My observations as made on social media throughout this year’s remarkable, warm, muted, inclusive affair.
“Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture.”
“Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment. It doesn’t argue that the good is bad, or the bad is good. What it does is to offer for art (and life) a different—a supplementary—set of standards.”
“The connoisseur of Camp [finds pleasure] in the coarsest, commonest pleasures, in the arts of the masses.”
Some of us old geezers might recall that auteur filmmaker Todd Haynes once directed a biographical film treatment of Karen Carpenter’s life – Superstar – using only Barbie dolls. Either Mattel or Karen’s creepy brother filed a cease and desist, and the film has only seen the light of day in bootleg copies on eBay.
Fortunately, Ringwald Theatre’s latest offering Murder She Podcast … Baby One More Crime has just arrived to fill that void.
Part of me doesn’t want to write a word as I don’t want to spoil any of the loopy fun for you. How do I net this out? Sublime Richard Payton channels Angela Lansbury‘s TV classic amateur sleuth/crime novelist Jessica Fletcher, now hosting an au courant pandemic “true crime” podcast. Pop singer Britney Spears, the recent subject of a tell-all documentary (#savebritney) appears to have been abducted and possibly murdered.
Spoiler alert, but as the cat is out of the bag via Ringwald‘s promotional materials, local legend Dave Davies is arguably the perfect thespian stand-in for Ms. Spears. He may be worth the price of admission alone. Never ridiculing his character, but fully in on the joke as to how absurd it is that he is playing the “Toxic” songstress, he is an absolute riot, both in TikTok style “found footage” and in podcast interview mode. I dearly hope there is a sequel.
Ringwald’s merry band of usual mischief makers is on hand in supporting roles. Joe Bailey is a gleeful Sherriff Amos Tupper, Fletcher’s dim bulb sidekick whose outsized adoration of Spears leads to a series of comedically nonsensical allegations. Suzan M. Jacokes is understated genius as harried producer Andrew Lark. Joel Mitchell nails Gene Smart, a store clerk whose great tragedy in life is being assigned his least favorite cash register. Nicole Pascaretta channels the sheltered charms of Britney’s baby sis Jamie Lynn. Dyan Bailey commands her moment as a Linda Ellerbee (remember her?) style newscaster. And Donny Riedel and Cory Shorter nicely round out the team as (respectively) hellzapoppin superfan Chris Crocker and louche hairdresser Jeffrey Bean.
The genius of the Ringwald is that they mine every aspect of pop-culture for mash-ups that are as unexpected as they are strangely logical. These are smart people using silly situations to comment on the real life comic tragedy of modern America. Susan Sontag meets Charles Busch meets Carol Burnett.
But back to the Barbie dolls. One of the great pleasures of seeing Ringwald’s evolution in pandemic is the way they are leveraging video production, one of the highlights of their prior stage work. Brandy Joe Plambeck deftly directs (with assistance from Dyan Bailey, Vince Kelley, and Katy Schoetzow) from a jam-packed script by Kelley and Matthew Arrington. Much like last winter’s Have Yourself a Misery Little Christmas, their filmed format has allowed the troupe to step up their production values exponentially. In that context, the lunacy has a beautifully heightened quality. The polish is in nice juxtaposition to the camp.
As for the dolls, when Sheriff Tupper devolves into his multiple theories surrounding Britney Spears’ disappearance, the reenactments are staged using Barbie dolls, playhouse furniture, and assorted other pink plastic accoutrements. It adds a layer of meta-commentary on American materialism and shallow celebrity obsession that is chiefly comic but more than a bit haunting. As another layer, the sequences employ the chilling orchestral version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” from Promising Young Woman’s pitch perfect soundtrack. And if you have been wise enough to check out that essential film, the Barbie doll scenes take on an even more devastating quality.
Back to Payton for a minute. Ultimately, his Jessica Fletcher is the ringmaster of this circus. Payton’s anarchic intelligence is like a wildfire across every scene. He is both eye of the hurricane and instigator. And his impish genius elevates any and all material he touches. I can‘t see him perform enough. Utter brilliance.
And do yourself a favor and stick through the credits. The cast vamps through Britney’s seminal hit “Baby One More Time.” You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Joe Bailey shimmy in a door frame.
The Ringwald’s press release follows, including dates and ticket information.
The Ringwald Theatre is pleased to announce the release of their latest show, Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime. Several Ringwald favorites have come together to (safely) film The Ringwald’s follow-up to their smash Yuletide release, Have Yourself a Misery Little Christmas. As with that show, Ringwald stalwarts Vince Kelley and Matthew Arrington return as writers.
In Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime, bestselling author, amateur sleuth, and trenchoat aficionado Jessica Fletcher is recording her latest podcast with her trusty sidekick and co-host, former Sherrif Amos Tupper, at her side. Today’s topic is the mysterious disappearance of music sensation Britney Spears. Where has the Pop Princess gone? Is it just a disappearance, or is something more sinister at play? As the investigation deepens, you will be asking, “Where’s Britney, bitch?”
Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime was developed prior to the release of the Framing Britney documentary. The Ringwald firmly stands in support of the pop icon, and shares this piece of art with love and affection.
Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime stars Richard Payton as Jessica Fletcher, Joe Bailey as Sherriff Amos Tupper, Suzan M. Jacokes as Andrew Lark, Joel Mitchell as Gene Smart, Nicole Pascaretta as Jamie Lynn Spears, Donny Riedel as Chris Crocker, Cory Shorter as Jeffrey Bean, and a super special secret guest star as Britney. Brandy Joe Plambeck directed with assistance from Dyan Bailey, Vince Kelley, and Katy Schoetzow. All safety precautions were observed during filming.
Tickets for Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime are available at www.theringwald.com at three different giving levels: $20, $50, and $100 and can be purchased Friday, April 16 through Sunday, May 2nd. The performance will be available to stream through May 10th. Once you purchase your ticket, an email will be sent to you which will include links for Murder, She Podcast: Baby One More Crime and a virtual program. The video is hosted on Vimeo. You can watch on your phone/computer/tablet or, if you have the capability, you can stream the production to your smart TV.
The Ringwald opened the doors to their Ferndale location 13 years ago on May 11, 2007 with Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy. Quickly, The Ringwald became a mainstay of Detroit’s theatre community. Past highlights include: Head Over Heels, Clue, Company, Merrily We Roll Along, The Rocky Horror Show, Heathers The Musical, The Legend of Georgia McBride, Mr. Burns: a post-electric play, Angels in America, Into the Woods, A Streetcar Named Desire, August: Osage County, Mercury Fur, The Book of Liz, and Evil Dead: The Musical.
My notes on a wildly uneven show, that ultimately found its footing after a literal amateur hour opening …
Let’s hope next year, we see some return to normalcy, whatever that once was. And we won’t have to play whack-a-mole trying to figure out where and how to watch the various movies and shows being honored.
Postscript from my wonderful ma Susie Sexton:
“at least borat won the night! i call that justice! otherwise, i kept forgetting what exactly i was watching or why….and maya rudolph did remind me of past mavens of the entertainment industry whom i would list here but i ain’t gonna! tina and amy got pretty feisty, did they not? in that opener? i guffawed in spite of myself as i feel feisty as well…they captured the essence of this nonsensically bizarro world.”
Facebook VIDEO: https://fb.watch/3BEXFKi1b7/
Thank you, dear Brenda Meller of Meller Marketing and Social Media P.I.E., for having me on today! We unveiled “C.A.R.” – an acronym I devised about 20 minutes before 🤣 – to help people become #socialmedia superfans. Celebrate. Advocate. Reciprocate. In retrospect, I should add an “E” for “elevate,” because I really do “C.A.R.E.” See what I did there?
In addition we discussed my hair care regimen, the power of silly tshirts, my favorite songs, and the goddesses Deborah Harry and Miley Cyrus.
Find out more about – and purchase! – Brenda’s best selling new book Social Media Pie here.
Shout outs in the show to Susie Sexton, Jay Harrington, Nancy Leyes Myrland, Gina Furia Rubel, Jessica Aries, Renee Branson, Heather Morse-Geller, Susan Ahern, Megan McKeon, Clark Hill Law, Mark Ostach, Kathy Kvasnak, Tina Marie Wohlfield, MiVida Burrus, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, Ronald McDonald House Charities Ann Arbor, Legal Marketing Association – LMA International, Beth Kennedy, and more!
P.S. Today’s chat inspired this blog post from Brenda as well. “Have you noticed that when you’re commenting in a live stream on LinkedIn, your photo is a gray avatar? It may be one of two items in your privacy settings. Here’s how to fix it.”
View here: https://fb.watch/3sldJ6qz3Z/
These two are authentic, accessible, iconic marketers AND human beings. We discussed the need for a consistent (and empathetic) drumbeat of thought leadership, how good and responsive design is key to powerful communications, the energizing nexus of art and commerce, the therapeutic benefits of writing, and how taking a helpful and conversational approach to social media is key to growth.
Mentions during the show include Tom Nixon, Susan Ahern, Susie Sexton, Don Lee, Nikki Bagdady Horn, Stephanie Preston, Clark Hill Law, Kerr Russell, Trott Law, Jem and the Holograms, Thanos, Tom Hanks, “Gretchen Warner,” Infinity Gauntlet, Legal Marketing Association, Traverse City, baseball, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, art, dogs, unsupervised second graders, Mad Men, and more. Enjoy!
Join me and guests Heather and Jay Harrington, founders of Harrington Communications, as we discuss the importance of thought leadership and PR in legal marketing, marrying smart design with good content, and what it took to start their own agency that has turned top professional services firms into titans of industry.
Jay and Heather also have fascinating interests that include Heather’s spectacular art career – Life and Whim – and Jay’s books and publications. We are looking forward to picking the brains of this outstanding duo, and we know it’s a conversation you won’t want to miss.
Join us live on Thursday, February 4th at 3 pm ET. On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/155057871244919/posts/3747637818653555/?d=n
Legal Marketing Coffee Talk is brought to you by: Jessica Aries’ By Aries and Rob Kates’ Kates Media: Video Production.
Thanks, Wabash College! I’m a “treasure.” 😉
Roy Sexton ’95 has been appointed as treasurer of the 2021 Legal Marketing Association – LMA International (LMA) Board of Directors. LMA represents thousands of legal marketing and business development professionals in 48 U.S. states and 24 countries.
“Being on the LMA Board of Directors is the apex of one’s volunteer leadership within the Legal Marketing Association and is significant in advancing the legal marketing profession as a whole,” LMA Executive Director Danielle Holland said in a news release.
Sexton, director of marketing at Clark Hill Law, has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, communications, business development and strategic planning.
He has been heavily involved in the LMA as a regional and international leader and has served on numerous nonprofit boards and committees including the Ronald McDonald House Charities Ann Arbor, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, Royal Starr Arts Institute, EncoreMichigan.com.
“I am honored to serve on the 2021 LMA Board of Directors, and I look forward to the opportunity to help guide the association’s important work,” Sexton said in the release. “LMA will continue to provide outstanding programming and opportunities for professional development and networking to our members and advocate for our profession, locally, regionally and internationally.”
While at Wabash College, Sexton majored in English and theater and was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha and involved with the Wabash Theater, the Bachelor and Student Senate.
Sexton’s LMA appointment became effective January 1, 2021.
Our Clark Hill marketing and business development team has been on quite the journey over the last couple of years. It has been a great growth opportunity and one of the more enriching work experiences of my life. Out of the blue, REDSTARKIM LIMITED Managing Director Kim Tasso wrote about our work, based on a webinar we did six months ago! A lovely surprise!
Grateful for our exceptional and supportive leader Susan Ahern and for wonderful and inventive colleagues Megan McKeon , Guinevere Lehman Anderson , Emilie Strozier McCarthy , Shayna McCloskey , Tommy Franz , Dani Carter , Alexandra France , Gloria Pak , Elizabeth C. Jeffries , Stacey Marie , Maureen Denney , Keith Hobbs , Katelynn Schwalm , Alé Simmons , Amy Oldiges , Kimberly Reisman , Leslie Smithson.
From the blog entry’s intro: “In September, the international senior marketing and business development team at Clark Hill presented a webinar for the Professional Marketing Forum. The topic was ‘Clark Hill redesigns its marketing and BD team’. The work to re-imagine its marketing and business development (M&BD) team won Clark Hill the Best Marketing Initiative Award at the 2020 Managing Partners’ Forum Management Excellence Awards.”
SAVE THE DATE! February 11, 12:05 pm ET. Brenda Meller of Meller Marketing and I return to thunderdome! We will discuss what it means to be a superfan and how that can benefit your networking, branding, and marketing efforts. Celebrate, advocate, reciprocate.
“Who’s zoomin’ who?” Detroit great Aretha Franklin once queried in song. Little did we know how prescient that sassy lyric would be some 30 years later. Here we all remain in our homes waiting for the cloud of pandemic to hopefully/eventually pass, anxious not only for our health and safety but for the chaotically mercurial state of a society that spins off its axis on a daily basis. How do we remain connected? Will human contact be forever limited to misleading social media messages and Zoom-enabled video jail cells? Only time will tell.
This existential dread hovers atop playwright Jacquelyn Priskorn’s incisive two-hander Whatcha Doin? The play is delivered via, yes, the ubiquitous Zoom, but makes effective use of the surreally detached intimacy that the platform provides.
From Theatre NOVA’s press release: “In Whatcha Doin?, a film student interviews a former child star turned voice over actor for a documentary project. Thrilled to witness Marnie’s work-from-home recording studio in action, Raven is surprised to learn about the difficulties Marnie had while portraying the goofy, unattractive kid on a TV series, but even more so, Raven is curious about why Marnie is now unable to leave her home. Whatcha Doin? is directed by Theatre NOVA Producing Artistic Director, Diane Hill and features Kate Stark and Megan Wesner.”
Stark and Wesner are compelling presences, defying the inherent limitations of webinar acting, with bright and engaging but wholly natural styles. Given Zoom’s challenges, the performer has to “pop” beyond a gauzy digital haze … but not *too* much. Not quite film, not quite stage, effective characterization has to break through the uncanny valley, remaining humanistic, yet not becoming flat. Stark and Wesner both excel, building a dynamic relationship in a brisk 20 minutes that is compelling, believable, poignant, and deeply affecting. To capture the ephemeral spark of unfolding friendship is tricky business on stage or screen, so it is a rare, almost voyeuristic thrill to watch Stark and Wesner’s nuanced work here.
With Hill’s expert direction, there is a beautiful embrace of the awkwardness inherent in online conversations. I haven’t really seen anybody capture as well the strange dance of smiles and pauses and sidelong glances that Zoom inspires. They nail it here. The script which is deceptively clever addresses the fluidity of identity in this modern age, supercharged as that can be across the bits and bytes of a computer screen.
Whether we realize it or not, we all are engaged in a minute-by-minute act of reclaiming, shaping, and reimagining who we are across digital platforms and IRL. This pas de deux of identity and belonging is deftly depicted in both script and production without hitting the viewer over the head. Highly recommend.
Tickets are $10 each month, or $30 for a Series Pass which admits ticket holders to a new play each month, January through April, 2021. Purchase tickets online at www.TheatreNova.org. For more information, please email email@example.com. All proceeds benefit Theatre NOVA’s ongoing efforts to stay alive through the pandemic.
Theatre NOVA, Ann Arbor’s professional theatre with an exclusive focus on new plays and playwrights, presents its new PLAY OF THE MONTH Zoom Play Series, featuring new plays written specifically for the Zoom format each month.
Due to the success of their Zoom Play Series Festival that ran in October, 2020, and in keeping with their mission to raise awareness of the value and excitement of new plays and playwrights, Theatre NOVA will present a new short play (20-40 minutes long) each month, January through April, 2021. The series opens with Whatcha Doin? by Jacquelyn Priskorn, performed live on Wednesday, January 27th at 8:00pm and available on video for the month of February.
Jacquelyn Priskorn (Playwright) has been writing plays since she took her first class with playwright Kitty Dubin in 1997. She has had several plays and screenplays produced since that first class, including the award-winning short film, “The Guest Room” (shown at the Strasbourg Film Festival in France), as well as a screenplay, “Love & Plutonium,” which is currently available on DVD. Her play “Love Shackles” was published in “Quick & Painless: Saturday Night Lites 2004-2005 Season” distributed by Original Works. “Glass Slipper, Size 8 ½,” “The Rot,” “The Reckless Romantic” and “Off Center” (Best Play at the Oakland University Actor Showcase) are currently available through Brooklyn Publishing. “Good Morning, Miriam” received the Jury’s Choice Award at the Detroit Fringe Forward Festival, along with Best New Play from New Plays from the Heartland, and The Chameleon Theatre Circle’s 17th annual one act play contest.
Diane Hill (Director) is a Producing Artistic Director at Theatre NOVA and was founder and Artistic/Executive Director of Two Muses Theatre, a nonprofit, professional theatre in West Bloomfield. Diane was a professor at University of Detroit Mercy and Oakland Community College, where she originated and designed the Theatre degree program. She has a Ph.D. in Theatre from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Music and Master of Arts in Theatre from the University of Michigan. At Theatre NOVA, she directed “Clutter,” “Follies in Concert” and “Kill Move Paradise” (Council Cargle Award for Excellence in Diverse Storytelling).” Theatre NOVA audiences saw her play Olympe de Gouges in “The Revolutionists” (Wilde Award Best Production), Penelope Easter in “The Totalitarians,” Zelda in “The How and the Why” (Wilde Award Best Actress), and Sherri in “Admissions.”
Kate Stark (Marnie) is a dancer, actor, singer, choreographer, and voice over artist based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. She holds BAs in Biological Anthropology and Broadcast Journalism from Miami University and in a previous life was a TV news producer. Kate performs and teaches with companies like Cincinnati Ballet, Carnegie Center for the Performing Arts, Cincinnati Landmark Productions, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, The Know Theatre, Dancing with Parkinson’s, InBocca Performance, and Pones Inc. Favorite roles: Judy Turner (“A Chorus Line”), Jean MacLaren (“Brigadoon”), Phyllis Dale (“42nd Street”), Nellie (“Nellie Bly: A Menace to Propriety”), and Texas (“Cabaret”).
Megan Wesner (Raven) is excited to be working with Theatre NOVA for the first time. They have previously worked as an actor, director, scenic painter, and stagehand for various Michigan theaters including the Wharton Center, Wild Swan Theatre Company, All-of-Us Express, the Purple Rose Theatre Company, and Hope Summer Repertory Theatre. Megan graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Arts & Humanities and Theatre. They currently reside in Chelsea, Michigan.
Speaking of Zoom …
Enjoy this video of today’s “Epic CRM Fails” webinar panel with yours truly – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KUh4OsOopIQ&feature=youtu.be
“How are law firms using CRM and other marketing and business development software increasing the ROI on these technology investments? Christopher Raymond of Intapp, Chris Fritsch, JD of CLIENTSFirst Consulting, and Roy Sexton (ME!) of Clark Hill Law share real-life stories of how they overcame these obstacles.”
Thank you to Rob Kates of Kates Media: Video Production for the video support and to Martha Lord and Sarah Goldfuss for their assistance throughout.
VIEW VIDEO: https://fb.watch/39Vy8YXpiG/
Yes, Nikki Bagdady Horn and I talk about The Backstreet Boys … and design for marketing communications! To be honest I’m not sure why she puts up with me, nor why Rob Kates hasn’t murdered me yet over my dodgy Internet connection. My mother Susie Sexton is hibernating after the exciting Inauguration events this week AND a marathon viewing of ALL six seasons of Grace & Frankie.
More about Nikki: https://nikkiscreative.com
We discuss at length the need for thoughtful consulting when designing materials that have substantive and difficult messaging AND the importance of considering audience needs … always. Nikki is a master of her craft.
Jenn Kennedy commented, “Highly recommend Nikki! Her graphic design skillset is worth the investment, for those in the market for a designer. 👍”
Shout outs to dogs everywhere, creative lighting, Morris Day & The Time, community theatre, Dianne Rychlewski, lawyers, Blaine D. Fowler, Colleen McConnell Fowler, Jennifer Saulten Arapoff, Jenn Kennedy, Todd Forfinski, Joanie Davidson Forfinski, Kerr Russell, Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, Bryan Bagdady, Lauren Crocker, Clark Hill, Trott Law, Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, runners, and more.
VIEW VIDEO: https://fb.watch/39Vy8YXpiG/
Join us this week for Legal Marketing Coffee Talk with host Roy Sexton (ME!) and guest, Nicole Bagdady Horn, a freelance graphic designer with 25 years of experience and a dear friend and former colleague of Roy’s. LINK: https://www.facebook.com/155057871244919/posts/3711370372280300/?d=n
Check out Nikki’s work at her website: http://www.nikkiscreative.com
It promises to be a fun and free-wheeling conversation focused on the principles of good design, challenges of visual communication in industries that need dense messaging, best practices she would recommend, and maybe even some markers of the good friendship (i.e. shenanigans) shared by Nikki and Roy sprinkled in—fingers crossed we get to hear about the night they saw the Backstreet Boys in concert!
Tune in live right here on Facebook, Thursday, January 21st at 3 pm ET: https://www.facebook.com/155057871244919/posts/3711370372280300/?d=n
Legal Marketing Coffee Talk is brought to you by: By Aries and Kates Media.
I am so incredibly proud of my friend Brenda Zawacki Meller, published author! My copy of her book Social Media Pie: How to Enjoy a Bigger Slice of LinkedIn arrived today, beautifully inscribed and in a trademark Meller Marketing pink envelope. Now that is good branding! The book is fantastic, and even if you feel like you know a lot about LinkedIn, there is far more that she can teach you.
As I texted her today, “Brenda, you have surpassed us all in your accomplishments, in your bright light, and in your singular execution of strategy. What you have done in quick fashion in terms of positioning yourself is nothing short of impressive and remarkable. So damn proud of you!” Here are some photos from the many adventures I’ve been privileged to have with Brenda, and her support and encouragement of me and of so many others has meant the world. That is just who she is, and if you don’t know her yet (which would be shocking since she has 52,000 followers and counting on LinkedIn!), you really should!
Order from her website: https://www.mellermarketing.com/socialmediapiethebook
ABOUT THE BOOK: You’re on LinkedIn, but you’re not sure you’re getting the most out of it. You’re open to learning, but you need some guidance on how to be more effective at your time and efforts on LinkedIn. And, you believe you can have fun while learning. I mean, obviously. Otherwise, what the heck are you doing considering buying a book called, Social Media Pie. That’s crazy talk, right? Or is it BRILLIANT? Probably a bit of both. In Social Media Pie: How to Enjoy a Bigger Slice of LinkedIn, Brenda Meller will share strategies to help you make the most of your LinkedIn presence to help you to reach your business and career goals. In this book, you’ll learn how to:
Adjust your settings to maximize your visibility and reach
Optimize your LinkedIn profile
Create a powerful invitation that’s more likely to be accepted and screen in invitations while creating dialog
Generate greater levels of network engagement
Post (and how often to post) — and what to do NEXT
Build a company page and grow followers (LEADS!)
Rock on LinkedIn in just 15 minutes a day
Through a conversational approach, how-to instructions, and a sprinkling of pie-isms throughout, Brenda will teach you how to increase your slice of the LinkedIn pie. With over 50,000 LinkedIn followers, a LinkedIn Social Selling Index (SSI) of 88, nearly 8,000 profile views in the past 90 days and an awesome LinkedIn network, she shows you how anyone with a strong desire to improve their results on LinkedIn — and an open mind for shining the spotlight on others — can supercharge their LinkedIn presence.
Joe: You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
Norma: I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.
From Sunset Boulevard
“If you dream it, you can achieve it.” – Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) in Wonder Woman 1984
“Nothing good is born from lies.” – Diana (Gal Gadot) in Wonder Woman 1984
Sadly, this seems to be the season of watching big ticket blockbusters crammed onto a home screen. Furthermore, this seems to be the season where all of your Facebook friends march like lemmings to tell you what you’re supposed to think of said offerings before you even have had a chance to view them for yourself. Being the good-natured contrarian that my parents raised, I find myself in direct opposition to much of the feedback I’ve observed. To me, The Prom was kind-hearted escapism-with-attitude, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was a stagy self-indulgent slog, Midnight Sky was a resonant Truman Capote-meets-Ray Bradbury short (long) story, and Wonder Woman 1984 was a candy-coated (admittedly overstuffed) confection.
I loved The Prom. I, for one, like unapologetic musicals, and this Ryan Murphy production reads like Hairspray, The Greatest Showman, High School Musical, and Bye Bye Birdie had a socially progressive movie baby. Much needless ado has been made about (formerly?) beloved Carpool Karaoke maven James Corden playing a gay character, claiming his take is offensively stereotypical. Many critics’ descriptions have been as troubling as what they accuse Corden of perpetuating, if you ask me.
To me, it is one of Corden’s better and more thoughtful performances, layering broad comedy in a compelling gauze of pathos, to effectively depict a man struggling to find his path in the margins (in career, physicality, and, yes, sexuality). Corden is part of a free-wheeling quartet of Broadway narcissists (all compensating for respective ghosts of failures past) who descend on a small Indiana town to “rescue” it from its own prejudices after the local PTA shames and embarrasses a young lesbian (luminous newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman) in a way that would make even John Travolta’s character in Carrie cringe.
Meryl Streep (channeling a caustic yet charming mix of Patti LuPone and Susan Lucci), Nicole Kidman (at her most winsomely fragile), and Andrew Rannells (all bounding and puppyish joy) are Corden’s partners in well-intentioned, occasionally misplaced crime, and they have fabulous chemistry. Kerry Washington is suitably evangelically vampy as the rigid PTA president, and Keegan-Michael Key is a pleasant surprise (both as a singer and actor) as the high school’s show tune loving principal. Tracey Ullmann pops up as Corden’s regretful Midwestern ma, and their reconciliation scene is a lovely little masterclass in heightened understatement.
Oh, right, I did say the movie is kicky fun, but nothing I’ve written here much indicates why. Working from Matthew Sklar’s buoyant Broadway production, Murphy and team overdo everything in all the right ways, juxtaposing all-too-real intolerance and heartache (basically everyone in the film is guilty of uninformed prejudice of one kind or another) with the metaphysical joys of unhinged singing, dancing, glitter, and sequins. All ends (predictably) happily, almost Shakespearean (if Shakespeare listened to Ariana Grande), and I dare you not to sit through the end credits with a stupid, hopeful grin on your face.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is also adapted from the stage, as legendary director George C. Wolfe brings August Wilson’s play to the screen. I suspect my disappointment is more to do with the source material than Wolfe’s sure-handed if claustrophobic direction. To be honest, I wanted more of Viola Davis’ dynamite Ma Rainey and less of … everyone else. Davis has one scene worthy of the Hollywood time capsule, eviscerating the misogynistic and racist capitalist machine that steals artists’ voices (quite literally as Rainey is committing her vocals to vinyl) and tosses people to the curb when they’ve outlived their usefulness.
The film depicts one day in a Chicago recording studio as Rainey fights with, well, anyone who crosses her path in defense of her vision and to retain her integrity in a world that reduces her to a commodity. THAT is the movie I wanted to see, but Wolfe gives preferred time to Rainey’s studio musicians, a group of men whose primary purpose seems to be representing inter-generational animosity among those with a Y-chromosome. Perhaps I’ve just had my fill for one lifetime of toxic male posturing, but I grew weary of their (endless) scenes.
In total, the film feels like it never really escapes the confines of the stage, and I may be among the few viewers underwhelmed by Chadwick Boseman’s performance. His work seems hammy and like he is in search of another movie altogether. I could be wrong, but the overwhelming praise for Boseman here feels like groupthink rhapsodizing given that he is no longer with us. I’m going to hell. See you there. Boseman remains a singular talent, but I don’t think time will be kind to this particular role, Oscar-winning as it likely will be.
Wonder Woman 1984 follows the loping narrative style of all inexplicably beloved films made in, well, 1984, and thereby is a kind of referendum on the cardboard excess and shallow instant gratification of that hollow era, nostalgia for which continues to plague us in insidious ways to this very day.
I found it nicely character driven with a strong cast and with a warm and (mostly) light touch, but plagued by some script/logic problems in its final act. All in all, it met my comics-loving expectations, and I enjoyed what they were doing. Gal Gadot remains a commanding presence in a way we just don’t see in screen stars these days. She’s not an actor per se, but she is a star.
Director Patty Jenkins has great Rube Goldberg-esque fun with one improbable action sequence after another. All were clearly nods to similar films of the 80s featuring, say, Superman or Indiana Jones but enhanced through modern Fast and the Furious-style tech and suspension of disbelief. I’m not looking for pragmatism in a movie like this. Sometimes I just want to be entertained, and WW84 did that for me
Jenkins makes the smart choice of casting talent who will connect the dots in a wafer-thin script. In the film, Kristen Wiig consistently makes smart acting choices as her character progresses from heartbreakingly nerdy sidekick to sullen and insolent supervillain, never losing the heartache of exclusion underneath it all. I thought she was a refreshing and inspired choice to play Barbara Minerva/Cheetah.
Dreamy/witty Chris Pine doesn’t get much dialogue/plot to work with as newly resurrected love interest Steve Trevor, but he shines nonetheless, wringing laughs from fish-out-of-water nuance without ever belaboring the joke.
Pedro Pascal balances Trumpian satire and Babbitt-esque tragedy as a gilded charlatan who believes 80s greed is the key to self-acceptance. He’s grand until the dodgy final act strands him somewhere on manic Gene Wilder-isle, and the film limps to its inevitable world-saving resolution.
I also think if people had watched WW84 on the big screen, they would have walked away with a different vibe. Some may disagree, but there’s a hidden psychological bump to paying for a ticket and investing time away from home (one WANTS the movie to be good) that is erased by the small screen – which has little to do with what is actually being viewed. IMHO.
The global warming parable Midnight Sky (directed by and starring George Clooney), however, benefits from small screen viewing. That said, the film’s outer space, nail biting, race-against-time elements have all been covered (sometimes better) in The Martian, Interstellar, Ad Astra, and George Clooney’s own Gravity. Hell, throw in Event Horizon, Sunshine, and The Black Hole for good measure.
Rather, I enjoyed the film’s quiet moments with Clooney as the sole (maybe?) survivor on an ice-covered Earth, as he fights the elements, time, and his own failing health to deter a deep-space crew from returning to their certain death on an uninhabitable planet. I didn’t give two hoots about the space mission, which included Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, and Tiffany Boone, all doing their level best to make us care. However, I was transfixed by an almost unrecognizable Clooney who checked his golden boy charm at the door and exquisitely projected the exhaustion and anxiety and fear of someone nearing the literal end. So, in other words, how most of us feel in 2020.
If it were up to me, I would edit out all of the space-faring scenes and leave the film’s focus on George Clooney alone in a post-apocalyptic arctic, yielding a transcendent hour-long Twilight Zone episode.
Now, let’s see how I fare in the Twitterverse when I finally turn to watching Disney’s/Pixar’s Soul …
Postscript … what follows is an email sent to my mother Susie Sexton this afternoon about 1960’s classic Cimarron. They don’t make movies like this any more, and that’s a shame.
From IMDB’s synopsis: “The epic saga of a frontier family, Cimarron starts with the Oklahoma Land Rush on 22 April 1889. The Cravet family builds their newspaper Oklahoma Wigwam into a business empire and Yancey Cravet is the adventurer-idealist who, to his wife’s anger, spurns the opportunity to become governor since this means helping to defraud the native Americans of their land and resources.”
I just finished Cimarron and liked it very very much. I do think that Edna Ferber captures perhaps somewhat formulaically but absolutely effectively, the passage and snowballing magnitude of time and life, with a lovely progressive sensibility (pun unintended).
Maria Schell is exquisite. I don’t think the film would’ve been half as good without her in it. I really like Anne Baxter too. Their one scene together is quite understated and powerful.
Glenn Ford is of course great too, but Maria Schell really got to me. She acts in a style ahead of its time. It’s a beautiful film, but at least in the first ten minutes I kept expecting them to burst into song. When it really digs into their struggle and unpredictable relationship, it’s very powerful. The supporting cast was of course great since all of those people had been in one million films already.
Thanks for recommending this! Love you!
My family loves movies. We always have. It is our cultural shorthand, and every holiday – until this one – has been spent in communion over what movies we saw, how they made us think and feel, and what these films might say about our culture and its advancement. That is in short why I write this blog. I can’t imagine watching a movie without having the opportunity to share how it speaks to my heart and mind.
Thank you for reading these thoughts of mine for nearly ten years (!), inspired as they are by a lifetime of loving movies.