Chicago theater revives “Sunset Boulevard” musical

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Hollis Resnik stars as Norma Desmond alongside Billy Rude as Joe Gillis. (Image Courtesy: The Chicago Tribune).

Beginning Tuesday night, Porchlight Music Theatre artistic director Michael Weber is reviving the stage adaptation of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts through December 8, according to the Chicago Tribune. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber as well as lyrics and book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, the two-and-a-half-hour play first opened in 1993 London after leading lady Gloria Swanson spent much of the 1950s fighting to create a musical interpretation. Patti LuPone played Norma Desmond during the production’s London run, while Glenn Close, Petula Clark, Diahann Carroll, and Kim Zimmer were cast in the role stateside.

Greta Garbo’s letters up for auction

Sixty-five handwritten letters between Stockholm-born star Greta Garbo and Austrian actress and writer Salka Viertel, composed from 1932 to 1973, are expected to bring in sixty thousand film collectors’ dollars at auction, according to The Guardian. The correspondences, first sold to a fan in 1993 Florida, humanize the Swedish Sphinx’s “Nordic Noir” onscreen persona, articulating the isolation and melancholy she lived behind the scenes far from home with only her European friends’ writings to accompany her through Hollywood. Viertel, who biographers say was Garbo’s closest friend, cowrote a number of her classics and appeared alongside her in Jacques Feyder’s Anna Christie (1930).

Letters, memos, telegrams from Golden Age Hollywood published in new book

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When she was cast in George Cukor’s My Fair Lady (1964), Audrey Hepburn asked the director for the designer’s sketches of her shoes so her private Parisian bootmaker could cobble them because she had “trouble” with her feet after dancing ballet. (Image Courtesy: NPR).

Rocky Lang and film historian Barbara Hall have edited and compiled the new book Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Moviemaking, a collection of written correspondences between classical stars, according to NPR. Hall says the documents humanize the artists who wrote them, and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who penned the foreword, says this publication is more historical than it is an invasion of privacy. Ingrid Bergman, Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis, Hattie McDaniel, as well as Henry Fonda are among the authors found in the text, writing to everyone from Ernest Hemingway to George Cukor to Jack Warner to Hedda Hopper to William Wyler.

Netflix review: Showtime’s “Dexter” (2006-2013)

Dexter Morgan is remembered alongside Jaime Lannister and Patty Hewes as one of the greatest antiheroes in the Golden Age of Television, and for a time, all three of these characters were flying high.

But in the end, none of them could stick the landing.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Showtime’s Dexter (2006-2013) is available to stream on Netflix. The crime drama mystery series is James Manos, Junior’s, adaptation of the 2004 novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.

Leading man Michael C. Hall and guest start John Lithgow both won Golden Globe Awards in 2010 for their portrayals of the Bay Harbor Butcher himself and the iconic Trinity Killer, respectively.

Dexter is a forensic blood spatter analyst for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department moonlighting as a serial killer who murders other serial killers.

His adoptive father, the late Detective Harry Morgan (James Remar), secretly raised him to act on his violent sociopathy as a vigilante.

In order to blend into the civilian crowd, Dexter enters a relationship with the fragile Rita Bennett (Julie Benz) as part of his double life, and because his adoptive sister, Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter), works homicide at Miami Metro, his criminal lifestyle threatens all he has.

The show overstays its welcome by about three or four seasons, but for the first half of its run, it is both a playful dark comedy as well as an astute psychological thriller, fashioning a sharp character study of a psychopath whose victims deserve it.

At its best-written, Hall’s dry voiceover narrates Dexter’s truth, when so much of the character’s life is performance. At its worst, it is repetitive, lazy exposition for onscreen events we can already see for ourselves.

The supporting cast is unevenly characterized also, sometimes to satisfactory effect, only for most of their promising developments to be forgotten about in service of some contrived new conflict.

Filler abounds in the later seasons, and, sometimes, the lattermost villains are unmemorable (the cliched Eastern European hitman, “the Wolf” (Ray Stevenson), in the seventh season; the been-there-done-that “Brain Surgeon” (Darri Ingolfsson) in the eighth season).

Other times, they’re ridiculous (the laughable “Doomsday Killer” (Colin Hanks) in the sixth season).

Much ink has been spilled about the finale, which could’ve been passable without the whack at an ambiguous, open-ended coda tacked onto the end.

To the showrunner’s credit, it is uncanny that Dexter could salvage enough material for its fourth (and best) season after a second season that would have been the last season for any other drama.

While can be argued that it should have ended with the bloody, poetic climax of the fourth season, one of the most game-changing twists of all time, the fifth season is still watchable.

Too bad the same can’t be said for the sixth season.

Even then, there are still two more seasons to go before it’s put out of its misery.

Dexter is a classic example of TV milking its appeal dry until it becomes a pale shadow of its former self, rather than blowing out on a high note like AMC’s Breaking Bad (2008-2013).

It is a cautionary tale that any premise, no matter how ingenious, will be known for how unwatchable it becomes past its shelf life.

For the masterpiece it could’ve been, quit bingeing at the fourth season, and for more of what makes it entertaining, the fifth season.

For the example it’s made of itself in TV history, subject yourself to the slow, painful end.

Barbara Stanwyck marathon coming to Criterion Channel

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The New York Times is quoted as reporting that Stanwyck saw as many pictures “as her pennies allowed” during childhood to help her cope with growing up impoverished. (Image Courtesy: Fox News).

Beginning August 16, Criterion Channel will spotlight eleven films Barbara Stanwyck made between 1930 and 1934 before Hays Code-era restrictions censored the silver screen, according to Fox News. Imogen Sara Smith, the historian hosting the marathon, says Stanwyck (born Ruby Stevens in 1907 Brooklyn) was orphaned at the age of four, dropped out of school as a thirteen-year-old, performed for speakeasies at fifteen, became a Broadway star five years later, and found work in Hollywood in 1929. The actress did not retire until her late seventies, with more than eighty movie and television credits to her name when she died from congestive heart failure in 1990.

Netflix review: AMC’s “Mad Men” (2007-2015)

Tony Soprano… Walter White… Frank Underwood…

All three of these characters would be loathsome human beings, but, in the Golden Age of Television, they make for our favorite antiheroes. They are sociopaths with a body count between them that makes us ask ourselves why we root for them (or at least it should).

Don Draper ranks as one of the greatest among them, and he did it without killing anyone.

If you don’t know what to watch next, AMC’s Mad Men (2007-2015) is available to stream on Netflix.

No stranger to the antihero, series creator Matthew Weiner saw HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007) win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama in 2004 and 2007, when he served as their executive producer.

Mad Men itself earned the same award four years in a row, from 2008 to 2011.

Set in 1960s Manhattan, the period drama focuses on the hard-drinking Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the self-made creative director at a Madison Avenue advertising agency. Again, Don isn’t a violent criminal – his failure as a husband, father, and professional are what characterize him.

Meanwhile, all around him, the countercultural revolutions of the decade change life at work and at home.

An episode of Mad Men can go by without much happening, and its commitment to historical realism includes deadpan representations of the sexism, racism, homophobia, child abuse, alcoholism, and smoking of the era, which may be off-putting to modern audiences.

Though not for everyone, Mad Men’s slice-of-life experimentation with TV storytelling is complex with subtext. The setting itself is the star of the show, striking an unpredictable tone of crippling lawnmower accidents and nipples in gift boxes between the more mundane moments.

The aesthetic is a snapshot of the American Dream imperial capitalists at the time were propagandizing for the rest of the world in an effort to combat the global influence of communism during the Cold War.

Indeed, the 1960s may look glamorous on Mad Men, like one of Don Draper’s cigarette ads, but once you realize it’s only to sell a product that slowly kills the consumer, the glamour fades like the passing of time to reveal the social inequality and decadent consumerism lying underneath.

The fourth and fifth seasons are the crown jewels of the series, when the drama comes into its own, finds its voice, and develops its cast into their most dynamic.

One wishes, however, that Weiner were as ethical in his approach to Don Draper as he was with Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini).

In the final season of The Sopranos, Tony’s psychiatrist, Doctor Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), comes to accept what an irredeemable monster he is and condemns him in a scene that’s cathartic for anybody who’s ever had to “break up” with an antisocial personality.

Mad Men, on the other hand, features no such reckoning for Don. The closest we get is a phone call in the series finale with leading lady Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), who he manipulates out of chastising him for his selfishness, to talking him down off the ledge.

As a result, Don’s actions could come across as romanticized for the less-than-critical viewer. In spite of everything else, he is a successful, talented, attractive businessman with a tragic backstory that, for those who long to identify with him, could make him too sympathetic.

The ambiguous ending does not clarify whether Don is a changed man or not after his conversation with Peggy, which could mean he gets away with his narcissistic behavior one last time…

…Or not.

While Mad Men is not known for lending itself to easy interpretation, that’s what lends it well to re-watches – you can binge it over and over again and find something new every time. It is a powerfully honest character study of a man on the run, not from the law, but from himself.

Criterion Channel off to a strong start, reviewer says

After debuting last month, Criterion Channel offers over a thousand titles from the Criterion Collection as well as distributor Janus Films for eleven dollars a month, according to Fortune; the archive is relatively small, but there are more Golden Age movies than on Netflix, which largely limits itself to the last twenty-five years, and Amazon Prime, which charges members extra to watch older pictures. Reviewer Lance Whitney writes that Criterion includes a diversity of silent, sound, short, feature-length, international, and independent releases from Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, Paramount, MGM, Lionsgate, and IFC Films; while the likes of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941), Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942), or Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s American classics are not yet part of the selection, the library will grow if more studios sign licensing deals. Overall, Whitney’s review is positive, praising special features such as interviews, documentaries, and collections; however, while the fledgling streaming service is compatible with all browsers, some available texts are only searchable on the website.