Monday, October 28, 2013

Mike McCarthy Captivates in “Blithe Spirit”

Charles comes to very harsh judgments about his mother and two dead wives in the 1941 Noel Coward play “Blithe Spirit” performed Sunday by the River Valley Theatre Company at Shakopee West Junior High School Auditorium.

Actor Mike McCarthy owns the title role of Charles and is cool on and off stage as we learned after the play discussion with the cast.  My theater buddy Gary made some thoughtful observations in the after play time and we enjoyed this Halloween ghost comedy.

Also commanding the stage is Daphne Siegert as Madame Arcati, the flamboyant soothsayer who projects to the back row of the spacious auditorium.

The production is noteworthy for its attention to detail in costumes and props as well as the ghost like effects.  Coward’s plays still attract an audience but have to be a hard sell.  Plan to see it.

According to Sunday’s Pioneer Press, Mayor Chris Coleman is leading a tour of the downtown Palace Theater in hopes of getting state bonding money to renovate and reopen the abandoned vaudeville and movie house.  Coleman envisions the Palace as a contemporary music venue.  Will anyone over 30 be interested?  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Forget "Gravity," See "Phantom Planet"

With a the buzz over Sandy and George in space in “Gravity,” I decided to peruse the 1962 science shocker of the space age, “The Phantom Planet,” which I got for 25 cents.  The plot is similar to “Queen of Outer Space” where a macho space cowboy stumbles on the planet “Rheton” where the women are beautiful and the guys are 6 inches tall so our hero has a chance. 
A distraction from the Moon Maidens is the Anthony Dexter character who challenges the hero played by Dean Fredericks to a fight.  It ends well and they patch over their differences.
The real reason for seeing this is the introduction of newcomer Dolores Faith who I swear is a Liz Taylor look alike.  Folks will be buzzing over Dolores for years t o come.
Minnesota native Coleen Gray also headlines this mess.  She will be remembered for “Nightmare Alley” and “Kansas City Confidential” rather than “Phantom Planet.” 
Famous silent film star Francis X. Buschman makes his final appearance in this movie as the king of Rheton so this is another reason to watch.
Space travel is challenging and you never know what you will find when you get there whatever there is.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Living the Diamond Life With Liz in New Cable Movie

A boozy Liz Taylor played brilliantly by Helena Bonham Carter is reunited in 1983 with ex-husband Richard Burton (Dominic West) for the Noel Coward Broadway play “Private LIves” in the BBC TV movie “Burton and Taylor” shown Wednesday.  This is another installment in the saga of women who who lived large like Peggy Hopkins Joyce and Donattelle Versace.

Fans of “Virginia Wolfe” will recognize a Martha and George dynamic in B & T with Burton attempting a serious reading of “Private Lives” and the tipsy Liz clowning and mugging for an appreciative audience.  The play, an ill-advised train wreck and curious sideshow, was panned by the New York critics.  Yet theater arts professor Bill from Iowa probably enjoyed it when he saw it with Liz and Dick on Broadway.  Working at cross purposes, the venture is doomed from the get go with Taylor hoping to rekindle romance with the British actor and Burton trying to reestablish his theatrical credentials.

In a remarkable scene, Taylor makes a grand entrance following a gaggle of dogs on leashes, reminiscent of Mrs. Joyce in “International House.”  Bonham Carter is so much Liz with the walk and talk that we forget that it is an act. 

Unfortunately the version shown on cable last night was interrupted every 10 minutes with commercials and naughty words were bleeped out.  This is another reason to kiss Comcast goodbye.  Hopefully an unedited DVD will be available in the near future.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Versace, Black Sunday are both Italian Horror Movies

Drug crazed fashion designer Donatelle Versace struggled with a pesky family and  cutthroat high fashion competition in the Halloween Lifetime movie “The House of Versace” with Gina Gershin as DV.  The actor who was Veronica Mars' dad  appears briefly as Gianni Versace.

The Versaces lived large in the 90s when business was good with mansions in Miami Beach, Italy and elsewhere.  Keeping up appearances has got to be tough.  The roof came crashing in on the enterprise after Gianni was murdered by Mad Andy and DV took over the business, running it into the ground with unmarketable rags.  Driven by hatred for her deceased brother who basically cut her out of his will and other issues, she binged on cocaine and whatnot.

Finally the day of reckoning came with the family intervention and her trip to a drug rehabilitation facility.  Rather than some Minneapolis dump, she is comfortably housed in a tropical facility where she is deprived of her stiletto pumps. Such an ordeal!  Refreshed from  rehab and sober as a judge she is reinstated in the House of Versace where she apologies to the help for her bad behavior.  So the melodrama ends on a sweet note.

Much is made of the Versace  designed revealing dress that actress Elizabeth Hurley wore to an awards ceremony.  That dress brought a lot of positive buzz to the Versace brand but if Ms. Hurley had appeared in public in a gunny sack with her puppies popping out the results may have been the same.

Nightmare alert:  Lifetime followed the movie with a Behind the Story documentary on the Versaces and let me tell you the real life DV suffers by comparison with the actress Gershin.  Don’t let the kids watch.

Make a double feature of it with the Italian Gothic horror classic “Black Sunday” featuring Barbara Steele as Katia who is revisited by a presumably dead witch who was horribly executed.  Katia is treated badly but then she wasn’t tops at house keeping with her fog enshrined dungeon like mansion decorated with cobwebs.    Mario Bava directed “Black Sunday,” a horror masterpiece in black and white from the ‘60s.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Peggy Joyce Was Outrageous Roaring Twenties Icon

Peggy Hopkins Joyce was called “superficial, shallow and an unabashed slut.” The biography “Gold Digger” by Constance Rosenblum concludes that PHJ was “high spirited” and was the pioneer in the media driven rise of celebrities.  My interest in all matters Joyce was prompted by the 1933 all star comedy “International House” which was headlined by Joyce and W.C. Fields.  This is a fun filled double entendre romp comparable to Mae West’s “She Done Him Wrong.”  Some said she lacked any visible talent other than being glamorous.
In the 1920s when average Americans were struggling on $1,000 a year, Joyce went on a million dollar shopping spree in Manhattan.  She probably was the inspiration for many songs of the day.  In fact she “ala carted with barons and earls” and some said “The Lady is a Tramp.”
She was married six times and engaged to countless other men  Some of her lovers included King Gustav of Sweden, Charlie Chaplin and auto tycoon Walter P. Chrysler who was giddy enough to buy her two Isotta Fraschini cars and a $300,000 blue diamond, an 18th century bauble found in Brazil and now housed at the Smithsonian Institution.
Our fascination with people who  are famous for being famous and are today’s marketable commodities exploited by super market tabloids and TV shows like “Insider” and “Extra.”  Zsa Gabor and Liz Taylor certainly were adored for their diamonds and marriages and Kim Kardashian is another story.