The music of Tom Lehrer – Penny Seats “Tomfoolery” cabaret opens this Thursday, October 2

Be Prepared

Be Prepared

The Penny Seats return to the stage this October with the musical revue Tomfoolery, celebrating the words and music of satirist, mathematician, and cult favorite, Tom Lehrer. The production also includes an opening short—a 5-minute mini-musical called Volcanoes!!—composed by Ann Arbor’s Zach London, who cites Lehrer as an early inspiration.

Production photos by Victoria Gilbert – view more here.

 

Hunting Song

Hunting Song

Silent E

Silent E

Generation X knows Lehrer best as having written the songs for Electric Company (“Silent E”), but he also wrote a number of satirical songs in the 50s and 60s for shows like That Was The Week That Was, The Frost Report, and The Steve Allen Show as well as his own concerts.

The Elements

The Elements

Irish Ballad

Irish Ballad

Lehrer observed, “I know it’s very bad form to quote one’s own reviews, but there is something the New York Times said about me [in 1958], that I have always treasured: ‘Mr. Lehrer’s muse [is] not fettered by such inhibiting factors as taste.’“

Volcanoes

Volcanoes

Volcanoes

Volcanoes

Tomfoolery will run on Thursdays, October 2, 9, 16 and 23, at Conor O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, 318 South Main Street, Ann Arbor. The two companies are partnering to offer a cabaret-style show, with dinner seatings available starting at 6:30 pm, and performances each night at 8:00pm. Audience members can purchase tickets for the dinner-and-show package for just $20, or for the show only, for $10. Advance tickets (which are encouraged) are available online at pennyseats.org or by phone at (734) 926-5346.

Smut

Smut

Featured performers are Ann Arborites Matt Cameron, Laura Sagolla and R. Brent Stansfield, and Roy Sexton of Saline. Lauren London (of Ann Arbor) directs the show, with musical direction and accompaniment by Rebecca Biber (also of Ann Arbor).

 

 

Victoria Gilbert (of Ypsilanti) oversees choreography, and Stephen Hankes (of Ann Arbor) designed the set and will stage manage the show.

Folk Song Army

Folk Song Army

 

 

 

 

Lauren says of the piece, “This show is a guilty pleasure for us. It’s pure, brash, silliness, presented with gusto in a bar setting. So many of us remember Tom Lehrer’s acerbic, satirical songs from our childhood (Electric Company, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” “Pollution”). In particular, we recall that feeling of not knowing whether our parents would approve, but presuming the worst. We snuck around, giggling and singing these songs to each other eagerly, reveling in their mischievousness; it’s wonderful to celebrate them loudly now, in all their glory. And Zach’s short piece, Volcanoes!!, is a fitting opener. It pays homage to Lehrer in its tone and staging, and will, I think, get patrons in the right frame of mind for the evening.”

Wanna Go Back to Dixie

Wanna Go Back to Dixie

Folk Song Army

Folk Song Army

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sexton adds, “The show, originally conceived by Cameron Mackintosh (Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables), celebrates the music of Tom Lehrer, a comic misanthrope who makes Lewis Black and Jon Stewart seem like Mr. Rogers and Spongebob Squarepants.”

Vatican Rag

Vatican Rag

Wiener Schnitzel Waltz

Wiener Schnitzel Waltz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The company is also thrilled to partner with Conor O’Neill’s, a cornerstone of Ann Arbor’s downtown scene. “Conor’s has been a delight to work with,” says Lauren. “We’re thrilled at the support they’ve given us at every stage, and can’t thank them enough. It’s gratifying to be able to offer theatre patrons the incredible food, personalized service, and value that make Conor’s such a satisfying place. We can’t wait.”

Our Director

Our Director

The show continues a successful 2014 season for The Penny Seats, who presented an acclaimed production of Elektra this July in West Park. The group is now in its fourth year of operation and continues to be overseen by a volunteer staff from the Ann Arbor area. (Later, The Penny Seats will re-team with 826 Michigan for their annual Five Bowls of Oatmeal performance, featuring short plays written by local schoolchildren in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area.)

For more information, visit the group’s website pennyseats.org or call 734-926-5346.

Production photos by Victoria Gilbert

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Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

 

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Ann Arbor Observer: “Tomfoolery … Nothing but fun” by Davi Napoleon

Davi Napoleon wrote this wonderful article for the Ann Arbor Observer on our production of Tomfoolery (opening next Thursday at Conor O’Neill’s here in Ann Arbor) – such a nice story, and we look suitably like lunatics in the accompanying photo (which is TOTALLY accurate)! Enjoy, and get your tickets at pennyseats.org/box-office/

Davi Napoleon Article on Tomfoolery from Ann Arbor Observer________________________

Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Silly props … and sillier zombies

Props!

Props!

So if this image* doesn’t intrigue you about Tom Lehrer’s Tomfoolery enough that you rush to pennyseats.org/box-office to get your tickets, I don’t know what might. Yup, these are some of our props. Nope, I ain’t going to explain how any of them are going to be used.

Zombie-fied Brent, Matt, Roy

Zombie-fied Brent, Matt, Roy

And, the rumors are true – there be zombies** in this show … for no good reason, other than it’s funny. Yup, just that kind of gig!

(We’re hoping zombies are a draw and not a deterrent.)

Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

Come see us Penny Seats do our thang on October 2, 9, 16, or 23 at Ann Arbor’s Conor O’Neill’s and discover all the wonders for your little ol’ self! ($20 for dinner AND show; $10 just for the show)

 

*Photo by fellow cast member and crazy talent Brent Stansfield of his show “stuff”

**Photo by marvelous director Lauren London who falls into fits of giggles, for some inexplicable reason, every time she sees this particular moment

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

I’m a lawyer? Nah, it’s just “Tomfoolery”!

Somehow I got a promotion to “attorney”! Which is ironic since we have THREE actual attorneys amongst us – and I AIN’T one of them! Tomfoolery opens Oct. 2 at Conor O’Neill’s in Ann Arbor. $20 gets you dinner and the show; $10 … just the show. Tickets going fast at pennyseats.org – from Detroit Legal News …

Legal News Coverage of Tomfoolery

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Zombie-fied Brent, Matt, & Roy

Zombie-fied Brent, Matt, & Roy

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view.

Props!

Props!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

“It’s pure, brash silliness, presented with gusto in a bar setting.” The Penny Seats production of Tomfoolery opens October 2

Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery

Yup, I’m in this! Come see it!

(Rehearsal photos here.)

Penny Seats press release …

The Penny Seats return to the stage this October with the musical revue Tomfoolery, celebrating the words and music of satirist, mathematician, and cult favorite, Tom Lehrer. The production also includes an opening short—a 5-minute mini-musical called Volcanoes!!—composed by Ann Arbor’s Zach London, who cites Lehrer as an early inspiration.

Brent, Roy, Laura, & Matt

Brent, Roy, Laura, & Matt

 

The show will run on Thursdays, October 2, 9, 16 and 23, at Conor O’Neill’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, 318 South Main Street, Ann Arbor. The two companies are partnering to offer a dinner theatre-style show, with dinner seatings available starting at 6:30 pm, and performances each night at 8:00pm.

Pollution!

Pollution!

Audience members can purchase tickets for the dinner-and-show package for just $20, or for the show only, for $10. Advance tickets (which are encouraged) are available online at pennyseats.org or by phone at (734) 926-5346.

Lauren ... Charisse?

Lauren … Charisse?

Featured performers are Ann Arborites Matt Cameron, Laura Sagolla and R. Brent Stansfield, and Roy Sexton of Saline (ME!).

 

Lauren London (of Ann Arbor) directs the show, with musical direction and accompaniment by Rebecca Biber (also of Ann Arbor).

Victoria Gilbert (of Ypsilanti) oversees choreography, and Stephen Hankes (of Ann Arbor) designed the set and will stage manage the show.

Penny Seats LogoLauren says of the piece, “This show is a guilty pleasure for us. It’s pure, brash silliness, presented with gusto in a bar setting. So many of us remember Tom Lehrer’s songs from our childhood. In particular, we recall that feeling of not knowing whether our parents would approve, but presuming the worst. We snuck around, giggling and singing these songs to each other eagerly, reveling in their mischievousness; it’s wonderful to celebrate them loudly now, in all their glory. And Zach’s short piece, Volcanoes!!, is a fitting opener. It pays homage to Lehrer in its tone and staging, and will, I think, get patrons in the right frame of mind for the evening.”

Be Prepared!

Be Prepared!

The company is also thrilled to partner with Conor O’Neill’s, a cornerstone of Ann Arbor’s downtown scene. “Conor’s has been a delight to work with,” says Lauren. “We’re thrilled at the support they’ve given us at every stage, and can’t thank them enough. It’s gratifying to be able to offer theatre patrons the incredible food, personalized service, and value that make Conor’s such a satisfying place. We can’t wait.”

Bright College Days

Bright College Days

 

 

The show continues a successful 2014 season for The Penny Seats, who presented an acclaimed production of Elektra this July in West Park. The group is now in its fourth year of operation and continues to be overseen by a volunteer staff from the Ann Arbor area. (Later this fall, The Penny Seats will re-team with 826 Michigan for their annual Five Bowls of Oatmeal performance, featuring short plays written by local schoolchildren in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area.)

For more information, visit the group’s website, pennyseats.org, or call 734-926-5346.

________________

London and Biber, LLC

London and Biber, LLC

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Save the date for cheeky ribaldry! Tom Foolery (Ann Arbor, October 2, 9, 16, and 23)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Save the date for cheeky ribaldry! After a self-imposed 18-month theatre hiatus, I am going to be in the musical revue Tom Foolery at Conor O’Neills Ann Arbor with The Penny Seats the first four Thursdays in October (October 2, 9, 16, and 23)!

More info at pennyseats.org.

The show, originally conceived by Cameron Mackintosh (Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables), celebrates the music of Tom Lehrer, a comic misanthrope who makes Lewis Black and Jon Stewart seem like Mr. Rogers and Spongebob Squarepants.

 

 

Gen X knows him best as having written the songs for Electric Company (“Silent E”) but he also wrote a number of satirical songs in the 50s and 60s for shows like That Was The Week That Was, The Frost Report, and The Steve Allen Show as well as his own concert performances.

Lehrer observed, “I know it’s very bad form to quote one’s own reviews, but there is something the New York Times said about me [in 1958], that I have always treasured: ‘Mr. Lehrer’s muse [is] not fettered by such inhibiting factors as taste.

Along with yours truly, the show features talented pals Laura Sagolla, Brent Stansfield, and Matt Cameron and is directed by Lauren London with music direction from Rebecca Biber and choreography by Victoria Gilbert. You can check out all of Lehrer’s music at his YouTube channel here.

 

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

An entertaining perp walk to its inevitable credit sequence blooper reel: Let’s Be Cops

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Let’s Be Cops is a throwback to a simpler, sunnier, dumber movie era … and that is not necessarily a bad thing. There was a time, not that long ago, when the summer movie season was not so populated with postmodern irony and self-aware/self-important superheroes. Rather, it was an unyielding series of big, silly, high concept buddy flicks like Shanghai Noon or Bad Boys. (This summer’s 22 Jump Street is the exception that proves the rule.)

Let’s Be Cops has neither the wit nor the budget of any of those films, but it is like their not-so-bright cousin: pleasant and nice to hang out with at the family reunion, but ultimately rather forgettable.

Ryan O’Malley (New Girl‘s Jake Johnson) and Justin Miller (Happy Endings‘ Damon Wayans, Jr.) are two friends/roommates who move to Los Angeles to find their dreams after college (Purdue University no less, though both drive cars with Columbus, Ohio license plates – do the filmmakers not know where Purdue is?). These partners in arrested development have hit their 30s and are at a financial/social/life dead end. Think Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion without the whimsy … or the Post-Its.

Their upcoming college reunion for some reason is a masquerade ball (WTF?) which O’Malley mistakenly believes means a costume party. Miller, a video game designer who is developing one based on real-life experiences of policemen, just happens to have two authentic police uniforms in their apartment. So, of course, they wear these costumes to the party, à la Elle Woods’ cringe-worthy bunny outfit in Legally Blonde. Embarrassment ensues when these boys in blue are faced with college classmates bedecked in evening gowns, tuxedoes, and glittery commedia dell’arte masks (again, WTF?).

The cheekiness finally kicks in when the boys, dejected and mortified by their reunion experience and still wearing their cop gear, wander the streets of L.A. and suddenly realize every passer-by regards them with fear, adoration, respect, or some combination thereof.

Expectedly, the power goes to their heads, and O’Malley starts to take it all too seriously, embroiling them both in a gang bust of some clichéd, B-movie Russian mobsters who are harassing the local pizzeria. (‘Cause of course that’s what Russian mobsters in L.A. would do.)

The film has potential to say something interesting about the abuse of power we see among some uniformed officials – certainly (and sadly) a timely concept. What kind of folks are drawn to this profession in the first place. Is this career-choice motivated by noble intent or a power trip or both? The movie’s script isn’t sharp enough to tackle that concept, which, if explored, could have taken this slight though entertaining film to more interestingly satiric comic levels.

However, the movie is fun. That is pretty much all it has set out to be, and that is just fine, aided and abetted as it is by a well-rounded cast. Any time Rob Riggle shows up (though he seems consigned now and forever to play police officers or gym teachers), you know you’re in good hands. Andy Garcia (!) of all people also makes an appearance, as does James D’Arcy, better than he should have been, saddled with the part of a Russian thug whose primary character trait is chewing (and spitting) gum. Key & Peele‘s Keegan-Michael Key, playing to his broad comic wheelhouse, is a hoot as a wide-eyed, childlike gangbanger.

The leads (Johnson and Wayans) have great, sparkling chemistry. Johnson, who seems like the love-child of Owen Wilson and Mark Ruffalo, is scruffy and charming in all his sweaty desperation to be somebody. Wayans, as his (somewhat) straight-arrow friend, shows surprising range, given the circumstances. He finds more notes to play than actually exist in the thin script, wringing comic gold as a neurotic fish-out-of-water, who is neither as neurotic nor as out of his depths as he initially seems.

Even its artless title is a giveaway that Let’s Be Cops is not taking itself terribly seriously. For all intents and purposes, this zippy trifle is two hours of two little boys playing dress-up in the backyard. Once the high (low) concept rumbles to life, the narrative is an entertaining perp walk to its inevitable credit sequence blooper reel.

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

…but movies transport me

Spider-Roy

Spider-Roy

Nina Kaur (thanks to fellow Farmington Player Amy Lauter for connecting us!) asked me to contribute a guest blog entry to her fun and interesting blog Thirty Something Years in Ninaland. Here’s what she wrote about me – “Every Monday I will have a guest blogger. Today I am featuring a wonderful Movie Reviewer named Roy Sexton. He is witty, charming and great critic! Enjoy reading about his journey!” Wow! Thanks, Nina! Click here for the original post on her blog.

___________________

By yours truly …

Movies have always been an important part of my life.

I like to read books (more accurately comic books these days, as I seem to now have the attention span of a tsetse fly), and I adore music. Television is fine, and I’ve spent many hours traipsing the boards of theatres across the Midwest. But movies transport me.

I love the fact that a film is an encapsulated medium. Whether 90 minutes or three hours, a movie tells one story – beginning, middle, and end – introducing you to new friends and enemies and locales in an efficiently designed delivery mechanism. With a good film, you get the experience of reading a novel (whether or not the film is in fact based on any work of literature) in a highly compressed fashion.

Nina Kaur

Nina Kaur

Your brain leaves your body for a bit, you take a mini-vacation to places you might not otherwise ever see, and you return to your regularly scheduled life a bit changed, perhaps enlightened, and hopefully re-energized.

I stop reading email, answering calls, or monitoring social media…and just blessedly check out…for a bit.

My parents cultivated appreciation for the arts by filling our home with movies and music and books and love. I’ve groused in the past about wanting, as a child, to play with my Star Wars action figures in the solitude of my toy-lined room and being forced instead to sit in our den with my parents and watch some creaky B&W classic movie on Fort Wayne’s Channel 55. And I am so grateful now for that.

My appreciation for classic cinema resulted from these years basking in the glow of our old RCA color TV. And when we could finally afford a VCR and could now watch any movie of our choosing, I was already hooked on the story-telling of vintage movies with their requisite arch wit, dramatic stakes, whimsical joys, and belief that anything was possible.

However, not everything was high art in our house. The advent of HBO in the early 80s and its repetitive showings of whatever junk Hollywood had most recently cranked out shaped my tastes for better or worse as well. I’m a sucker for the movie train wreck – the more star-studded, over-budget, under-written, and garish the better. Some of my most beloved films are among the most notoriously awful of all time: Xanadu, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Wiz, Popeye, Flash Gordon. The Black Hole, Raggedy Ann and Andy’s Musical Adventure, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Return to Oz, Battle Beyond the Stars, Krull, The Neverending Story, and so on.

If it was a flop and it was shown ad nauseum one mid-afternoon following another on HBO in the 1980s, then I fell in love with it. Like self-imposed water torture on my nascent aesthetic.

As time went by and I stomped through my high school and college know-it-all years (some might argue I’m still stuck in them), I learned from both my parents and some wonderful teachers the tools of critique and criticism. What is the intent of the piece? What is the context for its creation? How effective is its structure, composition, impact? Where did it go awry or where did it cross over into something classic?

It’s all highly subjective and a bit arrogant, I suppose, but I can’t help it. I’m entertained by the act of analysis.

In more recent years, Facebook gave me an outlet to connect with my inner-Ebert. I started posting status statements summarizing in glib, condensed fashion my take on whatever flick we had just enjoyed … or endured. My kind-hearted and patient partner John has suffered through a lot of movies over the years, many he enjoyed … and even more he did not.

Jim and Lyn's Wedding

At wonderful Jim and Lyn’s beautiful wedding

We still bicker about his departure from Moulin Rouge after twenty minutes with nary an explanation. I found him after the movie in the lobby reading a newspaper – I don’t know what is more telling: that he was too kind to want to ruin the movie for me by alerting me how much he hated it, or the fact that I stayed to the end without checking on his safety and security!

My friends and colleagues enjoyed these little “squibs” I posted on social media. I suppose I was aspiring to capture the grace and insight of Leonard Maltin’s “micro reviews” that I consumed voraciously as a child every January when we bought his latest edition. (The paper on those early volumes was always of some strange newspaper-esque stock prone to smudging and was pulpily aromatic. I will never forget that musty, fabulous smell.)

John always asks plaintively, “Didn’t they know this movie was bad when they were making it?!”

Perhaps I keep trying to solve that riddle, with the false confidence that my $10 movie ticket entitles me to a shot at armchair quarterbacking. Perhaps the failed actor in me is still trying to reclaim some artistic glory. Or perhaps I’m just a wise-ass with too many opinions and without the good sense to keep them respectfully to myself.

My pals told me, “Set up a blog. Capture these Facebook reviews for future reference. They’re great; they’re fun! Blah blah blah.” I have to admit that eventually my ego got the better of me, and, one late night, I explored the wonders that WordPress holds (albeit not that many) and set up ReelRoyReviews as a diary of sorts, detailing my adventures in the cinema.

Here’s the funny thing. Nobody read them. Nobody. At least for quite a while.

Well, that’s not entirely true. My mom was an avid reader and supporter and was always the first to offer an encouraging comment: “My son writes the best reviews and everyone should love them.” So there!

But you know what? Something interesting happened along the way. I stopped caring and just started writing for myself. And I started having fun. And people started reading.

Life is way too short (and exasperating) to get too intense about entertainment, so I try to take a light and conversational approach with my reviews. And I try to respect that (for the most part) these are show business professionals putting (ideally) their best feet forward and that they are human beings with hearts and souls and feelings. I hope I never seem cruel. I don’t mean to be. These writings are off-the-cuff and journal-style and come from as positive a place as I can muster.

Approach everything and everyone honestly and with positive intent and offer candid feedback with an open heart and as much kindness as possible.

Please check out my latest reviews hereDawn of the Planet of the Apes, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Edge of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street, The Fault in our Stars, and Tammy and more …

________________

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

 

 

 

“When experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.” Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Description: Film poster; Source: Wikipedia [linked]; Portion used: Film poster only; Low resolution? Sufficient resolution for illustration, but considerably lower resolution than original. Other information: Intellectual property by film studio. Non-free media use rationales: Non-free media use rationale - Article/review; Purpose of use: Used for purposes of critical commentary and illustration in an educational article about the film. The poster is used as the primary means of visual identification of this article topic. Replaceable? Protected by copyright, therefore a free use alternative won't exist.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

- George Santayana

 

This quote seems apropos, strangely enough, for the latest summer blockbuster to come down the pike: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a somber, sociopolitically murky take on the “man vs. monkey” classic sci-fi mythology rebooted in 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Rise gave us a poignant tale of one man’s (James Franco) heartfelt connection with his evolutionary forebear (the chimp Caesar) as he searched for a cure for his ailing father’s (John Lithhow) Alzheimer’s. That film dealt with themes of a medical research industry that has little regard for nature (or for any of us, for that matter) and of the inevitably that man’s own hubris will lead to our destruction at the hands of the ecology with which we endlessly tamper.

The plot of Dawn is a logical continuation of the Pandora’s Box opened in that earlier film where primates who had been subject to cruel experimentation exact their revenge. Dawn is set ten years after Rise and depicts a society where humans have been decimated by a virus unleashed through the same experiments that gave the primates their super intelligence.

On the outskirts of San Francisco, Caesar and his followers reside in a commune that resembles something across between Return of the Jedi‘s Ewok village and a guerrilla (sorry) warrior encampment. On the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, a small band of not-scruffy-looking-enough humans are barely hanging on, living in what looks to be the Presidio, retrofitted as a refugee camp.

Things start to go sideways when a small party of humans led by ape-sympathizers Keri Russell (The Americans) and Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) set off into the simian-occupied forest to jump-start a dam that could provide much-needed electricity to all. This sets off a chain of events wherein the primates, justifiably mistrustful of humanity but led by Caesar who still has a James Franco-sized hole in his heart, decide to help the humans but are then betrayed by man and fellow ape simultaneously.

Gary Oldman, who has demonstrated that he is a jackass in real life, fortunately plays one on screen here as well. While Russell and Clarke are in the woods, he is actively stockpiling weapons to use against Caesar and his brood. As you might predict from the previews (and even the film’s poster) the apes discover the weaponry and make plenty good use of it against the humans.

Caesar finds himself on the wrong end of a monkey-sized coup (shades of Orwell’s Animal Farm), and the remainder of the film is spent with the audience wondering who will take charge of the chaos. I won’t spoil the ending, but the film resolves itself in a way that will satisfy both fans of the original series and those unfamiliar with the earlier films.

Directed pretty solidly by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In), the movie is too long by 20 minutes and suffers a bit for having none of the sweetness of its predecessor. Given this installment’s subject matter and the progression the overall narrative ultimately has to make toward Mr. Posturing Charlton Heston showing up one day in a rocket-ship to see the Statue of Liberty in pieces and to exclaim “damn dirty ape!”, the darker tone is understandable.

Clarke and Russell are adequate as the soulful scientists who see themselves and their people darkly reflected in the increasingly contentious simian society, but Oldman is a hammy mess with a sloppily written character – like he’s recycling his Commissioner Gordon portrayal by way of Rod Steiger … on a really sweaty bad day.

There is a thematic density to the script that occasionally overpowers the popcorn fun with social commentary pretensions – a la The Dark Knight Rises. However, the implications for our present-day life are interesting and thorny: what devastating impact unfettered access to guns and ammo and other firepower can have on a society caught up in simple-minded bloodlust; how quickly our sophisticated human systems, processes, and other governance can slide right off the rails when faced with epic crisis; and who or what is really the dominant species on this planet when the chips are finally down.

The true star of the film is Andy Serkis with his motion capture performance as Caesar. His haunted eyes and physicality convey the pointed sadness of a leader watching his new society devolve into all the ugly excesses of the prior one – try as they might, the simian utopia can’t escape the ugly brutality they learned from their years subjugated by human “civilization.”

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Maybe next time, McCarthy. I believe in you. Tammy (2014)

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Melissa McCarthy’s latest comedic opus Tammy is like a crass redneck cousin to Barbra Streisand’s/Seth Rogen’s similarly themed The Guilt Trip. That may seem like a slam. It’s not. I enjoyed both movies, flawed though they are, particularly given that exceptional performers can sell the thinnest of scripts.

Where McCarthy stumbles a bit more, however, is that she helped write the slight script for her starrer. Ouch.

What other movies are in Tammy‘s DNA? If Nebraska and McCarthy’s own Identity Thief had a cinematic baby, it wouldn’t be that far afield from Tammy, which depicts a shaggy dog heroine (McCarthy, natch) on the lam with her bewigged and besotted (as in drunk) granny (Susan Sarandon!). Heck, throw in a touch of Sarandon’s own twenty-five-year-old summer blockbuster Thelma and Louise for good measure.

Tammy’s life is a mess. She nearly totals her jalopy when she hits a deer on the way to her crappy fast food job. (In one of the movie’s more touching moments, Tammy lays down on the highway, gets face-to-snout with the deer, and talks the little fellow back into sprightly, white-tailed-scampering-across-a-field life. I liked that part. A lot.)

Tammy gets fired from said crappy job for being late (because of the deer miracle), throws ketchup packets at her now-erstwhile boss (McCarthy’s real-life husband and the film’s director Ben Falcone), comes home early to discover her hubby (a suitably golf-caddy skeezy Nat Faxon) serving a romantic dinner to her neighbor (Toni Collette, wasted here), and runs home (two doors down) to her mother (Allison Janney, dependably ringing gold from nothing).

Sarandon’s character, who lives in Tammy’s mom’s spare bedroom, already has a suitcase packed and can’t wait to provide the ancient Cadillac and limited funds ($6700) necessary for her and her granddaughter to skedaddle from small-town life and go see the spectacle that is Niagara Falls.

Just like The Guilt Trip (where Streisand’s character wanted nothing more than to see the Grand Canyon), all manner of comic disruptions keep Sarandon’s and McCarthy’s characters from their destination. Like Rogen and Streisand, Sarandon and McCarthy also end up in a barbecue restaurant where Sarandon meets cute with a potential beau (Gary Cole, playing it rather subtle for once). Unlike The Guilt Trip, Tammy heads in a decidedly cruder direction, involving Cole and Sarandon and the backseat of that decrepit Cadillac. Ewww.

(The fact that I’m giving point/counterpoint between two failed comedies released within 18 months of each other is indicative of two things: 1) my relative lack of taste and 2) the fact that Hollywood really has no new ideas. It could be worse. I could be reviewing Transformers.)

Tammy is entertaining. I laughed heartily at McCarthy’s antics (just as I did during The Heat or Bridesmaids). I also found myself moved by her ability to telegraph so pointedly the hurt of someone who lives on the margins, either by choice or happenstance. McCarthy can inhabit a character like no other. Problem is it’s the same character, and, while I like and can relate to this person she plays (and her penchant for wearing Crocs), I’d like to meet someone else … soon.

Sarandon is a hoot, particularly in her early scenes, also offering us a caustic comic portrait of someone who refuses to be consigned to the periphery. Her performance is derailed mostly by the script,which turns her into a Golden Girls sexpot for no discernible reason at the midway point.

Kathy Bates sparkles as Sarandon’s pet food store magnate/lesbian cousin (yeah, it’s that kind of movie) who lives in one of those beachfront homes that only exist in Hollywoodland. She gives Tammy and her grandma a warm meal, a roof over the heads, and one fabulous July 4th wingding. Despite the improbability of Bates’ surroundings, she grounds the movie just as it seems likely to run right off the rails, as Bates beautifully walks that fine line between satire and heartache that has been her specialty since Misery.

Mark Duplass (Zero Dark Thirty) is also a source of warmth as Tammy’s suitor Bobby, cursed as he is to babysit his philandering father (Cole). The quiet scenes between McCarthy and Duplass are when the film is at its finest (not unlike those charming moments between Kristen Wiig and Chris O’Dowd in the aforementioned Bridesmaids). All the cartoonish chaos stops for a moment, and two believably broken souls connect as kindred spirits.

That is the movie I hoped to see tonight. Maybe next time, McCarthy. I believe in you.

[NOTE: I've been suffering from a wicked cold this entire holiday weekend, and this movie was viewed as a late-afternoon matinee while I was all hopped up on DayQuil. Take all preceding advice with a huge grain of salt.]

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.