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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Theater Review: Creature Emerges Not Quite Fully Formed

Posted By on Wed, Aug 31, 2016 at 1:50 PM

Creature ★★ Through Sept. 11 Tiny Engine Theatre Company @ North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre Those who study acting and directing build upon their skills. Once they learn how to stage a monologue, they move on to scene work, and then full-length plays. Unfortunately, this Raleigh production of Creature is clearly stuck somewhere between the latter two. Though individual sequences amuse and occasionally move us in this Tiny Engine Theatre Company coproduction with North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre, they never truly cohere into a unified or satisfying whole. We’re sympathetic with playwright Heidi Schreck’s attempts to reimagine the life...

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Movie Review: Don't Think Twice Gets Inside the Worlds of Improv Comedy and Saturday Night ... Er, Weekend Live

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2016 at 3:05 PM

Don't Think Twice ★★★ Now playing One of today's most distinctive comic voices, Mike Birbiglia has a meandering storytelling style that occupies a very specific coordinate in the Venn diagram of funny business, somewhere among the intersections of stand-up comedy, DIY theater, and confessional monologue. When Birbiglia brought his one-man show, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, to Durham a few years ago, I remember thinking it was the leanest, meanest, funniest thing I'd seen on stage in years. His other famous long-form comedy bit, Sleepwalk With Me, went through several incarnations—radio feature, touring show, book—before evolving into Birbiglia's 2012 feature-film debut...

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Movie Review: Who Thought the Director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Needed a Crack at Ben-Hur?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 11:35 AM

Ben-Hur★★ Now playing It speaks volumes that the latest film version of Ben-Hur more resembles the movie-within-a-movie in the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! than the famed 1959 Oscar-winning adaptation directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston. After all, Wyler won three Academy Awards over his illustrious career. Timur Bekmambetov, the director of this big-screen iteration, most recently made Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Jewish nobleman Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and Messala (Toby Kebbell) are adoptive brothers—the first of several departures from Gore Vidal’s controversial 1959 script—who split over Messala’s desire for Roman glory. When Messala returns to Jerusalem as...

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Movie Review: Neo-Western Hell or High Water Douses Black and White Hats in Texas Dust Until Everything Turns Gray

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 3:16 PM

Hell or High Water ★★★★ Opening Friday, August 19, 2016 At its core, Hell or High Water is a traditional Western movie featuring cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians. The “outlaws” are introduced as wild-eyed, bank-robbing brothers in the vein of Frank and Jesse James. The aw-shucks lawman has a Native American sidekick. There are hayseed banks, land barons, and even an armed posse. The film’s resonance flows from how director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) repurpose these tropes for a modern setting. The few cowpokes left are a self-loathing, dying breed. Citizens are...

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Movie Review: When Good Actors Meet Weirdly Developed Characters, You Get Florence Foster Jenkins

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2016 at 11:18 AM

Florence Foster Jenkins ★★ ½ Now playing It gives director Stephen Frears undue credit to describe Florence Foster Jenkins as an exquisite reproof of audience voyeurism. Led along by a procession of reaction shots and comedic framing, the biopic invites us to chortle at a real-life heiress’s legendarily cacophonous crooning. But it hits a sour note when Frears suddenly turns the mirror on his audience in rebuke, in effect absolving the actual enablers the film otherwise indicts. We meet Jenkins (Meryl Streep) in 1944, as a seventy-six-year-old New York City socialite and musical benefactor. The acclaimed conductor Arturo Toscanini...

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Theater Review: The Roaring Girl Is a Kinetic, Gender-Fluid Revisionist History of Seventeenth-Century Norms

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2016 at 12:47 PM

The Roaring Girl ★★★ Through Aug. 20 Little Independent Theatre @ Murphey School Auditorium, Raleigh As they say, you gotta have a gimmick. Mary Frith was a London thief and pickpocket; her nickname, Moll Cutpurse, referred to her first primary source of income. She also dressed as a man in public, cursed like a sailor, and smoked like a house aflame—activities that were equally frowned upon for women in the year 1600. Surprisingly, however, her public disregard for gender roles and social norms earned her fame and a large degree of acceptance in King James’s England. In the years that...

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Theater Review: Domestic-Violence Drama The Traditionalists Leaves Us Wanting More—But Not in a Good Way

Posted By on Wed, Aug 10, 2016 at 2:46 PM

The Traditionalists★★ Through Aug. 14 Women’s Theatre Festival @ Umstead Park United Church of Christ I am an adult survivor of domestic violence. I still have the pistol my father used one night to threaten my mother’s life and my own. I keep that firearm, which is now unable to menace or injure anyone else, because people regularly doubt, discount, and second-guess accounts of domestic abuse. Evidence, I’ve learned, is important. The gun was in his hand. I can vouch for the authenticity of the damage depicted in Carol Torian’s one-act, The Traditionalists, part of the Women’s Theatre Festival’s first evening...

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Movie Review: Though Flawed, Suicide Squad Brings Much-Needed Depth and Levity to the DC Extended Universe

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 3:05 PM

Suicide Squad ★★★ Now playing The high ideals of the Bush-era War on Terror included plunging our hands into the filth of rendition and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” usually carried out by foreign contractors at black sites outside the United States’ jurisdiction. Today, the U.S. is part of an uneasy confederation of foes with the shared aim of defeating ISIL, a terrorist group armed with American weaponry seized after the U.S. pullout from the Iraq War, an occupation initiated to topple a dictator once propped up by American treasure. Relying on bad people to do our dirty business is the fulcrum...

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In Raleigh, the First Women's Theatre Festival Hit the Ground Running With a Round-the-Clock Marathon of Staged Readings

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 11:51 AM

Women’s Theatre Festival: Occupy the Stage Saturday, July 30–Sunday, July 31 Umstead Park United Church of Christ Staged readings are hardly the most glamorous side of live theater. Production values are thin—other than a clump of music stands to hold the actors’ scripts, there’s usually little or no set. Though the actors may have dressed up for the occasion, they’re generally not in costume or theatrical makeup. So why would a new theater festival open a month of programs and productions with twenty-one staged readings? And why did sixteen volunteers, 100 regional theater artists, and 250 audience members occupy a...

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Theater Review: Three Shakespeare Plays Are Pared Down to a Ninety-Minute Game of Dramatic Chess in Henry VI

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2016 at 3:02 PM

Henry VI: The War of the Roses★★★ Through Aug. 7 Stephenson Amphitheatre, Raleigh I wish I could just fast-forward through the rest of this election. So it’s understandable if Lucinda Danner Gainey, director of Bare Theatre and Raleigh Little Theatre’s coproduction of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, feels the same way about the War of the Roses. Historians generally say the open conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York lasted from 1455 to 1485, with a few skirmishes and mopping-up actions outside those dates. It’s more apt, though, to observe that the power vacuum that destabilized the British monarchy began...

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Theater Review: Honest Pint Theatre's Uncut Hamlet Is Worth Its Daunting Girth

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 2:39 PM

Hamlet★★★★ Through July 31 Leggett Theatre, William Peace University Something was rotten—or clearly amiss, at least—as I topped the second-floor staircase outside Leggett Theatre at Peace University last Saturday night. Aisles of chairs were set out for mourners as an exquisitely dressed party conversed, perhaps a bit too convivially, near a coffin draped with the flag of Denmark. Meanwhile, in an outfit that hardly suggested widow’s weeds, Durham singer Mysti Mayhem lustily belted out the rock anachronism “Me and Bobby McGee” from the other end of the lobby. Strange, I thought. But then, given the sinister circumstances of the death...

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Movie Review: Like Bond, Matt Damon's Jason Bourne Is Less a Character Than a Genre

Posted By on Fri, Jul 29, 2016 at 1:30 PM

Jason Bourne★★★ Now playing Poor Jason Bourne—that guy just can’t catch a break. As an amnesiac super-spy, he's forever being shot at by people he doesn't know, for reasons he can't remember. Relentlessly hunted by every intelligence agency in the world, he must remain radically off-grid in places like Uzbekistan, Nepal, and Cleveland. When old friends get back in touch, they're invariably followed by entire platoons of elite assassins. It's hard not to isolate yourself in such circumstances. It's a drag getting old. Bourne is back in theaters this week, and once again his misery is our delight. Simply...

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Art Review: Truth to Power, Pleiades Gallery's Annual Social Justice Show, Aptly Starts With a Cry of Pain

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2016 at 1:48 PM

Truth to Power 4Through Sunday, Aug. 7 Pleiades Gallery, Durham Before you even enter downtown Durham’s Pleiades Gallery, you’re met by the face of a black man in anguish. “Rage,” which peers out of the front windows of the gallery, is by Durham’s Clarence Mayo Jr. It depicts the pained, scrunched face of a shouting man. According to the caption that accompanies the emotional painting, “Rage” symbolizes the “Black man’s voiceless cry of despair, distress, frustration, and hopelessness in a world where he is marginalized as a result of societal prejudices.” Likewise, most of the art in Pleiades annual Truth...

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Movie Review: An Indie Short With a Clever Premise Becomes a Surprisingly Effective Horror Film in Lights Out

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 3:20 PM

Lights Out ★★★ ½ Opening Friday, July 22, 2016 The story behind Lights Out, the surprisingly effective first feature film by David F. Sandberg, is the stuff of indie auteur fantasy. After Sandberg put a no-budget short starring his wife, Lotta Losten, on YouTube, it went viral, attracting the attention of horror maven James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring). Wan was impressed enough to help Sandberg develop his dialogue-free short into a major studio film, and New Line Cinema’s faith was justified. While it’s no The Babadook, Lights Out is an efficient haunted-house thriller, as witty and charming as it is...

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Movie Review: New Zealand Hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople Brings Genuine Emotion to Ridiculous Circumstances

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 9:18 AM

Hunt for the Wilderpeople ★★★★ Now playing The focus of this film from New Zealand, which is set in the bush of that country, is Ricky, a pudgy orphaned teenager who names his dog Tupac and uses haiku as a form of self-expression. Described as a kid who never wanted to be good, Ricky is at ease with his new foster family. He runs away every night, only to make his way back every morning for a pancake breakfast. When he is told by child protective services that he must leave his foster uncle after his foster aunt’s untimely death...

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Movie Review: Todd Solondz Lightly Links Tales of Abjection and Absurdity in Wiener-Dog

Posted By on Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 9:18 AM

Wiener-Dog★★★ ½ Opening Friday, July 15, 2016 Wiener-Dog is a funny, if modest, installment in director Todd Solondz’s series of meditations on the austere cruelty of the American middle-class family. The film consists of several episodes linked by the eponymous creature, a forlorn dachshund shuffled from one tenuous situation to the next. First, the dog lives with a shy little boy and his self-involved parents, then with an awkward and lonely veterinary assistant, followed by a bitter screenwriting teacher and an elderly woman dying of cancer. The dog’s goofy, kind-of-blank but also kind-of-sad expression is the perfect visual counterpoint...

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Movie Review: Shut Up, Misogynists, the Ghostbusters Reboot Has a Great Cast. The Rest of the Film, Unfortunately ...

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2016 at 3:57 PM

Ghostbusters ★★  Opening Friday, July 15, 2016 Contrary to all the sexist noise online, remaking Ghostbusters with a female cast was not a bad idea. Of course not—with director Paul Feig behind the camera and Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy in front of it, it was an empirically good idea. Unfortunately, the result of that good idea is a pretty bad movie. In fact, the new Ghostbusters is lazy, uninspired, and really close to insulting. Feig and the film's four leads—Wiig, McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon—are all comedy professionals with strong track records. But this is a highly...

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dance Review: John Jasperse Somehow Stops Time While Moving It Forward in Remains

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 at 2:42 PM

John Jasperse Projects: Remains ★★★★ Wednesday, July 6, 2016 Reynolds Industries Theater, Durham When the curtain rises—only slightly—on John Jasperse Projects’ Remains, dancer Maggie Cloud is prostrate on the stage, her limbs arranged like a classical Greek statue. Later she will return to a similar position, albeit shifted downstage, in an embrace with dancer Claire Westby. This reprisal of the work’s opening image seems, suddenly, like an ending, but it's a tease—the picture would be too perfectly circular. Cloud exits the scene, leaving Westby with her legs suspended in the air. Westby gets up and the dance goes on....

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Pets Riffs on Our Animal Obsession

Posted By on Fri, Jul 8, 2016 at 4:21 PM

The Secret Life of Pets★★★ ½ stars Opening Friday, July 8, 2016 From the creative team that brought you Despicable Me and those rascally Minions, The Secret Life of Pets is an exquisitely calibrated family movie with plenty of laughs for both grown-ups and kids. The concept is simple: What do our pets actually do while we're away? Animators have been riffing on this idea since the heyday of Looney Tunes, of course, and with good reason. It's a virtually inexhaustible comedy premise. As approximately ten billion YouTube clips demonstrate daily, pets are funny. We like to watch them,...

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Tim Carless's Live Score for Peter Greenaway's Cook Was Appetizing at The ArtsCenter

Posted By on Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 7:42 AM

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover: Reimagined Saturday, June 25, 2016 The ArtsCenter, Carrboro The Saturday before last at The ArtsCenter, Tim Carless premiered his original score for an abridged version of the cult classic The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, director Peter Greenaway’s most celebrated film. When Greenaway began filming it in the 1980s, he already had a reputation noble enough to attract Michael Gambon, Tim Roth, and Helen Mirren to the project. The film is billed as a black comedy centering on the foursome of the title as they enjoy adultery, sumptuous...

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Friday, July 1, 2016

Movie Review: Harry Potter Is Dead in Swiss Army Man, a Weird, Touching Mash-Up of Cast Away and Weekend at Bernie's

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2016 at 2:44 PM

Swiss Army Man ★★★ Opening Friday, July 1, 2016 Deciding whether or not you like Swiss Army Man is like trying to decide whether to keep your arm or your leg. You’re going to be somewhat dissatisfied either way, but grateful that you at least have something to appreciate. Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, two writers and directors known mostly for creating eccentric music videos, push the weirdness over the edge in their first feature film. There are times where what’s happening makes sense only to the characters, leaving the audience lost. But in the moments when we’re able...

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Dance Review: Kate Weare Sculpts With Bodies in the Premiere of Marksman at ADF

Posted By on Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 3:35 PM

Kate Weare Company: Marksman ★★★ Wednesday, June 22, 2016 Reynolds Industries Theater, Durham Kate Weare’s Marksman, an American Dance Festival commission that premiered at Reynolds Theater last week, is a molded and folded dance. The six dancers act as architects: They build houses, live in them, and vacate. They sculpt their bodies into notches for others to push and pull through. A bent leg folds perfectly over a crouched back; an arm pierces the negative space between other limbs. The performers greet one another in undulations; they unfurl and then halt. Eventually they part, dissipating. Most often the sextet...

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Dance Review: Sara Juli Will Tickle You at Motorco. No, Actually Tickle You.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 11:54 AM

Tense Vagina: an actual diagnosis ★★★★★ Wednesday, June 22–Friday, June 24, 7 & 9 p.m., $20  Motorco Music Hall, Durham You can read our interview this week to catch up on the background of Sara Juli’s Tense Vagina: an actual diagnosis, which finishes its three-night stand in ADF at Motorco tonight. Basically, it’s a dance-theater-comedy show about postpartum urinary incontinence, pelvic floor rehabilitation, and the madder side of early motherhood. It’s OK if you need a moment to take that in. The first performance on Wednesday night left the whole audience tickled, and not always metaphorically. At several points...

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Theater Review: Patrick Torres Finds a Fresh Take on an American Classic, The Glass Menagerie, at Raleigh Little Theatre

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 9:42 AM

The Glass Menagerie★★★★ Through June 26 Raleigh Little Theatre, Raleigh They’re conventions of theater criticism: no spoilers, and please, don’t give away the end. But my hand is forced when it comes to Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of The Glass Menagerie, since the conclusions artistic director Patrick Torres reaches are the most noteworthy element of the endeavor by far. Besides, given the canonical status of Tennessee Williams’s memory play in American literature classes—and its myriad productions in film and television and on the local stage—for most of us, the element of surprise left this particular text long ago. Still,...

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Theater Review: Caryl Churchill Scrambles Post-Colonial Roles in Ludicrous, Rewarding Farce Cloud 9

Posted By on Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 9:45 AM

Cloud 9 ★★★★ ½ Through June 25 Common Ground Theatre, Durham There are only two things missing in the opening act of Tiny Engine Theatre Company’s production of Cloud 9 at Common Ground Theatre. The first is a cheesy, sinister organ cue to underscore all the cheesy, sinister plot revelations. The second is what people used to call a lick of common sense. The latter’s absence fuels the ludicrous potboiler that begins this rewarding farce of colonialism and gender roles. The year is 1880, and the British Empire is still presumably on the rise—somewhere far from this sagging outpost in the...

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