Nick’s Picks – June 17, 2015

3 Films

THREE FILMS: Andre Gregory & Shawn Wallace – Criterion

When André Gregory and Wallace Shawn—theater directors, writers, actors, and longtime friends—sat down for a stimulating meal in 1981’s My Dinner with André, they not only ended up with one of cinema’s unlikeliest iconic scenarios but launched a film collaboration that would continue to pay creative dividends for decades. The subsequent projects they made together for the screen—1994’s Vanya on 42nd Street, a passionate read-through of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and 2014’s striking Henrik Ibsen interpretation A Master Builder—are penetrating works that exist on the edge of theater and film, and that both emerged out of many years of rehearsals with loyal troupes of actors. Gregory and Shawn’s unique contributions to the cinematic landscape are shape-shifting, challenging, and entertaining works about the process of creation.

MY DINNER WITH ANDRÉ In this captivating and philosophical film directed by Louis Malle (Au revoir les enfants), Wallace Shawn sits down with his friend André Gregory at a restaurant on New York’s Upper West Side, and the pair proceed through an alternately whimsical and despairing confessional about love, death, money, and all the superstition in between. Playing variations on their own New York–honed personas, Shawn and Gregory, who also cowrote the screenplay, dive in with introspective intellectual gusto, and Malle captures it all with a delicate, artful detachment. A fascinating freeze-frame of cosmopolitan culture, My Dinner with André remains a unique work in cinema history.

VANYA ON 42ND STREET In the early 1990s, André Gregory mounted a series of spare, private performances of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in a crumbling Manhattan playhouse. This experiment in pure theater—featuring a remarkable cast of actors, including Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, and George Gaynes—would have been lost to time had it not been captured on film, with subtle cinematic brilliance, by Louis Malle. Vanya on 42nd Street is as memorable and emotional a version of Chekhov’s masterpiece as one would ever hope to see.

A MASTER BUILDER Twenty years after Vanya on 42nd Street, Wallace Shawn and André Gregory reunited to produce another idiosyncratic big-screen version of a classic play, this time Henrik Ibsen’s Bygmester Solness (Master Builder Solness). Brought pristinely to the screen by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), this is a compellingly abstract reimagining; it features Shawn (who also wrote the adaptation) as a visionary yet tyrannical middle-aged architect haunted by figures from his past. A Master Builder, like Vanya, is the result of many years of rehearsals, a living, breathing, constantly shifting work that unites theater, film, and dream.

THE WRECKING CREW – Magnolia

Music lovers will be astonished at the influence The Wrecking Crew wielded over rock and pop music in the 1960s and early 1970s. These unsung instrumentalists were the de-facto backing band on hit records by The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny & Cher, Elvis, The Monkees and many more. These dedicated musicians brought the flair and musicianship that made the American West Coast Sound a dominant cultural force around the world.

BEYOND THE REACH – Lionsgate

A high-rolling corporate shark (Michael Douglas) and his impoverished young guide (Jeremy Irvine) play the most dangerous game during a hunting trip in the Mojave Desert in this lean, mean cat-and-mouse thriller.

BOB HOPE: Entertaining the Troops – MVD

World War II affected everyone, and everyone found his or her own way of helping the cause. For American entertainers, choices included enlisting, selling war bonds, visiting the wounded, and entertaining the troops. In this 90-minute documentary, filmmaker Robert Mugge pays tribute to hundreds of well-known (and not so well-known) performers who assisted the military both at home and abroad. Included are rare period performances by the likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Dorothy Lamour, Frances Langford, the Andrews Sisters, Abbott and Costello, Lena Horne, Carole Landis, Dinah Shore, Jerry Colonna, Danny Kaye, Eddie Rochester Anderson, Larry Adler, Kay Kaiser, Cass Daley, Irving Berlin, Bugs Bunny, and many others, as well as special appearances by such prominent actors as Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard (in the last appearance before her untimely death), and Edward G. Robinson. Rounding out this tribute are 1987 interviews with Dorothy Lamour (the Bond Bombshell), Frances Langford (the G.I. Sweetheart), Mel Blanc (the voice of World War II’s Private Snafu, alias the Sad Sack), and Maxene Andrews of the Andrews Sisters, as well as a reunion of Bob Hope’s World War II troupe of performers (videotaped just three days before Hope’s 85th birthday).

 

Synopsis used with permission

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