Monday, February 18, 2013

Metamorphoses at Arena Stage in Association with Lookingglass Theatre Company

Mary Zimmerman, one of the most creative and ambitious directors working in theater today, revisits the work that brought her to national prominence. Ms. Zimmerman's adaptation of several of the mythological tales of Ovid's Metamorphoses, famously staged in a pool of water,is a mesmerizing journey using ancient myths to examine love, loss and redemption.

Ms. Zimmerman faced a challenge adapting this work to the confines of the Fichandler theater. Collaborating with her original designers, this production fits well in the space.  For the first time, Metamorphoses is staged in the round. This has the advantage of giving a multi-dimensional feel to the work, but has the disadvantage that some moments will necessarily be hidden at times from the entire audience's view. The pool for this production is the largest one ever constructed and wisely Arena Stage has provided the first two rows of seats with towels. Sitting in the splash zone you will get wet. The only jarring aspect to the staging is the need to periodically sop up the water that collects on the edge of the pool. The first time it is swept up, you think, how clever. The second time it feels not as creative, almost intrusive, however necessary for the safety of the actors.

Despite that minor complaint, Metamorphoses will immerse you into the stories written down by the Roman poet Ovid so many centuries ago. The entire ensemble, many of whom have performed Metamorphoses in previous productions. It is difficult to single out performances when the ensemble is so united. Ashleigh Lathrop easily portrays the innocence of King Midas' daughter and the depravity of the cursed Myrrha. Doug Hara is hilarious as Apollo's bitter son, Phaeton and hauntingly poignant in the wordless part of the injured Eros. They, and the rest of the ensemble, portray so many varied roles, yet make each one a vibrant individual part of the whole theatrical experience.

For a creative evening of theater that will leave you wanting to explore the rest of Ovid's massive epic compilation go to the Fichandler theater, be prepare to get wet, and immerse yourself in the storytelling gifts of director Mary Zimmerman and the cast of Metamorphoses.

Metamorphoses presented by Arena Stage in association with Lookingglass Theatre Company is being performed on the Fichandler Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater through March 17, 2013. For tickets and other performance information please visit

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The 2013 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action

ShortsHD has made available to interested filmgoers all of the Academy Award nominated short subject films. If you live in a major city you can see the films in a movie theater during the month of February and beginning on February 19, 2013 they will be available for viewing through Itunes download and Video on Demand. Visit for more information.

The 2013 nominees in the category of Live Action Short film are a varied bunch. There is poignant drama, steampunk inspired science fiction, a black comedy and two films which feature young boys in war torn countries. If I were a member of the Academy this is how I would rank this year's nominees. This is my personal opinion and does not reflect who might actual win the award.

5. Death of A Shadow- France and Belgium - 20 minutes. A soldier is killed during World War I. A mysterious collector captures the shadows of those who die for display in a bizarre art gallery. The soldier will regain his shadow's freedom when he captures 1000 shadows for the collector. He is driven by his love for a woman. When he discovers that she loves another man, his jealousy clouds his decision on whom to chose for his final capture. This film contains elements of science fiction, time travel and a bit of steampunk in its design element. A compelling little story that is just outmatched by the other films in this category.

4.Curfew - United States - 19 minutes. This black comedy is definitely not for everyone. A man is in the midst of committing suicide when he receives a phone call from his estranged sister begging him to baby-sit his niece. The afternoon with the sassy young girl briefly gives him the will to live. When his sister still berates him about the mistakes of his past he returns alone to his apartment and resumes his plan to die. When the phone rings again will he ignore it and die? The scenario is distasteful and the three main characters are not very likable  What redeems this film is the layers of the story. Learning what caused the estrangement and the growth of the friendship between uncle and niece save this film from being an arty mess.

3. Assad - South Africa and United States - 18 minutes. Assad is a young boy who yearns to join the older boys in his Somali village on their pirate raids. He is encouraged by an old fisherman to set his sights on being a fisherman instead. When soldiers invade the village, threaten his friends and steal the fish the old man gave Assad for his family's dinner, Assad is convinced that he is cursed. The fisherman suggests Assad go out fishing alone. What he discovers on his voyage and the prize he catches gives Assad the confidence that his curse is lifted. The entire cast, except for one, is comprised of Somali refugees and asylum seekers. This gives an authenticity to the story. The drama is lightened by the unexpected ending.

2. Buzkashi Boys - Afganistan and United States - 28 minutes. This taut drama set and filmed in Kabul is the tale of two boys. Rafi is the son of a blacksmith, Ahmad a homeless street urchin. The best friends play hooky and dream of playing the Afghan national sport - which is basically polo with a dead goat. When Rafi tells Ahmad other he will never become a Buzkashi player unless he gets a horse, the resultant challenge leads to tragedy a dose of reality. A gripping drama starring two amazing child actors.

1. Henry - Canada - 21 minutes. Henry is an elderly concert pianist dreaming of performing a duet with his violinist wife. A tale of Alzheimer's from the point-of-view of the patient, this gem of a film is poignant. It shows the ravages of the disease on the patient, his family and caregivers and illustrates the dream world of Henry' past. A beautiful gem of a film.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The 2013 Oscar Nominated Short Subjects: Animated

ShortsHD has made available to interested filmgoers all of the Academy Award nominated short subject films. If you live in a major city you can see the films in a movie theater during the month of February and beginning on February 19, 2013 they will be available for viewing through Itunes download and Video on Demand. Visit for more information.

The Animated Short Subject Nominees are always the shortest films.   This year, even more so as three of the five nominees are 6 minutes long or less.   The longest nominee is 16 minutes, the shortest 2 minutes.  As a result, in order to pad out the running time of the films for theatrical performance three "highly commended" films are included.

Abiogenesis - New Zealand - 5 minutes  - highly commended.  The definition of abiogenesis is living organisms developing from inorganic material.   In this film, a spaceship lands on a desolate planet and jumpstarts life before blasting off again into the stars.  It is a very stylized film and the robotic creatures that sip the primordial ooze resemble a cross between a Mars rover and insects.  Beautiful animation but the over-all feeling is rather cold and distant.  Could have used a touch of wonderment.

The Gruffalo's Child - United Kingdom and Germany - 27 minutes  - highly commended.  The sequel to the Academy Award nominated film, The Gruffalo.  It follows a very similar format to the original story and film.  Mother squirrel tells her children a tale to explain the mysterious footprints outside their forest home.  In the original story it was a mouse spinning a story of the monstrous Gruffalo who would be very angry with the predators who tried to eat the mouse.  Here the Gruffalo's daughter searches the dark woods for the big, bad mouse encountering along the way many of the same predators from the original tale.  The only film in this year's nominees and highly commended films that has dialogue, the Gruffalo's Child is voiced by well-known British actors.  It is a sweet yet dark fable that suffers from covering a lot of the same ground as the first Gruffalo film.

Dripped - France - 9 minutes - A very inventive film about an art thief in 1950's New York City who literally consumes the art he steals transforming his body into the style of the painting he has eaten.  A very clever homage to modern art you will realize the reason for the title only at the end.   Really charming.

As for this year's nominees, they include two studio films from 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney Studios both of whom were widely seen in front of popular animated feature films.  If I were an Academy Awards voter this is how I would rank this year's Short Films: Animated nominees. This is my opinion and does not reflect who might actually win the award.

5.  Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare - United States - 5 minutes.  We have a silent episode from the television series The Simpsons starring baby Maggie and her nemesis, Baby Gerald.  This film was shown in theaters along with the animated feature Ice Age 3: Continental Drift.  Spending the day at the Ayn Rand Child Care Center where she has to go through security and is classified with the paste-eating normal children, Maggie spends her day trying to save a newly hatched butterfly from Baby Gerald who delights in smashing them.   Filled with the background puns familiar to long-time viewers of the television show, it is cute, disturbing and rather sweet all at the same time.

4.  Fresh Guacamole - United States - 2 minutes.  A very clever stop motion film that transforms ordinary objects into a bowl of guacamole.   The problem is that the film is ultimately too short and one note.  While it is clever to see a hand grenade sliced as an avocado, when the second and third vegetables are diced into actual dice it gets repetitive.

3.  Adam and Dog - United States - 16 minutes.  The longest nominee this year imagines the tale of the Garden of Eden from the point of view of the first dog.  From the moment of his creation the dog delights in doing what dogs do --- yes, the first thing the first dog does is mark his territory.   Becoming Adam's friend he eventually gets shut out once Eve arrives on the scene.   When the fall of Man occurs, dog must decide to remain in the now dangerous garden or take his chances with Adam and Eve in their exile.  This is a beautiful film with the appearance of watercolor.   There is appropriate nudity in the film, but it is primarily crudely drawn so that while you see that Adam is nude it is not so anatomically correct that you dwell on it.   A beautiful film.

2.  Head Over Heels - United Kingdom - 11 minutes.  My number two choice is so close to my number one choice that I flip/flopped between them for a long time and would still be happy if either film won.   This stop motion gem tells the story of a long married couple that has literally drifted apart.   She lives on the ceiling and he upon the floor.  Their conflict has caused their house to tumble through the sky so that it is unclear which way is up or down. During a furious struggle over their wedding photo, the husband makes a discovery that leads him to attempt to gain his wife's attention and reconcile with her.  Doing so causes the home to crash in the desert, but only one of them has their feet on the ground.  How it is resolved is clever.

1.  Paperman - United States - 7 minutes.  The other film that was widely shown in theaters, in front of Wreck-It-Ralph, Paperman is a simple boy meets girl tale.   Black and white with the appearance of 2D animation, Paperman uses a new technology that allows computer animation to preserve that hand-drawn look.   The story is imaginative in its execution.  

The only caution to Paperman winning the award stems from the fact that no Disney released short film, including Pixar shorts has won this category since 2001's For the Birds.  There may be a feeling among the Academy members that since Pixar, and by association Disney has dominated the Animated Feature category that in the short film category they may feel the need to recognize a less well known filmmaker.   We shall have to wait and see on Oscar night.

The 2013 Oscar Nominated Short Subjects: Documentary

ShortsHD has made available to interested filmgoers all of the Academy Award nominated short subject films. If you live in a major city you can see the films in a movie theater during the month of February and beginning on February 19, 2013 they will be available for viewing through Itunes download and Video on Demand. Visit for more information.

The Documentary Short Subject nominees are all at or close to the maximum limit for length.  If you see the films in a theater they very likely will be shown with a brief intermission between the third and fourth films as they were when I saw the films at the West End Cinema in Washington, D.C. If I were an Academy Award voter this is how I would rank this year's Documentary Short Subject nominees. This is my personal opinion and does not reflect who might actual win the award.

5.  Redemption - United States - 35 minutes.   This is a film about the people who make a living canning - collecting cans and bottles on the streets of New York City to redeem them for 5 cents each to supplement their income.  The film focuses on several different people who troll various neighborhoods from the upper West Side of Manhattan to Times Square to Brooklyn.  Some are homeless, some on fixed income, all find it worth their while to dig through bags of trash to earn a few dollars a day redeeming recyclables.   Its an interesting film that gets a little manipulative in its choice of imagery for its ending.  While it shows both affluent and tourist locations as the prime locations for canning the filmmakers chose a night shot of Wall Street with a lone figure pushing a cart filled with cans and bottles for the finale.  Seemed a bit too obvious and the film would have been better if it had chosen a normal street to show that canning is universal to New York City and its boroughs without making judgment.

4.  Kings Point - United States - 40 minutes.  A film about the Kings Point retirement community in Florida and its residents.  The focus is on five senior citizens who moved to Kings Point for various reasons decades ago.  The community itself was founded in 1972.   Poignantly shows that for all the social benefits marketed to seniors the reality is one of increasing isolation and loneliness as spouses die and one's health declines. Despite the friendships that exist there is a sense from the subjects of not wanting to get too close to each other.   Kings Point is an emotionally engaging story.

3.  Open Heart - United States - 40 minutes.  This is story of 8 Rwandan children who are chosen to travel to Sudan to repair the valves in their damaged hearts.  Rheumatic fever is easily treated in affluent countries, but in Africa it still leads to severe heart complications which left untreated means eventual death.  The film focuses on Dr. Emmanuel Rusingiza, Rwanda's only government cardiologist and the Salam Center, a joint Italian and Sudanese hospital for cardiac surgery that is the only facility in Africa that provides its services free of charge.  The problem is funding.  75% of the budget comes from the Italian charity Emergency, 25% from the Government of Sudan.  Controversially the film shows Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir as he tours the facility and has a meeting with the hospital personnel who must convince him to maintain Sudan's portion of the budget.  To their credit the filmmakers do point out in a caption that Al-Bashir is wanted for war crimes.  Miraculously all 8 of the children survive the procedures and get to go home.  The only surprising thing about the film is that there is no plea for donations in the end credits.

2.  Inocente - United States - 40 minutes.  A coming-of-age tale told in the words of the protagonist, Inocente is a young woman determined to be an artist despite the hardships of her life.  She is 15, an undocumented immigrant and has been homeless for the past nine years.  She has a difficult relationship with her mother which stems from Inocente blaming herself for the abusive behavior of her father which led to his arrest and was a factor in the family becoming homeless.  Through the support of the San Diego organization ARTS (a reason to survive) she is chosen to mount an art show.  The film leaves you with hope that this young woman will have a better life through her art.

1.  Mondays at Racine - United States - 39 minutes.  This is a film that appears to have one focus and surprisingly has a deeper and richer soul.  Racine's is a salon and spa located in Long Island, New York.  On the third Monday of each month, the two sisters who run the salon, Cynthia and Rachel open their services for free to women undergoing chemotherapy.  What makes this film more meaningful is that the salon and what these compassionate women are providing these cancer patients is merely the catalyst for the real story, the lives of some of the women who pass through their doors.  The focus is on several of the women, but delves deeper into the lives of two women, Linda Hart who has lived with cancer since 1994, and Cambria Russell whom the film follows from the time of her third chemotherapy session through surgery and into eventual remission.   It is these women's lives that elevate Mondays at Racine beyond being simply a feel good film about a nice service for cancer patients.