Monday, October 23, 2006

Ghost Story movies

Freelance reviews of some of my favorite "ghost story" movies:
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
This one delivers the shivers. Three student filmmakers disappear from some supposedly-haunted woods. What turns up, though, is the rough-quality footage that they shot, edited together for this semi-documentary that exposes what seems to have happened to them. Do you believe in ghosts? You just may after seeing this unsettling, tense movie. Warning: Do not see this movie alone.

What Lies Beneath (2000)
Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer have a great lake-side home in Vermont, the kind of old house many of us would yearn to have. Things start turning odd, though, when the wife (Pfeiffer) begins hearing voices and witnessing eerie occurrences -- such as seeing the face of a young woman reflected in water. Oh, and something not right is going on with the couple next door. All of a sudden, watching this movie, you're very happy NOT to have this old house but to be living where you are living. This is the kind of spooky movie to kick back and enjoy with. Just make sure the doors are locked first.

Final Destination (2000)
Okay, it's bubble-gum, but it's scary bubble-gum, and it's a lot of fun. A high school student has a premonition that his class' flight to Paris (for a French class trip) will crash. He makes an uproar and convinces his closest friends to get off the plane before it takes off. Sitting in the terminal, they watch the plane take off -- and explode mid-air. And so kicks off the story. "They should have been on the plane... and fate requires them to die." This is fun and scary stuff. And the two sequels aren't bad, either.

Halloween (1978)
John Carpenter's classic still haunts. This movie should be required viewing for any would-be babysitter. At six years old, Michael Myers stabs his older sister to death and then, 15 years later on Halloween, he escapes from the sanitarium that's held him. He heads back to the quiet Illinois community that he's from, and wrecks havoc on the plans of teen-ager Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her flirtatious friends on Halloween. The suspense is extreme but most of the gore is off-screen. This one was done right and has yet to be topped.

Duel (1971)
An early Steven Speilberg treat... or trick? Dennis Weaver is a family man driving his car across California. But a huge gasoline truck starts tailing him and taunting him and wanting to run him off the road and into crossing trains and that sort of stuff. Is there a ghost in the truck? Maybe. Catch this little-seen flick, available on DVD, and fly instead of drive whenever you can.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A hip adaptation of "R&J"

My freelance review:
If you appreciate Shakespeare, you'll probably appreciate "Shakespeare's R&J," a new adaptation of "Romeo & Juliet" now playing at the St. Louis Repertory Theater's Off-Ramp series at the Grandel Theatre.

The play offers a unique interpretation. Four classmates are excited to have their hands on a school-banned text of the classic tragedy. They act it out on their own at nighttime, presumably in secret, in lieu of a night's sleep. Each of the classmates takes on multiple roles as they bring Shakespeare's 400-year-old intricate language to life with a strong sense of energy.

Only a very few props are used throughout the play, and the set is the same throughout. This aspect of simplicity keeps focus on the four actors and the Shakespearean dialog, which goes from simply being read and acted out, at first, to more of a sense of being "lived and experienced" as the story unfolds. Perhaps it's to suggest a sense of maturing that the play induces for the four.

The four classmates are male and have a strong sense of friendship and comfort around each other as the classic love story plays out with increasing passion in a gender-neutral way. The actors are accomplished and make it easy to believe that they are friends thrilled to be acting out and experiencing what Shakespeare's tragedy has to offer them.

From a foot march that begins the show through the playing out of the tragic deaths of the play's ill-fated lovers, director Paul Mason Barnes' timing is consistent and quick-paced.

"Shakespeare's R&J" plays through Nov. 5 at the St. Louis Repertory Theater's Off-Ramp series at the Grandel Theatre.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Of haunted "Mice and Men"

My freelance review:
Forget the haunted houses this Halloween season. For longer-lasting effect, treat yourself to the haunting production of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

The production takes the audience away to a completely different era and situation -- the Great Depression and the lives of two ranch workers, George and Lennie, in their quest for survival and, just maybe, the American dream. The play opens on the night before George and Lennie go to a ranch where they've been hired to work. As they camp out under a stunningly-recreated, star-filled night sky in rural California, it's obvious that George is the care-giver for Lennie -- a mentally-retarded and hard-working man who depends on George not only for day-in and day-out guidance but also to recount for him, over and over again, in extreme detail, George's vision of a dream existence for the two.

The classic story plays out very well on the intimate stage at the Rep. The sets are both intricately designed and elegantly simple and don't get in the way of the rich story.

The entire cast does a terrific job bringing Steinbeck's deep characters to life. Brendan Averett's eager-to-please Lennie and Marc Aden Gray's restless George play off each other quite effectively. Anne Bowles is very strong as the character destined to introduce trouble for Lennie.

Also, an observation: There were quite a few in-unison "uhhhh's" from the audience at key dramatic points, suggesting an audience that was coupled with the production and completely taken away from "real life."

Steinbeck's story, full of foreshadowing and symbolism, produces an overall haunting effect. A loud gunshot ends the production but does nothing to end the haunting, lingering distinction that the production triggers between living and being alive.

"Of Mice and Men" plays at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 5.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

In search of some fall color...

Dog Walk

Spots of fall color are appearing in St. Louis, with plenty of held-over summer color mixed in, as I took the dogs for a walk through the neighborhood on Saturday afternoon.