HELL OR HIGH WATER

Jeff Bridges has given so many fantastically lived-in, and just plain fantastic, screen performances over nearly a half-century that picking out his best is a true fool’s errand. Yet if pressed for his most entertaining one, I’d be tempted to go with Bridges’ drunken sharpshooter Rooster Cogburn in 2010’s True Grit, which would make his portrayal of Hell or High Water’s Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton – more sober than Rooster but equally funny, marble-mouthed, and moving – a close second.

DON’T BREATHE

A few weeks ago, in the creepy and clever horror film Lights Out, our protagonists were at the mercy of a nightmarish figure they couldn’t see. In writer/director Fede Alvarez’s new horror film Don’t Breathe, our protagonists are at the mercy of a nightmarish figure who can’t see them. You’d presume these particular protagonists would have an easier time of things. But Alvarez, to his credit, doesn’t appear interested in making things easy for anybody – not for the “heroes,” not for the “villain,” and not for audiences accustomed to those tags presented without quotation marks. You may find your stomach in knots during much of this brutally effective shocker. You may also find that part of your discomfort stems from sensing that the traumatized characters here are getting just what they deserve.

BEN-HUR

The first words heard in the new remake of Ben-Hur are delivered in voice-over by – wouldn’t ya know it? – Morgan Freeman, meaning that the quality of director Timur Bekmambetov’s biblically themed epic is up in the air from the start. Will this be another Shawshank Redemption? A Million Dollar Baby? A March of the Penguins? A War of the Worlds? A Love Guru? A Hillary Clinton DNC bio-video?

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the movie, like Freeman’s vocal-track record, is similarly all over the place – sometimes lugubrious and laughable, sometimes powerful and exhilarating, sometimes merely blah. It’s hardly a threat to the legacy of 1959’s Ben-Hur and its record-setting 11 Oscar wins. But on the rare occasions that Bekmambetov’s unnecessary outing works, it works thunderously well, and either way we’re spared the monolithic orating of Charlton Heston, which is a plus right there.

Music

Kurt Vile & the Violators

Codfish Hollow Barn

Sunday, August 21, 7 p.m.

 

Just like superheroes, professional musicians have their own origin stories. And given the strength of his reviews, and the powerful appreciation he engenders in fans, it makes perfect sense that indie-rock and -folk singer/songwriter Kurt Vile’s own musical origin story would start with Superman.

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

For more than 30 years, Meryl Streep has been singing on-screen in movies ranging from 1983’s Silkwood to last year’s Ricki & the Flash, with musical pitstops in a half-dozen outings in between. But not until the new bio-comedy Florence Foster Jenkins has the star ever sung quite this badly. Streep being Streep, of course, she sings badly brilliantly.

SUICIDE SQUAD

Everything you’ve likely heard about Suicide Squad is true – unless, for some reason, you’ve heard it’s great.

What this says about the state of America I don’t know ... or maybe don’t want to know. But for the first time since I started attending Genesius Guild’s season-closing comedies more than a decade ago, director/adapter Don Wooten’s political jabs and jokes – here in service of Aristophanes’ The Birds – were less ridiculous, much less ridiculous, than current, real-world politics. I may have left Friday’s opening-night performance wishing it were more biting, but in retrospect, in this particular year, playing it safe may have been the smartest way to go.

When I phone Wizard of Oz historian John Fricke for our scheduled July 21 interview, he doesn’t answer the call with a “Hello?”, or even a more formal “Yes, this is John Fricke.” Instead, the first three words he utters, or rather exclaims, are an exuberant “I love Iowa!

He asks if I like that intro, and I admit that I do, primarily because it’s no doubt sincere. Fricke, after all, enjoyed eight consecutive years (from 1979 to 1986) as emcee and chief entertainer for Davenport’s Miss Iowa pageants and even, during that period, co-headlined a two-person Col Ballroom concert alongside an 11-piece orchestra and former Miss Iowa Darla Blocker. So “I love Iowa!” makes total sense.

Given the subject of our conversation, however, “I love Kansas!” might’ve been more fitting.

Theatre

The Fantasticks

Richmond Hill Barn Theatre

Thursday, August 11, through Sunday, August 21

 

On August 11, Geneseo’s Richmond Hill Barn Theatre opens its new production of The Fantasticks, the first musical produced at the venue since 2011. It’s scheduled for eight performances through August 21. But if ticket sales prove especially excellent, maybe the show will run for an additional 17,154, thereby tying the world record for “longest-running musical” currently held by ... The Fantasticks.

CAFÉ SOCIETY

Woody Allen has made dozens of movies I’ve been happy to watch. Café Society may be the first one I’d be happy to eat.

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