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Role Reversal

04/09/2011

In the Theater
This week’s movie rundown offers a weird array of the arts, starting with a screening of Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein from the National Theatre in London. This is part of a series that’s playing in select movie houses and countries worldwide, including the Kabuki in San Francisco.

Frankenstein

Jonny Lee Miller as The Creature. Benedict Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein. Rehearsal photo by Catherine Ashmore.

The “hook” for this particular adaptation, scripted by Nick Dear, is that its two leads, Jonny Lee Miller (of Boyle’s Trainspotting) and Benedict Cumberbatch (the BBC’s Sherlock), trade off playing the monster and scientist on alternate nights. We saw the version with Cumberbatch as the scientist, which seems fitting in tandem with his portrayal of the equally brilliant and peculiar Holmes.

Stage reviews of both shows also give Cumberbatch great credit as the monster. It would have been interesting to see both productions—though at $20 per ticket, also hard on the wallet (even harder for fans trying to see both performances live on stage).

Miller was sympathetic and physically commanding as the reviled creature, and it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to play the scientist without also getting a crack at this meaty, existential role. By comparison, Victor Frankenstein gets little screen time and is really a supporting player. It’s all about the monster—and the monsters inside us.

Boyle’s direction is on the one hand minimal, on the other, intense. The show is very intimate, which is amplified by camera close-ups for the broadcast version. This is high theatrical drama with the emphasis on actors, but the lighting and sets are both terrific, including some beautiful weather effects and clever architectural creations. There are also some great overhead shots on film that the in-house audience would never get to see.

Only one early scene that veered into steampunk territory seemed out of place with the rest of the show. When it started, my group all thought a musical number was afoot (it wasn’t). The other elements seemed much more cohesive, though sometimes violent and grotesque. In sum, Frankenstein is a very interesting production, and I do mean “interesting” in the positive sense.

At Home
This week, we finally watched Easy A, which was entertaining in a self-conscious way. It’s not as snarky as Mean Girls but in a similar vein. The degree to which you’d enjoy it is directly proportional to how much you like Emma Stone. And really, what’s not to like about Emma Stone?

Downton Abbey
And speaking of the BBC, we just stared watching Downton Abbey, which is a fantastic ensemble drama about an aristocratic English household, set in 1912. Think Upstairs, Downstairs meets Merchant-Ivory, but funnier. Maggie Smith is a hoot as the matriarch of the brood. If you like period dramas, I highly recommend it. We’re hooked.

I’ve also resumed my completist sampling of Elizabeth Taylor films, now returning to movies I barely remember and some of the stragglers from my list. I just finished watching Little Women (1949), in which Taylor plays the vain artist Amy. She’s funny in the role, but blonde hair doesn’t suit her. The lead character, of course , is Jo (a stand-in for the author, Louisa May Alcott), played with endearing spunk by June Allyson. I didn’t expect to like this adaptation too much, but Allyson’s performance carries it all the way.

Next up Doctor Faustus. So bad it’s good? We’ll see …

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From → Art, Movies

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