It’s impossible to talk about a theatrical adaptation of a book without discussing spoilers, so if you haven’t ever read 1984, you might want to go pick up a copy and read it and come back to this review later.
(And by might want to I mean my god, reader, how have you not? Get thee to it!)
The American Repertory Theater (ART) is a really cool theater in Cambridge, MA (right in Harvard Square) that brings a lot of brand-new and often experimental theater to the area. Previously I’ve seen The Heart of Robin Hood (before it was a Broadway play, so when it was still in its developmental phase) and another adaptation of a book–Wild Swans (review). I keep an eye out for plays coming to the ART that might appeal to my husband and I. When I got the email about the new adaptation of 1984, I forwarded it to him, and he immediately confirmed yes, let’s get tickets.
We’ve both read 1984 but not in around 10 years. My husband immediately noted the precisely 101 minute running time. I had forgotten the torture room is room 101 in 1984. I’m glad he noticed this. There were other send-ups to it throughout the play.
When you arrive for 1984, the ushers notify you that there are strobes, gunshot noises, and also no intermission or readmittance. We were expecting the first two but were a bit thrown by the last. Since we both just had a nasty bout of food poisoning, we were a bit anxious about no intermission or readmittance. We joined literal throngs of people at the bathrooms, who were all also anxious about the whole thing and then found our seats.
I would be amiss not to mention that about 2 weeks before the show, the ART called us and told us that during pre-production they discovered that one of the (cheap in the back) seats we’d originally bought was going to be obstructed by some tech needed for the show. They gave us new better seats, in the center and only a few rows back. A great upgrade, for free. In any case, let’s get down to the actual show.
1984 is a production that truly embraces the futuristic, tech-heavy dystopia depicted in 1984 the book. It incorporates technology from the instant it starts, and from the moment patrons walk into the building, there is a sense of ominous foreboding. The entire 101 minutes is done on one stage with a single incorporated set change (which was amazing, and I will get to in a minute) and with 9 actors.
The set originally consists of a room with a table and some chairs. There is paneling at the back of the room. Half of this is see-through glass, so you can see characters coming to the door in the middle. On one side of the room is the ominous telescreen, which you can actually see glowing periodically. There is another door near the telescreen. Over all of this is a giant screen that is used to incorporate really cool tech. At first I thought it was pre-recorded film being shown on this screen, but later it becomes evident that at least some of it is being shot live via CCTV on various areas of the stage. As an example of how this screen is incorporated, at the beginning of the show, when Winston starts writing in his journal, the screen shows the words being written upon the page.
This single set is used to show Winston (the main character) at home, at work, and later in the countryside. I particularly enjoyed how the show just goes for it with the countryside. They declare they are in the country, there are sound-effects of birds, and then it’s really easy to believe they are in the country. My husband enjoyed the glowing yellow lights and sound-effects of a train chugging the show uses to transition here.
Those who have read the book will realize that the earlier scenes of Winston at home, work, and in the countryside end up being recollections and thoughts while he is in prison with the Ministry of Love being tortured periodically in room 101. We weren’t sure how they were going to handle this transition without an intermission, but it was awesome.
Throughout the beginning of the play, Winston and Julia go through a door on the side of the stage to the room of safety that they rent out that supposedly has no telescreens in it. When they are in the room, the audience views what is occurring via the screen on top of the stage through what appears to be CCTV. When it is revealed that they are caught (which is super spooky how it is done in the play), pieces of the set either lift up or slide to the side (I can’t remember which) to reveal behind the wall at the back is the actual bedroom set. So this is where they have been going to actually act out the bedroom scenes. The secret police who come in to arrest them also change the set. It is violent, brutal, and awesome. They ultimately change the set to be what appears to be an empty stage but then when Winston is brought into room 101, bright lights reveal white everywhere. It’s a glowing white room, which is perfect for the eeriness of the torture.
What about the acting? The acting was so good throughout the various set changes and tech that I didn’t really notice it, which I personally think is one of the best complements you can pay an actor. If you get so sucked into the world that you forget acting is even going on, then it’s good acting. I will add that multiple characters play various roles, and I didn’t notice, which is also a complement.
So let’s get to the most…memorable/impactful part of the show. The torture scene towards the end. I thought this was splendidly done. I am not one who ever really forgets that I’m watching a play, so I didn’t have the visceral horror I would have if I was seeing pictures or videos from actual real live torture, but the combination of the set and the costumes of the torture assistants (they’re wrapped in white suits that remind me of the yellow suits in Breaking Bad, if you’ve seen that), and the interrogator’s entire presence generated a real feeling of dread and horror.
If you are concerned about the “torture,” basically the interrogator gives an order (ie “fingers”), the people in white grab their instruments and come up to Winston. There’s a big sonic boom while the lights flash out, then the lights turn on and the results of torture appear, in the case of fingers, it’s blood on Winston’s fingertips. It was good, but it was obviously theater.
That said (bare in mind there was no readmittance) right around the first torture (there are three), people in the audience started bailing out. I heard later that around 20 people bailed out. I personally saw about 7. But, I will say, this was about 10 minutes from the end of the play, so it’s also possible at least some of them just really needed to use the restroom (this is a play without intermission right after most of us went to dinner). I heard later that one woman in the audience actually threw up in her purse, but to be fair, she could have been sensitive to strobes, and there are a lot of strobes in the show. My husband and I were generally flummoxed by the number of people bailing. Did they somehow know nothing about the plot of 1984 before they went? Were they that easily disturbed? It’s torture, but again, it’s theatrical torture. I know there’s nothing the ART can do about people walking out, but it did irritate me some just because it was distracting. However, it is also a hilarious story to tell people, and most people I’ve mentioned it to just think it makes the play sound more bad-ass (which it totally is).
We really only had a few points of feedback after the show. First, we wished that the scene when Julia and Winston are in the countryside and start to undress to have sex for fun and fight Big Brother that way had taken the undressing further. Given the violence, big booms, and large tech in the show, as well as the general point in the scene about Big Brother being afraid of orgasms, we felt that leaving shirts on just didn’t take things far enough. Additionally, we were both a bit disappointed that there were no actual rats in the show. We get how difficult it can be to wrangle animals, but I did think there’d be at least some video or disturbing images of rats, and there is not. To be fair, our ability to be freaked out by rats is really mitigated by living in Boston. I see at least one rat a week when I’m commuting. And they’re big ones. Finally, we thought that the clock in the room reading 1:01 was a bit too cute.
Overall, this is really cool experimental theater. Attending it won’t be like any other play you’ve attended. Come prepared to be a bit anxious for 101 minutes and maybe dehydrate yourself a bit ahead of time so you can last the full time without intermission. Personally, I think this is a beautiful adaptation of 1984 that really lives up to the spirit and intent of the book, while using modern tech and trends to keep it relevant.
5 out of 5 stars
This is one documentary you need to believe the hype about. Chris Rock decided to make it after his daughter (not even five years old yet) asked him why she doesn’t have good hair. This documentary then looks at the world and culture of African-American hair. It covers everything from perms to weaves to hair shows. Chris Rock interviews famous and not famous people alike with a certain charm and intelligence that gets them to really open up. I think the scene that best demonstrates the feel of the whole movie is when Chris Rock is interviewing a white male scientist about sodium hydroxide, which is the perm that African-Americans use to straighten their hair. The scientist has just shown Chris how quickly sodium hydroxide eats through raw chicken, and Chris says, “You know black people put that on their hair.” Horrified, the scientist says, “Really?! Why would they do that?!” Chris says, “To look like white people.” Epic. Silence. The documentary is smart, because it doesn’t run around blaming white people for this whole culture among African-Americans against natural hair. It kind of blames everybody, and it does it in a witty, intelligent manner.
The Wolf Man
4 out of 5 stars
Another from the 100 Horror Movies To See Before You Die list I’ve been working my way through. A wayward son of a British aristocrat comes home to hopefully reestablish himself in the little town. He starts to pursue an engaged gal, but while doing so, gets bit by a wolf. Naturally, he turns into a werewolf. I think what’s the creepiest about this film is how the main character goes about pursuing the engaged girl. He starts off by watching her through a window and then hitting on her in her father’s shop in possibly the creepiest manner ever. She resists….at first. But then doesn’t. The whole film sort of feels like a judgment on both him for being a creeper and the engaged girl for being seduced by the bad boy instead of sticking with her nice, stable man. Kind of a nice change of pace from more modern films, eh? The special effects aren’t as good as some others from this same time period that I’ve watched, but they’re still fairly decent. It’s a fun change of pace if you enjoy shapeshifters. Also the “British accents” are pretty much nonexistent.
The House Of Usher
5 out of 5 stars
When this movie started, I thought it was going to be cheesy. But I was very wrong. It turns out that this is an adaptation of a Poe story, and it is completely frightening, even with outdated special effects. Essentially, this guy wants to marry this girl, but her brother insists that the Ushers need to let the family die out. He also claims the house itself is evil. I won’t tell you what happens from there, but suffice to say the tension builds perfectly until you are on the edge of your seat for the climax. Vincent Price plays the brother and let me tell you, he is a legend for a reason. When I finished this one, I was actually nervous to go to bed. Which never happens to me.
PS There is a 2007 remake. Ignore it. Ignore it so hard.
3 out of 5 stars
This is based on the true story of a murder during the 1980s ecstatic clubbing days (see what I did there?), which was written about in Disco Bloodbath by James St James. (Btw, the memoir is almost impossible to find and hella expensive). Anyway as for the movie. It’s very campy. The absolute best part is seeing Macauley Culkin and Seth Green play two fabulous druggy gay men. It’s campy but not over-the-top. I mean, these clubbers really did act like this. They weren’t exaggerating. But the plot is oddly told, jumping around perspectives and time and can be hard to keep up with. Also the ultimate murder is told by a rat (a man in a giant rat suit). So yeah. It’s odd but fun. Recommended to fans of Seth Green.
5 out of 5 stars
This movie really doesn’t need much explanation. It’s a classic (chosen for preservation) for good reason. I have read Dracula, and I was flabbergasted at how good the adaptation was. Modern film adaptations could learn a thing or two from this production. Bela Lugosi as Dracula is still deliciously creepy, instilling chills. Two cool things to know. One, originally there was an epilogue in which the audience is told vampires are indeed real that has been forever lost so the ending does feel a bit abrupt (because it’s not actually the ending). Also, the entire movie was shot simultaneously on the same sets in Spanish (with Latin* actors).
I am chagrined to say that I saw the awful, horrible 2005 remake of this classic prior to seeing the classic version. That attempt at humor (that was totally unfunny) thus had me coming at this film rather skeptically, but it was in my suggested films pile on Netflix, and given that I’d just finished up The Real Help Reading Project, I thought a classic 1960s film exploring the black/white issues in America just might be interesting. It certainly was not what I was expecting.
First, the cast is absolutely stellar, featuring Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Houghton, Spencer Tracy, Beah Richards, Cecil Kellaway, and Isabel Sanford. These people have serious acting chops, and I doubt a lesser cast could have pulled off this film. In particular, I cannot imagine another person in the role of the mother than Katharine Hepburn. Now THERE is an actress.
The film feels more like watching a dramatic play in three acts. There is a lot of dialogue and emotional speeches. It may feel a bit heavy-handed to the modern viewer, but it must be remembered the world this film was made in. One line really reminds the viewer, when the young couple are reminded that their relationship is still illegal in sixteen or seventeen states. Wow, ok, suddenly both sets of parents’ concern that their children are choosing an incredibly tough life for themselves doesn’t seem like such an over-reaction. It puts the whole film a bit more into perspective.
That’s what the film is really about. It isn’t about either set of parents being prejudiced against a skin color. They’re concerned that the prejudice of the world will make the marriage unbearable for their children. The movie is about choosing to stand up and hold on to the ones you love in the face of prejudice. That’s a powerful message and not at all the issue I was expecting to come to the surface in this film.
Now consider all of those to be reasons to watch this classic that’s a classic for a reason. I now want to talk about one character whose presence was totally different to me since doing The Real Help–that of the white family’s maid, Tillie. Tillie’s role seems to be that of reassuring the (white) audience that not just the white parents are concerned about this black man John. She immediately is in fisticuffs over the whole thing. She tells John, “I don’t care to see a member of my own race getting above himself. ” She threatens him that she knows his type and although he may be able to fool the white folks, he’s not fooling her. She even says, “Civil rights is one thing. This here is somethin else!” The daughter tells Tillie that she loves her and loving John is no different, and the parents even have her come sit down for the big finale stating that she’s “one of the family.” What is fascinating about this completely false and stereotyped role of Tillie in this film is that it is there in the midst of a forward thinking main plot. It is as if the filmmakers wanted to give the audience the familiar, non-threatening, stereotyped role of the trustworthy black help that is in favor of the status quo to help them feel more comfortable during the film. Perhaps that is the case. But even if the choice was deliberate and worked for the audience at the time, I personally found the role to be Tom-ing and distracting from the much better main storyline. However, it is also fascinating how a movie with a role like this *still* is better than The Help.
Overall, this is a classic deserving of the title. Although it is a bit dated, if the audience bares in mind the actual world of race and racism at the time the film was produced, they will be surprised at how progressive it actually was.
4 out of 5 stars
Based on a true story, Sandra Laing was born black to two white parents. Something that is an interesting anomaly of unacknowledged or unknown ancestors, but unfortunately for Sandra it was oh so much more than that. Sandra was born in South Africa during Apartheid, and her white Afrikaner parents were members of the National Party. This film chronicles her fascinating life from a young girl hidden from the sun in the hopes that her skin would lighten as she grew older to a young runaway marriage to striking out on her own with her children.
I know movie reviews have been scarce around here. That’s mostly because since I joined the gym my evening free time is spent either there or reading. This weekend though I had a cold and a bit of a fuzzy head from a fever so I randomly chose an interesting looking movie from my Netflix recommendations. I had no idea when I chose it that Sandra Laing’s story is a true one. I didn’t realize this bit of information until the end credits. I thought it was one of those “what if” scenarios and knowing that this actually happened makes the whole thing incredibly painful.
We know that innate parental unconditional love is a myth. And if there was ever a true story that should unequivocally dispel this myth once and for all, it’s Sandra’s. Is there anything more abusive, more unloving than raising your child in a culture that hates her and doing, really, nothing about it? Although her parents did fight to have her classified as white and not colored (so they could keep custody of her, because apparently children had to be raised by parents of the same race during Apartheid), they did little else to protect her. Indeed, by her teen years her father was pressuring her to behave for white boys who were being verbally cruel at best or attempting to rape her at worst on dates. It’s little wonder Sandra ran off to be with a black man she met. Your role as a parent should be to protect your child and prepare her to take care of herself in the real world and advocate for herself. But Sandra’s parents’ racism clouded everything so much that the most they did was attempt to hide her.
Of course, the problem then became that Sandra was raised in a privileged background, and that’s all some of the black South Africans could see when they looked at her, including her own husband. He says to her at one point, “You still think of yourself as white.” I find it fascinating how people can become so wrapped up in their own problems resulting from inequality that they fail to see the pain inflicted by it on others, even others that they love.
The actress who plays the older Sandra does a great job showing her progression from a hopeful teen to a downtrodden factory worker at the end of Apartheid. The trauma from a life where everyone judged her either on her own skin tone or that of her parents is abundantly evident on the actresses’ face.
That said, while the topic is incredibly important and the true life events heart-breaking, I don’t think the movie itself does the real story true justice. The actors and actresses did a fine job with what they were given, but even basic googling shows that the story was cleaned up for a mainstream audience, which I think was a very poor decision on the part of the filmmakers. Sandra’s life was actually more difficult than they even give her credit for. For instance, she left home at only 15 (she seems much older in the film), her first husband already had a first wife, she actually had six children not two, etc…. (Essence, The Guardian, Women and Hollywood)
Personally, I view this movie as a gateway to the far more fascinating nitty gritty true story. I’m adding the book by the journalist Judith Stone about her work with Sandra to attempt to figure out her past called When She Was White. But. If you don’t have the time to get into it in depth, the short biopic is definitely a better choice than say the latest romcom out of Hollywood. It will push you to confront the tragedy of racism and the myth of parental love against all odds.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Netflix Instant
Martha calls her sister to come get her from the Catskills. She’s been missing for two years. Over the course of the next two weeks, her behavior becomes increasingly abnormal in ways her sister cannot understand, while the audience sees flashbacks to where Martha was for the previous two years–living in an abusive cult.
This is the best representation of PTSD I’ve seen on film to date. Martha’s outbursts of violence, sobbing, and even loss of bladder control seem completely out of the blue to her sister and brother-in-law, but she and audience can clearly see what minor things brought them on. Anything from a pine cone falling on the roof to a spoon clanking against a glass to a hand placed in just the wrong place on her body can set her off.
The audience is left with many gaping holes and unanswered questions in the plot line, but this is one of the rare instances where that works. We are seeing things through Martha’s eyes in the bits and pieces typical of someone with PTSD. The film is more about giving us a sense of what it is to be Martha than telling us the story. It is a character study through and through.
The filmography feels documentary style instead of film style. It is gritty and sometimes shaky. This sets the appropriate tone for the film.
The acting is what seals the deal for this film though. Everyone is excellent, but Elizabeth Olson is superb. She *is* Martha Marcy May. She acts from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. I hope she continues to make wise movie role choices, because she could have a major acting career ahead of her.
The one drawback to the film is the ambiguous, sudden ending. I get it that the director was trying to help the audience feel the paranoia Martha feels, but the ending was so jarring that it drew away power from the rest of the film.
Overall, this is a serious, powerful look at PTSD through the eyes of a sufferer. I highly recommend it.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Movie Theater
When a small southwestern town sees a spate of sugar theft mixed with mysterious deaths, a scientist and his daughter are brought in to investigate. They soon discover that a new breed of giant ants have mutated from local nuclear testing and must fight against the odds to preserve the human dominance of earth.
I watch classic horror movies more for the lols than anything, but every once in a while, one manages to actually stand the test of time and still scare me.
Anyone who knows much about ants knows that they actually are rather awful creatures. They’re vicious, disturbingly strong for their size, and single-minded to the point of obsession. That’s the perfect recipe for a formidable opponent if they were any larger. Combine this with the very real threat of nuclear mutation, and you have the recipe for an ideal horror film.
Something the classic movies did better than today is establish a strong plot-line. The action is not constant. It is interspersed with scenes in which the characters attempt to figure out what is going on and determine what to do about it. This ups the tension for the inevitable “battle the monster” scenes that eventually play out.
Of course a strong idea and plot can still be undermined by outdated special effects. These effects, however, have truly stood the test of time. The ants look frightening, not comical. The scenes are shot in such a way that it all appears to be fairly real, particularly for the decade. When the sound effect given to the ants–a sort of high-pitched squealing–is added in, it becomes quite easy to suspend disbelief.
If you enjoy a good creature feature as well as an old movie periodically, you won’t regret your time spent watching Them!
5 out of 5 stars