‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ and an Encore of ‘Songs for Nobodies’ to be Staged
Max & Louie Productions joyfully announces its “Comeback” with the St. Louis premiere of “Tiny BeautifulThings” based on the New York Times bestseller, “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed and adapted for the stage by Oscar nominee, Nia Vardalos, playing at The Grandel Theatre July 29-August 8,2021.
“We are so pleased to reopen safely, and welcome back St. Louis audiences with a powerful, dynamic, and empathetic play about words and the power of words to connect with one another. It’s the kind of connection that we have had to be extremely grateful for this past year,” said Stellie Siteman, Producing Artistic Director of Max & Louie Productions.
When life is hard, turn to Sugar. “Tiny Beautiful Things” follows Sugar, an online advice columnist who uses her personal experiences to help the real-life readers who pour their hearts out to her. Rich with humor, insight, compassion and absolute honesty, “Tiny Beautiful Things” is a play about reaching when you’re stuck, healing when you’re broken, and finding the courage to take on the questions that have no answers.
The cast includes Michelle Hand as “Sugar”, Greg Johnston as Letter Writer #1, Wendy Renee Greenwood as Letter Writer#2, and Abraham Shaw as Letter Writer #3. Sydnie Grosberg Ronga directs.
Critic’s Pick!“Tiny Beautiful Things” is about the endangered art of listening to-and really hearing and responding to-other people… it works beautifully as a sustained theatrical exercise in empathy.”
The New York Times
“…a show that aims to open our eyes to the tiny moments when the world surprises us with care.”
New York Magazine
“Heart-tugging and emotionally rewarding.”
The Huffington Post
“… a theatrical hug in turbulent times”
“Tiny Beautiful Things” will run at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis, Missouri 63108. The dates of the production are July 29-August 8,2021. Tickets will go on sale Monday, June 14th 2021 at metrotix.com or by phone at (314) 534-1111. Online Socially Distanced Reserved Seating will be restricted to groups of 2 and 4 consecutive seats. Booth seating is available for a group of 4 or 6 persons. Tickets are priced from $35-$55.
**Max & Louie Productions has received its Missouri ArtSafe certification. To ensure that we may create safely, present safely, and attend safely we pledge to Covid-19 safe protocols which patrons are encouraged to view at Max & Louie Productions’ website at www.maxandlouie.com.
The 2021 season concludes with the Max & Louie Productions’ hit revival of “Songs for Nobodies” written by Joanna Murray-Smith and presented at the Grandel Theatre December 2-12th 2021.
This one-woman powerhouse performance, starring Debby Lennon, weaves the music of legendary divas Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, and Maria Callas throughout a mosaic of stories told by the everyday women who had unexpected life-changing encounters with these musical icons.
Featuring such favorites as “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Crazy,” “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” and “Vissi d’ arte,” “Songs for Nobodies” illuminates the power of song to share a story, heal a heartbreak, and inspire a dream.
“It’s a perfectly marvelous show to kick off the holidays”, exclaimed Stellie Siteman, Artistic Director.
Critic’s Pick! “Max & Louie’s ‘Songs for Nobodies’ is an intimate triumph.”
-Calvin Wilson St. Louis Post Dispatch
“Dazzling work from Debby Lennon and lots of bang for the audiences buck in this little jewel from Max & Louie Productions.”
-Ann Pollack St. Louis Eats and Drinks
“… Lennon’s range is astonishing. Her performance as an actor who portrays five, ordinary, utterly individual women is at least as impressive as her singing.”
-Judy Newmark Judy Act Two
Ten women, all played by one extraordinary actress, in “Songs for Nobodies” is directed by Pamela Hunt and runs at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis, Missouri 63108. The dates of the production are December 2-12th,2021. Tickets go on sale at metrotix.com or by phone (314) 534-1111 on October 11th,2021. Tickets are priced from $35-$60 Booth seating is available for a group of 4-6 persons.
By Lynn Venhaus An offbeat refugee drama with bits of dry British humor, “Limbo” is another look at the “stranger in a strange land” theme.
A young Syrian musician is stuck on a remote Scottish island where he and other refugees wait to find out if they have been approved for asylum.
Set in a desolate landscape with drab sparsely furnished living quarters adding to the dreariness, the four migrants sharing the place must make do. They are single men without financial means and given a bare-minimum allowance, for they can’t work yet.
They are trying to survive the waiting game in harsh weather conditions, learning English by watching “Friends” and picking up cast-off items at a community thrift center to help their lives.
Omar (Amir El-Masry) has sad eyes and a glum expression. He talks to his Mom on an outside pay phone, homesick for Syria but knows he can’t return, or he’ll be killed like so many others in the civil uprising. His brother’s fighting in the Army but his parents are in Istanbul. You can feel his fear, anger and desperation.
His roommate, Farhad, played by Vikash Bhai, is a talkative, cheerful Afghan who shares his dreams and goals. The other two staying there are bickering brothers from Africa – one dreams of playing professional soccer while the other has more modest aspirations. Kwabena Ansah is Abedi and Ola Orebiyir is Wasef, both delivering heartfelt performances.
The wintry winds are cruel and melancholy settles over these young men as they await their fate. Omar plays the oud, a heritage string instrument in the manner of a guitar and carries it everywhere.
The storyline gets very bleak, so this shouldn’t be classified as a comedy. However, there are a few funny bits. The guys attend a group assimilation session where two locals, Boris (Kenneth Collard) and Helga (Sidse Babett Knudsen), teach them the best practices in social situations. These lessons are a hoot.
Farhad, a Freddy Mercury fan, bonds with a barnyard chicken. Frustrated by the system but resigned to his plight, Omar has little patience for lighter moments.
In his feature film debut, writer-director Ben Sharrock brings out genuine observational moments. An eye for the quirky, he is particularly good at staging shots for optimum effectiveness, although he is very deliberate in pacing.
Sharrock was nominated for two BAFTA awards – Outstanding British Film of the Year and Best Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.
Sharrock was inspired by the personal stories of people he met while working for refugee camps in southern Algeria and living in Damascus before the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2009.
This is a thoughtful piece on homelands and borders. The best part is how the humanity ultimately shows through, and there is a glimmer of hope to sustain us.
“Limbo” is a 2020 drama written and directed by Ben Sharrock. It starts Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Kwabena Ansah, Ola Orebiyir, Kenneth Collard and Sidse Babett Knudsen. Rated R for language, it runs 1 hour, 44 minutes. In theaters. Lynn’s Grade: B
“Without Remorse,” roughly based on Tom Clancy’s 1993 novel, is a serviceable yet forgettable action film elevated by a committed performance from Michael B. Jordan.
We follow John Kelly (Jordan), a Navy SEAL chief who finds himself immersed in an international conspiracy with a gargantuan body count. After rescuing a CIA operative in Aleppo, Syria, and unexpectedly encountering Russian military forces, all hell breaks loose. Three months later, Russian FSB operatives brutally murder two SEAL team members who participated in the mission. They also execute Kelly’s wife, Pam (Lauren London), and unborn child. While Kelly is able to kill three of the operatives at his house, one escapes.
Mean-spirited CIA officer Ritter (Jamie Bell) and Defense Secretary Clay (Guy Pearce) want to brush the situation under the rug for fear of starting an international incident, but Kelly takes matters into his own hands. Thanks to the help of his superior officer, Lt. Commander Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith), Kelly gets the intel necessary to exact revenge without, well, much remorse or self preservation. After being arrested and branded a felon for his vengeful acts, he’s placed on a black ops team to eliminate those responsible once and for all. Copious bloodshed ensues, and Kelly eventually acquires the last name of “Clark.”
Worth watching if only for Jordan’s acting chops, “Without Remorse” ends up feeling predictable, dated, and shallow by the end credits — squandering an opportunity to give Kelly much depth, or present a storyline that isn’t swamped in clichés. That’s not to say there isn’t some entertainment value to be found here, however, as Jordan’s performance remains consistently engaging, and director Stefano Sollima knows how to stage punchy, visceral set pieces.
Indeed, even though “Without Remorse” fails to delve into Kelly’s psychology beyond the surface level, Jordan’s portrayal lends him a damaged, unhinged quality. Jordan convincingly sells the fact that Kelly has nothing left to lose and is ready to die for retribution over his family’s killing. He’s always a gripping presence onscreen, and we can infer deeper tensions from his body language alone, even if Taylor Sheridan’s script avoids any kind of real complexity in his character or the larger plot he’s embroiled in.
Similarly, side characters, particularly Turner-Smith, turn in decent performances, but they end up feeling quite plain. There’s little to latch onto emotionally across the board, and “Without Remorse” fails to make any kind of meaningful social commentary. The plot twists are easy to foresee, ending with patriotic sentiments that caused me to roll my eyes.
If only Sollima’s film had given us more time to grow attached to Pam before she’s unceremoniously riddled with bullets, or provided any unique spin on the “America vs. Russia” trope, then perhaps “Without Remorse” could have stood out from its military-obsessed competition. Alas, for all the film’s thematic failings, it still remains enjoyable, due to the slickly choreographed shoot-em-up sequences peppered throughout.
Jordan, ripped as ever, absolutely shines in these scenes. A brutal interrogation within a burning car, an underwater escape from a downed airplane, and a claustrophobic punch out in a jail cell stand out in particular. It’s too bad the final-act skirmishes feel repetitive and too video gamey to impress. They’re sometimes dimly lit and, reflective of other elements, feel generic.
As a precursor to more Tom Clancy films down the road, “Without Remorse” carries out its mission dutifully, but uncreatively. Jordan, holding the whole ordeal together with his jacked arms, deserves better.
“Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” is a 2021 action thriller directed by Stefano Sollima and starring Michael B. Jordan, Guy Pearce, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Colman Domingo and Lauren London. Rated R for violence, the movie runs 1 hr. 49 minutes. Streaming on Amazon Prime beginning April 30. Alex’s Rating: B-
By Lynn Venhaus Zippy and clever, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is a cross between a fun family adventure with the Griswolds and a fast-paced sci-fi thriller in the mold of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”
With Phil Lord and Christopher Miller the producers, Oscar winners for the innovative “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and creators of “The LEGO Movie,” you expect good humor, creative animation and funny people voicing the characters, and they raise the bar once again. Writer-director Mike Rianda delivers a work that is not only entertaining but surprisingly warm-hearted.
An ordinary family finds themselves challenged to save the world from a robot apocalypse. Creative daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson) has been accepted into the film school of her dreams, so her nature-loving dad (Danny McBride) insists on a family road trip to get her there. Upbeat Mom (Maya Rudolph) and quirky younger brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) are along for the ride when the machine uprising begins – oh, and their squishy pug Monchi too. They connect with two simple-minded robots to save humanity, combating smart phones, roombas, evil Furbys and renegade appliances.
Families can recognize themselves in the characters, which Rianda and co-writer Jeff Rowe have lovingly crafted, while its cautionary tale about unchecked technology, over-reliance on social media and losing connections with those you love the most is a valid one.
The contrast between the Mitchells – throwbacks to ‘60s and ‘70s sitcoms, complete with beat-up station wagon and roly-poly dog – with the high-tech modern world is well-drawn and thought-provoking.
The colorful animation is, of course, next level, in its action sequences and visual effects. Its vibrancy and sight gags are worth a second viewing. An Easter egg for St. Louisans, the Arch is one of the landmark attractions seen across the U.S.
The voice actors ideally suit their characters, with the well-meaning but dorky dad voiced by Danny McBride an excellent foil for exasperated Katie, ready to try her wings at college, played by comic actress-writer Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” fame and a veteran of Upright Citizens Brigade. SNL’s Beck Bennett, Fred Armisen and Conan O’Brien are funny as tech voices, with the biggest surprise Oscar winner Olivia Colman as the mad mastermind PAL. The actress, best known as Queen Elizabeth in “The Crown,” is a terrific villain.
The charming and delightful “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is a welcome vehicle to gather the whole family to watch – and all too rare these days for such a broad shared experience.
“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is an action comedy animated feature, directed by Mike Rianda. Voice actors are Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Eric Andre, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Conan O’Brien and Charlie Yi. The film is 1 hour, 53 minutes and is rated PG for action and some language. Streaming on Netflix beginning April 30.
After the longest awards season ever and the weirdest movie year of all-time, we reach the finish line with the Oscars Sunday night.
People may gripe about the 93rd Academy Awards for several reasons, but you can’t say it is not going to be memorable. It might even be historic – there are a few records certain to be broken.
With 70 women nominated — the most ever – and a record two women in the directing category, we may see only the second woman win Best Director – and the first woman of color nominated. In 93 years! More on this in the category sections.
The show starts at 7 p.m. CST on ABC, coming to us live from the Los Angeles Union Station – and trains will be coming and going – and the Dolby Theatre. The previous award shows this season have involved taped segments and some Zooming, and ratings have tanked.
But producers claim this show will be different.
“The Oscars are not a webinar,” stated producer Steven Soderbergh, a filmmaker and Oscar winner for “Traffic.”
The Oscars, usually in February since 2004, pushed film eligibility to Feb. 28 and the awards for April 25, with some other groups doing the same, pandemic and all. What has shifted is the Big Mo, because movies like “Judas and the Black Messiah” came out later and Daniel Kaluuya went to the top of the list for Best Supporting Actor (even though he is a lead, but this isn’t the first example of category fraud and won’t be the last). I call this the second round, because many critics’ groups announced earlier.
After all the other awards – I am not counting the Golden Globes because we need to have a serious reckoning with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – frontrunners have definitely emerged.
What has transpired with the Screen Actors Guild, other guilds (DGA, WGA, PGA), BAFTA (British awards), Independent Spirit Awards and the critics groups – I belong to the Critics Choice Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists and St. Louis Film Critics Association – is either shoo-ins, like Kaluuya, “Soul” for Original Score and “Sound of Metal” for Best Sound, or tight nail-biters, such as Best Actress and Best Song.
It is easy to get cynical about the year that was, with movie theaters struggling and few blockbusters enticing folks out of their homes during a global pandemic, but I have seen many good movies streamed into my living room. I am OK with independent films and small-scale storytelling. I have seen nearly 170 films since the public health emergency forced a shutdown. I
After months of staying at home, I saw “Tenet” at the IMAX but have not returned to a movie theatre since then. Now that I am vaccinated and a COVID-19 survivor, I intend to go back. I miss that whole experience of “going to the movies.” It will be so satisfying when we can all watch a movie with an audience. I will never take it for granted again, and has been such a big part of my life since my youth.
The eight movies nominated for Best Picture are worthy and would be praised in any year: “The Father,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank” (more for technical brilliance), “Minari,” “Nomadland,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” “Da 5 Bloods” should be there.
My top 6 of the year were “Nomadland,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “Da 5 Bloods,” “Minari,” “Promising Young Woman” and “Soul.” “Sound of Metal” was no. 11.
Now, every year, when I predict the Oscars, I overthink it. Some years are better guesses than others. And really, until that envelope is opened, one never knows (except for Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm that tabulates.
Currently, there are 10,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Best Picture ballot is the only one where voting is different – it is a preferential ballot, where voters rank 1 through up to 10 (this year, 8). The winner must receive 50 percent of the vote plus 1. That is why we’ve had several upsets in recent years (“Moonlight” over “La La Land,” “Green Book” in 2019 and “Parasite” in 2020.
Without further ado, here are my predictions in all 23 categories, based on personal preferences and gut feelings, along with or the ‘conventional wisdom” of prognosticators and Oscar-metrics (yes, that is a thing).
BEST PICTURE Will Win: Nomadland Should Win: Nomadland Could Win: Minari
BEST DIRECTOR Will Win: Chloe Zhao “Nomadland” Should Win: Chloe Zhao Could Win: She’s won 40+ awards; it really is hers to lose
BEST ACTOR Will Win: Chadwick Boseman “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” Should Win: Chadwick Boseman Could Win: Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
BEST ACTRESS: Will Win: Tough call but I am going with Carey Mulligan “Promising Young Woman” Should Win: Carey Mulligan Could Win: Frances McDormand “Nomadland” or Andra Day “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Will Win: Yun-Jung Youn “Minari” Should Win: Yun-Jung Youn Could Win: Maria Bakalova “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Will Win: Daniel Kaluuya “Judas and the Black Messiah” Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya (but it’s not a lead) Could win: Paul Raci “Sound of Metal”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Will Win: Emerald Fennell “Promising Young Woman” Should Win: Emerald Fennell Could Win: Aaron Sorkin “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Will Win: Floran Zeller “The Father” Should Win: Floran Zeller “The Father” Could Win: Chloe Zhao “Nomadland”
Will Win: Joshua James Richardson “Nomadland” Should Win: Nomadland Could Win: “Mank”
BEST EDITING Will Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7” Should Win: The Trial of the Chicago 7 Could Win: “Sound of Metal” or “The Father”
BEST MUSIC SCORE Will Win: Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “Soul” Should Win: “Soul” Could Win: “Mank”
BEST SONG Will Win: “Speak Now” One Night in Miami Should Win: “Fight for You” Judas and the Black Messiah Could Win: “Lo Si” The Life Ahead
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN Will Win: Mank Should Win: Mank Could Win: The Father
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS Will Win: Tenet Should Win: Tenet Could Win: Mulan
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE Will Win: Soul Should Win: Soul Could Win: Wolfwalkers
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE Will Win: My Octopus Teacher Should Win: Crip Camp Could Win: Time
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE Will Win: Another Round Should Win: Quo Vadis, Aida Could Win: Collective
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Should Win: Mank Could Win: Pinocchio
BEST COSTUME DESIGN Will Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Should Win: Emma Could Win: Mank
BEST SOUND Will Win: Sound of Metal Should Win: Sound of Metal Could Win: Mank
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT Will Win: A Concerto is a Conversation Should Win: Love Song for Latasha Could Win: Colette
LIVE ACTION SHORT SUBJECT Will Win: Two Distant Strangers Should Win: Two Distant Strangers Could Win: The Letter Room
ANIMATED SHORT SUBJECT Will Win: If Anything Happens I Love You Should Win: If Anything Happens I Love You Could Win: Opera
Well, dear readers, the 2021 Academy Awards are nearly upon us. How unbearably exciting. Although most of my favorite films of 2020 were snubbed — “First Cow,” “Bacurau,” “Da 5 Bloods,” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” among them — there’s still a fine crop nominated this time around. Below are my picks and predictions for most of the categories. Please keep in mind that, as a recently graduated University student perpetually hunting for a paying job, I haven’t had time to watch every nominated film, and as such, I have omitted categories that I couldn’t weigh in on effectively. Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, let’s begin.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman (pick)
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
My personal picks for “Best Picture” are “Sound of Metal” or “Promising Young Woman” — two thought-provoking, eminently well-crafted experiences supported by outstanding performances from Riz Ahmed and Carey Mulligan, respectively. I never officially reviewed “Promising Young Woman,” but the film’s genre-blurring style and controversial ending have stuck in my mind ever since I watched it. “Minari” is pretty damn good as well. Sheesh, I suppose that I enjoy all the nominees on some level.
Anywho, director Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” will most certainly take top honors. A well-acted, atmospheric, and resonant endeavor, Zhao’s film nevertheless became slightly too predictable for my taste in its latter half.
Lee Isaac Chung
Chloé Zhao (prediction; pick)
In keeping with her film’s awards season spark, I predict Chloé Zhao to win for “Nomadland.” Zhao, who also wrote and edited the film, is a prime choice for this category. Lee Isaac Chung and Emerald Fennell also stand out among the nominees. However, I wasn’t on set for any of these films, so who am I to judge?
Riz Ahmed (pick)
Chadwick Boseman (prediction)
Every nominated actor gave a superlative performance, rendering my personal choice an arbitrary one. Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of Levee Green in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is undeniably powerful (my prediction to win), but I’d have to go with Riz Ahmed as Ruben in “Sound of Metal.” A complex and massively conflicted character, Ahmed imbues Ruben with a soulful edge that renders him one of the most memorable and empathetic protagonists in recent memory.
Carey Mulligan (prediction; pick)
I haven’t seen “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday” or “Pieces of a Woman” yet (sue me), but I’m still confidently choosing Carey Mulligan’s performance in “Promising Young Woman” as the hopeful winner here. A shattered, sardonic soul fueled by grief, Cassandra is always a compelling presence. Mulligan’s portrayal captures her turbulent emotions with searing impact. Who will actually take home the Oscar, though? No clue, really. There isn’t a clear frontrunner going into the ceremony.
Best Supporting Actor:
Sacha Baron Cohen
Daniel Kaluuya (prediction; pick)
Leslie Odom, Jr.
Good grief, what an outstanding collection of performances. Paul Raci’s portrayal in “Sound of Metal” is first-rate, but I’m picking Daniel Kaluuya’s masterful turn as Chairman Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah” as deserving of the trophy. Kaluuya gives a dynamite performance — conveying Hampton’s authoritative grandeur, but also quieter moments of reflection and intimacy. There’s little doubt in my mind that he won’t walk out empty handed. He should have been nominated for the “Best Actor” category, though. Hmph.
Best Supporting Actress:
Maria Bakalova (pick)
Yuh-Jung Youn (prediction)
Besides the strange nomination of Glenn Close for her over-the-top performance in “Hillbilly Elegy,” this is a highly contested category. I loved Yuh-Jung Youn’s performance as the grandmother in “Minari,” but Maria Bakalova’s fearless work in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” deserves all the accolades. It’s a downright impressive feat of acting and bravery, and she is most definitely my choice for this category. Even so, I predict Yuh-Jung Youn to win due to her previous awards showings.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (pick)
The Father (prediction)
One Night in Miami
The White Tiger
I’d have to pick the zany, oddly emotional screenplay for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” as my preference here. I can definitely see Academy voters going for “The Father,” because of its theatrical structure and the ways it attempts to subvert viewer expectations of what’s really going on in Anthony’s daily life.
Best Original Screenplay:
Judas and the Black Messiah
Promising Young Woman (pick)
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (prediction)
Academy voters will probably side with Sorkin’s quippy, rapid-fire dialogue in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” While that film’s script is definitely enjoyable, I find the incisive, darkly comedic screenplay of Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” far more compelling. Chock full of memorable sequences and shocking twists, it forges a path all its own.
Judas and the Black Messiah
News of the World
Nomadland (prediction; pick)
The Trial of the Chicago 7
The cinematography of “Nomadland” is richly textured, conveying both the ruggedness of Fern’s lifestyle, but also utilizing her environment as a symbolic representation of her personal journey over the course of the film. “Mank” also features expert camerawork, but its presentation lacks the variety and thematic weight of the former.
The Father (prediction)
Promising Young Woman (pick)
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
There’s something to be said for all these nominees — each of the films has a different feel, and their editing accounts for that. Yorgos Lamprinos’ (not acclaimed director Lorgos Lanthimos) editing in “The Father” is especially noteworthy for the ways it manipulates and intentionally obfuscates the proceedings to immerse viewers into Anthony’s declining mental state. We never quite get our footing on reality in any given moment.
Best Production Design:
The Father (pick)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
News of the World
I admire how “The Father” manipulates Anthony’s environment to reflect his disorientation and the passage of time, but Academy voters will in all likelihood choose the meticulous attention to detail of David Fincher’s “Mank.” I wouldn’t be upset by that winning — the film has extremely high production value, but a lackluster screenplay supporting it.
Best Original Score:
Da 5 Bloods
News of the World
It’s difficult to choose a favorite here — I’ve frequently revisited “What This Mission’s About” from Terrence Blanchard’s score for “Da 5 Bloods” — but my personal pick is Emile Mosseri’s score for “Minari.” Incredibly emotional and moving, Mosseri’s compositions perfectly complement the film’s poignant story of the American Dream. I’m predicting Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross to win for “Soul” because of their previous awards momentum, as well as the musical contrast they create throughout the film. Side note: I bet “Soul” wins “Best Animated,” too, because it’s Pixar.
Best Original Song:
Fight for You
Hear my Voice (prediction)
I don’t feel particularly strongly about any of these nominees, but I’m choosing “Husavik” from “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” as my favorite for its strangely poignant, multilingual lyrics, with in-your-face sentimentality that’s kind of infectious. “Hear My Voice,” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” will doubtless emerge victorious — it’s simple, blunt, and fits in nicely with previous winners.
News of the World
Sound of Metal (prediction; pick)
The sound design in “Mank” is impeccable in how it evokes films of the “Citizen Kane” era, but “Sound of Metal” should win this category, unquestionably. Utilizing innovative techniques to depict Ruben’s hearing loss, it becomes a character itself as his story unfolds.
Best Documentary Short Film:
A Concerto is a Conversation
Do Not Split (pick)
A Love Song for Latasha (prediction)
This category was, yet again, a frustrating decision. Each of these nonfiction gems are stylistically distinct, but deeply poignant and immersive in their own ways. I was particularly gripped by the raw, uncompromising “Hunger Ward” (about the ongoing conflict in Yemen), and “Do Not Split” (an up-close-and-personal look at the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong). “A Love Song for Latasha,” documenting the life and murder of Natasha Harlins, will likely win. Presented in a mesmerizing, vivid fashion. “Love Song” is incredibly moving and would absolutely be deserving of the Oscar.
Best Live Action Short Film:
The Letter Room
Two Distant Strangers (prediction; pick)
An amazing collection of short films, I predict and really hope that “Two Distant Strangers” — about a young black man trapped in a time loop where he’s always killed by the same cop, no matter how he acts — wins the Oscar. A brilliant, heartbreaking film, it’s extremely relevant to today’s climate and remains absolutely essential viewing for anyone with a Netflix account.
Best Animated Short Film:
If Anything Happens I Love You (prediction; pick)
This year’s batch of nominated animated shorts was an eclectic one, filled with varying tones, styles, and subject matter. The inventive construction of “Opera” and the twisted, fever-dream beauty of “Genius Loci” stand out in particular. Alas, my personal pick is the heartbreaking gut-punch of a film, “If Anything Happens I Love You.” Focusing on two emotionally distanced parents reeling from their daughter’s death, the film is profoundly well-made, and a prime example of doing less with more. The topic of gun violence is, sadly, ever-relevant, and this film is unflinching in confronting the grief left in its wake.
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is pleased to welcome back audiences for a new season of free Shakespeare productions in 2021, beginning with the return to Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park with King Lear.
The Festival is committed to preserving the health of our staff, actors, and audience and will share complete safety precautions closer to performance dates in compliance with the guidelines of health officials.
The 21st season of outdoor performances starting with KING LEAR starring André De Shields in Shakespeare Glen, a new 24-stop touring production of OTHELLO and the return of Shakespeare in the Streets in the historic North St. Louis neighborhood of THE VILLE.
On May 3, the company of 18 talented (and fully vaccinated) actors will come together in St. Louis for the first rehearsal of King Lear under Director Carl Cofield. Get to know their names and faces.
This is the 2021 Shakespeare in the Park cast:
André De Shields (King Lear), Rayme Cornell (Goneril), J. Samuel Davis (Kent), Leland Fowler (Edmund) Allen Gilmore (Fool), Nicole King (Cordelia), Jason Little (Albany), Daniel Molina (Edgar), Carl Overly, Jr. (Cornwall), Michael Tran (Oswald/France), Jacqueline Thompson (Regan) and Brian Anthony Wilson (Gloucester). With support from Atum Jones and the St. Louis Black Rep Intern Company: Kentrell Jamison, Theorri London, Brian McKinley, Tyler White and Christina Yancy.
Reservations for King Lear will open on May 2! Stay tuned for more information on how to attend. The opening show of the 21st season will run June 2 – June 27.
Shakespeare Glen, Forest Park June 2-27 Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award-winner André De Shields (Broadway: Hadestown, The Wiz) stars in Shakespeare’s greatest — and most modern — masterpiece.
Carl Cofield (Associate Artistic Director, Classical Theatre of Harlem) directs an all-BIPOC cast from New York, Chicago and St. Louis.
OTHELLO Aug. 3 -29
TourCo presents 24 performances in Missouri & Illinois Our new outdoor touring troupe visits public parks across the bi-state region. A Living Study Guide before each performance explores the themes and modern impact of Othello — Shakespeare’s gripping tragedy of jealousy, race and resentment.
SHAKESPEARE IN THE STREETS: THE VILLE Sept. 9-11
Annie Malone Children’s Home, 63133
After an extended storytelling residency, Shakespeare in the Streets returns with a new play based on Shakespeare and inspired by the Ville neighborhood, one of the most historically significant Black communities in America.
Coleman discusses upcoming 103rd season and the challenges ahead
By Lynn Venhaus Kwofe Coleman, who started at The Muny as a seasonal employee when he was 16, will become the theatre’s next president and CEO, succeeding Denny Reagan, who is retiring after 52 years.
Coleman begins the new position on Jan. 1, 2022. He is currently The Muny’s managing director, overseeing the organization, financial and business affairs. He will assume the role with more than a decade of extensive theatre management experience.
“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to lead The Muny and serve a community that I love,” Coleman said. “The unparalleled history, remarkable resources and aspirational spirit that have yielded a century of success for The Muny are our foundation as we begin our second century.”
The Muny Board of Directors announced the decision Friday.
One of the premier musical theaters in the U.S., the 103-year-old St. Louis venue traditionally welcomes more than 350,000 patrons over its nine-week season in the nation’s largest and oldest outdoor theatre in Forest Park.
The opportunity to mold The Muny’s future is not one Coleman, 38, takes lightly.
“With great excitement, I look toward the future of a cultural institution that will take intentional steps to broaden and evolve our identity and relationships through both our art and our investment in this community,” he said.
He has been preparing for this opportunity for many years.
“It’s been a 22-year job interview,” he said. “The opportunities I have had to work in different departments and gain the necessary experience in a community I care about has motivated me to want to figure out our next chapter. ‘What else can I do?’ We have an opportunity to define what a cultural institution is. It’s an amazing opportunity.”
Coleman said he is eager to get to work.
“I have a lot of respect for what the people do here. I’m honored for this moment, and I’m so excited to do the work,” he said.
Coleman’s promotion has been met with local and national praise, with both the board chairman and retiring president describing it as a “perfect” choice.
“Thanks to Denny’s leadership, and the diligent stewarding of the selection process by the executive committee and full board, the perfect candidate has been chosen,” Muny Board Chairman James S. Turley said.
Reagan, who has been with The Muny since 1968, has served as president and CEO since 1991. He announced plans to retire in December.
He and Coleman have worked extensively alongside each other. In recent years, they have stood together near stage left, greeting patrons before each of the seven shows on summer evenings.
And like Reagan, Coleman started working at the Muny as a summer job when he was in high school. He was an usher, handing out programs and helping with patrons’ needs.
“Kwofe is a remarkably gifted leader who understands the institution at its core, and more importantly, its commitment to the St. Louis community,” Reagan said. “He will ensure The Muny’s future remains bright while offering a new perspective on how to lead our beloved theatre into its next century. Without question, he is the perfect choice.”
“Undoubtedly, Kwofe will ensure The Muny continues its commitment to accessibility, regardless of physical or socioeconomic limitations, while expanding the vital role we fill in our community,” said Turley, who is also the Second Century Campaign chairman.
Dave Steward, founder and chairman of World Wide Technology, the nation’s largest black-owned company, said Coleman was a national and local leader of rare passion and commitment for serving young people.
“His record reflects an accomplished innovator who is making education and training increasingly accessible for historically underserved communities through schools and the arts,” Steward said.
“From the Gospel of Mark we learn, ‘Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant,’ and I am confident that Kwofe will lead with faith and humility. The Steward family, along with World Wide Technology, salute The Muny on choosing Kwofe as their next leader,” said Steward, a Muny board member.
World Wide Technology and the Steward Family Foundation became the first overall season sponsor in the history of The Muny in 2014. They were to be the 2020 Season Presenting Sponsor but instead continued as the online season presenting sponsor with a leadership gift.
Coleman is recognized both locally and nationally as a strong force in theatre operations and currently serves as the president-elect of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre.
Betsy King, NAMT executive director, noticed the symmetry of Reagan, a former president, passing the torch to Coleman.
“I can say with both excitement and confidence that Kwofe will be a charismatic, insightful leader for The Muny. He will respect the past while also moving the organization into a strong, vibrant future. The Muny is in excellent hands!” she said.
Coleman was a 2018 Fellowship advisor for the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland.
“The Muny has enjoyed a remarkably stable and strong leadership that has allowed the organization to move from strength to strength. Appointing Kwofe Coleman as the new president and CEO ensures leadership continuity. Kwofe brings his own insights and talents to the position and will lead The Muny to even greater heights in the years to come,” said Michael Kaiser, DeVos Institute of Arts Management chairman and Kennedy Center president emeritus.
Because of the public health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 102nd season was cancelled, and the line-up was transferred to the 2021 season. Even though season ticket sales were announced in March, the current health landscape, best practices and all available information must indicate that a season is possible.
A final decision will be made next month, Coleman said.
“We’re eager to come back, to gather and have the shows, but we have to be safe and be cleared to do so by the health department and the labor unions,” he said. “We’re looking at every angle. We might have to have a slightly reduced season, a socially distanced scenario. We’ll do something. How we will do it has to be figured out.”
Coleman said meetings continue to take place, consulting with the city and medical experts on the COVID-19 regional numbers and mitigation efforts. He said they have watched what the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues and other local institutions have done in their altered re-openings.
“We’ve had a lot of great conversations. We’re only going to be together again by working together,” he said.
The upcoming season, announced in December, is to start later in July and then run through September, a shift from the usual June to August schedule, “should conditions allow.”
The seven shows are: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (July 5 – 11), Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins (July 14 – 22), Smokey Joe’s Cafe (July 25 – 31), The Sound of Music (August 3 – 9), Sweeney Todd (August 12 – 18), On Your Feet! (August 21 – 27) and Chicago (August 30 – September 5). Three – Sweeney Todd, Smokey Joe’s Café and On Your Feet – are Muny premieres.
In the meantime, the activities at #1 Muny Drive continue. The stage is being installed, construction is on track and preparations to return are underway.
The Muny is currently undergoing a multi-year major renovation project that was announced in October 2018. Phase 3 started in September, focused on backstage support spaces. The Muny’s aging 11.5-acre campus needs upkeep and maintenance.
The new Emerson Artists’ Building will house dressing rooms, the wig shop, hair and makeup departments and wardrobe. Renovations are planned for the costume shop, production and general offices, rehearsal space, craft and scenic room, painter and carpenter areas, and the sewer and plumbing infrastructure. The capital campaign has raised $85 million so far.
The first two phases focused on rebuilding the state-of-the-art James S. McDonnell stage
Summer of 2020
The Muny announced in May that a modified season of 5, not 7, shows would take place beginning in July only if local health experts and officials deemed it safe, but on June 8, the decision was made not to move forward.
After that sad news, the Muny pivoted to an online season, a first in its 102-year history. They aired the live Muny Magic concerts at The Sheldon, never before made available to the public, and created a new series, “The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live!” This one-of-a-kind, free online endeavor was packed with performances by Muny artists across the country and dancers performing outside on the grounds.
Because of the online season, The Muny was able to employ several members of its typical summer staff, including trades people, performers, artists and musicians.
With viewers from 22 countries, the total estimated attendance for the free 10-show summer season was 189,582. This number represented a record-breaking first in The Muny’s live-streaming history, and is an aggregated estimate based on YouTube analytics.
“While this season was anything but ordinary, the support from our viewers has been nothing short of extraordinary,” Reagan said.
“My heart was transported back to so many magical summer nights past,” said Mike Isaacson, artistic director and executive producer of The Muny.
“I am so grateful to everyone in the Muny family who worked on and created these 10 streams,” Isaacson said. “It was a remarkable collaboration in so many ways, and in this really challenging time, these shows allowed us to create, to celebrate and to be together. We’re all very grateful.”
Coleman joined The Muny full time in 2008 as a staff accountant, helping to manage the finances, accounting and payroll for its multimillion-dollar annual budget.
In the decade preceding it, he performed a variety of roles, including house manager.
In 2011, Coleman formed The Muny’s first digital communications department, reconstructing its internet presence and social media identity while also dramatically increasing the theatre’s internet sales stream, national presence and forming connections with nextgeneration audiences.
He was promoted to director of marketing and communications in 2014, where he managed branding and marketing efforts through its 2018 centennial season. During this time, Coleman was also key in the creation of both The Muny’s Second Century Strategic Plan and the $100 million Second Century Capital Campaign.
Following the 2018 season, Coleman was named The Muny’s managing director, responsible for managing the business functions while working with Isaacson, to embrace and articulate the artistic and institutional vision.
In St. Louis, he is an active contributor, serving on the St. Louis University High School Board of Trustees, Cor Jesu Academy Advisory Council, Common Circles Advisory Council and as a proud founding board member of Atlas School.
Coleman is an alumnus of St. Louis University High School, Class of 2001, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Emory University in Atlanta.
He is a first-generation American. His parents migrated here from the Republic of Ghana in the mid-1970s and settled in Bellefontaine Neighbors. He has two sisters, both doctors, who attended Harvard and Duke universities, and locally, Cor Jesu Academy. He said his parents prized education and his father worked side jobs to send his children to private schools.
Coleman said his parents appreciated the arts and culture, and that was handed down to their three children, to make sure they were well-rounded.
“Art was natural to me and I appreciated it,” Coleman said.
He also serves on the board of directors for the Saint Louis Club, as well as other various social service organizations. During the 2020 holiday season, Coleman served as executive producer for “A New Holiday,” a short film musical set in St. Louis created by LIFE Creative Group.
He is a 2015 recipient of the St. Louis American’s Salute to Young Leaders Award and was named to the 2020 St. Louis Business Journal 40 under 40.
For more information about The Muny, visit www.muny.org.
Season tickets can be purchased online at muny.org or by phone by calling (314) 361-1900. Currently, the box office in Forest Park is closed to the public.
By Lynn Venhaus The rare white Alba truffle demands top dollar on the international market, from hundreds of dollars to over a thousand. The golden tuber is known for its pungent aroma and earthy flavor, and diners enjoy it shaved over pasta, risotto, eggs and meat. It has a short growing season of only a few months a year, and the forests of Italy are the premier location for hunting this delicacy.
Nowadays, there is an art to foraging for them, as the truffle has resisted modern science’s effort at cultivation. Expertly trained dogs join a rare breed – aging truffle hunters whose
Their secret culture is the subject of a fascinating documentary.
The elusive white truffle’s journey from the forest to the table is an interesting subject in the unusual Italian documentary “The Truffle Hunters.”
Eccentric elderly men, often in their 70s and 80s, are obsessed with the lucrative truffle hunt — so much so that they are unwilling to share the tricks of the trade, passed down from generations, with younger men who want to follow in their footsteps. Therefore, these Italian professionals are a dying breed.
Directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw provide vivid portraits of four of these men — Carlo, Aurelio, Sergio and Angelo, characters all — and their beloved dogs living a simple life in Piedmont, Italy. It may look like something out of the Brothers Grimm, but these gruff, competitive men are not fairy tale characters.
Nor do they assimilate in the 21st century with tech-savvy knowledge.And some would just prefer to be left alone, with the trusty companion, nevertheless.
While truffle hunting is a way of life they have mastered, it is not without its challenges. Climate change and deforestation have caused problems with a decreased supply at harvest time.
Dweck and Kershaw, who recently won the Directors Guild of America award for directing a feature documentary, bring out all the quirkiness of these hunters and show the affectionate bond between the men and their dogs.
The cinematography is another outstanding element, and Dweck and Kershaw won the American Society of Cinematographers award for best documentary.
If you are a dog lover, this movie needs to go on your watch list. If you are like me and enjoy learning about something you never paid much attention to, “The Truffle Hunters” is worth 90 minutes of your time as a snappy homage to these guys who take obvious pride in their work.
At only an hour and 24 minutes, this film is a snappy homage to these guys who take obvious pride in their work. “The Truffle Hunters” is an international feature documentary, in Italian with subtitles, directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw. It’s rated PG-13 for strong language and runs 1 hour, 24 minutes. In theatres. Locally, at the Hi-Pointe Back Lot on April 23. Lynn’s Grade: A-.
By Lynn Venhaus When husband-and-wife collaborators Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy work together on screen, a low bar has been set, for their previous four movies together had little to redeem them. Yet “Thunder Force,” while just barely a cut above the others, has its moments.
And only a few, for “Thunder Force” is a hodge-podge of tone, temperament and style that squanders opportunities to boost its likability. The strongest aspect is the cast, who looks like they are having fun indulging in all the silliness.
And there is plenty of that, along with slapstick and repetitive gags. Maybe the jokes don’t all land, but let’s keep hammering them again and again just in case people will finally ‘get’ them.
In a world terrorized by super villains, scientist Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) has developed a way to give regular people superpowers. That happens to her estranged best friend Lydia Berman (Melissa McCarthy), who is injected with super strength, when she is poking around. Emily can become invisible. These powers, to be used for good, can protect their city from evil. But can Thunder Force save Chicago from these Miscreants?
After the disappointing “Tammy” in 2014 and the unwatchable “Life of the Party” in 2018, (I skipped “The Boss” in 2016), one wonders why writer-director Falcone still gets to helm projects with his Oscar-nominated wife McCarthy but in November, they presented another lackluster high concept “Superintelligence” on HBOMax and now the forced “Thunder Force” on Netflix.
McCarthy is playing the same character that she has milked for laughs since her breakout role in “Bridesmaids” in 2011 – an uncouth loudmouth slob who beats to her own drummer. The common thread there, along with “The Heat,” “Spy” and “Ghostbusters,” is director Paul Feig, who knows how to reign in her penchant for absurd riffs.
Feig’s direction is disciplined, unlike her husband of 16 years, who lets her go on and on and on – singing random pop songs, doing goofy impressions and just making a good punchline less amusing by not knowing when to stop.
Why does she stay in her comfort zone when we know she is capable of much more — the Oscar-nominated “Can You Forgive Me?” and an Emmy as host of “Saturday Night Live” in 2017 (and that hilarious Sean Spicer impression)?
The Falcones met doing improvisational sketch comedy at The Groundlings in L.A., and I think their strength is humor in short doses. This movie is like a “SNL” sketch that has gone on far too long.
Apparently, McCarthy and Spencer met during that time, and have been real-life BFFs since then. But you would not know of their connection by the way the relationship is framed in the film.
Emily is a brain who devotes all her time to her work, with little time for frivolity. Lydia is a lonely hard-drinking forklift operator. Neither of them are endearing as good friends, thrown together in school as misfits, but neither is the loyal true-blue friend they should be.
So, they magically team up again after years of estrangement?
The plot holes don’t help. The Miscreants are former borderline sociopaths empowered by interstellar rays in the early ‘80s into super-villains who wreak havoc on the streets of Chicago.
Laser, played by “The Guardians of Galaxy” breakout Pom Klementieff dressed as a dominatrix, hurls blue bolts for destruction.
The thug-boss mayor, played over-the-top by – of course – Bobby Cannavale, referred to as “The King,” and is straight out of Gotham City’s playbook, appearing like a cartoon buffoon in “Batman Returns.”
Falcone also plays one of his henchmen, and after unfortunate skin tasering, has a running gag on how the unsightly scabs appear on his face. Once was enough but the fact it’s repeated is indicative of this hot mess.
And Oscar winner Melissa Leo is totally wasted in a tough-lady operative role.
Now, for the good parts. Jason Bateman, who worked with McCarthy in “Identity Thief” in 2013, is a half-creant, with crab pincer claws as arms. Inexplicably, The Crab and Lydia are drawn to each other (and there is a foreplay scene with drawn butter and Old Bay seasoning). You can tell he’s just slumming, and that’s OK because he knows how to deliver one-liners in a deadpan way. and has a gift for comic timing.
This film, however, belongs to the younger ladies. In flashback, McCarthy’s daughter Vivian Falcone plays her in middle school – and is terrific – and Bria Danielle Singleton is strong as young Emily. They could have had a whole movie developed around them, and that would have been OK, preferable to the middle-age edition.
That said, the jokes about hefty middle-age women in spandex suits and entering and exiting a sports car are funny and relatable.
Taylor Mosby is winning as Emily’s daughter Tracy.
The fact that this movie wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but it was enjoyable in spurts.
“Thunder Force” is an action comedy directed and written by Ben Falcone. It stars Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer, Bobby Cannavale, Jason Bateman, Taylor Mosby. Melissa Leo and Pom Klementieff. Rated PG-13 for some action/violence, language and mild suggestive material, the run time is: 1 hour, 46 minutes. The film is available on Netflix beginning April 9. Lynn’s Grade: D+