“The Invisible Guest”–What You See is Not What You Guess

 

The Invisible Guest 

The Invisible Guest (2016) (Spanish: Contratiempo) is a 2016 Spanish crime thriller by director and writer Oriol Paulo. The intricate plot will leave the viewer spellbound .

Adrián Doria, a successful business entrepreneur, husband and father, is knocked unconscious, and wakes up in a locked hotel room to find the dead body of Laura Vidal, his married lover. Charged with murder but wealthy enough to be out on bail, Adrian soon learns that his lawyer, Félix Leiva, has hired the renowned defense attorney, Virginia Goodman, to represent him. She visits him late one evening to inform him that a witness has come forward to testify against him. He must tell the whole story quickly so she can prepare his defense. Goodman pulls no punches in the resulting cat-and-mouse game.

No spoiler alerts here! Suffice it to say that you must pay attention with every scene, even though–as in many foreign films–the pacing sags in the middle. The viewer will be rewarded, however, with clues and red herrings that are purposeful and complex, not suspecting how the interconnections make sense. The Invisible Guest requires more than the usual demands on the viewer’s attention in order to follow the plot.

Just when you think you have a reasonable explanation for what has taken place and who the probable perpetrator is, a new scene with a different point of view enters, and you are wondering again who is guilty of the crime. The story becomes so populated with different points of view and arguments back-and-forth with Virginia Goodman that the viewer is engaged up to the final reveal.

The narrative and plot remind me of Gone Girl with a number of unreliable versions of the crime scene. This masterpiece consistently changes the game, raising more questions than it answers. Consequently, the viewer parses the dialog and several accounts of the crime into puzzle pieces– but they don’t fit. The Invisible Guest is crafted so well that you don’t  see the intricately woven web  unravel as it does. There is always the who before the why.

The Invisible Guest is a winner! This Spanish gem is thrilling, suspenseful, mind-blowing, an edge-of-your-seat riveting tour-de-force for thriller/mystery enthusiasts and psychological film-noir fans.

Note: Available on Netflix streaming.

 

Lean On Pete

Review written by contributing blogger extraordinaire, Bill Clark

William Clark's review of Lean On Pete for Diana Y Paul's blog, Unhealed WoundLean on Pete, British director Andrew Haigh’s first American- made film, opens with the camera following behind 15-year-old Charley Thompson as he does his morning run through an impoverished Portland neighborhood under overcast summer skies.

Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) brilliantly plays Charley as the son of his single alcoholic father Ray (Travis Fimmel) and is in almost every scene with an award-winning performance.

Having left Spokane due to his father’s search for another warehouse job, Charley is uprooted from his old high school, his friends and his role as cornerback and sometimes wide receiver on the football team, a metaphor for Charley’s penchant for being left out there, alone.

On his own, he finds work as a stable hand at a second-class racetrack working for Del (Steve Buscemi), a down-on-his-luck gruff and brusque owner of quarter horses he races on the county-fair circuit. Del becomes Charley’s mentor – if you can call, “Just clean out the shit from the trailer,” mentoring – and pays Charley in cash, a scarce resource in the Thompson household.

Charley’s father reluctantly accepts the cash and shows his love for his son in a hardscrabble kind of way – a tug on Charley’s baseball cap as he goes out for another night of drinking.

Somewhat predictably, Charley grows fond of one of the older quarter horses, Lean on Pete, who is at the end of his racing career and destined to a one-way trip to a Mexican slaughterhouse.

Just when you think this may be the British director’s slow-unfolding take on a remake of My Friend Flicka, a series of sudden, disastrous, fatal, random events, including the death of his father, leave Charley alone with Pete.

In one evening Charley becomes both a rustler and a car thief as he leads Pete into the horse trailer to avoid the abattoir and drives off in Del’s old pickup truck in search of a long-lost aunt in Wyoming, a thousand miles away – a teenage outlaw on the run in the New West.

The film faithfully follows the episodic arc of the 2010 Willy Vlautin novel, with a series of characters who unfailingly help Charley and his horse, revealing Vlautin’s melancholic view of the New West and its marginalized inhabitants.

But the pair’s situation becomes even more and more desperate, finally forced on foot to cross high desert terrain beautifully photographed by Magnus Nordenhof Jønck and accompanied by James Edward Barker’s haunting music score.

As they journey through some of the most bleak areas in the country, dehydrated and starving Charley recounts to Pete in jagged soliloquies his own desolate inner life and life events.

As if nothing more could happen to Charley, it does.

Left alone utterly, he continues to search for his aunt.

At the end, after successfully reunited with his aunt, we watch Charley from behind, running alone as he was at the beginning, then stopping and looking back. Plummer’s expression silently illuminates what Charley feels: hope, apprehension, fear, determination, vulnerability – human realness.

The film was made by A24 Studios, the same studio that brought us Moonlight. Together with films like The Florida Project we are beginning to see mainstream movies depicting  the same human realness of   the working, and not so working, poor i in nonglamourous, nonsentimental, nonsensationalized ways. Least we forget.

Call Me By Your Name…”And I’ll Call You By Mine”

Based on the novel by André Acimen and directed by Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name delivers a universal coming-of-age narrative. The two main characters’ relationship serves as a mirror through which viewers can recognize their own vulnerability and youth’s promise of love.

Against the backdrop of the Northern Italian countryside in the 1980’s, Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful portrait of the complexity of human desire and sexuality. Elio (the Academy Award-nominated Timothée Chalamet), is the adolescent son of a Jewish archaeologist and a French-Italian mother. Oliver (Armie Hammer, also nominated for an Academy Award), is a research assistant mentored by Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Invited to the professor’s home to gather data on ancient Greek sculpture during the summer, Oliver embark on what would be considered a morally-questionable romance, as he and the teenage Elio explore not only homosexual love but also love between an adolescent and an adult ten years older. Call Me By Your Name normalizes this relationship as simply a romance between two men that seems to exist completely outside of time. The two pass the summer under the glittering Italian sun, portraying both the brilliance of the landscape and the idyllic, albeit ephemeral, nature of summer love and heat.

Chalamet and Hammer deliver amazing and sensitive performances that truly capture the struggle of sexual exploration and identity. Call Me By Your Name reveals the subtle complexities and intense sexual attraction between Elio and Oliver, thus helping the viewer to really understand their romance as well as the games they play.. The character of Elio, in particular, proves incredibly raw, insightful, and even alluring—almost an archetype of male youth, mirrored in a pivotal scene where Elio’s father admires the erotic male sculpture of ancient Greece, stating that the art “dares you to desire them.” In his relatable, sometimes clumsy efforts at winning the affections of Oliver, Elio showcases his vulnerability, anguish, and self-actualization. These struggles are poetically articulated in scenes with Elio’s parents who, rather than denounce the relationship, encourage his self-exploration. Elio’s father delivers an electrifying speech–“We rip so much out of ourselves”– that unapologetically combats conventional notions of masculinity and human desire, lost youth, as well as the aching heartbreak of unrealized dreams.

— Sam McKeown, Guest blogger

Currently a graduate student at the American University of Paris exploring different methods of storytelling through food, Sam’s blog can be found at: placebuds.blog

“The Post”–High Stakes

 

The Post movie

Perhaps no other film this year captures two important political moments of our time: the issue of fake news and “me too”, the invisibility of women’s voices, until they were not. The Post is high-stakes filmmaking. Released this month, The Post is already receiving wide-ranging, intensely opposing reviews.

The Post opens with a scene of an American military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg shocked by the depths of continued deceit in hiding the loss of American lives in the Vietnam War, under four successive presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson). Ellsberg photocopies 7000 pages of top secret government reports commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. (See my December 15, 2011 review, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Paper” Now he is determined to shed light on the deceit by leaking the incriminating papers to The New York Times.

Only after the US Department of Justice secures an injunction against The New York Times, on the ground of threats to national security, do the Pentagon Papers become The Washington Post’s story and, therefore, Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee’s story.

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep star as Ben Bradlee (editor-in-chief) and Katherine Graham (The Washington Post owner) in a flashpoint in our history: the courageous decision, in 1971, to publish the Pentagon Papers, which then contributes to the end of the Vietnam War as well as bringing down the presidency of Richard Nixon.

The Post Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham

Katherine Graham, with no experience in the industry, has just assumed control of her family’s second-place local newspaper, The Washington Post,. The newspaper has neither significant power nor readership, and she is advised to take the company public since it is running at a financial loss. After her unfaithful husband has committed suicide, Katherine takes over the helm but she is fearful of losing her family’s newspaper legacy, having to lead in a man’s world where women do not manage corporations. Ben Bradlee gives her both respect and reminds her of the challenges of becoming a newspaper CEO.

Perhaps one of the most powerful and climactic moments in the film is when Katherine Graham, whose son has safely returned from Vietnam, realizes that US presidents’ lies have killed tens of thousands of young men over a period of two decades or more. Her turmoil anchors the film. Personal friends with Robert McNamara, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, masterminds of the Vietnam War, Katherine Graham has multiple challenges to face and conflicting loyalties to balance in this high-stakes game: to publish or not to publish. Similarly, Ben Bradlee, who had been close to John F. Kennedy and proud of his association, is disillusioned as well.

The tensions keep rising. The Washington Post has just had an IPO. How will investors react? Will Graham and Bradley be prosecuted for revealing top secret documents? Will she lose the company she has inherited from her father and grandfather, hoping to bequeath The Washington Post to her children? How can she publish such damning material about her personal friends?

The Post bristles with intelligence. Every role is brilliantly cast: Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad”) and Sarah Paulson (“The Case of O.J. Simpson” and “American Horror Story”) have brief onscreen roles but commanding speeches.

While the memory of the 1970s is still momentous for many, the context of a president in the Oval Office detesting and trying to muzzle the media bears an unmistakable parallelism with political events today. Such a thing could never again happen in America, right?

Note: Companion films and series to watch along with The Post are The Most Dangerous Man in America, All the President’s Men , and the superb, unforgettable Ken Burns’ PBS Series, The Vietnam War. Look for my review of the Ken Burns’ tour-de-force in the near future.

Note: Viewers who believe that the newspaper beacons–The New York Times and The Washington Post–are outdated and irrelevant, will enjoy disliking this movie. For those born in the seventies and later, this may seem like irrelevant history but in reality it is a lesson to be learned. If you remember the breaking into a locked door of the Democratic National Committee, you will have to explain this ending scene to the millennials who will not know the significance.

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: A BOLO for Justice

Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri

Guest blogger extraordinaire Bill Clark

Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s film, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), takes us along Mildred Hayes’ journey as she deals with the unsolved murder-rape of her teenage daughter. Brilliantly played by Frances McDormand, bereaved mother, Mildred, decides to take on the avuncular police chief Bill Willoughby  (played by Woody Harrelson), after a year of apparent police inattention). She pays for three road-side billboards with provocative Burma Shave-like titles asking for justice from Chief Willoughby.

The billboards trigger a chain of events that sets Mildred at war not only against the Chief Willoughby, but also the citizens of Ebbing who side with him. The drama intensifies as Mildred becomes more and more frustrated in finding justice. She precariously veers into vengeance as she seeks answers for her daughter’s brutal death. [It is difficult not to mention spoilers here!]

The film’s sparkling dialogue lights up the dark corners of Mildred’s psyche, as we can visualize her torment, as well as offers a welcome counterpoint to the underlying suffering of her journey. Three Billboards navigates a mother’s necessary journey toward a place of hope that she doesn’t expect. Three Billboards is definitely a trip worth the price of a ticket, most especially for the astounding Frances McDormand, whose Oscar-worthy performance is favored to win.

The Beguiled–Bewitched and Possessed

 

The Beguiled

In Sophia Coppola’s reinterpretation of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film by the same name, The Beguiled opens with an eleven-year-old girl gathering mushrooms in her straw basket deep in a quiet wood in Virginia. Conjuring an image of Little Red Riding Hood soon coming upon a big bad wolf, we see her discover the wounded John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a Union soldier in the midst of the Civil War. The child decides to take him back to her girls’ boarding school. Headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) is reluctant but feels a moral obligation to tend to him. Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a teacher locks McBurney in the music room, terrified of what could be a menace to their highly secluded and precarious lifestyle. In a series of lovingly erotic shots of headmistress Martha’s bathing Farrell’s chest, forearms, calves, and neck as she ministers to his injuries, the viewer sees a foreshadowing of what is to come.

Meanwhile, the students—especially the sexually blossoming teenager Alicia (Elle Fanning), huddle by the door, to get at least a brief glimpse of probably the only man to ever visit the boarding school. Aware of McBurney’s sexual drive as well as their own (albeit sometimes subconsciously), each girl except the youngest who is eleven, preens in front of him: with pearl earrings, a formal dress, or bearing small gifts. Miss Martha looks at all of this in horror, but raging hormones are everywhere.

McBurney is a shape-shifter, and his foil are the two adult women: Martha and Edwina. At times respectful or seductive, compassionate or manipulative, sometimes earnest, McBurney manages to be both for each resident.

The Beguiled is just that: hypnotic, mesmerizing, and unsettling. With each scene– fleeting, things unsaid, –there are repressed emotions and dreams, a stultifying code of norms for girls and women. The drama is internal–expressed in the cinematography by the placement of scenes within the boundaries of the boarding school. Perhaps symbolic of the interior life of the female realm where women, confined by their circumstances, can only be independent when the male lies powerless, the viewer sees what happens when women, unaccustomed to this power, react. The mere presence of a man unexpectedly and violently alters their group dynamic.

The pacing for this historical drama is at times slow. However, The Beguiled is worth watching, especially for the originality of Sophia Coppola’s world view. Both Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst infuse humor and intensity into their roles, giving performances that are perfectly interwoven. This is perhaps Colin Farrell’s best performance yet. And Elle Fanning is a wonder, embodying teenage sexuality, giving heat through her languid gestures, evoking a boredom on the verge of explosion.

The Beguiled rages with what lies underneath the surface. This is Sophia Coppola at her very best.

 

Note:  Currently available on Netflix (DVD)

 

Mudbound–Mired in the Mississippi Delta

 

Mudbound the movie

Set in the Deep South in1939 and then fast-forwarding to World War II, Mudbound is an epic of two families–one white (McAllan) and one black (Jackson)–who are severely constrained by the Jim Crow laws and customs in Alabama. The two McAllan brothers, Henry and Jamie, epitomize Cain and Abel. The Jacksons are sharecroppers bravely facing the disconnect between their dreams and the dangerous obstacles set before them.

Mudbounds main plot focuses on Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedland) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), decorated war heroes who, upon returning, are misfits in their hometown. As their friendship grows tighter, so do the menacing threats surrounding them. One subplot moves into sibling rivalry between Jamie and his brother; another into Henry’s brutal and defeated temperament, which affects his marriage to Laura (Carrie Mulligan).

Mudbound challenges our concepts of friendship, family, and marriage. Sometimes the story is predictable, even clichéd. There are also difficult scenes to watch. Yet, the retelling of this story is crucial, lest we forget. The military, out of necessity, gave responsibility to both black and white soldiers, albeit in segregated troops. It is the “welcome home” racism that is portrayed in all its hypocrisy and disrespect for heroes of color. ln addition, the French and Belgian openness in attitude and behavior towards black soldiers are in stark contrast to what Ronsel Jackson has to face in Alabama.

A history to remember, Mudbound showcases superb acting from an ensemble cast of up-and-coming actors who engage us enough that we can overlook a script that should have been better. In an unexpected scene-stealing performance, Mary J. Blige, the queen of hip-hop and soul, is virtually unrecognizable, as Florence Jackson. She gives as much soul to her subtle, heart-wrenching performance as the best, more experienced actresses.   A Netflix Original, this new addition to the genre focused on racial inequality deserves to be watched by all interested in history and family saga.

The Florida Project: Finding the Magic Kingdom

 

The Florida Project

[Another great review by guest blogger:  Bill Clark,  award-winning photographer, printmaker, writer, political activist and proud grandfather of four wonderful grandchildren. See his first review: “Faces Places–A Journey of the Heart”, October 23, 2017]

My six-year-old granddaughter’s first e-mail complained that her older brother was telling everyone her “sekrids.” I wondered what kind of secrets a loved, well-cared for and healthy child could have. After viewing The Florida Project I now know secrets a child may have who lives in poverty near Orlando, Florida and Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The Florida Project is sad, funny, happy, heart-breaking and most of all, unforgettable.

Director Sean Baker deftly reveals the hidden world of six-year-old Moonee, the only child of her free-spirited single mom, Halley.   They live in an extended-stay motel, the Magic Castle Inn, targeting low-income families.

Moonee (brilliantly played by Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) leads her pals Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valerie Cotto) through a series of adventures over the course of a summer – no summer camps for them. For example, they manage to cage money in front of a soft-serve ice cream joint so the three can share one ice cream cone. They thread their way through the garish souvenir stores that line strip malls along Seven Dwarfs Way until Moonee brings them to a pasture where cattle are grazing. “See! I brought you on a safari.”

Moonee takes her friend to a gigantic fallen cypress. Straddling the huge limbs, Moonee tells her friend a secret. “This is my favorite tree because it’s tipped over but keeps on growing.” This may be Moonee’s life.

Episodic without a traditional narrative arc, The Florida Project tracks the children from scene to scene demonstrating their resilience, independence, boredom and, occasionally, petty crimes. Moonee’s mother, Halley (a breakout performance by Bria Vinaite), loves Moonee, but unable to hold a job or manage her anger, Halley ultimately fails her young daughter.

Veteran actor Willem Dafoe plays Bobby, manager of the motel, who does his best to protect Moonee, and all the other impoverished residents. More the kindly innkeeper than harsh rule enforcer, Bobby desires to make the residents’ lives better, or at least bearable, as they live in abject poverty.

A beautiful ending sums up The Florida Project–an ending I won’t disclose.

 

 

“The Salt of the Earth” (2014) –Drawing with Light

Salgado's Iguana Hand
Iguana Marina

Sebastiao Salgado, the renowned Brazilian sociopolitical photographer,  is the subject of this emotionally harrowing documentary. The viewer witnesses photographs of heartbreaking gravity and human agony, both unprecedented and breathtaking. The 2014 Academy Award nominated The Salt of the Earth reveals Salgado’s masterpieces of portraiture, political journalism, landscape, and animals in a way that evokes strong feelings. A display of Ansel Adams this is not!

Perhaps the most startling experience in watching The Salt of the Earth is the beauty that is embedded in the tragic and cruel situations of his subjects. Here we see the evidence of his emotional response to what he photographs and frame by frame, in mostly black and white photos. Each black and white photograph is a meditation, not a representation and Salgado is keenly aware of this as he narrates each photographic series: “Workers”, “Exodus”, “Genesis”, and others.

The majority of The Salt of the Earth is extremely painful to watch–a testimony to violence, genocide, and holocausts beyond even the most grotesque of imaginations. Deeply affecting, this documentary visualizes the inhumane, abject conditions that much of the world’s population, particularly women and children, endure. The Salt of the Earth is a must-see. Courageous and compassionate, Salgado explains his photographs in elegant poetic form: “Our history is a history of wars. It’s an endless story, a tale of madness.” With soulful voice and unbelievably sad eyes, he is unflinching in reporting on the ugliness of human existence but also the beauty of those struggling to survive. The underbelly of human behavior is powerfully depicted, mostly in stark monochromatic photos, with the support of the extraordinary director Wim Wenders (of “Buena Vista Social Club” and “End of Violence” fame).

Blind Woman of Mali
Blind Woman of Mali

Anyone watching The Salt of the Earth will wonder how Salgado survived the horrors of what he witnessed,– the heart of darkness,– with his soul intact. “We humans are terrible animals” he says at one point. He himself confesses there were times when all he did was sob throughout the night. Photographing war and genocide may have brought Salgado to the edge of despair and insanity, but recently his projects have been redirected to renewing and restoring the planet.

Salgado is a living testimony to how art can be witness to truth.  His photographs and experience, his “drawings in light”, The Salt of the Earth is unforgettable. You cannot but be moved by this film!

Note:  Available on Netflix

 

Carmel Bach Festival–The Joy of Music

Carmel Bach Festival 2017 program

Now celebrating its 80th anniversary, the world-renowned Carmel Bach Festival has just begun its summer season! If you are in the Carmel, California area sometime between July 9th and July 29th, stop by and experience the exuberant classical and contemporary music masterpieces being featured.

A touchstone of music in scenic Monterey and Carmel, this world-class music festival offers more than 25 chamber concerts, traditional chorale recitals, and full orchestraI programs. Some of the Carmel Bach Festival concerts are free, often accompanied by lectures by the Art Director and Principal Conductor. Open rehearsals and workshops for emerging musicians are educational and thoroughly enjoyable too.

I was fortunate to listen to one of the first pre-festival concerts so far this season at the beautiful Carmel Presbyterian Church. The Circle of Strings Quartet–featuring the violin virtuoso Emlyn Ngai as well as three other exceptional chamber musicians–played two 18th century pieces (by Beethoven and J.S. Bach) as well as 20th century compositions by Reinhold Gliere, Samuel Barber, and Philip Glass. Ranging from soothing, calming and undulating movements to a humorous duet and then to the passionate and poignant finale by Barber, the five selections managed to be a microcosm of the evolution of music from its baroque days to the masterful works by Philip Glass (who celebrates his 80th birthday this summer too).

The Carmel Bach Festival is held in a wide-ranging selection of venues throughout the town as well. Some concerts are held outside on the patio under the Clock Tower of the Carmel Sunset Center (the city’s performing arts center) while others are held in beautiful churches in the community (including the Church in the Forest in Pebble Beach) and the historic Carmel Mission. Candlelight concerts are particularly enthralling as the audience imagines a Mozart quintet or a baroque piece in its original lighting of the period.

And as an additional attraction for art lovers, there is an art auction raffle of miniatures by local artists as a fundraiser for the festival. This year’s theme is The Joy of Music to celebrate the cultural and musical vitality in our community. Plan to visit either this summer or next–the Carmel Bach Festival always is scheduled in the month of July.

Carmel Bach Festival Art Raffle
My “Jellyfish” print for Art Raffle

Enjoy!

Note: For tickets and more information call 624-1521 or visit www.bachfestival.org Remember, there are many free events at this festival, including music, lectures and special events. Whatever your budget, you can enjoy this marvelous event!

 

“Dear Evan Hansen”–A Note to Loneliness

 

“Dear Evan Hansen” is “13 Reasons Why” meets “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” This original Broadway musical premiered this year and has received critical acclaim. At the upcoming 71st Tony Awards (this Sunday, June 11), “Dear Evan Hansen” is nominated for nine awards including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Actor in a Musical.

The title character, Evan Hansen, is a shy teenager almost incapacitated by some sort of cognitive or  social anxiety disorder.   Assigned by his therapist to draft letters about why each day will be good, one letter becomes the catalyst for the plot of the story. This letter was never meant to be shared, a lie that was only meant to be seen by the therapist. But for Evan a life he never dreamed happens as the letter’s impact unintentionally gains momentum and opens a portal for a chance to finally fit in. With unintended consequences, Evan Hansen’s letter reshapes events of a fellow student’s (Connor Murphy) suicide, resulting in both Hansen’s mom and Connor’s family experiencing heart-piercing grief. There is no justification for those left behind by a suicide and Connor’s death threatens the very existence of his family.

Deeply personal and profoundly contemporary, Dear Evan Hansen is about social media’s ability to unintentionally magnify “little lies” until they take on a life of their own. At that point there is no easy way out. As the lonely protagonist, Evan Hansen desperately wants to connect, even in cyberspace, but remains in an emotional abyss.   It’s also about how we project ourselves in our world, both physical and digital–but it’s not the “real you.” Our vanity metrics of “likes” become addictive and the dependency continues its hold on us.

The memorably soulful and emotionally resonant songs, by composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, based on a story from Pasek’s adolescence, strike the same complex notes that expose the tensions and conflicts of Evan Hansen.  The breathtaking stage design simulates social media’s continuous flashing and lightng, with computer screens in long hangings cascading behind and next to the performers on stage, reminiscent of the imaginative and Tony-award winning design for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is unforgettable, operatically emotional theater that should become a national sensation.

 

“A Royal Affair”

A Royal Affair
A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair, a 2012 historical Danish film based on a true story, is a surprisingly delicious introduction to court intrigue in 18th century Denmark. Starring Mads Mikkelsen (“Doctor Strange”, “The Hunt”), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl”, “Ex Machina”) and Mikkel Følsgaard, A Royal Affair was nominated for both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

A Royal Affair centers on a delicate balancing act involving the young mad King Christian VII (an astonishing Følsgaard), the royal physician Struensee (Mikkelsen) and the young beautiful, highly educated Queen Caroline Mathilda (Vikander). Part forbidden romance between the queen and Struensee and part bromance between the mad king and his devotion to Struensee, this gripping tale changes the course of Danish history.

Soon after the royal marriage, Queen Caroline Mathilda realizes that her passion for the arts will be quashed, as many of her favorite books–some involving revolutionary political ideas–are banned by the state. Moreover, King Christian VII suffers from severe mental illness and is horrifying in his brutality, resulting in a deeply unhappy marriage for both of them.

When the German doctor Johann Struensee is recruited to be the mad king’s personal physician, he is soon the king’s confidant. The Danish Council takes advantage of King Christian’s disabling mental illness, ruling by fiat to serve their own interests against the welfare of the general populace. Struensee quietly begins advising the king, writing speeches which advocate his own progressive views based on Rousseau. Several reforms are passed but Struensee has alienated the aristocracy and threatens their wealth. The King, on the other hand, is soothed and becomes a more gentle and engaged human being with Struensee’s encouragement and support.

The Queen and Struensee fall in love and begin an affair, while Struensee simultaneously continues to become closer to the King and is given the title of Royal Advisor. Ultimately rendered de facto leader of Denmark, Struensee abolishes censorship and torture, and reduces the serfdom and peonage inherent in the the aristocratic system of property Heartbroken by the secret life he leads as both the queen’s lover and the king’s confidant, Struensee straddles between the two: an impossible mix of allegiances.

A Royal Affair is an Oscar-worthy production with beautiful recreation of scenes and costumes, impeccable acting, and an original plot revolving around the machinations of power, a mad king, a depressed queen, and an idealistic and revolutionary physician who fails in his attempts to heal all wounds.

This Danish film is a cinematic treasure not to be missed.

Note: Available on Netflix as a DVD.