Eros is the well from which sprang numerous Princess-themed fairytales. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast — even echoes of the Pandora, Eurydice and Hercules myths can be detected in this early story of passion, jealousy, betrayal and redemption.

A god becomes enamored with a beautiful mortal, much to the chagrin of his possessive mother who sets up various tests to thwart their romance.

Creator Cindy Shapiro has fashioned a vibrant and exciting rock-opera from this richly romantic source material, investing her book, music and lyrics with a magical blend of timeless antiquity combined with the contemporary. Pounding drums and haunting electric guitar riffs are underscored by mournful cello and sweet strains of violins. What the songs may lack in musical variation is well compensated by dynamic tunes and matched by energetic dance routines. Janet Roston’s superb choreography is fluid and, at times, percussive such as when it occasionally incorporates claps and fleshy slaps into the casts’ movement. Some of the chorus members (singers and dancers) even glide into ‘tissue’ silk hammocks for some acrobatic gestures while our heroes occasionally ascend a two-level trapeze swing. A highlight is the exuberant undulating waves of movement when Eros falls in love.

Go here to read the remainder of this review.

Psyche: A Modern Rock Opera — Book, music and lyrics by Cindy Shapiro.

Performances: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 7pm.

Runs through Sunday, September 28 at the Greenway Court Theatre, 544 North Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood.

Tickets: $34.99 – available online here – or call 323.655.7679 x100




Werner Herzog’s “Nosferatu the Vampyre” – playing at Cinefamily – Los Angeles film review

More a curiosity piece than a great film, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre — the 1979 remake of F. W. Murnau’s 1922 silent black & white picture Nosferatu — is nevertheless considered a modern classic of German cinema. This spooky and atmospheric Vampire flick will screen theatrically in Los Angeles at Cinefamily on Fairfax from May 16 — 22. In a special 35th anniversary tribute, Cinefamily is presenting a brand new 35mm color print of the seldom-seen German language / English subtitled edition of this 20th century horror movie.

Thrillingly, the legendary director himself, Werner Herzog, is confirmed to attend the opening night screening on Saturday May 16th.  All information, including where to pre-purchase tickets can be found below.

Set primarily in 19th-century Wismar, Germany and Transylvania, and featuring some gorgeous and mysterious filming on remote locations, the movie was conceived as a stylistic remake of Murnau’s 1922 German Dracula adaptation. It proves semi-successful; odd and not all that scary, yet relatively faithful to Bram Stoker’s seminal ‘penny-dreadful’ novel Dracula. The cinematography is beautiful at times, but generally more realistic and domestic than the stunning, off-kilter expressionistic photography seen in Murnau’s original. [Friedrich Wilhelm “F. W.” Murnau (December 28, 1888 – March 11, 1931) was one of the most influential German film directors of the silent era.]

Portraying the predatory Count, Klaus Kinski is bizarrely made up as a rat-like, pale demon — creepy and otherworldly. In creating the vampire, Herzog and his star emulated the striking art direction seen Murnau’s German expressionist film, rendering his Count Dracula more like an animal than a human. The face and bare, shaved skull are ghostly white. The fingernails are savagely long and pointed. Appropriately — perhaps even a bit too obviously — the Count’s ears are pointy as well, just like those of a bat.

With her fair skin, luminous beauty and wide blue eyes, a young Isabelle Adjani successfully plays her ‘silent movie’ horror role of Lucy Harker to perfection. Bruno Ganz is also excellent as the young and naive hero Jonathan Harker.

Some dramatic scenes in this movie feature hundreds of live rats, teeming in packs, and invading the town infesting it with plague. (Traditionally, the curse of the Vampire’s bite was often equated with the rat-borne bubonic plague.)

According to wikipedia, these rats were treated inhumanely during production and regrettably many died from being plunged into boiling dye — Herzog wanted the white rats to be dyed grey.  12,000 rats were transported from Hungary to the Netherlands (for filming) and allegedly insufficiently fed, and so some ended up devouring each other. In 2010 Dutch behavioral biologist Maarten ‘t Hart, who was hired by Herzog for his expertise with laboratory rats, spoke openly about the mistreatment he witnessed and was unable to prevent. Hart apparently resigned from the film project on moral grounds.

Herzog‘s film was released as Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht in German and Nosferatu the Vampyre in English. It was entered into the 29th Berlin International Film Festival, where production designer Henning von Gierke won the Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement.

Klaus Kinski - Nosferatu.

Klaus Kinski – Nosferatu.

Nosferatu the Vampyre
Playing at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles
(The old Silent Movie Theatre)
611 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles CA 90036

*** Allow time to park on residential side streets West of Fairfax ***

More info, tickets and trailer here.

May 16 — 22, 2014.

($12.00 or Free for members.

SHOWTIMES (subject to change):
Friday, May 16th: 7:20pm, 10:00pm
Saturday, May 17th: 8:00pm, 10:30pm
Sunday, May 18th: 5:00pm
Monday, May 19th: 9:30pm
Tuesday, May 20th: 9:50pm
Wednesday, May 21st: 9:50pm
Thursday, May 22nd: 10:00pm

The Sound of Music Live! NBC TV’s presentation of the classic musical

Sound of Music 1a

Last Thursday, NBC presented a live production of the classic musical The Sound of Music, with Carrie Underwood as its star Maria.

Mark McClain Wilson maintains that while The Sound of Music Live! was not nearly as disastrous as the screaming hoard made it out to be, it certainly was not great…  Just not the train wreck as professed.

Here’s why:

Carrie Underwood is a fine country singer, but she simply can’t act. Beyond that, she just doesn’t have that natural luminosity, joy, and magic that this role demands. Maria is like the ‘Hamlet’ of Musical Theatre (slight exaggeration, but you get my meaning). Bottom line—it takes chops. But really, did anyone truly think she’d stick this landing? To those readers who grew up watching this movie, could anyone really ever measure up to Julie Andrews? Not to mention, you throw the guppy in the deep end of the pool with the great white shark of Audra McDonald.

Casting fail, NBC.

Frankly, though, while I certainly didn’t think she succeeded, I thought Underwood gave it a good shot. But if I had been in that meeting where the casting of Carrie Underwood had been put on the table, I would have given the exec who made the suggestion a high five. In the face. With a chair.

While we’re on casting, a note to all television and film casting directors of musical theatre film translations: it oh so very much saddens me that producers don’t think the musical alone will sell, but that it needs that added push of star power. I know this will not change, and it’s here to stay, blah, blah, blah, but seriously, producers? Casting directors? It’s not an episode of The Voice. It’s not karaoke. It’s musical… theater. There’s a reason why the supremely talented ATHLETES who do Broadway are called ‘triple threats,’ because to make a musical work, you need all three elements.

It takes a load of talent to make these complicated productions work the way they’re supposed to, and when they do work, it can be magical. When you put in people you’re your cast who are out of their league, it’s pleasant, at best. How depressing is ‘pleasant’ when you can have ‘magical’? I know the bottom line is just selling aspirin, tires, and bran flakes, but I truly don’t think you have to sacrifice sales for excellence. I really don’t. Nor do I think excellence is an idealistic, pie in the sky notion. I think it’s good business to aim a little higher. Why can you not just trust that?

Sound of Music 2a

Here’s another important point: The Sound of Music did not become a jewel in the crown of our most beloved cultural icons by having a star at the helm. It’s lodged in our collective souls, because Julie Andrews was a brilliant performer; because she had the training and the chops and because she was a creature of the theatre. Watching this thing, I could easily name about five or six women I went to school with who could’ve made that production soar. God knows how many brilliant women from the Broadway stage could have given that show the charge it deserved. And people would have watched and been truly moved, rather than having the experience that I’m sure most Americans had: enjoying it well enough and certainly loving the music, but not being wowed. They don’t know how much better it can be, simply because y’all are a bunch of pussies and don’t trust the work and the talent to bring in the audience. Sad, truly, and actually, pathetic. And in this instance, misguided. People will watch the Sound of Music because it’s the frickin’ Sound of Music, so why not give it to them in a manner it was intended, where it can really enter some souls and raise some goose bumps?

Okay, I’ll admit, truly, that I’m an idealist, but I don’t think it’s a pie in the sky idea that if networks made a conscious decision to sell talent, the public would buy. Marketing is everything. And if the marketing is right, people will buy anything. The problem is that networks and suits are pussies. They want what’s easy, safe, and guaranteed. That is to say, they don’t wanna work. They’re lazy. It’s sad, because I know in my gut it doesn’t have to be this way. The Weinsteins, for example, have bucked the trend for twenty years now by putting money behind talent, and they’re still standing quite tall.

This was the first time I’ve actually seen the stage version and I was surprised by how much Max and Fraulein Schneider get screwed in the movie version. Two songs cut. Damn! Speaking of Fraulein Schneider, she’s a much bigger bitch in the movie…

I hope the ratings were huge. More live theatre on TV, please.

So, “I Have Confidence” was just a little ditty they whipped together for the film version? Sweet Jeebus, Rodgers and Hammerstein were brilliant.

Yes, it looked like the set of Days of Our Lives. It’s a sound stage, what’re ya gonna do? The lighting issues bugged me a lot more than the sound problems.

Frankly, I thought the biggest travesty of the evening was that bizarre Sound of Music Walmart ad series with the weird family of 600. Then again… it’s Walmart.

Sound of Music 3aFinally:  I know it’s all about the bottom line, it always is, but listen, America watches what the monsters tell them to watch. With another musical perhaps (let’s say, Camelot) I agree that ratings may not been as strong with an unknown, but The Sound of Music is a movie they air every year at the holiday. The musical, itself, is what people hold dear (and Julie Andrews, of course) so I genuinely think that even with an unknown, talented, Broadway star, they could’ve racked up ratings. Also, remember, the only thing America enjoys more than a star is discovering a star. Hell, that’s the entire basis of the long-running hit TV show American Idol.